Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Obedience – Genesis 21.22-34 (Pt 12)

It seems apparent that the Abimelech is very powerful.  He controls Gerar, and he has his own commander of his own army.  He acknowledges that the presence of God is with Abraham and that God is blessing him.  But he is also aware of Abraham’s penchant toward dishonesty, Abraham’s power rivaling his own, and the need for both of them to peacefully coexist.

Abraham promised that he would live at peace with Abimelech, but there remained a difficulty between them that needed to be cleared up.  A well of water had been seized from Abraham by the servants of Abimelech.  Abimelech claims he didn’t know about it until that very day when it was finally brought to his attention.

Then something very strange seems to happen.  It seems unusual for Abraham to give sheep and oxen to Abimelech before the covenant is made.  Clearly Abimelech was in the wrong.  Yet Abraham gives seven ewe lambs to Abimelech for a well that was already his in a land that was given to him by God.

It just seems Abraham would live as a nomad in a land that was rightfully his and never personally realize the promise of receiving it.  He would have it only through the eyes of faith.  Which appears to be enough for him.  He plants a tamarisk tree, and calls on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God.

Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive via his descendants and not receive personally.  “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents …he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11.8-10).

Think back to the beginning of our study of Abraham’s life.  God found him in Ur of the Chaldees.  He commanded him to leave that country, his family, and all familiar to him for a land that God would show him but not give him personally (Genesis 12.1).  What makes this so amazing is that Abraham didn’t even know where he was going.  If Abraham was my brother, I’d tell him he was crazy.  I’d also be hurt and wonder why he’d forsake me and our family and all the while not even know where he was going.  But Abraham went; he obeyed.  No complaints.

Now God does not leave Abraham without hope.

“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12.2-3)

Abraham believed in the Everlasting God…

[W]ho gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.  He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (Romans 4.18-21).

Abraham traveled to a land of promise in a foreign country.  He had Sarah.  He had Lot for a little while.  He left his father and brother in Haran.  But he never found a permanent home in this promised land.  He was always the stranger in this land.  Buying wells that were his.  Coexisting with rulers that shouldn’t be ruling.  He looked for a city with foundations …a city whose builder and maker is God. “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come” (Hebrews 13.14).  The eternal hope and promise led to Abraham’s eternal rest.  Isaac and Jacob were heirs with him of the same promise.  The favor and blessing of God in this life and the next was the anchor of Abraham’s hope.

We tie Hebrews 11.8-10 to Genesis 21.22-34 very appropriately.  We are not asked to leave our family, our country, and all that is familiar to us in the way Abraham did.  However, there are two very clear parallels.  We serve the same Everlasting God and live the same everlasting life.

Everlasting God

God is the Everlasting God; therefore, He has all authority over me.  I don’t see Abraham arriving at his decision through some kind of consensus.  Once he knew the will of God, he obeyed the will of God.  So the real question for us is, “Why are we trying to explain away clear Scriptural commands?”  If we trust in the Everlasting God, we obey the Everlasting God.

We want the fulness of God; therefore, we must obey the will of God.  Jesus said that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him.  We must do this daily.  We shouldn’t ask, “Well, Lord, how far do you expect us to go with this self-denial thing?”  We dare not complain about the weight of our crosses.  However heavy it is, God will strengthen us to carry it.  Our will is do His will.  The goal is that our love for our Lord is so deep that our relationships to family, and even our own lives, seem like hate in comparison.

Everlasting Life

Set your affections on above things.  Set your eyes on a continuing city.  Abraham never personally realized the promise concerning the land, but his seed will.  Abraham reached the heavenly city.  No earthly possession could compare to everlasting life.  Our hope is tied to the coming of Christ, who is our life.  It is not so much the destination as it is the quality of life He gives to us.  It is everlasting life.

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4.17-18)

It matters not what I have here in the material, temporal world.  As a matter of fact, God may ask me to give up what I have here.  We must be a people joyfully accepting the plundering of our goods, knowing that we have a better and an enduring possession for ourselves in heaven (Hebrews 10.34).  So we live as fellow-travelers here, and find rest only in eternity.  This is everlasting life from the Everlasting God.

Are you submitting to the Everlasting God?

Jewish Pharisees once proclaimed that Abraham was their father.  Jesus responded, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8.39).  But the Pharisees were not cultivating a life of faith with God.  So, it is a fair question for all of us to confront:  “Are we cultivating a life of faith as Abraham did?”  Remember that Abraham is the father of many nations.  He is “the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4.12).

What authority does the Everlasting God have when it comes to His words preserved for us in the Scriptures?  Do you seek to submit to His authority through the indwelling Holy Spirit?  Do you follow His leading?  Are walking in the steps of faith?  Is it your will to do His will?

Perhaps the world itself crowds into your life and steals away your allegiance to the Lord Jesus.  If you belong to Jesus Christ, you are in this world but not of it.  Jesus prayed to the Father, “They are not of this world, just as I am not of this world” (John 17.16).  “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2.15-16).  We ought to despise that which enslaves and energizes our world.  We ought to find it wholly unsatisfying to live for the world.  Friendship with the world is committing spiritual adultery on God.  It makes us at enmity with the God who gave us peace.  “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4.4).

We walk in the steps of faith by coming out from among those who are of the world and becoming separate from them (2 Corinthians 6.17).  If we fail to stand against the infiltration of the world in our lives, there is the great danger of conformity to it instead of the transformation to Christlikeness by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12.2).  “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6.14).

Are you really walking in the steps of faith?  What about your children?  Are you content when it comes to your example of cultivating a life of faith before them?  Do they see you submitting to the Everlasting God and living everlasting life?  Walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5.7).

But it is only children of our Heavenly Father who walk by faith.  If you are not sons and daughters of God …if you are not walking in the steps of Abraham’s faith, then perhaps you have another father, namely the devil.  This is what Jesus said of the religious Pharisees.  He declared to those who refused the authority of His word:  “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8.44).  If you abide in Christ then you must “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2.6).  Are you submitting to the Everlasting God?

Are you living everlasting life?

Abraham’s faith led to Abraham’s justification before God.  It is the same for us.  We are justified before God by faith.  Our trust in the Father leads to the outworking of righteousness that we already have in the Son enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit.  These works of righteousness are Christ at work in and through us, but we are not passive.  We are working because He is first working.  So when Paul says that we are to work out our own salvation, he means that we ought to be producing fruit from righteousness that we already have.  We must live an eternal quality of life.  We are children of God by faith.  We live to glorify God by faith.

But we do not shelter ourselves from the world.  If we did, how would the world see the righteousness of Jesus Christ?  Our faith is in Christ’s precious blood as the propitiation for our sins, and not our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.  Faith truly is the victory that overcomes the world.  Our obedience does not provide eternal life.  Eternal life is a free gift of God made available through the work of Jesus Christ.  It is His perfect redemptive work that saves.  By His death, our sins are gone.  Through His resurrection life, we have the righteousness of God.  Therefore, let us live righteous lives for the glory of God!

Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Promise – Genesis 21.1-21 (Pt 11)

We must read Abraham’s story with our own in mind.  What have we learned from his journey?  Those cultivating a life of faith must…

  1. …be set apart from the world, to God, and for His glory (Genesis 12.1-4).
  2. …begin with a proper perspective of God and upon godliness (Genesis 12.5-20).
  3. …deny self and choose the path of separation (Genesis 13.1-18).
  4. …be courageous enough to see beyond today and serve the King of Peace (Genesis 14.1-24).
  5. …persevere and imitate those who have already received the promises (Genesis 15.1-21).
  6. …refuse to compromise and live lives of conviction (Genesis 16.1-16).
  7. …be properly motivated for a daily commitment to God (Genesis 17.1-27).
  8. …develop intimacy with integrity in order to effectively intercede on the behalf of others (Genesis 18.1-33).
  9. …be intolerant of sin (Genesis 19.1-38).
  10. …acknowledge and confess carnality before our Heavenly Father (Genesis 20.1-18).

Genesis 21 brings us to the realization of a promise God had made to Abraham through the provision of a son, namely Isaac.  Yet Sarah’s solution through her handmaid Hagar and the subsequent birth of Ishmael continues to create problems.  Hagar and Ishmael are both driven away from the homestead and into the wilderness where God continues to provide for both.

Isaac:  The Promised Son (21.1-7)

God promised an heir all along.  He had asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18.14).  Now in clear, unmistakable terms God keeps His promise “as He had said”, “as He had spoken”, and at the set time “of which He had spoken.”

The Lord visited Sarah.  This marks a momentous event.  God will visit the children of Israel and look upon their affliction when they are in bondage in Egypt.  Luke 1.68 tells us that the Lord God of Israel “visited and redeemed His people.”  Later, after Jesus raises the widow’s son, great fear comes upon all, they glorify God and say, “…God has visited His people” (Luke 7.16).  The birth of Isaac points to an even greater birth:  “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9.6a).

This passage reveals that Sarah laughs a second time.  The first time she laughed, it was a nervous laughter years ago when God had revealed what He would do.  She laughs now out of sheer joy, and we laugh with her some four thousand years later.  When she asks the question, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?”  She acknowledges that only God could be at work in her life.  And, indeed, only God could be at work in delivering the promised son.

Sarah desired to see God work in her life, but she hardly believed it possible.  Sometimes it is easy for us to ignore the fact that God is at work in and through us.  Other times, we take credit for what He has done and strut in arrogant opposition to Him.  Be careful with this.  As James Dixon wrote, “We seldom consider that a request to see God work in our lives may be a request for testing and trial.”  This is exactly what happened to Sarah, and God made her laugh!

Ishmael:  The Parting Son (21.8-21)

Ishmael scoffed.  You won’t settle what is meant by this by merely studying the lexical meaning of the word.  Was Ishmael cruel toward Isaac?  Was he arrogantly asserting his own position as the oldest son and, therefore, the rightful heir?  Was he simply being immature, showing a lack of respect?  Whatever the answer, Ishmael simply did not understand his place in the house of Abraham.  It was also some form of persecution because Galatians 4.29 makes that clear.  Isaac was the heir and Ishmael was not.  So Sarah has Abraham send Ishmael and his mother away into the wilderness.  But God meets them both in their distress.  He will not only care for Hagar and her son; he will make good on His promise to make a great nation from Ishmael.

Sarah sinned when she gave Hagar to Abraham back in Genesis 16.  Abraham sinned by not leading Sarah and fostering security in the promises of God.  Ishmael sinned in scoffing at the plan of God.  Sin brings judgment.  When Hagar realized she carried Ishmael, she despised Sarah.  Things were never the same.  Abraham gave Sarah the power and discretion to handle the situation with Hagar.  So in a spirit of vindictiveness and retaliation, Sarah treated her without mercy for her insolence.

Sarah sought for a solution to a problem.  But because she acted independently of God, an avalanche of consequences came crushing down on Abraham’s family.  Sarah sought for blessing and happiness but found only struggle and misery.  Hagar had to return to Sarah, which must have really been a humbling experience.  She must submit again to Sarah, but she must have struggled to maintain a good relationship with her.  Now in Genesis 21 Sarah casts out Hagar and Ishmael for good.

Abraham was very displeased.  This was his son that had been cast out.  God had told Abraham in Genesis 17.20:  “I have blessed [Ishmael], and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly.  He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.”  And God would do exactly what He had promised.  Only Abraham could not be a part of Ishmael’s life.  Ishmael would have to be entirely entrusted to God.  God will use this event in Galatians 4 as a portrait for the salvation He now offers:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free (Galatians 4.21-31).

We are children of the freewoman.  Christians are similar to Isaac in that we experience supernatural birth.  We are a part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to mankind.  Unto us a Son is given!  We should not live as those enslaved.  As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, those according to the flesh persecute those according to the Spirit.  Those according to the flesh are true legalists.  They believe that what they do merits favor with God and will gain them an inheritance.  We should cast out the legalist from our assembly even as Abraham cast out Ishmael.  The legalist will not share in the inheritance with the legitimate sons and daughters of God.  Those who believe they can won’t!  But is it possible for a genuine Christian to revert to legalism?  Yes!  And when he or she does, they ought to be confronted.  They ought to repent and trust fully in Christ for sanctification as they did for justification.  We are children of faith not children of the flesh.

 1. Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit.

We could not apply this text in Genesis 21 in this specific way if Paul did not do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 4.  Genesis 21 is instructive in showing us the heart of man.  Those born according to the flesh will persecute those born according to the Spirit.  It will always be this way.  As a matter of fact, a Christian walking in the flesh (condition) even though he is in the Spirit (position) will often persecute his own brother or sister in Christ.

Anyone born according to the flesh or walking in the flesh just cannot endure the fact that anyone could walk according to the Spirit and be blessed and favored by God.  Jesus says in John 15.19:  “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  That we call ourselves saints or elect ones in Christ is enough to provoke the hatred of the world.  Ishmael mocked Isaac.  Israel mocked the Christ.  Those in the flesh mock the true sons and daughters of God.  “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (1 Timothy 3.12).

 2. Those born according to the Spirit are true children of the promise.

We are justified by faith; therefore, we are no longer bound under the tutor (Galatians 3.24-25).  We are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  If we are Christ’s, then we are truly heirs of the promise (Galatians 3.29).  As children of the promise, we must escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Peter 1.4).  We must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7.1).  As Christians we are empowered by the Holy Spirit of God to demonstrate the righteousness of the Son of God for the glory of God.  Anything short of this goal is not normal Christianity.  We must truly be Spirit-fed and Spirit-led Christians.  True Christians evidence the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  If they don’t, they will have no personal assurance that they are children.  We won’t be assured of that fact either.  There are always weeds among the stalks of wheat.

 3. Those who are sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father shall share together in the inheritance as saints of light.

