Posts Tagged ‘Abram’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

© C. O. Bishop 2012, revised 2018

Genesis, chapters 16 and 17

Introduction:

There are many ugly histories in the Bible: God doesn’t pull punches when telling “what happened,” and “who did what.” Actually, that is one of the things that helps convince me that this actually is God’s Word, and not the word of man: God does not put his “heroes of the faith” on pedestals: he lets us see exactly what kind of flawed individuals they really were, and then shows us what He can do with such shabby, unpromising raw materials. We saw the sin of Adam, the drunkenness of Noah, and the foolishness of Lot: but all were saved individuals.

Virtually all the patriarchs, judges and kings also had deeply flawed lives; some far worse than others. But God chose them because of what He could do with them, not because of what “wonderful people” they were. He is still choosing that way today. He deliberately chooses “losers” through whom He will bring about victories. He leaves the “self-sufficient” to be just that…self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and self-centered. They feel no need for a Savior, and they see themselves as great people. (Perhaps they are, in fact, from strictly a human perspective.)

This story is about a couple of “failures, and losers,” living in the midst of a culture of failure, idolatry, and slavery, where life was cheap, and “human rights” were scarce, or even unheard of. We don’t like these subjects, as they make us uncomfortable, at least, and sometimes angry.

Genesis 16: Faith can Stumble

Back in chapter 15, God had made a promise of offspring, but Abram and Sarai were evidently tired of waiting. So Sarai had a “brilliant idea,” which was evidently a common “cultural norm.” She suggested that Abram impregnate her servant, Hagar, and she herself would simply claim the child. Abram, a typical man, apparently thought that was a great idea.

We would be horrified, today, in our culture, to even hear of such an idea, let alone to hear of someone attempting to carry it through, or, worse yet, actually doing such a thing. But there are actually more slaves today than ever before, and we simply are unaware, because it is mostly hidden, or in particular parts of the world. And, in those places, such a plan would be taken as a matter-of-fact solution, not a gross moral violation (which it certainly is and was.)

We will eventually see how Hagar felt about it all, but not in detail. However, this little scheme produced deep, serious trouble of the “fatal” kind, which continues still today. All the Arab peoples claim Ishmael (and Abraham) as their forefather, and believe that they are the chosen people of God (the Q’uran tells them so).

This incident occurred about ten years after Abram had moved into Canaan, so he was at least 85, since he left Haran at 75 years of age. The end of the chapter says he was 86 when Ishmael was born. We are not told how old Hagar was (much younger, evidently), but I can sympathize with her in this matter—as a slave, she was given no choice. She was being treated as a thing, an object…a possession; she had no more self-determination than did a domestic animal. She probably was not in favor of the plan, being forced to sexually serve her mistress’s husband; to be a surrogate mother; not even being allowed to claim her own son. She was not exactly a sex-slave, as that was not the intent: it was strictly for procreation, but when forced upon a woman, it isn’t much different. Whatever her initial feelings had been; once she was pregnant, she felt some satisfaction, or vindication, knowing that she could bear a child, while Sarai could not.

Sarai saw Hagar’s satisfaction (and the smugness and disrespect that followed it) and blamed the whole plan on Abram (how quickly we forget!) She called on God to judge him for his sin. But Abram said, in effect, “Hey, she’s your slave; you take care of it”. So Sarai physically abused Hagar (we don’t know how: the text just says “dealt hardly with her”), and Hagar ran away.

The Consequences of Sin

The story could have ended there, with a poor, lone, pregnant woman lost in the desert. But God met with Hagar in the desert at a spring where she had sought refuge, and He told her to go back. He further told her that she would have a son, that her son would be called Ishmael, and that he would be the father of a multitude…also, that he would be a “wild man” (some translations say “a wild donkey of a man”), whose hand would be against everyone, and against whom everyone else’s hand would be raised. (Does that sound familiar? The Arab nations all call Ishmael their father (whether he was or not), and they are at odds with the whole non-Arab world. The current pattern of worldwide Islamic terrorism has been deliberately exerted against all parties, in the attempt to start a world war, and bring about some particular prophecy in the Q’uran. Their stated desire is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth…in fact, to kill every single Jew.)

