Genesis in the
Light of the New Testament.
Page 105 - 133
Circumcision known, we find in the next chapter God in
communion with Abraham (now indeed Abraham) after a manner never before
enjoyed. The Lord not only comes or appears to him, but openly associates
Himself with him as with one of whom He is not ashamed. No one can doubt, that
looks at it, the suggestive contrast with the next chapter, in which Lot for
the last time comes before us, the very type of one "saved so as through the
fire." This has been seen by others, but the more we look at it, the more
striking and instructive will it be found. I shall dwell at more length than I
have usually permitted myself upon lessons of such intense and practical
interest as are those which God in His mercy has here given us.
It should be evident that the foundation of all this contrast expresses itself in the different position of these two men - the one, in the door of his tent at Mamre; the other, in the gate of Sodom. In the one, we see still the persistent pilgrim; in the other, one who has been untrue to his pilgrim-ship, and is settled down amid the pollutions of a sinful world. Striking it is, and most important to remember, that he is a "righteous man," expressly declared so by the word of inspiration: "That righteous man, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their ungodly deeds." He is thus an example of how "the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations." (2 Pet. ii. 7,9.) This is a complete contrast with the way in which the book of Genesis represents him. I need scarcely say, there is no contradiction ; and the contrast itself is a very beautiful instance of the style of Scripture. In the actual narrative he is spoken of as one of whom God is ashamed: "And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in the midst of which Lot dwelt." Lot has been under the cover, and God must use the cover toward him. He is the God of Abraham; how could He call Himself the God of Lot? How solemn this treatment of one of His own! Reader, how is it with you this moment as before God? Is He confessing, or denying you? This is not a question which you can turn off by saying, I am a Christian. It is on that very ground that it appeals to you. In the history, then, we find God making Himself strange to Lot. This was what His governmental ways required - the discipline that the need of his soul called for at the time. The need past and gone, as He looks back upon that history now, He can pick out of it the good He had marked all through, and say how precious to Him, even in a Lot, was the trouble of soul which the iniquity of Sodom gave him. Such is our God! Such is His holiness, and such His grace!
But then how clear this makes it that it was not because Lot had taken part in the wickedness of Sodom that the Lord was thus displeased! It was simply on account of his being there, even as of Abraham that tent life of his is marked out for His special approval: "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise .... These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. .... But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city." (Heb. xi. 9, 13, 16.)
Thus, then, we are right in saying that the tent at Mamre and the gate of Sodom are characteristic and contrasted things. Faith, looking for a city which hath foundations, is content to scratch the earth with a tent-pole merely. This was Abraham's place, pattern as he is, and father of all them that believe; and God comes to commune with him, in the broad open day - "in the heat of the day."
The style of His coming is as noticeable as all else: there is no distance, there is intimacy: it is three men who come; in fact, two angels, and One before whom the angels vail their faces. But they come as men, and keep this place - the more strikingly, because in the next chapter we find those who had left Abraham still as two men appear in Sodom explicitly as angels. Clearly, this difference has meaning in it. How sweet a foreshadowing of what in due time was to take place - the tabernacling in flesh of Him in whom faith realizes the glory of Immanuel, now no more to faith a Visitant merely. And Abraham's practiced heart knew under all disguises Him who stood there. We learn this plainly from the first words with which he welcomes One whom yet in this garb he has never seen before. "Lord," he says, distinguishing Him by a title only given to God, " if now I have found favour in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from Thy servant; let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: and I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come unto your servant."
The faith that recognizes, entertains in the same simplicity Him whom it recognizes. There is none of the unbelieving cry so often heard, "We have seen God, and we shall die." In beautiful confidence of faith, he meets Him who has come to him as man, and as man gives Him human welcome. If He stoop to come so, he will not say, "That be far from Thee, Lord," but receive Him as He comes, putting undoubtedly before Him whatever he has, and being met with unhesitating acceptance. " He stood by them under the tree, and they did eat."
And do you, beloved reader, in the like unsuspicious way receive the grace which has now come to us in a Christ made fully known? or do you, alas, draw back from His approach, as if He knew not the full reality of the place which He has taken with us, or else the full reality of what we are, among whom He has come? I cannot find that Abraham even put his dress in order to appear before the Lord Almighty. His best and his worst were not so far apart as to make him think of it. There was no preparation of himself to appear before Him who knew him through and through. Just as he was, whatever he was, the love that met him was worthy of reception, then and there: all the sweeter and more wonderful the more he was unworthy.
