The Epistle of James
Brother Earl Miller’s helpful articles on the Epistle of James continue now in proper sequence. May the practical lessons from these expositions find a response in Christian lives.
Abraham’s Complete Obedience
Soon after they entered the land, a quarrel broke out between Abraham’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsman because there was scant pasture there for both flocks. So Abraham gave Lot first choice of the land; so that there might be no quarrel between them. Lot chose for himself the plain of Jordan which was well-watered, and Abraham went in the opposite direction. Now he was completely separated from his father’s house. God now appeared to him again, and told him to “Lift up thine eyes, and look from the place where thou standest northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward; for all the land that thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth so that if any man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise and go through the land in the length and in the breadth of it, for I will give it unto thee.” Even the best of the land that Lot had chosen God gave to Abraham when he had completely obeyed God’s call.
Abraham Believed God
After many years Abraham still had no son. Sarah was barren and she and Abraham were now growing old, yet there was no sign that they would have a son. Then God appeared to him again, and said, “Fear not, Abraham, for I am thy exceeding great reward.” Then Abraham in a plaintive tone told God that He had given him no seed, and no one born in his house, even his servant Eliezer would become his heir. But God assured him that Eliezer’s son would not be his heir, but that the heir would come from his own body. Abraham and Sarah were now past the age of child-bearing, and such a promise was utterly impossible humanly speaking. But since the God who had called him, had made the promise, Abraham against all hope believed the promise, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. Abraham was here justified by faith without any deeds of his own. He just believed a promise that was humanly impossible, because God gave the promise.
The Birth of Ishmael
While God had now definitely marked out Abraham as the father of the heir, He had not yet specified Sarah as the mother. So Sarah began to reason along fleshly lines that since God had withheld her from having children, she might have children by proxy. She had Hagar, an Egyptian maid, and she suggested to Abraham that if she should give Hagar to him to wife, she might have children through her. Abraham consented and as a result Ishmael was born. Sarah realized her mistake after Hagar had conceived, and the son born to Hagar became a thorn in the flesh of Abraham and Sarah.
The Birth of Isaac
After this act of the flesh to produce the heir, thirteen long years went by without any communication from the Lord. But when Ishmael was grown to quite a lad, God appeared again to Abraham, saying, “I am Almighty God, walk before Me and be thou perfect.” In other words, God told him, “Now Abraham make no more plans in the flesh so far as the heir is concerned. Leave that in My hands, I will bring it to pass.” God renewed His covenant with Abraham, and confirmed it by a blood sacrifice when He alone passed between the pieces of the sacrifice. God thus bound Himself to fulfill the covenant. Up until this time God always had said, “I will give this land to you,” but now having bound Himself by blood to fulfill the covenant, God said, “I have given you the land.” No more future tense, but past tense. And God also now for the first time specified Sarah as the mother of the heir. In the course of time, according to the Word of God Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son. She was 90 years old and Abraham was 99, when the impossible promise which Abraham believed and it was imputed to him for righteousness, came to pass. He and Sarah became the parents of the heir, through whom Abraham’s seed should become like the stars of heaven for number. Isaac’s seed is always referred to as the stars of heaven, but Jacob’s seed as the dust of the earth. The order is never reversed.
The Offering of Isaac
Isaac grew to be a strong young man able to carry the wood for a burnt offering upon his back up a mountain. Now came the crowning time of Abraham’s life of faith. God appeared to him again and said, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains that I will tell thee of.” Abraham had now walked with God for forty years since he believed the impossible promise, and that promise came to pass. Now the same God who made the promise asked him to offer up the promised one for a burnt offering. Abraham did not falter, nor did he try to reason with God. He arose early in the morning to obey God. He believed in his heart that God would raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill the covenant He had made with him.
After a three day’s journey, Abraham arrived at the place. He had the young men stay at the foot of the mountain while “I and the lad go yonder and worship and come again to you.” This fifth verse in Chapter 22 of Genesis is the first time the word “worship” appears in the Bible. In the first verse we have the first time the word “love” appears in the Bible. Both words occur first in connection with an only son who is loved, who is to be offered up as a sacrifice. How suggestive of true worship! Can there be worship apart from an only Son who is loved, and who has been offered up as a sacrifice on the Cross?
On the top of the mountain, Abraham built an altar, laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac and laid him on the altar. By this time Abraham was 125 years old, and Isaac was about 25. Isaac was much stronger than his father, but he did not resist. He typified the One who became obedient unto death. When Abraham took the knife in his hand to slay his son, God stopped him, saying, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fearst God, seeing thou has not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.” When Abraham looked around, he saw a ram caught in the thicket by his horns, so he took the ram and offered him up in the place of Isaac. A substitute was found for Isaac at the last, but for God’s only Son whom Isaac typified, there was no substitute to take His place. He went all the way to procure eternal life for us.
This is the incident that James refers to as an illustration of justification out of works. Never was Abraham’s faith more evident than on this occasion. He had believed the impossible promise forty years before and it was counted to him for righteousness, and here on Mount Moriah is the outstanding proof that the faith he exercised forty years earlier was genuine; his was a living faith.
Justification out of Works
Now just a word about the English translation of the words “by works” from the Greek “ek toon ergoon.” “Ek” is the Greek preposition meaning “out of or from.” You must depart far from the primary meaning to translate it “by.” It is always used with the Genitive or Ablative cases, and therefore, can never refer to the means by which something is done. To translate the words into English “by works’ has led some people to think of works as the means to justification. But such is not the case in the Greek. The works are not the means; they are the evidence of a living faith. By translating “out of works Abraham was justified,” it would correct that idea. Out of Abraham’s works, his faith stands as the genuine thing.
Rahab is also used as an illustration of justification out of works. She harbored two spies from the camp of Israel, hid them from their would-be captors, and helped them escape their clutches. Because she did this, and by displaying the scarlet cord which she used in the escape of the spies in her window, she and all who were with her in the house were safe from the destruction of the city. The scarlet cord accomplished for her what the blood of Christ accomplishes for us.
Rahab was an inhabitant of a city doomed to destruction. She had heard of the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. She had heard how God took them across the Red Sea as by dry land, and of the miracles God accomplished for them in their wilderness voyage. She also heard of the destruction of the two kings on the other side of the river, Sihon and Og. How she wished she might have been one of a people so favored by God, but she is a member of a people doomed to destruction. She can turn her back on her own people and show kindness to the two spies of Israel, at least, that would be an indication as to where her heart was. God could see into the inner recesses of her heart, and out of her works the faith which was rooted in her heart was manifested. God saw that faith, and she was spared the destruction of her people. She was accepted by the Israelites, and ultimately became the great, great, grand-mother of David, and had her name inscribed in the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ.