As we go through the Old Testament, we are building a “Pyramid of Promise” as we uncover his promises to us. Two weeks ago we looked at the promise connected to Adam and Eve, the promise of restoration, that a son of Eve will crush Satan and restore God’s order. Last week’s message was drawn out of the promise to Noah, the promise of restraint, that God would never again flood the entire earth, exhibiting mercy in judgment. We saw how Noah was thus far the best candidate to be the son to crush Satan as he was singled out as the only one righteous in his generation, but the problem is that in Genesis 9:29, Noah, like all others before him, died. We still are looking for the Son, from which nation, from which people will he come? Well, in Genesis 11:10ff, we have another one of those genealogies that move us along. Shem à Arpachshad à Shelah à Eber, à Peleg à Reu à Serug à Nahor à Terah and then we come to Abram..
In Genesis 12:1-3 we get God’s call of Abram (later named Abraham). I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced God’s call on your life before – if you have, you remember it. I remember where I was when God called me to salvation. I remember everything about the events leading up to the call of God in my life to go into full-time ministry. My calling has been refined over the years, but I can see God’s outworking of his call in my life every day. That’s the big idea I want you to see today. How God’s call on Abraham and the promises he made to him touched every part of his life. If we don’t fully appreciate this call of God on Abraham’s life, nothing in the rest of his life makes sense.
God will do it (5 “I will”s)
The first thing to notice about this “promise of renown” is that God will do it. “I will” God says 5 times. The fulfillment of these promises to Abraham is totally dependent upon God’s faithfulness. This is “according to his purpose that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ”. This plan cannot be thwarted and it does not hinge on man, but on God alone.
We see this truth clearly illustrated in Genesis 15. Here God expands on his promise to Abraham, letting him know that the blessing will come through his son, even though at that time he remained childless. Read Genesis 15
Sounds a bit gross to us, but here’s what’s going on. This is a common way that covenants were ratified in Abraham’s day. They would split these animals in two and both parties of the agreement would walk between them, the idea being that if one of the two parties should break the agreement, they would befall the same fate as these animals. The difference here is that, while Abram slumbered, God walked the path of blood himself. Again, this is a salvation promise – and God’s plan in Christ is dependent upon his faithfulness, not out own. If the Lord were to break his promise, then all would be lost, but we serve a faithful God.
The promises are all connected
Now that this our third promise that we are looking at, I want you to start seeing how all these promises are connected, revealing the purposes of God. They build on each other and do not nullify the former. So that when God speaks of blessing Abram so that all nations will be blessed through his offspring, although there may be additional blessings that are incidental to the promise, the ultimate blessing remains identical to the promises beforehand – that a descendant of Eve will come to vanquish Satan and restore God’s order.
We see the connection to the promise to Eve throughout the next few chapters as God preserves and protects the women through whom the restorer would come. It seems that the patriarchs reasoned that since God’s covenant was made with them that their wives were somehow inconsequential in the scope of God’s plans. Yet God’s promise was that the offspring of the woman would come to restore all things. So when Abraham (twice!) sought to preserve himself before foreign kings by giving his wife to them as his sister, God preserved Sarah in both cases, for it was to be through her that the promise was to be fulfilled. Even when Sarah herself doubted that God could bring his promise to pass through her barren womb and gave her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham, God reaffirmed that it would be through Sarah that the promise would come to pass. Again, when Abraham’s son Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps, giving his wife Rebecca to a foreign king as his sister, God preserved her as well. In a culture in which women seemed expendable and treated like chattel, time and time again God preserved and honored the wives of these patriarchs, even when their husbands did not. Yes, the promise of renown is to Abraham, that his name will be great and he will be a great nation, but the promise is for Sarah as well, as it is through her that the blessing will come.
God singles one out to bless all
Why did God choose Abraham? For in singling out Abraham, he was singling out his descendants to be a great nation. Some people are disturbed by this, for why should God favor one people, one nation over all the others.
