God Pleasing Faith
God 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.
Matthew 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.
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.
“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!
Does 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)
Stephen 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.
For 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).
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!
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).
Abraham 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.
The 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.
“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.
In 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”.
- Is it too hard for God to gather his erring children from all the countries where He has driven them in his anger?
- Is it too hard for God to bring us home again?
- Is it too hard for God to cause us to dwell safely free from persecution and abuse?
- Is it too hard for God to make us his people and to be our God?
- 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?
- Is it too hard for God to make an everlasting covenant with us?
- Is it too hard for God to never turn away from doing good to us and for us?
- Is it too hard for God to put his fear in our hearts so we will not depart from him?
- Is it too hard for God to rejoice over us to do us good?
- Is it too hard for God to plant us in a land he loves with all His heart and with all His soul?
- Is it too hard for God to bring on us all the good that he has promised us?
- 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”.
- It’s not too hard for God to bring health and healing.
- It’s not too hard for God to heal and reveal the abundance of peace and truth.”
- It’s not too hard for God to cause the captives to return and rebuild the places destroyed by their sin.
- It’s not too hard for God to cleanse iniquity by which we have sinned against God.
- 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:
“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)
“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.”
“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.”
God 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).
Well, 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)
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!
And 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 the 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.
Circumcision 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).
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 saying, “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 15:2, 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.
When 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”.
“…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.”
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.
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.
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.
God 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).
… 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)
Jesus’ 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.
Now 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.
Before 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.
The 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.
It 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!
Most would agree with the familiar saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” If you really want to know the truth about someone, you need to consider what they DO, not just what they SAY! And I think we’d also agree that it’s foolish to put faith in someone you don’t know.
Before we learn how faith comes to us, and explore further how faith came to Abram, who became the Father of faith, let me make something very clear: I love the written and at times the preached word of God. Before you’ve finished reading the next few pages, you may be tempted to think I am speaking against the written and / or preached word of God. I am NOT. The written word of God gives us truth. The preached word confirms truth, but only if the vessel it’s pouring from is clean.
So, how does faith come? Most Christians immediately quote Romans 10:17: “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” I absolutely agree with that verse! But what did Paul mean when he wrote those words? Was Paul writing in that passage about the written and preached word of God? Did Paul mean reading the word of God enough or even hearing the preached word of God enough, will in some way impart great faith? That thought certainly sells lots of Bibles and preaching tapes, but I have some doubts as to its accuracy.
I think you know as well as I do that many people who have read the word of God and heard the preached word do not have faith in God; and I emphasize those two words, “in God,” for good reason. I have read the written word of God and listened to it preached since 1973. Shouldn’t I be some sort of “Super Christian” by now?
The truth is I still struggle, in my faith and my walk with the Lord. Sometimes believing God’s word and walking with him seem more like a dream than a reality — too good to be true. I read it. I hear it. It sounds so good, but how do I know it’s really true? Both the written word and the preached word have flowed to humanity through flawed human vessels. “Let God be true and every man a liar,” the Bible declares; so how do I know I can trust what mere men say and write?
I’ll tell you how. By confirming what you read and hear preached with the voice of God that imparts faith. What Bible did Abraham read? Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible more than 400 years after Abraham died. The first English version like we use today of the entire Bible was published in the 1300’s by John Wycliffe — and that would be more than 2,000 years after Abraham died. I think it’s safe to say that the written word of God had no part in producing faith Abram, the Father of our Faith. Reading a Bible does not guarantee that you acquire faith in God — the key words being in God.
Shortly after my salvation, I won a painting at a church function depicting a man bent over, dripping with sweat, carrying a huge sack labeled “burdens” on his back. The man walked down a road towards Jesus, whose arms were outstretched to receive him. The message of the painting was clear: if you come to Jesus, he will take and bear your burdens for you.
I was showing the painting to my mother when my Dad joined us. My Dad observed the painting for a moment then he placed his arm down the middle of the canvas blocking Jesus from view. And then, pointing to the man about to be crushed under the burdens of life, he said, “This is all God does for you.” I’d heard my Dad talk of having read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. He even talked about attending church and a minister he admired. Yet my Dad lived his life as an alcoholic who believed till the day he died that God made life a harsh burden. If faith comes by reading the Bible and listening to preaching, why didn’t faith come to my Dad? Is it possible he lacked faith because he didn’t understand what he read? Yes. But is it fair to be condemned by God because you didn’t understand the scriptures you read?
Here’s another question: Will the preached word impart faith in God if the written word does not? Sometimes, maybe; but in truth, not always. A certain lady was very good to me when I was a young Christian. The God she taught me about was a tyrant who “burdened” her and her family with one disease after another. Sadly, it was the preached word that taught my friend “God makes you sick so he can be glorified.” I can’t help but wonder why she believed that a loving, good God could be so bad. If I deliberately exposed my children to disease so they could learn some lessons, child welfare authorities would declare me an unfit mother and take my children away from me. This lady read the word and listened to preaching all her life — in fact, she was a pastor’s wife.
