God’s Promises to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic Covenant

Introduction – There are those that say that Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers in Messiah form what is now termed “true Israel” and replace the Jewish people (physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God’s covenant people.

This article is Part 2 of 3 in a series of articles, taking a deeper look at God’s promises to the Jewish people and God’s promises to the Gentiles.

The first article in the series can be found here: http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/pauls-use-of-the-term-israel-in-the-book-of-romans/


Beginning at the Beginning

The first two chapters of Genesis recount the creation of the earth and man and the beginning of Chapter 3 recounts the fall.  In response, God doesn’t waste time,  He does not leave the situation hopeless but immediately after the man and woman eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God speaks of the solution that He will someday bring and in speaking to the serpent, God says:

“I will put hostility (enmity) between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

Immediately, God speaks of His solution; that someday, He will put an end to the hatred and hostility that Satan (the serpent) has for man by sending “the seed of the woman” who will strike the serpent’s head.  He promises here that He will send the Messiah, the “seed of the woman” who will incapacitate the enemy — signified by striking his head, even though it will not be without a minor wounding to God’s Messiah — signified by the enemy striking His heel.

Paul, in the New Testament, relates back to this promise of “the seed of the woman” in Galatians 3:16 when he speaks of “the seed” in the singular and that “seed” being Messiah;

“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ”

Galatians 3:16

Paul makes the differentiation because readers of his letter (who were predominately Gentiles) would know that he was referring to the singular form of the word “seed” in Greek, because”seed” in Greek as well as Hebrew, could be used in two ways; in the singular and in the plural.

Understanding the word “seed”

The word “seed” in Hebrew (Strong’s H2233) and in Greek (Strong’s 4690) is a collective singular noun and can be used in two ways;  to  refer to (a) one person or (b) numerous, related people.

In Genesis 3:15, (“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”), the collective singular noun “seed” (Hebrew זֶרַע ), refers to one person, the Messiah.

In Gen 12:7, the collective singular noun “seed” (same Strong’s word H2233) is used to refer to the land that God promised to Abraham’s “seed” and applies to numerous, related descendants, the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews.

What were God’s promises to the Gentiles?

Speaking to Abraham of His promises, God says;

“I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse those who curse you,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:2-3

As we’ll develop in the next article, God lays out in detail who this “great nation” is and His “everlasting covenant” with them as a people, and the land He promises to give them as an “eternal possession”. He leaves no doubt that He is speaking of the physical descendants of Abraham, because He later repeats the same promises He gave Abraham to his son, Isaac and then repeats the same promises He gave Abraham to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (whose God later changes his name to Israel — and from whom the 12 tribes of Israel, the Jews, come).

But before God goes into all that detail, He speaks of His promise of the inclusion of the Gentiles!

The “all nations clause”

The book of Genesis from Chapter 12 to Chapter 50 pertains to the physical nation of Israel, the Jews — yet from the first time God begins to speak His promise to Abraham’s physical descendants, God speaks of His promise to the Gentiles!

The inclusion of the Gentiles is no afterthought – but is spoken of from Genesis Chapter 12, in the “all nations clause” ;

“…and all the peoples (nations) on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 12:3

From the very first time that God promises Abraham that he will be the father of “a great nation” — a specific nation (Hebrew: לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל) though Isaac and Jacob, He promises (Genesis 12:3) that through a physical descendant of Abraham, a Jew, “all the peoples (nations) of the earth will be blessed“!

The word for “peoples” (sometimes translated “nations”) in Hebrew is the word “families” (Hebrew מִשְׁפְּחֹת) — so there is a contrast being made between (1) the promises being made to this “great nation” (singular) and (2) the promises begin made to “all the families of the earth” (plural) (Hebrew: מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה).

