Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 13, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 13

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“The End of the Beginning”



Seldom does a 13-week series of Sabbath School Lessons offer such spiritual nourishment as the study of the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The closer the world church is to the reality of the second coming of Jesus, the more precious are these high-light lessons from Genesis:


(1) The truth of Creation vis-à-vis the loud cry message that lightens the earth with glory (chapters 1, 2). E. J. Waggoner offered a thoughtful comment: “An intelligent contemplation of God’s creation gives us a true conception of His power; for His eternal power and Godhead are understood by the things which He has made. ... It is faith that gives victory; therefore, since faith comes by learning the power of God, from His word and from the things that He has made, we gain the victory, to triumph through the works of His hands. The Sabbath, therefore, which is the memorial of creation, is, if properly observed, a source of the Christian’s greatest reinforcement in battle” (Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 36, 37; 1890 ed.). We have long known that the message of Revelation 18 will be God’s people presenting “the Sabbath more fully” (Early Writings, pp. 33, 85). Obviously, that is what God intended the 1888 message to accomplish for us. (As an extra bonus for the church today, this “more full” view of the Sabbath would also clear up the widespread confusion about the Godhead that threatens church unity. There is nothing but good news before the world church today as we ponder our divisiveness.)


(2) Abraham and the powerful lesson on the new covenant (chs. 12-22). The truths that shine so brightly in Genesis are the underpinning of Paul’s Romans and Galatians. God made seven magnificent promises to him and did not ask for any promise from him in return. All God wanted was for Abraham to receive, to believe, those promises; Jesus said he “rejoiced to see My day, and was glad” (John 8:56). The means that he understood, and his heart was moved, by the agape that was revealed on Christ’s cross.


The problems of the old covenant have distressed many because the 1888 truths of the new covenant have not been clearly appreciated. Waggoner’s The Glad Tidings and The Everlasting Covenant have lifted many burdens from the hearts of those who have discovered them.


(1) The full life story of Jacob has been like holding a mirror up to our souls—we see ourselves in him. We have all been “Jacobs,” and preparing to lighten the earth with the glory of the final message will involve our metamorphosing into “Israels.” Each of us has our “night of wrestling.” Many of us have been greatly encouraged by our study of Jacob’s life and final victory. The story has a permanent and growing interest for everyone. It enriched this quarter’s study.


(2) The story of Joseph has been a special blessing from heaven. In many ways, he was a type of Christ. Again, we have seen ourselves in the ten brothers in their attitudes toward him; but again the story records the “overcoming” of almost all of them, reminding us that God’s dealings with us are always positive, that He might save us (the fact that not all the ten overcame is a sharp warning also to us!).


The 1888 message encourages us to “live” in the book of Genesis. The gospel was as full and complete in the time of Abraham as it will ever be, because Paul said that “God ... preached the gospel unto Abraham” (Gal. 3:8) and when God “preaches the gospel” let’s all be sure that He does a good job!


These stories stir the very deepest levels of our souls; we learn to pray as we have never prayed before. We “graduate” into Psalm 130: “out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord, ... If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Like Jacob wrestling in the darkness, we almost give up! And then we are more deeply humbled to realize what comes next: “But there is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared” (vss. 1-4, KJV).


Welcome to Jacob’s night of wrestling! It’s on the agenda of all who will remain faithful and true to the end. Although you “limp” as did Jacob forever after until the Lord comes and heals you, you will never be so at peace with God and with everyone else.

Robert J. Wieland


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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Special Insights No. 12

Special Insights No. 12
Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Beginnings and Belongings”
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
“From Prison Cell to Palace”

Memory Text: “... how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). Note David’s reply to the Prophet Nathan: “... I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13). “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight ...” (Psalm 51:4).

Sin is always against God. Our sin(s) break the heart of God. Our sin(s) broke the heart of Jesus and caused His death on the Cross. Our smallest and most insignificant “innocent” sin put Jesus on the Cross and said: “Crucify Him.”

It is also true that our sins often hurt others, especially our loved ones who are close to us. Our sins can do untold, irreparable damage to our fellow human beings, but the sin is always against God. This fact should help us in our battle against “self.” It should also make us more tolerant of other people who have “hurt” us. We need to realize that their sin is against God, not us. Because God has forgiven them as He forgave David, we need to forgive them and pray for them.

