GENESIS IN THE
LIGHT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
Sec. 8 - Abraham.
(Chapter 11. 10-21)
(1.) HIS PATH. The life of Abraham is the
well-known pattern-life of faith, as far as the Old Testament could furnish
this. It connects, as already noticed, in the closest way, with the story of
Noah which precedes it, and alone makes it possible. For the essential
characteristic of the life of faith is strangership, but this founded upon
citizenship elsewhere. Faith dwells in the unseen, substantiating to itself
things hoped for. This is exemplified in Abram, called to Canaan, his
possession in hope alone. He dwells there, but in tabernacles, the bringing
together of two things typically - the heavenly calling and its earthly
consequence. Canaan is here Noahs new world beyond the flood, and, as we
all know, heaven; but the earthly aspect of this is, as all through Genesis,
the prominent one. We must wait for Joshua before we get a distinct type of how
faith lays hold, even now, of the inheritance in heaven. Here, tent and altar
are as yet the only possession.
The introduction to this history is the record of Abrahams descent from Shem. It is a record of failure, of which the whole story is not told here, for we know that his line whose God Jehovah was, were worshipping other gods when the Lord called Abraham from the other side of Euphrates (Josh. xxiv. 2). The genealogy itself may tell us something, however - in Peleg, how men were possessing themselves more than ever of the earth, and at the same time the days of their tenure of it shortening rapidly - by half, in this very Pelegs time (comp. ch. x. 25.). Reu lives two hundred and thirty-nine years; Serug, two hundred and thirty, Nahor, but one hundred and forty-eight; Terah, again, two hundred and five; but Haran dies before his father Terah. God yet numbers the fleeting years of those who have forgotten Him.
Now we find a movement in Terahs family, the full explanation of which we must look for outside of Genesis. Here, it seems to originate with Terah, for we read that "Terar took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his sons son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abrams wife; and they went forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to to go into the land of Canaan: and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there". Terah fulfills his name (delay), and ends his days at Haran, so called from his dead son. Natural things hold him fast, though death be written on them, and memory but perpetuates his loss. "Haran" means "parched," yet there he abides (and Abram with him) till he dies. Then we find that whom he had led he had been holding back; and Abram rises up in the power of a divine call which had come to him, and to him alone in the first place, and by which he was separated from country, kindred, and fathers house alike, to be blessed and a blessing in the land pointed out of God for his abode. And now there is no further delay: "they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came."
Which of us does not know something of these compromises, which seem to promise so much more than God and to exact so much less, but in which obedience to God goes overboard at the start, and which end but in Haran, and not Canaan? Who would not have thought it gain to carry our kindred with us instead of a needless and painful separation from them? Why separate, when their faces can be set in the same way as ours and why not tarry for them and be gentle to their weakness, if they do linger on the road? How hard to distinguish from self-will or moroseness and unconcern for others, the simplicity of obedience and a true walk with God! But the lesson of this is too important to end here, and Lots walk with Abraham is yet to give us full length instruction upon a point which is vital to the life of faith.
But now Abram is in the land. We hear of the first halt at Sichem (Shechem), at the oak of Moreh. The first of these words means "shoulder" the second, "instructor" and it is in bowing ones shoulder to bear that we find instruction. He that will do Gods will shall know of the doctrine: he that will learn of Christ must take His yoke. This is the "virtue" in which still is "knowledge" (2 Pet. i). The oak of Moreh grows at Shechem still.
And it is surely "in the land" we find it: power for full obedience in those heavenly places, where we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings," and where "to the principalities and powers are made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." It is as Canaan-dwellers the secrets of Gods heart are opened to us; and Christ, in whom we are, becomes the key of knowledge as of power. In Him, "in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,"we are "filled up."
Jehovah now appears to Abram, and confirms the land to his seed as their inheritance; and here for the second time in Genesis we read of an "altar," the first that Abram builds. He worships in the fullness of blessing, and then first also his "tent" comes into view "he removed from thence into a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east." "Hai" means "a heap of ruin," and is the city which in Joshua resists the power of Israel, after Jericho falls to the ground. It is as if the very walls of Jericho had risen up against those who had lost the victorious presence of God their strength. Typically, Hai is no doubt the ruined old creation, and thus between a judged world and the "house of God" Abrams tent is pitched, in view of both. Here, too, once more he builds an altar, and calls upon Jehovahs name.
