Tag Archives: Abraham

Abraham’s Greatest Test — Jesse Tubbs

When we think of faithful men in the Bible, we will see Abraham at the forefront. This great man of faith endured a lifetime of trials. Few men ever face such an array of challenges as those of Abraham. He is called to leave his homeland in Ur and go to a place that he has never seen and live in tents of unfriendly lands (Gen. 12:1-2). Then he must father a child when nature says that he is too old. God promised a son that would be his heir and the seed of a great nation, but many years passed. Well beyond the age to father a child, this was more than a promise; it was a test and Abraham passed it (Gen. 15:1-6). Believing God for a child at his age is a gold standard for faith. We will later see Abraham as Paul’s shining example in his great treatise on the doctrine of justification by faith (Rom. 4:1-3; 5:1). The name Abraham becomes synonymous with faith.

The close of one chapter in a life typically opens a new one full of opportunity and promise. But Abraham’s life moves from one challenge to another. The words “after these things” (Gen. 22:1) force our minds backward to former scenes of trial, hardship and challenge. Can Abraham begin to believe that the winds are calming over him? We are soon to see that is not the case.  Rather, he will face an experience more painful than anything before. This next test elevates Abraham above all others.

Here Abraham’s greatest test is introduced.  Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham” (Gen. 22:1). Some translations use the word “tempt,” which could imply that God could lead one to evil. This term is misleading, seeing that the epistle of James teaches that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13).

How do we know that it was a test? The Hebrew writer verifies this with a direct statement of inspiration: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…” (Heb. 11:17). The word for “tested” (piradzo) means that it is an ongoing process.  The verb phrase, “offered up” (prosphero) tells us that the act was already consummated in the mind of Abraham. According to A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the N.T., that same word is used 16 times in Hebrews. God provides Abraham’s heart an opportunity to manifest supreme trust. This is a great treasure.

While it is not clear how God communicated, Abraham knew the source. Abraham had such a walk with God that he was well acquainted with the voice of the Almighty. There was no “flame of fire” or emphatic call such as “Moses, Moses” (Ex. 3:2, 4). God simply spoke his name as a familiar thing “and said unto him, Abraham; and he said, Behold, Here I am” (Gen. 22:1b). Abraham’s response needs no explanation and one could hardly wonder but that God’s impulses find faithful responses. God spoke and Abraham obeyed as the compliant child.

Now we hear the specifics of God’s test of Abraham in these words, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2). Can you think of a bigger test for a mortal man? What is the greater love?

I cannot fathom being asked to make such a sacrifice. My wife and I only have one child, but the number does not matter.  We may lack all the experiences of Abraham, but we know the love of our child. Many would know someone that has lost a child to death. I have heard it often said that it was the hardest thing they ever did. Abraham was asked to offer his son as a conscious decision of his own will. He put the love of his child aside to obey the will of God.

Isaac was more than just an only child.  He was the son of promise. He was the only child of his kind. At their age, 100 and 99, Abraham and Sarah were convinced that they were too old to have children and would go without a child for their posterity. Genesis 15 details the promise of seed to Abraham and his subsequent faith (Gen. 15:5-6). The promised seed was for the promise of “a great nation” and the covenant with Abraham’s seed (Gen. 17:15-22; 18:9-22). His name was to be called Isaac. To Sarah, the idea of a child was so foreign that she laughed at it (Gen. 18:11-12).

God’s request to Abraham was no symbolic act. It was not a lamb, but a child. The father was to offer Isaac as a “burnt offering.” This offering was a sacrifice like all the other animal sacrifices. Both Abraham and Isaac understood this. Abraham split the wood, laid it on Isaac and took both the fire and the knife, at which point Isaac notices the obvious exception:  “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (vs. 3-7) Did Isaac understand that there was going to be an actual animal sacrifice? He surely understood the one thing that was missing, the lamb. Then Abraham replied, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering…” (7-8). This is a shadow of another lamb to be offered on Calvary.

Abraham’s heart was no doubt breaking and stretched to its limit, but his mind was fixed on God.  It is evident that trust is not always easy, but the faithful father presses forward to complete the offering.  The scene is intense and tugs at all the emotions.  This father is about to sacrifice his only son upon an altar.  “And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (v. 10).  The phrase “to slay” is shachat in Hebrew, meaning “to slaughter, slay, kill or massacre” according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  Abraham is in the process of killing his son!

