Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-19, “The Faith of Abraham”

[8]By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would after receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  [9]By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; [10]for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
[11]By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who has promised.  [12]Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
[17]By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, [18]of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” [19]concluding that God was able to raise him us, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.  (NKJV)

(We believe that vs. 13-16 refers to people other than Abraham, though he may be included.  We’ll look at them in our next post.)

Abraham is one of the most-often-mentioned people in the Bible.  Indeed, his life forms the basis for a great deal of Biblical revelation and teaching, if not the majority of it.  Except for the Lord Jesus, perhaps no other person had more influence on the content of Scripture than Abraham.
In addition to Hebrews 11, there is Romans 4:16, which also mentions the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.  The term “father” isn’t used in the sense of “generation,” but of “relationship”.  Though the Bible doesn’t clearly support the term “spiritual Israel” to describe “the church,” it does clearly teach, to coin a phrase, that we are “spiritual Isaac,” Galatians 4:28.  That is, believers aren’t the children of Abraham “naturally,” but “spiritually.”
As the child bears a certain resemblance to the parent, so does “spiritual Isaac” resemble Abraham, particularly in the matter of his “faith.”  That we might not fall into the delusion that “faith” is mere intellectual acceptance of certain facts or doctrines, or that it is simply some sort of magic formula by which we may obtain our fondest desires, let’s look at what our text says about “the faith of Abraham”.

1. His faith did the impractical, vs. 8-10.

He left his native land (and family), v. 8.
His story begins in Genesis 12.  Ur was no insignificant little town, but a major metropolis of its day.  In v. 8, the thing that gets me about this move was that he didn’t know where he was going.

Have you ever thought about this?

Abraham comes home one day and says to Sarah,”Start packing.  We’re going to move!”  And Sarah replies, “Oh?  Where?”  And Abraham says to her, “I don’t know.”  And then, when the moving camels begin to appear around their home, the neighbors ask, “Where you going?”  And they reply, “We don’t know.”

There’s something else.

He lived inas in a foreign country“, v. 9.
Though it was his by promise, he never owned any of it, except for a parcel of land where he buried Sarah and some of his descendants buried their dead, Genesis 49:29-33; 50:12, 13.
In the words of the old Gospel song, “This world is not my home,” though I think we tend to forget that.  One day, that house we spend so much time fixing up, or that car that we think so much of – all gone!  Or if they’re not, we will be.

2. His faith believed the impossible, vs. 11, 12, 19.

The story of this is found in Genesis 17 and 18.  Abraham and Sarah had been married long enough for it to become evident that she was barren.  God promised Abraham a son, Genesis 17:1-8.  In all fairness to Sarah, considering what happened with Hagar before the birth of that son, God didn’t specifically say that Abraham would have a son through Sarah. Since she was his wife, though, that might be taken for granted.  He did specifically mention her after the birth of Ishmael, Genesis 18:10, more than thirteen years later.
What Sarah did was a common practice of the day.  Indeed, later on, four of Jacob’s twelve sons were born to women in situations similar to Hagar, Genesis 29, 30.
I guess this serves a lesson to be careful about how we approach the promises of God.  Perhaps it serves to remind us that, when we can’t figure out how God is going to do something, or if it seems that He’s not doing anything, we better not try to figure out how we are going to do it.  After all, the current uproar in the Middle East is a direct result of what they did all those centuries ago.  Something common, acceptable and legal.
It’s true that Hebrews doesn’t mention all this.  God doesn’t deny the faults and failings of His people, but He doesn’t dwell on them like the world does, and He doesn’t define them by their shortcomings.  Perhaps there’s a lesson for us in this, as well.  We’re not defined by the mess we tend to make of things, but by the grace and mercy of God.  There are no “self-made” Christians.

3. His faith did the inexplicable, vs. 17, 18.

The world has a huge amount of difficulty with this episode, recorded in Genesis 22:1-19.  I even heard a character on TV ask, “What kind of a father does that to his son?””

The answer: the kind of father that Abraham was.

You see, Genesis isn’t all that’s said about this.  Hebrews 11 gives us a look “behind the scenes,” if you will, into the mind of Abraham, though Genesis does give us a glimpse there.  When Abraham was giving instructions to the two men who accompanied him and his son, as they were being left behind while Abraham and Isaac continued on, Abraham said, “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back,” Genesis 22:5.  Actually, it loses a lot in translation.  The sentence shows strong determination.   What Abraham really said was, “We are determined to go, we are determined to worship, we are determined to return.”

And notice that Abraham rose early in the morning  to be obedient to God.  There was no half-hearted or reluctant response, though God hadn’t made it “easy” for him:  “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…,” Genesis 22:2.
1. He didn’t argue that this was inconsistent with or nullified the promise of a lot of descendants.
2. He believed God could do something that no one had ever yet seen – resurrect a dead body, Hebrews 11:19.  That’s how he was able to say, “We will return….”
3. Though Isaac wasn’t actually killed, he was sacrificed!

There are some misconceptions about the part Isaac played in all this.  Just yesterday, I saw a picture where he’s shown as 10 or 12 or so, with Abraham’s arm around him.  It’s a common view, if not the usual one.

For the last part of the journey, Isaac himself carried the wood, Genesis 22:6.  This wasn’t just a couple of sticks.  And when it came time for Abraham to prepare him for the sacrifice, based on the fact he was able to carry a heavy load up a mountain, Isaac would have been well able to defend himself and prevent it.  He was a willing participant.  This shows a great respect for and trust in his father.  Perhaps also for the God of his father, Genesis 22:8.  What do you suppose passed between father and son when God did indeed provide for Himself the lamb?  Do you think they had any trouble “worshiping”?  Needed any special “music”?  Do you think Isaac ever forgot those moments?

Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that faith is “easy.”  And maybe “faith” as the world defines it is.  A few little religious formalities.  Or even a lot of them.  An ornate religious building.  Special days and seasons of the year.  But the “faith of Abraham” isn’t so easy.  Our Lord said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” Matthew 16:24, 25.

“Take up his cross.”  I think we misunderstand this, too.  Perhaps a long-suffering spouse with a less than ideal spouse might think this is a “cross” to bear.  Perhaps some situation in life – health problems, financial difficulties, or some other burden.  We’ve never seen a cross, at least as it was used in executions.  We’ve prettied it all up and made it respectable, but it was an ugly thing.  It wasn’t a “burden of life;” it was an instrument of death!

Picture a condemned man carrying a cross to his execution.  In the crowd watching him, he might see his wife and children.  He might pass some friends.  He might pass his place of business or where he had worked.  He might have made plans for the future.

None of this mattered.

He was carrying his cross.

At the same time, to “carry our cross” doesn’t mean that we simply abandon everything and go out into the desert somewhere.  It does mean that if there’s something preventing us from serving God as He would have us serve Him, we do have to abandon that.  We have to “deny ourselves.”

And, no, it’s not easy.

4. His faith received the immeasurable, v. 12; Romans 4:13.

Abraham gave up a great deal, and was willing to give up even more.  Did he lose?

Not in the least.

He was promised –

An innumerable family, Genesis 22:12.

God used two figures to show the number of Abraham’ posterity:
1. stars of the sky.  We’ve dealt with this in another post, so will just recap here.  Even as late as the 17th Century, men had only catalogued a little over a thousand stars.  It wasn’t until January 7, 1610, with the first telescope, that Galileo began the discovery that the stars are indeed innumerable.
I can imagine what the “science” of Abraham’s day might have said – and yes, I know I’m reading into the text here – “That’s not possible!  That’s not scientific!”  So God uses another figure.
2. sand which by the seashore.  Of course, I suppose that science and rationalism, in whatever form they might have taken back then, would exclaim, “Aha!  There are contradictions in the Bible!” – just like they do today.  “There are only a few stars!  Nothing at all like the sand of the sea!”  But now we know that God was right.  And the skeptics were wrong.

He still is.  And they still are.

An inconceivable future, Romans 4:13.

Paul wrote that Abraham was promised that he would be heir of the world.  This isn’t the place to get into a lengthy discussion of the different views of prophecy.  I’ve done that in several other posts.
Let’s just leave it with 2 Peter 3:13, we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells, [or, “is at home”].

I can’t wait!

Advertisements

Hebrews 6:19-7:28, A Tale of Two Priests.

[6:19]This hope we have as an anchor of the souls, both sure and steadfast, and which enter the Presence beyond the veil, [20]where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
[7:1]For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, [2]to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” [3]without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.
[4]Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.  [5]And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; [6]but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.  [7]Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.  [8]Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.  [9]Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, [10]for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
[11]Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?  [12]For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.  [13]For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
[14]For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.  [15]And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest [16]who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.  [17]For He testifies:  “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
[18]For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, [19]for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.  [20]And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath [21](for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:  “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'”), [22]by so much better Jesus has become surety of a better covenant.
[23]Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing.  [24]But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.  [25]Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
[26]For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;  [27]who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.  [28]For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever. (NKJV)

Just to remind ourselves of the purpose of Hebrews, the writer sought to explain, exhort and encourage.  His believing Jewish audience had indeed professed Christ, but for whatever reason were being tempted to return to the beloved and familiar OT ritual and sacrifices.  He writes to them not to do that, not to risk their eternal souls with such a grievous mistake and sin, 10:32-39.  He explained to them that the person and work of the Lord Jesus were the fulfillment of all those sacrifices and ceremonies, which were only a shadow of what was coming, 10:1.  He encouraged them that, though they were suffering persecution and would suffer more, 10:32, 33; 11:12-14, they weren’t following some pipe dream, mere doctrines of men, or “cunningly-devised fables,” as Peter put it, 2 Peter 1:16.  They were following the One who was the Creator of the universe, the One who will ultimately complete and consummate that for which the universe was created.

Again, a key word is “better.”  The immediate context, from 3:1, deals with the priesthood of Christ.  It is “better” than the Levitical priesthood of Moses and Aaron for several reasons the writer lists through 10:18.

The priesthood of Christ was briefly introduced in 2:17, Christ and Moses were compared and contrasted, and then in the section ending in 6:20, the writer applied the preeminence of Christ to the lives of his readers, before again returning to the priesthood of Christ.

Beginning in 7:1, he continues his teaching:

1.  The type of the priesthood of Melchizedek,7:1-10.
2.  The temporary nature of the Aaronic priesthood, 7:11-28.

1. Type of the priesthood of Melchizedek, 7:1-10.

The Historical Incident, vs. 1-3.  Genesis 14:18-20 is the only place Melchizedek actually appears, and nothing is known of him except what is mentioned there and in Hebrews 7:13.  There are those who believe, from Hebrews 7:3, that Melchizedek was, or is, actually Christ (remains a priest continually).  However, there are some difficulties with that view and for the following reasons, we believe that Melchizedek was an ordinary man, highly blessed though he may have been.

1.  Both Genesis and Hebrews call him “king of Salem.”  While it is true that “Salem” is a form of “shalom,” (“peace”), and Jesus is “the Prince of Peace,” we believe this is simply a reference to Jerusalem.

