Abraham

The Bride

The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Men are what their mothers made them.” A Jewish Proverb states, “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” Oliver Wendell Holmes also wrote, “Youth fades; love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.” The history of the world is told through great books, great wars, and great leaders, but it could be told through the labor and love of mothers. The impact of mothers cannot be overestimated. As the impact of a mother is staggering in the world, the loss of a mother is just as powerful. The loss of a mother is devastating and the effects ripple throughout someone’s life.

Abraham just buried his wife Sarah and Isaac was left without his mother. There was now no mother in Israel. Sarah’s tent was empty. Sarah had the secret hope for her child, Isaac, that he was the promised seed that through him would come the blessing of all the families of the earth. Abraham was well advanced in years and Isaac was still without a wife. The promise could not continue without a mother. Isaac needed a wife and Israel needed a mother. Abraham has already learned that God will provide when he was on the mountain with Isaac. The question is not if God will provide, but how?

I pray that as you see God’s hand you will grow in your trust of the Lord and providential care for his people.

The Lord Goes Before

            The narrator sets up the problem at the outset of this chapter. Genesis 24:1, “Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” Abraham was old and he was wealthy and he was blessed with an heir Isaac. Although he had a son, he was yet without the blessing of grandchildren. Grandchildren were essential if his family would grow into a great nation. As Genesis unfolds, we have to keep Genesis 12:1-3 at the forefront of our minds. Genesis 12:1-3 is the great promise of God and the rests of the Bible is the unfolding of how God is going to fulfill that promise. After God has given Abraham his miracle Son of Laughter in his old age and then provided a lamb in the thicket, Abraham trusts that God will go before and appoint and/or preordain circumstances to meet the needs to fulfill the promise first uttered in Genesis 12. Genesis 24:2-4,

And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and 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 will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”

Abraham makes his servant take an oath that he will not take a daughter from the Canaanites, but go back to his kindred.

            If you read the narrative of Abraham in one sitting, you would anticipate this request. After God provided the lamb for the sacrifice in Genesis 22:20-24,

Now after these things it was told to Abraham, “Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.” (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother. Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah.”

If you are just focusing on Chapter 22 this ending seems out of place. What do Abraham’s relatives have to do with the sacrifice of Isaac? The narrative turns to the death of Sarah in the next chapter leaving Israel without a mother and leaving Sarah’s tent empty.

The goal of the narrative never breaks from the overarching promise of how God is going to fulfill his promise. The overarching narrative is key for us to interpret the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. How is God going to make Abraham a father of many nations to bless all the families of the earth; a nation as innumerable as the stars in the heaven and the sand on the seashore? If you are not regularly asking that question as you read the Bible, you are going to get lost in the interpretation. It is vital to approach the Bible as one story and approach each section a part in that one story.

For example, if we are focusing on that one story of God making Abraham a great nation and giving his descendants a land, we will see why it is so important to Abraham that Isaac take a wife from his kindred and not from the Canaanites. “The descendants of Canaan live under a curse while the descendants of Shem (and of Abraham) live under God’s blessing.[1]” God promised to give the land of the Canaanites to Abraham and his offspring and remove the land from the Canaanites. Genesis 15:15-16, “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites (Canaanites) is not yet complete.” As one scholar notes, “If Isaac is to inherit the land, he must not marry among those who are destined to disinherit the land.[2]” The story of Isaac finding a wife from his kindred only makes sense if place it in the context of overarching narrative.

The servant responds to Abraham with a potential problem he sees in the plan. The servant is going to travel 400 miles and a month’s journey to meet a stranger and invite her to travel 400 miles away from family to marry a man she has never met. “Um…Abraham…what if she doesn’t want to go?”

The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:5-9)

Abraham replies, “God’s got this.” The Lord, the God of heaven, will go before to give success to the journey. Two important things to note: First, Abraham trusts in the covenant that God has made to him. Every time you see LORD (all caps) in the Bible is a reference to God being the covenant making and keeping God of Israel. Abraham trusts in God’s promise to him and his offspring. Secondly, he notes God is the creator of the earth. The Creator has both the power and sovereign control to orchestrate his world. God will do whatever He wills and there is nothing that can stop Him. (c.f. Romans 9:19-26)

            We may bristle and/or debate the idea of God’s orchestration and sovereign control of the world, but the Scripture does not leave it to debate. The Bible rejoices and celebrates God’s ultimate control. When we bristle at the idea that God is in complete control of this world, it reveals that we do not fully understand our role as creatures in God’s world. We are creatures and God is the Creator. Do you trust God’s sovereign control of your life?

            During the first battle of Bull Run, General Tom “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname for as the bullets and shells were flying around him, Jackson stayed on his house, calm and peaceful as if nothing was going on. General Bernard Bee saw Jackson and told his men, “There stands Jackson like a Stonewall. Men, let’s determine to die here with him.” Jackson had an unwavering trust in the sovereignty of God. Someone asked Jackson how he could remain calm in face of war, he answered, “My religious belief teaches me that I’m just as safe on the battlefield as I am in my bed. The Lord has already appointed the day of my death so I need not worry about that. I live my life and prepare myself so I will always be ready to meet my Lord, when death does overtake me.” Abraham, like Stonewall Jackson, trusted in God’s sovereignty. Will you?

The Lord Gives the Bride

            The narrative continues as the servant heads towards his master’s homeland. He travels 400 miles and arrives at a well and prays to LORD to show steadfast faithfulness to fulfill his promise,

Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.” (Genesis 24:10-14)

The servant prays for a sign to confirm God’s will for he wants to know the one God has appointed for Isaac. God is in charge of these events.

            The test would show two things. First, it would show that the woman would be kind to strangers by offering them a drink. Second, it would show her persistence and work ethic for providing water for the 10 camels would have been difficult task. As one scholar notes, “A camel that has gone a few days without water usually can drink as much as 25 gallons. Ancient jars used for drawing water usually held no more than three gallons, in other words, this offer involves perhaps 80-100 drawings from the well.[3]” The servant wanted to affirm God’s will rather than test his will. He wanted to see who God appointed. And of course, as promised, God gives a bride, Genesis, 24:15, “Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder.” This is no random meeting, but the orchestration of the God of heaven.

The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen.” Then the young woman ran and told her mother's household about these things. (Genesis 24:16-28)

The servant gives all the credit to the LORD (all caps). The covenant-making God of Israel continues to show he is the covenant-keeping God of Israel. The LORD has appointed a bride.

