For human benefit God created heaven and earth and “made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food,” including “the tree of life” (Genesis 2:9). Then God said to Adam, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
The command that Adam must not eat of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was accompanied with the promise that disobedience would bring death. But Adam and Eve disobeyed (Genesis 3:6) and thereby doomed themselves and their posterity to death and separation from God (Genesis 3:24).
Had Adam and Eve obeyed God’s commandment they could have lived forever in close association with God. Now that they had been separated from God, one might wonder how humanity could ever be reconciled to God. Separated from God, humanity became excessively wicked (Genesis 6:5). God therefore decided to destroy mankind with a universal flood, except for Noah and his family (Genesis 6:8-9; 7:7, 13, 23; Hebrews 11:7).
Ten generations after Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-9) human population had expanded into nations (Genesis 10) and were separated into different language groups (Genesis 11:1-9). Because of the consequences of sin, people continued to be separated from God. If humanity and God were to be reconciled to enable individuals to live forever, then some procedure had to be initiated to accomplish that purpose. Only God could do that. And that process would take considerable time.
People became idolatrous. In the Chaldean city of Ur, Terah, the father of Abram was idolatrous (Joshua 24:2). Archaeological findings indicate that people in the city of Ur worshipped the moon as a god. However, Abram went against the religious ideals of his culture.
He listened to God Almighty. “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Genesis 12:1-3; see also Genesis 11:31; Acts 7:2-5; Hebrews 11.8).
Because God did not disclose to Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham, Genesis 17:5) how he would fulfill his promises, Abraham would not realize that obedience to God’s command would eventually lead to revelation about God’s reconciliation of all humanity to himself. The promises that Abraham would have a great name, that from him would come a great nation, and that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:2, 7; 13:14-17; 15:7, 18; 17:8) would be disclosed in the history of Abraham’s immediate descendants.
The land portion of the covenant was renewed with Abraham’s son, Isaac (Genesis 17:19, 21), and his grandson Jacob (Genesis 35:9-12; see also Deuteronomy 1:8; 6:10; 29:13; 30:20; 2 Kings 13:23; Psalm 105:8-11).
However, the portion of the promise that through Abraham all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3) would not be fully realized as the basis for God’s reconciling all humanity to himself until the coming of Christ many centuries later (Genesis 17:7; Acts 2:39; Galatians 3:14, 16, 22, 28-29; 4:28).
Abraham believed God, obeyed his commands (Genesis 12:4-6), left his home town culture, and went where God directed him (Genesis 12:4-6). Because Abraham was faithful (Genesis 22:15-18; Hebrews 11:17-19) and obeyed God’s commandments (Romans 4:20; Hebrews 6:15; 11:9), God established with Abraham an everlasting covenant (Genesis 15:18; 17:2-14) and fulfilled his promises to him (Genesis 18:18-20). God’s promises to Abraham were numerous (Genesis 12:7; 15:1, 4, 13-16).
God’s Promises are Conditional
God’s promises to people are conditional upon their obedience to his commandments. Throughout the Old Testament God consistently fulfilled his promises to those who obeyed his commandments and withheld his blessings from those who did not obey. Some examples illustrate this fact:
- Noah was commanded to build an ark for the saving of his household (Genesis 6:20). He did (Genesis 7:5) and was thereby saved from a worldwide flood (Genesis 8:15-16; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5).
- King Jehoshaphat “sought the God of his father and walked in His commandments.” Therefore, “the LORD established the kingdom in his hand and . . . he had riches and honor in abundance” (2 Chronicles 17:3-5).
- King Uzziah “did what was right in the sight of the LORD . . . and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:3-5).
- King Hezekiah “did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” Therefore “the LORD was with him; he prospered wherever he went” (2 Kings 18:3, 7; see also 2 Chronicles 29:1-2; 31:20-21).
- On the other hand, because King Saul “did not keep the word of the LORD,” God “turned the kingdom over to David, the son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 10:13-14).
- Moreover, when King Solomon “did not keep the word of the Lord,” the kingdom was taken away from him (1 Kings 11:10-11).
God’s Blessings are Conditional
Whenever community leaders direct people to obey God’s commandments, then the community as a whole prospers. And conversely, whenever community leaders direct their people away from obedience to God’s commandments, then the community as a whole has many difficulties. Whenever communities turn away from God, then individuals who obey God’s commandments may find themselves unable to be prosperous in their lifetimes. In fact, they may be persecuted by ungodly citizens whenever they obey God.
This is consistent with promises that God had made through Moses. He declared to the nation of Israel: “You shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them. Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you” (Deuteronomy 7:11-13).
On the other hand, God said: “If you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, then all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will send on you cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me” (Deuteronomy 28:16-20).
The commands and promises of God relate not only to life on earth, but also to the prospects of eternal life. Many of the prophets realized this and obeyed God even though they did not fully understand the nature of the promise that God had made to Abraham (Hebrews 11:39-40; 1 Peter 1:10-12). Moreover, inasmuch as most of the prophets lived when their communities were departing from God, they were themselves persecuted by their fellow citizens (Matthew 20:29-35; Luke 11:47-48; Hebrews 11:32-40).
How you respond to God’s commandments and promises indicates your understanding of, and attitude toward, God. If you obey God’s commandments, you indicate your belief (i.e., trust) that God will keep his promises. When you keep God’s commandments you also indicate love toward God. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3).
Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me” (John 14:21). On the commandments of loving God and neighbor hangs all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40).
All the commandments are summarized in the saying “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9). On the other hand, if you know God’s commandments but do not obey them, you indicate that you do not trust God to keep his promises.
Since God loves us and wants to bless us, both in this life and in the life to come, should we not be careful to learn and obey his commandments? Obedience is the only way we will be privileged to receive the blessings that come from God’s promises.