Christ, the Melchizekian High-Priest

Genesis 14:17-24
What is worship? And why do we worship? Is it because we will lose our place in the community unless we come to church? Or is worship something else? What is involved in worship? And why does worship seem so boring so much of the time? What is wrong? I suggest that what is wrong is that we do not have a proper understanding of what worship is. As a result of not having a proper understanding of what worship is, we do not value it as highly as we should. So how can we regain a proper view of worship? Well, Melchizedek can help us here. Let’s study Melchizedek, and learn what worship is.

Abram has just returned from recapturing Lot. In the process, he rescued Bera, king of Sodom, along with all those possessions. Since the four kings were routed, it was obvious that they would not have had time to pick up their spoils and flee with them. So they had to leave the spoils on the ground, allowing Abram to simply pick them up off the ground.

When Abram comes back, he is met by two kings: Bera, king of Sodom, and Melchizedek, king of Salem. These two kings could not be more unlike each other. The king of Sodom is only interested in the politics of the situation, whereas the king of Salem is interested in worship. The king of Sodom says to Abram, “Give me the people, and take the spoil for yourself.” The king of Salem says to Abram, “Blessed be Abram and blessed be God.” The king of Sodom is interested in being one of Abram’s physical benefactors, whereas the king of Sodom is interested in the relationship of Abram to God. We can easily see which is more important.

So let’s look a little closer at Melchizedek. The name means “king of righteousness.” And the city Salem means “peace.” It is important to realize here that most scholars say that Salem is an early title of Jerusalem itself. So Melchizedek is king of Jerusalem. The name Jerusalem itself means “city of peace.” So we see in Melchizedek that righteousness and peace meet each other. This is true of Christ as well, especially as Jesus is our priest and king. Just as Melchizedek was priest of the most high God and king of Salem, so also Jesus is our priest and king. Furthermore, Melchizedek is also a a prophet, since he pronounces a blessing on Abram. So also is Christ our prophet, as Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

There are other similarities between Melchizedek and Christ as well. Notice that Melchizedek just appears on the scene. We haven’t seen him before, and we don’t see him again. In a book full of genealogies, the genealogy of Melchizedek is not mentioned. In the book of Hebrews, Paul makes a great deal out of these things. From the fact that there is no genealogy listed, Paul comes to the conclusion that Melchizedek is portrayed as an eternal priest. Paul contrasts this eternal priest Melchizedek with the mortal priests that come from the Levites. In verse 23, for instance, Paul must have been smiling when he wrote this verse: those poor priests just kept getting themselves disqualified from the office of priesthood by dying in office! But Melchizedek doesn’t ever end his priesthood. That is why Paul quotes Psalm 110:4: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” If a person is a priest forever, that means that the priest would have to live forever. That points us to the resurrection. In verse 8, Paul mentions the fact that “He lives.” That is referring to Jesus.

When Christ went to the cross, the righteousness of God poured out on sin was laid on Christ. And that righteousness poured out on Christ was done so that we might have peace with God. Our sin produces strife between God and man. So God decided to end that strife by sacrificing His own Son on the cross. That was for us. So Melchizedek shows us Christ. And in showing us Christ, who is our prophet, priest and king, Moses also shows us who we are to be: a kingdom of priests. From the beginning Adam was supposed to separate the good from the evil, just like a priest separates the holy from the unholy. Christ did that to perfection. He separates the sheep from the goats. And so are we now to separate good from evil and so be priests. The Reformation has always emphasized the priesthood of all believers. We do not need any Mediator but Jesus Christ. We do not need to pray to the saints, or to Mary. Jesus has opened the way for us to worship directly in God’s very presence. Jesus has consecrated us all as priests. That is why Paul says in Hebrews 13:15: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” and again in Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your logical act of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Do you see that we are priests, and that everything we do is to be a priestly sacrifice? This is not in order to earn God’s favor, but because we already have God’s favor. It is an act of worship. Can you see how all-encompassing worship is in the Christian life? Everything is to be done to the honor and glory of God alone. We are to offer up ourselves in service to God, for that is the only logical thing to do, as Paul says. So the train of thought that begins in Melchizedek’s priesthood ends in our priesthood. That is why we looked so long at this priesthood. We are priests now after the order of Melchizedek, having been made priests by Jesus Christ, and His high-priestly activity.

So what does all this mean for us? Why is it important that we are priests? Well, it means that our job is to worship God. We have seen that everything that we do is a priestly sacrifice. It means that we must be people of prayer. A priest is a mediator between God and man. That is exactly what prayer is. So do you pray for other people, or do you just pray for yourself? When you pray for other people, do you pray earnestly, knowing that God uses prayers as His instruments? Do you realize that your prayers are a sacrifice to God, that it is like incense on the altar? Indeed, John in the book of Revelation explicitly calls the prayers of the saints “incense.” They go up to God, and He smells them, as it were, and is pleased to use them. This means that we are especially to be in prayer for those who do not know Jesus. We are to be mediators for them. God exercises grace on those especially for whom we have been praying. This is a marvelous and usually underestimated ministry.

Do you really believe in the power of prayer? Surely you would not want to be cut off from communicating with your spouse or children. Then why would you want to be cut off from speaking with God? Is it because you are uncomfortable in prayer? Maybe you feel that it is merely a performance when you pray. Instead, you should think about the fact that you are talking directly to God. You are in His throne room, and are kneeling at His feet. All too often, we think (especially when we pray in front of other people) that we are to perform for the benefit of others. This is not a good thing. We are to pray fervently directly to God. He is our most important audience when we pray.

