The Tension between Promise and Fullfillment


In the 32nd chapter of Genesis, which we have looked at in detail previously, we encounter the prayer of Jacob. In this prayer, which as we saw can be a model for our own, Jacob begins by reciting back to God the promise that He had given him
And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’

Genesis 32:9
This promise was originally given by God in Genesis 31:2-4 when Jacob was still serving Laban. He was calling him out of bondage, a prefiguring of the nation Israel being called out of bondage in Egypt. In his prayer, Jacob buttresses the recitation of this promise with a humble recognition of his own unworthiness to receive the grace of God. This of course is followed by the statement of having become two camps, a reference to having split into two for the preservation of one camp, and then a confession of his own fear of Esau, specifically death for he and his family at the hand of Esau. Finishing up the prayer, we see the bookend on the other side as the recitation of another promise from God. This time, Jacob recites a portion of the Abrahamic covenantal promise given to him in the dream in which he saw the ladder extending from heaven to earth (Genesis 28:12-17; John 1:51). With this brief summary, we turn now to another angle of looking at this prayer, namely the tension between the promises of God and how He will fulfill them.

Jacob recites God’s promises. He clearly understands them and to a degree we might even say that he believes them. The problem is the space between promise and fulfillment is often foggy and rarely straightforward. It is in this space that we need the exercise of faith most. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, was faced with a similar dilemma as he too was caught between promise and fulfillment. In his case, God had promised him an heir and offspring as numerous as the sands of the sea. However, God had also commanded Abraham to take this same heir, which was the fulfillment of an earlier promise, up to the mountain in order to sacrifice him. As we know, God stayed Abraham’s hand and provided another sacrifice. However, our focus here is on Abraham’s faith and subsequent obedience despite entering into the greatest level of fog between promise and fulfillment that one could imagine, the sacrifice of their child. In the Book of Hebrews we gain further insight into this episode
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. Hebrews 11:17-19
In this passage, wherein the New Testament provides an infallible interpretation of the Old Testament event, we find that Abraham exercised faith in God’s promise, even so far as to reason that if Isaac had died, God was able to raise him from the dead. What faith! For Abraham, faith was the compass to navigate through the fog of promise – fulfillment.

Unfortunately, most of us are a lot more like Jacob than Abraham. We too easily get caught in the land of fear, doubt, and unbelief between the promises of God and how He will fulfill them. We allow are minds to wrestle through ‘what-ifs’ and worst-case-scenarios to the point of paralysis, rather than resting in the hands of a sovereign God and trusting that the God of all the earth will not only do what’s right, but will be true and faithful to His promises. Ultimately, whether it is fear of disease, death, or disasters, when we find ourselves questioning how God will or could possibly resolve the apparent tension between promise and fulfillment, we ought to stop and recognize that in this moment we are actually attempting to overthrow God and would will ourselves to take His place that we might better execute the plan the way that we see fit. This is indeed akin to the sin of our first parents in the Garden and itself was the sin of the angel Satan who sought to overthrow God. Let us therefore repent and turn from ourselves and unto God trusting in Him, as our father Abraham did and more importantly as the Lord Jesus Christ did and remind ourselves that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways, but they are altogether infinitely higher (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Even though the world around us may fall apart and we may struggle to see how Christ can continue to build His church or when it may seem like the gates of hell are prevailing or when it would appear that darkness is on the rise to such an extent that even the Devil himself may be unchained, let us not fear nor doubt that God has promised and He will fulfill.

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:28-39

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.

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