You may find my next statement shocking. I see little difference between my friend, my Dad and devils. They all believe God exists. My Dad believed God exists, but rejected him because he believed God “made life hard.” My friend believed God existed, and she did her best to serve him even though she, too, believed God made life hard. And, as the Apostle James tells us, devils also believe God exists – and they tremble in fear of him, knowing that one day God will make their life hard. On the surface, my Dad and my friend appeared to have nothing in common. They lived very different lifestyles. But they did have one thing in common: neither one of them had faith in God. To both of them, God was a tyrant who made his creation miserable.
Until you understand how God has been good to us, in a world that’s as bad as the one we live in, your faith will be anemic. Indeed, it’s hard to have faith in someone you can’t trust to be fair. How can you have faith in someone whom you perceive is set on making your life miserable, and who gives you no recourse but to endure it “for his glory?” Which brings up another thorny issue: What about all the people who’ve never heard or read the word? Will God unjustly throw them in hell for eternity simply because they never read a scripture or heard the gospel preached? Do we worship a God — or some kind of devil?
I do not believe God is a tyrant, nor do I believe God is cruel and unjust. Let me propose to you that the only voice you can truly trust is the voice of God’s witness. You’ll find good and bad people in every profession, including the ministry. Human beings, even ministers are not completely reliable witnesses. Next, let me also propose that faith has come to everyone in a language we can understand because faith comes to every man the same way it came to Abram!
The Apostle Paul wrote, “there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). So, to understand God’s ways, you must learn to think in the context that he treats us with equality, not only in the times we live in, but with equality that spans yesterday, today and tomorrow.
He (God) took him (Abram) outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he (God) said to him, (Abram) “So shall your offspring (descendants or seed or Jesus) be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he (God) credited it to him (Abram) as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6, NIV)
God Invited Abram to go outside and asked him to look up at the stars and challenged him to count them. Then God assured Abraham that the offspring of Abram’s seed (Jesus) would be as many as the stars in the sky.
Abraham “…believed in Yahweh, and he credited HER to him righteousness”(Hebrew-English Interlinear).
The Interlinear’s Hebrew wording is most intriguing. Did you catch that gender change? He, God credited “HER” to, him, Abram. Who is this “HER,” or “it,” as some translations read? In truth, “her” is a more revealing word than “it.” Abram’s not a “her”; he’s a “him”. Likewise, God is always seen in Scripture as being a “him”, not a “her”. God is the Father; Jesus is the son. God couldn’t be “her,” could he, and at the same time be a “him,” too. So who is this “her” that was credited to him (Abram) when he believed in Yahweh (God)?
Here’s a clue: The New Jerusalem and (Godly) wisdom are always characterized by scripture as female. In Revelation, the New Jerusalem is the “bride.” Proverbs says, “Wisdom raises her voice in the streets.” She speaks her words. If you don’t listen to her, one day it will be too late. You will call out to God, but he won’t answer. As we learned in “What Is Faith?”, Faith is wisdom! Faith is the sum of all the good reasons we have to believe God can and will keep his word to us.
The word “righteousness” is a translation of the Hebrew nouns tesedeq and tesedaqah. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, these are difficult words to translate and understand. Their meaning can be sensed based on older translations in which righteousness means “the legal relationship of humans… transferred to God in an absolute sense as the lawgiver with perfect justice.” To put it in plain English, God is responsible to keep things legal between God and his creation. The burden of the law is on God’s shoulders, not yours — If you belong to Jesus.
God defines righteousness in Leviticus 19:15 as not respecting the person of the poor, nor honoring the person of the mighty. Righteousness is a legal matter, not a behavioral matter. Jesus said, “I have come to fulfill the law.” Then he said, anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19, NIV)
We can break the law given to Moses that Jesus fulfilled, and teach others to break it without losing our place in heaven because righteousness is a legal, not a behavioral matter. Our behavior will give us a lesser place in God’s kingdom, but not necessarily keep us out of that kingdom (depending on how bad our behavior is). When some behavior, like theft, adultery and drunkenness, is so chronic as to define our whole identity as persons, that behavior will keep us out of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus goes on to say, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20, NIV).
The Pharisees and teachers of the law did their best to conduct their behavior according to the laws God gave to Moses. Jesus was born into a society where people (at least, the “good Jews”) did their best to obey the law given to Moses. So I can’t help but wonder why Jesus encountered so many devils in this law abiding society.
What the Pharisees and teachers of the law did was right or a form of righteousness because as Jesus said, “Whoever practices and teaches the commands given to Moses will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” BUT Jesus also made it clear that good behavior alone is not enough to gain citizenship in the kingdom. The righteousness that faith imparts surpasses the good behavior the teachers of Jesus day taught, and the teachers of our day teach.
To guarantee that everyone who wants to be saved can be saved, God must give everyone the same opportunity to acquire faith irrespective of time and place, so he gave us a witness we can trust that has existed from creation. “No person has been alive since God created the earth” you scoff? God has. There are more ways to speak than words.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit added heavenly languages to the many diverse earthly languages by which we communicate. Hearing a language spoken means nothing if it’s not understood. The members of the Corinthian Church all spoke in tongues at the same time, and nobody knew what was being said. Their simultaneous speaking created confusion instead of order. Yet, Paul never discouraged them from speaking in tongues; he merely pointed out if you are speaking a language that is not understood your speaking is in vain.
