HOW DOES GOD KEEP HIS PROMISES?
What if we have done our part by "believing", but we haven't seen any results?
Is there something we don't understand? Is there something else we need to do
to see God's promises fulfilled?
If you are searching for answers to these kinds of questions, I encourage you to
read the following pages. In this booklet, RBC staff writer Kurt De Haan guides
us through a study of what the Bible says about the promises of God. Use this
material as a starting point for your own discovery of the vast wealth of
promises we have been given by a faithful God.
But You Promised!
Have people ever let you down? That question belongs in the same category as:
Do birds have wings? Do fish have fins? Is the sun hot? Is water wet?
But what about this question: Has God ever let you down? What if we rephrase
it: Have you ever felt that God didn't keep His word? Think about it for a
minute. Have you wondered, even complained, that He didn't come through the way
you thought He said He would?
We know, for instance, that God has promised to protect and care for His
children in this world. He has promised to make them strong, to fill their
hearts with joy and a peace that passes all understanding. We know that God has
promised to answer our prayers.
Yet at times those promises seem empty. Our prayers for a rebellious child or
an unsaved spouse seem to go unanswered. A friend dies of cancer. Inflation
chews at our paycheck. Neighborhood crime gets worse. Terrorists plague the
world. And Jesus hasn't come back yet.
What happened to all the promises? Has God failed to keep His word? Have our
expectations exceeded God's promises?
What is a promise? The way some people use the term, a promise is nothing more
than a good intention -- easily discarded if it gets in the way. They see a
promise as something that is made to be broken. But when God makes a promise,
He's doing more than just expressing wishful thinking. He is giving His
absolutely trustowrthy word!
The original language of the Old Testament does not have a specific word for the
concept of promise, but that doesn't mean the idea isn't there. The Hebrew
words (amar, dabar) that are translated by the English word promise have the
meaning of "to say" or "to speak". When God and others in the Bible speak about
what they will do in the future, the word promise fits well. In each case, the
speaker's word, honor, and integrity are at stake.
The New Testament follows the same pattern as the Old. God stands behind what
He says. Therefore the idea comes naturally from the Greek word angelia, which
means "an announcement" or "a message".
The promises of God are the heart of the Bible. Everything God has spoken,
every announcement, every message, is really a promise based on God's perfect,
good, and trustowrthy character.
Why is there confusion about the way God keeps His promises? At times, a gap
developes between what we think God has said He would do and what we see
happening in our everyday experience. This gap, however, says more about our
failure to understand than about God's ability to remain true. Our confusion
can be due to any one (or several) of the following factors.
1. Faulty expectations. At time we may fall into the trap of thinking that
God will keep his promises in the way we expect. We might assume that He will
do it in ways that are immediately obvious rather than in a manner that becomes
apparent only in time. We may expect Him to change our external circumstances
and environment when what He rally wants us to see is that His promises can be
fulfilled through inner changes in us.
We tend to be shortsighted. God is intoo long-range planning. We see only the
surface, here-and-now events, and we do not know how God is working behind the
scenes to fit the pieces together to form an overall pattern. The ways God has
acted in the past, though, show that He fulfills some promises in stages or in
2. Faulty interpretations and applications. We may simply miss the point of
what God has said. Or we may understand a biblical promise accurately but fail
to see that God gave the promise to someone else in a particular situation.
A small book of collected biblical promises states in the introduction: "Take
each promise to mean just exactly what is says. Don't try to interpret it or
add to it or read between the lines." That may sound good. We certainly must
avoid reading "between the lines" of Scripture, but it is dangerous to say that
we should not try to interpret the promises. That can be a huge mistake.
Failure to understand a promise in its context can lead to some very bad
conclusions. Too many people go around quoting Bible verses as promises to them
as individuals when in fact the promises were given to specific biblical
characters, a nation, or only to people of a certain time period.
3. Faulty feelings. Our emotions have a way of taking over the driver's seat
of our lives. Wrong emotions can overrule right thinking. As a result, if we
have been hurt, we blame God for not doing what we think He promised. The death
of a loved one can cause us to lose perspective if we allow our feelings to
override the truth about God. A failed romance or a marriage on the rocks can
trigger doubts. Personal rejection, failure, loss of a job, physical pain, or
injustice can stir up feelings against God that become stronger than any force
4. Faulty memory. When it comes to remembering, we can all be like an
absent-minded professor who forgets how to get home. We can get so wrapped up
in the details of everyday life that we forget more than just anniversaries,
birthdays, phone calls, groceries, and appointments. We even forget what should
mean the most to us -- the eivdence of God's faithfulness in our lives and how
He has fulfilled His promises to us in the past. As a result, we lose
confidence in His ability to be faithful in the future.
