God makes many promises in the Bible, but the question remains every time: "Is this promise for me?" In part 1, we established that not all of God’s promises are applicable to every life situation. His promises are not blanket statements. Rather they appear within a context and sometimes with a condition.
One of the last article's example promises came from the Old Testament. It was a promise that God made to the nation of Israel and fulfilled a number of years later. The context of the promise is essential. We need to know when in history it was made. Unfortunately, many believers lack an understanding of the overall Old Testament story that allows them to properly put these promises into their context. Let’s remedy that today.
A Quick Look at Old Testament History
God creates the world, including Adam and Eve. When those two sin against God, sin enters the world. However, God continues to lead His people from patriarch to patriarch. He leads Noah. He leads Abraham. He leads Isaac and Jacob. God changes Jacob's name to Israel, declaring that He will make His family a nation. His 12 sons become the 12 tribes of Israel. God leads this people out of Egyptian captivity with Moses as their leader and guides them through the wilderness for many years. God finally gives them the Promised Land and rules via prophets and judges until the nation of Israel asks for a king. God calls first Saul, then David, to the throne, followed by Solomon. Solomon dies, and his son becomes the next ruler. The majority of Israel rebels against him as king and the nation splits into two: Judah (actually the tribes of Judah and Benjamin) and the remaining ten tribes of Israel. Both Judah and Israel go through several generations of kings, most of them disobedient to God but some faithful. God warns Israel through the prophets that if His people continue in their sin, He will have them captured by Babylon. As Israel continues to disobey God, the day comes that both Israel and Judah are captured and scattered around the Assyrian and Babylonian Empire. Stories like that of “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” took place during the time of captivity. God promised all along that one day He would restore Israel as a united nation. He finally does so around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, who led the people in rebuilding the temple and city walls. More prophets rose up to warn the newly reunited Israel to remain faithful to God to avoid further punishment. What follows is a period of silence before Christ enters the scene in the New Testament.
I really hope that very quick summary will give you a little bit of context as we talk about promises and how they apply to us today. If you're intrigued by the storyline and would like to study it more in depth, I highly recommend the “Scripture Confident through the Old Testament” Bible study. Check it out. You’ll learn how to study the Bible while discovering in further detail what I just described in 300 words.
Why All the Fuss?
My concern is this: Sometimes we study a verse (interpret it within its context, draw principles, and apply the verse to our lives) and realize that our conclusions are so close to our first impression of the verse that we wonder why we even bother with the other steps. However, those steps are worth it, because they lead us to the verse’s original meaning. Many times, our initial understanding of a verse is much different from the author’s intention. In order to make sure that we are applying the Bible correctly and not leaning on promises that God never made - or that He made to generations past rather than us - let’s not skip the steps of interpreting correctly and applying accordingly.
Let me give you an example.
a. Pretty Much What I Thought
Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know.”
Without any background study on this verse, what might you believe God is promising to all of us? If we call on Him, He will answer us with great wisdom.
We talked about determining principles from each promise and considering how they apply to us today. So let’s look at the verse again. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know.”
God answers prayer. This is not the only verse in the Bible that tells us so. God encourages us to communicate with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Today, we know we have access to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:23, Ephesians 2:18). God answers prayer (John 17:6, Mark 11:24). We can be sure of that fact and do not have to doubt or wonder if we are misinterpreting. We know He answers prayer. We know He knows great and unsearchable things that we don’t (Psalm 147:5, 1 John 3:20). We know that we can ask God for wisdom, and He will give it to us (James 1:5).
So while this conditional promise was specifically made to Israel in the days of Jeremiah, we know that the same principle applies for us today. Let me point out, that we mostly know so because of other verses in Scripture - like the references I mentioned about - that talk about God answering prayer.
We want to be a good stewards of God's Word. If we were looking for a verse to prove that God answers prayer and gives wisdom, Jeremiah 33:3 is not your best proof text. It refers to something else, a promise God made in the days of Jeremiah.
Why am I making such a big deal of this? Isn’t all that matters to us that God hears our prayers? All Scripture is valuable. So why can't we hang this verse on our fridge to remind ourselves that God invites us to ask Him questions so that He may give us answers? Let’s take a look at another example, which happens to be this verse’s context.
b. Not Always As it Seems
Jeremiah 33:6-9 says,
“‘Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion against me. Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.’”
This passage, written during Israel’s captivity, promises the following:
- Health and healing
- Abundant peace and security
- Judah and Israel back from captivity
- Judah and Israel rebuilt as they were before
- Cleansing from all sin committed against God
- Forgiveness of all sins of rebellion against God
- City that will bring God joy, praise, and honor before all nations on earth
- So many good things done for this nation that the whole earth will hear about it and be in awe
- Abundant prosperity and peace
Many believers are in the habit of skipping over the “boring Judah and Israel stuff” - maybe because they don’t understand it - and focus on the “juicy” promises like prosperity, peace, health, and security.
Friend, you are now in the know. You understand what this verse meant for Israel and Judah. As you read these verses in the context of Old Testament history, does any of it seem to say that you personally will receive financial prosperity and always live in political peace? Does it seem to say that you will be rich and famous, the envy of all around you? I don't think that after our history lesson you would apply this verse as such any longer. So how do we apply it?
Old Testament Promises Fulfilled in the Old Testament
God restored the nation Israel as we find out in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. God gave them favor with their oppressors, and they didn’t even have to fight to get their land back. That doesn’t mean restoring their city was always a walk in the park. The people met opposition and had to face it with trust in God.
Why should we get excited about a promise that was made to someone else? God restoring the nation of Israel says something significant about the way He treats His people. As you read over that very brief history I gave you, I hope what stands out to you is that God takes sin seriously but is eager to forgive us and restore us back to Himself. He is both just and loving. Seeing these Old Testament promises made and fulfilled should give us assurance that we serve a trustworthy, mighty, and loving God.
The Old Testament Promises Fulfilled in Christ
Ultimately many of the Old Testament promises are fulfilled in Christ, even for us. We are now part of God's people, Jews and Gentiles, as long as we believe in Jesus Christ, that He died to pay for our sins and was resurrected on the third day. Take a look at the list of Jeremiah 33 promises again. Peace and security, the forgiveness of our sins against God… doesn't that sound familiar? Isn't that what we have received from God through Christ?
But wait a minute. Am I taking these promises out of context? Am I applying a promise made to Old Testament Israel and applying it to my own eternity? Well, I’m glad you asked. We are touching on “covenant theology” and will talk about this more next time.
For today, let's remember to study every Old Testament promise within its context and consider how it was fulfilled then and how it is fulfilled in Christ. That little exercise will set you up for success for our next lesson in two weeks as we continue this blog post series.
If you want to learn more about bible study in the meantime, remember to request your FREE ebook, “10 Steps to Approaching the Bible with Confidence” below.