Children of Promise examines how God’s thoughts differ from ours, identifies who the children of promise are and how we can understand God’s plan for his children. The city Abraham looked for is proposed as a key that unlocks our understanding, followed by a discussion of the importance of partial knowledge until the maturity necessary for agreement is obtained.
And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Genesis 17:18-22, NIV
The Heavens were silent as Ishmael grew into a young man. Abram and Sarah were confident they would inherit God’s promise through the son of a slave. On Abram’s ninety-ninth birthday, God suddenly appeared and changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abraham listened quietly as God dictated the way things were going to be until God said Sarah would have a son. “What about Ishmael?” Abraham pleaded. God promised to bless Ishmael and assured Abraham his son would father twelve rulers and multiply into a great nation, but the covenant would be established with Isaac.
Abraham’s plea to give Ishmael the promised blessings did not deter God from his intent for Isaac. God chose to establish his covenant with Isaac before he was conceived. Yet, Isaac died a stranger and foreigner owning no more land than his father purchased to bury his dead. In addition to that, Isaac left a measly two quarreling sons as his legacy. Two sons hardly fulfilled God’s promise to make Abraham and his seed “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” Where was the rest of the multitude too numerous to count that God promised? When did God establish his covenant with Isaac?
To the present day, Isaac’s descendants struggle to live in a hostile world vastly outnumbered by their older brother Ishmael who hates them. All things considered, it appears God loved Ishmael and hated Isaac. Isaac did not receive the things God promised his father and God did not establish his covenant with Isaac within Isaac’s lifetime. The obvious question is, “Why?” To understand when God’s covenant will be established, and why Isaac and eventually Jacob did not receive the things God promised Abraham, we need to understand how our thoughts differ from God’s.
To understand God’s thoughts we must set our thoughts on the same thing Abraham hoped for. Abraham came to the land of Canaan looking for a city with foundations laid by God. He hoped to find the same things many desire: peace, safety, and equitable treatment as we pursue happiness. Some have found peace and safety in this world, but there is only one way to find equality. Noah’s descendants thought they had found the way, but their thoughts were vain.
Noah’s children believed if they built a city and a tower, they would make themselves a name and remain unified. They were unaware that they were building something greater than a unified city. When the Lord came down to see their city and tower, he testified that nothing they imagined would be impossible for them to accomplish if they finished the city. Then God promptly confounded their languages. No longer able to communicate, Noah’s descendants scattered – the very fate they sought to escape.
The Bible reveals a very good reason for God’s interference. Human imagination had filled the earth with violence. God destroyed all of humanity except one family because “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [human hearts] was only evil continually.” Therefore, if God had not interfered at the tower of Babel, Noah’s descendants would have built a city that produced the impossible, but their city would have spawned impossible evil. How could a God of love allow humanity to possess the power to do the impossible, when humanity had already proved their thoughts would fill the earth with violence?
God stopped humanity from building a city wherein the impossible would be possible, but he never abandoned the desire of Noah’s descendants. There is a way to possess the power to do the impossible without bringing evil into existence. Therefore, three generations after God prevented humanity from building a city where anything they could imagine would be possible, God spoke to Abram about looking at some real estate.
For reasons unknown, Abraham did not obey God’s command to separate from his family and go to the land God desired to show him. Initially, Terah, Abraham’s father, led the migration out of Ur, but the family stopped in Haran. Ur and Haran were centers for the worship of the moon god, Sin. Therefore, it is possible Terah abandoned the original plan to follow Abraham’s God that he might continue worshipping his idols. Fifteen years after they settled in Haran, Terah died and God encouraged Abraham to continue the journey.
When Abraham arrived in the land of Canaan, God had some disconcerting news. The city Abraham looked for would not be possible unless Sarah gave birth to a son. Disturbing information considering Abraham had no hope of fathering a son by a woman who had been barren all of her life. Yet, Abraham’s God insisted that Sarah would give birth to a son. Abraham took a small step of faith when he chose to take God at his word and remain in Canaan. He hoped against hope when he believed Sarah would bear a son, and that their son would build a city on foundations laid by God.
For many long years Abraham waited for Sarah to give birth to the promised son. Worried that Abraham would die before the son was born, Sarah suggested Hagar as a surrogate. Abraham complied. God rejected Sarah and Abraham’s plan but not the son their plan produced. Ishmael received the exact same things from God’s hand that Isaac received – twelve sons who multiplied into a great nation. Before God laid the foundations of the world, he devised a plan that would include everyone who desired to call him father. Ishmael had the same opportunity to inherit the blessings promised to Abraham as the chosen Isaac did.