Joseph’s early family life and environment

Jacob’s love for and favoritism toward Rachel caused tension and controversy in the family. His continued favoritism toward Joseph and the gift of the “coat of many colors” resulted in feelings of jealousy among Joseph’s siblings. Finally Joseph’s dreams and his exposure of their sin incited them to hatred and a desire to kill him.

Joseph’s ten brothers apparently resisted the call of the gospel. Their sinful and even violent acts indicate an unconverted character. On the other hand, Joseph exhibited a longing for purity, gentleness, faithfulness, and truthfulness. He had a heart yearning for God in the same vein as Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob. However, in his zeal for God he became overconfident and exacting in his dealing with his family. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for us. How do we respond to those who cannot see the “most precious message” or see it a little differently?

Joseph in Egypt

Because Joseph resolved to have faith in and obey the God of his father(s), he was highly favored of God and for a time his earthly “masters.” His resolve to obey God also resulted in a severe prison experience. Regardless of the miserable experience, Joseph chose to be faithful to his God. As a result of his resolve, Joseph experienced total freedom of spirit.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty. (Colonel Lovelace)

Joseph remained free to worship and obey the God of Heaven whether in a dungeon or sitting on a throne.

Ten brothers imprisoned

Meanwhile, Joseph’s brothers had to endure the consequences of their crime(s) and the “nagging” of a guilty conscience. When “brought to trial” in their “Egypt experience” they recognized that they were in that predicament because of their treatment of Joseph. After the death of Jacob (approximately 50 years after their cowardly deed) they still feared recrimination by Joseph.

The righteousness of God

In these stories and experiences, we can see a righteous God taking the initiative to save sinners and fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In His great mercy and omnipotent power, God can use the mistakes of men to convert them and bring about the fulfillment of His Covenant.

Joseph as a type of Christ (May I suggest that each reader develop this section more fully?)

• A favored son

• Honored by his father

• Rejected by his brethren

• Rejection motivated by envy

• Sold for silver

• The “sale” brought about the very thing the brothers were trying to prevent

• Savior of his people

• Journeyed to Egypt

• Last but not least, Joseph forgave his brothers long before they asked for his forgiveness.

The “1888” story in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reflects Joseph’s persecution from his brethren. Even Jacob had a problem with unbelief—he would never have been so heartbroken over the supposed “death” of Joseph if he had remembered the prophetic information that God gave to young Joseph—his dreams. Joseph exercised the gift of prophecy! Joseph’s older brothers manifested the same enmity toward him that “we” did toward “the Lord’s special messengers” whom He “sent” to “us” in 1888. Thank God, a reconciliation is equally certain!

—J. B. Jablonski

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

December Conference Program

Dear Friends of Sabbath School Insights,


If you have questions about the 1888 message: What’s it all about? Why did Ellen White love the message? Why did she say it was the “beginning” of the Loud Cry? What does it say to us today?


Please join us for a year-end mini-conference in Meadow Vista, California, where we will be studying the actual “most precious message” “the Lord in His great mercy sent ... to His people through Elders [A. T.] Jones and [E. J.] Waggoner” (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 91). Each gospel truth will be studied from (1) the Bible, (2) the writings of the “messengers,” and (3) with Ellen White’s endorsements.


There is no registration fee, and all are welcome.



*  *  *  *  *  *  *

1888 Message Mini-Conference


Meadow Vista Seventh-day Adventist Church

1461 Meadow Vista Road, Meadow Vista, California


December 28-30, 2006



1888: Ten Truths

That Make the Message SPEAK




Thursday, December 28


7:00 p.m.                     Welcome, Mike Rich, Meadow Vista SDA Church Head Elder

                                     Conference Overview, Robert J. Wieland


7:30 p.m.                     Gospel Truth #1: Learning to Glory in the Cross, Paul Penno


                                     Book Sale After Meeting


Friday, December 29


10:00 a.m.                   Gospel Truth #2: What Christ IS Doing for All Men,

                                     Robert J. Wieland


11:00 a.m.                   Gospel Truth #3: What’s Difficult About Being Saved?