But Canaan is a dependent land. It is contrasted with Egypt as not being like it watered with the foot, but drinking directly of the rain of heaven.* And although the eyes of the Lord are there continually, that does not exclude the trial which a life of faith implies and necessitates. Thus Abram finds famine in the land to which God has called him, and to avoid it goes down to Egypt. There it becomes very evident that he is out of the path of faith, and he fails openly.
*Egypt must needs be dependent also, but not so immediately. Its river was its boast, and the sources of supply were too far off to be so easily recognized: a vivid type of the world in its self sufficiency and independence of God. They are yet sending scientific expeditions to explore the sources of their unfailing river, and by searching yet have not found out God.
But we must note that the secret failure had begun before, and the famine itself had followed, not preceded this. A famine in Canaan cannot be mere sovereignty on Gods part - sovereign though He be, and thus we find that when Abram, fully restored in soul, returns to the land, it is "to the place of the altar, which he made there at the first". There, between Bethel and Hai, he had been at the beginning; but there he had not been when the famine came, but in the south - his face toward Egypt, if not yet there. This borderland is ever a dry land, and Abram found it so. Famine soon comes for us in our own things when we get into this borderland. But who that has known what Gods path is but has known the trial of a famine there? And when we find such, how Egypt tempts - how the world in some shape solicits to give up the separate place which we have taken. Few, perhaps, but have made some temporary visit to Egypt in the emergency. But the price of Egypts succor is well known. Abrams fall there has been but too constantly repeated, and its repetition upon the largest scale has been one great step in the failure of the whole dispensation. Sarai in Pharaohs house is but the commencement of that which reaches its full development in the guilty commerce of the harlot-woman with the kings of the earth. But the germ is yet very different from the development, and Sarai is of course by no means the apocalyptic woman. She is, as the epistle to the Galatians tells us, the covenant contrasted with the Sinaitic, as grace with law. The grace in which we stand God has linked with faith, and with faith alone. It belongs not to the world in any wise. We are not of the world: "we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." But who can maintain that testimony, when the worlds help is wanted, and association with it sought? It is evident some form of universalism must be preached. Sarai (grace) must not be held as Abrahams exclusive possession, but the world allowed to believe it can obtain what divorced from faith is sufficiently attractive to it. Give Sarai up, and you shall have wealth and honours - be the kings brother-in-law; and by simony such as this has the Church bought peace and prosperity in the world; but the world will yet learn by judgment (as did Pharaoh) that Sarai is not its own. This manifest, its favours cease, and Abraham is sent away.
And now the true character of Lot comes out. His story (one of the saddest in Genesis) is most important to be noticed in a day when, God having revealed to us the truth of our heavenly calling, it is but even too plain that there are many Lots. The word "Lot" means "covering," and under a covering he is ever found. With Abraham outwardly, he is not at heart what Abraham is; and with the men of Sodom outwardly, he is not after all a Sodomite either. He is a saint, and therefore not a Sodomite, though in Sodom. He is a saint untrue to his saintship, and herein Abrahams contrast, even of his companion. His is, however, alasl a downward course. First, with Abraham, a pilgrim; then, a dweller in Sodom; finally, he falls under deeper personal reproach, and his life ends as it began - under a covering. There is no revival, no effort even upward, throughout nothing but mere gravitation, dragging down into still deeper ruin lives associated with his. His wifes memorial is a pillar of salt; his daughters, a more abiding and perpetual infamy, linked with his own shame forever. How terrible this record! How emphatic an admonition to remember, in him, how near two roads may be at the beginning which at the end lie far indeed apart! Reader, may none who read this trace this by-path, save here where God has marked out for us the end from the beginning, that with Him we may see it; not, as having trod it, the beginning from the end.
The beginning is found here "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his sons son . . . to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there."
