Abraham’s call to Canaan. His blessing by Melchisedek, after the slaughter of the kings.
Chapters 12 to 14. At the opening of my remarks I stated that the entire history in Genesis clusters round what is recorded of the Lord’s dealings with seven representative men—Adam, figure of Christ; Enoch and Noah, who set forth the two distinctive calls of God, now of some to heaven, and presently of others to earth; Abraham, the believer, the father of believers; Isaac, the son; Jacob, the servant; Joseph, the ruler. These seven men appear subdivided into three and four. We have briefly touched upon the way of God with each of the first three. We come now to look at His varying action with the first of the last four—varying according as Abraham is trustful and obedient, or whether he gets away from God, and falls into sin. And surely to study how the Lord gradually led on Abraham step by step from one degree of faith to another, culminating in his ready obedience to offer up his only-begotten son, the child of promise, at the call of God, seeing that we too are exhorted to grow in the knowledge of God, that we too are believers, who should be learning to trust Him more implicitly and more obediently every year and month of our lives, surely in this growth of faith we cannot but be much helped by carefully observing the Lord’s way with Abraham.
The Lord’s call of Abram was “alone.” It was a personal call, as He Himself says in Isa. 51:2. Abram endeavoured to bring Terah, his father, with him, and succeeded in inducing Lot, his nephew, to be his companion-It is quite in the style of Scripture to say that Terah took Abram, rendering honour, of course, to the senior (chap. 11:31). But Terah seems to have been a weight upon him, a hindrance to his own full obedience. For Terah died in Haran; and though probably years were spent in that half-way place between Ur and Canaan to which he had been called out, he does not appear to have heard any further word from God until that call of His had been fully and quite obeyed.
This call of Abram was made by God’s revelation of Himself as the God of glory. In Ur, where Abram heard that call, he had been an idolater, worshipping probably the sun, moon, and host of heaven (Joshua 24:2). And notwithstanding that there were only ten generations from Shem to Abram, and that Shem lived four hundred years after he begat Arphaxad, and therefore at least seventy years after Abram was born, still this family, from which, too, the Messiah was to come, had become sunk into pagan darkness. But the light of the glory of God beams on Abram, whereby he at once discerns the vanity of idols, and the greatness of the living God. That sight of God, and that electing grace and call of God, start him. Thus too with us is faith produced, even by a sight of God in Christ. There is, there can be, no other way for faith.
In the call of God to Abram there was the gospel; for in Gal. 3:8 this third verse of Gen. 12 is quoted, and it is affirmed that the gospel is comprised in it. For when all the families of the earth were to be blessed in Abram, the Holy Ghost witnesses in Galatians that the blessing is absolute and unconditional, apart from circumcision, or aught else of man’s merit.
Presently he arrives in Canaan. His foot is on the land which is to be his “for a possession” (Acts 7.) True, the Canaanite is still there, even as wicked spirits are yet in those heavenly places to which we have been called in Christ (Eph. 6.) But we wait God’s time for the return of His Son, when we shall be put into everlasting and complete enjoyment of our blessing. Evens now already there in heaven only can we worship (Heb. 10:19), even as for the first time do we also now read of Abram building an altar—that is to say, in Canaan. He moves to and fro in this the land of promise; for, as was said to Joshua at a later period, “Every spot “that the sole of his foot rested on there, was his. If where Christ now is—in the presence of God, in heaven—is our place of blessing, there should we live and move, and there, in spirit and affection, should we be daily—despite of the foe, who will be turned out by Christ as Michael with His heavenly saints, whose battle-cry, as they hurl Satan down thence for ever, will be “the blood of the Lamb!”
The order carefully mentioned as to the “altar,” “tent,” and “altar,” in verses 7 and 8, deserves more attention than it has generally received. Howard, the philanthropist, was wont to say, “Wherever I have a tent, there God shall have an altar.” This was pious, but it was not up to God’s mark. Christians now, who know somewhat of the peremptory will of God as to being gathered to the name of the Lord alone, will often, for earthly considerations, remove their dwelling beyond the reach of their worshipping with the assembly of God. First selecting some situation more advantageous, as regards ease and comfort, they will then inquire whether the assembly is gathered there to the One Name. But here we have the way of faith: first the altar, next the tent. Then soon in joy will the love of God so fill the soul, as to constrain it to rear another altar. On the other hand, those who walk in the path of fleshly advantage, may obtain their desire, and get as a consequence the leanness sent in their souls.
Whilst Abram adheres to the call of God, more and more of joy, and more and more discoveries of the Lord’s gracious will concerning him, does he find. On the other hand, going down to Egypt—type of this world—for a season, he has no altar there; no voice of the Lord comes to him there. After he is once off the line, he gets more deeply involved in sin, one false step leading to another. Hence he not only lies himself, but even acts the tempter to another, and she his wife. God, in His providence, rescues him. For if we will not be guided by His eye in love, we may have the bit and the bridle put upon us.
At length Abram retraces his steps, returns to where his tent had been at the beginning, and to the place of the altar which he had made at the first. Then at once can he happily worship again. God cannot lower His standard nor abate His call. And it is a great mercy for us, that He cannot. We are called to the fellowship of His Son, and to walk in His light. In heeding His blessed will, we shall have His presence, and not otherwise. Restored, Abram is stronger than ever. Whenever we overcome temptation, the trial proves a blessing to us, we perceive the snare from which we have been saved, and the grace that kept us. On the other hand, if we fall, we are unhappy till we are restored. Confession and judgment of the sin lift us above that from which we have been delivered, and lead us more stedfastly than before, to depend on God, following Him in the path of faith. Circumstances are sure quickly to arise which, strengthened by God in trial, find us prepared to meet.
So with Abram. He takes revenge on himself. Lot and he have to part. It had been better for Lot to have abandoned all his flocks than to have given up the company of Abram. However, the elder makes the offer to Lot of the choice of the land, notwithstanding all was his own. But he leaves his concerns in the hands of the Lord. Lot, unable or unwilling to respond righteously to Abram’s noble offer, by leaving the choice to his uncle—induced by the lust of the eye, chooses the plain of Sodom, even although as the history here significantly informs us, “the men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” He with a bad conscience, by dwelling among them, can only have his righteous soul vexed daily by their wicked deeds. Their company he has chosen in preference to Abram’s, in consideration of increased earthly prosperity. And thus, outwardly at least, is commenced that declension of Lot, which, as the narrative proceeds, is seen to become increasingly grave and awful, until at chap. 19:30-38, the Spirit draws the curtain over the close of Lot’s downward career. Likewise, in 2 Peter, whilst of some believers we read of their adding in their faith, manliness, knowledge, etc., and of their obtaining an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; of others, we read that they are blind, shutting their eyes, forgetting that they have been purged, or profess they have, once from their old sins. Such, mingled among the Christianized heathen, learn their works, and lose much of the little portion of light which once they enjoyed. For them the world, at least in its religious side, which is by far the worst, has yet much power, not obeying the clear word of God, “from such also turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5, Greek). It will be well for such who do not at last prove to have been quite hypocrites, by turning from the holy commandment, to wit, the commandment to holiness delivered unto them. For without holiness no man shall see the Lord. But the Lori is no uninterested spectator of Abram’s faith in Him. Hardly has Lot left him, ere the welcome voice of the Lord greets his ear. Surely this of itself was ample compensation to Abram for giving Lot the choice of the land. Thus did the Lord cause Abram to perceive that if he was now alone as to Lot, he was not alone as to Him. The language of the Lord at this time alludes, undoubtedly, to the choice of Lot. Lot had “lifted up his eyes” (ver. 10). Hence the Lord bids Abram to “lift up his eyes” (ver. 14). Lot had chosen to pitch his tent eastward; but the Lord assures Abram that the north and the south, the east and the west, were all his own. And He directs him, as the possessor of the soil by the gift of God, to arise and walk throughout its length and breadth. Surely as we ponder the account of this scene, we must be constrained to acknowledge that the manifestations of God’s favour proceed still on the same principle as in Abram’s day; that God delights to respond to faith in Himself, that those who trust in Him shall enjoy the power of His word and promise, and shall have their faith increased. Compare John 14:21-23. Now, likewise, Abram first hears of the less comparison of his seed to the dust of the earth. Presently, as he goes on with God, he will hear of his seed exceeding the stars of heaven in number (15:5). For Abram is the father of the two seeds, of the peoples of the two calls—the earthly and the heavenly. They that be of faith are the children of Abraham, and “are blessed with him.” True, we get not only the best of what was promised to Abraham, but infinitely more besides, even union with the Son of God. Still, also, “the blessing of Abraham has come on us Gentiles through Jesus Christ.” See Gal. 3:7, 9, 14. And the new nation of Israel will be his true earthly seed. Then, in Gen. 22, after the offering up of his son Isaac, the Lord conjoins these two promises of his seed being multiplied as the stars of heaven and as the sand upon the seashore. Thus God goes on in grace with His people. Thus does faith, acting in obedience, hear more and more of His blessed will, and receive more and more from Him. One of these promises has been in the type and shadow already fulfilled (1 Kings 4:20). The latter promise of the heavenly seed is being actually fulfilled now. And when the children of God are removed to their final home yonder, then will God remember His promises to Israel.
