THE CALL OF ABRAHAM

Genesis 11:27-12:8

The first twelve chapters of Genesis have brought before us God’s dealings with the entire human race. Now, from chapter 12 onwards, the theme changes. The remainder of the Genesis record and the rest of the Bible, directs our attention to one man, Abraham, and his descendants.

Few men of greater stature than Abraham have walked across the pages of history. Once a pagan idolater, he became known as “The Friend of God.”

As we trace the movement of his life, we see divine principles at work. There would be times of faithfulness and failure, of dependence and doubt, of heartache and hardship. At times it seemed as though God was pulling the very heart out of Abraham’s breast. But it was all part of God’s programme to bring His child to a climax of faith and victory.

Centuries later, these principles still operate in the lives of all those who wish to live as Abraham lived, and know their God as Abraham knew Him.

Without doubt he was one of the greatest men who ever lived, the “Father of all them that believe,” and the “Friend of God.” Yet it is not his greatness that thrills our hearts as we read the record. It is the way in which we can so readily identify with his ups and downs, his hopes and fears, the same hours of glory and despair.

At Hebron where he is buried, his tomb is jealously guarded by Jews who recognize him as the father of their nation, while Christians from all over the world visit it. Unlikely bedfellows such as Jews, Muslim Arabs, and Christians, find a common origin in this great man.

Abraham’s Background
Two things stand in the background to Abraham’s story:

a) His City – “Ur of the Chaldees”

(i) Its Position. Ur was situated in present day Iraq near the Persian Gulf. For many years Ur was unknown, until early this century the ruins were found and excavated, giving a very detailed view of life there thousands of years ago.

(ii) Its Population. Ur had a population of about 300,000 people, and was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. In the ruins were found thousands of clay tablets which yielded a wealth of information about the city’s business and daily life. They even showed advanced problems in maths, including trigonometry.

(iii) Its Religion. The city was dominated by a large temple, or ziggurat, where the people worshipped their chief deity, a moon god called Nanna.

b) His Family
From the sketchy information given, we are able to piece together a fairly accurate account of Abraham’s relatives, his occupation, and life-style before God called him.

(i) His Relatives. His grandfather, Nahor, his father, Terah, and his brothers, are all listed (11:27-29). He married his beautiful half-sister, Sarai, a marriage which would not have offended any moral code then.

(ii) His Reputation. Abraham was likely a man of some influence in Ur, as judged by his later contacts with the Kings of Egypt and Sodom.

(iii) His Religion. A number of Scriptures make it clear that Abraham and his family were idolaters. “Your fathers…served other gods” (Josh 24:2)

1. ABRAHAM’S DEPARTURE
Abraham’s departure from Ur was based on God’s clear and unequivocal call. It was God’s definitive intervention in Abraham’s life, and it marked his conversion. Abraham had begun a new life of faith, and things would never be the same again.

a) The Terms of the Call
There were three points in Abraham’s call, all of which have a spiritual counterpart for the believer.

(i) He was to leave his country and kindred

(ii) He was to go to a land God would show him

(iii) Obedience was linked to promises of great blessing and prosperity

b) The Preparation for the Call
Were there influences at work in Abraham’s heart before God appeared to him, like there were in the heart of Saul of Tarsus? Is it significant that we read “And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees” (11:28).

Did his brother Haran’s untimely death convict him about the transitory nature of earthly glory? Perhaps as he viewed the splendour of Ur, his mind went back to the Flood which swept away the oh-so-solid world at that time, and reminded him that solid buildings were no guarantee of permanence.

c) The Time of the Call
The link between Genesis 11 and 12 is important. In chapter 11 we read of man’s repudiation of God. The scene is vividly described in Romans 1, where God turns from those who turn from Him, and gives them up to the way of life they chose for themselves.

The point is that it was not until man’s utter rejection of God, (chapter 11), that in sovereign grace He moved to single out a man from whom a chosen nation was to spring (chapter 12).

d) The Reason for his Cal
The possibility of a prepared heart in no way detracts from the fact that Abraham was called totally by God’s initiative. It was not that Abraham chose God; God chose him. “Thou are the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and brought him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees” (Neh 9:7). God passed by the whole Chaldean nation to go to one family. He passed by the whole family and settled on one man, and said “I will make of thee a great nation “ (12:2).

Abraham is a great example of sovereign election. He was a pagan serving other gods (Jos 24:2) when God broke into his life. Such is the case with every true conversion.

e) The Place of his Call
Abraham was born and brought up in pagan “Ur of the Chaldees.” “Ur” means “flame.” “Chaldee” means “destruction…” What a picture of salvation by grace! Abraham was born in a pagan country, alienated from God, and doomed to destruction.

f) The Manner of his Call
“The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was yet in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from the kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee” (Acts 7:2,3).

There were two aspects to this call:

(i) Seeing God’s Glory. “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham.” He did not know where he was going, had no concrete evidence, no travel brochures! But he had seen a vision of God’s glory and nothing else really mattered.

So with the believer. At Calvary he gets a glimpse of the God of Glory, and it forever changes his perspective. He speaks of a land fairer than day, yet he has never been there, or met anyone who has been there. The world laughs, but the believer says “I believe God, for I have seen His glory.”

(ii) Hearing God’s Voice. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). Abraham heard God and His far-reaching promises. As he did so, he knew that this God who had appeared to him could be trusted. Faith was born.

g) The Response to the Call
Abraham’s response represents two sides of the same coil. It involved:

(i) A Decision – from Abraham’s viewpoint, his conversion involved a clear-cut decision. It involved his mind, his will, his emotions.

(ii) A Deliverance – from God’s viewpoint, Abraham’s conversion was a deliverance. This is the force of the word “redeemed,” used by Isaiah in Isa 29:32, “therefore thus saith the Lord who redeemed (delivered) Abraham.”

So it is today. A sinner turning from the world to Christ, feels he is making a decision. But he goes on to learn it is a deliverance “from this present evil world.”

2. ABRAHAM’S DELAY
So the journey was commenced – “they went forth…to go into the land of Canaan” (11:31). It was a journey which would take them over 1200 miles along “the fertile crescent” and down towards Canaan. Travelling at some 15 miles per day, that would take about three months.

Then suddenly, with only half the distance covered, they stopped! “…they came unto Haran, and dwelt there” (11:31). We do not know how long Abraham delayed at Haran, but it was likely about six, seven, or eight years. Why the delay?

a) The Cause of Delay – Terah
The name “Terah” means “delay”, and this block in Abraham’s spiritual progress was clearly related to his father being with him.

Abraham had been told to leave his family, including Terah, behind. “I called him alone” (Isa 51:2). But somehow, Terah not only managed to get on board, but seems to have also actually led the expedition! “…and Terah took Abram his son” (11:31).

We wonder what made Terah go. Was it optimism? Or enthusiasm? Perhaps, but these are not faith. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. True faith must have God’s Word to rely on, and Terah had no call from God.

Sadly, Terah’s presence was to cost him dear. Terah speaks of the flesh, and his presence hindered the spiritual progress of Abraham’s life. Abraham had got out of Ur, but as long as Terah was with him, Ur was not out of Abraham!

b) The Results of Delay
“Haran” means “dry, parched”, just like the wasted years Abraham spent there. We read of no altar being built, no tent being pitched, and no fresh revelation from God while Abraham delayed at Haran. Like thousands of Christians, Abraham was at a standstill because of the flesh.

c) The Cure for Delay
The last words of chapter 11 say, “…and Terah died in Haran” (11:32). Both Genesis 11 and Acts 7 link Abraham’s departure from Haran with Terah’s death. It was only when a funeral had taken place in Haran that Abraham cold move forward again.

This is full of lessons for the believer. When we trust Christ we feel that nothing can stop our progress. But it is not very long before we learn that the flesh is still with us. As long as we are at “Haran”, there can be no progress, no joy, no worship, and no answer to prayer. there can only be dryness and barrenness.

If so, we need a funeral! The old man with his besetting sins, his overpowering habits, his dishonest practices, his sharp tongue, his bitter attitudes, must be buried. This is what Paul teaches in Romans 6, where he insists on the necessity of nailing our old nature to the cross, and burying it if we are to live a full free live for God.

3. ABRAHAM’S DESTINATION
“And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent” (12:8). God is a God of fresh beginnings! Although no fresh revelation was given at Haran, God’s promises are still available to a faith that will rise up and renew the path of obedience. The God of a sinning David, a denying Peter, or a failed John Mark, listens to the confessions of His children and restores them to usefulness.

God took Abraham back to the beginning and reminded him of his first call, “Now the Lord HAD said unto Abram…” (12:1).

a) A New Obedience
Abraham responded with a definite decision. Note the four-fold mention of the decisive “departed” in verse 4. For those who wish to enjoy the blessings of spiritual Canaan, decision and resolution are needed.

b) New Promises
“And the Lord appeared unto Abram” (12:7). Now that Abraham was separated from Terah, God revealed Himself again. God’s revelations are always dependant on our obedience and separation. This teaches us:

(i) Sanctification is on-going. This would not be the only lesson of separation in his life. Later he would separate from Lot, he would refuse the spoils of Sodom, and even be willing to be separated from his son Isaac (Genesis 22). Sanctification is not a single experience, but a succession of funerals, of “dying daily.”

(ii) Sanctification is up-lifting. New obedience and separation were associated with new light, new strength, and new blessings. Note that each time there was painful separation in his life, e.g. when he separated from Lot, refused the spoils of Sodom, and sacrificed Isaac, God appeared with overwhelming blessing. In the light of such blessing, the pain of the separation seemed so minor.

c) New Strength
“And Abraham passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain (oak) of Moreh”(12:6). These two places are most instructive.

(i) “Sichem.” This is the same as “Shechem” and “Sychar”, and signifies “shoulder”, or “strength. When we separate ourselves from the world and walk in His way, we pass through “the place of strength.”

(ii) “Moreh.” This name means “instruction” – from His in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Here is light for the way.

Thus the two things we need more than anything else are promised. “Sichem” – strength for the day, and “Moreh” – light for the way.

d) A New Place
“And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Hai on the east” (12:8).

(i) The Mountain. Abraham “removed…unto a mountain” near Beth-el. Mountains in Scripture speak of places elevated above earth’s mists, where man can get alone with God.

(ii) The Place. “Beth-el” means “house of God”, and speaks of fellowship and rest. It was to be at Beth-el that Jacob would meet God, and return there later.

(iii) The Situation. “having Beth-el on the east and Hai on the west.” Abraham pitched his tent between Beth-el and Hai. The name Hai means “a heap (of ruins)”, and speaks of a world ruined by sin. Hai was the same place which gave Joshua so much trouble later. In fact, Joshua “burnt Ai, and made it an heap forever, even a desolation unto this day” (Josh 8:28). Between these two places Abraham pitched his tent. This is typical of the sphere of the believer. On one side there is the old creation (the ruin), on the other is the house of God.

How precious to know that Beth-el was on the western side, the side of the setting sun. As Abraham looked into the setting sin at the end of the day, it would light up Beth-el, the house of God. Many an aged believer is looking towards the western horizon. there in the red glow of the setting sun is Beth-el, “the house of God.” HOME!

e) A New Worship.
“There built he an altar unto the Lord…and pitched his tent” (12:7,8). The altar and the tent were the hallmarks of Abraham’s life.

(i) The Altar marked him as a worshipper. This was the first of several altars he build during his life. Significantly, we do not read of him building anything else other than an altar.

(ii) The Tent marked him as a pilgrim. He had “no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb 13:14). He was in the world. He used the world. But the world was not “home.” It was not where he was headed, his affections were set on things above.

“By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents…for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:9,10).

Can we do less?

ABRAHAM IN EGYPT

Genesis 12:10-13:4

The first part of chapter 12 sees Abraham enjoying a mountain top experience at Bethel with his tent and his altar in the place of God’s calling, enjoying his blessings. Things were going well. Abraham had arrived!

But Abraham’s adventures were only beginning, and a time of testing lay ahead that was to shake him to his very core. Faced with a famine, Abraham heads down to Egypt, and begins to weave such a tangled web of fear, deceit, and shame, that it is hard to recognize the same person as Abraham, the Friend of God.

Only those blind to their own faults will dare to point the finger at Abraham. The lesson is written for our learning, and we find in it the causes and effects of our own backsliding. Mercifully, too, we learn that no failure need be final, for the episode ends where it commenced – at Bethel, with a restored Abraham calling on the name of the Lord.

1. DOWN TO EGYPT
“there was a famine in the land” (12:10). These words introduce the next section of Abraham’s life. Famine was a new experience for Abraham. Ur and Haran with their rich alluvial plains were insulated against that kind of trouble. Now he had trekked to the land supposed to be flowing with milk and honey, and instead, all he finds is a famine.

Note…

a) WHEN God Permitted the Famine
The famine came at a time when Abraham could have least expected it. How often rich experiences of fellowship with God are followed by times of difficulty and testing. e.g. Peter coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration to the valley of failure. The same principle operated in the Lord’s own life.

b) WHY God Permitted the Famine
Why did God allow such a trial? When we are in the place where God wants us, we often expect that God is going to bless us for it, and we will be free from trials and testings. God’s purpose was twofold.

(i) To Test His Servant. God allowed adverse circumstances to surround Abraham, and stands back to see just what he will do. Testing (including temptation) is a problem injected into our lives to trigger a choice and provoke a stand, indicating our willingness to trust and obey. It is part of our education, and God anxiously watches to see how we fare.

Deut 8:2 says God led the Children of Israel in the wilderness 40 years “to prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep his commandments or no.” See also 2 Ch 32:31 “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” Like the wings of a plane are subjected to stress, not to weaken it, but to make sure they are strong enough for the purpose for which they are designed. So trials and temptation “stress” us, and indicate “what is in our heart”

(ii) To Teach His Servant. God knew Abraham would fail. He actually allowed him to fail, to go to Egypt and commit there a great sin. But there were lessons to be learned, even in failure, and He wanted to teach His child to depend on Him in every situation. It was one thing to have the peace of calm outward circumstances when all is well. It was another thing to have the peace of God in one’s soul in the midst of adversity. This was a lesson Abraham had to learn.

2. EXPERIENCES IN EGYPT
Egypt was more than an interesting country; it was full of lessons.

a) Egypt – the Land
Even in those days Egypt was a marvellous country. It was strong economically, had a tremendous culture, and was nearby. Drought was not a problem, because the Nile provided all the water needed for irrigation, so that the crops never failed. It seemed to be the natural solution to Abraham’s famine problem.

b) Egypt – the Lesson
This is the first mention of Egypt in the Bible, and it stands for that which is a constant menace to God’s people. It symbolizes alliance with the world, and reliance on the arm of the flesh. “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help…but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord” (Isa 31:1). Its real significance is given in Rev 11, “the place where our Lord was crucified.”