Paraphrasing, God is saying;

‘while there is the great nation that I will bless, and I make Abraham’s name great as a result of this nation, and that this nation will be a blessing, and I will bless the nations that blesses them and curse the nation that curse them — everybody, all the families of the earth will be blessed through a physical descendant of Abraham — a Jew, the Messiah.

This is how the “blessings of Abraham” come to the Gentiles in Jesus (Galatians 3:14)!

That One is the “seed of the woman” that God also spoke of in Genesis 3:15 — the One that will crush Satan’s head. He is the “seed” that all nations of the world are blessed though — the “great nation” and “all nations“.

Paul speaks of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Galatians 3:6-9, when he says;

“Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness, then understand that those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.”

…and Paul continues with the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles in Galatians 3:14-16, when he refers to the “seed” singular, meaning the Messiah — in contrast to “the seeds” (plural) which are the Jews.

The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles by Christ Jesus, so that we could receive the promised Spirit through faith.  Brothers, I’m using a human illustration. No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ.

Galatians 3:16

Since “seed” can be used to refer to a single person or a group of related people, Paul in this passage is quite specific that he is suing the singular of “seed”, because he is referring back to the promise given to Abraham regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles — the “all nations clause” in Genesis 12:2-3; “…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” which points to the original promise of the “seed of the woman” in Genesis 3:15 (“I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”).

Paul specifies that he is using the singular form of the term “seed” because he is referring to the “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15)  — which is One person, the Messiah. In Galatians 3:16, Paul is saying “this is that“!

This Jesus is that “seed”.

He is the descendant of Abraham, through which all the nations of the world are blessed!

Inclusions of the Gentiles is anything but an afterthought to God. He spoke of His promises to “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3) when He first spoke about His promises to the “great nation” (Genesis 12:1-2). He then repeats the exact same promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob i.e. the “great nation” in Genesis 25:16-7 and to “all the families of the earth” in Genesis 25:18!


It should not be missed, that just before Paul refers to Jesus being that one “seed“, in Galatians 3:15, he emphasizes in Galatians 3:15 that he is using a human illustration and that “No one sets aside or makes additions to even a human covenant that has been ratified“.

What Paul is saying here is that even when people make a covenant with other people, no one sets aside or makes addition to a covenant after it has been ratified. The implication is ‘how much more will God not set aside or make addition to a covenant He makes, after it had been ratified?

Paul is saying is that inclusion of the Gentiles in no way alters God’s covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham (the Jews) and that likewise, God’s promise to the Gentiles, in no way supersedes God’s promises to the Jews.

God made promises to both the Jews and the Gentiles and He will keep His promises to both;

“Is God a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind? Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?”

Numbers 23:19

God said to Moses (Deuteronomy 32:16-21) that because the Jews made Him jealous and angered Him by serving worthless idols, that He would make them envious and angry by choosing the Gentiles. (Deuteronomy 32:16-21, esp. verse 21)

“They made Me jealous by what is no god

and angered Me with their worthless idols.

I will make them envious by those who are not a people;

I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding.”

Deuteronomy 32:21

God did exactly as He said He would by calling those from the Gentiles;

And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory—on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?  As He also says in Hosea:

I will call Not My People, My People,
and she who is Unloved, Beloved.
And it will be in the place where they were told,
you are not My people,
there they will be called sons of the living God.

Romans 9:23-25


Note: There are other related in articles in this current series, including;

God’s Promises to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant 

and

Paul’s Use of the term “Israel” in the Book of Romans

 

Paul’s Use of the term “Israel” in the Book of Romans

Introduction:  There are those who will say that Jews who do not accept Jesus as Messiah are not “true Israel” — but rather Gentile Christians and Jewish believers in Messiah form what is termed “true Israel“.  Does the Scripture teach that “Israel” is part Jewish by descent and part Gentile by descent — and if not, what do the passages in question really mean?

In this article, which is Part 1 of 3, we explore how Paul uses the term “Israel” in the book of Romans and then consider what he is saying in Romans 9:6-8.