Hence, in chap. 14, we have a scene representing millennial glory, and of the great, the true Melchisedek, coming with blessing to “Abram the Hebrew” (ver. 13), and so representing the remnant of Israel who shall be saved at the appearing of the Lord. But let us look at the chapter carefully, which may be profitably viewed, both in its prophetic and in its didactic, or rather experimental aspect. Just a word on each of these two. Then, at your leisure, you can ponder its teaching more at length.
As to the prophetic picture here, the king of Sodom, with his confederates, are overcome by Amraphel, king of Shinar, or Babylon; Chedorlaomer, king of Elam—which term Elam is the Hebrew for Persia; Arioch, 4 king of Ellasar, i.e., Hellas, as in the Septuagint,Greece; and Tidal, king of nations, who here evidently stands for the fourth kingdom of Dan. 2 and 7, namely, Rome. For the Roman empire will yet again be headed up under ten kings, with one imperial ruler over them all (Rev. 13 and 17.) These last will, as we are distinctly warned in Rev. 17, sweep away quite from off the face of the earth the corrupt, the unclean Christianity that is left after the removal of the church to heaven.10
But the Hebrew Abram proves too much even for such potentates. So, in the antitype, first, a remnant in weakness refuse to accept the worship of the beast, and to bow down before his image, the abomination of desolation that he will set up; and then subsequently, when the Lord appears, the Jews will be delivered from all their enemies, as prophetic Scriptures unitedly concur in declaring. On these points I have the less need to tarry, having fully gone into them in my published “Lectures on the Revelation.” Then, after the slaughter of the kings, and of their armies, on the plain of Armageddon, the great priest-king, Melchisedek, will bless and strengthen Israel. He was priest of the most high God, which name of God has been already expounded in chap. 10. So Christ brings down the blessing to Israel; for Israel is to be blessed on the earth. The same Lord Jesus is also our high Priest, but in this capacity His gracious work is to lift us up to Himself where He is. But since God is possessor of both “heaven and earth,” as Melchisedek pointedly reminds Abram of, so God has not only one blessing, though much the higher, for us, but also another on earth for Israel. Therefore must He appear, to bring down with Him that blessing from God. For where this high Priest is at any given period, there is then the place of God’s call, and of man’s blessing. In fact, strictly, the Lord Jesus is not acting in this character as Melchisedek at all at present (see Psalm ex.); rather now He is as the antitypical Aaron, within the holiest of all—this one day of grace and salvation. For a reign implies the employment of force, and of the sword, to subdue opposition; but in those supreme heavens, where the Lord Jesus at present is “hid “(Col. 3), enemies cannot approach. There only His wondrous merits are the delight of God; there His precious blood and His all-prevailing intercession are alone heard. On the other hand, Israel and the world can only be blessed through judgment.
This chapter has been strangely appealed to by some, in proof of the lawfulness of Christians becoming soldiers, and of their engaging in war. Such forget the total change of dispensation since Abram’s call to inherit the land. For this church-period has been inaugurated by One, who, when He had enemies, conquered by suffering them to kill Him. Besides which, if any plead this chapter as an excuse for their fighting, such, if Christians, should remember that they fight unfairly. These, killing their opponents, send them, if unsaved, to hell; but if the opponents kill themselves who are Christians, these depart to be with Christ.
Now it is time that we look at this chapter from another point of view. It tells of three battles. The first is preliminary to the second, in which the man of faith, relying solely on God, goes forth to attack the confederated hosts, and to deliver his nephew Lot. For Lot’s sin had already found him out; he has lost all his goods, for the sake of which he parted company with Abram, to whom now he owes, if not his life, at least his liberty. Well would it have been for him to have at last heeded the painful lesson which this was designed to teach him when his nest was stirred up. For the Lord could only by His providence address him as one out of communion, and not like He did Abram, holding converse with him as a friend. But so persistent is Lot in is sin, that he actually returns to Sodom for sixteen years, and then be is scarcely saved from sharing its destruction, partly through the intercession of Abram (see Gen. 19:29).
But, further, this second battle, important as it is, is still a preliminary to the third one, and in Abram’s case the most important of all. How severe, to say the least, it would have been in the soul of Abram we may infer by the timely and signal interposition of Melchisedek. He strengthened him after the former battle with bread and wine, and proceeds to remind him that his God is the possessor of heaven and earth. And, remarkably, of this title of God Abram makes prompt use in his reply to the king of Sodom, when he made him his dazzling, tempting offer of all the goods that he had brought back for his own acceptance. Thus we perceive that this confirmation of Abram’s faith in God was vouchsafed in the nick of time, just when it was required; for surely that strength is not supplied needlessly. And then he refuses to touch aught of what was the king of Sodom’s. Only, with a fine sense of perfect righteousness, he disdains speaking on behalf of Aner, Eschol, and Mamre. For himself, his concern is the glory of God; for others, he states what is their due who had helped him.
The training of the believer for the inheritance.
Chapters 15 to 21. These chapters might be summarized thus:—Chap. 15: Justification by faith, and history of that nation which, stumbling at God’s stumbling-stone, is set aside for a while for the heavenly seed; chap. 16. Flesh active, and Hagar, or law, resorted to; chap. 17. Grace judging the flesh; chap. 18. Communion; chap. 19 Judgment; chap. 20. Man to the last unconfiding; yet, chap. 21, the Lord faithful—the true Seed born, and the Millennium. Obviously, it will be impossible in our rapid survey to do more than touch on the salient points in this summary.
In chap. 15 there are five scenes, together extending over an entire night and day. It would likewise seem as if only in the night-time did the Lord throughout this chapter accost Abram. This probably may be accounted for by the prophecies found here, all referring to Abram’s seed during the night of their history. In scene one, extending down the first six verses, the time may be about midnight. The word of the Lord comes to Abram in a vision, and, in reference to his self-denial in refusing the goods of the king of Sodom, says, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” For God never lets His people lose in the long run for their trust in Him. If Abram refused the spoil of Sodom, he gained in increased joy in God. So it is ever. If one, for Christ’s sake, abandons what God calls him from, he not only has eternal life in the world to come, but a hundred-fold more in the enjoyment of God’s presence than anything he has surrendered. But God continues with the assurance that Abram’s seed, old as he is, shall be numerous as the stars of heaven. And that this latter part of the promise is widely different from that found in chap. 13:16, see the remarks already made on that Scripture. Compare Jer. 33:22, where, as further on in Gen. 22, the two seeds, the heavenly and the earthly, are each distinctly specified. And well may the heavenly seed be glanced at here, seeing that the precious truth of justification follows in the next verse, and on which passage read the inspired comment in Rom. 4:3, 17-24.
Then, in scene two, occurring near the morning light, from verse 7 to verse 10, Abram hears somewhat as to the earthly seed which is to possess “this land,” asking for a sign, not in unbelief, but in the boldness of faith; for communion with God increases faith, and renders it bold. God gives him his desire. He is instructed to take three animals, for the three kinds of offerings; for Israel can only be blessed through Christ’s sacrifice. Each of the animals slain is to be three years old, signifying that his earthly seed should be a sacrifice for three centuries, but in the fourth should come safely out, as the birds.
Next, in scene three, Abram seems to pass the day in standing by his sacrifice of animals cleft in twain. Thus, too, did Balak by his; and thus, too, the Christian should by his identification with the Christ who died, is risen and glorified—the sacrifice is the plea of him who stands by it. The sole occupation of Abram during the day is to drive away the birds of prey. We, when we appear before God, should have our eye on Christ, and thus be filled with joy, delighting in Him, and in His finished work. But, alas, wandering thoughts, and anxious cares, and unbelief, will, unless they are watched against, obstruct all this peace and joy in Christ. In the type to Abram, these fowls that come down on the sacrifices rent in twain, signify of course the Egyptians, who would fain have made Israel a prey for themselves.
Accordingly, in the fourth place, when the sun declines, the Lord again speaks to Abram, first interpreting to him, inverses 13-16, the sign that He had given to him; and next, when the sun has set, that sign is confirmed by the vision of the smoking furnace; and then with the passing between the pieces of a burning Lamp, symbol of the Shechinah; the lamp is Christ, who is salvation for Israel and for us (see in proof Ps. 132:17; Ezek. 1:13; and Isa. 62:1).
