God is trustworthy and true. He always keeps his promises. We know this because Christians, either in person or on web-sites, like to tell us so.
Let’s take a look at some of the promises God made back when he only liked Jewish people. How well do they hold up?
As part of his promise (covenant) with Jewish patriarch, Abraham, that he would look after his descendants in perpetuity, Yahweh came up with a particularly gross way for them to sign up:
I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God… Abraham, you and all future members of your family must promise to obey me. As the sign that you are keeping this promise, you must circumcise every man and boy in your family. This will be a sign that my promise to you will last forever. Any man who isn’t circumcised hasn’t kept his promise to me and can’t be one of my people… The promise I am making to you and your family will be for (your son) and his descendants forever (Genesis 17.7, 9-13, 21; my emphases).
‘Always’ and ‘forever’ obviously meant only until God changed his mind – which he did when he came up with the new ‘covenant’. You know the one: ‘believe in Jesus to be saved, no primitive surgery required.’ Of course, Jews still feel the original promise is in force and so keep up the old slicing’n’dicing membership requirement. So who’s right? Jewish people who feel that a promise is a promise? Or Christians who insist God eventually lost interest in mutilating penises? It’s hard to tell, but if it’s the Christians, then God, being omniscient and all, must have known he would change his mind eventually. So why tell ol’ Abe the agreement with him was ‘always’ and ‘forever’?
Then there’s the one where God promises there’ll be a descendant of King David’s on the throne forever:
I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel’ (1 Kings 9.5).
Oops. David’s line ceased ruling over Israel when the Assyrians defeated it in 586BCE. Since then there has been no king of the Davidic line ruling over Israel. Why didn’t God see this coming? And if he did, why’d he make a promise, with ‘forever’ and ‘never fail’, that he knew he wasn’t going to keep? Yes, I know Christians like to claim that Jesus took over the kingship when he came along, but he didn’t, not really. His descent from David is highly questionable and there’s still that awfully long gap between 586BCE and Jesus’ time that blows a hole in ‘never fail’ and ‘forever’. In any case, Jews, by definition, have never seen Jesus as their king and they’ve got a point: it’s difficult to see how someone dead and/or totally invisible can be king of anything.
Never mind, let’s try another. This time God’s promise that everything’s going to work out okay:
(The Lord) will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2.4).
Safe to say this didn’t happen either. Not while people were still using swords and spears anyway.
Finally, what about the promise that’s trotted out every Christmas? –
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Whatever Christians might claim for these verses, they’re not about Jesus. At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll repeat myself: Jesus did not and does not reign on David’s throne. He said he would, it’s true, believing himself to be the fulfilment of ‘prophecies’ like this, but he was wrong, as events went on to demonstrate. He didn’t, in any case, fit the description of whoever it is who’s being spoken of here; an earthly ruler who – yes, you guessed it – has still to show up. We’d have spotted him if he had. Some Jewish scholars think they might have done, pointing to King Hezekiah who ruled Israel in the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, for almost 30 years. That’s hardly ‘forever’ though, is it. Yet more evidence that ‘prophecy’ doesn’t ever work, principally because it’s impossible to know the future.
God’s promises are like those of politicians: you just can’t trust them. There has to come a time when those who believe in them must face up to the fact they’re not promises at all, just ancient wishful thinking.