God calls again, this time to intervene in the trial.  “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him…” (v. 12).  Abraham had already committed the act (Heb. 11:17).  Though God’s interventions spared Isaac, Abraham is credited with committing the act.

What does this tell us about Abraham?  He fully trusted God, holding back nothing.  Unflinching, Abraham fully complied with God’s request.  It is easier to trust for things that we want.  It is something else when it comes to trusting Jehovah for something that He wants.  Abraham didn’t waver, quibble, or attempt to short God.  He simply did what God asked of him.  He knew what the knife would do.  Of this, God reassured Abraham, “…for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (v. 12).  We also now know what God knew about this remarkable man of faith.  At God’s word, Abraham released his hold on everything.  Think about that.

What can we take away from Abraham?  First, we are told that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning…” (Rom. 15:4).  Abraham is our greatest example of faithful obedience and complete trust in God.  True reliance is a product of faith.  Abraham helps us to see what it looks like in action.  It is bold and extraordinary.  We stand in awe of our “father Abraham” (Rom. 4:12).  His faithfulness is our teacher.

Second, there are some things we can do to increase our faith to face our tests.  First, we can understand that everyone has trials (Jas. 1:1-3; 2 Cor. 12:1-10).  If men like Abraham and Paul faced them, why would God withhold them from me?  We can also allow faith-building experiences to work for us. Abraham’s faith was not miraculous; it came through growth, trial upon trial.  Remember the adage that the horse which jerks against the bits only gets a sore mouth.  Relax and let God perfect His building work in you.

Remember that God has put into each one of us the ability to follow and obey Him.  Abraham was not a superman.  He was a man, regular like the rest of us.  His example is genuine, as is his faith.  God shows us this man so that we can know how faith works.  Abraham serves as a blueprint of faith.

Finally, permit God’s Word to show us the plan and then endorse it with wholeheartedness.  Christ is just such a pattern to follow (1 Pet. 2:21).  Pray for greater insights like Moses did when he prayed, “I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know you…” (Ex. 33:13).  Greater faith will help us to say, as Abraham did, “God will provide…”

There is little wonder that this Abrahamic faith has God’s stamp of approval.  Tests, large and small, will come to us.  Just as Abraham trusted God, this kind of faith will also suffice for you, child of God.

Jesse and his wife, Vicki, were former missionaries to Trinidad, W.I.  He has ministered with churches in Mississippi and Alabama and is currently a member and former elder at the Madison congregation.

The Relationship Between Abraham and Lot — Bruce Ligon

Family relationships have the potential of being “a foretaste of glory divine.”  Such traits as love, patience, and humility are ingredients  which help make possible healthy family relationships.   Yet sometimes difficulties arise in the best of homes.

From  Genesis 13 and 14:14-16,  our attention will be focused  on the relationship of Abraham and Lot.  As chapter 13 begins, Abram, Sarai, and Lot travel out of the land of Egypt  and journey back into the southern  part  of the land of Canaan.  In verse  2, we have a picture of Abraham’s great wealth: “Now Abraham was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.”  Lot, a nephew of Abraham, was also wealthy as he had flocks and herds and tents   (v. 5).  It is a reasonable conclusion that the possessions of Lot would have been the result of Abram’s generosity.  In verse 6, the beginning point of the problems begin to surface: “Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.”

Verse 7 records there was strife (“quarreling” – NIV) between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and Lot’s livestock.  In the Annual Lesson Commentary, 1979 – 80, the author avers the reason for the quarreling was that the herdsmen of Abram and Lot were “trying to get advantage for the flocks and herds of their own master” (p. 244).  The magnanimous spirit of Abram is emphasized in his recommendation to Lot:  “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you?  Separate yourself from me.  If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left” (vs. 8-9).  Please notice how Abram emphasizes their relationship before  he makes his recommendation:  “For we are kinsmen”   (v. 8). Ray Stedman commented regarding this statement,  “That means we are tied together in the same bundle of life, and if I hurt you I am hurting myself. If you hurt me, you are hurting yourself” (www.raystedman.org/old-testament/genesis/letting-god-choose). Abram surely perceived that Lot’s heart had changed. The urgency of Abram making his recommendation is that he foresaw there was danger of a falling out between himself and his nephew.