So now what do we do? How do we bring our expectations and feelings in line
with God's plans and truths? How do we live a fulfilling life by faith in God's
promises? That's what the following pages will try to resolve.
HOW DOES GOD KEEP HIS PROMISES?
Every political campaign seems to be the same. Promises and platitudes pollute
the air. (Maybe that's what is depleting the earth's ozone layer!) Each
candidate tries to out- promise the other. And after every election, the
results are predictably the same.
Some promises are quickly broken because the candidate never intended to fulfill
them. Other promises, while well-intentioned, were beyond the candidtae's power
and ability to fulfill. Maybe an unforeseen string of events or new information
changed the politician's mind about the wisdom of his original statement.
powerful special-interest groups may exert pressure, making sure that they get
what was promised, while less influential people seem to get lost in the crowd.
God, though, is not like a politician, a corporate executive, a supervisor, a
teacher, a student, an employee, a coach, a player, a father, a mother, or a
child. Everybody -- not just the politician -- has a problem with keeping
promises. We all have difficulty following through on our word. God, however,
does not. He has all the power and wisdom in the universe at His disposal. He
will never have to make an excuse for failing to fulfill what He has promised,
and we have no excuse for not believing Him.
We've already mentioned some possible reasons for the seeming gap between our
perceptions of God's promises and how life actually is played out. Together,
let us search for answers that will help us correct our view of God and His
promises. We will discover that God keeps His promises (1) on His terms, (2) to
His intended audience, (3) by His methods, and (4) in His time.
On His Terms
Do you read product labels? If you do, you've read words like these: "This
product is guaranteed for 5 years from date of purchase against defects in
workmanship. this guarantee excludes damage caused by failure to follow label
direction." Or you've read a recipe in a cookbook that guarantees a delicious
dessert -- if you follow the directions. You can't get away with substituting
baking soda for flour, or salt for sugar.
God's terms for keeping His advertised promises are clearly stated. And what He
promises, He will deliver. Some promises come with an unconditional guarantee.
That is, He promises to hold up His end of the agreement no matter what we do.
Then there are promises that carry with them directions (conditions) that we
must follow if we are to enjoy all that He has offered. These conditional
promises are dependent on our fulfilling certain requirements.
Psalm 100 reminds us of the character qualities of the One who makes promises on
His terms. "Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and now we
ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates
with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and
bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth
endures to all generations" (vv. 3-5).
The One who made us continues to be the Lord over all of live. By His nature
God is good, merciful, and forever true to His word. The rest of the Bible
tells us how God's promises to mankind reflect those qualities. Because He is
all those things, we do not have to fear when we hear that God keeps His
promises on His terms.
What kinds of conditions are attached to God's promises? Many promises are like
appliance warranties that hold true only if the customer does not do things that
void the agreement. That was the case in the Garden of Eden. God promised that
Adam and Eve would enjoy life in the Garden if they followed His rules, but they
would suffer the death penalty if they disobeyed (Gen. 2:16,17).
The covenant that God made with Moses and the people of Israel at Mount Sinai
contained many conditions. Prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, God
said to Israel that if they kept the covenant agreement with Him and obeyed Him
fully, He would care for them as His special treasure (Ex. 19:3-6).
The Ten Commandments state a few results of missing or meeting God's conditions.
The Lord said that He would punish all who worshiped idols, but He would show
love to those who loved Him (Ex. 20:4-6). He pormised to hold guilty anyone who
spoke His name in a disrespectful or contemptuous way (v. 7). He promised long
life in the Promised Land to those who honored their parents (v. 12).
In Exodus 23:20-33, God said He would wipe out Israel's enemies when they went
into Palestine, He would take away sickness, and He would ensure long life and
no miscarriages. However, the conditions included paying attention to and
obeying the Angel of God, worshiping God, and not making a covenant with their
enemies or allowing them to live in the Promised Land.
Here are some other examples of conditional Old Testament promises:
* God promised success, prosperity, and protection if the people obeyed the
Law of Moses (Josh. 1:7-9).
* God told Gideon that if he followed His directions, he would win a battle
(Judg. 7:1- 25).
* God told Eli that His previous promise to bless his family and maintain
his family priesthood was going to be nullified bacuase of the sins of Eli and
his sons (1 Sam. 2:27-36).
* When the Israelites asked for a king, the Lord promised good things if the
people honored and obeyed Him, but warned of judgment if they rebelled (1 Sam.
* Because Saul failed to measure up to God's demands, he forfeited the
kingship (1 Sam. 13:13,14).
