Old Testament

The Line of Promise in the Old Testament

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Genealogies are often thought to be some of the most boring parts of Scripture. In reality, they are probably just the most misunderstood parts of the Bible. Certain books use genealogies to support extremely important theological points. An example of this is the book of Genesis. Genesis relies upon genealogies (Gen 5; Gen 11; etc.), as well as key vocabulary terms, so that the reader can trace God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 throughout history. This pattern is then continued outside of Genesis (specifically in Ruth 4 and Matthew 1) so that there is a completely traceable record of God’s faithfulness.

Similar to utilizing genealogies this way, the Old Testament also uses  the word “seed” (or, “offspring” in many translations). “Seed” (זרע) is used 229 times in OT, with 59 times in Genesis alone (26%).

The first time time the word is used is in Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This promised victory at the hands of a special champion for the human race comes from a future “seed/offspring” of Eve. After this promise, the use of “seed/offspring” for the biblical writers becomes a special key word which often signals that the writer has the Genesis 3:15 promise in mind and is explaining its progression.

Throughout the progression of these promises to the “seed/offspring,” there is an interplay between plural and singular, meaning that God’s promise includes many descendants for Abram and his progeny, yet there will come one singular seed from this plurality that achieves ultimate victory (cf. Gen 22:17).

Like the genealogies, these specific uses of “seed/offspring” indicate a progression or narrowing of the promised line through which the deliverer will come to a specific family (David). In tracing this through the first part of the Old Testament (as shown below), we can see a promise of “seed/offspring” go from Adam, to Noah, to Abram, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Judah, to David. Therefore, it is no surprise that in the New Testament era, everyone expected the deliverer to David. It was through His family that the culmination of the “seed promise” was to come.

Reference English Standard Version
Gen 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Gen 4:25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.”
 NOAH
Gen 9:9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you,
 ABRAM
Gen 12:7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
Gen 13:15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.
Gen 13:16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.
Gen 15:5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Gen 15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
Gen 17:7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
Gen 17:8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
Gen 17:9 And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.
Gen 17:10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.
Gen 22:17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,
ISAAC                                                         
Gen 24:60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!”
Gen 26:3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father.
Gen 26:4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,
Gen 26:24 And the LORD appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
 JACOB
Gen 28:4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”
Gen 28:13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.
Gen 28:14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Gen 32:13 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ”
 JUDAH
Ruth 4:12 And may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.
 DAVID
2 Sam 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.

photo credit: Matthew Fang via photopin cc

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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