What Does Paul Say in Romans 9: 1-8?

Those that claim that Gentile Christians, along with Jewish believers in Messiah are part of something termed “true Israel” point to two verses in Romans 9 as a major “proof text”;

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.”

Romans 9:6-7

…so before examining these two verses, let’s look at the term “Israel” and how it is used to elsewhere in Scripture to refer to the ethnic nation / national covenant people of the Old Testament (the Jews).

“Israel” is used more than 2500 times in all of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) and more than 70 times in the New Testament, alone.

Paul uses the term “Israel” 12 times in ten verses of Romans — as well as once in 1 Corinthians, twice in 2 Corinthians, once each in Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians and 3 times in Hebrews, so before considering what Paul is saying in Romans 9:6-7, let’s look at how he uses this term in the other 10 verses of Romans.

1. Romans 9:27, Paul says that “Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved”.

2. Romans 9:30-31: Paul says What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.

3. Romans 10:1: Paul says “Brothers my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

4. Romans 10:19: Paul referring how the Gentiles would make Israel jealous says “But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

…and continuing along in his thought, Paul says;

5. Romans 10:21: “But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

6. Romans 11:2: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?

…and continuing along Paul says;

7. Romans 11:7-8: “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

8. Romans 11:25 “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

…and the next verse;

9. Romans 11:26 “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob”.

In the above 9 verses of Romans, Paul uses the term “Israel” as it is used elsewhere in the New Testament — to refer to the national covenant people of the Old Testament.

Does Paul suddenly redefine who Israel is in Romans 9:6-7?


What is Paul saying in Romans 9:6-7?

The entire discussion of Romans 9 up until verse 6 is only about physical Israel. There isn’t anything mentioning or alluding to Gentiles.

Paul introduces the chapter by sharing his heart-felt desire for “my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh”, who he defines as Israelites;

“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.”

Romans 9:1-5

It is clear here that Paul is speaking about the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews.

If there is any doubt, Paul says that;

to them [the people of Israel] belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ (Messiah).

Romans 9:4-5

Clearly, Paul is not talking about Gentiles here, because he is speaking of specific things that only belong to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews:

Paul says that the adoption belongs to the Jews — that is, God having chosen the Jewish people as His own possession (Deuteronomy 7:6: For you are a holy people belonging to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be His own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth” and in Exodus 19:5 Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine”). The adoption of the physical descendants of Abraham refers to the Abraham Covenant where God chose the descendants of Abraham, and through Isaac and Jacob and as we’ll elaborate on below, the Abrahamic Covenant was ratified by God alone and the penalty for it being broken rested on Him.  As a result, The Abrahamic Covenant is an “everlasting covenant” and the Land which He promised the Jewish people is theirs as an “everlasting (or eternal) possession” (Genesis 17:7-8). 

While the nation as a whole did break God’s Law — and as a result, broke the Mosaic Covenant, God promised the New Covenant to the “House of Israel” and the “House of Judah” in Jeremiah 31:31-34. As well, God’s dealings with the nation of Israel was always in light of the “faithful remnant” that He said would always exist.  Even in the midst of exile from the Land for our sins, God promises that He would always leave a remnant;

“Yet I will leave a remnant when you are scattered among the nations, for throughout the countries there will be some of you who will escape the sword.

~Ezekiel 6: 8

Even though we broke the covenant (the Mosaic Covenant) that He gave us when He lead us out of Egypt, God promised the Jewish people a New Covenant to the people of Israel — to the Jews. As shocking as it may seem to those who have not heard it before, the New Covenant, ratified at the cross, was promised to the Jews;

“Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Paul continues in Romans 9 to list things that only pertain to the people of Israel.