It represents the world in all its attractiveness to the separated believer – its wealth, wisdom, wickedness, and worship are all alluring. What Egypt was to Abraham, the world is to us. Economically and geographically Egypt was the obvious place to go! But a dark shadow was falling over his soul. His back was towards the light, and all before him was dark.

Losing Out!
Materially Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt was a great success, and he came out “very rich” (13:2). But spiritually it was a disaster, costing him leanness of soul and barrenness of testimony. In a big way, he “lost out.”

a) He Lost His Faith
Abraham had trusted God to bring him into the Promised Land, but couldn’t trust Him to keep him there! He trusted God to save him, but couldn’t trust Him to keep him! How inconsistent! He had travelled from Ur to Bethel on the bare word of Jehovah. Now his faith fails in time of famine.

(i) What He Did. “and Abraham went down into Egypt” (12:10). Under the increasing pressure of the famine, Abraham headed “down” to Egypt, type of the world.

(ii) What He Didn’t Do. There is no indication that Abraham “enquired of the Lord.” What tragedy would have been averted if only he had sought God’s guidance!

b) He Lost His Courage
As he neared Egypt, Abraham began to see another problem. The Egyptians were descendants of Ham, and were polytheistic, cruel, and immoral. They were just the kind of people to be attracted to a beautiful woman like his wife. At age 65 she was still clearly very attractive, and posed a danger to her husband.

Suddenly his mind was filled with “What ifs.” What if the Egyptians should take a fancy to his beautiful wife, Sarai? What if they should attempt to kill him? Abraham’s mind raced far ahead. He already sees the assassins’ knife, “They will kill me” (12:12). He began working out his plans, and God was not in any of them!

At Bethel he had boldly built an altar in the presence of the Canaanites. How like ourselves! Out of God’s will, we rely on our natural abilities, and soon lose the sense of fellowship and peace which comes from walking in the light. Poor Abraham! He ends up more concerned for his own skin than the honour even of his wife!

c) He Lost His Self- respect
“Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake” (12:13). How weak strong people can be! Abraham’s integrity was falling apart at the seams, and with it was leaking out all his self-respect and dignity as a child of God.

Even when the princes noticed Sarai’s beauty and commended her to Pharaoh, Abraham failed to speak up and preserve her honour. He had nothing to say, even when the unthinkable happened, and Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s harem.

Abraham would likely have argued with us if we accused him of lying! He had rationalized his situation. Sarai was his (half)sister. But she was also his wife, and intimately united to him by bonds which nothing should have been allowed to sever.

Abraham’s spiritual half-truth is just as dangerous today. Just as Abraham failed to confess the closeness of his relationship with Sarai, his wife, we also may be tempted to hide from the world the fact that we belong to Christ! We are united to Him in a bond which neither time nor eternity can sever. When we are flirting with the world, it is impossible to be true to Him.

d) He Lost His Testimony
“Behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way…and they sent him away” (12:19). Egypt’s standards may not have been high, but they were better than Abraham’s. How he must have squirmed with a wretched sense of wrong and shame as Pharaoh confronted him with his lie, and expelled him from Egypt.

God had told Abraham “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (12:1). Now in his first contact with a world power, instead of being a channel of blessing, he became the cause of a curse, “the Lord plagued Pharaoh” (12:17).

3. BACK TO BETHEL
The sad statement “Abraham went down into Egypt” (12:10) has its happy counterpart in “Abraham went up out of Egypt” (13:1). He did not stop till they reached Bethel, “the place of the altar” (13:4). Here he had last been in fellowship with God.

Note the exact correspondence between the journey from Bethel to Egypt, and the journey from Egypt to Bethel:

a) Abraham left Bethel, the place of the altar and tent, and where he called upon the name of the Lord (12:8).
b) He journeyed on toward the south (12:9).
c) He went down to Egypt (12:10).

The path of restoration was a step-by-step reversal of this process:

a) He went up out of Egypt (13:1).
b) He went up from the south (13:3).
c) He goes back to Bethel, the place where he had built and altar, and called upon the name of the Lord (13:4).

Restoration involves going back to the point where we lost contact with God. This is the lesson of the Letter to Ephesus. They had left their first love and fallen. The Lord’s counsel was “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works” (Rev 2:5).

There wasn’t much in Bethel. No magnificent palaces or pyramids. No sophisticated society. Just a bare mountain, and a rugged altar. But it was better than all the splendour of Egypt! This is the real Abraham, the Friend of God!

Principles of Spiritual Progress
A number of timeless principles are illustrated in this account of Abraham’s restoration.

a) Separation
“Abram went up out of Egypt” (13:1). The Biblical doctrine of separation has today fallen on hard times, likely as a reaction to isolationism. But separation is not isolation. Joseph was “separate from his brethren”, but certainly was not isolated from them or anyone else.

The world is God’s enemy, as has been shown in the murder of his Son. We are called not to love it, and be separate from it. We cannot lift a barrel by standing inside it!

b) Sanctification
“He went on his journeys…unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning” (13:3). Abraham put distance between himself and the world by getting back to Bethel, the house of God, and re-establishing his pilgrim character. Separation and sanctification are the two sides of the same coin. Separation is FROM the world. Sanctification is TO God, being set apart for Him.

A woman advertised for a new coachman. To each of three applicants she put the same question. “How close could you drive to the edge of the cliff without losing your nerve?” The first replied, “I would feel safe within six inches of the edge.” The second replied, “Madam, I could even let a wheel hang over the edge, and still be safe!” He said “Madam, I would keep that coach as far away as I possibly could from the edge of the cliff!” He secured the job. That is sanctification; keeping as far away as possible from the world, by keeping close to Christ.

c) Sacrifice
“The place of the altar, which he had made there at the first” (13:4).

(i) The tent symbolized his attitude to this world. He was a pilgrim and a stranger. He had no roots here.

(ii) The altar symbolized his attitude to the next world. It spoke of his communication with an invisible God.

Lessons to be Learned
God graciously restored His servant, yet the long-term effects of his wandering haunted and harassed him for the rest of his life. Abraham left Egypt with at least three things:

a) Possessions
“Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver, and gold” (13:2). Abraham’s accumulated Egyptian wealth became the occasion of strife between him and Lot.

b) “Hagar…the Egyptian”
The strife, jealousy, and trouble which Hagar later introduced through Ishmael had their origin in Egypt.

c) Lot
Abraham’s sojourn affected Lot, who later chose Sodom because of Egypt “like the land of Egypt” (13:10).

ABRAHAM AND LOT

Genesis 13:5-18

What tragedy! In spite of immense early privileges as he shared in his Uncle Abraham’s life of faith, Lot later made a series of decisions that swept him away from God and eventually destroyed him.

We are familiar with Abraham as a man of gigantic faith, in touch with his God, believing His promises, and content to let the world go by. Abraham stands for the spiritual man.

But Lot, too, was a man of faith. The N.T. describes him as “righteous” (2 Peter 2:8), and righteousness only comes by faith. Somewhere along the line, he seems to have come into a definite experience of God. However, Lot lived with an eye on both worlds, and stands for the carnal man. For him heaven can wait! He will have it bye and bye, but right now, life was to be lived.

Lot’s downward drift had its origins in his decision taken in Genesis 13. His life stands as a danger signal to all who feel competent to trifle with the world and avoid the consequences.

1. THE CONFLICT (13:5-7)

a) The Causes
A number of factors lay behind the strife of the herdsmen of Lot and Abraham:

(i) Material Causes. The apparent cause of the strife was the lack of adequate pasture. How come?
* Too many flocks & herds. “And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (13:2). Many of these riches were gained in Egypt (12:16). This is the first instance of riches in the Bible, and it is significant that they became the occasion for strife.
* Too little space. During Abraham’s stay in Egypt, not just the Canaanites (12:7), but now also the Perrizites (13:7) had taken advantage of his absence and occupied some of the available land.

The problems of the increased flocks and herds was thus compounded by restriction of space, “the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together” (13:6).

(ii) Moral Causes. The deeper causes were moral. Lot had been infected with Egypt’s sensuous life-style. In his mind he was still living in Egypt, with the result “they could not dwell together” (13:6). This refers primarily to the problems created by the herds, but it also illustrates the problems of a spiritual and a carnal man dwelling together.

b) The Effects
(i) The Effect on the Testimony. It was bad enough to disagree, but to fall out in front of the Canaanites and Perizzites was worse. This is why Paul warns, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:14,15).

Strife amongst God’s people is hard to hide and, has a devastating effect on our witness to the world. Because of this the Devil makes unity a special target. This was Paul’s point in I Corinthians 6:7, “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” Believers should even suffer wrong, rather than that damage might be done to the testimony.

(ii) The Effect of God’s Purposes. God’s purpose was being accomplished. The strife was acute, but it was God’s permitted purpose to separate Abraham from Lot. His original purpose in calling Abraham from Ur was to separate him from his family. Failure in this respect led to delay at Haran until Terah (type of the flesh) died. Now Lot (type of the world) must be separated, hence this painful division is allowed to occur to effect God’s overruling purpose.

2. THE CHOICE (13:9-13)
“Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me” (13:9). As they stood on the heights of Bethel, the land of Palestine spread out before them as a map. On three sides, north, south, and west, there was little to attract a shepherd’s gaze. But towards the east, the green fertile Jordan valley lay beckoning before them. A choice had to be made between the hill country of Bethel and the plains of the Jordan Valley.

a) Abraham’s Spiritual Choice
With the memory of his altar in mind, Abraham surrendered his personal rights as the older man, and allowed Lot to choose. His handling of the problem was governed by:

(i) Spiritual Directness. “Let there be no strife…between me and thee” (13:8). With great condescension he names himself first as though he were the cause, and comes directly to the point – strife. This is the way a spiritual man thinks.

(ii) Spiritual Discernment. “…for we be brethren.” He realized their unity in spite of spiritual differences.

Two Christian ladies who shared an office disagreed about whether the window should be open or closed. “I am gong to suffocate in here!” said one. “I’m going to die of cold!” retorted the other. Eventually a third person spoke up “Why don’t you close the window until one of you dies of suffocation, and then keep it open until the other dies of pneumonia,” he said. “That way we will have some peace around here!” How paltry the things that divide us. Spiritually minded Abraham said “We be brethren.”

(iii) Spiritual Dependence. Abraham was quite entitled to take first pick. He was the elder, and the one who had been called, and actually given the land. However, Abraham put aside his rights and allowed Lot to choose.

The world might label him a fool for surrendering his rights and his strong position, but Abraham had been to the altar and knew he could leave the issues in God’s hands. Also, he had learned before what happens when a child of God takes matters into his own hands. No wonder God blessed him for it.

Not mine – not mine the choice,
In things both great and small.
Be Thou my Guide, my Guard, my Strength,
My Wisdom, and my “All.”

b) Lot’s Carnal Choice
While Abraham made a spiritual choice, Lot acted with carnal resolve. He apparently had no difficulty coming to a decision, but he chose without consulting God for guidance. His choice was governed by:

(i) He Was Weak In His Devotions. Like Abraham he had “flocks and herds, and tents” (13:5), but there was no word of an altar. There is no word that he sought God’s guidance, no devotion, or waiting on God. Instead we read “Then Lot chose him…” (13:11).

(ii) He Was Worldly In His Desires. Lot saw the land “that it was well watered everywhere,” and his mind flashed back to the well-watered fertile land along the Nile. Egypt (the world) still has much to attract and allure. Lot chose Sodom because it was “like the land of Egypt” (13:10). See what these verses say about Sodom:

* It was bountiful – “it was well watered every where.” It lacked for nothing.
* It was beautiful – “like the garden of the Lord” in contrast to the rugged and barren hills.
* It was bad! “The men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly” (13:13). “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters” (Ezekiel 16:49).
* It was bound for judgement – “…before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah” (13:10). Even as Lot chose, the city was “condemned already.” Abraham would later look on the same scene as “the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace” (19:28).

(iii) He Was Wrong In His Decisions. How alluring Satan makes the world appear. How many a child of God, like Demas, has forsaken the path of righteousness, having loved the present world and departed. How many young people have stood where Lot stood, with all the kingdoms of the world before them.

Lot doubtless promised that he would not allow himself to be involved in Sodom. Perhaps he thought he could be an influence for God there. Outwardly he was still separate from it, but inwardly he was already part of it. See the sad steps:
* He SAW. “Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld” (13:10). How often has the eye proved to be Satan’s gate to the soul. Lot had “eye trouble”, as did also Eve and Aachan. Poor Lot had never learned to walk by faith – only by sight. This was the great difference between Abraham and Lot. Abraham walked by faith; Lot walked by sight. For Abraham, believing is seeing. For Lot, seeing is believing.
* He CHOSE. “he chose him all the plains of Jordan” (13:11).
* He ACTED. “Lot journeyed east, and they separated themselves the one from the other” (13:11). Lot moved away from his uncle’s godly influence.
* “Lot…PITCHED HIS TENT TOWARD Sodom” (13:12).
* He “DWELT IN Sodom” (14:12).
* “Lot…SAT IN THE GATE of Sodom” (19:1), and his daughters wedded to men of Sodom.

What a series of steps! Out of it all Lot gained nothing. II Peter 2:7 “And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;).”

3. THE COMPENSATION (13:14-18)
Perhaps Abraham felt he had been too soft in allowing Lot to choose. All that was left for him was rugged mountain tops. Perhaps he was about to wander sadly westward, when God again revealed Himself to His child.

At such times, when it has been costly to trust and obey, God comes with divine assurances and compensations. Abraham began to understand anew the glory of being obedient.

God reassured Abraham regarding:

a) His Possessions
Abraham was told to “Lift up thine eyes, and look…northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward” (13:14). And eastward! That is where Lot was down in the Jordan valley.

(i) The Reward of Obedience. Abraham had not lost a thing through being obedient to God. Every blade of those rich grasslands were his. “All the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it” (13:15). God’s promises could not be thwarted by either Abraham’s unselfishness or Lot’s materialism.

(ii) The Reality of Obedience. “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (13:17). Abraham was to appropriate for himself and enter into the reality of all that God had given to him. God wants us to feel as though the title-deeds are really our, are actually in our hands. All Christians have the same potential amount of blessings, but not all are willing to walk through the land, to learn to use and enjoy them.

b) His Posterity
God’s promises to Abraham were to result in:

(i) Fruitfulness. “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth” (13:15). Abraham’s posterity was centred in only one son, but in that son resided the whole Hebrew race. The moves of a spiritual man will always lead to ultimate fruitfulness, but this does not mean that the spiritual man will lead thousands to Christ. It might only be one, but that one might be a Luther, a Spurgeon, a Moody, or a Wesley.

(ii) Fellowship. Abraham “came and dwelt…in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord” (13:18). Hebron means “fellowship.” There he built an altar. Abraham’s communion with God was expressed in fellowship and worship. Separation from the world must be linked with communion with God, otherwise it is sterile!