            The church should not be surprised that God has appointed a bride for Isaac for we know that God continues to appoint a Bride. The church is the bride of Christ and God is the one who appoints or elects or chooses people to be part of the Bride. God’s sovereign and appointing hand is woven throughout the New Testament, but let me draw attention to a few verses to explicitly show God electing love.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16)

And when the Gentiles heard this (the gospel), they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

There is no controversy here. God is in complete sovereign control. He appointed a bride for Isaac and he appoints a Bride for the Messiah. The LORD shows steadfast love and faithfulness to his people, because of his promise which is why when the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign control it elicits praise to God, not controversy.

            We were dead in our trespasses and sins and were made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:3-4). We were alienated and hostile in mind and we were reconciled through the body of Jesus on the cross. We were slaves to sin and were made slaves to righteousness. God would have been right to leave us in our sin, but he appointed his Son to redeem us from our sin and to bring us into his family. Galatians 4:3-5,

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:3-5)

The reason the doctrine of election elicits praise is because we know what we deserve. We know where we would be without God. We deserve hell, but God sent Jesus to experience hell for us on the cross. After bearing the wrath of God, Jesus was raised from the dead ascended to heaven to the right hand of God receiving the name that is above all names. He sent his Holy Spirit from heaven to call us to God so that we would be called the Bride of Christ. We were appointed by grace to believe. We did not earn it, but we received it. God appoints His Bride.

Non-Christian, God invites you to be part of his family. He invites you to be united or wedded with Christ. God invites all sinners to repent or turn from their sins and trust in Jesus death and resurrection for your salvation. Jesus is the perfect bridegroom who laid down his life for His bride. He pursues us with his love. The Christian life is an intimate relationship with God so much it is pictured as a Husband and Wife. Do not resist his call, turn from your sin and trust in his death on your behalf. He is the Redeemer and the Bridgegroom.

Rebekah ran home and told her family. The servant recounts Abraham’s story to Rebekah’s father, Bethuel and he brother Laban (who we will see later) of God’s covenant faithfulness. After retelling the story of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, the servant turns to the family and asks, will you do likewise? Genesis 24:47-49,

Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.”

Will they see God’s hand? Will the accept or reject it?

Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken.” When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD. (Genesis 24:50-52)

It is clear to all involved that God appointed a bride for Isaac. After the family accepts God’s will, will the bride?

The Lord Guides the Bride

            God has prospered the journey of the servant, but Rebekah still has not chosen to leave. Rebekah’s brother and mother ask for her to remain for 10 days before the journey, but the servant is adamant that they must not delay. “And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” Remember how difficult this decision would have been. She was being asked to leave her entire family and home and her life to go with a stranger. Will she leave it all for the promise of God? Will we? We know the end of the story, but in that moment, Rebekah is faced with the question, “Will you leave all for the LORD?” It’s a question that Rebekah had to answer, but it’s a question we all have to answer. Will you leave all for the LORD?

Rebekah responds, “I will go.” Rebekah trusted God’s promise as she left they blessed her saying, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” (Genesis 24:60) Rebekah was leaving all for the promise of God to become the mother in Israel.

            God guided Rebekah. He enabled her to trust Him. God will always guide his people. Genesis 24:62-67,

Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death.

There was now a mother in Israel to continue the promised seed of the woman. Rebekah came into the tent of Sarah to continue the line of mothers who would bear offspring all the way to a young Jewish teenager, Mary. When God told her she was going to bear the promised seed, Mary, like Rebekah, before her, said, “I am your servant. (I will go) …let it be according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).

            God used a long line of obedient mothers to bring forth the one and only Son of God who would save his people from their sins. And God will continue to use mothers to shape men and women to trust in the providential care of God. God has always guided his Bride and will always guide his Bride. Sarah’s hope for Isaac far exceeded her wildest imagination as Mary’s hope for her Son, Jesus, far exceeded the things she treasured and pondered in her heart. The world was saved through the seed of a woman. Let us always be reminded of the precious gift of mothers and the precious gift of life that comes through them. Mothers are an ever-present reminded not only of the gift of life we possess, but the gift of eternal life we can possess by trusting in the One born of woman and born of God. As God has provided a mother for us so also God has always provided a mother in Israel to bring forth the Son. Beloved, let the gift of mothers provide you a window to see the hand of God’s providential appointing gracious love.

 

[1] Greidanus, Sydney. 237.

[2] Hamilton, Genesis 18-50, 140.

[3] Walton, Genesis 530.

The Sacrifice

“Dad, will you come with me?” It may seem like a simple question from child to his father, but it is pregnant with meaning. Will you come with me to comfort me in my fear? Will you come with me to encourage me along the way? Will you come with me so I am not alone? It is a parent’s job to comfort and encourage their children. We want to protect them from suffering and pain, and yet, we know that is only through suffering they can learn how to truly rely on God. Trials are the chisel in God’s hand to cut off worldliness and self-righteousness. The world looks at our suffering and says, “Why me?” while the Christian looks at suffering and says, “Teach me.”

            How do you view suffering? Is suffering a tool in the hands of God Almighty to mold and shape you into the image of Jesus, or is suffering the cruel hand of circumstances designed to ruin your life? God’s Word says,

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16-18)

No one enjoys suffering in the moment, but we can rejoice because we know what suffering will produce in us. Suffering is preparing us for the hope of glory.

            As a child looks to his parents and says, “Will you come with me?” when they are heading onto fear, we often look to the Lord during our trials and say, “Are you with me? Will you take care of me? Will you get me through this?” The Lord shows his people in Genesis 22 that He will always be with them. I pray that whatever trial you are in and whatever trial you will go through that you will trust God’s heart as Charles Spurgeon writes, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” Allow God’s Word to chisel away your self-reliance and self-righteousness by transforming your view of trials.

The Lord Tests His People through Sacrifice

Abraham and Sarah waited for 25 years for God’s promise of a child. They laughed in disbelief when God told them they would have a child. Their disbelief turned to joy when God gave them Isaac, the son of laughter. After waiting for 25 years for an heir, they finally received a child, but now God gives a seemingly impossible request. Genesis 22:1-2,

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

God tests Abraham. A “testing” shows what someone is really like usually through hardship and trials. Will you trust me Abraham? Abraham had demonstrated several times in his life a distrust of God in the midst of trials. During his years of waiting for a child, he attempted to fulfill God’s promise himself through Sarah’s servant, Hagar. When he was tested in a foreign land, he lied and claimed Sarah was his sister twice. Abraham believed in God’s promise, but during times of trials his actions did not always demonstrate that belief.

God is not indifferent or unaware of the difficulty of the request. God says, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love.” The repetition is not random. God understands this test will be difficult for Abraham as he understands the test will be difficult for us. Unlike in the past, Abraham did not question God, but he obeyed. Genesis 22:3-4,

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.