We should really think carefully about this whole story—it could sound simply like a tawdry tale of sin and abuse; the sad story of a very dysfunctional family, in a primitive, brutal society… and it is all of that. But the underlying lesson, it seems to me, is that sin always has an ongoing effect. Sin has consequences. I can’t go back and undo my errors: the hurts I have caused in the lives of others will have ongoing effects in their lives as well as my own.

Sin always affects more than just the ones sinning. The long-range results in this particular case are several nations of people who are deadly enemies to Israel—who openly state that their fondest dream is to wipe Israel off the map. I have no way to know which failure of mine will have far-reaching consequences—nor how severe. (Probably none as severe as this one, simply because I am not Abraham.) But all sin has eternal consequences: at the very least we will lose potential for eternal rewards. But we also dishonor God; we destroy our testimony, and we “…make the name of God to stink, among the Gentiles.” We drive people away from Jesus.

How many times have you met an unbeliever who has become embittered against Christians in general, and Christianity as a concept, or even against Christ as a person, specifically because of offenses committed by people claiming to be Christians? In fact, for the sake of argument, I will assume they really were Christians. Why would I assume this? Because Christians are perfectly capable of virtually every sin, if not absolutely every sin, commonly committed by unbelievers. We are supposed to be living holy lives, noteworthy for the Agape love displayed in us, and for the unity we enjoy with one another, and the general pattern of good behavior seen in all circumstances. Jesus told us to live in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. Unfortunately, none of the above is what the World tends to see. They capitalize on the failures, and assume failure is the “real” norm, and that all the “piety” was just hypocrisy.

I asked an unbelieving co-worker, recently, if, as his children were learning to walk, he had yelled “hypocrite!” at them, every time they lost their balance and fell. He replied that, of course, he had not. I pointed out that failure, especially among untaught or immature believers is quite common, and not necessarily a mark of hypocrisy. He thought a “hypocrite” is someone who says they believe one thing, and then do something else. I corrected his thinking, pointing out that the Greek word “hupocritos” only means an actor: a pretender; a fake. A failure and a fake are two different things. A fisherman who catches no fish is not a fake, but a frustrated failure. A runner who fails to finish a race is a failure, not a fake. Such examples are unlimited in number.

What we saw in this story was a prime example of a total failure of faith. They didn’t even think they were doing wrong: they simply assumed that “cultural norms” were OK with God, and they just didn’t think to ask His opinion. They ran ahead of God (a bad idea) with their own means of “implementing God’s plan.” This is certainly not the only example in the Bible of such choices by believers, but it is one that has incredibly severe long-range consequences.

I encountered a modern-day example of this assumption recently, through a friend in another state: his church is planning to hire a pastor, and they are following the “cultural norm” of soliciting résumés, and reading letters of recommendation. This is a classic abandonment of God’s command to not “lay hands on” (ordain) someone too soon, as it is patently impossible to get to know someone in just a week’s time, and it is therefore impossible for the congregation to know and respect that individual as an elder in that assembly. But the western churches have nearly universally chosen to go with the World’s way of thinking, and have reverted to the pattern of having one hireling, like a CEO, set over a church, with abnormal authority to rule, and an impossible task to accomplish as a servant, even if he is a perfect servant…and he isn’t!

God does give instructions as to how to find, produce, train and select church leaders…and they are always plural. But very few are willing to follow those instructions, and the results are frequently disastrous. Will that church survive the error? Very likely it will! Does the fact that it is a cultural norm make it a good replacement for God’s stated plan? Absolutely not! God says for us to trust in the LORD with all our hearts and to not lean unto our own understanding. Disobedience always has consequences.