2.  Note vs. 3, which says that Melchizedek was made like the Son of God (emphasis added).  It doesn’t say that he was the Son of God.  In Christ, there arises another priest, after the likeness of Melchizedek, v. 15 (emphasis added).  Melchizedek was merely a type, a foreshadowing, of the coming Son of God.

3.  What about v. 3, which describes Melchizedek as being without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end or life?  Doesn’t this prove Melchizedek to have been Christ?  I don’t think it does.  After all, as a man, Christ had a father (though virgin-born, Joseph was His “legal” father), and mother, a genealogy (two of them, in fact: both Joseph’s and Mary’s), birth and death.  He had all those things which Melchizedek is said not to have had.

4.  Note again in v. 3, “made like”.  For the purpose of Scripture in treating Melchizedek as a type of Christ, none of these things is mentioned.  7:6 implies that he did, in fact, have a genealogy, distinct from that of Aaron.

The Practical Application, vs. 4-10.  So, we might say, what is the purpose of these references to Melchizedek?  Simply this, as a “priest of the Most High God” (was Aaron ever called this?), Melchizedek was not dependent on Aaron or his priesthood for his own priesthood.  Neither was he dependent on the Mosaic Law.  He lived more than 400 years before Moses and Aaron.

Remember what the author taught in the last part of ch. 6.  He spoke of our two-fold “hope” of inheriting God’s promise:  the oath of God Himself with regard to that promise, and the priestly ministry of Christ, which rises out of that promise.  As Melchizedek was independent of the Mosaic Covenant and the Aaronic priesthood, likewise the promise of God and the priesthood of Christ are independent of them.

The writer develops that thought in vs. 4-10.  Usually used in connection with trying to enforce tithing on Christians, this portion actually has nothing to do with either the practice or the applicability of tithing.  It simply points out that the Levitical priesthood (so named after “Levi,” a son of Aaron) descended from Abraham, and so could be said to be “in him” in Genesis 14.  Under the Law, the Levitical priesthood received tithes; this was their means of livelihood as well as the upkeep of the Tabernacle.  “In Abraham” they paid tithes, hence, the writer argues, Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood.  Typically shown, therefore, Christ is superior to Aaron.

2.  The Temporary Nature of the Aaronic Priesthood, 7:11-28.

As seen by it’s “imperfection,” vs. 11-15.

1.  as regards it’s “effectiveness,” vs. 11, 18-19.  The very fact that the Law was unable to produce “perfection” demonstrates the need for something that could produce it, cf. Romans 8:3, 4.  The word translated “perfection” doesn’t refer to “sinlessness,” but “completion”.  The Law and the priesthood could not “complete” redemption, therefore the Law only served until the introduction of its replacement, cf. Galatians 3:19.

2.  as regards its “exclusiveness,” vs. 12-15.  There were strict instructions regarding who could be a priest, even in the Aaronic line.  A priest had to be a Levite, but our Lord was of the tribe of Judah, v. 14.  The change from Aaron to Christ also intimates a change of the Law, vs. 12-14.  In this way the temporary nature both of the Mosaic Law and of the Aaronic priesthood was shown.

As seen by its inferiority, vs. 16-28.

1.  in contrast to the commencement of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 16-22.  In all the Law, there is no promise to any particular priest of a lasting priesthood.  Indeed, in the very beginning, God made provision for the passing of the priesthood from father to son, Exodus 29:29.  No oath was ever given to any priest.

2.  in contrast to the continuity of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 23-25.  This goes along with the previous thought.  Only the Lord Jesus has a guarantee of personal perpetuity.

3.  in contrast to the completeness of Christ’s priesthood, vs. 26-27.  Christ was able to do what no Levitical priest could ever do, v. 25.  Though this thought will be developed by the writer further on, here he just points out the unique nature of Christ’s one sacrifice in contrast to the monotonous frequency of OT sacrifices.

4.  in contrast to the character of Christ’s priesthood, v. 28.  Cf. 5:2, 3.  There is no such thing as “infirmity” in the Lord Jesus.  Cf. 7:26.

March Memories: “Look Now Toward Heaven.”

When my wife and I were first married, we started each evening to read a chapter of the Bible before we went to bed, beginning in Genesis.  We would alternate verses.  We hadn’t been doing this for very long when we came to Genesis 15.  As we were reading through this chapter, I noticed something I had never seen before.  It made me exclaim aloud, “Now, wait a minute!”  As I looked at this thought, the chapter, as well as the Bible’s teaching on faith, opened up to me in a way that was unbelievable.

One word of caution.  There’s a standard understanding of this chapter that’s pretty much universally held.  I held it myself.  In fact, I’ve never seen or heard the approach to this chapter that I now hold.  I believe that my view is right.  It’s just that every so often someone comes up with some new teaching “from Scripture” – some hare-brained idea that’s all the rage for a couple of weeks, and then fades back into the woodwork.  I’m not interested in novel ideas about the Scripture.  I agree with Paul in Romans 4:3, where he asked the question in another connection, What does the Scripture say?

..really say?

So, before you go any further in this post, I’d like for you to read Genesis 15 – yes, right now.  Close your laptop and open your Bible.  Read Genesis 15.  It’ll just take a few minutes.  Or look it up online, if you’re inclined that way.  I’m an old geezer myself and prefer books, though, obviously, I do use a computer. 🙂

I wonder how many will actually do that.

Anyway, the usual reading of this chapter concludes with the idea that Abraham goes out at night and looks at the starry heavens.  “Whoa!” he says.  “That’s a lot of stars.”

