There is abundant Biblical evidence that faith and the faith-motivated
way of life are vital to our salvation. Heb. 11:1,2 defines faith in absolute
terms; as the real mental vision of the invisible. This doesn't
just mean occasionally achieving a vivid imagination of (e.g.) the future
Kingdom, or the present bodily existence of the Lord Jesus, or other moments
of faith and insight. It means living , hour by hour, with these things
actually existing in our mental vision. Without this faith, the apostle
reasons, we cannot please God. He cites a whole string of Old Testament
examples, and then goes on to say that we too, like them, are surrounded
by this great cloud of faithful examples, and therefore this should inspire
us to the life of faith, as it did them (Heb. 12:1). And yet it's
apparent enough that all these examples of faith, not least Abraham, wavered
at times. The reference to Abram pitching his tent between Bethel [‘the
house of God’] and Hai [‘the house of ruin’] could imply that he was caught
between the two- his faith was not firmly decided (Gen. 13:3).
And yet, to a man and to a woman, we have a sense of inadequacy; of a
separation between their level of faith and our own. But a closer examination
of those examples reveals a feature which crops up time and again. It's
a feature which of it only occurred once, we might shrug it off. But it
is there, time and again throughout Heb. 11. It's this: Many of the examples
quoted are moments in the lives of men when they did not show
absolute faith, moments when their motives were mixed, moments when they
had faith, but not without needing human qualifications. Examples of moments
of faith will best show what I mean:
- Heb. 11:8 (Gk.) implies that as soon as God called Abram,
he got up and left Ur. But a closer examination of the record indicates
that this wasn't absolutely the case. It is stressed that both Abram
and Sarai left Ur because " Terah took Abram his son...and
Sarai his daughter in law" (Gen. 11:31). Abram had been called
to leave Ur and go into Canaan. But instead he followed his father to
Haran, and lived there (for some years, it seems) until his father died,
and then he responded to his earlier call to journey towards Canaan
(1). The Genesis record certainly reads
as if Abram was dominated by his father and family, and this militated
against an immediate response to the call he received to leave Ur and
journey to Canaan. At best his father's decision enabled him to obey
the command to leave Ur without having to break with his family. And
yet, according to Heb. 11:8, Abram immediately responded, as an act
of faith. But it was a moment of faith.
- Abraham's faith in the promises is repeatedly held up as our example
(11:8,12,13 and elsewhere). Abraham " believed in the Lord, and
he counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6) is quoted three
times in the New Testament. But how deep was Abraham's faith?
Straight after Abraham's profession of faith, God told him: " I
am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur...to give thee this land to
inherit it" . But Abraham then goes straight on to ask God: "
Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" (Gen.
15:7,8). And immediately before Abraham's oft quoted profession of faith,
he had said: " Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless...behold,
to me thou hast given no seed, and, lo, one born in my house is mine
heir" (Gen. 15:2,3). His faith in the promise of a seed was surely
shaky at this time (2). Yet, sandwiched
in between these two expressions of his partial faith, Abraham rises
within his heart to a level of faith which so pleased God. " He
believed in the Lord" seems to refer to an attitude deep within
Abraham's heart, as he gazed up at the stars and reflected in God's
promise: " So shall thy seed be" . God saw that moment of
faith, even if it was only a temporary peak, and was pleased with it;
even though at the time, Abraham was weak in faith and even in a sense
" ungodly" (3).
- Sarah was “reproved” by King Abimelech for going along with Abraham’s
lie about her not being his wife (Gen. 20:16). And yet Kings were reproved
for her sake, and were not allowed to do anything harmful to her (Ps.
105:14)! And Abraham reproves Abimelech later- for something Abimelech
claimed he had not done (Gen. 21:25). The repeat of the word “reprove”
is surely meant to indicate that here is an example of Abraham and Sarah
being counted righteous because of their faith- when clearly they were
not wholly righteous. Abraham, the man who had to be reproved, was used
by God to reprove the man who had reproved him…it would have sounded
very hypocritical to Abraham’s neighbours. Yet the point was, that God
saw him as being righteous. Indeed the Abimelech kings appear far more
gracious and honourable than the Abraham family who wandered in and
out of their territory; the way Abimelech threatens his own people with
death if they touch Isaac or his wife, after they had been deceitful
to him, is an example (Gen. 26:11). Yet it was not the nice people of
the world, but this wandering, spiritually struggling family whom God
loved and worked with.
- " By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to
come" (Heb. 11:20). Yet the record of this in Gen. 27 doesn't paint
Isaac in a very positive light. " Isaac loved Esau, because he
did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob" (Gen. 25:28).
The AVmg. seems to bring out Isaac's superficiality: " Isaac loved
Esau, because venison was in his mouth" . This seems to connect
with the way Esau threw away his birthright for the sake of food in
his mouth. Esau was evidently of the flesh, whilst Jacob had at least
some potential spirituality. Yet Isaac preferred Esau. He chose to live
in Gerar (Gen. 26:6), right on the border of Egypt- as close as he could
get to the world, without crossing the line. And he thought nothing
of denying his marriage to Rebekah, just to save his own skin (Gen.
26:7). So it seems Isaac had some marriage problems; the record speaks
of " Esau his son" and " Jacob (Rebekah's) son"
(Gen. 27:5,6). The way Jacob gave Isaac wine " and he drank"
just before giving the blessings is another hint at some unspirituality
(Gen. 27:25). Isaac seems not to have accepted the Divine prophecy concerning
his sons: " the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23),
seeing that it was his intention to give Esau the blessings of the firstborn,
and thinking that he was speaking to Esau, he gave him the blessing
of his younger brothers (i.e. Jacob) serving him (Gen. 27:29 cp. 15).
And yet, and this is my point, Isaac's blessing of the two
boys is described as an act of faith; even though it was only one of
his passing moments of faith and was done with an element of disbelief
in God's word of prophecy concerning the elder serving the younger,
and perhaps under the influence of alcohol. Yet according to Heb. 11:20,
this blessing was done with faith; at that very point in time,
Isaac had faith. So God's piercing eye saw through the haze of
alcohol, through Isaac's liking for the good life, through Isaac's unspiritual
liking for Esau, through his marriage problem, through his lack of faith
that the elder must serve the younger, and discerned that there was
some faith in that man Isaac; and then holds this up as a stimulant
for our faith, centuries later! Not only should we be exhorted to see
the good side in our present brethren; but we can take comfort that
this God is our God.
- " By faith (Moses) forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the
King" (Heb. 11:27). But Moses did flee Egypt, because
he feared the wrath of the King (Ex. 2:14,15). It seems that Moses had
at best a mixture of motives, or motives that changed over time; yet
God sees through his human fear, and discerns an element of calm faith
within Moses as he left Egypt. In similar vein, at the time of the burning
bush, Moses seems to have forgotten God's covenant name, he didn't immediately
take off his shoes in respect as he should have done, and it seems he
feared to come close to God due to a bad conscience, and he resisted
God's invitation for him to go forth and do His work (Ex. 3:5-7,10,11,18;
4:1,10-14) (4). And yet at this very time,
the New Testament says that Moses showed faith in the way he perceived
God (Lk. 20:37). But it was a momentary faith, valid all the same.
