It is to be feared that many who read the Old Testament, particularly its earlier books, look upon these Scriptures as little more than historical narratives, as simply containing a description of certain events that happened in the far distant past, and that when they come to the record of the lives of the patriarchs they discover nothing beyond a piece of ancient biography. But surely this is very dishonoring to God. Is it not obvious that when we relegate to a remote date in the past what we are told about Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, etc., and see in the inspired record little or nothing applicable to ourselves today, that we virtually and practically reduce Genesis to a dead book? Suppose we express this in another way: If Genesis is a part of "The Word of Life" (Phil. 2:16), then it is a living book, charged with vitality; a book which must have about it a freshness which no other book, outside of the Sacred Canon, possesses; a book which speaks to our day, which is pertinent and applicable to our own times.
Let us now follow out another line of thought which will lead us to the same point at which we arrived at the close of the preceding paragraph. One truth which Scripture reveals about God is, that He changes not, for He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Therefore, it follows that, fundamentally, His ways are ever the same; that is to say, He deals through all time with men, especially His own people, upon the same principles. It is this which explains the well-known fact that so often history repeats itself. Having stated the broad principle, let us now apply it. If what we have just said is correct, should we not expect to find that God's dealings with Abraham forecast and foreshadow His dealings with us? That, stripped of their incidental details, the experiences of Abraham illustrate our experiences? Grant this, and we reach a similar conclusion (as we anticipated) to the one expressed at the close of the preceding paragraph. Let us now combine the two conceptions.
Because the Bible is a living book no portion of it is obsolete, and though much that is recorded in it is ancient, yet none of it is antiquated. Because the Bible is a living book, every portion of it has some message which is applicable and appropriate to our own times. Because God changes not, His ways of old are, fundamentally, His ways today. Hence, God's dealings with Abraham, in the general, foreshadow His dealings with us. Therefore, to read most profitably the record of Abraham's life, we must see in it a portrayal of our own spiritual history. Before we attempt to particularize, let us take one other starting point and lead up to the place where we here leave off.
"Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all" (Rom. 4:16). How is Abraham the "father" of us all? In what sense is he such? Not, of course, literally, by procreation, but figuratively, by typification. Just as naturally the son inherits certain traits from his father, just as there is a resemblance between them, just as Adam "begat a son in his own likeness, after his image" (Gen. 5:3), so there is a resemblance and likeness between Abraham and those who are "Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). In a word, Abraham is to be regarded as a sample believer. Thus there will be a close correspondence, in the broad outline, between Abraham's history and ours. And here, once more, we reach the same point as at the close of each of the above paragraphs. We are now prepared to test the accuracy of these conclusions and follow them out in some detail.
I read, then, the life of Abraham as recorded in Genesis, not merely as a piece of inspired history (though truly it is such), not as an obsolete narrative of something which happened in the far distant past, but also, and specially, as a portrayal of the experiences of Abraham's children in all ages, and as a description of God's dealings with HIS own in all time. To particularize: What was Abraham at the beginning? A lost sinner; one who knew not God; an idolator. So were we: "Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles.... that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, haying no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:11, 12). What happened? The God of glory appeared unto him (Acts 7:2). So it was with us. He revealed Himself to us. What was the next thing? God's call to Abraham to separate himself from everything which pertained to his old life. Such is God's call to us- to separate ourselves from the world and everything of it. Did Abraham obey? At first only imperfectly. Instead of leaving his kindred as commanded, Terah his father and Lot his nephew accompanied him as he left Chaldea. Has this no voice for us? Does it not solemnly condemn Abraham's "children"? Has not our response to God's call of separation been tardy and partial? To proceed: Soon after Abraham arrived in Canaan painful circumstances try his faith- a "famine" arose. How did this affect him? Did he make known his need to God and look to Him to meet it? Ah, can we not supply the answer from our own sad experience? Have we not turned to the world for help and deliverance in the hour of emergency, as Abraham turned to Egypt? See Abraham again in Genesis 16. He is childless. God has promised that his seed should inherit the land. But years have passed and Sarah is still barren. What does Abraham do? Does he patiently wait upon God and go on waiting? Suppose the Bible had not told us, could not our own experience supply the answer once more? Abraham has recourse to fleshly means, and drags in Hagar to assist God (?) in the furtherance of His purpose. And what was the outcome? Did God lose patience? Well He might. But did He cast off His erring child? Has He dealt thus with us? No, indeed, "If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful" (2 Tim. 2:13). We need not review Abraham's life any further. Do you not see now, dear reader, why Abraham is termed the "father of us all"? Is not the saying of the world- "Like father, like son" true here? But let us look at one other line in the picture ere we leave it. Look at Abraham in Genesis 22, offering up Isaac. Does this apply to us? Is there anything in the experiences of Christians today which corresponds with the scene enacted on Mount Moriah? Surely, but note when this occurred- not at the beginning, but near the close of Abraham's pilgrimage. Ah! life's discipline had not been in vain: the fire had done its work, the gold had been refined. At the last Abraham had reached the place where he is not only willing to give up Terah and Lot at the call of God, but where he is ready to lay his Isaac upon the altar! In other words, he resigns all to God, and places at His feet the dearest idol of his heart. Grace had triumphed, for grace alone can bring the human heart into entire submission to the Divine will. So will grace triumph with us in the end. See, then, in Abraham's up and down experiences, his trials, his failures, a representation of yours. See in God's patient dealings with Abraham a portrayal of His dealings with you. See in the final triumph of grace in Abraham the promise of its ultimate triumph in you, and thus will Genesis be a living book by translating it into the present.
