Overview: Abraham: Friend of God, Gen 11:26-25:11
The life of Abraham is given in the Scriptures from roughly Genesis 11:27 down through Genesis 25:11. The only person in the book of Genesis who gets more space in terms of chapters is Joseph, and they almost tie. So we see under the law of proportionality that God the Holy Spirit spends a vast amount of time in Genesis on Abraham. This shows how important Abraham is to Scripture, to history, and to salvation.
An outline of this portion on Abraham can be divided into four parts.
a) Prelude, 11:27-32.
b) The preparation for the promised seed, 12:1-15:21.
c) The provision of the promised seed, 16:1-22:24.
d) Epilogue. The death of Sarah, the finding of a wife for Isaac, the death of Abraham, 17:1-25:11.
1. As we get into the life of Abraham we see that God shifts from working through all of mankind as a whole to working through one man, and then his descendants. He excludes everyone else in the human race because the human race has rebelled against God. They are in complete negative volition, are into idolatry and have rejected God, so God now selects one man, Abram, and through him he is now going to deal with the rest of the human race.
2. This demonstrates God's determination to bless mankind despite human rebellion. No matter how negative man gets, no matter how rebellious the human race becomes, God shows His fortitude, His determination to bless man. This is grace. So we are already introduced to the fact that grace will be a major theme, just as it is throughout Scripture. There is an emphasis here. Blessing becomes the dominant theme, whereas in the first eleven chapter because there was continual rebellion the cursing or divine discipline on the human race has been the dominant theme.
3. What we see in each of the men in the second part of the book—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph—is the constant struggle for the believer to operate on divine viewpoint instead of human viewpoint arrogance and autonomy. This is the struggle that each one has. We see this again and again in Abraham. Despite what God has promised him, despite the blessing of God, despite God's personal appearance top Abraham on numerous occasions, Abraham still tries to live his life and solve his problems apart from God. This continues to be a problem and will continue to plague the nation Israel later on. But we see in these men the constant struggle that the believers has against the desire to live independently of God and to be arrogant.
4. In Abraham we see a progression in spiritual growth before he receives the promised blessing. Everything moves toward that promised blessing in the seed of Abraham. That is the focal point of the promise. The blessing to all men ultimately comes through the seed, which Paul will interpret as the Lord Jesus Christ, but in the context the promised seed focuses on Isaac. Isaac is that funnel through which that blessing that God promises will come. Before Abraham receives the promise he has to be mature enough to have the capacity to handle the promise. That is true for us. We have to be mature enough to handle the blessings that God gives us or He won't distribute them. Abraham has to go through many tests and training procedures before God finally at the age of one hundred brings about His promise in the birth of Isaac.
5. What are some of the doctrines that are emphasized here? There are crucial doctrines that are taught through the life of Abraham. First of all, we have doctrines related to salvation. Regeneration: This comes through the fact that Sarah is barren. It is impossible for her to give birth and Abraham is sexually dead, and yet God regenerates them. He gives life where there is death. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, the three wives of the patriarchs are all barren. God is teaching a principle: that He is the one who brings life where there is death, just as He brings spiritual life where there is spiritual death. Justification: Paul develops this in Romans chapter four, also in Galatians. Abraham is the Old testament picture of justification by faith alone. Also we see substitutionary atonement, and this comes in Genesis 22 when Abraham is to take Isaac and sacrifice him, the promised seed, to God. God at the last minute stays his hand and provides a substitute through the ram that is caught in the bushes by the altar. In Abraham we have perhaps the greatest example in Scripture of the life of faith. We walk by faith and not by sight, and Abraham is a picture of that faith-rest drill life. He is also a picture of the personal sense of eternal destiny, and this is seen in Hebrews 11:8-19:
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles 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, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure."
The faith-rest drill as Abraham matured was oriented toward that eternal destiny. He is looking forward to that promise that God has; he is focusing on the future reality which changed his present life. So Abraham functions as an example of the spiritual life in terms of the faith-rest drill and personal sense of an eternal destiny. And then a centerpiece. Throughout the life of Abraham is the covenant that God enters into with him. This is crucial and foundational to the rest of the Old Testament, is foundational through all of human history. You cannot understand and interpret human history or the future if you do not understand the Abrahamic covenant, because this tells us that human history turns on God's plan for the descendants of Israel. Even though we are living in the church age this does not mean that God has replaced and permanently passed away Israel. In fact, that is the subject of Paul's discourse in Romans chapter eleven: that God has not passed away His people whom He foreknew.