Paul wrote:

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light (Colossians 1.9-12).

Only the saints in the light are partakers of the Father’s inheritance.  He will cast out all others.  There is neither Jew nor Greek in God’s economy of grace.  All are one in Christ.  Anyone who refuses Christ will not participate in the inheritance which awaits us in Heaven above.  Those who stand on the promises will alone find a solid foundation for their hope, namely the confident expectation that Jesus is coming to take believers to be with Him forever!  What great assurance!  We will not be disinherited.  We cannot be.  We have so much in Christ!  There is so much yet in store for us.  It is simply unreasonable for us not to live for Him.

Parents must endeavor to keep their families together for the glory of God.

Every family is dysfunctional.  Dad acts like an imperial dictator.  Mom wallows in self-pity.  The children are lazy and rebellious.  Family members take one another for granted.  Children scoff and mock when it comes to their siblings.  Not much has changed in 4,000 years.  Our joy can turn to sorrow in a hurry.

As parents, we must endeavor to keep our families together in spite of all of this.  We must avoid rashness and unreasonable demands.  We must respond with the same compassion and mercy that governs our Heavenly Father when we sin against Him.  If we must correct our children, let us temper that correction with genuine prayer.  Let us not be extreme in our response.  We can be excessively permissive and excessively autocratic.  Both are hurtful.  Ask yourself, “What does the Scripture teach?”  Pray for discernment.

The most severe correction should be reserved for scoffing at the will of God in family life.  Meet children head-on when they don’t pay attention to and make fun of your Bible time together.  If they don’t take seriously the things of God, we cannot let it pass.  If they must pluck out an eye or cut off an arm to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, so be it.  What we must be careful of is to make sure we don’t correct our children for our pleasure and convenience.  We cannot discipline our children in anger for this very reason.  It is not for our profit, but for His (and theirs)!

All of us who are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father are secure.

Jesus said of His true disciples, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10.28-29).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.35-39).

It’s not the privileges in store.  It’s not the possessions we hold.  It’s the promises we have.  Rely on the promises of God.  Read the Bible not just for a list of duties before God and man; read it to receive the promises of your Heavenly Father.  Let this sink in as you read it:  The Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you (Galatians 2.20).

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…” (Ephesians 2.19).

Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Carnality (Pt 10) – Genesis 20.1-18

Genesis 19 ends with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot barely escapes the destruction.  His wife is a pillar of salt, his two daughters get him drunk with wine, and his grandchildren are result of incestuous relationships with both of them.  The Bible leaves him in the mountains around the city of Zoar.  He is afraid to go back into any city after witnessing such destruction by God’s hand of judgment.  It is terrifying to witness how far down Lot went.

Yet Abraham is still cultivating a life of faith.  He built altars to God, gave the best land to Lot, and later rescued his nephew from wicked men who carried him away into captivity with his family and his servants.  The King of Salem, Melchizedek, blessed Abraham upon his return, and the man of faith gave a tithe of the spoils to the King.  Abraham believed the promise of God, and his faith was credited as righteousness.  Abraham was a man of great faith.

Abraham is a striking contrast to Lot.  However, the Bible realistically portrays the sin of this man of faith.  He lied to Pharaoh according to a previous arrangement he had made with Sarah.  Instead of protecting his wife with godly authority, he gave into her demand and committed fornication with Hagar.  The result was not the heir God promised but the child Ishmael, one who would bring strife instead of peace.  You would think that after everything Abraham went through, he would not sin in the same way again.  You would think that, but you would be wrong.

God does not hide the deficiency and carnality of Abraham.  This simply fortifies the fact that we are reading the very words of God.  Abraham is certainly a man who cultivated a life of great faith, but he did so amidst great personal failure.  There were times during which he proved he certainly had a sin nature.  The carnality came out.

The Deception and the Dream (20.1-7)

Genesis 20 contains two dialogues.  One is between God and Abimelech (vv. 3-7) and the other between Abimelech and Abraham (vv. 9-13).  Verses 1-2 tell us that Abraham lied to a foreign ruler once again.  First, the Pharaoh and now the Abimelech.  Abimelech is a title similar to that of Pharaoh.  It is not a proper name.  It means royal father or “the king is my father.”  Abimelech sent for and took Sarah.  A crisis now presents itself.

This section begins with God’s ominous proclamation to the Abimelech:  “You are a dead man.”  It ends with another somber warning:  “If you do not restore [Sarah], know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”  God came to Abimelech in a dream.  He leveled this death sentence because Abimelech was about to commit adultery.

Abimelech, however, had not come near Sarah (v. 4).  He also claimed to be king of a righteous, blameless nation.  He acted with integrity and was innocent of wrong doing.  The Lord God always does that which is right.  Would he destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Abraham has asked that same question in Genesis 18.

God acknowledged the integrity of Abimelech (v.6).  As a matter of record, God Himself withheld Abimelech from sinning against Him; He did not allow Abimelech to touch her.  God restrains evil in the world.  He restrains His children from committing destructive sin.  He restrains the wicked as well.  The only reason Abimelech had a clear conscience before the Lord is that God had graciously intervened.

Abimelech and his household would live once Abraham prayed.  Right now, they all lived under a certain death sentence.  Some physical disease was more than likely sent from God, because He healed Abimelech.  The women of the nation became barren at the hand of God as well.  God would eventually open their wombs once again.

But still:  If Abimelech did not restore Sarah to Abraham, he was a dead man.  Restoration and forgiveness were possible for Abimelech,  but he had to restore Sarah.  Later, we find out that Abraham would have to intercede on his behalf.  Here we see God’s sovereignty and human responsibility once again in the Scriptures.  Both are stated.  God was in complete control of the situation, but Abimelech must restore Sarah.  There is the real and potential outcome that he would not.  Otherwise, the warnings of God make little sense.  

Fear prompts deceit.

Abraham had experienced the love and mercy of God to a great extent during his life.  But he still lied.  Fear prompts deceit.  Fear narrows our focus so that we see no way out other than deceiving people.  If God is as powerful as we maintain, He is certainly able to protect us.  Isn’t it true that we are indestructible until God is finished with us on this earth? How has God failed you?  Why are you doubting His love, faithfulness, and power over your current circumstance?   Deceitful lives resemble the father of lies rather than reflect the glory of God!

Deceit becomes an avalanche.

Abraham’s deceit quickly became a problem not just for him but for the many around him.  It could have cost him his wife and the favor of God.  It could have cost Abimelech and his people their lives.  This is the consequence and nature of deceitfulness.  If God had not intervened, the promised Messiah would not have come.  Nothing can be left to us because of our unfaithfulness.  All is of grace.  And yet our deceitful avalanche will cause collateral damage.  While the promises of God remain unaffected, our lives take a turn for the worse.

The Disgrace and the Disapproval (20.8-13)

This is the second main section of dialogue in the chapter.  Abimelech is a Gentile king who, unlike Pharaoh, has a sensitive conscience.  He seems to know right from wrong.  He is open to the revelation of God.  This was not the case with Pharaoh.  Abimelech reacts to his dream by rising early in the morning, reporting to his people what had happened, and the men feared.