                                     Dan Peters


12:00  - 2:00 p.m.      Lunch in the Social Hall, and Exercise


1:00 – 2:00 p.m.         Book Sale


2:00 p.m.                     Gospel Truth #4: Let the Good Shepherd Carry YOU, Paul Penno


3:00 p.m.                     Gospel Truth #5: A Savior “Nigh at Hand and Not Afar Off”,

                                     J. B. Jablonski


4:00 p.m.                     Questions & Answers (All Speakers)


5:00 p.m.                     Light Supper in the Social Hall


7:00 p.m.                     Gospel Truth #6: The New Covenant, God’s One-Way Promise,

                                     Robert J. Wieland


Sabbath, December 30


9:30 a.m.                     Gospel Truth #7: How Christ Forever Outlawed Sin, Dan Peters


10.00 a.m.                  Sabbath School

                                     Lesson 13, The End of the Beginning, Robert J. Wieland


11:00 a.m.                   Worship Service

                                     The Extent of God’s Forgiveness—Corporate and Individual,

                                     Paul Penno


Noon                            Lunch in the Social Hall


2:00 p.m.                     Gospel Truth #8: Christ’s Bride Gets Ready—Finally,

                                     Robert J. Wieland


3:00 p.m.                     Gospel Truth # 9: Agape—The Faith God Gave to Every Man,

                               Arlene Hill


4:00 p.m.                     Gospel Truth #10: Justification by Faith: The Final Victory,

                                     Paul Penno


5:00 p.m.                     Light Supper in the Social Hall


7:00 p.m.                     Roundtable Discussion, How Does Christ Cleanse His Sanctuary?

                                     (All Speakers)


Final Book Sale After Evening Meeting


For more information, please call: 530-477-0390

Or reply to this e-mail:


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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

“Jacob Becomes Israel”

Special Insights No. 11
Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Beginnings and Belongings”
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“Jacob Becomes Israel”

Jacob, whose name means supplanter, is a character study in the two covenants. Certainly his life illustrates the operation of the old covenant principles of works righteousness. Here is one who certainly longed for the birthright covenant blessings. His view was toward the future and the life to come. This was commendable over the attitude of Esau who lived his life for the present. This is why scripture characterizes Esau as a profane person. He despised God’s covenant and viewed the law of God as something of a bondage.

The problem with Jacob, however, was that he sought to obtain the promises of the covenant through his own conniving instead of letting God work out His own will and time. This was a repetition of Sarah and Abraham’s mistake.

The next twenty years Jacob spent in the employ of his uncle Laban, who was even more sharp and conniving in nature than was Jacob. Jacob could have exhibited a cheating and manipulative spirit, but he did not. The Spirit of God wrought a mighty change in his character. The only reason Jacob stayed so long was because of his fear of Esau’s wrath. He never once heard from home that his brother had relented his death threat.

Finally, the conditions of employ under Laban became so intolerable that Jacob was compelled to leave with his wives, entourage, and livestock. This precipitated a showdown with Esau who heard of his return and responded with four hundred ruthless warriors under his command intent on wiping out everything of Jacob’s encampment.

The night before their meeting has gone down in history as symbolic of Jacob’s trouble. Still overshadowed with the great evil deception of the past he sought God in prayer. He confessed his sin. This is what seemed to overwhelm him the most.

Jacob was a strong man having tended the livestock for so many years. “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Gen. 32:24). This unknown assailant might have been a bandito or robber for all Jacob knew. But neither one prevailed in the match until “he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him” (vs. 25).

This had to have been the most painful physical experience Jacob had ever encountered. It overshadowed the emotional and spiritual pain he had just been going through. In that instant he knew exactly who he was dealing with for only the Lord Himself could have dislocated his hip. “It was Christ, ‘the Angel of the covenant,’... ” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 197).

“And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (vs. 26). With his hip out of joint it was absolutely impossible for him to stand on his own. He grabbed the Lord, not letting go. His total reliance was on the Lord in order to do anything. When the Lord sought to be released, Jacob would not disengage.

Jacob’s faith reached its apex here. All self-reliance was gone. That conniving, sneaking character was forsaken. That is why the Lord asked him, “What is thy name? And he said, Jacob” (vs. 27). “Resting upon God, he had ceased from his own works, so that he was no more the supplanter, seeking to further his own ends, but the prince of God, who had fought the good fight of faith, and had laid hold on eternal life” (E. J. Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant, p. 115, Glad Tidings Publishers edition).

“And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (vs. 28). Jacob’s power with God was not his human prowess or ability. His power came by virtue of a humbled heart where self was crucified and faith was focused on his Deliverer alone.

