Romans 4:1-4; Genesis 15:6
Romans Lesson #039
October 27, 2011
Just a little bit of review. The real issue in salvation is not what is normally presented in most gospel presentations. Not that that makes most gospel presentations terribly wrong, but if you look at most presentations, they start with the question somehow related to life. “Would you like to have eternal life? Would you like to go to heaven when you die?” The issue really in salvation is not so much a matter of life, although that is definitely part of it because the major problem we have is a lack of life or born spiritually dead. The other part of the problem is that we are not righteous. How do we get righteousness? As I have pointed out before in our study of Romans, the focus of Paul is on how we get righteousness.
Righteousness and justice are word groups that are built off of the same basic root words in both Hebrew in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament. There are other words that also indicate especially justice, but righteousness relates to the standard of God’s character and justice the application of God’s standard to His creatures. It is God’s love that is the expression of that integrity to His creatures in providing a solution based on grace for the application for the gift of righteousness to people. That is really what Romans is all about.
Sometimes I think we ought to approach an evangelism situation a little differently and ask them, “Would you like to be perfectly righteous?” See what kind of response we will get from that kind of approach. That is really what Romans is all about—how we get this gift of righteousness and what the implications are for us to have this gift we receive in salvation.
In Romans 4, Paul is going to give two illustrations to help his readers understand how we get righteousness. This is not something new. This whole idea of righteousness by faith alone, and not from works or morality or the Mosaic Law, is not a new idea. He is going to go to two Old Testament individuals in order to illustrate that it is always on the basis of faith not works that we receive righteousness.
The first illustration is the key one, and that is Abraham. He introduces the topic with a rhetorical question in Romans 4:1 “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” When he uses the term flesh, he is talking about him in terms of his humanity. What has he found in the physical realm? Has he found spiritual righteousness, an eternal righteousness or has he just found a relative righteousness?
Then he explains the question further in verse 2, giving the answer “For if Abraham was justified by works …” This is where we have the verb DIKAIOO, which is formed on the root DIKE. That root then is modified by various suffixes to indicate different aspects of either righteousness or justification in terms of the verb. Justification is really the idea of being declared righteous. It is a judicial term, a courtroom term.
If you have been following the Michael Jackson trial related to his doctor or some of the other trials, that is the idea. What happens in the courtroom—when a court case goes to the jury and the jury is going to return a verdict. There have been some relatively infamous ones over the last decade or two where people are convinced (we think of the OJ Simpson trial) of someone’s guilt, but the jury finds them not guilty. That is a judicial declaration. It does not have anything to do actually with whether or not the person who committed the crime is guilty. It has to do with whether or not there is the proper evidence, so that they can determine judicially that that person is guilty.
That is a good way to understand what we have. We are guiltier than you ever thought OJ Simpson was in terms of sin and violating God’s standard of righteousness. But we are declared not just not guilty, but we are declared righteous because we are judicially given that gift of righteousness. It is not given to us in the way that makes us righteous, it does not make us moral, it does not obliterate part of the sin nature, it does not limit the sin nature so we are not as capable of sin as we were before (we know better than that if we are being honest).
If you were saved like I was when you were young, your sin nature just did not have enough opportunity yet to demonstrate its true core capacity for evil if you were five, six or seven years old. By the time you got to be 14 or 15, it was beginning to, in Navy terms, get its sea legs and really operate, especially if you talk to your parents about the time you hit adolescence.
The sin nature and the fact that we were born spiritually dead mean that we have this predisposition to unrighteousness. That does not mean that everything we do is bad or sinful. In a sense it is because it all comes from the sin nature, and we have no other nature from which it can come. But what it means is that in terms of God’s standard of perfection, no matter how good we are relatively speaking, we are never good enough to reach His standard of absolute perfection.
Even Jesus when talking to His disciples recognized that mankind does good things. He says in Matthew 7:11 “If you then, being evil (recognition of the fallen nature), know how to give good gifts to your children…” Human beings can do wonderfully good things; unbelievers can do good things. They are not the kind of good (qualitative intrinsic good) that is going to gain the righteousness of God. That is why Isaiah 64:6 points out that the problem with our righteousness or any righteous deeds that we perform is that in comparison to God’s standards, they are filthy rags, disgusting. They never allow us to reach the level of good. So how then do we get righteousness?
