A Reluctant Writer

Archive for the ‘God Pleasing Faith’ Category

CH 16 My Friend

faithGod lives forever. My time on this earth is short. The Bible reveals what he had done in the past and his plans for the future. What about today? It’s highly unlikely that Jesus will return within our lifetime to establish his kingdom on the earth. The Jews have not rebuilt the temple. The antichrist has not desecrated it, nor yet demanded that the world worship him as a god. Many prophecies about the Last Days are yet to be fulfilled. Furthermore, we can’t live in the past or the future. Will God tell us what he’s doing today? He will if you are a friend.

“Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way.  And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’” (Genesis 18:16-17, NKJ)

Allow me to rephrase God’s question this way: Should God hide what he is doing today from a man or woman of faith who will bless others? God would say, “No.” God is willing to tell those who will become a great and mighty nation that will bless others what he is doing today. Everyone “in Christ” is God’s new creation. We, both Jew and Gentile, are the new nation God promised Abraham he would become.

abraham-three-angelsMatthew Henry’s Commentary says, “Those who by faith live a life of communion with God cannot but know more of his mind…. They have a better insight than others into what is present and a better foresight of what is to come.” And that aptly describes Abraham. He not only had foresight; he had insight about “today.”

To understand the nature of Abraham’s encounter with God about current events, we need to examine the story in Genesis 18:1-8 in the light of social customs. Manners and Customs of the Bible say this text offers a “beautiful illustration of oriental hospitality:” To our western minds it appears Abraham was doing something special when he saw his guest, ran to them and bowed. A little research reveals a different picture.

Abraham did no more than was expected. It was customary to make all resources available for the entertainment of guest, but it was not always to be regarded as an unselfish act. In many cases,  payment was expected from the traveler who had been entertained. I don’t know that Abraham was looking for remuneration, but it wasn’t uncommon in such circumstances to receive it.

Now let’s examine more closely what transpired between Abraham and his guests. First of all…

“When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the ground and said My Lord, if I have found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant” (Genesis 18:2, NKJ)

History tells us that Oriental people do not like eating alone. Even in our day it’s not uncommon in the Orient and the Mid-East to see tent dwellers eating by the doors of their tents so they can invite strangers to join them if they should pass by. An Oriental proverb says, “Every stranger is an invited guest.” Even an enemy who accepts hospitality in the Orient remains safe from harm and is treated the same as a friend. Orientals simply believe that God sent anyone who becomes one’s guest. This helps us understand why Abraham became a man in a hurry when he saw the men. In this case, God himself visited him.

Abraham’s bowing to the ground wasn’t necessarily an act of worship. In his culture and way of life, it was customary to bow when requesting a favor. Abraham asked for the favor of being these visitors’ host. So according to the ways of his time, he fell on his knees and then inclined his body till he touched the ground with his head. Then he kissed the lower part of the visitors’ clothing and feet and perhaps even the dust at their feet. But again, this wasn’t worship on Abraham’s part, only his way of asking his visitors for a favor.

pouring-baptism1-570x282“Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread that you may refresh your hearts” (18:4). 

How far the Eastern mind is from the West! I can’t recall one time I’ve asked a favor of a friend that would benefit him or her, not me. We’re accustomed to asking favors of people that benefit ourselves. By contrast, Abraham desired a specific, threefold favor for his guests: that they would rest under the tree, so he could bring water to wash their feet, and give them bread to refresh their hearts. When they agreed to do Abraham this favor, he hurried into the tent and told Sarah, “Quickly, make some bread!” Then he ran to the herd and commanded a young man, “Quickly, prepare a calf!”

“So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate” (18:8).

According to Oriental customs, one of the first things you do for a guest is offer him a drink of water, as a way of saying, “We’re friends.” Abraham asked to bring water, but not for drinking. He specifically offered his guests water to wash their feet. Considering the significance of drinking water in that part of the world, this passage produced some questions.

Why does the Bible record Abraham bringing butter, milk and meat on this hot day but not water to drink? My Western mind says, “The butter was to put on the bread Sarah baked, the milk was to drink, and a little meat rounded out the meal.” More research reveals that what Abraham brought them “Leben,” a substance similar to sour milk curds, made by pouring milk and yeast into a dish and covering it with a warm cloth. The curds were ready to eat after setting for a day. Abraham didn’t have refrigeration to store milk, so they made products from milk that had a longer shelf life. Today’s Arabs are still fond of Leben. They say it makes a sick man well. But I do find it peculiar that Scripture doesn’t indicate or record Abraham bringing his guests some water on this hot day.

Sour Milk CurdsSomething else may strike us as peculiar about Abraham’s words and actions, considering the customs of the time.

“And I will bring a morsel of bread that you may refresh your hearts.  After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant” (18:5).

When hospitality was offered it was customary to stay as long as three days. Yet this entire visit took place under the tree, and Abraham made it known to his visitors that they could leave right after they ate. He never invited them into his home.

When the time came for a guest to depart, the host usually made every effort to delay the departure. He would beg his guest to stay for one more meal, or to wait until the following day before leaving. (You can see an example in Judges 19 of this custom being played out.) Yet nothing in this passage indicates that Abraham tried to prolong his guests’ stay. To the contrary, he let them know they were free to leave.

I think we can understand Abraham’s actions in this light: By the time Abraham drew close enough to bow and talk to these visitors, he must have realized they were divine beings. He offered himself as a servant, not as an equal. It wasn’t that he was being rude, as much as that he didn’t consider himself worthy of intimate friendship with guests of their stature. In the East, sharing food constitutes a very special act of hospitality, far more so than here in the West. Sharing food was a way to make a covenant of peace. So, Abraham probably didn’t count himself worthy to be a friend of a guest as noble as the Lord; but he definitely desired peace with God. I think we can assume that Abraham’s actions leaned more toward an expression of humility on his part.

“Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom and Abraham went with them to send them on the way” (18:16).

Again, the customs of the day dictated that for a host to walk with his guests when they were leaving might only be done when the host desired to show his guests special honor. Sometimes such an “honor walk” might last for as long as an hour, and come to an end after the guests urged the host that he needn’t go any further with them.

All told, then, once we understand the customs of Abraham’s day and regard his words and actions in their light, we can assess his attitude toward the Lord as one of great respect without familiarity. Abraham desired peace with God and willingly honored God by submitting himself as a servant, without daring to venture into actions that would presume the intimacy of a friend.

I’ll be the first to admit that some of this is speculation on my part. We can’t necessarily rule out these possibilities just because they’re not given explicitly in this passage, but I’m sure of one thing. The Lord treated Abraham like a friend. Jesus said to his disciples,

“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15, NKJ)

The Lord doesn’t see us the way we often see ourselves. Where I see a servant, he sees a friend. In this text, we don’t find God calling Abraham his friend, but he definitely treated Abraham like a friend.

The Bible says, “If you want to make a friend, you must be friendly” — and God practices what he preaches!

CH 15 Circumcising the Heart

faithDoes this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. Romans 4:9-10, NKJ

Circumcision is required of God’s people when God’s kingdom comes to Planet Earth. The act of circumcision on human flesh helps us understand spiritual concepts. When we understand what the Spirit is doing, we can glory in God’s Spirit and boast about what he has done instead of glorying in what we have done: cutting off a piece of flesh or eating a strict diet to make us acceptable and holy. Glorying in what God has done to make us acceptable and holy teaches us to be humble.

Abraham was 99 years old when he received the sign of circumcision, but only 85 years old when he received the blessedness of the covenant God made Jesus, one of Abraham’s future sons.

And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. Romans 4:11, NKJ

Abraham possessed faith before he was circumcised. His faith gave him favor with God, not the sign of circumcision that would come many years later and be a token to remind God, “This one is mine.”

As you’ll recall, Abraham went to Canaan expecting God to make him a great nation that would be a blessing to all families of the earth. When he arrived in Canaan, he learned that the blessings would come through a son who it was impossible for barren Sarah to bear. Twenty-five years later, she did bear a son named Isaac, but he did not possess the Promised Land. Nor did his son Jacob possess the Promised Land. Jacob’s twelve sons did not possess the Promised Land, either. Isaac, a son, but not “the son” of promise, was one son among many; until finally a son was born to a daughter of Abraham named Mary. And even Jesus, to whom the promises were made, has not possessed the Promised Land.

God was very specific about the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham’s seed. When in Jesus’ lifetime on earth did he ever own all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River? Jesus lived in the land as a stranger and a foreigner, just as Abraham did. Jesus himself is waiting for the inheritance, just as we have all waited, from Abraham to this day. Those who came before Jesus died in faith; Jesus died in faith, we are still dying in faith. If we possessed the inheritance today, we would no longer need faith that what we hope for will be given to us. And what we hope for won’t be given to us unless God sees “the sign of circumcision.”

Paul not only called circumcision a sign he also called it a seal. (Keep this important fact in mind, because we will come back to it later, and it will help us understand the meaning of circumcision of the heart.) God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision for the same reason he put a rainbow in the sky, so God will see the sign and remember his covenant.

For you are not real Jews just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the Jewish initiation ceremony of circumcision. No, a real Jew is anyone whose heart is right with God. For God is not looking for those who cut their bodies in actual body circumcision, but he is looking for those with changed hearts and minds. Whoever has that kind of change in his life will get his praise from God, even if not from you. (Romans 2:28-29, The Living Bible)

heart-circumcisedStephen is the first person in the New Testament to speak of circumcising the heart. Heart circumcision is among the last words he spoke in his defense before the Sanhedrin condemned him to death by stoning. He said:

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51-53, NKJ)

Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.  And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:57-58, NKJ)

The Pharisee Saul, who would soon become the Apostle Paul, consented to Stephen’s death, but he could not excise Stephen’s words from his mind – “Uncircumcised in heart”. Paul realized Stephen was right after he converted to Christianity. Obeying laws cannot justify us if we resist the desire of God’s Spirit. Paul picked up Stephen’s words and carried them throughout the then-known world. Along the way, he took his own Christian Jewish brothers to the highest authority of his day because they were reluctant to set aside things they knew didn’t work.