Nature, taking in hand to follow a divine call, which it had never understood nor heard for itself; leading without being led; settling down short altogether of the point for which it started, to dwell in a scene of death to which it clings spite of dissatisfaction: - these are the moral elements amid which many a Lot is nurtured. Terah shines out in him when, having undertaken to walk with Abram, the plain of Jordan fixes his eyes and heart; once again, when in the presence of judgment, the messengers of it laid hold upon his hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and brought him forth and set him without the city, - because "he lingered."
But there is another beginning, after this; for now -
"Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brothers son, . . . and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came."
Not nature now, but the man of faith leads, and they no longer linger on the road; but Lot merely follows Abram, as before he had followed Terah. Abram walks with God; Lot only with Abram. How easy even for a believer to walk where anothers bolder faith leads and makes the way practicable, without exercise of conscience or reality of faith as to the way itself! How many such there are, practically but the camp-followers of the Lords host, adherents of a cause for which they have no thought of being martyrs, nearly balanced between what they know as truth and a world which has never been seen by them in the light of it. For such, as with Lot, a time of sifting comes, and like dead leaves they drop off from the stem that holds them.
Egypt had acted thus for Lot. The attraction it had for him comes out very plainly there where the coveted plain of Jordan seems in his eyes " like the land of Egypt." But beside this, it is easy to understand how Abrams failure there had loosened the moral hold he had hitherto retained upon his nephew. Yet still true to the weakness of his character, Lot does not propose separation, but Abram does, after it was plain they could no longer happily walk together. Their possessions, increased largely in Egypt, separate them, but Abram manifests his own restoration of soul by the magnanimity of his offer. Lot, though the younger, and dependent, shall choose for himself his portion; and he, not imitating the unselfishness by which he profits, lifts up his eyes and beholds the fertility of the plain of Jordan, and he chooses there.
The names unmistakably reveal what is before us here. Jordan ("descending") is the river of death, flowing in rapid course ever down to the sea of judgment, from which there is no outlet - no escape.* There, in a plain soon to be visited with fire and brimstone from the Lord, he settles down, at first still in a tent though among the cities there, but soon to exchange it for a more fixed abode in Sodom, toward which from the first he gravitates.
* The Dead Sea, it is well known, lies in a deep hollow, twelve hundred and ninety-two feet below the level of the Mediterranean, and there is no river flowing out of it.
Lot-like, even this he covers with a vail of piety. The plain of Jordan is "like the garden of the Lord" - like paradise: why should he not enjoy Gods gifts in it? He forgets the fall, and that paradise is barred from man, argues religiously enough, while under it all the real secret is found in this: It is "like the land of Egypt." How much of mans reasoning comes from his heart and not his head - a heart too far away from God! It is significantly added, "As thou comest unto Zoar," and thus indeed Lot came to it.
But Abram dwells in the land of Canaan, and God bids him walk through it as his own. Thereupon he removes and dwells in Mamre ("fatness") which is in Hebron ("companionship, communion"). The names speak for themselves again sufficiently. May we only know, and live in, the portion of Abram here.
In the next chapter things are greatly changed. Abram himself is in connection with Sodom, as well as with another power, which we may easily identify as essentially Babylonish. The names are difficult to read, and two at least of the confederated countries are just as doubtful.*
*For the attempt to make Ellasar Hellas, or Greece, though favoured by the Septuagint, can scarcely be maintained. It is more probably Larsa. Nor is Tidal, king of nations, a very satisfactory representative of the Roman power.
But in the first enumeration Amraphel, king of Shinar, stands first, the undoubted representative of the kingdom of Nimrod, although Chedorlaomer appears the most active and interested. They all seem but divisions of this Babylonish empire however, though changed no doubt into a confederacy of more or less equal powers.