In Romans 4:3, Paul gives his example from Genesis 15. “For what does the Scripture say?” He points out just methodologically the issue is always go back to the Scripture. In fact, I was over at a Jewish friend’s house (he is not a believer) and was there with another Jewish business woman. The one friend was talking to her about me being a wonderful evangelical and how my church loves Israel and the Jewish people. He asked me why we support Israel, and I said, “Because the Bible says so.” Christians support Israel for a Christian reason. As an American, I might have other reasons, but specifically as a Christian, I support Israel because the Bible says so. He said, “What if the Bible said to hate Israel?” “Then I would hate Israel because the Bible is the ultimate authority.” That was not the answer he expected.
We always have to go back to what the Bible says. Paul is demonstrating that in Romans 4:3 when he says, “What does the Scripture say?” The Scripture is the authority, so we have to go back and determine what the Scripture says.
Let’s go back to Genesis 15 and get the context of this significant verse. The verse he quotes is Genesis 15:6 “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” That is the NKJV. This is an incredibly important passage, and its interpretation is controversial, even among those who hold to a free grace gospel.
There are some who take this to mean that the belief that is talked about in verse six is belief in the promise that God has just now made to Abraham that his descendants would come through him and not through, for example, an adoption of Eliezer. There are others - solid on the gospel, free grace advocates and dispensationalists – who would say that verse six does not refer to what is happening right here but is more parenthetical and is a reminder of something Abraham had already done prior to this. He was not justified in the events of Genesis 15:1-5 but was justified already – probably before Genesis 12. That is the view I take.
Chapter 15 can really be divided into two sections. In verses 1-5 God is promising to Abraham a covenant, and that covenant would bring blessing to him and his seed. That is the key idea. If you want to trace the main idea through Genesis, you trace that word seed. From the very beginning of sin, God promised to Eve that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. All the genealogies in Genesis 5, 10, 11 and the rest of the Old Testament trace the seed, all the way down to the genealogies in Matthew 1 and in Luke 3. Those two genealogies have two different purposes. People think Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph, and they teach that is the legal claim that Jesus had to the throne through His adopted father Joseph. They say Luke 3 traces the genealogy (leaves in a lot of gaps) from Adam to Jesus through Mary, and that is the physical line of descent. But that is wrong.
The reason Matthew gives a genealogy is not to show that Jesus has a legal right to the throne of David through His adopted father Joseph. Joseph was a descendant through Coniah. Jeconiah was one of the last and most evil kings in the southern kingdom. God pronounced a judgment, a curse on him that no descendant of his would sit on the throne of Israel. So no descendant of Coniah, no physical or adopted son of Joseph had a legal right to the throne of Israel. The genealogy of Matthew is to show that the seed does not go through Joseph at all. It is supporting the necessity of a virgin birth that would leave Joseph out of the line.
You trace the whole seed line down through Genesis. Is the seed going to come physically through this man who is past his ability to father children? Is it going to come literally through him and Sarah, who is also beyond her years to have a child, to become pregnant? Or is God going to give Abraham a physical descendant? This is the focal point of this passage.
That is the first section – God’s reiteration of the promise in Genesis 15:5 when He tells Abraham to look at the stars in the sky and that his descendants would be more numerable. From verses 7-21, we have the covenant cutting ceremony, the formal ceremony, when God makes the covenant with Abram. It is concluded in verse 18 “On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates.’ ” Then he enumerates a number of the different ethnic groups that inhabited the land of Canaan.
This prelude, the initial declaration to the chapter in these first five verses (hinge verse in verse six which is our focal point) is designed to reiterate the promise that has already been made. The covenant is not cut formally, the contract is not signed as it were, until we get into verses 7-17. The promise of giving the covenant is made as far back as Genesis 12. That is one reason we know that this statement of Abram’s faith in Yahweh must go back to events before an initial promise was given.
Verse six fits as a parenthetical statement that is a reminder of the foundation for the promise. The foundation for the promise is Abram’s belief in God and the fact that God had imputed to him righteousness. Because he was now righteous, God could give him this covenant.
The Abrahamic Covenant as it is set forth specifically in this chapter, and also in the numerous repetitions, is a distinct kind of covenant in the ancient world. There was an article that was published in the early part of the 1960s entitled “The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East” by Moshe Weinfeld at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which was a ground-breaking study on the Mosaic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant.