CONCLUSION
Lot obtained what he wanted – earthly enjoyment. But spiritually he lost out. He was left with no testimony, and no blessing. In contrast, God became increasingly real to Abraham.

The story is summarized by the two directions the two men took. “Lot journeyed east” (13:11). Abraham “came and dwelt..in Hebron” (13:18).

WARFARE AND WORSHIP

Genesis 14

Chapter 14 is full of kings and conflicts, with the tramp of armies, the taking of captives, and deeds of incredible bravery. In a sense it is a cameo of all history, with God’s true King appearing at the end of it all, a King of Righteousness and Peace.

In the background of the story are two believers. One, backslidden in Sodom, was captured and carried off by a fierce and cruel enemy. The other, a separated believer in fellowship with his God, waited and watched from the wilderness. He wondered how it would all affect him, yet remained confident that God was in control of every circumstance.

The chapter climaxes with Abraham’s remarkable refusal of the King of Sodom’s attractive yet deadly offer. This costly refusal was intimately related to the vital ministry of Melchizedek, a beautiful type of Christ, especially in relation to His priesthood.

The chapter has three main movements:

1. The Two Confederations (14:1-11)
2. The Two Believers (14:12-16)
3. The Two Kings (14:17-24)

1. THE TWO CONFEDERATIONS (14:1-11)
The strife of Genesis 14 was no mere border foray. The record is that of a major international conflict from which no one was allowed to escape.

a) The Coalitions (14:1-2)
The Battle is generally referred to as the battle of four kings against five. The participants are all carefully named.

(i) The Four Kings of the East (14:1). Years before Abraham entered Canaan, a powerful confederation of 4 kings from the north-eastern area of Persia and Babylon had swept southward subduing everything is its path. Their leader, Chedorlaomer, was undisputed master of the region. He is still known as “The Napoleon of the east.” For 12 years these kings ruled the road from Damascus to Memphis, including the 5 city states of the of the Jordan Valley.

(ii) The Five Kings of the Plain (14:2). These were the kings of the five city states of the Jordan Valley. The area was called the Vale of Siddim, meaning “fields,” likely because of the high fertility. For twelve years they were tribute to Chedorlaomer and his allies.

b) The Conflict (14:3-9)
“Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled” (14:4). In the 13th year the five subject kings rashly risked rebellion, and announced their intention to stop paying tribute to Chedorlaomer. These five kings knew the power of the invaders, but felt confident enough to take them on. There were five of them against four of the invaders. They were fighting on home ground, and the enemy’s lines of communication were fully extended. It all seemed a reasonable risk.

Chedorlaomer mounted a punitive expedition, arriving in Canaan the following year (14:5). In verses 5 to 7 we have a list of Chedorlaomer’s victories as he swept across the desert, ravaging the tribes living in Bashan and Moab. Nation after nation fell before him in an orgy of annihilation. The confederation swept down the eastern side of Jordan, missing out the five cities of the plain, and reaching as far south as the region of Seir, with its almost impregnable rock cities, and El-paran on the edge of the Negev wilderness (14:6).

They then turned north up to Kadesh and Hazezon-tamar (14:7), subduing the Amalekites and the Amorites. With all other opposition crushed, they now crouched poised for the main battle with the five rebellious kings.

The battle was a rout, and the kings of armies of Sodom and Gomorrah fell in the slime pits. There seems to be poetic justice to it all. Sodom and Gomorrah were vile, like slime. Their sin was a stench to God. Their kings were carried off to captivity covered with slime. They were filthy within and filthy without.

Sated with their success the victorious kings set off for distant Mesopotamia, whence Lot had emigrated. There he would have ended his days, a slave, not a citizen.

2. THE TWO BELIEVERS (14:12-16)
The chapter tells the story of two very different believers.

a) Lot
Backslidden in Sodom, worrying himself sick over his family and fortune.

b) Abraham
A separated believer dwelling in quiet confidence at Hebron. See the features of his faith:

(i) It was Confident. In the midst of all this turmoil, Abraham lived in quiet security at Mamre in fellowship with God. This confidence determined his attitude:

* To God – Abraham was rich in plunderable assets – cattle, gold, silver. But in spite of increasing danger, he does not panic or flee to Egypt. He is at Hebron (“fellowship”) where God wants him to be, and will not be moved by the turbulent events around him.
* To the World – note his relations with his neighbours. He is “confederate” with them, but does not depend on them. His faith had made him independent of the world, but not indifferent.

(ii) It was Concerned. “And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive” (14:14). It would have been far easier to leave Lot alone. He could have argued that Lot had got himself into this jam, and that his forces were hopelessly inadequate to do anything about it. In any case, he was a farmer, not a fighter.

Abraham’s reaction to Lot’s captivity teaches us much about bringing back a brother. The task was:
* Difficult. Liberating Lot was no work for an amateur. It would stretch Abraham’s resources and courage to the limit.
* Dangerous. “He armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan” (14:14). He was taking on an army much more powerful than himself.

In the N.T. both Paul and Jude emphasize that bringing back a brother is difficult and dangerous work. In Galatians 6:1 Paul says “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” Restoration requires spiritual men with spiritual energy, equipped spiritually as Abraham was literally.

Jude also speaks of those who have fallen into a fire. Those qualified to pull them out of the fire are to be men of faith, who pray in the Spirit, and keep themselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21).

(iii) It was Courageous. Only 318 men against a horde! The world would have suggested caution. Perhaps a ransom offer would have been less rash, and an acceptable compromise. But confidence, concern, and courage form a three-fold cord which is hard to break. Abraham’s sudden night attack from different directions led to a rout and total confusion. Deprived of their leaders, the people turned tail and fled, pursued by Abraham for another 50 miles up towards Damascus.

3. THE TWO KINGS (14:17-20)
In this last section Abraham meets two kings. He expected to meet the King of Sodom, but before he does so, he had an unexpected and vitally important interview with Melchizedek, King of Salem.

Who was Melchizedek? Like a meteor bursting brilliantly in the sky, he broke into Abraham’s experience, and then disappeared completely from Scripture. He reappeared some 1000 years later in Psalm 110:4, and again after another 1000 years in Hebrews 7.

The most important thing about Melchizedek in this chapter is that he was “the priest of the most high God” (14:18). Hebrews 7 teaches that he was a very clear type of Christ, and his meeting with Abraham gives us profound insight into the ministry of our own Great High Priest.

a) WHO Melchizedek Met
Abraham, the one who lived in fellowship with God, and maintained his pilgrim character. He did not meet Lot. People like Lot do not get blessed and strengthened.

b) WHEN Melchizedek Met Him.
He does not come when Abraham is in pursuit of Chedorlaomer, but when the King of Sodom was in pursuit of Abraham and about to make his deadly offer. The timing of the meeting is highly significant.

The Effect of the Interview on Abraham

a) It Widened His Vision
Through Melchizedek Abraham came to know God as “El-Elyon,” “the most high God” (14:19). Before this he had known Him as Elohim, and as Jehovah, but now four times in five verses God is introduced as the Most High God. Abraham had made an exciting new discovery of God.

It has been said that “any blessing that is lasting is a blessing that is contained in some new discovery of God.” Part of our High Priest’s ministry is to give us an expanded view of God. Abraham learned that God is:

(i) Sustainer Of All Things. Reference is twice made to “the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth” (14:19,22). “Possessor” does not mean “owner.” The word has the idea of “holder,” or “container.” It is the same idea as “by him all things consist.” What a contrast to the multitude of gods beneath Him. Like in Isaiah’s sarcastic passages. They could not even make breakfast, let alone create anything!

(ii) Sovereign Of All things. “Blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand” (14:20). Melchizedek reminded Abraham that it was the sovereign God who had given him the victory.

Nebuchadnezzar made the mistake of ignoring God sovereignty when he said, “Is not this great Babylon which I have built?” God had to step in and say “seven times shall pass over thee till thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.”

(iii) Supplier Of All Things. Abraham was tired physically, worn out after the battle, and about to enter a deep spiritual struggle. Yet the Most High God met his need and strengthened him both physically (bread and wine) and spiritually (He blessed him).

b) It Increased His Vigour
Melchizedek’s ministry in bringing bread and wine affected Abraham in two ways: it refreshed him after the battle; it strengthened him for the temptation which lay ahead.
Our Melchizedek still brings bread and wine with the same result. Like Abraham, we are refreshed after the struggles of the week that is past, and strengthened for the week that lies ahead.

c) It Adjusted His Values
The King of Sodom went out to meet Abraham and make a highly lucrative offer. But before he can do so, Abraham spent time with Melchizedek, feeding on the bread and wine (14:18), and receiving a blessing.

Then came the interview with the King of Sodom. Abraham was offered “Give me the persons (lit. souls), and take the goods to thyself” (14:21). What “goods” there must have been! Sheep, cattle, raiment, gold, silver – all the trappings and attractiveness of that civilization. Abraham was presented with a direct choice between the material (the spoils) and the spiritual (the souls).

But Abraham’s interview with Melchizedek had strengthened him. His values had been adjusted, his sights elevated, and he was able to reply to the King of Sodom, “I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoe latchet, and that I will not take any thing that is
thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich” (14:22,23). Abraham’s adjusted values enabled him to let go all the world considered valuable, and go out empty handed from the King’s presence.

Did he lose out? Never! It was directly after this incident that God drew close to him and said “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (15:1).

With his own God as his reward, he lost nothing!

CUTTING THE COVENANT

Genesis 15

The centre point of this chapter, and of Abraham’s, life is the short yet profound statement “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (15:6). This simple statement is taken up vigorously by a number of N.T. writers, and lies at the heart of the great doctrine of justification by faith. It is thus vital for us to understand the events of this chapter.

The events of chapter 15 revolve round three mains sections:

1. The Discussion between God and Abraham (15:1-5)
2. The Decision taken by Abraham to believe (15:6)
3. The Declaration by God in reply to Abraham’s request for assurance (15:7-21)

1. THE DISCUSSION (15:1-5)
It is important for us to understand the events in the background of this discussion.

“After these things…” Abraham had won a great military victory in chapter 14 resulting in the rescue of Lot. But the greater victory was moral, and it was this that enabled him to refuse to take anything from a thread even to a shoe latchet of all that belonged to the King of Sodom.

But as reaction set in and took its toll, the elating days of moral and military success merged into days of depression and doubt.

a) Abraham’s Discouragement
There was much on Abraham’s mind as he sat in his tent door, perhaps unable to sleep during the warm desert night. The events of chapter 14 had been exhilarating, but actually he had nothing to show for them!

* Lot had just returned to Sodom, making Abraham wonder if rescuing him had been worth while.
* The King of Sodom had left rubbing his hands at the recovery of all his goods. Abraham had not even got a cent out of all that happened.
* Afar, Eschol, & Mamre had gone, congratulating each other and gloating over their profits.
* Chedorlaomer’s army was likely licking its wounds and putting together a plan that would teach upstart Abraham a proper lesson.

Abraham was left alone, depressed and fearful. Three main problems occupied his mind. He faced: retaliation from the defeated kings, poverty from his refusal of Sodom’s goods, and a future without an heir.

More than 10 years had passed since he entered Canaan, yet in spite of three successive promises, he did not possess an inch of territory! And for all this talk about a seed, there was no sign of a child. Both Abraham and Sarah were old. Child bearing was now a physical impossibility. Abraham summed it up “I go childless” (15:2). What was the point of accumulating more money, when a total outsider, Eliezer, would inherit it all?

God’s “Fear not…” indicates how fearful Abraham was. Such fears were illogical (Chedorlaomer was dead, and God was still very much present) but it is hard to be rational in the middle of the night. The hundreds of exhortations to “Fear not…” testify to the universal debilitating effects of fear. No wonder it is such a favourite weapon of the devil.

b) God’s Encouragement
“Fear not, Abram…” God did not reason or argue with Abraham. Instead encouraged His servant by promising him:

(i) Security. “I am thy shield.” God was saying, “Before an enemy can penetrate you, he must penetrate me.” A believer enjoying Sodom cannot expect to enjoy the protection of the shield.

(ii) Reward. “…and exceeding great reward.” Note how personal are God’s promises “I…thy.” Abraham had honoured God, and refused “the goods.” God Himself was Abraham’s reward. The trouble is we cannot see Him! We prefer more tangible rewards.

(iii) Son. “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir” (15:4). God reassured him that he should have a child of his own. His heir would not be Eliezer.

But Abraham was not in a receptive mood so God “brought him forth abroad” (15:5), and invited him to look up to the stars. Earlier, when separated from Lot, he had been invited to “Lift up thine eyes, and look…northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward” (13:14). Once again God encourages him to look up.

“Look..and tell the stars.” Men used to think they could count the stars, but we now know that there are more stars in space than there are grains of sand on all the seashores of all the world. God’s promise to Abraham was one to stagger the imagination. Yet it was not impossible.

2. THE DECISION (15:6)
“And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (15:6). This is a tremendous statement, and anticipates the N.T. doctrine of justification by faith. We see here both the fact and the fruit of faith

a) The Fact of Faith
“He believed in the Lord.”

(i) What He Believed? He believed what God said about his promised son. Sarah was past child-bearing age, and physically unable to bear a child. Yet God had promised he would have a child. Natural reasoning made that very difficult for Abraham to believe. It just couldn’t happen! The physical impossibility of it said so. His natural reasoning said so. The experience of years said so. His friends said so.

In spite of all this, Abraham looked into the promise of God, and decided to venture everything on that word. “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom 4:20,21).

Abraham’s case is representative. Whereas Abraham believed God would give him a son through the quickening of his body, we believe that God has given us His Son, and through His death and quickening from the dead, a Saviour is ours through faith.
(ii) Why He Believed? He believed because God had spoken to him, and faith came by hearing. He knew God could be trusted. This was no leap in the dark, or intellectual suicide. He had seen evidence of God every step of the way. He had led him, helped him, protected him, and supplied his every need.

What was at stake was not an intellectual decision. God was suggesting that Abraham put his whole future in His hands. This went beyond the intellect and touched the will.

We also have the evidence of God on every hand. We do not doubt He exists. Or His ability to transform lives. God demands a commitment that goes beyond our intellects and touches our wills.

b) The Fruit of Faith
“…and he counted it to him for righteousness.” “righteousness” means the state of being “right” with God. Abraham was originally destitute of righteousness, but now is reckoned righteous through faith in God. See what has happened:

– God is the object of his faith
– The Word of God is the ground of his faith
– Righteousness is the result of his faith

What was true of Abraham is true for us. Salvation and justification still come by believing God’s Word concerning His miraculously conceived Son. What is needed is faith. Not emotions, visions, or feelings. Nothing but faith in the promise of God in His Word.

This is God’s way of salvation. Paul ends Romans 4, the chapter on Abraham’s faith, “Now it was not written for his sake alone…But for us also…if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (4:23-25).