Abram and Sarai replaced God’s plan with their own ideas, based upon cultural norms, and they assumed it would be fine. But they were wrong! We are always ill-advised to assume that our “cultural norms” are a good replacement for God’s stated will. I realize that this is a troubling idea, and I have no desire to stir up controversy, but it is important that we carefully examine our practices, traditions and beliefs, in the light of all of God’s Word (not just a pet “proof-text”), to see whether they are actually what God says to do.

Genesis 17: God’s Plan Revealed

When Abram was 99 years old—and Ishmael was 13—God met with Abram again, and reiterated his original promise, and, in the process, changing Abram’s name (which meant “exalted father”) to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”). But God also added a condition that was to be met by the recipients of the promise. The mark of the covenant was to be circumcision. Remember that this was before the giving of the Law…it was a provision that whoever was to receive the promise was to be marked as a son of the promise. In the New Testament, we see that it was a picture of discipleship—of the “putting away of the flesh.” And it is only a picture. There were countless Israelites (and millions of modern day Gentiles) who were circumcised as babies (or even as adults) but had no heart for the God of the Covenant. The flesh does not profit, at a spiritual level, unless the Spirit is driving the flesh…the physical body, in this case. But both the Jews and the Arab peoples still practice this, in the belief that they are complying with God’s demand, and that they thereby gain an entrance into the promise of God.

God went on to say that Sarai’s name would now be Sarah (meaning “princess”), and that she would bear a son, and that they would name him Isaac (meaning, “he laughs”, because Abraham laughed at the thought of a 99-year old man fathering a child.)

Abraham had his heart set on Ishmael as his heir, but God overruled: He said that, though Ishmael would be a great nation (and the father of many nations), Isaac was the son of the promise, not Ishmael. In Galatians 4:21-31 (read this), we see the explanation of what happened in Genesis 17 and 21. In Genesis 17 God told Abram that his son of the flesh (Ishmael) was not the son of the promise…in chapter 21, he was finally told to send Hagar and Ishmael away…and it deeply grieved him to do so. Abraham sincerely loved his son, Ishmael.

But God set up this picture, using the circumstances, so that we could see, almost 4000 years later that Law and Grace do not dwell together. The Law brings a curse, and Grace brings life. Does the Law have a purpose, today? Certainly, it does! The Law lets us know that we are a condemned sinner and in need of a Savior. Grace joins us to the savior.

“Doctor Law” diagnoses the need for a new heart. “Doctor Grace” is the surgeon who gives the new heart, and binds the believing heart immutably to Christ. They do work in the same clinic, but they never set foot in one another’s offices. Doctor Law always sends his patients to Doctor Grace—if they will go—and Doctor Grace never sends them back. They work well as a team—but always separately!

So, Isaac was a picture of Christ, in the sense that he was the Son of the Promise (and it showed in his life-story in a couple of places). Jesus is the Eternal fulfillment of the promises of God.

Chapter 17 ends with the circumcision of all the men in Abram’s extended household. (In chapter 14, remember, Abram had led into battle 318 fighting men from his own household. By this time there were undoubtedly more, as it was thirteen or fourteen years later. There must have been a lot of grief in that camp that week. That particular “surgery” is not a light thing for adults.

But: the result of obedience is blessing. Abraham continually received God’s blessing and protection. And, every time God gave him a command, Abraham got right in there and did it. We especially see this in Genesis chapter 22, where God tested Abraham.

Conclusion: Final “Review” Questions

  • Which came first, Faith or Obedience?
  • And, based upon which of those, was Abraham declared to be righteous, by God?
  • Which showed him as “righteous” to his fellow humans?

Answers:

  • Abraham believed God, and God declared him to be righteous on the basis of that faith.
  • Afterward, Abraham obeyed God, and, because of that, all of us can see the reality of his faith. He “put his money where his mouth was.” He put “shoe-leather” on his faith.

