At 75 years old, Abraham is introduced in Genesis 11:26 under the genealogy of Shem, who was Noah’s first-born son. However, he had lived his entire life to this point (and then some) as Abram. It was the Lord who later changed his name to Abraham, which means, “father of many.”
Indeed, Abram became Abraham, a patriarch of great renown, and it all started with a promise.
God’s Promise to Abraham
Abraham’s story picks up with his family settling in Haran, which today would be the country of Turkey. It is here, after the death of his father, God’s call and promise to Abraham is first recorded. Even so, one of Jesus’ disciples, Stephen, indicated that this call on Abraham’s life happened many years prior.
Stephen said, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you’” (Acts 7:2-3, ESV).
It is unclear whether or not the promise attached to this call was simply recorded here, in Haran, after being previously given, or if it was actually given for the first time after the family had moved from their homeland in Mesopotamia. Either way, the timing isn’t all that important. It’s the promise itself, along with Abraham’s resulting faith to obey, that matters.
With that in mind, God’s promise to Abraham was as follows,
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3, ESV).
This was an incredible promise, setting into motion the greatest testimony of God’s sovereignty and providence the world has ever seen. What came next, is the unfolding and expanding of such a promise, throughout the remaining chapters and books of Scripture.
What we see here, was just a glimpse.
God’s Promise Revealed
Hebrews 11:8 says it was by faith Abraham obeyed the call to go to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance, not even knowing where he was going. And as he went, God slowly revealed more and more details with each step of faith.
For instance, once Abraham arrived in the land of Canaan, after walking what was probably more than 1,000 miles, God appeared to say, “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7, emphasis mine).
Abraham’s promise was then later repeated, in greater detail when the Lord said,
“Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Genesis 13:14-17).
The original promise of land and blessings started to come into focus as the Lord refers to Abraham’s offspring, for the first time. Only one problem, Abraham was now 85 years old, with no children of his own, and married to a woman who was herself unable to have children.
This is why Abraham had assumed that any heir or offspring would come through his servant (Genesis 15:3). He was only getting older, after all.
But the Lord had something else in mind, adding yet another layer to the promise.
“This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be”(Genesis 15:4-5).
Possibly unsure of how this would happen, or maybe even growing a bit impatient, it didn’t take long for Abraham and his wife to take matters into their own hands. This resulted in Sarah’s female servant becoming pregnant with Abraham’s first child, Ishmael (Genesis 16:3-4).
As awkward as it sounds, this wasn’t unusual behavior for the Ancient Near East. A maidservant often carried a child for the family’s sake. However, this child was not the descendant promised to Abraham.
God makes that clear, 13 years later when the promise is seen once again, in Genesis 17.
“...No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you… And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God”(v. 4-8).
The Lord then promises that this nation, and its kings, will come from a future child, born to Sarah, not the boy born to their maidservant (v. 16). Just one more piece to the glorious puzzle that the Lord was building, promise upon promise, generation after generation.
A promise repeated to the actual son of promise, Isaac, born to Abraham at 100 years old, in Genesis 26:3-5. And again, to his grandson, Jacob, in Genesis 28:13-14. Repeated again to future generations, as the Lord led this family each step of the way until the promise was fulfilled.
God’s Promise Fulfilled
While Abraham ended up having two sons, it was his son Isaac who fathered Jacob, and Jacob who fathered 12 sons of his own. These 12 sons grew to become the 12 tribes of Israel. A great and mighty nation.
At the same time, Ishmael was not completely void of God’s blessing, as the Lord explained further,
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year”(Genesis 17:20-21).
Two sons, two mighty nations, just as God had promised. But what about the other promises?
1. The promise for land. So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there (Joshua 21:43).
2. The promise to bless Abraham. “I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy” (Genesis 24:34).
3. The promise to make Abraham’s name great. Abraham’s name is indeed great as he is one of the most referenced Old Testament figures to appear in the New Testament scriptures, second only to Moses. He is considered the patriarch of faith, widely known as “Father Abraham,” to Jews, to Christians, and to Muslims, alike.
4. The promise to bless those who bless Abraham and to curse those who curse. This is seen in a few places throughout history; consider the plagues on Pharaoh in Egypt, as one example. Or the fall of the ancient Babylonian, Greek, and Roman empires.
More than once, an empire opposed to Israel has crumbled. At the same time, many believe America has prospered due to its support of the Jewish people.
5. The promise to make Abraham a blessing. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you” (Galatians 3:8).
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of Abraham(Matthew 1:1).
Through Abraham, there is no greater blessing to the world than the birth of a savior. Now, according to Galatians 3:29, all who become one with Christ are adopted into Abraham’s family and are made heirs to the inheritance of eternal life (Hebrews 9:15).
God’s Promise — It Points to Christ
Jesus is recorded in John 5:39, in response to the Old Testament scriptures, “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.”
The Apostle Paul even points out that Scripture does not say to Abraham’s seeds, meaning many people, but “to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16).
So, as we read the promise of God to Abraham, may we ever keep the bigger picture in mind.
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
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Amy Swanson resides in Connecticut where she has recently discovered a passion for Bible study and writing. By God's continued grace, she now enjoys helping others better understand their Bibles, while also being an advocate for biblical church integrity. As a mother of three and a wife of 13 years, she blogs less than she'd like to but shares Scriptural insights, encouraging truth, resources, and musings more regularly at Beloved Warrior.