Before Stephen and Paul, Moses told Israel to “circumcise your heart.” The circumcision Stephen spoke of was not a new doctrine, nor was it a new idea. But what does it mean to have our hearts circumcised? Is it something we do? Is it something God does?  If there’s ever anything we want to be sure about, it’s this.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, [Sound familiar? Jesus said this is the greatest most important commandment in all the law] and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good? Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it. The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. [Abraham is our father too! If we are in Christ, we are Abraham's descendants and heirs according to the promise.] Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.  [Why must we circumcise the foreskin of our heart?] For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:12-17, NKJ).

The Interlinear Bible reads “so you circumcise foreskin of heart of you and neck of you not you make stiff longer.” Remember this: If we would circumcise our heart, we would not be stiff-necked anymore.

Didn’t God command Abraham to circumcise his children when they were eight days old, making it only something a father can do?

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6, NKJ)

After telling us to circumcise our hearts in Chapter 10, Moses tells us God must circumcise our heart. Can’t Moses make up his mind? Do I circumcise my heart or does God circumcise my heart?

Before I get any deeper into this issue, let me give you a heads-up: If you have the gift of speaking with “other tongues,” what I’m about to say will be easier for you to understand. When you speak with tongues, is God speaking, OR are you speaking?

According to Acts Chapter 2, both are speaking.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4, NKJ) 

If I speak with other tongues, the Holy Spirit gives me the utterance — but it’s my voice doing the uttering. I can’t do it without him – and he can’t do it without me! It’s similar with the circumcision of your heart: Both man and God have a part. Let’s look at our part first.

OUR PART

fallow groundFor thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts …” (Jeremiah 4:3-4, NKJ)

The Lord warns us not to sow among thorns. How can I do that unless I know what the thorns are? Jesus identified the thorns in the parable of the sower.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. (Matthew 13:7, NKJ).

Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22, NKJ)

God told us not to “sow among thorns”. Jesus said the thorns chocked the seed that was sown and then defined the thorns as “deceitfulness of riches”. Mark’s version adds “desire for other things” to the list. Luke says, “cares, riches and pleasures of life.”

These “thorns” will choke the word you have received, making you unfruitful. Notice: It doesn’t say the word becomes unfruitful. It says YOU, the soil the word is planted in, will become unfruitful.

So, you say, what does that have to do with circumcising my heart so I’m not stiff-necked anymore — and sowing to the flesh or the Spirit? Everything relevant, when you consider the experience of the children of Israel in the wilderness and what made them stiff-necked! Let’s look at their complaints against God and see if we can determine the real issue behind their unhappiness. Look for a common factor in the following nine complaints.

   …Let the Lord look on you and judge because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us. (Exodus 5:21, NKJ)

   …Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt saying, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness. (Exodus 14:11, NKJ)

What shall we drink? (Exodus 15:24, NKJ)

 Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. (Exodus 16:3, NKJ)

   …Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? (Exodus 17:3, NKJ)

   … Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up. There is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes! (Numbers 11:4-5, NKJ)

If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt? Let us select a leader and return to Egypt. (Numbers 14:2-4, NKJ)

Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place?  It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink. (Numbers 20:4-5, NKJ)

Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.  (Numbers 21:5, NKJ)

“Eat, drink, ‘cause I’m gonna die! Cares of life, if I don’t starve to death or die of thirst, somebody will kill me!” Can you hear them worrying about their lives? That’s what made them stiff-necked. That’s why they resisted God’s direction. That’s why they sowed to the desires of the flesh instead of sowing to the desires of the Spirit.

Let’s now compare for a few moments the attitudes of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. Both deserved death; one of them understood that; the other did not. One thief hanging on a cross near death worried about his life. He said to Jesus, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” He wanted God to save him from the very justice he deserved. The other said to his fellow thief, “We are here justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” He was not worried about his life. He did not ask Jesus to save him from justice. He was willing to die for the sins he’d committed, if only Jesus would remember him when God establishes Jesus eternal kingdom on earth. This thief had cut the foreskin from his heart and cast it away. Therefore, Jesus assured him that he would be with God until the time comes for him to be “remembered!”

How do we circumcise our heart, so we won’t be stiff-necked like the first thief and the unfaithful Israelites in the wilderness? Quit worrying about your life. Jesus went up into a mountain and said,

  …[D]o not worry saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink?  … do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:31, NKJ).

This is our part in the circumcising of the heart. This is what we do to cut the foreskin from our hearts, lest we become stiff-necked like faithless Israel. Peter said it this way: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NKJ).

Worried-SeedBut if circumcision is both something I do and something God does, what is God’s part in the circumcising of the heart?

GOD’S PART

 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6, NKJ)

If God hasn’t circumcised your heart you can “not worry and be happy” all you want and still hear God say, “I never knew you”. So having your heart circumcised involves much more than maintaining a carefree attitude.

But how do I know God has circumcised my heart to love him? Are mere words enough? In a movie I once watched with my children, a young boy boarded the wrong plane and ended up in New York instead of in Florida with his family. He had his father’s bag with all the family’s money and credit cards, so he decided to have his own vacation without them, and he tricked the hotel employees into thinking his father was staying in the room with him. But before long the hotel employees became suspicious and tried to question him. Realizing he was caught, the boy ran into the bedroom, where he had made a tape from a gangster movie he’d watched the night before. When the hotel employees approached the door, they heard a gun shooting and a voice saying, “All right you dirty rat get on your knees and say you love me!” The hotel employees, frightened by the gunfire, kneeled and said in unison, “We love you!” — only to find out later that they’d been deceived. The boy’s father wasn’t standing behind the door with a gun in his hand, demanding to hear an insincere “We love you.”

Many people have been driven away from Christianity by “sons” who’ve deceived others by presenting a false image of a “God” standing in heaven with death in one hand and hell in the other, demanding to hear an insincere “I love you” when God has done everything he can to win a sincere “I love you” from our lips. If your love isn’t sincere, he can’t let you into his kingdom. You’ll mess it up for those who really do love him.

Most people would love God if they were being fed a true knowledge of God, because he is very loveable. But how can you love him if you don’t know him? Don’t fall on your knees and cry out to God, “I love you!” because you’re afraid to die. Don’t reject him because the image of God his people have built is distasteful to you. God’s people are growing in knowledge of their God, and we don’t always get it right. Ask God to tell you who he really is, and he will give you his Spirit so you can know him.

I told you previously that Paul called circumcision not only a “sign” but a “seal,” and that we would come back to that because it is very important. Now let’s do so.

 And He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:11, NKJ)

The seal is a sign to God that we have faith that entitles us entrance into his kingdom. This sign or seal supersedes anything we can do outwardly, because we can cut all the skin we want to off our bodies and that will mean nothing to God. He looks on our heart for the seal he placed on your heart. “Sealing” you is God’s part in the circumcision of your heart.

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, [a reference to the resurrection] to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13, NKJ)

After you hear the word of God, and place your faith in him, God will seal you or “circumcise you” by giving you his Holy Spirit. The presence of his Spirit in your life will guarantee that you receive an inheritance when the resurrection takes place. Contrary to some teaching, we don’t receive our inheritance when we get saved; we only receive the Holy Spirit as a down payment guaranteeing God will give us the rest. After I receive his Spirit, I must now do my part by ceasing to worry about my life.

Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burdens are light. Don’t worry! Cast all your care on God who cares for you and be happy!

 

 

 

 

 

CH 14 The Question

faithAnd the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? Genesis 18:14, NIV

On God’s sixth visitation to Abraham, he asked a question that was not fully understood for centuries. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

God had introduced the idea of Abraham’s barren wife having a son shortly after Abraham arrived in Canaan. If God promises something, it’s common for him to repeat that promise more than once. God had already told Abraham less than a year earlier that he’d have a son by Sarah. Abraham laughed, not from joy, but in unbelief. This time Sarah laughed in her heart, just as Abraham did earlier — and with the same thoughts about the possibility of having a baby – it’s impossible.

Even though God didn’t confront Abraham about his unbelief a year earlier, he did call Abraham into account for Sarah’s unbelief. God didn’t address Sarah about her lack of faith until Sarah called him a liar. Then God looked her square in the eye and said, “You did laugh,” and that was the end of that; God had the last word and the subject changed.

Now let’s examine two verses for a revelation of God’s heart:

“And the Lord said to Abraham, Why did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old? Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:13-14, NKJ).

sarah isaacAbraham and Sarah both wrestled with the same problem: Is it too hard for God to produce life in a barren place? God answered Sarah’s laughter with a question: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Many years later, another prophet wrestled with the same doubts. Instead of a barren wife, Jeremiah had a barren city. He was a prophet to the nations just as Abraham was, and God asked him the same question he asked Abraham.

Jeremiah’s message was anything but a happy one for Israel. They were in the middle of an intense war. King Zedekiah, who ruled Israel at the time, thought the last thing he needed was Jeremiah running around telling the people, “Give up! Fighting is useless! The city will fall. Zedekiah will be taken captive to Babylon.” It’s not surprising that in the eyes of many Jeremiah was a traitor who’d sold out to the enemy. So Zedekiah had Jeremiah arrested and thrown in prison. While Jeremiah was in prison, the Lord told him that his uncle’s son would ask him to buy his field in Anathoth. When the young man arrived to sell the field, Jeremiah already knew that the Lord wanted him to buy the field for some reason, so he did.