If Abraham had known he would die without receiving the promises in his lifetime, he might not have come to Canaan. If he had known he would only receive one son and unfilled promises, he might not have stayed in Canaan. God initially gave Abraham partial knowledge because Abraham lacked the spiritual maturity necessary to receive the full knowledge of God’s plan.
The partial knowledge God gave to Abraham was not enough for him to be the man of faith he needed to be. Abraham needed the mutual agreement of his son Isaac before he could do the works that please God. In a good fight of faith “one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves,” but “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Great acts of faith need the agreement love produces. Isaac was not the son the promises were made to. Isaac gave Abraham the strength he needed to believe God can raise the dead.
Abraham arrived in Canaan with a small, dormant seed of faith that God planted in his heart more than fifteen years prior. Consequently, he only had enough faith for one step at a time. It took a lifetime for Abram who possessed partial knowledge, to become Abraham who understood God’s plan. It will take us no less. Learning how to love God is a long and difficult journey. As Abraham waited in a foreign land for the city God promised, he learned how to set his faith on God’s hope. Faith and hope taught Abraham what it means to love.
It is one thing to read the Bible and another to understand it. We cannot discern the intent of God’s written words unless we understand his thoughts. Interpreting God’s thoughts has plagued the church with incessant quarreling. Discerning what God means or understanding the Spirit behind his words is difficult, but it is a difficulty that can be overcome.
One reason it is so difficult to understand God’s thoughts is the prevalent belief that it is impossible to understand the things God is preparing for his people. That belief has been ingrained in Christian thought by an inaccurate but widely accepted interpretation of a well-known scripture from 1 Corinthians.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9, KJV
Many have quoted this passage to prove God’s desire for his people is a mystery that no one can fathom. In an effort to praise God and extol his greatness, we missed the praise of God that the Apostle Paul intended.
When Paul wrote that no eye has seen, ear heard, or mind conceived what God has prepared, he quoted from the prophet Isaiah. In context, Isaiah was pleading with God to come down and make his name known to his enemies. Then Isaiah praised God, saying, “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” In other words, there is no God like our God. Our God will do awesome and marvelous things that no human mind can conceive if we will wait for him. That doesn’t mean we can’t understand God’s thoughts. After Paul said no eye has seen, ear heard, or mind conceived, he stated in the very next verse, “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.”
Isaiah said “wait for him.” In the New Testament Paul equated “wait” to “love.” If we love God by waiting for him to do the things he promised, God’s Spirit is ready and willing to reveal what he is preparing for us. If we lack this knowledge, we will perceive God as little more than a servant who exists to fulfill our desires.
God gave us his Spirit because he is the only one who knows God’s thoughts.
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:11-10, NIV
The Spirit of God is the only one who can reveal the intent of God’s heart when he speaks to us. The children of Israel heard God’s words at Sinai, but it did not profit or change them because they did not understand God’s intentions. Paul continued his letter to the Corinthians with the good news that we can understand.
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 1 Corinthians 2:12, NIV
When we don’t understand what God desires to give us it is difficult, if not impossible, to be “a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Only the Holy Spirit can help us separate the truth God is speaking from the distortion of truth spread by religious individuals who do not possess God’s Spirit.
Jesus said, “…strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” He immediately followed that statement with a discourse on how to discern a false prophet. Few find the way that leads to life because many false prophets and teachers crowd the gate of truth. If all we do is listen to ministers, we will know their thoughts, but we may not know God’s. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal God’s thoughts to our human spirit. As we seek God by meditating on the Bible and listening to his ministers, the Spirit of God will give us the revelation necessary to separate truth from error. Unfortunately, it is revelation that we will reject, unless we have laid hold on the hope God set before Abraham, the father of our faith.
We stumble and struggle in our Christian walk when we accept thoughts that are not God’s thoughts. God’s people made mistakes. The Bible is not shy about exposing them. If we would stop following Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, etc., and start following God through the Bible, we would learn to see, understand, and think as God does. We would also stop making the same mistakes as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul made. To worship God in Spirit and truth, the things godly men or women say must be understood in the light of God’s actions. If we listen to God’s recorded words in the Bible and compare them to his actions, we discover that God’s people often misunderstood the things God told them with disastrous consequences.
Isaac married Rebekah in 1827 BC when he was forty years old. Twenty years later, Rebekah and Isaac remained childless. Isaac finally took the matter to God in prayer. Rebekah became pregnant, but the proud parents did not know twins were on the way. When the boys in Rebekah’s womb began elbowing each other for space, she wondered if there was something wrong. She did what every believer should do when a problem arises. She asked the Lord, “Why is this happening to me?”  Now listen carefully to the Lord’s reply because he gave Rebekah his thoughts.