It’s a bit ironic.  Everyone is afraid here.  Abraham was prompted by fear to lie.  Abimelech and his people feared God because of the fact that Abraham lied.  God’s promises to Abraham did not stop him from fearing other men.  He resembles Lot more than a man who is cultivating a life of faith.  That means we are prone to the fear of men as well.  Your faith can and will fail at times.

This is really a catastrophic failure.  It’s one thing to fail within a small circle, but to fail in such a public way and be rebuked by a worldly leader is certainly disgraceful.  It must be remembered that he has failed like this twice in very public situations.

The question in v. 10 from Abimelech is quite penetrating.  What did Abraham have in view?  His answer reveals his problem:  He thought of Gerar in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He assumed that the fear of God was not in this place.  Sarah was so beautiful; he believed they’d kill him for her.  After all, God caused him to wander in this strange land.  His focus was not on God but on the world around him.  He allowed experience and emotion to direct his steps.  When fear dictates our steps, we act as disgracefully as he did.

It is hard to imagine Sarah’s mindset.  Abraham should have protected his wife.  Instead, he led her down the paths of deceit and sin.  Abraham should have been willing to sacrifice himself for the honor of his wife; instead, he sacrificed his wife’s honor for fear of man.  He also brought Abimelech and his household under severe judgment.  Had Abimelech and his family died, Abraham would have been the cause of it.  Deep shame and sorrow now belonged to Abraham.  It’s hard to think of anything more disgraceful than allowing your wife to be taken by another man, no matter how powerful he is.  Still God dealt mercifully with Abraham.  The offended king did not treat Abraham the way he deserved to be treated.  He was more honorable than Abraham in this situation.  He was careful, fair, and even virtuous in his response.

The Deference and the Deliverance (20.14-18)

Abimelech’s fear of God prompted a quick response from him and from his people.  He gave much to Abraham in addition to restoring Sarah.  He goes above and beyond what God had commanded he do.  He gave Abraham the choice of the best land, which is quite haunting when compared to the early decision Lot had made regarding land.  He also gave Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver, and Sarah was vindicated and justified (not rebuked as in the NKJV).

I should like to hear Abimelech’s tone when he said to Sarah, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver…”  Perhaps a little sarcasm was present?  Abimelech could have been angry about the malady his household had suffered and about the barrenness in his house, but his rebuke is recorded in the penetrating question he asked Abraham:  “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”

Abraham prays to God.  He would have to come face-to-face with his own unfaithfulness in the midst of God’s great faithfulness.  We make decisions that cause a great deal of pain in our lives, but these choices don’t impact that overarching plan of God.  “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2.13).

Conclusion:  

  1. Speak the truth.  It is rare to find people who speak the truth.  We often think we’re fine as long as we don’t tell unadulterated lies.  It’s okay to shade the truth for most of us.  We tell white lies because it’s not possible to tell evil, black ones.  We magnify sin in others, and this is a great deceit.  We lie to gain the praise of men or avoid being persecuted by them.  We exaggerate a temptation or conceal it.  We justify it by saying simple and foolish things like, “It’s only in this one little area.  Nobody’s perfect!”  We lie to one another and then come to church in great hypocrisy and claim to worship God.  Perhaps our meditation this week ought to be David’s in Psalm 119.29:  “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”
  2. Keep yourself pure.  We turn from sin and forsake it because of the grace of God.  We forget that we are able to fall again to the same sin even as Abraham did.  What is your besetting sin.  You mourn over it.  You have victory in Christ.  God has chosen not to take away the temptation, but He has enabled you to stand against the temptation and experience victory and purity.  Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  But still temptation will come.  Abraham was well along in his relationship with God.  He failed due to fear and unbelief.  Let his failure serve as a bracing warning to you this week. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10.12-13).  Keep yourself pure!
  3. Be grateful for grace.  God protects and preserves us by grace.  If it were up to us, we would dishonor God and despise our privileges as sons and daughters of the Almighty.  Even when we were enemies of God, he kept us from all that we could have done.  There were snares and dangers from which He mercifully kept us.  Grace is truly amazing.  It kept us from certain death and enables a powerful life worth living!
  4. Mitigate the damage.  Once we sin, the only way out is genuine humility.  It is here where we begin to mitigate against the damage we’ve caused in our own lives and the lives of others we claim to love.  God hears the broken and contrite heart.  Our lives will become edifying and useful again.  We cannot cancel out the consequences of our sin; however, should an opportunity present itself to bring good to the situation, we ought to take it by the grace of God.  Pray for those you have hurt.  Ask God to take away the bitter memory someone has of you.  Pray that He would not be dishonored and disgraced by your foolishness.  Take opportunity to show the love of Christ through a gracious and forgiving spirit.

Cultivating Faith – Part 7

Cultivating a Life of Faith: A Man of Daily Commitment

Genesis 17.1-27

Our failures and setbacks in the Christian life may be reduced to this one sentence: We forget who God is and what He is able to do when it comes to keeping His promises.  Genesis 17 is yet another reaffirmation of the formal covenant cut in Genesis 15 and first introduced in Genesis 12.  The theme of the chapter seems to point up the fact that those who cultivate faith must do so by daily committing themselves to Almighty God, His governing title in this passage.  There are at least four godly motives for daily commitment in the chapter.

God is Powerful (Genesis 17.1-3).

Ten years went by from the time the Covenant was given to Abraham at the beginning of Genesis 12 to the birth of Ishmael in Genesis 16. Thirteen more years go by from Ishmael’s birth to God’s reaffirmation of the covenant in Genesis 17.  The formal statement and ratification of the covenant is in Genesis 15.  Is it any wonder that Abraham becomes a man who cultivated great faith in Almighty God?  God is not concerned with how we think it should be done or when we think it should be done.  He is Almighty God!  His manner and timing are perfect.

He is Almighty God in the sense that He is strong and powerful. God brings blessing our way on the basis of His omnipotence.  This same title for God appears in Psalm 68.14.  This verse states that “the Almighty scattered kings” in the many peaks of Bashan.  God reminds Abraham that He is strong and powerful enough to deliver on His promises.  “The Almighty …is excellent in power” (Job 37.23)!

Therefore, God reaffirms the covenant with Abraham by pointing to His own character, specifically His power. Then, God tells Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless in the light of what the Almighty can and will do.  God clearly tells Abraham that He will multiply him exceedingly (Genesis 17.2), and all Abraham can do is fall on his face before God continues speaking.  This leads to verse four and our second motive for daily commitment…

God is Faithful (Genesis 17.4-5).

Sometimes people refer to the covenant under consideration as Abraham’s Covenant. But God states that it is His agreement with Abraham.  It is His covenant with Abraham.  God also reminds him that he will be a father of many nations.  Nothing depends upon Abraham.  If it did, it would have failed.  Great is God’s faithfulness not our own faithfulness!

