Posts Tagged ‘Abraham’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 12

Faith and the Promise of the Land

© C. O. Bishop 9/17/18

Genesis 23the Death of Sarah.

Introduction:

As we journey through Genesis, watching for pictures of Jesus, the Messiah, we also see some pictures of those who believe in Jesus. Bear in mind that Abraham spoke with God face-to-face on at least one occasion, and was spoken to by him (and had a conversation with Him, not necessarily face-to-face) on several occasions. We saw, by comparing these passages with New Testament passages, that the person with whom Abraham spoke was unquestionably God the Son, in a pre-incarnate appearance called a “Christophany.”

But, in this chapter, there is no such conversation: no such appearance. Instead we see what could be just a quiet, sad story of a very old man purchasing a burial place for his dead wife. But God chose to include that story, in quite a bit of detail, so there must be something here of value. If all He had chosen to say, was “Sarah died at 127 years of age, and was buried in Hebron.” we might pass it by and not worry about missing much. But, if we summarize the 20 verses of chapter 23 to read as a terse, 12-word sentence such as the one above, we run a great risk of missing something of real importance. So, let’s stop and consider what is really there.

Sarah’s Death at Hebron

Sarah died at 127 years of age (thus, Isaac was 37 when she died—remember that Sarah was 90 when Isaac was born—we have no idea how much time had passed between the last chapter and this one). Abraham had been with her most of her life, and most of his, though we don’t know how long—she was 65 when they left Haran, and they already had been married long enough to know, by human standards, they were not going to have any children. They just didn’t know that God was going to change that future.

Sarah died in Kirjath-arba ( meaning “City of Arba”), or Hebron (“alliance.”) The place is about 20 miles due south of Jerusalem, and is still called Hebron by the Jews and the Western nations, but Al Khalil by the Arabs. This place has been purchased by the Jews at least twice—maybe three times, as after World War two, the Jews migrating to Palestine routinely purchased any land they gained, buying it from the Jordanian people who had drifted in from the east.

At the time of Sarah’s death, Abraham was sojourning among the Hittites—the children of Heth. He went to them and asked if he might purchase a piece of land to bury his dead wife. (He had a particular plot of land in mind.) They graciously declined, saying that he was a great man among them and that he could simply bury his dead in any of the existing tombs, there, and that he did not need to make a purchase. This would imply that they considered him (at least at some level) to be one of them: they thought of him as family!

But Abraham had other ideas…he knew that he was not one of them, and he knew that God had called him out from the world. He specifically wanted a piece of land that he owned, there in the land of Canaan. He knew that the land—all of it—had been promised to him and his heirs, but the Hittites did not know that. Abraham wanted a gravesite that could be undisturbed, hopefully, and to which his heirs could come back, generation after generation. So he asked, before all the people, that they sell him a particular field wherein was a cave.

Abraham Purchased Land already Promised to Him by God

The owner of the field (Ephron the Hittite) may just have been grandstanding, or may have truly been generous, but, at first, he offered to simply give Abraham the field. Abraham insisted that the owner actually sell it to him, at the full value, and that he specify as terms of the sale, that the whole field, the cave (Called the Cave of Machpelah, still today), and the trees of that field would be part of the purchase. I don’t know how the Hittites felt about it all, but historians say that the price finally named—four hundred shekels of silver—was quite high, compared to other fields sold in the Bible. I don’t know how much it was, in terms of wages at that time, but it was evidently an extremely high price for such a piece of land. However, I think it is important to notice that Abraham did not dicker, or quibble over the price—he simply paid it, and made sure he had plenty of witnesses to that fact. Genesis records that the field, the cave, the trees in the field, and the trees that made up the border of the field were all included in the bargain.

Abraham believed that the land of Canaan would be the eternal dwelling-place of his people: so he bought a piece of it, up front. This is faith, with shoe-leather on it. The Hittites had no idea of his motives, and undoubtedly thought him a total fool, to pay that sort of price for what had been offered as a gift. They may have also seen that Abraham was quite elderly, and that his only son was still unmarried. They may have reasoned that there was a good chance they would get it all back anyway. (In fact, they actually may have done so: according to the record in Joshua 24:32, regarding Joseph’s burial, Jacob had purchased that land again, from the same tribe of people, many years later, for one hundred pieces of silver…a quarter of the price Abraham had paid.)

Whatever their thoughts, the sale was made, and Abraham buried Sarah there; Abraham himself was later buried there; Isaac and Rebekah were buried there; Jacob and Leah were buried there (Genesis 49:29-32), and Joseph was eventually buried there, among others. It was the family mausoleum for centuries to come. In Acts 7:15, 16, it was mentioned by Stephen in his defense, before he was stoned by the Jews. The people of Israel knew this place, and it is still important: Hebron is a holy city to them, still today, second only to Jerusalem, itself. Nearly four thousand years of promise are marked by that tomb, the Cave of Machpelah, at Hebron.

Can we see any parallels, here?

We already have a promise of eternal life with Christ. All the riches of His kingdom have already been given to us, though we can’t see much of it, really. We know very little: just what He has chosen to tell us, though many books have been written, claiming to tell us “all about heaven.” But God says “…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” (1st Corinthians 2:9)

So, how can we “buy a piece of it” up front? How can we put “shoe-leather on faith,” and claim part of what Jesus says we already own?

  • We have to “buy it” in the face of adversity, while the World thinks us fools, just as Abraham did. (We have been called out from the World, just as he was.)
  • We have to make choices that seem the picture of foolishness to those who are lost, but are ultimately wise, before God.
  • Abraham reached beyond death, to purchase a home beyond death. What choices can we make to accomplish something similar?

Jesus had some things to say about this subject:

Matthew 6:19-21;

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Notice that He did not say, “Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also.” It is the other way around. We have to choose where to lay up treasure, and that will affect where the eyes of our hearts are turning. We read in Daniel 6 that the prophet Daniel habitually prayed toward Jerusalem. Why? Because that is where his treasure was (the city itself, the ruined temple, and the homeland of the Jews), and his response revealed that this is also where his heart was.

As we begin to “lay up treasures in heaven,” our hearts will increasingly turn in that direction, and it will change our perspective on life, and our desires, our ambitions, and, ultimately, every aspect of our lives. So, what indications might I have as to “where my heart is” and what my “treasure” really is? Jesus addressed that, too, in a couple of ways.

Matthew 12:34-36;

34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

The Pharisees had just accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan, and working by the power of Satan. Why? Because he cast out a demon, and healed a blind and mute man, who had been sick because of the demonic possession. So, Jesus did something Very Good, and their response was to accuse Him of being the ultimate evil. They revealed their hearts by their accusations. (Who is the “accuser of the brethren?” According to Revelation 12:9, 10, it is Satan himself!) So the accusers, by their words, revealed whose servants they really were. They revealed what was in their hearts: the “evil treasure” of their hearts, by their words.

Matthew 19:21;

21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

A young man came to Jesus, asking what he should do, to earn eternal life. (He did not use the word, “earn”, but he implied that he wanted to DO something to have eternal life. Jesus knew his heart, and suggested that the young man should “keep the commandments.” The young man asked “which ones?” (Already “hedging” a little, I think…)

Jesus quoted only six commandments, not all of them even part of the Ten Commandments, and leaving out several of the Ten. The young man confidently claimed that he had kept all of them all his life. Jesus knew that the young fellow was wealthy, and He also knew his heart, so He said, “if you want to be perfect (complete), sell everything you own, and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven…and you can come and follow me.” The young man went away, sorrowing…why? Because he loved his riches! His treasure was very definitely here on earth, and he was not about to give it up. What commandment, of those which Jesus deliberately omitted, was the young man violating? Covetousness, and Idolatry, perhaps? Paul confirms that covetousness is idolatry, in Colossians 3:5. So, this young man revealed where his treasure really was, by his actions.

Hebrews 11:24-26

24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter;
25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;

26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.

Moses chose to attach himself to the People of God, rather than continue in the court of Pharaoh. He could easily have been seen as a fool by the World: Pharaoh saw him as a traitorous, murderous turncoat, and would have killed him. But God saw his heart, and took him into a “40-year course in shepherding.” Why? Because, after he graduated, he would spend the next 40 years shepherding the Flock of God! Moses revealed where his treasure really was, by his choices. And there was a Reward coming, as a result of his obedience.

How can we apply this today?

1st Corinthians 3:10-15

10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

We can see, then, that the foundation laid in our lives is the Person of Christ. What are we to build on that Foundation? Jesus said, (John 15:5) “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” Notice that He did not say, “Apart from me you can’t do as much.” The fact is, only the things we allow God to do in us and through us, will have eternal value. The things that we allow Jesus to accomplish in our lives will have eternal value, and He says that there is reward attached to that value. Treasure has been laid up ahead, to our account: a reward, for obedience.

As believers, we can reach beyond death, just as Abraham did, and, by faith, we can claim some of what Jesus already has in store for us. And, by so doing, he says that we will gain reward. Salvation is a gift. Reward is the result of obedience.

The rich young ruler thought that he could purchase eternal life by his works. He did not see himself as a sinner, needing a Savior. Jesus pointed out that he was a sinner, and left him to think it over. I hope that, perhaps later, the young fellow caught on to what Jesus had really been teaching, and received the gift of eternal life, by faith…but we are not told the rest of that story.

Behave like a Child of God, because you are one.

All the teachings regarding the believer’s perfect position, and his perfect standing, in Christ, became completely true of you the moment that you believed the Gospel: the moment that you received Jesus as your own Savior.