These four kings - and our attention is specially called to the number here (ver. 9.) - are at war with the five petty kings of the plain of Jordan. Typically these last represent the world in its undisguised** and sensual wickedness; the Babylonish kings, the religious world-power, always seeking to hold captive (and in general successfully) the more open form of evil. Indeed the Sodom of heathenism never yielded but to a spiritual Babylon which had already obtained supremacy over the Christianity of Scripture and the apostles; and in no way was this last ever really established, nor could it be. But the world craves some religion; and nothing could suit it better than one which with external evidences to accredit it, such as undeniably historical Christianity had, linked its blessings with a system of ordinances by which they could be dispensed to its votaries. This exactly was the character of Nicene Christianity, and hence its conquest of the Roman empire. The leaven was already in the meal: the adulteration of the gospel had already advanced far; but leaven (evil as in Scripture its character undoubtedly is) has certainly the power of rapid diffusion, and rapidly the popularized gospel spread.
**Undisguised Indeed, if Gesenius is right as to Bera being equivalent to Sen-Ra, son of evil," and Birsha to Ben-resha. "son of wickedness."
These, then, are the powers represented here. The portion of Abram lies outside the whole field of conflict. Lot, on the other hand, is already in Sodom, and of course is carried captive in the captivity of Sodom. It is the spiritual history of those who, having known the truth, fall under the power of the world-church which Babylon represents. It is their link with the world by which they are sucked in. And such is the secret of all departure from the truth. The Lord is too faithful to allow mere honest ignorance to be deceived; and although men may credit Him with it, the record still stands: "Whosoever willeth to do His will shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God."
The secret of Abrams power is revealed in one pregnant word, which as here used of him flashes light upon the scene before us: "There came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew." That word, patronymic as it may be, is yet significant: it means "the passenger." So Peter exhorts us, "as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts" - the destruction of Sodom, while to the pilgrim, Babylon, claiming her kingdom now in the yet unpurged earth, can only be the persecutor, "red with the blood of the saints and of the martyrs of Jesus." Here may seem a difference between Abram and the spiritual sons whom he represents; but typically he none the less may represent those who, after their Lords example, conquer by suffering. There never were more real conquerors than were the martyrs.
So Abram brings back his brother Lot and all the other captives; whose deliverance indeed was, as we see, merely incidental. For as between Sodom and Shinar how could Abram interfere, or what deliverance would it be for a mere child of Sodom to be delivered from the power of Babylon? Even as to Lot it is once more solemnly made manifest that not circumstances have made him what he is, and that change of circumstances do not change him. Freed by Gods hand working by another, he is not really free; and soon we shall find him needing once more to be delivered from what, having escaped mans judgment, falls under Gods.
But if Lots eyes are still on Sodom, those of his pilgrim-brother find another object. For as he returned from the slaughter of the kings, "Melchisedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was the priest of the Most High God." The type is explained to us by the apostle in the epistle to the Hebrews; and we all know in Christ the Priest after the order of Melchisedek. The apostles words are remarkable for the way in which they bring out and insist upon the perfection of Scripture, in what it omits as well as what it inserts. "Without father, without mother, without beginning of days or end of life," are words which have been thought to show that the mysterious person before us was no other than Christ Himself; but this the apostles very next words disprove; for "made like unto the Son of God" could not be said of the Son of God Himself. It is simply of the omissions of the narrative that the apostle is speaking; these omissions being necessary to the perfection of the type. He is our High-Priest, not finding His place among the ephemeral generations of an earthly priesthood, but subsisting in the power of an endless life; Priest and King in one. Whilst, however, the Lord is thus even now a Priest after the order of Melchisedek, it is not after Melchisedeks pattern that He is now acting. Here, His type is rather Aaron. It is at a future time - a time, as we say, millennial - that He will fulfill the type before us, as many of its features clearly show. Thus Melchisedek is priest of the Most High God, - a title always used of God in the coming day of manifested supremacy. This Melchisedeks own words show: "Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Possessor of heaven and earth" The interpretation of his name and the name of his city confirms this: "First of all, King of Righteousness; and after that, King of Salem, which is, King of Peace." This is the order in which the prophet gives the same things, when speaking of millennial times: "Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field; and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever."