Jeremiah buys landThe legal transaction was completed; the deed deposited in a safe place. Then, after everyone departed, Jeremiah had second thoughts. “Why did I buy this land? Don’t my actions contradict my warning that Babylon will take over, and nothing we own will be ours anymore? Surely, this was a bad investment.”  Since buying the field was God’s idea, Jeremiah took issue with God.

 “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17, NKJ).

Jeremiah refused to show a lack of faith as Abraham and Sarah did. He had already pondered God’s question, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?”, and come to the conclusion that there’s nothing too hard for the Lord. But Jeremiah kept praying, and he soon revealed that he didn’t know God as well as he thought he did.

“You show loving kindness to thousands and repay the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them – the Great, the Mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts. You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings” (32:18-19).

Jeremiah had high praise for God, but he saw God’s greatness rather narrowly — because to Jeremiah God sees every iniquity and nobody escapes God’s wrath.

“You have set signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, to this day and in Israel and among other men; and You have made Yourself a name, as it is this day. You have brought Your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders and with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror” (32:20-21).

The Hebrew word for “terror” used in this passage is defined by Vine’s Expository Dictionary as the reaction of men to God’s mighty works of destruction. Jeremiah’s image of God is that of a destroyer who strikes terror in the hearts of men.

Genesis-Chapter-19-Lot-Flees-as-Sodom-and-Gomorrah-Burn“You have given them this land, of which You swore to their fathers to give them, a land flowing with milk and honey. And they came in and took possession of it, but they have not obeyed Your voice or walked in Your law. They have done nothing of all that You commanded them to do; therefore You have caused all this calamity to come upon them. Look the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it!” (32:22-24)

Jeremiah recalled how God delivered them from Egypt, and then reasoned that just as Egypt was destroyed for failing to obey, Israel would also be destroyed with calamity, war, famine and pestilence. To Jeremiah, God displays his greatness by destroying nations. “There is nothing too hard for you to do!” Crowed Jeremiah.  But interestingly, after all this high praise for God’s ability to destroy, Jeremiah still had the nerve to question God’s intelligence:

“And yet you say to buy the field — paying good money for it before these witnesses even though the city will belong to our enemies” (32:25, The Living Bible).

In summary, and in my own words, Jeremiah said to God, “You are all muscle and no brain. This was a stupid transaction.”

God had a lot to say in answer to Jeremiah’s misguided prayer:

“Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for me?” (32:26).

The same question God had asked Abraham hundreds of years ago he now asked Jeremiah. But wait – hadn’t Jeremiah already answered this question? At the very beginning of his prayer, hadn’t Jeremiah declared, “There is nothing too hard for God”? So why did God ask this question again, as though Jeremiah had never answered it?

Sure, Jeremiah, there’s nothing too hard for God — but you’ve missed his heart. You may be a Prophet to the nations, but you don’t really know him yet; you just think you do. Do you think God glories in the death and destruction he can produce? Do you think he delights in his ability to make a land barren? Does God want us to understand that it’s not too hard for him to destroy — or does God want us to understand that it’s not too hard for him to produce life in a barren place?

After asking Jeremiah the same question that he asked Abraham, God acknowledge that the city would be made barren. Jeremiah was right — God would make the sinful city pay for its sins. God has never promised we would escape the consequences of our sins. He only promised that we can survive them.

The Chaldeans were his “servants” to burn down houses on whose rooftops God’s people had offered incense to Baal and poured out drink offerings to foreign gods. Yes, they’d made God angry when they’d offered their love to others for the whole world to see. God’s people hadn’t even had the decency to commit spiritual adultery in secret; they’d done it on the rooftop without shame. Nor was this the act of a few men in places of power; everyone was guilty of lusting for strange gods, loving lies they had been taught more than the truth proclaimed by God’s prophets (Jeremiah 32:32-33, NKJ). The nation had strayed so far from God they were all guilty. Guilty of what you say? They were guilty of refusing to worship the God who loved them that they might embrace barbaric gods who demanded the sacrifice of innocent babies.

Why did Israel desire to worship gods that demanded them to murder their own children by burning them alive in sacrificial worship? Why did Israel forsake the worship of a God who would never even think of asking such a thing of them? Why would they — unless they were thoroughly corrupt and beyond hope? God’s actions in destroying his people were completely and thoroughly justified. The real “crime” would have been for God never to intervene by putting an end to the atrocities the Israelites were committing against one another and the innocent.

question-markIn summary, God told Jeremiah, “When I destroy, it’s justifiable, but Jeremiah, you’ve missed the point. In your mind, it’s not too hard for me to destroy and make barren. But in my mind, it’s not too hard to produce life in a barren place.” God goes on to say “I will” 12 times to Jeremiah. “I will” meaning these things are not too hard for God to do.

I have replaced the 12 “I will’s” with “Is it too hard for God”.

  1. Is it too hard for God to gather his erring children from all the countries where He has driven them in his anger?
  2. Is it too hard for God to bring us home again?
  3. Is it too hard for God to cause us to dwell safely free from persecution and abuse?
  4. Is it too hard for God to make us his people and to be our God?
  5. Is it too hard for God to give us one heart and one way that we may fear him forever for our good and for the good of our children after us?
  6. Is it too hard for God to make an everlasting covenant with us?
  7. Is it too hard for God to never turn away from doing good to us and for us?
  8. Is it too hard for God to put his fear in our hearts so we will not depart from him?
  9. Is it too hard for God to rejoice over us to do us good?
  10. Is it too hard for God to plant us in a land he loves with all His heart and with all His soul?
  11. Is it too hard for God to bring on us all the good that he has promised us?
  12. Is it too hard for God to cause the captives to return? Is it too hard for God to release those (like Israel and like us) who’ve been held captive by their own sin?

Anyone can kill, destroy and make barren. How many of us can heal and give life and prosperity? No, Jeremiah, it’s not a question of whether it’s too hard for God to punish us for our sins. That’s not hard for God to do. We’ve given him more than ample justification to raise his hand to destroy us. I’ll tell you what’s hard. Saving us is “hard.” Scripture says we are “scarcely” saved.

God had a lot on his mind when he answered Jeremiah’s question: “Why am I buying land in this barren place?” He concluded his reply with a rebuke: “And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, it is desolate, without man or beast… (Jeremiah 32:43, NKJ).

God never intended the destruction of Jerusalem to be forever. He is establishing and will establish Jerusalem in righteousness. Israel needed (and still needs) to know that all of us are sinners, unworthy of God and his blessings. In his mercy and love, God let Israel fail, in order that every mouth might be silent when he opened the door for the Gentiles to have equal rights in his kingdom. It would not have been righteous to leave the Gentiles out since God created all of us. How can the Jews complain about God including the Gentiles when they know (or surely should know) from experience that they’re no better than we are? God instructed Jeremiah to buy land in a barren place because God never intended for sin to make us barren forever.

I don’t know whether or not Jeremiah’s question and his attitude toward God’s greatness and what it’s “not too hard for God to do” hurt God, upset God, frustrated God, made God angry or just downright bothered him. Before Jeremiah was released from prison, God spoke to him a second time about the same matter. It was almost as though God responded one time, and then decided he hadn’t yet said quite enough. And sure enough he did have much more to say about what it’s “not too hard” for him to do.

“Moreover the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Thus says the Lord who made it, the Lord who formed it to establish it (the Lord is His name) Call to Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:1-3, NKJ)

“Jeremiah” the Lord was saying, “there are things you don’t know about me. Here’s one: If you call to me, I will answer you and show you what I consider great and mighty things.” God again acknowledged that he will slay those who’ve sinned against him. But death isn’t God’s whole agenda. Therefore in Chapter 33, God tells Jeremiah five more times, “I will.” Here are five more things it’s not “too hard” for God to do. Again, I have changed the “I wills” to “It’s not too hard for God”.

  1. It’s not too hard for God to bring health and healing.
  2. It’s not too hard for God to heal and reveal the abundance of peace and truth.”
  3. It’s not too hard for God to cause the captives to return and rebuild the places destroyed by their sin.
  4. It’s not too hard for God to cleanse iniquity by which we have sinned against God.
  5. It’s not too hard for God to pardon all our iniquities by which we have sinned and by which we have transgressed against God.

It doesn’t take faith to believe God will destroy us for sin — it takes faith to believe God will forgive our sins against him.

And after he has healed us, given us revelation, released us from captivity, cleansed and pardoned us, Jerusalem shall be to God a name of joy, a praise and an honor before all the nations of the earth. Then all the nations shall hear about all the good that he has done for his people. Then all nations will fear and tremble before God’s people, not because he is a God mighty to destroy but a God who disciplines and then restores.

If you believe the New Testament, there will be a New Jerusalem that does not belong to the Jews alone. They had their opportunity to make it theirs by keeping the law and failed. The New Jerusalem belongs to one Jew named Jesus, and to anyone, Jew or Gentile, who will allow God to circumcise his or her heart that they may do things God’s way.

To drive his point home, after listing five things it’s not too hard for God to do, God gently rebuked Jeremiah, saying,

“Again there shall be heard in this place of which you say It is desolate, without man and without beast – in the cities of Judah, in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say; Praise the Lord of Hosts, For the Lord is good, For his mercy endures forever – and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first says the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:10-11, NKJ)

Where Jeremiah saw desolation, God saw his wedding day. Notice that God doesn’t talk about “bridegrooms” or “brides”…plural. He talks about one bridegroom and one bride. God himself is the bridegroom, and his bride is the New Jerusalem. In the New Jerusalem, we won’t bring animals to sacrifice. We will praise God for the one sacrifice who enabled everyone to be included in his kingdom of true justice and equality.

