Abraham: Called to Wrestle

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Are You in Partnership with God Yet?

Thus far—in our study of the life of Abraham, we have watched as God called this man out of a life of affluence and comfort to a life of wandering, worship, witness, warfare, and waiting—with each calling being accompanied by a new or expanded revelation of God’s plans for Abraham, and followed by a period during which Abraham’s stewardship of that revelation was tested.  In most instances, his success rate was much like those that we experience in our own walks of faith—as, more often than not, a case of one step forward and two steps back.  However, there have been some exceptions to this pattern—such as in Genesis 14, when Abraham successfully meet the challenge of warfare and then resisted the temptation to enrich himself by it; and, again in our last episode in Genesis 17, when Abraham readily obeyed God’s command to circumcise every male in his household.

In this Episode—we will witness another instance when Abraham successfully met the challenge placed before him, that being his call to wrestle with God in intercessory prayer for Lot, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the other three cities in the surrounding plain.

A Surprise Visit from the Lord

Script #6 for Biopic #1
Cast:
     Narrator     Abraham     The Lord     Sarah

Pleading the Case

Setting the Scene—when this episode opens, not a lot of time has gone by since the Lord appeared to Abraham in Chapter 17.  We know this because, in that previous encounter, the Lord gave Abraham a one-year timetable which has not yet been met.  Here, Abraham is in his place of fellowship with God—possibly ruminating over the things the Lord had so recently told him—when…

Narrator:  …the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said…

Abraham:  My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.

The Lord:  Do as you have said.

Narrator:  So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said…

Abraham:  Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.

Narrator:  And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.  Then they said to him…

The Lord:  Where is Sarah your wife?

Abraham:  Here, in the tent.

The Lord:  I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.

Narrator:  Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.  Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying…

Sarah:  After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

The Lord:  Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.

Narrator:  But Sarah denied it, saying…

Sarah:  I did not laugh…

Narrator:  …for she was afraid.

The Lord:  No, but you did laugh!

Sarah Receives Faith for the Impossible

Narrator: Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way. And the LORD said..

The Lord:  Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.

Narrator:  Then, turning to Abraham, the LORD said…

The Lord:  Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.

Narrator:  Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. And Abraham came near and said…

Abraham:  Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it?  Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

The Lord:  If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.

Abraham:  Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord:  suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?

The Lord:  If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.

Abraham:  Suppose there should be forty found there?

The Lord:  I will not do it for the sake of forty.

Abraham:  Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: suppose thirty should be found there?

The Lord:  I will not do it if I find thirty there.

Abraham:  Indeed now, I have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: suppose twenty should be found there?

The Lord:  I will not destroy it for the sake of twenty.

Abraham:  Let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but once more: suppose ten should be found there?

The Lord:  I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.

Narrator:  So the LORD went His way as soon as He had finished speaking with Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Revealing His Will to His Servant

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Our Review

This, then, brings us to our Review of these events in Abraham’s life.  To help us better understand what is going on in this episode, let’s first break it down according to the Characters.  Apart from the Narrator, the Characters here are…

The Lord—this would be a pre-incarnate appearance by the Lord Jesus Christ;

The Two Angels—although their names are not given, we soon learn that they are on mission as Angels of Judgment;

Abraham—the epitome of the gracious, hospitable Middle Eastern chieftain; and,

Sarah—the equally gracious and hospitable—though hidden—wife of the Chieftain.

Next, let’s take a look at a summary of the Action taking place…

The Action

This summary of the Characters and their Actions presents us with several important…

Questions for Discussion

1. Why do you think the Lord appeared to Abraham so soon after His previous appearance?

The purpose of the Lord’s visit on this occasion appears to have been two-fold…

Since the Lord had already told Abraham that Sarah would bear a child but He hadn’t told her yet, His first purpose was to give her that word. Hebrews 11:11 tells us that…

By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.

Because…

…faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)…

…for Sarah to have “received the strength to conceive seed,” she would first have to receive  the faith produced by the Word of God which was given to her here.

The Lord’s second and more obvious purpose was to give Abraham the privilege and the responsibility of interceding for the cities that were about to be judged.

2. From Sarah’s response, do you think Abraham had shared with her what the Lord had promised in His previous visit?

From her laughter, it seems that this was the first she had heard of it.

3. Why do you think the Lord brought the news of Sodom and Gomorrah’s impending judgment to Abraham? From a personal standpoint?  From a legal standpoint?

