Monday, February 3, 2014

How Abraham Grew to Trust Him

By comparing Genesis 21 and 22, we learn that Abraham developed a growing trust in the LORD not based on blind faith, but rather in response to God's goodness:

"Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Romans 2: 4)

There is too much of an emphasis on our faith, instead of the Author and Finisher of faith, Jesus (Hebrews 12: 2)

Consider the accounts in Genesis.

When Isaac was born to Abraham through Sarah, the Holy Spirit goes out of His way to emphasis that everything happened just as God said it would:

"1And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken. 2For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him." (Genesis 21: 1-2)

It's important that we heed what Jesus says to us, what the Word of God reveals to us. We should not turn aside to the counsel of men who trust in themselves, or stand with sinners, or sit with the cynics who despise everything and everyone (Psalm 1: 1)

The Word of God divides through our flesh to let His Spirit live and thrive in us (Hebrews 4: 12)

Three times the Scriptures reveal that the wonderful miracles and actions to follow flowed from "as He had said, spoken, and spoken to him.

After all that Abraham had been through, the enemies whom he defeated, the blessings and dangers which he had faced, the difficulties from which he escaped by the grace of God (including the dangers of his own making, lying twice about his wife just to save himself), we find that God was fully faithful to His promise, and Abraham received the son of promise through his lawful, loyal wife Sarah.

When Isaac was weaned, freed from his mother's milk to receive strong meat, Ishmael mocked the child of promise.

"9And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking." (Genesis 21: 9)

Sarah refused to put up with that evil:

"10Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. 11And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son." (Genesis 21: 10-11)

"Cast out" speaks of a complete separation, one in which the person sent away does not come back, and any connection from the past between the two parties is forever annulled. Abraham did not respond well to Sarah's admonition "Grievous" is not strong enough: Abraham thought that it was an evil thing for him to do. Abraham had no desire to send away his son Ishmael, even though the son was brought into the world because of the lack of faith from Abraham and Sarah.

Right away, we need to lift up our hands and praise God for His goodness. Even though God's chosen couple was unfaithful, even though they had tried to create a family for themselves outside of God's grace all while ignoring His promised, God still moved in their lives, visited Sarah, and granted them a son.

But look how much the thought of parting with Ishmael troubled Abraham. God intervened and supported Abraham's wife Sarah:

"God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. 13And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed." (Genesis 21: 12-13)

God promises to bless the child which Abraham should never have had in the first place. Even though Abraham will be casting out the bondwoman Hagar and her son, Abraham does not have to worry whether his son will survive or not.

This account reveals also the trying times which we face as we wean ourselves away from living  under the law, or any legal constraint, so that we can live by grace (Galatians 4: 26-30). To this day, many Christians thing that getting rid of the Ten Commandments is an evil thing to do, yet by the law is the knowledge of sin, not the power to obey (Romans 3: 20). The strength of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15: 56). And it is the grace of God which makes us righteousness and empowers us to live godly lives (Titus 2:11-12)

So, for Abraham, putting out Ishmael was painful, but he did it:

"14And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba." (Genesis 21: 14)

Eventually, God would step into save the mother and her son:

"20And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. 21And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt." (Genesis 21: 20-21)

While Ishmael would live on to give birth to twelve princes, Abraham enjoyed great success with another enemy: Abimelech the Philistine:

"And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: 23Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son's son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. " (Genesis 21: 22-23)

And then

"33And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God. 34And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines' land many days." (Genesis 21: 33-34)

Many commentators suggest that Abraham planted this grove in part because of God's prophecy that through the woman's seed, the head of the serpent would be crushed, that the Redeemer would come, and would come through Abraham and his line.

Abraham received a miracle child. He cast out the bondwoman and her son with him, then made peace with his greatest enemy and live in his land without trouble.

God was very, very much with Abraham, and had proved Himself in every way.

Now we come to the next chapter:

"1And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." (Genesis 22:1-2)

Let us be clear. God does not tempt anyone. He does not try to make people sin, either. Abraham did not need to be tempted to sin. He had lied twice about his wife just to save his own neck. What we read here is not about seeing whether  Abraham would fail, but rather a sure demonstration that Abraham would walk by faith!

"Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" (James 2: 21)

His work of offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice justified Abraham before man, as a testimony of his saving faith, by the way.

But what stood out for me when reading this passage was not just the awesome demand which God was placing on Abraham, but the fact that there is no mention of Abraham feeling grieved, fearful, or even angry about God's request.

Can you fathom that? Abraham trusted God so much, that even though he had no idea what was going to happen specifically, he knew that his son was not going to be taken from him:

"Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." (Hebrews 11: 19)

Abraham was willing to believe that if necessary, God would have raised his son from the dead. That same faith we demonstrate when we believe that God raised His Beloved Son from the dead, that He was raised for our justification! (Romans 4: 25)

He did not throw a fit, yell at God, or wonder why God would have him sacrifice his beloved son. Hollywood especially, and even some preachers, over-dramatize the account. One can only wonder the emotional upset Abraham may have felt. Yet the Scripture is silent about his feelings on the matter, and so we should not add our understanding. In fact, the silence about Abraham's inner state reflects the very rest everyone of us can enjoy because of what Jesus did at the Cross for us (Hebrews 4: 8-11)

Keep in mind, not once in the account do we find Abraham showing fear, anger, or grief, nor did he call God's request evil, as he had done with Sarah's demand that he cast out Ishmael and Hagar.

What faith Abraham had, that he knew that God would not take away his son! Yet there are more keys in the account to render this truth. Abraham took his Son Isaac to Mount Moriah, which means "provision". He called the LORD "Jehovah Jireh" which means "The Lord is Provider/Provision).

Another clue comes through in these verses:

"Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. 5And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." (Genesis 22: 4-5)

He saw the place afar off, and in that phrase the Holy Spirit communicates the powerful truth of something even greater taking place there: the Cross, and the full redemption of mankind through God's Son dying for our sins and the sins of the entire world (1 John 2: 2).

Without viewing Genesis 22 through the Finished Work of the Cross, we will confront an inexplicable, even heinous and immoral act. Yet what we have is a picture of God our loving Father refusing to see His creation cast out forever, but instead gave up His own Son, that we might have His life and blessings in our lives.

Abraham grew to trust God because He kept on blessing Abraham, keeping His Word to bless him and his wife with a son, to protect his other son, to provide for him from his enemies, and to bless his son Isaac, and through him the Perfect Seed of His Son Jesus!

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