Key To The Understanding Of The Scriptures
by H.P. MANSFIELD
(10) The Call of Abraham
His Importance In The Divine Purpose.
Abraham figures largely in the Divine purpose with humanity. In Romans 4:11 he is called the spiritual "father of all those who believe," the "father of us all" (v. 16), and his experiences are set forth as typical of those who would walk in faith towards the Kingdom of God (vv. 23-24).
On another occasion, when Paul was arraigned before his accusers, he declared: "I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers" (Acts 26:6), and by the latter, he meant, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
He also taught that whereas Israel after the flesh are enemies of the gospel, they are "beloved for the fathers' sakes" (Romans 11:28), and once again, he had Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in mind.
Abraham is referred to over seventy times in the New Testament alone, and Paul taught that the Gospel was proclaimed to Abraham in the important promises that God made unto him (Galatians 3:8).
Some knowledge of the circumstances of Abraham, and the wonderful promises that God made to him, is absolutely essential if we would understand the truth of the Bible.
The Post-Diluvian World Drifts From God.
Though righteous Noah and his family were saved from the destruction of the Flood, their posterity, in common with humanity in every age, failed to learn the lesson of that disaster, and soon drifted from God. Man followed the "evil thoughts of his heart" as eagerly as before, and the worship of God in truth was soon forgotten.
It was not long before complete spiritual darkness prevailed.
Bible history records three important events of that time, all of which are recorded in Genesis 11.
There was the building of the tower of Babel by a people who had apostasised from the worship of God, and who, resisted His will that they should go forth and subdue and replenish the earth.
There was the confusion of tongues which God imposed upon them to defeat their attempt to defy Him.
There was the call of Abram from out of Ur of the Chaldees.
These three interventions of Providence resulted in:
The peopling of the earth, as the people were scattered from the one centre that they desired.
The preservation of the true religion by the call of Abram.
The continuance of the line of descent through which the promised Seed of the Woman, the Redeemer of mankind, would come.
The Gospel Is Preached To Abram.
Abram dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees, a city whose ruins can be seen today not far from the River Euphrates in Iraq. It was a city of idolatry, and it was from this environment of spiritual darkness that Abram was called to separate himself (Joshua 24:2-3).
God made certain promises to him, conditional upon him severing himself from his idolatrous surroundings, and migrating into a new country which would be revealed unto him.
Paul, in commenting upon this, states that in these promises, the Gospel was preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:8), and that they involved the purpose of God in Christ (see v. 16).
These promises having been made unto him (Acts 7:2-4), Abram left Ur of the Chaldees, and moved to Haran (Genesis 11:31), about 800 miles northwest of Ur of the Chaldees, and north of the River Euphrates. Here he remained for a time and during that period, his father Terah died (v. 32).
The Voice of God again came to Abram, urging him to leave Haran, pass over the river Euphrates, and come into the land that God would reveal unto him.
Before considering the promises that God made to faithful Abram, let us emphasise that Paul has stated that the experiences of Abraham are typical of those of any believer who desires to please God.
Abram turned his back upon Ur of the Chaldees, and migrated to Haran.
Ur of the Chaldees signifies the Light of the Chaldees, and the latter were a religious sect of Babylon. He turned his back upon their teaching, and true believers must do so in relation to much that passes current in the world for religion. Abram literally separated himself from his evil environment, and whilst true followers of Christ are not called upon to literally sever themselves from humanity they are required to stand aside from the evil in the world about them (John 17:15; 2 Cor. 6:14-18).
He "came unto Haran," which name means "enlightened," and so they are called upon to come to an understanding of God and His purpose (John 6:29).
As he was urged to pass over the river Euphrates into the Land of Promise, so believers are urged to pass through the waters of baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
As he remained a "stranger and a pilgrim in the land" looking forward to the time when the promised Seed should establish God's kingdom upon the earth (Hebrews 11:9-13), so those who walk in the steps of faithful Abraham do to this day (1 Peter 2:11).
As he died in hope of a resurrection to life eternal (Gen. 13:14-17; Acts 7:1-3), so also do they (Acts 23:6; 26:7-8).
He is described as the "friend of God" (James 2:23). He was called, chosen and faithful, and that is the essential characteristics of all those who will be with Christ in the Age to come (Revelation 17:14).
When Abram left Ur of the Clialdees, be did so in company with his father, Terah, his brother, Nahor, and his nephew, Lot. These four men all had the same opportunity, for all had heard the Divine promises. But only two obeyed. Terah died at Haran; Nahor refused to pass over the river; only Abram and Lot did so, and even Lot, for a time, did not maintain that separateness from the world that God required of him.