But God had more to say. In the place Jeremiah thought desolate, without man and without beast, shepherds would again count their flocks because God will perform every good thing He has promised. A branch of righteousness will make it all possible:

RIGHTEOUS BRANCH“In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called; THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”  (Jeremiah 33:15-16, NKJ)

The ten nations of the Northern Kingdom of Israel never returned from captivity. The Southern Kingdom returned long enough for Jesus to be born, rejected, and resurrected thus making it righteous for him to give all men the same opportunity to receive the good things God will give to Israel. But a long period of time will separate the fulfillment of verses 15 and 16 while the Gentiles come in.

We now know that verse 15 has been fulfilled. Jesus is the “branch of righteousness” who grew up to execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. Verse 16 has not yet been fulfilled because “Judah” has not yet been saved, nor does Jerusalem yet dwell safely. When Jesus was born, she was a territory of Rome, and destroyed within 70 years after Jesus’ death, just as he predicted.

God told Jeremiah he would no more break the covenant he made with David than he would break his covenant with the day and night to never cease. God promised King David that David would never lack a man of his lineage to sit on the throne of the house of Israel. If you don’t understand what was on God’s mind, it may appear from history that God broke his covenant with David. When Israel ceased to be a nation, they ceased to have a king ruling from David’s house. In fact, the king of Jesus’ day was a hated Gentile appointed by Rome. And in our day Israel has an elected Prime Minister, not a king.

Does this mean God failed to keep his word? No, God always keeps his word; but he doesn’t necessarily keep it either when or how it pleases us. He keeps his word whenever and however he chooses. It’s his sovereign right to do what he has promised whenever and however he wishes. When God made a covenant with David, he had on his mind the only man with whom he could make an everlasting covenant it not fail.

After telling Jeremiah how strong his commitment is to establish his promise to King David, he repeated the promise he made to Abraham.

“As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, nor the sand of the sea measured, so will I multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me” (Jeremiah 33:22, NKJ).

Jesus is the one seed who died to produce many seeds that he might make both Jews and Gentiles kings and priests to God. We are a family of priests just like the Levites, and we will “be without number like the sand of the sea,” just as God promised Abraham.

Then God addressed, for the third time, Jeremiah’s notion that God’s greatness lies merely in his ability to make a place barren:

“Moreover the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, The two families which the Lord has chosen, He has also cast them off? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them” (Jeremiah 33:23-24, NKJ)

Do people really believe that God can destroy, but it is too hard for God to save? To that false idea God replied,

“This is what the Lord says; If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed laws of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his sons to rule over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them” (Jeremiah 33:25, NIV).

As sure as the sun comes up every day and the moon comes out every night, God will choose one man descended from David to rule over all the seed of Abraham. The New Testament identifies the seed of Abraham as anyone who is in Christ (Galatians 3:29, NIV).

God had quite a lot to say to Jeremiah about what it’s “not too hard for God to do.” And he didn’t stop talking until he got to Jesus.

Many years later Gabriel appeared to Mary and picked up these themes right where God left off! Read his words carefully:

“Then the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33, NKJ).

Gabriel announced God would give Jesus the throne of his father David — that’s the last thing God said to Jeremiah. Notice Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s announcement:

“Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (1:34)

mary angelMary didn’t laugh at the impossibility of her bearing this child, as her grandpa Abraham and grandma Sarah had. She merely asked a fair and honest question: “How?”

“And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore also that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (1:35).

“Jesus will not have an earthly father,” Gabriel said, just as Adam didn’t have an earthly father. If God can breathe life into a lump of dirt, why can’t he breathe life into an egg from a woman’s ovaries? If God didn’t need a man or woman to give us life in the beginning, what makes us think he needs us now?

Abraham dealt with the issue of barrenness. Jeremiah dealt with the issue of barrenness. Then Mary dealt with the issue of barrenness, too. How could her womb be fruitful when she wasn’t married? But since Mary, unlike her predecessors, didn’t deny God’s ability to do whatever he said he would do, God didn’t give Mary “the question” (“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”) to ponder. Instead, God encouraged Mary’s faith by letting her know about her cousin, Elizabeth:

“Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible” (1:36).

Notice that Zachariah and Elizabeth are similar to Abraham and Sarah. Despite the barrenness of their old age, Abraham and Sarah produced a nation that would declare to the world, “This is God’s law.” Zachariah and Elizabeth in the barrenness of their old age produced a son who would declare to the world, “This is God’s grace” — FOR WITH GOD NOTHING WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE. When Jesus was born, the question, “Is anything too hard for God?” ceased to be a question and became a fact, “With God nothing will be impossible.”

CH 13 The Same Day

faith “Then God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her” (Genesis 17:15-16, NKJ).

God appeared to Abram when he was 99 years old and plainly outlined the way things would be. He referred first to himself, saying, “As for Me”, and promised to bear the burden of keeping everything legal between us and God for those who believe and obey him. Then God addressed Abram: “As for you.” God laid upon Abram one requirement: circumcision. Lastly, God said, “as for Sarai” this is how it will be.

God changed Sarai’s name, which means “to dominate, to rule or control, to exert the supreme or guiding influence,” to Sarah. Sarah means “a mistress, female noble, princess or queen.” Understand what Sarah represents, and you’ll find it easier to understand the significance of God changing her name. Sarai represented the Old Jerusalem dominated by a covenant of law that made her barren because none of her children could keep the law. Sarah is symbolic of the New Jerusalem, which is the gracious queen of God himself. When dominated by love, the harsh, unmerciful law becomes a noble gracious and kind lady.

God had told Abraham, “I will bless Sarah and give you a son by her.” The immediate result of that promise was the couple’s son, Isaac. But God was also looking further down the road to the sacrifice of Jesus who made God’s dream possible. Sarai, the old Jerusalem, dominated by law made her people servants. Sarah, the New Jerusalem, dominated by love will make her people kings, for she will be a mother of nations and “kings of peoples shall be from her.”

CH13 kings-and-priestsGod dreams big. He had nations of kings and priests on his mind. Abraham had yet to see any further than the end of his nose.  All Abraham wanted was one son to leave his stuff to. I can identify with Abraham more easily than God. Being a king wasn’t on Abraham’s mind any more than being a queen was on mine when the Lord revealed himself to me. In 40 years of being a Christian, I have not met anyone who accepted Christ so they could become a king.

“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17-22, NKJ)

God had his mind on a vast spiritual family. Abraham had his mind on a carnal family. When God mentioned Sarah bearing a son, all Abraham could think is, “Hey, God! Sarah and I are too old to have a baby. We tried for years. Now it’s too late. I’m near 100, and she’s 90 — how are we going to have a son? Sure, God – ha, ha, ha!”

If you think God appearing to you will impart great faith, think again.  God appeared to Abraham and told him what he planned to do, and Abraham fell on his face laughing at God and then proposed his solution.

“…Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (Genesis 17:18, NKJ)

Everything God told Abraham was dependent on Sarah giving birth to a son. So Abraham blurted out, “God, why wait for the impossible! I solved the problem 13 years ago. What about Ishmael?” Then God said:

“No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish MY covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19, NKJ).

God had no intentions of establishing his covenant with a son raised by a slave. He will establish his covenant with a son raised by a free woman. Paul explained in Galatians Chapter 4 that Hagar is symbolic of the covenant made at Sinai – the one that gave birth to the Jerusalem God ultimately rejected. God doesn’t want a house full of servants; he wants a house full of children. Still, God is good to all, and he didn’t ignore Abraham’s request.

 “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, who Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year. Then he finished talking with him and God went up from Abraham” (Genesis 17:20-22, NKJ).

God gave Ishmael the same thing he gave Isaac — 12 princes who became the foundations of great nations. God chose Isaac before he was born and had done anything good or bad to influence his decision. On his own merits, Isaac was no more worthy of the covenant then is Ishmael or anyone else.

God teaches us the gospel not only with his words, but also with his actions. As Isaac’s birth was “impossible,” so was Jesus’. God will establish his new covenant with a son whose birth is not humanly possible. That son is Jesus, the only man God foreknew would be born on earth and never sin. God knew what Jesus would do because God knew what he was going to do. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” In this way, God’s way, both Isaac and Ishmael can be saved — if they will walk in the steps of father Abraham’s faith.

But stop and ponder this: When God finished talking to Abraham he departed without Abraham ever acknowledging that he believed God or would obey God’s instruction to circumcise all the males in his house.

It sometimes appears that Paul had a different copy of Genesis than we do. Speaking of God’s promise that Abraham would be the heir of the world, Paul writes that Abraham believed God when he said that he would make Abraham a father of many nations by doing the impossible. In Abraham’s mind, the “impossible” was Sarah bearing a son. In God’s mind, the impossible was the city if Jerusalem producing a son. How can someone who never knew a man bear a son? God’s wife is a city, and his son is Jesus (Revelation 21:2, 9-10). Paul goes on to say about Abraham,

“…and being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19, NKJ).