- For the sake of the promise:
- For the sake of the nations:
The promise is received by faith in action
Although the promise made to Abraham was in fact dependant upon God alone, Abraham had to receive the promise by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
In Genesis 15, as we read, when God reiterated his promise to Abraham, that “he believed the Lord, and he (the Lord) counted it to him as righteousness.” The apostle Paul explains that Abram was counted righteous by God not by his works, but by faith in God’s promise of the deliverer, just as we are saved by faith in that same deliverer, Jesus Christ. Yet Abram’s faith was tested and demonstrated by his actions, as the Apostle James points out. The most significant testing of Abraham’s faith is in Genesis 22 when God calls him to take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering. To those who have not followed the story in Genesis closely enough, this story is an abomination. I have read skeptical commentaries and internet message boards which point to this story as an example of that horrendous, bloody, immoral God that we talked about last week – a God calling a father to murder his son in an act of child sacrifice.
Let me here address a question that was posed to me earlier this week about what we are to glean from the examples of the persons in the Bible. Some would hold up Abraham as an example of faith – how he heard the word of God and unquestionably obeyed (the bible says that he got up early the next morning and set out). Others would be horrified by this, for how could you unquestionably obey a voice you hear which is calling you to do something obviously immoral? They get a picture of a god that is only interested in blind obedience – a picture of faith that is understandably chilling, for this is the God of suicide bombers and abortion clinic shooters. Here’s the problem – who ever said that Abraham was meant to be an example for us? The text doesn’t. I know you may have heard preachers say that we must have the faith of Abraham, and I will tell you that that is true, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means. Abraham is not meant to be an example to us. Here’s how I know.
1) God is not going to make a promise to you that your descendent will save the world.
2) Although Abraham believes in God’s promise, he continually does every thing he can to bungle it up – giving his wife to kings, settling for her handmaiden, questioning God in the process. This is not a guy that is being held up for us to follow his example.
3) There is no other situation in scripture of conceivably in human existence in which God has commanded such a thing of another. This was a very specific event to make a specific point.
This issue comes down to how we read scripture. If you go to the text thinking that every paragraph must have an immediate application for my life today, guess what – you’re going to come out with a theology that says, if I hear the voice I think is from God, I must not question it, even if it violates the clear directive of Scripture, otherwise I do not have the type of faith God wants. I believe that is the last thing God is trying to say through this story.
So what is God saying? Well, read it in the context of the story. God has promised Abraham that through his son, he will save the world. Abraham waited 30 years for God’s promise to be fulfilled and his barren wife miraculously conceived at 90 years old. This baby is a miracle! God has explicitly told Abraham on multiple occasions that this son of his, Isaac, will be the son of the promise. And now God is testing him one more time – Abraham, do you really believe my promises – that it will be through Isaac that the deliverer will come? This is not blind faith in strange voices. God is asking a fundamental question of Abraham that is recorded in scripture so we can see how seriously God takes his promise of redemption. Hebrews 11 makes this clear: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
If you need to make an immediate application from this story, it is this: do you trust in God’s promise of restoration, restraint and renown enough that you would offer up everything in your life that you held dear to secure that promise by faith? Do you have the faith of Abraham, not that you will ever be called to express you faith in God’s promises in that way, but that your faith rests in the exact same promise – in the exact same trustworthy God.
“Go from your country to the land I will show you,” God said to Abraham, “and I will make of you a great nation, making your name great, so that through you I will bless the world.”
Abram’s call and God’s promise to Him defined his whole life. What about yours?
1) Have you heard and responded to God’s call to salvation?
2) Has God’s call on your life grown cold through your pursuit of other things? Career, reputation, ease and comfort, possessions. Fan into flame that call of God on your life!
3) Parents – are you doing all you can to assist your children in finding God’s call on their lives, or do you have your own plans for them?
Abram was blessed so that God would bless others through him. How about you?