One can only imagine what Abraham was thinking during this 3-day journey. His mind would have gone to God’s promise to make him the father of a multitude of nations through Isaac. He would have thought about what to tell Sarah. He would have thought of how God miraculously gave him Isaac in the first or maybe how he didn’t trust God by having Ishmael.

 We don’t know what he thought, but we know he obeyed. It is interesting that God made him take a 3-day journey to obey. This decision would be one that would require deep resolve. Abraham believed God, Genesis 22:5, “Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Notice that Abraham confessed his faith to the servants. The boy and I will come again to you. Hebrews 11:17-19,

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Abraham did not know what was going to happen, but he believed God. He believed that God was able even to raise him from the dead. How? God had already given life through his body which was as good as dead. Romans 4:20-21,

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

Notice the phrase in both accounts, Abraham believed, “God was able.” God had the ability to deliver. After a 3-day journey, Abraham was convinced concerning the promise of God and grew strong in his faith.

Beloved, do you believe God is able? Abraham’s story of faith is to encourage you to believe. God asked him to give up the Son of promise, he may not have been able to trace his hand, but he trusted his heart. God was able. He gave him Isaac so he could give him Isaac again. God is able to give life, even from the grave. God’s people have always been tested to believe in God’s resurrection power, whether it was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, or the Scottish martyrs tied to the pier to burned. We have to believe that God is able to raise the dead.

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue
  Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song,
  I’ll sing Thy power to save

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes why God gave him trials,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

Genesis to Revelation is God’s story of deliverance. It is the story of God’s people trusting in that deliverance. Do you trust in God’s deliverance?

The Lord Provides for His People through Sacrifice

            We can trust in God’s deliverance because he has shown over and over again that He will provide for his people in the midst of their trial. The Lord will provide. Genesis 22:8-14,

Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”

The Lord provided the lamb for the sacrifice. Isaac was saved through his trial because God provided the sacrifice. God provided a substitute to take his place.

            Israel would have been reminded of God’s faithfulness to them in Egypt when he said to sacrifice a lamb and take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the house as a sign. When God saw the blood of the lamb, He passed over their houses, and struck the first born of Egypt. Israel would have known that they deserved the same fate of the Egyptians, but it was only because of the blood of the lamb that they were spared. The Lord provided the sacrifice. The lamb died so Israel could live.

            Israel would have heard this story on the verge of entering the promise land. They would have known how their fathers tested the Lord with their disobedience and were made to wander in the wilderness until everyone in that generation died. Would they be like their fathers or would they be like Abraham? Would they trust that the Lord would provide deliverance?

            Israel did not deserve God’s deliverance. The story of Israel is a story of rebellion. They complained about God’s provision in the wilderness. They turned to false gods when they entered the promise land. They became more like the nations than the people of God’s treasured possession. They bowed before false gods and were sent into exile. Israel did not deserve deliverance. Beloved, we do not deserve deliverance. We like, Israel, have rebelled against God. We have questioned His love and complained about his provision. We have bowed out hearts to the false gods of comfort and ease. We have lived for ourselves and not for others. We do not deserve deliverance and yet the Lord promises to give us what we do not deserve by providing a sacrifice.

            John the Baptist was baptizing people in the wilderness when he saw God’s provision, John 1:29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” The Lord provided a sacrifice. Jesus is the atonement for our sins. He did not come to be served, but to give his life as a payment for sinners. God did not spare his own Son, but give him up for us all. Jesus, the lamb of God, was slain so that Israel would live. Jesus died my soul to save. Which is why the saints have always loved to sing, the great hymn of the faith,

 

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; 
Sin had left a crimson stain, 
He washed it white as snow. 

And when, before the throne, 
I stand in Him complete, 
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
My lips shall still repeat. 

Jesus died our souls to save. He was raised from to the dead so now God is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Christ for Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us. Do you believe that?

            The cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an ever-present reminder when you are going through your trials that God is willing and able to deliver you. The Lord will provide because He has always provided. He provided the Lamb so that we will live. Stop for a moment and think about your trials. Meditate on your suffering. God using your suffering so that you will not trust in yourself, but in God who raised the dead. Turn from your self-reliance and give all your trust to God. He provided the Lamb of God to take away your sin. And if he provided the lamb, how will he not also with him graciously give you all things? Who will condemn you?

Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Beloved, the Lord has provided the lamb. God understands your suffering, but has given you a resurrection. He has delivered you and therefore he will deliver you.

The Lord Blesses His People through Sacrifice

            The Lord speaks to Abraham one last time. This is the 35th time he has spoken to Abraham, a multiple of seven, a sign of perfection. The Lord gives the only divine oath in the book of Genesis to highlight its importance. Genesis 22:15-19,

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:15-19)

God reiterates his promise again to Abraham his offspring will be like the stars of heaven and now as the sand that is on the seashore and they will possess the gate or cities of his enemies and a blessing will extend to all the nations of the earth. What an amazing promise. God gives a divine oath that he will keep his promise. As we have seen, God fulfills that promise in offspring of Abraham, Jesus Christ.

            We are the offspring of Abraham if we believe in Jesus Christ, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. How do we know we believe? God allows trials in our lives to confirm our faith. Suffering produces perseverance and perseverance, character and character, hope. Suffering must finish its work so that we can be complete, lacking in nothing. When our trials come, let us not say, “Where are you?” but proclaim, “Here I am.” The Lord has provided the Lamb of God in death, and the Lord will provide the Lamb in resurrection. “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” Beloved, whatever comes your way, you can trust His heart.

The Birth

What do you see when you look upon the world? In 249 AD, Cyprian of Carthage wrote to his friend Donatus,

Donatus, this is a cheerful world indeed as I see it from my fair garden, under the shadow of my vines. But if I could ascend some high mountain, and look out over the wide lands, you know very well that I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world.

Cyprian saw the atrocities of this world. If he saw the evil in the world in his day, how much more can we see the evil in ours? The growth of global news coverage and instant information to worldwide events compound the reality of evil our world.

We can stand in our backyard and watch our children playing with the neighbors and see joy and happiness, but as soon as we open our newspapers, computers, and phones, cruelty, misery and despair fly towards us as airplane toward the runway. “It is a bad world, an incredibly bad world.” Cyprian continued his letter to Donatus,

But I have discovered in the midst of it a company of quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not: they are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians, —and I am one of them.

It was the joy of Christians that softened Cyprian’s heart to believe the gospel and turn to Christ. He said that they are, “masters of their souls.” He saw their joy in the midst of persecution. It makes no rational sense for Cyprian to become a Christian. Christians were despised and rejected by society. They were outcasts and marginalized. Cyprian lived a comfortable life. He had received an inheritance from his family and after pursuing law had become a senator. At 45, when most people are indisposed to change, he left his comfort and wealth to follow Christ. He left his worldly riches because he desired eternal joy. He wanted the joy he saw in Christians.