“Even things without life, whether flute or harp when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” Paul also said, “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices or languages in the world, and none of them is without significance” (1 Corinthians 14:7-8, 10-11, NKJ).
There are many voices in the world, and all of them have importance, meaning or significance. Even inanimate objects can communicate. The trumpet doesn’t say with spoken words, “Get ready for battle!” Yet everybody in the camp knows what it’s sound means.
In Moses’ day, the world didn’t have television, telephones, fax machines and E-mail. Moses was able to communicate with a vast multitude with a trumpet. God commanded him to make two of them (Numbers 2:10). Then God taught Moses how to communicate with the multitude he led out of Egypt. If the trumpeters use both trumpets everybody comes; if one trumpet is used only the princes come, etc. etc.; It’s easier to communicate to a vast multitude with a loud sound than with the spoken or written word.
There is a reason I am stressing this point. The existence of hell cannot be justified unless every person, regardless of the language he speaks and the technology of his day, has the same opportunity to receive faith in God. How did God guarantee everyone would have the same opportunity? How can did God communicate equally to a vast multitude over a long period of time, when languages and forms of communication are constantly changing? How? With a sound louder than words — the voice of HIS ACTIONS!!! From God’s words, we get the truth. From his actions, faith comes for us to believe he speaks the truth. Faith is available to every person in a language they can understand, no matter what language they speak, no matter what culture they adhere to, no matter what technology is available, no matter what generation they lived in because faith comes to everyone the same way it came to Abram.
God told Abram, “Look up at the heavens.” He directed Abram’s attention to creation so Abram could hear a “voice” that would give him faith in God — the same voice from which every man on earth can receive faith. It is the only way it can be done without being partial to a specific time or specific people. Abram obtained faith the same way every man who has ever lived on this planet can get faith.
Now, don’t think this means if God appeared and spoke to me as he did Abram, I would have faith like Abram’s. But also, don’t think for one minute that God gave Abram something he hasn’t given you. It wouldn’t be righteous of him to have done that. Abram struggled to believe the things God said to him. Abram acquired faith when he was outside looking at the stars listening to a voice louder than words.
Let’s consider a much misunderstood chapter in Romans.
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace who bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel for Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our report? So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world. (Romans 10:14-18, NKJ)
You can’t skip verse 16 or stop at verse 17 and understand what Paul is saying!!! This chapter is a condemnation of the nation of Israel for hearing the truth and refusing to obey. If you don’t consider verse 16, it sounds like people can’t have faith in God unless someone is sent to preach to them. “Well, why can’t they,” you may be saying, “since verse 17 clearly states ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’”
I know what you may be thinking: “We just read, ‘How shall they hear without a preacher and how shall they preach unless they are sent?’” Might I suggest to you that God is a preacher who sent himself? God speaks through ministers, but he does not need us to make a statement. It is his sheer grace to allow men and women, who can barely be trusted, to join him in proclaiming the good news.
I’m not arguing against sending people out to preach the gospel. God sent many to preach the gospel in Israel, yet only a very small remnant believed it. I am proving that God shows no partiality and gives everyone the same opportunities to receive faith. That is why faith we are “saved by faith”.
Look at the word “BUT” that starts Romans 10:16: “BUT they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord who has believed our report?” (Emphasis added). Paul is saying that God has sent preachers as he continues to do to this day. They were men with beauty because they preached peace with God and told of good things to come yet few believed them. The real question is: WHY HAVE NOT ALL WHO HEARD THESE PREACHERS OBEYED?
Romans 10:17 is the beginning of a new thought, not connected with people coming to preach the gospel. Paul came to the conclusion that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Then Paul asked the reader a question: Have they not all heard? And what was Paul’s answer?
“YES, INDEED they’ve all heard!!!!”
“Ah,” you think, “Paul meant everybody in Israel has heard. No. Paul declared, “everyone has heard!”
All the earth to the ends of the world has heard “their” sound, “their” words.
The question that needs to be answered is this. Who is making this sound that goes out to all the earth even to the ends of the world, condemning everyone who fails to have faith IN GOD? Everybody – past, present and future — has been given the same opportunity to receive faith in God. Paul was quoting from Psalm 19. Let’s see if we can find out who is making this faith-giving sound that all the earth, even to the ends of the world, has heard:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth. And their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19:1-4, NKJ)
Even things without life can speak when they’re in the hands of one who possesses life. Creation is God’s trumpet calling every man to wake up. As a man picks up a trumpet to make a sound every man understands, even so creation is in God’s hand, making a clear and distinct sound heard by every man in his own language. Can you hear what God is saying in a voice louder than words? If you can hear this voice, you will have faith in God. If you can’t, listen to Paul clarify what the voice is saying as he tears his clothes and runs in among the multitude of Lycaonian’s who were preparing to worship less than God:
…Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, (God has not left himself without a reliable witness that we can trust. Look carefully now. Who is God’s witness?) in that he (God) did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:15-17, NKJ).