This term “Lamp” is not unfrequently found in the book of Kings, and is there used to denote a son and successor to David (see 1 Kings 11:30, marg.; 15:4; and 2 Kings 8:19). The passing between the pieces of the sacrifice is explained in Jer. 34:18, to represent the entrance into a covenant of the parties so passing. Wherefore the passing of the lamp here signifies the Lord pledging Himself in that striking way, to succour and to deliver Israel, bringing them forth from the furnace in triumph, and in plenty. And thus the issue of their bondage was seen to by Him from the beginning. And then, as the time for their deliverance drew nigh, He enlarges at once on the minuter details of that deliverance, providing from the outset for their coming forth, not as beggars, but rather as princes, with silver and with gold in plenty (Ps. 105:37). They were to “ask” (Exod. 3:22), (Hebrew, not “borrow “) of the Egyptians. For these wages for their hard work were of long date, and had never been paid. But here God’s pledge of His succour is unconditional, as seen by the fact that the lamp alone and not Abram passed between the pieces. But the morning cometh, according as we see is suggested, in the fifth and concluding scene in this chapter (verse 18). And there all that God had promised Israel, that people shall yet possess. Never of old did their territorial possessions actually extend to the great river Euphrates, as is here promised should be the case, because the real and full inheritance of the land can only be obtained and enjoyed, when sovereign, grace shall have all its own way with them. By a covenant of plaster, which the winds and storms could destroy, they have as yet possessed only a part (Deut. 27:4). At the most a shadow of the truth passed for a moment before their eyes in Solomon’s time (1 Kings 4:21). But God will yet remember every engagement which He has made, and fulfil to the letter every part of His word. Likewise will He act towards ourselves. Even now we who believe are under grace. And ere Israel obtains possession in full of the land promised to Abram we shall have been brought safe home to our inheritance reserved in heaven. The Earnest of that inheritance is ours to be enjoyed now. Still, however, we await Him who to us is the morning Star. Till then our path is a chequered one, being alternated on the one hand in the furnace of affliction, and on the other by the shining of the light from above upon our souls.
Chapter 16 On this chapter, the third and fourth chapters of Galatians should be carefully pondered. We find here an illustration of what we are painfully conscious to be the case with ourselves, that unbelief can be present and at work even in a believing heart. In chap. 18 we have further evidence of this. Abram and Sarai were each of them believers, yet neither at this time appears to have been in a condition of soul to wait patiently on God. The Holy Ghost often in the Word 5 combines patience with faith. See, for instance, Rev.; 2:19; 1 Thess. 1:3; Titus 2:2; Heb.6:12. Nothing tests faith like delay on the part of God; for the flesh will struggle to make itself heard, and will resort to efforts that, at another time, the believer can see the unbelief displayed thereby. For that text is still true, “He that believeth shall not make haste “(Isa. 28:16). No surer evidence of simple faith and obedience can be named than patient continuance in well-doing. Talking of faith is all very well; walking by faith is far better. Observe the descending climax in Isa. 40:31. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles;” that is, comparatively easy; “they shall run, and not be weary;” more difficult this, but the last named is the hardest of all—”they shall walk, and not faint.” Excitement will carry one through much, but ordinary plodding along in the path of duty, with little to encourage us beyond the consciousness that such is the will of God, and the daily exercise of confidence in Him, that in due season we shall reap if we faint not, no wonder that flesh resists, and chafes, and works counter to all this. Therefore in Abram and Sarai here we may see something of what is in ourselves. Here the resort is seen to be to nature and to law. Sarai is too prominent in this picture; and, out of our place, the readier are we to commit sin. Nay, she not only sins herself, but invites her husband likewise, and then turns round and blames him. It is a sure mark of a wrong state of soul when one is ready to blame everybody except oneself. God was not hurried, could not be hurried, by the restlessness of unbelief. Possibly the blessing was delayed. At all events, for fourteen years longer, Abram had to wait ere the Lord fulfilled His promise. It is a pithy saying of some one, “Saints who will carvel for themselves are sure to cut their fingers.” Let us believe God, that it shall be exactly and unreservedly as He hath told us—in His time. The great promise to us is found in John 14:3. Then let us recall to mind the exhortation in view of this in Heb. 10:36, “Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” Now that this promise here spoken of refers to that in John 14 is evident by the next verse: “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.”
In the first part of this chapter man is seen, as often elsewhere, in failure and unbelief and in abortive attempts, to help himself. Indeed, all three here, Abram, Sarai, and Hagar, are to be blamed. Of the three surely the least part of the blame falls on Hagar. She ought to have been helped, and not stumbled as she was by those who knew the Lord better than she. But the “angel of the Lord,” as He is called in verse 7, or “Jehovah,” and “God,” as His name is (verse 13), finds her in her distress and soul-sorrow, and sets her right again. She was only, in man’s account, an insignificant servant maid. Yet she was, as we behold, cared for and watched over by Him that has ever proved Himself to be a friend in need. He was not engrossed with the care of such saints as Abram and Sarai. He knows everyone that trusts in Him. Though she was in lowly life He knew all about her. And that fountain of water, near which He finds her, must have been a memorial place to her in all after life. It was the fountain, as afterwards it came to be called, “of Him Who lives and sees me.” Jehovah, who had appeared to her, she called, “Thou, God, seest me.” Thus had He fixed her eye on Him Whose eye was fixed on her. Their eyes had met; and in His look there was forgiveness and restoration of her anguished soul. Now, as He had bidden her, she could return happily to Abram’s tent and to Sarai’s rule. This had He bidden her to do. Yea, by addressing her as Sarai’s maid He implied that she was defrauding her mistress in leaving her home. Thus did He cleanse her from all unrighteousness, whilst He forgave her sin. Christians have no right to leave the place where God has called them, unless there is something necessarily sinful connected with their continuance there. A Christian walking after the flesh is sometimes tempted to think of himself as suffering for righteousness when he is suffering through sheer wilfulness, and through baste to deliver himself out of an unpleasant or irksome position. Thus this chapter is a very instructive and useful chapter to us all. Such verses also as verses 13 and 14 show us what is true godliness. Finally we note that in His word to Hagar, a prophecy as to how her offspring should fare, was uttered by this uncreated Angel of the Lord, which has been fulfilling from that day even down to the present. Still is it true of the Ishmaelites, their hand is against every man, and every man’s hand is against them. Yet they live, though the word concerning them was pronounced three thousand years ago. And if this be so, if God thus affords proof even in this age, that His word cannot pass away; so may we be sure that, as respects the woe of the wicked and the joy of the righteous alike, every jot of what is written shall be fulfilled and fulfilling in its integrity, its entirety, and for ever and ever (Matt. 25:46).
Chapter 17. Thirteen years have elapsed since man’s impatience led to the picture as displayed in the last chapter. During this long interval, Abram would have ample leisure to be ashamed of his own folly. And he and we might at length understand why the Lord appeared to delay the fulfilment of His promise. Romans 4 is the divine clue to this chapter, as appears by the reference there to the rite of circumcision instituted at this time. God waited till “Abram’s body” and “Sarah’s womb” were virtually “dead.” Not till then could He so act as to fill the scene entirely with His own glory. There is a reason for all that God does or delays to do, even though we may not understand it. The same chapter (Rom. 4) informs us that at this period Abram was strong in faith, he staggered not, his being kept waiting long had wrought its due effect on him, he had seen his own folly in his incredulity and the wisdom of trusting in God. Hence his “falling on his face,” as we read in verse 3, was not in confusion, for the identical expression is used again in undefined
undefinedverse 17, where most certainly it was not so. Nay, rather at the contemplation of the sovereign grace in the Lord again appearing to him, notwithstanding his unbelief, he is overpowered and he worships. And the Lord in a glance back at his unbelief teaches him and us that the one all-potent remedy for this sin is found in keeping the eye fixed on God.
This seventeenth chapter we may divide into two parts — (1) God’s revelation of Himself; and (2) the response which He demands in view thereof. Here, for the first time in the Bible, we encounter the name El Shaddai—God, the all-sufficient One. The word “Almighty” scarcely conveys the thought of the original here. The Hebrew word comprehends this power too. For nothing can occur in God’s creation which shall surprise Him, or place Him in a difficulty. If sinners boldly and persistently defy Him, He is quite competent to cope with their rebellion or their obstinacy. His little finger will be more than a match, in power, against all their attempts to thwart His purpose. But the term El Shaddai may be used, as in fact it is here, in a gracious sense. No strait, no trial, no trouble of His people is such that He cannot triumphantly deliver them from, or, if it please Him, carry them through. Now this fresh and ampler discovery of His name, that is to say of Himself to Abram, was beautiful in its season, when he must have abandoned all hope of an heir, had he “considered his own body.” Then in the next verses the Lord proceeds to open out the import of this unfolding of His name, in uttering seven “I wills;” wherein he evidently adverts to His promise, on which Abram had yet failed to lean. See verses 6, 7, 8, 19, 21. In like manner, again, in Exod. 6, God makes another and further discovery of His name as Jehovah, to Moses, and explains to him its import, also, in seven other “I wills,” in Exod. 6:6-8. And once more the Lord Jesus has declared unto us God’s name in full as, the God and Father of Him, and therefore the God and Father of us in Him. And, in my opinion, the epistles of Paul to the seven Gentile churches of Home, Corinth, etc., are designed to be the seven unfoldings of this name. Well would it be if Christians in general apprehended this truth; and were not, alas! often heard to address Him as the Almighty, which is the term by which the world is wont to speak of Him, thereby exposing its ignorance, and yet terror, of God. True, in the book of Revelation, this name of God does occur frequently, because therein is displayed the execution of judgment and wrath on all unbelievers; otherwise, only in 2 Cor. 6, is this word to be found, and there, indeed, only for a special and most precious reason.