But in fact, if we translate these figures, Abraham has that which may well, wherever He finds it, bring the Lord in to have communion with us. These "three measures of fine meal," and this "calf, tender and good" do you not recognize them? Surely wherever such food is found there will still be found the Lord in company. It is Christ of whom these things speak, and occupation with Christ is still the essential and only prerequisite for communion. It is when the apostle has introduced to us, in just such nearness as was Abraham's here, that eternal life which was with the Father, and heard, seen, looked upon, and handled with the hands among us here, that he says, " That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us," and then he adds, "and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ."
If, then, our souls lack fellowship, if we are out of communion, - ought we not to ask ourselves if the great primary lack be not of occupation with Christ? Other things, no doubt, will enter in where this is absent, and we shall not be able to return to feed on Him until these things be judged and removed. But here is the first point of departure, as with Israel the turning from the manna.
Abraham's tent is provided, then, with that with which he entertains a heavenly guest. First, the three measures of meal tell of Christ personalty. The "meal" is not merely this: it is the "fine flour" of the meat-offering afterward, which we all know represents Him. It is Christ as man, the Bread of life, the food of His people. But what then are the "three measures"? What is the measure of the Man Christ Jesus? Nothing less, surely, than this, that "in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." And is not this what the number three, the number of the Trinity - that is, of divine fullness, speaks?* The "calf," on the other hand, - not necessarily what this implies for us, but a young, fresh animal - no less clearly reminds us of Him who was the true and perfect Workman for God. And here that mystery, which we have before seen after the flood began to be pressed upon man, that life given up must sustain life, is once more told out.
*"The same exactly as in the parable in Matthew xiii. I cannot but understand, therefore, that it is Christ also that is represented there : it is the food of God's people which the professing church, having assumed the teacher's chair, is leavening with false doctrine.
t"Isaac" means ".Laughter."
In Scripture thus the person and work of Christ are kept ever together: it is not a work alone, but a living Person who has accomplished the work. Where we have Him before us really, communion with God there cannot but be. How sweet that thus, Lord's day by Lord's day at least, the bread and the wine are to be before us, to occupy our very hands and eyes - so busy with the things of time and sense as they are - with Him who claims the whole man for Himself, - that is, for fullest joy and blessing, that afresh and afresh He in His person and work may make communion with God our power to go though a world which has rejected Him.
And now Abraham is to receive the final message that the long-expected promise shall be fulfilled. Intimately connected, surely, with the scene before us (if we look through the figure to that of which it speaks,) is the birth of Isaac now announced. It was a "son born" that was to make Abraham's heart glad, and we know of whom Isaac is the type. Is it not of Christ come to dwell - no more to visit merely - that the figure speaks? Thus we have here what filled the apostle's heart so afterward for the Ephesians, and bowed his knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: "That He would grant unto you, according to the riches of His glory, to be filled with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints the length and depth and breadth and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."
But this we shall have to look at more in another place. We have now to see as the fulfillment and fruit of communion, the Lord disclosing to Abraham the doom of Sodom, now just ready to overwhelm her. How striking are the words in which He counsels with Himself as to this, permitting us also to hear that counsel! "And the Lord said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham all that He hath spoken of him.'"
How beautiful this testimony to one who could be called "the friend of God"! How sweet the encouragement in maintaining in one's household an authority rapidly being given up in these days - an authority from God and for God! " He will command . . . and they shall keep the way of the Lord." Do we not see the connection also between the man of God and the prophet? It was the constant title of these men of God: Abraham too is called "a prophet." "And surely," says Amos, "the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets." To be with God is the way to penetrate the reality of things even of the world itself. And it is in this way that the book of Revelation addresses itself to Christ's servants, " to show unto them the things which must shortly come to pass."
How carefully and patiently God judges, moreover, as to Sodom, - no indifference, with all His apparent slowness! How that full oversight and patient judgment of every thing are affirmed! "And the Lord said, 'Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know.'" "And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham stood yet before the Lord."
And now Abraham takes the place which it was surely one part of the design of this gracious communication to put him into - the place of intercession. For us whose characters are to be formed by the apprehension of Christ, and who know Him now as in this very place of intercession, how important it is to realize what is before us here! It is His people for whom the Holy Spirit intercedes below. Abraham's prayer too follows the same pattern: "And Abraham drew near and said,' Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city, wilt Thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous be as the wicked, that be far from Thee: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?'"