God’s witness that God is good is God himself. Actions speak louder than words, so listen to the voice of his actions. Even though humanity forsook God to walk in their own ways, he has never turned off the sun. He’s never stopped the rain from falling. Never forbid the earth from producing the food we need to live. God does not need the apples that fall off the apple tree. The apple tree does not need the apple it produces. Why does the tree produce what it doesn’t need — especially when it doesn’t even want to?
According to Romans 8, humanity makes creation sick. Creation has been subjected to vanity by God. Creation is forced to produce what sinful men need to live just so they can die. How vain is that! Creation can’t wait to be delivered from the bondage of man’s corruption. Creation groans and labors with birth pains. She can hardly wait to give birth to the true sons of God whose bodies sleep within her. One day, everyone will have the same birthday. Resurrection day, for if there is no resurrection, our faith is vain!
Can any of us deny it? Did we put food on the earth? Did we hang the sun in the sky? Do we make the rain fall? Did we supply things on earth that we need to live here? I know I didn’t; it was all here when I got here. It was all here before we were born and will be here when we’re gone. Who put what I needed to live in my reach but someone good. And all that good could have only come from someone who wants me to live.
Jesus taught us not to worry about our lives. God has been feeding mankind from the creation of Adam and Eve, with little thanks from us. He could barely save any of us in Noah’s day. Humanity had become so violent only one drunk, and his family survived. Most of humanity has no time for God, or they worship everything but him. Yet, God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” because it is right to treat people with equality (Matthew 5:45, NKJ). God is good to everyone because God is for everyone.
The gospel does not prove God exists or that he is good. God is his own witness; he makes his existence and goodness evident by a sound louder than words that everyone has been able to hear and understand from the creation of Adam to this day. The gospel is an announcement that God no longer allows us to walk in their own ways. It is time to repent — you are without excuse! Faith has come to all men. You can hear the trumpet blowing wisdom in the streets. Every man has heard the voice of God in his own language, from God himself.
Why have we not ALL obeyed? How can we sleep when the trumpet has been blowing so loud for so long? Why have you pulled the pillow over your head trying to drown out the trumpet voice of God? I’ll tell you one reason why! “The lazy man says, There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!” (Proverbs 22:13). Why do we believe the lion of the tribe of Judah will slay us in the streets, when he has never withheld the things we need to live?
God’s words are louder than your words. Fear is unjustified, and we know it because we have all heard. We all know. God is good. God is for us. God wants us to live. If we are too lazy to get up and fight the good fight of faith one day we will regret it,
Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep so shall thy poverty come as a robber… (Proverbs 24:33-34, NAS)
…for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2, NIV)
“Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Revelation 16:15, NIV)
But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, NIV)
One of these days the “lazy people” will roll over in bed, scratch, open one eye and bolt upright in bed, rubbing both eyes in disbelief, wondering where everything went. They believed the voice of men crying, “Peace and safety” when humanity deserved condemnation. Suddenly destruction came, and they were not prepared. Whom will they have to blame but themselves? To them, God will say, “Faith came in a voice louder than words, but you did not obey me!” And in the words of the Apostle Paul they will indeed be “without excuse”. (Romans 2:1)
According to the Reese Chronological Bible, God appeared to Abram in 1882 B.C., making Abram about 85 years old at the time. Abram asked a valid question about God’s earlier assurance that Abram would be “paid” for his faithfulness. It’s a question any normal man or woman would wonder about: “WHAT WILL YOU GIVE ME?” The key word here is “ME”! Abram is already rich in livestock, silver and gold (Genesis 13:2). In fact, he and Lot were so rich they couldn’t continue living together went their separate ways. So what does Abram care about getting more money? As far as Abram knows, his time on earth will soon end, and Sarah has yet to bear him a child.
Abram doesn’t want more things; he wants someone to leave his things to. Abram knows what you and I know. One day, we will die. What good is all the stuff we have acquired if we can’t leave it to someone we love. It had been ten years since Abram arrived in Canaan, and God has not kept his word to give him a son through Sarai. Therefore, Abram complained to God, “The only heir I have is a servant I picked up in Damascus. I don’t want to leave the fruits of my labor to a servant; I want to leave my labor to a son. So what will you give me, God? Will you give me a son?”
All Abram wanted was a son to leave an inheritance to — and that, is the same thing God wants, for Abram and for us. Many Christians think the only thing God desires is to give us is better lives today. “Bible teachers” teach people how to “use their faith” to get healed and their needs met, but we don’t teach people how to use their faith to obtain an inheritance that can never be corrupted.
According to the Apostle Paul, if there is no resurrection of the dead, our faith is vain. Why did Jesus need to die and rise again if ALL God desires to do is satisfy your temporal earthly needs? He could have done that without Jesus sacrificing his life. The Old Testament records miracles of healing and provision accomplished before Jesus were born, so why is the resurrection so important that our faith is vain without it?
God can be difficult to understand because there is no selfishness in him and he thinks big. We are by nature selfish, and we tend to think small. While Abram was asking God for one son to leave his wealth to, God was thinking about many sons. Let’s examine God’s response:
And behold, the word of the Lord came to him [Abram], saying, “This one [Eliezer of Damascus] shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir. Then He [God] brought him [Abram] outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them. And He said to him, “So shall your seed [descendants] be” (Genesis 15:4-5, NKJ).