* If a person takes his advice from the Lord and not from wicked people, he
will enjoy the Lord's favor (Ps. 1).
* A person can enjoy a close relationship with God if he does what is right,
speaks the truth, does no wrong to his neighbor, despises the vile person,
honors the righteous, keeps his work, and does not exploit others (Ps. 15).
* If a person puts his trust in the Lord and follows obediently, he will
experience the shepherding love of God (Ps. 23).
* If you "delight...in the Lord", then "He shall give you the desires of
your heart" (Ps. 37:4).
* If a person reveres God, he will find wisdom and gain God's blessing
(Prov. 2:1-8; 3:1- 10).
* Isaiah reminded the people of the Lord's desire to gibve them the best He
had to offer -- if they would only obey Him (Is. 1:10-20).
* Ezekiel said that a person could expect judgment if he were guilty, and
honor if he were righteous (Ezek. 18).
* Jonah announced judgment on Nineveh if the people did not repent (Jonah
A few examples of New Testament conditions:
* God will bless if we become poor in pspirt, mourn over sin, express
meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, seek purity, pursue
peace, or experience persecution for God's sake (Matt. 5:1-12).
* If we seek what has eternal value, God will take care of our temporal
needs (Matt. 6:25-34).
* If we put our trust in Jesus, we will be given eternal life; but if we
reject Him, we cannot escape condemnation (John 3:16-18).
* If we submit to God and resist the devil, he will flee from us (James
* God has given us everything we need to live in a way that pleases Him. If
we take hold of what He has given to us, we will "never stumble" and we will be
rewarded in heaven (2 Pet. 1:3-11).
* God will forgive if we confess (1 John 1:9).
* If we ask anything according to God's will, we will receive what we pray
for (1 John 5:14,15).
What kinds of promises are unconditional? An unconditional promise is simply
one in which God says He will do something, and nothing we can do will stop if
from happening. The fulfillment of unconditional promises does not depend on
the faithfulness of people, but only on God. Even if we are unfaithful, God
cannot be anything but faithful to His word (2 Tim. 2:13).
Some examples of unconditional promises:
* God told Noah that He would never again send a worldwide flood (Gen.
* God promised Abraham a son, a nation from his descendants, and a land
* David received assurance that his royal line would last forever (2 Sam.
* God repeatedly told Israel of His unfailing love for them and His ultimate
plan to restore their nation (Jer. 30-33).
* Jesus said He would return to earth to reward the righteous and punish the
wicked (Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46).
* Jesus promised that after He ascended to heaven He would send the Holy
Spirit (John 16:5-15).
* Jesus said that Satan's forces would never overcome the church (Matt.
* Jesus promised to save, keep, and resurrect to eternal life all who trust
in Him (John 6:35-40).
Can God's promises ever be only partially fulfilled? Yes. Some promises may be
fulfilled in part because only part of the conditions have been met, or the
promises may be fulfilled in stages according to God's plan.
For example, the Lord told the Jewish people who were coming out of Egypt that
He would drive out the nations before them and give them the Promised Land.
They were to do this in stages (Deut. 7:22, but because of their failure to
follow all His instructions they only drove out part of the people who inhabited
the land, and they experienced only part of God's blessing.
Another good example is the groups of prophecies about the coming Messiah. The
Old Testament promises were fulfilled in part dfuring Christ's first coming and
the others will be fulfilled when He comes again. The prophets spoke of a
coming king who would be of the line of David, a king who would restore Israel's
status as God's special nation (Is. 9:6,7; Jer. 33:14-26; Zech. 9:9,10). Jesus
fulfilled the part of the promise about the suffering Servant (Is. 53) and will
one day return to set up His eternal kingdom.
Should the book of Proverbs be interpreted as promises? The proverbs are
promises in the broad sense that they describe how God rewards those who fear
Him and live wisely, and how He opposes those who disregard Him and live
We can run into problems, however, if we do not interpret the
proverbs within the context of Old Testament wisdom writings and in light of all
The proverbs offer practical wisdom about the effects of certain kinds of
actions. For example, a person who lives a life of violence can expect to be a
victim of violence (1:18,19). Ignoring the wisdom of the proverbs will lead to
a shortenend, problem-filled life (1:19-33) instead of a life that enjoys the
favor of God (2:1-8). Every proverb, though, cannot be understood as a promise
of here-and-now results. Within the context of the whole Bible, we know that in
many cases God reserves the right to delay perfect justice until the day of
Many verses in Proverbs 3 seem to promise wealth, health, safety, and happiness
to those who follow the path of wisdom. Proverbs 10:3 says that the righteous
person will not go hungry. A righteous person will be untouched by trouble,
according to 19:23.
