What John Believed: The Golden Age and the Promises to Abraham (Refiner’s Fire Pt 7)

NOTE: “Refiner’s Fire” is a mini-series within my overall series on the gospel of Matthew. It deals with the story of John the Baptist as a vehicle for navigating our own struggles with doubt, disappointment, and crisis of faith. I’m working on it daily and will release the whole thing as a book once it’s done. What you see on the blog is a work-in-progress. It may make the most sense if you start from the beginning, so if you wish to read it that way, I’d recommend visiting the gospel of Matthew index page and looking for the Refiner’s Fire section. Please note the central passage of Scripture at issue is Matthew 11:1-19.


In reviewing the history of Israel in the Old Testament, one gets the sense of a prodigal son who, two months after coming home to a warm welcome, demands still more of his inheritance and takes off to waste it again—over and over. But God had long ago declared himself to be compassionate and longsuffering, and so he was.

The LORD came down in a cloud, stood with [Moses] there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh. Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed:

Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:5–7)

The Golden Age of David and Solomon

Because of God’s faithfulness both to Abraham and to the people of Israel, despite their failure to keep faith and covenant with him, he eventually brought them to the apex of their glory as a nation during the reigns of David and Solomon. This was very much the Golden Age of Israel, characterized by the presence of God in their midst via the temple, by victory over their enemies, by prosperity, and by peace.

In point of fact, the Scriptures consciously highlight the fulfillment of every blessing promised to Abraham and Moses during this period. As far as the writers of the Old Testament were concerned, God had kept all his promises.

In speaking of Solomon’s reign, the writer of 1 Kings consciously draws on the language of Abrahamic promise:

Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea; they were eating, drinking, and rejoicing. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines and as far as the border of Egypt. They offered tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life … he had dominion over everything west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza and over all the kings west of the Euphrates. He had peace on all his surrounding borders. Throughout Solomon’s reign, Judah and Israel lived in safety from Dan to Beer-sheba, each man under his own vine and his own fig tree.

… God gave Solomon wisdom, very great insight, and understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, greater than all the wisdom of Egypt … His reputation extended to all the surrounding nations … People came from everywhere, sent by every king on earth who had heard of his wisdom, to listen to Solomon’s wisdom. (1 Kings 4:20–21, 24–25, 29–30, 31, 34)

The language of “stars of the sky and sand of the sea” was always hyperbolic, probably not intended to be taken literally, and again, the language of the Old Testament suggests its inspired writers considered the promise fulfilled.

The borders of Israel stretched, as God had promised, from the Euphrates to the Nile; and even the promise of “blessing the nations through you” is seen in the Golden Age. It’s the reason 1 Kings 4 speaks of the nations coming to hear Solomon’s wisdom, as personified by the queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10 and 2 Chronicles 9.

In expanding on the Abrahamic promise, Moses had added the promises of victory over their enemies, peace, and material prosperity, details that are likewise consciously used in 1 Kings 4 to demonstrate that the Golden Age of David and Solomon had brought about the fulfilment of every promise. Most of all, the building of the temple as a permanent dwelling place for Yahweh in the midst of his people Israel, signified the fullness of God’s blessing on them.

The Golden Age, though, was tragically short lived. David, a deeply flawed human being, nevertheless remained faithful to God all his life. He sinned and fell outrageously, but he humbled himself and came back to God seeking forgiveness and cleansing—which he certainly received. But Solomon followed in the pattern of his ancestors by embracing the worship of idols and rejecting the covenant. In one of the Old Testament’s most tragic ironies, the same king who built the temple for God’s presence also led the nation into profaning the presence of God through their worship of idols.

A Tragic Downturn

At this point, the story of Israel’s downfall begins. Once again there is a pattern of rejecting God and then turning back to him, but the overall trajectory is downward. Now when God sent prophets, they were not calling Israel to repent in order to turn away small-scale judgments. They were warning of tremendous judgment to come—of a day not far in the future when “the curse of the law” would come fully into play, the nation would be dissolved, and the people would be sent into exile among enemy nations.

Again, it’s important to remember that God continued to give them chances. Even with this path of destruction clearly in view, he sent prophets to give the people opportunity to repent and renew their covenant with him—and he did this not for a few months or a year or two, but for another four hundred years. God’s patience was so far-reaching that people assumed it meant he wasn’t really involved at all, or that he was powerless to do anything about injustice. So the psalmists and prophets frequently complained:

LORD, God of vengeance—
God of vengeance, appear.
Rise up, Judge of the earth;
repay the proud what they deserve.
LORD, how long will the wicked—
how long will the wicked gloat?

They pour out arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
LORD, they crush Your people;
they afflict Your heritage.
They kill the widow and the foreigner
and murder the fatherless.
They say, “The LORD doesn’t see it.
The God of Jacob doesn’t pay attention.”