Are you living in the reality of those truths? We do not live that way in order to “become a child of God:” it is the other way around! We live that way, because we already are a child of God! Ephesians 5:1 says, “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear Children.” Why? Because that is who you are, as a believer in Jesus Christ!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of our position in Christ: help us to reach into eternity by faith, and lay up our treasures there! Let us see beyond the grave, like Abraham, and claim the promised reward, like Moses. Let us serve as your holy ambassadors, in Jesus’ Name!


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 7

Genesis 15—the Promises Reiterated

© C. O. Bishop 2012: Revised 2018

Introduction:

We have been studying through Genesis with the specific goal of seeing Jesus there. Today we have a fairly special view, as we will see the particular passage that is cited in the New Testament as proof of how God saves sinners. There are some other things here for us to see as well, and some that are difficult to understand. But, as I see it, there are at least three things here we really ought to try to grasp:

  1. God Himself is the reward of the believer.
  2. God offers a righteous standing on the basis of faith alone.
  3. God’s Promise is entirely unilateral. There is nothing more for the believer to do, in order to make the promise sure. It is not a conditional promise, beyond faith.

Abram Met With God

After Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek, in chapter 14, God came to Abram again, and told him that He himself was Abram’s shield and “exceeding great reward”. Keep in mind that this was Jesus, the only Savior, who kept appearing to Abram. And here is an interesting thought: Are you satisfied, if God is your reward? Is Jesus alone enough for me? Or do I really say, “Well that’s fine, but, here’s what I want.”, and then list all the things I think ought to be in the mix?

Abram replied, “What will you give me?” Not, “Wow! YOU are my reward? That is really mind-boggling!” He missed the statement that GOD was to be the reward of Abram. It is hard for me to imagine the whole exchange, even though it is spelled out for us.

God: “I AM your faithful protector, and your eternal, super-abundant reward!”

Abram: “Yeah? What’s in it for me?”

Amazingly, God is not offended by Abram’s blindness and ignorance. He understood that Abram had no concept of the eternal glory of God, which was being promised to him. He could only see the temporal condition: He had no offspring.

So God listened to Abram’s complaint that he had no children, and that a servant of his was about to become his heir, but then God corrected his thinking. Evidently it was at night…God first said, “No, that person will not be your heir: your own son, begotten by you, will be your heir. And, by the way; let’s step outside and look at the stars. Try counting them…it will be just as hard to count those who will eventually be your offspring!”

And the surprising thing (when you consider all the other problems displayed by Abram) was that Abram simply believed God. Remember he was around 85 years old, and childless. But God promised him a son, and Abram believed him. (Incidentally, the name “Abram” means “high father”. I wonder how Abram had felt about the irony of his own name up ‘til now?) But this faith, expressed so simply, is the eternal example of faith by which we are instructed, still today. “Abram believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.” This is God’s means of imputing righteousness to sinners. (Keep that in mind when we look at Lot, later.) (See Romans 4:1-8) This is the only means by which God declares a sinner to be righteous: through faith.

And yet, Abram had his doubts…When God continued, and said that Abram would inherit the land, he said, “How can I know I will inherit it?”

A Contract with God

Elsewhere in scripture (Jeremiah 34:18-20) we find that when two individuals had to make a binding contract, they made a sacrifice, and split the sacrifice in two pieces, then, together, they walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, thus binding both of them, with the authority of God behind the oath, to the terms of what was in the contract. And God held them to that covenant.

God commanded Abram to prepare just such a sacrifice. Abram prepared the sacrifice, and then he waited. He waited all day, and kept the birds off the carcasses. After the sun went down, God caused a deep sleep to fall on Abram, and a horror of great darkness (must have seemed to be a nightmare), and then God alone walked between the pieces of the sacrifice: All Abram saw was a smoking furnace and a burning lamp. But God walked between the pieces by himself. He bound Himself to His promise with an oath, and there was nothing for Abram to do but watch. In this, also, Abram is an excellent picture of the believer: God offers grace—we receive it by faith, and there is nothing we can do to add to God’s promise. We will not make His promise more or less sure by our interaction. But we will affect the relationship for better or worse.

Give it some thought: Who was dealing with Abram? And, who do the sacrifices actually represent? When two men called one another into account on the basis of a sacrifice before God, it was binding…not to be broken…because of that sacrifice! Now Abram has prepared a sacrifice, and God bound himself alone to the promise, on the basis of that sacrifice.

We Meet With God

To what is this picture alluding? If we read Genesis 22, we see Abraham obediently moving to attempt to sacrifice his son, Isaac. This story is an echo of the promise made in the Garden of Eden, regarding the Seed of Woman, and it will be echoed even more specifically at the Passover, five hundred years later, with the blood of the Lamb saving the believers through faith. But in this specific case, in Genesis 22:16-18, God again swears by himself, on the basis of the sacrifice. All these are looking forward to the Cross! Jesus, God in the flesh, offered Himself as a sacrifice, and God the Father bound Himself to an eternal promise on the basis of that sacrifice.

When we compare Abram and Lot, in scripture, we find that Lot was declared righteous too: evidently through faith, as that is the only means by which a sinner is declared righteous; but how did his life turn out? He did not go on to interact with God on a personal basis, and his life turned out to be quite a wreck. But God later reminds us (2nd Peter 2:7, 8) that Lot was a righteous man. We see that, while God kept His promise to both Abram and Lot, so that they were equally saved, their rewards were quite different. Because of disobedience, unbelief and neglect, Lot lost everything. Abram had some failures, as well, it is true, but he had a general pattern of faith and obedience, and he reaped a great reward.

So, in the New Testament, we can also see that a believer is saved by Grace through Faith, just as Abram and Lot were saved: but rewards are a separate issue. We can live lives that are barely different than that of an unbeliever, and our every thought and ambition may be the same as the world around us (similar to Lot), and the wreckage that he reaped can be our own, as well. Lot was a saved man who lost everything, because of unbelief, neglect, and disobedience. Abram was a saved man who earned rewards through a life of faith and obedience, though he had some serious flaws as well. Those patterns hold true today.

Abram kept building altars, wherever he went. A pattern of worship and sacrifice was established, early, and even after his failures, he kept coming back to God. When God met him in the person of Melchisedec, he responded in worship and thanksgiving. When God met him that historic night in Genesis 15 and promised a great number of offspring, he believed God, in spite of the fact that he was a very old man already (mid-eighties, at least), and God declared him righteous, on the basis of that faith.

When God promised the land, Abram initially had doubts about it; but he then acted in obedience and brought the sacrifices as commanded. Much later, when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, the Son of the Promise, he did not waver, nor even ask questions, but simply moved to obey, and God had to stop him. In Hebrews 11:17-19, God explains that Abraham (his name had changed) believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. But God had a substitute for Isaac. A ram was there, prepared as a substitutionary sacrifice. God’s chosen sacrifice died in Isaac’s place.

God had a substitute for you and for me as well. In fact, He had a substitute for the entire human race. Jesus is the chosen sacrifice: the One who died in our place. He is the substitute for us…and there is no substitute for Jesus.

So; What About The Promised Land?

It is important to see, here in Genesis 15, that God not only labeled the boundaries of the Promised Land, but identified the time involved. Fourth generation…four hundred years in Egypt…sins of the Amorites is not yet full, etc. I don’t understand the “fourth generation” statement. C. I. Scofield points out that there have been three dispersions, and that the fourth time they come back into the land will be in the Millennial Kingdom, but I am not really sure that has anything to do with this. But it cannot be simply the fourth generation from Abraham, as that would be Joseph’s and his brother’s children, and they did NOT go into the land—in fact, the four hundred years of affliction began just as that generation came to adulthood. So, I am not sure about that verse. Incidentally, they were in Egypt for 430 years, to the day. But the affliction evidently began thirty years into their time there. Maybe there is something else here that I am missing. That could easily be the case. But Abram was clearly given to understand that the fulfillment of the promise of the land was far in the future. He embraced it by Faith.

The physical boundaries of the land were given as the Nile River on the West and the Euphrates River on the East. Evidently the northern and southern boundaries were known to them by the tribal names, but they seem to include Syria in the North, and well into Arabia in the South. Only once, during the reign of King David, Israel held nearly all that land: and even then, they only had military garrisons along all those borders. They had not actually inhabited the land.

These boundaries are called out again in Joshua 1:4, so there is no question that it was specifically to the Jews, and not to “all the sons of Abraham.” He had seven other sons by two other wives: one by Hagar, Sarai’s slave, and six by Keturah, a woman he married after Sarah died. But he had only one by Sarah. And, it bears repeating: all the natural sons regarding whom we have any further information turned out to be bitter enemies of the Sons of Promise. The nation of Israel, today, is completely surrounded by those natural sons of both Abraham and Lot. And all of them are adamant that Israel has no right to exist, nor the Jews any right to live.

But part of the promise (Genesis 12:3) was that those who bless the seed of Abraham will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed. So Israel has literally been under the protection of God for 4000 years. The nations who choose to be allies to Israel join in the blessing of God. Those who count Israel as an enemy fall under the curse of God. And, God further promised that, through Abram, all the families of the earth would be blessed.

If nothing else, the Lord Jesus came through the stock of Abraham: He has blessed the entire earth with the hope of eternal life. But there is also the overall testimony of the history of Israel, and the treasure of the Word of God, as well.

Pastor Pat James told me that his mother, an avowed atheist all her life, became a believer in her last few years of life, specifically because she saw the survival of Israel as a miraculous intervention by God. As she considered all the enemies that had attempted to destroy the Jews over the last four thousand years, and whom, each time, had failed to do so, she concluded that there must have been Divine protection: she believed that the only plausible explanation for their survival was Divine intervention. That small, initial step of faith led to more inquiry, and more faith, and she ended up believing in the Savior of Israel as her own Savior as well.