            Beloved, do you have joy? Do people see joy in our community? Would people say of us that we have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of a sinful life? Would our joy attract people to Christ? Of course, I am assuming that Christians should have joy. Christians should be joyful people. US Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., one of the most influential judges in our nation’s history, remarked of his choice of career, “I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers." I pray we would be a people of joy who would draw others to the Lord.

            In Genesis 21, we see the birth of Isaac. The birth of a child is a great reason for joy, but the birth of Isaac is especially a reason for joy. In order to understand Abraham and Sarah’s incredible joy in the birth of Isaac, we first must understand their grief.

The Joyless Laugh of Present Grief

            Abraham was 75 years old when God called him to leave his father and journey the land of Canaan. God promised to make him a great nation through his own body, but there was a problem. Genesis 11:30, “Sarai (Abraham’s wife) was barren, she had no child.” Abraham and Sarah waited and waited for a child and began to complain and question God’s faithfulness. Genesis 15:2-3, “But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And God reassured Abraham and reminded him of his promise to give him a child of his very own. And Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. And yet, time went on and he was still childless.

            Have you ever wanted to something so bad and waited for something so long that each passing day you felt more and more hopeless? Genesis 16:1, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had born him no children.” Now in that culture it was customary if a woman could not bear children, the husband was to produce children with a slave-girl. Sarai gave Hagar to Abram and Genesis 16:15, “And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.” Problem solved, right? Abram now has a son.

 God waits thirteen more years until Abraham is 99 years old and reminds him of his promise to make him a multitude of nations by giving him offspring through Sarah. Abraham and Sarah have been waiting for 24 years for God to fulfill his promise. They have been waiting for over 60 years for a child. At this point, they did not have a lot of hope of ever have a child. Their present grief constrained their joy. God has not changed his mind. He has not shifted from his promise. God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but Abraham laughed at God. Genesis 17:15-18, 

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!”

Abraham laughed at God. It is the laughter of disbelief. He begged that Ishmael would be the heir. Abraham loved Ishmael. He had watched him grow into a young man who was 13 years old at this point. God replayed to Abraham, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” (Gen. 17:19)

            God visits Abraham and Sarah again in the next chapter and we see further disbelief, this time in Sarah, Genesis 18:9-15,

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Abraham laughs in disbelief. Sarah laughs in disbelief. Oh, how many times have we laughed in disbelief?

They were longing for a child and they waited for years, but nothing had changed. When we look at our present grief it is easy for it to create a joyless, disbelieving laugh. The joyless laugh of a wife waiting for a husband would change. The joyless laugh of a mother waiting for a child to come back to God. The joyless laugh of a man waiting for a job to provide for his family. The joyless laugh of a young woman waiting for relationship and to start a family. The joyless laugh of chronic pain to cease. The joyless laugh of depression to lift. The joyless laugh of overcoming sin. The joyless laugh of disbelief comes for many reasons, but its root is exposed with a question from God, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Remember that this book would have been written to Israel as they were in the desert about to enter the promise land. They had been wandering for 40 years waiting. Waiting to enter a land of giants. Waiting to enter a land of strong armies. Waiting to enter a land of pagan gods. Waiting and waiting. And God tells them as he tells us, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Is God able to save? Is God able to deliver his people? That question would have resonated with Israel as that question should resonate with us. After the rich young ruler turned away from Jesus because he did not want to give up his wealth, Jesus said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” Is it possible for God to give a child to old man and a “worn-out” woman? Is it possible for God to save a sinner? “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

      I believe that God has given this long story of waiting and disbelief to teach us of our inability to solve our greatest need. The greatest problem of man is their separation from God. Man is dispelled from the garden in Genesis 3. They were cut off from God unable to enter His presence. And we know why. It is their sin. We know sin. We know how our hearts condemn us and convict us of how unrighteous we are before God. We want to justify ourselves before God, but we know in our heart of hearts, the depth of our depravity. We are depraved. The question of the disciples, “Then who can be saved?” If God will not accept the rich and powerful, then there must be no hope for the rest of us. Have you ever been there? How could God save me? I am an unrighteous, unworthy, desperate sinner. And God says, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” He wants to turn our joyless laugh of disbelief to a joyful laugh as we trust in his promised grace.

The Joyful Laugh of Promised Grace

            The Lord always keeps his word. He had promised Abram a child at 75, and now, 25 years later, God fulfills His Word. Genesis 21:1-2 says, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” Notice the repetition, “as he had said,” “as he had promised,” and “at the time of which God had spoken to him.” God keeps his Word. John Sailhammer notes, “The plan not only came about, but, more importantly, it happened as it was announced. Thus the narrative calls attention to God’s faithfulness to his word and to his careful attention to the details of his plan.” God will keep His Word.

            How do we need to be reminded that keeps His Word? The entire story of God’s people rests on His Word. Will we trust him? Again and again he has shown Himself faithful to his people throughout history and throughout our own lives. He causes the sun to rise each day. He will never leave us nor forsake us. The promise of God is a true as the completion of that promise. The Old Testament is full of promises made to God’s people while the New Testament is full of promises kept. God was faithful to Abraham and Sarah. God was faithful to Israel entering the promised land. God was faithful to David. God was faithful to Nehemiah. God was faithful in sending forth his Son.

            The name of Isaac, the son of the promise, means laughter. Isaac would forever be a reminder of Abraham and Sarah’s disbelieving laughter as well as the joyful laughter of promised grace. “And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” (Genesis 21:4-6) Israel would have been reminded to laugh with Sarah at God’s faithfulness. They would have been reminded to trust God in the days ahead. Psalm 126:1-3,

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

Israel was called to be a joyful people as they lived in trust of God. As Israel has been called to live in joy, how much more are we?

            Beloved, we live after the coming of the promised Messiah. God promised to send another child to a virgin whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace. If the birth of Isaac was a miracle, how much more the birth of Jesus Christ to the virgin Mary. Mary exclaimed,

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation…He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-50; 54-55)

God gave a Son to Israel, a Savior in whom we can now rejoice. Jesus is the Savior of the world. He was born of God so that he is without sin. He was born of woman so that he could become sin. Jesus died on the cross bearing the sin of the world. He was crucified, dead and buried, but God raised him from the dead. He now sits at the right hand of the majesty on high to ever live to make intercession for his people. God did the impossible by sending the promised Son to be the Savior of the world. Isaac was the first fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Jesus Christ was the final fulfillment of that promise.

