Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 5. Abraham – glory
Gen 22:8 Abraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’
Gen 24:3 I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living,
Where we are: We’ve been observing Abram, a childless pagan, called by God to go to Canaan and become a nation that will bless the world. Pretty amazing! Yet he is clearly an embryonic believer and gets it wrong – he doesn’t realise God will provide food for him in a famine, or protection for him in Egypt, he only half obeys the call to go, by taking Lot and then having to rescue him, he believes God when He says he will have children but goes along with Sarai to use his maid to achieve that, with more negative consequences. We haven’t majored on this but we should note that each of our half obediences or trying to help God out have negative consequences. It’s not the way to go.
One more failure: Before we get to the ‘glory bits’ we need to note just one more failure. Yes, it is important to face up to our failures, not to heap guilt on others or ourselves but to observe goals we need to go for in dealing with such things. The account involving Abimelek in Gen 20 that occurred in the far south (the Negev) is almost an exact retake of what happened in Egypt, and necessitated God coming to Abimelek in a dream to put it right. As at this point Abram has still not learnt that God is there to protect him. But isn’t that like us so often, we worry about ‘what might happen’ instead of trusting in God, leaning on Him for protection?
Trust: But then Isaac is born (Gen 21) and then we find Abraham making a treaty with Abimelek, who is shown to be a Philistine (21:32). He was not only very rich, which we’ve seen earlier, but he is now one who deals with leaders of other nations. But then comes the big test of sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22). It becomes clear that God did not desire Isaac’s death but simply wanted to see how much Abraham had learnt. He trusts God and perhaps, even while he is preparing to take Isaac to be sacrificed, he is sure God will provide a substitute, and his words, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” (v8) was a literal belief that didn’t refer to Isaac. Yet he was willing to proceed to the point of sacrifice and the writer to the Hebrews declares, “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead.” (Heb 11:19). However we see it, he now trusts God to provide.
Confidence: Move on a bit and Isaac has grown up and Abraham is getting ‘very old’ (24:1). In what follows we see him sending his servant to his own people with the instruction, “I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” (24:3,4) Note first his description of God. He has learnt who it was who had called him and been with him throughout all these years. But then note that he has come to understand that his family is special, called of God, and he is not to go mixing it with the local pagans. Isaac is to have a wife from his own people. Listen to his instructions: “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, “To your offspring I will give this land”– he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.” (24:7) i.e. this God who I have learned about will provide a wife for my son! He is confident in God’s provision for his family. As you follow the story you see that the servant too understands that God has led him, God is providing for his master just as his master had said He would.
James in his letter writes, “‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” (Jas 2:23) reflecting the Old Testament record (see 2 Chron 20:7 & Isa 41:8). We so often focus on the wonder of Abraham believing and that being credited as righteousness, but the equally big issue is the relationship he had with God whereby there is this threefold testimony to him being God’s friend. ‘Friend’ conveys warmth, intimacy, closeness, openness. That is the wonder of what has come about in this man’s life. Yes, he has believed God, yes, he has been enabled to have the son of promise, yes he has become rich and important, but more than all that, he is God’s friend!
And us? Jesus said to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:15) When he called them they were disciples, followers, learning to be servants, but as the years went on, it went further than that as Jesus shared his heart with them. How about you and me? Are we still just disciples or has our relationship with the Lord developed whereby he shares with us and we share with him and there is a sense of intimacy? This is the glory that can be revealed in us, that we mere human beings can be called friends of Almighty God! It doesn’t depend on the circumstances – in fact the circumstances help deepen the relationship – it just depends on the two of us, Him and me. We know that this is what He wants. Do I appreciate it, work at it, enjoy it?