We already had discovered that this was Jesus, personally dealing with Abraham. After declaring Abraham righteous, on the basis of faith alone, Jesus made some demands on Abraham’s life, which we see as works.

Application: He does the same thing for us today:

  • He declared us righteous on the basis of faith in His blood at the Cross.
  • He then declared us to be his personal possession, as well as his offspring, and set us aside for His service, His purpose, and His blessing.
  • Finally, He says there are some things he wants us to do in response to faith, and in a personal response to Him as our Savior and Master. He wants us to walk with him and commit ourselves to His service.

Are you truly willing to follow him? Or is your faith going to be more like that of Brother Lot? Though he was truly saved, Lot was never really willing to make his relationship with God a priority in his life. As we will see next time, the results were not so good.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts and let us step forward in faith, breaking free from cultural norms, and doing what does not come naturally to our minds. Make us tools in your hands, to accomplish your will.


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 Six

Finding Jesus in Genesis—Lesson Six

© C. O. Bishop

Introduction:

We have been studying the book of Genesis, specifically looking for Old Testament evidences of the Person of Christ, just as Jesus taught in Luke 24:27. We have seen a few “pictures” or object lessons regarding the Christ, as well as at least a few personal appearances. We have also seen at least one clear prophecy regarding His coming Person and work. In Genesis 14 we see two pictures of Christ, I think. One is in Abram himself, the other is in the mysterious person called Melchizedek.

Genesis 14—Melchizedek

In Genesis 14 there is a small war. Four confederate kings attacked five neighboring kings (Each city was its own little “nation,” apparently) and captured them, along with Lot, who by that time was living in the city of Sodom. (Incidentally, these five little city-nations are the same five God proposed to destroy, in Genesis 19.) Abram heard about the raid and took 318 trained fighters from his own household, and went after them, in company with several of his neighbors, Mamre, Eschol and Aner. They caught up, and slaughtered the opposition, and recaptured all the people and all the loot.

In those days, the phrase “to the victor go the spoils” really meant something. If Abram and his associates had chosen to do so, they could have kept the people as slaves, kept all the animals and possessions, and released nothing. Nothing was said to indicate what their intent was, until the end of the chapter. But both the King of Sodom and the King of Salem showed up nearly simultaneously.

Salem versus Sodom

Melchizedek ( meaning “king of righteousness”), identified as the king of Salem, and as the priest of the Most High God (Hebrew, El Elyon) showed up and offered Abram bread and wine (which is interesting, all by itself.) Melchizedek blessed Abram, and blessed God for blessing Abram. Abram gave a tenth of the spoils (physical loot) to Melchizedek, evidently as a recognition that it was his God who had made possible the total victory over the enemy.

The king of Sodom (who had been conquered, and who had lost everything—his kingdom—his city, and his populace) also showed up and “offered” Abram all the goods, if he could have his people back. Abram didn’t owe him anything at all. In fact, had he been an opportunist, he could certainly have captured him on the spot and said, “One more slave!” But he flatly rejected the offer, not on the basis of its being invalid (it was), but because it did not honor God.

He said “I’m taking nothing! I don’t want you to ever be able to say that I “got rich” at your expense!” Further, he stated that he had already made a vow to God, to that effect. He was also careful to add that his decision did not affect his confederates, and that they would have to make their own decisions regarding the loot.

I think it is at least an interesting comparison, to see that, like Christ, Abram was offered a “short-cut.” Satan offered Jesus the worship and pomp of the World, in Matthew 4:1-11. Satan had very limited authority, as we can see in the Book of Job, and certainly did NOT have the “title to planet Earth,” as many commentators suggest—God does, and He always did.  Psalm 24:1 states that “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein!” Also, in Daniel 4:17, God says that “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will…”) God is the ruler on planet Earth, and always has been!