Pay attention, you stupid people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
Can the One who shaped the ear not hear,
the One who formed the eye not see?
The One who instructs nations,
the One who teaches man knowledge—
does He not discipline?
(Psalm 94:1–10)

As God continually warned Israel through the prophets, however, the big judgment was coming. And it did. It came in two waves: first with the carrying away of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria in 722 BC, and then with the carrying away into exile of the Southern Kingdom to Babylon in 586 BC.

God’s timeframes were long, but he kept his word—for good and for bad.

The Rule of the Curse—And the New Promises of God

With the going into Babylon, the era of the curse had begun. Remember, as we saw earlier, from the standpoint of the Israelite historians, God did not owe his people anything more. He had kept all his promises, even blessing the nation of Israel when he had good reasons not to do so. He had been generous and liberal in his interpretation of their faithfulness, and when their sins and unfaithfulness were too blatant to ignore, he had waited nearly half a millennium before bringing judgment on them—and that while giving loud and repeated opportunity for them to avert it completely.

It was, therefore, perfectly feasible that the story of Israel was simply over. They had covenanted with God, they had failed to keep the covenant, and he had discharged his responsibilities toward them for good and for ill and then said good-bye forever. The divorce was final and God, the wronged husband, didn’t owe a penny of alimony.

Except that’s not how it happened. God, who had in fact discharged all of his old promises, took the opportunity of judgment to make a whole long list of new ones.

“Look, the days are coming”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the LORD’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the LORD’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “For I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sin.”

This is what the LORD says:

The One who gives the sun for light by day,
the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar—
Yahweh of Hosts is His name:
If this fixed order departs from My presence—
this is the LORD’s declaration—
then also Israel’s descendants will cease
to be a nation before Me forever.
This is what the LORD says:
If the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below explored,
I will reject all of Israel’s descendants
because of all they have done—
this is the LORD’s declaration.
(Jeremiah 31:31–37)

Jeremiah was not alone in announcing that God would do a glorious new work of covenant, sanctification, and restoration on the heels of judgment. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Malachi, Micah, Zechariah, Zephaniah—prophet after prophet, in age after age—told the same story. After Israel’s unfaithfulness had brought about its ultimate consequence, God would renew his promises to Abraham and continue to fulfill them in even greater measure.

Moreover, he would take his divorced wife back again. The old Mosaic covenant was in shreds, so it wouldn’t be used anymore; instead, he would make a new one. The judgment that had come upon them would not be total, and he would not abandon them in the midst of it. Rather than “good-bye and good riddance,” God’s presence would accompany his people into exile, and he would bless and prosper them in the land of their enemies even during the rule and reign of the curse.

Moreover, God promised, the Golden Age would come again. God had made a separate covenant with the family of David, and despite their complete and horrific apostasy, he intended to keep it. A Son of David would sit on the throne again. Like David, he would be a Warrior-King who would free the people from their enemies. And like Solomon, he would be a King of Peace, ushering in an era of incomparable prosperity, healing, and peace.

To be continued …


This is Part 163 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


I could not write this blog without the generosity of those who support it on a monthly basis. Thank you all so much! To become a supporter for any amount of your choosing, click here.

ALSO: I am deeply grateful to everyone who has taken time to write to me over the past several years. Unfortunately, due to life constraints, I am no longer able to read or respond to email from readers. I thank you for your thoughts and please know that I am praying for you. Comments on the blog, however, are welcome.


Photo by Tevei Renvoyé on Unsplash




2 responses to “What John Believed: The Golden Age and the Promises to Abraham (Refiner’s Fire Pt 7)”

  1. robert fuller Avatar

    Hi there! I just finished “Left turn to the Promised Land” and I could NOT put it down. It’s uncanny how so much of your personal/creative journey has paralleled my own over the past twelve years or so. From creative risks of faith…to health problems…to doggedly pursuing the calling of writing despite all its challenges….to having faith for the future….your story has encouraged me SO much and I just want to say “thank you”. Also, your videos have played a large role in helping me get my books “to the masses” as it were. Thank you for helping other writers. My own journey has been going on for over thirty years. I published my first book two years ago and its sequel is coming out this fall. Actually, I’d really love to send you a copy as a “thank you”. They are in the middle-grade survival genre…but adults have really enjoyed them as well. If you’re able to send on a mailing address that would be great. But if not…you could check it out on amazon. The first book is called “In The Belly of the Earth”
    Bless you on the journey today!

    Robert Fuller

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Hi Robert! Thanks so much for sharing how my story and videos have helped out … I feel super privileged to be part of your journey :). And thank you for your offer of a book! I’ll have my assistant contact you with my address. Blessings!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *