The Dispensation Of Promise
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Genesis, which will be our point of departure in our study of the Word of God as we continue our study of dispensations.

One might ask why there is any need to make a study such as this, and our answer is found in II Timothy, chapter 2, verse 15, where God instructs us to “study to show ourselves approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We suggest to you, as we have in the past, that it is impossible to rightly divide the Word of Truth unless we have a correct understanding of dispensations.

You realize that a dispensation is a stated period of time in which God deals with man according to his responsibility in relation to some revealed truth. The times of these dispensations vary, as far as years go. We have been pleased, because we have been convinced in our own mind that it is the correct interpretation, to deal with these dispensations on the basis of the number of seven, reminding you that there are seven such dispensations in which God is dealing with man.

We have already discussed the Dispensation of Innocence, which began when Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden and ended when Adam was put out of the Garden of Eden, never to enter it again at the risk of death. Then there followed the Dispensation of Conscience, conscience simply meaning the knowledge of things as they are and, specifically, with Adam and Eve, the knowledge of good and evil. The Dispensation of Conscience began when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, and it continued until the Flood when God found it necessary to cleanse the earth because of the wickedness of men, the heart of man being evil continually. The Dispensation of Conscience was followed by the Dispensation of Human Government which began with the days after the Flood and continued down through the days of the Tower of Babel, when man decided he would disregard God's command to scatter abroad throughout the whole earth. Instead, man decided to dwell in one single place and make a name for himself.

That brings us to the dispensation which we will consider in this lesson and which we will call the Dispensation of Promise . When we began the study of these dispensations, we said that, as an aid to your memory, we would discuss them using these six words: circumstance, character, covenant, course, climax, and compassion. We said that we would not necessarily look at these words in relation to each dispensation in that order, but the information suggested by those words would all be included before we had concluded our discussion of each dispensation.

Circumstances Of The Dispensation

As we think about the Dispensation of Promise, I ask you to notice what is recorded in the book of Genesis, chapter 11, as a beginning of our discussion of the circumstances under which this dispensation began. In verse 7 of chapter 11, you will notice that God, having observed the building of the Tower of Babel, says to the other members of the Godhead:

Genesis 11:

7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

We suggest to you that the circumstances under which the Dispensation of Promise began was a condition of migrating people, people moving from one area of the earth to another until the entire earth was populated, according to the divisions given in chapter 10 of the book of Genesis and portrayed in most of your Bibles on a map at the back of your Bibles. This migration of the people should not leave you with the impression that, being nomadic in nature, they did not settle anywhere because some of them did.

Two of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known were begun and came to the zenith of their glory in this particular dispensation. One of these was known as the civilization of Babylon, the Babylonian Empire, and the other was known as the Egyptian Empire.

Nimrod, whom you have already met in chapter 10 of the book of Genesis, stopped the building of the city of Babel when God confused the tongues but went right back to it as soon as things had calmed down. At this time, the city of Babylon had been built and the Babylonian Empire was holding sway over that particular part of the world.

You will remember reading in chapter 10 of the book of Genesis that some of the descendants of Ham, particularly Mizraim, settled in Egypt and began what is known as the Egyptian Empire . This empire had reached such a zenith of glory that pyramids were considered old by the time the particular character whom we will be noticing in this dispensation began his own migration to a place that God had ordained for him. The land of Egypt is known as the land of Ham.

One other name needs to be mentioned in relation to this migration, for you will remember that the human race stems from the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. We are primarily concerned in this dispensation with one of the descendants of Shem. His name is Terah, and he is brought to our attention in the last paragraph of Genesis, chapter 11, verse 26:

Genesis 11:

26 And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
27 Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot.
28 And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.
29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.
32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

This paragraph introduces us to the Dispensation of Promise, when God called a man to leave the city of Ur of the Chaldees, one of the chief cities of the Babylonian Empire. The city of Ur was so named because it was dedicated to the worship of the moon god Ur, and that suggests to us another characteristic of the circumstances in which this dispensation began. It was not only characterized by migrating peoples, of great civilizations, but it was idolatrous civilizations, so great that the true God was about to be swallowed up in makeshift images of Him. God found it necessary to do something about it.

