God of the Impossible

And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”  Genesis 15:7-21 ESV

Abram “believed the Lord” (Genesis 15:6 ESV). In other words, he trusted that God would fulfill the promise He had made. Abram’s attempt to number the stars in the night sky had been quickly followed by God’s bold assertion, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5 ESV).  And Abram had taken God at His word.

Then, after declaring His plan to give Abram innumerable descendants, God reiterated His promise to provide Canaan as their future homeland.

“I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” – Genesis 15:7 ESV

God was simply reminding Abram of the promise that He had earlier made.

“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 NLT

But while Abram believed that God could and would fulfill those promises, he was still filled with apprehension and nagging doubts. As a finite human being, he couldn’t help but look at the circumstances surrounding his life and wonder how God was going to pull off what appeared to be an impossible feat. From Abram’s limited perspective, it appeared as if the odds were against him. He was old and his wife was barren. And, while he had successfully defeated the armies of the four kings of Mesopotamia, he knew the land of Canaan was occupied by more nations than he could ever hope to defeat with his small militia. In fact, God would even accentuate the impossible odds that Abram faced when He later declared, “To your offspring I will give this land…the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:19-21 ESV). 

That’s a formidable list of potential foes that will have to be defeated before Abram can occupy the land. And, according to Genesis 14:14, Abram had only 318 trained fighters at his disposal. The deck was stacked against him. And add to that the problem of Sarai’s infertility, and it is no wonder that Abram had questions for God.

“O Sovereign Lord, how can I be sure that I will actually possess it?” – Genesis 15:8 NLT

Abram needed proof. It wasn’t that he no longer believed God, it was just that he desperately needed a tangible sign to help fortify and solidify his belief. Abram’s struggle was normal and natural, and he was not the only God-follower who needed a sign to bolster their faith. Moses, the man who was recording the life of Abram, knew what it was like to struggle with doubts. When he had received his call to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, Moses had declared his doubts that the people would believe he had been sent by God.

“What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?” – Exodus 4:1 NLT

In response, God told had Moses to take his shepherd’s staff and throw it on the ground. When Abram obeyed, the staff transformed into a snake. Then, God told Moses to pick the snake up by the tail. Once again, Moses did as he was told.

So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand.” – Exodus 4:4 NLT

This “sign” was meant to provide Moses with faith and it was to serve as proof to the people of Israel that Moses had been sent by God.

“Perform this sign,” the Lord told him. “Then they will believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—really has appeared to you.” – Exodus 4:5 NLT

Belief and unbelief can actually coexist at the same time. And nowhere is this idea better illustrated than in the gospel of Mark. He records an encounter between Jesus and a man whose son was possessed by a demon. In Jesus’ absence, the disciples had attempted to cast out the demon but had failed. So, Jesus asked the father how long the boy had been possessed. To which the father replied, “From childhood…it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:21-22 NLT). This man was desperate. He wanted to see his boy set free from this devastating and life-threatening disorder. And he hoped that Jesus might be able to do what the disciples had failed to do.

While the man had sought out the rabbi from Nazareth, believing that He had the power to heal and cast out demons, Jesus sensed the man’s lingering doubt. In earshot of the man, the disciples, and the rest of the crowd that had assembled, Jesus declared, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23 NLT). To which the father immediately responded, “I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24 NLT).

This honest statement from a grieving father represents the heart cry of every child of God. Saddled by a finite perspective and equipped with a faith that is burdened down by a sinful nature that is predisposed to doubt and disobey God, every believer finds himself struggling with unbelief. But God the Father, just like God the Son, is always willing to bolster unbelief. And so, rather than chastising Abram for his request for a sign, God patiently and powerfully obliged His reluctant servant.

But God didn’t simply perform a miracle like He had with Moses. Instead, He involved Abram in the process, by ordering him to gather “a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon” (Genesis 15:9 NLT). After checking off all the items on his God-ordained shopping list, Abram brought the animals to God and proceeded to prepare them for sacrifice.

God was commanding Abram to prepare a covenant ceremony. This would have been a common occurrence in Abram’s day that was meant to seal a bilateral covenant between two parties. The animals were killed then split down the middle. The two halves were then separated, forming a pathway between them. To seal their agreement, the two parties would walk together between the lifeless bodies of the sacrificed animals, signifying their commitment to remain faithful to the covenant agreement or face the same fate as the animals. It was a blood covenant.

