The Promise Clarified (Genesis 12:1-3)

Main Idea: God not only gives us promises, but fulfills His promises toward us as we trust in Him.


In his book Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington tells of his experience meeting an ex-slave from Virginia who bought his own freedom.

Apparently, the slave had made a contract with his master so that the he was to be permitted to buy himself, by paying so much per year, and while he was paying for himself, he was permitted to work where and for whom he pleased.

So, finding that he could get better wages in Ohio, he went there. But while he was working in Ohio to earn enough money to buy his freedom, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, so that all slaves were immediately declared free. According to the President’s order, the slave was now free. And yet, he had given his promise to his slave owner that he would pay off his debt. So after earning enough money, he walked most of the way from Ohio to Virginia, and paid off the last dollar, with interest, to his former master.

The man told Booker Washington that he knew that he did not have to pay his debt, but that he had given his word to his master, and he had never broken his word to anyone. And he said that he felt that he could not enjoy his freedom till he had fulfilled his promise.

God gives us some amazing promises in His word, and He’s never broken His word. In His word, God promises to be with us. He promises us eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus. He promises us strength, and hope, and peace no matter what situation we find ourselves in. And I simply want you to know this morning that God not only gives us promises, but fulfills His promises toward us as we trust in Him.

We talked last week about the first prophecy and promise of Jesus. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, at the end of Genesis chapter 2, we find Adam and Eve naked and afraid, so they made clothes for themselves out of fig leaves. Because they disobeyed God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were lost and in need of rescue. And at that point, the only thing they knew they could count on from God was that dying, they shall die.

In response to that, God gave Adam and Eve the promise of the One who would crush the serpent. We read in Genesis 3:15 that God said to the serpent:

I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

We talked last week about how this, in addition to the simple declaration, “Let there be light,” are really the first promises in the Bible about Jesus, but it’s not until much later in Scripture that we find out that these things point to Jesus. However, if these early promises are the only promises we ever received from God, they would still tell us a lot. They would tell us that evil and darkness would not win. They would tell us that God would conquer evil and darkness through His Word and through the Offspring of the woman.

But that also leaves a lot of questions unanswered, doesn’t it? What would happen to Adam, and Eve, and all of mankind? Would they be banished from the garden of Eden forever? Or would God restore them and all of us into a right relationship with Himself, and if so, how would He do it?

So God not only gave us the promise of the Offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent, but He also clarified the promise to us over the next few thousand years. One of the first and most significant times that He did that was with Abraham. So this morning, we’re going to read the beginning of Abraham’s story in Genesis 12.

Genesis 12:1-3

The Lord said to Abram: Go from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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 anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Father, help us to believe Your promise, and to follow You as we believe. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Oftentimes, it’s the promises that we believe, rather than the decisions we make, that shape our lives. Because the promises that we believe lead us to make the biggest decisions that we make. If, for example, you believe the promise of some financial opportunity, that it’s going to make you rich, you might put a lot of money into it. If you believe the promises that presidential nominees make, you might vote for them and even spend a great portion of your time defending them to your family and friends, and that can majorly affect your relationships with your family and friends. And if you believe the promise of your fiance, then you’ll even give them your life for richer and poorer, in good times and bad, for as long as you both shall live.

The promises we believe shape who we are and what we do.

Our passage in Genesis 12 today is no different. It talks about a huge promise that someone received. I’ve preached from Genesis 12 several times in the last few years, especially referencing it in other sermons, because it’s such a pivotal passage of Scripture, and a pivotal moment in history. When all of the world was trying to make something of themselves apart from God’s power and grace, God called one man and his family to follow Him, and promised to bless him and make his name great so that he would be a blessing to others. What we see in Genesis 12 is the birth of a nation, because Abram, later given the name Abraham, would be the father of the Jews, from which Jesus would come.

So I want to focus on just the very last thing that God told Abram in verse 3. He told him, “all the people on earth will be blessed through you.”

That’s a huge promise! God promised one man that through him, all the people in the whole world would be blessed. Imagine getting that kind of promise. How would it change your life? How would it change the things you do and seek to accomplish with your life? And how would it change how you relate to God on a day to day basis?

For Abraham, the promise caused him to obey God. Just as God told him to do, he left his land and his father’s house and began to go to the land that God would show him.

As a side note, maybe God is calling you to leave something in order to pursue what He really wants for you. Maybe you’ve gotten far too comfortable with your job, or with your occasional service in the church, and God is calling you to leave the comforts of your life in order to take a step of faith into the unknown, where God will bless you immensely in His wisdom and goodness. But you have to believe His promise.

Abraham believed God’s promise.

At first, we might not see how this promise is connected with the promise that God gave to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, about how the Offspring of the woman would crush the head of Satan. But skip down to verse 7 where God clarifies the promise to Abraham even more. It says in verse 7:

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:7a)

Abram was 75 years old when God made him this promise. Twenty-four years later, when Abraham had arrived in the land of Canaan, where God told him to go, and yet still did not have a son according to the promise, God repeated the promise to him in Genesis 17:8.

