Big Story - Act 3 - Scene 1 - Israel - Abraham
with Roger Kirby
All right – I know I have got it wrong! Abraham came before Israel, but he was part, the first part, of the story in which Israel was the major player so I stick by my heading.
Amazingly God’s original plan had not worked out. God had created a perfect world, so perfect that he said it was ‘very good’. Into it he had put a man and a woman and, because they were made in his, God’s, image they had the power of self-will and decision making. And it had all gone wrong. Mankind was unable to relate to God because God was holy and pure and they were neither. What could God do about it – working within his self imposed limits that it would be done through human beings?
What God chose to do was to take a man from whom would come a family, and from that family a nation, and give him the responsibility to turn it all around and make it work. That man was Abraham.
In the same way that God later said he did not chose Abraham’s descendants because of anything in them but simply because ‘the Lord loved them’. I think we must assume there was nothing special about Abraham. We will never know when or why the Lord spoke to him and compelled him to persuade his father to take his whole family out from one of the best and most comfortable cities of the ancient world, Ur of the Chaldees, and trek over a thousand miles to a small hill country area.
The promise the Lord gave to Abraham is of fundamental importance to the whole Biblical story and to the whole world, up to and beyond our present day.
Here it is, from Genesis 12: 1 - 3: “Go …. to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed hrough you.
Here we have
- a promise of land,
- a promise of many descendants,
- a promise of great blessing through him,
- a warning that the world will be divided into those who are blessed and those who are cursed through him.
I think, before going any further, I should list what has happened as a result of those 4 ideas. The detail will get filled in as we go through these studies.
- the land is no longer Israel. Paul said that ‘Abraham would be heir of the worlds”. Romans 4:13.
- the many descendants are not just national Israel, indeed not really national Israel much at all now but us! Paul said: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:29.
- the great blessing has come through Jesus Christ: his life, death and resurrection.
- Paul updated the warning when he said in Romans 1: 18, 19: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”
So all these things said to Abraham more than 3000 years ago are still important today.
But, in fact, it is more than a promise. If you buy a book from a friend you promise to pay. But if you buy a house from a friend something more than a promise is needed. You are into the world of lawyers, legal documents, and a covenant – an unbreakable agreement between the two of you. And the Lord sealed a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15: “The Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram”.
That describes what we would think a very curious procedure, but it was the way they did covenants in those days. It was the way a high king made an agreement, a covenant, with a lesser king. The high king would protect the lesser king from other high kings. The lesser king would provide fighting men to form part of the high king’s army when he needed it – perhaps to defend another lesser king from another high king. The situation between the Lord and Abraham was sufficiently similar for the procedure to be applied.
The fundamental statement on which Abraham and eventually the whole Biblical story is centered is Genesis 15: 6. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Paul uses it in Romans 4: 9 when he says: “we have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.” Here faith/faithfulness/believing loyalty is established as the necessary and only prerequisite for a relationship with the Lord God. All other subsequent attempts to add various activities and actions in worship and living are just plain wrong.
The story unfolds with many ups and downs through the lives of Abraham, his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob who had the 12 sons who began the 12 tribes of Israel, and his great-grandson Joseph who, with the best of intentions, moved the whole 12 families down to Egypt. The return from Egypt, some 400 years later, the Exodus as it s called, is the next major event in the Biblical story.
Abraham is the great paradigm of faith (A paradigm, pronounced paradime, is not just an example of something or even a good example. It is the one outstanding example that all others should copy. So Jesus gave his disciples the parable of the Sower and the Seed as the one great paradigm of how all the rest of the parables should be understood.)
The first outstanding thing Abraham did was to make a journey, a huge journey, particularly huge for a city boy, through wild country, difficult country past bandits galore. He didn’t get it all right. We read in Genesis 12 that he failed to stop in the hill country he was to be given when he should have done. He kept going, eventually reaching Egypt and big trouble.
The writer to the Hebrews says: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
We too have a journey to make – the journey of faith. We too won’t get it all right; we will make mistakes. But if we walk in step with the Spirit of Jesus we shall get there.
The second outstanding thing Abraham did was to obey the instruction from the Lord to take his only son, on whom all the promise of descendants rested, to the hill of sacrifice where he was only stopped at the last minute from killing him as a sacrifice (something far outside what we would ever consider possible). That was a huge test and we may well hope that nothing like that will ever come our way. But to go back to the journey idea – some preachers make it sound as though all that matters is being born again. But we are born to a new life, not to a static state of eternal babyhood. The beginning matters, as a wedding matters, but it is the marriage that determines what the real outcome is. Not for nothing is the Christian life called the Way in the book of Acts; Jesus said follow me; he describes himself as the shepherd who leads where the sheep are to follow. What is the Way you are going?
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