Special Insights No. 9
Fourth Quarter 2006
“Beginnings and Belongings”
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)
“The Triumph of Faith”
According to respected
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.
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