AS POINTED OUT in the preceding article of this series, God gave humanity a fresh start with Noah, repeating to him the commands that He had originally given to Adam (cf Gen.1:28 and Gen.9:1). But it soon became apparent that iniquity was abounding again, and at the tower of Babel God scattered mankind and confused their languages (disintegrating their lip) to put a restraint upon them. Still things grew worse, and by the time we come to Terah and Abram, humanity was just about as bad again as it was in the days of Noah. This is shown by the fact that, when God determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, only Lot and his two daughters were saved, despite the promise to Abraham that the city would be spared if as few as ten righteous people could be found within it. But, like Noah, Lot had made no converts.
Over and over again, we find humanity turning to idolatry and wickedness whenever God withdraws His restraining influence. Even Israel, the descendants of Abraham, revert many times to the idolatry of their ancestors, and God has to keep chiding them. The Gentile nations are no better. In all this, we find history continually repeating itself. The iniquity of the Amalekites; the wickedness of Nineveh; the unbelief and perversity of the generation living at the time of the Lord's first coming; the wickedness and violence of the end time of this eon which we are now seeing and which is likened to the days of Noah; and the rebellion which will break out again among humanity at the end of the millennium when the Adversary is loosed for a little season and the restraints of the righteous reign of Christ are withdrawn - all these are evidences of the inherent unrighteousness of humanity which makes it impossible for anything in the flesh to please God. Even the righteous reign of Christ does not change the inherent evil tendencies of humanity; it only suppresses them. Only a new creation can change them.
And so we are suggesting that when Abram was called, there was none righteous, no, not one - not even Abram. He was like the rest, but God appeared to him in Ur of the Chaldees and commanded him to leave his home and go forth into a land that God would show him. And Abram, an idolater, obeyed the voice of the one true God. Such is the superiority of the power of God over that of the idols that Abram and his companions worshiped. Henceforth Abram would only worship the God that condescended and elected to be called the God of Abraham.
In Genesis 12 we find Abram at the age of 75 moving into the land of Canaan, accompanied by Sarai, his wife, and his nephew Lot. But things were not immediately made easy for him. Firstly there was the opposition of the native inhabitants, for we read that the Canaanite was still dwelling in the land (Gen.12:6). Then secondly there was a famine in the land (v.10), and this was so grievous as to cause Abram to seek succor in Egypt. Evidently he did not realize that when God gave him the land He gave him all that was in it and that included the famine. Abram should have stayed where he was and trusted in God to provide. But God had not yet revealed Himself to Abram as the All-sufficient One, and Abram relied on his own judgment.
This is the first mention of Egypt in the Scriptures, and what an eventful incident this proved to be. Quite apart from the fact that Abram, through trusting in himself, got into difficulties and needed the intervention of God to extricate him, it was probably during this sojourn in Egypt that Sarai obtained the services of Hagar, her Egyptian maid, who was to become the mother of Ishmael, and indeed the mother of all the Arabs. And the consequences of this are still to be observed today in the animosity of the Arab states to Israel.
Then thirdly there was the trouble within his own family - the disjointing with Lot which led to continuous strife between their respective herdsmen, so that Abram deemed it desirous that they should separate. This was followed by a kind of tribal war in the land during which Lot was captured, and Abram and his servants went in force to deliver him.
And fourthly there was the doubt within himself as to whether God was able to fulfill His promise or not. Or did He require some action on Abram's part, on the basis of the popular idea today, "God helps those who help themselves?" Abram had been assured by God that though at the moment he had no child, his heir would not be a mere servant, high and respected though that servant might be, but that one who was born of himself would be his heir. But then the question arose, Was Sarai too old? They both assumed so, and after they had lived in Canaan ten years Sarai decided that something must be done about it, and she gave Abram her Egyptian maid Hagar to wife. As a result of this mistaken endeavor to assist God, Ishmael was born, and there is no doubt that for the next thirteen years Ishmael was growing up as Abram's son, and in Abram's mind as the heir of the promise. Remember how later on Abraham said to God, "O that Ishmael should live before Thee!" (Gen.17:18).
