Abraham, Friend of God. Genesis 25
Genesis 25:1, "Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah." Abraham is at least 130 years old, so the rejuvenation of his sexual abilities that gave him the ability to produce Isaac didn't go away. He still has the physical abilities to produce children. Through his second wife, Keturah, he gives birth to six sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. We don't hear too much about any of those, but we do about Midian who is the progenitor of the Midianites. One of the Midianites several generations from now is going to be Zipporah, the wife of Moses. The Midianites are first cousins, as it were, to the Jews.
Genesis 25:3, "And Jokshan begat Sheba, and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim, and Letushim, and Leummim." There is a Dedan and a Sheba listed back in Genesis chapter eleven related to Arab tribes. These are the same names but it is doubtful that they are related. The sons of Dedan were different tribal groups that were assimilated into the overall tribal mix.
Genesis 25:4, "And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abidah, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah." The reason that this is put in the text is simply to show that Abraham had these other children. It gives us a background for when we run into the Midianites and maybe one or two of these other names later on in Exodus and later on in the Pentateuch. The point is that he has other children but he gives everything to Isaac. Isaac is the promised seed. He gives gifts to the sons of the concubines, he takes care of them in grace, but he sends them away from Isaac in order to protect the seed. These first six verses simply tell us he had other children. They simply melt into the Arab mix, but he has protected Isaac as the promised seed.
Then we have the closing statement or obituary on Abraham in verse 7, "And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years." He lives 75 years after Isaac is born. Isaac is going to give birth to Jacob and Esau when he is sixty. That means it is 15 years before Abraham's death. This narrative is not chronological. The writer, Moses, is concluding the story of Abraham here even though Abraham goes on and lives fifteen years into the life of Esau and Jacob.
Genesis 25:8-11, "Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre; the field which Abraham purchased of the sons of Heth: there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife. And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahairoi." Lahairoi was the well where Hagar had seen God face to face.
That brings us to the conclusion of the genealogy of Terah, Abraham's father.
Starting in verse 12 we have the very brief toledot of Ishmael which goes down through verse 18, and then we have the toledot of Isaac in verse 19. Now we start a summary of the life of Abraham.
We need to review what we have seen in the life of Abraham. The New Testament mentions Abraham many times and there are two key passages we looked at at the very beginning: Acts 7 which is part of Stephen's speech just before he is stoned by the Sanhedrin, and Hebrews chapter 11.
Acts 7:2, 3, "And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get out of your country, and from your kindred, and come into the land which I shall show you." This was the promise, the focus on the land.
Acts 7:4, "Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Haran: and from there, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein you now dwell. What is the point is the point that Stephen is making? It is the land. This is still the land that God gave them. Even though there were a vast number of Jews scattered throughout the Roman and Parthian empire at this time there is still the belief that the land was given to Israel. Stephen is saying this after the crucifixion. He doesn't buy into what covenant theologians would say, that the land promise no longer applied to Israel because they crucified the Messiah.
Acts 7:5, "And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child." What a powerful verse to indicate that there is a future for Israel. If God promised an inheritance to Abraham when he was alive and he never had a possession when he was alive, other than the grave site for he and Sarah, then God must in the future fulfill that promise and give him the possession of the land.
Then we look at Hebrews 11:8 which focuses on the faith that Abraham had. "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 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."
The whole chapter focuses on the faith of different Old Testament saints, and the idea isn't so much on the idea that they believed, it is what they believed. We use the word "faith" in two different senses. One is the act of believing or the act of trusting, the other is what is trusted in. It is not faith in faith, it is not just the act of believing that has value, it is what is believed. Abraham believed the promise of God. That was the focus in the Old Testament; it is still our focus. Two things stand out in terms of the character of God. One is His faithfulness. Over and over again God proves Himself faithful to His promise. No matter how Abraham disobeyed, no matter what he did, no matter how he screwed up trying to solve the problems himself, God remained faithful. And that correlates to the second attribute of God that stands out, and that is the attribute of His loyal love—chesed. Both of these attributes of God stand out for us in Genesis. So whatever we go through we can rely upon a God who is faithful and loyal and who will never desert us.
"For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." This is their personal sense of eternal destiny. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob focused on what God is eventually going to do. He has never fulfilled that, so we know that God eventually will fulfill that promise.