- Israel's deliverance through the Red Sea seems to be attributed to
Moses' faith (Heb. 11:28,29; Acts 7:36,38). Yet in the actual record,
Moses seems to have shared Israel's cry of fear, and was rebuked for
this by God (Ex. 14:15,13,10). Yet in the midst of that rebuke, we learn
from the New Testament, God perceived the faith latent within Moses,
beneath that human fear and panic.
- Samson killed a lion, escaped fire and killed many Philistines by
his faith (Heb. 11:32-34)- so the Spirit tells us. Yet these things
were all done by him at times when he had at best a partial faith, or
was living out moments of faith. He had a worldly Philistine girlfriend,
a sure grief of mind to his Godly parents, and on his way to the wedding
he met and killed a lion- through faith, Heb. 11 tells us (Jud. 14:1-7).
The Philistines threatened to burn him with fire, unless his capricious
paramour of a wife extracted from him the meaning of his riddle.
He told her, due, it seems, to his human weakness and hopeless sexual
weakness. He then killed 30 Philistines to provide the clothes he owed
the Philistines on account of them answering the riddle (Jud. 14:15-19).
It is evident that Samson was weak in many ways at this time; the Proverbs
make many allusions to him, the strong man ruined by the evil Gentile
woman, the one who could take a city but not rule his spirit etc. And
yet underneath all these weaknesses, serious as they were, there was
a deep faith within Samson which Heb. 11 highlights.
(1) See The Call Of Abram.
(2) Abraham's fear that he would be killed by Abimelech
and his willingness to give Sarah a child by having a relationship with
Hagar also seem to suggest a lack of total faith in the promise that
he would have a seed.
(3) It may be that Abraham realised his own spiritual
weakness at this time, if we follow Paul's argument in Rom. 4:3,5: "
If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory...(but)
Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness...to
him (alluding to Abraham) that worketh not, but believeth (as did Abraham)
on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith (like Abraham's) is counted
for righteousness" . Surely this suggests that Abraham felt ungodly
at the time, unworthy of this great promise, recognizing he only had
moments of faith, and yet he believed that although he was ungodly,
God would justify him and give him the promise, and therefore he was
counted as righteous and worthy of the promise. There is certainly the
implication of some kind of forgiveness being granted Abraham at the
time of his belief in Gen. 15:6; righteousness was imputed to him, which
is tantamount to saying that his ungodliness was covered. In this context,
Paul goes straight on to say that the same principles operated in the
forgiveness of David for his sin with Bathsheba. . It would actually
appear that Paul is writing here, as he often does, with his eye on
deconstructing popular Jewish views at the time. Their view of Abraham
was that he was perfect, "Godly" in the extreme- and Paul's
point is that actually he was not, he was "ungodly", but counted
righteous not by his acts but by his faith. For documentation of Jewish
sources, see S.K. Stowers, A Rereading Of Romans (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1994); A.J.M. Wedderburn, The Reasons For
Romans (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988).
(4) The spiritual weakness of Moses at this time is
discussed in Moses In Weakness.
Abraham's Imperfect Faith
The promises to Abraham were extended in Genesis 15, with more specifics
added about the "seed". But the context of the giving of those
promises is again Abraham's weakness. After the conflict with the surrounding
kings recorded in Genesis 14, Abraham is comforted: "Fear not,
Abram: I am thy shield" (Gen. 15:1)- as if Abram was starting to
doubt in God's continued ability to protect him. God's assurances continued:
"I am thy exceeding great reward" (Gen. 15:1). The Hebrew
mind would've understood "reward" in this context to refer
to children- Ps. 127:3 is explicit: "Children are the inheritance
given by the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward" (s.w.).
The "reward" is paralleled with the inheritance of children
given by God. Jer. 31:16 likewise speaks of a woman bereft of her children
being "rewarded" with more children. Yet Abraham doesn't just
accept that on faith. He speaks as if he somehow didn't believe that
those promises meant that he personally would have a child; for his
response is to say: "Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I
go childless... Behold, to me thou hast given no seed, and lo, one born
in my house is mine heir" (Gen. 15:3,4). It's as if Abram were
saying 'OK, I hear You, but whatever these promises of Yours mean, reality
is, I am old and childless... can't You find a way to give me children?'.
"Since I continue [Heb.] childless" indicates his
frustration. God had already promised to "give" the land to
Abraham and his seed (Gen. 12:7; 13:15); and now Abraham complains that
God hasn't 'given' [s.w.] him a seed. One can possibly detect an anger
with God, at best a frustration, when he comments that all he has is
his steward Eliezer ("this Eliezer of Damascus") as "the
son of my house / family" (Gen. 15:2, Heb. ben bayith,
son of my family)- as if to say 'All this You've promised me- is to
go to him, is this guy to be this wonderful promised
seed, and I for now get nothing? Was that the whole purpose of calling
me out of Ur?'. Indeed, Keil and Delitsczh suggest the correct interpretation
and translation here as being: " Of what avail are all my possessions,
wealth, and power, since I have no child, and the heir of my house is
Eliezer the Damascene? ????, synonymous with ????? (Zeph. 2:9), possession,
or the seizure of possession, is chosen on account of its assonance
with ???????. ????????, son of the seizing of possession = seizer of
possession, or heir". Abraham could even be viewing Eliezer as
effectively grabbing what he thought should be his personally.
In my opinion, Abraham's comment "this Eliezer
of Damascus..." is another indicator of weakness in this undoubtedly
great man. Eliezer is presented as a man of faith, of extreme loyalty
to Abraham, with a wonderful humility in seeking the good of Isaac,
the man who displaced him as heir of so much. His comment that God "led
me- even me- straight to the house" (1) further indicates a commendable
humility. Indeed, the way Eliezer refuses the greetings of polite custom
in order to get on with God's work (Gen. 24:33) appears to be used by
the Lord as a model for His preachers (Lk. 10:4). A window into Eliezer's faithfulness is provided by considering how Laban calls him "O blessed of the Lord", but Eliezer replies that in fact "the Lord has greatly blessed my master" (Gen. 24:31,35). His focus was not at all upon himself but rather upon Abraham his master. Yet Abraham appears
to almost despise Eliezer, his bitterness at not having a seed by Sarah
got the better of him at that moment- so it seems to me. There seems
a designed contrast between Eliezer and Jacob. Eliezer with utter integrity
says that God has given him "success" (Gen. 24:12) in seeking
a wife for Isaac; whereas Jacob uses the same word in lying to his blind
father about why he had so quickly brought venison: "Because God
granted me success" (Gen. 27:20).