These four men are types of those who hear the Gospel sound even to the present time. So many hearken to the Word of God, and come to a state of enlightenment, and act like Terah or Nahor: either delay until it is too late, or are too indifferent (like Nahor -- whose name means "a snorer"!) to act upon the instructions of God.
The Four-Fold Promise Of Hope.
But Abram did act on the urging of God. Genesis 12:1 declares:
"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee."
He was to separate himself even from his kindred to obey God.
Hebraists state that the verb in this declaration is in the imperative mood, signifying a command, and indicating that the person's own interests and advantage lay in following the advice. Thus the declaration can, and has, been rendered: "Go for thyself . . ."
Abram acted on that advice.
The biography of Abraham (as he was ultimately named) occupies about twelve chapters of the Bible (Genesis chapters 12 to 25), and takes less than an hour to read. We counsel the reader to pay himself the compliment of reading this portion of the Bible, carefully noting the various promises that God made to the patriarch.
The first of these is contained in Genesis 12:2-3 thus:
"I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
These promises can be divided into four distinct sections, thus:
- A National Promise: "I will make of thee a great nation . . ."
- A Personal Promise: "I will bless thee, and make thy name great, and thou shalt be a blessing . . ."
- A Family Promise: "I will bless them that bless thee. . ."
- An International Promise: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
None of these promises have had their complete fulfilment, for they await the setting up of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Consider the National Promise, for example. Abraham's descendants, the Jewish people, are not a "great nation" as yet, and never have been. True, the nation rose to prominence and glory during the reigns of David and Solomon, but that was for but a short period, and it ended with civil war which divided the twelve tribes into two groups, known to history and Scripture as Israel (the northern kingdom of ten tribes) and Judah (the southern kingdom of two tribes).
The history of Israel is a record of constant apostasy, failure and defeat, ending in the scattering of Jews among all nations.
Certainly, this history does not reveal them as a great nation at any time. Even during the reign of David, the people rebelled against him, and drove him temporarily from the throne!
When will the promise to Abraham be vindicated?
The answer is, In the future.
Though God scattered Israel (see Deut. 28:64-67), He will yet completely regather the nation (Deut. 30:1-3; Jeremiah 31:10), and restore them to their ancient land (Ezek. 39:25-29). They will be educated in Divine truth, will mourn for their past blindness (Zechariah 12:9-10), will have their sins forgiven them (Micah 7.18-20), and will be established as the "first" of the nations (Micah 4:7-8).
All this will be done on the basis of the promise made to Abraham. The prophet declared:
"Thou wilt perform the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn from the days of old" (Micah 7:20).
"I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the nations, whither ye went" (Ezekiel 36:22).
The Jewish people are returning to their ancient homeland today, and the nation of Israel has come into existence once again, BECAUSE OF THE PROMISE MADE TO ABRAHAM.
The Jewish people, and the nation of Israel, are yet to be disciplined and humbled, in order that they might be elevated in accordance with the purpose of God. God has declared:
"I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all..." (Ezek. 37:21-22).
In this statement there is promised (1) -- the regathering of the people; (2) - the establishment of the nation; (3) -- the restoration of the monarchy.
The King referred to is the Lord Jesus, described as "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
Under his firm and righteous rule, the nation of Israel will reach the greatness promised it through Abraham.
Consider the personal promise made to Abraham. Is he blessed today? Is his name great? Is he a blessing in the earth?
The answer is, No! Abraham is dead; his name is far from great in the opinion of mankind, most of whom know nothing of him.
How and when shall it be fulfilled?
By a resurrection from the dead to life eternal at Christ's coming. The Lord, himself, declared this. He told those Jews who rejected his mercy of salvation 1900 years ago, that they would be raised from the dead to be rejected of their Messiah, and to witness Abraham and others enjoy a status that they could have shared. He declared:
"There shall be weeping when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, west, north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:28-29).
At that time, Abraham will be both blessed and a blessing, and men will consider it an honor to be associated with him.
And, again, we must look to the future for the fulfilment of the promise.
The Family Promise, has relation to those who embrace the promises of Abraham, and who walk in his steps. They will become his associates in the Kingdom that Jesus shall set up on earth, and shall inherit eternal life.
The International Promise, points to the time when Christ's righteous rule will be set up over all the earth, and mankind shall rejoice in it. Then "the Kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ" who "shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). The Law shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, bringing all nations in a state of unity and #peace before God (Isaiah 2:2-4).
The glorious administration of the Lord Jesus Christ will solve the problems that afflict humanity today. The poor will be helped; the needy will be assisted; the tyrant will be deposed from the seat of authority, and "all nations" shall serve the Lord and find him a blessing (Psalm 72:11, 17). There will no longer exist the need to maintain huge standing armies, mighty navies, and vast air- forces to protect the rights of individual nations, when one king reigns over a united world. The wealth of nations, previously expended on war, will be utilised for the benefits of humanity. The result will be the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham: "In thee shall all nations be blessed."