But after completing his assignment, Abram had to spend the next hours fending off the birds of prey that were attempting to consume the carcasses of the sacrificed animals. Exhausted by the effort, Abram eventually fell asleep. His attempts to drive off the “unclean” scavengers proved too much for him. And this failure to preserve the sacrifice was meant to reveal Abram’s complete dependence upon God. As Abram slept, “a terrifying darkness came down over him” (Genesis 15:12 NLT). Even in his unconscious state, Abram sensed a feeling of dread. Something terrible was about to happen. He had fallen asleep with the disturbing image of the dismembered animals being attacked by ravenous birds seared in his brain. And this seemed to conjure up a foreboding sense of dread.

“…Abram driving off the birds of prey from the dismembered pieces portrays him defending his descendants from the attacks of foreign nations. Genesis itself tells of a number of attacks by foreigners against the children of Abraham and it already looks forward to the sojourn in Egypt.” – Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis

In the midst of Abram’s fitful and fearful sleep, God spoke to him, affirming that his feelings of dread were well justified. There were difficult days in store for His descendants. God’s fulfillment of the promise to give the land of Canaan to Abram’s descendants would be delayed by a seeming tragedy.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. – Genesis 15:13 NLT

This was probably not the sign Abram had been seeking. It only seemed to confirm his lingering doubts and fears about the promises of God. But God followed this dose of bad news with a confident assurance of a glorious outcome.

But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” – Genesis 15:14-16 NLT

God was letting Abram know that His plans and His promise were long-term in nature, and their fulfillment was not up to Abram. In fact, as Abram slept, God ratified the covenant between them. In a normal covenant ceremony, both parties would have walked together between the carcasses, forming a bilateral agreement. But this covenant was unilateral in nature. When the sun went down and darkness descended on the land, “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” (Genesis 15:17 ESV). The presence of God, symbolized by smoke and fire, passed along the pathway and ratified the covenant. God was holding Himself accountable to keep the covenant He was making with Abram and his descendants. And this imagery of smoke and fire would become a recurring theme for the Israelites as God led them from Egypt to the promised land by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day (Exodus 13:21).

God gave Abram a glimpse into the future. And while it would have its fair share of dark days, Abram could rest in the knowledge that God was in full control of the outcome. It would all happen according to His sovereign will and by virtue of His unwavering faithfulness. None of it hinged on Abram’s faith. God was going to do what He promised to do. His plan was perfect and infallible. The promise of a seed and an inheritance would be fulfilled, whether Abram believed or not. The covenant ceremony was intended to assure Abram that the outcome was completely up to God, and He would not disappoint. Yes, the future would be filled with dark days and disappointing setbacks, but they were all part of God’s plan. A barren wife, a 400-year delay, and the presence of powerful foes would not be enough to thwart the plans of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

A Call and a Commitment

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

With the opening verses of chapter 12, Moses provides his Hebrew readers with an important history lesson that solidifies their unique role in God’s redemptive plan for all mankind. For generations, the Jews had rightfully viewed themselves as God’s chosen people. They considered themselves to be a people who had been set apart by God and declared to be His “treasured possession.” Those were the very words that Moses had communicated to them not long after God delivered them out of captivity in Egypt.

“Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” – Exodus 19:3-6 ESV

Years later, when the people of Israel were standing on the border of Canaan, preparing to enter into the land that God had promised to give them, Moses reminded them of their privileged position as God’s set-apart people.

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure.” – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

When reading the story of Abram’s call, it is essential to keep this unique relationship between God and the nation of Israel in mind. The original audience to whom Moses wrote would have relished this retelling of their storied history, but it’s likely that they missed some of the key messages that God had intended for them to hear. They would have brightened at the mention of Abram’s name. This would have been the part of the story where they sat up and took notice. God’s call of Abram had been the impetus for their very existence.

And while that was true, there is something far more significant in the story of Abram’s call than the formation of a single, set-apart nation. For generations, the descendants of Abram had missed the divine purpose behind their existence. They had not earned their favored status with God. The Almighty had not looked down from heaven, noticed their righteous behavior, and decided to reward them with a promotion. In fact, Moses had fully dispelled any thought of their favored status being a reward.

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-8 NLT

That last line is the key to understanding Genesis 12. The Hebrews, as descendants of Abram, had been created by God. Despite their long and storied history, they had not always existed. There had been a time when not a single Jew walked the face of the earth. Even Abram was not of Jewish descent. He was a Chaldean. But from this one man came a people whom God would set apart. Like the rest of the universe in Genesis 1, the Hebrew people would be created by God, ex nihilo (out of nothing). And the 12th chapter of Genesis begins the story of this “new creation” by God.