Straight after receiving the promises, Abraham goes
down to Egypt [an act with spiritually negative overtones], and lies
about his wife. Not only does he show a strange lack of protection for
her, but his actions reflect a weakened faith in God's promises to him.
For if Abraham was to have died at the hands of jealous Egyptians at
that stage, how would the promises to him be fulfilled? In urging Sarah
to deny she was his wife, Abraham comments to her in Gen. 12:13: "my
soul shall live because of thee". Ps. 33:18,19 appears to comment
upon this: "Behold, the eye of Jehovah (Angelic language- and Abraham
dealt with Angels] is upon them that fear him, Upon them that hope in
his lovingkindness; to deliver their soul from death, And to keep them
alive in famine (Abraham told the lie he did about Sarah because he
trusted in Egypt to keep him alive in famine). Our soul hath waited
for Jehovah: He is our help and our shield"- and it is God, not
Sarah, who is described as Abraham's shield (same Hebrew word) in Gen.
So Abraham was hardly at his spiritual best when God gave him the promises
of Genesis 15. The first use of a word in the Bible is often significant-
and the first time we meet the Hebrew word nathan, to give,
is in Gen. 1:17, where we learn that God 'gave' the stars to humanity
on earth. It's as if God is now testing whether Abraham will make the
connection or not- for He takes Abraham out to see the stars, shining
up there in the sky as proof that God really can give stars, has already
done so and continues to do so... and challenges Abraham as to whether
or not he can believe that truly, his seed will be given to
him likewise, as many as those stars (Gen. 15:5). And Abraham made it
through the hoop. His awareness of the word of Gen. 1:17, that God really
had given us the stars, his faith in the word, worked within him to
bring forth the yet greater leap of faith- that really, so would his
seed be. And God was thrilled. That man, standing there in the Middle
Eastern night and beholding the stars, touched the heart of God by his
internal attitudes... the sense within his heart that yes, OK, yes,
somehow, yes, so will my seed be, somehow I will have my own
child... And it was counted to him for righteousness. The same desperate
struggle for faith was seen in the Lord in His final moments upon the
cross- for He there reflected, according to Ps. 22:30, that a seed would
indeed serve God, and it shall be accounted [s.w. "numbered"
as in 'a seed which cannot be numbered'] for a generation. The childless
Lord Jesus, with all against Him, facing His death with His lifework
apparently a failure, His spiritual children [the disciples] having
fled... was in the position of Abraham. And Abraham's faith surely inspired
Him. And so it will each of us, when it seems that really life has failed,
our efforts have got nowhere, family has broken up, children hate us,
our best aspirations just never worked out... in those moments, in whatever
form they come, we are to be inspired by Abraham. And we too can go
out and view the stars which God has given, and keeps on giving, and
believe again that ultimately He will give us the land, and in some
form our seed will eternally endure.
Abraham had been promised a son in Genesis 15; and yet there was no
specific mention that this would be by Sarah. God had promised that
"one born of your own bowels" would be his son (Gen. 15:7).
Yet according to Rom. 4:19, Abraham at that time did not consider the
"deadness of Sarah's womb" (Rom. 4:19) to be a barrier. That
indicates to me that he considered Sarah as his "own bowels".
Note how in Semitic thought, Paul used the same idea when he asked Philemon
to receive Onesiphorus as "mine own bowels" (Philemon 12).
Another person could be considered "mine own bowels" if they
were that close. When God promised Abraham that "of [his] own bowels"
he would have a son, Abraham didn't selfishly think that this just meant
that he would have a child. He considered his wife Sarah as
his "own bowels", and so he assumed this meant that she would
bear the child. In this we see a commendable unity of Abraham and Sarah;
he thought of her as he thought of himself. In an age of polygamy and
concubines, this was unusually wonderful. He could so easily have just
gone off and slept with a woman to test out God's promise and have a
child. And yet, as often in Abraham's life, he didn't maintain that
level of spirituality. For he gave in to Sarah's badgering him to sleep
with her slave girl Hagar, and the whole incident has been recorded
with allusion to Adam wrongly hearkening to his wife. It has been pointed
out that in case of a wife being infertile, the man usually took another
wife and didn't just sleep with his slave girl. The 300 or so Nuzi tablets
record history, legal codes and case history of situations contemporary
with Abraham; and the comment has been made that deciding to sleep with
your wife's slave girl was almost unheard of. So it seems to me that
Abraham again gave in, in a moment of weakness; but didn't take another
wife, because he really clung on to his faith that he would have a child
by Sarah. The whole incident with Abraham and Hagar seems to me to reflect
weakness in both Abraham and Sarah. Neither of them ever refer to her
by her name, but rather by her title, "handmaid", as if she
were just an object. Yet God and the inspired narrator refer to her
by her name, Hagar, as if recognizing the value of her person in a way
that Abraham and Sarah didn't. It seems to me that Israel's later experience
re-lived that of Hagar- flight into the wilderness of Sinai, miraculously
provided with water, found and preserved by an Angel. God heard the
cry of Israel's affliction at the hands of the Egyptians, just as He
heard the cry of the mother and child whom Sarah had afflicted. This
deliberate coincidence was perhaps to make Israel realize on a national
scale how wrongly their forefather had treated Hagar- and it has some
relevance to modern Israel's treatment of the Arabs. For Israel suffer
and will yet suffer what they have put Hagar's descendants through.
And yet, it would seem that Abraham at this time had other children
by Keturah, another "concubine" , as she is described in 1
Chron. 1:32. This term is only really applicable to other women taken
during the lifetime of the wife or wives. Although the children of Keturah
and Abraham are only recorded in Gen. 25:1-4, it seems to me that this
isn't chronological; it seems to me that this a notice inserted at this
point as a genealogical note, rather than implying that Abraham only
took Keturah after the marriage of Isaac in Gen. 24. Remember that at
the time of the promise in Gen. 15, Abraham was impotent- hence his
bitterness at not having any child, and Rom. 4:19 describes his having
faith that he would overcome this problem. Having recovered his virility,
it could be that he eagerly had children by Keturah to as it were prove
himself. Yet one wonders therefore how long he maintained the intensity
of his faith that specifically by Sarah he would have a child. Yet that
faith of Abraham at the time of the promise in Gen. 15 was reckoned
to Abraham for righteousness, is held up as our example and glorified
throughout the New Testament- when it would seem that in fact Abraham
didn't always maintain the intensity of the faith he had at that time.
And God Himself had to reassure him: "Know of a surety"
(Gen. 15:13), as if God recognized the element of doubt within the faith
of Abraham- although God elsewhere holds up that faith to us as such
a wonderful example.
That Abraham really is our example is proved not only by the way Paul
writes about him as "the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16), and
the fact that by baptism into Christ, we are his "seed" (Gal.