Another aspect of the fact that we are priests is that we must take care of our bodies. This does not always come to our minds when we think of worship. However, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Do we do things that are harmful to it? Is that activity going to hamper my worship of the one true God? These are questions that we should ask of everything that we do with our bodies. Again, as Paul says, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Some activities that may not be sins in and of themselves can get in the way of our worship. We should ask the question: does my smoking or drinking prevent me from worshipping God properly? What about over-work? That is hard on the body as well. We are to be good stewards of our bodies. We should most certainly not engage in illegal sexual behavior either. If we are part of God’s church, then we are married to Christ, being part of the bride of Christ. So Christ does not want us to be united to a prostitute.

Let’s take a look at another interesting aspect of our text. Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth part of the spoils. What does this mean? It means that Melchizedek is a more important person than Abram. Paul again says in Hebrews that the more important person always is the person to bless the less important person. And Melchizedek blesses Abram. Furthermore, Abram gives a tenth part of the spoils. This is a tithe. Jesus Christ is our first-fruits, just as Abram gave the first-fruits of the spoil to Melchizedek. Jesus is the first part of the harvest of righteousness that occurs in the resurrection from the dead. So also we have assurance of the resurrection from this passage.

But also, it means that we are to give tithes to Jesus, who is the Melchizedekian high-priest. We should give joyfully, for God loves a cheerful giver. We should not cheat God, because God has promised that the more we give to Him, the more He will bless us. God will not let us, His children, have any lack. God always provides. Now, I have been corrected with regard to giving a tenth part of the gross income. That simply does not work for farmers. But do you consider giving a tenth part of your net income? If you want a good yardstick on how much to give, a tenth is a good place to start. Malachi promises that if we bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, God will pour out so much blessing that we will not have room enough for it.

How do we see tithes? Do we see them as an act of worship, like everything else in the service? Or is this merely a break, a “seventh-inning stretch?” I would encourage us to see it as an act of worship. We have said that everything we do in life should be worship. That is what we were created to do.

Let me say just one word about missions in this context. John Piper once said that missions exists because worship doesn’t. That is a profound thought. The mission of the church is to spread God’s kingdom and thus to produce by God’s grace more worshippers of God. Instead of being idolaters, we invite them to become worshippers of the one true God.

Christ, Our Kinsman Redeemer

Genesis 14:1-16
If you go to a pawn shop where you have pawned something that you own, and you buy it back, you have redeemed it. But supposing more violent means are necessary? Suppose that the pawn-broker wouldn’t let you have it back? What would you do then? Usually you have the right to redeem it back for a certain amount of time. Supposing you are well within the period. Suppose also that the thing you had pawned was a dog which had turned on you and become enraged at you, but you still loved the dog and wanted it back. Okay, so the analogy is getting a bit silly. But it is not far off from what is happening in our story today.

It is somewhat hard to make sense of all these names, so let’s simplify a little bit. What is happening is that there are two groups of kings fighting each other. The group of five kings (including the king of Sodom) was under the rule of the group of four kings. The five kings decide that they do not want to be under the rule of the four kings anymore. So they rebelled. That means that they stopped paying their taxes. For twelve years they had paid their taxes, but in the thirteenth year, they rebelled. This rebellion puts the four kings on the warpath. They start a rampage that begins from the Northeast. They take a route east of the Jordan river. They go south along what is know as the King’s highway, defeating everyone in their path. After they pass the Dead Sea on their right, they continue on and defeat the Horites in Mt. Seir. Then they turn west toward the Mediterranean Sea. After they have defeated the Amalekites, they head back toward the Dead Sea in order to deal with the five rebellious kings. The reason they take this rather roundabout way to get there, is because they wanted to protect their flank, maintain their supply lines, and keep open a way of escape in case they were defeated. The battle occurs on the south side of the Dead Sea. The rebellious kings are soundly defeated by the four kings. They retreated. Their retreat, however, was hampered by some pits.

Now these pits are described in typical Hebrew style: with repetition. The Hebrew literally says “pit pit.” There are pits and then there are pits. These are the pittiest pits of them all. But presumably, most of those who fell into the pits died. We will see that the king of Sodom was one of the ones who probably fled to the hills, since he makes another appearance later on. The four kings then took possession of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. Now, we have to realize here that a great deal of the land that would later belong to the Israelites was here captured by the four kings. They were trying to take by force what rightfully belonged to Israel by the promise of God! So the question arises: will these four kings get away with it? Will they be able to thwart God’s promise made to Abram?

And then we are told that they take away Lot and his possessions and went their way. Despite the fact that Lot was not as sinful as the men of Sodom, he was taken in their destruction. These are the dangers in living so close to exceedingly sinful people. What we see here is that separation from Abram meant forfeiting the divine protection provided by the favored patriarch. As long as Lot was with Abram, who was favored by the Lord, then Lot was safe. But as soon as he parts from Abram, he gets into trouble. This applies to us in this way: if we separate ourselves from Jesus Christ, who is the most favored person on all the earth, then we will get into trouble. In fact, the judgment that comes on sinners will often take us right along with it. So we must stay close to Christ. We should never let him out of our sight, as Lot allowed Abram to be out of his sight.

