Genesis 15 and 17
It is lovely enough to see God’s ways of grace and condescension. He could come down and talk with Abraham, He would eat with him. But for us it is another thing: we are called upon to feed on Christ Himself, “the bread of God that came down from heaven.”
Promises end in myself; they minister to my need: “As thy day, so shall thy strength be.” This is most sweet and precious, and we feel the need of such a promise; but when we look at all these promises, we think of what we get for ourselves, and then our horizon is limited by what we need. In Genesis 15 God says to Abraham, “I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” The word “thy” would bring the thought of self and of his need; it was what God was for Abraham, as One who could meet all his need.
On the other hand, in chapter 17 we have what He is Himself. The effect of God’s revealing Himself to Abraham as his shield and his exceeding great reward was, that Abraham at once turned to the thought of his own need, and said, “Lord God, what wilt thou give me?” But directly God reveals Himself (Gen. 17), Abraham falls on his face, and God talks with him. It produces a closer, holier character of communion. And then, too, Abraham is not asking, “what wilt thou give me?” but he is able to intercede for others—he is taken out of himself.
It is sweet, again, to get back to what it was at first, and to see God able, as it were, to come down to the “tent door in the heat of the day.” God came in the cool of the day to Paradise (Gen. 3), but it was in vain, as far as communion was concerned—Adam hid himself away. There should be a going of the soul to God in a far more intimate way than to any one else. Communion with saints is precious; but I must have intimacy of communion with God above all; and communion of saints will flow from communion with God. Then the soul, getting into this wonderful place of communion with God, takes His likeness. “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.” While there is dependence upon God learnt by need, still there is a deeper thing, a forming into the image of God by the soul’s getting near to Him, and finding its delight in Him. This was, in a sense, true even of Christ Himself. The ways of the Father were reproduced in His ways down here, through the communion which He had with Him.
There were two things in the way in which God revealed Himself in chapter 17. First, there is the outspreading of grace to the Gentiles, “Thou shalt be a father of many nations”; because if He is the Almighty God He could not be cooped up, if we may so say, in Israel. The second thing is, I will be a God “unto thee, and unto thy seed after thee”; that is, more intimacy of communion, immediate relationship with God Himself. The nearer we get to Christ, the more shall we enter into this.
Wherever the heart was cast upon what Jehovah was in Himself, He must go beyond Israel; this title over-reached all the barriers. It is not the law, but in contrast with it, circumcision and promise without condition; though along with it, Abraham has principles made obligatory on him and his seed, which express the character of such as enjoy God’s promises. (Compare John 7:22, and Rom. 4:10-13.) Circumcision set forth the mortification of the flesh; but this, not as a legal binding, though peremptorily enjoined as a confession of what man is, whatever may be the grace of God. In fact, nothing so condemns the flesh as that grace. As a matter of daily life, I am brought to trust in God Himself as the sole spring and source of all my blessing and strength. God revealed Himself to Abraham, and then said, “walk before me, and be thou perfect.” Here is what I am: now that is what you are to be in answer to me.
We see what a blessed thing it is to be loved of God. We have got God Himself in Christ, and that is our eternal life. When we see Christ walking through this world, our souls are attracted by the loveliness of all His ways; they delight in and admire all that we see, and get their life and happiness there. “Be ye imitators of God, as dear children.” As a child of God, I have got the family likeness.
We do want promises; they are most precious, as meeting our need. But God’s revelation of Himself is a creative power, which renews me into His own image. “I am thy shield”; then Abraham’s heart turns upon himself, and therefore he says, “Lord God, what wilt thou give me?” God puts Himself forward as able to answer Abraham’s wants, and then Abraham comes out with his wants. This is most beautiful and precious. It is what we have in 1 Chronicles 17:24. David wished that the God of Israel should be all that God could be to Israel. In 2 Corinthians 6:18, we find the two names by which God had made Himself known, Shaddai and Jehovah; but now that the Son is come, He takes the place of the Father. He who was “the Almighty “to the patriarchs, and “the Eternal” to Moses and the people, will now be a Father to us who believe. Genesis 15 accordingly ends with the earth. (See verses 13-21.) It is the promise to Israel, in connection with the land, and hence speaks of their suffering in Egypt, and of their deliverance by the divine judgment of their oppressors. It is an astonishing favour that God should thus come down and put Himself at our disposal. He binds Himself to Abraham by covenant, by death. We get the same principle in Philippians 4, “My God shall supply all your need”: which is most sweet. Then Paul can say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” But still the thought here is of need, and of the power of God to supply it all.
Joy in God is communion, and a deeper thing; presenting a want to God (as in Gen. 15) is not communion. “God talked with Abraham,” “his friend”—this is communion. What a different idea we are apt to have of God! Communion with God is the retiring place of the heart. It is essential for a soul to be brought into perfect confidence in God Himself, in order to a walk with God.
Promise always comes before law, and raises no question of righteousness at all. There was no question raised here as to the fitness of Abraham. Law does raise the question of righteousness, and God therein assumes the character of a judge. But now, under grace, it is even more than promise. “We are made the righteousness of God in Christ.” Here, then, is an object worthy of God to delight in, and I bask in the sunshine; God looks at me just as He looks at Jesus.
Paul had seen Christ in glory—the pattern-man in heaven; and therefore he, as it were, says, I cannot rest till I am that. “The power of his resurrection” (Phil. 3) means, that no difficulties can stand in the way, because Christ has been raised from the dead. Everywhere and in all things the power of God to meet all need abounded. But afterwards (Phil. 4) we come to “his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” It is just so in Genesis 17.
If I am risen with Christ, and am walking in the power of His resurrection, what is all the world to me? Paul would not merely not have his sins, but he would not have his own righteousness; he was raised clean out of everything that he had valued as a man and as a Jew. This we have to learn often in the midst of failure, and in the details of everyday life. In principle the Christian is dead to all here, and has got a new life altogether. Christ never had a motive that the earth suggested; He walked through the world with divine motives. The thing in which the disciples were following Christ so tremblingly is what the apostle says he wants to have; namely, “to know the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” He does not count himself to have apprehended, nor to have attained, till he reaches resurrection. He goes on getting more and more; but he has not got it in full till the resurrection. Just as we may imagine a lamp before us at the end of a straight path; we have more and more of the light as we go along the road, but not the lamp itself till we reach it. But the Christ that we get then is the Christ that we have got already.
It is well that a nature is really given to us independent of its development; there is such a poor display of it in our ways before men. Where is the “bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus?”
How wonderful for a man in prison like Paul to say, he can do everything. Many have triumphed in prison through God’s grace, but still had a feeling as if they were shut out from service, and chastening was come upon them. Paul’s being in prison may have been in some sense a chastening; but in his case the chastening came, to use a homely phrase, upon good stuff—upon a man with a single eye; and so it only purged away dross, and made him see clearer.