Characters Of The Dispensation

We will just mention the characters of this dispensation without saying a great deal about them at the moment. The characters are : Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. This does not suggest that they were the only individuals who lived then, but it does suggest that these are the chief characters in the midst of this interesting dispensation, the Dispensation of Promise.

As we consider for a moment the life of Abraham, may we suggest to you that this is where this particular age gets its name. We suggested to you that it was an age of promise, the Dispensation of Promise. We have also suggested to you that it was the patriarchal age, the age when patriarchs ruled, the age when their word was law. A patriarch is a father, the head of a household. That this was a patriarchal age is indicated as you compare verses 31 and 32 of Genesis, chapter 11, with verse 1 of chapter 12. In this paragraph, we find that Terah, the father of Abraham, seemed to be the chief character in the migration. And yet, when we look at verse 1 of chapter 12, we read:

Genesis 12:

1 Now the Lord had said unto Abram [Abraham], Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

Even though the call came to Abraham, he felt that he could not disregard the word of the patriarch, Terah. So when they began to leave the Ur of the Chaldees, they left with Terah's permission, but when they reached the village of Haran, Terah, perhaps because of his age, said, “This is as far as we are going.” And they sat there. Abraham felt he could do nothing about the call of God.

Sometimes Abraham is criticized for doing the thing that God had called him to do. But remember, Abraham was not living in the Age of Grace; he was living in a patriarchal age where he was expected to abide by the word of the father of the family. And Terah said, “This is as far as we go,” and it was as far as he went. But God took Terah home, and immediately, Abraham, in obedience to faith, began his march onward.

Recipients Of The Promise

That leads us to emphasize the reason for the second name of the dispensation, the Dispensation of Promise. The Holy Spirit, commenting on Abraham's obedience to God's command, explains it in just those terms.

Keep a marker in the book of Genesis and turn, please, to the book of Hebrews, noticing in chapter 6 of the book of Hebrews, what the Holy Spirit has recorded for our benefit and blessing:

Hebrews 6:

10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:
12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them [notice carefully now] who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swear by himself,

Turn, please, to Hebrews, chapter 11, and notice verse 8 and 9, where we read:

Hebrews 11:

8 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.
9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles [or tents] with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

The recipients of the promise went out toward the land of promise in obedience to the command of God. This is where the dispensation gets its name, I reemphasize, through the obedience of the chief characters within the dispensation itself.

The Abrahamic Covenant

The third word we said we would consider in connection with this dispensation is the word covenant , for we have found that there is a covenant related to every dispensation. The word covenant means “agreement.” The agreement in these instances is instigated by God. They are both conditional and unconditional, and sometimes they are intermingled. A conditional covenant rests upon man doing certain things if God is going to do certain things. An unconditional covenant rests upon the sure Word of God. The unconditional covenant is the one that is under our consideration now, for it is known as the Abrahamic Covenant . These covenants take their names either from the places where they were made, as did the Edenic Covenant in the Garden of Eden, or from the individuals with whom they were made, as was the Adamic Covenant, the Noahic Covenant and now the Abrahamic Covenant.

Promise Of The Covenant

Notice, please, Genesis, chapter 12, beginning with verse 1:

Genesis 12:

1 Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

This is the Abrahamic Covenant stated in its simplest form. The importance of it is indicated by the fact that it is repeated, reaffirmed, amplified, no less than five times in the book of Genesis, and referred to numerous times throughout the Scriptures. Let us keep the skeleton form of the covenant firmly fixed in our minds as we read the verses once again. Notice, please, verse 1:

Genesis 12:

1 Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

This is not a condition; it is a command, and it was obeyed. You will notice in verse 2 that the covenant reads, “I will make of thee a great nation.” He did. That great nation is none other than the nation of Israel which the Bible says will remain forever. When all the other names of all the other nations have faded into oblivion, the Jewish nation will still remain.