One of the people who had escaped came and told Abram about it. He came and told Abram and Abram’s allies what had been happening. Now this leads us to a key part of the story. Remember that Abram’s servants and Lot’s servants had been quarreling. So if Abram wanted to, he could have thought to himself, “Well, Lot got himself into this mess: he can get himself out again. But in verse 14, we see the reason why Abram does not think that way. Abram is Lot’s kinsman. That means that it is Abram’s duty to rescue his kinsman Lot. It is his job to redeem Lot. In Israel later on, it was the custom that if someone had to sell himself to slavery, then a kinsman-redeemer (who would be the closest relative) would buy back that person. Well, here that option isn’t really open to Abram. And yet, Abram is the closest relative of Lot, besides Lot’s wife and sons, who were taken into captivity already. So the only option left to Abram was to take Lot back by force. What we have then is an extraordinary example of Abram’s graciousness. Abram has mercy on Lot. Lot certainly didn’t deserve it. He did in fact get himself into that mess. But Abram is there to try to get him out again.

So how did Abram do this? He took some trained men. That is, they were trained in the art of war. Furthermore, they were from Abram’s own house. That is significant. It means that they would not rebel against Abram right in the middle of the fighting. Notice that Abram goes with them. He must be pretty spry for a 75 year-old man! His army is 318 strong. That probably was a very small fraction of what the four kings had. However, Abram had the element of surprise. It was night-time. Probably the victors were being careless, since they had done what they had come to do. Their mission was accomplished. Maybe they were drunk as well. In any case, the last thing on their mind was the thought that they might be attacked. They thought they had taken care of any army in existence for miles around. But it does not do to leave God out of the picture! They had forgotten Abram, and that Abram was high in God’s favor. And so, Abram found them just like Gideon would do later, totally unprepared. A surprise attack like this at night makes the attackers seem like a much bigger force than they actually were. Still, Abram’s victory had nothing to do with his own prowess, and had everything to do with the fact that God was with him. And so, Abram redeems Lot by the sword and by force.

This is just like Jesus Christ. We did not deserve to be redeemed. We got ourselves into a huge mess by being sinful, both in nature and by action. We are sinful people. As a result, the judgment against sinners is that we should die, just as Lot would have died had he stayed in captivity. Jesus came down from heaven, just as Abram left his place of safety. Jesus waged a war against Satan and his sidekicks, just as Abram waged a war against the four kings. Jesus makes Himself into our kinsman-redeemer. The Scripture says that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That means that we are like Lot, not like Abram. We allowed ourselves to be suckered into a close relationship with Sodom. We not only sinned, but approved of those who did. And yet, Jesus has great mercy on us, while we were still undeserving.

So do you believe in Jesus Christ? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is your kinsman-redeemer? And that He has saved you from the powers of evil? Christ has conquered by his resurrection from the dead. Abram’s victory tells us about what Christ’s victory looks like. Abram led a surprise attack. So also Jesus’ death was a surprise. And the resurrection took Satan completely by surprise. Satan thought that the battle was won, and that Jesus was vanquished. But Jesus was not vanquished. Jesus was victorious. And we must believe in Jesus to be saved from the judgment that is coming on all unbelief.

If you do believe in Jesus, what then? Well, this passage has some good encouragement for us. Listen to what Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” That is exactly what Abram saw had happened to Lot. Lot had strayed from the truth. Lot had left the fold. And now Abram was going to go after him and restore him. Now when we restore someone, notice that Paul lays two qualifications before us. First, we must be gentle. It is very difficult to do this. But we must try to do so. That means that when we confront the person, the first thing out of our mouth is not, “You know, I have this big problem with what you did.” Instead, the first thing out of our mouth should be words of love and acceptance such as, “I love you as a brother or sister in Christ. I want you to know that I greatly appreciate what you do for this church, and I appreciate your other talents.” We must let the other person know that this criticism does NOT equal rejection. That is essential. The other qualification that Paul puts on this restoration is that we must be mindful of temptation to ourselves. Whenever we seek to correct someone else, there will be temptations of various kinds. First we should ask ourselves, “Are we hypocritical?” Maybe we are falling into the same trap that we are accusing the other person of falling into. If we think that someone should not work on Sunday, do we make someone else work? Do we even ask the question? Second, we should be aware that correcting someone else can be an expression of arrogance. We should avoid that like the plague. A good way to do that is to identify with the person. Instead of saying or implying that you are better than the other person, you should say, “You know, I have this problem too,” or “I can see that this is a terrible temptation, and I want to help you.” Sometimes, even that approach won’t work. But we must try it. That is how we try to rescue those people who have strayed like Lot did. We are their kinsman-redeemer, you see, just as Christ was ours. What Christ did for us, He tells us to do for others. Now, that does not mean that we should go out and win someone by force. Understand that Abram points us to Christ in this regard. The way we work is by sharing the Gospel and letting the Holy Spirit do the work of force in someone’s life. That is the message of this text. It is the message of salvation.

The Covenant of Works in the Westminster Confession

Go here.

Whose Choice Is Better?

Genesis 13
There were once two boys in a playroom. They were both promised toys. One boy wanted his toys now, and grumbled and complained until he got them. The other boy was content to wait for his toys. A little while later, the one who could not wait has broken all his toys, since they were of inferior workmankship, whereas the other boy is still waiting for his much better toys. This is an allegory from the Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. These two boys are very much like Abram and Lot. We will see that Lot wanted his toys now, and he got them, but when he got them, he discovered that they weren’t what he really wanted. Abram is content to wait, and so comes into possession of the promise.

Abram, though, had just failed miserably. He had had a panic attack in Egypt. There he had blown it, and almost lost the promise. So, what does he do? He goes back to square one. He retraces his steps to the place where he had first made that wrong decision. First he goes into the Negeb desert. Now, of course, he is very rich because he just got out of Egypt. In fact, he is just like the later Israelites who plundered the Egyptians when they came out of Egypt. They take almost the same path as Abram does. This is Abram’s Exodus, if you will. He goes to Bethel and Ai, where his tent had been before. That is significant. Moses wants us to be sure that we know that Abram is backtracking here. Twice Moses says this, first with regard to the tent, and second with regard to the altar.

