Tag Archives: Promised Land

Every Promise in the Book Is Mine?

“Every promise in the book is mine!” Do you remember that song? Here’s the complete chorus:

Every promise in the book is mine,
Every chapter, every verse, every line,
All are blessings of His love divine,
Every promise in the book is mine!

It’s a catchy little song. I think I learned it in Sunday School years ago. For a much slower version in a gospel style, complete with verses full of Bible promises, check out this performance by the Sensational Nightingales:

It’s catchy, but is it true? Is every promise in the Bible mine?

NO AND YES

The short answer is clearly No. God promised Abraham that he would make his name great (Gen. 12:2), but I have no reason to believe I will become famous like Abraham.  The Spirit through Paul promises that “the woman… will be saved through childbearing,” but I’ll need to let my wife claim that promise (1 Tim. 2:14-15).

Given the proliferation these days of devotional books and digital memes with random Bible promises, it’s important to remember to ask: Is this promise mine?

And yet, the short answer—No—is not the whole answer.

Consider this example: God promised David a son who would become king over God’s people (2 Sam. 7:12-16). I will never have such a son. And yet Isaiah, centuries later, wrote this as he recalled God’s promise to David: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Is. 9:6). The “us” in this verse includes not only Isaiah, who was part of David’s royal line, but also the non-Judean “Galilee of the nations” (Is. 9:1). And we, too, have had a son born “to us”—all we who have Jesus as our King. Handel was right to help us sing this promise!

Paul sums it up neatly: “All the promises of God find their Yes in him”—in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Therefore, as Paul boldly announces elsewhere, “all things are yours” if you belong to Christ (1 Cor. 3:21).

So, is every promise in the book mine? If I belong to Christ, the full answer is clearly Yes. In some way, in Christ, I will benefit from every promise God has ever given—even, I think, from the one about the woman being saved through childbearing, though I’m not exactly sure how.

Both the No and the Yes are important to remember as we read promises in the Bible. Most of us begin our Christian lives with the Yes in full view, eagerly claiming promises. Then many of us “wise up” as we learn a few basic rules of Bible interpretation, and we remind each other—rightly, though sometimes a little smugly—of the No: “To whom was that promise originally given?” we ask.

I tend to hang out in that No camp much of the time, but recently I was reminded to broaden my thinking and simplify my trust in God’s promises. I have the writer of Hebrews to thank, but let me start with Joshua.

“I WILL NEVER LEAVE” WHO?

When Moses died and Joshua faced the gargantuan task of leading the Israelites into a promised land full of giants and walled cities, God gave Joshua a promise: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Josh. 1:5).

That was a very specific promise, right? God had been with Moses in a unique way. He had given Moses the same promise when he first called him into leadership: “I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12). Now God transferred the same assurance to Joshua.

As a Bible interpreter, I would tend to be cautious about using either verse as a proof text for God’s presence with Christians. “Right teaching, wrong text,” I might quip. In both verses, the promise of God’s presence was given to a special individual facing a specific task. At most, I might acknowledge that these verses could apply more narrowly to Christian leaders today, at least if I’m confident they have indeed been called by God.

But the writer of Hebrews has no such qualms. Listen to how he understands God’s promise to Joshua. Writing to God’s people at large, he says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5).

His next words draw a conclusion (“so”) from this promise and confirm that he is applying it to both himself and his readers: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13:6). Notice the we: by implication, he means “we [he and his readers] can confidently say” that God has promised to never leave us.

In fact, the writer of Hebrews is so sure that God’s promise to Joshua is also a promise for his readers that he uses it as assurance that a second OT promise, too, is theirs to claim! “Because God has promised not to leave us”—claiming the promise to Joshua—we can confidently say “The Lord is my helper”—claiming an assurance from Psalm 118:6-7. His confidence about one OT promise gives him boldness that he has inherited another, too.

And the author of Hebrews is not just writing to Christian leaders like Moses or Joshua. In fact, if anything he is not writing to leaders, for here are his very next words: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).

So there we have it: You and I, if we are part of God’s people, can claim God’s promise to Joshua: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” This promise in the book is mine.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER PROMISES?

But what about this promise, also given to Joshua at the same time: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses” (Josh. 1:3)? Again, there is a clear No and a clear Yes.

No, I should not expect all my neighbors in Atlanta to be driven out before me so I can inherit the gold dome of Georgia’s capital building, the rich Buckhead neighborhood, or the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. Nor should I expect a divine inheritance of land if I move to Israel or Palestine.

But Yes, for Paul says “the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world” belongs “the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:13, 16). Or, as Jesus put it, “the meek… shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). So, yes, this promise in the book is mine, too.

The same No and Yes apply to many other Bible promises you might consider, including famous ones like Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you…” NIV). In each case it is important to consider the original nature of the promise, identifying its original recipients. Then reconsider the original promise in light of Christ’s coming: how might his coming  have shaped the promise’s ultimate fulfillment and audience? Who will now enjoy its benefits, and how?

That, admittedly, can be complicated.

If you want a simpler question, try this one: What does this promise—no matter to whom originally given—tell me about God’s nature and his heart toward his people? Then rest assured that God’s heart toward you—if you belong to Christ—is no less generous. Even if you aren’t sure exactly if or how to rightly “claim” a given promise, let it assure you of God’s heart toward his people. God’s plans are, indeed, to “prosper” his people who seek him with all their heart (Jer. 29:12-13), even if that prospering does not involve us being returned to Israel after 70 years of exile in Babylon.

“Claiming promises” is a practice that has gone badly off the rails far too often, resulting in heresies such as the prosperity gospel and the American civil religion that considers America a “city upon a hill.”