The apostle Peter picked up on this theme when writing his first letter. He was addressing Christians who were living in Asia Minor and suffering persecution because of their faith. At one point in his letter, he describes them as “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11), living in the midst of the spiritual darkness that surrounded them. And he used language that compared them to the people of Israel.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. – 1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV

That last line is critical. At one time, these people had not been “a people.” Oh, they existed, but they lacked a relationship with God. The apostle Paul addressed the Gentile believers in Ephesus with a similar thought.

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12 BSB

And Paul went on to remind them of the dramatic transformation that God had brought about in their lives.

Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household… – Ephesians 2:19 BSB

So, back to Genesis 12. With the opening line of the chapter, Moses describes God as sovereignly inserting Himself into the affairs of humanity once again. After all the genealogical lists describing the various lines of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, God focuses His attention on one man: Abram. And to this one individual, God issues a call and provides a promise.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

According to chapter 11, Abram had been born in Ur of the Chaldeans, located in the land of Shinar. But at one point, his father had made the decision to move his entire family to Canaan. The text provides is no explanation for this costly and difficult relocation. But it is not difficult to see the sovereign hand of God orchestrating this entire affair.

It would have taken a great deal of time and effort to make the long journey from Ur to Canaan. Because the arid and impassable Arabian Desert was located immediately east of Ur, Terah was forced to take a time-consuming detour that eventually led them to Haran. And, once in Haran, Terah had a change of heart and decided to settle down. but God had other plans for Abram. In time, Haran became home to Abram. He too settled down and began to put down roots. But at some point, God commanded him to leave everything behind.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. – Genesis 12:1 NLT

This was a huge “ask” on God’s part. In those days, family ties were essential to survival. By this time in human history, the world had become a hostile place occupied by disparate people groups based on clans and tribal relationships. After God had scattered the nations across the face of the earth (Genesis 11:9), territorial boundaries and indigenous communities had become commonplace. Everyone had staked out their claims and was protecting their particular piece of the global pie. So, it would not have been easy for Abram to leave the safety and security of his clan behind.

But God’s command came with a promise. He was going to provide Abram with a new home in a new land. And it just happened to be the very same land that Terah had intended as his family’s destination. Perhaps Terah had given up on Canaan because he heard it was already occupied by other, more powerful clans. But this would prove to be no problem for God. For the first time since God had placed Adam in Eden, a man was going to be given a specific tract of land to occupy. And like Eden, Canaan was a beautiful and fruitful land, “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 ESV).

According to God, this new land would become the sole possession of Abram’s descendants. In a sense, Canaan had Abram’s name on the deed. And it would be in this land that God would bless Abram and produce through him “a great nation.”

But there is a problem. It was mentioned in chapter 11 but only in passing. In the listing of Terah’s descendants, Abram is described as taking a wife for himself – a woman named Sarai. And then, almost as an aside, the test reveals, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Genesis 11:30 ESV). Abram would have been completely unaware of Sarai’s condition. But God knew. And yet, knowing that Sarai was incapable of bearing children, God declared that Abram would become the father of a great nation. God was going to bless Abram by giving him offspring. And those offspring would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth. An undeserving man and his barren wife would become the means by which God would pour out His blessings on all humanity.

And this is the point that the Hebrew people tended to miss. They considered themselves to be blessed by God because they were descendants of Abram. But they neglected to remember that their blessing came with a responsibility: They were to have been a blessing to the nations. God had set apart Abram and all his descendants so that they might serve as His representatives to the nations. God had promised to make them His “treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5 ESV). But they had a job to do.

…you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation… – Exodus 19:6 ESV

Priests were intended to be the mediators between God and man. The Hebrew people had been set apart by God so that they might minister on His behalf to all the nations of the earth. But they had proved to be unfaithful priests and far from a holy nation. But God’s promise would still be fulfilled. Because it would be through the line of Abram that He would bring the offspring through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Jesus would accomplish what the nation of Israel had failed to do.

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations… ” – Isaiah 42:6 ESV

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

That is what sets this chapter apart. In it is contained the hope of all eternity. The coming of the Messiah is weaved into the fabric of Abram’s call and provides the underlying foundation for God’s promise of future blessing for all mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

In the Fullness of Time

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
 
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

It was not entirely wrong for the people of Judah to place their hope in their covenant relationship with God. After all, they were His chosen people and He had committed Himself to their care. And that relationship was governed by more than one covenant between God and His people.