First of all, the Lord wanted Abraham to understand why He was about to destroy these cities—that is, as a Holy God, He could not allow the injustices perpetrated by these cities to continue to go unpunished.  Although God is long-suffering and merciful, His mercy has its limits and will be tempered by His holiness and justice.

On a personal level, God’s judgment directly impacted Abraham because Lot, his nephew and adopted son, lived there with his family; and, from a legal standpoint, because God had already given the land to Abraham and his descendants, it was essential that he be informed of any major changes taking place in his land.

4. How did Abraham’s actions in receiving his guests prepare him for his later intercession on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah? What important principles of prayer did they demonstrate?

Before being given the opportunity to intercede on behalf of the doomed cities, Abraham prepared himself by first running to greet his visitors, demonstrating his eagerness to receive them; then, in humbling himself before them, he was, in effect, bestowing upon them his worship.  Once this had been done, he set before them a table of fellowship that he had prepared for them which they gladly received—a time of fellowship during which the Lord was able to reveal His heart to His servant, a revelation which then prompted Abraham’s intercession.

5. In his intercession, why do you think Abraham was so bold as to “haggle” with God? On what were his arguments based?  Why did he stop at ten?

By this time, Abraham had grown enough in his knowledge of God and His character that he could appeal to him boldly on the basis of His character.  In his prayer, he demonstrated that he knew God to be not only righteous but also merciful.  On that basis, and believing that there were at least ten righteous people living in these cities, he could then appeal to God to protect them, even while bringing judgment upon the wicked.  Today, like Abraham, we who know who God is and who we are in relationship to Him, can…

…come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

6. Why was God going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Why was it necessary?

While we tend to focus on the sexual sins that were so rampant in these cities, Ezekiel 16:49-50 gives us some insights as to the root causes of those sins…

Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.  And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.

And, in Romans 1:18 ff, the Apostle Paul explains that…

…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

In other words, even though those cities had been blessed with prosperity and wealth, rather than acknowledge and thank God for it, they became proud and selfish—sins which ultimately led to the whole catalog of sins which followed…

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.  Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.  Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

So, it was this sad situation in Sodom and Gomorrah and their sister cities that, at the time of the Lord’s visit in this episode, warranted the Lord’s invention and judgment.

…mean more Answers!

In Summary

Now, to complete our Review of this episode, we need to ask ourselves the following questions…

1. What Life Lessons can we take away from this part of Abraham’s story?

In God’s dealings with Sarah, we have learned that there is no situation that is too impossible for God; that He will keep His promises; and, that through His Word, we will obtain the faith needed to believe and receive those promises.

In God’s dealings with Abraham, we have learned some valuable principles when coming before the throne of grace in prayer; that, in the intimacy of our fellowship with Him, God will reveal the things that burden His heart—so that we, as His children, will be provoked to pray and stand in the gap for those who are in danger of perishing.

In God’s dealings with Sodom and Gomorrah, we have learned that sin will be judged–that judgment may be slow in coming but it will surely come, and when it does, it will be complete, deserved, and appropriate to the nature of the offense.

2. Does this episode have any Contributions to make to God’s One Big Story of Redemption?

In 2 Peter 2:4-11, we learn that God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot’s subsequent rescue, were intended to serve as…

…an example to those who afterward would live ungodly…

For, if God…

…delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked…then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.

This example has served as a source of comfort and encouragement for the righteous who have suffered throughout the ages, as well as a warning for the wicked who, like…

…Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 6-7).

It also provides us with a prophetic picture of God’s protection of Israel during the last half of the Tribulation Period, when God will pour out His judgment upon the wicked at the end of this age.

3. Are there any Revelations of God that we need to make note of here?

In this episode, we have seen completely different aspects of God’s character revealed.  To those who are in covenant relationship with Him, He has been revealed as loving and kind—their gracious, omnipotent  Heavenly Father.  But to those who have rejected Him, He has been revealed as their Righteous Judge.  These revelations are consistent with others that we find of Him throughout the Scriptures—such as these in Isaiah 3:10-11 and Psalm 34:15-16…

Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.  Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him.

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry.  ​​The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

Although this brings our Review of this part of the story to a close, it isn’t the end of this episode in Abraham’s life.  That will take place next time, when we meet again to discuss Part 2 of Abraham:  Called to Wrestle…

 

To Be Continued…

Some images used courtesy of freebibleimages.com

 

 

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