Satan claimed that the whole world had been given to him and that he could give it to whomever he chose. It was a lie, which should not surprise us: Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Satan offered that which was not his to offer. Jesus did not argue the validity of the offer, but simply rejected him completely. The king of Sodom offered Abram that which was not his to offer. Abram did not argue the point, but, rather pointedly, rejected him completely.

Remember, too, that Lot had been very rich when he left Abram, but he was one of the people kidnapped in the raid. He could have asked Uncle Abram if he could rejoin him, but evidently nothing of the sort was mentioned. Sodom went back to being Sodom, and Lot went with it. The next time it is mentioned is just before it was destroyed. And Lot lost everything in that destruction, but he himself was “saved, yet so as by fire”. Does that sound familiar? How “tight” is your connection with the world? See 1st Corinthians 3:11-16. We, as Christians, can be so tied to the world that we have none of the eternal treasures of God, and when our works are judged, we can lose everything, though we ourselves will be saved—yet so as by fire.

Abram rejected the offer of the King of Sodom, and seized upon the promise of God. I think we need to follow his lead, looking at our choices carefully as to whether they honor God, or serve self, in keeping with the World’s thinking.

Melchizedek himself

But, what can we learn about Melchizedek? Who is he? Where does he fit into history? Why is it that he is even mentioned here? What is the significance of this short passage? We find him referred to again, very briefly, in Psalm 110:4 and finally, more extensively, in Hebrews 6:20-7:22. He is either a very pointed picture of Christ, or, possibly, a true Christophany—a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ himself. Most scholars believe that he was simply a gentile priest-king, presiding over the city of Salem (meaning “peace”), and that he is is just a handy illustration of some things about Christ. Let’s look, though: what does the scripture actually say?

Psalm 110:1, 4 says “The LORD said unto my Lord…” (God speaking to God—God the Father speaking to God the Son) “…Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” That is the prophet David speaking, regarding the Christ, but also a statement by God about both Christ and Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:20 quotes Psalm 110:4, and then sweeps directly into the only actual commentary we have from God about Melchizedek: Hebrews 7:1-22.

Facts about Melchizedek:

  1. King of Righteousness (meaning of his actual name)
  2. King of Peace (his office)
  3. THE priest of the most High God (his job)
  4. Without father (Really? Or just not known?)
  5. Without mother (Really? Or just not known?)
  6. Without descent (Really? Or just no genealogy listed?)
  7. Having neither beginning of days nor end of life (Really? Or just not listed?)
  8. Made like to the Son of God (At least very similar…maybe too similar!)
  9. Abideth a priest continually. (Present tense!)

That ninth fact puts a different perspective on who Melchizedek really is, in my mind. By the way, this is all given in what is called “indicative” mode…the assurance that all the statements made are definitely so. It is not allegory. It is not supposition or conditional, or anything like that. It says he “abides a priest continually”. In what sense can it be said that Melchizedek still is functioning as a priest? Where does he offer sacrifices, or prayers? For whom does he intercede before God? Give that some thought!

We are further told that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, and that his priesthood is therefore greater than that of Levi who was a great-grandson of Abraham. It is stated that Levi paid tithes through Abram, to Melchizedek. Levi would not be born for maybe two hundred years yet, and God said he paid tithes to Melchizedek. Interesting.

God compares the two priesthoods, and says that because the priesthood of Levi (Aaron—Levi’s Great-g-g-grandson) is constantly interrupted by death (and that of Melchizedek is not), the final priest had to be after the order of Melchizedek, and not Aaron. Good logic: one priesthood was flawed, through death and human frailty; the other was not.

But if Melchizedek is still functioning as the priest of the Most High God, where does Jesus fit in, as High Priest? And why would we say that he was “after the order of” (under the auspices of) a gentile priest-king, who, though we know little about him, must have lived and died almost 4000 years ago? How can that be? Why would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and the ultimate source of Righteousness, be listed as being “after the order of” a dead guy from 4000 years ago, who somehow is also still a priest…Unless they are somehow one and the same? Because it could also be said that, since Jesus is a g-g-g-g-great grandson of Abraham, that He also paid tithes to Melchizedek, and thus was also “lesser,” just like Levi…and he is certainly not. But he may be equal, in which case there is no problem.