The first had been the one God had made with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Long before Abraham even had a single heir, God had promised to create a mighty nation from his descendants. And this, in spite of the fact that Abraham was old and his wife was barren.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

This covenant was unilateral and unconditional in nature. In other words, its success or failure was completely dependent upon God. Other than leave his native land, Abraham had no requirements placed upon him by God. He simply had to believe in what God had promised to do for him. And while, over the years, Abraham would have his moments of doubt, he continued to trust in the word of God.

On one of those occasions when Abraham doubted, God appeared to him and said:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

And God provided Abraham with insight into how this would all take place.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Abraham never lived long enough to see that covenant fully fulfilled, but he believed in the promise contained in it. And God fulfilled it. By the time the people of Israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had become a mighty nation, numbering in the millions. And God had delivered them safely to the land He had promised to give to them as an inheritance. Once there, God placed over them a man after His own heart, a king who would rule them in righteousness: David. And God made a covenant with David as well.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

This too was an unconditional, unilateral covenant, bound only by the word of God. It required nothing from David but was solely based on God’s commitment to make the Davidic dynasty an everlasting one.

As part of that same covenant, God had promised to provide the nation of Israel with a permanent place in the land of Canaan, where they would live peacefully and undisturbed.

“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly.” – 2 Samuel 7:10 ESV

The third covenant God made with the nation of Israel is known as the Mosaic or Sinai Covenant. From a timeline perspective, this one falls between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. It was made not long after the people of Israel had departed Egypt and were camped at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. It was there that God made His covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. And, in this case, the covenant was conditional in nature and chapters 19-24 of the book of Exodus contain the conditions or requirements placed upon Israel in order for this covenant to be fulfilled. God promised to keep His part of the covenant, but only as long as Israel lived up to their end of the agreement.

“‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

With those three covenants in mind, let’s revisit verses 12-13 of the second chapter of the book of Micah. God has just warned the people of Judah about the judgment He was about to bring on them due to their sin and rebellion against Him. And yet, they were clinging to their belief that they were the covenant people of God.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They couldn’t believe that Micah would preach a message of doom and gloom when they were God’s chosen people. Didn’t he know about God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David? Hadn’t God committed to provide and care for His people. Wasn’t David’s kingdom supposed to be an everlasting one and their place in the land guaranteed by God to be permanent? So, how could Micah be preaching a message of destruction? It made no sense.

But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God’s covenant commitments, while binding, were eternal and not temporal in nature. God had a long-term perspective in mind when He made His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet, each generation of Jews had lived with the mistaken belief that all of God’s covenant promises had to be fulfilled in their lifetimes. They failed to understand that God had a much bigger, all-encompassing plan in place that would extend beyond their particular generation and even beyond the ethnic boundaries of Judaism. God had promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV).

God’s plans for the nation of Israel were global in nature. And the reason God had committed to preserve and protect the nation of Israel was so that He raise up the Messiah from among them, the one who would provide salvation not only for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul provided them insight into God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would make available to all men, salvation from sin and death. And Jesus would also be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to King David. Jesus was would be born into the house and lineage of David, making Him the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, He will return to earth and rule in perfect righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

God had a long-term perspective. His focus was eternal in nature, as the prophet Jeremiah made clear.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, provided insight into the coming of the one who would fulfill God’s covenant to David.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

And Micah echoed the same message of hope regarding Israel’s future. God was going to keep His covenant promises. He was going to do all that He had said He would do.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But none of this would take place in Micah’s lifetime. He and the rest of the citizens of Judah would not live long enough to see the salvation that God had planned. But it would come nonetheless. In spite of their sin and rebellion, God would send a Savior. A child would be born. A son would be given. And His name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). But it would all be according to God’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign schedule.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The 144,000.

1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. Revelation 7:1-8 ESV

Chapter six ended with a statement and a question: “…the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:17 ESV). Those experiencing the wrath of God as revealed through the first six seals, will attempt to hide from Him, but end up wishing for death.  They will realize that their suffering is from the hand of God, but yet, there will be no sign of repentance on their part. And death appears to be their only option and means of escaping the increasing intensity of God’s anger against them. But chapter seven opens with the answer to the question. There will be those who can and will stand. God’s wrath and judgment will be balanced by His grace and mercy. Chapter seven acts as a brief interlude between the sixth and seventh seal, providing us with a wonderful insight into God’s plan for the people of Israel and for the nations of the earth during the tribulation.