There is application for us here. When we have blown it, made a mess of things in our lives, where should we go? We should go back to square one. Go back to the beginning where we first made that wrong decision, or wrong turn. Then we should worship God. Square one is another word for our salvation. So we can see then that square one is the place of salvation and of worship: they are connected. In a sense, we should never leave square one. By that I mean that we should never forget our origin. We should never forget that from which God saved us. We should never forget the wornwood and the gall. We should never forget Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin. When we blow it, God makes us retrace our steps to where we first began to go wrong.

This is well illustrated in C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” where the main character, Edmund, begins to go wrong by joining the witch’s side. This leads to all sorts of horrible results. But the Jesus figure, Aslan, rescues him by sacrificing Himself, just like Jesus did for us. Then Edmund is taken back to the point before he began to go wrong. This time he takes the right road. That should be encouraging for us. God is a God of second chances. It doesn’t matter how much you have made a mess of things, God can fix you. He might let you suffer some of the consequences of your actions. Nevertheless, God delights in giving grace to those people who know they really need it.

But now in Abram’s life there comes a problem. The land cannot hold both Abram and Lot. Their servants have started to quarrel. Pasture-land and water was at a premium. Furthermore, there were already people living there. Verse 7 says that there were Canaanites and Perizzites already in the land. So there is danger if Abram and Lot keep on quarreling, because that would make them vulnerable to attack from these inhabitants. However, there is also irony in verse 7. Abram and Lot do not seem to have any trouble living next to the Canaanites and Perizzites, but they have a great deal of difficulty living next to each other. That is just like us, isn’t it? We can live just fine next to neighbors who live terrible lives of sin, but we cannot stand our own brothers and sisters in the Lord. So instead of dwelling together in unity, they agree to part for the sake of unity. Sometimes that is necessary for the body of Christ. Some people think that the existence of different denominations is a terrible thing for the church, and that the church ought to have perfect unity, and worship together. That is sadly true. Many times people split over absolutely nothing at all. The story is told of 5 people marooned on an island: there was 1 German, 1 Italian, 1 Frenchman, and 2 Scotsmen. The German decides to build an astronomical observatory. The Italian decides to build a bakery. The Frenchman decides to build a winery, and the two Scotsmen build First and Second Presbyterian Church. However, if this side is true, the reverse is also true. Sometimes it is necessary for brothers in the Lord to worship apart for the sake of unity. We would not want to call our Baptist brothers heretics, for instance. But they do not baptize infants as we do.

Therefore, if we would not have large quarrels, then we need to worship apart for the sake of unity. There is still only one church, that of Jesus Christ. We are unified as we are all in Christ. However, true unity of worship will not occur until the end of time, when all theological differences will be erased in the new heavens and the new earth. In the meantime, we are to show charity to those with whom we disagree, and we are to strive for as much unity as we can achieve without compromising the truth. Abram does just that.

Abram shows a sterling character here. Abram takes the initiative in making peace. He nips potential catastrophe in the bud. Abram goes his nephew Lot and offers him a choice. Now it is important to realize that Abram is not offering Lot a bad choice by saying to him, “The whole land is before you.” It might seem that this is a ridiculous thing to say, given the fact that there were already people living in the land. But it is not a bad choice. Abram believes in the promise that God gave to him. Abram sees this land as already belonging to him. Therefore, Abram can afford to be generous. Now, when Abram says, “go left or right,” he is understood to be facing east, such that left would be north, and right would be south.

Now Lot does something that should be familiar to us by now. He lives by sight rather than by faith. It literally says that he lifted up his eyes. Eve did the same thing. She looked at temptation and saw that it was beautiful. Lot does the same thing. Both the fruit that Eve looked at and the land that Lot looked at are beautiful to the eye. They both take it. We don’t see as God sees when we live by sight rather than by faith.

We should not trust our eyes. The problem with living by sight and not by faith is that there is a lot that we don’t see that can most definitely hurt us. Lot saw a beautiful, fruitful, watered plain, whereas God saw the hearts of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Things are not necessarily as good as they look. This is a very common trick of Satan. He shows us the bait, but he hides the hook. We cannot be blind to the hook. We cannot be blind to sin’s consequences. If you are tempted to lie, then know that you will have to tell more lies to cover up the lie you told. Know also that your conscience will be violated. So don’t that one little white lie. Sin is always a slippery slope. Look at what happened to Lot. First he dwells nearby Sodom and Gomorrah. In chapter 14:12, we learn that Lot was actually dwelling IN Sodom. Then in 19:1, we learn that he becomes an official of the city, because it says that he sat in the gate. This is a lot like a frog in a kettle. If the temperature is boiling hot when you put the frog in the kettle, the frog will immediately leap out. But if you put a frog in a kettle at room temperature, and then only gradually increase the temperature, the frog will stay in the kettle, and will eventually die. That is a perfect picture of what is happening here. The road to incest with his daughters starts here with choosing to live near these most wicked people. It says in verse 13 that they were wicked, great sinners against the Lord. This describes a wickedness that is as bad as it gets. That is the problem when we let sin get a foothold in our lives. Satan wants us to think that the temperature is just fine. “Jump in, the water is warm,” he says. Little will he tell you about how he will turn up the heat while you are in it. All sin works like this. It is one little lie, one little look at pornography, one little theft from the grocery store, one little word of gossip, one little this and one little that. But sin has a remarkable ability to grow. It thrives in the dark secret places of your heart where no one else can see. You think. God sees the heart. He knows that the hearts of Sodom and Gomorrah are wicked through and through. That is why God blesses Abram’s choice of land. Abram chose to be generous and to believe in the promise of God. Abram didn’t trust his eyes. He trusted in God. And so, God saved Abram from what Lot would have to go through. The temptation for Abram here would be to take whatever land he wanted for himself. But he does not do that. Instead he lets Abram choose. This is just like Jesus’ temptation: Satan told Jesus to do something really small, like turn a stone into bread. He offered to Jesus one small little sin for a seemingly large return on His investment. But Jesus saw the hook and the bait, and so conquered the temptation that Lot here fell into, but into which Abram did not fall.