The humility of Abram is emphasized in how that he gave Lot first choice regarding the land.  After all, Abram was under no obligation to give Lot first choice.  Abram’s beneficent attitude reflects the instructions of the apostle Paul  to the Philippian Christians: “Do not nothing through rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

Lot’s choice reflected how his attitude was  characterized by greed, selfishness, and ruthlessness.  The closeness, love, and respect he had for Abram, his uncle, had been snuffed out of his heart.  He chose  all the Jordan Valley (v. 12). The reference to it being “like the garden of the Lord” is a reference to the garden of Eden. Thus the beauty of the Jordan Valley, which was well-watered like the garden of Eden, must have been exquisite.  C.C. Crawford (Bible Study Textbook Series, Genesis – The Book of Beginnings, published by College Press, p. 98) quoting from the Jamieson, Fausset and Commentary, (Volume 1, p. 134)  commented regarding Lot’s disposition and choice, “A choice excellent from a worldly point of view, but most inexpedient for his best interests.  He seems, though a good man, to have been too much under the influence of a selfish and covetous spirit.”

It still should have been the case that Lot  would have sought advice from Abram.  Josh Romo well stated, “Lot neither deferred to Abram nor sought his advice on where he should go but rather trusted his own judgment guided by his eyes” (Studies in Genesis, The Denton-Schertz Commentaries, p. 173).  Lot’s choice of the fertile Jordan Valley brought him close to Sodom.  The results of Lot’s  choice would be  disastrous (Gen. 19).

Abram understood Lot’s weaknesses.  Imagine the deep concern he had as Lot went to the land he had chosen.  Abram knew  Lot’s move would put him closer to Sodom. Instead of despising the seemingly selfish choice of Lot, Abram’s love for him did not diminish.

Chapter 14 records that Lot is taken captive by a confederation of four kings who occupy the Jordan Valley and overpower an alliance of five kings.  Abram’s love for Lot has not abated.  When he learns of what has happened to Lot, he puts together  a fighting force of three hundred and eighteen trained men and sets out to Dan in the north. He is victorious near Damascus in Syria.  Now he rescues Lot and all the spoils (vs. 13–16).

The following are some practical lessons we learn from the relationship of Abram and Lot:

  1. Peacefulness. While disagreements can occur between persons or groups of people, this does not mean that disagreements must be characterized by quarreling.  As Christians, we must be willing to go “the extra mile” in maintaining peace (Rom. 12:18; Heb. 12:14).
  2. Humility. When one’s view of himself becomes inflated, humility will begin to vanish.  The result is also negative (Eph. 4:2; Rom. 12:3).
  3. Love.  Sometimes it can be difficult to maintain love toward another person.  Yet the reminder from the apostle Paul helps us to refocus on the love for which we should strive (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

Bruce preaches for the Bellville Church of Christ in Bellville, TX.

The Lies Abraham Told — Dustin Forthun

Abraham is a famous hero of the Jews who is credited with founding their great nation. His legacy stands tall over all time.  Thousands of years after his life, Abraham is heralded as the friend of God (Jas. 2:23), and his life is used to show what true faith looks like. God knew the kind of man Abraham was, and God was sure that Abraham would lead his family in the right way (Gen. 18:19). Today, following Jesus places one in the lineage that goes all the way back to this father of the faithful. Regardless of nationality, true Christians are Abraham’s descendants and included in the very famous promise made to him (Gal. 3:29).

While exemplary and highly praised, Abraham was undeniably human. As such he was fragile and vulnerable to temptation. Abraham was not that perfect man who would come to earth and live free from sin; he was but the earthly forefather of that perfect one, Jesus. Genesis chapters 12 and 20 record a pair of infamous lies that Abraham told. Before a look at that notable lie in Genesis 12, please re-examine verse 4 and the curious case of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. In some of the most famous lines of the whole Bible, God promises to bless Abraham and send Jesus to the world as a blessing for us all (Gen. 12:1-3). Abraham was also told that he must leave his home and his family. What Bible readers find next is Lot (Abraham’s relative) traveling with Abraham (who was just told to separate himself from his home and family). It seems rather obvious that God intended Abraham to leave such relatives in Ur. While this situation is providentially solved by God in short order (Gen. 13:8-9), we see a glimpse of Abraham’s poor handling of God’s word. Abraham somehow thought he could obey the command to leave his kindred with his nephew in tow. Here’s how Abraham arrived at that conclusion: he lied…to himself. He justified his actions and tricked himself into thinking that what he wanted was really all right with God. Abraham, of course, is not alone in this regard. Cain (Gen. 4), King Saul (1 Sam. 15), and many, many others have done the same thing.

