When Paul writes in 2 Cor. 1:20 that ‘all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen to the glory of God through us,’ he is not referring to what we ask for.
Many times we have viewed this text to mean that God cannot say no to our prayers. But this is not the proper reading of that text.
Paul and his fellow Jews have for over 2000 years considered the hope of future deliverance from bondage. They have wondered who this ‘Seed’ of the woman shall be who will crush the serpent’s head and restore the Edenic harmony in creation, reversing the curse of sin. The deep longing of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel is what Paul has in his heart, and what he is explaining to the Corinthians in this text.
This expectation is of that Seed of Abraham through whom all nations shall be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3) and who will bring in the age of universal peace endured the captivity of Babylon.
They kept wondering who this Shiloh is that Jacob mentioned in Gen. 49:8-12, to whom the obedience of all peoples shall be, under whose rule the earth shall yield bountifully. The Jews in Paul’s time under the Roman captivity wondered when their agony should end when Shiloh reigns.
Paul, as well as Matthew and Peter and James, deeply deliberated who this Seed of David shall be, established by God to eternally rule on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:12), from whom God will never withdraw His mercies.
They pondered in light of all failed earthly kings, beginning with Solomon whose heart was carried away from God by strange women (1 Kings 11), to the last chapter of 2 Kings where the last of David’s line is held captive in Babylon, with no mention of an heir.
Imagine the agony of dwelling in captivity doubting the fulfillment of the promise of God. Where is this Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14) when we are being judged and tortured in a foreign land? How is God with us when we are removed from the land of promise, His temple desecrated and no King reigning over David’s throne?
Where is the ‘Mighty God,’ He who is the ‘Wonderful,’ and ‘Counselor’ as we suffer? Where is this Prince of peace that prophet Isaiah (9:1-6) preached to our ancestors who were ravaged by war? Should we hope for the Shoot of Jesse when the tree of Israel has been cut down, and we are in Babylonian shackles?
Oh that God would act on this utopian vision of cosmic reconciliation of the world. How they must have longed for that day when there is no enmity between wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, young lion and calf, child and cobra (Isaiah 11:6-9).
Visualize the Jews in Jesus’ time thinking about their agony under Rome, reading these precious promises of God concerning the Ruler that shall come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and who will dwell in their midst as King (Zech. 2:10-13). Imagine, and ponder.
On this backdrop Paul triumphantly says ‘all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen to the glory of God through us!’ You may picture him saying YES with a jump, ‘finally the Seed of Abraham is here (Gal. 3:16). Yes, the fullness of time has finally come (Gal 4:4).’ At last, the hope of Israel is here.
According to Paul, God did not default on His promises to Israel, and indeed to the world concerning the final victory of men over Satan. The Edenic curse has been reversed in Christ, and the utopian destiny has been ushered in. The Yes and Amen according to Paul do not refer to your fanciful shopping list or car or house or wife.
The Yes and Amen denote Christ. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Man, for, after all, He is the long-awaited Seed, Shiloh, Stem of Jesse, Lord and King, the Immanuel. He is God’s promise to man, and God’s fulfillment of that promise. And that is what 1 Cor 1:20 is saying.