No one would deny that these proverbs do reflect the
general principles of how God has designed life to operate -- we reap what we
sow (Prov. 11:24-26; 22:8,9; 2 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 6:7). But life is not always so
predictable -- as the experiences of Job, David, Solomon, the apostle Paul and
other Bible characters demonstrate. In many cases, God has something better in
store for a person than immediate here-and-now blessings -- such people are
laying up treasure in heaven.
The proverbs, therefore, provide down-to-earth principles for everyday life.
The person who wants to be wise and enjoy God's favor will read the proverbs and
put their God- fearing instruction into practice.
Thinking It Over. How is God's ability to keep His promises different from our
ability to keep our promises? Why does God keep His promises? Are you enjoying
the full benefits of God's promises, or are there conditions that you are not
To His Intended Audience. Has this ever happened to you? As you pull the
envelope out of your mailbox, you read: "You are the winner of 10 million
dollars..." For a moment you don't know whether to jump up and down or to call
all your relatives. But when sanity returns, you decide to open the envelope
first. When you do, you notice how the sentence continues (in smaller print of
course): "...if your numbers match those selected by the sweepstakes computer".
The promise of 10 million dollars applies only to the one person who received
the right numbers.
When you read the Bible and you come across a statement that sounds like it
would be a great promise, can you claim it for yourself? Maybe you are
unemployed, having a hard time making your savings stretch, and you open your
Bible to the place where God gives a great promise about being prosperous and
living in a land flowing with milk and honey. Would you get excited? You might
if you didn't read on to learn that the promise was intended for Israle prior to
occupying the Promised Land, not you and your desire to move to Beverly Hills.
Although such a promise is limited to whom it is address, it does reflect God's
ability to prosper anyone He chooses to prosper.
The author of Psalm 145 recognized that while some of God's good promises apply
to all people, other promises apply only to a select person or group: "The Lord
is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works...You open Your
hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing...The Lord is near to all who
call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of
those who fear Him; He alsoo will hear their cry and save them. The Lord
preserves all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy" (Ps.
Before we can claim one of God's promises, we need to know if He is talking to
us or not.
What has God promised to all people? A few of the promises that apply to all
inhabitants of the earth include: salvation to those who believe and
condemnation to all who reject Christ (John 3:16-18); the assurance that the
earth will never again be destroyed by a flood (Gen. 9:11); a continuation of
the cycles of nature as long as the earth exists (Gen. 8:22); history that will
culminate according to God's master plan (Dan. 7-12); a day of judgment for
believers (2 Cor. 5:10) and unbelievers (Rev. 20:11-15); a promise that God's
character will not change (1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17); rewards for all
who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6); and the certainty that everything He says
will happen (Matt. 5:18; 24:34,35).
What has God promised to all believers? Second Peter 1 states that "His divine
power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the
knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virture, by which have been given to
us exceedingly great and precious promises" (vv. 3,4). Among those great
promises (conditional and unconditional) are the following:
* Provision for our needs (Matt. 6:25-34).
* Answer to prayer (Matt. 7:7-11; 1 John 5:14,15).
* All we need to live for Him (2 Pet. 1:3,4).
* Rewards for service (2 Cor. 5:10).
* Help in our praying (Rom. 8:26).
* Eternal life (John 3:16; 5:24).
* A home in heaven (John 14:1-4).
* Assurance of salvation (John 10:29).
* The Holy Spirit within (Eph. 1:13,14).
* Spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12).
* Forgiveness for daily sins (1 John 1:9).
* Peace of mind (Phi. 4:7).
* A way to defeat temptation (1 cor. 10:13).
* Wisdom in times of testing (James 1:5).
* Power for living (Eph. 1:19; 3:20).
* Access to God through prayer (Eph. 3:12).
* Mercy and grace in times of need (Heb. 4:16).
* The illumination of the Spirit (1 cor. 2:6-16).
* Freedom from sin's grip (Rom. 6:22).
* Loving discipline (Heb. 12:3-11).
* Ability to make Satan flee (James 4:7).
* Resurrection to glory (1 Thess. 4:16,17).
* Strength to do God's will (Phil. 4:13).
What has God promised to Israel? The history of that nation has been one of
repeated promised and the people's failure to benefit from God's gracious
offers. The entire Old Testament - the books of Moses, the Writings, and the
Prophets - are full of promises. The promises come in the form of assurances of
God's love and care for them, as well as prophetic statements about Israel's
future and the future of the surrounding nations. A few of the many promises to
Israel are: possession of the land of Palestine (Gen. 13:14-17); the Law's
blessings and curses (Deut. 28); judgment, exile, restoration (the Prophets); a
Messiah (Is. 52,53).
