Tag Archives: Abraham

God’s Promises to Abraham — Jon Mitchell

There is a reason God promised that Abraham would be the “father of many nations” (Ge. 17:5).   The Hebrews came from him through his son Isaac, while Arabic Muslims regard him as their ancestor through Ishmael.  And of course, all Christians are spiritual descendants of Abraham through Christ (Gal. 3:29).  No wonder his name was changed from “Abram,” meaning “exalted father,” to “Abraham,” meaning “father of a multitude” (Ge. 17:5)!  A study of the various promises God made to this great man reveals his importance to the overall plan of salvation revealed throughout the entirety of Scripture.

For example, the Lord promised Abram that his descendants would be “a great nation” (Ge. 12:2; cf. 13:16; 17:6; 18:18).  This promise was fulfilled when Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac and grandson Israel became a nation of great numbers during their time in Egypt (Ge.. 46:3; Ex. 1:7; Dt. 26:5), a nation which would become great and powerful under the direction of godly leaders such as Moses, Joshua, and David who directed Abraham’s descendants to faithfully serve the Lord.

Along these same lines, the Lord also commanded Abram to leave his country and family and travel to “the land that I will show you” (Ge. 12:1), the land of Canaan (12:5-6).  At that point God promised Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7), a promise he kept centuries later starting during the days of Joshua (Josh. 21:43-45) and ending in the days of Solomon (2 Ch. 9:26; cf. 1 Ki. 8:56).  This promise was based on the condition that Abraham’s descendants remain faithfully obedient to Jehovah (Josh. 23:14-16; cf. Le. 26:14-45; Dt. 28:15-68).  Old Testament history reveals how Abraham’s descendants repeatedly fell away from the Lord and as a result repeatedly lost control of their land and were taken into foreign captivity (Judges; 1-2 Kings; 1-2 Chronicles; Jeremiah; Lamentations; etc.), with the ultimate destruction of their claim to Canaan delivered to them by God through Rome after they rejected Christ as the Messiah (Mt. 21:33-46; 23:29-39; 24:1-34; Mk 13:1-30; Lk 19:41-44; 21:5-32; 23:27-31).  After the abominations visited upon them by Rome in the latter part of the first century AD, Abraham’s descendants through Israel could never again lay complete claim to the land possessed by their ancestors.  Even today, after the United Nations worked to reunite Jews with the land known in biblical times as “the Promised Land” in an effort to help them recover from the horrors visited upon them during the Holocaust of World War II, Abraham’s descendants through Israel daily fight numerous enemies from the nations surrounding them in order to hold on to just a small fraction of the land originally promised by God.  Since the days of the Truman administration, many in this country and elsewhere believe that the United States and other allies of Israel should help her retake Canaan’s land primarily because it is the will of God.  However, political pundits and commentators who claim that Israel currently has a divine right to the land directly east of the Mediterranean overlook the fact that God’s promise to Abraham was conditioned upon his descendants continued loyal obedience to him, a condition which they failed to keep (Je. 31:32).

Abram and his wife Sarai, or Sarah as she would later be named (Ge. 17:15), were childless when Scripture first introduces us to them (Ge. 11:26-30).  By promising to make of him “a great nation” (Ge. 12:2), God in effect was promising Abram “offspring” (Ge. 13:15-16).  After Jehovah declared himself to be Abram’s “shield” and promising him that his “reward shall be very great” (Ge. 15:1), Abram pointed out that he was still childless and that his current heir was his servant Eliezer of Damascus (15:2).  The Lord then promised Abram that “your very own son shall be your heir” rather than Eliezer (15:4), and then declared that his offspring would be compared to the innumerable stars of heaven (15:5).  Abram “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (15:6), a passage quoted by centuries later by Paul to prove to Judaizers that one under Christ’s covenant were not required to do the works of Moses’ law in order to be justified (Ro. 4:1-25), and quoted by James to show that a person is justified by works of obedience to the commandments of God in addition to faith (Ja. 2:20-24).

