GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 593 • December 13, 2020
THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM – Part Two of Two
INITIAL QUESTION: Did Abraham believe everything God said to him and do everything God told him to do? If Abraham actually disbelieved or disobeyed any part of God’s commands and promises it could seem to disqualify him to be the example of faith and obedience that he is portrayed as in scripture. Six examples of possible disbelief or disobedience were suggested. We have shown that the first four of them do not disprove the faithfulness of Abraham. We will continue the discussion of that list of six objections and show that nothing invalidates or disproves the claims made for Abraham – at the end he is perfectly vindicated and proved in God’s estimation.
(4) continued. When Hagar saw that she was pregnant the spiteful girl reproached Sarah (Genesis 16:1-6). Sarah of course blamed the whole fiasco on Abraham, but he told her to do whatever she wanted with her servant girl – Sarah made her life miserable, until Hagar ran away. A meeting with the angel of the Lord convinced her to return to her place in the household and name the son who would be born Ishmael, which means God heard or hears me. One might wonder how Sarah and Abraham felt – guilty and ashamed? – whenever they heard or spoke that name knowing that “God hears the boy and his mother, and not us in this matter.” For thirteen years Ishmael was the only blood son of Abraham.
(5) Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the thought that she could conceive and bear a child in her advanced age and condition. God visited Abraham and revealed to him the covenant and mark of circumcision. Then it was revealed for the first time to Abraham that Sarah would bear him a son. He laughed, thinking how absurd it would be to expect him at age ninety nine and Sarah at age ninety to produce a child (Genesis 17:1-27). It was promised also that Ishmael would produce a large number of descendants. Together with two angels in the form of men God then appeared to Abraham,(Genesis 18:1-15) and repeated to him that Sarah would in fact have a child, a son, within a year from that date. This time Sarah, listening from inside the tent, laughed then tried to deny it because she was afraid – you just do not laugh at God or doubt His ability to do what He says He will do. Finally convinced that it could and would happen Abraham and Sarah cooperated with God and at the time appointed by God Sarah gave birth to a son. As instructed by God they named him Isaac – that name means “laughter” and was a perpetual reminder to them of their initial response to the promise that too-old Sarah would bear a son for even older Abraham and have the immense pleasure of feeding naturally the child of her own flesh (Genesis 21:1-8). God did reject Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar, so that, though he was a blood descendant of Abraham he and his descendants would be excluded from the covenant God would make with Abraham and his descendants though Isaac (21:9-21).
(6) Abraham tried to kill his son Isaac after God promised that Isaac was the one chosen to continue producing the bloodline of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. But this was not his own idea, nor was it in defiance of God. It was commanded by God and Abraham did not question it, nor did he stumble in unbelief – he set out to do it just as God directed him (Genesis 22:1-19). We are told that it was a test (not a temptation as we commonly understand that word, but a trial by which Abraham’s faith would be tested and proved (22:1). Some think that God was trying to find out if Abraham would obey Him, but that is not the case at all. Being omniscient and knowing all things fully, even before they happened, God knew that Abraham would succeed – which is part of the reason God chose him from the beginning. But Abraham had to have it proved to him, or rather he had to demonstrate that he had reached that point at which he would obey in everything God asked, without doubt or question: if God said it, God could and would do it. God had not failed Abraham in anything but had even done the impossible to fulfill and certify his relationship with His elected one. Abraham may not have comprehended how God would do it, but he believed God would find a way to keep His promise that through Isaac the Messiah and the Messianic blessing would come – even if God had to restore Isaac to life after he killed him (Hebrews 11:17-19). It is God, in the inspired scripture, who says Abraham is the epitome of faithfulness, the example that all should emulate if they want to belong to Him in His Christ, in Jesus the son of Abraham.
Now let us summarize the lesson and make the proper application of it to ourselves and others.
Salvation and success are a journey. Perfection is not implied or demanded at every point in the journey – it is in fact impossible. One’s condition at the end is the critical matter, not the imperfections that mar one’s progress toward the appointed goal. It is possible to be acceptable to God even if one is incapable of perfection. Each of us in like clay in the hand of God, to be molded and made into the vessel He desires. But unlike clay we have freedom of will and choice, to cooperate with Him and do His will or to disagree with Him and resist Him (Romans 9:19-21, Jeremiah 18:1-6). We are, however, limited as to the extent of our freedom to oppose God and go our own way – He will have the last and ultimate word about our end. Only He knows for sure what our end will be – remember He knows the end even before the beginning (Isa 46:9-10).
Abraham was not selected and called because he was a righteous God-worshipper. He was part of an idolatrous family in a world in which God was a Stranger, an Unknown Quantity (Joshua 24:1-30. How did he know it was God who was calling him? It is amazing what God brought forth from him. Saul of Tarsus was not chosen to become the apostle Paul because he was good or righteous (Acts 9:10-16) – he was a blasphemous injurious persecutor, a self-righteous “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:12-15). It is astounding what God was able to make of him.
We may be amazed what God is able to make of us and bring forth from us if we, like Abraham and Paul, submit to Him and do not try to direct the process and be “self-made.” What God makes of us may not be what we envision ourselves to be – glamorous, glorious, powerful – He may not satisfy our ego. But if we are in fact amenable and useful to Him we will have honor sufficient for us, no matter if it is great or small relative to the honor and usefulness of others. Like Abraham, and like Paul (Phil. 3:13-17), we are a work in process. Sometimes, with them, the progress went quickly. At other times it was slow and convoluted. It is the same for us. It is also a learning process. We do not know at any point everything there is to know about our progress and exactly what we are becoming, but we are able to know whether or not God has given up on us. We can trust that, if we are faithful, yielded and cooperative then God is remaking us, working in us by His Holy Spirit and fashioning us into the image of His Son (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). If we respond to Him as obedient children, purifying ourselves as much as we can then He who calls us His children will make of us something beyond our understanding, something fit for His heaven in the eternal kingdom of His Son (1 John 3:1-3).
We need to know and accept God’s call for us. We are not called to be Paul or Abraham, not called to do or be anything impossible for us. We are not predestined to success or failure. Success requires learning, applying, adjusting, adapting, cooperating with the One who is remaking us. It requires recognizing errors, knowing when and where we have missed the mark and deviated from God’s desire and plan (Romans 2:23), then repenting and correcting and returning for restoration or even a new start. God is not pushing us inexorably toward a predetermined end; He is working with us and we are working with Him (Philippians 2:12-13, 2 Corinthians 6:1-2) to secure a place in His eternal kingdom in heaven. We do not become completely remade all in a moment, or even in a short time. It takes a lifetime. We give ourselves to Him for the lifelong transformation (Romans 12:1-3). Others who know us may be surprised, even amazed at our transformation – we may be amazed too at what God is making of us. Just remember He is not finished with us yet – we are not what we used to be and we are not yet what we are going to be. Let’s not give up and end in regret that we never became what we could have been.