Not One of God’s Words Will Fail
Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org
Several hundred years later, at the height of the earthly kingdom, in his benediction to the dedication of the temple, Solomon echoed Joshua’s declaration: “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant” (1 Kings 8:56).
Not one of God’s words had failed. It was an important reminder for the first readers of the book of Kings, as they found themselves at rock bottom (all too soon after Solomon’s reign). Having fallen from those heights to the depths of exile, God’s people were tempted to wonder, Have God’s plan and power failed?
Again and again, 1 and 2 Kings seeks to restore and strengthen the faith of God’s languishing people, not with platitudes and generalities, but with specific details and concrete facts. God’s people need to be confronted with the stark realities of what God had said through his prophets and how, without fail, he acted to fulfill his word.
Specificity Feeds Faith
Two and a half millennia later, such specificity still feeds faith. Generalities about God and his trustworthiness draw on a depleting store, while concrete details, textures, and hues replenish the supply. Which is why God gave us such a big book, a book big enough to feed our faith for a whole life long. God means for his church to move about and feed from the whole pasture, not cluster in one corner of the field. He means for us not simply to remind ourselves that God is good and keeps his word, but to recall specific expressions of his goodness and particular instances in which he spoke and it came to pass, seemingly against all odds.
Some of God’s promises come to pass quickly, even overnight. Others stretch over long periods of time, acting as sinews holding together the history of his covenant people over centuries. Both long-term and short-term prophecies serve to build and renew the confidence of his people. In a previous article, I rehearsed a few of the more arresting short-term fulfillments, but here let’s consider some of the more significant long-term examples of God’s faithfulness to his word. Marvel with me at the power and patience of God, and let the specific details fill the tank of your confidence in him to accomplish, in his perfect timing, all that he promises.
As much as we might suspect differently, God never goes back on his word. As he said to Jeremiah, “I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jeremiah 1:12), even when he watches for hundreds of years. Remembering his long-term care and faithfulness may not, on its own, relieve our pain today in waiting, but through it God does provide strength to endure while we wait.
Two Sons Die the Same Day
In 1 Kings 2:27, shortly after Solomon’s coronation, while the new king is establishing his reign, we learn that “Solomon expelled Abiathar from being priest to the Lord, thus fulfilling the word of the Lord that he had spoken concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.” This was no day-old prophecy. It was a century old.
The promise went back generations to 1 Samuel 2:27–36, before the call of Samuel, who, in his old age, anointed David as king after Saul. Eli, serving as priest and judge in Israel for forty years, had kept his own nose clean but looked the other way on the wickedness of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. A nameless “man of God” came forward to pronounce God’s judgment on Eli’s house because of his sons:
All the descendants of your house shall die by the sword of men. And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. (1 Samuel 2:33–35)
The immediate word came to pass in 1 Samuel 4:11. The Philistines slaughtered thirty thousand Israelite foot soldiers, captured the ark of the covenant, and killed Eli’s sons. But then God patiently waited, until the reign of Solomon, to finally unseat the house of Eli, one hundred years later. God’s word did not fail.
Jericho Seven Centuries Later
At the end of 1 Kings 16 comes the first introduction and summary of the 22-year reign of Ahab, a wicked king in Israel. In the writer’s brief summary, he mentions something seemingly incidental that transpired in that span:
In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34)
It’s a stunning lightning strike of prophetic fulfillment. Seven hundred years have passed since Joshua said, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26).
Now the Kings narrative marks for us, as a simple parenthesis in Ahab’s reign, how God is watching over his word to perform it. What he said through Joshua, he meant. The passing of seven centuries did not negate one syllable of his word.
He Knew the King by Name
For those who know well the story of Israel’s tragic fall, over five centuries, into exile, we know a king named Josiah comes near the end of that tragedy (2 Kings 22–23). So, it’s surprising to hear his name foretold centuries before (1 Kings 13:2). The kingdom is newly divided between Solomon’s son (Rehoboam) and Solomon’s former servant (Jeroboam), and another nameless prophet arises to tell the latter, addressing the altar of his idolatry,
Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you. (1 Kings 13:2)
What, of course, is remarkable is that the prophet gives the specific name of a coming king, in David’s line — a king who will not even be born for almost three hundred years. Then an immediate sign is fulfilled (1 Kings 13:3–5), granting assurance that God will most certainly fulfill his long-term promise.