There are three elements to the Abrahamic covenant: land, seed, and blessing. If you understand the concepts of the land, the seed, and the blessing, then you will understand what is going on in this context, because God promises Abraham that it is through his seed that He will bless the whole world, and that his descendants have to have a place, the land. We see at least six distinct times in these fourteen chapters where God promises a specific piece of real estate to Abraham, and at least twenty times between Genesis 12 and Genesis 50 God promises this specific piece of real estate to Abraham, reiterates it to Isaac, reconfirms it to Jacob, and makes that covenant with them and their descendants forever. This is profound in light of things that are happening today, both in terms of politics and in terms of theological aberration. God has not gone back on His promise, He has not cast away His people, and He has given that land to them. So there is a land where the seed will dwell to be a blessing for all mankind.
Then in this section of Genesis we get a particular look at who God is. There are six names for God that are introduced in the Abrahamic story. He is called the Lord God most high, EL Elyon, in Genesis 14:18-22. This emphasizes the exalted status of God. He is called the possessor of heaven and earth, emphasizing His sovereignty, that He is the one who rules the heavens and the earth. Secondly, He is called the God who sees in Genesis 16:13, El Roi, emphasizing the fact that He knows the future. The third name used here is El Shaddai, Genesis 17:1; Genesis 35:11, God the Almighty, used 48 times in the Old Testament, most frequently in Job. In Genesis 21:3 He is called El Elyon, the everlasting God, the eternal God, emphasizing the fact that He has neither beginning nor end. He is called Yahweh Jireh, or as written in the old KJV, Jehovah Jireh. It means the Lord provides, the Lord supplies. As we learn from the New Testament, God's grace is sufficient for all our needs and He shall supply everything for us in abundance. This is first seen clearly and taught in Genesis 22:14 when God supplies a substitute for Isaac. Then He is called Yahweh, the God of the heavens, that He is the ruler of the heavens and the earth. So what we learn about God is crucial in our study of Abraham.
We begin the study of Abraham in Genesis 11 with the family background of Abraham. This is the next toledot, starting in verse 27. "This is what happened to the descendants of Terah." Abram is a name that means noble father. Abraham was of nobility, of an aristocratic family from Ur of the Chaldeans which is located in southern Mesopotamia. The Chaldeans had a very advanced culture but they were enmeshed in idolatry, particularly the worship of the moon god who was called Sim (pronounced Seem). While we know from Scripture that Abraham's family knew about Yahweh and worshipped Yahweh they were also heavily involved in idolatry. They had compromised, had assimilated, and were not devoted completely or exclusively to Yahweh. But apparently, once God called Abram it had an impact on them and brought them out. They lived between approximately 2200 BC and the rise of the 3rd dynasty of Ur which somewhere around 2000-2100 BC.
Abram was married to a woman called Sarai. It has been said that Sarai means "contentious" but consulting with numerous lexicons reveals that they agree to a man that it means "my princes" or queen. When the name is changed later to Sarah this is an intensified form of that name for princes. So it indicates that Abram and Sarah are both from nobility. The toledot in Genesis 11 ends by saying that Sarai was barren. That is the focus. This is the end of the line for Terah: Haran dies and Sarai is barren. The point that we are learning here is that God is going to bring life where there is death. Moses makes this point right up front. This provides the framework for understanding why God has to provide this seed and why this is such a miracle event.
Genesis 11:31, 32, "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran." Abram isn't born until Terah is 140 years old.
In chapter 12 we are introduced to the promise of the seed, and Abraham has to be prepared for the coming of the seed. So chapters 12-15 covers the preparation for the seed. We have the divine call and the preview to the Abrahamic covenant given in the first three verses. "Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing." There are two commands here: Get out of your country, and be a blessing. The interesting thing as we look at these three verses is that blessing is mentioned five times and cursing is mentioned two times. This shows the shift in the emphasis in the book: to blessing from cursing. There are two different words for cursing here. One is the word qalal which means to treat someone with disrespect or to treat them lightly, the other word is the word to cut off from blessing, arur, a much stronger word. The second word is the one used back in Genesis 3 for the consequences of sin. The way this blessing statement should be translated is: "Those who treat you lightly I will curse harshly." This is God's statement of divine protection for the seed, for the descendants of Abraham and for the provision against anti-Semitism.