The trouble with this idea is that men HAD counted the stars, or so they thought.  The ancient Egyptians catalogued 1025 stars.  That’s not a very large posterity – not even really a good sized town.  Even as late as 1627, the German astronomer Kepler had only catalogued a little over a thousand stars.  It’s only been with the invention and improvement of the telescope that science has discovered that there are innumerable galaxies, each one with innumerable stars.  Just in passing, how did the “ignorant goat-herder” who is alleged to have written Scripture know about innumerable stars, when only a handful, relatively speaking, are visible to the naked eye?

There’s another, even more interesting, challenge to the usual understanding of the chapter.  That’s why I asked you to read it.  There are two phrases which caught my attention that long-ago night, and forever changed my conception of the chapter.  Did you notice them?

God told Abraham, “Look now toward heaven….”  Some of the later versions omit the word, “now,” but I think my interpretation is still valid.

After the conversation in v. 5, we read in v. 12, now when the Sun was going down, and in v. 17, when the Sun went down and it was dark….  My wife would have read v. 12 and I would have read v. 17.

Now, I don’t know if it was the reading of those phrases, or hearing them read out loud, or what, but they caught my attention.  They caused me to exclaim, “Now, wait a minute!”  To me, these phrases indicate that it was broad daylight when God told Abraham to look at the stars.

Now, I hear you say, “Wait a minute!”

It doesn’t make sense, does it?  The idea that God would ask someone to count stars in the daytime?

It seems to me that there are several lessons we can learn from this incident.  There are a lot of things in Scripture that don’t “make sense.”  That’s why unbelievers and skeptics have so much trouble with them.  God told Noah to build a huge boat because a flood was coming, and it have never even rained up until that time.  God told Israel to walk around Jericho for seven days, and on the seventh day they were also to yell real loudly.  What kind of warfare is that?  The Lord fed 15,000 or more people with a few sardine-sized fish and a couple slices of bread.  Pretty slim pickings.

Yet, in each case, “sense” was wrong, or at least very inadequate.

In addition, Abraham had to choose between what he could see, or what God said.  To do that, he had to go against the “science” of his day.  That’s still true.  At least here in the US, it seems that God hardly exists.  Violence and immorality are increasing.  Atheism has pretty much become the law of the land and the Bible is illegal in a good portion of our society.  As for science, no comment is needed.

But there’s more.

Abraham was a shepherd.  He’d spent a lifetime of nights under the stars.  And he could expect to spend a lot more nights under them.  But God said, “Look now….”  Abraham couldn’t look to his experiences.  God said, “Look NOW.”  He couldn’t count on his expectations.

As Christians, we can look back and see how God has blessed us.  For example, the way I met my wife involves about 7 years, four states, quitting a job, a long move, several people, a telephone book, and a phone call.  But that’s a story for another time….

We can see many times that God has been with us.  And, by His grace, we look forward to an eternity which will infinitely eclipse the things of this world.  It’s the “now” that’s the problem.

I’ve known and know people going through things I can’t even begin to imagine.  And this blog has led me to people who are also suffering.  For all these, “now” is anything but enviable.

“All” Abraham had to go on was the naked word of God.  There was no “tangible, verifiable evidence” – the kind skeptics and unbelievers are always asking for – just God and His promise.  But you see, that’s what “faith” boils down to: an absolute reliance on and trust of, God and His Word, even when everything around us says, “Why?”  Why do you think there are such attacks on the Bible?  “Faith” isn’t about us getting God to do what we want, it’s about trusting His Word and what He says He will do.

Abraham had to wait 13 years for the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise.  He did some foolish things in the meantime, things which echo today in the Middle East.  Even though Abraham was foolish, God was faithful to His promise.

For all believers, Paul wrote, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us, Romans 8:18.

Let me encourage you, dear readers of this blog.  I don’t know anything about your “now,” but God does.  I don’t know what to say to ease your burden.  I just hope and pray that He will use these few words to encourage and bless you.

Look now toward heaven….
___________________

(originally published March 26, 2013.)  edited.

March Memories: “The God of My Salvation.”

(another of our “March Memories.”)

Habakkuk 3:17, 18 (NKJV).

A lot of people have the idea that the Old Testament is all stern and forbidding, but it’s interesting that three of the greatest confessions of faith are found there. It’s true that there is a lot that is strange and even contradictory to our way of thinking, but there are also rays of light which are scarcely matched in the New Testament.

One of these confessions of faith is found in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”   Another one is found in the actions of Abraham as he went to “sacrifice” his son:  “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you,” Genesis 22:5 (emphasis added).  We did a post on this.  The third confession is found in the text at the beginning of this post.

Please remember that not a single one of these confessions was made when the Sun was shining and all was well with the one making the confession.  It’s easy to praise God then.  But Job was  sitting in the shambles of what’s left of his life – children, possessions and health all gone.  All he had left was a wife with no sympathy for his outlook and integrity.  Abraham had to weigh what he was being told to do against the promise of God concerning that very son.  Habakkuk was looking at the coming destruction and dissolution of his beloved nation.  I wonder how many of us could echo their sentiments in similar circumstances.

I was reading and thinking about the verses in Habakkuk one morning, and they almost arranged themselves into verse form.  Here they are –

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vine.
Though the harvest of the olive fail,
And food be hard to find.
Though the flock may come to nothing,
And no oxen in the stall –
Yet I’ll rejoice in Yahweh:
My joy, my God, my All.

May God bless these thoughts as He has to me.

(Originally published March 5, 2013.)

Jehovah-Jireh: The LORD Will Provide

Genesis 22:14.

(Written by Wm. Cowper, who also wrote “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood.”)