Sure enough, almost three hundred years later, a young ruler arises who, against the grain, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2). His name: Josiah. Not only does a king ascend by that specific name, but he also fulfills the particular prediction:
The altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place [Josiah] pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. (2 Kings 23:15–16)
The Thousand-Year Judgment
Finally, and perhaps most dramatically, is the exile itself. The very Trauma that had so unsettled the collective faith of God’s people, and threatened to destroy them as a nation, and called God’s word into question among the faithless, was in fact precisely what God himself had foretold by his prophets. Here at the end of the Kings narrative, during the reign of Josiah’s son Jehoiakim, we discover where the story has been driving all along:
In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. (2 Kings 24:1–2)
Now it’s no mention of a singular prophecy, but the sweeping “by his servants the prophets.” This is a thousand-year, multi-prophet project finally coming to its horrible fulfillment. One of those prophets had been Isaiah, who had said to good King Hezekiah, “Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord” (2 Kings 20:17). Isaiah even pinpointed the specific nation more than a hundred years in advance.
God also spoke “by his servants the prophets” to King Hezekiah’s wicked son Manasseh:
Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day. (2 Kings 21:12–15)
Yet even at this point, God wasn’t done issuing warnings. He spoke to Josiah as well about the coming exile: “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there” (2 Kings 23:27). All along, the ministry of the prophets had been leading here, to exile. God’s people, on the whole, had disobeyed him “since the day their fathers came out of Egypt” (2 Kings 21:15). God sent his prophets, one after another, generation after generation, to awaken his people to repentance and warn of exile to come. But, as a whole, they would not repent.
In fact, God himself had said even through the greatest, most conspicuous prophet, Moses, “They shall go into captivity” (Deuteronomy 28:41), as well as, “You shall be plucked off the land” (Deuteronomy 28:63). And then he said to Moses (to be recorded as a testament against the people),
Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. (Deuteronomy 31:16–17)
For those who remembered these prominent words, exile was not a challenge to God’s word, but a confirmation of his plan and power. Nearly 900 years before Babylon ransacked and destroyed Jerusalem, God had said it would happen. And as the time drew near during the reigns of Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah, he confirmed it again and again. A chorus of prophetic voices, spanning almost a millennium, had foretold that God would do the humanly unthinkable. And he did.
He Will Keep His Word
Kings records this important word from God through Isaiah: “Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass” (2 Kings 19:25). Not only does God have the power to make the utterly unthinkable happen in 24-hour cycles; he also has the patience to watch attentively over his words, and bring them to pass — every single one — in his perfect timing, whether it spans days and weeks, or generations and millennia.
To the Christian, even more impressive than century-spanning prophecies about Jericho, Josiah, and the exile are the long-range promises fulfilled in Jesus. More than four centuries before he came, Malachi told of a messenger who would prepare the way for God himself (Malachi 3:1). Seven centuries prior, Isaiah wrote of “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), who would be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
Even the Kings narrative ends in hope, that God is keeping, and will keep, his promise to David, as the Davidic heir comes into unexpected favor in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27–30). God promised that he would not let the lamp of David go out (2 Kings 8:19), and God always keeps his word.
Every Word Comes True
Now, on this side of Christ’s coming, we take heart knowing that God’s words to us will not fail. Not that they all have come to pass. Not that we don’t have to wait. In this age, we wait for healing, for restoration, for peace, for fullness of joy.
Filled with fresh faith from feeding in Scripture on the details of how God has fulfilled his word in the past, we look with confidence to the day when our world finally rings with this great announcement:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3–4)
God never goes back on his word. Not one of his promises will fail. Some will come true even in this life, and all of them in the age to come.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Churchin Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.