John opens up chapter seven with the Greek words, meta touto, which is typically translated as “after this.” John used this same phrase in chapter four, verse 1, to indicate a change in vision. He is seeing something new. This is not a part of the sixth seal, but a different scene altogether which reveals an aspect of the tribulation to which John was unaware. In the midst of all the death and destruction, God was going to do something significant. In spite of the wickedness of mankind and the ongoing rebellion of His own people, Israel, God was going to extend His undeserved grace and mercy.

It begins with John seeing “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth” (Revelation 7:1 ESV). The wind is a reference to God’s judgment. There angels had been “given power to harm earth and sea” (Revelation 7:2 ESV), but at the present time they were holding back the full brunt of God’s judgment. There is going to be a time during the tribulation when the earth and sea, and every living creature on the planet will suffer the full impact of God’s righteous wrath. But first, God will redeem a remnant from among the Jews and the nations of the earth. Out of the east, another angel appears, calling to the other four angels to hold off judgment “until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Revelation 7:3 ESV). A seal is a sign of ownership and authenticity. During the tribulation there are going to be some whom God declares to be His own, sealing their future and securing their eternal state by marking them as His possession. The sealing speaks of their God-ordained selection and protection. This does not mean these people will experience no suffering during the days of the tribulation, but that they will not suffer for their unrighteousness. They will belong to God.

And John is not left to guess who these people will be. He is immediately told that they will be made up of 144,000 Jews from every tribe of the nation of Israel. They will be equally represented by the 12 tribes, with 12,000 people coming from each tribe. It is significant that John is given a very detailed description of who these people are. It is not left up to his imagination. And it is clear that he is not being given a glimpse of the church or “spiritual Israel.” These will be Jews. The church will not be around when the tribulation takes place. Jesus will have already returned for the church, removing it from the planet and preserving it from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:9).

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV

The apostle Paul makes it quite clear that God has plans for His people Israel. As the apostle to the Gentiles, he knew that God had made the gospel available to them because of the hardening of the hearts of the people of Israel. They had refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah and Savior. But their hardening will be partial and temporary.

25 …a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! – Romans 11:25-33 ESV

The people in John’s vision are clearly Jews and, more specifically, in Revelation 14 they are described as “the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins” (Revelation 14:3-4 ESV). And John will be given further insight into their role during the dark days of the tribulation.

It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless. – Revelation 14:4-5 ESV

These ethnic Jews will form a remnant whom God will use for His divine purposes during the tribulation. They will become witnesses to the rest of the world and, as we will see, their testimony will result in people from every tribe, nation and tongue coming to faith in Christ, even during the darkest days of God’s judgment. 

One of the things we must understand is that Israel, the chosen people of God, have had their hearts hardened by God. While some Jews have accepted Jesus as their Messiah, the vast majority remain incapable of doing so. Paul points out their dilemma.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
    eyes that would not see
    and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.” – Romans 11:7-8 ESV

But why would God do this? Why would He prevent His own chosen people from seeing and hearing so that they might respond to the truth of the gospel and the good news regarding their Messiah? It all goes back to the covenants God made with Israel. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised them a land, a seed, and a blessing. This covenant was non-conditional. In other words, God placed no requirements on them. It was a unilateral covenant, binding only Himself to keep the commitments He had made. They would be blessed by God regardless of their actions or attitudes. And God did eventually give them the land as He had promised. He also gave Abraham a seed or many descendants. But God also gave him “a seed” – which Paul explains to be Jesus Himself.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. Galatians 3:16 NASB

And God went on to promise Abraham that “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 NASB) – another reference to Jesus. But there is another covenant that played an important role in God’s dealings with the people of Israel. At Mount Sinai, in the wilderness, God had given them the Mosaic Covenant. This was a bi-lateral covenant, that was conditional in nature. God promised to bless the people of Israel, but they were required to live in obedience to His law. If they refused to obey, they would suffer curses, brought on them as judgment from the hand of God. But God had clearly told His people:

1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.” – Deuteronomy 30:1-3 ESV