The saints should never be dismay’d,
Nor sink in hopeless fear;
For when they least expect His aid,
The Saviour will appear.

This Abraham found:  he raised the knife;
God saw, and said, “Forbear!
Yon ram shall yield his meaner life;
Behold the victim there.”

Once David seem’d Saul’s certain prey;
But hark! the foe’s at hand;
Saul turns his arms another way,
To save the invaded land.

When Jonah sunk beneath the wave,
He thought to rise no more;
But God prepared a fish to save,
And bear him to the shore.

Blest proofs of power and grace divine,
That meet us in His word!
May every deep-felt care of mine
Be trusted with the Lord.

Wait for His seasonable aid,
And though it tarry, wait:
The promise may be long delay’d,
But cannot come too late.

Voices of Christmas: Matthew.

[This is actually a reprint, somewhat edited, of a post from last March.  However, it’s certainly relevant for this time of year.  Now, it does mention Easter, but Easter would never have happened if it weren’t for Christmas.]

Matthew’s genealogy is important because it tells us that the story of Jesus doesn’t begin “once upon a time,” in spite of those who claim it should.  It’s rooted solidly in Jewish history, in the Old Testament.  However, Matthew’s purpose isn’t merely to show us that Jesus is Jewish.  His purpose is to show us as well that Jesus is closely linked to two great covenants in Jewish history:  the Davidic and the Abrahamic.  Both covenants have national and global significance.  Jesus’ life and death have national and global significance.

Part of the significance of that life and death lies in connection with another covenant essential to the founding of the nation of Israel:  the Mosaic.  Moses wasn’t an ancestor of Jesus so isn’t included in the genealogy.  Nevertheless, there is a connection, though it’s spiritual, not physical.  Israel was given the Mosaic Law as a standard of righteous living, with blessings or judgment based on either Israel’s obedience or rebellion.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel’s disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and the consequences of that rebellion.  Israel was never able to attain to the righteousness required by the Law.  Though that Covenant was never made with mankind – there is no “Dispensation of Law” for mankind – yet according to Paul in Romans 2:1-16, Gentiles, that is, the rest of mankind outside the Jewish race, understand the idea of “right” and “wrong.”  These may not agree with the Biblical definition of such things, but there is still that understanding.  The OT Jew never lived up to the Law, and we never live up even to our own understanding of right and wrong.  We can never attain the righteousness God requires if we are ever to stand in His presence uncondemned.  The Lord Jesus came to procure and provide that righteousness.  Hence, the Manger and the genealogies.

We see –

Importance of the genealogy.

1.  It established Jesus as a descendant of Abraham through Jacob (Israel).  This is important because only an Israelite could be king over the nation, Deuteronomy 17:15.

2.  It established Jesus as a descendant of King David.  Only a descendant of David could sit on his throne.  [You might want to check out my post on “The Daughters of Zelophedad” for more about this.]  I know there is a lot of discussion today, with “the kingdom” being considered only as some sort of “spiritual” entity which has nothing to do with the nation of Israel, but the Old Testament clearly requires something more than an invisible reign of the Son of David.  Jeremiah 23:5, 6 says “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute righteousness and judgment in the earth.  In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely.  Now this is the name by which He will be called:  THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Interesting things in the genealogy.

The genealogy is obviously incomplete.  That’s because it’s designed to show connection, not chronology.  Several names are left out, and the ones included are arranged in three sections of 14.  Perhaps Matthew did this to make it easier to remember these 42 names.  Perhaps there is also a connection with David’s name.  In Hebrew, the numeric value of the letters in his name is “14”.

1.  Each segment ends with a decisive event: the rise of the monarchy, the Captivity, the coming of the Messiah.

2.  Each segment involves a different Covenant.  The first segment involves the Abrahamic Covenant, as the promised line develops through Isaac [not Ishmael, who was rejected], Jacob [not Esau, who was also rejected], then Judah, and on down to the Lord Jesus.  The second segment has to do with the Davidic Covenant, a covenant in which the Lord promised David that he would always have a son to sit on his throne. That the Lord Jesus ultimately fulfills this covenant is without doubt.  The question is, how and when?  The third segment introduces the New Covenant.  Though it’s commonly understood that the New Covenant concerns the Church, we only enter into its blessing because of and through the Lord Jesus.  It was actually made on behalf of the nation of Israel, Jeremiah 31:31-34; 32:36-44; Ezekiel 34:20-31; 36:16-38 and others.

3.  Each segment has something to do with the Davidic kingdom.  The first sections tells of its establishment.  The second refers to its dissolution.  The third has to do with its re-establishment.

4.  The genealogy is a microcosm of grace.  Consider the names listed in it.

a.  Some were famous.  Who could ask for more illustrious ancestors that Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon?

b.  However, some were forgotten.  Who knows anything about Abiud, Eliakim or Azor, or many of the others in this list.  To a church proud of its accomplishments, and forgetting its roots, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world, to put to shame the mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

For most of us, any memory of us will die with us, except maybe for family and a few friends, and when they die, so will the memory.  But those whom the world has considered worthy to be forgotten, God has remembered in His grace.

c.  Some were foul.  Consider Manasseh, for example.  Though son to a godly father, he himself was so wicked that he single-handedly brought on the judgments which later happened to Judah, 2 Kings 21:10-16.  Romans 5:8 says, God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Never make the mistake that God saved you because you were so wonderful, or that you had done something that impressed Him, or obligated Him.  What is wonderful about it, is that God saved you, and me!

d.  Some were feminine.  Women were seldom included in genealogies.  What is even more amazing in this genealogy are the women who were included in it.  One had been a harlot; one had played the harlot.  Two were outsiders, members of races under God’s judgment (aren’t we all?)  One brought with her the scandal of adultery and murder.  One was placed in a situation where she was, and is, considered by many to be an adulteress.  Yet each was given her own special place of responsibility and privilege in producing a link in the chain from Abraham to Jesus.