Thus, the promise to Abraham continues to find fruition today. People are still hearing the history, hearing the promises, and joining in the faith of Abraham, by simply believing God.

What About You?

The same three lessons are there for us to learn:

Is Jesus really reward enough for you?

This is something to seriously consider: what do you really want in your relationship with Christ? Jesus himself said, in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work!” Do you share that passion for the lost, and for the service of God? I don’t think I really do: I am more like Abram, saying, “Yeah? What’s in it for me?” That is a sad truth, and one would think that, after 45 years of service, I would be better focused on God’s will for my life. I think I am growing in that area, but I certainly do not claim to have arrived.

What about the next point of God’s lesson to Abram?

Do you really believe that the righteous standing God offers is entirely His own work, and is offered on the basis of faith alone?

Or are you trying to “improve upon” Jesus’s finished work at the Cross, fearing perhaps, that if your works are “not good enough,” then God eventually will reject you? This is an area in which you will have to examine your own heart. Each of us has an inborn tendency to think that we are somehow “earning God’s favor.” His favor was freely bestowed upon us in the person of Christ. That is what Grace means: “un-earned favor!” As born-again believers, we serve out of love, and in the confidence that He will reward our faithfulness. We cannot add to the work Jesus finished at Calvary, on the behalf of sinners.

Finally,

Do you really understand that the Promise of God is unconditional?

There is no part of the “contract” waiting to be fulfilled by humans. Jesus poured Himself out as an offering for sin, on behalf of a race which was, at that very moment, rejecting His Grace, spitting on His Holiness, mocking His Majesty, and condemning His Righteousness to death, as if He, and not they were the criminals. We have completely deserved the condemnation of God, and, instead, He has offered us Mercy, Grace, and Blessing, on the basis of Faith alone!

As Gentile believers, we have no inheritance in the physical land promised to the physical offspring of Abraham. But we have a greater inheritance in the Person of Christ, as we, along with all Church-age believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are the Bride of Christ! The whole Earth is ours, along with all that is His. And, yes, it is worth waiting for it. As Abraham waited for the land, we wait for our eternity with Christ. As Abraham lived in the land, knowing it would all be His, we are to live in our relationship with Christ, experiencing now the spiritual life that is ours eternally. It isn’t always easy, but it is already ours! We embrace it by Faith.

Lord Jesus, feed your Flock on your Word: draw us along beside you by your Holy Spirit, and let us serve you in Joy. Use us to reach the people around us, and draw others into your Grace.


Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson 5

© C. O. Bishop 2012 revised 2018

Genesis 12-17—Abram, Man of God

Introduction:

We have been reading through the book of Genesis, with the specific intent of finding either actual, physical appearances of Christ, there, in the form of “Christophanies”, or finding foreshadowings of His coming, his ministry or his character. Sometimes He actually shows up in person, but frequently it is simply a “footprint or a fingerprint,” so to speak, that we find there. A trace of His presence, through which we can learn something of His character and person.

In chapters ten and eleven we saw the break-up of the super-continent, and the division of the languages. We also saw that Noah lived long enough after the flood, to have personally witnessed the beginning of the continental break-up, and that he was still alive when Abram was born, ten generations removed. That is hard for us to grasp, and some people flatly reject the Biblical history, saying it is impossible, or that people counted time differently, or some such thing. What we can see, is the rapidly diminishing lifespan in the first ten or twelve generations after the flood. The normal lifespans dropped from a peak of over nine hundred years, down to less than two hundred, in ten generations, and continued to drop until they stabilized at about 70 years as a norm. That is historical. God tells us of this, so that it is not just a mystery to us.

Abram: Called by God

Beginning in chapter 12, the narrative begins to center on a single man, and a single family. It is interesting, at least, to note that, back in Genesis 9:28, it says that Noah lived for 350 years after the flood. But, in the genealogies in chapter 11, we can see that Abram was born 328 years after the flood. So, he was 22, or thereabouts, when Noah died. Did Abram actually know the old ark-builder personally? I really don’t know, but it certainly was possible at any rate…if he even still spoke the same language! We don’t know at exactly what point the languages were divided.

So, almost all the things in chapters ten and eleven happened before Noah died. Peleg was born 137 years after the flood, and died 26 years after Noah died. But Genesis 10:25 states that the continental breakup occurred during Peleg’s lifetime. So, Noah saw it all happen, and Peleg died when Abram was 48 years old. Abram saw the immediate aftermath of all these things, at least. We don’t know how much he saw, but his elders literally had “seen it all.”  When I was a child, we travelled on steam-powered trains. At the time I had no idea of their significance, or that it was literally the “ending of an era.” Diesel locomotives were rapidly supplanting all the steam locomotives, so that, by the time I was grown, nearly all the steam-engines had been scrapped, or put in museums. But I only vaguely remember those changes.

The division of the languages may have happened when Abram was quite young, or possibly even before he was born. We know it happened between the end of the flood and the introduction of Abram, but not exactly when. However, it may partly serve to explain why Terah, in Genesis 11:31, took his little “tribe,” and left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved away, toward Canaan, If he was still uncomfortable with his “strange neighbors”, even years later.

But as we will discover, later, that Abram had been told to leave that little “tribe” behind, and that just he and his wife were called to go; not the whole family. But in light of the break-up of the super-tribe at Babel, and the continuing breakup of the super-continent, perhaps Terah just made up his mind that they would all go. Perhaps this fits into the general division that began at Babel—or maybe not: the division of the languages could have happened a generation earlier. But, since the motive for the tower of Babel was to prevent the scattering of the people, it seems that the breakup of the land had already begun, and they were trying to maintain a “reason to be,” in Babel. That would put the time about 100-200 years before Abram was born, at the very most. So, the division of the languages was probably quite recent, when Abram was born…or possibly even after his birth, but that seems less likely. In short, some incredibly important changes had just occurred in the years prior to Genesis 12, and Abram enters the picture just after these break-ups, but evidently long enough that they were no longer on his mind, as he never mentions them, perhaps for the same reason I barely remember the loss of the steam-locomotives.

Abram in introduced in chapter 12, and a “new race” is begun, in rudimentary form. The Jews, proper, did not yet exist, and Abram, though he is the father of the whole race, is not himself a Jew. He is a descendant of Shem, to be sure, but so were many of the folk in that region. Abram was just one of many, and not particularly special, in most respects. He was originally from what we now call Iraq. (That is where Babylon was/is, too: 53 miles straight south of Baghdad, and where the tower of Babel was, just before Abram’s time.) Abram and his father, Terah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur of the Chaldees (which is also in Iraq, about halfway between Baghdad and the coast of the Persian Gulf…120 miles or so from the gulf coast.) and they traveled to Haran (in the south of modern-day Turkey, 140 miles from the northeast corner of the Mediterranean sea.)

Called: to Leave the Old Life Behind

Evidently God had told Abram to leave his Father’s house (Genesis 12:1) and follow God to a new land. Abram took off, but took his father’s household along with him. We can only assume that he must have told his father of the vision, or dream, or appearance of God. Terah evidently thought that was a great idea, and decided he wanted in on it, because in Genesis 11:31, 32 we see that Terah took Abram and Lot, and their wives and journeyed to Haran. Terah took the lead, and managed the migration. This was a journey of just over 700 miles, depending on which route was travelled (but west by northwest, as a general direction), and probably took nearly six weeks on foot, also depending on what flocks were brought along with them. It could have taken much longer. I don’t know whether Terah named the town “Haran” after his dead son, Haran, or not, but it looks that way. The whole family was held together and managed by Terah, until he died, and then God (The LORD) called Abram again. It is interesting to see that it wasn’t until after the “old man” (Terah) died, that God called Abram again, and said “follow me”. I don’t know how much we should read into that connection, but; it is at least interesting to note that, in Ephesians 4:22, we are told to “put aside” the Old Man, so that God can use us. I don’t know whether there is really a connection there; but it is an interesting parallel, at least.

We attempt to do so much, in the flesh, but, the fact is, when the Old Man (our old sin nature) is in control, even the “good things” we do (or attempt to do) will bear no eternal fruit. So, after Terah died, Abram tried again…he really wanted what God had to offer, but he was still clinging to what the World had taught him to be his responsibility. He was “bringing up his brother’s son”, so to speak. But Lot was a grown man, and Abram really could have left him behind…and he should have. Notice that it does not say “he took Lot with him,”, but that “Lot, his brother’s son went with him.” Both Lot and Abram had a choice, and Abram should have left Lot at Haran. We will see the resulting problems, as they arise. But we are really better off to leave behind our old way of life, and start anew, with God in control.

Called: to be Separate

However, at 75 years of age, Abram still took Lot along with him, which proved problematic, and it got them both in trouble more than once. It wasn’t until Abram separated himself from Lot, in Chapter 13, that God said (Genesis 13:14-18) “Now lift up your eyes to the north, the south, the east and the west. To you I will give this land.” (In other words, not to Terah, and not to Lot.) By the way, the Ammonites and the Moabites, who we will meet later, were all Lot’s offspring. And a good deal of the land that was promised to Abraham’s descendants is still populated by the Ammonites. We call them “Jordanians.” The capitol city of Jordan is still called Amman today. (Do you have any ideas what the fuss over the land might be about, today??)