So God changes Abram’s name (exalted father) to Abraham, which means “father of the multitude.” Abraham had to be on his face thinking, “What multitude?”  He didn’t have an heir.  Maybe he thought God meant Ishmael.  It is rather difficult and humiliating to have a name that you cannot live up to!

We have to constantly recommit our lives to God. God commits Himself to us once, and then keeps His commitment.  God doesn’t have faith in us; we have faith in God.  Cultivating a life of faith means daily commitment and recommitment.  And God is faithful still through it all.

Sometimes I’m an embarrassment to God. Yet He loves me, and I love Him back.  I’m an embarrassment to God when I blame Him instead of praising Him for my trials.  I’m an embarrassment to Him when I refuse to joyfully suffer shame for His name.  But I’m still a child of the King!

Cultivating a live of faith takes daily commitment in our pursuit to glorify such a faithful God. Greater glory comes His way when I praise Him in my struggles.  I cannot grow weary in well-doing.  I might not see my reward in this life, but I will in the life to come.  I have faith that that is so, because my faith is rightly placed in such a faithful God!  God is powerful and faithful.  Those are two great motivations for daily commitment to Him, but there is a third in Genesis 17…

God is Purposeful (Genesis 17.6-14)

We have a restatement of the covenant in these verses. We are told that it is God’s covenant (Genesis 17.7), it is everlasting, and it is with Abraham and all his descendants.  Genesis 17.8 says that the land of Canaan would be an everlasting possession as well.  We know that God is talking about the land that stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates by comparing this passage with Genesis 15.

Even though the covenant God made with Abraham is unconditional, there is a sign of the covenant, namely circumcision. This is Abraham and Israel’s part in the matter.  God is purposeful in that He gives Abraham a task to perform.  All male infants were to be circumcised at eight days after birth.  Everyone born in his house, servant or son, must be circumcised.  Refusal meant that they had shattered the sign of God’s covenant.

Circumcision should be viewed as a sign of acceptance when it came to God’s unconditional covenant with Abraham. It is a spiritual sign and a national sign.  Fathers in Abraham’s family demonstrated faith in the covenant by circumcising their sons, but the covenant would continue in spite of individual disobedience.  Women were covered under the patriarchal system of that time and were not circumcised.  But the Jewish people through time would prove that they lost sight of the significance of circumcision:

For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God (Romans 2.25-29).

The heart always mattered to God. It still matters today.  Some Christians today believe that baptism replaced circumcision.  Thus, they believe that they should baptize their infants.  But baptism is a person’s identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, an outward sign of inward faith in the Gospel.  Obviously, infants cannot make such a decision, nor can fathers make it for them.  One should have no problem with child dedication in the church, but one should not use the form of baptism.  Belief in Christ precedes baptism.  If the baptism doesn’t happen, the person is still saved (e.g., thief on the cross).

God has done it all. I see God asking Abraham to respond to God’s covenant with the sign of circumcision.  I see God giving Abraham this task for a two-fold purpose.  First, circumcision signified God separating a people apart from the world to Himself.  Second, by occupying Himself with God’s command, Abraham distances himself from the world by drawing closer to God.

There are times that I get up in the morning and I just want to stay in bed. Life is too hard.  Even encouragement from others doesn’t help.  All I know at these times is to put one foot in front of the other and do what God tells me to do.  I have a purpose …a job to do.  God tells me so in His Word.  I might not be able to make sense of everything, but I can put one foot in front of the other and do what God called me to do!  God is powerful, faithful, and purposeful.  There is a fourth and final motive for daily commitment to God in Genesis 17…

God is Merciful (Genesis 17.15-27)

God changes Sarai’s name (“my princess”) to Sarah (“a princess”). I don’t know why it was changed like this.  The Bible doesn’t say.  But the Lord said that He would bless her and give Abraham a son by her.  She would be the mother of nations and kings.

This promise had to be wonderful for Sarah to think about in future days. God knew why Sarah did what she did with Hagar.  But God forgave her and reaffirmed His promise.  Sarah couldn’t do anything to thwart God’s faithfulness.  That is mercy; that is motivating mercy.  There is no need for you to pay for your sins; Christ has already paid for them.  Why are you still on the bench?  Why are you still watching and not working?

God is tender and compassionate. He is forgiving; therefore, nations and kings will issue forth from Sarah.  He has great and mighty things in store for us as well.  His mercy is manifested in Ishmael too.

The Bible says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed. He said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old?  And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  Why did Abraham laugh?  If we say that he laughed for joy at what God was going to do (John Calvin’s view), then what do we do with v. 18:  “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”  And then we ask, “Why did God correct Abraham in verse 19?”  No, it seems that Abraham just cannot believe what he was hearing.  He struggled with his faith in God.

Remember, Abraham thought Eliezer should be the heir. Now he offers Ishmael as a suggestion to God, as if God needed Abraham’s help!  No, God would keep His Word and fulfill the covenant His way.  It is going to be Isaac born to Sarah in one year’s time.  If Abraham thought it strange for someone as old as himself to be a father, imagine how he felt at having sons at over 135 with Keturah, his second wife!

God then told Abraham what He had already revealed to Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid. Ishmael would be blessed and multiply exceedingly.  Interestingly, he would have 12 sons that became princes.  His descendants would also become a great nation.  The Arabic people are the people of this promise of God.  It is easy for us to forget that in our modern climate.  They are numerous and great as a people.

The Arabic people have brought much good and much blessing into the world. But the covenant is established with Isaac and his descendants not with Ishmael and his.  There is not racial inferiority in this passage.  That would come later as a result of sin.  God simply chose Isaac and not Ishmael.  Thus, the faith of Abraham is tested once again.

When the LORD had finished talking with Abraham, He departs. Abraham is silent.  But his faith took the form of action.  Abraham took Ishmael, all born in his house, and all male servants and circumcised them that very same day.  He did what God told him to do.  He was 99 when he himself was circumcised.  Ishmael was 13.

Abraham struggled to cultivate a life of faith in God. But his struggles were short-lived.  He came around quick.  His victories in his walk with God earned him a part in Hebrews 11 as a man who still epitomizes faith.  Romans 4.21 says that he was fully convinced that what God had promised God was also able to perform (Romans 4.21).  We, too, must be fully convinced and daily committed to the promises of God!

Blessings come with great regularity in our lives when we believe God and then obey God. Do not neglect the strength and grace God gives to you in order to overcome what seems impossible in your life.  Abraham’s example should teach all of us that nothing stands in the way of God’s purpose and plan for us – not even ourselves.  God asks us to simply believe.  When we do, He will greatly bless our lives!  He motivates our daily commitment through His almighty power, great faithfulness, purposeful calling, and wonderful mercy!

