Being the oldest of 4 children definitely had its advantages growing up. I would often make “deals” with my sister or brothers based on how I knew they were going to respond. I might ask if they wanted to trade me a piece of their candy that I wanted for one of my candies I didn’t like as much. However, I only selfishly made the “deal” with them if it would work out to my advantage or desired result instead of genuinely seeking what would work best for them. Hopefully my siblings still don’t hold any grudges against me over some of my shady candy transactions!
However, God’s promises are not contingent on His foreknowledge alone. God’s allows His promises to work hand-in-hand with His grace as well as with His omniscient foreknowledge.
In other words, God’s foreknowledge of how we will act and respond to His commands does not determine whether or not He will make a promise to us in the first place. Aren’t you thankful for that reality?! While God is omniscient and He is leading all creation back to its original order of life, vitality, and rest in Him, He is still seeking the best for His people—in this He is glorified.
Genesis 15 opens with Abram being fearful for his protection and provision—yet God confirms His promise to be his “shield” and “reward.” Abram then expresses his fear for not having a son or heir of his own family line—and yet again God restates and clarifies further His promise of a son for Abram. God then gently leads Abram to view a beautiful panoramic of the night sky to gaze on the innumerable host of stars. This was God’s sign to Abram that He would fulfill His promise of descendants. Every night or early morning that Abram would see the stars he would be reminded of God’s promise and relationship. God had previously given Abram a similar sign but used the dust of the ground instead of the stars of the sky (13:16).
God then goes on to remind Abram that He has been leading every one of Abram’s steps since he left the Mesopotamian city of Ur. Abram was to inherit a great land. Abram again responds in fear that he is not sure how such is going to take place. God graciously responds to Abram’s fearful request for a “sign” to confirm that God would follow through with His promise concerning the land. God had just given Abram a sign that he would have numerous descendants by showing him the vast stars in the night sky—and Abram had believed God and had received God’s approval of justification! Yet, in Abram’s mind he still needed something more. Not much had changed by the time Jesus Christ’s ministry was in full swing—the Jews still sought signs for confirmation!
Yet we still do the same today—we want a sign or confirmation from God even though He has given us His Word and multiple promises through the Scriptures of His protection and provision for us.
After the messy job of “cutting the covenant” was done (which by the way speaks volumes of God’s grace in that He condescends to Abram’s desire for a sign on a human level!), God gives an amazing prophecy to Abram (15:13-16) concerning his descendants. God declares that the 4th generation of Abram’s descendants will be captives in a foreign land but they will be rescued out of their bondage with great possessions. This is remarkable! Although God in His omniscient foreknowledge knows what is going to take place in Genesis 16, He sovereignly includes the actions of Ishmael’s descendants in His covenant with Abram. Looking forward to the Joseph narrative (Gen. 37) when this prophecy is fulfilled, we read that his brothers sell him to a band of Ishmaelites (mentioned by name 4 times!). So here’s how it breaks down:
(1) God knows Abram is going to have a son named Ishmael (the father of the Arabs) through Hagar his wife’s female servant.
(2) God also knows that Ishmael’s great-great-grandsons will sell a Hebrew slave (Joseph) in Egypt.
(3) Yet God promises to bless Ishmael and Isaac before they are born! This is under of umbrella of God’s promise to bless Abram’s descendants. God is committed to fulfilling His promises to His people.
(4) Even though Abram would still make unwise choices in the future, God never waved from upholding His promise—a promise that would have taken place regardless of any “covenant” in chapter 15!
All this to say—we can find comfort in knowing that the promises that God have given us as His people are not predicated on our actions but are based on His holy and gracious character.
God’s foreknowledge precludes His promises to men—and yet, God’s grace does not stop Him from making such promises based on His foreknowledge of man’s actions alone.
As New Testament believers, this is why the timeless gospel of God’s grace must permeate all our lives—from salvation through sanctification and even through glorification. Our salvation, sanctification, and glorification are predicated on God’s character and not on our performance. While Abraham’s faith was required for his justification, God’s promise was unconditionally given.
As we gazing into the winter’s night sky, we can be reminded not of God’s continual fulfillment of His promise to Abraham as we too rejoice in our spiritual relationship to God as His children. God be praised for His faithfulness to His promises and for his gracious foreknowledge! Only because of God’s grace and faithfulness will “all the ethnic families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).