Now to this opening of His name to Abram, as the All-sufficient One, God expects a hearty and entire response. Hence the admonition, “walk before Me, and be thou perfect,”11 by which it is signified that his heart should correspondingly open and expand to receive these overtures of sovereign grace. Hence, also, the change of his name to Abraham, by which he would be reminded constantly of the largeness of the blessing bestowed upon him. And, once more, hence chiefly the institution of the rite of circumcision with which, at this period there was no connection as to law. The law was only introduced at another epoch, through Moses, when this rite concurrently received a legal tinge. See John 7:22. But its obvious design here was that it might be to him a seal of the righteousness of his faith (Rom iv.), and thus serve as a mark, in the flesh, of separation unto God, which he and his descendants might ever carry. The flesh then not having shown out its enmity to God in the murder of His Son, was cut or maimed, and not adjudged as yet to be altogether bad. But now the ordinance instituted by the Lord requires that the flesh be buried, as that which is utterly corrupt. Therefore, likewise, in the one case was the rite for the children of Abraham and his race after the flesh; whilst in the other, it is for those who have a nature other than the flesh; in other words, for the true children of God. Only as then circumcision involved separation to God alone, and was of no eternal value without it, so baptism now is not mainly outward, but is only true when the Holy Ghost appropriates us for God, as those who are risen with Christ. See Col. 2:11, 12; 3:1-5. In short, the further the discoveries of Himself in grace to the souls which God is pleased to make, the simpler should be the surrender of that soul to such a God, taking sides with Him against nature, flesh and unbelief. God wants us for Himself alone.
Chapter 18. Here, happily, follows a picture of the Lord communing with Abraham, and of Abraham, in that high and blessed communion, interceding for others. But before Abraham is fit to enjoy this communion, his heart must be set at ease before God. For still his desire of an heir and God’s promise to him are unfulfilled; and, naturally, the older he became, the more solicitous would he be for the speedy accomplishment of the promise. And the fact that God removed his solicitude ere He took him into His secret counsel argues that, otherwise, he would scarcely have been able to attend upon the Lord without distraction. Accordingly, we read here first of a feast provided by Abraham, and partaken of by his heavenly Visitants; and, next, of His assurance to Abraham that His promise to him was about to be fulfilled. Sarah laughs, hearing of this joyful news, as her husband, in chap. 17:17, had laughed likewise. Here it is clear from the context that there was incredulity in her laugh. Yet in Heb. 11 we read that, through faith, she received strength to conceive seed. But this apparent contradiction as to the state of soul of Sarah contains nothing that needs to perplex any Christian; for who of us is not conscious of the presence of these two, of faith and unbelief, in his own heart, and, consequently, of the struggle that there takes place?
Now Abraham, having heard the period definitely named for that blessing which his heart had for so long a while craved, would doubtless have been satisfied; but the Lord had, as we see, much more to say to him. He delights to go on with us in the discoveries of His grace when He has strengthened our hearts to be able to bear them. Many now are content to know that they have eternal life, and care not to inquire for what purpose God had set His heart upon conferring on us this great gift. Neither are such moved by the evident reply that, by communicating to us of His own nature, and of His own Spirit, we may be compelled in some measure to understand Him, and able intelligently to worship Him and hold communion with Him. Never can angels, however exalted, adequately enter into His thoughts, nor into His love. Still less was aught of this possible for them, ere the twofold sight of Christ on the cross for sinners, and of Christ on the throne for believers, had been opened to creature view. Yet these are the two great modes whereby alone God can be known. Let us follow on to know the Lord; so we please Him.
The two angels that accompanied the Lord, being now about to depart towards Sodom, near to which Lot descries them presently approaching (chap. 19:1), the Lord determines to inform Abraham of what He is about to do, and thus to assure him of His friendship. He also remarkably assigns His reasons for this, which show that His secret is only with those who fear Him, and not with the Lots who disobey Him. And blessed it is to remember that all we who truly believe in Christ are lifted up into this place of intimacy, as the Lord testifies in John 15. And as we abide in Him, so do the eternal realities of the future become distincter unto us, that we may live in the power of them. Who would have thought that to Abraham, rather than to Lot, whom it more immediately concerned, the impending doom of Sodom should be thus at once revealed? Likewise, the godly are they who know not only their own portion in Christ, but also the things that are coming on the earth; yea, and wherefore such judgments are so coming. Such souls should particularly bear in mind what, of all things in the character of Abraham, the Lord singled out as that which specially met His approval. “I know him that he will command his children and his household after him; and they shall keep the way of the Lord” (verse 19). Strange that, in the families of so many of His own people nowadays, His instituted rule is exactly inverted, and, first, the children lead the mother, and the wife rules the husband. Nothing but evil can accrue from such a state of things.
Then when Abraham on the mount of communion with the Lord learns His mind, at once he commences to intercede for Sodom’s inhabitants. “When freed by grace from all care as to harm happening to ourselves, and when in the enjoyment of His smile, it is beautiful to think of the welfare of others. Even in heaven the Church has not only harps to praise Him therewith for themselves, but golden vials full of odours containing the prayers of the Jewish remnant. And these prayers the great Archangel Himself then offers up to God. (Compare Rev. 5:8, with 8:3-5.) A certain timidity and irresolution characterize the intercession even of an Abraham here, as weakness marked that of Moses against Amalek in Exod. 17:12; and as that terrible clause “if not” was heard in his entreaties of mercy for Israel, who had sinned, in Exod. 32:32. So too Ananias speaks against Paul to the Lord in Acts 9:13. Few readers will need to be reminded of how all this blessedly contrasts with the Lord’s intercession for us as in John 17, “Father, I will;” or in Luke 22:32; Heb. 4:15, 6:25; 1 John 2:1, etc. Here, likewise, we see that Abraham ceased pleading ere God ceased giving. We dare not guess what other issue there might have been for Sodom, had Abraham continued in supplication, not only pleading for mercy for Sodom, if fifty, forty, thirty righteous were found in it, but further if twenty, ten, five, yea, one such soul were there. No doubt we may infer from the Lord’s words: “I will go down now and see,” as also from His action in taking Abraham into His confidence as to Sodom’s condition, that “judgment is His strange work.” If therefore unto us He has shown Himself gracious in constituting us as intercessors for our unsaved friends and relatives, let us catch His mind, and not allow our uplifted hands to flag in their behalf, until we have the answer of peace for them. Study here, the connexion between verses 12 and 13 of John 14. In the former verse we| are said almost ourselves to work the miracle of grace; in the latter, the same is ascribed to the Lord, in answer to our prayer.
Chapter 19. Here we see the last of Lot. And to the end there appears something strangely unsatisfactory about him. The Holy Ghost expressly states that he was a righteous man, else we might almost have concluded otherwise. By a sort of second-hand fear of God, and influenced by Abraham, he had set out in his company from his native land to the land of promise. And very remarkably from the commencement of Lot’s history, even up to this chapter, where that history is closed, we read not once of the Lord appearing to Lot, or of His having a word to say to him. And even here, if the angels do come into his house, it is only on his pressing invitation. In the eighteenth chapter, they needed no pressing on the part of Abraham. And there, too, the Lord Himself was with them; here the executioners of his vengeance are alone. And how had he got to Sodom? First, when Abraham had made him that noble offer in chap. 13, he had meanly and greedily taken advantage of it; and then the inspired language as to his course is traced in minute and painful distinctness. First, he deliberately chooses Sodom, urged too by the lust of the eye, 13:10, 11; next he pitches his tent towards Sodom. After that he is found among the captives of Sodom, indebted for his deliverance to Abraham’s energy of faith. Unwarned, he returns to the place of his choice and is now a dweller in Sodom, yea, from being found sitting in the gate of Sodom, it would appear as if he had risen to position and to prominence therein, that is to say, to position and even to prominence in that which was evil. “Well might his righteous soul be vexed in such company, which yet he had no inclination to forsake. Here he calls the men of Sodom his brethren, and his children and himself are married to Sodomites, whilst not a single hint is there of any intercourse with Abraham during the many years that have elapsed since they parted company in chap. 13. And even now at the last, if he is to be saved, he has to be almost dragged out. The salvation itself is by the Scripture said to have been partly attributable to Abraham; I suppose to his intercessory prayer. And that prayer could only be heard in bringing him out: for out he must come, if he is to be saved at all. Lot’s wife, who accompanied him on his departure, quickly proved that though bodily she was separated, still in heart she continued there. Therefore, as the Lord Jesus, speaking of her, warns those who may happen providentially to be unconnected with some wickedness, but who would gladly be in it if they could get or return thither, if their step out was not taken in faith deliberately, therefore are such warned, that her punishment was sure, swift, condign, and terrible. When once the Lord speaks out in judgment, there is no mistake as if feebleness were in His arm, or as if hesitation were in His purpose. Men may have thought there was whilst He delayed His blow. They misunderstand His long-suffering, even as they will to the end (2 Peter 3). He keeps silent, and they think wickedly that the “I Am” is such an one as themselves. Let not readers now forget the warning, for there is an antitype, as many Scriptures testify, to the scene here. But on this antitype I have already remarked, when considering chap. 13.