Cultivating Faith – Part 6

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Conviction (Pt 6)

Genesis 16.1-16

The descendants of Abraham would number as the stars are numbered in the heaven (Genesis 15).  God is gracious to reveal that Abraham’s future descendants would one day come out of Egypt after about 400 years of affliction with great possessions, great numbers, and a great God.  While God accomplished much for Abraham, what do we read of Abraham’s accomplishments?  We sum everything up in two words:  Abraham believed.  However, the years pile up until…

Conviction is undermined by compromise (Genesis 16.1-3).

The temptation for believers to compromise intensifies when…

        A Problem in Life Presents Itself (16.1)

Compromise of our convictions in the Lord begins when an insurmountable problem presents itself to us.  The temptation is to lift ourselves out of it or access that which cannot be humanly accessed.  We don’t pray or turn to God; instead, we take matters into our own hands.  This is a devastating decision.

The problem is obvious to Sarah at the outset of Genesis 16.  She didn’t have a son, but she had a maidservant.  Certainly Sarah’s plea for her husband to go into her maidservant would be persuasive in more ways than one.  Abraham cared for and certainly dearly loved his wife.  Surely his heart ached due to her barrenness.  Sarah had a solution to a problem that perplexed Abraham.  And one must conclude that what Sarah suggested would have been a great temptation for a man like Abraham, even though quite common in the day in which he lived.  So, the downward spiral continues…

        A Pragmatic Plan is Set in Motion (16.1-3)

Ten years passed since Abraham had come into the Land.  Sarah felt that it was her fault that God was withholding the promised heir from her.  But she would do well to remember that God made His promise with Abraham and not with her.  Sarah had carried a burden she was not meant to carry.  Instead of giving into his wife’s request, Abraham should have comforted and assured her.  He should have reminded her of the power of God to keep His promises.

We are so easily derailed by pragmatism when problems present themselves.  There will always be many options for us.  There will always be many voices or counselors to advise us.  We need discernment and wisdom from God in a sea of options and the cacophony of counselors.  It is important that we do not allow godly convictions to suffer under the corrosion of compromise.  If we fail to listen to the still, small voice of God, then we will quickly realize that…

Compromise always brings devastating consequences (16.4-16).

While this may seem obvious to an believer with a modicum of maturity, it is still something that we practically forget as we live life disconnected from the will of God.  Do this long enough, and…

        Compromise Breeds Contempt (16.4-6)

Abram went into Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid.  She conceived, and then the contempt ran in both directions when it came to Sarah and Hagar.  Hagar not only looks down upon Sarah, but she fears her.  As for Sarah, she deals harshly with Hagar.  So much so that Hagar flees for her home in Egypt.  Compromise always breeds contempt.

However, all hope is not lost.  It never is for the child of God.  Devastating consequences help us turn the corner.  We learn that…

        Compromise Deepens Conviction (16.7-16)

     The Angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Himself, found Hagar by a spring in the wilderness.  The common current of questioning from the Lord finds another place within the historical account of Genesis.  “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”  This is so reminiscent of what we see as God confronts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The Lord commands Hagar to return and submit to Sarah.  He also promises her that her descendants will multiply exceedingly.  They shall be innumerable!  The amazing announcement the Lord makes at this point in the narrative is so clearly aligned with the announcement of our Lord’s birth.  It is uncanny:  “Behold thou are with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction” (Genesis 16.11).  The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and declared, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1.23).

Compromise can deepen conviction once we repent and turn to a firm stand based upon firm dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  All of us fall short of the glory of God.  All of us have had times of compromise in our lives.  While we do not need to compromise in order to deepen godly convictions, the raw truth is that such a scenario has the potential to do just that.  The awful, bitter fruit of compromise will goad us back to the Savior and deepen our relationship with Him.  The only other option is to go adrift and rudderless in a sea of sin.

Our text is clear.  The Angel of the Lord names Hagar’s child through Abraham Ishmael, which means “God hears”.  The close parallel with our Lord’s birth announcement to Joseph points forward to His name Immanuel, which means “God with Us”.  It is one thing for God to hear us; it is quite another for Him to be with us.  Ishmael is born because God heard the affliction of Hagar; Immanuel is born because God heard the affliction of the world!

But Hagar named the Lord.  She called Him:  “Thou God seest me”  (Genesis 16.13).  The name of the well is named Beer Lahai Roi (Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me).  Hagar left Abraham and Sarah and fled for a familiar place.  However, something quite unexpected happened to her.  God came after her when Abraham or Sarah did not.  She could leave behind them, but she could not leave God behind.  He pursued her!  He sees.  She saw the God who sees her and learned that she, too, could have Abraham’s God as her own God.

The cultivation of a life of faith necessitates an uncompromising stand upon the truths of God’s Word.  One of those great truths concerns His revealed character.  One powerful meditation concerning His character is that God sees …He sees all.  God knows …He knows all.  When Hagar comes back to Abraham and Sarah, she will become an ensign of their compromise before the Lord.  She will be an instrument that deepens the conviction of God’s revelation and promise to Abraham and Sarah.  He sees and He knows.

Cultivating a life of faith motivates an uncompromising stand for at least three reasons:

    1. God’s omniscience convinces and grieves the compromising heart.  Don’t be among those who say, “How does God know” (Psalm 73.11)?  Don’t think that no one sees; God sees.  He searches the heart.  He knows you.  You cannot hide in darkness from Him (see Psalm 139.1, 12).  This may bring fear and grief, but it is an important step to hope and the cleansing desire to welcome the searching penetrating gaze of God in order to melt away anxiety (see Psalm 139.23-24).
    2. God’s omniscience reaches the thoughts and intents of the heart.  You cannot claim that God is not fair or that He does not judge with righteous judgment every man.  We are finite.  We only see the outward actions of people; God sees the inner man, the soul (see 1 Samuel 16.7).  All the ways of man may be pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit of a man (see Proverbs 16.2).  The only intent that rings true is that which is for the glory of God.  Beg God for the discernment and protection from deceit that is needed due to our easily corruptible hearts.
    3. God’s omniscience heals and comforts the broken heart.  There is hope for those of us who have compromised our convictions.  Don’t run from the harshness of real-time life as desperate and broken Hagar did.  When you are slandered and cannot defend yourself, remember that God sees.  All things are naked and open to the One who will judge righteously (Hebrews 4.13).  His eyes still run to and fro and throughout the whole earth in order to show Himself the strong and all-seeing God that He is.  He reveals Himself to those who humble themselves, submit, and return.

God sees.  This is both comforting and convicting.  When we are hurting, God sees the hurt at its deepest level.  God sees us strive for lives of holiness in the face of those who accuse us of being sanctimonious and legalistic.  God sees when we go to Him yet again, broken and ruined by our sin.  We know that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin!  Even at the most depressing times of our lives, we can put one foot in front of the other and find our way back to Calvary.  God sees.  I know He sees me.

Cultivating Faith – Part 5

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Patience (Genesis 15.1-21)

Have you ever struggled with what you know to be the promise of God, but it doesn’t seem to be a present reality?  As Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “No doubt the trouble is with you!”  God provided Abraham with a great promise in Genesis 12, but he was struggling with present reality by the time we reach Genesis 15.