It is important to understand that there were basically two different kinds of contract forms that were prominent in the ancient Near East. Now we call it the Middle East, but whenever you study it in the ancient world, it is called the ancient Near East. The covenants we have in the Bible were probably the prototype. Who came first, the chicken or the egg? Who came first, God or man? God came first. God’s covenants with man always preceded any human covenants, so all human covenants are somehow based on what they understood as the structure of divine covenants. Then, of course, they would be developed and expanded on down through history. As time went by, mankind in different cultures would modify these covenants.
In the ancient Near East, you had two types of covenants. One is a covenant where the king would promise certain benefits, conditioned on the behavior of his people or a client nation or a feudal servant. If you are obedient and guard my borders and are productive, then I will do these positive things for you. If you are disobedient and you do not provide enough tax revenue or enough agricultural products or protect me from my enemies, I will punish you in certain ways. That would become a very formal type of contract by the middle of the 2nd century BC (around 1500 or 1400 BC) and became known as the suzerain-vassal treaty form. That really is the pattern for the Mosaic Law, designed with a somewhat conditional sort of nature to it.
But to a servant that had been obedient, that had blessed the sovereign, there was another kind of treaty. It was called a royal grant treaty, where one who was already an obedient servant is given an additional grace blessing based on the fact that he had been obedient. It was not because he had been obedient he would get this – it was totally at the discretion of the king. That is what we have in the Abrahamic Covenant.
At the introduction to his article, Weinfeld writes, “Two types of covenants are found in the Old Testament. The obligatory type reflected in the covenant of God with Israel (suzerain-vassal treaty). The promissory type reflected in the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants.” On the next page, he says, “While the treaty (obligatory type) constitutes an obligation of the vassal to his master, the suzerain, the grant constitutes an obligation of the master to his servant. In the grant type of treaty, the curse is directed towards the one who will violate the rights of the king’s vassal.”
That is exactly what we have in Genesis 12:3. God tells Abram He is going to give him this land, so he is to leave Ur and go to the land God will show him. “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you…” The cursing in the Mosaic Law is directed to whom? To the Israelites, those who were the vassal and were disobedient. In a grant covenant, the curse is directed to those who would violate the rights of the vassal, the one who is receiving the grant.
Weinfeld goes on to say, “In other words, the grant serves mainly to protect the rights of the servant, while the treaty comes to protect the rights of the master. What is more, the grant is a reward for loyalty and good deeds already performed. The treaty is an inducement for future loyalties.” If this is true, God is giving the Abrahamic Covenant to Abraham, and he is already entered into a relationship with God. It is not that God gives him the covenant and later he would become justified. That would not fit the pattern that we see in this type of covenant.
We see these two sections in Genesis 15 – God’s reiteration of the promise in verses 1-5, a reminder of the basis for the promise, the real cause of the promise in verse six, and the covenant itself being cut in the formal ceremony in verses 7-17.
At the beginning, God promises that Abram will have an heir who is a direct physical descendant of Abram and Sarah. God appears to him and says in Genesis 15:1 “After these things (which are the events of chapter 14, the rescue of Lot, and the defeat of the five kings) the word of the Lord …” It is important here that it is indicated again as Yahweh. God doesn’t really define for the Jews the significance of that name (the Tetragrammaton YHWH) until Moses, but that does not mean that they did not use the name. God told Moses, “I have not identified the significance of My name.” This name Yahweh was always associated with God’s covenant and faithfulness.
Genesis 15: 1-2 “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’” We see that Abram is not quite focused on the fact yet that God is going to be able to give him a son through his own body. He shows a level of doubt there.
I want you to note the progression of this narrative grammatically. It starts out “After these things …” There is a clear break between the events preceding in chapter 14 and the beginning of this episode. This is completely different. There is not a continuation of events, but this is something that takes place sometime later. God appears to Abram in a vision, and Abram speaks to God. In the Hebrew, it would not have to be a “but”; it could be a “then.” The vav is the Hebrew conjunction “and.” Hebrew narrative is a little bit repetitive and redundant and boring. “And this happened and this happened and this happened.” You have a vav consecutive there plus an imperfect tense of the verb. That just shows ongoing narrative: God spoke to Abram in a vision and then Abram made this statement and then in verse three Abram said which starts out in the same kind of construction.
Genesis 15:3 “Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’ ” This was the custom of the time. A couple might be childless and would give a faithful servant (that royal grant idea again) something to reward him for his faithfulness. He would have already entered into a relationship with that family.
In verse four there is a break in the narrative. “And behold the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘This one (Eliezer) shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’ ” It is not the normal progression of the narrative with a vav consecutive. There is a break there.