In spite of the disdain for, and disagreement with, that many have for the Biblical role of women, it wasn’t Christianity that burned a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre.  It’s not Christianity that considers women as mere chattel or that requires them to walk several paces behind their husbands.  It is Christianity that commands husbands to love their wives as themselves, or even more, to love them as Christ loves us, willingly, sacrificially and for their benefit.

There is one final thing, and this is probably the most important.

e.  Some were forgiven.  SOME, not all.  Some people are very interested in their ancestors.  Someone was kind enough to trace my own family back to the Old Country.  There were five families he was tracing and his and mine intersected a few generations back.  My daughter was Salutatorian of her class at the Christian school she attended.  After the graduation, the wife of a pastor of a Baptist church in the area came up to me and asked me if I were the speaker’s father.  I was.  It turned out that this lady and I were (very) distant cousins.  I guess it is a small world, after all.

Lincoln is quoted as saying that people who are always talking about their ancestors are like potatoes.  The only good thing about them is underground.  That’s a little cold, but the truth is, it’s more important what kind of descendant my ancestors have, than what kind of ancestors their descendant has.

The thing is, and these people would have been looking forward, not backward, mere physical relationship to Jesus means nothing, as wonderful as that might have been.  Our Lord Himself taught that in Mark 3:31-35.  His ministry was still its enjoying its early enormous popularity and His family, to put it bluntly, thought He was nuts.  They came to try to talk to Him, and when Jesus was told about this, He said, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?”  And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!  For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and My mother.”

Now Jesus wasn’t disavowing His family.  One of the last things He did on the Cross was to provide for His mother, John 19:25-27.  He was simply saying that physical relationship isn’t what gets it done spiritually.  He mentioned “the will of God,” and in John 6:40, He said, “…this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life….”  Then, lest someone object, “How can we see Him?  He’s not here!?” He said to Thomas after the Resurrection and Thomas’ doubts about it, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” John 20:29.

There is only one religion (my, how I dislike that word!) in the world that has a Manger and a Cross, and that Cross is empty.  Many deny the Resurrection, but those who came to the tomb on that Sunday morning found it to be empty as well.

Several of my posts have mentioned Easter, and that has really been unintentional on my part.  Even when I started this post 1700+ words ago, I wasn’t thinking about it.  But it’s a week from this coming Sunday [remember, this is a reprint of an earlier post.  But without Christmas, there would be no Easter] – a reminder that Someone has broken the chains of sin, death and judgment that hold us all, apart from faith in Him.  That Someone has come to make a way of access into the presence of a holy, righteous and just God Who must and will punish sin.  That Someone has come and taken that punishment on behalf of those who believe on Him, not an academic or formal or “religious” faith, but an absolute reliance on who He was and what He did for sinners, to the point that if He failed, and He cannot! there is no other way of salvation, no other hope for you and me.

There is, or was, a TV program for children called, “The Neverending Story.”  At least, I think it was for children.  There really is a “neverending” story.  With Luke and John, Matthew gives us its beginning.

“Abraham Believed God,” Genesis 15; Romans 4

Some of you, well, one anyway, know that I am privileged to teach a Bible study on Saturday night, and wished that you could be here.  So do I.  The following, including the questions, is the latest study, edited slightly from having written it once already.  The blog and the lessons have worked together well, since we’re going through Genesis on our way, Lord willing, through the Bible.

In Bible study, there is something called “The Law of First Mention.”  This simply means, sometimes, that the “first mention” of a word in Scripture has special significance.  For example, the first mention of Satan, energizing and working through a snake, is first mentioned in Genesis 3, where we learn of the craftiness of the devil and that his main goal is to destroy faith in the Word of God and to turn people away from it.  The first mention of “peace” is in Genesis 15:15, and refers to Abraham going to his fathers, that is, dying, in peace.  People want to “live” in peace, and that’s certainly worthwhile, but it’s more important to die in peace.

Genesis 15:6 gives us the first mention of “righteousness,” a verse Paul quotes in Romans 4:3, where he teaches how righteousness is attributed to us.

Genesis 15.

The events in this chapter happen after Abraham’s victory over the 5 kings and after his rescue of Lot, recorded in Genesis 14.  He had had dealings with the king of Sodom, turning down a rich “reward” from him.  He had encountered the king of Salem. Melchizedek, the king of Salem [Jerusalem], had given him a tithe, and been blessed by him.  We probably should have said something about him, as he prefigures the priesthood of the Lord Jesus, Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 7:1-4, especially v. 3.

After all these happenings, perhaps a reaction set it.  We don’t know for certain, but, based on what God said, perhaps he began to be concerned about how the 5 kings might retaliate.  After all, he was only one man, with a very small army, trained though they might have been, 14:14.  Maybe he thought of the riches he had turned down, and, perhaps, a tinge of regret began to creep in?  We really don’t know, just surmise all this from God’s promise to him.

Anyway, God granted him a vision in which He said, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield [against the kings?], your exceeding great reward” [because of his turning down the king of Sodom?]

However, something else had been gnawing at Abraham, and it came bursting out:  “what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  I don’t think this was unbelief, but frustration, or perhaps a feeling of futility.  He had no son to inherit, so whatever God might give him wouldn’t stay in the family; it would go to his steward, according to the law at that time.  Indeed, if Abraham died without a son, there would be no family.