Looking ahead, just a little, it is interesting to me that, in the latter half of chapter 12 and again in chapter 20, Abram was (correctly, as it turned out) fearful that others would seek to take his wife to be their own. In chapter 17 we find out that Sarai was ten years younger than Abram, and we have seen in chapter 12 that Abram was 75 when he left Haran. So Sarai was at least 65 when Abram headed into Egypt, and he was afraid that he would be killed for Sarai’s sake, as she was such a beautiful woman. That is pretty unusual, by today’s standards, at least. And it happened again when she was 90. Was this some sort of a miraculous rejuvenation brought about by God, so that she could mother a child at 90? I don’t know, but it is certainly unusual that a woman of that age was considered so desirable as a bride. I really don’t know what to make of that.

But, in both cases, Abraham begged Sarah to say that he was her brother (which was a half-truth, as she was his half-sister), so that they would not simply murder him to get his wife.  Also, in both cases, Abram (Abraham, by chapter 20) received material compensation for the error on the part of the men who tried to take Sarah. However, we should recognize that his saying she was his sister was an act of spiritual poverty. He did it out of fear, not faith. Abraham had his weaknesses, as we shall see. But he also had some tremendous strengths. One was a general tendency toward Faith. But he had his failures as well. It is good to remember that “hypocrisy” and “failure” are two different things. Abram was a man of great faith who sometimes stumbled and fell.

He was a man of great faith: He simply believed God! When God made a promise, Abram believed it. When God gave a command, as a rule, Abram obeyed. And He worshipped that one God: Everywhere Abram travelled, with few exceptions, he built an altar specifically for the worship of Jehovah-Yahweh-God: The LORD.

The Name of the LORD

Notice that, in Genesis 12:1, the word “LORD” (all caps) is used. This is the way the Bible translators usually treat the “tetragrammaton”—the YHWH from the Hebrew Scriptures. We do not know how to pronounce this name, because, ironically, the Jews forbade their people to speak that name, lest they inadvertently blaspheme: the result being that they have forgotten how to pronounce the name of their God. (How incredibly sad!) Isaiah 43:11 states that “I, even I, am the LORD, and beside me there is no savior.” They have forgotten the name of their Savior!

Toward the end of the 15th century, a Dutch monk named Erasmus suggested “Jehovah” as a possible pronunciation. (Actually pronounced “Yehovah” in his native Germanic tongue.) The Hebrew pronunciation of the Y and the W, are, respectively, “yuh”, and “vuh”… and the Germans pronounce a “J” the same as we Americans pronounce a “Y”. But, we really don’t know which vowels were associated with those four consonants. Modern scholars have suggested other such variations, such as “Yahweh” (which would still have to be pronounced “Yahveh” to be in keeping with Jewish pronunciation).

But it absolutely delights me to note that, in Acts 4:12, Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” And he was referring to the name of Jesusnot the Old Testament name. So, the only Savior (the LORD) called Abram to leave his old life behind, and follow Him; just as today, the only Savior (Jesus) calls us to abandon our old way of life and learn to walk with Him. And it is the same Savior! This is the God to whom Abram built his altars: it was Jesus the whole time!

Called: to Worship

Abram, the Altar-Builder: 

In Genesis 12:5-7, we see that Abram journeyed (south) into Canaan, to the place of Sichem, and the plain of Moreh (in the north end of what is now Israel.) At that time this was all Canaanite territory. The Canaanites were the offspring of Canaan, the son of Ham. And, in verse seven, The LORD appeared to Abram and said that He was giving the land of the Canaanites to Abram and his offspring (though Abram had no children.) And Abram evidently believed God, because his response was to worship God there. He built an altar, for the worship of the LORD, who would thereafter be the God of Israel.

Then he moved again: I don’t know why. But he moved to a mountain, to the East of what would later be called Bethel (the house of God).  And He built an altar there, as well, and “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a good pattern in Abram’s life. He was putting his relationship with God first, it seems. He was making a place of worship and a pattern of worship the predominant thing in his life. God took first priority. That is a good choice!

But a test came, and he stumbled: a famine began, and he left the land he had been promised and went to Egypt. Is it possible God sent him? Yes, but it doesn’t say that He did, and Abram also apparently did not build an altar there. My guess would be that this was a fleshly response, and he was responding in fear, not faith. All we know for sure is what is written: He left the Promised Land and went to Egypt, because of the Famine. (Not because God sent him.)

Just as he feared, Pharaoh did take Sarah, and gave him lots of money, slaves and herds, etc…. (We don’t like it, but, yes, Abram was a slave-owner, like many others.) But God plagued Pharaoh and his household, because of Sarah, and Pharaoh knew he had been deceived. He confronted Abram, and rebuked him for not telling him that Sarah was actually his wife. Then he sent him packing, but allowed Abram to keep all the gifts, so that he went away a very wealthy man. Sometimes we may profit, in temporal ways, by our actions, even when those actions are not pleasing to God. Wealth is not a good measure of God’s blessing or approval of our behavior. I have known a Christian man who profited by tax-evasion…temporarily…but it caught up to him later, and it shamed him for the rest of his life. Evidently God graciously allowed Abram to prosper, in spite of the lapse in faith, but God never approves unbelief. I would imagine that every time Abram remembered how he had risked Sarah to save himself, he probably was ashamed, and grieved for his failure, in spite of the wealth that resulted.

Final Separation: and Service

Genesis 13—Separating Abram from Lot

Ultimately, Abram and Lot were both too prosperous to live together, as their huge flocks and herds were competing for forage; their herdsmen were beginning to quarrel, on top of the fact that the land was still inhabited by the Canaanites and the Perizzites. So, Abram suggested a peaceful separation: he gave Lot first choice of territory, and said that he, Abram, would move away from wherever Lot chose. And Lot chose the valley of the Jordan, richly watered and verdant at that time. Lot left, and headed straight for Sodom. We will see the result of that, later.

Remember that God had told Abram to leave his old life behind. Up until this point, the baggage of his old life and family ties had weighed him down and kept God’s full blessings from him. How do I know? Look what happened next: (Genesis 13:14-18)

Then the LORD said to Abram, after Lot was gone, NOW lift up your eyes…look North, South, East and West…to YOU and your offspring I will give this land.” God had to wait until Abram set aside everything else, before He could bless Him as He intended. And God told him (this time) to get up and walk through the land. Then Abram moved to Mamre, lived there, and built an altar to His God. Later, God met with him there, in Person. Later, too, we will see God’s description of the land set apart for the offspring of Abraham, and it is a very large piece of territory, many times the size of what Israel now holds.

Conclusion

How can we lay hold of the inheritance of God? I think we can emulate Abram, and separate ourselves from our old patterns, our old passions, and learn to walk with Jesus, so that He can reveal to us what He has in store.

Wherever God has called us to live, and feed, and work, we need to leave behind our old thought-patterns, and fears, and “build an altar,” at least in our own mind and life, at which we will worship, and bring the sacrifices of Praises, Thanksgiving, and Obedience. And there at that altar, we need to realize that our relationship with God is personal. We are to deal with Him personally, not theoretically. There is where He holds out His Grace and His blessing to us, not in some dream-place where we think we want to go. Not based upon a creed, or a ritual, or even a personal routine of piety, but on a personal relationship with the Savior.

Lord Jesus draw us to yourself, in a personal, obedient, faith-relationship that carries and supports us above the fears and turmoil of this world. Allow us to worship you there, and serve you in the world around us. Make us emissaries of your Grace and Love; ambassadors of the Cross.


Solid Food

Solid Food:

The Fourth Warning and our Eternal Hope

© C. O. Bishop 6/2/17 THCF 6/4/17

Hebrews 5:12-14; 6:1-19

Introduction:

We have been working our way through Hebrews for quite some time, now: we have seen the clear superiority of Jesus Christ over all the Old Testament “pictures” of Himself. We were able to see that He is the fulfillment of all those prophecies and all the prefigurings of Him who was to come. We also saw three warnings apparently directed to people who were not settled in their faith. Today we will address a fourth such warning, by far the most stern of all given so far.

It is important to read passages of scripture in the context in which they were given, so as to see who was talking, about what, and to whom. In this context, the writer had been addressing backslidden, immature believers, and scolding them for not moving on, and growing up into Christ. But he definitely addressed them as believers.

12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

And this will we do, if God permit.

This is evidently what Paul considered “baby food”. He says “Let’s move on! You should understand all this by now!” The “principles” means the primary teaching—the foundational studies. If you don’t have the foundation secure you can’t build. But: once the foundation is in place, you don’t keep “re-working the foundation”…you start working on the structure of the building, if I may use that analogy. So, Paul says, “Let’s move on unto perfection (maturity)!” He is moving on from milk to solid food. But as we move forward, let’s pay close attention to the pronouns: details that allow us to correctly discern the meaning.

Moving On

The following passage is the most commonly used passage to argue that a believer can lose their position in Christ, and be lost. Even if there were not contextual evidence to the contrary (which there is), there are dozens of passages elsewhere that flatly contradict the notion that one, having been truly born again, can ever be lost. But, in reading this passage, those who want to believe they can be lost again (because they do not understand the character of Grace) do not read the whole context: they read verses 4-8 and ignore the background in chapter five, but, most specifically, they do not read what follows, in verses 9-12. And, of course, they ignore the clear promises to the contrary, which state that those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ will never be lost, will in no wise be cast out, and will never perish.

Let’s read the whole passage, bearing in mind that the writer has been talking to believers (albeit immature believers) in chapter five, and is continuing his discourse, here. In chapter five he was using the pronoun “Ye” (KJV second-person plural) to address the believers, and “We” (first person plural) to refer to the writer, and possibly his colleagues. He only used the third-person when he spoke of an unspecified other person, saying, “…he is a babe…”

Here in verse 4, he changes the pronouns to third-person references. He no longer says “ye”, but rather “those, they and them”. These pronouns are terms of reference, not terms of address. He has changed who he is talking about. He was quite sharp in his rebuke to the backsliding believers, but now he is talking about another group to whom he is referring as a matter of comparison. We will read the whole passage and then come back to address specific verses.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God:

But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.