Abram’s generosity is remarkable. It is by no means to Lot’s credit that he takes such advantage of Abram’s offer. What Lot should have done was to defer back to Abram. Abram had the right to distribute the land as he saw fit. Lot should have recognized that and let Abram make the choice. Instead, he makes his choice. But as becomes very clear later, Lot made the wrong choice.

Abram’s generosity is a picture of Jesus Christ. Jesus came down from heaven in deep humiliation. He became a man, mortal, subject to human frailty. And he died the most humiliating death that it is possible to die: death on a cross. For that humiliation, God exalted Jesus above every name that is named, in heaven and on earth. God promises to Jesus the entire world. All the kingdoms of the earth will be put under His feet. Just as the temptation of Abram looks like the temptation of Jesus, so also the reward given to Abram looks like the reward given to Jesus.

The Lord honors Abram’s generosity by giving Abram all the land. Notice that the Lord says, “Lift up your eyes.” Because Abram had lived by faith here, the Lord granted him vision. When God makes us see, then we shall see indeed. The Lord promises Abram the entire world. What? Yes, the entire world. Notice that all four points of the compass are mentioned. Immediately, that means everything that Abram can see at that moment. But ultimately, it means the whole world will belong to God’s people, the true seed of Abram.

This land will belong to us forever. Notice that extremely important word at the end of verse 15. This is not a temporary gift, such as the promised land to Israel. This points us to an eternal land that will be ours: the new heavens and the new earth. This is worth waiting for. So, will you be the boy who wants all his toys now? Or will you be the one who waits for far better toys? The choice is yours.

Assurance in the face of sin

How do we know whether or not we are saved? Specifically, does our continuing battle with sin negate the grace that God has begun in us? Here is what Thomas Watson, a Puritan says:

“The Lord is pleased to let the in-being of sin continue, to humble his people, and make them prize Christ more. Because you find corruptions stirring, do not therefore presently unsaint yourselves, and deny the kingdom of grace to be come into your souls. That you feel sin is an evidence of spiritual life; that you mourn for it is a fruit of love to God; that you have a combat with sin, argues antipathy against it. Those sins which you once wore as a crown on your head, are now as fetters on the leg. Is not all this from the Spirit of grace in you? Sin is in you, as poison in the body, which you are sick of, and use all Scripture antidotes to expel. Should we condemn all those who have indwelling sin, nay, who have had sin sometimes prevailing, we should blot some of the best saints out of the Bible.”

Abram Lies

Genesis 12:10-20
Have you ever felt like you just had to help God? Maybe you felt like God wasn’t doing His job very well. Especially you might feel like God has taken His sweet time in responding to your distress call. And so, you decide to do something about it. God’s plan needs a little help. So you decide to start the ball rolling. But you quickly discover that the ball you decided to send rolling kept on rolling faster and faster. The slope on which you placed it was a lot longer than you thought, and pretty soon the situation gets out of control. That is exactly what happened to Abram.

Abram appears to us here in a new light. Or rather, as one writer put it, the old light of his sinful nature. Abram is pictured here with warts and all. That is important for us. No one is perfect in the Bible. We need to take heed lest we fall. If Abram, who was known for his faith, stumbled and fell, then we cannot assume that we will stand fast. Abram’s main problem here is his lack of faith. Abram doesn’t think that God will hold to His promises. So the question we need to be asking ourselves here is, “Is God bigger than our problems?” Let’s wait and see.
What we see here is a situation of temptation and trial. God providentially ordered a famine to occur in the land of promise so that Abram would be put to the test. Abram does not consult God here. That is his first problem. No sooner had he stepped foot in the promise land than he goes back out again. The famine was severe.

So when Abram gets near Egypt, he thinks of a problem. The beauty of his wife is a problem. We might think that Sarai’s beauty is a problem for us too. She was at least 65 years old at this time. But we must remember two things: the patriarchs lived longer than we do, and therefore it would be quite logical to assume that they aged slower than we do; and secondly, Sarai had never had any children. That explains why Sarai’s beauty is not an obstacle to our understanding the text. But in Abram’s mind, the problem was quite different.

If any Egyptian saw just how lovely she was, then his life would be in danger. Someone would covet his neighbor’s wife, and Abram would be bumped off to make room for a new suitor. Abram sees only two options: stick with the truth and get killed as a result, for his wife was surely too beautiful for any man to resist; or, practice a half-truth and get away with his skin. He doesn’t see the third option, which is to tell the truth and trust the God who can bring back someone from the dead. Death stymies Abram’s brain here. He thinks that death is the end, and that death can thwart God’s promise.

Now we must understand two things about Abram’s reasoning here. The first is that he is thinking about the promise just given to him by God. He thinks he knows that if he dies, then there is no possibility for the promise to be fulfilled, and then God would be proved a liar. So Abram feels that he needs to make sure that the promise will be fulfilled. This is probably coupled with a selfish desire to save his own skin.

