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All the Promises of the Bible
By Herbert Lockyer
ZondervanCopyright © 1990 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE SUBSTANCE OF THE PROMISES
What actually constitutes a promise? Samuel Johnson's answer is, "A promise is the declaration of some benefit to be conferred." Webster's Dictionary gives us this:
l. One's pledge to another to do or not to do something specified, narrowly, a declaration which gives to the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act.
2. Ground for hope, expectation or the assurance, often specified of eventual success.
3. That which is promised -
To engage to do, give, make, obtain: to make to another a promise of; also, to give one's promise to assure as "He will go, I promise you." To show or suggest beforehand; betoken; as, the clouds promise you.
A promisee is the person to whom a promise is made; and a promissory note is a written promise to pay on demand or at a fixed future time a certain sum of money to, or to the order of, a specified person or to bearer. A breach of promise represents the violation of one's plighted word, as is used especially of a promise to marry. For an exact nature of Bible promises, one must study the original words used to describe them. Although the word "promise" is used more than 100 times in the Bible, there are other terms implying the same thought.
The Old Testament is a record of God's promises to patriarchs, kings, prophets, Israel, lowly saints, and to the world at large. The Hebrew noun, dahtar, is generally rendered "word," but "promise is found in I Kings 8:56 and Nehemiah 5:12,13.
"According to all that He promised: there hath not ailed one word of all His good promise"
"That they should do according to the promise.
A difficulty in assessing the number of Bible promises is further seen in the fact that another Hebrew word for "promise" is omer, meaning "saying." This is the term used in - "Doth his promise fail for evermore?" Psalms 77:8, and employed again as "word" in passages like -
"The Lord gave the word" (promise). Psalm 68:11 "Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word" (promise). Habakkuk 3:7.
The change in Psalms 105:42 R.V. - "He remembered his holy word" - reminds us that God's "Holy Word" is always a "Holy Promise." The Hebrew verb dabhar is usually translated "speak," but "promise" is found in many places -
"According as he hath promised." Exodus 12:25
"All the good that I have promised them." Jeremiah 32:42.
In several places the Revised Version gives "speak" or "say," instead of promise," e.g., "According as the Lord thy God promised him" (Deuteronomy New 10:9). In his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W. E. Vine gives us the following interpretation of the words used for "promise." Of the two nouns Vine says that there is -
Epangelia, which is primarily a law term, denoting a summons (epi-upon; angelo, to proclaim, announce), also meant an undertaking to do or give something, a promise. It is used only of the promises of God except in Acts 23:21, "Looking for a promise from thee." Frequently this term stands for the thing promised, and so signifies a gift graciously bestowed, not a pledge secured by negotiation; thus, in Galatians 3:14, "The promise of the Spirit" denotes "the promised Spirit" (see Luke 24:49; Acts 2:23; Ephesians 1:13). "The promise of the eternal inheritance" is "The promised inheritance." On the other hand, in Acts 1:4 "The promise of the Father" is "The promise made by the Father."
The plural "promises" is used because the one promise to Abraham was variously repeated (Galatians 3:16), "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made." (See Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:18; 17:1-14; 22:15-18). The plural is also used because it contained the germ of all subsequent promises (Romans 9:4; Hebrews 6:12; 7:6; 8:6; 11:17).
In Galatians 3, Paul shows that the promise was conditional upon faith and not upon the fulfilment of the Law. The Law was later than and inferior to, the promise, and did not annul it (Galatians 3:21) with 4:23,28). Again, "the covenants of the promise" (Ephesians 2:12) does not indicate different covenants, but a covenant often renewed, all centering in Christ as the promised Messiah-Redeemer, and comprising the blessings to be bestowed through Him.
The plural is likewise used, in Hebrews, of every promise made by God, and of special promises mentioned: "Blessed him that had the promises." (7:6)
"Who through faith ... obtained promises." (11:33)
For other applications of the word, see Ephesians 6:2; I Timothy 4:8; II Timothy 1:1; Hebrews 4:1; II Peter 3:4,9). Some MSS have this word meaning "message," instead of angelia, as in I John 1:5.
Vine goes on to state that the occurrences of the word in relation to Christ and what centers in Him, may be arranged thus:
1. The contents of the promise - "The promise made of God unto our fathers." Acts 26:2,3 "He staggered not at the promise of God." Romans 4:20 "This is the promise that he hath promised us." I John 2:25
2. The heirs of the promise - "The children of the promise are counted for the seed." Romans 9:8 "To confirm the promises made unto the fathers." Romans 15:8 "Heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:29 "The heirs with him of the same promise." Hebrews 11:9
3. The conditions of the promise - "The promise ... trough the righteousness of faith." Romans 4:13,14 "Receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Galatians 3:14-22 "After ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Hebrews 10:36
Epangelma denotes a promise made by God - "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises." II Peter 1:4 "According to His promise." II Peter 3:13
As to the three verbs that are used of the English word "promise," we have, first of all -
Epangello, meaning, to announce, proclaim. In the New Testament this word has two meanings - to profess and to promise, each used in the middle voice: to promise -
1. Of Promises of God. "He promised that he would give it to him for a possession." Acts 7:5; also Romans 4:21
The passive voice is found in the phrase - "To whom the promise was made." Galatians 3:19; also in Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:13; 10:23; 11:11; 12:26; James 1:12; 2:5; 1 John 2:25
2. Of Promises Made by Men. "They promised to give him money." Mark 14:11 "While they promise them liberty." II Peter 2:19
This verb is used of "profess," as in I Timothy 2:18; 6:21.