3. THE DECLARATION (15:7-21)
“Whereby shall I know…?” Abraham was saved by believing God’s Word concerning the supernaturally and miraculously conceived son. He fully believed God, but requested fuller explanation and details. He still lacked the full assurance. He wanted to know. Abraham’s cry for assurance was met with a marvellous picture in verses 9-11.

God granted his request by means of a remarkable ceremony and its accompanying declaration. He must be shown that a valid faith rests only on the finished work of Calvary.

a) The Details (15:9-10)
One each of the 5 acceptable animals was to be slain and laid on the altar. The only instruction Abraham received was to put to death the sacrifice. In accordance with the custom for covenants, the slain animals were then placed in 2 rows. Usually each party to the covenant passed between the 2 rows as a sign he was bound by the terms of the contract. It was known as “Cutting a Covenant.”

Perhaps Abraham was looking for some outward physical sign, some unusual manifestation. Instead, God took him to Calvary. Each one of the animals is a picture of the person and work of Christ. It is a wonderful picture of Christ, slain by the hand of the sinner. But beyond that the sinner has nothing to do with salvation and redemption.

Such an act of confirmation is also mentioned in Jer 34:18, where God blames those who have broken His agreement and promises judgement upon them. They had broken his agreement made between the pieces of sacrifice.

b) The Delay (15:11)
After Abraham had obeyed and made the preparations, he waited for something to happen. And waited! The only arrivals were birds of prey which circled and attempted to settle.

Just as these unclean birds attempted to attack the sacrificial pieces, they speak to us of Satan’s attempts to rob us of the joy and assurance which we enjoy as a result of Calvary. We need to drive away the unclean vultures of doubt and despair. We cannot help them circling, but we can prevent them from settling!

Nothing happened during the day, and finally the sun went down. The vultures were gone, the servants retired. The Lord had not come. It was now too late for anything to happen. Dejected and disappointed he lay down to sleep deeply. He felt forsaken by God in front of those who knew him.

The delay may have symbolized that although the covenant would be sure, it would take a long time to accomplish.

c) The Destiny (15:13-16)
Two destinies were locked into this prophecy, the national destiny of the young nation, and Abraham’s personal destiny.

(i) A National Destiny (15:13-16). Abraham was given a seven-fold prophecy detailing the destiny of the young nation. Its accuracy is striking, and it was fulfilled exactly.
The prophecy foretold the slavery in Egypt. God does not always tell us WHY He allows such severe circumstances, although He did tell Abraham here of the ultimate triumph of his seed.

“In the fourth generation they shall come hither again” (15:16). It is a grand reminder that God is totally in control of all human affairs. We too need to remember God’s hand is firm on the helm of history. As Nebuchadnezzar learned, the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men. All this shows God’s dominance in human affairs, as he make the wrath of man to praise Him.

“…the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” This gives an inkling of the invisible cause of the long delay in Egypt. God was working His purposes out. They were unknown to man, yet the delay was crucial to God’s character, as he gave the Amorites time to turn from their sin before His judgement would fall.

(ii) A Personal Destiny (15:15). Abraham need not be disturbed by the great international issues. He could leave those in God’s hands. But the same “international” God was interested had a personal interest in Abraham. He would live to “a good old age” (15:15), and would die in peace. So the believer can rest on Him who works all things after the counsels of His own will.

d) The Darkness (15:17)
While lying sleeping Abraham had a dreadful vision. Two symbols passed between the pieces of sacrifice, while Abraham reclined in rest. These symbols represented God in different aspects of His character.

(i) The Smoking Furnace was a cylindrical-like pot. Every time in the Bible we read about smoke it is in relation to judgement. The combination of smoke and fire points to God’s wrath and judgement.

(ii) The Burning Lamp dispels the darkness of judgement. It speaks of God’s love and grace.
To reconcile the furnace and lamp is the problem of the atonement. God is unchangeable. He must punish the sinner with infinite punishment which it would take all eternity to pay. But God’s love is as powerful as His justice. As God passed through the sacrifice, Abraham was asleep and helpless. This is Calvary. Because He was an infinite God, He could pay the infinite penalty. Hence God’s love and justice are both satisfied. “Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other” at Calvary. Abraham should himself have been on the altar. That was his proper place. Instead, God permitted him to kill an innocent substitute. Then He stood between the pieces of the sacrifice and made His covenant of pure grace. He joined hands, as it were, with Himself for the salvation of Abraham.

Note that the transaction is on Abraham’s behalf, but he has nothing to do with it. It is all done by God who is represented as a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing between the pieces of sacrifice. The promises depended on God, not on Abraham.

e) The Declaration (15:18-21)
“In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram” (15:18). God’s covenant was made by the Lord Himself, and was entirely unconditional. This covenant was:

(i) Based on God alone. All these promises were based on God, not on Abraham.

(ii) Already executed. “Unto thy seed have I given this land” (15:18). Up to now the land has been promised, but now it is an established fact. This reminds us of the blessing we have in Christ. We are already seated in the heavenlies, just as though we were already there.

“Whereby shall I know…?” (15:8)
When Abraham asked God for assurance he was given a picture of Calvary. So, too, the Christian can find assurance at Calvary – the evidence of God’s love. We also rest on the same. We do not rest on an emotional experience or fleshly feelings, but on the work of Calvary and the simple Word of God.

A DOMESTIC TRIANGLE

Genesis 16

Scripture is full of contrasts! In chapter 15 we saw Abraham as a man of faith who “believed in the Lord,” and walking after the Spirit. Now in chapter 16 unbelief casts a dark shadow across his path, as we see him hearkening to the voice of Sarah, and walking after the flesh.

The highly explosive situation took the course it did because, for all their hopes and fears, Abraham and Sarah were ordinary people just like anyone else. Abraham wanted a son more than anything else in the world. Sarah was frustrated at her inability to give him a child of her own. For her all natural hope was gone.

Enter the slave girl, Hagar, a “reasonable” and natural answer to the problem, and the stage was set for a drama, the consequences of which have run on for 4000 years.

Even the saintliest of men never get rid of the flesh! Israel never got rid of Jacob till he died. Nor did Peter get rid of Simon. 35 years after Paul was saved he admitted “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). As the Lord Himself said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (Jn 3:6). Even in the new birth the flesh still remains flesh. It cannot be laundered or improved. So with Abraham, the flesh was still present, just waiting for circumstances to allow it to float to the surface.

A: THE TEST OF GOD’S SILENCE (16:1-6)
Up to this point Abraham’s faith had been tested in a number of ways:
– chapter 11, the obedience of faith; leaving Ur
– chapter 12, the dependence of faith; the famine
– chapter 13, the humility of faith; allowing Lot to choose
– chapter 14, the courage of faith, rescuing Lot
– chapter 15, the patience of faith, waiting for God’s promises

Now in chapter 16 we have the test of God’s silence. His silences are as eloquent as His sayings. He usually does what He did here. God gave Abraham a revelation of his mind and will, and promised that He would make of him a great nation (12:2), so that his seed should be as the stars of heaven (15:5). He then waited for faith to operate.

This is how God works. He makes a promise, faith believes it, hope anticipates it, and patience waits for it. We should be “followers of them who through faith and patience receive the promises” (Heb 6:12). The trouble was that ten years had passed since the first of these promises, and nothing had come of it. Now the door was open for doubt.

Man doesn’t like to wait! He likes to manage and control himself and his circumstances. It was the same with Jacob, who wouldn’t wait for his birthright, he stole it. And with Moses who tried to preempt God by 40 years. God has said 400 years, but Moses tried his hand at 360 years.

1. Abraham’s Double Mind (16:1-11)
Double-mindedness is always a hindrance to spiritual growth.

a) The Problem (16:1)
“No children.” This one overwhelming problem stood in the way of the fulfilment of all Abraham’s hopes.

(i) Abraham had a Problem. More than anything else Abraham wanted a son and heir. He had told God that all the material rewards meant nothing seeing “I go childless” (15:2).

(ii) Sarah had a Problem. “Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing” (16:2). Today infertility generates sympathy, but in those days infertile women only felt shame. It was an unfair reproach which women felt keenly, e.g. Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth. It is still the same in the third world today.

(iii) God had a Problem. A child was needed for the fulfilment of God’s purpose and promise. God had promised a son and heir, but ten years had passed, and there was no word of him. God needed help!

b) The Proposal (16:2-3)
“I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her” (16:2). Any child born to Hagar would belong to Sarah, not Hagar. Thus Abraham’s, Sarah’s, and even God’s problems would all be solved by one simple plan! The suggestion showed faith in God’s promise that Abraham would have a son. Sarah clearly believed God would give her a child.

The proposal had much to be said for it:

– it was reasonable and natural
– it was acceptable practice, in line with customs of the day. – it was based on well-meant motives. Sarah can be admired for taking an action distasteful to her in her husband’s interests.

But it was wrong! It was wrong:-

* Against Abraham, leading him out of the pathway of waiting for God’s will and time. “Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai” (16:2), there is no evidence that he consulted God.
* Against Hagar. It did not recognize her rights and individuality.
* Against Sarah herself, robbing her of her high privilege of motherhood, as well as leading to disobedience.
* Against God, for it turned to pagan practices for an answer to the problem, and left God out of it.

It was an Egyptian solution, for Hagar was an Egyptian. It was easier for God to get Abraham out of Egypt, than it was to get Egypt out of Abraham. Abraham and Sarah said, “God has failed, we will turn to nature.” They should have said, “Nature has failed, we will turn to God.”

c) The Price (16:4)
“…when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.” Hagar was elated, but Sarah was despised. Pride (16:4), jealousy (16:5), misery (16:6), and injustice (16:6), all crept in, and we are presented with the first incidence of domestic strife in the Bible.

The blessing and harmony of Abraham’s home was gone, not to be restored for 16-17 years, and then only at the price of painful separation. Such is the price of impatience in the things of God.

2. Sarah’s Deceitful Heart (16:5-6)
Sarah soon learned about the deceitfulness of her heart. What commenced as a noble, generous gesture, soon became an awful drudgery. She found it is difficult to sustain a sacrifice made in the energy of the flesh. Now faced with the price-tag of Hagar’s haughty looks and sneers, she soon regretted her pledge, and her heart rose in rebellion.

Sadly, she sought to deliver herself in her own way. There is no sense of having done wrong, or waiting on God for deliverance. Instead, her rebellion manifested itself in:

a) Her Tongue (16:5)
“And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee…the LORD judge between me and thee.” It is all your fault! What logic!

b) Her Temper (16:6)
“Sarai dealt hardly with her,” venting her spite on Hagar. This is the modest, loving, respectful and humble wife held up in the N.T. as a model wife! How deceitful is the human heart! Her husband had not threatened or beaten her. The problem was merely that her maid was looking down her nose at her, and Sarah was upset.

When we get upset, what is inside comes out! If we upset a jar of honey, honey comes out. If a jar of vinegar, we get vinegar. Upsetting the bottle does not determine what is inside the bottle, it only reveals it. When we are upset and say bitter and unkind things, it is because that is what is in the bottle. Sarah’s heart was deceitful, and was revealed when she was upset.

3. Hagar’s Defiant Will (16:6)
“ And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.” Running away was the natural thing to do. But the problem was that every member of the triangle was doing the natural thing; Abraham marrying Hagar, Sarai resenting Hagar, Hagar running away. The tests of life are to give the child of God opportunity to act spiritually instead of naturally.

Summary
Poor Abraham failed as head of his house. He surrendered his headship to Sarah, and allowed her to nag Hagar into total frustration. “Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee” (16:6).

God’s silence brought into focus Hagar’s failure as a maid, Sarah’s failure as a mistress, and Abraham’s failure as a man (as head of the home).

As a result Hagar fled. She should have found blessing in the home of the believers, but she was treated worse than a piece of furniture. She was used and then abused, so she fled with her mind full of bitterness, and with a false impression about Abraham’s God.

How tangled matters become when we fail to learn from our own lack of wisdom and try to remedy one mistake by blundering into another.

B: THE RUTH OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY (16:7-16)
Abraham and Sarah had misrepresented God to Hagar, and God stepped in to set the record straight.

1. The Revelation to Hagar (16:7-11)

a) The Place where God found her (16:7)
God found Hagar “by a fountain of water in the wilderness” (16:7).

(i) In the Wilderness. Hagar had started out for Egypt, crossed the Sinai, and arrived at “the way to Shur” (16:7) wilderness of Shur on the frontier of Egypt. She was going back to Egypt, back to the world, back to a greater bondage than anything she had known with Abraham. Before her lay the broad way into Egyptian night. Behind her was the straight gate, the narrow way, the pilgrim path of faith. But before Egypt’s gates closed behind her for ever, God stepped in. Hagar didn’t know, but God had been hard on her heels each step of the way. What amazing grace for God to come to Hagar.

(ii) By a Well. The angel found her, “by a fountain of water in the wilderness” (16:7). This is the first mention of a well (16:14) in Scripture, and it speaks of the One who gives living water springing up into “everlasting life.” Note that it was:

* “in the wilderness.” She did not find the well amidst the gaieties of the world. It is in the wilderness that we come to know him, from the attractions of earth.
* “by a fountain.” The seeking soul finds the Saviour “by a fountain of water” – type of the Word of God. We will not find Him in philosophies, etc, but in the Word of God. “Search the Scriptures…they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).

It was at the well that God was revealed – “and she called the name of the Lord…Thou God seest me; for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me?” (16:13). So it is in the Word and through Christ that the Father is revealed. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”

b) The Person Who spoke to her
The “Angel of the Lord.” Who was this? Verse 13 says it was the Lord Himself who spoke to her – “Thou God seest me.” This was El-Roi, “The God of seeing.” Just as He later met a forlorn woman at a well (John 4), He met Hagar at her point of need.

(i) His Call. “Hagar!” With loving tenderness God called her personally name. He loved Hagar just as much as He did Abraham. He sought her and found her on the frontiers of Egypt, just as He had found Abraham in far-off Ur.

(ii) His Questions.
* “Whence comest thou?” This made her reflect on her lost and sinful condition. Man is loathe to admit his sinful origin, striving instead to prove his origins as the result of natural selection and chance.
* “Whither wilt thou go?” Before God could turn her around, she had to confess “I flee,”

c) The Promise He gave her (16:10-12)
God does not expect us to “go it alone.” To help Hagar give evidence of true conversion, He gave her a promise and a prophecy.

(i) A Promise. “Thou shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael” (16:11). “Ishmael” means “God shall hear.” She would not have to struggle on her own. It would be a reminder of how God had met her need. (Not the gods of Egypt to which she was returning.)

(ii) A Prophecy. “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (16:12). Ishmael would be as untameable as a wild ass. His hand against every man’s hand would provoke retaliation. He soon showed this strain at Isaac’s weaning party, when he was insolent (21:8).