10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:

12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Notice how the pronoun switches back to second person, in verse nine (“you”), and he specifically addresses the hearers as his beloved. That word is a relational term of endearment, and confirms that they are believers. He also states that he is convinced that in their case, the above five verses do not apply, because they are saved. He says that things pertaining to salvation are what will apply to them.

So, we conclude that the people in verses 4-8 are not believers, but are the “hangers-on”, the “dabblers” who have never claimed Jesus’ blood as their only hope for salvation. They have never been born again. They are not “baby Christians”, nor even “backslidden Christians”—they have not been born yet! They are still “in Adam”, not “in Christ.” (See 1st Corinthians 15:22…positional truth, as opposed to conditional.) And, this is one of the sternest warnings to that sort of person; that they are truly teetering on the edge of Hell. They are flirting with eternal disaster, and not seeing themselves as being in deadly danger.

But, one may ask, how can the person described in verses 4 and 5 not be a believer? This person:

  • Has been once enlightened,
  • Has tasted of the heavenly gift,
  • Was made a partaker of the Holy Ghost, and
  • Has tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the World to come!

How could such a person not be born again? Well…let’s consider a single example:

Consider Judas Iscariot:

  • Was he once enlightened? He had better have been! He sat under Jesus’s personal teaching for three years! He heard and saw everything the other Apostles heard and saw.
  • Had he “tasted of the heavenly gift?” YES! He was sent out with the other apostles, two by two, and was preaching, teaching and healing…even casting out demons.
  • Was he made a partaker of the Holy Ghost? To the same extent that the others were, prior to Pentecost, yes! I think we can demonstrate that he was. How else was he casting out demons and healing people? That was the Holy Ghost at work in his life. None of the apostles were indwelt by the Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost. But the Holy Spirit was at work in their lives.
  • Did he taste the Good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come? Certainly! He had Jesus, the Living Word, right there, and he studied the Written Word with the other apostles, and preached the Word of the Kingdom along with them.
  • Was he a believer? NO! Jesus said so. Compare John 13:10, 11, where he specified that “ye are not all clean” and John 15:3, where he told the eleven, “Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.” The difference? Though all twelve apostles had heard the Word, only the eleven had believed (compare John 5:24.) Judas had known the full truth of the Gospel, but had never applied it to his own case.

We must carefully study the Word to be sure of what it says, and to whom, before we make application to our own lives. These verses are a prime example of a passage that can easily be misapplied.

Consider Abraham:

The Writer goes on to use the patriarch Abraham as an example of someone who continued to believe God, in spite of the fact that what he saw sharply conflicted with what he had been promised. Keep in mind that he definitely had a promise from God; this was not a “feeling” he had. He was spoken to in an audible voice…there was no “imagination” at work, here. Read Genesis 15:1-21, in context with Genesis 14.

God responded to Abraham’s statement of faith by making two promises:

  1. The promise of a seed (this was partially fulfilled in Isaac, and later, through Christ); and
  2. The promise of the land. Again, the promise of the land was only partially fulfilled even in the time of David, 500 years later. Final fulfillment will come during the millennial kingdom still to come.

13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,

14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.

The account in Genesis 15 records both the “counsel” (the original promise…verse 17) and the oath: God had first made the promise, and Abraham asked for a token he could cling to: a sign, if you want to call it that. In those days when two people took an oath, they made a sacrifice to God, and, to invoke God as a witness, they walked together between the pieces of the split sacrifice. So, God commanded Abraham to set up the sacrifices, and divide them, preparatory to the two of them walking between them, as Abraham apparently expected. But when the time came, God put Abraham into a deep sleep, so that he could not move, but only watch, as God, in the form of a lamp and a furnace, passed through between the pieces of the sacrifices. I don’t know the significance of the lamp and the furnace, though I am sure there has been much speculation over it. The point I do understand is that God made the oath alone—Abraham was only there as a witness to, and the beneficiary of, the promise.

15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.

Abraham had already been waiting for some time when God made this promise. He was an old man. It was still a few years longer before God chose to begin fulfilling the promise. Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. And Isaac was just the beginning of the fulfillment. Even the hundreds of millions of Jews that have lived and died over the last 39 centuries are only a partial fulfillment. All those born again through Jesus are the full fruit of the promise.

16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.

17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:

18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:

19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

Notice that though the promise was to Abraham, we are told here to anchor our own souls with the same hope Abraham had. We are not told to take the promise of the land for ourselves; it is not a promise to us. We are told to place our trust in the same God in whom Abraham believed.

And that hope is the “anchor of our souls, strong within the veil.” What veil? We could spiritualize it and say that “our faith reaches into the Holy of Holies (true), and clings to the Mercy Seat of God (also true).” But; over in Hebrews 10:20, we see that the writer gets much more specific: he says that the literal veil in the literal temple was a prefiguring of the literal body of Jesus. Our hope is in the shed blood of Jesus. We enter in “through the veil, that is to say, His flesh.” And that is where our anchor of the soul—our hope—finds solid ground as well. Jesus said “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”…and that is literally the truth. The torn veil was the only passageway to the dwelling of God on earth: Jesus’s body on the Cross—His shed blood—is the only entrance to God Himself. And it is in him that we find our security.

So, where is our hope?

Our Hope is in the Person of Christ and His Completed Work at the Cross

Let’s review some of the Promises of Jesus to see where our hope really resides.

  • John 3:15, 16 each state “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”. “Whosoever believeth” leaves it open to you and to me. This is a “bearer bond”. It has full value to whoever has possession of it. If you will personally place your trust in Jesus then this applies to you.
  • John 5:24 is another general invitation. It says that whoever hears the word of Christ and believes on (places his trust in) Him who sent him,
    • Has everlasting life (present tense)
    • Shall not come unto condemnation, (future tense), but
    • Has passed from death unto life (Perfect tense…it’s a completed, finished issue.)
  • John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” This is faith in Jesus as a person, his character and all He claims to be.
  • John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and he that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
  • John 6:39 “And this is my Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”
  • John 10:27, 28 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”
  • 1st John 5:11-13 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you who believe on the name of the Son o God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

In this study, I have concentrated on promises given through the Apostle John; but there are countless others, some plain, some obscure, beginning in Genesis, and scattered throughout the entire Bible. The Redemptive plan of God, through Jesus Christ, to save the lost Human Race, is the central theme of the entire Bible. The security of the believer, because of the faithfulness of God, not our own behavior, is a theme that parallels that central theme, all the way through God’s Word. To a person who is looking for such promises, they are literally everywhere.

This passage, Hebrews 6:4-9, far from teaching that a believer can be lost, is teaching the opposite: “God is not unrighteous, to forget…” God knows our frame, that we are dust…he knows that we are failures by nature. Jesus said, in John 15:5, “…without Me ye can do nothing.” That is literally true. We are encouraged to move on to spiritual adulthood, allowing God to work through us, and to produce fruit in our lives. My prayer is that each of us will submit to Him in love, and allow Him to do just that.

Lord Jesus, once again, we ask your blessing and mercy, as we seek to follow you. Teach us to walk in the reality of your love and the truth of Your Word.


What About Israel? (Part One)

What about Israel? (Part One)

Has God Forgotten Israel?

© C. O. Bishop 2/13/16 THCF 2/21/16

Romans 9:1-13; 1st Corinthians 10:11

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans for several months. The theme of the book has been “the Gospel of God’s Grace.” We have seen, traced in the first three chapters of Romans, the utter lostness of the whole human race, both Jew and Gentile, religious and irreligious; moral and immoral; good, bad and indifferent. We have seen that God has offered only one solution to the lostness of the human race: He says (Romans 1:16) that the Good News of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as full payment for sins (that’s the Gospel of Christ, by definition), being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe. And there is no other way offered. Jesus himself confirms that fact. He says “No Man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Some call that “narrow.” It is only narrow to those who reject it. To those who receive Him as Savior, it is an “Open Door”, and “whosoever will may come!”

We saw in chapter four that the perfect standing of the believer in Christ is only by the imputed righteousness of Christ, added to the believer by God (that’s Grace) through faith alone. We saw in chapter five that the believer’s position and justification in Christ provided eternal peace with God.

We saw in chapter six that our new position in Christ also ended our slavery to Sin: we no longer have to yield to sin. But, in chapter seven we saw that the only way we can lay hold of that promise is by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We cannot please God in the strength of our old nature: we still have our old sin nature, and we have to live with the burden of that traitorous old self throughout our lives, but we are no longer identified with it. God has given us a new nature, and He calls us to live in that new life, walking with Him, in the power and guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. And He no longer sees us in our old selves.

Most recently, in chapter eight, we saw that there is no condemnation for anyone in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, regardless of background, and regardless of subsequent success or failure in “walking with God”. We also saw, though, that there is a tragic loss of potential blessing and reward, if we fail to walk with Him. But, chapter eight concludes that we are unquestionably, eternally secure in Christ.

But, What about Israel?

Chapters nine through eleven, as a group, address the question, “What about the Jews?” The promises to Israel were solid, sure promises from God, but they have not been fulfilled in their entirety; so: you may ask, “Has Israel finally been rejected by God?” The answer is a resounding “NO!” God has not forgotten his covenant with Israel, though, for the time being, as a nation, they seem to have forgotten their covenant with Him. So, where do they stand, today? How does God see them? Let’s see how Paul addresses that question:

1I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

In verses 1-3 Paul grieves for the lost estate of the people of Israel, as his kinsmen; his brothers according to flesh. This is one thing that tells me this is God’s Word and God’s Work in Paul: he does not condemn them as “blind fools”, or anything like that: He grieves their lostness, as one should grieve the loss of any soul for whom Christ died. There is no “self-satisfaction” as to his own secure position. He so desperately desires their salvation that, if it were possible, he would consider it a “good trade” for himself to be lost, if it would save them.

