Promises and Threatenings

July 27, 2014

Hebrews 4:3 3For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,' " although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. ESV


  1. Two weeks ago, I attempted to explain the logic of this verse using the phrase, "Immediate contraries."
  2. Paul's aim is to prove that those who believe do enter.
    1. He does this by showing that those who do not believe do not enter.
    2. If unbelief excludes, faith gives entrance; for what is denied of the one is therein affirmed of the other.
      1. If unbelief causes misery, faith causes joy
      2. If unbelief causes sin, faith will cause righteousness
      3. If unbelief will lead to death, faith will lead to life
      4. The scriptures have set these opposed to each other so that what is denied of one is affirmed of the other.
      5. in what sense soever unbelief excludes, faith gives admission
  3. The gospel hidden in plain sight in Hebrews 4:3. By the rule and reason of contraries, if unbelief alone exclude from the rest of God, then faith alone gives admission into glory
  4. This all reviews what we said two weeks ago on this subject and makes some small improvement on it. But now I want to dig into this subject more fully and to do so we will need to take a large step back from this verse to consider the nature of God.

God is one

  1. The scriptures declare God to be one.
  2. Deuteronomy 6:4–9 4“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. ESV
    1. That God is one is supposed to effect how we think about him.
    2. God's attributes. He is:
      1. Just, loving, merciful, jealous, all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful, infinite
    3. God IS
  3. Because God is one, we see both his promises and his threatenings differently than we would see the promises and threatenings of anyone else.
    1. 1st because God does not lie and will accomplish all that he says
    2. 2nd and more importantly for our topic today, God's promises all contain an element of threatening and God's threatenings all contain an element of promise because he is the one God. Hence every threatening includes a promise in it, and every promise hath also the nature of a threatening in its proposal
  4. 10 Commandments
    1. Deuteronomy 5:9–10 9You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. ESV
    2. Exodus 20:5–6 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. ESV
    3. Exodus 34:6–7 6The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” ESV
    4. Both promises and threatenings do flow from, and are expressive of the holy, gracious nature of God, with respect unto his actings towards men in covenant with himself.
    5. God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and forgiveness
    6. God is also a jealous God, who will by no means clear the guilty, he is a man of war, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to a third and fourth generation
      1. And the only incorrect word in those last statements is the word also. Now, though there are distinct properties in the nature of God, which operate, act, and express themselves distinctly, yet they are all of them essential properties of one and the same nature; and what proceeds from them hath the same fountain. So declaring his nature by his name, he ascribes that unto his one being which will produce contrary effects, Exod. 34:6, 7: That he is "gracious, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin," he expresseth in and by his promises; that he "will by no means clear the guilty," but "visit iniquity," he expresseth by his threatenings. They do both of them but declare the actings of the one holy God, according to the distinct properties of his nature, upon distinct objects. This is the foundation of that mutual inbeing of promises and threatenings whereof we discourse.
    7. To summarize, the promises and threatenings are related because they both flow from the same God and this God is one.

The Grace of God

  1. We are very prone to think that God gives his precious and very great promises to those who are walking in obedience with him, while his threatenings are reserved for the sons of disobedience.
    1. It is true that threatenings are given towards sinful men that they might repent and turn, but the promises are also held out to sinful men for the same purpose.
    2. Jeremiah 21:8 8“And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. ESV
  2. However, the word of God belongs most fully to the church of God.
    1. Psalm 50:16 16But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? ESV
    2. Mark 4:9 9And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” ESV
      1. If you have ears to hear God you will have ears both for the promise and for the threat.
      2. If you do not have ears to hear, you will be deaf to both the promise and the threat.
  3. The saints alone are gifted to receive the words of God as nourishment to the soul. This is true of all the words of God.
    1. Mark 4:11 11And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, ESV
      1. It has been given to you to know the promises of God and it has been given to you to know the threats of God.
    2. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ESV
      1. All scripture is for the saints
  4. This enlivening by the Spirit to hear the word of God makes us hear it willingly, and to attend unto it gladly, to receive it from God as a precious jewel that we turn and behold and ruminate and ponder and meditate on.
  5. We are apt to think this is only true of promises
    1. But as for threatenings we suppose that their chief purpose is to make sinners afraid so that they might repent and be freed from the evil threatened.
    2. This makes us to skip over the threatenings in our meditations because we do not see in them the goodness, mercy, graciousness, and lovliness of God in them.
    3. This is all a great mistake. Threatenings are no less sanctified of God ... than promises are; nor are they, when duly used and improved, less effectual ... God leaves no part of his word, ... unaccompanied with his Spirit and grace; especially not that which is of so near a concernment unto his glory. it follows that faith, being duly exercised about and towards gospel threatenings, yea, the most severe of them, may find the same love and the same grace in them as in the most sweet and gracious promises.
  6. We need to learn how to see through the threatening to the glorious God who gave the threat and the purpose for which he gave the threat.