Deeply important are the lessons to be learned from the life of Abraham, and many are the precious truths which are seen illustrated in his character and career. Having looked at him as a simple believer, let us next consider him as a Man of Faith. In Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter, Abraham is given striking prominence. Only once do we read "By faith Isaac," and only once do we read "By faith Jacob"; but three times the faith of Abraham is mentioned (see verses 8, 9, 17). Probably it is no exaggeration to say that Abraham's faith was tried more severely, more repeatedly, and more varisomely than that of any other human being. First, he was called upon to leave the land of his birth, to separate himself from home and kindred, and to set out on a long journey unto a land which God promised to "show" him, and, we are told, "he went out not knowing whither he went." After his arrival in the new land he did not enter into occupation of it, but instead, sojourned there as a stranger and pilgrim. All that he ever owned in it was a burying-place. Dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, he remained there well-nigh a century. Again, his faith was tested in connection with God's promise to give him a son by Sarah. His own body "dead," and his wife long past the age of child-bearing, nevertheless "he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform"(Rom. 4:20, 21). Finally, the supreme test came when he was bidden to offer up his son Isaac, but, "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. . . . accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead" (Heb. 11:17, 19).
But did Abraham's faith never waiver? Alas, it did. He was a man of like passions to ourselves, and in him, too, there was an evil heart of unbelief. The Spirit of God has faithfully portrayed the dark as well as the fair side, and were it not that we are painfully conscious of the tragic history of our own spiritual lives, we might well marvel at the strange mingling of faith and unbelief, obedience and disobedience. By faith Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave Chaldea; yes, but by unbelief he disobeyed in that his father and nephew accompanied him in direct contravention of Jehovah's express command. By faith he left Chaldea, but by unbelief he stopped short at Haran (Gen. 11:31). By faith he entered the land of promise, but as soon as a famine arose he forsook it and went down to Egypt (Gen. 12:10). By faith he returned and sojourned in the land of promise, but by unbelief he took to himself the maid Hagar rather than wait for God to put forth His power and give him a son by Sarah. By faith he went forth against Chedorlaomer and his armies to rescue Lot, but later, by unbelief he lied to Abimelech about his wife (Gen. 20:21). What a sad exemplification is all this of the two natures in the believer!
How terribly inconsistent are the lives of God's saints! By faith Israel crossed the Red Sea, but a little later, in unbelief, they feared they had been brought into the wilderness to perish from hunger. With heart stayed upon the Lord, David feared not to engage the mighty Goliath, yet the time came when he fled from Saul. Filled with confidence in Jehovah, Elijah, single-handed, faced the four hundred prophets of Baal, but within a few hours he ran in terror from an angry woman. Peter was not afraid to step out on to the sea, nor was he intimated in the presence of the Roman soldiers, but drew his sword and smote off the ear of the high priest's servant; yet, the same night, he trembled before a maid and dared not to confess his Lord. Oh! the God dishonoring ways of unbelief! Unbelief! Surely this is the sin which doth so easily beset us.
Do not the above histories and their sequels bring out the marvelous and gracious long-suffering of Him with whom we have to do? How patiently God deals with His people! Israel did not perish with hunger in the wilderness, even though they murmured against God; instead, they were fed with "angel's food" (Ps. 78:25)! David was not slain by Saul, even though he did flee from him; instead, he was afterwards exalted to the throne of Israel! Elijah did not fall a victim to the wrath of Jezebel, though his faith did fail him; instead, he was afterwards taken to heaven without seeing death at all! Peter was not disowned because he denied his Lord, nay, after his restoration, he had the signal honor of opening the door of the kingdom both to the Jews and to the Gentiles! So it was with Abraham. God did not abandon him when his faith faltered, but dealt gently and patiently with him, leading him on step by step, disciplining him in the school of experience, until by wondrous grace He enabled him to do by faith on Mount Moriah that which was a type of Calvary itself!