Then you have this same grammatical construction in verse five “Then He brought him outside …” You have “the word of the Lord came to him” and then “He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the starts if you are able to number them.’ And he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ ” This happens and then this happens and then this happens. Then verse six says “And he believed in the Lord…” But that is not what it says in the Hebrew. In the ongoing narrative, it is a vav plus an imperfect tense of the verb, but here you have a vav plus a perfect tense of the verb, which means that the action is completely thrown off. It shows that verse six is not a continuation of the story that the events of verse six follow verse five. It shows that there is a break in the writer’s thinking, and he goes off on a tangent. The grammar here indicates that verse six is not the next logical step in the progression, but there is a break in the action. That would indicate, just on the grammar at that point, that what happens in verse six is taking us to some other event.
Let us look at the grammar here in Genesis 15:6. The first verb is he’emin, which is the hifil perfect of the verb to trust or believe. All the others were imperfect. It is important here because it makes us realize that God is not promising a covenant to Abram and then Abram gets saved because he believes it. This gracious gift of this promise to Abram is being given to one who is already a member of the family, already a believer. We are being reminded of this—“Now, remember, Abram had already believed in the Lord, and it had already been imputed to him as righteousness.” What the writer Moses is saying here is remember what the foundation for the promise is. It is the grace of God in giving Abram righteousness on the basis of his faith.
I put up here on the screen three different translations. The first is the NKJV “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” The next is from the Tanakh, which is the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation of 1985, which is a little more modern. The third is from the JPS Tanakh from 1917. Tanakh is what the Jews called the Old Testament. It is an acronym for the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvim—the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. They just take those initial consonants and make the word Tanakh.
The Tanakh 1985 version “And because he put his trust in the Lord, He reckoned it to his merit.” The word for merit is tsedeq. It really does not have to do with merit as much as it has to do with righteousness. That throws it off target a little. The Tanakh 1917 version “And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” A much better translation. The Jewish Tanakhs are not any different than English Bibles. I could put up five different English translations, and you would find these kinds of little differences in the way the translators handled some things. Too many translators want to add their interpretation into a translation, rather than just simply translating it.
John Sailhammer, who wrote the commentary on Genesis in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary series, makes a good analogy here:
“Recognition of Abram’s faith at this point in the story, however, should not be taken as the initiation of his faith. Abram had already responded earlier to the call and promise of God’s word (12:1–3). Just as the covenant ritual of chap. 15 does not initiate God’s commitment but formally ratifies it, so the narration’s affirmation of Abram’s faith in v. 6 declares the faith Abram had exercised from the outset.”
He and a number of other commentators would take the same view that I take, and that is this goes back to something much earlier. In some of the legends of the Jews, they put Abram’s belief in God back as far as the time he was 40 or 50 years of age, long before God appeared to him and called him to come forth from Ur of the Chaldees. We’re not told about that. The first time we see Abram, he is a growing believer in God’s promises for a Messiah as it was exemplified in the Old Testament.
We are looking at this verb amen, where we get our noun amen which we utter at the end of a prayer. It is one of two primary words for faith in the Old Testament: this word and the word batach. There are slight differences in the emphasis that each one brings to the table. We’ll just talk about amen tonight.
The root meaning of the Hebrew concept of belief has to do with stability or certainty. I believe something means that I am certain, I am assured, I am positive that this is true. It is not like what you will hear from a lot of liberal theologians and liberals in other areas that say, “This is what we know for sure, but beyond that, that is in the realm of faith.” They always do that.
I was reading a book this morning that is a good book to wake up with, get your blood pressure going, get you all stimulated early before you ever get out of bed and get your coffee going. You are wide awake because you are mad. It is a book on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. I was writing nasty comments in the margin almost from the first paragraph. You can tell from things they say that they completely reject any value in anything that the Bible says. “That is just something of faith. That doesn’t give us any idea of what was going on at the time. You just cannot trust it at all.” It is like you can know something or have faith, but they are opposites.
But the Bible sees faith as an element of knowledge in certainty. We have gone over this before that the way we come to learn things is one of four different ways. 1) Through the use of reason, rationalism. Plato in the ancient world and Descartes in the more modern world, the Enlightenment. It is that reason alone can lead us to truth. 2) Empiricism says reason cannot really get you outside of your own head (that was the critique of Descartes). You have to go with sense knowledge – what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch. Only what you can see, hear, smell, taste or touch can lead you to true knowledge. 3) Mysticism (It always follows this flow in history. First you have rationalism and that fails; then you have empiricism and that fails. You can’t get there on the basis of logic, so let us leap there in mysticism.) Mysticism always follows the skepticism that comes from the failure of rationalism or empiricism.
