As the nations disperse into the world in Genesis 11, one man comes to the forefront, Abram. His geneology is given at the end of Chapter 11 to introduce him as the main character in Chapter 12. God came to Adam, to Cain, to Noah, and now to Abram. Again, God is personally active in the affairs of mankind on earth.
The dispensation of Promise begins with God’s blessing upon Abram recorded in Genesis 12. Abram is challenged by God to live in accordance with the promises that God makes with him. This principle spans beyond Abram to others. If others recognize the blessing on Abram, they too will be blessed. If not, they will receive a curse. This is evident in the early chapters of Exodus when a pharaoh comes to power who does not honor the promises made to Abram’s descendents.
Like the second dispensation, Conscience, no special revelation is recorded to distinguish this fourth dispensation. In other words, God does not say to Abram, “I am now doing something different.” In spite of that fact, the change between the third and fourth dispensations is notable. First, the emphasis of the previous dispensation was on human government. Once God begins to work in the lives of the patriarchs, the emphasis clearly changes away from society and governmental responsibilities to the promises that God is making to the patriarchs. God makes promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Hagar, Joseph, and eventually to Moses in Exodus 3.
The stories of the patriarchs also demonstrate man’s responsibility during this dispensation. It is simply this: live according to the promise which God has given. For Abraham, the reader learns that Abraham is not really sure of God’s promises. At times, he tries to fulfill those promises in his own life apart from God’s aid. In Genesis 22, the climax of the story of Abraham, God asks him to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise. Abraham obeys fully, demonstrating that his faith is now unwavering. For the first time in Abraham’s life he is truly living according to God’s promises.
The dispensation of Promise ends when the next dispensation begins even though some of the promises that God made to the patriarchs are fulfilled in other dispensations. His primary mode of managing the affairs of mankind changes when the children of Abraham flee Egypt and become one nation under God (Exod. 19-23).