God told Abram, “Eliezer will not be your heir. A son from your own body will be your heir.” Then God took Abram outside for a bigger picture and promised to make his seed as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Astronomers estimate that more than 100 million stars occupy the heavens. God had more on his mind than Isaac when he promised Abram that his sons would be “more numerous than the stars of heaven.” Abram’s flesh descendants have never been so numerous they could not be counted.
The Apostle Paul hangs his argument that salvation cannot be earned but is received through faith on the next verse:
God intended to fulfill his promise to give Abram more descendants than he could count by making Abram the “Father of our faith.” Abram’s faith in God marked him as a righteous man. Abram had his mind on one son to leave his things to when he dies. God has his mind on many sons to give God’s “things” to when they live.
Consider Abram’s original question: “WHAT WILL YOU GIVE ME? ME, God! ME, ME,ME …What will you give ME!” God hasn’t answered Abram’s question yet. And in truth, God’s discourse about the son and the many descendants wasn’t a direct answer to Abram’s question!
In God’s mind, the “son” or the “seed” of promise is Jesus, not Isaac. Jesus did not “belong” to Abram, nor do the descendants on God’s mind belong to Abram because, “…ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:23, KJV). Jesus belongs to God, and we, including Abram, belong to Jesus. If you’re following what’s on God’s mind here, it should be clear that God hasn’t answered Abram’s query, “What will you give ME?” Abram brought up the problem of who would inherit his goods, so God dealt with that issue before he answered Abram’s question. The descendants that will inherit the fulfillment of God’s promises come through Abram’s one seed given to everyone through divine intervention. Just as God intervened in the life of Abram and Sarai to do the impossible — give them Isaac — God also intervened to do the impossible when he gave the world Jesus, who had an earthly mother but not an earthly father.
God kept his part of a covenant with Abram’s flesh descendants through Isaac’s son Jacob. Jacob’s twelve sons became the nation of Israel. They broke the covenant of law and were cursed, but God made a way out before the curse of the law came upon them. Abraham’s flesh descendants receive the blessings of God the same way the Gentiles do: Confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead. Israel looked forward to a prophet who would come. The prophet was Jesus, but they refused to accept a humble man who made himself a sacrifice. Today, we look back to a prophet who obeyed God, and now sits at the right hand of God.
Abram had one reason to believe God told him the truth – the justice in God’s plan. Abram hoped against hope to obtain the fulfillment of the promises God had made. In Abraham’s lifetime, we read of no miracles, save of Sarah having a baby. We read of no prophets screaming “Judgment!” Abram took God at his word based on the miracle of creation, so common and abundant that it’s taken for granted by most people to this day. In other words, Abram heard a “voice” louder than spoken words – the voice of God’s actions.
In verse 7, God finally answered Abram’s question, “What will you give ME?”
Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it” (Genesis 15:7, NKJ).
From the very beginning of God’s dealings with Abram, God planned to give Abram some land. He has the same thing in mind for you. God said to Abram, “I brought you out of Ur to give you this land.” Abram was not looking for a son when he left Ur. He was looking for a “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10, NIV). The issue of barren Sarai having a son didn’t arise until Abram arrived in Canaan and saw the land. Abram didn’t ask God for a son. The son was God’s idea. God’s intent from the very beginning was to give Abram the land, BUT… the only way to possess the land was though a son.
Land! Here we go again! Abram is 85 years old. Except for his trip to Egypt, he had been living in the God promised to give him for 10 years, but not one square inch belongs to him yet. He did buy a portion of land later to bury his dead. But at the time of this conversation with God, he owns a lot of livestock, silver and gold, but no land. He will have a son, and a lot of descendants through this son, but Abram doesn’t own the son or the descendants that God had on his mind. The son God had in mind belongs to God, and the descendants, including Abram belong to the Son. The only thing Abram will possess is some land, which stirs up the next logical question:
“But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” (Genesis 15:8, NIV)
“How do I know I will inherit any of this land, God?” Under the circumstances that’s a reasonable question, don’t you think? None of Abram’s family owns any of the land God has promised to him. His father and brother Haran died without ever setting foot in the promised land. He has a brother, Nahor, living in the city of Haran, but Nahor doesn’t own any of the promised land. Lot’s fortune had been devastated by war. What reason did Abram have to believe that he will ever inherit any of the land? And from whom would he inherit it?
Think about it. God had been dealing with Abram for more than 25 years now, and Abram possesses nothing but promises. He did not have anything more than Christians possess today – faith and hope that God will fulfill his promises. If we possessed the things God promises, we’d have no need for faith and hope. If you think you can or should have it all now, the Apostle Paul would ask you a question: “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24)
You don’t need to hope for what you already possess. You don’t need faith to believe what you hope for will come true when you possess what you hoped for. Up to now Abram has received nothing from God except temporary wealth. Livestock, silver and gold mean nothing when we die. That’s one of the reasons Abram was concerned about having an heir — he knew what we all know. One day I will die.
God’s answer to Abram indicated the necessity for eternal life. To obtain the fulfillment of the promises God made, Abram must come back from the dead, for he will only inherit the land through someone who hasn’t been born yet! You need a body to live on the earth. That’s the way God planned it from the beginning, and he hasn’t changed his mind. To the contrary, Jesus paid a terrible price so God can legally reunite you with your body. God doesn’t have a problem giving us wealth. The problem is keeping us alive to enjoy that wealth.
