Each dispensation has a God-ordained responsibility, stewards (people commanded to fulfill that responsibility), a failure on mankind’s part, God’s judgment, and, finally, evidence of God’s grace. In the dispensation of Promise, God works in yet another unique way with man. This dispensation begins with the call of Abraham. It is called the dispensation of “Promise” because of the covenant made with Abraham, who lived in the “land of promise” (Hebrews 6:13; 11:9). Unconditional promises, both physical and spiritual, were made to Abraham and his descendants Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:4-21; 17:1-8; 22:15-19).
The fourth dispensation is that of Promise—Genesis 11:10 to Exodus 19:4.
Stewards: The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
The Period: From the call of Abraham to Israel’s arrival at Mt. Sinai, a period of about 430 years
Responsibility: Dwell in Canaan (Genesis 12:1-7)
Failure: Dwelt in Egypt (Genesis 12:10; 46:6)
Judgment: Egyptian bondage (Exodus 1:8-14)
Grace: Moses the deliverer is sent (Exodus 3:6-10)
The promise God made to Abraham was that he would be the father of a great nation, that God would bless Abraham and his descendants, and that the whole earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3). As the patriarch, Abraham had failure in his life, notably in fathering Ishmael (Genesis 16), going to Egypt (Genesis 12:10), and deceiving others about his wife, Sarah (Genesis 20:2). Isaac failed in similar manner, and Jacob was an outright deceiver.
Later, the Hebrew people were faced with a test: would they believe the promise God gave to Abraham to protect, bless, and guide them, or would they not believe? They chose not to believe the promise and took upon themselves the bondage of law and separation from God (Exodus 19:10-13, 18, 21; 12:19). Still, God provided grace through Moses, through Passover protection, and through the miraculous meeting of their material needs (Exodus 12–18). In Exodus 19:4 God reminds the Israelites of His grace to them: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.”
The dispensation of Promise ended at Mt. Sinai, where God gave Abraham’s people the Law to govern them in yet another manner.