If Melchizedek was The priest of the Most High God, in the strictest sense—the one and only—the eternal Priest (and it seems he apparently is), then all the rest makes perfect sense. And it rejoices my heart to think that before God brought judgment to Canaan, he had offered His Grace to that region. The King of Righteousness and King of Peace had actually visited them, lived among them, and offered them a way to God. And, in reality, that is all we know about Melchizedek. We also know that it was immediately after this that the land was again promised to Abram—specifically naming the places, borders, and current inhabitants—but it was another 400 years before God evicted the Canaanites and all the other “-ite brothers.”

I can’t say with assurance that “Melchizedek was definitely Christ”, but I tend to lean that way in my thinking. There are too many things that otherwise don’t add up. If he simply appeared among the people, and eventually disappeared, then the “no father, no mother, etc” makes sense completely. A christophany is not born, and does not die—he is Christ, the eternal Son of God, the Living Word, who shows up periodically in Old Testament History, and then simply vanishes, leaving only the memory of his presence, and some sort of message from God. If that is what happened in Genesis 14, then He was the most intense and Personal christophany of them all. If it is not what happened, there, and he really was just a “gentile Priest-King” who happened to form a very good picture of the coming Messiah, then the story is just somewhat puzzling and mysterious…which, given the source, is not terribly unusual: there are many things we don’t understand, in God’s Word.

Application

But, what can we do with all of the above? The most obvious thing is to remember that, no matter who Melchisedec turns out to be, we will constantly be offered choices that fall into the “Sodom versus Salem” category, and we need to watch for them carefully, so as to make decisions that honor God, even if they do not seem to offer us the same “profit-margin” as the World offers.

There are many examples of people in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, who had a similar choice, and grabbed for the profit. Lot, in this immediate context, was a prime example, and it eventually cost him everything he had, leaving a permanent stain on his progeny, as well. He was a believer, according to 2nd Peter 2:4-9. But he left a terrible legacy, as we will see in Genesis 19.

Abram made what seemed to be a costly decision, here in chapter 14, turning away from an apparent windfall; but it was ultimately a very wise choice. He honored God with his words and deeds, and he is remembered as “the friend of God.” And God eventually blessed him in return.

Balaam, on the other hand, in the book of Numbers, was a genuine prophet of God, and, initially, was at least superficially obedient. But he strongly desired the rewards offered by the enemies of God, and eventually, on his own, he went and suggested how the Midianites and Moabites might cause Israel to stumble and fall, and be condemned by God. Incidentally, both these tribes were cousins to Israel, but are also bitter enemies, in spite of the family link.

The rest of that story is somewhat of a mixed blessing. It is in Numbers 22-25, culminating in Numbers 31:8. As we read that account, we can see that Israel’s position with God was secure forever, and that only their condition could ever be changed. Yes, they got in serious trouble, because of Balaam’s advice to their enemies: but God chastened them and brought them through, as a nation…and they were later sent to destroy their enemies, including Balaam. Today, Balaam is only remembered for his treachery, and is frequently referred to as a “false prophet.” But the truth is, he was a real prophet who sold out! He “bargained with Sodom,” instead of Honoring God. It’s a sad story, for sure.

We need to maintain a close walk with God, reading His Word, and seeking to obey Him, so that when that sort of choice presents itself, we can see it coming, and be prepared to make a Godly choice. We don’t want to follow the “Doctrine of Balaam”, and make choices that dishonor God.

Lord Jesus, teach our hearts; correct our thinking, and draw us close to your side, so that when the World makes an offer, of options that look like great opportunities, we will see through the lies, and see the opportunities for the traps they really are. Help us to know the difference between your hand of sustenance and the hand of the enemy who seeks to ensnare us.

 


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.