The last verse of Genesis 16 tells us that Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born, and the first verse p65
Abraham Learns that God is All-Sufficientof the next chapter tells us that he was 99 years old when the Lord next appeared to him and introduced Himself as the God Who is All-sufficient: "I am the Al-Who-Suffices. Walk before Me and become flawless."
What is the meaning of this? What is the reason for it? The next few verses give the answer. God is now taking over and is going to show Abram that He is all-sufficient in Himself to keep His promises however difficult or even impossible they may seem to human eyes. Seven times in the next few verses God tells Abram what He is doing or going to do, and all that is required of Abram is that he should believe - nothing else. The All-sufficient God will make him fruitful beyond measure, and in conformity with this his name is henceforth to be Abraham, for says God, "the forefather of a throng of nations I have made you." Abram means "exalted father;" Abraham, "exalted father of a throng."
But God did then ask Abraham to do something rather peculiar; He asked him to circumcise himself and also stipulated that all the male children of his seed should be circumcised too. And this was to be the sign of the covenant that God was making with him. And how is this covenant a sign? How could this peculiar rite be a confirmation of a covenant?
Only in one way; this is by signifying that the flesh could achieve nothing. The casting away of a portion of flesh was symbolic of the worthlessness of the whole flesh to achieve anything that God desired. The flesh could only produce an Ishmael, a son inevitably subject to the bondage of the flesh - Ishmael was the son of a bondwoman; but God could achieve an Isaac, a son that was not subject to bondage at all, a son of a freewoman. All this is allegorical, as Paul told the Galatians. It is true that in everything that effects humanity the flesh can only produce that which is subject to the bondage of sin, for sin is now an inbred part of flesh; but God operating through the flesh can produce that which is free from all such bondage and therefore pleasing to Himself. This principle is as true today as it was in Abraham's time.
And Abraham at last came to recognize this as we see when the narrative continues. In Genesis 17:15 we find God changing Sarai's name to Sarah and promising Abraham a son of her. Abraham's immediate reaction was to fall on his face and laugh and say in his heart, "To one a hundred years of age shall a son be born? And should Sarah, ninety years of age, be bearing?" He was still a bit unsure and said to God, "O that Ishmael should live before Thee!" But God reiterated His previous statement and said, "Nevertheless, behold, Sarah, your wife is bearing you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. And I set up My covenant with him for a covenant eonian, and with his seed after him." And then after a comforting word for Abraham concerning Ishmael, God for the third time emphasizes the covenant which He would establish with Isaac by repeating that Sarah would bear him the following year.
We notice the change of name from Sarai to Sarah by means of the Hebrew letter corresponding to our letter `h.' It is the same letter that was inserted in Abram's name to change it to Abraham; the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet in each case (five is the number of grace). From simply being one held in high regard, she is to become a Chiefess, a mother of nations. Twice more in the next chapter the Lord was to repeat the promise concerning Sarah, making five times in all - three times to Abraham alone and twice to Abraham within Sarah's hearing. Abraham had laughed and Sarah had laughed, both in incredulity, but God challenged them both with a searching question, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (AV). "Is anything too marvelous for Ieue Alueim?" (CV).
God was to change their laughter of incredulity into a laughter of joy by giving them a son whose name was to p67
This was Written because of us alsobe "Laugh-causer," for that is the literal meaning of Isaac. But for this to happen, Abraham had to accept God as the All-sufficient One, the One Who could accomplish all without any help from outside. And this is exactly what Paul brings to our notice in Romans 4 when he speaks of this episode in Abraham's life. Beginning at verse 16 we read:
"Therefore it is of faith that it may accord with grace, for the promise to be confirmed to the entire seed, not to those of the law only, but to those also of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all, according as it is written that, A father of many nations have I appointed you - facing which, he believes it of the God Who is vivifying the dead and calling what is not as if it were - who, being beyond expectation, believes in expectation, for him to become the father of many nations, according to that which has been declared, `Thus shall be your seed.' And, not being infirm in faith, he considers his own body, already deadened (being inherently somewhere about a hundred years) and the deadening of the matrix of Sarah, yet the promise of God was not doubted in unbelief, but he was invigorated by faith, giving glory to God, being fully assured also, that, what He has promised, He is able to do also. Wherefore, also, it is reckoned to him for righteousness."