CH13 laughterWell, that’s not what I read in Genesis. I read about a man who fell down laughing at God. And that’s probably why he fell down — so God wouldn’t see the smirk of unbelief on his face. He was laughing in his heart. He considered his own body, now close to 100 years old, dead, and Sarah’s womb just as dead. How were they going to make a baby? So what gave Paul the audacity to write such a statement about Abraham and even more boldly go on to say,

“He (Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform” (Romans 4:20, NKJ)

When did Abraham stagger not? If Abraham wasn’t staggering at the promise of God through unbelief, why did he bring up Ishmael?  Abraham most assuredly did stagger at the promise of God through unbelief! So when did the things Paul wrote about happen? I’ll tell you when! THE SAME DAY! Paul is writing about what Abraham did, not what Abraham said! Consider Jesus teachings and it will become clear.

Jesus was talking to some Chief Priest and Elders, in our day that would be the Pastor and board of deacons. He said to them,

 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, Son, go, work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not, but afterward he regretted it and went.  Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go sir, but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?  They said to him, the first. Jesus said to them, Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him and when you saw it you did not afterward relent and believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32, NKJ).

Jesus said elsewhere,

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29, NKJ).

In Jesus’ parable which of the two sons did the will of the father? The first one who said, “No”, changed his mind before the day ended and went to work in the fields. The other son knew the right thing to “say”, but he never actually worked. It doesn’t matter what you say about believing God; it does matter — much — what you do.

All right then, what did Abraham do when God finished talking to him and departed?

  “Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner were circumcised with him” (Genesis 17:23-26, NKJ)

Ancient Circumcision Knife

Ancient Circumcision Knife

That very same day, twice the Bible says Abraham obeyed God that very same day. Like the son who said, “I go not to work in your field” but changed his mind, Abraham stopped laughing in disbelief and chose to believe what God promised! That very same day, Abraham went to work by circumcising himself and all the males in his house.

“Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts… (Hebrews 3:15, emphasis added).

Abraham could have hardened his heart, just as Israel later hardened their hearts in the wilderness. But he didn’t: “Being not weak in faith,” he refused to consider the age of his body or the barrenness of Sarah womb. After laughing at God, he humbled himself. “God is not a liar,” Abraham reasoned. “He is greater and smarter than I am.” So, “Abraham staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, being fully persuaded that what God had promised God was able also to perform.”

How did Paul know that Abraham had faith? Abraham’s actions, he went to the kitchen for a sharp knife and made all the men in the house line up. Then he obeyed God’s instructions. Abraham didn’t have to do the impossible; God only asked Abraham to do the possible – remove a small piece of flesh.

That very same day, Abraham “spoke” with a “voice” God could trust — his actions — when he circumcised everyone in his house.

Don’t let the sun set before you make up your mind to do it God’s way. Today, if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart. Today is the day of salvation. Don’t say, “Oh, some other time.” Make up your mind while it is still “today” — before Jesus brings a new day and you’re not included. You don’t have to do the impossible; just do the possible: Circumcise your heart by casting all your care upon him and God will do the impossible for you!

CH 12 Peter’s Got the Key

faithAnd God said to Abraham: As for you you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant. (Genesis 17:9-14, NKJ, emphasis added)

A covenant is a special, two-way agreement. But a covenant made by God with any mere flesh son of Adam will never stand, because a mere man will always break his part of the agreement, and thus obligate God to bring a curse upon him. Therefore, God the Father made a covenant with God the Son — one descendant (seed) of Abraham. In other words, God made a covenant with himself. In essence God told Abraham, “If you want to partake of the blessings of the covenant I have made with myself, there is one requirement: Circumcision!” That requirement has not been done away with. While the natural act of circumcision performed on the flesh to inherit the promises of God has been done away with, the SPIRITUAL act of circumcision has not.

Spiritual things are much more powerful than natural carnal things because God is Spirit (John 4:24). Carnal things like circumcision foreshadowed better things to come. There is a pattern in the bible of God doing first in the natural, in the flesh, what he intends to do ultimately in the spirit, which helps us understand his plan. God instructed Abraham to cut the flesh off the only part of his body that could impart life. Yet a man can only give temporary life. My earthly father and mother gave me a body that will probably live less than 100 years. True, eternal life comes not from the body of flesh, but from the spirit.

A FATHER’S JOB

When God said, “As for you…” to Abraham, we hear the first mention of circumcision in the Bible. However, the Hebrews were not the only people to practice circumcision. Scholars tell us that it was common among the Egyptian and even among some Canaanite cultures. But there was one major difference in its practice by the Hebrews: Only the Hebrews circumcised babies; everyone else performed the rite at the beginning of puberty, around 12 years of age, as a sort of initiation ceremony into manhood.

In Israel’s early history, a father circumcised his son eight days after his birth. Later on in Jewish history, the job was taken over by specialist. But God never made provision, in his covenant with himself in which Abraham took part, or in the200323976-001 law of Moses, for the job to be done by a specialist. God’s original intent was for the father to circumcise all those born in his house or bought with his money. To follow to the letter God’s instructions to circumcise at eight days old, it would obviously be impossible to circumcise yourself.

PURPOSE OF CIRCUMCISION

“…[I]t shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:11, NKJ).

God told Abraham that circumcision would be a sign or a token. The Hebrew word used in this verse means a “mark.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, “…this word represents something by which a person or group is characteristically marked.” As I’m sure you’ve noticed, people of African descent characteristically have dark skin and curly hair. People of Asian descent characteristically have slanted eyes and straight black hair. Their characteristics mark who they are.  So, God gave Abraham a sign that would be characteristic of all his descendants, but think about this: Who would see this sign?

The only people who would really know for sure that you had rights to the covenant God made with himself would be those most intimate with you — your parents, your wife, and your God. The only way your parents could be sure you were included in the covenant would be to circumcise you at birth. Anyone could say, “I am circumcised and so I have rights to the covenant blessings,” but their word would have to be enough unless they proved it by dropping their pants. The law of Moses clearly states that it is shameful for anyone but those most intimate with you to see your nakedness. So, what man with any sense of decency would expose his genitals to prove he has covenant rights?

Therefore, we can conclude that the sign of the covenant with God is a very private and personal matter — as private and personal as are the activities of husband and wife in the bedroom. Only God knows for sure if your spiritual rights to the covenant blessings are valid because God sees your nakedness. If God doesn’t see the sign of his covenant in you, you don’t have a right to the covenant’s blessings. But God is a Spirit, and he’s not looking at what’s in your pants, he’s looking for the sign he requires in your heart.

AN EVERLASTING COVENANT

“He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Genesis. 17: 13-14, NKJ, emphasis added).

The word “everlasting” used in this verse means “lasting or enduring through all time, eternal.” For all eternity anyone not circumcised will be “cut off” from God’s people because he has broken God’s covenant. A major debate about this verse raged in the early church for many years. The debate centered mainly around two things, circumcision and food.

Cartoon CircumcisionCircumcision became an issue because some believed Christians had to be circumcised in the flesh to gain a right to the covenant blessings. Food was an issue because, according to the law of Moses, refraining from eating certain kinds of food determined if you were holy or not. A small piece of skin and food caused Jewish Christians in the early church to resist allowing Gentiles into the church and created a debate that raged for years because the sign of the covenant is everlasting, and only the holy will see God.

THE GREAT DEBATE

“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?   So they said, Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them, But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ the Son of the living God.  Jesus answered and said to him, blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 16:13-19, NKJ)

As we discuss this great debate, remember the word Caesarea because it will prove a key to understanding how Jesus gives US “keys.”

Jesus asked his disciple’s an interesting question because his question contained the answer. When he said to his disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am,” Jesus identified himself as “the Son of Man” then Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am.”

Men in general believed Jesus to be a prophet. But Jesus wasn’t satisfied with this answer so it make it personal, asking, “Who do you say I am?” The obvious answer would have been the one Jesus just gave them: “the Son of Man”. Peter contradicted Jesus when he said “you are the Son of the living God”.

Did Jesus get upset with Peter’s response and say, “Wrong, Peter! Don’t you listen to anything I say? I just said I’m the Son of Man; my answer was in my question.” To the contrary, Jesus said with a hint of pleasure, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Then Jesus revealed that in God’s kingdom, to him that has will more be given and promised Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Now let’s fast forward to the day of Pentecost. Only people who were circumcised Jews and daughters of Israel received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. But after God later saved a Jewish man named Saul, destined to become Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, he immediately began to deal with Peter, to whom he’d promised to give the keys of the kingdom.

The story of God’s dealings with Peter is recorded in Acts Chapter 10. Cornelius, an Italian officer stationed in Caesarea, was also a praying, God-fearing man who gave generously to the poor. You’ll recall that I told you above to remember Caesarea. The Caesarea mentioned here wasn’t the same one where Peter made his famous declaration, but we’ll soon see that the fact that Cornelius was in a place called Caesarea is significant.

Uncircumcised Cornelius didn’t know about Jesus, but he did fear God. One day while worshiping God, an angel appeared to Cornelius and said:

“…Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea” (Acts 10:4-6, NKJ).

Ancient method of tanning leather.

Ancient method of tanning leather.

That Peter was lodging with a “tanner” is evidence that Peter believed the law of Moses had lost some of its significance after Jesus’ resurrection. A tanner was a worker in leather who killed animals and prepared their skins to be used in making shields, helmets, shoes, etc.. And the law of Moses considered being a tanner an undesirable job for a “good Jew”:

“By these you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening; whoever carries part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; The carcass of any animal which divides the foot but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean.  And whatever goes on its paws among all kinds of animals that go on all fours those are unclean to you. Whoever touches any such carcass shall be unclean until evening. Whoever carries any such carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. It is unclean to you” (Lev. 11:24-28, NKJ emphasis added).

   “And if any animal which you may eat dies, he who touches its carcass shall be unclean until evening. He who eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. He also who carries it carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening” (Lev. 11:39-40, NKJ emphasis added).