            Christians should live in joy because of the redemption that has been purchased through the death of Christ. We have been bought with a price. We are redeemed. We are saved, not because of anything we have done, but only of his mercy. Christians live in joy. Christians should want to bring that joy to the world. Listen to the description of Philip in the city of Samaria in Acts 8:4-8,

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

I love that last line. “There was much joy in that city.” As Christians live and share the glory of God, the city should experience joy. Heaven will experience joy as sinners repent and are filled with the joyful promise of grace.

The Joyful Laugh of a Powerful God

            God asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” We can almost hear that question being answered in Genesis 21:7, “And Sarah said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Who would have said it? And yet, God did it. There is nothing that was too hard for the Lord. The Lord is a God of power. The birth of Isaac is just an example of the power of God. The ultimate display of his power is in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the power that conquered the grave and left an empty tomb. His resurrection power is displayed throughout all eternity as scores of Christians have trusted Christ even in the face of execution and martyrdom. Christians can live in joy because, regardless, of our circumstances here, we know that we are but are strangers and exiles on earth. Our hearts long for a better country, a heavenly one. We are looking forward to that great city whose designer and builder is God.

Cyprian of Carthage saw the joy of the early Christians and turned from his sins and followed Christ. He believed in the promised grace of God because he believed in the power of God displayed in the resurrection of Christ. The joy he saw in Christians became his joy. On the 14th of September, 258 AD, he was sentenced to death. As he was led to the execution, no pagan was shouting, for he had won their respect with the grace of his life. He lived with joy in the midst of despair. Here is the account of his death.

Cyprian took off his cloak and knelt silently in prayer. After a few moments he got back on his feet and took off his tunic, handing it to his friend (Pontius). “Bring out the executioner.” A tall, muscular soldier stepped forward with a heavy sword and guided Cyprian, clad only in his linen garments, to his last seat as bishop. Cyprian turned to the crowd of supporters. “Please show some kindness to this man and pay him for his services,” he cried. The assembly murmured, but several hands came forward. Pontius collected the money and gave the executioner twenty-five gold pieces. Then he embraced the bishop and tied a bandage over Cyprian’s eyes.

The executioner guided his victim to position…The experienced hands that held the sword began to tremble. Never had the executioner seen such resoluteness in a condemned man, or such generosity of the witnesses. He aligned his sword with the outstretched neck before him, but he couldn’t swing. Instead he nudged the blade into the dirt and drew back to steady himself. “Executioner!” shouted the centurion. “You will follow through.” “Yes sir,” was the reply. But he didn’t move. The centurion grabbed the sword and glared at the executioner and said, “It is an honor to serve the emperor.” Cyprian whispered, “It is an honor to serve the king.” With a single decisive swing, the bishop’s head fell from his body, preaching his last sermon.[1]

Cyprian died for Christ and experienced the joyful laughter of the resurrection as he entered the Lord’s presence. Cyprian’s martyrdom, reminds me of the words of another martyr, Philippians 1:19-21, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:18-21).

            Beloved, I pray you would find joy in the resurrection of Christ. God has promised grace and he has the power to give it. We can rejoice in life and in death. Rejoice in Christ in the trials of today for you know you will rejoice in Christ in triumph of eternal tomorrow.

 

[1] Mindy and Brandon Withrow. Perils and Peace: Chronicles of the Early Church. Scotland, Christian Focus; 2015 85-86

The Covenant

Every organization that does not recruit new members will become extinct. Every year thousands of young teens are recruited to join gangs. Teens who have a dysfunctional family and little support are lured into the prospect of belonging to the “family” of the gang. They are proposed loyalty, support, and a true sense of belonging. Many of the initiation rites of gang members are designed to show the seriousness of their commitment and the courage of their conviction. There are a variety of initiation rites, everything from fighting your way out of a circle of gang members, to participating in a theft or in extreme cases committing murder. Whatever the initiation rite, it is designed to cost the prospective member so that they show their commitment.

        Gangs have a high cost of membership. Their membership is costly because the promised reward is great. They get to belong to something beyond themselves. Many of the gang members have never experienced the true loyalty and love of a family are desperate to belong and feel that sense of support from people who claim will always have their back. Sadly, gang loyalty is a mirage. A good friend of mine joined a gang in his earlier teens with the promise of people that will always be there for him. One day he was arrested and facing up to 40 years in prison. While he was standing in the court room, he turned towards the gallery to see his loyal “family” who promised to always be there for him. Except when he turned, he saw no one. He was alone. The loyalty and belonging was a mirage.

        Gangs make promises that they cannot deliver. And yet, their promises of belonging and connection are woven into our very make up as individuals. We want to belong to something beyond ourselves. We want loyalty and commitment. We want people to stand with us regardless of what comes our way. We want our membership to a community to mean something. Gang members want to experience “family.” And we are no different. We all want to experience “family.” It is easy to see the powerful allure of gang affiliation, which is why thousands of teens choose to walk through the painful and costly initiation every day. And without even knowing it, gangs are dimly reflecting a story that is far greater than the loyalty of fallen man.

        God promises loyalty and belonging to his people. The difference is that his commitment to keeping his promise or covenant is not like that of a gang member who bails at the first sign of real trouble, but a promise that is an everlasting covenant. Genesis 17 sets up the requirements and initiation rite of his covenant community. Genesis 17 pictures one of the greatest events in all of redemptive history. God makes his covenant with Abram, which marks off the boundaries of the covenant community of God with a sign.

The Covenant Stated

            Abram has already been received promises from God. Genesis 12:1-3, Abram is called to leave his country and his kindred to go to the land that God will show him to make him a great nation and to ultimately bless all the families of the earth. Genesis 15:1-6, God promises to give Abram a son and asks him to go out and look at the night sky and to number the stars to see how numerable his descendants would be and it says of Abram that, “he believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6).

Abram did not earn righteousness, but it was given to him. Abram has not been given requirements of the promise until Genesis 17.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

The LORD appears to Abram, who is now 99 years old, and introduces himself as God Almighty, or El Shadday. El Shadday is used throughout Genesis to show God’s ability to keep his promises specially to make the barren fertile. Thirteen years had passed since Abram tried to fulfill the promise himself by uniting with his maidservant Hagar to provide an offspring. Hagar gave birth to Abram’s first son, Ishmael. God reminds Abram with His name that He and He alone has the power to fulfill His promises. How often have we tried to take God’s place to do what only He has the power to accomplish?

            God tells Abram that he must walk before him and to be blameless. The language would have reminded the readers of Noah in Genesis 6:9, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” Literally, Abram is to walk before God wholly devoted to Him. Abram must totally surrender to The Lord, God Almighty, his Eternal King. As God made a covenant with Noah by putting his bow in the clouds, He is ready to make a covenant with Abram. The covenant is the Lord’s. Nine times in this chapter we see God refer to the covenant as “my covenant.” Abram gave the perfect response, Genesis 17:3, “Then Abram fell on his face.” Abram bowed in humble submission.