This, as Paul showed, constitutes the Gospel (Galatians 3:8), and will be fulfilled through Christ (v. 16), the seed of Abraham (Matthew 1:1).
"All This Land Will I Give Thee."
Genesis records a further development in the promises of God to Abraham. Abraham had prospered with Lot his nephew, to the extent that their combined herds became an embarrassment, causing strife between their respective herdsmen.
They decided to separate, and Abram unselfishly offered Lot first choice of the land. Lot saw the well-watered plain of Jordan, with the prosperous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and was attracted by the prospects of easy living and pleasant communal associations to leave Abram, and elect to go down to Sodom.
He went "down" in more ways than one, leaving to Abram the hardship, the glory, the virtue of the rugged hills of the Land of Promise, and the inheritance of Bethel -- the House of God.
After Lot had separated with his herds, God made a further promise to Abram. He was told:
"Look northward, southward, eastward and westward; for ALL THE LAND THAT THOU SEEST to thee will I give it, and to thy seed FOR EVER ... Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee" (Genesis 13:14-17).
We cannot over-emphasize the importance of this promise made to Abram. It forms the basis of the personal hope of every true believer. Notice that Abram and his seed are promised the land FOR EVER, and not merely for life. It is obvious that this promise has not been fulfilled, for otherwise Abram would be alive to receive it.
Either Abraham and his seed must be resurrected from the grave and given life eternal to enjoy this promised inheritance, or we can place no confidence in the promises of God.
What of those who teach that the promised reward is in heaven? They normally interpret the promise to Abram as involving only occupation of the land during his lifetime. But contrary to this, 1900 years after the death of Abraham, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, clearly stated that Abraham had never received the land promised to him. Significantly, also, he based his beliefs upon the promises made to this great man of faith. He declared:
"He (God) removed him (Abraham) into this land (Palestine) wherein ye (Jews) now dwell, and He gave him none inheritance in it, no not so much as to set his foot on, yet HE PROMISED THAT HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM FOR A POSSESSION, and to his seed after him..." (Acts 7:1-4).
How is Abraham to receive the land promised him? Previous studies have indicated the answer: through a resurrection from the dead to life eternal (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:1-2; Acts 26:6-8). In the promise made to Abraham, therefore, we see an amplification of that made in Eden. The Edenic promise of redemption is now channeled through Abraham and his seed.
But can Gentiles become the seed of Abraham? Certainly, listen to the instruction of Paul:
"As many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ ... and if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE" (Galatians 3:27-29).
The hope set before all true believers is an eternal inheritance upon earth through a resurrection from the dead, if they die before Christ's coming (see 1 Cor. 15:51-54).
The Confirmation of The promise.
In due course Abram's name was changed to Abraham, signifying, "The Father of Many Nations" (Genesis 17:1-8), pointing forward to the fulfilment of the promises made to him. In addition, he was told that he would have a son, through whom would come the promised Seed, the Redeemer of mankind (Genesis 17:15-16; 18:9-14; 21:1-2).
The rite of circumcision was given as the token of God's covenant (Genesis 17:9- 14), pointing forward to the need for a true worshipper to deny the flesh to serve God. (A believer is spiritually circumcised when he does that.) (Romans 2:28-29).
Genesis 22 records a great trial of faith to which God subjected Abraham. Sarah, his wife, had given birth to Isaac, concerning whom God had declared: "In Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Gen. 21:12). When Isaac was about 17, Abraham was told to offer him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:1-2). This was a tremendous challenge to Abraham's faith, but he was equal to it. Paul, commenting upon the incident, declares that Abraham's faith was such, that he knew that even though he did offer him as directed, God would restore him again, in order to vindicate His promise (Hebrews 11:17-19).
Thus, although Abraham went with the full intention of fulfilling the command of God, he told his attendants: "I and the lad will go yonder and worship and (we - - in the Hebrew the plural is preserved throughout the sentence) will come again to you" (Gen. 22:5).
This proved to be the case. just as the knife was poised in Abraham's hand to administer the fatal blow, God intervened. He commended Abraham for his faith, and directing him to a ram caught in a thicket by the horns, ordered that it be offered in the place of his son (v. 12-13). Thus, to use Paul's words, Isaac was, "in a figure raised from the dead" (Heb. 11:17) by the Lamb of God's providing (see John 1:29).
Accordingly, Abraham named the place: "Yahweh Yireh" which signifies: "He who will be manifested will provide." He saw the incident as typical of the provision of God in supplying a Redeemer who would make atonement for the sins of humanity, and thus become the token of "the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25).