The divine dealings with Abraham wonderfully demonstrated God's Sovereignty. A unique honor was conferred upon our patriarch, for he was chosen by God to be the father of the chosen nation, that nation from which, according to the flesh, Christ was to come. And mark how God's Sovereignty was displayed in the character of the one selected by Him. There was nothing in Abraham by nature to commend him to Jehovah. By descent he belonged to a family of idolaters. Ere he left Chaldea, in response to God's call, he entered into an evil compact with his wife (Gen. 12:7). As though to give special emphasis to their unworthiness, God said to Israel, "Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah that bore you: for I called him alone- look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged" (Isa. 51:2,1). And Abraham, the father of us all, was a pattern or sample case. God's choice before the foundation of the world was not determined by any good or merit foreseen in ourselves. Election itself is of "grace" (Rom. 11:5). It is all of grace from beginning to end, sovereign grace, gratuitous grace, matchless grace.
Consider next Abraham as an object of God's Love. The history of our patriarch was one of strange vicissitudes. On no flowery beds of ease was he permitted to luxuriate. Painful were the trials he was called upon to endure. Again and again he passed through the waters and the fire, but there was ever One by him that forsook him not. As the father of them that believe, Abraham was, as we have seen, a representative believer. In kind though not in character the experiences of Abraham are the same we meet with. Faith has to be tried that it may work patience: the gold has to be put in the crucible that it may be refined. God had one Son without sin, but none without suffering and sorrow. Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. First, Abraham had to endure the severance of nature's ties; at the call of God he had to leave home and kindred. And the word comes to us, too, "He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37). Called to leave the land of his birth, to be a stranger and pilgrim in a foreign land, he was taught, as we are, that "Our citizenship is in heaven'' (Phil. 3:20). The "strife" which arose between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot, necessitating the separation between our patriarch and his nephew, illustrates the fact that the path of faith is ofttimes a lonesome one, and that frequently we are obliged to walk apart from those loved by the flesh. The years of waiting that Abraham experienced ere the longing of his heart was gratified and a son was given him, exemplified that lesson, so hard to learn, that we must wait only upon Him with our expectation from Him. Finally, as Abraham was called upon to relinquish his Isaac and offer to God his only son, so we are required to place our all at His disposal, and in doing this we shall not be the losers any more than Abraham was. See, then, the love of God exercised toward the father of all who believe; love displayed in faithful chastening, and issuing in the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
There are many facets to this precious jewel. We have noted how God's long-sufferance, His sovereignty, His love were manifested toward Abraham; now observe His matchless grace. Is not this the only appropriate word to use here? Was it not grace that made Abraham the "friend of God"? Oh, wondrous condescension that should stoop so low as to lay hold of a worm of the earth! Oh, matchless benignity that should bring one of His own creatures into such intimate relationship with Himself! Oh, undeserved and unmerited favor that made him "the friend of God"! And mark how this friendship was exhibited. See how the Lord makes known to His "friend" what shall happen to his descendants for a long time (Gen. 15:13-16). Mark, again, how He takes him into His confidence and counsels respecting what He was about to do with Sodom (Gen. 18:17). Observe the Lord in intimate fellowship with Abraham, eating and drinking at his board (Gen. 18:8). Finally, consider how marvelously God took him into the fellowship of His heart (Gen. 22). Probably no other human being ever entered so deeply into the meaning and movements of the Father's heart at Calvary as did Abraham on Mount Moriah.
In the last place, let us look upon Abraham as a typical character. We do not know of any Old Testament personage who was such a multifarious type as was Abraham. First, he was a type of the Father. This is seen in his desire for children (compare Eph. 1:5); in his making a "feast" at the weaning of Isaac (compare Matthew 22:2-4); in the offering up of his only son Isaac (compare John 3:16); in his sending for a bride for his son (compare Rev. 21:9); in appointing his son heir of all things (Gen. 25:5). Second, Abraham was a type of Christ. This is seen in him leaving his father's house at the call of God; in that he is the one in whom all the families of the earth are to be blessed; in that he is the kinsman- redeemer of Israel; in that he is the holder of headship of the nations. Third, he is a type of the Church. This is seen, particularly, in that he was a stranger and pilgrim in the earth. Observe that though he left his home in Chaldea he did not find another in Canaan; instead, he was the man of the tent. Note how this comes out toward the end of his life. When he needed a burying-place he purchased it of the children of Heth (Gen. 23:3, 4). He preferred to buy it rather than receive it as a gift from these worldlings. He would not be enriched by them any more than he would be a debtor to and accept favors from the king of Sodom. The stranger-ship of Abraham was also displayed in the seeking of a wife for Isaac. He was a stranger in Canaan, so he sent to Haran! Thus, though he tabernacled in Canaan, he was sharply distinguished from the people of the land he was among them but not of them. Fourth, Abraham was a type of Israel. This is seen in that he was the one to whom God gave Palestine; the one with whom God entered into a covenant; the one who was divinely preserved while dwelling in a strange country (Gen. 20); the one who, after a checkered career, was supernaturally quickened in old age, and the one who was ultimately joined to the Gentiles (Gen. 23).
May divine grace enable writer and reader to walk by faith and not by sight, to live in complete separation from the world as strangers and pilgrims, to render unto God a more prompt and unreserved obedience, to submit to His will and hold all at His disposal, and then shall we find with Abraham that the path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
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