The second thing we need to know about Abram’s reasoning here is the social context. A brother was often ruler of the household after the father passed away. Abram was in fact Sarai’s half brother. So he wouldn’t be entirely lying. But more important, his thought was that since he was the brother, then someone who wanted Sarai as wife would have to bargain with Abram. Abram could then stall and stall until the famine was over and he could escape back to the land of promise. Notice here that Abram is thinking about the average Joe Egyptian being interested in Sarai. So Abram is being here very clever and very cunning. However, he left out one rather important person in Egypt: the Pharaoh himself!

Part of Abram’s scheme does indeed come true. The Egyptians realize that a knockout has come on the scene. What Abram did not anticipate, however, was that the princes of Egypt, always eager to butter up the Pharaoh, would tell him about this beautiful woman that had just graced their land. Pharaoh did not need to bargain with anyone for anything. Instead, he could just take. And that is exactly what happened. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s house. In effect, she was abducted. Abram forgot the fact that the Pharaoh could simply take her without his consent!

And now was Abram ever in a pickle! There were two elements of the promise that God made: land and descendents. Abram was now out of the land, and the descendent was being threatened. If Pharaoh committed adultery with Sarai, then the holy seed would be jeopardized. And there was absolutely nothing that Abram could do about it. He was completely helpless.

To pour salt on the wound, the Pharaoh treated Abram royally. Abram got all these sheep, oxen, donkeys, servants, and camels. Instead of receiving them as part of negotiations, these were forced on him in a deal he never wanted! Every time he received yet another gift from Pharaoh, Abram would be reminded about how his craftiness had backfired.

Enter the Lord. The Lord was the only person who could remedy the situation. The Lord allowed Abram to get to this situation in order to show Abram that he must rely on God to keep his promises. Abram was not to try to keep God’s promises for Him. Abram was to rely on God to keep His promises. Rather, the only thing that Abram had to worry about was doing what God had called him to do, which was to trust and obey.

So how does the Lord get Abram out of this fix? The same way He would do it later on in the Exodus: He sent plagues. These are probably skin diseases of various kinds, and they must have been painful. But Sarah did not get these plagues. It says that Pharaoh and his household received the plagues, but not Sarah. This also reminds us of the Exodus. The Israelites never suffered through one of the plagues. There was a distinction made between the Egyptians and the Israelites. This whole story, in fact, would sound just like the Exodus to someone who had just gone through it. God acts to save His people in the same way every time. In Revelation God sends plagues on the earth, but God’s people will not have to suffer through them. On the cross, Jesus suffered the ultimate plague so that we would not have to suffer it.

Notice that Pharaoh’s household also suffers. They were involved in getting her to Pharaoh, and thus they involved in whatever sin Pharaoh was involved in. However, we might wonder at this point how fair this is. Pharaoh did not know that Sarai was Abram’s wife. In his mind, this was completely innocent. And Abram seems to be the one deserving punishment here. However, the abduction was not innocent. Furthermore, Pharaoh should have inquired of Sarai more closely about her origins. But he gets educated in a hurry. Pharaoh finds out about Sarai’s true origins. Probably he noticed that Sarai was not suffering from these plagues. Then he probably asked her whether she was really as free and available as she seemed.

When Pharaoh heard that Sarai was Abram’s wife, he was furious. It is important to note here, however, that Pharaoh has already experienced the wrath of God poured out on anyone who does not honor Abram as he ought. The reason this comes on Pharaoh is that he has treated the family of promise lightly. Therefore, God is obligated to curse him. But Pharaoh was still angry at Abram. The questions that Pharaoh asks are not questions of curiosity. They are questions of anger. They are questions of reproach. They are very short. In the Hebrew, they are shorter yet than they are in English.

We might ask why Pharaoh lets them go so lightly. The reason for that is that Pharaoh has already experienced the power of God’s promise to Abram. Therefore, Pharaoh has to treat Abram with the greatest respect. Notice with what care Pharaoh sends Abram away. Pharaoh wants to make sure that nothing bad happens either to Abram or to the Egyptians. He wants to make good and sure that Abram, the troublemaker, is completely out of the picture.

This whole scenario ought to remind us of other similar situations. The Fall, for instance. Sarai and the fruit of the garden were both pleasing to the eye. There is the theme of both living and dying. Sarai and the fruit of the garden are both “taken.” There are consequences as a result of both, plagues in the case of Pharaoh, and death in the case of Adam and Eve. A similar question is asked, “What is this that you have done?” And in both cases there is an expulsion from the garden.

Of course, the other situation that corresponds closely to this one is the Exodus. There is a Pharaoh in both cases. Plagues happen in both cases, plagues that hit the Egyptians, but not the promised people. Famine drove the Israelites down to Egypt in the first place, just as it happened here. The Israelites get rich, and Abram gets rich because of the Egyptians. Pharaoh sends the Israelites away in both cases. Any Israelite reading or hearing this story would immediately have thought of the Exodus. What happens to their forefather happens also to his descendents. This would be a great encouragement to the Israelites. For the moral of the story is that God keeps His promises, regardless of how bad we mess things up.

Ultimately, this situation reminds us of Christ. Christ came down from heaven, just as Abram went down to Egypt. Christ entered into our helpless estate, just as Abram became helpless. Christ was resurrected from death, just as Abram was rescued out of his troubles. And Christ is rich because of it, just as Abram became rich.