God knew they would disobey. And their disobedience would bring His judgment upon them. Which is why He could not allow them to accept Jesus as their Messiah. He was obligated by His own righteous nature to follow through with His promise to punish them for their sin and rebellion. And the coming days of tribulation will be the final stages of God’s punishment upon the people of Israel. And notice what God says in the passage above. He tells them that if they and all their children return to Him and obey Him with all their heart and soul, He will restore them. The prophet Ezekiel gives us a glimpse of what God is going to do on behalf of His people Israel. He will do for them what they could never have done on their own. He will extend grace to those who do not deserve it.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:22-28 ESV

God is not done with Israel. He must punish them for their breaking of the Mosaic Covenant. But He will keep the promises He made to them as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. He will restore a remnant. He will give them the capacity to seek and serve Him. They will “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4 ESV). And they will prove to be His witnesses to the nations, even to those suffering the wrath of His divine and well-deserved judgment during the dark days of tribulation.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Released From Self-Reliance.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. – Galatians 4:21-31 ESV

One of the dangers of biblical interpretation is that of taking what was meant to be literal and turning it into an allegory. This is most often done with difficult passages. Because the Bible is made up of a variety of literary styles, such as history and poetry, and some passages are allegorical in nature, it can be tempting to take what God intended to be literal and to force upon it an allegorical meaning. Another thing that can make reading and interpreting the Bible difficult is that there are some passages that have both literal and allegorical messages within them. Paul provides us with a case in point. In his defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, Paul will use the historical account of the births of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the true nature of the law and man’s relationship to it.

Paul somewhat sarcastically asked his readers, who seemed to be set on living according to the law, why they refused to listen to what the law said. He then tells the story of the birth of Abraham’s two sons, found in the book of Genesis (located in the “law” section of the Old Testament). When a Jew referred to “the book of the law,” he was referring to not only the Mosaic law itself, but to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible as we know it today. The Genesis account tells of the birth of Ishmael to Abraham through his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar. This had been the result of Sarah’s attempt to help God fulfill His promise to give Abraham a son. The only problem was that it was not according to God’s plan. Sarah had seen her barrenness as a problem too big for God, so she had intervened and encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar, her handmaiden. But Paul pointed out that Ishmael, “the son of the slave was born according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23 ESV). His was emphasizing that Ishmael’s birth was natural, not divine.  And as the son of a slave, his relationship to Abraham would be completely different than that of Isaac. God later told Abraham that Ishmael would not be an acceptable substitute or proxy as his heir. God had promised to give Abraham an heir through Sarah, in spite of her barrenness, and He did. God supernaturally intervened and made it possible for Sarah to conceive and bear Abraham a son. And Isaac’s birth was the direct fulfillment of God’s long-standing promise to Abraham.

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. – Genesis 12:1-2 ESV

As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. – Genesis 17:15-16 ESV

And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” – Genesis 17:18-19 ESV

Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, was not to be Abraham’s heir. That right and responsibility would go to Isaac, the son of the promise. It is at this point that Paul reveals the allegorical or figurative message found in this literal, historical recounting of the births of Ishmael and Isaac. “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants” (Galatians 4:24 ESV). What Paul is really providing us with is an analogy or illustration of what these historical events foreshadowed. Ishmael represented the covenant of the law given at Mount Sinai. Because Ishmael was born “according to the flesh” or, to put it another way, according to Sarah’s cunning and Abraham’s compliance, he was disqualified from becoming the fulfillment of God’s promise. The law, though given by God, was completely dependent upon man’s ability to live up to it. It was based on self-reliance. God never intended the law to bring about man’s justification or right standing before Him. It simply revealed and exposed the depths of man’s sinfulness. The law enslaved men under sin. It condemned them for their sin, but could do nothing to relieve them from sin’s control over their lives. That is, until Christ came. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV). At one point, Jesus had told the Pharisees, the experts in the Mosaic law, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36 ESV).

Paul was attempting to contrast Judaism with Christianity and compare life under the law with life according to faith. Paul wanted his readers to know that they were children according to the promise. They had been freed from the onerous task of attempting to keep the law in an ill-fated effort to earn a right-standing before God. Jesus Christ had died to set them free and justify them before God according to His works, not theirs. So why would they ever want to go back to trying to keep the law? Ishmael would not share in the inheritance promised by God to Abraham’s heir. And those who attempt to live by keeping the law through dependence upon their own self-effort, will not inherit eternal life, promised by God to all those who have placed their faith in His Son. The temptation toward legalism and self-reliance is alive and well today. The pressure to somehow earn favor with God through our own self-effort exists for all believers. But Paul would have us remember that we are called to live our lives by faith. We are to trust in God and His indwelling Holy Spirit, not our weak and frail flesh. We must learn to say as Paul did earlier in this same letter: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT).