The Lord said to her,”Two nations are in your womb, two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Genesis 25:23, NIV
God and I may look at the same things, but we don’t see the same things. Where I would see a baby he would see a nation. I would count two babies; he would count two multitudes. Not only did God count two multitudes when he looked into Rebekah’s womb, he knew what the multitudes would become. God sees potential that is not bound by time and space. Most people see no farther than the day they will die and some no farther than the present.
Everyone whose faith was commended in Hebrews Chapter 11 possessed the ability to see beyond their time and space. This ability is acquired as our faith matures. When we understand the faith God taught Abraham, we will understand goodness. When we understand goodness, we will be able to receive the knowledge of God. When we know God, we will understand why he is exhibiting great restraint among people who do so much evil. When we understand why self-control is important, we will have a reason to persevere. In perseverance, we will develop godliness. When we are godly, we will be kind to one another and in showing kindness; we will understand what it means to love. If we lack the ability to love, we will be blind and unable to see the big picture as God does. God is love; therefore, to see as God sees, we must learn to love as God loves.
Some of the people in Hebrews Chapter 11 accomplished great feats by their faith. Others suffered for their faith but all had one thing in common. Within their lifetime on earth not one of them, including Abraham and Jesus, possessed the things God promised. All of them acknowledged they were strangers in this world, including the most unlikely candidate on the list: King David.
If anyone had a reason to believe he had inherited the promises God made to Abraham, it was David. He lived on the land God promised to give Abraham. Under his leadership, Israel had become a respected and feared nation. Yet, as King David dedicated the things he gathered to construct a temple for God, he acknowledged in prayer, “We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers.” David did not set his heart on a temporary kingdom established upon a covenant of law. He longed for something better than he could give the nation of Israel. Before David died, he disgraced the nation by committing adultery and arranging the death of an innocent man. He survived his moral failure because he could see the day a sinless man would redeem and reign over God’s people.
Now that we have a little insight into how God thinks, let us revisit the question posed at the beginning of this chapter. When did God establish his covenant with Isaac? The answer depends on who God saw when he looked at Isaac in Sarah’s womb. When God gave life to the seed in Sarah’s womb, he did not see one child. God saw the multitude of children who would come into existence through the graciousness of Jesus – the seed the promises were made to.
But as many as received Him [Jesus] to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believed in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12, KJV
The children of promise came into existence because God willed it to be so. The rights of a child are bestowed upon anyone who receives Jesus as their Lord. God never intended to establish his covenant of grace with one man named Isaac. The covenant of grace that God made with Abraham will be established with the multitude God saw when he looked in Sarah’s womb. Isaac symbolizes children that come into existence through divine intervention. Not only was Sarah barren all of her life, she was beyond the age of bearing a child when Isaac was conceived. God’s intervention is the only reason Sarah gave birth to a child.
In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” Romans 9:8-9, NIV
Abraham fathered more than one child. From Hagar Abraham had a son named Ishmael and from Ishmael twelve grandsons. From Keturah, whom he married after Sarah died; Abraham fathered six more sons who produced ten more grandsons. Counting Isaac and his twin sons, Abraham had thirty-two sons and grandsons that we know of. This number does not include the children of Abraham’s concubines that were sent to the east country before Abraham died. None, including the chosen Abraham and Isaac, had a prayer of obtaining the rights of a child of God until the resurrection of the son God had in his thoughts when he looked in Sarah’s womb was born.
God spoke to Abraham three times about the son Sarah would bear. When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the Lord told Abraham he would establish his covenant with Isaac “whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” Within the same year the Lord appeared to Abraham again and promised “about this time next year. . .Sarah your wife will have a son.” Abraham and Sarah did not believe the Lord. Therefore, before the Lord departed, he asked Abraham if anything was too hard for the Lord to do. Then the Lord stated for the third time in less than a year, “at the appointed time” Sarah would have a son.
Even though Abraham and Sarah laughed in unbelief, God repeatedly assured them that at the right time they would have a son. With each assurance God referred to time: by this time, about this time, at the appointed time. The relevant issue is time. Nothing is too hard for the Lord to do if we are willing to wait for the right time.
Nothing is impossible if we have enough time because the impossible is not easy to do. Consider the bloodstained cross. Think about the price God paid to do the impossible: justify unjustifiable men and women yet remain a God of absolute justice. God can fix any problem, but it is not easy to do because God does not abuse his power. He works within the boundaries of the law he gave to Moses.