Abraham Saw The Two Advents Of Christ.
A careful consideration of Genesis 22 reveals that the two advents of the Lord Jesus are inferred. The angel of God spake to Abraham twice (v. 15). On the first occasion, he directed Abraham's attention to the ram caught in the thicket, and instructed him to offer the animal instead of his son. This dramatised the work of Jesus at his first advent, when on Mount Calvary, he was offered as the Lamb of God for the sin of the world.
The second proclamation by the angel, however, predicted the coming glory of the Lord Jesus, and the ultimate blessing of Abraham at the second coming of Christ. God reiterated the promises of Genesis 12:1-2, but now unconditionally, emphasizing the absolute certainty in their fulfilment. He declared:
"By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying, I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice" (vv. 16-18).
No more solemn covenant than this is found within the pages of the Bible. God declared in confirming it: "By myself have I sworn . . ." And Paul comments regarding this: "IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO LIE" (Heb. 6:17-18).
Ignore a covenant of such solemn import as that, and it is obvious that a basic teaching of God's word is ignored.
The covenant confirms all that had been promised previously, and provides for:
- The multiplication of the seed of Abraham as "the stars of heaven, and the sand upon the shore;"
- The manifestation in, power of a single son of Abraham (described as "his" in the phrase "his enemies" and not "their" enemies) who will subdue his enemies and bring blessings upon all subject peoples.
The multitudinous seed is referred to by Paul as all those baptised into Christ who are faithful; "Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise."
The singular seed points to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul again comments:
"To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ" (Gal. 3:16).
Abraham was promised that this one would "possess the gate of his enemies." In ancient times, cities were walled up, and the person possessing "the gate" controlled the city. Abraham was therefore told in figurative language that his seed, the Christ, would control all mankind. He is to "reign till all enemies are under his feet" (1 Cor. 15:25). Then will the prediction of Daniel 2:44 be fulfilled:
"The God of heaven shall set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed; the kingdom shall not be left to other people (for its rulers will be immortal -- see Rev. 5:9-10), but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever."
This declares more clearly that which was promised Abraham. He was also told, that in his seed "all families of the earth shall be blessed." Once Christ has set up his power on earth, and compelled by force all nations to submit (Isaiah 60:12), he will extend the blessings of his administration to all nations. This was the vision of Isaiah. He declared that "out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem;"
"And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isa. 2:24).
Thus, in Abraham and his seed, the Christ, shall "all families of the earth be blessed." The "Lord shall be king over all the earth" (Zechariah 14:9), and the fulness of the Gospel message will be seen in the Kingdom that Christ will have established in the earth.
This constituted the national hope of Israel, to which Paul made reference, when he declared; "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain" (Acts 28:20).
QUESTIONS TO STUDY No. 10
- Where in the Bible is Abraham's biography recorded?
- Give a brief outline of the promises that God made to this patriach.
- Have these promises already been fulfilled?
- Which incident in Abraham's life shows us that he believed in resurrection from the dead?
- What does Gods most solemn covenant promise to Abraham?
- Can God lie? (Give Bible proof, please.)
The life of Abraham is recorded in Genesis, Chps. 12 to 25. In studying it, his biography presents him progressively:
- As an idolator under condemnation with the world;
- As a believer of the Gospel preached by the angel of the Lord;
- As justified from all past sins by faith in its promises; and
- As justified by works unto eternal life.
The "articles" of Abraham's faith were these:
- That God would multiply his descendants as the stars of heaven for multitude and make them a great and mighty nation;
- That at that time his own name would be great;
- That out of his posterity should ONE arise, in whom all nations would be blessed.
- That he, together with this personage, should have actual possession of the land of Canaan for ever;
- That they two, with all the faithful multitudinous seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:26-28) should possess the world;
- That the seed, or Christ, would be an only begotten and beloved son (Isaac being the type); that he would fall a victim to his enemies; and in his death be accepted as an offering by being raised from the dead, after the example in the case of Isaac;
- That after the resurrection, or at "a second time", Christ would possess the gate of his enemies in triumph, and obtain the land of Canaan, and the dominion of the world according to the promise; and
- That at that time, he (Abraham) and his faithful multitudinous seed would be made perfect, receive the promises and "enter into the joy of their Lord" (Heb. 11:40).
In short, Abraham was promised a resurrection from the dead unto life eternal through the redemption of the Lord Jesus, whose "day" he beheld in faith. In the promise to Abraham, therefore, and in the national hope of Israel, there is seen an amplification of the covenant made by God in Eden: "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent on the head." This was now to be channelled through Abraham and his seed, outside of whom there is "no hope" (Ephesians 2:12).
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