So what does this mean for us? This passage is actually a very encouraging passage. Abram gets into this mess that is his own fault. God lets him squirm for a while, and then redeems His own promise to Abram. Maybe we have made a complete mess of our lives. Maybe we think that God cannot save us from all our own troubles. Maybe we think that our sin is more powerful than God. Then know for a certainty that God will redeem His promises. If you repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then God will adopt you as His child, and heir of the promise. God will make you right with Himself, and He will send His Holy Spirit into your life. He will make you grow. The call is to have faith in the one is more powerful than death. Abram should have trusted in God, told the truth, and believed in God who could bring him back from the dead, as God was later to do in Jesus Christ. Abram only came to this kind of faith later. It took another almost identical incident to this one before Abram finally learned to trust God. But he learned his lesson so well that he was able to offer up Isaac on the altar, because he knew that God could bring him back from the dead, and keep His promise to Abram.
So are you tempted to lie? Trust in God who is more powerful than the situation, and tell the truth. Don’t tell a lie that you think can extricate you from this difficulty. Children especially need to hear this. The truth is always the best policy. You might answer, “but what if someone comes to my door and demands my child?” That kind of question reveals more about you than you might think. It is a smokescreen kind of question. How many times in your life do you think that you have been in a situation where a lie is actually the best thing to do, and something God would honor? I think that if you ever did find yourself in that situation, God would tell you what to do. But that question should not be used as an excuse to widen its field of application to the point where we are lying to save our own skins. Truth is always the best policy, even if it hurts us in the short run. God will honor it. So have the courage to tell the truth. Kids, have the courage to tell the truth to your mom when she asks you if you have been doing something you shouldn’t be doing. Your parents, if they are wise, will always deal more gently with you if you are brave enough to tell them the truth. Lying, though, usually means that you will have to tell more lies to cover up the lie you just told. One lie begets another. Stop the chain before it starts.

Husbands and wives, do you have a secret sin that you have harbored in your heart for years, not telling the other person? Maybe you are afraid of rejection if you were to tell your spouse. Don’t be afraid. Tell the truth. Love is based on truth, not on lies. True love sees the other person, warts and all, and still loves the other person. That is true love. It must be truth love. For that is what we see in Abram.

The last point of application has to do with how we see ourselves. If Abram was such a giant of the faith, and yet he fell into sin, then who are we to say that we will never fall? “He who stands, take heed, lest he fall.” When temptation comes your way, pray to the Lord to deliver you. Have faith that He will provide a way of escape. So often when sin comes our way, we forget to pray to the Lord. We forget our defences in our rush to sin. Satan tries his hardest to blind us to all the tools we have at our disposal to escape. There are many. We should have Scripture in mind to combat sin. We have prayer. We can just leave the situation. Fleeing is often the bravest thing we can do, because it can expose us to ridicule sometimes. But we should make use of all these means to avoid sin.
That is what the Abram story has to teach us.

The Call of Abram

Genesis 12:1-9
You have probably heard the proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” What that really means is that it is better to be satisfied with what you have than to go out looking for something better. What God is telling Abram here, though, is to go out after the two birds in the bush. There is something better for Abram out there. So God calls Abram.

In a very similar way, God calls us to leave behind our land of sin, and to go out to a land that God will show us, namely, the new heavens and the new earth, the new promised land. The call is to leave our father and mother, and be united to Jesus.

What we have here in Genesis 12 is nothing less than a new start for mankind. Mankind had been barren of ideas ever since the Tower of Babel fizzled out. There was no solution to the sin problem. God comes up with a solution. He decides that Abram will bear the seed of the woman against all opposition in the form of the seed of the serpent. And so, into this barrenness of mankind, and even into the barrenness of Abram, God speaks a word of creation. Just as God had spoken in the beginning of time, saying, “Let there be a heavens and earth,” so now, God speaks and says, “Let there be a people for myself.” In the first eleven chapters, we saw that God called a world into being. Now we see that God calls a special people into being. To a great extent, the rest of the Bible rests on this passage. The rest of the Bible can be said to be the outworking of this promise made to Abram. The rest of mankind will indeed be blessed because Jesus Christ is THE seed of Abraham, as Paul says in Galatians 3.

What do we need to know about this text? The first thing is that this call is painful. God calls Abram to completely uproot everything that he has ever known, and go to a land he has never seen. God doesn’t even tell Abram which land it is. God just says, “Go, leave everything, and follow me.” Now Abram was a city dweller, not a nomad. They couldn’t just take up their stakes and move easily. We consider it relatively easy to do this. We have cars and semis that can help us move. People in the military have often moved over a dozen times. But in this time period, moving was not something that was often done. Abram had gotten comfortable where he was. His family was there, and his religion was there. Abram was 75 years old at this time, no spring chicken. This command that God gives then is quite a shock to the family. Abram is being asked to leave absolutely everything behind permanently.

When God calls us, He asks us to leave all our sin behind. This is painful, because we love our sin. (Gurnall quote here). Jesus tells us to get up and follow Him, no matter what we have to leave behind. But why should we? What would be the benefit?

That leads us into the second thing we need to see in this text, which is the promise. This is a whopping huge promise that God makes to Abram. The builders at Babel had just been scattered over the face of the earth, because they were trying to achieve the very things that God is going to promise to Abram here. They wanted a name for themselves. They wanted to be a great nation, such that they could storm heaven’s gates. What does God promise Abram? “I will make of you a great nation, I will make your name great, and in you all the nations of the world will be blessed.” What the Tower builders tried to take by force, God gives graciously to Abram. These promises are huge.

Ultimately, the promise is that God will provide a Savior in Jesus Christ. The great nation promised to Abram is the church. The name of Christ is indeed great. God will judge all those curse Christianity. God blesses all those who become Christians. And indeed, in Jesus Christ, all the nations of the earth have been blessed. God has kept His promise.