Abram’s faith in God’s promises to give him offspring was not always constant, however.  This is shown in the numerous times he dishonestly presented Sarai as his sister rather than as his wife in efforts to preserve his life from those whom he feared would take it (Ge. 12:10-20; 20:1-18).  It is sadly ironic that due to Abraham resorting to lying because of a lack of faith that God would keep him safe in order to keep his promise of granting offspring to him, the son God promised to him would eventually follow his father’s sinful example and lie about his own marital standing in order to save his life even after God made him a similar promise (Ge. 26:1-11).  May Christian parents today heed this lesson and be warned about the power of their own example and the influence it has on our children!

Abram and Sarai’s faith in God’s promise to give him offspring was shown to be weak on another occasion when Sarai convinced him to obtain a child through marriage to her servant, Hagar (Ge. 16:1-4a).  This polygamous union resulted in the conception and birth of Ishmael (16:15-16), which in turn caused considerable strife in Abraham’s family both then and in the years to come (16:4b-6; 21:8-11).  However, God was able to use their weak faith and the sin that resulted from it.  Centuries later, he would inspire Paul to use the polygamous marriages of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar and the two sons that resulted from them to allegorically illustrate the differences between the Mosaic covenant and Christ’s covenant in order to show the superiority of the latter (Ga. 4:21-31).  He also used this sinful episode to fulfill his promise to make Abraham “the father of many nations” (17:5) by causing Ishmael also to be the ancestor of a great nation (16:7-12; 21:12-21).    Yet, the strife resulting in Abram and Sarai’s lack of faith in God’s promise is felt even today as we see Isaac and Ishmael’s descendants still at war with each other.  One cannot imagine how different the world would be if Abram and Sarai’s faith had been stronger and they had decided to wait for God to fulfill his promise to them on his own time (Ps. 25:3; 27:14).

On yet another occasion, Sarah’s faith in God’s promise was shown to be lacking (Ge. 18:1-8; cf. 18:22; 19:1ff).  Even though God had already specifically promised Abraham that Sarah would bear him Isaac in their old age (17:15-19), Sarah laughed to herself when she heard the Lord repeat the promise to Abraham and wondered how she and Abraham could conceive after menopause (18:9-12).  God called her on the lack of faith shown by her laughter, even though she initially denied that she had laughed (18:13-15).  A year later, God fulfilled his promise to them in spite of her laughter and she bore Abraham a son in their old age, naming him Isaac, which means “he laughs” (21:1-7).  Interestingly, by telling Abraham to give the promised son that particular name even before the episode in which Sarah laughed (17:19), God proved that he knew of Sarah’s reaction in advance…and yet gave the promised and the blessing of children anyway.  What a testimony to his love, grace, and patience (Mt. 5:44-45)!

In spite of these lapses, Abraham and Sarah’s overall faith in the promises of God stand as an example for us today.  Their faith in God’s promises was what prompted him to obey his extremely difficult command to leave their home and family to travel to an unknown and distant land (He. 11:8-9; cf. Ge. 12:1-5).  Sarah’s faith in God’s promises, even though proven to be weak on at least two occasions as we’ve seen, was still the reason the Lord kept his promise to her (He. 11:11-12).  As a result, she is the spiritual “mother” of Christian women who follow her example of respectful, pure, modest, quiet conduct today (1 Pe. 3:1-6).  Likewise, Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of numerous offspring gave him the strength to obey the extremely burdensome command God gave to test his faith when he told him to sacrifice Isaac (He. 11:17; cf. Ge. 22:1-12).  His faith in God’s promises was so strong that he considered that God would resurrect Isaac  in order to keep his promise to him (He. 11:18).  Thus, his faith exemplifies what true obedience to God is all about (Ja. 2:14-26).  The times when their faith was weak also serve as a warning for us to be watchful when we think we are strong (1 Co. 10:11-12).