3:27-29). There are many more subtle hints that we are to be as Abraham-
and the watchful Bible student will note them. An example would be the
way in which the Lord Jesus calls us His friends, because He has told
them what He is going to do (Jn. 15:15). This is exactly the language
God uses about Abraham- because He was His "friend", He showed
Abraham what He was going to do (Gen. 18:17-19). Abraham's willingness to offer Isaac leaves us all shaking our heads and feeling that we simply wouldn't have risen up to that level of sacrifice. For not only was Isaac the son Abraham had so longed for, but he was the longed for fulfilment of the promises which had been the very core of Abraham's life. Yet 1 Cor. 10:13 appears to allude to God's provision of another sacrifice and thereby a way out of Abraham's temptation / testing- and this passage implies that each one of us are in Abraham's shoes: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted / tested (=Gen. 22:1) beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it". No longer can Abraham be seen as a Sunday School figure of faith to be merely admired. For we are in his shoes, and the same God will likewise work with us in our weaknesses, both testing and providing the ways of escape.
Abraham's weakness at the time of the Genesis 15 promises is perhaps
behind how Paul interprets the star-gazing incident in Rom. 4:3-5. He
quotes the incident, and God's counting of righteousness to Abraham,
as proof that a man with no "works", nothing to glory before
God with, can believe in God to "justify the ungodly", and
thereby be counted righteous. Understanding Abraham's mood as revealed
in Gen. 15:1-4 certainly helps us see the relevance of all this to Abraham.
And it helps us see Abraham more realistically as the father of us all...
and not some Sunday School hero, well beyond our realistic emulation.
No longer need we think "Abraham? Oh, yeah, Abraham... faith...
wow. But me... nah. I'm not Abraham...". He's for real, truly our
example, a realistic hero whom we can cheer and pledge to follow. For
Abraham is an example to us of God's grace to man, and a man in all
his weakness and struggle with God accepting it and believing it, even
when he is "ungodly", rather than a picture of a
white-faced placid saint with unswerving faith:
"What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, hath found
according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he hath
whereof to glory; but not toward God. For what saith the scripture?
And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
Now to him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned as of grace, but
as of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth
the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness" (Rom. 4:1-5).
It is in the very struggle for faith that we have that we show ourselves
to have the family characteristic of Abraham. That moment when the "ungodly",
doubting, bitter Abraham believed God's promise is to be as it were
our icon, the picture we rise up to: " Even as Abraham believed
God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Know therefore
that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham" (Gal.
The struggle within Abraham at the time is brought out by Paul in Rom.
4:18-24, which seems to be a kind of psychological commentary upon the
state of Abraham's mind as he stood there looking at the stars in the
presence of God / an Angel ("before him [God] whom he believed",
"Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become
a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So
shall thy seed be. And without being weakened in faith he considered
his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old),
and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God,
he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving
glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he
was able also to perform. Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for
righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was
reckoned unto him; but for our sake also, unto whom it shall be reckoned,
who believe on him that raised Jesus our Lord from the dead".
There are some implied gaps within the record in Gen. 15:5,6: God brings
Abraham outside, and asks him to number the stars [gap]; then He tells
Abraham "So shall thy seed be" [gap]; and then, maybe 10 seconds
or 10 hours afterwards, "Abraham believed in the Lord; and he counted
it to him for righteousness". Those 10 seconds or 10 hours or whatever
the period was, are summarized by Paul as how Abraham "in hope
believed against hope". His no-hope struggled against his hope
/ faith, but in the end his faith in God's word of promise won out.
"According to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be"
implies to me that he kept reflecting on those words: "So shall
thy seed be" (three words in Hebrew, ko zehrah hawya).
And we too can too easily say that we believe the Bible is God's word,
without realizing that to just believe three inspired words can be enough
to radically change our lives and lead us to eternity. I'm not sure
that Abraham's ultimate belief of those three words ko zehrah hawya
just took a few seconds. According to Paul, he "considered... his
body"- he reflected on the fact he was impotent (see Gk. and RV).
Katanoeo, "consider", means to "observe fully"
(Rom. 4:19). He took full account of his impotent state, knowing it
as only a man can know it about himself. And he likewise considered
fully the deadness of his elderly wife's womb, recalling how her menstruation
had stopped years ago... but all that deeply personal self-knowledge
didn't weaken his faith; he didn't "waver", but in fact- the
very opposite occurred. He "waxed strong through faith... being
fully assured that what [God] had promised, He was able also to perform".
As he considered his own physical weakness, and that of his wife, his
faith "waxed" stronger (RV), he went through a process of
becoming "fully assured", his faith was progressively built
up ("waxed strong" is in the passive voice)... leading up
to the moment of total faith that so thrilled the heart of God (2).
And so it can happen with us- the very obstacles to faith, impotence
in Abraham's case, are what actually leads to faith getting into that
upward spiral that leads towards total certainty. Abraham's physical
impotence did not make him "weak" [s.w. translated "impotent"
in Jn. 5:3,7] in faith- it all worked out the opposite. For his physical
impotence made him not-impotent in faith; the very height of the challenge
led him to conclude that God would be true to His word, and he would
indeed have a child. For when we are "weak" [s.w. "impotent"],
then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10). Thus the internal struggle of Abraham's
mind led his faith to develop in those seconds or minutes or hours as
he reflected upon the words "So shall your seed be". He "staggered
not at the promise" (Rom. 14:20), he didn't separate himself away
from (Gk.) those three Hebrew words translated "So shall your seed
be", he didn't let his mind balk at them... and therefore and thereby
he was made strong in faith ("waxed strong in faith" Rom.
4:20 RV). This process of his faith strengthening is picked up in the
next verse: Abraham was "fully persuaded that what [God] had promised,
he was able also to perform" (Rom. 4:21). There was a process of
internal persuasion going on- leading to the moment of faith, which
so thrilled God and was imputed to Abraham for righteousness. And of
course Paul drives the point home- that we are to have the faith of
Abraham. As he believed that life could come out of his dead body ("dead"
in Rom. 4:19, with a passive participle, implies 'slain'), so we
are to believe in the resurrection of the slain body of the Lord Jesus,
and the real power of His new life to transform our dead lives (Rom.
4:23,24). Gal. 3:5,14 puts it another way in saying that if we share
the faith of Abraham at that time, we will receive "the promise
of the spirit through faith", the enlivening of our sterile lives.
And this takes quite some faith for us to take seriously on board; for
as Abraham carefully considered the impotence of his physical body,
so we can get a grim picture of the deadness of our fleshly lives.