Ellen G. White, in quoting Jacob’s response, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me,” makes this observation. “Had this been a boastful, presumptuous confidence, Jacob would have been instantly destroyed; but his was the assurance of one who confesses his own unworthiness, yet trusts the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God” (op. cit., p. 197). God is not seeking sharp bargainers with which to promise His grace. “The error that had led to Jacob’s sin in obtaining the birthright by fraud was now clearly set before him. He had not trusted God’s promises, but had sought by his own efforts to bring about that which God would have accomplished in His own time and way. ... Jacob had been taught how vain is the help of man, how groundless is all trust in human power” (op. cit., pp. 197-201).

His old covenant name, Jacob, was changed by God to a new covenant status, Israel. Israel means one who prevails with God. The only way to prevail with God is to surrender all hope in man’s power and believe in God’s word alone.

A similar test of faith will come upon every believer in the last days as the enemies of God’s people surround them for the final slaughter. If we have not confessed and repented of our sin beforehand, when the heart-searching time comes we shall not be able to stand because of our dependence upon self. If we have humbled our souls and sent our sin to the heavenly high priest then when Satan accuses our conscience of wrong-doing we will admit ourselves capable of such wickedness, but in Christ we are fully covered by the blood. Then this will be our victory in overcoming by the blood of the Lamb. All self-reliance will be renounced by clinging to our covenant Substitute and Surety.

The Lord delivered his friend Jacob from the onslaught of brother Esau in a most signal manner which proved to be a reconciliation between the two antagonists. Likewise, God will deliver his faithful saints in the final days of earth’s history. They will be Israelites indeed—faith warriors who trust in God to win the war for them.

—Paul Penno

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 10, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 10

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“The Price of Duplicity”


This week’s lesson considers the tragic results of unbelief as revealed in the experiences of Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau. God had said concerning the twins in Rebekah’s womb, “Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger” (Gen, 25:23). As the boys grew and developed, Isaac favored Esau—he was a “man’s man.” But Rebekah favored Jacob because he was more domesticated. Thus there developed two less than honorable desires. Isaac determined that Esau should receive the birthright in spite of what God had said and Rebekah determined that she must secure it for Jacob because of what God said.


These desires represent the two classes of rebellion which exist in our world today. On the one hand Isaac’s desire represents transgression of the will of God. This is easy to recognize as sin. But superficially Rebekah’s desire was to do the will of God. This is almost never recognized as sin. How could doing God’s will become sin? Isn’t that what it means to “please” the Lord? In this second act of rebellion we find the essence of the old covenant.


When one considers the prospect of doing that which is pleasing to God the normal tendency is to seek to determine God’s will and then do it. That was all Rebekah thought she was doing. God had said, “The older shall serve the younger.” And this was interpreted by her to mean the birthright should be bestowed upon Jacob. And nothing would please her more. After all Jacob was her favorite son. The ironic truth that comes out in this story is that we are in just as much danger of failing when God’s perceived “will” is pleasing to our natural desires as we are when they are not. Our only safety is in walking by faith. But what is faith?


Faith is essential to pleasing God. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). If Rebekah desired to please the Lord, if she desired to do His will, she must first be committed to walking by faith. For without faith her objective is unattainable. This is the first principle that we should recognize if we are to truly do God’s will, lest we find our “obedience” is nothing but rebellion in the final analysis.


Yet if we are to “walk by faith” we must understand what that means. So the question remains “What is faith?” The 1888 message provides a clear definition: “Faith is complete dependence upon the word of God only, for the accomplishment of what that word says” (A. T. Jones, Review and Herald [RH], Feb. 21, 1899). Note the emphasis on the word “only.” Rebekah no doubt assumed that she had faith in God’s word. That is she gave mental assent to it. She agreed with it on an intellectual level. And more than that, she determined that the “will of God” must be fulfilled.


Thus she set about scheming and plotting to prevent the overtly rebellious wishes of her husband, Isaac, from being fulfilled. Employing great measures to deceive her husband, she and Jacob succeed in stealing the birthright. The wonder of it all is God seems to have respect for their diabolical accomplishment. We must therefore conclude that the apparent blessing of God is no proof of righteousness. He makes His sun to shine on the just and the unjust. The birthright blessing did go to Jacob, in spite of his participation in his mother’s sin to secure it. Yes. They sinned in order to “do God’s will.” This should be an enlightening and revealing record for us today. If we must break God’s law in order to do His will, even in the slightest departure from absolute honesty, integrity or brotherly love, we can be certain that our act of “doing God’s will” is in reality camouflaged rebellion against it. A mere mental assent to the word of God and a desire to see it accomplished is not faith.