Abram starts out as something of a baby believer in incomplete obedience. Then when he leaves Terah he has Lot in tow. What we see is that God is eventually going to have to remove Lot from him, so that Abraham is eventually isolated from his family, because it is through Abraham that God is going to provide blessing and He needs to get these worldly influences away from the promised seed.
So Abram obeys God, and in Genesis 12:4 we read that Abram leaves and goes down to Canaan. First he goes to Shechem in the central part of Israel, and this becomes a major place in the life of Isaac, and all through the history of Israel Shechem is a significant location. From Shechem he goes a little further south to a place between Bethel and Ai. At Shechem God appears to Abram and says to him, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." This is the first promise related to the real estate. "…and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him."
Genesis 12:8, "And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD." At this stage what Abram is doing is marking off the parameters of the land. This is the land that God has given him and he is beginning to claim it by faith as he goes through the land. Then he journeys further south down to Hebron and on into the Negev which is south of Beersheba. But then a famine comes into the land. This is his first test. The famine is in the land, the land is the place of blessing and promise, and what happens? Abraham decides he is going to solve problems his own way. This is the way most of us are. We use human viewpoint to solve problems rather than to stay put and trust Christ. There is plenty of food down in Egypt, so rather than staying put in the land God promised where God could provide for him Abram heads down to Egypt. Once he gets there he tries solve his first problem through lying. So Abram gets into trouble here because of his carnality. He is not trusting God so he has to learn a few things. He is going to create another problem that shows up later on: he is going to pick up a slave named Hagar, and Egyptian woman who is a descendant of Ham.
Finally Abram turns back to the land in chapter thirteen. He is back in fellowship and goes up from Egypt with his wife and all that he has. One of the interesting things is that when Abram goes down into Egypt he is treated like royalty. He is not just some traveling merchant that happens to wander in. He has tremendous wealth and when he shows up with Sarai Pharaoh gives him all kinds of gifts and riches, and then when he leaves we are told in 13:2, "And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold."
Genesis 13:3, 4, "And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD." As far as we can tell this all covers a few months, maybe six months to a year at the most. He has tremendous possessions. In fact, he has so much wealth and there is so many servants who work for him, as well as Lot who is also wealthy, that there is just not enough room for them to dwell together in the land. So Abram says they have to divide things up. He shows he has grace orientation as a young believer and tells Lot to pick out the land that he wants. Remember that God has already promised Abram the land, and here he is giving it away to Lot. Lot chooses to go down to the cities in the valley, Sodom and Gomorrah. We are told that the area was like the garden of the Lord at that time: "as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar." This indicates that Egypt was considered a fertile green area at the time.
This sets up the situation in chapter fourteen when Abram has to deliver the cities of the valley down by the Dead Sea from the conquest by the four kings under the domination of Chedorlaomer. So what we see here is Abram functioning as a blessing to his neighbors. Lot is separated from him and we are told that for a period of fourteen years this area came under the domination of the king from the east. They invade at this time and take many people captive. So when Abram hears that Lot has been taken captive he arms his 318 trained servants. He has his own private army and goes in pursuit to the north as far as Dan. Just north of Dan is Damascus, and these are the parameters of the land that God is giving him. So Abram is moving throughout the extent of the land and showing his control over this area. He is exercising as a blessing in this land that God has given him. When he finishes he is going to be a blessing to Melchizedek.
In chapter fifteen God is going to enter into a covenant with him and it is a restatement of the promised seed. In this section God is going to emphasize the provision of an heir. In the first part of the chapter God promises not only the seed but that it would come through Abram. In Genesis 15:6 we have the key verse on justification: "And he believed in the LORD [Yahweh]; and he counted [imputed] it to him for righteousness." This particular verse should not be translated as a simple past, which makes it sound like it occurred at this moment. Abram was already a believer. This is in the Hebrew an imperfect tense verb and it should be translated as a perfect tense: "He had already believed." The verse is stating the fact that the reason God is blessing Abram in this way is because Abram was already a possessor of perfect righteousness. God cannot bless those who do not possess perfect righteousness, and God's blessing is based upon his possession of imputed righteousness.
Then God reminds Abraham of who He is: "I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it." You can't separate the seed from the land. So God is going to make a provision and in the rest of the chapter there is a reiteration that God is going give this land to Abram and to his descendants—but not yet because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete, v. 16.