It seems to me that these various processes climaxed in a peak moment
of faith. James 2:23 speaks as if the comment "Abraham believed
in God, and it was counted to him for righteousness" was a one-off
statement made at that time when Abraham believed; and it was subsequently
justified when Abraham demonstrated his faith by offering Isaac. So
the comment that "Abraham believed" surely must refer to Abraham's
response as he stood there looking up at the stars. When we read that
Abraham "put his trust" in God (Gen. 15:6) we are to understand
that he 'said amen' to God's promises. "Amen" comes from the
same Hebrew root as he'min, to believe, or, more strictly,
"to affirm, recognize as valid". He got to a specific point
where he said "Amen" to God's word; and I wonder whether he
said "Amen" out loud, as the crowning pinnacle of the belief
in God which was going on within him. For this reason I suggest we say
"Amen" at the end of a prayer, out loud.
Yet this peak of faith in Abraham is found between evidence of his
weakness of faith. We've seen this in the early verses of Gen. 15. And
now, having risen up to this peak of faith, we find him doubting again:
"How shall I know that I shall inherit [the land]?" (Gen.
15:8). And again, this makes Abraham yet the more real to us, who likewise
find it so hard to maintain peaks of faith. God condescends to Abraham
by cutting a covenant with him. It's perhaps significant that Abraham
laid out the required animals, and drove away the birds that kept trying
to feed on the carcasses- but then, Abraham falls asleep, and can't
do this any more. And the birds are warded off instead by the burning
torch- the same Hebrew words are used about the cherubim (Ez. 1:13;
Ex. 20:18), and the idea of a burning torch is used to describe the
Lord Jesus on the cross (Jn. 3:14-19 Gk.). It's as if again Abraham
had to be taught that all these promises and the covenant ensuring them
were all of grace and not his own strength. For he would lay down in
the sleep of death, the horror of great darkness, and it will be the
grace and glory of God which fulfils the covenant and preserves Abraham's
seed from the birds of prey- and not Abraham's own efforts.
And the theme of Abraham's weakness continues over into chapter 16-
where Sarah asks Abraham to sleep with her servant girl in order to
have a child. Why did Sarah ask Abraham to do this, at this stage in
their lives? Why not earlier? Surely the promise of a seed had restimulated
her pain regarding her barren state. Yet Abraham had previously worked
through with the Lord the possibility of Eliezer, one born in his household,
being the promised seed. And God had clarified that no, Abraham's own
child would be the heir. It's as if Sarah could believe that Abraham's
impotence could be cured, but not her barrenness. "And Abraham
hearkened to the voice of Sarai" (Gen. 16:2) is of course framed
in the language of Adam hearkening to Eve's voice. I can only take this
incident- and the less than honourable treatment of Hagar afterwards-
to be another trough in Abraham's faith graph. It's been pointed out
that all historical and cultural evidence from the time points to Abraham's
action as being most unusual. In the case of a barren wife, the man
chose himself a second wife. It's almost unheard of in contemporary
records for a man to have his wife chose him a woman to have a child
by- let alone for it to be one of her slavegirls (3). This historical
background provides a window into Abraham's faithful commitment to Sarah-
for it's significant that he's not recorded as taking another wife.
Instead, his fine faith and character slips up in a moment of weakness
by giving in to Sarah for a moment.
Thirteen years later, God appeared again to Abraham, and made a conditional
promise: "Walk before me, and be thou perfect... and I will make
my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly"
(Gen. 17:1,2). The Hebrew certainly reads as if Abraham had to be "perfect"
and walk before God, and then, God would make a covenant with him and
multiply him. Abraham falls to his face; and then God announces that
actually, He will make the covenant anyway, and the promises which are
part of that covenant, Abraham should consider as having been fulfilled
already, they were so certain of fulfilment (4). Consider the wording:
"Behold, my covenant is [present tense- right now, i.e.
Abraham didn't have to prove himself "perfect"] with thee,
and you shall be [future] a father of many nations... your name shall
be Abraham, for a father of many nations have I made thee"
(Gen. 17:4,5). The Abrahamic promises, which we too have received, are
a reflection of unconditional love and grace on God's part. At the end
of all the Divine announcements, we read that Abraham again falls on
his face and laughs for joy (Gen. 17:17). Perhaps by Angelic invitation
(as with Daniel), Abraham had stood up from the floor to hear God's
promises from the mouth of the Angel- and now he collapses again. The
sheer wonder of God's grace in these promises is simply so
great. What is conditional upon our walking 'perfectly' has been given
to us anyway, by grace- for righteousness has been imputed to us as
it was to Abraham. As a side comment, it seems to me that surprised
laughter occurs when we encounter a difference between the expected,
and an unexpected reality that takes us pleasantly by surprise. That
observation would indicate Abraham's seeing by faith the reality of
what God had promised; and yet it would also suggest that prior to this,
Abraham was not really expecting God to completely fulfil the implication
of the promises.
Abraham's Limited Vision
If Abraham had had enough spiritual vision, he could have asked for Sodom to be spared for the sake of one man (Lot)- and surely it would've been. He asks six times for the city to be spared, each time decreasing the number of faithful for whose sake it should be spared. The implication may be that he failed to go on unto completion, the seventh time; for had he asked a seventh time [and we sense it was in his mind to do so but he bottled out], surely he would've been heard. Perhaps Abraham feared to ask for Sodom's salvation for the sake of one because he failed to perceive the huge value of the individual to God; he assumed there must at least be a small community of faithful [10 people] in order for God to save, just as some struggle to understand how they can acceptably serve God alone if there is no community of believers. The righteousness of a single man [cp. that of the Lord Jesus] wasn't perceived by Abraham as powerful enough. Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he writes in Romans of how for the sake of "the one", the Lord Jesus, many sinners can be counted righteous. And surely God was trying to bring out the same possibility when we read of how Lot asked for the sake of Zoar- just for his singular sake. And God spared Zoar- just for the sake of one man, Lot. Note how the Hebrew word used for "spare" in Gen. 18:24,26 recurs in Gen. 19:21, where God assures Lot that He will indeed spare Zoar [AV "I have accepted"]. We are surely intended to reflect that God would have spared Sodom for Lot's sake too. Perhaps God is alluding to the same point when He says that for the sake of just one righteous man He would have spared Israel in Ezekiel's time (Ez. 22:30). Surely there was one righteous man in Ezekiel's time, not least Ezekiel himself. But there was nobody with the spiritual vision to intercede with God to spare Israel for the sake of that one man; their lack of vision of His grace and pleasure in the righteousness of even one person was akin to Abraham's lack. And are we not intended to see some allusion to Abraham's failure in the way that Moses, just one man, prayed for and received Israel's salvation? And could not Abraham have asked for Sodom to be spared for his own sake, had he had a broader vision of God's grace? Perhaps his legalistic attitude is reflected in his appeal for "the judge of all the earth" to do what was right, in not destroying the righteous with the wicked. He perceives God as legalistic judge, not gracious Father. He asked for justice- not mercy. His basis is that the Judge of all the earth shall “do judgment”- note that “do right” is a poor translation. The Hebrew word translated “Judge” is the same root as “do judgment / justice”. It’s as if Abraham is almost simply observing that the Judge / Justice will of course do justice, and so he’s drawing to His attention that there are in fact just people in Sodom, and therefore God’s justice will surely preclude Him from destroying them. He assumed there were ten people in Sodom who were righteous; but perhaps later Scripture alludes to this by stressing that there is not one truly righteous person, not one (Rom. 3:10). Paul brings out the point that therefore salvation is by grace, not personal righteousness. And in the end, Lot was saved- but only because he threw himself upon God's grace. Yet he too perhaps suffered from Abraham's legalism; it is possibly referred to by the men of Sodom when they complain that he who had come in to sojourn amongst them "would play the judge" (Gen. 19:9). Significantly, Lot's salvation out of the burning Sodom is applied to all God's people in Am. 4:11. His entire people are saved by a like grace.