I only add here, therefore, that in 2 Peter we have four classes of souls—two classes of saved in chap. 1, to wit, those increasing in the knowledge of God, and so waxing stronger and stronger in their separation unto Him; next, some others, converted indeed, but “shutting their eyes “(see Greek) as to the evil with which they are connected; and again, in chap. 2, we see another class, false teachers, denying the Lord, and making merchandise of souls; and in chap. 3 their religiousness is seen to be tending towards infidelity. The several parties of 2 Peter are easily to be discerned, each of them, at this very day. Then in Jude we read of some who need to be pulled out of the fire. Here the allusion to this (chap. 19) is obvious. And as the connection of Jude with 2 Peter is admitted by all, so by conjoining the warnings, and interpreting them in the light of this our chapter in Genesis, they become most vivid. Then, in Revelation, all the several stages of the apostasy which we behold all around us are traced in their order by the Son of God. His own people, heeding His call, are seen in obedience in Philadelphia, “holding fast His name, and keeping the word of His patience.” On the other hand, some in Laodicea are urged to be zealous, and repent. But our subject is Genesis, and not Revelation; therefore I refrain myself from pursuing further this solemn subject now.
Chapter 20. At the beginning of Heb. 12, the path of the Lord through this world is set in contrast by the writer of the Epistle with the flickering faith of the saints enumerated in chap. 11. There the special seasons when they displayed faith are pointed out to us. But Christ was always ready for any trial. Hence, incontradistinction with all those, He is termed, “the Beginner and Completer of the faith.” Wherever the true path of obedience and of unswerving confidence in God led Him, there He was sure to be. However arduous the circumstances into which this steadfastness might lead Him, thither and forwards He went, He ran. This divine course could only terminate at the cross. There He died. Then God raised Him from the dead, and gave Him glory, that our faith and hope might, similarly, be in God. For this cause we are enjoined to “look off to Jesus.” His garments were as the pattern Servant of God, seen to be so white in the light of Tabor’s Mount, as that no fuller on earth could whiten them. As for the holiest saints of old, their faith was weak, and their exercise of it only, as it were, by fits and starts. In rare cases, as of Abraham’s, where the faith was more continuous, still there was failure over and over again. Christ’s was one single “work,” one perfect whole from end to end. Others’ was mere patchwork, of larger or smaller pieces.
Here we see Abraham again overcome, and by precisely the same sin through which he had diverged before (chap. 13.) Then he failed when in Egypt; now when at Gerar, half-way between Egypt and Canaan. In full communion and in full obedience only is there security. Oat and apart from these, even though by compromise we are off the straight line, and further wrong we shall quickly get. We might have imagined that, where once he had got wrong, he had been made more strong, did we not know ourselves. Besides which, there was that amount of truth as to Sarah’s relationship, that might render him more liable to convey an impression to Abimelech which was foreign to the fact. Alas! Abraham desired to deceive Abimelech, and did deceive him. He was guilty of a suggestio falsi, and an unfair suppressio veri. And thus by a combination of error and truth are we oft led astray. Only in God’s light can we see light, and walk according to the will of God. As a worldly man, Abimelech is here seen to be exhibiting more integrity than a believer; and this, sad to say, is not a rare sight. Abimelech seems to have had some natural fear of God, and to deprecate like vengeance on his nation as that which had alighted on Sodom. Nor is there here any account of Abraham communing with God, nor of God talking with Abraham. Surely the believer in his experience is conscious of some parallel to all this. Five hundred years after all this came to pass, Moses was inspired to narrate it. And thus it is evident that the Lord notes our conflicts, wounds, depression, and subsequent victories.
For still, blessed be God, the broad fact after all remains true, we are His people. Nor will He abandon us to our foes. He will separate the sins which He hates from the souls that He loves. “No change Jehovah knows.” Fickle we may be and are; He sees us in Christ. Hence beautiful it is to observe that at the very time when Abraham was so thoroughly down, then the Lord speaks of him as a prophet, and declares that at Abraham’s prayer, Abimelech shall live. The allusion here, doubtless, is to the grace by which Abraham had been taken into the confidence of the Lord as to Sodom’s doom, and to his intercession in its behalf. By a prophet, I understand one who stands usually in God’s light, and who therefore can shed light on the difficulties of others which beset their path through not equally dwelling in that light: and also one who, through abiding with God and in Christ, prevails in prayer with God (John 15:16). This interpretation of this oft-used term will, I believe, be found to be a clue to every passage wherein it occurs. In the case of the inspired prophet, his light, of course, is so distinct and so purely obtained from God, as to be the very judgment of God Himself. In a secondary sense only, some nowadays more continue in God’s light and know His will better than others, and therefore are competent ofttimes to give godly counsel to a “carnal” Christian (1 Cor. 3:1). But in this subordinate sense of the use of the word “prophet,” the light which such an one gives must be brought to the searching test of the Word of God.
Abraham here speaks of himself to Abimelech as a wanderer. The original Hebrew here is peculiar. “And it came to pass when God,… they caused me to wander from my father’s house,” etc. There may be some allusion here to the truth of God being three-one. At all events, he confesses himself a pilgrim and a stranger. Conjoin with this what we have already heard as to his being a prophet; then we have the double truth—one brought out so much more vividly in the New Testament, viz., of separation—perfect both unto God and from the world; or, as we are wont to say, “inside the vail and outside the camp.” There was surely the germ of this twofold aspect of life in Abraham’s day. For then, too, the world was a fallen world, and God was the one Resort of His people. Only the depth of its fall and the measure of its hostility had not been gauged; it was the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ that showed all this. And Christ came to give us this life, in either aspect “more abundantly.” For through Him we obtain power to become sons of God, and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost given unto us, we are made joint heirs with Himself; but at the same time we, in this day of His rejection, suffer with Him also.
Chapter 21 This chapter, the last one in the second part of Abraham’s life, has for its chief feature the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His promise. It reminds one of that passage in Habakkuk quoted in Heb. 10: “Though it (or ‘He’) tarry, wait for it (or ‘Him’). He will surely come; He will not delay.” The coming of Christ has ever been God’s grand promise, and at the same time the believer’s hope ever since the scene in Gen. 3, even up to this day. Only in the case of these patriarchs of old, they were looking for a Christ who had not yet come; but we look for One who has already come and put away our sins, and now in human form and in resurrection appears in God’s presence on our behalf. There, by faith, we behold Him. Hence that word of Him, oJ ercomeno"—the coming One. Of old, in Adam, or in Abraham’s time, He was coming. And now, though He has been and gone, He is still nearer to us, even than when on earth He stood among His little apostolic band. For now we are already one with Himself in spirit, so as they certainly were not until He had died and risen (John 12:24). Now His promise is, “I am coming again” (John 14:3, Greek).
Of this coming One, the Heir, the Son, Isaac became at once, at his birth, the type. Whilst yet a child in his parents’ house in this chap. 21; and, again, when at a later period, Abraham had died, he may in some respects more resemble the Christ that is formed in us—in other words, the sons in their state of childhood as here; or in the life of training and discipline as in chaps. 25-27. On the other hand, in the intermediate chapters, to wit, chaps. 22-24, when Isaac is fully grown, whilst yet his father is still alive, he appears rather to resemble the eternal Son, the second Man who is the Lord from heaven.
At all events, the Lord did keep His promise to Abraham. He kept it at the set time too. The emphatic style of the language in it may probably be designed as a glance at Abraham’s and Sarah’s former incredulity. What a fine mode of rebuke of this is the keeping His promise exactly and in all respects. In this way, too, does He oft convince us where we had failed, and manifest to us that we might have trusted in Him. And this the more readily, seeing that this present period is characterized by many “haths “of what God has already done for us, perhaps even more so than by promises awaiting fulfilment. In fact, we have little to look for now but His return, which is termed “The promise” in Heb. 10:36, 37. And as to this there is certainly a “set time,” though it has not been so set as for us to know. And if this be true of His great promise, let us rest assured that His time for the fulfilment of any minor promise is the right time. Shall not the promises which He has already fulfilled shame us out of our unbelief, and strengthen us implicitly to believe Him for the future?