Faith is depending on the word only. Faith is not an understanding of the objective of the word with no dependence on the power of the word to fulfill its objective. Seeking the objective of the word through the power of the flesh is merely old covenant rebellion against the word. This is where many earnest Christians fall short. Faith not only allows the word to specify what should be done, it allows the power of the word to do it. A. T. Jones put it this way:


“And all ‘they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.’ All they who, excluding—yea, repudiating—all works, plans, devices, and efforts, of their own, depend in utter helplessness upon the word of God only to accomplish what that word says,—these are they which be of faith, and are blessed with faithful Abraham with the righteousness of God” (A. T. Jones, RH, Jan. 24, 1899).


This is what Rebekah and Jacob should have done. Repudiating all works, plans, devices, and efforts of their own, they should have relied upon the word of God. Thus they would have seen the blessing of God. Had they relied upon the word of God, Rebekah would have avoided sending her favorite son away never to see him again in this life. Jacob would have avoided the sorrow and remorse of guilty conscience. He would have avoided twenty years of exile from his father’s house and the terror of hearing that his brother comes to meet him with four hundred men upon his return. He would have avoided the night of wrestling with God, believing Him to be a mortal enemy. He would have still received the blessing and avoided the terrible consequences of self-dependence.


If only we would learn the lessons this record is designed to teach us, how many separations, how many years of exile, how many terrifying messages, how many nights of wrestling against the One who loves us most, could we avoid? God longs to bless us with our birthright possession, but He cannot confer the final bestowal of His blessing upon those who are conniving to gain it by stratagem. It cannot be conferred upon those whose quest to obtain it is itself rebellion against it. It will only be bestowed upon those who receive it by faith, those who depend upon the word of the God who promised it, and the word only.


“The teaching of people to exercise faith is the teaching them to expect the word of God to do what it says, and to depend upon it to do the thing which is by it spoken; the cultivating of faith is by practice to cause to grow confidence in the power of the word of God itself to do what in that word is said, and dependence upon that word itself to accomplish what the word says.


“And the knowledge of what the Scripture means when urging upon us the necessity of cultivating faith, is more essential than any other knowledge that can be acquired” (E. G. White, RH, Oct. 18, 1898).


“Are you cultivating faith?” (A. T. Jones, RH, Dec. 27, 1898).

Kelvin (Mark) Duncan


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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 9, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 9

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“The Triumph of Faith”


According to respected Oxford Bible chronology, Abraham was born in 1996 B.C., entered Canaan in 1921 B.C. Shem was still alive for many years after Abraham was born, but it appears that Abraham was the outstanding worshipper of the true God in the younger generation of the time. Jewish history tells of his loyalty even as a child to the God who made the moon, seeking to help his father Terah who still worshipped the moon in the old city of “Ur of the Chaldees.” In fact, says Jewish history, Abraham as a monotheist made himself unpopular in Ur so that God’s call to him to leave coincided with their banishing him from their city. If even Terah was still an idolater in spite of Shem living somewhere, and if his age prevented Shem from being the aggressive “evangelist” of the day, it appears that Abraham was indeed God’s sole witness to his generation.

Abraham is very important! If he were to fail in his witness, could it be that the knowledge of God and His plan of salvation might disappear from the world? It makes you tremble to think of it. Jesus and the apostles publicized Abraham as the “father” of all who believe. He was the world’s example of what it means to believe in God. The gospel of justification by faith will live or die with Abraham.

The Bible story of Abraham is no glowing hagiography concealing his sins and mistakes. His half-lies to the pharaoh of Egypt about Sarah his wife being his “sister,” and again the same failure of faith in his affair with Abimilech (slow learner?), are all told openly. Not a very good beginning for the world’s “father” in believing.

Then he demonstrates old covenant half-and-half faith (which ends up as legalism) in his attempt to help God keep His fantastic promise that he shall be the “the father of many nations” by suggesting to God that he make Eliezer, his trusted servant, his legal heir. God emphatically refuses this lame old covenant effort to help Him.  No, God says; “one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” (Gen. 15:2-4).

But Abraham still doesn’t get the point. Again he stumbles and staggers in unbelief. “Your own body” means with Sarah his lawfully wedded wife, because away back in Eden God has decreed that man and wife shall be “one flesh.” No third party shall enter that “one flesh” intimacy. But Sarah is a bundle of old covenant unbelief; she bitterly blames God for her failure to be able to get pregnant (16:2). She comes up with the bright idea (popular among the surrounding nations) of adopting her Egyptian servant girl Hagar and constituting Hagar’s offspring as hers and again helping God out of His dilemma. If Abraham is to be “the father of all who believe,” true faith should have had some discernment to recognize the fallacy of this counterfeit “faith.” But he falls headlong into this trap.