Leaving his homeland, Abraham travels to Egypt where it becomes clear to him that his life is in danger.  Abraham was afraid that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take his beautiful wife (Gen. 12:10-12). Abraham’s plan was simple: he would say Sarai is his sister. While there was a kernel of truth in this (see Gen. 20:12), Abraham doesn’t really seem to care about being truthful.  He just wants to stay alive, and the truth appears bendable.

When Pharaoh sees the beautiful Sarai, he begins to court her.  He was told that she was unmarried, so why not? In a very strange turn of events, Abraham receives customary dowry-type gifts! In an instant, Abraham goes from being in fear for his life to being lavished with gifts. Learn this lesson: a lie can be quite powerful. Abraham is getting presents. Pharaoh is courting a pretty girl. Sadly, all of this must have seemed very, very strange to Sarai. The Lord, also, was unhappy with all of this, and he punishes Pharaoh’s house with plagues. Everyone may have said Sarai is Abraham’s sister, but God said Sarai is Abraham’s wife (Gen. 12:17). Here we see that truth does not change just because people say that something different is true. Truth is truth regardless of what anyone else says (or even knows).  God determines what is true, and it’s not up for discussion.

Many miles away from Egypt and many chapters away from Genesis 12, Abraham tells the same lie to Abimelech (Gen. 20:2). Sadly no lesson was learned by the prior events. Also sad to see is this blind spot in Abraham’s faith: he believed that God would take care of him as he journeyed, so why not just also believe that God could take care of him if he told the truth about being married to Sarai? Fear makes people do some very strange things, both then and now. Just as in Genesis 12, Sarai is still Abraham’s wife in Genesis 20 (even if no one said so). Abimelech, like Pharaoh, is threatened by God for taking another man’s wife. The word of God is believed and accepted by Abimelech who scolds Abraham for withholding it (Gen. 20:9). It’s interesting that both Pharaoh and Abimelech had no problem handling the truth. In both cases it was Abraham who seemed most uncomfortable with the truth of God’s word. Pharaoh and Abimelech had great respect for God’s truth. Once they were finally given a chance to hear it, they complied with its teaching. I hope this will be a lesson for us: we have God’s amazing, freeing truth, yet too many times we are afraid to tell it to others. We convince ourselves that God’s truth must be softened. We are so sure that telling it will get us in trouble. In some cases, we tell half-truths in hopes of avoiding direct conversations. Let these two pagan rulers, Pharaoh and Abimelech, remind us that God’s truth does not need to be hidden.  It just needs to be told.

Abraham was not perfect, and these events spotlight his perfect frailty.  Thanks be to God that we see a hero who is so relatable to us and from whom we can learn so much!

Dustin preaches for the Augusta Road church in Greenville, SC.

The Gospel Preached To Abraham — Roy Knight

When one thinks of the word gospel, one often thinks of Romans 1:16 where Paul says, For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation…” Others will go to where the gospel is described as the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-4). At the heart of the definition of the word gospel is the good news. We must realize that the good news predates the pages of the New Testament. The seed of what we will know as the gospel dwelt in the heart of God before the world began. Though not the first prophecy of a coming blessing to humanity, the good news spoken at the call of Abraham was certainly one that would ring true down through the history of the Jewish nation.

Paul wrote, “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed’” (Gal. 3:8).  This passage connects the gospel with the blessing that will come to all nations, not just the Jewish nation, through faith in Jesus Christ. This passage is first recorded in Genesis 12:1-3 where God speaks to Abraham and calls him away from Haran and from his father’s household. God promises to make Abraham a great nation and ends with the promise that through him all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

The significance of “when” Abraham is called is not lost upon the apostle Paul. At the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12, he had not yet received the sign of the covenant which did not come until Genesis 17. This is significant because Paul wrote in Romans 4:9-11: Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also…”

Like a long string of pearls this promise is reiterated throughout the book of Genesis. Twice again the promise is spoken to Abraham after God stays Abraham’s hand from sacrificing Isaac (Gen, 18:18; 22:18). The promise is then made to Isaac (Gen. 26:4) and finally to his son Jacob  as he lay in a vision at the bottom of the ladder of God (Gen. 28:14).