God responded to Abram’s question — “how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” – by instructing Abram to offer a sacrifice. No doubt, there’s more here than I’m qualified to teach you; I’m not exhaustively versed in sacrifices and all of what they represent symbolically. I will not attempt to teach you something I don’t understand. All I’ll say about Genesis 15:9-11 is that a sacrifice will guarantee that you won’t lose your inheritance through death.
Abraham made the sacrifice and spent the rest of the day driving away scavengers who wanted to devour the animals and birds that he used. When the sun set, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and God spoke to him again:
…Know certainly that your seed [descendants] will be strangers in a land that is not theirs and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace. You shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete (Genesis 15:13-16, NKJ).
God gave Abram a basic outline that applied to the kingdom his flesh descendants became, which also created a shadow of things to come (Colossians 2:17). God told Abram three things about the kingdom:
First, they would live as strangers and foreigners in a land “not theirs.” Abram and his children lived as strangers and foreigners until God rescued the children of Jacob from Egypt. This is the same thing God’s people are doing today. The New Testament says we are strangers and foreigners here, just passing through. Second, God’s people would be afflicted. This has always been true of the kingdom’s citizens, especially when deliverance draws near. Before Moses was born, Egypt began to afflict God’s people. To this day, nations afflict or persecute the Christians who live among them. Third, the nation in which Abram’s descendants live would be judged by God.” Egypt was severely judged by God for abusing his people as all the nations that afflict God’s people will be judged for doing so. The seas and rivers will run red with blood during the great tribulation. An angel declared this judgment by God righteous, “for they have shed the blood of saints and prophets; therefore God gave them blood to drink for it is their just due.” (Revelation 16:6)
Do you want to know where the spiritual kingdom is today? We are living as strangers and foreigners in a land not ours. Throughout the world, some of our brethren are being afflicted. We even have a measure of it in this country, by people who want to strip the very mention of God from all of public life. We don’t know how long we will continue to live as strangers and foreigners. God gave Abram some time frames that were for the kingdom that came through Isaac. Don’t try to apply those to the spiritual kingdom that comes through Jesus. Jesus said, “It’s not for us to know the times and seasons God has placed in his own power.”
After explaining to Abram what would happen to his descendants, God finally answered Abram’s question: ” Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” Here’s the answer — how Abram knows he will inherit the land: “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates…” (Gen. 15:18, KJV). Some translations say “descendants.” The KJV says “seed.” The original Hebrew reads: “On the day that he made Yahweh with Abram covenant to say to descendant of you I give the land this from river of Egypt to the river the great river of Euphrates.” In other words, as the Apostle Paul points out, God made a covenant to give the land not to Abram but to Abram’s seed, one descendant. Here’s how the Apostle to the Gentiles understood it:
Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say And to seeds as of many, but as of one, and to your Seed, who is Christ. And this I say that the law which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law it is no longer of promise but God gave it to Abraham by promise (Galatians 3:16-18, NKJ).
God guaranteed that Abram would inherit the land by making a covenant to give the land, not to Abram, but to the only seed of Abram whom God knew would be sinless. God himself would come in human flesh and do what no other man was or is able to do. Keep a conditional covenant with God without failure. God cannot bless sin and be justified in what he is doing. If he blessed one sinful man, than he must bless all sinful men because justice demands impartial judgments. God used the principle of equality to exclude everyone, so he could use the same principle of equality to include everyone if they want to be included.
Yes, Abram was chosen by God, but that did not give Abram an unfair advantage. It has always been God’s desire to bless everyone. It has always been the desire of God’s heart that none would perish (2 Peter 3:9). Abram’s guarantee is my guarantee — if I will do what Abram did — live by faith and die in faith. If I believe in the one, Jesus, who obtained God’s promised blessings by living a sinless life Jesus will share that inheritance with me. Jesus is the only one to whom God can give the land without obligating himself to bless wicked men who hate him. God is gracious, but he is not dumb.
Abram never saw or possessed the kingdom the children of Jacob became. If you look at God’s plan only from the natural man’s point of view, you can rightly conclude that Abram was a fool. All he received from God in his lifetime on earth was one son by Sarah and some unfulfilled promises.
Was Abram a fool, or do God’s dealings with Abram and the Gentiles justify that God is whom he says he is — the creator who has no beginning or end, the same yesterday, today and forever? What reason do we have to be angry with God when his dealings with humanity prove he’s fair and shows no bias? God is known as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. Jesus used that title of God to prove to the Sadducees that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, thereby proving that the dead will rise.
Abram and everyone who trusted in the seed, or prophet to come, are still living somewhere with God, waiting for the day when they will return to take possession of the promised inheritance, the “land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” God has given that land to Jesus, and from that land Jesus will rule the world. That, my friend, is heaven’s future address, because heaven is wherever God is!