We have seen that there are six different ways that the New Testament focuses our attention back on Abraham. This tells us that there are six central core doctrines that come out of Abraham that we learn historically in the progress of revelation. As we progress from Genesis to Revelation God adds incrementally information and reveals new doctrines, new information. It doesn't change anything but it expands. This is called progressive revelation. So that Noah knew more than Adam, Abraham knew more than Noah, Joseph knew more than Abraham, David knew more than Joseph. There is a progress of revelation.
1) The first thing we see emphasized in the New Testament is the Abrahamic covenant. This is the positional truth doctrine for Israel. This is their position in Abraham. The covenant gives them security. That covenant is never going to be breached or taken away.
2) The second thing we saw was that Abraham is the picture of justification at salvation, phase one. If we want to go to a situation in history, an individual's life, to teach justification salvation we go to Abraham. It is taught in Romans chapter four.
3) Third, he is the picture of justification at spiritual maturity. He vindicates his faith, his belief, his doctrine, what he has learned, that he hasn't been just a hearer but is an applier. James chapter two focuses on that.
4) Then, we learn about spiritual advance through the faith-rest drill. This is the whole point of Hebrews 11:8ff. Abraham goes from spiritual birth when he is justified by faith, starting as a spiritual infant, he goes to that vindication stage of spiritual maturity incrementally by passing various tests—trusting God, or in some cases failing to trust God—in his progress to spiritual maturity.
5) He is a picture of election, that God chooses certain people for certain tasks in history; not for salvation, but He chooses Abraham in terms of what He is going to do through Abraham in history. It is not a choice related to salvation, it is a choice related to his role in history.
6) Missions: that all nations will be blessed through Abraham. He becomes the foundation for the doctrine of missions. In the Old Testament Israel wasn't commanded to send out missionaries, they were commanded to be obedient to God and then when people traveled to Israel they would see this tremendous culture and civilization that was built on a relationship with God, and then the travelers in theory would go back home and take the gospel. And that did happen at times, but most of the time Israel decided that they were going to compromise with the pagans around them and so they weren't a witness at all. In the New Testament the church goes out. There is not a nation per se, there is a people, the church, and they are sent to all the nations in the world.
So these six doctrines come out of Abraham and they become a foundation for the rest of Scripture. This builds a framework of thinking in our souls so that we can look at different elements of history and life through the grid of Scripture.
The Abrahamic covenant is a promise of land. To have a nation you not only have to have a land, you have to have a people, and that is the seed. God has promise multiple descendants who will be more numerous than the sand of the seashore and the stars of the sky and through these people He will bring a blessing to all the nations. The three elements—land, seed, blessing—are further expanded in three later covenants. The land is expanded in the land covenant in Deuteronomy 30 where Moses talks about another covenant that is different from the covenant at Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai. The seed is the Davidic covenant, and that focuses ultimately on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessing is expanded in what is called the New covenant in Jeremiah 31. To understand those subsequent covenants it is necessary to understand the Abrahamic covenant as the foundation.
Review of the Abrahamic covenant
1) The overall covenant promises a land, a seed, and a blessing. The preview is given in Genesis 12:1-3.
2) The emphasis on the land. Genesis 12:7 reiterates the land promise. In Genesis 13:5 God expanded this to "all the land that you can see." In Genesis 15:18 He gives the boundaries, from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates. Genesis 17:8 defines it as "the whole land of Canaan." God gives that title deed, their foundation for their claim to the land.
3) The descendants are going to be a great nation, Genesis 12:2. In Genesis 13:16 they would be described as numerous as the dust of the earth. In Genesis 15:5, like the stars in the sky. In Genesis 16 the descendants would be innumerable. In Genesis 17, a multitude of nations. "Kings shall be descended from you." That is one of the reasons there is the genealogy given at the beginning of Genesis 25, these are the nations that are coming forth from Abraham as God promised. So again and again we see this promise and fulfillment. God is faithful to His Word.
4) There is divine protection, Genesis 12:2. God will curse those who treat Abraham lightly. This is the scourge of anti-Semitism. Today we see ant-Semitism in a new guise, that rather than having hatred towards Jews individually they guise of anti-Semitism today is against Jews having a right to the land today. This is an extremely subtle form of anti-Semitism.
5) In chapter fourteen there was a warning to Abraham that there would be a future slavery but there would be deliverance. In chapter 17:7 God reminded him that this was an eternal covenant, there would be no change.