Legalism is natural to fallen men. Ishmael could only be a bondman from his birth, for partus sequitur ventrem—as is the mother, so is the child. Then Isaac born draws out Ishmael’s latent hostility to what is of God. Here we see again, as in the respective cases of Cain and Abel, the antagonism of the two seeds (Gen. 3.) These must be diverse, as flesh and spirit are opposed to each other. It has been inferred from the names of his children that Ishmael was a religious man. Three of these, Mishma, Dumah. Massa, may be rendered, “hearing,” “silence,” and “patiently bearing;” equivalent to the words in James 1:19, “Swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” This only deepens the lesson. No hostility is there to grace comparable with fleshly piety and religiousness. All this was abundantly evident in Christ’s own time here, and is still everywhere observable even now. Ishmael “mocked” Isaac, or “laughed” at him (Hebrew). Strange that this curl of the lip is regarded as “persecution “in Gal. 4:29. Yet not strange when we call to mind how much of malignity there may be in a suppressed sneer, and of pain to him at whom it is directed. The Lord knows all the wickedness in the heart of man, and forgets nothing of what His people suffer for His sake. No sorrow of theirs is beneath His notice. But as Hagar’s seed represents not only all those “born after the flesh,” but specially those “under law,” as the old nation of Israel was; therefore it, as well as flesh in general, is set aside when grace reigns. Hence, as it is true that the flesh profiteth nothing, so, likewise, has the sentence gone forth on that nation, “Lo Ammi” (see Rom. 9:6-8). To this day Israel is a wanderer among the nations of the earth, though preserved distinct from all. For there are deep counsels of love to be fulfilled towards the remnant of Israel—the nation bringing forth fruit, as Christ terms it in Matt, 21:43. But then these people, like all others, can only come into blessing on the ground of sovereign grace, and as if they were Gentiles (Acts 15:11). This is the special line of teaching in the book of Ruth. And Sarah was so far conversant in the ways of grace as to be able to interpret the will of God, and that, too, to Abraham. Thus, by the fulfilment of God’s promise to her, her soul also had grown in divine knowledge, and was established. For her words to Abraham at this time are called Scripture in Gal. 4:30, and shown in chap. 5 to be applicable in all directions.
This was the second time that Hagar found herself alone, yet not alone, in the wilderness. It is worthy of notice that, on each occasion, her eyes beheld a well of water. Surely the frequency of this reference to a well where grace is acting—as, when law has done its work, grace loves to display its resources—all this suggests a designed symbol. It was at a well that the wife for Isaac, the typical son, and again a wife for Jacob, the typical servant, were found (Gen. 24:13 and 29:2). Likewise it was at a well that Moses, the typical prophet, found a bride, and a home, and a flock (Exod. 2.) Passing over such hints as we find in Joshua 15:19, with Judges 1:15, there is the case of that wretched woman who was found by the Lord whilst on His way from Jewish rejection to Gentile mercy in John 4. To her He speaks not of the kingdom, but about the worship of the Father, and of the water of life. For it is His wont, when rejected in a lower glory, to retire into a higher (John 6.);12 wherefore does she much resemble in type the Church of God. But she, too, was found at a well. Hagar, like the rest of us, by nature unprepared for sovereign grace, eventually triumphing over flesh, works, sin, and law, is in despair for her seed, counting only on death; then she descries a well, when God opens her eyes. Yet we only read of her filling a bottle. It is true that God is here in the wilderness, and the Holy Ghost is so present as He has never been before. Through Him there is even a well of water in the believer, so that rivers of living water flow out from him (John 4 and 7.) Alas! how little contents us when God would have us reckon on Him; not according to our need, as we often hear Christians in prayer request to be supplied, but according to His own riches in glory by Christ Jesus. He eyes our need, truly, but in supplying it He deals with us according to what He is, not according to the narrowness of our hearts. But how little are we prepared for this abundance! Do “rivers of living water” flow out from us? Alas! no. “Where is our faith? For the promise is to him that “believeth.” The word is in the present tense in John 7:38, to signify that faith should be in daily, present operation. A bottleful of this water suffices us; yet what a blessing we might be in a land barren and dry, if our faith were simpler. The chapter, and the entire section,13 closes with a glance at the Gentile seeking Abraham. And why? Because the son is born. A similar scene is found in John 12, where, first, you see the Church represented by the family at Bethany; next, the Jew, in verse 12; and, next, the Gentile, in verse 20. In like manner, the same concentric circles are beheld here. For here we have Christ and the Church—the Man-child of Rev. 12, represented by Isaac, born after the Spirit; next we see Israel after the flesh, as symbolized by Hagar and Ishmael, the bondwoman and her offspring—for we are the true circumcision, and not they; and, lastly, in Abimelech and Phichol we see the Gentile world seeking the friendship of Abraham the Hebrew, yet reproved by him, who in proper season claims his rights, which had been for a while allowed to remain in abeyance. For yet God will gather together and head up all things in heaven and on earth under Christ His Son.
The Lord’s Way with Believing Abraham as a Father.
Chapters 22-25:10. Inasmuch as the design of these remarks is to present only a summary of the teaching of Genesis viewed as a whole, so on such a chapter as the twenty-second, where one might be inclined to linger longer, an outline must still suffice, even though its filling up might render the same much more vivid. However, happily there is the less need for much enlargement here, inasmuch as most of us are familiar with the contents of the chapter, whether regarded as a narrative or as a type.
As for the former aspect the chapter is superscribed, God’s temptation of Abraham. God and Satan each tempt us. The difficulty is solved by the remembrance of the diversity of object in view of God from Satan. God never tempts us to evil, but to strengthen us in what we know of Him, and in order that we may know Him better. Our wilderness lessons, though they may have been most painful to us, have yet been withal exceedingly profitable. Who of us would like to have been without them? There is not a circumstance of every-day life that does not contribute to test our confidence in God. And if when the trial comes we continue steadfast, we avouch that we esteem His favour beyond everything. Thus do we daily win battles over our sin, and over our unbelief. Then at the end of the life-long struggle there is the crown of life which the Lord has promised to them who, when tried, are found to love Him (James 1:12). All of us have been broken down at times. Still some are more on their guard than others. Some are not so easily betrayed as others. That trial which proves too much for one walking negligently and not in the Spirit, or which might be overwhelming to the same at another time, might only strengthen his faith when abiding in Christ. Abraham had now grown much through God’s patient leading and discipline. Then at last came the great trial to display the reality and moral grandeur of God’s own work of grace (James 2:21, 22). Nor was he found unprepared for this. By the God that loved him the temptation was most lovingly timed, when he had become much versed in experience of the Lord’s tender mercy. Surely all of us could recall to mind periods in our wilderness experience when we have found Him a very present help in trouble. And though from all of us His children He demands the surrender of everything by faith at His call, yet to some a crucial test such as this sore one may not be presented. For why? They give way at once and readily to a much easier test. Thus life is developing our character which God, if we will let Him have His own way with us, is intent on forming. And the pleasure which the Lord takes in our efforts to please Him, as He evidently did in the case of Abraham here, should rouse us to the fixed determination to yield ourselves unto Him with full purpose of heart. This is to be done by taking up the Cross and following the Lord Jesus every day of our life.
God speaks to Abraham, calling him by his name, as his Friend and Lord. He, in peace and communion, promptly replies, “Behold, here am I.” It would seem as if throughout this long and sore trial the soul of Abraham was preserved in perfect peace. Thus in this chapter we have this brief and ready answer to the call, in ver. 1, of God; in ver. 7, of his son; and in ver. 11, of the angel. In each place the reply is the same in Hebrew. A fiery trial like this would surely itself tend in God’s hands to produce tranquillity of heart. It would be felt to be a time of the special visitation of God.
In the divine command now given to Abraham are seven particulars, one after another leading towards a purposed climax, in order that the full force of the trial might be felt, and thus the faith, by obedience, be found genuine. Now the obedience rendered was unquestioning; uncomplaining; exactly according to the Word; it was prompt; it was deliberate; it involved the surrender, at God’s call, of all possessed; it was to slay his son, and it was to be done by himself. As for the son, as the truth of the Lord’s will dawns on his mind gradually, he appears to have bowed his head in hearty acquiescence to the will of God. At this time he must have been old enough to have opposed himself with resolution, had he been so minded. He was not less than twenty-four years of age. Trained, as God had declared that Abraham would train his family, in His fear, he is conscious that for true worship there must be a Lamb for a burnt-offering, which is far more than many of our religious wiseacres of this day are aware of. And when to his question, “Where is the lamb? “ he has received the suggestive reply, “My son, God will provide for Himself a lamb,” silence followed on either side, which appears to have remained unbroken by either till they reach the place. As if each knew more about the intended victim than they liked to tell the one to the other. And each had leisure for reflection and for drawing back, had either been so disposed. But each remained stedfast in heart. It is well to notice this, that we may learn, mutatis mutandis, to copy it. Doubtless, Abraham knew that God would, somehow or other, give him back his son. His language in verse 5 implies as much: “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and we will come again to you” (so Hebrew). But in what manner this would come to pass he knew not; he left it to God.
So, when at last the crisis came, each continued firm. No hesitation was there in the one, and no resistance by the other. “He took the knife to slay his son.” Here I admire, not so much the unfaltering obedience of Abraham, nor yet the perfect concurrence of Isaac in that obedience to the divine will, as I wonder at the grace of God that could take up a wretched idolater, so as Abraham had been, and teach him His love, and train him to this entire self-abnegation and self-consecration unto God. A descendant of rebellious Adam, as each of these was by nature, had been so won over by sovereign grace, that to do or to suffer the will of God was preferred by them before everything. Now such obedience we ought to be prepared gladly to render. Yea, even from this example, bright as it surely is, we are commanded to “look off,” in order to contemplate One whose path was infinitely more arduous and painful still. And He it is who is our Exemplar. He has given to us of His Spirit; and as many as are led by the Spirit of God, so as He was led, they, and they only, are the sons of God. Fail in detail and in practice we may, and often do; yet our calling to association with Himself and to tread in His footsteps is unchanged.