Notice also: He does not suggest that Israel has been “forgotten by God.” This has been suggested in the past, by God’s enemies, as it would actually call into question the character and faithfulness of God. (Who is the chief accuser, who, from the beginning of time, has questioned the character of God? Give that some thought, when you hear such arguments. Consider the ultimate source of such a statement.) There are folks today who claim that Israel has been disqualified form God’s blessing, and that the Church has replaced Israel, inheriting the blessings in place of Israel. This is absolutely false, and has the same source as the above false teaching.

No, rather, Paul points out that they have forgotten the God who promised the Messiah (that is a huge difference!). They have rejected His Grace at every turn. Paul assures us that he continually grieves for Israel, and he actually wishes that he himself could be lost, if it would save all of the other Jews. But of course, that is not an option for Paul. This reflects the heart of God, who did go to the Cross in the person of Christ, offering himself, on their behalf and ours.

The Inheritance of Israel

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

In verses 4 and 5, Paul lists eight advantages that ALL of Israel shares…take note that they are not only to ALL Israel, they exclusively to Israel. This is what is theirs by inheritance:

  1. Theirs was originally the statement of adoption (being the stated heirs of God), and
  2. Theirs was the glory of their history, of God living and working in their midst, and
  3. To them were the covenants offered and confirmed, and
  4. To them was the Law given, and
  5. To them was committed the Service of God (in the temple: the priesthood)
  6. To them were the Promises in which they had claimed to trust for thousands of years.
  7. To them alone belong the Patriarchs, and, as far as the flesh was concerned, and
  8. Through them came the

What more could they ask? The advantages that were given to all Israel are phenomenal, and they still exist today. But, for whatever reason, the majority of Jews, today, still ignore their heritage, and do not use that advantage to good effect. Let’s not become smug, though, or be judgmental in our thinking about this. As believers in Christ, we have even greater advantages today: the completed written Word of God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

(Are you using them?  Really? Are you using them to the best advantage?)

But what entitled the Jews to take part in those promises? We can see that some did and some did not.  What made the difference? All through History, we can see that some were privileged to take part in the promises, while others were disqualified. What makes a “Jew”, born of the house of Israel, a “real Jew,” from God’s perspective?

The Heredity of Israel

Paul points out that Israel was not just a “breeding stock” that God turned loose to graze, and, wherever it wandered, or whatever brood it produced, He approved of it. His Word is complete, and His will is perfect. Read what he says about the heredity of Israel. It is not strictly physical.

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

In verses 6 and 7 Paul begins to touch on the idea that not all who are physically born of the lineage of Abraham are actually his heirs. He begins by pointing out that in spite of Abraham having had two sons (Ishmael and Isaac, at that time), God said, “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” Ishmael, though he was equally “of the seed of Abraham” according to the flesh, was not the heir. It seems that there is a spiritual principle involved. Paul goes on to explain:

That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

In verses 8-13, then, Paul reminds us that it is not the children of the flesh who are heirs of God, but rather the children of the Promise. There are two points to notice in the promise: He says “at this time”, so we can see there was a timing issue from God’s perspective: His timing, not theirs. He further says that at that proper time He would come. It was to be God’s work, not theirs.

Isaac was born of a miracle, as promised by God. In sharp contrast, Ishmael was born of a scheme of an old man and his wife, who were trying to short-circuit God’s Grace, and force the hand of God. (Is that maybe not quite the same?)

I have deliberately worded the story in rather blunt terms, to show the “seamy side” of this history: Sarah was definitely not following the leading of God: she was scheming by offering Hagar to Abraham. Abraham (as might most men) jumped at the idea of committing “legal adultery”, at his wife’s suggestion. But God makes it abundantly clear that it was not from Him.  The long-term results have been horrendous, and we are still experiencing that destruction today. Almost daily, now, we hear of more attacks by Islamic terrorists who correctly call themselves sons of Ishmael. The long-term effects of Abraham’s unbelief and sin are being inflicted on his offspring, particularly, and the rest of the World, as well; and it is increasing in frequency and magnitude. Interestingly, that is exactly what God predicted in Genesis 16:11, 12. “He (Ishmael) will be a wild man, and his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him, and he shall live in the midst of all his brethren.” (Thanks a bunch, Abe!)

(Oddly, this is one aspect of the Bible that actually adds to my conviction that it is truly God’s Word, not od human origin: Humans tend to gloss over the flaws of their heroes. God does not put the heroes of the faith on a pedestal. He shows them for exactly what they were: deeply flawed individuals through whom He showed His strength. Abraham made a mess: God says so. God is cleaning up that mess, in His way and in His timing.) And there was no condemnation for Abraham. Sound familiar?

By the way, after Sarah’s death, “good old Abraham” remarried (Genesis 25:1-4), and had six more boys by Keturah, his new wife (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.) Though we don’t know what happened to most of them, the few whose names we do recognize were enemies of Israel, later in history. The flesh has always warred against the Spirit. That was not something new in Romans 8:7, or Galatians 5:17. The offspring of Ishmael, Midian and Esau remain enemies of Israel to this day. So are the offspring of Lot.

Rebecca was a similar example, showing that the obvious human choice does not necessarily inherit the blessing of God, but rather, the choice of God will stand. God foreknew Esau’s choice to despise the birthright, trading it for a meal; and He foretold the result: “the elder shall serve the younger.” About 1000 years later He remarked, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated”. (Malachi 1:2, 3) Was it just arbitrary, or capricious on His part? No, it was simply a recognition of the kind of person Esau turned out to be, and a statement that God knew it before it happened.

God knew who they were and what they would do, long before they physically existed. They were both sons of Isaac and Rebecca…they were fraternal twins, in fact—but one valued the birthright, and the other did not. One saw the things of God as being valuable—the other saw them as a waste of time and energy…and God responded in kind.

You do not “inherit godliness” from your human parents. You inherit it from your Heavenly Father, as a re-born Child of God, and you grow in it, by walking with God in obedient service. Every child of God has the capacity to become a Godly person: a man or woman of God, walking with Christ, and becoming a blessing to all around him or her.

Israel had some great promises. We have better ones. Israel also had the opportunity to walk with God. When they did so, they enjoyed His blessing. When they did not, times got lean. We can experience a leanness in our own souls when we neglect God’s Word, and ignore the leading of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want that, though. 1st Corinthians 10:11 says that all the things ancient Israel experienced were for examples, and for our admonition; an object lesson for us. Let’s learn from the failures and successes of Israel, and inherit the blessings promised to us. Their blessing is not lost; it is just postponed.

Lord; let us learn your Word, believe your promises, experience your Grace and Blessing, and become the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. Amen!


Son or Servant?

Son or Servant?  Slave or Free?

C. O. Bishop 4/9/15 THCF 4/12/15

Galatians 4:19-31

Introduction:

We have been talking about the problems associated with legalism so long I am beginning to fear that folks will think that is all I want to talk about. But as we read the Book of Galatians, we can see that Paul spent the better part of four chapters outlining the difference between Law and Grace, the dangers of legalism, the trap that it sets for the new or untaught believer, and the character or condition of those who spread such doctrine. He has minced no words—he has been quite blunt.

He has pronounced God’s curse on those who corrupt the Gospel of Grace by adding works as a condition of salvation, he has told the Galatian believers that the Law has never been a means of salvation, but rather a curse, as it only reveals the lostness of the human race. He has told them that through Jesus’ fulfilling the Law, he, Paul, had been made dead to the Law, but alive to God. He has told them that if it was possible to gain a right standing with God through works of any kind, then Jesus died for nothing.

Paul has explained the issue of what it meant to be a child of Abraham, pointing out that Abraham lived more than 400 years before the Law was given, and that the promised “seed” was singular, not plural. The Promised Seed was actually Christ, and we are to be made part of Him by faith, and so we become the children of Abraham by faith—not physical, as the Jewish offspring of Abraham claim to be, and are, but the spiritual offspring, and in a completely different category. Now Paul is addressing those believers as children.

Paul’s Concern for His “Kids”:

Paul claims these believers as his own offspring, since he is the one who led many of them to Christ. But he has some misgivings about their response to false teaching, and is wondering whether they are really born again, all of them, or just going along with the group in some cases.

19 My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

 20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

This is a third word for “children” used here: the Greek word “teknia”—born-ones—offspring. Paul is claiming them as his spiritual offspring, and so they are, since he led them to Christ. He says that he is “in labor” again, as if they were being born again all over again. He is not sure where they stand, or who they really are. He wished that he could be there, face to face with them, and could express his heart to them more clearly. For my part, I am grateful that he could not, since it meant that we have this letter today.

Now Paul has one last major point to make regarding Law and Grace: The difference in the implied relationship between the believer and God. He uses a well-known Old Testament account to demonstrate that Law corresponds to slavery, while Grace corresponds to freedom, and son-ship. He begins by saying, in effect, “All right, then: if you like Law, let’s talk about the Law! He says:

21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

“Law-keeping” Exposed: An Allegory Revealed

Paul knows from his own experience, as well as from the Word of God, that any human claiming to keep the Law, is being very “selective” in their thinking. He knows they have not obeyed the whole law, nor do they really intend to do so.