His place in this chapter is in perfect and beautiful keeping with all this. For we find the timeliness of Melchisedeks appearance to the victor over the kings, when the king of Sodom says to Abram, "Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself." It is to the "Most High God, Possessor of heaven and earth"- the One of whom Melchisedek has spoken to him - that Abram declares he has lifted up the hand, not to take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet. Christ seen thus by the pilgrim man of faith, claiming on Gods part all that is his own, is the true antidote to the worlds offers. If Christ could not accept the kingdoms of the world at the hands of Satan, but from His Father only, no more can His followers accept enrichment at the hands of a world which has rejected Christ for Satan. And that bread and wine which we receive from our true Melchisedek, the memorial of those sufferings by which alone we are enriched, for him who has tasted it, implies the refusal of a portion here.
(2) ABRAHAMS INNER LIFE (ch. xv. - xxi.) It is evident that in the fifteenth chapter we have a new beginning, and that we pass from the more external view of his path and circumstances to that of his inner life and experiences. Abram is now for the first time put before us as a man righteous by faith, a thing fundamental to all spiritual relationships and all right experiences. It was not, surely, now for the first time that he believed the Lord when God said to him under the starry sky of Syria, "So shall thy seed be". Yet here it pleased God first openly to give the attestation of his righteousness: words which lay for a gleam of comfort to how many sin-tossed souls, before God could come openly out with the proclamation of it as His principle, that a "man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law."
There are two things specially before us in this chapter; and they come before us in the shape of a divine answer to two questions from the heart of Abram. The two questions, moreover, are drawn out of him by two assurances on Gods part, each of which is of unspeakable moment to ourselves. The two assurances are,
(i) "Fear not, Abram; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward,"
(2) "I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it." As we would read this for ourselves now - "God is our portion" and "Heaven is the place in which we are to enjoy our portion."
To the first assurance Abram replies, "Lord God what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless?" to the second, "Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?" Strange words, it may seem, in the face of Gods absolute assurance; yet questions which do speak to us of a need in mans heart which not merely Gods word, but Gods act must meet; questions which thus He takes up in His grace, seriously to answer, and that we through all time may have the blessedness of their being answered.
The answer to both, no Christian heart can doubt, is Christ; for Christ is Gods answer to every question. Here it may be figuratively and enigmatically given, as was characteristic of a time in which God could not yet speak out fully. None the less should it be plain to us now what is intended, and unspeakably precious to find Christ unfolding to us, as it were, out of every rose-bud in this garden of the Lord.
"After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." Had Abram been fearing? The things that had just transpired, and to which the Lord evidently refers, were his victory over the combined power of the kings, which we have already looked at; and secondly, his refusal to be enriched at the hands of the king of Sodom. Brave deeds and brave words! wrought with God and spoken before God, who could doubt? Yet it is nothing uncommon, just when we have wrought something, for a sudden revolution of feeling to surprise us, for the ecstatic and high-strung emotion upon whose summit we were just now carried, to subside and leave us like a stranded boat, consciously, if we may say, above watermark. The necessity of action, now shut out all other thought. That over, it no longer sustains. We drop out of heroism, to find - what? Blessed be His name, God Himself beneath us!
We who were shielding others find more than ever the need of God our shield: we who were energetically refusing Sodoms offers need to be reminded, "I am thy exceeding great reward." Thank God, when the boat strands there!
God our defence, what shaft of the enemy can pierce through to us? God our recompensing portion! what is all the world can give? In this place of eternal shelter, "oh to know more the still unsearchable riches of Christ," adds the apostle. Did not Abram feel the lack of our revelation there - unintelligent as he may be as to what was wanted, and utterly unable, of course, to forestall Gods as yet but partially hinted purpose? Grasping, as it were, at infinity, and unable to lay hold of it, he drops from heaven to earth, and cries, with something like impatience, as the immensity of the blessing makes itself felt in his very inability to hold it, "Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus Behold, to me Thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir."
How flat all Gods assurances seem to have fallen with the pattern man of faith! And yet we may find, very manifestly, in all this our pattern. It is all very well to say that Abrams faith was not up to the mark here. In truth it was not; but that is no explanation. Do you know what it is, apart from Christ as now revealed to us, to grasp after this immensity of God your portion? If you do, you will know how the wings of faith flutter vainly in the void, and cannot rise to it. Thank God, if you cannot rise, God can come down; and so He does here to Abram. Serenely He comes down to the low level of Abrams faith, and goes on to give him what it can grasp: "And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: so shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness."
