The Preacher Says....  
  Abraham and his children  

Last Sunday my wife and I went to the unveiling of a Jewish tombstone. It is a custom among the Jews to do this one year after the date of the death of a Jew. It was a sad occasion for everyone. It was sad because I sorrowed for my lost friend, he left behind a widow, too young to be a widow, and one daughter. They seemed lonely to me, and sad, but because the rabbi and the daughter who took part in the service said things like this: that the spirit of my friend had returned to God, who gave it, that there must be something to life after death, that some way his spirit still exists, this was the rabbi talking, and then the daughter read from Walt Whitman, the poet and said things like his soul could be seen as shining sun on fields of grain and read from the Indian philosopher, Kahlil Gabran. And for this son of Abraham, no mention of Abraham was ever made. And why is this Christian so het up about the fact that Jews did not talk about Abraham. He’s het up because the story of Abraham and his children is the bedrock of scriptural teaching and understanding, and it is sad to see that both Jews and Christians fail to understand that, today, at least so many of both.

In Order to make my point at little clearer I want to set up a straw man, a hypothetical Christian of today, if you will, a young man we’ll say who was raised in an ethical environment, probably knows a few scriptural verses, grows to manhood, looks around him, sees poverty, disease, suffering, but he sees the sign of an intelligence in the universe, order, laws, physical laws, and I’m sure every man asked himself the question as he comes along in life, “What’s it all about, what does it mean?” He may know a few verses that he learned in Sunday School from the Bible, but more often than not he doesn’t have a picture of the Bible. He hears people on television and elsewhere extolling the virtues the Bible, and so he sets out to seek, if you will, I don’t use this in the pejorative way, instant inspiration from the Bible. And how would one seek to learn about the Bible. Well, you pick it up and read it, and you start with Genesis 1. Well, its very difficult to get instant inspiration that way, because you go through the first few chapters, this man unfamiliar with the Bible, through some pretty unbelievable-sounding things, creation in six days, the world being destroyed by floods, arks being built, Red Seas parting, and then pretty soon you get bogged down in the details of how to build an altar, and how to build a tabernacle, and how to make an ephah, and there is endless wandering in the wilderness and the intricacies of the consecration of a Jewish priest, and the details of how to eviscerate a bull in order to prepare him for sacrifice and then goes through trespass offerings and sin offerings and peace offerings and meal offerings and instructions about when and where Jews are to stone one another for the breaking of Jewish law, endless begets, bloody wars, good kings, kings that did right in the eyes of God, kings that did wrong in the eyes of God, and so our man who is looking to find out what its all about gives up. He hasn’t found what he wanted in that approach to Scripture. And so, this hypothetical Christian gets part of the way through the Old Testament and then flips to the New.

And it doesn’t take long to get satisfaction from the New Testament. In the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, he reads Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, and he comes upon the Sermon on the Mount. And there it is, the Christian ethic, the virtues, that Christians are admonished by Christ to strive for. To be peacemakers, to be merciful, to give their alms in secret, to be humble, and what is their reward? Why, it is heaven, it says so in Matthew 5: 3 and 5 and 10. It says their reward is the Kingdom of Heaven. So our friend says, well, this is the Christian ethic, and this is the Christian reward. And maybe I’ll believe it, and maybe I won’t, but its apparent to me that if you do the deeds of the Christian ethic, if there’s a reward out there some day, I’ll get it.

It takes a clever and persistent student, working alone and by himself today, to do more than that, to have more understanding than that. And you have to be awfully smart to figure out that’s not what it’s all about. And this weakness in the ability of my hypothetical Christian, to do better is not to be criticized, I mean, after all, the Apostle Paul had the same problem. And he should have known better. Paul, before he was converted on the Road to Damascus by Jesus, was a Jewish scholar. He knew the Old Testament, even then, before his conversion, better than anybody in this room, probably in terms of the details of the Old Testament. The trouble was, he also knew he was a Talmudic scholar, he knew all the oral tradition, he came upon Judaism after it had been picked upon and Hellenized and heathenized and fabricated and enlarged by Jewish scholars who intended to be the friends of the Hebrew religion and turned out to be the enemies. And so it is with our Christian friend, he comes to the Bible with theological preconceptions, theological gloss upon gloss, upon gloss laid upon precious Truth of the Bible by the Hellenists, by the heathen nations, by the early church fathers, by late church fathers, so that there are so many preconceptions he brings to what’s its all about, that its difficult for him to find the answer. And for Paul before he was converted, Saul, and this Christian, and neither of them realized how much more profound, and yet how much simpler the Gospel message really is, then what they perceive it to be.