God had said to Abram, "I am the God Who suffices. Walk before Me and become flawless." Abram, his name now changed to Abraham, believed and trusted God implicitly and in so doing became the father of all who believe.
What a wonderful title this is! The father of all who believe. In a world completely full of idolatry, Abraham stands out as the one who believed. But surely the title conveys more than this. Abel believed God, Enoch believed God, Noah believed God. All these come before Abraham in the list of characters of faith in Hebrews 11. Then why is not one of these the father of all who believe? The answer lies in the fact that to none of these did God introduce Himself as the All-sufficient God. To Noah for example God did not introduce Himself in that way; if He had, He would have provided the ark for Noah. Instead, Noah was encouraged to believe that he had to do quite a lot himself to ensure his salvation - he had to build the ark which took considerable time and labor. But to Abraham God introduced Himself as the God Who suffices - the God Who is prepared to do all, even to the extent of vivifying the dead and calling what is not as though it were; and it is because Abraham believed such a God that he is "the father of all who believe."
In other words, a new conception has been introduced into believing. No longer is it a case of "God helps those who help themselves," but "God helps those who cannot help themselves." And there are none that can help themselves, for the sum total of all human endeavor is just "vanity." And such a believing provides the basis for a reckoning of righteousness.
But it was not written because of Abraham alone that righteousness is reckoned to him, "but because of us also, to whom it is about to be reckoned, who are believing on Him Who rouses Jesus our Lord from among the dead, Who was given up because of our offenses, and was roused because of our justifying. Being, then, justified by faith, we may be having peace toward God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ."
The evangel of the all-sufficiency of God was preached before to Abraham so that he should recognize that the outworking of God's promises depended upon Him alone, and God reveals Himself to us in exactly the same way through his apostle Paul. Does not Paul say in 2 Cor.5:14:
"For the love of Christ is constraining us, judging this, that, if One died for the sake of all, consequently all died. And He died for the sake of all that those who are living should by no means still be living to themselves, but to the One dying and being roused for their sakes. So that we, from now on, are acquainted with no one according to flesh."
The flesh is being cast aside, even as God, in the figure of circumcision, demonstrated to Abraham - "Yet, even if we have known Christ according to flesh, nevertheless now we know Him so no longer" Why? Because Christ has given up His flesh at Golgotha. "So that, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation" - and we ask at this point, Who is the creator of the new creation? Surely, it is God: He is the Creator of the new just as He was the Creator of the old. Did humanity have any say in its own creation? Do we have any say in the creating of ourselves anew? "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: the primitive passed by. Lo! there has come new! YET ALL IS OF GOD, Who conciliates us to Himself through Christ."
"YET ALL IS OF GOD," says Paul. "I AM THE GOD WHO SUFFICES," God said to Abraham. Can we accept the spiritual fact that in our salvation and in our lives all is of God, and not try to adulterate the completeness of His work in us by trying to intrude a little of our own efforts?
Augustus Toplady summed up the position when he wrote:
Not the labors of my hands,
Paul too summed it up when he wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10, "For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you; it is God's approach present, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. For His achievement are we, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand, that we should be walking in them."
"Walk before Me and become flawless," God said to Abraham. "We to be holy and flawless in His sight," wrote Paul (Eph.1:4). Let this ever be our attitude to God that we recognize Him as the One Who Suffices as well as the One Who Supplies, for all is of Him.
Can fulfil the law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone:
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.