Understanding the Bible
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THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ABRAHAM
Genesis chapters 1:1 through to 11:9 can be said to cover the theological events of ‘primeval history’. Despite a second chance through Noah, (9:8) mankind has rejected God: the tower of Babel 11:1-9 was outright rebellion. But in His wisdom God is going to provide a way back. But who for?
Chap.11:10-26 contains a genealogy which introduces Abram’s family see vs.24-26. Read 11:27-32. This family must have been idolaters. They were not primitive people, because the land of the Chaldeans was a well developed civilisation. Ur was a prosperous place and exquisite art treasures have been found at the assumed site.
From our knowledge of the rest of Scripture it is certain that ‘salvation history’ began at this point with God’s call to Abram (12:1) and God’s subsequent promise (12:2,3) which was seen, by Jews, as the inauguration of the Hebrew race (v. 2 ‘I will make you a great nation’). For Christians the more significant phrase of the promise is (v.3) ‘and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ because we see this as pointing to Christ.
Abram was far from a perfect man, but it is what God said to him, and did for and through him, that is so important. It is no exaggeration to say that the key element of the Gospel is first revealed through God’s dealings with Abraham. The biggest theological question of all - ‘how can sinful man relate to the morally perfect God, and how can the morally perfect God relate to man?’ is answered here, although the final means to enable this to happen has to wait for the works and merits of Jesus Christ.
Let’s read 12:1-9. Note the significance of v.2 (a) since Abram has no son (11:30). How will this happen, then?
12:10-20: Abram and Sarai travel to Egypt to escape from a famine in Canaan. Abram does not cover himself with glory there because he lies about Sarai, saying she is his sister to save his own skin. The Pharaoh takes Sarai as a wife but when he finds out who she really is, he sends both of them packing v.20. In the meantime has Abram has prospered in Egypt - see 13:1,2 then 3,4.
In 13:5-18 Abram comes to an agreement with his nephew Lot so that he (Lot) occupied the fertile Jordan valley while Abram settled amongst the Canaanite towns. ( This was very generous of Abram). The Canaanite kings were constantly feuding (14:1-12) and in the process Lot was captured and taken away. Abram went to his rescue and got him and his possessions back (14:14-16).
But Chapter 15 is the next really significant stage in God’s relation with Abram and deserves special consideration. Read the chapter. Note the promises in vs.1 and 4,5.
But v.6 is the most important verse and must be properly understood. It answers the first part of the theological question asked earlier ‘How can sinful man relate to the morally perfect God?’ …
God’s requirement of man is ‘righteousness’ - perfect moral living under His rule. This was seen in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were in perfect harmony with God - signified by God walking in the Garden in 3:8. God’s rule is shown by 2:15-17. Adam and Eve were ‘righteous’. Until, that is, they disobeyed God by eating from the forbidden tree and were cast out of the Garden. Recall Jesus in Matt 5:20 ‘For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Jesus means by its nature not its quantity.) and Matt.5:48 ‘ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ This is, of course, quite impossible unless …..?
God’s plan of salvation is to redeem man and restore the relationship He has with man. But how can this happen? Gen.12:6 tells us … through faith! ‘Abram believed the Lord, and he [God] credited it to him as righteousness.’ This is the key to understanding the Gospel, and it is in Genesis! That is why Paul makes such a fuss about Abraham - see Romans 4:1-3.…… 22-25. Also in the Letter to the Galatians (where the big issue is ‘faith alone’ being sufficient for salvation) 3:6-9.
Returning to Genesis chapter 15, in vs.7,8 God again promises Abram the land of Canaan for his offspring and Abram asks how he can be sure it will happen. The God does something that answers the second part of the theological question posed earlier ‘how can the morally perfect God relate to man?’. God performs a ‘covenant’ ritual. Read vs.9-21. Covenants were a common way in those days and in the lands of the Near East for sealing agreements between people and kings. But in the Bible revelation, God gives a whole new meaning to His covenants. In the Bible, a covenant is not an agreement between equal parties, but an undertaking (a promise) by God on His own terms and on His own initiative in which offers fellowship to man, and commits Himself in an unbreakable way to the object of His covenant. There are 5 great covenants in the Old Testament - with Noah, here with Abram, and with Moses, David, and Jeremiah. They warrant a separate study because they each and all point to the New Covenant which is coming in Christ - Luke 22:20 ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’. Covenant is so important in Scripture that it is possible for us to say ’God never has a relationship with anyone except by a covenant.’
Going back to Genesis, we must note God’s repeated confirmation of His covenant - see 17:1,2, then Abraham’s response, his re-naming (which is in itself a confirmation of God’s promise- Abraham means ‘father of many’) and an expansion of God’s promises first seen in 12:2,3 (17:6-80). God then institutes the covenant of circumcision which is the human sign of the covenant for all generations. Read vs.15-19.
For Abraham’s part, he continues to believe God’s promise to him, although it takes 20 years before his son Isaac is born (called ‘the child of the promise’ - giving rise to his descendants as ‘the family of promise‘.) It is because he was so faithful that Abraham is so celebrated. See Hebrews 11:8-19. He is called the ‘father of all who believe’ (Gal.3:7and 9). 2 Chronicles 20:7 refers to him as the ‘friend’ of God.
Chapter 21 begins with the birth of Isaac, vs.1-7. The big point here is that God caused this to happen. Abraham and Sarah were years beyond normal child-bearing age. It was supernatural. Theologically we can observe ‘God brings life out of death and hopelessness’. See Romans 4:18- 21. But this is what God does spiritually (and potentially physically too at the resurrection) every time someone becomes a Christian - Eph.2:1-5.
The biggest test Abraham faced was when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac (22:1-18). This seemed a terrible thing to have to do: this was the child of promise! But Abraham is prepared to go through with it and demonstrates supernatural insight - Hebrews 11:19. See Gen. 22:7,8 - ‘The fire and the wood are here’ Isaac said, ‘but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ Probably Abraham was trying to hide the truth from Isaac but in so doing revealed a salvation principle - God will provide a substitute, which in the event He did 22:12 -14, and which he did on the Cross so that we do not have to die for our sins. Gal.3:13 ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…’: 2 Cor.5:21 ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ We speak of Christ’s substitutionary atonement Rom.3:21-25.
The great thing about Abraham is that he devotedly believed God although he saw little of God’s promises. achieved. When he died he owned just a field he had bought to bury his wife Sarah, and his family had extended only as far as two grandsons. But he was faithful in his day. We must be too.
The way back to God, to be reconciled to Him, is though faith in Jesus Christ - His death on the cross for us and his resurrection to bring us eternal life - through faith (not by our good deeds). Eph.2:1-10.
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