            God inaugurates this new era in redemptive history by giving Abram a new name to clearly identify his promise.

Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:3-8)

God changes Abram’s name to Abraham to symbolize him being the father of a multitude of nations. Remember in Genesis 12, God says to Abram that, “I will make you a great nation,” but here it is a multitude of nations clearly alluding to his promise to bless all the families of the earth. The heart of this covenant is in the last five words, “I will be their God.” God promises an everlasting covenant to be the God of the descendants of Abraham.

Notice the verb tense in Genesis 17:5, “for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” God has already made Abraham into a multitude of nations before he even has received the child of the promise. God’s Word always accomplishes its purpose. Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11) God will fulfill his promise.

The Covenant Sign

            We know that God will fulfill his promise, but how will Abraham and his descendants show that they believe? God gives them a specific requirement in a covenant sign so that they will be a clearly identified as his people. God has already said what he is going to do, but now Abraham is receiving his marching orders. Genesis 17:9-14,

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

The sign of given to Abraham is different than the sign given to Noah. Circumcision, unlike the rainbow, has to be performed by human beings to show their partnership in the covenant. Circumcision was a sign for the people to be marked off as God’s covenant community. They were to show that they were totally committed to God.

            Circumcision was a permanent sign in the flesh as a permanent reminder of the permanency of the everlasting covenant of God. Circumcision was a painful, bloody initiation rite into the people of God. It was not easy obedience. And yet, circumcision was appropriate because it was a physical reminder that God promised physical offspring to Abraham. That which provided the seed would carry the mark of God’s people and would be a constant reminder of the promised seed that was to come.

God establishes the seriousness of his covenant by providing a poignant word play for his hearers, Genesis 17:14, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” One scholar notes,

The warning that he “shall be cut off from his people” involves “a word play on cut. He that is not himself cut (i.e. circumcised) will be cut off (i.e. ostracized). Here is the choice: be cut or be cut off.” The one who will not submit to this painful rite of covenant membership has disobeyed the covenant stipulation and thereby broken God’s covenant. Therefore he has forfeited his privilege of being part of God’s covenant community, and God requires his excommunication from the community.

God takes his covenant very seriously. Circumcision played a huge role throughout the history of God’s people.

            How would the Israelites in the wilderness have received this command? The Israelites were being encouraged to continue with covenant faithfulness to God as they entered into the land of the Canaanites. Israel needed to be distinct from the surrounding world. God was very clear in his commandments, so wouldn’t all the Israelites already have been circumcised? God commanded Joshua 5:5-7,

Though all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people who were born on the way in the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; the LORD swore to them that he would not let them see the land that the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. (Joshua 5:5-7)

A whole generation had not been circumcised because of the sin of their waywardness of their parents. Now as they were becoming adults, they needed to fulfill the covenant obligations. Understanding that the original hearers were not circumcised underscores the importance of the covenant sign. Will Israel continue to walk with God?

            Outward circumcision is no longer the sign of God’s people. God is not after an outward circumcision, but the inward circumcision of the heart. Circumcision has been replaced with baptism. Baptism is now the covenant sign of God’s people. Paul makes this point explicitly in Colossians 2:11-14,

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Being buried with Christ in baptism is a sign that you have experienced the circumcision of Spirit.

Paul makes this point also in Romans 2. Circumcision is no longer outward and physical, but it is a matter of the heart. It is done by the Spirit. Paul was only drawing on Moses’s words in Deut. 10:12-16,

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. (Deuteronomy 10:12-16)

The only way we can experience the circumcision of the heart is through the new covenant. Jeremiah 31:33-34,

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

And we demonstrate that we are children of New Covenant through rites of baptism and the Lord Supper which ensure we live in righteousness as God’s covenant community.

Baptism helps mark the boundaries for the people of God. As circumcision clearly identified the people of God in the Old Testament, baptism clearly marks the people of God in the New Testament. We all were at one time dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of our flesh. God fulfilled his everlasting covenant when he sent Jesus Christ to the cross. Jesus canceled the record that stood against us. The demands for our sin was literally nailed it to the cross and was paid in full by Christ. Therefore, for anyone who turns from their sin and calls upon Christ in repentance and faith is made alive by the Spirt. We are born again. We are new creatures in Christ.

The challenge in the West is that baptism does not have the same cost as it does in the rest of the world. Circumcision was painful and it was costly. It signified a permanent change. It is not uncommon in America to have people baptized two or three times, but in places where Christianity is vilified like in the Middle East and Asia, to be baptized is costly. Many of our brothers and sisters enter into the baptismal waters knowing that it may cost them their life. They literally understand the meaning of being buried with Christ. Their baptism literally may mean their death. Baptism is always costly because it says that you have died. You are no longer your own, but you belong, both body and soul, in life and in death to God and his Son Jesus Christ. Baptism is always costly because it came at the expense of the death of God’s own Son.

Let us not trivialize membership in God’s covenant community. In Abraham’s day, God said if you are not circumcised you will be cut off from God’s people. So today, if you have not experienced the circumcision of the heart, you will be cut off from God’s people. Baptism does not save you, but is a sign that you have been saved. Have you experienced the circumcision of the heart (i.e. believed by faith?) Have you been buried with Christ in baptism? The New Testament does not see those as mutually exclusive, but intimately connected.

The New Testament never explicitly baptizes infants. Infant baptism became popular in the church in the 3rd century under the leadership of Cyprian of Carthage. Paedobaptists, (those who baptize infants) believe that as babies were circumcised, so to should babies be baptized. Peter proclaims at Pentecost those all must, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins are forgiven,” and then says, “for the promise is for you and for your children,” recalling this passage in Genesis 17. Paedobaptists make their argument from anaology and silence. (By analogy see above). When I say by silence, this means that when they see households being baptized in the book of Acts, they assume there would have been infants. The Jewish believers would have connected baptism with circumcision so they would have naturally baptized infants. And yet, they miss Peter’s clear exhortation to repentance and the end the end of his quotation of Genesis 17 when he adds, “and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself,” and who, “received his word.” Circumcision is no longer outward and physical, but of the heart. Infants cannot experience repentance and thus they should not be baptized.

We cannot lose the distinctiveness of the covenant community. We are God’s people. We, like Abraham, are called to walk before God and be blameless. Baptism cuts us off from the world and unites us to Christ. Baptism is the entrance rite of the New Testament church as the Lord’s Supper is the continual rite that marks us off from the world. We need to celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God takes these signs very seriously. He took circumcision in the Old Testament very seriously (even excluding Moses from entering the promise land for failure to circumcise his children) and thus, we should take baptism in the New Testament just as seriously. It is not an add on for the Christian faith, but central to our expression as the New Testament covenant community.