But go back to the bedrock, Abraham and his children. The story of the at-one-ment of man with God. Abraham and his children are the bedrock, and there is one other bedrock principle that I want to emunciate in that connection, it’s not a separate principle, indeed, it’s part of the story of Abraham and his children, and that’s what I call, for the purpose of this talk “The Doctrine of Election.” Now I’m not talking about Calvinism, predestination versus free will in that sense, but I’m talking about the fact that in order to understand the story of Abraham and his children, you have to understand that God saves man. Man doesn’t save man. Man doesn’t even help God to save him, which is, if you think about it, sort of the basis of much modern Christian theology, where the Kingdom of God has been spiritualized and the notion is that somehow through knowledge of God and through the ever increasing knowledge in man, that he will ultimately come to the Kingdom of God on earth on his own, so to speak. To say it another way, to understand Abraham and his children you have to understand that you don’t cozy up, if you will, to God. God is not to be sought by our blandishments. He’s not impressed by any flattery we may give him in prayer. Or even particularly impressed by our imperfect works. We are saved by grace, and grace is unmerited favor.

I think in order to deal with this problem that I set out earlier, the dichotomy between the Old Testament and the New, the fact in the minds of many people there is no relationship between the two, it might be instructive to start, instead of at Genesis 12, where we usually start when we talk about Abraham and his children, and start in the New Testament. To just allay the notion that the New Testament has nothing to do with the old. The name of Abraham, after all, is no stranger to the New Testament, it’s mentioned 74 times in that collection of books, and Abraham’s name is mentioned in the first verse of the first chapter. I’m going to run through quickly a lot of Scripture this morning in the short time that we have, and if you’d like to follow along you may.

The first verse of the first chapter of Matthew says “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Well, what’s that there for, just to tell us that Jesus was Jew? It tells us, although it might not tell that hypothetical Christian I just hypothesized, who is reading casually, that this man is connected with the Covenant made with Abraham, to give him land and the Covenant made with Abraham’s seed, David, to provide a king over that land. But let’s go on now, traveling through the New Testament to see what we find out about Abraham. If you turn to the third chapter of Matthew, verses 7 through 9, this is John the Baptist talking now, and he says, and this is recorded: “But when he, John, saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them: ‘O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits, meet for repentance, and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham as our father, for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” So what is John saying here? That Abraham is irrelevant? That being the seed of Abraham is irrelevant? He counts it of no consequence that these Pharisees and Scribes are of the seed of Abraham.

Well, we’ll go further along for a little enlightenment, look to Matthew 8, verses 10 through 12. This is Jesus commenting after He saw what great faith the centurion had, who wanted to have his servant cured, and believed that Jesus could do it, and Christ was marveling at this centurion, a Gentile, having this kind of faith: “When Jesus heard it” about the centurion, “He marveled and said unto them that followed, ‘Verily I say unto you I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Well, it looks like Abraham’s seed is not included there, talking about the centurion and others coming from the east and west and sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, where In the Kingdom of Heaven. Well, where is the Kingdom of Heaven? The Kingdom of Heaven must be in Heaven, our hypothetical friend might say.