In those brief seven verses, the law of Moses connects the concept of “unclean” to living and dead animals 12 times. So what was Peter, a good Jew, doing in the midst of all this uncleanness? If Simon the tanner was now such an intimate of Peter that Peter was living in Simon’s house I don’t think it would be unreasonable to conclude that Simon the tanner had been baptized in the Holy Spirit in a similar manner to that which had taken place on the day of Pentecost. Simon and Peter were Spirit filled Jews doing unclean things according to the law given to Moses.

Clearly, Peter was beginning to understand how grace complements law. Peter had already learned that anyone circumcised, even someone engaging in such an “unclean” occupation as tanning, could have God’s blessings whether or not he or she kept every law of Moses or not. But are animals of more worth to God than men? Did Jesus die to make unclean animals clean? Peter was moving from faith to faith, one step at a time.  Jesus had made a promise to Peter in Caesarea Philippi, and in Caesarea that promise would be kept.

Here’s one “key to the kingdom” Peter was given: you do not have to keep every law that was given to Moses in order to be saved. That doesn’t seem to be an issue in our day, but it was a serious issue in the days of the apostles. Yes, Peter must have thought as he walked among unclean animals, Jesus’ sacrificial death has certainly made it easier for every “circumcised Jew” — even a tanner – to be included in the kingdom of God. It hadn’t yet entered the minds of even good Jewish Christians like Peter that everyone, Jew or Gentile, could be regarded as acceptable and even holy unto God.

Now let’s look more closely at Peter’s part of Acts Chapter 10. He was on the housetop praying and meditating, maybe remembering how Jesus preached to half-breed Samaritans and how Philip went down to Samaria and saw them all baptized in the Holy Spirit. But, after all, the Samaritans did have some Jewish blood. Suddenly, a sheet full of unclean animals descended in a vision and God told him to eat one of them. Peter refused. He had never tarnished his holiness by eating an unclean animal. God told him not to call unclean what God had cleansed.

The arrival Cornelius’s messengers in the midst of Peter’s vision lead Peter to another key. By the time Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house he had discerned the “good, acceptable and perfect will of God”:

  “ … In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ He is Lord of all…” (Acts 10:4-36,NKJ).

Peter learned that people do not need the blood of Abraham in their veins for Jesus to be their Lord — Jesus is Lord of all, Jew or Gentile. And not only is he Lord of all, he shows no partiality for anyone from any nation that fears him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. As Jesus promised, he gave Peter a key that would open the door of the kingdom to all men.  If Peter has any doubts about the truth he’d just spoken, God settled them before Peter finished his sermon:

“While Peter was still speaking these words the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word. And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God” (Acts 10:44-46, NKJ).

The circumcised Jews are astonished — stricken with sudden or unusual great wonder or surprise! Pray tell, what’s happened that’s so caught them by surprise? I’ll tell you, to the Jewish mind, saying you are circumcised is the same as every_nation_widesaying, “I have a right to the blessing of God’s covenant.” To say someone is uncircumcised is the same as saying, “You don’t have any rights to God’s blessings.” In the Apostles’ day, the term “uncircumcised” was a racial slur, similar to the using of the word “nigger” in our day. To call a man “uncircumcised” was to call that man inferior.

The Jews took great pride in their circumcision, for they regarded it as the mark of their spiritual superiority, the sign that God loved them more than others, because they were marked for blessings others would not get. God had come to them, delivered them with mighty miracles from Egypt’s power, made them guardians of his laws. God loved them so much; he brought them to himself “on eagle’s wings.” “Look at all God has done for us,” Jews could say. “We are the circumcision, marked for special treatment.”

Yes! These circumcised Jews at Cornelius’ house were astonished, surprised and afraid. God’s actions struck at the very root of human pride and selfishness. They’d just witnessed God pour his Holy Spirit into what they regarded as unholy vessels that had no right to God or his blessings. These were Gentiles, contaminated by the unholy food they’d eaten, unacceptable because they had not removed a small piece of skin from their body. They had no right to God’s blessings!

The Jews were shaken because they weren’t “in control.” Of course, they never really “had control” of God, because God does whatever he pleases. But until now God had always seemed to be exclusively theirs. What was God doing here, giving his love to these filthy Gentiles who were not marked for special treatment?

After the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles in Cornelius’ house, Peter came up to Jerusalem to learn news travels fast and his Christian brethren were not very happy:

“…those of the circumcision contended with him saying You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” (Acts 11:2,NKJ)

Let me paraphrase what they were really saying to Peter: “And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were marked as God’s people contended with him, saying, ‘You went into the house of a man who has no right to the blessings of the covenant and did an unholy thing. Peter, how dare you sit at the lunch counter with a nigger! How dare you eat with him and make yourself unclean!’”

Hold it! This is the church? Yes, but it’s an infant church still in diapers, still sucking on a bottle filled with law. To the Jews all this was very serious business because the law had been broken and they were angry that their icon who had traveled with Jesus the Son of God had sinned.

Peter patiently explained everything that had happened, beginning with his vision at Simon the tanner’s house. He concluded:

“ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit. If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God? When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11:15-18).

A sign that no one could see, circumcision, had marked these Jews to be God’s people and made them arrogant. But God punched a hole in their pride, by including the Gentiles, with a sign everyone could see and hear. When he did, these “good Christians” became silent, and they stopped glorying in what they could do and began to glory in what God can do! The Apostle Paul later wrote:

“For Jews request a sign [circumcision], and the Greeks seek after wisdom; But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness…that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – That as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:22-23, 29-31).

The Jewish Christians were learning humility. They learned that God is not limited to the things a man can do, like cutting skin off of bodies and eating the right foods. These things will not give you rights in God’s kingdom; only Jesus can give you rights. So let us glory in what he has done, not the things we have done!

Unfortunately, Peter’s experience at the house of Cornelius wasn’t enough to settle the issue about whether circumcision was a requirement to receive God’s blessings. The debate continued to rage for another ten years, and finally came to an impasse at a Gentile church in Antioch of Syria.

The Antioch church was Paul’s home church. He had just completed his first missionary journey. The Spirit had confirmed his message time and again with signs and wonders. Multitudes had been saved, healed and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Paul just so happened to be in the congregation the day some Jewish Christians came from Judea and taught that to be saved the Gentile Christians had to be circumcised after the manner of Moses (or the law). Hearing this, Paul got into a major doctrinal argument with these Christian brethren.

The heart of the argument was an important one to all involved in the dispute: What confirms that I have a right to the blessings of God’s covenant with Abraham? What makes me acceptable to God? Must I cut a piece of skin off my body to have a right to the blessings? Must I eat certain foods and observe certain “days” to be holy? Look at what transpired:

“Therefore when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts key-to-the-kingdom-of-heaven15:2, NKJ).

Much disputing went on before Peter at last stood up and again related how, a long while ago (about ten years before this) he was present when God, who knows the heart, acknowledged the Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he had the Jews, therefore making no distinction between the Jew and the Gentiles. Then Peter asked the assembly a question they couldn’t dispute over:

“Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they” (Acts 15:10-11, NKJ).

Peter simply pointed out, “Why should we require the Gentiles to obey  laws that our fathers nor we obeyed? Circumcision didn’t give us the strength to obey the law. Eating ‘holy’ foods didn’t give us strength to obey the law. Why should we put a yoke on Gentile believers’ necks that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear?”

Then, after Peter had given his word of wisdom, they listened to Barnabas and Paul declare how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. Even though Paul and Barnabas spoke so clearly, they didn’t have the “key” to settling the issue. James (Jesus’ half-brother and the author of the Book of James) spoke next:

“Men and brethren, listen to me; Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree” (Acts 15:13-15, NKJ emphasis added).

Did you catch that? James didn’t refer to anything Paul and Barnabas had said. James said, “Simon (or Peter) preached to the Gentiles, and the word of God agrees with his experience.  Peter had the “key” that opened the door of the kingdom to all men, because Jesus had promised to give Peter the keys to the kingdom.

CH 11 As For Me

faithWhen Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”  Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you… (Genesis 17:1-4, NIV)

After God rebuffed Abram and Sarai’s effort to produce a child of God that would fulfill God’s plan, God set things in proper order, addressing first himself (“as for me”), then Abram (“as for you”) and finally Sarah (“as for Sarai”). Let’s move forward in the Genesis account by starting with God’s “AS FOR ME.”

Abram did not know God as “Lord”, the one who gives laws we must obey. Abraham knew him as “God Almighty”, the one who will multiply us into a vast multitude. God emphasixed the things that applies to this vast multitude when he said to Abram, “AS FOR ME, this is my covenant with you”.

Ch 11 Covenant “…My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4-8, NKJV)

This is what God, not Abram, would do and it’s only the beginning of God’s dream, the first step to establishing what Abram came to Canaan to find, “a city with foundations laid by God.” Keep in mind that there is more to what God has promised us than the land he promised to Abram, hence forward known as Abraham, and his seed.

Three times God referred to three things when he said, “As for me…” He spoke about the covenant between him and Abraham three times, he referenced many nations three times, and three times he spoke about “multiplying.”

COVENANT

Now let’s look at how God in this passage addressed the covenant between him and Abraham:

Vs. 2: “I will make my covenant.”

Vs. 4: “My covenant is with you.”

Vs. 7: “I will establish my covenant.”

To say, “I will make and I will establish” is equivalent to saying “I will make the covenant stand.” The responsibility for the covenant standing rests upon God, not man. God already established covenant with Abram when Abram was 85 years old and he said, “To your seed/descendants I have given this land from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). The covenant between God and Abram was to give, not Abram but his seed, the land between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates River.