Abraham took the command of the Lord very seriously. After receiving the sign, Abraham went that very day to obey. Genesis 17:22-27,

When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (Genesis 17:22-27)

The very first act of circumcision was done to all the people of the house including Ishmael, the house servants, and even foreigners. We see the beginning of the covenant people of God who chose to fully surrender to God.

The Covenant Son

            Abraham was not the only one who had their name changed that day. God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah because she was going to bear a son. Remember God’s introduction, He is El Shadday, God Almighty, Genesis 17:15-21.

And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

Abraham didn’t fully believe God right away. He laughed at God’s suggestion that Sarah could bear a child. We know he still trusted God because he was willing to be circumcised and to circumcise his house.

Abraham walked in obedience even when he did not fully understand, because he fully convinced that God was El Shadday, God almighty who had the power to bring about his promises. Let me close today with a call for all of us to have hope. In hope to believe against hope that God is able. God is mighty to meet your needs. God is mighty to heal your sickness. And God is mighty to save. Romans 4:18-25,

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:18-25)

The promise made to Abraham was written for our sake so that we would be counted as righteous who believe that God delivered up Jesus for our trespasses and raised him from the dead for our justification. God promised an everlasting covenant to Abraham so we would always have hope in Christ. Beloved, walk before God and live in righteousness as we await the blessed hope of the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. 

The Call

A few days before the 1980 Olympics, The Russian national hockey team clobbered the United States in an exhibition game 10-3. The United States entered the Olympics as a 7th seed with the odds of winning the gold medal as 1,000 to 1.[1] Herb Brooks coached the US into a rematch against the defending gold medal champions and number 1 seeded Russia. Russia was supposed to crush the Americans again, but the improbable happened. America held a 4-3 lead with a minute remaining with Russia charging hard for a tie. As the waning seconds were ticking off, Al Michaels gave the greatest “call” in modern sports history. With five seconds remaining, Michaels, bellowed, “Do you believe in miracles?” Michaels helped coin America’s gold medal win as the “Miracle on Ice.”

            Although Michaels owns the greatest call in sports history, the greatest “call” in all of world history asks us the same question, “Do you believe in miracles?” God created a very good world only to see it corrupted by sin and death to the point that God had regretted that he made man on the earth and said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land…for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6:7). God sent the flood cleansing the world and restarting his covenant relationship with Noah. The first thing Noah did after hitting dry ground was to build an alter for Lord. Noah was reclaiming the earth for the worship of the Lord. Tragically, sin continued in the hearts of man forcing Noah to curse Canaan and leading to the great rebellion against God in at the tower of Babel where the man attempted to make a name for themselves. In response to man’s effort to make their name great, He confused their language and scattered them across the world. Things have only gotten worse since Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate it in Garden. Rebellion and sin abounded on the earth. It would take a miracle to fix this problem. “Do you believe in miracles?”

            God’s call to Abram is so glorious and its implications are so extensive it shapes the rest of the Bible. If we understand the call of Abram, we will understand the gran-metanarrative of the entire story of human history. John Stott writes, “God made a promise to Abraham. And an understanding of that promise is indispensable to an understanding of the Bible and of the Christian mission. These are perhaps the most unifying verses in the Bible; the whole of God’s purpose is encapsulated here.[2]” The greatest challenge in preaching this passage is to preach it in such a way that drives home its beauty and significance. I pray that you will glorify God as we see his immense mercy in the call of Abram, beginning in a barren land.

The Call from Barren Land

            In order to fully appreciate the miraculous call of Abram, we must first understand the origins of Abram and his family when he received the call. Abram’s story begins with the announcement of the generations of his father Terah. Genesis 11:27-32,

Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

The writer, Moses, highlights that Abram’s wife, Sarai, was barren. There is the double emphasis in 11:30, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” Abram had no future. His line was going to end with him.

Abram was not have been the ideal choice to re-establish the kingdom of God. Noah had three sons and daughters-in-laws and was righteous. Abram was childless with a wife who could not bear children and was an idolater. Joshua 24:2, “And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Abram worshipped the pagan gods of his homeland Babel as John Calvin notes, “Abram was plunged in the filth of idolatry.[3]” Abram brings nothing to this new endeavor to establish God’s kingdom. He is childless idolater with no future and yet God chooses to this unlikely candidate to establish his kingdom on the earth.

      Friend, God delights in using sinners to accomplish his purposes. Abram was a sinner in rebellion against God and God in his kindness extends his hand of grace to call Abram to His glory. God repeatedly calls unlikely sinners to service in his kingdom from the idolatrous Abram, to the swindler Jacob, to greedy Zacchaeus, and the terrorist Saul. The prologue of Israel’s history, Genesis 1-11 shows that pervasive nature of sin. The amount and degree of sin is designed to highlight the beautiful grace of God, but before we can see the beauty of grace we have to see the grossness of sin. DA Carson writes,

Sin is so warping that it corrodes every facet of our being, our wills and affections, our view of others and thus our relationships, our bodies and our minds. Sinners incur guilt, yet they need more than forgiveness and reconciliation to God (though never less), since the results of sin are so pervasive: they also need regeneration and transformation.[4]

The point is that because of the fall sin spreads to all in men in all ways. Sin has affected every aspect of our lives. Our sin incurs God’s wrath and justice. We deserve to die, like Abram, for our sin. Without God’s call, we, like Abram, are in a barren land, with nothing of value and no hope for a future. We are sinners awaiting God’s judgment. “Do you believe in miracles?”

The Call to a Blessed Land

It is out of the utter hopeless and idolatry that God calls Abram to re-establish his kingdom. Hear the glorious and miraculous call of Abram,        

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

In my living room sits a trunk with the inscription, Marlla Melas 1843. It was the trunk that held all the belongings of from my ancestors who left Norway to America. We live in a nation of immigrants who have ancestors like mine who left their homeland to restart their life here in the United States. Our world has become transient and it is not uncommon to leave family and travel across the world, but for ancient man to leave his people and his father’s house would have been almost impossible. Abram was identified by his relationship with his father for he was, “Abram son of Terah.” God was asking Abram to live his father’s goods and his father’s gods. God was inviting Abram to leave all and follow Him.