And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as a permanent possession, and I will be their God. (Genesis 17:8)

And that word “offspring” ought to get your attention. We saw it in chapter 17, and in chapter 12, and even back in chapter 3. It should get our attention because just as we saw from Genesis 3 last week, the word “offspring” in these verses isn’t plural, but singular. It’s not talking about many descendants, but One descendant. Galatians 3:16, in the New Testament, explains what this verse means. Paul wrote:

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)

When Galatians 3:16 talks about the “seed” of Abraham, that’s simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “offspring.” So God gave this promise to Abraham, and to Abraham’s Seed, or Offspring, who is Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise. When God told Abram, “all the people on earth will be blessed through you,” it was talking about Jesus. Jesus is the blessing for all the people on the earth.

But Adam and Eve, and probably not even Abraham had any idea what God was up to. They received these promises, but had no idea how God was going to accomplish all these things. Adam and Eve were probably thinking, “This serpent tempted us and because of that, we sinned and were cast out of the garden of Eden. How is God going to fight against that?” But they didn’t know about Jesus, so they just had to wonder. Abraham probably thought, “I don’t even have a son, so how can my descendents be more than the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore? And how are all the people in the world going to be blessed through him?” But he didn’t know about Jesus, so he had to just wait in wonder.

And maybe right now, you read promises in God’s word about hope, and joy, and peace, but you’re just so full of doubt because of the circumstances in your life. And you think, “How can I possibly have hope through all this?” But I just want to encourage you to remember Jesus, because all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Him. And maybe you don’t know how it’s all going to work out. That’s ok. Maybe like Adam, and Eve, and Abraham and so many others, you need to just wonder at how God is going to accomplish His promise.

That’s what Abraham had to do. He simply had to wonder and trust when he was given the promise that “all the peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”

Luke chapter 2 clarifies this promise even more. When Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds to tell them about the birth of the Savior. An angel told the shepherds in verses 10-11:

Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

So today is only the second day of Advent, and Advent is all about anticipating our need for Jesus, so I don’t want to delve too much into the birth of Jesus just yet. But I just want to point out that God not only gives us big promises, but also fulfills His promises toward us as we trust in Him. And I also want to point out that the promise just keeps getting better and better. Adam and Eve thought it was just about crushing the serpent. Abraham thought it was just about his family blessing the world. But now in Luke we see that the Savior was born, which is good news of great joy that will be for all the people. As God clarified His promise, it just got better and better.

Around 15 years ago, I was a youth minister at a church in Kentucky. I was only on staff at that church about a year and a half, but I learned a ton about ministry and people during that short time. One of the things that I learned was to over communicate everything and make sure you understand what people mean by their promises.

Our youth group was growing. I think one of the best things we did with the youth was encourage them to memorize Scripture. One of the ways we encouraged them was through group incentives. When they memorized so many verses as a group, they could pick which incentive they earned. So they earned things like lock-ins, pizza parties, and one time, they earned an all-expense paid trip to Holiday World, an amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana.

In fact, a parent of one of the youth offered to pay for the trip to the amusement park for all the youth. And Abby and I were like, “That’s awesome! That’s so generous of you! Thank you so much!” So we got all the youth excited about memorizing Scripture, and they were bringing their friends to church, and we had a huge group of kids that were ready to go to Holiday World!

But then when it came time to go, and I told the parent how many tickets to buy, she was shocked. I guess she didn’t realize how many youth and their friends had been coming to youth group on Wednesday nights, and she clarified that she meant that she only wanted to pay for the youth who have been coming regularly on Sunday mornings. I mean, that was still generous of her, but at that point we had to figure out how we were going to pay for the other half of the youth to go, because we had promised them all a free trip to the amusement park!

So I learned from that incident to always over communicate and clarify when it comes to things that matter. When we thought we could count on a huge, generous promise, when it was clarified, it wasn’t nearly as good as we had thought.

Now, that tends to happen with people. We make big promises, but sometimes we have to apologize, and clarify what we meant by our promises.

But here’s the thing, God never needs to apologize. And when He clarifies His promises, they always get better rather than worse. So we can put all our hope in His promises, knowing that His promise will not disappoint.

Maybe right now you feel in need of rescue. You feel like you’re drowning in a sea of debt, or conflict with family, or even the weight of your sin. Maybe the darkness feels so very real to you. That’s likely how Adam, and Eve, and Abraham, and countless other people in the Old Testament felt. They felt sin and darkness all around them, even in their own hearts. So God gave them the promise of Jesus, that Jesus would destroy sin, and then clarified the promise, that Jesus would bless all the people on the earth, and that Jesus would even forgive our sins, and that includes you.

So if you feel lost this morning, turn to Jesus. Trust in the promise which is for you and all the people on the whole earth.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

Bible Passages: Genesis 12:1-3
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