The second thing that is grounded in Abraham is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The key verse on this is Genesis 15:6. There are three key doctrines grounded in that verse: faith, imputation, and justification. It is a parenthetical verse which shows that after God had promised Abraham in the first five verses that He would give him the seed, that they would be more numerable than the stars of the heaven, the writer reminds us that Abraham had already trusted God.
The concept of justification is fairly simple. We have God who is righteous and He is just. He is a holy God. In order to have a relationship with Him we must have the same righteousness. The problem that we have is that we lack righteousness. Isaiah 64:6. But Jesus Christ is perfect righteousness, so that on the cross our sins were poured out upon Him. They are imputed to Him, credited to Him, and so He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. At the instant that we trust in Christ as our savior His perfect righteousness is imputed to us so that when God in His righteousness looks at us He approves us and declares us to be just because we possess Christ's righteousness. It is not because of anything we have done but because we possess Christ's righteousness. Everything is based on the possession of Christ's righteousness. Every blessing in our life is based not on what we do but on our possession of Christ's righteousness. Because we have that righteousness the justice of God is free to bless us. That was the point of Genesis 15:6. God's blessing of the Abrahamic covenant to Abraham was due to the fact that Abraham possessed that imputed righteousness. That is always the basis for blessing.
In the epistle of James, what James sets up is a comparison. You hear and then you apply. In the section starting in James 2:14 the parallel to hearing is believing and the parallel to applying is works. In both sections he is talking to believers. They are already saved, so he is not talking about justification phase one, he is talking about how a justified person is to live the Christian life. They are to hear the Word and apply the Word. They are to believe the Word and do works that are in keeping with what the Word taught. When he comes to 2:21 he gives an example. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?" This reference is to Abraham taking Isaac up to Mount Moriah in Genesis 22, seven chapters after 15:6. In time it is about 40-50 years later. So which is it? Was Abraham justified in Genesis 15 or 22? We are talking about two different kinds of justification. Genesis 15:6 is talking about his justification before God; Genesis 22 is talking about the vindication of all that he believed and learned in the process. Abraham is talking about justification through faith alone. But then he learns doctrine, hears the Word, apply the Word, put is into practice. And we saw all those tests in Abraham's life, and these tests produced maturity. This is what James is talking about in James 1:2, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But let endurance have its mature result…" So what James is illustrating with Abraham is maturity. What he learned and applied produced spiritual growth so that when he comes to his final test, his final exam, in chapter 22 he is vindicating all the doctrine he has learned. He is vindicating the truth of God's Word, and his life becomes a testimony and evidence of the truth of God's Word.
Both Paul in Romans 4 and James in James 2 go to Genesis 15:6 to support their position. James says it was fulfilled. What Paul is talking about is when he is justified. The justification that we have at salvation is the beginning. It is brought to completion, to fulfillment as we learn and apply the Word, and the result is that Abraham is called the friend of God. This is tremendous praise because he has matured so greatly.
James 2:24, "You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." That is incorrect. It looks, the way it is translated in most versions, as though man is justified by works (one kind of justification) and not by faith only. In other words, it is faith plus works. The "only" there in the English translation modifies the noun faith. So it makes it look as though it is not only by faith but it is by faith plus works. The real problem here is a bad translation. The word that is translated "only" is the Greek word MONON [monon] which means "one," but it is an adverb. An adverb modifies a verb, but "only" in the way that this sentence is translated an adverb, it has an "ly" in it, but it is modifying a noun. That isn't right; an adjective modifies a noun. So this is misplaced and what we should have is a verb that it modifies. But the verb here is "justified." The way James has written here he has left the verb out of the second clause. It should read, if you put everything in, "You see, then, that a man is justified by works and not justified only by faith." The "only" shouldn't modify "faith," is should modify the verb that is not there. This indicates two different kinds of justification. Justification by faith is the primary justification. That is what gets the believer eternal life and a destiny in heaven. But the justification by works is the completion of the growth process, a vindication of everything the believer believes about God, all the doctrine he has learned, so that he is vindicated before man and the angels in the angelic conflict. This indicates that Abraham is spiritually mature.
How did Abraham get there? How did he get from point A to point Z? This is walking by faith, Hebrews chapter 11:17-19. That is the process and he did it through thirteen tests that he passed.