promises to Abraham

It is surprising to discover from Stephen’s speech in the New Testament that Abraham never received the land promise from God! 

“Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans… into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.” (ESV)

Did Abraham Expect to Receive the Promise in the Future?

The writer to Hebrews confirms that the promise was not received, adding details that indicate Abraham never expected to inherit the land in his lifetime! The KJV is a little easier to understand for this passage, so we will use it instead of the ESV:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God… These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (KJV)

Notice carefully what we are told: Abraham lived in the promised land in a tent – “tabernacles”, as a stranger. He died without receiving his inheritance, looking for a “city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”. He was looking for a “heavenly” country. 

A “Heavenly” Country?

This can seem confusing. If Abraham didn’t get the promised land in his lifetime, will he get it in the future? Was Abraham really promised land on earth, or was the promise made for an inheritance in heaven – a “heavenly” country? But, if he was promised a place in heaven, then why would God tell him, “I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it”? (Genesis 15:7). And why did God tell him to look at the land in all directions and walk through it, promising, “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

Did Abraham Expect to Receive the Promise Himself?

Some say that God was only promising to give the land to the Jewish people – Abraham’s offspring. But if you look at the verses above, you will notice that God specifically adds, “to thee will I give it.” 

A Little Research with Computer Bible Programs

Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the original Greek words that are used in confusing passages. Our favourite computer Bible program is PowerBible, which makes it really easy to research the meanings and usage of all the original words in the entire Bible. In the box below you can see what the Interlinear version looks like on PowerBible, showing all the Greek words in ‘< >’ as they relate to the English translation of Hebrews 11.

10 For <gar> he looked for <ekdechomai> a city <polis> which hath <echo> foundations <themelios>, whose <hos> builder <technites> and <kai> maker <demiourgos> is God <theos>… 13 These <houtos> all <pas> died <apothnesko> in <kata> faith <pistes>, not <me> having received <lambano> the promises <epaggelia>, but <alla> having seen <eido> them <autos> afar off <porrhothen>, and <kai> were persuaded of <peitho> them, and <kai> embraced <aspazomai> them, and <kai> confessed <homologeo> that <hoti> they were <eisi> strangers <xenos> and <kai> pilgrims <parepidemos> on <epi> the earth <ge>.  14 For <gar> they that say <lego> such things <toioutos> declare plainly <emphanizo> that <hoti> they seek <epizeteo> a country <patris>.


Abraham was looking for a city with “foundations <themelios>”. If I click on <themelios> up pops this definition:

2310.  yemeliov  themelios,  them-el’-ee-os “2310” – Strong’s concordance number. “themelios” is the Greek word.
Search for 2310 in KJV A click button to search all the ways <themelios> is used in the KJV 
from a derivative of 5087;  ‘themelios’ is based on a root word 5087 
something put down,  Actual definition of <themelios>.
i.e. a substruction (of a building, etc.), (literally or figuratively): Strong’s ideas about what the word means.
–foundation.  Anything after the “–” lists all English words used for ‘themelios’ in the KJV. 
See Greek 5087 (tithemi) A place to click on the root word.

A City with Foundations

One of the amazing passages that comes up in a search for 2310 <themelios> is Revelation 21:14, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

This is the new Jerusalem – the city that God has promised for the future!

Seek a Country

When we do a search for the word “seek” in the phrase,“they seek a country”, we find the same word is used again in Hebrews 13:14, “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”

Just like them – we are looking for this heavenly city! 

Waiting for Us!

The writer of Hebrews 11 concludes the chapter with this amazing statement about all the faithful believers recorded in Scripture:

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

More Questions

So, all this begs the question, When and where will everyone receive the promises? Remember Jesus is the primary offspring inheriting the promises. And if we are baptized into Christ – we will inherit them as well (Galatians 3). Where is this “heavenly” city that we are all seeking? Will it be in heaven, since it is termed a “heavenly” city? Or is the Promised land, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in as strangers – the land of “Israel” today – going to be made a “heavenly” city? Could it be that this city is termed “heavenly” because it will no longer be ruled and fought over by earthly humans?

In our next blog we will consider other passages that refer to the “Kingdom of God” and the time of peace and happiness promised when Jesus reigns as King. We need to determine whether God’s paradise will be in heaven, or on earth. This is a really exciting study, as it frames our hope for the future and gives us a beautiful vision. If you just can’t wait for the answers, print out the Discovery Lesson and see for yourself!

In searching for the true, original Christian hope, we discover that the Apostle Paul tells us that the Gospel was preached to a faithful man in the book of Genesis! 

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” Galatians 3:8 (ESV)

Faithful Believers will Inherit the Promises

If we read on to the end of Galatians chapter 3, we discover that all faithful baptized believers become inheritors of the promises given to Abraham. We can inherit these promises! Really?

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:27-29

Jesus Christ is the Primary Heir

This same chapter in Galatians also tells us that Jesus Christ is the most important seed of Abraham – the primary heir!

“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16

So, since these promises are so significant to Jesus Christ, to Abraham, and to us as believers – it would certainly be well worth our time to examine what God said to Abraham. This topic is so foundational to understanding the true Gospel message, we have added Discovery Lesson #1  to our website. For those of you who find it much more meaningful to uncover God’s precious gems in His Word through your own research – then the Discovery Lessons are for you! We hope you enjoy the study as much as we do!

For those who are looking for quick answers, here is a summary of the promises that God made to Abraham. (Genesis 12:2-7; 13:14-18; 15:3-7, 18-21; 17:1-8)

  • From Abraham God will make a great nation
  • God will bless him and make his name great
  • God will bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him
  • In Abraham all the families of the earth will be blessed
  • All the land that Abraham could see and walk in will be given to him and his offspring forever
  • Abraham’s offspring would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars
  • The boundaries of the land given to the offspring will be from the Nile to the Euphrates
  • Abraham will be a father of many nations
  • Nations and kings will come from Abraham
  • The covenant between Abraham and God, and God and Abraham’s offspring will be an everlasting covenant
  • The land of Canaan will be an everlasting possession for Abraham and his offspring

Wow! That’s a lot of promises! See if you can find more.

Do you think Abraham received all these promises in his lifetime? Or do you think he expected to receive them later? If later – then when? and how?

Were there any ‘ifs’ involved in the receiving of the promises?

How did, or will Jesus Christ receive these promises?

And what about us? How will we receive the promises?

Can you find any New Testament commentary on the Promises to Abraham, aside from Galatians 3?

In our next blog we will look at the answers to the questions above. For those of you who just can’t wait – check out the Discovery Lesson.  It is a good habit to always pray for God’s Blessing before you start a study. See if the answers you uncover will match the ones we give 🙂 Until then, may God’s blessing be upon you.

Remember, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8