Remember Faithfully.

Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God. – 1 Kings 8:52-53 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

As Solomon wraps up his prayer or dedication for the temple, he reverently reminds God that it was He who set the people of Israel apart as His chosen possession. God was the one who determined to make out of them a great nation. He is the one who had chosen Abraham and had promised to bless the nations through him. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV). God had kept His promise to Abraham, giving him a son in his old age, even though Sarah, his wife, was barren. And while Abraham’s descendants lived in slavery in Egypt, God had blessed them, multiplying them greatly. Then when the time was right, God had delivered them from captivity through the leadership of Moses and brought them to the land of Canaan – the very land He had promised to Abraham years earlier. God had been faithful. He had kept His promises. At the time of Solomon’s prayer, the people of Israel were enjoying the tremendous blessings of God. They were powerful. Their land was peaceful. Their king was wise and merciful. And the newly completed temple would provide them with a place in which to worship their God and receive forgiveness for their sins.

Solomon pleaded with God to continue His track record of mercy, grace and forgiveness. He knew that, as a people, they were completely dependent upon God to provide for and protect them. He was faithful, but they would eventually prove to be unfaithful. And when that time came, Solomon wanted to know that they could cry out to their God and not only be heard, but have their requests for forgiveness and restoration answered. Solomon would have been very familiar with the writings of Moses. He was counting on the fact that God was the one who had established the unique relationship between Himself and the people of Israel. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 ESV). In other words, their relationship with God was not based on their merit. It was not because they somehow deserved to be His people. It was because of God’s faithfulness and His willingness to keep the promise He had made to Abraham all those years ago.

Solomon was depending on the consistency of God’s love and faithfulness. He was banking on the fact that God does not change or go back on His word. Moses had written, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 NLT). So Solomon’s entire prayer of dedication was based on his understanding of God’s consistent, unchanging, unwavering character. While man will always prove to be unfaithful and unreliable in his relationship with God, our heavenly Father remains the same, now and always. Years later, long after Solomon would prove to be unfaithful and the nation of Israel would be exposed for its ongoing unfaithfulness, the prophet Malachi would write, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6 ESV). In spite of Israel’s eventual and repeated failure to remain true to God, He would still be keeping His word and maintaining His covenant promises.

God had set Israel apart for Himself. It was He who established their unique status. They had not deserved their position as His possession. They had not sought Him, but He had chosen them from among all the nations of the world. What set them apart from the rest of the world was their one-of-a-kind position as the heritage of God. He had chosen them, multiplied them, blessed them, and given them His name. Now Solomon was asking God to remember them faithfully, no matter what happened in the days ahead. He knew that, as a people, they would prove to be unfaithful. But he also knew that he could count on God – to never leave them or forsake them, to never turn His back on them, to always hear them, and to consistently answer them when they called. For His own name’s sake. “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease” (Lamentations 3:22 NLT).

Genesis 11-12, Matthew 6

Confusion & A Covenant.

Genesis 11-12, Matthew 6

Now the Lord saidto Abram, “Go from your countryand your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

Sin remains a problem on the earth. The generations come and go, and the people continue to live in open rebellion against God, illustrated by their determination to refuse God’s mandate to fill the earth. Instead, they chose to do things their own way, ignoring the will of God. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

But God refused to allow mankind to ignore His will. He exercised His sovereign right to rule over His own creation and intervened, miraculously creating a myriad of languages from the one common language all mankind shared at that time. The result was confusion and chaos. No longer able to communicate and collaborate effectively, the once rebellious people scattered over the face of the earth, thus fulfilling God’s original command. But even in the midst of all the sin, confusion and chaos, God had a plan. He was in full control of the circumstances. Just as at creation, when He brought order out of chaos, God would bring order out of the chaos created when He confused the languages of mankind. Moses tells us exactly how God was going to do this through the use of yet another genealogy. This one gives us the family tree of Shem, the son of Noah, all the way to the birth of Abram. Abram, as a result of God’s judgment on mankind, would be born in the land of Ur. We are given no vital information about this man, other than his family tree. Moses provides no resume or curriculum vitae for Abram with which we might judge his character or determine his credentials. Yet in chapter 12, we read that God chose this obscure individual from among all men living on the earth at that time, and issued a starting promise to him. “Go from your countryand your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV).