Undoubtedly the most significant and important promise God made to Abraham is found in the statement, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Ge. 22:18; cf. 26:4; 28:14; 12:3).  Peter pronounced this prophecy fulfilled in Jesus (Ac. 3:17-26; cf. Dt. 18:15-19).  Later, Judaizing Christians who believed salvation to be dependent upon adherence to the laws of Moses sought to limit this promise to those who were either physical descendants of Abraham or to Gentile Christians who were circumcised and kept the Mosaic commandments (cf. Ac. 15:1ff).  This prompted Paul to address the issue in his letter to the Galatians by first stating those who have faith are “sons of Abraham” (Ga. 3:7), i.e., his true descendants.  God’s promise to Abraham that in him “all the nations” would be blessed was fulfilled when God justified the Gentiles by faith, proving that in a sense Abraham had had the gospel preached to him centuries earlier (Ga. 3:8; cf. Ge. 12:3) and that under the Christian covenant Jew or Gentile who believe in God as Abraham did are blessed just as he was (Ga. 3:9; cf. Jn. 8:39; Ro. 4:11-12; He. 11:8-10).  Those Jews who tried to be justified by Mosaic Law (Ro. 9:31-10:13) would be “under a curse” (Ga. 3:10; cf. Dt. 27:26; Je. 11:3; Ez. 18:4; Ro. 3:10-19).  They would not find justification through works of the Mosaic economy which required perfect obedience, but rather through faith as the Old Covenant itself foretold (Ga. 3:11-12; cf. Hb. 2:4; Le. 18:5).  Paul went on to clarify that true sons of Abraham would have faith specifically in Christ by pointing out how Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” via his crucifixion (Ga. 3:13; cf. Dt. 21:23; 1 Pe. 2:24; Ti. 2:14; Ep. 1:7).  Therefore, it would be only “in Christ Jesus” that “the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” in order for them to “receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Ga. 3:14; cf. Ge. 12:3; Jn. 7:37-39; Ga. 3:2; Ac. 2:38-39).  This is why Paul would specify how the promises God had made to Abraham did not say “‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Ga. 3:16; cf. Ge. 12:7).

Paul later taught that the true heirs of Abraham are those who have become sons of God through faith in Christ (Ga. 3:26; cf. Jn. 1:12; Ro. 10:9).  This happened when they put on Christ via baptism into him (Ga. 3:27; cf. Ro. 6:3-8).  This is why Christians “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Ga. 3:29).  May we preach God’s promise to Abraham to others so they may become heirs as well (Mk. 16:15-16) and receive forgiveness and eternal life!

carolinamessenger@gmail.com

 

What Abraham Has Taught Me – Michael Grooms

Editor’s Note:  Brother Grooms recently made a sermon in which he expounded upon the points made in this article.  He preached it at the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC, on February 21, 2016.  We encourage you to listen to his lesson here.

By faith, Abraham obeyed…” (Heb. 11:8a). Thus begins the entry into the “Hall of Faith” found in Hebrews 11 concerning this great patriarch. To be eulogized in such manner would be a great honor; for such a eulogy would indicate a life of faithfulness to God. If one is to hope to be remembered in such a fashion as was Abraham, it would behoove one to heed the lessons learned from Abraham’s life. The scope of these lessons would far surpass the limited space available in this article, so it will suffice to reflect upon four events which tested the faith of Abraham and apply the lessons taught in his example.

Abraham stood the test of separation. He was called by God to leave home and go to an unknown place. Hebrews 11:8 tells us that “he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Though his destination was uncertain, his trust in the One who would guide him was not. He left that which was dear to him. He traded comfort for hardship, to an end that was unknown to him. He left home, and many of the relationships that went with it (Gen. 12:1). The child of God must also face the test of separation. For some, to obey God means to be cut off from family. For others, it may mean the loss of a job. For many, it will mean separation from friends. For all, it means separation from the sinfulness of the word. Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than the passing pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25). God has commanded His people, “Come out from among them, and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17). Separation is often difficult. It requires self-denial. It may require of one a loss of things or relationships that are cherished. Abraham left home with an end in mind. He did not know where that end was, but He knew that God had promised, and God is faithful. God has promised that He will never leave nor forsake the faithful. He has promised to take us home.

