by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 3 Paragraph # 3 Study # 5 April 1, 2012 Dayton, Texas
17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
1901 ASV Translation:
17 Now this I say: A covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect.
18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise.
I. Paul's Dismissal of "Law" As a Covenant Breaker.
A. God "previously established" a covenant with Abraham.
1. The "promises" were spoken to Abraham and to his Seed (Genesis 12:1-7).
2. The "establishment" of those promises was recorded in Genesis 15:17-18 in response to Abram's question "whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?".
3. This covenant was "in place" with Abram's understanding that the fulfillment would be gradual and not in his lifetime (Genesis 15:13-16).
B. Once "established", a covenant cannot have its particulars altered (Galatians 3:15).
C. The biblical record was of "the Law" being given 430 years afterward without any alteration of the original covenant.
1. Genesis 15:13 records that Yahweh told Abram that the "promises" were going to be significantly delayed (Exodus 12:41 says that it was "the selfsame day" that 430 years elapsed that Israel left Eqypt).
2. This does raise the issue of why God interposed with the Law, but it does not give the automatic answer that the Law superceded the Promise.
3. This does raise the question of why the Promise was not immediately fulfilled, but the text of the ratification of Promise in Genesis 15clearly says that it was not intended by God to be an immediate reality.
4. At issue is the nature of "promise".
a. The most pressing issue is the integrity of the promise: does "Law" supersede the previous covenant? If it does, the promise has no integrity.
b. More to the point: if "promise" has no integrity, neither does the One Who made the promise. Paul's point is that a commitment once made cannot be rescinded without making that commitment a non-commitment. Hebrews 6:16-17 declares that God knew that the heirs of "Promise" would have some difficulty with "faith" in the face of long delayed fulfillment, so He added to His declaration an "oath" so as to put them at ease.
c. The bottom line of "promise" is exactly what Abraham finally got through his head: the One Who makes the promise is the one who is obligated to bring it to pass (Romans 4:21). This, most fundamentally, means that God has to do all of the things that are necessary to the realization of the promise. Thus, subsequently, it is a delusion for anyone to believe that God does not overrule human choices and intentions. Thus, though men can make all manner of choices, God is not bound by them and will, when necessary, "force" those who are "in the way of" the fulfillment to "choose" something in line with His will. In other words God will, indeed, "force" some men to "choose" what is contrary to their nature and understanding. Consider Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. He was adamant in his refusal to regard Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ and was even murderous in his opposition to that notion. Did God act as a "gentleman" and refuse to overrun him in his unbelief? Did He leave him to his "free will"?
d. A most significant result of Paul's argument is that "Promise" becomes a fundamental element in God's revelation of how things are going to develop over the period of human history. Thus, "Promise" gives a key interpretive element to biblical revelation: God revealed His intentions early and then developed them meticulously over long periods of human history and what He had to say during those periods must keep "Promise" in mind. In this sense, Genesis 12:1-3 becomes a guiding revelation for everything that follows.