22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

Now here is something we might not have seen apart from God revealing it. The only thing I could have said for sure is that Abraham took advantage of what seemed an “opportunity to fulfill God’s promise” (annnnd, coincidentally, a real opportunity to gratify the flesh: to have sex with a younger woman, not only legally, but with his wife’s consent…in fact it was her idea!) Must have seemed like a great idea at the time…. But it was NOT God’s idea, and Abraham neglected to ask whether it was right. So, he went ahead, and, in doing so, he set up the genealogy for the largest group of enemies his people, the Jews, would ever have. The Children of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, have bitterly resented the Children of Isaac, his son by Sarah (specifically the Jews), for centuries. And today they completely surround the Jewish state:  by their own admission, they seek to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. (Thanks, Abe!)

But…God was also setting up an object lesson, by which we are expected to see the differences between the miraculous work that God does through faith, and the natural work that we can accomplish on our own. God is in the business of carrying out miraculous work in the lives of believers, not simply saving us and then turning us loose to do the works on our own. The difference pointed out is the difference between work of the flesh—which any natural man can accomplish, and the work of God, which only He can do. Law-keeping fits in the former category…Grace fits in the latter.

23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

What Abraham accomplished with Hagar was completely natural…even an old fossil like Abraham could have relations with a young woman who was still of child-bearing age, and produce a child. Where’s the miracle in that? What is supernatural about an old man getting a young woman pregnant? Especially since she was a slave and had no choice in the matter? (When you think of it in that way, it is not a very attractive picture, is it? Bear in mind that this was truly Sarah’s idea, and is emulated later by Jacob’s wives. The issue was not whether it was illegal, or even immoral, but whether it was of God. Yes, it was Sarah’s idea but Abraham was definitely a willing participant.)

Sarah, on the other hand, though a free-woman, was past the age of child-bearing, and could not be reasonably expected to conceive. So, in order for that union to bear fruit, God had to step in and supernaturally rejuvenate her body…which He eventually did!

The Allegory:

The result of the paired conceptions, one natural, the other supernatural, is an object lesson for us today: and one that God set up, using human failure as the starting point.

24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

Please bear in mind that this is God talking through Paul; this is not just Paul’s opinion. God says there was an allegory there for us to see and learn. This not license to claim that every passage of scripture is allegorical, so that we can read into it whatever we want.

25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

I would never have gotten this connection: Hagar represents Mt. Sinai, and the Law (which brought bondage,) and, by extension, the natural Jerusalem which is in bondage (at that time, it was in bondage to Rome… still today it is in bondage to sin.) I never would have seen these parallels unless God had pointed it out.

26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Sarah was the other side of the equation—the need for supernatural re-birth and revival. She represented the supernatural Jerusalem, still invisible, and only accessible through faith. She is a picture of the way that God chooses to deal with believers.

27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

Ironically, she also brings out the picture of the gentile believers, because although it says the desolate woman shall bear children, it also says she will have many more than “she who has a husband”.  Sarah had a husband! Remember Abraham? She had been married to him for many years. Why would it say specifically “than she who had a husband”?  I think that it is a prophecy that there will be more Gentile believers in the Body of Christ than will come out of Israel, the “wife of God!”

28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

Who are the “Brethren” of whom he speaks? They are all the believers, Jew and Gentile. There is no division between believers of Jewish or non-Jewish descent. But all of us became the children of promise by faith. There is no other way.

29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

Ishmael laughed at Isaac, the heir, and mocked him, as a toddler. As a result, he and his mother were sent packing. It was a heart-rending experience for Abraham, who loved his son Ishmael, and for Ishmael, as well, who doubtless loved his father.

It was a grievous thing for Hagar, too, who had enjoyed the privileges of a wife for a time, instead of the position of a slave. But she had silently sneered at Sarah because she could bear Abraham a son, while Sarah could not (God confirms this). Sarah saw that, and wanted her out. She treated her harshly and drove her out, so that Hagar ran away. But God sent her back for the time being, and kept her there until Ishmael was nearly grown, and more nearly able to care for himself.

When Hagar was finally expelled, it was a deeply bitter thing for her and her son. And God prophesied that he, Ishmael, would be “a wild man”, and that his hand would be “against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (which is being fulfilled today.) And Paul reminds them that Jerusalem will be persecuted by the sons of Ishmael (and it is happening daily today.)

 The Separation between Natural and Supernatural

30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

Though it was a bitter, terrible parting, with long-lasting consequences, the separation was by the decree of God. It was partly for practical reasons, I am sure, as God did not want Isaac to be in competition with Ishmael for Abraham’s attention; but it was also intended to set up this specific lesson: There is a sharp, uncrossable divide between the natural and the supernatural in terms of eternal value. We see this borne out in 1st Corinthians 3:10-16, where the judgment seat of Christ is in view. Works either have eternal value or they don’t. There is no “sliding scale.”

What the Galatian believers were being persuaded to embrace (works—legalism) required no “touch of God”—it required no presiding Holy Spirit. They could carry out the demands of a man-made religion strictly on their own…and countless millions in the world do just that, every day of their lives.

That is one of the distinguishing marks of both the Old and New Testaments—they both demand a degree of holiness not achievable by man, and they both provide a means of overcoming the lack that still admits no human interference. The Law demanded perfection, and said, “…the Soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It offered no way out except a shedding of blood, and the faith of the believer that God himself was the redeemer…the “goel”—the one who buys us out of our sin-debt, and sets us free. The New Testament does not change this arrangement one bit! It only concludes the long line of blood-sacrifices with the final, perfect Blood-sacrifice of the Lamb of God, which sets us free from the Law forever.

But the enmity between the natural and the supernatural was not limited to Ishmael: it is nearly universal.

The Enmity between Natural and Supernatural

Whether Jew or Gentile; those who deny this truth –especially the religious people who deny the truth of Grace—will bitterly resent the freedom inherited by the children of the Promise. They will take a stand against God and His people at every opportunity, even when claiming to be believers themselves. Remember how King Herod sought to deceive the Magi: he said “Tell me where He is, so I can worship Him too!” Far from worship, Herod intended to murder Jesus, but he pretended to be a believer, so as to deceive the real believers.

Only the Holy Spirit can bring about the real changes we hope to see in our lives. God says that the scripture has provided “…exceeding great and precious promises, that through these we might be partakers of the divine nature.” And that is how it happens. We embrace His promises by faith, and through His Word, by His Spirit, he begins to change us into His likeness. It does not happen overnight. It required growth, exercise and feeding.

Conclusion:

31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

That is the bottom line, as far as Paul is concerned: You are not a slave, but a freeborn, re-born child of God. Act like one! Don’t enslave yourself to things from which He died to set you free. Keep stepping along in the freedom He died to provide!

We keep looking to God, and, in light of His Word, in light of His holiness, we see our sin. We confess it as sin, and he cleanses us, and continues to work to change us into his likeness. But embracing a set of regulations through which we hope to “be the people God intends us to be” is a serious step backward. It puts us in the camp of the enemy, effectively, because it is exactly the opposite of what God wants.

I read a story, years ago…I have no idea whether it was true…of an old gentleman living alone in a rundown house in the commercial area of a big city. He was offered a very large amount of money for his property, and he accepted it gladly. The purchasers gave him plenty of time to find a new place to live, and to get moved out. During that time, he looked around at his shabby old house, and thought it was a shame to be selling it to the new owners in such poor shape, so he took some of the money they had paid him and renovated the house—new roof, broken windows replaced, plumbing repaired, and everything painted inside and out. The old place was really looking good, so when the new owners showed up to take possession, he happily showed them all the work he had done. They looked and listened, and finally shook their heads sadly: “We are really sorry to tell you this, but you have wasted both your time and your money: we never wanted the house at all! We are tearing it down to build an office complex, here! All we wanted was your land.”

God does not want what YOU can do: He wants what He can do in you. Ultimately, he just wants YOU. Law-keeping is something we think we can do, but no matter how good we are at it, it is not what God wants at all.

Look to the Lord to change you from the inside out, and the old ways will begin to drop away…the new nature will become more and more prominent. If you have received Christ as your Savior by faith, then you are already a child of God, by the new birth; enacting a set of rules in your life will not enhance your relationship with God. Believing His promises, and obeying his principles by faith will continually build that relationship, and you will grow more and more into His likeness.

God help us to draw near by faith, and receive your Grace as the empowering principle in our lives. Remake us into the men and women of God that you have chosen us to be.


To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

Galatians 3:15-18; compare Genesis 13:15-16

Introduction:

We have talked about the Promise of the Spirit, and our need to embrace that Promise. One thing that has always bothered me, in the following few verses, is that, from my human perspective, it always seemed that Paul was playing a little “fast and loose” with the grammar of the promise of God to Abraham, in Genesis. But I know that this is God’s inspired Word…Paul was doing exactly as he was directed. I also know that God is God, and He certainly has the right to comment on His own Word. So how can I resolve the question?

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

It recently occurred to me that, in modern times, we have always only had two real sources for the Old Testament scriptures: The Masoretic text (which is Hebrew and Aramaic, and the most recent example at about AD 200)— and the Septuagint (a Greek translation from about 140 BC.)

We might think, “Well…maybe a lot was lost in the Translation!” (as is frequently the case in translations), but this question was checked by hundreds of scholars over the last several hundred years, translating (again) the Hebrew into Greek to see if their translation matched the Septuagint; and, the reverse: translating the Greek Septuagint back into Hebrew, to see if it came close to the original language. All these exercises were done for two reasons:

  1. Believers earnestly want to know what God’s Word really says, and because
  2. Attacks are frequently made by the enemy and we feel forced to defend the Word of God.