The many seeds and the One are here; and the many to be reached by means of the One. Abrams "One Seed" must be familiar to us all. Through and in Isaac we read Christ: "He saith not, And unto seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ." To us, at least, is it an obscure utterance of how this first assurance is made good to us, and possible to be realized? The Son of Man, here amongst us, where faith shall need no impossible flights to lay hold of Him, and the infinity of Godhead shall be brought down to the apprehension of a little child. Himself "the Child born," Himself the "Son given," the kingdom of peace is forestalled for those with whom, all the faculties of their soul subdued and harmonized under His blessed hand, "the calf and the young lion and the fatling" dwell together, and a little child leads them.
God our shield, and God our reward: we know these, we appreciate them in Him who is God manifest, because God incarnate.
The second question now comes up - "And He said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?"
Here too the question is plain, and to be answered by deeds, not words. The land for us is the good land of our inheritance, the land upon which the eyes of the Lord are continually - not earth, but heaven. A wonderful place to enjoy our portion, when we know indeed what our portion is! "Where I am" is the Lords own description; and thus you will find it most apt and suited, that it is not until He stands before us upon earth that the full clear revelation of an inheritance in heaven is made to us. He uncloses heaven who ascending up there carries the hearts of His disciples within its gates. Did they open to admit us without this, would not our eyes turn back reluctantly to that earth only familiar to us? Did they not open now, would they not be an eternal distance-putting between us and our Beloved? "That where I am, there ye may be also" explains all. The stars shining out of heaven are thus in this chapter the evident symbol of the multitudinous seed.
But how is man to reach a land like this? A place with Christ, reader! Look at what you are, and answer me: what is to raise a child of earth up to the height of Gods own heaven?
No work of man, at least; no human invention of any kind. How could we think of a place with Christ as the fruit of any thing but Gods infinite grace? He who came down from the glory of God to put His hand upon us, alone can raise us up thither. No human obedience merely, even were it perfect, could have value of this kind, because it would be still merely what was our duty to do. He to whom obedience was a voluntary stooping, not a debt, alone could give it value. And He, raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, and gone in as man into the presence of God, brings us for whom His work was done into the self-same place which as man He takes.
Thus God answers Abram by putting before him Christ as the pledge of inheritance: "Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon." God delights to accumulate the types of what Christ is, and press their various significance upon us. These are all types which are brought out more distinctly before us in the offerings after this. The three beasts - all tame, not wild, nor needing to be captured for us, but the willing servants of mans need; each three years old - time in its progress unfolding in them a divine mystery. The first two, females, the type of fruitfulness: the heifer, of the patient Workman; the she-goat, of the Victim for our sins; the ram, in whom the meek surrender of the sheep becomes more positive energy, - afterward, therefore, the ram of consecration, and of the trespass-offering. (Lev. V. I 5; viii. 22.) The birds speak of One from heaven, One whom love made a man of sorrow (the turtle-dove), and One come down to a life of faith on earth (the rock-pigeon, like the coney, making its nest in the place of security and strength).
To unfold all this, and apply it, would require a volume. No wonder, for we have here our occupation for eternity begun. These, the fivefold type expressed in one perfect Man, Abram "divided in the midst, and laid each piece one against another, but the birds divided he not; and when the fowls came down upon the carcasses. Abram drove them away." Thus upon all these types of moral beauty, and that they may be fit types of Him whom they represent, death passes, and they lie exposed under the open heaven, faith in Abram guarding the sacrifice from profanation, until, "when the sun was going down, a deep sleep passed upon Abram, and he slept; and, lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him." Faiths watchfulness is over; darkness succeeds to light; but this only brings out the supreme value of the sacrifice itself, which not faith gives efficacy to, but which sustains faith. God Himself, under the symbol of the "smoking furnace and the burning lamp," passes between the pieces, pledging Himself by covenant* to perform His promise of inheritance. Purifier and enlightener, He pledges Himself by the sacrifice to give the discipline needed in faiths failure, and the needed light in the darkness it involves; and thus the inheritance, not apart from the suited state to enjoy it with God, but along with the conditions which His holiness (and so His love) necessitates.