What has God promised to specific individuals? Many biblical promises have
application to only one individual or a specific group. Here are a few
* Pre-Flood inhabitants: death (Gen. 6).
* Noah and his family: rescue (Gen. 7:1).
* Abram: descendants (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-6).
* Jacob's family: blessings (Gen. 28:10-16).
* Jews: a land of "milk and honey" (Ex. 3:8).
* Moses: miraculous signs (Ex. 4:1-17).
* Pharaoh and his people: plagues (Ex. 5-14).
* Joshua: a dry path through a river (Josh. 3).
* Gideon: victory in battle (Judg. 6:16).
* Saul: abilities needed as king (1 Sam. 10:6).
* David: a son to build the temple (2 Sam. 7).
* Solomon: wisdom and riches (1 Kin. 3:10-14).
* Hezekiah: 15 more years of life (2 Kin. 20:5,6).
* Mary: a supernatural conception (Luke 1:26-38).
* Disciples: Spirit-aided memory (John 14:26).
* Paul: strength to endure infirmities (2 Cor. 12:9).
Even though some promises were given to specific people, can't the principles
apply to us? In some cases yes, and in other cases no. If the promise reflects
an unchanging characteristic of God and how He relates to us, then we can
resonably assume that because He is unchanging (James 1:17) He will continue to
reflect that promise in relating to other people. For example, when the Lord
told the apostle Paul, "My strength is made perfect in weakness", He was
addressing a specific situation in Paul's life - the "thorn in the flesh" of 2
Corinthians 12:7-10. Yet that truth applies to all people who recognize their
weakness and reach out to God for strength (Eph. 1:19).
An example of a promise that we cannot rightfully claim is the one given to
Joshua when the Lord said, "I will give you every place where you set your foot"
(Josh. 1:3 niv). That might sound like a great promise to claim if we were
looking for a home and didn't have enough money, but we would be out of order to
do so. That promise could remind us that God can give us anything He in His
wisdom and power chooses to give us - including a home we could afford.
Thinking It Over. What is the danger of claiming for ourselves the promises
that were given specifically to other people? Take time to reread the above
list of promises given to believers. Thank the Lord for what He has promised.
Can you think of other biblical promises that God has given to you?
By His Methods. While we sit and scratch our heads trying to figure out how God
is going to answer a prayer or fulfill His promises, He is calmly and powerfully
workking out His plans, oftentimes behind the scenes of life, and in ways and
for reasons that we cannot comprehend.
In Isaiah 55, the Lord descirbed our inability to understand His methods. He
said, "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways', says
the Lord. 'For as the heavens are high than the earth, so are My ways higher
than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down,
and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make
it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the
eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to
Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the
thing for which I sent it'" (vv. 8-11).
although His reasons may elude us, and His methods may surprise us, God always
fulfills His promises. As the apostle Paul said, "The foolishness of God is
wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:25).
In what obvious ways does God fulfill His promises? Most of the promises and
prophecies of the Bible have already been fulfilled. In many cases the
fulfillment of the promise was clear and undeniable, just as expected.
When God told Pharaoh that He was going to send a plague of frogs, He did just
that (ex. 8). When the Lord told David that his son would build the temple,
Solomon was born and he later built it (2 Sam. 7;1-17; 1 Kin. 5-8). When God
siad that Judah would be judged for her unfaithfulness and be sent into exile,
that is what happened (Jer. 25). God promised a Messiah-Savior, and Jesus came
(Is. 53; Matt. 1). Jesus said the temple would be destroyed, and in AD 70 it
was demolished (Matt. 24:2). Jesus promised to build His church, and it has
been growing ever since (Matt. 16:18). Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit,
and on the Day of Pentecost the Spirit came (John 14:16,17; Acts 2:1-4). God
told the apostle Pual that he would protect him while he was ministering in
Corinth, and Paul was not harmed (Acts 18:9- 11).
The Bible is full of promises that were fulfilled in obvious ways, just as one
would expect. At other times, though, God's methods are a little harder to
In what mysterious ways does God fulfill His promises? Sometimes we may have a
hard time recognizing how God has fulfilled a promise or imagining how He will
fulfill a promise.
When God promised in the Old Testament that He would send a Messiah, few people
expected a Messiah like Jesus. No one could have predicted the way God brought
both Jew and Gentile together into the body of Christ, the church. No one
anticipated such a long time between Messiah's work as Redeemer and His work as
Judge and King.