As God took the children of Israel aside to make them His own special people and build them into a great nation, He never forgot the promise of the blessing that would come through Abraham and his descendants. The prophets of God alluded to this blessing in their writings. Isaiah wrote, “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
as a light to the Gentiles…”
(42:6; cf. 60:1-3). Likewise Malachi prophesied, “‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of hosts” (1:11). Simeon, while standing in the temple and holding the infant Jesus, prophesied by the Holy Spirit saying, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Lk. 2:30-32).

Though speaking to Jews, Peter referred back to the blessing promised to Abraham when he said, “You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’  To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:25-26). In verse 26, the phrase “To you first” is spoken to the Jews, signifying that there will be others who would be blessed. This is a lesson he would learn for himself firsthand with the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10). Second, this verse signifies the means by which they would be blessed, which is God’s “Servant Jesus.” The verse also indicates the nature of the blessing: “in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” God’s blessing would be greater than physical blessings of lands and riches. God’s blessing would transcend this world all together.

The apostle Paul summed up his mission and the forthcoming blessing in this way:  “…to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Col. 1:25-26).

The gospel which was preached to Abraham was not only a message of hope for him.  It was also a blessing reaching into all nations of which we share today.  It is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Roy preaches for the St. George congregation in St. George, SC.

God’s Relationship With Abraham — Spencer Strickland

“So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal. 3:9, KJV). The words “faithful Abraham” are a marvelous and straightforward way of summarizing Abraham’s relationship with God. If every Christian living today could come to the end of his or her life and be described as “faithful” then that would be all that matters (Rev. 2:10). After all, Heaven awaits “faithful servants” (Matt. 25:21, 23).

The term “faithful” in Galatians 3:9 comes from the Greek word pistos which can also be rendered “believing.” In fact, most other translations render the text like that of the New King James Version: “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (emp. mine, SS). Rendering the word “believing” may best fit the context of Galatians 3 since Paul had previously referenced Genesis 15:6 when he told the Galatians, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Gal. 3:6 emp. mine, SS).  However, whether the word is translated as “believing” or “faithful,” the point is unchanged. Abraham was an individual who could well be described as “one who trusts in God’s promises” like Thayer further defines the word pistos in the context of Galatians 3:9.

Space does not afford a thorough look at Genesis 12-25 to see all the ways in which Abraham was faithful in his relationship to God. Nevertheless, a few examples might be brought to the reader’s attention to make the point. Abraham was faithful in obeying God when God told him to leave his home at seventy-five years of age (Gen. 12:1-5; Heb. 11:8-10). He was faithful in carrying out the covenant of circumcision (Gen. 17). He was faithful in obeying God’s directions to sacrifice Isaac while believing that God had the power to raise him from the dead (Gen. 22:1-10; Heb. 11:17-19). Thus, God’s relationship with Abraham can been seen from the standpoint of faithfulness.

Another way to consider God’s relationship with Abraham is from the standpoint of family. Abraham cared very much for his family. God himself said of Abraham, “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him” (Gen. 18:19).

It is interesting to consider that God spoke these words in the context of what he was about to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. Once God told Abraham about the impending destruction of these areas (Gen. 18:20-21), Abraham immediately begins to plead with God about sparing them (Gen. 18:22-33). Abraham’s relationship with God was so strong that he knew the kind of God that he served was a fair God. Hence, he says to God, “Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). Abraham knew that God would always do what is right.

Why was Abraham so concerned about Sodom and Gomorrah?  He had a keen interest in the area because he had family there. The Bible informs us that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had separated himself from Abraham to put to rest a conflict between their herdsman (Gen. 13:7). The Bible says of this separation: “Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelt in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent even as far as Sodom” (Gen. 13:11-12). By the time one reads the next chapter, Lot is living in Sodom (Gen. 14:12). Therefore, Abraham knows that if God destroys Sodom that his nephew is also in danger of being destroyed along with it.