And yet…

“Every promise in the book is mine.” It requires some explanation and a few caveats. But in some ultimate way, in Christ, it is true. Go ahead and sing it, if you’d like.

Now all we need to do is fix the last word and make it plural. “Mine”? Really? Aren’t we western Christians individualistic enough already? “Every promise in the book is ours” would be much better, except that “ours” isn’t very euphonious. Any poets to the rescue?


What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And thanks for reading.


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Lot the Big-Time Mennonite Farmer

You know the sermon is especially good when someone walks out crying half way through. Okay, the pain and tears unfortunately came from cramps and not from conviction. But the sermon was good, nonetheless. Brother Norman Troyer spoke on the topic of Christians living as strangers and pilgrims.

I wish I could give you an outline of the sermon, but I confess I spent part of the sermon walking out back with the poor brother suffering from leg cramps, and part of the sermon letting my mind wander on nearby mental paths.

I thought the sermon was especially timely. One reason it was timely was because I had just finished updating the congregation on our tentative plans about moving away from Leon, Iowa. I sit down, Brother Marvin prays, and then Brother Norman stands up and reminds us we shouldn’t set our roots down too deeply anywhere. We are just strangers and pilgrims. We should let God relocate us if he wants to. Ka-ching! I’m thinking I just heard from God.

Another good thing about the sermon was one of those mental farm paths down which I strolled. Brother Norman was just getting nicely started on his biblical survey of S&P (not the 500 type). After hitting a few prominent NT passages (Heb. 11:13; 1Pet. 2:11), he prepped for a home run by winding his bat way back—all the way back to Abram in Genesis 12.

Genesis 13 was where I got lost in the corn maze. (This was before the cramps began. Are you still with me?)

Abram was a stranger and a pilgrim. Lot was not.

Why not? What was Lot’s first mistake?

As Anabaptists, we know the story well. Cities are bad. Or they are dangerous, at least. Rural life is best. True, if you are careful you can live a godly life in a small town. Maybe even in a small city. And if you are really certain that God has called you, a few of you might even be specially gifted to live a godly life in New York City. But rural life is still best. And farming is next to godliness.

Okay, I might be stretching it just a bit. But, though I can’t find it right now, I know I’ve read a book or essay where someone seriously questioned whether Anabaptism can survive if Anabaptists give up farming. (And that “someone” isn’t alone, as you and I both know.) Perhaps Anabaptism as we now know it can’t survive off the farm for more than a generation or two. And that may indeed be a second-order kind of a loss, worthy of some grief. (Second-order, because most Christians have not and never will be Anabaptists; Christianity wouldn’t die with Anabaptism. Truth.) But I propose that it might be significant to recall that some of the very first Anabaptists were not farmers. They lived in the city of Zurich and were—wait for it—college students. Imagine that!

Back to Lot. So, we know the story well. Here was Lot’s mistake: He was enticed by the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. True, at first he didn’t actually move into the city. But he chose to pitch his tent nearby. He enjoyed being tempted, you know, even if he wasn’t quite ready to give in. So Lot’s first mistake was that he was enticed by the sensual excitement of the big city. This is what eventually led to the tragic loss of his family.

Right? (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed the previous paragraphs do not represent the substance of Mr. Troyer’s sermon, nor the opinions of the author, editor, or publisher of this article. Opinions of readers are, as yet, unknown.)

Let’s read that story again. Here it is, as Scripture tells it:

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.

Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other.  (Genesis 13:2-11 ESV)

Yes, if we include one more verse, we get this: “Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” And there does seem to be a typological significance to the fact that Lot moved east—a direction associated primarily with evil in Genesis ever since mankind was driven eastward out of Eden (see Gen. 3:24; 4:16; 11:2).

But notice, please, that Lot didn’t seem to notice the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah at all when he “lifted up his eyes” to chose where to settle. No, it seems that the cities weren’t on his radar at all.

What was on his radar? What did Lot see when he lifted up his eyes?

Read it again:

Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar… So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley. (Genesis 13:10-11 ESV)

Lot saw some lush, green farmland. He saw land that reminded you of the Garden of Eden. It was like the Nile River valley in Egypt—the bread basket of the ancient Near East.

And why, pray tell, was Lot interested in some well-watered, river-bottom land? Because Lot was a farmer! That’s right, Lot was a farmer.

A big-time farmer. Read it again:

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold… And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together… (Genesis 13:2, 5-6 ESV)

Abram and Lot were both big-time farmers. And—notice this, too—they both lived near wicked pagans. Yes, Lot lived near wicked Sodom and Gomorrah. And yes, these cities were so exceptionally wicked that God saw fit to destroy them some 600 years before the Canaanites were destroyed. “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete,” God told Abram (Gen. 15:16). But it had begun. And our text specifies that Abram was not settling in an empty promised land: “At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land” (Gen. 13:7).

So, let’s summarize: Scripture does not say that Lot was enticed by the big city while Abram was wise enough to prefer a secluded rural life.

What does it say? It says that Lot chose the best farmland. This is what motivated his choice. As any good farmer knows, there is only so much top-quality farmland around, so if you want it, you better step quickly.

Does this sound familiar? Have Anabaptists ever done such a thing, perchance?

So, Mr. Gingrich, what exactly is your point? What are you saying we should learn from this passage?

Well, I’ll leave that for you to puzzle over. (And hopefully you don’t get a brain cramp.) I’ll just say two unrelated things before I quit:

First: Lot’s greed was what enticed him to leave the Promised Land. Ponder that, brothers and sisters.

Second: I’m thinking I might go find me some really bad farmland to pitch our family’s tent. That is, if that’s where God calls us to be strangers and pilgrims.


Now it’s your turn. What do you think? What might God want Anabaptists to learn (or unlearn) from this story about Lot? Share your insights in the comments below!


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