What they all have in common is that they all have a belief in the ability of the human brain to properly decode and interpret data, whether it is intellectual data or external data. They are all grounded in faith. Rationalism is built on faith assumptions. Empiricism is based on faith assumptions. Mysticism is based on faith assumptions. It is not faith vs. reason or empiricism. Rationalism, empiricism and mysticism are all grounded on an assumption, a belief that man can properly interpret the data without any outside input at all.
Over against those three we have 4) Revelation. Revelation is an authority (God) explaining or giving information to man you cannot get from rationalism, empiricism or mysticism; and man again responds by believing the content of what God has revealed. Faith is operative in every system of knowledge. It is not faith or knowledge; faith is a component in any kind of knowledge.
That is what is emphasized in this word amen which is the conviction of certainty in your knowledge. The root meaning of the Hebrew concept is that of stability and certainty. One of the places where we get evidence of this is in this verse 2 Kings 18:16 “At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the door of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the King of Assyria [the foundational support of the pillars].”
This is the time of the Sennacherib invasion into Judah, and Hezekiah has to pay the bribe to pay him off. Try to figure out where the word for faith (amen) is in this verse. The word that is translated doorposts really is the support of the pillars, the foundation. It is a noun form of the verb amen.
Some of you have been to Israel before. You go down in the tunnels under the Temple Mount, and they show you the foundation stones that are put under the Temple Mount. People go to Egypt, and they ooh and aah over the fact that they managed to transport these 15-20 ton blocks of rock up to build the pyramids. But you go down under the Temple Mount, and they have one foundation stone there that they estimate it weighs 140 tons. The Jews had the engineering and ability to bring that up to the Temple Mount. When you build something on a foundation stone that weighs 140 tons, you have stability and certainty, and it is immoveable, unshakeable.
That is why that word is used there. Faith has to do with this sense of certainty. In Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is a certainty of knowledge apart from empiricism or rationalism, but it is based on the authority of God’s Word telling us something. We believe it to be true, and it is just as real as if we had witnessed it in the laboratory, just as if we had measured and weighed it. Just because we have not seen or tasted or touched it or do not have the presuppositions to make up the major assumptions as the basis for the conclusion in a logical argument does not mean it is not just as true. It is just as true because God said it.
There used to be a bumper sticker back in the 1970s that said, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” What is wrong with that? It should read, “God said it. That settles it. I believe it.” It is not settled because I believe it; it is settled because God said it. You always have to make sure that the authority is the Word of God. God said it; therefore, it is true. Whether I believe it or not is irrelevant.
In the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, the writer makes the point that in the hifil stem, which is what we have here in Genesis 15, the verb amen basically means to cause something to be certain or sure, to be assured. This is the sense that we have for the way the word is used in terms of belief. We believe it because it is sure; there is a sense of certainty in our minds that a statement is true. The other interesting thing about amen as opposed to batach is amen is used mostly in response to something said by someone else. God makes a promise, and we amen, we believe it. As opposed to passages where you are exhorted to trust in the Lord, that would be batach. Amen expresses a person’s response to a statement or promise by God. Faith or belief then means that someone has a sense of assurance or certainty that something is true.
We have another example of how faith is used in Exodus 4, which is in the middle of a conversation that God is having with Moses giving him his commission to go to the pharaoh to free the Israelites. The chapter begins with God telling Moses to go, and Moses said, “Suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice.” It is the response to a voice that comes out in that particular verse. God then gives him evidence. There is nothing wrong with basing faith on evidence. It is not a faith that is just a leap of faith. Leap of faith terminology is existential; it is not biblical. We do not believe something with no evidence. God gives all kinds of evidence in the Scripture.
Luke tells us in Acts 1:3, after the resurrection Jesus presented Himself to the disciples and gave them “many infallible proofs” of the resurrection. God does not say to park your brain in neutral and believe something. There is evidence.
There are going to be signs and miracles that Moses is going to perform before pharaoh. Later on Moses says, “I just cannot talk very well.” God says He will send Aaron as his spokesperson. Exodus 4:28-30 “So Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him. Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel. And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. Then he did the signs in the sight of the people. So the people believed (amen, they believed, they trusted in God); and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.”
