To Abraham

Genesis 11:10-32
We have come to the end of a very important part of Genesis with this post. Just to let us know where we are, we are finishing the first eleven chapters today. That might seem like we are going to spend forever in Genesis, but that is not true. The first eleven chapters are quite a bit more dense than the rest of the book. Many sermons from now on will take a whole chapter at a time.

The first eleven chapters are all about God creating a world, that world falling into sin, and God judging the world, bringing grace along with judgment. Now today we are going to transition into the story of Abraham. Moses does this by way of a genealogy. Now, we have seen this kind of genealogy before, but this one is a little different, and in this case, the differences are wonderful for us.

In chapter 5, we will remember that the genealogy there started with the age of the patriarch when he had his first son, then it would say how many years after that he live, and mention the fact that he had other sons and daughters, and then he would die. There were ten generations from Adam to Noah. We saw that Enoch was in the seventh position, which is a position of honor in genealogies, as is the tenth spot in a genealogy. You will remember that there are two kinds of genealogies: those that go from father to son to son to son, and those that branch out. We have seen both of these kinds of genealogies in Genesis. The table of Nations in chapter 10 is a branching kind of genealogy, whereas our passage today is a straight-line genealogy from father to son. In this case, no special honor is given to the seventh spot, but there are ten generations, just as in chapter 5, and the tenth generation is something special: Abram is in the tenth generation. The chapter 5 genealogy ends in three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Our genealogy here has ten generations, ending in three sons also: Abram, Nahor, and Haran. We can see that the Lord saw the wickedness of the world increasing over these ten generations, and at the end of the first ten generations, God judges the world. At the end of the second ten generations, God also acts, but this time with grace in the life of Abraham.

There is another very wonderful difference between chapter 5 and chapter 10. The chapter ten genealogy does not mention the fact that the patriarch died. In chapter 5, Moses wanted us to remember that we are mortal, and that all mankind dies, except for that bright spot in the genealogy, Enoch, who does not die. Here in this chapter, none of the patriarchs are said to die. Of course, they did die. But the fact that Moses does not mention that fact is significant: this is the line of promise, through which death will meet its own end. The promise of defeating death goes through the promised seed of Adam and the woman. That promise will eventually end in Jesus Christ.

But this is only the end of a long process that continues in our passage. Notice several things about this genealogy: the lives of the patriarchs get shorter and shorter. This fulfills what God had said about the lives of mankind in Genesis 6:3: “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

And again, there are some interesting overlaps in ages. Seth outlives his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson Abram by 35 years. Shem’s son Arpachshad dies when Abraham is 148 years old. Shem outlives all his descendents except Eber all the way to Isaac. Arpachshad’s sons Shelah outlives Abraham as well by 8 years. Shelah’s son Eber, the father of the Hebrews, also outlives Abraham. Peleg is the first descendent not to live all the way until Abraham is born. That was in the days when the Tower of Babel was built. Immediately after the Tower of Babel incident, the lives of people got much shorter. In fact, Peleg only lives a little more than half the number of years that his father Eber lived. God does this for the benefit of mankind.

Previously, mankind was allowed to live so long that they could become unbelievably wicked. Now, they will not live so long, and thus have to remember that they are mortal, and that their lives are like a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. We have to remember that in our own time as well. Especially young people have to remember that they are not indestructible. It is quite possible to live your life ignorant of the fact that you will die. We try to shove off that realization as long as possible. We only remember when someone dies, and then we get the uncomfortable realization that we could be next. We should remember our mortality more often, so that we will rely on God’s grace more often.

Notice something else that is interesting. Most of the patriarchs have children when they are about 30 years of age. That is not true of Abraham’s father Terah. Probably this is because Moses wants to tell us that the chosen family will always have trouble conceiving children. Every single one of the patriarchs has a barren wife. Sarah is barren, Rebekah is barren, Rachel is barren. They are all needy people. Barrenness was viewed as a sort of death in the Ancient Near East. Without children, you weren’t alive. That explains a lot of things in the OT. Rachel said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die.” What she really means is, “Make me alive, because right now, I’m dead.” Hannah was willing to completely give up her first-born son if the Lord would grant her request. Elizabeth in the NT was barren for a long time, until the Lord visited her, and granted her conception. Barrenness was death in that time period.

So being given a child was just like being resurrected from the dead. When God gives Sarah a child, the Lord is giving her new life. The same thing happens with Rebekah and Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth. They are given new life. It points to the resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ. That gives us new life from the dead. No longer are we spiritually barren. But we who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have received that new resurrection life within us.

We are in a position of deadness ourselves. We are just like Sarah, of whom it is said, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” We do not have the Holy Spirit in us. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We have no life in us. We are not merely sick. We are dead. Then God comes within us and makes us alive again. He gives us a new heart, a heart of flesh and not a heart of stone. God gives us the Holy Spirit. New life is conceived within us, just as God overcomes barrenness in the patriarchal family. The fruit of that in our lives is good works, just as the fruit of God’s work in Sarai was a new baby, a rather obvious fruit. We then are called to recognize that nothing that we do is going to make us alive, but we must trust in God as Abraham and Sarah did, in order to make us well.

So where does that leave us right now? It leaves in in a wandering situation. Terah and his family are going on a pilgrimage. The trouble is that they know where they are going, but never get there in Terah’s lifetime. They have to wait on God. Moses writes this in a way that any Israelite coming out of the Exodus would understand: namely, that Abraham’s position is exactly like the Israelites wandering in the desert. They have been saved from their spiritual barrenness, saved out of the land of Egypt, but they have not come to the promised land yet. This is the same situation that the church is in right now. We have been saved from death and sin, but we do not yet have our glorified bodies, and we do not yet live in the new heavens and the new earth, which is our promised land. Moses writes this to encourage the Israelites, because Abraham does eventually arrive at the promised land, just as the Israelites will eventually enter and take possession of the promised land. But they get discouraged while they are wandering. They sin, and get themselves into all sorts of trouble. They forget about God and His deliverance, just like we do. They grumble and complain, just like we do. The call is for us to remember what god has done in bringing us from death to life, remember how God has preserved us in our wilderness wanderings, and remember that God has saved a place for us in the new heavens and the new earth. Hebrews 11:8-10 says this: “And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” May we be just like Abraham in his faith.