Abram could have rejected God’s offer at any time in his life and returned to Ur. If Abram had chosen to abandon God his actions would not have stopped God from fulfilling God’s end of the covenant, because God had not promised to give the land to Abram, he promised to give the land to Abram’s seed. Therefore if Abram had changed his mind, the covenant could still be fulfilled even though Abram opted to exclude himself. (In that event, it’s possible we would now be calling Isaac the father of our faith instead of Abraham.)

When men act foolishly, their foolishness doesn’t make God a fool, it makes the man or woman who acts foolish a fool. God knows how unstable and changeable we are. He is too smart to make a covenant with any man or woman that depends for its success on what that man or woman does. Instead, God made a covenant with himself, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. That guaranteed that anyone who truly wanted “in” would not be left “out” because some other man failed.

So it doesn’t matter what man does; God’s covenant will stand because its standing is not dependent on our good deeds or voided by our bad behavior. Paul made it clear in Galatians that to Abraham and his Seed, one seed, the promises were made. Again, not to seeds (plural), but to one seed, who is Jesus. The promises were made to two men, Abraham and Jesus, and in that regard we might better say “to Jesus and Abraham,” because Abraham was not included in the promises until he “learned his worth” in Egypt and became a man of peace.

If the promises were made to two men, where does that leave the rest of us? How do we partake of the things God has promised humanity? The same way Abraham partakes of the promises — only one way: “…if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). If you belong to Christ, then you are counted in with Abraham’s “one seed.” In Christ we are one body. In Christ we are one Spirit. In Christ we have one hope and one faith to obtain what we hope for. If we are Christ’s, we will inherit everything that God promised to Jesus.

God revealed through the prophet Isaiah that he would

“…divide him [Jesus] a portion with the great [the Hebrew word for great meaning ‘abundant in quantity’]. And he [Jesus] shall divide the spoil with the strong [the Hebrew word for strong meaning ‘numerous’]. Why? Because he [Jesus] poured out his soul unto death, and he was numbered with the transgressors and he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12, NKJ).

So it doesn’t matter what we do, God’s covenant will stand, because God foreknew that Jesus would do what we are not able to do — keep a covenant of law. Jesus alone earned the blessings and the right to divide the blessings, by living a sinless life.

CH 11 nationsFATHER OF NATIONS

God said to Abram, “I have made you a Father of many nations.” Three times God referred to the “nations.”

Vs. 4: “You shall be a father of many nations.”

Vs. 5: “I have made you a father of many nations.”

Vs. 6: “I will make nations of you.”

My uncle did a family tree of my mother’s side of our family that traced us back to England. From Scripture we know that Noah’s descendants Shem and Ham stayed mostly in the East, and his descendants through Japheth settled just about every place else. So if records went that far back, I might be able to trace myself back to Japheth. But Abraham came through Noah’s son, Shem. After the flood Noah awoke from a drunken stupor to cursed Canaan and blessed Shem and Japheth, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shem… and may God enlarge Japheth to dwell in the tents of Shem” (Genesis 9:26, 27). In other words, if you love God, he wants to include you in, not exclude you from, his tent. “May the sons of Japheth be many and dwell in the tents of Shem from which Abraham came.” But, as I’ve pointed out earlier in this chapter, the only way to be included is to have the same faith the father of our faith had.

You see, there is a measure of faith God gives to everyone as a gift. God has spoken his desire that everyone live, in a “voice louder than words.” Creation makes a clear and unquestionable “sound” that says God exists. And indeed, most people will not deny there’s a God somewhere; rather, they deny that he’s good and they question his integrity.

The measure of faith that has come to all men from creation’s “sound” will not save you. Men know God exists, yet they refuse to seek him; or more commonly, they worship everything but him. Therefore, the faith that could have blessed them now condemns them. Which leads us to ask them: “If you know God exists, why don’t you worship him instead of the things his hands have made? If you know he exists, why don’t you seek him?” The Apostle Paul tells us:

“There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:11-12, NKJ).

Why has every man gone his own way and done what is right in his own eyes? As the Apostle James tells us, “Even devils believe God exists, and they tremble.” Simply believing God exists will not save you anymore then it will save trembling devils. God taught Abraham the only kind of faith that will save you. If we don’t have the same kind of faith Abraham had, we, too, stand in jeopardy of being left out of the promises.

Ch 11 MultitudeMULTIPLY

Three times in the passage we’re reviewing, God refers to a “multitude”:

Vs. 2: “…multiply you exceedingly.”

Vs. 5:  God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means “High Father.” Abraham means “father of a multitude.”

Vs. 6: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful.”

As God Almighty, he is well able to multiply us into a vast multitude. From this vast multitude God will choose kings.

…I will make nations of you and kings shall come from you…and I will be their God (Genesis 17:7-8, NKJ).

In other words, this is what we can expect from God. God’s covenant with Abraham will not fail, because he made the promises to a man named Jesus who he knew would not fail to keep every point of law. God will keep his covenant to give Jesus the land, that a vast multitude of people from many nations may become one nation of true equality and become kings who rule according to God’s desires.

CH 11 King JesusKing JesusGod made covenant to give Abraham’s “seed” the land for a specific reason, a reason far greater than health and wealth in this life. God has given and is giving “whosoever will,” from any time and from any nation, the opportunity to be a citizen in a nation of kings who work by God’s side in a kingdom that will never end. Timothy calls Jesus “…the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords…” (1 Timothy 6:15). One day a new song will be sung in heaven to the Lamb. It will go like this:

You are worthy to take the scroll And to open its seals. For You were slain and have redeemed us to God by your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation and have made us kings and priests to our God. And we shall reign on the earth (Revelation 5:9-10, NKJ).

CH 10 God Almighty

faith… Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.” And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” (Genesis 16:15-17:2, NKJ)

God spoke to Abram for the fifth time after Hargar, Sarai’s servant, bore him a son. If you don’t consider Abram’s age each time God spoke to him, it appears as if God conversed with him often. But let’s review what we’ve learned before we continue.

The first time God spoke to Abram was sometime within the first 60 years of Abram’s life, while he was living in Ur. We don’t know exactly when, Abram may have been a child, like Samuel, a teenager, like Joseph, or a man like Paul. We do know that Abram did not immediately obey God. When he was 60, his family relocated to Haran. Fifteen years later, when Abram was 75, he finally obeyed God and moved to a land where God would “see” him.

So as far as we know, God spoke to Abram once in 75 years. He didn’t speak to him again until Abram obeyed him. When God saw Abram had obeyed him, he spoke to Abram a second time, revealing that the land would be given to Abram’s son, though at the time Abram had no son. Abram was 75, maybe 76 years old by then.

Long periods of time separated God’s dealings with Abram. He would not speak to Abram again for three years. God waited until Abram learned the truth about himself and became a man of peace. After Abram returned to Canaan from his foray into Egypt around the age of 78 and separated from Lot, God spoke to him a third time, “I will give the land to you and to your seed.” Prior to this God had only promised to give the land to Abram’s seed. The Apostle Paul identifies this “seed” as one seed, meaning Jesus.

Abram didn’t hear from God again for seven years. When he was 85 God spoke to him a fourth time in a vision, covenanting to give the land, not to Abram, but to Abram’s sinless “seed.” Jesus would bear humanities flesh, but only from his mother. God would be his father. This proved the only way to guarantee Abram and everyone who walked in his steps would receive and retain an inheritance. Abram did not receive the inheritance in his lifetime, and neither will we. Corruptible flesh and blood people subject to death cannot inherit the incorruptible, eternal kingdom of God.

If you think the people of Israel are God’s children entitled to all God desires to give us simply because the blood of Abram flows through their veins, listen to Jesus words:

I know that you are Abraham’s descendants but you seek to kill Me because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.  They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. (John 8:37-39, NKJ)

By Jesus definition, the only people God counts as children of Abraham are those who do the works of Abraham, those who possess the same kind of faith Abraham did.

Israel responded to Jesus saying,

“We were not born of fornication; we have one Father-God.” (John 8:41, NKJ)

Again listen to Jesus words:

“…If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil…”(John 8:42-44, NKJ)

3 CH 10 GraftingJesus’ words may not have been very diplomatic, but he spoke the truth: Abraham’s flesh descendants are not God’s children. The people, Jews or Gentiles, who possess the faith of Abraham and love Jesus, are God’s children. The descendants of Abraham through Isaac who became the nation of Israel were given the first opportunity to receive Jesus. Those who rejected him were broken off the “tree,” (the nation of Israel that God planted). Then Jesus sent his disciples to the ends of the earth looking for “replacement branches” (Romans 11).

Except for the angel’s message to Hagar regarding the descendants of Ishmael, Abram did not hear from God for at least 14 years before God spoke to him for a fifth time when Abram was 99 years of age. It’d been a long time since Abram last heard from God. Things had changed. Abram had a 13-year-old son by then, but a son merely from his own body, which wasn’t what God had promised — God had promised a son from Abram’s own body that Sarai would give birth to. Desperate to receive the things God promised, Abram and Sarai now have a 13-year-old child. But was this child God’s plan or man’s? God appeared to Abram and said,

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you and will multiply you exceedingly” (Genesis 17:1-2, NKJ).

The covenant between “Me and you” is the covenant to give the land not to Abram but to one son of Abram. God did not need Abram to produce the son thus God’s declaration, “I am Almighty God,” was a rebuke to Abram. Why do I say this? Let me explain it, in my own words.