He says that the [Shekinah] glory belongs to the Jews and that the “covenants” (plural) belong to the Jews.  Here, Paul is referring to the Abrahamic Covenant (which we will discuss below) and the Mosaic Covenant.   Paul says that God gave the Law to the Jewish people as well as the specifics on how He was to be worshiped.  He speaks of the promises (plural) — so many promises!  God promised that we’d always be a people, that the Land was ours as an everlasting possession (even when we were exiled from it for our sin!), that we were to be a light to the Gentiles and that the One whom would ultimately redeem both the Gentiles and the Jews, and that the Light of the World, the Messiah, would be born a Jew. God gave promises about the future salvation of the nation of Israel beyond the “faithful remnant” that we see now (i.e. “when the “times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”) and of the “faithful remnant” itself!  He promised us the New Covenant by which He would redeem us from our disobedience. So many promises! The  Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — from whom the whole nation of Israel comes are the Jewish people’s and as we covered in Part One of this article, the Messiah Himself would be born to a physical descendant of the Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jews (Genesis 12:3).

There is no doubt that In verses 1-5 of Romans 9, Paul is speaking about the physical nation of Israel — so this is context of verse 6. In fact, it is not until verse 22 of Chapter 9 that Paul even mentions Gentiles!

What is Paul saying in Romans 9:6?

Paul has just itemized the blessings that belong only to the people of Israel; the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises, the patriarchs, and according to the flesh, the Messiah and in verse 6, Paul is reflecting that he could not imagine ‘Israelites’ who do not belong to physical Israel. 

The point that Paul is making in Romans 9:6 is that while the promises of God to Israel may have appeared to have ‘failed’ — in that Israel is predominantly unbelievers, there is still “the faithful remnant” within Israel – the ‘Israel’ within ethnic Israel.

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.”

Romans 9:6-8

Paul is NOT distinguishing here between something supersessionists* call “spiritual Israel” (the Church, both believing Jews and Gentile Christians) and “physical Israel” — but is saying that the promises made to physical Israel are fulfilled through the faithful remnant — even though some of Israel’s descendants are not included.

*Note: Supersessionists are those that hold to what is commonly called  "Replacement Theology"; believing that the Church is the "new Israel".

So who are “Abraham’s children” and the “children of promise”?

What Paul is saying in Romans 9:7-8 needs to be understood in the context of what Paul is saying in verse 6.  He has just said that the promises made to physical Israel are fulfilled through the faithful remnant, even though some of Israel’s descendants are not included — and then makes a distinction between “Abraham’s natural children” and the “children of promise”;

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants. On the contrary, your offspring will be traced through Isaac. That is, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but the children of the promise are considered to be the offspring.”

Romans 9:6-8

Paul is saying in this passage that while the promises of God to Israel may appear to have ‘failed’, in that Israel is predominantly unbelievers — there is still the faithful remnant. This is supported by the fact that just a few verses down in verse 27, Paul refers to the faithful remnant; “

“Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved”.

Romans 9:27

Paul uses the term “Abraham’s children” and “children of promise” to refer to both Gentile Christians and Jewish believers. For example, in Romans 4:9-17, Paul refers to Gentiles as having Abraham as their “father” (i.e. Gentiles are also “Abraham’s children”) and as “children of promise”.

In Romans 9:1-5, Paul is only talking about physical Israel so based on the context, Paul is speaking only about physical Israel in verses 6-8, as well.

Paul does not redefine “Israel” as being “part Gentile” as supersessionist assert. In Romans 9:6-8, Paul is referring to the Israel within ethnic Israel — the faithful remnant (Jewish believers), who are a subset of physical Israel.

In conclusion, Paul used term “Israel” used in Romans 9:6-8 no differently than the way he uses “Israel” in the other 9 verses of the book of Romans — and no differently than it is used throughout the New Testament.

“Israel”, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament refers to the ethnic nation / national covenant people of the Old Testament, the Jews.

Some thoughts…

It should be noted that in Romans 9, where Paul lists the blessings that belong to the physical nation of Israel (the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and the coming of Messiah as a Jew) that the verb tense used by Paul is the present tense. That is, these blessings belonged to physical Israel when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans — and still belong to Israel, as there is nothing in Scripture which indicates any change has since Paul penned those words.

