Abraham: Called to Renewal

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The Time Has Come to Put the Plan into Action

In our last episode—Episode #4 of Biopic #1 on the life of Abram—we learned that following a life-altering, covenant-making encounter with God, when challenged by the Silence of God test, Abram failed miserably.  Instead of taking God at His Word and waiting for Him to fulfill His promises, he gave into the temptation of trying to solve a spiritual challenge through the use of his own human reasoning and fleshly works.  Just as Adam had done when he was tested in the Garden of Eden, Abram forfeited his position of Headship when confronted by the Influence Power of his wife, and with equally disastrous results.  Here, just as in Adam’s case, we see the evidence that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was still producing its poisonous fruit…

The Fruit of the Two Trees

With that in mind

God Shows Up Again in Genesis 17 to Get Things Back on Track…

…as once again, the curtain rises on our next episode.  About thirteen years have passed since the end of our previous episode—meaning that it has been at least thirteen years since Abram has been visited by God—something our off-stage Narrator makes us aware us as this scene opens…

Script #5 for Biopic #1
Cast:     Narrator     God     Abram

Narrator:  When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him…

God:  I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My Covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.

Narrator:  Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying…

God:  As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.  No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.  And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.

As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.

Narrator:  Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”   And Abraham said to God…

Abraham:  Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!

God:  No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.  But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.

Narrator:  Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.  So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.

Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.  And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.  That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

With that, Episode #5 comes to a close, leaving us to launch our Review of this latest encounter between God and Abram.

The Critic's Hat

Time to Don our Critic’s Cap and Get this Review Underway

Our Review 

To help us better understand the significance of this episode, let’s look at these three important aspects of it…

The Interlude of Silence
The Clarified Terms of the Covenant
The Sign of Covenant 

The Interlude of Silence

  • Why do you think God waited for 13 years before making another appearance?

He may have been waiting for Ishmael to reach what was then considered to be the age of maturity.  In doing so, He would be keeping the promise He had made to Hagar, as well as taking care of Abram’s descendant whom He had promised to bless.

  • What do you think was going on in Abram’s life during this period?

More than likely, life was going on as usual.  Abram would have been attending to his business interests, Sarai would probably have still been resentful of Hagar, Hagar would have been caring for her son while still serving Sarai, and Ishmael would have been growing up into a young man.

  • Where do you think Abram was spiritually at this time?

He probably thought that he was okay spiritually.  The fact that he hadn’t had another visit from God in thirteen years may have encouraged him to believe that his and Sarai’s plan to obtain a child through Hagar was God’s way of providing him with a son.

  • What do you think Abram’s state of mind was concerning Ismael during this time?

When God showed up to renew the covenant and told Abram that He was going to bless Sarai with a son, Abram didn’t believe it and asked Him to bless Ishmael.  This would seem to indicate that Abram had been operating under the delusion that Ishmael was his promised son and rightful heir.

The Clarified Terms of the Covenant

New Names

In renewing His Covenant with Abram, the first matter that God addressed was the names of the parties involved in the contract.  This was important because, in those days, a person’s name was more than just a form of identification, it also provided some insight into his character—with his name denoting or revealing a quality unique to that person.  So, before implementing the covenant, God revised the names on the contract in order to reflect a change or new insight into the nature of each of its participants…

  • For God—Previously in Scripture, God had revealed Himself through a variety of names…
    • Elohim, in Genesis 1:1—as the Creator God who is Plural in Person but Singular in Purpose;
    • Jehovah/Yahweh, in Genesis 2:4—The Lord, the I AM—the Eternal, Unchanging, Self-Existent, Covenantal God of Revelation and Redemption;
    • Adonai, in Genesis 15:4—The Lord, the Sovereign God;
    • El Elyon, in Genesis 14:18—The Most High God—the God above all gods; and,
    • El Roi, in Genesis 16:13—The God Who Sees Me, ever watchful, ever caring.