But it remains for us to inquire, in the presence of a type of far higher things, as we all feel sure we have here, what is the great truth itself foreshadowed under all this? Was the offering up by Abraham of his son designed to be a picture, and a lesson to us as to what it cost Him who spared not His own Son, but freely gave Him for us all? Or, on the other hand, are we here taught that the sinner deserved death and must have met it, had not a ram—a substitute—been found instead? It appears to me there is no need for these two views to be regarded as antagonistic. Surely here, as in many other Scriptures, we behold a double type of Christ. For instance: we have elsewhere the burnt and sin offerings: the two goats; the two birds, or sparrows; —Moses with Aaron; David with Solomon; Elijah with Elisha, and divers others.
Now, as to the former aspect, Isaac is termed Abraham’s only-begotten, and is said to have been actually “offered up” (James 2:21). “In a figure,” too, Abraham received him from the dead; and, what is very remarkable, after that he must have been accounted by him as good as dead for three days—I mean, from the moment when he heard God’s command, till the time when he came down from the mount. The place, too, was “the land of Moriah,” wherein David at a subsequent period built an altar, and where Solomon reared the Temple, and in which Calvary itself was situated. Again, if we look at Isaac, we see depicted, in his carrying the wood on which, himself was to be slain, the voluntariness of the sacrifice of Christ. He delighted to do the will of God. That the world might know that He loved the Father, and as the Father gave Him commandment, so He went onward up to the cross. Was the wood laid on Isaac, and presently Isaac placed on the wood? Thus on the cross was sin laid on Christ, and He Himself was made sin for us who knew no sin. In fact, not a single feature of importance in the history is there, but it finds its counterpart in some precious feature of God’s and of Christ’s love. The shadow may, in many respects, be faint, compared with the great sacrifice itself. For instance, on the cross of Christ the divine eye had been riveted ere the world began. All through His human life, too, the cross at the end of His path must have weighed on Christ’s soul. When He read Isa. 53, He would have no occasion to ask, as did the Ethiopian eunuch, “Of whom speaketh the prophet thus, of himself or of some other? “And of all that chapter, the verse that might appear to have most keenly touched Him was the clause, “He was numbered with the transgressors.” For this sentence He specially singled out for observation as the time of the cross drew nigh; whilst Abraham’s knowledge of what sacrifice was required of him extended, as we have seen, only over three days, and Isaac’s acquaintance therewith for probably a less period still.
On the other hand, the ram was caught, and Christ was held fast by the horns of His strength and love. It was not left to Abraham to find the ram, nor to the sinner to procure a substitute. Neither Abraham in the one case, nor we in the other, had any idea of such a mercy. Nay, more; unless we had been distinctly certified thereof by God, never should we have known that God had a Son, and that that Son could be, only could be and would be, the Victim. God found us Christ, and gave Him up expressly that He might die the Just for the unjust. Then the soul, acquiescing in God’s way of grace by the substitution of this Saviour for itself, sees death to be its own desert, and bows to the sentence, and at once obtains resurrection in Christ risen.
As Isaac descended from the mount, not one scratch, we may be sure, was to be found upon him. He stood, “in a figure,” in resurrection, even as we in Christ are beyond judgment, beyond the cross and the grave. We are in Christ, but Christ is not dead. Christ is risen, glorified. There, then, likewise, is our standing. The cross is not between the believer and his God, but between the believer and the world. The cross is behind him, and by it he is crucified to the world, and it to him. And now he belongs only to God and his Father, and to the Lord Jesus Christ his Saviour. Henceforth such a one is a saint, a separated man, a pilgrim and a stranger in this world. He is only here at all through having been first taken out of it by Christ his Lord, and then sent back as a risen man to “bear much fruit “(see Rom. 7:4). For this cause this wonderful chapter closes with a list of children related to Abraham. And likewise, in the promise of God to him here, we now find conjoined the mention of the heavenly and of the earthly seeds. Previously, the Lord had first assured Abraham that his seed should be as the sand of the seashore (chap. 13:16). Later on, the Lord had said that his seed should resemble the stars of heaven in multitude. But here the word is as to both of these families; to wit, of the earthly and of the heavenly. And, lastly, we are instructed in that notable parenthesis of Gal. 3:15 to 4:7, that the term “seed,” which itself may, of course, be either singular or plural, points mainly to Isaac coming down from the mount as the type of Christ in resurrection. He is the true Seed, the true Son, the only Head. Of Him “every family in heaven and earth is named “(Eph. 3:15, Greek).
Chapter 23. “The God of glory gave to Abraham no inheritance” in Canaan; “no, not so much as to set his foot on; yet He promised that He would give if, to him for a possession.” Thus was he taught to trust and to wait. He was “a stranger in the land of promise” (verse 4). The Hittites claimed the soil on which he stood; yet was he “the friend of God.” No sign, then, is it of a lack of His friendship to have little or no portion here. Even if Abraham required a place for sepulture, he must purchase it. Of all places in Canaan, Hebron, where Sarah died, seems to have been the best known to the Israelites, previous to their entering on its possession in Joshua’s time. It is particularly singled out in Num. 13:22, when the Spirit would show that the whole land belonged by gift to Israel ere that nation went down to Egypt. Hebron was built ready for them, “seven years,” a complete period, ere Zoan, in Egypt, was. Yet it was here, of all places, that Abraham had to buy land in which to bury his dead. Truly the ways of God are wonderful. We may here well be reminded of Another, who, when He came to His own property, His own people on it received Him not. They said, “This is the Heir,” and they killed Him. All that He had here was, as we say, a cross and a borrowed grave. And now His own are surely taught to hold “lands and houses,” at most, with a light grasp (Acts 4:34). Our place of blessing is in the heavenlies, where all spiritual blessings are by us to be enjoyed. On earth, having food and raiment, let us, as blessed with believing Abraham, be content. God will put all in their respective places round His Son in His good time. If His Son has been cast out and slain, and is Himself waiting for His prayer to be answered (John 17:24), and expecting till His foes are made His footstool, we cannot do better than wait and suffer with Him. Faith knows, on the warrant of God’s Word, that He is risen. The Holy Ghost has come down to testify of His glory in the highest heavens; but here below Satan reigns on sufferance, and by usurpation. The Lord accepts for a while His rejection, whilst a heavenly people are being drawn to Him yonder.
Meanwhile, Israel is a widow. She has had a hand, yea, and the chief hand, in the murder of her Husband. Never in Scripture is the Church of God compared to a widow. That one in Luke 18:5 cries for vengeance, which assuredly is not the Church’s prayer, but Israel’s, as in the Psalms. As yet, the Church has never been married to the Lord; she is only betrothed; and this present period is the interval between the betrothal and the marriage, during which love-messages are sent by the Bridegroom to the bride. The bearer of these to us is the Holy Ghost (John 16); and the Lord and we are each waiting for the nuptial day (John 17:24).
Israel as a nation is dead. It was consigned to the grave by the Lord when He pronounced upon it the sign of Jonas the prophet.14 God can breathe upon the slain, and cause them to live. The vision of a valley full of dry bones that the prophet beheld, though it may, perhaps, properly be used to illustrate the resurrection of the body, or the divine quickening of the unregenerate, was primarily given to set forth the revival of “the whole house of Israel” (Ezek. 37:11); and still do these “children of thy people,” as Daniel was told, “sleep in the dust of the earth” (chap. 12:2). But “thy dead men shall live.” The earth shall “cast out” these dead. They shall “awake and sing,” though now they “dwell in dust,” as Isaiah predicts (chap. 26:19). Thus, as the Church, in the heavenlies, so Israel in the earthlies, obtains the promise only in resurrection. Hence it is that this sign of Jonas was uttered by the Lord Jesus on two several occasions. When first He spoke of this sign of death and resurrection, He next proceeded to speak of the kingdom of heaven and its mysteries, thereby signifying that His reign on earth, and concurrently Israel’s time of blessing, were, through, that nation’s unbelief, delayed. Now Israel can only become a witness for God, and a preacher to the world, as Jonas in resurrection was. (Matt. 12:40, with Matt, 13) Then, shortly after, the Lord repeated this same sign, when at once you hear of the Church, and of the Rock on which that Church is built (compare Matt, 16:4 with verse 18). Thus, whilst Israel, for not recognizing her Messiah, is temporarily set aside, the Church is called out and constituted during the Lord’s absence, to be the heavenly witness for God in the world. Even this very earth itself must pass through a sort of regeneration, or resurrection (Matt. 19:28). And thus, whether it be of the Lord Himself, or of His Church, or of Israel, or of the earth, God’s way is one, even by that one, that no eagle’s eye has seen, namely by death and resurrection.
But, in regard to all of this, each part in its own due season. Here in the type Israel dies—”For your iniquities is your mother put away” (Isa. 1.) On Sarah personally is bestowed this honour, that she only, of all women in the Bible, has the number of her years recorded. But, typically, the Lord has deeper counsels of love to unfold, while Israel acknowledges Him not.