The problem is that we often do not have a big enough vision of what God is doing. Our vision is too small. As we will see, Abram and Sarai had their doubts as to whether God would actually carry out His promises, especially given the fact that they were both old people. We think that God cannot use us for something big. But Jesus has said, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” If God is for us, who can be against us? How do you know that God is not calling you to something great? Jesus called 12 middle-class ordinary fishermen to start the greatest kingdom this world has ever seen, or ever will see. God called an ordinary lawyer by the name of Martin Luther to regain the shape of the church. God called an ordinary retiring sort of man named John Calvin to shake up the world of theology, and regain much of the early church’s orthodoxy. Calvin’s story is particularly applicable to us. Calvin had just been passing through the little town of Strassbourg. William Farel found out that Calvin was staying there. Farel went to meet him, and told him about the city of Geneva, that needed someone to institute reforms there. Calvin said that he wanted only the retiring life of the scholar. Farel told Calvin, that if he rejected the church in her hour of need, then all of Calvin’s scholarly work would be cursed. Calvin was completely and utterly terrified by the force of Farel’s words, and agreed to go to Geneva. The rest is history. We do not know if God is calling us to some great work, or to some smaller work that is just as important. The small things are things that God cares about just as much as about the large things. Jesus’ call to come to earth was the biggest thing that has ever happened. Jesus’ call was to undergo the greatest pain that anyone had ever undergone. Jesus’ call was motivated by the promise of His father, though, that His Father would give to Him a people after resurrecting Him on the third day. God has kept that promise. That is our motivation for everything that we do in life. Absolutely everything is done for the glory of God because of what He has done for us in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. God has indeed promised great things for us. Let us not lose heart. Let us rather have faith.

Faith is the third thing that we need to see here. Notice that Abram goes immediately. There is no waiting around, no hesitation, and no argument. Abram just goes. This is really remarkable. He had no idea where he was going, he was 75 years old, and he had to leave his father behind, and yet he went immediately. God is really testing Abram’s faith here. God does not take malicious pleasure in hurting His saints. Rather, God is testing Abram. Abram would have to believe in the promise. Believing in the promise is one of the most important aspects of the testing of Abram’s faith.

Do we believe? Do we believe that if we say that Jesus is Lord, and that He died for me, so that my sin is taken away, then we will be saved? Do we believe that? That is ultimately what Abram had to believe. God says to Abram, “I command you to go forth with closed eyes, and forbid you to inquire whither I am about to lead you, until, having renounced your country, you shall have given yourself wholly to me.”

We cannot trust in other things. Our trouble here is that we tend to trust things that we can see. We like to trust our bank account, since we can see the ledger in the bank statement every month. We like to trust in our tractors, because they are powerful to accomplish the work we need to do. We like to trust our family, because they are faithful to us. However, all these things can fail. Wouldn’t we rather want to trust in someone who will never fail, whose every promise comes true? That is a sure bet. That is far better than betting on the stock market. That is far better than betting on what the weather will do. The difficulty is that we have to trust someone we can’t see. We have to trust someone who has said, “Jump” and we can’t see where we are jumping. The story is told of a man in a burning building who knows that he will not survive unless he can jump to safety. He hears a voice calling out, “jump, and I will catch you.” He doesn’t believe the voice at first, and says, “But I can’t see you.” The Voice calls back, “But I can see you, and I will catch you.” This is very similar to doubting Thomas, who would not believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead until he could put his hand in the very sid and in the hands of His crucified Lord. Jesus was very gracious to Thomas, but He also said, “Blessed are they who believe without having seen me.” We have to trust in God without seeing Him. But we do have His Word. The Word calls out to us to jump from the burning building into the strong arms of our Savior, trusting in him to catch us.

The last thing that we see here is Abram’s worship. Abram worships God by building an altar. Notice that he does not build a city. Rather he was looking for a city whose architect and builder was God, not man, i.e., not the builders of the tower of Babel. Instead he was looking for something more permanent. So he builds an altar to the permanent God. Building an altar in the promised land is proof of ownership. Abram now had the legal right to the land. However, Abram did not have actual possession of the land. He only had the legal rights to is.
That is just like us. We have the legal rights of adoption into God’s family. And we are promised a new heavens and a new earth, not to mention a brand-new glorified body. It is there waiting for us. We need to build our altar. That is, we need to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable in God’s sight, for this is our logical act of worship.

Of course, whenever we think of sacrifice, we must think of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is He that makes us right with God. Abram knew this. That is why Abram rejoiced to see Jesus’ day, as Jesus tells us in John 8. Abram looked forward to this great salvation that would be accomplished by his offspring. That is why he built an altar.

So how do we worship God? We give ourselves wholly over to God. We let God rule our lives. We do what God has told us to do. We share the good news of God’s promises to other people. We remember that this world is not our home. We build an altar in the land, but we do not possess it yet.

What does it mean to sacrifice? Missionaries from England going to Africa in the 19th century would pack their belongings in a coffin, knowing that the life expectancy for a missionary in Africa was two weeks. That is sacrifice, because they went anyway. Look at Africa now. Christianity is exploding there like nowhere else. Sacrifice is giving up our temporary goals for the long-term goals. We need to focus on the prize that is at the end. We cannot get too comfortable here. God does not allow us to rest anywhere but in the land of Canaan, the new heavens and the new earth, just as God did not allow Abram to rest in the land that was occupied by the Canaanites. We cannot occupy the new heavens and the new earth with these sin-ridden mortal bodies. We must be given new bodies. That is the greatest promise of all. Eternal life. Won’t you trust in Christ now?