Here, in Genesis 17:1, He reveals a new aspect of His Character through the name of El ShaddaiThe All-Sufficient One, the Over-Powerer who is able to overcome every obstacle–even the deadness of Sarai’s womb–and achieve all of His Purposes.

  • For Abram—the one who had previously been known as the Exalted Father, would now be known as Abraham—the Father of a Multitude.
  • For Sarai—whose name meant Princess, as Sarah, she would from then on be known as My Princess. 

El Shaddai is not limited by Sarai’s Broken Biological Clock

The Terms

  • For God—this would be an Everlasting Covenant, with all the Land of Canaan being given as an Everlasting Possession to Abraham and his descendants—descendants from whom future Nations and Kings would arise.
  • For Abraham—he and his descendants must keep the covenant, with the Circumcision of every male child at eight days of age serving as the sign of their pledge to do so.
  • For Sarah—she would give birth to a son of her own, and through him she would become the mother of Nations and Kings.
  • For Ishmael—although he was not the son of promise, God would make him fruitful, with Twelve Princes and a Great Nation coming from him.

The Sign of the Covenant

  • What did circumcision signify?
    • As a blood sacrifice, it was to be a reminder of one’s need for redemption and a sign that a person belonged to God;
    • In the cutting away of the flesh, it was to be a mark of one’s separation from the world, as well as a sign of sexual purity and the dedication of one’s children to God; and,
    • It was a visual reminder that the terms of the covenant were still in force.
  • In what way was Circumcision unique for the Israelites?

In the other cultures where circumcision was practiced, it was usually performed when a boy reached the age of puberty and it served as his rite of passage into manhood.  In Israel, however, it signified that an infant had transitioned from being a child of Adam to being a member of the God’s Covenant People.  Later, after the Law had been given to the people through Moses, it also meant that he would have access to the Torah.[1]

  • What was significant about the 8th day?

In Leviticus 12:2, we learn that when a woman had given birth to a male child, she was considered unclean for seven days afterward.  On the eight day, both she and the child would be considered ceremonially clean.

  • Did circumcision make a person Righteous before God? Was Abraham made righteous through circumcision?

No, for according to Romans 4:11-12, Abraham…

…received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.

And, in Romans 2:28-29, we are told that…

…he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

  • What would be a counterpart to circumcision in the New Covenant?

Baptism would be its counterpart in the New Covenant.  Like Circumcision, Baptism does not save a person or make him righteous before God—it is simply the outward sign that an inward decision to trust God for Salvation has taken place.

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In Summary

Now, having examined these important aspects of this episode, let’s use what we have learned to answer the all-important questions of…

  • What Life Lessons can we take away from this episode in Abraham’s life?

When God promises to do something, He will do it.  It won’t happen according to our schedule or timing, but at a time in keeping with His overall plans and purposes.  Any attempts on our parts to “help” hurry the process along will only lead to sorrow and a further delay of our hopes.

  • What Contributions does this part of his story make to God’s One Big Story of Redemption?

As we shall see in upcoming episodes, God’s rejection of Ishmael and His provision of a son through Sarah will provide Abraham and all of his descendants with an incredible prophetic picture of their coming Messiah and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

  • What Revelations of God does this episode give us?

In the revelation of God as El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One, we are assured that no matter what obstacles we may encounter or how impossible the situations are that we find ourselves in, God is able to overcome them all and keep the promises He has made to us.

For Next Time…

 

[1] Michael Fishbane, Judaism, at https://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Projects/Reln91/Blood/Judaism/circumcision/circumcision.htm

 

Abraham:  Called to Wait

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The Testing of Delay is One of the Hardest Ones to Pass

Last time, in Episode #3 of Biopic #1, we learned about Abram’s latest encounter with God.  It came on the heels of his victory over the four Kings from Mesopotamia, his meeting with Melchizedek, and the temptation presented to him by the King of Sodom.  During this encounter, God expanded upon His revelation to Abram, revealing to him for the first time that he would father a son of his own.  Emphasis was placed on the fact that, at this promise of a Son, Abram believed God and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.