From Ishmael the Arab tribes have risen to fulfil so accurately this prophecy. They found for themselves a prophet and with wild fanaticism built up a brilliant empire and spreading their creed with a sword. Christian explorers, blazing Gospel trails into Africa found that the sons of Ishmael had gone before, and had set the continent ablaze in their savage hunt for slaves. Today they sit astride the oil reserves of the world. Their rage against Israel keeps the world in turmoil.

2. The Response by Hagar (16:13-16)
God had said “Return…and submit.” The immediate consequence of that response was a conversion, a turning around. Nothing could have been harder than that.

Salvation is all of grace by faith, but it results in commitment and obedience. It is not a “cheap gospel.” Onesimus had to go back to his master in Colossae. The liberated demoniac was told to go and tell. The whole point of the book of James is that we must have a belief that behaves.

Hagar’s response resulted in:

a) A New Understanding (16:13,14)
“And she called the name of the LORD that spake unto her, Thou God seest me”(16:13). Hagar had thought no one saw or undertood her need. Then she met with El-Roi, “The God who sees.”

“Beer-lahai-roi” means “the well of Him that liveth and seeth me.” One translator calls it “the well of the vision of life.” It was the place where Hagar passed from death unto life. From now God would not just be the God of Abraham and Sarah. He would be her God too.

b) A New Undertaking (16:15,16).
God had said “Return…and submit” (16:9). Nothing could have been harder than that. But the immediate consequence of God’s revelation to her was a total turn about. She returned to Abraham’s camp and submitted herself to Sarah. In due course a promised son was born.
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

Genesis 17

The covenant of this chapter marked a major step forward in Abraham’s relationship to God, and left its imprint on all of subsequent history. It still rules the future with an iron hand, and is the basis for what is happening in the Middle East today. Things happening now in the 20th century A.D. can be understood only in the light of what was said back in the 20th century B.C.

1. A NEW RELATIONSHIP

a) Abraham’s Failure
Genesis 16 relates the backsliding of Abraham and closes with the statement “And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram” (16:16).

Chapter 17 opens with another statement of Abraham’s age “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram” (17:1). There is thus a silent 13 year gap between chapters 16 and 17, during which we read nothing about Abraham. 13 years during which there was no word of revelations from God, no altar, no fellowship, and no progress. There seems to have been nothing worthy of recording.

Abraham was paying the price of his impatience in chapter 16. How much we suffer when we fail to depend God for all our needs.

b) God’s Faithfulness
As the 13 years slowly passed, Abraham was perhaps tempted to forget God’s covenant promise that he and Sarah would have a son. But God had not forgotten. When He spoke again it was to take up the threads of promises He had already made and to weave them into a grand comprehensive covenant known as the Abrahamic Covenant.

Abraham was given:

(i) A New Appreciation Of God (17:1). “I am Almighty God.” The time had come for Isaac to be born. But before that could happen God introduced Himself to Abraham as “El-Shaddai”, the Almighty God. “El-Shaddai” is one of the 7 compound names of the Lord. We have already met “El-Elyon”, “the Most High God.” in chapter 14. “El” means “God”, “Shaddai” means “breast.” Hence the name literally means “The God with breasts.”

The title is expressive, not only of power, but of all that is associated with the “breast” – tenderness, love, nourishment, and concern. He is not merely the mighty God who hung the stars in space. He is the God tender enough to involve Himself in the life of His doubting child.

(ii) A New Instruction From God (17:1). “Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” “Walking” before God means living day by day in the consciousness that His eyes are upon us. Abraham was not faultless, but he could later say, “the Lord before whom I walk” (24:40). How easy it is to forget about God and merely walk before men; to be more interested in what men see than what God sees.

“…be thou perfect.” How can we be perfect? Isn’t this aiming too high? Commentators say the word merely means “sincere, without pretence.” However, it means what it says. It is the same work as is used in Psalm 19:7 “The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” It is what the Lord said in Mat 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Christ’s perfect example is our goal (1 Peter 2:21). Impossible? Yes – till we remember that it is the almighty El Shaddai, the God of the impossible, who commands it.

(iii) A New Designation By God (17:5,15). “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee” (17:5) “Abram” means “exalted father”, “Abraham” means “father of a multitude.” The main lesson here relates to the inclusion of the expressive “h” in the names, taken from the word for “spirit”, “ruach.” Effectively this referred to the inclusion of God’s Spirit in the character of both Abram and Sarah. What a change was to come into their lives!

Note that when God revealed Himself as El-Shaddai He changed Abram’s name to Abraham. The next time He appears as El Shaddai He changes Jacob’s name to Israel and gives promises and assurances almost identical to those made to Abraham in this chapter (35:9-11).

2. A NEW REVELATION
God’s covenant with Abraham is first mentioned in 15:18, where it refers merely to the extent of the land promised to Abraham’s seed. Now in chapter 17 we see how it was extended:

a) Its Substance
God’s covenant involved:

(i) A Principle. Note the repetitive “I will…” (x14). The agreement was absolute, unconditional, and totally binding. No failure on Abraham’s part could annul the agreement. God pledged Himself to see that every line would be fulfilled. This was God at His best! So confident is God of what He promised that He even used the past tense, “a father of many nations have I made thee” (17:5). Our God is not bound by the human dimension of time. Romans 4:17 says God “calleth those things which be not as though they were.” And why not? This was El-Shaddai, the Almighty God speaking.

(ii) A People (17:4-6). “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations” (17:4). God’s great contract was spelled out, and the beneficiaries clearly named: Abraham and his descendants through Sarah (17:16).

(iii) A Period (17:7). “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee … for an everlasting covenant.” This contract was to be eternal. God later made other covenants with Moses and David, and the Palestinian covenant, but none of these altered the covenant with Abraham. The Palestinian covenant imposed conditions whereby Israel could continue to enjoy occupancy of the Promised Land. But all such additions were merely temporary, and could not annul God’s everlasting promise to Abraham.
(iv) A Place (17:8). “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee…all the land of Canaan.” For all their clamour, the land does not belong to the Arabs. It was deeded to Isaac, not Ishmael.

b) Its Seal (17:9-14)
The seal of the promise was the rite of circumcision. 3 things are recorded about this covenant seal:

(i) Its Implications (17:10). “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.” Circumcision was:

* A Supporting Sign. Just as a seal is attached to a legal document to show the terms of the agreement are legally in force, so circumcision was to be the visual reminder that the terms of the covenant were in force.
* A Spiritual Symbol. Thus far Abraham had totally failed to bear fruit for God. Now, in deep abasement before Him, he listened as God gave the solution to his problem – circumcision, the sentence of death in his flesh. It was a painful admission that he was unable to produce by natural means the kind of life that God expects.

(ii) Its Implementation (17:12). “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you.” The number eight is the number of resurrection, of new beginnings. In Israel a child was born, lived a full week and then on the 8th day was circumcised. It was a symbolic way of bringing the child under the Abrahamic covenant. It did not make him a child of God. Still less is it associated with baptism.

(iii) Its Importance (17:14). “And the uncircumcised man…shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” The uncircumcised Israelite was an alien to the commonwealth of Israel, and a stranger to the covenants of promise. Failure here amounted to contempt of the covenant and was a serious matter. It manifested gross disobedience and wilful unbelief.

Why was circumcision so important, and what did it mean? Has it any relevance as a rite today? In both Old and New Testaments it is given prominence, and it is important for us to see exactly where it fits in and what it means.
* For O.T. Jews circumcision involved a literal cutting away of the flesh. It was a painful and humiliating process.
* For N.T. Christians circumcision involves a spiritual cutting away of the flesh, and the process can be equally painful and humiliating. Colossians chapter 2 teaches us its true meaning. We are called to submit to, not a physical, but spiritual circumcision, not made with hands. It consists of “the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col 2:11).

We need our High Priest to take the knife in hand and, in spite of the pain and humiliation, set us free from the dominion of evil. It will make us the true circumcision, “For we are the Circumcision which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3).

It is only when we know the spiritual meaning of circumcision that we can enter into the joyous friendship of God. Note that Moses could not undertake his life’s work as long as his son was uncircumcised. Nor could the people enter Canaan until they rolled away the reproach of Canaan, and were circumcised on the threshold of the Promised Land.

Circumcision as a religious rite accomplishes nothing. In Paul’s day zealous Judaizers insisted that Gentiles be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul’s impassioned letter to the Galatians reveals how serious the threat was. Had they succeeded, Judaism would have been the coffin of Christianity, not its cradle. “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God” (I Cor 7:19). “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Gal 5:6). “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Gal 6:15).

c) Its Satisfaction (17:17-27)

(i) The Laughter of Faith (17:17). “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed.” There are various kinds of laughter. The genuinely humorous laugh – hearty side splitting roar which is medicine to the soul. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Pro 17:22). Then there is the hideous laugh of a man who laughs at sin, and makes merry over the misfortune of others.

Here is the laughter of faith. Abraham laughed out of sheer joy. 25 years earlier, when God had first spoken about a son it might have been just possible. But now! Yet Abraham’s faith rose, and he laughed at the sheer impossibility of what God said He would do. “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom 4:19,20).

Oh to be able to laugh with the sheer joy of knowing God, of having fellowship with Him, of knowing His forgiveness, and His peace!

(ii) The Logic of Faith (17:18-22). Faith is never selfish, never exclusive, and thoughtless of others. Abraham wanted the flood of joy to sweep over others as well.
* A Plea for Ishmael (17:18). “And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!” This was not a cry of unbelief, but a desire that Ishmael also might be blessed. Ishmael was still a stranger to grace, for being born in a godly home does not guarantee that a child will also believe. God has no grandchildren. All of Abraham’s faith and righteousness could not make a believing and righteous man out of his son. But at least he could pray.
* A Pledge for Ishmael (17:19-22). God gave Abraham a twofold pledge for Ishmael. His promise was based on what He knew of Ishmael’s heart. He knew that mockery at divine things lurked in the depths of his soul.

God pledged that His covenant would be with Isaac, not Ishmael. He also pledged that Ishmael would be blessed and be fruitful. He would beget 12 princes and be a great nation (17:20). God kept His word. The Arab world stretches from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. But, as God foresaw, they do not know Him, and are gripped in one of the most militant errors the world has ever known.

Abraham had clearly become attached to Ishmael. But a deep spiritual principle was beginning to operate, and climaxes in chap 21:10 “Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” As long as Ishmael was alone in Abraham’s tent there was no trouble. But when Isaac came there was trouble! (21:11)

In chapter 21 we read that “the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son” (21:11). He was not willing to give up Ishmael. Only after Abraham was willing to let go the flesh did he find victory. And what a victory it was, for the next chapter sees Abraham reaching the pinnacle of faith.

(iii) The Life of Faith. The life of faith is essentially a life of obedience to God. God had revealed the need for circumcision, and Abraham set about putting that seal to the covenant.
* It Demanded Unlimited Obedience (17:23-24). No protests or fears were allowed to obstruct. His son, servants, and even himself, all had to submit. “And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised” (17:24). He might have pleaded that he was too old. Or offered a sacrifice, or a donation to God instead. But he was obedient. He took the knife to himself.
* It had Limited Significance (17:25-27). With such a rite it is possible to go to extremes. We can say “It’s not really important, or essential to salvation. I can ignore it altogether.” Perhaps not, but it is the basis of further growth in spiritual things. At the other extreme we can trust in the rite itself. “If I do this I will be saved! It is the ground of my salvation.”

Circumcision also did nothing to change the standing of:
* The Righteous Man. Abraham was a righteous man long before he was circumcised. His circumcision only manifested his inner obedience of heart. It did not make him righteous.
* The Rebellious Man. “And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised” (17:25). Ishmael was also circumcised, but he remained a rebel to the end of his day. The number 13 in Scripture is associated with rebellion (14:4). Ishmael had no heart and no mind for the things of God. He laughed at them. Circumcision changed nothing.

THE FRIEND OF GOD

Genesis 18:1-15

The marvellous revelation and covenant of Genesis 17 were followed by another very special interview with God. It is this chapter which clearly designates Abraham as the “Friend of God” (James 2:23). God came to personally share with his “friend” matters relating to himself, and also to the nearby cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

1. THE INVITATION (18:1-8)
The events of chapter 17 were fresh in Abraham’s memory when he found himself drowsing in his tent door in the heat of the day. His surprise is aptly conveyed by “he lift up his eyes, and looked, and, lo…”

a) His Visitors
The abrupt way in which the three men are introduced in the narrative suggests that one moment they were not there, the next they were. Note:

(i) Who They Were. Hebrews 13:1 tells us that Abraham did not at first recognize his visitors, but the context of Genesis 18 & 19 makes it clear that two of the group were angels later sent to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, while the leader was none other than the Lord Himself.

(ii) When They Came. The warm fellowship of chapter 18 is set against the background of obedience in chapter 17. The heavenly visitors came when Abraham….

* Had Done What God Asked Him To Do. He had obeyed God in chapter 17 by being circumcised. Here is a major spiritual lesson. The Lord said explicitly “If any man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love Him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him” (Jn 14:23).

This unknown approach by God to Abraham revealed that really had a heart in touch with God. He does not act because He knows God is looking. For all he knows he may never see these people again. Even if he did know, he could not have treated them better! This is the difference between reputation and character!

* Was Where God Wanted Him To Be. Verse 1 introduces us to Abraham dwelling at Hebron “in the plains of Mamre” (18:1). This was the place of fellowship and worship (13:18).

This does not touch the question of salvation. To be a child is one thing; to be an obedient child is another. A father will share his thoughts with an obedient child, even though he will love the disobedient child equally.

b) His Vigour
What a burst of activity is seen in these verses. Abraham’s invitation to stay for a meal threw an enormous burden on the household’s ability to cope. Unexpected company can dent the armour of even the most organized ladies!

Abraham’s wife did exactly as he requested. No murmur criticism. She must have been quite a special kind of person. But note what Abraham did. He ran and personally fetched a calf, then set the table, and waited himself on his guests. No wonder he got on so well with his wife!

When God tests His children, he does not give us a Scripture knowledge test, or a MCQ paper! He tests us in the situations of life. He applies a little pressure here or exposes us to a difficult situation there, and then waits to see how we react.

c) His Values
Because of being what and where God wanted him to be, Abraham’s relationship with God had given him a whole new set of values. These values were characterized by:

(i) Intimacy. “Friend of God.” What a title! Twice in the O.T. (2 Chr 20:7; Is 41:8) and once in the N.T. (James 2:23) Abraham is called God’s Friend. We speak about “knowing God.” Abraham knew the joy of intimate friendly fellowship with Almighty God.

(ii) Instruction. God had a very special plan for Abraham’s family, and He was able to share it with him. At times we struggle to find God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Yet when we join Abraham in the secret place of God’s presence we find it less difficult to know His will for our lives.