But Abraham hasn't learned all his lessons yet. Chapters 16-22 gives us the story of the provision of the seed. First of all in chapter 16 we have the birth of the pseudo-seed, the false seed. This is once again using a human viewpoint solution to the problem. They are going to try to do things the way the culture does them, but once again God is showing them that they have to be distinct from the culture. You don't do things the way the world does it, you divorce yourself from human viewpoint. When you use human viewpoint solutions they compound the problems and create difficulties. And this is exactly what happened. Hagar becomes pregnant and Sarah becomes despised and ridiculed—the same word as used for being treated lightly or with disrespect in Genesis 12:3. The interesting things her is that Sarah says, "Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai." This is the same structure as in Genesis chapter three where Eve said, "Here, see the tree? It is good; take and eat." Now Sarah is saying the same thing: "Here, see my handmaid; take her." The author wants us to understand that this is as much of a fall for Abram as eating the food was in the fall for Adam, and this is going to bring tremendous negative consequences down through history. As a result of that there is now contention between Sarai and Hagar. Abram tells Hagar to leave. She leaves but the angel of the Lord finds her. This is God's grace. Even in the midst of all of this disobedience we see that God still treats us in grace. He is going to protect Hagar because she has been treated poorly by Abraham and Sarah at this point. He promises here that she will have many descendants but that she is supposed to return back to live with Sarai and Abram.
Genesis 16:2, the promise, the foreboding. "And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." This is particularly true today in a time of terrorism.
In chapters 17 & 18 we have two more statements of the Abrahamic covenant. God reiterates the covenant with Abram—land, seed, and blessing—and changes his name to Abraham, which means "the father of multitudes." He gives the sign of the covenant which is circumcision. In chapter 18 we have the birth given. From the time he is 86 at the time of the episode with Lot and the kings and the time of the birth of Ishmael until now (fourteen years) he has been living at Hebron. He lives here almost permanently. Again there is the promise of the seed. Sarah laughs and the child's is named Isaac [laughter].
Before the birth of Isaac God has to do one more thing to protect the seed: destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their depravity. The promised seed was going to be born 30 miles from Sodom and Gomorrah and God is going to protect the environment from the perversion of the Sodomites. However, we see another principle of blessing applied. There is blessing of association because of Lot's association with Abraham and because Lot is a believer God is going to deliver Lot from the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. But that deliverance comes because Abraham intercedes with God. God send the two angels to warn Lot and he escapes.
Chapter 20. We have an example of God's protection of the seed. "And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar." Again, Abraham decides to hide the true nature of his relationship with Sarah. He lies and says she is his sister because he is afraid that Abimelech may just kill him to take Sarah as his wife. He is not trusting God. God warns Abimelech who then finds out the truth. What is happening is that God is protecting her so that there is no sexual intercourse with any other man. It must be clear that the seed comes from Abraham and Sarah. So once again God continues to providentially care for Abraham and Sarah.
In chapter 21 finally we have the provision of the seed itself. Isaac is born, and now there will be problems between him and Ishmael who is 15 years older. God now tells Hagar to take Ishmael, and they leave. Once again, God is protecting the seed so that the seed can live in the land unopposed and continue to be the source of blessing.
Then when Isaac grows up God tells Abraham at the pinnacle of his spiritual growth to take his only son—can you take your seed that I have promised you and apply doctrine to the situation?—and sacrifice him. We know that from Hebrews 11 that Abraham knew that even if he took Isaac's life God was able to raise him from the dead. He knew that God has promised descendants like the sand of the seashore through this seed. This showed tremendous faith. Abraham never questioned God. God stayed Abraham's hand and provided a substitute. This is a picture of substitutionary atonement. And again God reiterates the promise in Genesis 22:18, "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice."
Then there is an interlude in verses 20-23 about the descendants of Nahor, because that is going to end up with Rebeka. What we will find in chapter 24 is that Rebekah will be the bride for Isaac. So God is providing for the perpetuation of the seed.
In chapters 23-25 we have the epilogue, the closing statements. Sarah dies in chapter 23 at the age of 127. Abraham is in the land that God has given him but he doesn't possess enough land to bury her. He has to purchase land where he will bury Sarah. In chapter 24 he sends Eleazor to go find a bride for Isaac. Abraham remarries. Not only did he have Ishmael and then Isaac after he was sexually dead, but now he is even more prolific. He marries Keturah and has numerous other sons. These sons are also progenitors of various Arab groups. Abraham dies at the age of 175 years.
So this is the life of Abraham who is given one of the greatest honors in Scripture. He is called the friend of God because of his close walk with the Lord. He rosew from spiritual childhood, spiritual immaturity, to spiritual maturity in the course of these chapters.