Abraham cared for the well-being of his nephew because he cared for his family. As the record indicates, Abraham kept “whittling” down the number of righteous people living in the areas of Sodom and Gomorrah to see if God would still consider sparing them. From fifty righteous persons to ten righteous persons, God promises he will not destroy it for the sake of as little as ten (Gen. 18:32). It is a sad commentary indeed of the wickedness of the cities since God does go on to destroy them (Gen. 19:24). At the same time, God’s fairness still did not allow the righteous to perish with the wicked as seen in his sparing of Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family (Gen. 19:12-23; 2 Pet. 2:7-8).

Returning to the statement found in Genesis 18:19 that Abraham would “command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord,” we find Abraham’s concern for his son Isaac’s faithfulness. Specifically, Abraham knew that whom Isaac had as his wife would greatly affect his faithfulness to God. Knowing this truth, Abraham tells his servant, “Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (Gen. 24:2-4). Since Abraham wanted to keep his son away from the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites and instead “keep the way of the Lord,” he sought a wife for his son that would help him get to heaven. Likewise, Christians need to learn from this principle and choose mates that will help them get to heaven.

In addition to viewing God’s relationship with Abraham from the standpoints of faithfulness and family, there is at least one more standpoint that bears consideration. In fact, it might be said that this last one is a result of Abraham’s faithfulness and concern for family. The final standpoint to be considered is that of friendship.

The Bible has much to say about friendship. For example, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). Also, “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). One more example is, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:13-14).

Usually, when people think about friendship, they think about people in their lives with whom they share a close relationship but have no blood relation to them. However, one of the most impressive things said about Abraham is what James called to mind in the last part of James 2:23: “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God (emp. mine, SS). There are two other instances in the Bible where Abraham is specifically called God’s friend. The Chronicler said it: “Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?” (2 Chr. 20:7). Additionally, God through the prophet Isaiah mentions it: “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, The descendants of Abraham My friend” (Is. 41:8).  The very idea that God considered Abraham his friend is truly remarkable. If every Christian alive today were simply considered God’s friend that would speak volumes about their relationship to God.

In conclusion, may it be our desire to be more like Abraham in regard to the principles set forth in the word of God. Since “whatever things were written before were written for our learning…” (Rom. 15:4), it goes without saying that there is much to learn from the relationship that God had with Abraham. Abraham’s faithfulness, family, and friendship with God give us a wonderful picture of the kind of relationship we should all strive to have with our God.

Spencer Strickland has been privileged to serve as the associate editor for the Carolina Messenger for 5 years and has been preaching for 22 years.

Faith Shown In The Elah Valley — Jon Mitchell

The sun shines down on the valley of Elah.  The giant walks tall and proud close to the brook which meanders its way through the valley just north of Shochoh and northwest of Hebron.  Goliath stands at about nine and a half feet in height, the modern equivalent of the biblical record of “six cubits and a span” (1 Sam. 17:4).  James Coffman’s commentary on 1 Samuel cites John Willis’ estimation of the actual weight of Goliath’s armor.  With the bronze helmet on his head, the coat of bronze mail weighing “five thousand shekels” (17:5) or 125 pounds, the bronze armor on his legs, and the bronze javelin slung between his shoulders with a shaft “like a weaver’s beam” estimated to weigh 17 pounds and the head of the spear weighing in at “six hundred shekels of iron” (17:7) or 18 pounds, Coffman and Willis estimate that Goliath’s armor “probably weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds!”  It is definitely a physically formidable soldier who can fight so effectively while wearing such weight so as to be the champion of an entire army, which is exactly who Goliath was according to the inspired writer (17:4).  A champion soldier of the Philistines.  A confident killer.  A warrior who has successfully defied the entire army of Israel and struck great fear in their hearts (17:8-11, 23-24).

Facing him across the brook is the youngest of eight sons of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, a patriarch named Jesse (17:12-14).  The king of the Israelites, Saul, correctly recognizes this youngest son of Jesse to be “but a youth” (17:33), a na`ar in Hebrew, a child, a lad, nothing but an adolescent boy of no older than twenty.  Unlike three of his older brothers, this boy is no soldier (17:13-14), a fact not lost on his oldest brother Eliab who incorrectly thinks his little brother to be a foolish lark only interested in seeing a battle (17:28).  The boy is likely tall in stature like his king, considering that he was able to fit into the king’s armor when it was offered to him.  Yet he is still no soldier, at least not a full-time, professional military man who is fully trained to fight; he is not even ready or able to successfully test out Saul’s armor (17:38-39).  Rather, he is a shepherd boy used to carrying a staff, shepherd’s pouch, and sling (17:40).  The only reason he came to the Elah valley this day is because he is his father’s errand boy, sent to bring food to his brothers and their commander and  then immediately return home with some token from them (17:17-18).  The boy’s name is David.