Ten chapters later in Exodus 14:30 after the parting of the Red Sea, we are told “So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” Faith does not necessarily operate apart from empirical data. We are not saying the empiricism is wrong or rationalism is wrong, but empiricism and rationalism that are based on the wrong starting point are wrong. God uses empirical data all the time as confirmatory evidence to validate what He has done.
Exodus 14:31 “Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and his servant Moses.” Here is another interesting point: we often see fear of the Lord and belief in the Lord used in parallel constructions in numerous passages. So that in those passages, fear of the Lord goes beyond simply awe or respect for God. It almost becomes a synonym for believing God because He is in authority.
Abram believed in the Lord. To believe something means to agree that something is true. It is intellectual. Sometimes you will hear people talk about the distinction between head belief and heart belief, but we do not believe with our heart, in terms of a physical organ. When you use those metaphors in Scripture of head or heart, it is not in the context of this head vs. heart theology: “That is intellectual, but you have to believe with your emotions.” The Bible does not make those kinds of distinctions anywhere. Belief itself is an intellectual or mental activity. When someone says, “I agree, I affirm, I assent to the fact the “x” is true.” Some people say, “That is a pretty superficial kind of faith in you – just to assent to the fact that something is true.”
Let me see. Something we all do every year that is rather disagreeable is to fill out our income tax returns. When we finish them and sign them, you are saying that you agree that the numbers that are in your return are true and accurate. You agree that it is true and then sign it and quit working on it. If you did not agree that it was true, you would keep working on it. When we agree that something is true, that is all there is to it. We believe it and stop working on it. To say it is intellectual assent is not a wimp-out or shortchanged view of faith, which is what many Christians want. They have to add works to it somewhere. They have to bring it in the backdoor, the side door, bring it in through the attic – they have to introduce works into it. Faith is simply believe – you don’t believe with your finger or your toe or your elbow. You believe with your brain, your mind which is between your ears. You think through a concept and say, “Is this true or not?” If you say, “Yes, it is true. Jesus died for my sins,” that is faith.
When Abram heard the promise of God, he had no idea how God would pull this off. But he knew God and knew God’s character, so he trusted and believed in the Lord literally. Genesis 15:6 “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” This is another interesting word—chshv. In this construction, it is actually cheshbeha. It has this “ah” suffix which is a feminine suffix. It means “it” so it is a feminine “it” which means it has to refer to a feminine noun. Righteousness, which is the next word, is a feminine noun tsedeq. So it does not say, “Abram believed in the Lord, and He accounted IT to him for righteousness.” It says, “…He accounted IT, righteousness, to him.” It is appositional. The righteousness defines the pronoun it. There are places where you have that kind of construction.
A couple of verses that talk about imputation are 2 Samuel 19:19 “… Do not let my lord impute iniquity to me …” Psalm 32:2 “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity …”
Exodus 2:6, Leviticus 13:57, and 1 Kings 19:21 are among a number of verses that are cited in the grammars for the exact kind of grammatical construction that we have here in Genesis 15:6, where you have a verb “He imputed” with a suffix on the end which is a pronoun. Exodus 2:6 “… she saw him, the child …” Saw, the verb, would have the pronoun suffix added at the end of that verb, and then you have the noun explaining who the pronoun describes. Leviticus 13:57 “… you shall burn with fire that in which is the plague.” The it refers to “that in which is the plague.” 1 Kings 19:21 “… and boiled their flesh.” You have this pronoun suffix at the end of the verb and then you have the noun. Exodus 2:6 is almost an identical type of raw syntactical construction.
Genesis 15:6 should be translated “And he had already believed in Yahweh.” The object of his faith is God as the one who is the guarantor of the promise. “…and He (the Lord) accounted (imputed) it, righteousness, to him.” It is clear that the imputation of righteousness is a result of faith, not of works, not of the Law. Abraham precedes Moses by over 400 years, before there is any covenant. It is based solely on faith.
We will come back next time and look a little more at the meaning of tsedeq, righteousness. This is a really important word and really important within Judaism today because they have added this notion of merit and morality to it. But it is foundational within the Old Testament, and the New Testament translations of DIKAIOS and DIKAIOSUNE. This helps us understand that we are saved not because there is anything in us. We are given a gift of righteousness that covers us like a cloak, and it does not matter what is under the cloak in terms of our salvation. What matters is that God looks at the cloak that is over us (Christ’s righteousness), and on that basis, God says, “I judicially declare you righteous.” That is what justification by faith alone is.