(iii) Insight. Abraham was given spiritual insight into the great events which were to overtake the city of Sodom. “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?” (18:17). God told Abraham more about Sodom than any Sodomite could ever have told him. When we are in fellowship with God we learn much more than the world’s media can ever tell us. Had he done a survey on Sodom he would have had facts and figures that would have described its culture, commerce, art, religion, etc, but none would have mentioned the rapidly approaching cloud of judgement which was to soon cover the city.

(iv) Interest. Abraham must have been appalled as God shared with him the awful judgement which was so soon to fall on Sodom. Spiritual Abraham could not remain unmoved. His nephew Lot and his family were there. So “Abraham stood yet before the Lord” (18:23).

(v) Intercession. The latter part of chapter 18 deals with Abraham’s prayer and intercession on behalf of Sodom. His prayer is based on:
* Concern for his family, and the fact that they were about to be destroyed along with the wicked inhabitants (18:23).
* Conviction about his God. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (18:25).

2. THE CONVERSATION (18:9-15)

a) The Promise (18:9-10)
The meal was over, and the table cleared. Suddenly the Lord glanced at Abraham and said “Where is Sarah thy wife?” (18:9). As if He didn’t know! She was inside the tent, with her ear glued to the tent flap! She could not be seen, but could hear.

The Lord then gave a detailed promise, “I will surely return unto thee…and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son” (18:10). Sarah, of course, overheard it – just as God had intended! The promise had already been given to Abraham, now it was to be poured into her eager eavesdropping ear as well.

b) The Problem (18:11-15)
“Therefore Sarah laughed within herself” (18:12). Sarah’s response to the promise was cynical and bitter. It is easy to see her looking in the mirror at her 99 year-old body long since almost dead, she feels the arthritis in her bones and sees the wrinkles on her face. As she does so, she laughs at the total impossibility of it all.

In chapter 17 Abraham had laughed with joy as faith had soared above the practical and natural difficulties of his impossible situation. We may be quick to blame Sarah, but should remember the thoroughly unlikely prospect facing her. God had not yet appeared to her. And now she was faced with the outlandish statements of three total strangers.

We can imagine her dismay to hear the Lord say “Wherefore did Sarah laugh?” Confused she blurted out “I laughed not!” Fear now combined with deceit and unbelief. How gracious was God to pass over her outrageous offense.

c) The Profession
“Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful that promised” (Heb 11:11). This passage in Hebrews teaches clearly that at some point Sarah professed faith and believed what God had said.

Perhaps the Lord’s question came to her in peculiar power, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14). Sarah had to face that question. As she thought of the One who said it, and looked at the contrary facts of her life and the feelings of her heart, unbelief gave way to faith as she judged that the One who had promised could be relied upon to fulfil His promise. Sarah believed God and rested on His promise. It was as simple as that.

Today faith still looks beyond the contrary circumstances of life to rest on the character of the One who promised. Is it too hard for us to be what God wants us to be, to crucify the evil nature, to cast down evil imaginings and bring every thought into captivity to Christ? To be made sweet and generous and gracious and loving, when inside we know we are nasty and bitter? It is too hard for us, but not too hard for the Lord!

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” This question has remained unanswered for 4000 years. The only answer is found in Jer 32:17 “Ah Lord God! behold Thou has made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched-out arm; and there is nothing too hard for thee.”

The one thing that hinders God is our unbelief. Sarah must believe before coming into the blessing. How do we obtain this faith? Faith is merely the receptive attitude of the soul, begotten and maintained by God’s grace. Christ is its Author and Finisher. To receive faith we put our will on the side of Christ. To find His will we study His Word and consider His person.

Faith, mighty faith the promise sees
And looks to God alone,
Laughs at the impossibilities, and cries
It shall be done!”

REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE!

Genesis 19

This chapter presents the grim and fateful story of God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, proud and prosperous cities that once teemed with life and laughter. Now, 4000 years later, the Dead Sea waters ripple over the place where they once stood. No shells line the shore line, no fish swim in its waters. Death is everywhere. Science has recently taken a new look at Sodom and Gomorrah following the discovery of ruins under the waters of the Dead Sea. These may be the submerged ruins of these cities.

The world has always had a morbid interest in the story. Hollywood has seized on the theme and made several films of it. It has all the directors look for; violence, sex, danger, suspense, and high drama.

Central to the story is Lot who saw everything he had ever lived for burned up within minutes. His life story stands as a sobering reminder of the foolishness of living for a world ultimately destined for the same judgment. In the end Lot was saved, but “so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:15).

1. THE WICKEDNESS OF SODOM (19:1-11)
The scene presented here in Sodom is one of almost unbelievable depravity. Lust and perversion were rampant in the city, and threatened to climax in an orgy of mass homosexual rape. The perverted practices were:

a) Prevalent
The perversion had become “normal” involving “both old and young, all the people from every quarter” (19:4). It was an accepted way of life. It was not just one or two shame faced individuals sneaking out incognito with coat collars turned up. No wonder “the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord” (19:14).

b) Polluted
Much is said about these days about those who are “gay.” Many such people have real problems and deserve sympathy. But such sympathy cannot be allowed to overrule what is clear Biblical condemnation and prohibition of such practices (Romans 1:24-27).

Note also that, while homosexuality was rife, the very telling reference of Ezekiel 16:49 describes the iniquity of Sodom as “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness…neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Familiar? It was these sins which, just as much as the sexual perversion, called down God’s judgment on the city. We have no room for complacency.

c) Persistent
The Sodomites persistently pressed home their demands to Lot (19:4). Likewise, today’s “gay” communities have become increasingly persistent, demanding their rights, and crusading for their cause. So have other pressure groups, e.g. for abolition of capital punishment, abortion, homosexuality.

d) Pugnacious
“They pressed sore…and came near to break down the door” (19:9). The ugly situation was now dangerous. Sodom’s permissive society had allowed such practices to become so prevalent they were regarded as a constitutional “right.” Nothing has changed since, as today’s pressure groups supporting a number of anti-Bible causes militantly demand their “rights.”

e) Punishable
If society fails to punish this kind of behaviour, God will! Note how He did it – with blindness. So it was with Pharaoh, whose heart the Lord eventually hardened. So it was with the Pharisees, to whom the Lord said, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind” (John 9:39). This is the lesson of Romans chapter 1 where “God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient “ (Romans 1:28). This descent into degenerate blindness is caused primarily by man’s rejection of God.

The ancient philosophers said, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” Not so! Whom God would destroy, He first makes blind.

The N.T. tells that right up to the last moment normal life went on in Sodom. They enjoyed prosperity as never before, and had no idea of the mushroom cloud gathering over the city. “Peace and safety” was the watchword, when suddenly and unexpectedly the storm broke. When seeking to illustrate what conditions will be like when he returns to earth again, the Lord did not have far to look for an example

“Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed [them] all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (Luke 17:28-30).

The holocaust was so gigantic it “overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground” (19:25).

2. THE WEAKNESS OF LOT (19:12-38)

a) The Corrosion Of Lot’s Faith (19:12-26)
2 Peter 2:8 refers to Lot as a “righteous man,” so somewhere along the line he had come to true faith in God. Like many another he started well, but drifted away from God to live a wasted life.

Lot’s dangerous drift began when he “chose him all the plain of Jordan” (13:11). Thereafter it was downhill in easy stages all the way as he left Abraham, and “pitched his tent towards Sodom” (13:12). Chapter 14 tells us he had moved inside the city, and by chapter 19 had settled down, exchanged his tent for a house (the first mention of a house in the Bible) (19:2), and worked his way up to prominence.

Outwardly he was the smiling success story of Sodom, but inwardly his soul situation is summed up by the single word “vexed” (2 Peter 2:8). Perhaps he reckoned he could be a testimony and help clean up the city by his influence. Of course, instead of Lot influencing the city, the city influenced him! Chapter 19 is not so much the story of Lot in Sodom as the story of Sodom in Lot!

What a picture of restless discontent. Lot had tasted enough of the higher things of fellowship with God that he could never be satisfied with these sordid, ugly obscene things of Sodom. Where was peace and quietness? Up there with Abraham in is tent under the oak tree.

(i) His Worthless Witness (19:12-14). With the angels’ urgent words ringing in his ears, Lot attempted wake up and warn his family. Sadly not even his family took him seriously, and “he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law” (19:14). Even his sons-in-law treated him like a joke. With years of backsliding behind him, he was unable to carry conviction with his words and his testimony fell on deaf ears.

(ii) His Weak Will (19:15-23). A dynamic spiritual life can never thrive on worldliness, and over the years Lot’s growth in grace had been badly stunted. This was evidenced by:
* His Reluctance To Start. “While he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand” (19:16). It was tempting to hesitate, and the whole family held back. There was so much to lose! And so much still to be done!
* His Readiness To Stop. The angel had told him “escape to the mountain” (19:17). Mountains in Scripture always speak of closeness to God, elevated above the mists and fogs of the world. “The mountain” was the answer to all his spiritual problems.
But he was hardly dragged clear of Sodom when he began to protest, “I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die” (19:19). He pleaded to be allowed to go to “this city…a little one” (19:20). Poor Lot, he desperately attempted to hold on to some shred of the world. The mountains were where God was in the pure clear air of communion. The “city” was where the world was.

He had not been cultivating communion with the invisible world, and now that the visible world was passing away from him, he had nothing to hold on to.

The world’s Sodoms and Zoars are all alike. They have no security, peace, or satisfaction. May its well watered plains have no charm for us. May we view all its honours and distinctions and riches only in the light of Christ’s coming. May we be able to stand with Abraham on the mountain top and by faith see the smoking ruin of the world below.

(iii) His Wayward Wife (19:24-26). As they moved out under the urgent action of the angels, instantly the judgment fell, as fire and brimstone came hurtling down from on high. Hell rained down from heaven. The message of the angels was crisply clear, “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (19:17).

The angels’ message was associated with:
* A Command – “Escape!” This was no invitation, this was a command! It is fashionable to joke about “hell-fire preachers,” but their message is true and carries the stamp of divine authority. We do need to escape. How often we have felt the tug of God’s messengers insistently warning of judgment to come. And yet, like Lot we “linger!”
* A Condition – “Look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain.” Perhaps Lot’s wife was thinking of the trinkets and gadgets she had left behind, or more likely about her children. Whatever it was, she “looked back” and was turned into a monument to a divided heart, a pillar of salt. The Lord Jesus later embalmed her in the Bible as a warning to all, “Remember Lot’s wife!” (Luke 17:32). One crystal clear condition of salvation is that we let go of everything when we come to Christ.
* A Confidence – “Escape to the mountain!” This has ever been the Gospel message. The only place where we can confidently shelter from the destruction to come upon the world is at Mount Calvary.

The Gospel bells give warning,
As they sound from day to day,
Of the fate which doth await them
Who for ever will delay.
Escape thou for thy life,
Tarry not in all the plain;
Nor behind thee look – oh never,
Lest thou be consumed in pain.
* A Compensation – “Escape for thy life!” Lot and his family were offered physical life, a kind of fire-escape from the destruction that threatened the city. How vastly different and superior is Christ’s offer of “life more abundantly”! (John 10:10)

b) The Corruption Of Lot’s Family (19:27-38)
In the middle of the dark narrative the Holy Spirit pauses as though to lift the gloom by a reference to Abraham.

(i) What Lot Might Have Been (19:27-29). “Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD” (19:27). He had lost nothing. He stood on the mountain top with the Lord, perhaps not understanding all that was happening as he looked at the smoking ruins beneath him, but confident that the Judge of all the earth had done right (18:25), and thankful to Him that his prayers for Lot had been answered.

This is what Lot might have been. Instead he was a destitute refugee with all that he had ever lived for burned to ashes in the smoking ruins behind him.

(ii) What Lot Became (19:30-38). These verses describing Lot’s drunken incestuous seduction are surely some of the saddest in the Bible. How low we can become when we get away from God! Sodom’s mentality had become so entrenched in Lot’s daughters that they found it impossible to reason aright. The result was Moab and Ammon, from whom sprang two nations who became implacable enemies of God’s people.
My days are in the yellow leaf,
The flower, the fruit of live is gone.
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone.
– Lord Byron

But it need not be so. Yonder is the hill where Abraham stands. His whole life principle was to allow God to chose for him. His first question was never “How much will I make?” but “Will it destroy my tent and my altar?” In the end Abraham gained the whole land.

ABRAHAM AND ABIMELECH

Genesis 20

Abraham was on the verge of the most exciting event of his life. He was about to have a son, and God had even virtually announced the birthday (18:14). The appointed time was so close, and Abraham must have been full of expectancy.

But just at the time when he should have been exultantly expecting the fulfilment of God’s promise, Abraham proved to be strangely vulnerable, and the dark shadow of a former failure (chapter 12) fell across his path.

For years unseen and almost forgotten evil may lurk in our hearts, breeding failure and sorrow. Because it lies in those seldom-examined twilight zones we easily overlook many a thing which, if we saw it in the full glare of daylight, we would fling way with absolute horror. But the darkness and light are both alike to Him, and in the interests of maturing Abraham’s faith, God allowed the problem with all its ugliness to float to the surface so that it could be finally dealt with.

Sadly, the picture presented is all too true to life. The further we find ourselves along the pathway of faith, the more we are convinced that “in our flesh dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). The old nature is perfectly adequate to explain the departure from faith in Abraham – and in us!

A: ABRAHAM’S RELAPSE

1. His Diversion (20:1)
“And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country…and sojourned in Gerar” (20:1). God had told Abraham that at a set time the following year he should have a son (18:14). We would expect Abraham to have waited patiently at Mamre. Instead he took a diversion along the southern highway which took him to Gerar, deep in Philistine country. Here the almost forgotten agreement between himself and Sarah surfaced, and it was here he would repeat his sin of 30 years before.

We are not told what motivated his move to Gerar. Perhaps the memories of Sodom so painful, that he thought he should move away. What ever the reason, we do not read of any asking for guidance or any direct leading from God.

2. His Deception (20:2)
“And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister” (20:2). Sarah in earlier years had been a stunning beauty, but the passing years had doubtless taken their toll. However, after God’ promise in chapter 18, Sarah became miraculously younger and as attractive as she had ever been.

This rejuvenation was exciting. It did for her what people down through the ages have paid fortunes for, as it turned back the clock of her life. In her old age she would be enabled to have a baby.

But it would also cause problems. Some 20 or 30 years previously Abraham had been banished in disgrace from Egypt for passing Sarah off as his sister in order to save his own skin. By this time he should have known better, but once more he leaves God out of his reckoning and, ensnared by the fear of man, resorts again to the same shameful deception.

a) The Reasons for it:
“What was your reason for doing this?” (20:10 NIV). In verse 13 we find that years before, when Abraham left Ur, he had anticipated this problem and made a secret compact with Sarah. All through the years of fellowship with God this compact existed. True, they had not acted on it for many years, but it was still in existence, known by both of them, and just waiting for the appropriate moment to arise. Each time these circumstances arose they fell into the same trap, damaging their integrity and dishonouring the Lord.