* See Jeremiah xxxiv. 18, where God announces the doom of those who had not performed the covenant made with Him, when they "cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof."
How complete and beautiful is this, then, as the answer to Abrams second question! If, with his eyes upon himself, he asks, "How shall I know that I shall inherit it?" he is answered by the revelation of the infinite value of all that puts a holy God and a righteous One, in both characters, upon his side: underpropping faith in all its frailty, and securing holiness as fully as it secures the inheritance itself. These types and shadows belong assuredly to us, to whom Christ has become the revelation of all, the substance of all these shadows. Ours is indeed a wider and a wondrous inheritance. But so ours is a sacrifice of infinite value, and which alone gave their value to these symbols themselves. How precious to see Gods eye resting in delight upon that which for Him had such significance, ages before its import could be revealed! How responsible we whom grace has favoured with so great a revelation!
Thus all is secured to Abram by indefeasible promise on the ground of sacrifice. It is of promise as contrasted with law, as the apostle says. Abram believes the promise, but does not yet know this contrast. He believes God, but not yet simply; alas! as with all of us at the beginning, he believes in himself also. He is a believer, but not yet a circumcised believer. Do you perchance even yet know the difference, beloved reader? It is this that Abrams history is to make plain to us.
"Now Sarai, Abrams wife, bare him no children." Sarai is, as we have seen, the principle of grace, and this is one of the strangest, saddest things in a believers experience, the apparent barrenness of that which should be the principle of fertility in his life and walk. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace." And yet it is the justified man, and who thus far at least knows what divine grace is, who says, "When I would do good, evil is present with me;" and "The good that I would I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do." It is impossible to read the lesson of the 7th of Romans aright until we have seen this. The struggle that it speaks of is not a struggle after peace or justification; nay, cannot be known aright until this is over. The whole secret of it is the break-down, not of a sinner, but of a saint. That efforts after righteousness before God should be vain and fruitless is simple enough; but that efforts after holiness should be fruitless is a very different thing, and a much harder thing to realize. It is Sarais barrenness that troubles us. Alas! how in this distress Sarai herself, as it were, incites us to leave her; persuading us, she may be builded up by Hagar!
Of Hagar also we have the inspired interpretation. She is the covenant "from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage" the only form of religion that mans natural thought leads him to, and that to which, if grace is left, we necessarily drop down. Hagar is thus an Egyptian, a child of nature, or as the epistle to the Galatians interprets, "the elements of the world." The principle of law, however much for the purposes of divine wisdom adopted by God, was never His thought. He uses it that man being thoroughly tested by it may convince himself by experiment of the folly of his own thoughts. It is thus Sarais handmaid, though exalted often even by the man of faith to a different place. The tendency of law, as it were, to depart from this place of service is shown in her very name - Hagar, that is, "fugitive;" and thus the angel of the Lord finds her by the well, going down to Egypt. When she is finally dismissed from Abrams house, she is again found with her son, gravitating down to Egypt; and upon the wilderness upon its borders Ishmael dwells afterward. How little Christians suspect this tendency of that by which they seek holiness and fruit! Yet even that which, as given by God, is necessarily "holy and just and good," speaks nothing of heaven or of Christ, or, therefore, of pilgrim-life on earth. But thus all of power is left out also; for Abrams pilgrim-life springs from his Canaan-place; and "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing nor uncircumcision," - the whole condition of man as man, - " but a new creation."
Abram takes Hagar, however, to be fruitful by her, just as believers in the present day take up the law simply as a principle of fruitfulness, not at all for justification: it is their very thought that is being tested here. And the effect at first seems all that could be desired: fruit is produced at once. It is only when God speaks that it is seen that Ishmael is, after all, not the promised seed. The immediate result is, Sarai is despised: "And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes." So it ever is. Once admit the principle of law, and what is law if it be not sovereign? Faith may cling to and own barren Sarai still, but the principle introduced is none the less its essential opposite. "Sarai dealt hardly with her," and "she fled from her face."