On many different occasions, the apostle Paul used the word mystery to describe
the way God's plan of salvation has been fulfilled in Christ. The Lord revealed
these truths: the inclusion of both Jew and Gentile in fulfilling God's
promises of salvation (Rom. 11:25; Eph. 3:2-6), the manner in which Jesus
provided forgiveness of sins (Rom. 16:25; Col. 1:24-27), the resurrection of
believers in glorified bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-54), the glory of the indwelling
Christ (Col. 1:27), and establishing the church as central to God's plan to
fulfill His promises (Eph. 3:8-10).
At the center of God's mysterious fulfillment of promises about our salvation,
our present life, and the life to come is Jesus Christ. Second Corinthians 1:20
states, "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the
glory of God through us." Jesus Christ fulfills the heart of all that "the Law
of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms: spoke about (Luke 24:44). The Old and
the New Covenant promises are based on and find their fulfillment in what Christ
has done and will do (Rom. 9-11, Gal. 3-5, Heb. 7-10).
How are some promises fulfilled in ways we may not expect? At times in the Old
Testament the Lord used means that people could understand. He would send them
into battle with a promise of victory, and He would give the strength to over
come an enemy. On other occasions, though, He would do something very
unexpected. For example, the defeat of Pharaoh's army as they pursued the
escaping Jews (Ex. 14), the collapse of the walls of Jericho (Josh. 6), and the
killing of 185,000 Assyrians by the angel of the Lord (2 Kin. 19:35)
demonstrated God's ability to fulfill His promises in unexpected and
Another example, this time from the New Testament, shows how some promises are
fulfilled differently than we might have predicted. Jesus told His disciples,
"Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death
till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (Matt. 16:28). Six days
later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him up a mountain. There Jesus'
appearance changed, and the disciples caught a glimpse of Christ's coming glory
(17:1-8). They saw a partial fulfillment of what would be completely fulfilled
in the future when Jesus would come in His glory to establish His rule over all
How does God fulfill some promises in a spiritual way? Although God sometimes
fulfills promises in visible ways, at other times He demonstrates His
faithfulness by providing invisible, spiritual blessings.
The Psalms contain many statements about the power of God to bless the righteous
with protection, wealth, health, and long life. We would be wrong, though, to
conclude that we can expect nothing but physical prosperity in this life. One
look at the life ofDavid contradicts that idea. His life was one of repeated
conflict and ups and downs of physical well-being.
It is true that we will reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7,8), but that does not mean
that we will reap all the benefits right now, in this life, in physical,
tangible ways. Job knew that. His friends, though, made the mistake of
assuming that right living always translates into a trouble-free life right here
and now. Or look at the life of the apostle Paul. He went through all types of
good and bad experiences, yet he found that in all of life he could be content
because God was being faithful to him (Phil. 4:11-13).
My wife made a plaque for my office with the words of Isaiah 40:28-31 written on
it. Verse 31 states, "But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint." Since I like to jog regularly, it would be great
if I could take those words to mean strength for running a 25k race without
getting tired. But the Lord wasn't speaking to me about running in a physical
What those poetic verses promise, however, is God's strength to do what He wants
you and me to do. In that sense, the words are echoed by Paul's statement: I
can do all things through christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). The
fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 40, then, comes primarily through the
provision of inner strength.
Thinking It Over. What kind of conclusion did Job come to after he had
questioned God's method of dealing with him? (Job 42:1-3). Why do we sometimes
have trouble under- standing God's methods of keeping His promises? How have
God's promises been fulfilled in your life?
In His Time. Preschool children have trouble comprehending time. (I know. I
have preschoolers!) You can't tell a child, "We're going to the zoo in 2
weeks", and not expect him to ask you every day for the next 2 weeks if "today"
is the day to go to the zoo.
Adults also have trouble with time. We have difficulty understanding God's
timing and how He fulfills His promises. We can't wait. We expect results
today or tomorrow, not years from now.
The author of Ecclesiastes, however, put God's timing into proper perspective.
He wrote, "To everythings there is a season, a time for every purpose under
heaven...(God) has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put
eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does
from beginning to end...God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there
shall be a time there for every purpose and for every work: (3:1,11,17).
In Ecclesiastes 3, the writer points out that the time-bound people of planet
earth cannot grasp God's eternal purposes (v. 11). The perpetual changes of
life are part of God's pattern, His plan for all the ages. From the human
perspecitve, though, it looks like a bunch of tangled thread on the back of a
piece of tapestry. We cannot see how God is working it all together.
As a result, we sometimes question God's timing. If we don't see His promise
becoming reality right now, we become impatient. We need to teach ourselves
that God's timing is best.