Proepangello is in the middle voice, and denotes "to promise before," and occurs twice in Paul's writings
"Which he had promised before." Romans 1:2 "Make up beforehand your bounty." II Corinthians 9:5
The term Proepangellomai also means "to promise before," and is translated by the one word "afore-mentioned." II Corinthians 9:5 R.V.
Homologeo Here we have a word meaning "to agree, confess," and signifies to promise - "Whereupon he promised with an oath" (Matthew 14:7). This is the same word used for "confesses" (John 1:20 etc.). The word Exomologeo means "to agree openly, to acknowledge outwardly, or fully" and is translated "consented" in the R.V. of Luke 22:6 where the A.V. has "promised."
A further consideration of the substance or nature of a promise leads us to say that a mere mental decision to bestow a benefit is not a promise. If the resolution of the mind is to be constituted a promise, then it must be intimated to the person for whom the benefit was planned. This expression of an inward resolution can be covered to be beneficial in many ways - by a verbal declaration, or by writing, or by other ways of expressing the intention of one's mind. All God's promises are in written form in His Word, which is the only authentic revelation of the divine mind and purpose the world has (Romans 1:2).
Once the thought-over promise is declared, then with its intimation, the promise becomes promissory or binding. The written form of the promise becomes what is known as "a promissory note," that is, a written promise to fulfill the declared benefit. Every divine promise is a "promissory note." Sometimes there is superadded to a promise the appeal to the God of Truth, as when an oath is taken in a Law-Court, "So help me God." This is supposed to indicate the sincerity of promiser to perform his promise, which becomes a "promissory oath." If one fails to fulfill such a solemn pledge then the violation becomes the guilt of perjury. Because of all God is in Himself, no oath is necessary, yet we read that He confirmed His promise with "an oath" (Hebrews 6:17).
It is to be regretted that we live in an age when a man's word is no longer his bond. This is a common belief that one is not bound to keep his word, that one is not habituated to regard fully a good and beneficient promise as a sacred transaction. Take as an example of "Men apt to promise are apt to forget," those who are profuse in promises before an election. Politicians tend to word their promises vaguely, so that if they are not kept, it will be no easy matter for disillusioned electors to pin-point them. This is why political promises are usually accepted with the proverbial grain of salt. Judge Darling wrote in his Scintillac Juris: To convince a poor voter by common argument of promised reforms is merely to corrupt him with hope." How different are the promises of God, none of which ever corrupt a believer with unrealized hope! Earl Long, former Governor of Louisiana, who died recently was referred to as one who "promised the world to anyone who would give him a vote." A proverb has it, "To promise and give nothing is a comfort to a fool." Yet another runs: "Promises are like pie-crusts, lightly made and easily broken." A further proverb reads, "He that promises too much means nothing." Samuel Johnson says, "Promising large promises is the soul of an advertisement."
Truth, however, is the sole basis of mutual confidence, and mutual confidence, the sole bond of social life. If we make a legitimate promise and give our word that it will be realized, then, if we break our word, we become guilty of lying. We sin against the principle of moral obligation. A proverb has it, "The promise of a good man becomes a legal obligation." Do you recall Alexander Popes tribute to Addison? -
Statesman yet friend to truth; of soul sincere In action faithful, and in honour clear. Who broke no promise, served no private end, Who gained no title, and who lost no friend. Enobled to himself, by all approved, And praised, unenvied by the muse he loved.
Who does not covet a similar reputation as Addison's who never broke a promise. Certainly this is God's reputation, for not one of His multitudinous promises, can possibly fail. Says Browning, "If we've promised them anything then let us keep our promise."
The God we love and serve is the God of Truth, and requires truth as one of the virtues of His intelligent offspring.
"God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he woken, and shall he not make it good? Numbers 23:19 "The strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent." I Samuel 15:29 "It is impossible for God to lie." Hebrews 6:18
This reflection of the divine character is a just and glorious tribute to God's reliability, also a sad yet just reflection on human character because the inference of the above passages is that man is capable of promising and guilty of breaking his promise and becoming a liar.
Before we leave this aspect of our study dealing with the nature of a promise, it is necessary to comment upon the difference between a statement of fact and a promise. Too often, we fail to observe the distinction between "Facts" and "Promises." A fact is a truth distinguished from a mere statement of belief. The realm of fact is distinct from that of fancy. Bible are to be accepted as being actual and therefore must be believed. Promises, on the other hand, are to be received and claimed. The proverb has it: "Facts are stubborn things."
When Jesus came to leave His disciples He assured them of His abiding presence -
"Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age. Matthew 28:20
Excerpted from All the Promises of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer Copyright © 1990 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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