God wasn’t caught off-guard; nor did He rebuke Abram for this outburst.  He just brought him outside.

The interpretation of this passage. 

It’s usually pictured as God leading Abraham outside, and Abraham looks up at the starry sky.  He thinks, “Whoa!  That’s a lot of stars!”  The trouble with this is that men HAD counted the stars, or so they thought.  Even as late as 1627, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler had catalogued only a little over a thousand stars.  That’s a few less even than the ancient Egyptians had listed centuries before.  Perhaps the difference may be explained by where Germany and Egypt are on the planet.  Still, that doesn’t seem to agree with God’s previous promise that Abraham’s seed would be like the dust of the earth, Genesis 13:16.  It wasn’t until the invention of the telescope, and its development into the powerful one we have today, that men discovered that the stars really are as innumerable as “the dust of the earth.”

So Abraham believed God in spite of what the “science” of the day might have said, like Noah before him had believed God saying a flood was coming when it hadn’t ever even rained.

A second difficulty with this interpretation is found in a couple of phrases elsewhere in the description of this event.  V. 12 says, Now when the sun was going down, and v. 17 says, when the sun went down and it was dark.  This would indicate that it was daylight when God told Abraham to count the stars.

There are several lessons to learn from all this.

The instruction in this passage. 

1.  Atheists and skeptics are always asking for “tangible, verifiable proof” of the existence of God, or Jesus, or of the truthfulness of Scripture.  However, Scripture tells us of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1.  True, Abraham had the “evidence” of God, because God was talking to him, nevertheless, the stars weren’t visible.  Even if they had been visible, he would still have had to believe God, because “science” said that there weren’t really all that many of them.

2.  Sometimes, it’s necessary to believe God in spite of the situation, or even what science insists is true.

3.  The world thinks all this is foolish and stupid, but Scripture says that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, 1 Corinthians 1:25.

4.  This is an unconditional promise.  It doesn’t depend on Abraham, which is a good thing, as Scripture demonstrates his weakness.  He was fallible and sinful, just like the rest of us.  To demonstrate this “unconditionality” even more, God performed what seems to be a bizarre ritual, though it was known later, Jeremiah 34:18.  He told Abraham to bring several animals and divide them into two, placing the parts in two rows on the ground.  Then a smoking oven and a burning torch passed between the pieces. Two people making a covenant or treaty would pass between the pieces.  This meant that they were calling down on themselves the curse of dismemberment, like the animals, if they violated the terms of the covenant or treaty.  However, only God passed through the pieces this time.  Only He is responsible for the fulfillment of the promise.  It is unconditional.

5.  Abraham was a shepherd and had spent a lot of nights under the stars.  However, God said, “Look now….”  Granted, some of the newer versions don’t include “now,” but the interpretation is valid.  So Abraham couldn’t go on past experience.  Further, no doubt he expected to spend more nights under the stars taking care of his flocks.  But God said, “Look now….”  He couldn’t rest on future expectations.  Likewise, we Christians can look back at many times God has blessed us, and, by His grace, look forward to an eternity of fellowship with Him and His people.  But sometimes…the “now” gets us.  Since the “now” is really all we have, may we learn from Abraham to trust God when it’s in the “in spite of…,” times, as well as when things seem to be going well.

Romans 4

Romans is an exposition of “the Gospel,” 1:11, 16.  In chs. 1-3, Paul shows the need for the Gospel because of the condemnation of all men, regardless of ethnicity, 3:19.  In 3:21, he begins his teaching of “justification,” and the righteousness of God apart from the law.  Romans is the answer to the age-old question posed by Job in Job 9:2, “…how can a man be righteous before God?”

In his explanation of the Gospel, Paul tells us what it’s all about.  In Romans 1:17, he writes, for in it [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed…. If modern Christians had written this verse, they probably would have written, “for in it the love of God is revealed….”  But the Gospel message isn’t about “love,” cf. 1 John 1:5; it’s about “righteousness,” that standard of holy living that God requires if we’re to stand in His presence uncondemned.  That’s why the early church never preached “the love of God.” Neither did the Lord Jesus.  John 3 records a private conversation, designed to counteract the narrow view of a Pharisee.

Apart from the Lord Jesus, no one has any claim on or participation in “the love of God,” John 3:36; 1 Timothy 1:14.  The Gospel isn’t about telling people how much God loves them, but about how much God has against them, and what’s to be done about it.

In Romans 3:11, Paul quotes Psalm 14:2, There is none righteous, no, not one.  The result of that is in 3:19, all the world may become guilty [accountable] before God.  In v. 21, Paul introduces the righteousness of God.  This really is nothing new, because the law and the prophets, that is, the Old Testament, foretold a time when God would intervene in man’s sorry state and do something about it.  To demonstrate this, he turns to Abraham.

The testimony of Scripture, vs. 1-8.

In this portion, Paul quotes two Scriptures, Genesis 15:6 and Psalm 32:1, 2. Genesis 15 has to do with Abraham’s believing God “in spite of,” as we’ve seen.  The Psalm has to do with David’s praise of God for His grace in forgiving sin and “covering” with the blood of OT sacrifices.  David learned something about “grace” in the aftermath of his own sin with Bathsheba.  There were no sacrifices for adultery and murders, both of which David was guilty of.  Yet, in 2 Samuel 12:13, the prophet Nathan said to David, “The LORD has also put away your sin; you shall not die.”  Neither Abraham nor David “earned” righteousness.  Nevertheless, there were severe consequences throughout the rest of David’s life.  You see, God may forgive sin without cancelling its temporal consequences.  