One can't help but notice that God stressed to the later children of
Abraham that since they had a covenant with Him, they were not to make
covenants with the people who lived around them in the land- time and
again God references His covenant with His people, and in that context
tells them not to make covenants with the peoples of the land (Ex. 34:10-12,15,27;
Dt. 7:29; Jud. 2:1,2,20). Yet Abraham made covenants with those very
people (Gen. 14:13; 21:27,32)- perhaps indicating his lack of appreciation
of his covenant relationship with Yahweh?.
Romans 14 and 15 have many allusions back to the earlier, 'doctrinal'
part of Romans. Between them, those allusions teach that we are
to be as Abraham; and yet we will be accepted if we can't rise
up to his standard. Rom. 14:1 exhorts us to "receive the weak
in faith"- when we have been told that Abraham was not
weak in faith (Rom. 4:19) and we should seek to be like him. But
we are to receive those who are in his seed by baptism, but don't make
it to his level of personal faith. Rom. 14:5 bids us be fully persuaded-
as Abraham was " fully persuaded" (Rom. 4:21). Yet, Rom.14:23
he who doubts is damned- and Abraham didn't stagger [s.w.,
Rom. 4:20). Thus ultimately, he must be our example, even if some in
the ecclesia will take time to rise up to his standard, and unlike him
are " weak in faith" .
(1) Translation of E.A. Speiser, Genesis (New York: Doubleday,
1964) and Derek Kidner, Genesis (London: Tyndale Press, 1967)
(2) In passing, note the purposeful allusion to Abraham's not
being weakened in faith later on in Romans- Rom. 14:1 says that we should
accept a brother who is "weak in faith"- the same
Greek words are used.
(3) See A.R. Millard & D.J. Wiseman, eds., Essays On The Patriarchal
Narratives (Leicester: IVP, 1980) pp. 116,117.
(4) The Hebrew translated "fell on his face" is exactly the
same as that translated "his countenance fell" in Gen. 4:5,6
(see too Job 29:24). Another reading of this incident could therefore
be that Abraham's face fell on hearing that the covenant would be conditional
upon his walking perfectly- but then God made the covenant anyway with
him, and therefore in verse 17 he falls on his face and laughs with
joy. This, perhaps, is the more likely, realistic reading; and it also
avoids the problem of Abraham falling to his face twice with no record
of him standing up again.
Progressive appreciation of the Lord Jesus can be seen in the lives
of Paul, Peter and many others. But it has been pointed out by David
Levin that Abraham’s appreciation of the promises relating to the Christ-seed
also grew over time. When the promise was first given, he seems to have
assumed it referred to his adopted son, Lot. Thus Abraham offered Lot
the land which had been promised to Abraham’s seed (Gen. 12:7 cp. chapter
13). But after Lot returned to Sodom, Abraham looked to his servant
Eliezer as his heir / seed (Gen. 15:2,3). Thus God corrected him, in
pointing out that the seed would be from Abraham’s own body (15:4).
And so Abraham thought of Ishmael, who was a son from his own body (although
Yahweh didn’t specify who the mother would be). When Abraham’s body
became dead, i.e. impotent, he must have surely concluded that Ishmael
was the son promised. But again, Abraham was told that no, Ishmael was
not to be the seed; and finally God told Abraham that Sarah would have
a child. Their faith was encouraged by the incidents in Egypt which
occurred straight after this, whereby Abraham prayed for Abimelech’s
wives and slaves so that they might have children- and he was heard.
Finally, Isaac was born. It was clear that this was to be the seed.
But that wasn’t all. Abraham in his final and finest spiritual maturity
came to the understanding that the seed was ultimately the Lord Jesus
Christ. He died in wondrous appreciation of the Saviour seed and the
way of forgiveness enabled through Him. Note the huge paradox in the promises- a paradox of grace which comes true in some form for all those who receive them. The sign of circumcision was given as the confirmation that the promise regarding a son would be fulfilled. Abraham had to figuratively cut off part of his vital organ in order to be assured that God would provide a son for him. Accepting God's promises means that we too must give up our human strength and attempts to fulfil them. Likewise when Jacob was given the repeated covenant acceptance, he was wounded in his "thigh" and thereafter walked with a limp. "It is not impossible that the damage to the "thigh" means Jacob was assaulted in his vital organs. Thus, the "limp" refers to the mark left on his very manhood and future" (1).
Spiritual ambition means that we will desire to do some things which
we can’t physically fulfil- and yet they will be counted to us. Abraham
is spoken of as having offered up Isaac- his intention was counted as
the act. And Prov. 19:22 RV appropriately comments: “The desire of a
man is the measure of his kindness”. It is all accepted according to
what a man has, not what he has not. Faith
is perfected / matured by the process of works (James 2:22,23). The
works, the upward spiral of a life lived on the basis of faith, develop
the initial belief in practice. Thus Abraham believed God in Gen. 15,
but the works of Gen. 22 [offering Isaac] made that faith “perfect”.
Through his correct response to the early promises given him,
Abraham was imputed “the righteousness of faith”. But on account
of that faith inspired by the earlier promises, he was given “the
promies that he should be heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). That promise
in turn inspired yet more faith. In this same context, Paul had spoken
of how the Gospel preached to Abraham in the promises leads men “from
faith to faith”, up the upward spiral (Rom. 1:17).
The offering of Isaac was without doubt an act of faith by Abraham.