Yes, the translation exercises showed the reliability of the two texts. And, in 1948, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves at Qumran, the scholarly elite were filled with Joy; some because they were sure that these texts (including most of the Old Testament, in Hebrew and Aramaic,) would prove the unreliable character of the Bible, and others—believers— because they hoped exactly the opposite. As it turned out, over the years, as these scrolls were painstakingly opened and preserved for posterity, but carefully studied, as well, the scrolls strongly supported the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

So, What Did Jesus Read? What Did He Quote?

Perhaps the strongest support for the Septuagint is the fact that virtually every single Old Testament quotation in the New Testament, whether quoted by an Apostle or by Jesus Himself, is quoted from the Septuagint… word for word. That is the reason the New Testament (for example) says “a virgin shall be with Child”, when they could have translated the Hebrew to mean “a young girl”. The Hebrew word (“alma”) does mean, “young girl”, but is usually used to mean a young girl who is not married and not sexually active. The translators of the Septuagint understood this, and chose to use the Greek word “parthenon”, which specifically means “virgin”, when they could have used the word “korasion” which simply means a “young girl”.

In light of that, one could either say, from the perspective of an unbeliever, that the translators (all 70 of them) had made a serious error, trying to prove the virgin birth (this was completed 140 years before Jesus was born: the translators had never heard of Jesus), or, still as an unbeliever, that Jesus and all his disciples deliberately chose to use a flawed translation, trying to prove it. Either response relegates the entire New Testament to the trash-heap, as one has to prejudge the translation to be false and prejudge Jesus to be a deceiver.

To a believer, though, this is powerful evidence that Jesus fully approved the Greek translation of His own Word…He quoted it! And so did Paul.  If Paul was the only one who used the Septuagint text, we might be tempted to think he was manipulating the meaning, here. But Jesus was very consistent in its use as well, and with similar results. My conclusion is that there are doctrinal points that were not specific enough in Hebrew, and God has made it clear in Greek. It might, in fact, be evidence that the Septuagint is an “inspired translation”. But all we know for sure is that Jesus used it constantly, as did his Apostles.

So, what is the difference? Does it matter which “Bible” Jesus quoted? I think it probably does! Let’s see what Paul had to say:

The Covenant—the Promise

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

Paul is appealing to human law: he says, if a contract has been signed—an agreement made—you can’t start “adding things later”, or changing the terms of the agreement. Much more so, the covenant of God: God will not change it, because He is Holy and Righteous, and because it is His Word. We cannot change it because we have no authority to do so. Paul points out that it would violate both the principle of Law and of Promise, to alter a covenant after the fact.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

To whom was the initial promise made, in Genesis 13:15? It was made to Abraham, regarding the land. And, in response to Abraham’s faith, it was extended to a lot of people. But the first giving of that promise was made to Abraham “and his seed”. In normal English, I would have interpreted that to mean his offspring, however few or numerous they may have proven to be. In Hebrew that would seem to be true as well—the words in Genesis 13:15 and 13:16 in Hebrew are identical (“zera”…seed.) As far as I can determine, the Hebrew word for “seed” is used the same as the English word—it could be singular or plural, depending upon the context. But in Greek, there are at least three different forms, and just as Jesus did, Paul was quoting the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

But:  in the Septuagint, the word for “seed” in verse 15 is specifically singular! I looked up the Greek word used in Genesis 13:15 in the Septuagint, and, as a matter of fact, it is the exact same word that Paul used in Galatians 3:16 (“spermati”). I never would have understood this point without God bringing it to light: in English, the plural for seed is not always “seeds”—we say “I set aside 100 pounds of wheat for seed.” And we would mean that this wheat was being saved for planting, not eating. But Paul points out that, at least in this case, God meant the singular—the promised “seed”—the person of Christ.

But the word used in Genesis 13:16 is a different form of the same word, and is commonly used as a plural or substantive, meaning a large quantity (“sperma”), meaning “seed—and lots of it”. The particular promise of the land and blessing, then, was not initially to the whole family of Israel, but to one single offspring: Christ. The specific promise regarding Abraham’s offspring being so numerous uses a different word form.

There is a third form of the Greek word for seed (“spermasin”) that is specifically plural, referring to a numeric plural. That is the one Paul pointed out that God had NOT used. There is no question that Paul was making a valid point; again, because he quoted the Septuagint.

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

The initial promise, of course, was to Abraham. But the portion that said, “…and thy seed…” used the specifically singular word for “seed”, and, as we see in Galatians, that particular seed was not in reference to Isaac (who wasn’t born yet), but to Christ.

Since I do not easily read Greek, but rather have to look up every word, as a rule, I would not have caught this detail. And since I don’t even own a copy of the Septuagint, but had to find a copy on the internet that I could read and compare to the Greek New Testament (which I do own), I definitely never would have known that there was a detail I was missing without God commenting on His own Word and showing us something special.

So why is that so special? Because, if the Jews had been correct in assuming that all of the promises were to them because they were Abraham’s offspring, then those promises could not be applied to me unless I became a Jew. In fact, even then they would not apply, because I am not his offspring at all, by nature, and becoming a Jew would not change that. But…if, as Paul states, the promises were to Christ, then they can be applied to me, if I am in Christ.

The promise is both narrowed and broadened in that one explanation: it is narrowed from “all the Jews” to “just the Messiah”. It is broadened from “only the Jews” to “anyone and everyone who places his or her trust in the living Christ.” Paul underscores this “positional truth” in another passage; 1st Corinthians 15:22—“all in Christ shall be made alive”. If you are “in Christ” then the promises will be to you.

Are there specific promises given only to the Jews? Yes, I believe there are. I do not believe that the Church has “replaced” the Jews in the plan of God. Their promises are virtually all physical, earthly blessings. Ours are, without exception, spiritual, heavenly blessings. And a Jew who embraces Christ steps into a new relationship. Just as the Levite, who had no inheritance in the land, but whose inheritance was the person of God and the priesthood of God, the person whose life is hidden in Christ trades the earthly and temporary for the heavenly and eternal.

So; the question Paul is exploring here continues to be the relationship of Law to Promise—Law to Grace—Law to faith. His answer comes in the form of a question: “Which came first?” The answer is that the Promise came 430 years before the Law. His conclusion is that the Law could not change the Promise. By choosing to trust in Christ and his finished work at the Cross, we sidestep the curse of the Law, and embrace the eternal Promise of God. Paul goes on:

17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Paul argues that, if the Law changed the promise in any way, then the promise is broken. But God does not break his promises, and the Law, coming far later, has no authority to change or set aside the promise.

By the way, remember that the Promise was an entirely one-sided covenant made by God…there was nothing for Abraham to do: no further conditions to meet. He had already been declared righteous by God. How? By Grace, through faith; and God made the unconditional covenant of the Promise, with no way for Abraham to fail.

Remember we have talked about how a serious, binding covenant between two Jews was made? The two parties brought a sacrifice, and split the pieces of that sacrifice, and together walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, calling God as their witness that they were bound by the terms of the contract.

But in Genesis 15, God did not allow Abraham to walk with him between the pieces of the sacrifice. He allowed Abraham to see, but not participate, as He himself walked alone through the sacrifices. Does that sound at all familiar? Doesn’t it strike you as significant that Jesus walked alone through all the trial of Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross? Alone, into the Grave, alone in the Resurrection and the Ascension…but invites us to join Him there, by faith? He has invited you to see, but not to participate, beyond faith. You do NOT earn your salvation in any way.

God bound Himself to the Covenant…there was nothing for Abraham to do, to fulfill “his part of the agreement”. It was entirely one-sided! There was no way that Abraham could fail, somehow negating the promise. The condition (Faith) had already been met. Abraham had already been declared righteous, and the Promise was secure. Does that sound familiar? We have already been saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Peace with God has already been established (Romans 5:1) and the promise is eternally secure.

Paul’s Conclusion

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

If the inheritance was somehow switched over to being accessible through the Law (instead of promise) then the promise would have to be set aside…and it was not. The Law and the Promise are not working at cross-purposes. They are working together.

Paul first points out what is common knowledge—that the Promise was given apart from Law. He pointed out that Abraham had the promise nearly half a century before Law was introduced. Then he concludes that inheriting the promise is also not connected to Law, but to Grace and Faith, just as it was in Abraham’s case.

If you want the promise of God to be applied to your life, look to the one who inherited them all…Jesus! If you have received Him as your savior, then the Promises are already yours, because you are in Christ. But, how do we experience them?

On a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis, we experience the full blessing of God through faith and obedience. We regain fellowship through confession (1st John 1:9), and maintain it by simply walking by faith (1st John 1:7). As the Holy Spirit points out things in our lives that He wants to change or eliminate, we can say, “Amen, Lord”, and give those things to Him as an act of Worship, or we can scream, “NO! That’s my favorite!” and cling to our own way. As we give our lives over to Him, bit by bit, we grow closer to Him; we understand more of His perspective, and we learn to walk more consistently.

A baby learning to walk is very unstable. But eventually he or she learns to walk reliably, and seldom stumbles. This happens through practice, as the child grows stronger and gains a better sense of balance. We can do this, too! We can:

  • Practice confession and obedience—that is how we regain fellowship and walk with God. And it takes perseverance and practice.
  • Feed on the Word of God to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Pray for God’s leading, so that we will be sensitive to His Word.
  • Fellowship with other believers. This is how we learn the joy of walking with God.

Press on, my friends! It is worth it, every step of the way!

Lord Jesus, we ask that we may partake in the Divine Nature through the Promises available to us in You, as we fellowship with You and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We pray these things so that we might be to your honor and glory.