How does God delay in keeping His promises? Hebrews 11 gives us a sampling of
Old Testament saints who came to realize that God fulfills His promises
according to His time plan. They lived by faith, believing thatGod would
eventually do all He promised, even if they did not understand why the Lord
delayed action for several years or beyond their lifetime.
Abraham is the preeminent example in Hebrews 11. When God told him to pack his
bags and travel to the land of promise, Abraham went, though he didn't know
where he was going. The Lord told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child,
yet the Lord waited until their old age to fulfill His word. And Abraham had to
imagine the future when his descendants would inherit the Promised Land.
Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph knew of God's promise for their descendants, but they
did not see fulfillment (vv. 20-22). Moses knew that the Lord would rescue His
people, but he had to wait until he was 80 years old before the Lord used him to
lead the people out of Egypt. Moses even chose mistreatment in the short run so
that later He would be rewarded by God (vv. 25,26).
The writer of Hebrews 11 also lists Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David,
Samuel, and the prophets. Their lives were a combination of immediate blessing
and delayed fulfillment. Verses 33 through 35 list several ways in which they
saw God's blessings. But verses 35 through 38 list the terrible torture,
imprisonment, and death that many faced. And then the cahpter ends with these
words: "And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not
receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they
should not be made perfect apart from us" (vv. 39,40).
The writer of Hebrews saw how all the promises were ultimately fulfilled in
Christ -- in what He has done to provide salvation and what He will do to bring
God's plan for earth to fulfillment. Faith is being able to wait and trust the
Lord to fulfill all He has said He will do, even if life is hard for us now.
How have people responded to God's delays? The people of the past have resonded
like you and I might have. Some grew impatient. Others kept the faith. Still
others mocked those who looked to the future.
Abraham had his moments of doubt even though he was a man of faith. When his
wife Sarah grew old without bearing a child, Abraham and Sarah began to get
creative about fulfilling God's promise. The birth of Ishmael by Hagar was the
result (Gen. 16). But God, in His time, brought about the miraculous birth of
Isaac (Gen. 21:1-7).
The Hebrews who came out of Egypt complained and griped against Moses and
against God because everything didn't turn out just as they expected after they
escaped slavery in Egypt. As a result, they ended up wandering around in the
desert for 40 years -- and a whole generation of people missed out on the
promise of entering Palestine (Num. 14).
David was anointed king while Saul was still on the throne. Yet David was a
fugitive from Saul's "hit men" for many years. When he did become king, David
saw much evidence of the Lord's goodness to him. But David's kingship was far
from tranquil, with betrayals and turmoil (1 Sam. 16-31; 2 Sam. 1-24).
Job came to realize that perfect justice was not to be experienced during our
lifetime. He learned that God's timing and God's program are perfect and wise
The disciples had to learn that Jesus was not immediately going to reestablish
the nation of Israel and inaugurate the millennial kingdom (Acts 1:6-8). They
had to learn that there was going to be a period of time between His first
coming and His second coming (Matt. 24,25). Because Jesus was not the
conquering king that many people expected, they rejected Him, and only a few
believed in Him until after the resurrection.
Paul wrote encouraging words to believers who were in danger of despair in the
face of persecution and the propsect of not seeing immediate relief (1 Cor. 15;
2 Cor. 4).
Unbelievers in the last days will ridicule the promise of Christ's second
coming. The spostle Peter said that these scoffers would say, "Where is the
promise of His coming?" (2 Pet. 3:4). Peter responded with these words:
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a
thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack
concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,
not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2
Believers, those who profess faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, have a life
that can be far from glorious. We can be plagued with impatience and doubts.
Like the psalmist, we may wonder why God allows the wicked to prosper and why He
doesn't fulfill His promise by bringing judgment right now (Ps. 73). We too
can become so distracted by the present world that we lose sight of the world to
We can also benefit from what the apostle Paul wrote at the close of his first
letter to Timothy. He warned about a preoccupation with the present -- the
riches and the pleasure of life. Paul encouraged Timothy to "pursue
righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness," and to "fight the
good fight of faith" (1 Tim. 6:11,12). The apostle then said about Christ's
second coming: "He will manifest (it) in His own time" (v. 15).
Who is wiser than God? Nobody. All of the promises of God are fulfilled in His
perfect timing, according to His wisdom. Many of those promises are fulfilled
now. Many await fulfillment.
All who trust Christ for forgiveness of sins receive that forgiveness and new
life immediately -- along with all the spiritual benefits (John 3; Eph. 1). And
while some people experience the evidence of God's love and care through
propserity of life and good health, others experience the love and strength of
God through poverty and sickness. In all cases, though, God is true to His
word. He fulfills His promises.