His trust in the invisible God, His reflection upon a series of promises
which amount to no more than about 200 words in Hebrew, was balanced
against his natural hope for his family, human affection, common sense,
love of his beloved son, lifelong ambition... and he was willing to
ditch all those things for his faith in God's promises. You can speak
200 words in a minute. The total sum of God's recorded communication
with Abraham was only a minute's worth of speaking. Abraham had so much
faith in so few words; and perhaps the number of words was so few so
that Abraham would memorize and continually reflect upon them. Yet the
total number of words God or an Angel spoke to Abraham about anything
was pretty small- the total [including the words of the promises] comes
to only 583 Hebrew words- which can be spoken in less than three minutes
[Gen.12:1-3 = 28 words; 12:7 = 4 words; 13:14-16 = 44 words; Gen. 15
= 117 words; Gen. 17 = 195 words; Gen. 18 = 87 words; Gen. 21 = 26 words;
Gen. 22 = 82 words]. And remember that all these words, these snatches
of brief conversation, were spoken to Abraham over a period of 100 years
or so. His faith in God's word, His mediation upon it and following
its implications, really does make him a spiritual "father of us
(1) Walter Brueggemann, Genesis (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982) p. 270.
Humility And Integrity
One senses a growing humility within Abraham. Despite being a great
man, called a "mighty prince" by local people, with a large
household and private army, he personally runs to entertain the strangers
who later turned out to be Angels. He so believed in the promised land
being ultimately his that he could offer to his younger relative Lot
the choice of the best land to live in- when in their culture, the leader
of the community, the elder, naturally had the best of everything. Progressive
faith in the promises led Abraham to greater integrity and openness.
In Gen. 21:25-32 we see Abraham as a secretive, furtive character, secretly
digging wells in Abimelech's territory without telling him. By Gen.
23:1-20 we see Abraham buying land from the Hittites in a very public
manner, sealed by witnesses- the record emphasizes the integrity and
openness of the whole transaction. And this purchase of land is quoted
in the New Testament as an example of Abraham's faith that he would
inherit the land ultimately. The same effects will be seen in the lives
of all those who truly believe in those same promises. Seeing it was
traditional to bury people with their ancestors, the purchase of a family
"burying place" was also a statement that Abraham had finally
separated from his father's house back in Ur and Haran. From now on,
he saw Canaan as truly his land. We saw earlier how Abraham had struggled
with this commanded separation from his father's house.
The Conditional Nature Of The Promises
Circumstances were overruled by God to teach Abraham that he really
would be a blessing to others, as He had promised. Twice he intercedes
for blessing upon Sodom (Gen. 14:14; 18:23-33); just as e.g. we may
be called to care for a sick person, in order to teach us about how
we really are to be a blessing to others. Perhaps the most telling example
of the limitation of God's potential by men is in Abraham's request
that God would spare Sodom for the sake of fifty righteous men there.
He then lowers the number to 40, and then finally to ten, assuming that
surely Lot's family were righteous and would comprise ten righteous.
If Abraham had left off praying at, say, forty...then this would have
been the limit God set. If there were ten righteous there, the city
wouldn't have been saved. But Abraham went on to set the limit at ten.
But we wonder, what would have happened if he had gone further and asked
God to save Sodom for the sake of one righteous man, i.e. Lot? My sense
is that the Father would have agreed. But the city wasn't saved for
the sake of the one man Lot, because Abraham limited God's desire to
save by the smallness of his vision. This principle can possibly be
extended even wider. David asks: " Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon
us, according as we hope in thee" (Ps. 33:22). And whoever prayed
Ps. 132:10 asked to be heard " for thy servant David's sake"
- he or she believed that God would remember David and for his sake
respond favourably [and how much more powerful is prayer uttered for
the sake of the Son of God!].
Abraham saved Lot out of Sodom by his earnest prayer for him; and there
is ample reason to think from the Genesis record and his subsequent
reaction to the Angel's invitation to leave that Lot of himself was
simply not strong enough. Without those prayers and the concern of Abraham
read by God as prayer, Lot may well have been left to suffer the condemnation
of the world he preferred to live in. And yet Lot fleeing from Sodom
is used in the NT as a type of our latter day exit from the world at
the Lord's coming. Is this not to suggest that the latter day believers
will be saved only by grace, they will not be strong and ready to leave;
and their salvation will only be on account of the prayers of the faithful?
Lot was not without spirituality; but he was simply swamped by the pull
of the world in which he had become entangled, not to mention his unspiritual
wife. He was the type on which one could have compassion, making a difference,
and pull out of the fire. Indeed, it could even be that Jude's words
about pulling a brother out of the fire may be a reference back to Lot
being pulled out of the fire that came upon Sodom. Those in his position
sin a sin which is not unto death only in the sense that we can pray
for them, so that their sin will not lead them to condemnation. But
only in this sense is sin not unto death; for the wages of sin, any
sin, is death (Rom. 6:23). But in some cases this sentence can ultimately
be changed on account of our effort for our brother.
The entire promises to Abraham and the fathers depended for their realisation
upon human obedience: “If ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and
do them, that the Lord thy God shall keep with thee the covenant and
the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers” (Dt. 7:12). That covenant
was initially given in terms which omitted direct reference to any conditions
for fulfilment. But it would be ‘kept’ by God if His people ‘kept’ His
ways. The promises that God would multiply the seed of Abraham were
conditional also; if Israel separated themselves from the peoples
of the land, then He would “multiply thee, as he hath
sworn unto thy fathers” (Dt. 13:17). The strength of God’s grace also
makes some of His promises ‘conditional’ in a different sense; thus
He had promised Reuben and Manasseh that they could return to their
possessions only when the others had possessed the land (Dt. 3:20).
This condition never happened- yet they were allowed to return. And
our very salvation from death and the consequences of sin is in a sense
another example of this kind of thing.
Isaiah 48:18,19: “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then
had thy peace been as a river…thy seed also had been as the sand, and
the offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof”. The promises to
Abraham and the coming of the Messianic seed of Abraham could have been
fulfilled; but because Israel chose to be wicked, there was no such
peace: “There is no peace…unto the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22).
Angels And Abraham
At present it is the Angel-cherubim's job to "keep the way of
the tree of life". They have been given this charge, and yet they
chose men to fulfil it who will keep the way pure- thus the Angels decided
concerning Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children.
. and they shall keep the way of the Lord" (Gen. 18:19). It will
be our duty to take over as the way keepers from the Angels, although
we should have had good practice in this life. Thus we will say to the
mortal population "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Is. 30:21).
The promises which form the basis of the "hope of Israel"
were made by Angels- many of them were given in visions, which were
strongly associated with Angels. Thus the Lord "brought (Abraham)
forth abroad and said, Look now toward Heaven, and tell the stars. .
. (after a silent pause) So shall thy seed be. . . I am the Lord that
brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land"
(Gen. 15:5-7). It must have been an Angel that led Abraham out of his
tent to a suitable spot and made those promises. The Angel which brought
Israel out of Egypt to the land promised to Abraham is frequently described
as bringing Israel out of Egypt to give them the land in similar
language to which the 'Lord' in Gen. 15 speaks of giving Abraham the
land. Gen. 17:3 says that "Abram fell on his face: and God talked
with him", making the promises. Men often fell on their faces in
the presence of Angels, and God talking with Abraham seems similar to
the Angel talking face to face with Moses later. In Gen. 18:1 "the
Lord appeared" to Abraham regarding the future of Sodom in the
form of an Angel, we are told later in the chapter. The same phrase
"the Lord appeared" is also used to introduce the giving of
the promises to Abraham in Gen. 17:1. Even clearer, "the Angel
of the Lord. . . said. . . in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying
I will multiply thy seed as the stars of Heaven" (Gen. 22:15-17).