At the time, God also reaffirmed His promise that Abram’s descendants would inherit the land, prompting Abram to ask for some tangible evidence—a guarantee of some sort—that this would be so.  His request was followed by a dream in which God revealed to Abram the future of both those descendants and the land—a dream which was followed by a Covenant-Cutting Ritual in which God bound Himself by blood to fulfill His Promise. 

In reality, this Covenant represented the Marriage Contract between God and Abram, in which Abram pledged his descendants—the future nation of Israel—to be God’s Wife.  As such, it marked Israel’s Official Engagement to God and the beginning of their Betrothal Period—which would last until Moses (acting as God’s Proxy) comes to deliver Israel from her Egyptian bondage and carry her away to Mount Sinai, where their Marriage Ceremony is to take place.  As this was an Unconditional Covenant on God’s part, all that was left for Abram to do was to Believe God and Wait on Him for its fulfillment.

Here, in Episode #4, we will see just how successful Abram was in doing that.  As we await its commencement, here are a few that we need to keep in mind…

  • When this Episode opens, we don’t know how much time has passed since the end of Episode #3 but, because of the ages given for Abram, it probably wasn’t very long;
  • Although Abram has had a faith-producing encounter with God, his wife Sarai has not; and,
  • Not only is Abram at least 85 years old, but Sarai is at least 75—well past the age of childbearing—so the idea that God would give Abram a child through her is humanly impossible.

Episode #4 for Biopic #1
Cast:  Narrator     Sarai     Abram     Angel of the Lord     Hagar

Bearing these things in mind, then, and with the curtain now rising on this Episode, we hear the voice of our off-stage Narrator once again, as he announces…

Narrator:  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.  So Sarai said to Abram…

Sarai:  See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.

Narrator:  And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.  So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.  Then Sarai said to Abram…

Sarai:  My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me.  So Abram said to Sarai…

Abram:  Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please.

Narrator:  And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.  Now the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said…

Angel of the Lord:  Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?

Hagar:  I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.

Angel of the LORD:  Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.  I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.  ​

​​Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son.  ​​You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has heard your affliction.  ​​He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.  ​​And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.​

Narrator:  Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?” Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.  So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.

A Human Solution is Never a Good Solution

At this, the curtain descends, not only marking the ending of this Episode, but also the beginning of our Critical Review.

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Our Review

So far, in our journey with Abram, we have seen God slowly and methodically revealing Himself and His plans for Abram.  We have also seen that following each of these revelations, there has been a period of testing—with this latest revelation proving to be no exception.  In this case, however, Abram wasn’t being tested by fear for his own safety, the lure of riches, or the threat of warfare, but by the Silence of God as he waits for Him to honor His promises.

The Test of Silence—
or, Learning to Walk in the Light of the Last Revelation

Shhh–The Test of Silence is Underway

I’m inclined to think that after such an exhilarating experience as the covenant-cutting ritual, Abram was expecting to see God act on his behalf immediately.  After all, what would be the point of any further delay…

  • Both he and Sarai were already well past childbearing ages, so the birth of a son now would still be a miracle for which God would get the glory;
  • Having lived in the Land of Promise for ten years and having paid their dues there by now, they had already waited long enough; and,
  • With God having made such a big production of this latest Revelation, wouldn’t this have been a good indication that its immediate fulfillment was all but guaranteed?

So why the silence, why the wait, why the delay?