The scene that follows in the wilderness is, I doubt not, a lesson from the dispensations. It is the instruction, not of experience, as in Romans, but, as in Galatians, of divine history. It is the explanation of the divine connection with the law. It is between the promise of the seed and its fulfillment that Hagars history comes in. The law was given, not from the beginning, but four hundred and thirty years after the promise was made; and it was added till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made. Again, it was not God who first gave Hagar to Abram, but Abram who took Hagar: that the experiment might be worked fully out, God sends her back to him; that is all. So in like manner the covenant at Sinai was not Gods own proper thought, but what was in mans mind taken up of God to be worked out, under true conditions, to its necessary result. The whole scene is here significant: Gods own voice now recognizing, and insisting on, that servant place which alone Hagar filled; the "fountain of water" by which Hagar is found, the symbol of that spiritual truth which, connected with law, is not law, that characterizing, before his birth, of the "wild ass man," Ishmael - child of law, and lawless, - just as the law from the beginning foretold its own necessary issue: "Every imagination of the thought of mans heart" being "only evil, and that continually." Therefore the vail before the holiest, and the declaration, even to Moses, "Thou canst not see My face." God in all this, we may note, appears to Hagar, and not to Abram: for thirteen years more we read of no further intercourse between God and Abram.
But "when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, I am the almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect." This is the period to which the apostle refers in the epistle to the Romans, when his body was now dead, being about one hundred years old; and it is striking to see how completely the intermediate years from the taking of Hagar are counted but as loss. "And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarahs womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief: but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able also to perform: and therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness." (Rom. 1V. 19 - 22.)
Now here it should seem as if the apostle had confounded times far apart. It was at least fourteen years before that Abram had "believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness. Before Ishmael was born his body was not dead, for Ishmael was born "after the flesh," or in the energy of nature merely, in contrast with the power of God. It could not have been at that time, then, that he considered not his body now dead. Thus the faith that the apostle speaks of is really the faith of the later period. All the intervening time is thus covered, and the two periods brought together.
Natural power had to reach its end with him before the power of God could be displayed. It was now an almighty God before whom Abram was called to walk. Mighty he had known Him; not really till now almighty. The apprehension of power in ourselves limits (how greatly!) the apprehension of so simple a fact as that all "power belongeth unto God." By our need we learn His grace; by our poverty, His fullness; and the Christian as such has to receive the sentence of death in himself, that he may not trust in himself, but in God that raiseth the dead, and as a child of Abraham find his place with God according to the covenant of circumcision.
"For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh;" "having put off the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." The cross is our end as men in the flesh, not that we should trust in ourselves now as Christians, but in Christ: that as we have received Christ Jesus our Lord, we should walk IN HIM. How Little is it realized what that is! In our complaints of weakness, how little that to be really weak is strength indeed!
What comfort is there for us in the fact that thus "sprang there of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable"! How serious and how blessed that upon all the natural seed is the very condition upon which alone they can call him father! The token of the covenant was to be in his flesh for an everlasting covenant, the token of the perpetual terms upon which they were with God. How striking to find that under the Law the very nation in the flesh must carry the "sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which Abraham had being yet uncircumcised" and that at any time, spite of the middle wall of partition still standing, any Gentile could freely appropriate the sign of such a righteousness, and with his males circumcised sit down to the feast of redemption - the passover-feast!
Another reminder is here: "And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man-child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed." Every child of God is both born in the house and bought with money; not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: and the "eight days old" shows to how fair an inheritance we are destined; for the eighth day speaks, of course, to us of new creation, the first week of the old having run out. It is in the power of the knowledge of this that practical circumcision can alone be retained. In the wilderness Israel lost theirs, and on reaching Canaan had to be circumcised the second time. So too the water of separation had to be sprinkled on the third day: in the power of resurrection only could death be applied for the cleansing of the soul. The sense of what is ours in Christ alone qualifies us to walk in His steps. It is only what His own words imply, - " Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in Me." "As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk ye in Him.
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