Still, God has already “made [him] a father of many nations” by calling “ things which do not exist as though they did” (Rom. 4:17), so God is caught in this blunder. He has promised Abraham to bless his descendants, and Ishmael is one of them, though not “the child of promise” as Isaac was later to be; but God must bless him too. (Hence the terrible aftermath of Middle East hatred and strife, especially between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Poor Abraham! You will have buckets of tears to shed in the final judgment, even though you will personally be saved.)

Someone wrote me recently saying good things about Hagar; it wasn’t her fault all this happened. She was a slave and couldn’t say anything. There is nobleness to her character and she did believe in God. Her offspring have necessarily been “blessed.”

But Abraham has got himself in a tight spot; he has already been “declared” to the world and to the universe that he is to be the “father of many nations” in faith, and he must live up to that divinely given reputation, or God Himself is in trouble. If he fails utterly and completely in the end, God Himself will be disgraced. Somebody else wrote me recently complaining that it was cruel and unfair of God to subject Abraham to that final test of his faith when he was 120 in being commanded to offer up Isaac his “only son” (Gen, 22:1, 2). Abraham should have challenged God on this issue, the writer suggested, because He had always condemned this barbaric, pagan custom.

Think a moment; if Abraham had refused, he would have proved God wrong. We can’t say God was proud, but God has risked His reputation on Abraham, and the plan of salvation, too. He has already risked it all on Job, whom Satan declared would surely “curse [God] to [His] face” if He permitted Satan to torture him sufficiently (the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply; Job 1:11). But Job has passed the test; now Abraham is a new category of risk. He too must suffer this excruciating test, or the entire story fails.

And Abraham does pass the test; thereby he “saw [Christ’s] day, and was glad” (John 8:56). He knew as much as any of us mortals can learn, what it meant for the Father to give His only Son for eternity, for us; it wasn’t only a loan of 33+ years. He gave Him to the horrors of hell. Abraham tastes a tiny bit of that self-sacrificing love.

Abraham at last confirms God’s faith in humanity. We can overcome! God will have a people, 144,000 in number, all “Abrahams” who have overcome as he did (Rev. 3:20; 14:1-5). All will enter the New Jerusalem through one of the gates of Abraham’s descendants.

Our Lesson touches on the birth of Isaac as a “triumph of faith.” Sarah and Abraham were indeed “one flesh” as husband and wife. But they were also one in their old covenant unbelief, overcoming together in the end again as “one.” Abraham laughs derisively at the promise of God, in sinful unbelief (Gen. 17:17); then when Christ promises in her hearing in the tent that “according to the time of life” (9 months) she, Sarah, will bear a son, she laughs in unbelief, derisively, flippantly. But as the wife of Abraham, the father of the faithful, she must also become “a mother of nations” (17:16).

She needed a direct sharp rebuke from the Visitor, Christ, for lying in His presence (18:15), before she was able to discern the fatal nature of her bitter unbelief. Hebrews 11:11 supplies the missing link in the Genesis story: she repented, and “through faith ... received strength to conceive ...” and bear Isaac. There was laughter when the child was born, but laughter smothered in mutual tears of repentance for weary decades of old testament unbelief.

Finally, our Lesson touches on the beautiful story of chapter 24. There were seven steps to Isaac’s happy marriage: (1) Choose a believer (vs. 3). (2) Let the Lord “send His angel before” you (vs. 7). (3) Pray for guidance before you take a step (vs. 12). (4) Believe the Lord has already “appointed” one for you, in His love (vs. 14). (5) Be virgins, both of you (vs. 16). (6) Be sure the in-laws to-be recognize the Lord’s leading (vs. 50). (7) Enjoy lasting love in your marriage (vs. 67).

Our Lesson Quarterly majors on the idea of “crime-does-not-pay-but-obedience-does. The Lord wants us to grow in the concept that faith and obedience bring honor to Christ, a motivation that transcends our own egocentric concern. That was the main appeal that permeates the 1888 message that “the Lord in His great mercy sent” to us long ago, which still awaits acceptance and understanding. Thank the Lord—we can still learn and also overcome.

Robert J. Wieland


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