Abraham withstood the temptation of power. In the fourteenth chapter of Genesis, the account is given of a great battle which ensued at the Valley of Siddim. Four kings with their armies defeated five kings, which included the armies of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, who dwelled in the area of Sodom and Gomorrah, was taken captive. When Abraham learned of Lot’s capture, he gathered his 318 trained servants and pursued the five kings. He defeated the kings, delivered Lot and the other captives, and recovered the goods that had been stolen from Sodom and Gomorrah. Upon his return, he was met by Melchizedek, who was king of Salem and a priest of God. In his blessing, Melchizedek pronounced two great truths: God is the possessor of Heaven and Earth, and it was God who had delivered Abraham’s enemies into his hand (Gen. 14:18-20). Was it mere coincidence that Abraham would be reminded of these two truths just before he would be offered wealth and power from the King of a wicked people? The king of Sodom asked of Abraham that he only give him back the people who had been taken captive, and offered Abraham all the spoils that had been taken. Gen. 14:11 states that this was all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions. This must have been an immense amount of wealth! Abraham refused, repeating in his reply that which Melchizedek had stated, that God is the possessor of Heaven and earth. Abraham had vowed to God that he would not take anything from the king of Sodom. He refused on the basis that the King of Sodom would have no claim to Abraham’s power or wealth. Abraham resisted receiving wealth and power from an evil king, because he belonged to God. From this event, the child of God is reminded that we belong to God. The world may allure and offer wealth and power, but God alone can give eternal life. When tempted by the allurement of the world, the child of God must remember who he or she is. We belong to God. Paul warns of the dangers of such allurement in 1 Timothy 6:6-12. He warns that such greed brings destruction, and eternal damnation (perdition). The child of God is warned to flee these things and lay hold on eternal life. There will be many times that the world will offer that which is appealing. At such times, look to Abraham’s example and choose rather to serve God and trust in His power.

Abraham proved faithful in the test of delay. In an age of instant gratification, the Christian would do well to learn a lesson from Abraham’s faith in delayed fulfillment. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, could not bear children. This meant that Abraham had no heir. This within itself was considered a calamity in the ancient world. To not have an heir meant that the generational inheritance pattern was broken, and there was no son to care for the couple in their older years. This is why Abraham was so intent on having an heir that he considered making his servant Eliezer his heir (Gen. 15:2). After God told him that Eliezer would not be his heir, but one who would come from his own body, Abraham took Sarah’s maid, Hagar, as his wife and bore Ishmael through her (Gen. 16:3). He was eighty-six years old at this time. For thirteen years Abraham believed that Ishmael would be his heir, but God appeared to him when he was ninety-nine years old and once more told him that he would have an heir, but it would be a child born to him through Sarah. Sarah later laughed at the idea that she could bear a child in her old age (Gen. 18:12). These events show just how real the struggle was for Abraham and Sarah. Abraham believed God, but he could not understand how God would fulfill His promise. This was a major challenge to his faith. How many people would have given up on God because He does not work according to human time limits? Many people do. Dear reader, trust God. His answer to your prayers may not come as soon as you would like. The answer may not be that which your heart desires. His answer is always the best, and it comes at the very best time…His. Abraham had to wait for twenty-five years from the time God first promised he would have descendants until the time that God gave him Isaac, his true heir through Sarah. He was one hundred years old when Isaac was born. Through it all, he trusted God. Yes, he struggled. Yes, he tried to help God along. Yes, his humanity showed in his mistakes. Through it all, he never lost faith.

All of the previous tests of Abraham’s faith pale in comparison with the test found in Genesis 22. The son of his old age, Isaac, was the hope that Abraham had longed for all of his life. He was the fulfillment of God’s promise that he would have an heir. Through Isaac, God had promised to make of Abraham a great nation. Now, after all of this, God told Abraham to do something that would make the strongest man break down into a mass of quivering flesh. He commands Abraham to take Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering. As they ascended the mountain to make the sacrifice, Isaac bore upon his back the wood which, unbeknownst to him, is marked for his death. Abraham carried the fire for the sacrifice, and the knife with which he intended to kill his son. How every step must have been a burden for this father! How that blade must have burned into his flesh! How his heart must have groaned in despair as he watched his son by his side! He loved his son, but he loved God more. When Isaac asked of him, “Where is a lamb for a burnt offering?” he replied in faith, “God will provide.” Hebrews 11:19 reveals that Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. He was willing to offer his son, but his faith in God’s promise was so strong that he counted on God to raise him from the dead. In the end, God delivered Abraham from offering his son. It was not God’s intention for Abraham to kill his son. It was His intention to test his faith and prove that he was worthy. After all, this was the man who would father a nation, through which God would one day send His own Son to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world (John 3:16). Sometimes God’s will conflicts with ours. Sometimes it requires sacrifice of us. When all is said and done, will you be faithful?

gospelpreacher@charter.net

 