God called Abram out. He chose him. And not only that, God made a covenant with him. He promised to make out of this one man a great nation, and through him to bring blessing on the entire world. None of this had anything to do with who Abram was or anything he had done. It was not based on merit or any particular merit on Abram’s part. This was solely the prerogative of God. Out of all the nations on the earth at the time, and Genesis 10 lists at least 70, God chose one man out of the land of Ur. And through this one man, God would create a great nation. He would provide them with a land of their own. And He would use this particular people group to bless all the nations of the earth. Abram was not given much in the way of details. But He was given a covenant promise from God Himself. He had the word of the God of the universe, and on that alone, he acted.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Abram obeyed and he left Ur. There is no indication from the passage that Abram had ever had any direct contact with God before, or that he even had a relationship with God to begin with. And yet, when God spoke, Abram listened and obeyed. He left Ur and set out for the land of Canaan. The story of Abram is one of faith and faithlessness, obedience and obstinance, determination and doubt. We are not given the story of Abram in order to make much out of him, but to reveal the amazing grace, mercy and love of the God who chose him. It did not take long for Abram to expose his true nature. His was going to be a story of ups and downs, marked by times of great faith and moments of fear-driven faithlessness. When he arrived on the borders of the land of Canaan, he discovered a famine. Not exactly what he was expecting. So he made the decision to move his family to Egypt. There is no indication that he sought God’s will in the matter, and upon arrival in Egypt, Abram continued to make decisions without God’s help. He convinced his wife to lie in order to protect his own skin. Fearing that the people of Egypt would find his wife attractive and potentially kill him in order to get to her, he told her to lie and say she was his sister. While this seemingly innocent decision seemed to work and even ended up making Abram wealthy, it did not meet the approval of God. He had to intervene yet again, bringing a plague on Pharaoh’s house and forcing the Egyptians to send Abram and his family back where they belonged.

God was going to keep his covenant with Abram, in spite of Abram. He was going to bless Abram regardless of whether Abram deserved those blessings or not. Because God had a much greater plan in store than Abram could have ever imagined.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in the book of Matthew, we read the words of Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25 ESV). Here is the descendant of Abram, reminding us that the things of this world, while helpful, are not essential. What drove Abram to Egypt was anxiety over what they were going to eat in a land marked by famine. But Jesus tells us not to concern ourselves with those things. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a glimpse into the Kingdom of God and contrasted it with the kingdom of this world. He told His listeners, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). The people of Israel were living in a time of great oppression, suffering under the iron fist of Rome. These descendants of Abram were powerless, king-less and helpless to do anything about their circumstances. Their greatest concern was for their next meal. They were ruled by the tyranny of the urgent, and had lost sight of their position as God’s chosen people. They had ceased to be Kingdom People and lived like all the other nations around them. They worried and fretted over material things. Their religious practices were done for the sake of men, not God. They were outwardly religious, but inwardly spiritually bankrupt. When God had called Abram and set him apart from all the other nations, He had done so in order that Abram and his descendants might be a witness to the world of the goodness and graciousness of God. But they had failed to live as a people set apart. Their ancestors had been plagued by sin and ruled by a spirit of rebelliousness. They had ended up in captivity, and even when returned to the land, they continued to struggle with a love affair with this world, refusing to live under God’s command and according to His rules. So by the time Jesus showed up on the scene, they were a weary and demoralized people.

And yet, standing in their midst was the very blessing God had promised all those years ago. Jesus was to be the one through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He was born a Jew, a descendant of Abram. And through Him, God would bless all mankind by offering His Son as the sacrifice for man’s sin. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3:16. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” I stand as one who has been blessed by God through Abram. His offspring, Jesus Christ, has redeemed me and restored me to a right relationship with God. Out of the chaos of my life, God has blessed me by placing me in His Kingdom. I no longer have to worry about the things of this world, because it is not my home. I am an eternal creature with an eternal home awaiting me. I have a God who loves me and completely provides for me. There is no reason for me to be anxious or concerned about the things of this world, because I have the covenant promise of my faithful God that assures me that He has my best interest in mind and my future secured.

Father, You are a covenant-keeping God. You did for Abram all that You promised. And You have always kept Your word with me. Forgive me for the many times I still doubt and fear. Continue to teach me to trust You and rest in Your faithfulness. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org