Thinking It Over. What promises of God would encourage a follower of Christ to
keep on living for Him? How do people in the world mock the hope of Christians?
What fulfillment of biblical promises can give you and me confidence that God
will keep His promises to us now and in the life to come?
If you want to follow the advice of the great hymn "Standing on the Promises",
you need to be sure you are on solid footing. As we've seen in this study of
God's promises, our spiritual lives must be founded on what God has said -- not
merely on what we wish He had said or what we think He might have said. We need
to be sure we are not misquoting the Lord when we calim a biblical promise for
The basic rules of proper interpretation that apply to the whole Bible also form
the starting point for our interpretation of biblical promises. The rules of
interpretation can be summed up in one word -- context. Two principles from the
Radio Bible Class booklet How Can I Understnad the Bible? are especially
relevant to this study.
1. The context of immediate setting: Look at the verses that immediately
precede and follow the promise. Does your interpretation fit the context?
2. The context of the whole Bible: Consider the passage in its relation to
the whole Bible. God does not contradict Himself. The interpretation of the
promise must be in keeping with all of Scripture. This step requires a growing
knowledge of God's Word and a dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide your
understanding of the Bible.
In this booklet we have examined the promises of God in four categories. As we
read the Scriptures, we can learn how to interpret and apply those promises.
Use the questions listed on the next page as guidelines.
1. The terms of the promise. Does the promise have conditions to fulfill? Do
you meet the conditions? What will happen if you fail to measure up? What
characteristics of God can increase your confidence in His promises?
2. The people of the promise. Is the promise given to all people of all time?
Is a specific individual mentioned? Are only believers in view? Is the promise
to obedient believers only? Are you included?
3. The method of the promise. Does the Scripture imply obvious fulfillment?
Could the promise be fulfilled spiritually? Could the promise be fulfilled
physically? How is God's faithfulness demonstrated? What are some of the options
in your situation?
4. The time of the promise. Can fulfillment be expected soon? Will it be
fulfilled in heaven? Can God fulfill this promise a number of times? Why would
God possibly delay fulfillment? Are you willing to trust God's timing? Could the
promise be only partially fulfilled?
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
In the world of shopping, if the product sounds too good to be true, it probably
is. Whether it's a vegetable chopper, a weed wacker, or the latest automobile,
the advertised image is more likely to be a mirage than reality. What you think
is a bargain can turn out to be a major disappointment.
God never advertises more than He delivers. He's not out to deceive us. He
wants us to have the best He has to offer -- the joy of a close relationship
with Him now, and heaven later.
To enjoy God's best, though, you and I first need to take Jesus at His word. He
said, "He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting
life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life"
His offer is conditioned only on our acceptance of His free gift. Does it sound
too easy? Too good to be true? It's not. Jesus has proven that He can be
trusted. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died on the cross in our
place, and rose from the dead. If He can't be trusted, nobody can.
If you've never done so, choose now to take God at His word. Admit that you
deserve God's judgment for sin, believe Jesus died for you and rose from the
dead, accept His offer of new life, and then build your life on the promises of
Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, (c) 1979,
1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.
"How Does God Keep His Promises?" by Richard W. De Haan.
Copyright 1990 Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Used by Permission.
HELP FOR NEW CHRISTIANS
OK! New Christian...What Now? | Bible verse for every letter of the alphabet.| Church History Summary.| The Christian Message.| Election. | Is Hebrews 6 a warning? | Seven Incontestable Questions. | Ironside: Agnosticism. | Issues Of The Heart - J. MacArthur. | Natural Laws and God's Laws. | Possession: The Devil Made Me Do It! | The Preisthood Of All Believers. | Why Jesus? | Knowing Why You Believe - Evidence - Bible. | Discussions With Unbelievers. | Inerrancy. | What Does It Mean To Be A Christian? | First Adam; Then Eve; then what? | What Will People Think? | Perfect For All Time. | Jesus Is Lord. | Spiritual Strength And Power. | The Biblical Calendar Of History. | Studying Your Bible. | Computer Analysis Of The Books Of The Bible. | Early Christianity - Is The Record Sound? | The Bible - The Most Popular Book. | Credentials Of The Bible. | Doomed - to Hell. | Faith And Works In The Plan Of God. | Others Can But You Can't. | Impositions - giving to God and by God. | Why Did Christ Die? | The Successful Christian - #1. | The Successful Christian - #2. | Is It What We Say Or What We Are? | Forty-day Bible Study. | Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation? | How To Overcome Sin - Charles Finney. Death. | Why We Reject This Version. | How Does God Keep His Promises? | Radical Genesis Evangelicals.
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