The Purpose of God

  1. Not only are the promises and the threatening related because they have one source and one power, but also because they have the same purpose.
  2. God does not have one purpose by his promises and another purpose in his threats.
  3. The promises and threats are both from one God, both are to the same church, both are given the same power and authority, and both are to the same end and purpose.
  4. The end of both is to increase in us faith and obedience, to declare to God's peoples the riches of his glory. The use of divine threatenings is, to make such a representation of divine holiness and righteousness to men, as that, being moved by fear, ... they may be stirred up unto faith and obedience. So Noah, upon God's warning, that is, his threatening the world with destruction, being "moved with fear, prepared an ark," Heb. 11:7
    1. Hebrews 11:7 7By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. ESV
    2. Genesis 6:9b Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. ESV
    3. The purpose of God in warning Noah was to save him and that the gospel might flourish in future generations.
  5. Upon right consideration of the threatenings of God, faith finds the same love and grace in them as in the promises, because they lead to the same end and are given for the same purpose.

Scriptural Stories

  1. There are many instances in the scriptures where people seem to get this concept and live on it.
  2. Already mentioned Noah
  3. Jonah
    1. Jonah 1:1–2 1Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” ESV
    2. Jonah 3:1–2 1Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” ESV
    3. Jonah 3:4 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” ESV
    4. Jonah 4:2–3 2And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” ESV
    5. God never gave Jonah a message of grace and mercy. It was pure warning and threatening. How does Jonah know that God intended mercy and love in it? (Because he knows God. Do you know God?)
  4. Abraham arguing with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
  5. Moses valuing the reproach of God
    1. Hebrews 11:26 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. ESV
  6. Woman saying the dogs eat the scraps
    1. Matthew 15:21–28 21And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. ESV
  7. When God's back is turned, see grace.
    1. Luke 7:36–38 36One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. ESV
    2. Luke 7:44–47 44Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” ESV
    3. Jesus essentially snubs the woman and ignores her, but she sees right through it to her gracious, loving, merciful God. I wonder if Simon had not scorned her, if Jesus would have turned to her at all. But she knows him. Though his back is turned to her, she still knows his love.
  8. Jacob wrestling with God
    1. Genesis 32:26 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” ESV
    2. This can look like disobedience.
  9. Stories that make me wonder:
    1. Men proclaiming the glory of Jesus when he tells them not to.
      1. Mark 7:36–37 36And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” ESV
    2. Moses not entering the promised land.
      1. Deuteronomy 3:24–26 24‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. ESV
      2. Luke 18:1 1And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. ESV


  1. In the word
    1. Jeremiah for example
  2. In life
    1. When God seems far
  3. If you have no eyes for the threats
    1. There seems to be two great reasons why Christians cannot love the threatenings of God.
      1. The first is ignorance, of which I have striven to relieve you of today.
      2. The second is sin.
        1. If you are in love with the condition that is threatened against, then the threatening may seem very harsh, because you do not want to be freed from the sin you cling to so closely. We should all consider whether this is in any way true for us. Is perhaps, the reason that I can't read Jeremiah and shout for joy because I do not want to care for the poor, or hate what God hates, or to meditate on God always putting him first in all things. Consider this wisely. And there can be no reason why men should dislike the preaching and consideration of them, but because they too well like the sins and evils that are the condition of their execution.
  4. Review Whereas, therefore, there is a great threatening, confirmed with the oath of God, in these words, that those who believe not should not enter into his rest; there is a promise included in the same words, no less solemnly confirmed, that those who do believe should enter into rest: and thence doth the apostle confirm the truth of his assertion.
    1. Paul looks at Psalm 95:11 and sees the merciful and glorious God there who has gracious and wonderful plans for his people.
    2. Psalm 95:11 11Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” ESV
    3. Pray for eyes that see.