The time of Abraham’s justification, vs. 9-11.

The Jews made a big deal out of circumcision.  To them it had become almost an inviolable guarantee of God’s blessing.  No Jew, no matter how wicked, could ever be condemned for his sin.  No Gentile, no matter how “good,” could ever escape condemnation, except by becoming a Jew or at least a proselyte.  The early church had trouble with this, as well.  Paul, who had a great deal to do with the settling of this controversy in Acts 15, points out when Abraham was declared righteous.  It was before he was circumcised, v. 10.  Circumcision had nothing to do with it.

Like the Jews of Paul’s day, some today make a big deal out of this “sign of the covenant,” except that they say it’s been replaced by infant baptism.  Circumcision meant inclusion in the Abrahamic family.  In our day, infant baptism has pretty much come to mean salvation itself, if not explicitly, then implicitly.  That is, paedobaptists deny baptismal regeneration, yet their teaching about infant baptism almost certainly leads in that direction.  However, infant baptism is no more the means of being born into the family of God that circumcision was the means of a Jewish boy being born into the line of Abraham.  It was a sign that he had already been born.  Likewise, baptism is meant to signify that one has already been born again, or born spiritually.  There is no NT evidence of anyone being baptized apart from their own profession of faith.  There were males in the OT who were circumcised:  Ishmael, the sons of Keturah after the death of Sarah, Esau, to whom the rite meant nothing.  They weren’t part of the covenant because they had the wrong birth.  Likewise, baptism without the personal faith of the one being baptized is meaningless.

Besides all that, even circumcision had to do with “righteousness by faith.”  Paul writes that circumcision wasn’t just about the Abrahamic Promise itself, but it was really a seal of the righteousness of the faith which [Abraham] had while still uncircumcised, Romans 4:11, also v. 12 (emphasis added).  It was intended to be a continual visual reminder of blessing by faith, not by works, not by ritual, and certainly not a guarantee of continual blessing.  The Jews pretty much ignored this aspect of the rite.

The inclusiveness of justification, vs. 11, 12.

This doesn’t mean that everybody is justified, but rather that it’s available to everyone, not just Jews.  In v. 11, Abraham is called the father of all those who believe.  That’s us. Without going through the rite of circumcision, all who believe have righteousness imputed to them also.  It isn’t just limited to Jews.

In  v. 12, Abraham is also called the father of circumcision.  Note very carefully how Paul put it:  to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised (emphasis added).  See also v. 16.  These are ethnic Jews who also have faith like Abraham.  In other words, they are “spiritual Israel.”  I know that term is used of “believers” in general, but if anything, we’re “spiritual Isaac,” Galatians 4:28.  However, see also Galatians 3:26-29.  Ethnicity has nothing to do with it, naturally or spiritually.  Nor ritual.

The triumph of faith, vs. 13-25.

1.  with regard to Abraham’s posterity, vs. 13-18.  God’s promise wasn’t based on Abraham’s performance, nor on the works of the law, because the law brings wrath, v. 15.  If blessing were through the law, Paul wrote, then faith is made void, and the promise made of no effect.  In other words, if the Promise is conditional, then it’s effectively canceled.  We saw this in the Mosaic Covenant and Israel’s repeated failure to live up to its conditions.  It’s of faith, that it might be of grace.  In other words, it’s of God, not of man.  The result is that it’s certain to all the seed, v. 16.  This means something to us.  If we’re believers, we’re part of that “seed.”

2.  with regard to his person, vs. 19-22.  Indeed, there was nothing Abraham could do to bring this promise to pass.  Though Paul is here referring to Genesis 17 (17:5, where God changes Abram’s name to Abraham), it’s still true.  There was nothing Abraham could do.  Hebrews refers to him as being as good as dead, Hebrews 11:12.

3.  with regard to ourselves, vs. 23-25.  In Galatians 3:16, Paul uses a play on the word “seed,” which is singular.  Because of this, some people teach that “the seed” is only Christ, so that the Abrahamic Promise is “fulfilled in Jesus,” and so there’s nothing left to be fulfilled.  The OT is all done.  And truly, Christ is the Seed (or the descendant of Abraham) as our Representative, but what He did makes the Promise certain to all the seed.  Righteousness is imputed to those who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.  In other words, we believe in the same God that Abraham did.

Notice that Paul wrote that Jesus was raised because of our justification, v. 25 (emphasis added).  I used to have difficulty understanding what this meant, since I believed with most others that Jesus only died to “provide” salvation, not actually to secure it for those for whom He died.  Since we weren’t “justified” until we believe, how could Paul write what he did?  Paul could write this because in His eternal decree, God has already “justified” those whom He chose, and even “glorified” them.  I can look in the mirror and tell I’m not “glorified” yet, but in God’s mind and purpose, it’s as good as done.  The difficulty with justification is that we’re all sinners.  How can God call us “righteous”?  He can do this because Jesus was first of all delivered up because of our offenses (emphasis added).  His death paid the price for our sins and His life provided the righteousness God imputes to believers, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus, Romans 3:26.

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

 Questions.

1.  What’s the significance of God’s telling Abram to “count the stars”?
2.  What was Abram’s main concern?
3.  What is “faith” about?
4.  What was significant about “now”?
5.  What is the Gospel about?
6.  Was Paul introducing something “new” into his teaching?  Why, or why not?
7.  What did circumcision have to do with Abram’s being declared “righteous?”  Why or why not?
8.  Beside the covenant itself, what was circumcision about?
9.  What is the “triumph of faith” with regard to Abraham?
10. What is it with regard to ourselves?
11. How can God declare sinners to be “righteous”?