One day, Jesus will return to establish a nation of true equality on the land between the rivers, a nation to rule all nations, a nation with foundations that can never be moved. A nation that will heal the nations, a nation in which anything good that we can imagine will be possible. A light to all nations, a home of our own, with a government that will never corrupt. A nation that will never call what is so obviously perverse “normal” never sanction the slaughter of the most innocent helpless members of its society. Never waver in its opinion about right and wrong. Never enrich itself at the expense of its citizens.
How do I know these things will be true? I take God at his word like Abram who became Abraham, the father of my faith, did. But how do I know that God’s word is good? I won’t know for sure until I possess what he promised. I do have a “down payment” in the Spirit he sent on the day of Pentecost who bears witness with my spirit that I am marked for adoption.
Is there anything I am sure of? Yes! There is one thing I am sure of. Humanity lies. I’ve been lied to by everyone from my pastor to my parents. Employers have lied to me, friends have lied to me, the ungodly and the godly have lied to me. Those who rule us lie to us. I have told a few lies myself. I know that no mere man’s word is good, so why shouldn’t I put my trust in God’s word? Why should I believe your claim that God is a liar when I know you will lie to me? The serpent told Adam and Eve that God lied to them; they would not die. Death proves that God speaks the truth.
Heaven doesn’t stand on a cloud someplace behind a star. Heaven is more than a place. Heaven is a person, and Heaven is where ever that person is. Heaven has an address. One day God himself will come to live on the land between two rivers – the land he promised to Abram and his seed. And if you walk in the steps of Abram’s faith, it is your land, too — but only if there is a resurrection from death, because if there is no resurrection, our faith is indeed vain!
After Abram’s foray into Egypt, his relationship with God changed. He no longer struggled in partial obedience. God had commanded that Abram separate from his extended family, yet Abram allowed Lot to follow him to Canaan. Now Lot and Abram have parted ways. Instead of God was talking about giving the land to one of Abram’s children, he has included Abram in the promise. Even sweeter than including Abram in the promise, God promised to be Abram’s “shield and exceeding great reward”.
The contemporary English definition of “reward” is “something that is given in return for good or evil done or received, and especially that is offered or given for some service.” The Hebrew word for “reward” carries a similar meaning: “payment of contract, salary, fare, maintenance, by implication compensation or benefit. ” These definitions stir up a question. What “service” would Abram provide for which God is willing to “pay” him?
The answer to that question is found in Genesis Chapter 14 when kings began to quarrel with one another. Abram lived peacefully in the land of Canaan when he heard rumors of war. War in the region was nothing new. The quarrel that started the war began the year after Abram arrived in Canaan, some fourteen years before. The generation Abram lived is no different than ours. Jesus said we, too, would hear of “wars and commotions,” but not to worry, war is not an indication the end is near (Luke 21:9). We are instructed, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Abram had no intention of getting caught in the middle of Sodom’s war, until that war made it impossible to live at peace.
Quarreling and fighting is not going away anytime soon. From the day Adam and Eve sinned to this day, we’ve been fighting with one another. Families fight with each other; friends have disagreements; neighbors fuss; nations argue and start wars in which thousands die. Even Christians fight with each other. Paul and Barnabas argued and went separate ways. This is the world we live in, and it will not change until Jesus, the Prince of Peace, returns.
Abraham is a peacemaker. He had no desire to become entangled in another man’s quarrel. We are passing through this world as “strangers and foreigners.” Scripture says, “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17, NKJ). Interfere with “fighting dogs” on your journey, and they will bite you. Try to talk sense to two people who live like dogs, and you’ll only put yourself in jeopardy of having both of them turn against you before they continue the fight you interrupted.
Proverbs also says, “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife but every fool will be quarreling” (Proverbs 20:3, ASV). Abram remained aloof from the war between Sodom and its oppressors. Why should he get involved? The people of Sodom were no better than the people who oppressed them. Sodom oppressed the poor. Its citizens gathered to gang rape strangers who dared seek refuge in their city. Why should Abram get involved in the quarrel that sprung up between Sodom and their enemies?
Events that we may perceive as an injustice requiring our intervention might be God’s judgment upon the lives of disobedient people. During King David’s reign, Absalom took the kingdom away from his father but it was not an injustice. Absalom’s actions were foretold and fulfilled the will of God. David had used his privileged position to destroy a man’s family. In judgment for this sin, God told David, “What you did in private, I will do in public.” God gave Absalom power to take his father’s kingdom and then sleep with his father’s concubines on a rooftop.
A family friend abandoned his commitment to God. He soon lost his family, his job, and he spent a short time in prison. When his disobedience brought misery into his life, he asked us for money. My husband wanted to help him. I was against it. That evening, our pastor, who knew nothing about the disagreement I had with my husband, preached a message admonishing the congregation not to interfere with God’s discipline. My husband took the message to heart. We declined giving him the money. We did the right thing. With nowhere to turn for help but God, the man repented. God restored him and returned his family to him. Today the man has a beautiful, humble spirit.
There are good reasons to avoid quarrels that have nothing to do with you. But sometimes there is a righteous reason to get involved. Abram’s intentions changed when he received news a righteous man was taken captive. Then, and only then, did Abram, a man of peace, become Abram, a man of war.
Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their provisions and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom and his goods and departed. Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew for he dwelt by the trebinth trees of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner and they were allies with Abram. Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods as well as the women and the people (Genesis 14:10-16, NKJ, emphasis added).