Promise Of Blessing

Look again at verse 2 at the phrase “and I will bless thee.” This was personally fulfilled in the life of Abraham because he became exceedingly wealthy, even in places where he had no need to be, as though there was some strange hand upon him, so that he became one of the leaders of the ancient East.

Then, if you will look again at the paragraph, notice the phrase, “and make thy name great.” This, too, was personally fulfilled in the life of Abraham because Abraham's name is great in three segments of the religious world. The Christians revere the name of Abraham; Jews revere the name of Abraham; Mohammedans revere the name of Abraham. God truly made him great.

Then you will notice in the last part of verse 2 the statement, “thou shalt be a blessing.” I am quite sure that this, too, was a personal fulfillment because of who lived in Abraham's day who came in contact with him received blessing from him, the last being blessed of the greater, as the Word of God expresses it in one instance. But that blessing has a greater fulfillment as we shall see in a moment or two.

Continuing with the covenant, look at verse 3 and see what God says. No “ifs” and “ands” about it:

Genesis 12:

3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee:…

Subsequent events, along with Scripture rightly related, indicate that this was something far deeper than any reference to Abraham the individual. It refers to all of Abraham's descendants. Sometimes in ways unknown to men, God has blessed individuals who have been kind to the nation of Israel, and He has cursed individuals who have been unkind to the nation of Israel. There is no question that this will be the basis for judgment in that judgment which is called the Judgment of Nations at the end of the age in which we live. God says, “Bless, and I will bless; curse, and I will curse.”

Promise Of The Savior

Look again at verse 3 notice the statement:

Genesis 12:

3 …and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

This passage of Scripture, rightly related to other portions of the Word of God, is a reminder that through Abraham came the Messiah of the nation of Israel and the Savior of the world. That is the reason this particular dispensation, like some of the others, does not conclude when the period of time is completed, but the promises of the dispensation run through all the other dispensations until the end of time.

This Dispensation of Promise had but one responsibility connected with it. We might turn to many passages of Scripture to exemplify it, but one passage comes to mind. Turn, please, to the book of Genesis, and notice in chapter 17 these words:

Genesis 17:

1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

The covenant known as the Abrahamic Covenant was reiterated. When God said to Abraham, “Walk thou before Me and be thou perfect,” He was not suggesting that he be sinless; He was suggesting that he be perfect in relation to the covenant that had already been made. I suggest that, when you study the doctrine of perfection in the Scriptures, you study it always in the light of its context. It never speaks of sinlessness, but it speaks of measuring up to the agreement that God lays down. God made an agreement with Abraham, and that was, “Abraham, get out of that land where you are, and go to a land where I will show you, and I will keep My Word. Now, walk before Me in the light of that promise.” And that was all that Abraham had to do—to live according to promise. How did it work out?

Course Of The Dispensation

That brings us to another of the six words—the word course . We said we were going to discuss the course of this age, the course of this dispensation, as we have discussed the course of the others. May I suggest to you that this dispensation lasted somewhat over four hundred and thirty years. It is one of the shorter dispensations. It is covered in the passage of Scripture which begins with chapter 11 of the book of Genesis and concludes with chapter 14 of the book of Exodus. Some individuals feel that you should carry out that extention of Scripture to chapter 19 of the book of Exodus. It does not make a great deal of difference, because in the lives of each one of the characters who lived in this dispensation is illustrated the course of the age.

I wish I could tell you it was different from the other three dispensations at which we have already looked, but I can't. This dispensation followed the usual course; it followed the usual trend. It was from victory to defeat, from success to failure, from perfection to imperfection, for that is the story of mankind

When you have the time, read the story of Abraham in relation to the promised land and in relation to Egypt. The great empire of Egypt was always an exciting place to Abraham. You will read that when famine came into the land into which God had called him, Abraham, instead of resting upon the promise that was included in Psalm 37 which says, “Dwell thou in the land. Trust also in Me. Verily thou shalt be fed.”, immediately hightailed it for Egypt where there would be plenty of food and no real test.