In the list of blessings, Paul refers to the Abrahamic covenant (which God said was an “everlasting covenant” in Genesis 17:7-8) in the present tense, signifying that the Abrahamic Covenant belonged to physical Israel in the first century — and still belongs to them today. 

Part 2 of this series of 3 articles can be found here: http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/gods-promises-to-the-gentiles-in-the-abrahamic-covenant/

It’s Time We Had a Talk – another modern parable

There once was a family, with two brothers; one older and one younger and they both related to their father in slightly different ways. The older one had come to the age of maturity well before the younger one and as a result, knew the father in ways that the younger didn’t.

It came to pass one day, that the older brother, seeing that the younger was now reaching the age of maturity, felt it was a fitting time to share matters of the family with him. Pulling his younger brother aside, he said;

It’s time we sat down and had a talk. I think you’re old enough and mature enough to handle this now.

“Sure, what’s up?”

You know how we always tell people about who we are, as sons of our father? Well, there’s a bit more to it. While it is true that we are his sons, what you need to realize is that we’ve both been adopted.

“What?! What are you talking about?”

Look, I know this is hard to hear. I’ve had to work through the same thing. Even though he refers to me as his “first born”, I am adopted, just like you are. But, keep in mind, where we’ve come from doesn’t take away from who we are now.  But we do need to be honest about it.

“How come no one has told me this?”

It’s not a matter of whether someone has told you or not, but whether you are ready to hear it.  I “get that”.  I can be stiff-necked, too. When our father adopted me, and declared me as his, he cautioned me to remember where I came from and not to get proud, lest I should look down on other people. But the truth is, my father was an Amorite and my father was a Hittite. Yeah, I know…it’s not like I come from great ancestry.  The Amorites were stateless nomads and the Hittites were known as ruthless conquerors. There is nothing wholesome about where I came from. But our father, being loving and kind, saw past that. He did not adopt me because the people I came from were numerous or great, he adopted me because he made promises to my ancestors, who he knew and loved.  As you know, he is always faithful to what he commits to.  He set his love towards me, making me his special treasure, but he also made promises to my ancestors concerning you, and as I just said, you know he is always faithful to what he commits to.

“What did he say about me?”

Even before I was adopted, he spoke of blessing ‘the other’, and as time went on, he spoke more and more of you, and his heart towards you. When you were finally adopted, I found it hard to accept, in fact, I was even a little jealous…maybe more than a little bit. I mean, you didn’t look like me, you didn’t talk like me, you didn’t even eat the same food as me! It was hard for me to accept at first, but I’ve come to know you as my brother and because our father loves you, I too have come to love you, despite our differences.

“Who is my father and mother?”

Your father was a Greek from Antioch, and your mother was a Roman. In fact, you got your name in Antioch.  As was the custom of my ancestors, I was named the eighth day.”

There was a long and difficult silence, as the younger wrestled with what his older brother had just told him.

“Hmmmm…so Father is not my father.”

No, he is!  Despite both of our pasts and all that we came out of, he is your father, and he is my father and we are brothers.  Yes, we relate to him in different ways, and to each other in different ways, but we are both equally his kids, and equal as brothers before him.  I’m not better than you because he adopted me first, nor are you lessor, because he adopted you later.  Where we come from and when we were adopted does not take away from who were are; in fact, it gives us a way to appreciate in an even greater way, his kindness, goodness and faithfulness. Neither of us can look down on the other, because we both know where we came from. This should keep us humble and appreciative.  This is why you needed to know this.”

With tears welling up in his eyes, the younger brother replied, “Yeah, I agree.”

Throwing his arms around his younger brother, the older said “We’re family, bro.

The two embraced like brothers do, and like brothers do, they both wiped the tears from their eyes before the other noticed.