And so, we skip on over to the 22nd Chapter of Matthew, reading verses 31 through 33, and here we find Jesus in a familiar setting where the Sadducees, one of the Jewish sects that had grown up over the centuries between Malachi and Matthew, didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, and they tried to trick Jesus asking Him questions about someone being married so many times, whose wife will she be in the Kingdom, you’ll recall that trick questions they asked. And Jesus responds, that you do not understand, because in the Kingdom there’s not going to be any marriage, but in the 31st verse He says: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.’ And when the multitude heard it they were astonished at His doctrine.” So, what does that verse mean? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Does that mean therefore, that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive now? In heaven, this Kingdom of Heaven we just read about? I’ve heard that argument made, but remember now that Jesus was speaking to the Sadducees about the resurrection, and the point is easily cleared up by looking at the 11th Chapter of Hebrews, the famous chapter on faith, and looking at verses 8 through 13: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out to a place that he should after receive an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went. By faith he sojourned in the Land of Promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith, also, Sara herself received strength to conceive seed and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore, sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them far off.” In other words, Abraham went out to inherit a land, he didn’t inherit it, he died in faith, having received the promise, but not getting the benefit of the promise because he died, it says here, and if you go to the end of the chapter, verses 39 and 40: “These all,” that is to say Abraham, “having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they”, Abraham, “without us, should not be made perfect.” So its clear that Abraham is in the ground, that he was promised a reward, that it hasn’t happened yet, that it will happen when we receive our reward. Look at the Gospel of John 8: 31-39, Look down at verse 37. These are some Jews again, who are bragging about the fact that they are Abraham‘s seed, He says: “I know that ye are Abraham’s seed, but ye seek to kill me, because My Word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with My Father, and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.’ They answered and said unto Him, Abraham is our father, Jesus saith unto them, ’If ye were Abraham’s children ye would do the works of Abraham.” What was the work of Abraham? You see the work, we’ll see the work of Abraham, we’ll see it was the work of faith. And not works as came to be the notion of the Jewish Law.

One more allusion about this business about the Kingdom of Heaven, in the 13th Chapter of Luke, verses 28 through 30 we again see this scene of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it says: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when” that is, presumably the weeping and gnashing of teeth are those of the Pharisees and others, “when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and ye yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, from the west, from the north and from the south and shall sit down in the Kingdom of God. And behold, there are last who shall be first and there are first who shall be last.” Well, we have this same scene then that we read in John, where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came together with people who apparently were not the seed of Abraham to be part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Here it is described as the Kingdom of God, and it is obviously talking about terrestrial geography, people are coming from the east, west, north and south. There aren’t any directions in space, I guess. Moreover, its easy to deal with that problem if you think about it in the same way that it’s analyzed in the 3 Chapter of 2 Peter. Before the flood there was an old heaven and an old earth, then after the flood there was a new heaven and a new earth. And when Christ comes back there is going to be another New Heaven and a New Earth, speaking of a new dispensation, a new order of things, its what John in the Book of Revelation talks about “New Jerusalem” coming down from Heaven which is to say simply that God intervenes in the affairs of man and makes this blemished earth into an unblemished one, that aid comes from above and is called in a couple of places the Kingdom of Heaven, but certainly couldn’t be misunderstood by somebody who really studies the book. That same imagery about the New Heaven and New Earth, you know is also found in the 65th and 66th Chapters of Isaiah, where it clearly means a new dispensation on the physical earth.

The substance of all of this is explained in Romans 4, verses 1-3 and verses 18 through 25, which I’m not going to read you now because I think you understand the substance, tying together the New Testament notions with the Old Testament notions, I’ll do that later. But I do want to go through some of the verses in Genesis, just to make a few points. I’m gonna change my mind and look at Romans just a moment. In the fourth chapter of Romans Paul makes this very straight-forward argument: “What shall we say about Abraham? Was Abraham justified by works?” No, it says 3rd verse, “For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Later on, in that same chapter, verses 18 through 25, he goes on to explain that Abraham, “Who against hope, believed in hope that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, so shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith”, here was Abraham, 100 years old, his wife 90, but he believed that God would give him his son, Isaac, he was strong in the faith and it was imputed to him as righteousness, and that righteousness is what’s going to save him, and not the works of the Law.