After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir (Genesis 15.1-3).

Abraham is fearful and wondering what happened to the promise of God.  God responds by telling him that He is his shield, his exceedingly great reward.  God is both the protector and fulfiller of promises.  However from Abraham’s perspective, the proof is in the pudding.  There is no son …no natural heir.  Perhaps Eliezer is to be heir, but that cannot be because he is a servant and not a son.  Perhaps Abraham should adopt his faithful servant to be a faithful son.  But God will have none of this.

God mercifully reiterated the promise He had made earlier.  It will not be an adopted servant but an actual son as an answer to the promise God made.  God used the stars of heaven as an object lesson (Genesis 15.4-5).  This will be the number of Abraham’s actual descendants.

How does Abraham respond to this?  “And [Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15.6).  Abraham’s belief or faith is the key in this verse.  He trusted in God.  This has been and always will be the way of deliverance, whether it comes to the deliverance of a man’s eternal soul or deliverance from agonizing adversity.

When did Abraham believe to the saving of his soul?  It was when God called him out of Ur in Genesis 12.  The writer of Hebrews speaks:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.8-10).

Abraham is not circumcised until Genesis 17.  He is 99 in that chapter of Scripture.  This is several years after his actual conversion.  Circumcision is a sign of Abraham’s faith, but it is not the basis of his justification.  The same could be said about Christian baptism.  Baptism is a sign of faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; it does not justify anyone.  Paul said, in Romans 4.9-12:

Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.

Just as Abraham, we are justified by faith in the gift of God.  The gift of God is the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.  Faith is not a work of man; faith is man’s acceptance of the work of God.  Romans 4.3 clearly tells us that Abraham believed God and that that belief was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.  As we work backwards in Romans 4, we find that Abraham was not justified by works or else he would have something about which he could boast (see Romans 4.2).  Therefore faith is not a work of man but acceptance of the free grace of God.  Faith is not work but resting in God’s work.

Man has always been saved by grace through faith.  If faith is a work, then man would be justified by works.  However man is justified by faith not works.

[Abraham] staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness (Romans 4.20-22).

Galatians 3.6 adds that Abraham believed God and that his belief was accounted to him for righteousness.  That is why only those who believe are truly sons of Abraham.

Salvation is offered by God; it is all of His grace.  Faith is man receiving the free gift of God.  The believer trusts or rests in the work of Another not in himself or in his own work.  I don’t believe God causes men to believe; however, I do believe God grants to mankind the avenue of faith.  We take it or leave it.  This understanding of faith means that when I meet God before His throne, I will have no one to blame but myself for rejecting His gracious avenue of faith.  The time for faith is alway when you cannot see.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11.1).

Abraham believed God.  He looked for a Savior to come.  We believe God and look back to a Savior who has already come.  Abraham and New Testament believers are saved the same way:  By grace alone through faith alone!

The context of Genesis 15 indicates that Abraham’s faith must be in the promise of God.  This faith is cultivated and strengthened by yet another revelation of God:

And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it (Genesis 15.7-8)?

Abraham desired confirmation or a sign.  God does not rebuke Abraham for this.  As a matter of fact God provides a sign for him and for many saints in the Scripture.  These signs strengthen the faith of believers.  Gideon (Judges 6) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20.8) are examples of believers strengthened by the signs God granted them.

Ahaz (Isaiah 7) is an example of a sanctimonious king who snubbed God’s prophet by saying, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord” (Isaiah 7.12)!  But the Lord gave him a sign anyway.  When the sign was rejected, Ahaz expressed unbelief.  There is irony here for those who carefully follow this thread of thought.

Abraham asks for a sign, but he expresses faith in doing so.  He is longing to see the promise God made him fulfilled.  So God graciously replies:

And [God] said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

This seems strange until you understand that God condescended to the practice of men who cut a covenant but literally cutting an animal in half.  Both parties involved in the covenant would pass between the halves of the animal in order to confirm their agreement.  But God alone walks between the halves of animals:

And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites (Genesis 15.12-21).

God appears as a smoking furnace or oven and a burning lamp or torch passing between the halves and cutting the covenant with Abraham unconditionally.  God had Abraham set things up and protect the slaughtered animals from vultures, but He alone passed through the halves.  God is pictured as a smoking oven and burning torch to symbolize His great power and holiness (cp. Exodus 19.18; Isaiah 6).

Abraham fell into a deep sleep before this unfolded.  It is the same kind of sleep Adam fell into when Eve was created in Genesis 2.21.  Great darkness overwhelmed Abraham.  The darkness filled him with horror.  God is a God to be feared, a consuming fire.  Abraham was overwhelmed by the powerful and holy God!

God promised and foretold many things in Genesis 15.  But still Abraham is looking toward an uncertain future at the end of this covenant.  The promise remains elusive to him; it is not a present reality.  God is cultivating a life of faith within him.

We have a lot in common with Abraham when it comes to cultivating a life of faith.  We look toward the future even as he did.  We look for a continuing city …for Heaven and a bright and glorious reign.  But this is not a present reality.  Yet we patiently wait as we cultivate a life of faith.  How do we patiently abide in Him and in His promises?  God has given us nothing less than His powerful and holy presence.  He dwells in each of us, affirming that His revealed Word is completely true.  Paul wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5.1).

Do not fear or be discouraged when the promises of God do not seem to be a present reality in your life.  Simply believe.  Abraham patiently endured and then he obtained the promise (see Hebrews 6.15).  We must patiently endure until the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6.9).  Cultivate a life of faith by imitating those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6.12)!  The patient cultivate a life of faith!

Cultivating Faith – Part 4

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Courage (Genesis 14.1-24)

The Courage of a Rescuer (Genesis 14.1-16)

Every Adventure Story Has a Villain (14.1-11)

Every good adventure story has a villain, a victim, and the courage of a victor.  There is also a catalyst, circumstance and/or event that sets everything in motion.  Look beyond the names that are difficult to pronounce in the opening of Genesis 14, and you will find four kings invading Sodom, Gomorrah, and other cities.  The invasion was successful and the defeated kings served Chedorlaomer and the other victors for twelve years before they finally rebelled in the thirteenth year.

Genesis 14.5-11 describes the rebellion.  This rebellion led to the second battle described in the chapter.  The kings are back in the Valley of Siddim – four against five.  The rebels are put down decidedly.  It is at this point that we remember that Lot is dwelling in the land of one of the defeated rebel kings.  All the goods and provisions of Sodom are taken.

The large epic battle between the kings is a macrocosm of the situation.  It’s one thing to talk about general sweeping movements (like in the miserable days of the Judges); quite another to talk about how specific people and families are affected (viz., Ruth and Naomi against the bleakness of the day of Judges).  We speak excitedly about the War on Terrorism.  However, a day like Patriot Day in America, marking the terrorist attack in New York, is a great and poignant day of grief for individual families of those who died on September 11, 2001 or those families of soldiers who died in combat since that time.  We marvel at an earthquake, but the victims have had their lives completely changed.  While every adventure story has a villain…

Every Adventure Story Has a Victim (14.12)

“They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed” (Genesis 14.12).  This is the same Lot who chose poorly because he was occupied too much with this present world and too little with things above.  At first blush, we might just think that he is simply getting what he deserves.  But the courage of a rescuer has uncommon valor and is decisive in this particular story.

