Meditations in the life of Abraham : 22. Further Reassurance
Gen 13:14-17 The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
At last Abram is alone in the land – well without his family members. The Lord had spoken to him back at Ur and given him the original promises of blessing (Gen 12:1-) and then again at Shechem when he arrived in the centre of the land. Time had passed. It had taken time, possibly years, to leave Ur, travel to Haran, settle there and become prosperous and then eventually to move on to Canaan. That suggests quite a gap between his original calling and the first encouragement from the Lord in the Land at Shechem. Then more time had passed and a famine arose and they had travelled down to Egypt, stayed there a while and become more prosperous, and had then returned to the Land and travelled up to near Bethel again. Then they had been the separating off from Lot. Yes, more time had passed. Now he is alone in the Land and the Lord speaks again. The point I would make here is that this was not the Lord speaking on a daily basis. He only spoke occasionally.
But now He does speak again, a third time. Look at this incredible promise: look all around you from this central place in this land and know that I am giving you all this land for you and your offspring FOR EVER. Now a simple literal interpretation of this suggests that this is to be the land of the Hebrews for the rest of history, but note that it is a promise for Abram’s descendants. Now as the story unfolds we will see that Ishmael is his first descendant and then Isaac. Ishmael was the son of human endeavour and Isaac was the son of God’s supernatural promise – but they were both Abram’s descendants. Yes, the chosen family was that through Isaac, but that didn’t stop Ishmael and his descendants being descendants of Abram. We’ll consider more about this when we get to Ishmael, but for the moment, we may suggest that everything is not quite as clear as we might like to think in respect of the Land today.
It is a promise of immense blessing. At the moment Abram is childless. When this promise is fulfilled he will be father of a people so numerous that they cannot be counted. As he stands there and hears the Lord speak these words to him, I wonder if the reality of all of those millions of descendants meant anything at all to him at that moment. Surely the only thing that mattered was that he would have one child at least. It would take a long time for his descendants to become so many that they could not be counted, way beyond Abram’s lifetimes, surely, and so the only thing that matters is now, this moment, the ending of this period of childlessness. That’s what he is waiting for and that is what his focus must be on as the Lord speaks.
But actually that is NOT what the Lord is focusing upon at that moment for the emphasis is upon the Land itself. Yes, offspring are mentioned three times but the emphasis is on the Land and the proof of that is in the closing words: go and walk through this entire land, as if to lay claim to it. Commentators sometimes comment that Abram doesn’t seem to have bought any of the land (Acts 7:5) except the field and cave where he buried Sarah were ‘deeded’ to him (Gen 23:9,20) but the point is that the Lord GAVE him the Land. It doesn’t matter whether it was bought or not; as far as heaven was concerned it was given to Abram and was therefore his. The whole earth belongs to the Lord for He made it, and so He has the right and authority to apportion it as He wills.
Note something else about this: this land may belong to God and He may give it to Abram, but it has still got other people using it and that will not change for over four hundred years. It may belong to Abram as far as heaven is concerned but as far as the world is concerned it is occupied by the Canaanites and as the old adage goes, “possession is nine tenths of the law.” Abram’s calling was not to get rid of the Canaanites, that would be up to Joshua centuries later. Abram’s call was to go and walk throughout the land and enjoy what he could. He is rich and he is prosperous and the land will feed his sheep and his cattle. That is all he needs from the land at the moment. The Canaanites would not have a clue about what was taking place between God and Abram at this moment, but that doesn’t change the reality: this is God’s land and He gives it to Abram.
This world today is still the Lord’s and He gives it to us to enjoy as much as we’re able to receive though the power of His Spirit. Jesus demonstrated that as he came into the world and then walked on water, stilled storms, fed large crowds with virtually nothing and restored life and health to many. This was the power of God enabling Him to enable others to enjoy this world in a new way. He came to do that. The question for us to ponder on, is how much our faith enables us to do the same.