The Angel that appeared to Moses in the bush said that He was the God
of the patriarchs who had appeared to them and "established My
covenant with them. . . I will bring you in unto the land, concerning
the which I did swear to give it to Abraham. . . " (Ex. 3:2-9 cp.
6:2-8). Similarly the Angel that made the promises to Abraham could
say to Hagar "I will multiply thy seed (as well). . that it shall
not be numbered for multitude" (Gen. 16:10). The promises made
to Abraham were made by an Angel. This is implied in the Genesis account
and repeated later- e. g. Judges 2:1 describes the Angel which led the
people of Israel out of Egypt and into Canaan reminding them of "the
covenant which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break
My covenant with you". Thus when we read passages talking of the
covenant God made with them and with Abraham, let us watch out for further
allusions to Angelic work.
Because the Angels are of limited knowledge, it seems that they bring
some trials upon us in order to find out more about us- e. g. the Angel
said to Abraham when He saw he was prepared to offer Isaac "Now
I know that thou fearest God" (Gen. 22:12). This is language of
limitation- God Himself knows all things, but the Angel wanted to test
Abraham. Indeed, the apocryphal Book Of Jubilees claims in
so many words that it was an Angel called Mastema who was responsible
for the idea of testing Abraham in order to determine his level of obedience.
God's way of using the Angels to punish Sodom gives insight into the
relationship between them and God. God Himself knew exactly what
He would do because of the wickedness He knew was in the city. The Angel
who debated whether to reveal to Abraham His purpose with Sodom (Gen.
18:17) says "Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great. .
I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according
to the cry of it, which is come unto Me". The Angels responsible
for Sodom had brought the "cry" or news of Sodom's sins
to the attention of this senior Angel, who then investigates it further
to see whether or not their news was correct. "And if not, I will
know"- the emphasis being on the "I"- i. e. 'whether
their news was correct or incorrect, I will know because I am
blessed with greater powers than they'. This senior Angel seems to manifest
God to a very great degree, as Gen. 19:13 describes the other two "men"
(Angels) saying to Lot "we will destroy this place, because the
cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord (the third "man"-
the senior Angel); and the Lord (senior Angel) hath sent us to destroy
it". These two Angels sent to execute the judgements were under
specific guidelines- v. 22 "I cannot do anything till thou be come
thither". Thus these Angels were given power conditional on certain
things happening. Perhaps this was part of the work of Palmoni, the
"wonderful numberer" of Daniel, who is the Angel responsible
for all timing; maybe He decreed that they could
only have power once the condition of Lot leaving the city was fulfilled.
Maybe this Angel co-ordinates all the huge number of timings which go
to make up God's purpose? This would explain the passages which imply
that a set time is allowed to some human beings to bring about repentance
and response to God’s offers. Thus Pharaoh was condemned because he
“let the appointed time pass by” (Jer. 46:17).
And in Gen. 18 we have an example of Angels discussing their policy
with regard to one of their charges in the physical presence of the
saint: . . "and Abraham went with them (the Angels) to bring them
on their way (they were therefore in his presence). And the LORD said,
Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do? For I know him, that
he will command his children and his household after him. . " (v.
17-19). This conversation was presumably inaudible to Abraham.
Who knows what conversations go on between our guardians as we sit with
Bibles in our hands, obedient to God, and our Angels decide how much
to reveal to us in accord with how they know we will behave in the future?
The cherubim and living creatures are representative of the Angels.
Gen. 48:15,16 is the key here: "God, before whom my (Jacob's)
fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life
long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil. . ".
The God of Abraham and Isaac meant to Jacob the same as the Angel who
had daily protected him. The use of Angels as God's means of revelation
to the patriarchs would explain why they would have conceived of God
in terms of an Angel. This lays the basis for the Angel later being
called "the God of Jacob" and the "God of Israel",
especially seeing that Michael was the Angel (God) who represented Israel
(Dan. 12:1). Gen. 31:42,53 provide the link with "the fear".
Jacob there says "Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham
and the fear of Isaac, had been with me. . . the God of Abraham. . .
the fear of his father Isaac". Gen. 48 shows how Jacob believed
the God of Abraham and Isaac to be the Angel which redeemed him from
all evil. Gen. 31 shows that he thought the God of Abraham and Isaac
to be "the fear"; it is therefore also an Angelic title.
- This would explain why Abraham should say when in Egypt "surely
the fear of God is not in this place" (Gen. 20:11). The record
seems to gently emphasize that Abimelech, the king of those parts, was
'God fearing'- were there many pagan kings who would not "come
near" (Gen. 20:4) an apparently single beauty queen who had been
requisitioned for him for that purpose, and who made no protest? Especially
for a period of a few months! (Until the other women realized for sure
that their wombs had been closed). The patriarchs' subsequent dealings
with Gerar show its rulers to have been honourable and upright- even
when under provocation from Abraham's sly dealing. Thus "the fear
of God" not being in Gerar may refer to Abraham sensing that the
presence of God in the Angel was not with him- and therefore he resorted
to fleshly scheming. The phrase does not necessarily mean that
the place was not God-fearing. We too can convince ourselves that the
Angel is not physically with us, even when He is, and do likewise.
This lack of ultimate knowledge results in the Angels taking time to
think things out and discuss their action with each other, which
may result in an apparent delay to we humans. Thus in Gen. 18:17 "The
LORD (an Angel) said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?".
However, this same incident shows that there are varying degrees of
knowledge amongst Angels or in the same Angel over time. The Angel who
destroyed Sodom reasoned: "I know him (Abraham), that he will command
his children and his household after him" (Gen. 18:19). Yet perhaps
the same Angel, or the mighty Angel of Israel which made the promises
to the patriarchs (see later), said to Abraham a few months later after
his offering up of Isaac: "Now I know that thou fearest God"
(Gen. 22:12), implying that he did not know whether Abraham's faith
was genuine before that incident, and that the knowledge of Gen. 18:19
was merely that Abraham would 'teach his children the truth' and did
not reflect any knowledge of Abraham's personal faith. In this case,
Sodom might have been preserved by reason of Abraham's known willingness
to teach others 'the truth' rather than because of any personal faith
in God he may have had. Thus the lesson comes home
that a man's zeal or success in preaching can be unrelated
to his personal faith or spirituality. The elohim "found"
Abraham's heart to be faithful (Neh. 9:8). This was by a process of
research and drawing of conclusions. And our Angels are in the process
of doing the same with us this very day.