This wasn’t Abram’s quarrel — until he received word that a righteous man was in trouble. Now Abram had a reason to fight — not for “quarreling dogs”; but for his brother in the Lord. So Abram called Mamre, Eshcol and Aner, three brothers who had an alliance with him; and together, four men with a righteous cause accomplish what five wicked kings failed to do. They routed the enemy, which fled leaving the spoils of war for the righteous. Abram and his allies liberated more than one righteous man. They recovered everything, including the women, children and men who had not fought in the war. The men of Sodom who fought in the war had abandoned the civilians to hide in the mountains.
I’m convinced that most churches I’ve spent time in had their priorities lopsided. They approach Christianity the same way the world approaches doing business, with dry, Spirit-less logic. They think: “If we want the church to grow, we must advertise and then show people how much we love them.” But blessing unrepentant people only enables them to continue in their unrepentant lifestyles. The ones enticed to join us with false promises are often treated worse in the church than they were in the world. Tragically, some churches will “rape” the found to “win” the lost.
We err when we love “dogs” more than we love our brothers in the Lord. Jesus never told us to love the world, because the whole world is too heavy a burden for us to bear. God “so loved the world that he gave his son” that all may live. God sent his son to the people he saved from Egypt. Jesus said, “I am for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He would barely speak to “foreigners,” and he rarely traveled outside the borders of Israel. When Jesus died for the righteous, his own nation that had gone astray, he opened the door for all people from any nation to enter his kingdom. The “branches on the tree” (tree is another way of saying nation, i.e. Israel) that rejected him were broken off, and the Gentiles that accepted him are “grafted into” their place (Romans 11).
Speaking to his twelve disciples Jesus said, “Love one another.” Loving my brother in the Lord is a burden light enough for me to carry. Loving the whole world as God does is much more than I can bear. The Apostle Paul never criticized the churches he founded for failing to win the lost; his prayer was that the new believers would grow in the knowledge of God and grow in love for one for another.
We will never win the people of this world until they see us love one another — And we will not know how to love one another until we understand Abraham’s faith. Without love we are nothing more than resounding gongs or clanging cymbal – meaningless noise (1 Corinthians 13). But if we follow the example of the father of our faith, Abraham, who refuse to fight for dogs but willingly took up weapons of war for the righteous, we might free everyone in our “city,” too.
When God freed his son from death, he gave everyone the freedom to choose. When we fight for our brothers in the Lord, it gives people something to choose. Why should they choose to be in our churches when we act just as immoral as they do, using and abusing one another for personal gain? What difference is there between a church or social club if they’re both run and financed in immoral ways?
We need to be aware that even if we do what is right, and thus bring people the freedom to choose what’s right, everyone does not want God’s righteousness.
Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and take the goods for yourself” (Genesis 14:21, NIV).
The “King of Sodom” still wants us. Even if a person of faith frees us from the King of Sodom’s grip, we’re free to go back to Sodom if we want to. The sad truth is, many, even some righteous men, will go back to the king who abandoned them after tasting freedom. This was the first time but won’t be the last time Abram arises to fight for his righteous brother in the Lord. Lot returned to rebuild his life in a place where he was oppressed and tormented every day. It would have been “better to have little with the fear of the Lord than it is to have great treasure with trouble” (2 Peter 2:7-8, Proverbs 15:16).
After Abram had fought for and rescued Lot, and after Abram had refused any pay from Sodom’s wicked king, the King of kings spoke to Abram for the fourth time, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
We would avoid “lots” of hurts in life if we would expect compensation from God alone. It’s a sad truth that God’s people don’t always treat you right. There are “lots” of Lots in the church whose selfish decisions will not only cost you, they also won’t appreciate your efforts to help them. If you’re not careful, these modern day Lots will make you bitter.
Abram had reason to be bitter. First Lot took advantage of Abram’s gracious offer to choose first when they parted ways, and then Lot “thanked” Abram for helping him by returning to live in Sodom. But instead of getting bitter, Abram choose to trust God, and God assured him that he would receive God’s protection and pay.
Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, Lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar. Two things I request of you Deprive me not before I die; Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches- Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny you and say, Who is the Lord? Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:5-9, NKJ).
Abram didn’t trust any man to sustain him, nor did he strive for wealth as Lot did. He didn’t take advantage of the King of Sodom’s offer to keep their goods. Abram was content with the things he had — content to receive God’s reward. Abram had a right to the spoils of war, but he refused them, choosing rather to trust God. He stood before the King of Sodom and said, “I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap… I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, I have made Abram rich.”
Then Peter began to say to [Jesus], See we have left all and followed you. So Jesus answered and said, Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel’s who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time (NIV, “in this present age”) — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:28-30, NKJ).
If you forsake this world for Jesus’ and the gospel’s sake to fight for your righteous brothers, even those who’ve not yet learned how to love and serve God, as Jesus said, you will be paid, now in this time, in this present age, and in the age to come. So, next time you get word that one of your brothers in Christ is in trouble, don’t be afraid to fight for him, because God will protect and reward you — just as he was Abraham’s, so will he be our “shield and exceedingly great reward,” too!