If you spent any decent amount of time in Sunday School as a child, you know what happens next.  The shepherd boy chooses five smooth stones from the brook and puts them into his pouch.  Sling in hand, he approaches the Philistine giant (17:40).  Goliath approaches David disdainfully, mocking the boy and cursing him by his gods, promising to use his carcass to feed the birds and animals (17:41-44).  David replies, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.  And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand” (17:45-47).

The two approach each other, David running quickly toward the battle line to meet Goliath while taking a stone from his bag, slinging it, and striking the Philistine on his forehead.   “The stone sank into his forehead,” killing him (17:49-50).  David then cuts off the giant’s head with Goliath’s own sword (17:50-51).  Seeing their champion dead, the Philistine army flees and is pursued by the Israelites “as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron” (17:52), both of which were important cities in the Philistines’ own country.

The Hebrew writer would later allude to David while writing of the faith of the people we read about in the Old Testament (Heb. 11:32).  When he wrote that “through faith” David and others were able to “escape the edge of the sword” (11:33), he might have had the encounter with Goliath on his mind.  This would be with good reason, for it certainly would require an enormous amount of faith in God to prompt anyone to go up against an immensely strong nine-foot-tall giant who “has been a man of war from his youth” (1 Sam. 17:33).  What was it that made David’s faith in God so strong?

Past Experiences

When Saul protested David’s intention to fight the giant, saying, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth” (17:33), David replied that he had successfully killed both lions and bears as a shepherd defending his sheep (17:34-36).  Killing a hungry bear or lion is no small feat.  Both animals have been known to easily kill hunters who were likely stronger and more experienced than David.

David knew this.  He understood that it was not his own might and prowess that had delivered him from death from these predators.   Perhaps God had earlier bestowed upon David supernatural strength after his anointing when “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon” him, similar to what the Lord had given Samson (16:13; cf. Judg. 14:6).  Another possibility would be that God had providentially cared for David while he was fighting these beasts.  Regardless of the methods used, David was confident enough of the Lord’s involvement in his deliverance from death to say to Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (17:37).  He likewise told Goliath, shortly before he killed him, that “…the Lord will deliver you into my hand…” (17:46).

How could David have been so confident that God would protect him from death?  It was because he had remembered God’s promises.

God’s Promises

At some earlier point in time, Samuel had been sent by the Almighty to Jesse’s home because, as God told Samuel, “I have provided for myself a king among his sons” to replace Saul (1 Sam. 16:1).  After having had all of David’s older brothers pass by him and being told by Jehovah that none of them were His anointed, Samuel had asked Jesse if there were more sons available and was told that David, the youngest, was keeping the sheep (16:6-11).  After sending for him, the Lord told Samuel upon David’s arrival, “Arise, anoint him for this is he,” and Samuel did so (16:12-13).  From that day forward, the Spirit of the Lord was with David (16:13).

Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that David knew that he was God’s chosen anointed to replace Saul at some point.  Either Samuel had told him, or the Holy Spirit had somehow promised him that he would one day be king.  David therefore trusted God to keep his promise, so much so that he was willing to fight the giant Philistine while knowing that God would deliver him.

I am reminded of Abraham, whose faith in God was tested in a similar fashion at least three times. God had promised him that he would make of Abraham a great nation and would give the land of Canaan to offspring he had yet to produce (Gen. 12:2, 7).  Yet, Abraham’s faith in God at that time, while strong enough to obey His directive to leave his country and strike out for parts unknown (12:1ff; cf. Heb. 11:8), still faltered when he traveled to Egypt.  Rather than trust that God would keep him safe because He had promised him future offspring, he persuaded Sarah to lie in an effort to keep him from being killed by the Egyptians (12:10-20).  He did something similar later with Abimelech (20:1-18), again showing that his faith in God had faltered.  Yet when God told him later to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of his faith, Abraham unhesitatingly did so to the point where God had to stop him from killing his son (22:1-19).  He went through with it even though at that point Isaac had yet to marry Rebekah, produce more offspring, and thus bring God’s promise closer to fulfillment.  The Hebrew writer attributes Abraham’s willingness to obey what to any parent would  be an extremely difficult and agonizing command to faith that God would keep His promise to give Abraham more offspring through Isaac, a faith so strong and deep that he surmised that God would resurrect Isaac from the dead after the sacrifice (Heb. 11:17-19).  Clearly, Abraham’s faith in the promises of God, while in many ways already strong, had grown even stronger!