Chapter 24. Though Israel for a time remains in ignorance and in death as to her Messiah, yet Christ’s resurrection is the secure guarantee that all promised to that nation shall ultimately be fulfilled, and the nation revived and restored (Acts 13:32, 33). Meanwhile, that same resurrection is the occasion of the outflow of grace to the world at large (Acts 13:34, with Isa. 55:1-3). But Israel having rejected Him on earth, and again in resurrection, the Lord has retired into deeper glory, and has sat down at the right hand of God. When the Jews murdered Stephen, and thereby consummated their rejection of Christ a second time, then He raises up Paul to unfold the doctrine of the Church. And in the Church there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but Christ is all and in all.
Now, whilst the Church for the heavenlies is being gathered out, the Lord has nothing to do with the earth as such, save in a providential manner. He remains hidden in the Father’s house. She is brought thither to Him by Another. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are equally God; but officially, as Christ has been pleased to act as the divine Servant of the Father, so the Holy Ghost is engaged in acting as the divine Servant of Christ. Hence, mark what emphasis is thrown again and again in the type here, that the son Isaac, as if risen from the dead since chap. 22 is to remain in the father’s house, whilst the servant comes forth to woo and to win a bride for him (chap. 24:6-8). No one type of Christ in any character can be a complete representation of the One so gloriously full. Hence, in the case of Jacob the servant, he goes forth and serves for a bride, and fairly earns her. For Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it (Hosea 12:12, with Eph. 5:25). And the way of the Spirit of God in sketching the types of Christ is sometimes, as here, to put the higher aspect first; so similarly the account of the burnt-offering precedes that of the sin-offering in Leviticus.
So as we here see our calling is quite a heavenly one, as is evidenced by where Christ continues during that call of the Holy Ghost sent forth in person to tell of the hidden glories of the Son, and of the priceless value of His work and blood-shedding, as seen, and seen only, in the uncreated light of God’s immediate presence. It is impossible that anywhere else but there, for the full worth of His blood, and of His finished work, to be seen. And there He is at present; and down here the Holy Ghost is on purpose to tell us of these heavenly glories. See especially John 16:13-15; 2 Cor. 3:18; and Eph. 1:17. In the tabernacle of old, some vessels were of brass or copper, and others of gold. Those which were uncovered were of copper; at which sin was dealt with and judged according to the divine perfections. But those perfections are not fully revealed by the somewhat negative way of coping with our sin. Beyond all this, what God is in Himself, what are the riches of His grace, of His love as in making us His born sons and daughters, and in rendering us competent for the inheritance of the saints in light and much more to the same effect, on a like grand and infinite scale, all this was borne witness to by some of the furniture in the tabernacle being covered with pure gold. Now it was on and before the mercy-seat, made of pure gold, that the blood was sprinkled upon the day of atonement. Therefore, during this age, antitypical of that day, God is telling out the value of Christ’s blood, according to His own estimate thereof, by His supreme kindness to us who are the pretrusters in Christ, whilst that Christ is in there. On the mercy-seat of old, there was blood—symbol of death—only; but now, Christ, as the mercy-seat, is “placed forth” outside, for any sinner at once to approach (Rom. 3:25); whilst, also, the living Christ, His Son, is seated upon the throne within. Being a man, he requires a throne, which the mercy-seat is never once called. Being the Son of the living God, as seen in there, the Church is in continuance of being built upon Him (Matt. 16.) Being our Life He is “hid” in there (Col. 3.); and we, by the Holy Ghost, are being drawn to Him, whom we have never yet seen. Our affections are set, or should be, on things above, where He is. Moved by the wondrous story as to who He is and what is His love, and of the Father’s counsels concerning Him and in Him, about us, we have been spoiled for all here that once our hearts had been set upon. Those things have been set before us, of which once we never had an idea; they had never entered our hearts. But now we, through the Spirit, wait for the hope suited to such a righteousness as ours is!
Like Rebecca, we have believed the word that the servant of the risen Son has told us. It has sunk into our hearts; it has detached us in spirit from the empty scene all around us. We have set out on our pilgrimage. The Holy Ghost Himself is our companion throughout our journey. Thoughts, and vistas, and tastes of heaven He the Earnest gives to us whilst yet on the road. The fall certainty that we shall reach home at last, and see Him that has loved us, and be with Him and like Him for ever, animates us in our daily plodding along, which is not without its difficulties. Though nothing is more crooked or uneasy to ride upon than the camel, little leisure would Rebecca have to be annoyed thereat, through her companion’s solicitude, and her prospect at the end. God, in His Word, oft points us to the end. He contrasts, too, the “end of the wicked,” and the “end of the Lord,” which He accords to His own.
So when her journey neared its termination, we may note how on the alert Rebecca was. She felt that be who was advancing was Isaac, the risen one, the son of the father himself. Thus daily do we wait; aye, and watch for Him. And he did come forth to meet and to welcome her who had come out to meet him. She covered herself with a veil as he approached, and we shall be self-hidden and abased adoring in His presence. In the case of Isaac, he took the bride that the father had chosen for him. On the other side of the double type, to wit, Jacob, he got the wife of his heart’s choice. The two together fully and blessedly set forth how that the Father has given us as the Bride to His Son; and how that Bride is likewise she on whom His own heart had been set. We are the eternal choice of both the Father and the Son; “And all mine are thine, and thine are mine,” said Christ to that Father.
Lastly, we read that Isaac “loved “Rebecca, and was comforted after his mother’s death. Christ loved us ere the world began; He loves us now, He loves us to the end. He will love us home; and when at last at home with Him, He will still love us. Surely this finishing touch in the type is delightful! For a while He has lost Israel, but He will provoke that people to jealousy. But when these, His brethren after the flesh, do at length come and bow themselves down to Him, as they will do when as the antitypical Joseph He rules over the world, such will discover that during their rejection of Him, there is a Bride nearer to Him than; they, and she an Egyptian. But here I am anticipating what we shall look at presently.
Thus have I briefly touched upon this most instructive and thrilling type. It is one which I trust we have all often enjoyed and profited by. Hence if there had been time for me to enlarge more fully, there is the less need for this. Here we have a pilgrim’s progress, indeed, far more glowing with the light of heaven and with the glory of the risen Son than Bunyan dreamt of; and this account is traced with an inspired pen.
In the history there is little necessitating remark; to only one point do I advert. As the Holy Ghost has been pleased to act as the great servant of the Lord Jesus, so does He condescend to employ under-servants many. These, whether in wooing the hearts of sinners to Christ, or in urging the saints to come forth to meet the heavenly Bridegroom, would do well to copy from this Eliezer here. His whole work was carried on in prayer. There is more about prayer in this chapter than is to be found in the entire book. And when, in view of the responsible character of our work, we pour out our souls unto God, the Spirit Himself within us helps our infirmities. Let us never forget this.
This last section of the life of our patriarch concludes with a word as to his marriage with Keturah, of his offspring by her, and then of his own death. Now as Hagar and Ishmael, as we have seen from Romans and Galatians, represent Israel according to the flesh, so likewise here may be a glance at that Gentile world, which with the Jew is to be blessed presently on earth; for the blessing of the nations in due time depends on their connection with the Hebrew, and their subordination to Israel under its rightful King. Sebah and Dedan, two of Keturah’s descendants, are especially mentioned as opponents of Gog, in his disastrous march into Canaan against Israel (Ezek. 38:13). And those nations or Gentiles siding with Christ’s earthly brethren during their great coming period of sorrow, are singled our for favour by Him in Matt. 25:40. Viewed in this light, it would appear that each of the women who pass before us in this section is a representative character; Sarah, as the mother of the true seed; and Hagar, Keturah, and Rebecca, Israel after the flesh, the Gentile and the Church of God. Here compare a parallel type in 1 Kings. After Solomon has built the temple, as Christ is now engaged in building the Church, there is, His own house,15 Israel, and next “the house of the forest of Lebanon,” the last of these, an earnest of the blessing of the nations in the millennium (1 Kings 7:1, 2; Rev. 21:24).
Lastly, we read that Abraham died in a good old age, and was “gathered to his people.” Not so bright an outlook for these saints of old, as is now the portion of every Christian (see 2 Cor. 5:8, and Phil. 1:23). Luke 16 speaks of a pious Jew carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom. And this, too, was ere Christ’s own death and resurrection had wrought such mighty changes. But now John 21:7, and 2 Cor. 12:1-4, set before us the former in symbol and the latter in plain statement, the prospect of a believer on his death-bed.
10 See my Lecture on chap. 17 of the Revelation.
11 See explanation of this word “perfect,” in Remarks on the Epistles of John, p. 127.
12 See some instances of this His way cited in my Lectures on Revelation, vol. 2, p. 107, note 2.
13 See the remarks at the beginning of chap. 15.
14 Jonas, like Israel, refused to witness for God; and, like to ourselves, he was disobedient, and sought to flee away from God. Then Christ, taking the sinner’s true place, not under mere water, but under the waves of God’s wrath, sinks into death. Then, coming forth as the Resurrection and the Life, first He gives life to us, and presently, as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, quoted above, show, He will revive Israel after two prophetic days (Hosea 6:2).
15 With the number of years (thirteen) during which Solomon was building his own house, compare the number of bullocks offered for Israel at the feast of tabernacles (Num. 29). And see a suggestion thereon in my Lectures on Revelation, vol. 2 p. 182.