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Notebook: The Ages (5)

J Grant

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PROMISE (Gen 12-Ex 20)


With Abraham a new age commenced. Human government having failed, the Lord continued the revelation of His purpose through the means of promise. Abraham is the father of all believers (Rom 4.11). Now faith becomes prominent. There were believers before Abraham. In Hebrews 11 Abel, Enoch, and Noah are stated to be men of faith. Melchizedeck was a believer. The question, then, is, "What is the difference between Abraham and these other men?".

Before Abraham, faith was placed in God for the immediate life - faith for today and for any tomorrows which might be given, and for what lay beyond death. With the covenant given to Abraham that changed. Promises were given by the Lord not just for tomorrow, but for the future of God’s dealings with mankind particularly through the nation descended from him. He believed the Lord’s promises. These promises were founded on the fact that Abraham would have a son and he believed the Lord in respect of this, even although his age would seemingly have made this impossible. Because of this he is the father of the faithful, the father of all believers of all ages.

Abraham is also the friend of God. With him there was intimacy with God. Three times over this title is given to him (2 Chr 20.7; Is 41.8; James 2.23). King Jehoshaphat, as he prays, speaks of the land which had been given by Jehovah to "Abraham thy friend". Here the friendship of God is linked with the giving of the land. In Isaiah 41.8 this friendship of God is linked with the choice of the seed of "Abraham my friend". In James 2.23 imputed righteousness without works is given to him who was called "the Friend of God". Thus the land, the seed and righteousness without works are all given to him who was the friend of God.

Third, we see that Abraham is also the faith forerunner. To understand this we must look first at the covenant which the Lord established with Abraham (Gen 15.1-21). At this time Abraham would be feeling that there was the real danger of retaliation after the events of ch.14, but the Lord speaks to assure him that the promise that had been made when he left Ur was still in force. Read Genesis 15 and see how the covenant was ratified. When a covenant was entered into, the two parties passed between the two parts of slain animals to show that two had been joined in one in agreement and in commitment to observe that agreement (Jer 34.18-19). Here Abraham does not pass through because the covenant depends on the Lord alone. The fowls sought to attack the carcasses, showing the work of Satan in seeking to bring the covenant to nothing. Abram drove them away and defended the covenant.

As a consequence we read that Abraham believed in the Lord and He counted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15.6). This statement is fundamental to our understanding of God’s dealings with mankind. Abraham’s righteousness was not the result of his leaving Ur of the Chaldees or of any other work. It was the result of his faith - he believed.

The statement from Genesis 15.6 is cited three times in the New Testament, revealing just how important is the truth expressed in the verse.

At the end of Romans 3 it has been established that righteousness is not gained by keeping the Law or by works. The question is, "Does this run contrary to the experience of Abraham, the man whom no Jew would despise?". The answer is that justification by faith was the experience of Abraham also as this verse clearly sets out.

There was an attempt to persuade the Galatians that the Law must be added to the gospel, so that salvation is gained by a gospel to which law is added. This verse again shows that Abraham was declared righteous without the law, as that had not been given in his days.

The question of faith and works is here dealt with. Faith without works is dead, but works are the result of salvation, not the basis of it. Thus we work because we are saved. We do not work in order to be saved. Abraham is again cited as the proof of this. There were many works in the life of Abraham that would entitle him to be saved by his works if that were possible. But these works were not the basis of his righteousness. As we have now seen clearly, it was his belief.

The Terms of the Covenant

These promises not only affect Abraham, but also affect all future generations.

Genesis 12.2: I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.

Genesis 15.5,7: Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

Genesis 15.13-14: Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

Genesis 17.8: And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession.

Genesis 22.17: In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.

The promise centred on two things, the land and the seed. As far as the land was concerned, this refers to Canaan and the promise to give this to the Children of Israel after they had been oppressed for four hundred years.

The seed to which reference is made here is not simply the natural seed by physical generation. This was how the Jews regarded it, but there are two passages in the New Testament which revealed the true nature of the seed.

The seed which is the subject of the promise is not natural seed but spiritual. In Romans we learn that the seed consists of those of any generation or age who exercise faith, and in Galatians we learn that the promise was regarding the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus all who are in Him are the seed spoken of in the promise.

It may be argued that the hope of Israel is different from that of the Church, and that is indeed so. However, it is only believing Israel, those who have faith, who will enter the Kingdom in the Millennium.

This covenant was the promise which the patriarchs believed and which was the hope of Israel during their dark days of servitude in Egypt. Joseph affirmed his belief in the promise when he requested that his bones be taken up from Egypt when the Israelites would leave Egypt to return to the land promised to them.

The Refusal of the Covenant

Like all the other dispensations this ended in failure. Would Joseph have been better to have remained quiet about his dreams that declared that he was the one before whom his brethren would bow? However, the sons of Jacob would know the terms of the covenant. Keep this before you and it also does much to explain the behaviour of the young Jacob in his desperate attempts to obtain the birthright. He may not have had a spiritual appreciation of its terms but he had an understanding that they were of value and were worth appropriating.

Joseph’s brethren, therefore, should have understood the significance of these dreams and been aware that heeding them would have brought them blessing. It is clear that they had neither interest in nor appreciation of their meaning.

Due to this failure the family ended up in Egypt. The journey that they undertook was the direct consequence of their evil act in selling their brother into slavery. In the government of God, the condition into which they sold their brother was the condition which the whole nation ultimately had to endure.


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