When God said, “I am Almighty God,” he was rebuking Abram’s efforts to make God’s plan work. Sarai’s plan, that Abram should have a son by her handmaid, Hagar, and Abram’s compliance with that plan were proud acts. Did they imagine that God would start something he couldn’t finish? Abram knew and no doubt explained to Sarai, “We won’t get anything from God unless we have a son, because God’s covenant gives the land to my son, and from my son I will inherit the land. We’re getting old, and I don’t have a son, Sarai…”

Let’s look at their predicament more closely. Abram and Sarah are getting worried. When you desperately want what God has promised, it’s hard to trust God for it. Even though Sarai is 10 years younger than Abram at this time, at 75 she has already gone through menopause and is beyond any hope of ever bearing a child. While we might raise our eyebrows at Sarai’s solution, it’s a perfectly legal one according to the customs and laws of her day. Even the law God gave to Moses hundreds of year’s later states that any children born to a servant belong to the servant’s master. So if Hagar gives birth to a child, even if Abram isn’t the father, the child belonged to Abram because Hagar belonged to Abram. Abram’s already pointed out to God that he has an heir, Eliezer of Damascus, that hasn’t come from his own body to give his wealth to and complained to God about it. But God only assured Abram that he would have an heir that will come from his own body.

By now, Sarai is riddled with guilt that it’s her fault Abram won’t have a son to inherit the promises of God from.  So she’s come up with the only reasonable solution. She is an old woman who probably doesn’t care about the “hows” anymore. She decided, “If I can’t give Abram a son, why should I stop someone else from giving him a son?” She brings her servant girl, Hagar, to the bedroom and leaves. Nine months later Abram rejoices to have a son at last. But God isn’t impressed, nor is he concerned.

Thirteen years after Ishmael is born, when Abram is 99, God communicated to Abram that God is all mighty, or all sufficient. He doesn’t need man’s help to fulfill his plan. As Jesus later declared God could raise up children to Abraham from the stones (Luke 3:8). It’s not the children we produce that fulfill God’s purposes; it’s the children God produces.

At this visitation God clearly communicated the only way Abram can be blameless or perfect is to walk in God’s ways. Walk before me,” God says, “and be blameless” God’s ways are true justice, and only justice makes you infallible. Justice makes you perfect. Justice makes you blameless. God is infallible because he always does what is right. He has never wronged anybody. He has never broken one of his own laws to obtain what he desires. God’s people can only be infallible or perfect when no one can prove a claim of wrongdoing against us!

Abram and Sarai’s solution to God’s plan was Ishmael, the son they produced. But God couldn’t fulfill the plan through Ishmael any more than he could ultimately fulfill the plan through Isaac. Isaac didn’t possess the land in his lifetime, either. In God’s eyes, Ishmael and Isaac had equal standing: Both were sinners who could not save themselves from death. We are all sinners who break laws. God cannot justly give the blessings of the covenant to those who break covenants. Abram was thinking “immediate son”; God had his mind on a son who would be born hundreds of years after the flesh descendants of Abram failed to keep their end of the covenant of law. Abram would not fully understand the faith God was teaching him until he was 133 years old.

5 CH 10 shaddayNow let me explain why telling Abram, “I am God Almighty,” was a rebuke for Abram’s and Sarai’s production of Ishmael. “Almighty” in the Hebrew is the word shadday. Most Bible reference works say it means “almighty.” But that doesn’t give us full understanding of the word. Vine’s Expository Dictionary helps even less. Vine’s says, “The earliest Old Testament appearance of the appellation as a title of deity (God almighty) is in Gen 17:1 where God identifies himself in this way to Abraham.” Unfortunately the name is not explained in any manner, and even the directions “walk before me” and “be thou perfect” throw no light on the meaning of shadday. Scholars have attempted to understand the word relating it to the Akkadian Shadu (mountain) as though God had either revealed his mighty power in association with mountain phenomena such as volcanic eruptions or that he was regarded strong and immutable like the everlasting hills of the blessing of Jacob. Certainly the associating of deity with mountains was an important part of Mesopotamian religion.”

But we’re not dealing with some Mesopotamian religion. Nor do I believe shadday has much if anything to do with any mountain. Several other commentators said shadday means, “I am God all-sufficient.” But what exactly did shadday mean to Abram? How did Abram understand the words, “I am God Almighty” or “I am God all-sufficient”?

First of all, I must respectfully disagree with Vines that in it’s context shadday (or Almighty) is not explained in any way and that “walk before me” and “be perfect” shed no light on its meaning. “Almighty” is used about 60 times in Scripture, and each time applied to God only. Altogether El Shaddai, which means God Almighty, occurs eight times in the Old Testament. Equivalent expressions appear about 10 times in the New Testament. If you look at how the name “God Almighty” is invoked — before God revealed himself by a new name to Moses – you will find that Abram understood what Almighty meant… at least what it meant to him personally.

6 CH 10 bright lightBefore God spoke to Moses, saying,  “…I am the Lord, I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord (or Jehovah) I was not known to them (Exodus 6:2-3), God Almighty is used six times, and always in the same context – that of having many children, being fruitful and multiplying, or becoming a vast multitude.

After God revealed himself to Abram as God Almighty, Abram’s son Isaac was the next to use the name God Almighty, saying,

May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may be an assembly (or multitude) of peoples… (Genesis 28:3, NKJ)

The third time we see God Almighty used, God is speaking to Jacob, Isaac’s son, saying,

   …I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you and kings shall come from your body (Genesis 35:11, NKJ).

The fourth time the name God Almighty is invoked is by Jacob, to comfort himself. As far as Jacob knows, Joseph is dead. In the midst of a famine, Jacob’s sons go to Egypt for food, and Simeon is not allowed to return. Jacob does not know if he will never see his son, Simeon, again. If Jacob’s other sons don’t return to Egypt, the entire family will die for lack of food. But they can’t return without Benjamin!

Jacob can’t bear the thought of losing Benjamin, too. His world is crashing down around him. Where is God’s promise in all this? God promised Abram and personally promised Jacob that they would become a company of nations, a vast multitude. Why is the opposite happening now? Why does Jacob keep losing his children? He may have wondered how God would make them a great multitude of people when he was losing his sons. Joseph was no more, Simeon was gone, and now Jacob was at risk of losing Benjamin, too. Ah, but then Jacob remembered what Daddy taught him and what God himself confirmed. “God is Almighty,” Jacob declares when he sends his sons, including Benjamin, to Egypt:

And may God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved, I am bereaved!” (Genesis 43:14, NKJ)

Jacob finally understood what his father and grandfather understood. It’s not the children we produce that fulfill God’s plan. It’s the children God produces. He says, “If I am bereaved of all my children, it does not matter, because God is Almighty!” When Jacob lets go of the fear that he will lose the promised blessing of becoming a great multitude, he finds out he hasn’t lost any of his children. They’re all safe and doing well. In fact, the son he thought died years ago is ruling the nation of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

8 CH 10 12 sonsThe next time the name God Almighty was invoked, Jacob was speaking to his son, Joseph: “God Almighty appeared to me and said he will make us a multitude of people and give the land to our descendants/seed.” (Genesis 48) Then Jacob claims Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own. Any children Joseph has after Ephraim and Manasseh will belong to Joseph; but these two children, a mix of Hebrew and Gentile blood, will become recognized tribes in Israel.

Jacob gave the blessing of the firstborn to Ephraim rather than Manasseh. When Joseph objects Jacob said, “I know what I’m doing. Manasseh will be great, but Ephraim will be greater. His descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”

The sixth and last time we see God Almighty used is when Jacob speaks prophetically about each of his sons. When he comes to Joseph he says:

“By the God of your father who will help you and by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessings of my ancestors” (Genesis 49:25-26, NKJ).

Jacob was speaking prophetically that more sons will come into the kingdom of God through Joseph and Ephraim than will come through himself and his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac.

Do you see it now? When God said to Abram, “I am Almighty God,” he made it clear to Abram, “I, God, will do the multiplying!” God knew what Sarai and Abram had done, but their plan didn’t cancel or change his plan. It doesn’t matter what we do; God’s plan will not fail. God made it clear that the only way for Abram to be blameless and receive anything from God was through the son God would give him — a son born by the will of God, not the will of man. Ishmael was born of the flesh, not the Spirit, and through his descendants, the Arab nations, he has remained a problem to the children of Abram descended through Isaac from that day to this.

God didn’t curse Ishmael because he was Abram’s and Sarai’s idea. God doesn’t want to curse or exclude anyone. God blessed Ishmael by giving him the same thing he gave Isaac and Jacob: Ishmael had 12 sons who became 12 princes of nations, just as Jacob’s 12 sons became 12 princes of a great nation. It didn’t matter how many sons Abram had, because God’s mind was on his son, Jesus, a spiritual son, from the very beginning of God’s dealings with Abram.

9 CH 10 large congregationIt didn’t matter how many children Abram produced. He had more sons than Ishmael and Isaac before he died. After Sarai died, Abram married Keturah, and she bore him six more sons, not to mention the unnamed sons by concubines that Abram had and gave gifts to before he sent them to the east country. Abram had many children before he died, in payment for the many years he’d lived without a son of his own in order to teach all men how to have faith in God.

Abram couldn’t produce a blameless child; only God can do that, by a work of the Spirit. Jesus told Abram’s flesh descendants who did not believe in him, “Your father is the devil.” Why? Because it’s not the children we produce that are blessed; it’s the children God produces.

Is there a lesson for us? Yes! If we want to see our churches full, we must abandon our own plans and submit to God’s way of doing things, because all of our human efforts to produce children for God will not produce children of God. Jesus, speaking to the religious leaders of his day, said,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15, NKJ).

All man’s efforts at producing children for God are worthless. Only the Spirit of God can multiply us into a vast multitude, because only God is Almighty!

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