Heaven, the Better Place – David R. Pharr

Philippians was written from prison where Paul waited to see whether he would be executed or released.  The Philippians were praying for his release and Paul expected that this would be answered and that he could continue his work.  But he also knew that in death he would go to be with the Lord.  This put him in what he called “a strait betwixt two” (pulled between two choices, hard to decide).  One the one hand he wanted to be able to continue to help the church, but he also had a deep desire to go on to heaven.  Verse 21 shows his profound confidence of hope.  If he lived it would be in the service of Christ, but to die would be gain.  We want to look especially at these words in verse 23:  “to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better.”  Heaven is the “far better” place.  Another writer expressed it:  “knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance” (Heb. 10:34).

A Heavenly Country

Heaven is a better place because it is a heavenly country.  Abraham lived in this present world for 175 years.  He participated in and enjoyed many of the good things of this present world, but was looking for a better place.  Hebrews 11:26 says he and others of faith were seeking “a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”  Verse 10 says, Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

This present world will wear out and be destroyed, “Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13).  What will that heavenly country and city be like?  Many wonderful metaphors are used to describe it, including streets and walls of gold, and precious stones and pearls.  The description is the best that can be stated in human words, but when we have visualized it as best we can, just know that it is far better.  It’s the Father’s house with many mansions.  It’s paradise, with a river of pure water of life (Rev. 221), and in the middle is the tree of life.  “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 1:7).

Better Bodies

There is an interesting and significant statement in the story of Job.  In the midst of his great suffering he was aware that the time would come when his earthly physical body was going to die and decay.  But in Job 19:26 he declared his hope for a new body.  “And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”

In the New Testament we are told that we will have a “spiritual body.”  A “spiritual body” means a body not limited by the shortcomings of flesh.  Philippians 3:21 tells us that Christ will “change our vile body [lowly, earthly, physical body] that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).  John writes of the same thing.  “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

The saved in heaven will have bodies, spiritual bodies.  Our finite minds cannot visualize how that is possible, that somehow the dead will be raised and given bodies that are fit for Heaven.  That this is something beyond our ability to imagine is discussed in 1 Corinthians 15:25ff.  This is a text worthy of much contemplation.

First, the apostle uses the illustration of a seed (36-38).  A seed appears lifeless and insignificant, yet it dies in the earth to germinate into a marvelous plant.  Let us suppose we had never seen the process in nature.  Someone shows us a little brown seed and tells how it will grow into a large plant with green leaves and striking colors.  If we had never seen this, if we had never seen a pretty flower develop from a seed, would it not seem impossible to imagine?  The apostle’s point is that when we recognize God’s power in the transformation of seed into grain we can believe he can change our bodies from corruptible into incorruptible.

Then the text calls our attention to the great variety in the universe, the different forms of life, the planets and the stars.  The point is that if God could make all that we can see, why would we doubt that he can do things we can’t yet see.  We don’t know everything and there is much we have never seen.  The Creator who made our natural bodies can also make our spiritual bodies.  This is Paul’s confidence of faith and hope.  “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.  For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 4:18-5:1).

It is sufficient to know that God has promised a new body, a spiritual body.  It will be a body that is relieved of all weariness and stress.  The Bible says, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13).  “There the weary be at rest” (Job 3:17).  It will also be a body without the sadness, suffering, affliction, and death of this present world.  Heaven will be better because we will have bodies which can never be touched by afflictions and death.  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Better Companions

Heaven is better because of the companions with whom we will share it.

First, we need to know that there will be no bad people there.  Job said that there “the wicked cease from troubling” (Job 3:17).  No evil person or evil thing can be found there.  “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

Consider also that in heaven we will be in the company of the saints of the ages.  “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11).

The righteous living and the resurrected “dead in Christ” will be reunited and together forever.  “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).

Some have reasoned that because we will be changed that we will not know one another.  Others have argued that if we should know one another we might also be saddened by knowing of loved ones who are not there.  This way of thinking seems to count the possibility of that sadness as of greater concern than the possibility of joy in a heavenly reunion.  Paul anticipated that his brethren would be his “hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing” when they were in the presence of Christ (1 Thess. 2:19).  Arguments that limit our hope are like the reasoning of the Sadducees, whom Jesus said “err because they don’t know the scriptures nor the power of God.”