* He had Formulated a Plan, and from the beginning had written a habit of fear and doubt into his future life. Away back in Ur, Abraham had planned for defeat.
* He had Failed to Deal with it. It was something belonging to the old nature, and which had never been judged. How true to experience. The believer finds old sins cropping up, and if not dealt with will bring trouble, shame and sorrow.

b) The Results of it:
(i) He Lost His Perspective. When out of God’s will Abraham’s perspectives became warped. “And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place” (20:11).
* Wrong Consideration. Abraham could only say “I thought …” (20:11). When challenged by Abimelech he could not point to any definite reason for his fear. His fear lay entirely in his imagination, yet it warped his judgement, eroded his faith, and compromised his testimony.
* Wrong Conclusion. He concluded “the fear of the Lord is not in this place” (20:11), and that they would kill him. Actually the place was so full of the fear of God that Abimelech could not even sleep at night! But fear is a powerful antidote to faith, and when that happens our judgement becomes very clouded.

(ii) He Lost His Assurance. “God caused me to wander from my father’s house” (20:13). What a heavily loaded remark! There is little trace in it of the joyful following of God’s guidance. Abraham trimmed down his explicit trust of God in the face of an unsympathetic audience. Abraham would normally never have spoken to God in this way – “You caused me to wander…!”

(iii) He Lost His Testimony. Abraham was well known in the land as a servant of Jehovah. They could judge the character of the God they could not see by the character of the servant they could see. Sadly Abraham’s standard was lower than their own! Abimelech had to rebuke him.

No wonder Paul says “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15:).

c) The Lessons from it
(i) The Possibility of Sin in a Believer. Forgiveness is a glorious reality, but it does not eradicate temptation. Here is Abraham travelling the same path after 25 years. In the interval since then he had built an altar, vanquished Chedarlaomer, met Melchizedek, and received wonderful revelations from God (chapters 15 & 18)

Yet after all this Abraham slips back into an old rut. His stay in Gerar is characterized by fear, deceit, selfishness, and distrust of God. When he eventually leaves, he does so with a damaged testimony. How true we are only strong as we cling to God in a sense of our perfect weakness.

(ii) The Peril of Sin in a Believer. We are never safe here. 30 years had passed since that sin had shown itself in his old life. But the moment he stepped out of dependence upon God, he stepped back into that same ugly nature he had in the beginning – unchanged after 30 years. Only by walking in the Spirit and abiding in Christ can the old nature be kept out of the driving seat.

We cannot throw ourselves into the way of temptation that once mastered us. We cry “lead us not into temptation,” but we should see to it that we do not court the temptation against which we pray. Abraham had been wiser never to have gone into Philistine territory at all.

(iii) The Protection against Sin in a Believer. Note the moral dignity which always belongs to the believer in the sight of God. In themselves believers are poor and feeble, not much in the eyes of the world. But in God’s eyes they are “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” They are as Christ is before God.

Balaam said of God’s erring people, “He have not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel” (Num 23:21). God may have many a difficulty with His child, but the moment the enemy enters a suit against him, Jehovah pleads his cause. “He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye” (Zech 2:8).

B: ABIMELECH’S REPROOF
“Abimelech” was not a personal name, but a dynastic title, meaning father, or king. He turned out not to be the unprincipled monster which Abraham feared, and it is almost as though the Holy Spirit delights to show that Abimelech’s behaviour was better than that of Abraham.

Abimelech, believing Abraham’s lie, had taken Sarah and put her in his harem. However, God had stricken Abimelech with a deadly disease (20:3), perhaps of such a nature as to prevent him coming to Sarah, and he had gone no further. The disease “had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech” (20:18), and threatened to extend to the whole nation (20:4). That night he had gone to bed complacent, but woke with his hair on end!

God spoke to Abimelech in a dream (20:3). See the absolute control He has over His creatures. God has access to all minds.

a) Abimelech’s Principles

(i) His Protest. “In the integrity of my heart and the innocency of my hands have I done this” (20:5). Abimelech protested that he was innocent, and was acting only out of his integrity. Abimelech showed a healthy respect for God, and concern for his people. He claimed to lead “a righteous nation” (20:4). We note his respectful treatment of Sarah, and was later determined to preserve her public reputation (20:16).

There was much about Abimelech that was commendable. He did not know God, but was doing his best. He is a picture of the unbeliever who does his best, but remains far from God.

(ii) His Problem. “Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife” (20:3). With all the “integrity of his heart and innocency of his hands,” Abimelech was “but a dead man.” For the first time in his life he was confronted with his lost condition. There is nothing like fear of personal and imminent death to bring one face to face with ultimate realities. So Abimelech was forced to face the fact that he was a sinner, that the wages of sin is death, and after death comes judgement

(iii) His Protection. “I also withheld thee from sinning against me” (20:6). Abimelech was on the verge of committing a grievous sin when God stopped him. We shall never know this side of heaven how often God has withheld us from sinning against Him.

Had it not been for the influence of God, this man would have plunged right into sin. He struck Abimelech with a deadly disease which prevented him from taking Sarah as his wife. Abimelech thought that a great tragedy had occurred, but it was really God’s kindness keeping him from something more serious.

At times events which seem tragic are really God’s kindness. Paul writes of the Holy Spirit restraining from sin. If God were not at work restraining from sin, man would long since have blown himself off the face of the earth. One day that restraint will be removed, and all hell will break loose.

b) Abraham’s Prayer (20:17,18)
As Abraham left Abimelech’s court he must have felt very small. He realizes he has nobody to blame but himself for the whole sad episode. Nonetheless, Abraham had an important priestly ministry to exercise on behalf of Abimelech:

(i) Its Scope (20:17). “So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants.” What a pity that we have no record of that prayer. Perhaps it was a confession and a plea to God to show Abimelech what God is really like.

(ii) Its Success (20:17). “and God healed Abimelech.” Abimelech may have despised Abraham, but there was not a physician in all the world able to do what Abraham did. We may often fail. But there is not a philosopher or politician in all the world able to do what we have been charged by God to do. What a responsibility and opportunity to exercise our priestly ministry to a sick and dying world. We remember we are:

* Holy Priests going in to God on behalf of the people to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pe 2:5).
* Royal Priests going out to the people on behalf of God to “show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pe 2:11).

(iii) Its Significance (20:18). The Promised seed was to come through Sarah. The whole incident was designed by Satan to either prevent the birth of Isaac, or discredit that birth and cast doubt on the father. Hence to safeguard Sarah, God acted as He did – by rendering sterile every woman in Abimelech’s household. The curse of sterility remained until Abraham prayed for its removal.

Abimelech was a heathen and knew nothing that Sarah was chosen as the one through whom the Messiah would come. Appearances seemed to show that God’s plan re the Messiah was about to be foiled. But God dealt with the situation merely with a dream. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov 21:1).

* * * * * * *

God turned Abraham’s failure into fullness and blessed him, and caused him to be an instrument through which Abimelech would be blessed and restored. What a lesson in God’s grace. When we slip and do some evil thing, we can come back in confession and repentance. God corrects our mistakes and makes us useful again. He turns life’s failures into fullness, obstacles into opportunities, and stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

“ISHMAEL MUST GO!”

Genesis 21:1-21

Some 25 years had passed since Abraham left Ur. In spite of repeated promises from the Lord that He would make of him a great nation (12:2) and that his seed would be as the dust of the earth (13:16), Abraham remained childless.

Many doubtings, distress, and difficulties had to be overcome before Isaac was born. But at last the big day arrived, and baby Isaac was born. What joy flooded Abraham’s household!

But if the coming of Isaac meant a laughter and happiness in the life of Abraham, it also presented a grave new problem. Isaac and Ishmael were to be totally incompatible, and it was soon clear that there was no room for both of them in the same household. One would have to go.

Herein are the lessons of the chapter. The two boys represent deep spiritual principles which are taken up by Paul in the book of Galatians, and which are operative in the life of every believer.

1. ISAAC’S ARRIVAL – A NEW DELIGHT (21:1-8)
The first verses teach us much about God:

a) God’s Person (21:1-2)
What beautiful truths about our God are presented in the opening verses.

(i) His Power. “Sarah conceived and bare Abraham a son in his old age” (21:1). What a miracle! Scientists can fool around with hormones, and produce pregnancies in some early 50 – year olds. But Sarah was ninety when Isaac was born. This was no hormonal fluke. It was a mighty miracle reflecting the awesome power of God.

(ii) His Promises. “…as He had said…as He had spoken…at the set time of which God had spoken” (21:1,2). Three times in two verses the complete reliability of God’s Word is underlined. What He had promised He was able also to perform. Abraham was at times impatient and unfaithful, but God never broke His Word. As Joshua later said “Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass” (Joshua 23:14).

(iii) His Patience. “…at the set time” (21:1). Men are impatient and frustrated by time as they move from past to present to the future. So it was with Abraham who saw time running out and his world slipping away. No wonder he wanted to speed things up. But God is not bound by time and is never in a hurry. He has no past and no future – just present. Everything to Him is “I AM”, it is now. Events were moving on exact schedule towards the “set time” which He had fixed.

b) God’s Provision (21:2-8)
Isaac is a beautiful type of Christ, God’s promised Seed, and the parallels between the birth of Isaac and the birth of our Lord are striking and significant. Both were…

– promised long before they were born
– born miraculously
– named before they were born
– born at the appointed time

Thus in chapter 21 we have the birth, and in chapter 22 we have the death and resurrection of the promised son. Here is the Gospel according to Abraham!

Isaac is also a challenging type of the Believer:

(i) His Birth (21:2). Isaac’s birth was a miracle. The new birth is no mere reformation, it is a mighty miracle.

(ii) His Joy (21:6). “And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me” (21:6). Abraham and Sarah had earlier laughed in unbelief and amazement. Now at ages 100 and 99 years old they saw their impossible dream come true, and laughed with sheer joy. What a picture of the joy Christ brings to the human heart!

The birth of Isaac is also an encouragement for a believer who at times the believer has to press on alone with his private doubts. God’s promises can sometimes seem a mockery until we see them fulfilled in our lives. But the agonies of waiting are more than compensated by the joy of fulfilment. It is then he exclaims “Who would have said…?” (21:7).

(iii) His Circumcision (21:4). “And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him” (21:4). This was God’s special mark placed upon His people.

The N.T. also speaks of the need for new believers to undergo a spiritual circumcision, “the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ” (Col 2:11). This entails submitting to God’s knife in our lives, separating us from “the filth of the flesh.” It is just as necessary, painful and messy as the literal operation, and the lessons are exactly the same.

Both OT and NT circumcision place on the child of God the mark of:

* Ownership. It marked Isaac out as belonging to God. Today’s believer also belongs to God (1 Cor 6:19,20). He is no longer his own.
* Relationship. It was the outward mark of God’s covenant with His people (Gen 17:11). So the deepest mark of a believer’s relationship to God is not his profession but his sanctified life.
* Fellowship. Without it he would be excluded from fellowship with God (Gen 17:13). It was the mark of obedience to God, and without obedience there can be no fellowship.

Note that “Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old” (21:4). The eighth day speaks of resurrection. Only when the believer is living in the power of Christ’s resurrection can he submit to the spiritual circumcision made without hands.

(iv) His Weaning (21:8). “The child grew, and was weaned” (21:8). Weaning in those early cultures was a definite event, and marked the transition from babyhood to childhood. By the new birth we are spiritual babes, and we grow by feeding on the pure milk of the Word of God (1 Pe 2:2). With spiritual birth comes spiritual growth and appetite, and they are major marks of genuine faith. Leaders are wrong to feel that such newborns need to be entertained! The milk of God’s Word when wisely taught will not be dull and unappetizing.

If there is no growth there is something radically wrong. Babyhood is attractive, and mothers say it is a pity they grow up! But the same mothers would be distressed if there was no sign of advancement. It was this that distressed Paul about the Corinthians. Five years after conversion they still needed milk and could not take solids (1 Cor 3:1,2).

The situation was worse with the Hebrews. They were old enough to benefit from “strong meat,” and even teach others. But they were underdeveloped and still needed milk. This led to dullness and inability to understand such deeper truths as Melchizedek and the character of Christ’s priesthood.

2. ISHMAEL’S ATTITUDE – A NEW DIFFICULTY (21:9-14)
Isaac’s arrival precipitated a new crisis. Tensions erupted when “Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned” (21:8). For 14 years Ishmael had been the apple of Abraham’s eye, but now his hot temperament reacted with bitterness and anger, as he realized attention from now on would to be focused on Isaac, a baby scarcely able to walk. The resentment, hostility and jealousy boiling in his soul expressed itself in mocking the young child and all he stood for.

a) Ishmael’s Anger
“And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian…mocking” (21:9). At that young age Ishmael mocked Isaac, and exposed the state of his soul. Ishmael stands as a warning to all teenagers. He was brought up in a family where God was feared and known. He had also been circumcised and weaned, but all that had done nothing to change his rebellious heart. Abraham’s godly life and the power and presence of God in the home, all meant nothing to him.

Isaac stood for God’s Promised Seed, but Ishmael wanted no part of it. He mocked at it, and, like Herod later, “set at nought” God’s Son. In mocking he threw away all hope for the salvation of his soul.

Ishmael later moved out into the world, rapidly losing contact with his spiritual base. He became a hunter (like Nimrod and Esau), and married an Egyptian (21:21). Having mocked God’s Promised Seed, he made the wilderness his home, and took the world to his heart.

b) Sarah’s “Allegory.” “Cast out this bondwoman and her son, for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac” (21:10). Sarah’s response to Ishmael’s mockery of her son was equally heated. Her attitude may have been hard, but her action was right, as God took sides with her. In insisting that the bondwoman and her son be cast out, Sarah acted far beyond her own insights.

In Galatians 4 Paul refers to the incident and declares it embodies a remarkable spiritual allegory. Four people are seen playing their roles – Isaac, Ishmael, Sarah, and Hagar. All four stand in spiritual relationship to Abraham, and represent deep spiritual principles:

(i) Isaac and Ishmael represent the two natures in the believer. Ishmael, product of Abraham’s natural ability, stands for the old nature, the fruit of the flesh. Isaac, the gift of God and the outworking of divine power, stands for the new nature, and the fruit of faith.