David undoubtedly had a similar faith in the promise that God would one day make him king of Israel, and his faith in that promise motivated him to defend the honor of God against those like Goliath who would oppose Him.  This was also a reason behind David’s decision to face the giant.

Righteous Indignation

Goliath had “defied the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:26), and thus had defied God Himself (17:45), much like Saul of Tarsus would later persecute Christ by persecuting His followers (Acts 9:1, 4-5).  The Philistine did this repeatedly, morning and night, for forty days (17:16).  The Targum, a collection of uninspired Jewish commentaries of the Old Testament, records the Israelite tradition that Goliath claimed to have been among the Philistines who had captured the ark of the covenant and had personally killed the priests Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli (cf. 4:10-11).  If true, then the pagan giant had a history of openly opposing and showing contempt towards Jehovah God.

Upon arriving at the Elah valley, David heard Goliath’s blasphemous challenge for the first time (17:23-25).  His immediate response was to ask the soldiers around him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?  For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (17:26)  This earned a rebuke from his oldest brother Eliab, but his indignation over Goliath’s insults remained undeterred (17:28-30).  His angry rebuttal of the Philistine’s blasphemy reached the ears of Saul, who sent for David and was told by the young man, “Let no man’s heart fail because of (Goliath).  Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (17:31-32).

Lessons For Christians Today

This account of David’s encounter with Goliath is recorded in the Old Testament for a reason (Prov. 30:5).  God inspired the apostle Paul to inform Christians that what was written in the Old Testament was written to instruct and encourage us, give us hope, serve as an example to us, admonish us, teach us, reprove us, correct us, and train us to be righteous so that we may be complete and equipped for every good work (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Such is the case when we see the faith in God David displayed in the Elah valley that day and choose to compare it to our own faith.

We sing a spiritual song called Count Your Many Blessings.  The lesson behind the hymn is to remind us of our past experiences with Jehovah and all He has done for us, just as David had remembered how God had delivered him from predators.  Do we regularly remember with gratitude all the wonderful things which God has done in our lives?  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (Ja. 1:17).  Everything we have comes from God (John 3:27), not the least of which is an undeserved salvation from eternity in hell!  (Rom. 6:23; Tit. 2:11)  Do we take such blessings for granted and rarely remember their Source, or do we continually offer our heart-felt gratitude to Him in prayer (Col. 4:2)?  Our honest answer to this question has a direct impact on the strength of our faith and our resulting willingness to obey God, no matter the perceived cost.

Just as David had faith in God’s promise to make him king, do we trust in God’s promises to us?  He has promised eternal life to all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9) and eternal condemnation to those who do not (2 Thess. 1:7-9).  How strong is our faith in those promises?  Satan wants to play the same trick on us that he successfully played on Eve: to trick us into believing that God doesn’t mean what He says (Gen. 3:1-5).  That’s why Christians who have been taught the will of God sin, you know.  Our faith is weak during those times.  We know what the Bible promises, but we deceive ourselves that God will make an exception on our part because He wants our immediate and temporal satisfaction which would come from “the passing pleasures of sin” to be fulfilled.  Thus, we would obey God only when convenient rather than choosing to risk the sacrifice of even our lives as David’s faith prompted him to do.

Finally, let us consider what easily arouses our anger and indignation.  James said that man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (Ja. 1:20).  Does God get angry over the same things which infuriate us?  Many typically get upset when our own honor is insulted and we don’t get our way, and tend to only shrug with mild irritation at best when we see the sin of others or our own.  Yet David was angry because he saw Goliath defying God and was motivated to defend his Lord.  Are we like him?

Think on these things, my friends.  Let David’s example motivate us to deeper faith and service!

carolinamessenger@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

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