One might say, “Look, you’ve proved all this stuff in the New Testament, but is this some clever rearrangement of Old Testament theology to suit Christian theology, if you will. And it’s easily demonstrated, of course, that as is the case if you go back to Genesis the 12th Chapter, and read about Abraham, starting back in the 11th Chapter in the last verse, and starting at the first three verses that Abraham came out of Ur of the Chaldees. Ur of the Chaldees is a place that existed, it is not a myth, it was a city of great prominence 2000 years before Christ. Even the word “Abram”, Abraham’s earlier name before it was changed by God, is found among the clay tablets, the cuneiform tablets at Ur. You will know that Ur was civilized when you know that the inhabitants of Ur, at least some of them, could discover the cube route of a number. And I’ll bet a lot of us can’t discover the cube route of a number. Anyhow, he forsook that life in the city, to become, if you will, a Bedouin tribesman, wandering the rest of his life, and he did this at the behest of God. “Now, the Lord said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, from thy kindred, from thy father’s house unto a land that I will show thee: I will make of thee a great nation, I will bless thee and make thy name great and thou shalt be a blessing and I will bless those that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Just part of a promise, that full promise there, notice in the third verse it says that “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. The Septuagint version of the Bible says “tribes” and the word “earth” there is Adama, the Hebrew word, which refers, most often in Scripture, to the land of Israel being blessed. So here, we’re talking about the tribes of Israel being blessed. As we see that blessing is enlarged as we go through these promises. In the 13th Chapter the promise is enlarged to include land, 14th verse: “Look northward, southward, eastward and westward, all the land which thou see, to thee will I give it, to thy seed forever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth. Arise and walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it.” So what’s been added here? Abraham’s going to have a seed, that wasn’t in the first verse, and it’s going to be multitudinous, “like the dust of the earth.” Keep on to the 15th Chapter of Genesis, and we find Abraham saying to God, You know, you promised me a seed, but I’m old and Sarah is past the age of child-bearing, and how are we gonna solve this problem, and I think the way to solve it is to make this Eliezer my chief steward, my seed, you can do that under the Law of Hammurabi, and then we can have all this seed that you promised me earlier. And God repeated, you know, you can’t help Me. I intend to perform a miracle. And it says there, in the 6th verse, “Abraham believed in The Lord, and it was counted it to him for righteousness.” And we just heard that same language, that same verse quoted by Paul in the 4th Chapter of Romans.

16th Chapter of Genesis, Sarah, she knows about all this, she knows she’s past the age of childbearing, so she wants to help God, and she gives Abraham her handmaiden, Hagar, her servant, to have a child by Abraham. And in that way we can have that seed that God promised. And in due course Ishmael was born, and the angel of the Lord says with respect to Ishmael, “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, but it shall not be numbered for multitude.” It’s not the seed I’m talking about. The seed that was promised to Abraham was a seed of promise, it was a miracle and it happened in the 17th Chapter of Genesis, God told Sarah and Abraham both, that they were going to have a son, and his name was to be Isaac. Abraham now has a little weakness in his faith, he says, “O that Ishmael might live before thee.” But no, a miracle was performed, Isaac was given to Abraham, in a way, similar to the way Christ was given to us, and we could spend a lot of time talking about the imagery and similitude of the type that Isaac is for Christ. We won’t stop to do that now, but just go straight to the 22nd Chapter of Genesis, and we see there that God, having given Isaac to Abraham suddenly asked him to be sacrificed. An impossible thing to require of a man who has this miracle happen, supposed to be the fulfillment of prophecy, and you recall the story, Isaac was, in fact bound to the altar, and just before he was to be killed a lamb was provided. In the 8th verse Abraham says “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” so they both went up together. Abraham had enough faith to know that Isaac would not be sacrificed, and God would provide a substitutional sacrifice, a subject about which we could spend a lot of time talking, but it’s the verse that Jesus had in mind, I think, when He said “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, he saw it and was glad.” Abraham said to Isaac, God will provide a lamb for the sacrifice.”