If you are familiar with the story, you will remember that he became wealthy there in the permissive will of God, but he almost ruined God's plan and purpose for calling him out of the land of Ur of the Chaldees. Sarah, his wife, was a beautiful woman, and Pharaoh, king of Egypt, took her into his harem, ready to make her his own wife. Abraham lied about it to spare his own skin! If God had not intervened, in His mercy, Sarah would have become the wife of Pharaoh, and the perfect line through which the Messiah was to come to the earth would have been muddled and messed up.

Man followed the usual trend, the usual course, and failed. Time will not permit us to discuss Isaac, who followed in his father's footsteps, or Jacob, who followed in his father's footsteps to such an extent that God said, “I've had all of this that I'm going to have! If you love Egypt so well, I'll give you an opportunity to find out what Egypt is like.”

Climax Of The Dispensation

The climax of the dispensation was reached when God, during the lifetime of Jacob, sent the children of Israel into the land of Egypt where they stayed for four hundred years under the strong taskmaster's whip, until they reached the place where they could stand it no longer, and they cried out unto God for deliverance. They recognized what they should have known at the very beginning, but which they learned after bitter experience, what we all know if we believe the Word of God, but which most of us have to learn by bitter experience, that God's way is the best way. When they reached that place and cried out to God for deliverance, God heard them.

Illustrations of God's Compassion

We are ready to look at the last of the six words, the word compassion . We suggested to you when we began our study of these dispensations that in the midst of man's failure, we always find God's compassion.. In the midst of man's failure we always find God injecting Himself and providing for deliverance.

Think again about Abraham and Pharaoh. Think again about Abraham and Abimelech. Think again about Isaac and Pharaoh. Think again about Jacob and Pharaoh. As you do, you will find a note of compassion in each instance during this dispensation. Remember the reason that God called the nation of Israel in the loins of Abraham from the land of Ur of the Chaldees. If you have forgotten that, then this dispensation has no real meaning to you; there is no significance to it.

Let me suggest that we turn to the book of Romans and refresh our minds as to the reason God called the nation of Israel in the loins of Abraham from the land of Ur of the Chaldees. Notice in chapter 9, as I remind you that chapter 9 gives us the past history of the nation of Israel. Chapter 10 gives us the present state of Israel. Chapter 11 gives us the future of the nation of Israel. Notice in chapter 9, verse 1:

Romans 9:

1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,
2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

The Apostle says that by God's grace, he was one born out of due time. He came to know the Savior when the vast majority of his brethren still lived in blindness and darkness. He said, “My heart is burdened for them.” Someone asked, “What do you mean, your kinsmen according to the flesh? Who are they? Who do they represent?” In verse 4 he answers:

Romans 9:

4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
5 Whose are the fathers, [the patriarchs]

And all of this is of importance, but of far greater importance is the statement:

Romans 9:

5 … and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

God called Abraham out of the land of Ur of the Chaldees that there might be a clear channel, unmuddied with heathenism and idolatry, through which the Lord Jesus Christ could come. I say to you that man would have failed miserably and would have botched God's plan if His compassion had not intervened in every instance.

Perhaps the most familiar manifestation of the compassion of God in the midst of this Dispensation of Promise is the compassion that made a difference between the Israelites and the Egyptians when the death angel passed over the land of Egypt. God had told Moses and his company, “I will make a difference between you and the Egyptians.” That word difference elsewhere in the Scriptures is translated by the word “redemption,” that redemption signified by the Feast of Passover which is observed by the Jews and which speaks antitypically of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross in our behalf.

Cure For Man's Failure

What is the cure for man's failure? If you are thinking, you know that man failed again. What is the cure for man's failure? There is only one answer - the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. What has been proven in four dispensations? Man is utterly, hopelessly lost without God's intervention. All hearts and minds should turn to the Lord Jesus Christ Who alone is able to save.

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