But when the time had fully come God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Galatians 4:4, NIV
The time came for Isaac to be born, but in Abraham and Isaac’s generation it was not yet time for the son to be born who would redeem God’s people. It wasn’t time for Jesus to be born because “sin is not taken into account when there is no law.” Abraham and Isaac did not enter into a covenant of law; therefore, there was nothing to redeem them from. The law had not been given, and the nation that would suffer under the law’s curse did not need to be redeemed from the curse – yet! Isaac foreshadowed the covenant of grace God made with Abraham. God had time on his mind because there is a time for everything.
God knew the time would come for his son to be born and make a way for everyone from every nation to obtain the full rights of a child without falling under the curse of the law as the nation of Israel did.
“For it is written Be glad O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud you who have no labor pains because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband. Now you brothers like Isaac are children of promise.” Galatians 4:27-28
For Isaac to inherit the promises made to his father Abraham, he must walk in the same steps of faith his father walked in, and learn the same lessons of faith. Isaac must believe in the same prophet his father saw afar off. He must also believe God would raise this prophet from the dead. No one gets a free ride into the kingdom. All of God’s children receive the kingdom God the same way Abraham did – through faith that a promise made is a promise kept when God is speaking.
Ishmael was never excluded from inheriting the rights of children that God promised to his father. God chose the nation Isaac became so Ishmael could know God. All Ishmael had to do was follow in his father Abraham’s steps of faith and he could become a child of promise just like Isaac. The God of Abraham is the God of ALL humanity. Therefore, when God is giving good things, his things are available to ALL because all men are created equal.
God’s promise to establish his covenant with Isaac was a promise to establish his covenant of grace with the children of promise. This covenant will be established when Jesus returns to inherit the land God promised to give him. If the covenant of grace were already established, Jesus would be living on the land God promised him in Abraham’s covenant. Currently, Jesus is in heaven serving as an intercessor between God and man until his time comes to establish God’s kingdom on the earth with people from every generation and every nation who allowed him to establish his kingdom in their hearts.
The covenant of grace frees humanity from obeying every law but it does not free God. The New Testament tells us this covenant will be established with one seed meaning Christ. Blood was shed when God made his covenant with Abraham and then God came to eat a meal with him. After God and Abraham shared a meal, he treated Abraham like a friend by revealing his plans for the future. The meal was the final step in establishing the covenant. The covenant of grace established with Abraham promised to establish a covenant of law with the only seed of Abraham who could obey every law without failure.
What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. Galatians 3:17, NIV
The covenant making process with Jesus has only proceeded as far as the shedding of blood. God permitted a delay in establishing the covenant of grace because he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” In Revelation Chapter 10 the angel standing with one foot on the land and one foot on the sea lifts his right hand and announces “There will be no more delay!” This has given Jews and Gentiles opportunity to repent. Everyone who repents receives an earnest, pledge, deposit, guarantee, or down payment (depending on the translation you read) that they will receive everything God has promised. In so doing, God fulfilled his promise that Abraham would bless all peoples of the earth that embrace Abraham’s faith. Since the promise is for all nations, God made a way for everyone from any nation to become a child of promise.
God’s offer stands. He gave us the covenant agreement in writing. The blood of a sinless man was shed that sinful men might be redeemed. Everyone has the right to accept or reject God’s gracious offer personally and individually just as Abraham did, but no one has been to the wedding supper of the Lamb yet.
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9, NIV
The last item on the agenda to establish the covenant with the children of promise is dinner with God. When Jesus puts on his kingly crown and leads us into the Promised Land, the door to the adoption office will be closed. It is unknown if that door will ever open again, so don’t lose your invitation to the wedding. You just might regret it – forever!
 Genesis 22:17, NIV
 Hebrews 11:10, 16; 13:14
 Genesis 11:1-9;
 Genesis 6:5, KJV
 Genesis 11:31
 From The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)
 Joshua 24:2
 Hebrews 11:10
 Ecclesiastes 4:12, NIV; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7
 Isaiah 64:4
 1 Corinthians 2:10, NIV
 2 Timothy 2:15, NIV
 Matthew 7:14, KJV
 Genesis 25:22, NIV
 2 Peter 1:5-9
 1 Chronicles 29:15, NIV
 Genesis 25:6
 Genesis 17:21, NIV
 Genesis 18:10, NIV
 Genesis 18:14, NIV
 Genesis 17:17; 18:12-15
 Romans 5:13, NIV
 Ecclesiastes 3:1
 Galatians 3:16
 Genesis 15:9-10
 Genesis Chapter 18; John 15:15
 2 Peter 3:9, KJV
 Revelation 10:6
 Ephesians 1:13-14