The call of Abram to leave all and follow God is nothing less than what God calls us to do. Jesus said,

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

God demands all. He wants all of our life. When you heard God’s call to come to Him, did you understand the full ramifications of what He was asking you to do? When God calls us, He asks us to leave all behind and become fully devoted to Him. It sounds hard, but that is only if we do not understand the call. If we understand how glorious the call God extends to sinner, we would not consider the call hard at all. Remember that Jesus says,

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

Abram believed in the immense value of the call of God and was willing to leave all behind. So what did God promise Abram?

            According to Sydney Greidanus, the call of Abram is wrapped up in three promises. First, God promises to bless Abram personally. He tells the childless Abram that he will become a great nation and God will make his name great and will be blessing in a land that he will show him. The settlers at Babel wanted to make a name for themselves while here God is going to give Abram a great name. Second, God promises to bless his contemporaries, “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse.” Lastly, God will bless all the families of the earth through this one man. God has not abandoned his creation, but will spread his glory over the whole earth.

            Another way to group these great promises which I believe help to frame the rest of the Bible is God promises Abram: Land, Nation, Name and Blessing. If we focus on these headings, it sheds light on the rest of the biblical storyline. First, God promises to bring Abram into a land. When Abram heard the call he did not know it was going to be a land flowing with milk and honey, but he knew it was going to be his inheritance. Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” The promise of land is a key theme throughout the Bible. One can trace the entire idea of land from Genesis 1- Revelation 22. God prepared a land for his people in Genesis 1, God expelled his people from the land in Genesis 3, God is now promising a new land in Genesis 12, God brings his people into the promise land in Joshua, God removes his people from the land again in the exile, God promises his people a new land in an eternal inheritance in the New Testament, and God fulfills his promise by giving the land of the new heavens and new earth to his people in Revelation. The story of God’s people is a story of entering the promised land.

            Secondly, God promises to make Abram a great nation. Abram has no child and his wife is barren. The only way that Abram will become a great nation is with offspring. Abram’s offspring will not only become ethnic Israel, but all who are Abram’s children by faith. The Lord shows his love for Israel not because of their greatness, but rather because of His. Deuteronomy 7:6-9,

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

A key question throughout the Bible, “Is who are God’s people or who belongs to the nation?” One of the main conflicts in the New Testament is the whether Gentiles belong to the nation and can be part of God’s people. A misunderstanding of God’s covenant people will wreck havoc in the church from the 1st century to now.

            Thirdly, God promises to make Abram’s name great. As the story unfolds, we will see that Abram will receive a great name not because of what he had done, but because his name will become wrapped up in God’s name and be identified in what God has done. In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and reiterates his promise to Abram.  As Abram will be identified with God’s name, our greatest treasure is that we bear his name. We are Christians.  We belong to Christ.

            Lastly, God will make Abram a blessing to all the families of the earth. The goal of Abram’s call was cosmic in scope. It brings a reminder to the reader of the seed of the woman that was promised in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” We know that the blessing promised to Abram was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Galatians,

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith; so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatian 3:7-9;14).

Jesus Christ came to redeem his people from the curse of sin by becoming a sin for us and was raised on the third day to give us living hope for our glorious inheritance through faith. Jesus is the blessing to all the families of the earth.  He is the hope for all people. For everyone who receives Christ Jesus as Lord has been given the right to become children of God. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:28-29)

            The great promises to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 are the great promises given to all of God’s people in seed form. Genesis 12:1-3 provides an outline of the rest of human history in how God is going to fix the problems of Genesis 3. God is going to establish his kingdom on earth through the offspring of Abram, Jesus Christ, and all who bow to Him as Lord. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who understand their sin and desperate need and turn to God in faith will receive the glorious promises of Genesis 12:1-3. “Do you believe in the miracle of the promise?”

The Call to Build a Land

            How do we show we believe? Abram believed in God’s promise because we see his response to God’s call. Genesis 12:4-5,

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan.

Abram obeyed God. We show that we trust in God’s promise by obeying his word. “By faith he (Abram) went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10) Abram lived by faith.

            Abram left his father’s gods to believe in the one, true God. Abram believed in the glorious promise of God, but was faced with a decision as soon as he entered the land for, “When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” The land was not empty, but occupied with the cursed Canaanites. Abram realized that when he entered the land that the task was not going to be an uneasy one. He trusted God, but now was met with difficulty. Would he turn back or continue to trust God? The oak of Moreh was the center of Canaanite worship where they came to offer their sacrifices to their gods. It was at this place that the Lord spoke again to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

            Imagine a group of Israelites gathered looking over at the land of Canaan. Their fathers had gotten to the edge of the promise land like they had, but turned their hearts against God and were forced to wander in the wilderness. Now they are again in the same place. And they see their forefather receive the great words from God, “To your offspring I will give this land,” and then they see his response at the place of Canaanite worship, Abram, “built there an alter to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” Abram was claiming Canaan for God. As Noah built an altar after God cleansed the earth, Abram was reclaiming this land for the worship of God. Abram would travel throughout the land of Canaan and strategically build altars in the places of false worship. The Israelites were on the edge of the promise land confronted with the choice: will they turn like their fathers in fear of the mighty Canaanites or will they reclaim the promised land for God like our forefather Abram?

The message would have been clear to the Israelites. God has promised to give us this land. We must enter the land and reclaim it for the worship of God. Canaan was just the beginning. God’s goal in the promise to Abram was never to stop at there, but to see his glory fill the earth. The Israelites knew of God’s great promise to bless the whole earth. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) Israel knew of God’s call to bless the earth, but sadly, their light never fully reflected the glory of God. The charge to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord has been given to the church. Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Beloved, we are witnesses of the promise. We have been called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ is all nations. And we, like the Abram, are in a land full of “Canaanites,” called to reclaim the land for the worship of God. We reclaim our land for the worship of God not by building altars, but by going to make disciples by baptizing people in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them all that the Lord has commanded. Will we shrink back in fear or will we boldly believe in the promise of God and work to build the kingdom through proclamation of the gospel?

Abram could have turned back. The Disciples could have turned back. We could turn back. Abram believed in God’s promise and built altars for the Lord. The Disciples believed God’s promise and built God’s kingdom through the gospel. They both believed the miraculous call of God to save sinners through the promised seed, Jesus Christ. Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in the miraculous call of God to save sinners through the promised seed? Do you believe that God wants to bless all the families of the earth? If you believe in the miracle of salvation, go and reclaim our city and world for Christ by faithfully sharing the promise of God that He will save all sinners who trust in Jesus.

 

 

[1] http://vancouver2010.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/how-miraculous-was-the-miracle/?_r=0 odds ranged from as high as 1 in 1000 to as low as 17-1 depending on various calculations.

[2] John Stott. The Living God is a Missionary God. 3.

[3][3] Quoted by Dereck Kidner in his Genesis commentary.

[4] DA Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited. 50