It is the conflict of the flesh against the Spirit (Gal 5:17). The two are totally contrary. A complete break, no matter how painful, with the old nature was needed if the new nature was to develop. It was a hard lesson for Abraham, and hard for us. We love the old nature. But once we see its hatred of the new, no choice remains. This conflict teaches us a number of lessons:

* A Discovery. Ishmael’s true character was only revealed by Isaac’s birth (21:9). Only when a believer receives the new nature does he discover the real character of the old. What a painful discovery! Before this Ishmael may have been orderly and attractive, but he woke up when Isaac came!
* A Reality. The fact of a conflict confirms that two natures are present, and this is in itself evidence of the reality of the new birth. The unbeliever is blind to this and tolerates it. The believer is sensitive to it and abhors it.
* A Necessity. “Ishmael” still needs to be cast out. Any fruit of the flesh still needs to be treated in the same way. The fruits of the Spirit cannot flourish alongside the fruits of the flesh. Pet indulgences may be tolerated and defended for years, but eventually the message drives home – they have to be “cast out”!

How can we “cast out” any Ishmaels in our lives? God’s answer to the flesh is the cross. Just as sin has been dealt with at Calvary, so self has to be dealt with too – on the same terms as sin. It is not a question of a second conversion, but of a deeper consecration. Not a repeated salvation, but practical sanctification.

(ii) Sarah and Hagar. The N.T. has a very important application of this story which it calls an “allegory” (Gal 2:24). Galatians 4 teaches that:

* Hagar, a slave, stands for the covenant of Law. Her children are those who seek to win life by the observance of the Law. Her religion is based on Mt Sinai in Arabia, and cantered in an earthly Jerusalem (Gal 4:25). The Law is good, but it enslaves a person, demanding impossible standards.
* Sarah stands for the covenant of free grace. Her children are those who have been born of the Spirit, and found freedom in Christ. They are not bound by the spirit of “must”, but by the promptings of spontaneous gratitude. This covenant is based on God’s free grace, and is cantered on “Jerusalem which is above” (Gal 4:26).

The Galatians were holding on to nature, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” In chapter 4:22-31 Paul develops this contrast. Those who are born after the flesh are the spiritual descendants of Hagar, great in number, but nevertheless under the Law, and seeking salvation through the impossible task of making sinful flesh keep the law of God.

Salvation was made to depend on something man could do or keep. To make salvation dependent on man is to set it aside. Hagar and her son must be cast out, and all Abraham’s hopes must depend only on God and what He provided in the person of Isaac.

c) Abraham’s Action (21:12-14)
Sarah’s demand was “very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son” (21:11). As father of both Isaac and Ishmael Abraham could not work out a solution to the problem. Then God spoke. Though Sarah’s attitude was wrong, her action was right. The two families could not exist together. Hagar and Ishmael had to go.

Abraham’s action was:

(i) Necessary. Before the impending crisis of chapter 22 could be met, Abraham’s connection with Hagar and her child had to be dealt with. Perhaps his heart still clung to Hagar, or he felt the need to hold on to Ishmael in case anything happened to Isaac. Whatever it was, he was willing to remove from his heart all that would frustrate God’s operation in his life. Are we?

(ii) Decisive. Note that Abraham’s action was decisive. He “rose up early in the morning” (21:14), and sent Hagar away, so that all his attention might be focused on Isaac. This involved firm, definitive action.

(iii) Compensated. When God takes away an “Ishmael” He gives an “Isaac.” He takes away some self-indulgence, but replaces it with some fruit of the Spirit to take its place and satisfy the longings of the heart.

(iv) Difficult. It was difficult for Abraham, but discipleship demands discipline, and is always necessary to spiritual blessing. Letting Ishmael go was “very grievous in Abraham’s sight” (21:11). The Bible does not offer some ecstatic experience as the answer to the flesh. It offers a cross. Dying to the world is painful, not pleasant. Abraham wept his heart out over the whole experience.

The secret of Abraham’s success was his relationship with the Lord. Note chapter 22:1, where Abraham’s response to God is “Here I am.” When Isaac calls in 22:7, he responds immediately, “Here am I.” i.e. his relationship with the Lord was as personal, close, and intimate as his relationship with his son.

(v) Victorious. After the decision was made, a new surge of power came into Abraham’s life. He no longer feared Abimelech. He entered spiritually into all the possessions that were his in Canaan. The very heathen had to confess that God was with him (21:22). What had he done? He had fought no battles and done no wonders. He had merely dealt with the bondwoman and her son, and, in turn, God gave him a new power with men.

SURRENDER AND SACRIFICE

Genesis 22

At 11.30 a.m. on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Norgay Tensing hoisted the British flag on the summit of Mt. Everest, and became the first human beings ever to stand on the top of the world.

It was the climax to years of planning and training. The climb tested their tenacity and ability to the limit, but at last the summit was reached, and they stood where no man head ever stood before, 29,002 feet above sea level.

Genesis 22 is the story of another mountain, Mariah. The sides of that mountain were steeper and the summit higher than that of Everest. Two men can again be seen forcing their way upwards, and when at last they reached the summit, they stood on a plateau that represented the highest possible pinnacle of surrender, for one, and the highest possible pinnacle of sacrifice for the other.

Nor was Moriah was not scaled in a day. When God called Abraham he had this climax in mind, and for 50 years Abraham had been preparing on the hills and slopes of God for the final triumph of his faith. For him it was the avenue leading to his closest fellowship with God, and his greatest blessing. For us today it still reveals the secret of spiritual power and victory.

On the stage of Abraham’s life would be enacted the great drama of Calvary. As we see Isaac make his way to Mt Moriah, we see Jesus wend His way up the parallel slopes of Calvary. Genesis 22 was a dress rehearsal for Psalm 22 and Luke 22.

1.THE REQUEST
Life was flowing smoothly for Abraham. He was at peace with the world, happy with Isaac, and the Everlasting God his friend. At such a time, out of the blue, there burst on him the severest trial of his life. It concerned Isaac, the child of promise, the laughter of his life.

Although many are called to go through trials, God plans each crisis to develop within us the capacity for trust and faith. He wants us to learn that we can give up the creature only insofar as we know the Creator.

In sending away Ishmael Abraham sent away a weakness. That was not too difficult. We all may love our weaknesses, but we really deep down want to be rid of them and the powerful drives which produce them. Surrendering our strengths is different. these are our gifts which God has given us.

a) The Time Of The Test
“And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham” (22:1). “after these things.” What things? All that had gone before, climaxing in the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael. Again and again Abraham had been challenged to surrender. He had sacrificed the well-watered plains of Jordan, then the gifts of the King of Sodom, then Ishmael, and with each surrender he was learning, preparing for the ultimate challenge.

God never sends a trial without preparing us first of all. We are set to climb the lower peaks before urged to the loftier ranges. Significantly, God never tested Lot. He didn’t have to. His carnal life was so obviously empty that tests were superfluous. But God tested Abraham.

b) The Nature Of The Test
“God did tempt Abraham” (22:1). The basic meaning of “tempt” is to “test” or “prove.” Like an engineer tests his structure to prove, not to himself, but to the public that it is strong. So it was with Abraham. God knew what Abraham would do. Years before he had said, “I know him” (18:19). But Abraham, Sarah, and all around must know that the Lord Himself meant more to Abraham than even Isaac.

This helps us explain much that would otherwise be perplexing. Peter speaks of the trial of our faith being more precious than gold; as gold is refined by fire, so faith is refined by trials; in the end it will be to praise, honour, and glory (1 Peter 1:7). Hence James says “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (manifold trials)” (James 1:2).

c) The Object Of The Test
“Thy son, thine only Isaac, whom thou lovest.” This is the first occurrence of “love” in the Bible, and it is significant that it does not occur in connection with a husband and wife, or mother and children, or even a man’s love for God. Instead it is used of the love of a Father for His Son – “Thine only son whom thou lovest.”

Where in all the Bible is there a chapter like Genesis 22 for displaying what Calvary meant to God the Father? Psalm 69, Isaiah 53, and Psalm 22 all show what Calvary meant to the Son. But it takes Genesis 22 to teach in type how that God “spared not His own Son” (Rom 8:32). This is central to the chapter. Abraham features more prominently than Isaac. It is the affections of the Father’s heart which are here on display.

2. THE RESPONSE

a) Obedience
Prompt obedience was one of Abraham’s characteristics. When first called “he went out” (Heb 118:). When commanded to circumcise his household he instantly obeyed. Now to obey this most grievous of all commands, he rose early in the morning (22:3). Obedience, so hard to the human heart, is so precious to God (22:18).

Note that the obedience was:

(i) Instant. Abraham did not hang around, putting it off, hoping that things through time would work out differently.

(ii) Unquestioning. Abraham could have started to argue with God. Why? Did He not know that this was the son through whom blessing was to flow to the nations?

(iii) Complete. Abraham’s obedience went “all the way,” even to the taking of the knife to slay his son.

Two things are necessary for such a course of steady action. The Spirit of God to give power, and the Word of God to give direction, like an engine on a railway track.

b) Worship
When they reached their destination Abraham said “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship” (22:5). Worship was at the very heart of Abraham’s life. It was central. If we were in that situation we would have questioned, etc. But Abraham worshipped! He was prepared to lose himself in thoughts of his God.

What is “worship”? It is more than thinking nice thoughts about God. The root meaning is “to bow down.” That involves acknowledging the Lordship of Christ in our lives.

David found himself in a similar situation in 2 Samuel 7. God had just said No to his request to build the temple. It was the greatest disappointment of his life. He could have reacted otherwise, but we read “Then went king David in, and sat before the Lord, and he said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” (2 Samuel 7:18).

c) Faith
“I and the lad will go…and come again to you” (22:5). Abraham told the servants they would both be coming back! Hebrews tells us that Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead.

Pondering the paradox facing him, Abraham grasped God’s promise that in Isaac alone would his seed be called (21:12). He had said, “I am the Almighty God” (17:1), and later asked “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14). Surely such an One could even raise Isaac from the dead?

But death was so final. Never had anyone been raised from the dead. With no precedent to encourage, Abraham not only believed that God could raise a person from the dead, but became convinced He would! Hebrews says so: “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Heb 11:19).

3. THE REFLECTION (22:6-10)
Few passages in Scripture reflect so vividly the message of Calvary. Every detail of the story is pregnant with meaning.

a) The Place
“The place of which God had told him” (22:3). Three times we read of “the place” where the supreme sacrifice would be made. It was reflection of Luke 23:33, “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him.” The one place foreshadowed the other.

Mt Moriah is the very place where in later years David bought the threshing floor of Ornan as a site of the temple and where the price was fully paid (1 Chr 21:18). On this very place where Isaac was offered, Solomon later built the temple. Today there stands in that place the Dome of the Rock, a Moslem shrine, built over the great rock upon which Abraham offered Isaac. It is from this rock that Muslims believe Mohammed and his horse ascended to heaven.

b) The Harmony
“They went both of them together.” This is repeated twice, as though for emphasis. There was no struggle, no murmuring, no rebellion no turning back. Just perfect submission to the will of His father.

c) The Wood
“And Abraham took the wood…and laid it upon Isaac his son” (22:6). Isaac was carrying the load given him by his father, the wood on which he was to die at the place of sacrifice. What an absolutely accurate type of Him who “bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull” (John 19:17).

d) The Fire
“And he took the fire in his hand and a knife” (22:6). Fire symbolizes divine judgement (e.g. the flaming sword at Eden’s gate, Sodom and Gomorrah, the lake of fire). It anticipates the judgement of God borne by the Saviour on the cross.

e) The Lamb
“Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?…God will provide himself a lamb” (22:8). The Lamb would be:

(i) Provided BY God. If a sacrifice for sin was ever to be found, only God could supply it. Nothing of man could meet the divine requirements.

(ii) Provided FOR God. “God will provide Himself a lamb.” It is not that God would provide a lamb, but that He would provide it for Himself. God was the object of the sacrifice.

Isaac’s question, “Where is the Lamb,” rings through the intervening centuries until John replies in the N.T., “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

f) The Solitude
“Abide ye here with the ass…” (22:5). What transpired on the mountain was between the father and son only. The servants saw Isaac carrying the wood up the mountain, but what happened between them they were not permitted to see.

At Calvary there were others present, but darkness covered the scene, and none saw or understood what took place during those three hours when Christ bore our sin.

g) The Ram
The ram was “offered up in the stead of his son” (22:13). Here the type passes from Isaac to the ram, a beautiful picture of Christ dying for sinners. Here it was that the Gospel was “preached unto Abraham” (Gal 3:8:). What thoughts must have surged though Isaac’s soul as he stood there and witnessed the ram dying in his stead.

4. THE RESULT
As a result of Abraham’s obedience, a whole new dimension of blessing entered his life. It resulted in:

a) A New Assurance
“Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (22:12). God of course knew all along, he had already said “I know him” (18:19). But faith is always proved by action. He would prove to Abraham and to the world that his faith was totally genuine.

This is why James take up this incident as proof of the genuineness of Abraham’s faith. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered up Isaac his son upon the altar?” (James 2:21). God will not be satisfied with a powerless and profitless profession.

b) A New Revelation
“Jehovah-jireh” (22:14). Throughout his life Abraham had progressive revelations from God as to His character. He knew Him as the God of Glory, El Shaddai, El Elyon, and the Everlasting God. In this incident he comes to know God as Jehovah-jireh, the God who sees and provides in every situation.

Apparently this story became so embedded in Jewish consciousness that the writer comments: “As it is said to this day, On the mount of the Lord it shall be seen” (22:14). A literal translation of this Jewish proverb is: “On the mountain of the Lord it will become clear.” When we get to the point of surrendering our hearts to God, only then do things become clear.

c) A New Blessing
This blessing was to come “because thou has obeyed my voice” (22:18). Obedience always brings blessing. It concerned:

(i) Abraham Himself. “In blessing I will bless thee” (22:17).

(ii) His Seed. “I will multiply thy seed” (22:17). Blessing would flow out to God’s people.

(iii) All Nations. God promised that through him “shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (22:18).

What a challenge to our own hearts! We long for God’s blessing in our own personal lives, and for God to multiply our spiritual “seed.” We long, too, to be a blessing to those “all nations” around us. Here is the secret, instant, unquestioning, and complete obedience to God.

The blessing points ultimately to Christ, and it was to be through Him that blessing would flow out to all other nations (Gal 3:16). Oh that God would make us a channel of blessing through which Christ might flow to “all the nations of the earth.”

Is your life a channel of blessing?
Are you caring for those that are lost?
Have you told of the offered salvation
Christ purchased for them at such cost?

We cannot be channels of blessing
If we consciously trifle with sin;
We shall barriers be, and a hindrance
To those we are trying to win.

Make me a channel of blessing today,
Make me a channel of blessing, I pray;
My life possessing, my service blessing,
Make me a channel of blessing today.

Post Script
Almost by way of anticlimax, the chapter ends with a reference to the children born to Abraham’s brother, Nahor. The collateral genealogy is intended to introduce Rebekah into the story, so it is not an anticlimax after all. The first fruit of Calvary was the church. We who were not in the direct line of promise at all, are brought in by marriage to the Father’s beloved Son.

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