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Video version: Misunderstood Promises.
And the man knew Eve his wife, and she conceiveth and beareth Cain, and saith, `I have gotten a man by Jehovah;' Gen. 4:1, Young’s Literal Translation
Most Bible versions have Eve saying something like she bore Cain with the help of the Lord. Young’s Literal Translation comes the closest to the original Hebrew; however, even it adds the word ‘by’ to have the sentence make sense in English. What Eve actually said was: “I have gotten a man, the Lord.”
What does this mean? Adam and Eve had sinned and been thrust out of the Garden of Eden and the presence of the Lord. It must have been devastating to have had such a close communion with God and then lose it all to walk into the darkness of loneliness. They had erected a barrier between themselves and the One Who loved and created them. And they had no way to fix what they had done. No way to solve the problem. No way back to the God their heart yearned for. Now that they knew what separation was really like.
Yet God had not left them without hope. They couldn’t fix it, but He said He would send a Redeemer - the Seed of the Woman - who would crush satan’s head and lead mankind back to a beautiful relationship with God. At this point in time, God was painting with broad strokes. There wasn’t much detail, but there was enough to know that one of Eve’s descendants would be the One to achieve victory over satan, who had used the form of the serpent.
Eve [and probably Adam] apparently believed the promise. God had given them His Word. He would perform it. [This gives us hope that Adam and Eve, through the grace of God, had saving faith.]. Like most of us, when Eve heard the promise, she expected it to happen right away. This is why she said, “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” She believed that her firstborn son, Cain, would be the redeemer that God had promised. She didn’t know - couldn’t have known - that it would take about 4,000 years of work to prepare the world for the Redeemer.
Eve’s hope and excitement were on Cain. He was the one - he had to be, after all, God had promised! Can you imagine how thrilled she was? How her eyes lit up. Here was someone who could fix what she had helped to break. As time when on, however, she must have had doubts. Cain began to show rebellious and independent streaks. Surely this wasn’t how the Redeemer was to act? When did she realize that she had been mistaken? Was it when Cain was in his “terrible twos”? Maybe when he was a teenager? Or did she keep her blinders on until that terrible day when Cain became the world’s first murderer by killing another of her loved sons? We don’t know, but whether it was a slowly dawning realization or a sudden discovery, it shattered her heart. Her dreams were dashed. Her hope was gone. How could she have been so wrong?
She was wrong in her assumption because she misunderstood the promise of God. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, she misunderstood the timing of the promise of God. God had promised the Redeemer but had not given a time frame. She had assumed she knew when it would happen. She was wrong. Did it demolish her faith in the promises of God? We don’t know.
What we do know is that some Christians have misunderstood promises in the Word of God or perhaps in personal prophecies they have received, become disillusioned with God and then walked away from their faith and the church. Is it God’s fault if they misunderstood promises or misapplied them? No. These people hold God responsible for things He never said.
Let’s look at some ways promises are misunderstood.
First, the book of Proverbs contains many wise sayings, such as training a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs are just that, proverbs. They are statements of how life generally works. In most cases, those who work hard, succeed and those who are lazy fail. That is the way God designed life to operate. But we all know that it doesn’t happen in every case. There are some people who work very hard and yet never seem to get ahead. And sometimes lazy people and cheaters succeed in this life. To take a proverb and hold it up as an absolute promise of God - unless He has specifically spoken it to you - is to misunderstand the nature of proverbs and the Word of God.
Second, in line with that, we need to realize that the Word of God contains statements of the general will of God that might not reflect His will in a specific situation, or He may choose not to miraculously interfere in the circumstances of living in a sinful world. For example, in the Ten Commandments, children who honour their parents are promised a long life - and Paul repeats this promise. This is the way God designed things to operate, but we all know it doesn’t work that way every time. We have to distinguish between the general will of God, the specific will of God and the permissive will of God. The general will of God is how He designed and desires things to operate. The specific will of God is God’s specific plan for an individual’s life which may override His general will. The permissive will of God is what He allows because of our actions or the actions of others living in a sinful world.
Third, sometimes God makes a specific promise to someone [or nation] in the Bible, and we assume that the promise is to us as well. It can certainly be a word of encouragement to us. It can show us how God operates. But, unless God has made it real to our hearts as a promise to us specifically, we cannot assume that God is obligated to keep that promise to us. We need to know the context of promises. This is part of correctly dividing the Word of God. We cannot pick Scriptures at random and say we understand what they mean. We must know the context. We must also know if there are conditions attached to the promise. Every promise has at least two conditions - faith and obedience.
Fourth, sometimes we truly do receive a promise from God or a prophecy, but we, like Eve, misunderstand the timing. Our timing is always Now. God’s timing is perfect, and He is not in a hurry. It is also possible that we misunderstood what God said - we thought He meant one thing when He was talking about something else altogether. We cannot allow our impatience or misunderstanding to destroy our faith.
Fifth, we cannot ignore promises we don’t like, such as, “In this world, you will have tribulation…”
Sixth, there are absolute promises in the Bible that we can hold onto. There are also times when God makes a specific promise real to us in that we know by faith that He is speaking it to us personally. That is not wishful thinking or misunderstanding the Word of God. It is taking the Living God at His Word.
Let us not turn our misunderstanding or our impatience into disillusionment with the Word of God or the people of God. When we are truly seeking after the Living God, we will press through even when what we thought we knew evaporates like the morning fog, and our hearts are shattered. Hold on to God. His Word is True. The disciples often had their worldview shaken, but they held onto Jesus anyway. If you hold onto Jesus, you will not go wrong.
For more information about Glenn Davis see our About Glenn page and/or his Author's Page.