In order to answer this question, we first need to determine just what God wants to accomplish through our testing?  We can get an idea of His objectives in the following passages of Scripture…

Some of God’s Objectives in Testing

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That being said, let’s now look at the particulars of our Story to see if we can determine what God wanted to accomplish in the lives of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar through the Test of Silence and Delay…

  1. Who initiated the action in this episode and why?

Sarai did—no doubt because she felt like a failure as a woman.  To be unable to bear a child in that culture was considered to be a sign of God’s displeasure.  If Abram had come home and told her all about his encounter with God, thinking that it was her fault that they were still childless, she may have thought it was her responsibility to remedy the situation.

  1. Was Sarai’s solution to their problem a legitimate one?

While it was perfectly legal and culturally acceptable at this time to use one’s servant as a surrogate, it was not God’s solution to the problem.  It demonstrated a lack of Faith in His Promises and His ability to do the impossible.

  1. Abram “heeded the voice of his wife”—what past event does this recall? What was the outcome of that event?

This, of course, takes us back to Man’s Testing in the Garden of Eden.  Here, just as in the case of Adam and Eve, instead of acting as Head over his household, Abram caved into pressure exerted by Sarai—with likewise disastrous results.  In this instance, pleasing his wife (perhaps silencing her complaints and laments) became more important that believing God.

  1. How does Sarai respond to the circumstances which she brought about?

Rather than admitting that she made a mistake and taking responsibility for the consequences of it, she blames Abram.  Like Eve, she shifts the blame—this time to Abram, who then shifts it back to her.

  1. Hagar flees…what kind of treatment should Hagar have expected from people professing to know God?

Since Hagar was Egyptian, Abram and Sarai most likely brought her back with them when Pharaoh kicked them out of Egypt.  As an idol-worshiper who had come to live in the home of “God’s People,” she should have expected to be treated with more consideration, rather than as a baby-making machine.

  1. The Angel of the Lord makes His first recorded appearance here. Who does He appear to and what does He do?

The appearance of the Angel of the Lord here is likely a Pre-Incarnate Visitation of Christ—who, instead of appearing to Abram or Sarai, seeks out the lost and the outcast Hagar.  This is reminiscent of the Good Shepherd who, in pursuit of the one lost sheep, leaves the ninety-nine behind.

  1. What is significant about the Angel’s instruction to Hagar?

It is very much like what we read in 1 Peter 5:6-7…

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Although Hagar has been treated badly by Sarai, she is told to go back and submit to her authority once again.  In so doing, she and her child would be protected and provided for by the Lord.

  1. What does Ishmael represent? In Galatians 4:22-26, the Apostle Paul explains his spiritual significance in this way….

…that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman.  But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. ​

As Hagar is a picture to us of the Old Covenant which gives birth to bondage, Ishmael becomes a picture of the Works of the Flesh produced by those living under that bondage.

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Now, to see what the Test of Silence, Delay, and Waiting accomplished or revealed in the lives of the parties involved, let’s assess them in the following way…

A Scorecard for Abram, Sarai, and Hagar


In Summary—

Before leaving this Episode, and in order to complete our Review, we need to ask ourselves these all-important questions…

  1. What Life Lessons can we take away from Abram’s experience here?

One of the most important lessons that we can take away from this is, if we fail or refuse to wait upon God and attempt to accomplish His Will through our own human wisdom and fleshly means, we will…

  • Wreak havoc in our homes and in our relationships;
  • Delay even longer the fulfillment of God’s Promises to us; and,
  • Give our enemies and the enemies of God an opportunity to question our salvation and to bring a reproach upon God.
  1. Does this Episode make any contributions to God’s One Big Story of Redemption?

As a result of his lapse of Faith and his failure to wait on God for His Provision of a Son, Abram‘s self-efforts produced Ishmael—whose descendants have been Israel’s enemies throughout most of her history.

  1. Are there any Revelations of God to be found in this part of His Story?

Although God is noticeably silent where Abram and Sarai are concerned, He reveals Himself to Hagar as the God who desires that all—both Jew and Gentile—to come to Repentance and Faith through His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Your Assignment

 

Images of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar courtesy of freebibleimages.com.