Every Story Has a Victor (14.13-16)

One of Lot’s family escaped and reported to Abraham what had happened.  Abraham responded by arming 318 of his trained servants to enter the fray because it involved his family.  This is true patriotism.  He armed servants born in his own house.  These men were very loyal to Abraham, and he cared for them.  Genesis 17 tells us that both son and slave would receive the sign of circumcision in Abraham’s house.  There were 318 of them.  If you add the individual digits in the number 318 (3+1+8), they equal 12.  That means absolutely nothing.  There were simply 318 of them!  But one thing is absolutely certain:  Abraham cared about them but was willing to sacrifice them and himself to get Lot back.

The fact that the text says Abraham and his men pursued the victorious kings and their vanquished victims as far as Dan actually means as far as Laish.  Moses simply updated the name under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Abraham attacked by night with a divided force and won the victory.  He brought back his nephew Lot, Lot’s goods, and the women and the people of Lot’s family.  This is evidence of Abraham’s good character.  He was a sacrificial, compassionate, and courageous man.  In him we see the courage of a rescuer, but we also witness…

The Communion of the Righteous (14.17-24)

The King of Salem and Godly Righteousness (14.17-20)

Apparently, the kings came out to meet Abraham when he returned from the battle.  Two are singled out in our text:  Melchizedek, the King of Salem and the King of Sodom.  Both form a definitive contrast between godly righteousness and ungodly perversion.  The King of Salem, Melchizedek, brought Abraham bread and wine, something for which Abraham and his men would have been grateful after a long, arduous journey.

Melchizedek is not only identified as a king but also a priest.  The fact that he received a tithe from Abraham speaks of his superior position to Abraham.  This is an abrupt and brief scene is Genesis.  The next time he is mentioned is in Psalm 110:4.  But it is Hebrews 7 that gives us the most information about this mysterious figure.  Who is he?

1.Is he Christ pre-incarnate?

2.Is he an actual historic person who typifies Christ?

3.Is he a Canaanite priest?

Personally, I am comfortable saying that he was an actual historic person who typified Jesus Christ.  He couldn’t be a Canaanite priest if he worships God Most High.  Hebrews 7.3 says that he was “made like the Son of God” not that he was the son of God.  Whoever he was, he was an important type of the Lord Jesus Christ and maybe even a Christophany.

Hebrews 7.2 says he was the king of righteousness and the king of peace, without father, without mother, without genealogy (recorded that is), and having neither a birthday or a date of death recorded in the Scripture.  He typifies the righteousness and the peace of Jesus Christ.  Jesus holds the scepter of righteousness and has made the King of Righteousness through His blood on the cross.  Jesus is actually Prophet, Priest, and King.

The King of Salem came forth to honor Abraham with bread and wine.  I can hardly say that without reminding believers of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.  We feed upon the body and blood of Jesus Christ our righteousness and our peace.

Why did Melchizedek bless Abraham?  He actually blessed both Abraham and the God of Abraham.  Abraham was the willing instrument of the omnipotent God Most High who had delivered Abram’s enemies in his hand.  All God’s children are blessed when God Himself is blessed.  The fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham indicates that we too ought to bless those who bless God.

Abraham gave a tithe of all to Melchizedek (Genesis 14.20).  This is not just remuneration for the bread and wine.  It appears to be something more.  He acknowledged that Melchizedek was God’s man.  As priest, he blessed Abraham and served as some kind of mediator (if just in prayer) on Abraham’s behalf.  “Every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Hebrews 5.1).

Therefore, Abraham gave Melchizedek tithes because this priest was somehow God’s representative.  Abraham certainly respected Melchizedek because this king of righteousness respected God.  Those who serve at the altar, ought to live of the altar.  Those who minister to us of their spiritual things, should receive our joyful gratitude and our temporal things.  So Abraham risked his life to save Lot and received the treasure gained in his conflict.  Yet he gave to Melchizedek the portion due to God, namely a tithe.

It is a blessed practice to give at least 10% of one’s income regularly as a Christian.  We give back to God not so that we will get a tax break …not so that God will bless us with prosperity …not so that we will no longer feel guilty …not to pull our own weight as a part of our local church.  We give as an act of gratitude and worship (see 2 Corinthians 8-9).

Abraham gave a tithe of all.  It all belonged to God.  Faithful givers learn that when they give sacrificially to God, the rest of the money He brings our way is sufficient.  If we have more, we spend more on stuff we do not need.  It’s not really an act of sacrifice for western believers to give 10% to God.  It can be an act of worship.

Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4).  Melchizedek was a priest for a time; Jesus a priest forever.  The Levitical priests ministered for a time; Jesus forever.  Melchizedek is the shadow; Christ the substance.

Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 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. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 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. 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 (Hebrews 7.23-28).

Jesus is our great High Priest.  He is both propitiator and propitiation.  He not only deserves a portion of our income, but our bodies and souls as a living sacrifice to God.  Paul would later write, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12.1).

But while the King of Salem provides communion for the godly righteousness.  The King of Sodom represents ungodly perversion.

The King of Sodom and Ungodly Perversion (14.21-24)

Abraham refused gifts from the King of Sodom.  He didn’t want to be obligated to the wicked king.  Abraham’s motivation in the warfare was the good of his family and the glory of God.  He didn’t go to war in order to be rich or grab at power.  This something that the King of Sodom couldn’t possibly understand.  The gifts of the ungodly people around us have the potential to pervert our way.  They always have deadly strings attached.

If you were not careful in reading the Scripture, you might think that the King of Sodom offered more than the King of Salem.  The riches of battle versus bread and wine?  That doesn’t sound like a good deal in this present world.  But Abraham looked for a continuing city.  He was cultivating a life of faith that sees beyond today.  That takes courage.

Receive from Sodom and you’re going to be indebted to Sodom.  If you’re indebted to Sodom, you are a slave of Sodom.  You are unable to make choices for yourself.  Be wary of making decisions that give people control of your life.  Christians belong in the hands of God.  God alone has control over us.

If we are to cultivate a life of faith, we must look at the daily mercy we receive as guidance to God.  Focus not on the gifts He bestows upon us, but on the Giver Himself.  Remember that God brings the blessing of rain upon the just and the unjust.  But only the righteous are emboldened to fight for a victory that is already theirs by faith.

Ungodly perversion awaits those who choose treasure over righteousness and peace.  True victory in our lives simply gives us the opportunity to glorify the God who provides it.  Choosing to cultivate a life of faith means a life filled with unlikely choices from the world’s perspective.  But choices for the glory of God will yield a life of great gratitude and take great courage.