Now we talked about multitudinous seeds, so far, in the 16th verse of the 22nd Chapter: “The angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven, the second time” 17th verse: “Blessing I will bless thee, multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars in heaven and the sand upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of His enemies.” Thy seed shall possess the gate of His enemies, singular seed we’re talking about there instead of multitudinous seed, confirmed by Paul as we see from the third chapter of Galatians, and also in the 17th verse : “And thy seed shall possess the gate of His enemy’s” singular. All the old cities had walls around them. To possess the gate of an enemy was to conquer the city. We might be able, if we had time to talk about Christ seizing the gate of the ultimate enemy, which he says is going to destroy the last enemy, which He says is death. 18th Verse and He says that “In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” In Galatians the 4th Chapter, Paul does a clever thing. He tells the Jews an allegory. The church at Galatia was filled up with the notion that you had to keep the Law of Moses, even though they were Christians, you still were supposed to be keeping the law. Paul says, in the 21st verse: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons. The one by a bond maid the other by a free woman. But he who was born of the bond woman was born after the flesh, he of the free woman was born by promise. Which things are an allegory. “For these are the two covenants, the one from Mt. Sinai, bearing children for bondage; who is Hagar“, that is to say the Law of Moses. Ishmael stands for the Law of Moses in this allegory. “For this Hagar is Mt. Sinai in Arabia” Hagar being Ishmael’s mother, you’ll remember, “and answereth to Jerusalem, which is in the bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem which is above” that is the one that is going to come down from Heaven, 21st Chapter of Revelation, “Is free, which is the mother of us all.” “Now we brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise, but as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit even so it is now.” Ishmael persecuted Isaac, Ishmael is still persecuting Isaac. “So then brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.” Paul says here natural Israel in this allegory is really not the seed of Isaac, it’s the seed of Ishmael. Said differently, Ishmael is an example of man trying to do it himself, to work out his own salvation, to provide the seed instead of God providing the seed. Isaac is an example of salvation by promise, by election, if you will, and all of this is tied up very neatly in the third Chapter of Galatians where he says: “To Abraham and his seed were the promises made, and He saith not the seeds of many, but as one, and to thy seed, which is of Christ.” “And if ye be Christ’s then ye are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” What promise? The promise to inherit the land.

So, there is the seed of Abraham, and it’s the seed of promise. It’s not the natural seed , the natural seed was Ishmael. Isaac was the unnatural seed. Well somehow the Bible says to us we have to believe all this. You can’t save yourself and you have to believe you can’t save yourself, and you have to believe that I’m going to save you. Well, is that an appropriate thing of God, to require of rational human beings. I mean, would you have written the Bible like this? I certainly wouldn’t have, I would have done it entirely differently, and so would you. And yet look at it this way, rational man hasn’t been able to save himself so far. Rational man sees rational man dying every day and sometimes reality is stronger than logic. I’ve used this example before: the sun comes up every morning, it’s logical to expect it to come up tomorrow morning, but if it doesn’t come up, the reality is that the sun didn’t come up. No matter what the logic may be. But there is some logic here. We have a book, written over 1500 years, by nearly 40 authors, and the book has an internal consistency, bound up in the story of, at the risk of over-simplification, Abraham and his children. Pretty hard to ignore that. And the second thing is, its hard to ignore Isaac and Ishmael, still over there, fighting. We often talk about Jacob and Esau. The same story as Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first-born, God gave the promise to Jacob. The same analogy between Isaac and Ishmael. Well, Esau became Edom, the Edomites are the Arabs, the Moslems, who are fighting constantly over there with each other and with Israel, if you look in the paper, a lot of those Arabs are named Ishmael. The reason they are named Ishmael is because the patron saint, if you will, strange as it may seem, of Islam is Ishmael. So we have literal Isaac and Ishmael fighting with each other, and we have figurative Isaac and Ishmael fighting with each other, which isn’t to spiritualize the whole thing, because you may remember that natural Israel has a chance to become part of spiritual Israel. You and I are part of spiritual Israel, not part of natural Israel, but in Ezekiel we read, 36th chapter: “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all your countries, and will bring you into your own land, then will I sprinkle clean water upon you and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness and from all your idols and I will cleanse you.” And how will that happen? Zachariah, written over 500 years before the birth of Christ, 10th verse, 12th Chapter: “I will pour upon the House of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one that mourned for his only son.” 500 years before Christ. Isaac and Ishmael.