How strange the implied doubt here in Abraham's mind! What poor weak questions do not these minds of ours raise! An Abraham praying the Judge of all the Earth to do right! Is it not a first principle that, of course, He must? How could he doubt, we say? Beloved, do we never? How much more do we know of God than Abraham could do possibly! How large a portion of our prayers, if they were analysed, would be resolved into this, the asking God to do right! Alas! What infidelity, even as to first principles, cleaves to us when we little suspect it! God will do right! Why, of course. Oh, but when every thing on earth seems as if it were going wrong, - when with Jacob we are tempted to say, "All these things are against us," - when with Job we have to take our place upon the dust-heap, has there never the bitter question sprung up in our hearts, if it brake not the door of our lips, - do we never at least have to still our hearts with it, - " Shall not the Judge of all the Earth do right?"
But it is beautiful to see how Abraham flings it all out - doubt and all, casts it down before God. "Pour out your hearts before Him," says the Psalmist; " Be careful for nothing," adds the apostle; " but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." In these very requests, what a multitude of things unworthy of Him! But He who has known them in the heart before would have us pour them out in His presence, and oh, the relief that the heart gets so! How many of these workings of unbelief do the psalms thus give us, but they are poured out before God, and the soul stills itself in that blessed presence as no where else can it be stilled. What! We have been asking God if He is God! " O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted," peace! He is indeed the " God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
On the other hand, the intercession is right, and of God. He will do all things well. He will care for His saints whether we ask Him or not: Christ intercedes; could we add any thing to the efficacy of His intercession? Is it not all-prevailing? Does it not cover all? Yes, yes, yes, He into whose hands God has given His people is surely the merciful and faithful High Priest, never forgetting those whom He bears upon His breast before God. Yet none the less is it ours to pray "with all prayer and supplication for all saints." He has ordained, in His grace to us, that that flow of abundant blessing which He pours out upon His people should flow, in part at least, through channels of our own providing. He has given us fellowship with Himself in His love and care for His people. How blessed this fellowship! Is it not, I ask again, in a peculiar way our privilege who are one with Him who as man has entered into the presence of God, and with whom we are one, surely not in position only, but in heart and spirit also? Thus the Spirit maketh intercession for the saints according to God - and in our hearts where this intercession is made, if there be prayer "in the Holy Ghost," it will still be "intercession for the saints:" not for me or mine (in the narrow human sense), not for individual saints dear to me merely; not for sect or party; but "for all saints"! O for more power for this broad and blessed outlook, with Christ for the whole field of those that are His! O for more ability to throw ourselves in with them into their joys, their sorrows, their cares, their exercises; to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ;" to realize our oneness with Him, as we take His own into our arms and hearts in real and hearty recognition of eternal kinship! Sodom's judgment is indeed, alas! near at hand; and little does the proud and self-sufficient world dream, (just ready to throw off openly the rule of the ordained Ruler of the scene of His rejection,) that it is the " fifty righteous " that alone have suspended divine judgment hitherto. How solemn their condition for whom presently no prayer will any more avail!
There is no rebuke with God, but a full answer. "And the Lord said,' If I find fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sake.'" Abraham goes further. But it is not needful to go through the detail, so familiar as it is, of these requests which, pressed on and on, find nothing but acceptance from the patient goodness of God; until at last Abraham's faith fails, but not God's goodness: for we read that "it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in the midst of which Lot dwelt."
"And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them: and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said,' Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early and go on your ways.' And they said, 'Nay; but we will abide in the street all night."'
How every circumstance seems designed to bring out the contrast! Two angels come, not men: there is distance, not familiarity; and the Lord Himself does not come nigh. Hence communion there is not and cannot be. Evening, too, is fallen; they come in gloom, and as it not to be seen. And although Lot's hospitality is as ready as Abraham's, there is no such readiness in the response. They yield, however, to his urgency - "And he pressed upon them greatly, and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat."
But even the semblance of communion is not possible for him. Out of the path of faith, he is not master of circumstances, but they of him. The men of Sodom break in upon him, and the very attempt to entertain the heavenly guests only provokes the outbreak of the lusts of the flesh. Instead of the good he seeks, Lot has to listen to a message of judgment, which falls upon all with which he has chosen to associate himself.
How solemn is the lesson of all this in a day when heaven is indeed allowed to be the final home of the saint, but in no wise his present practical abiding-place; when Christians count it no shame to be citizens of this world, to be "yoked " in every possible way - commercially, politically, socially, and even ecclesiastically - "with unbelievers;" to sit as judges in the gate of Sodom, and mend a scene out of which He who came in blessing for it has been rejected, and which, when He comes again, for that rejection, He comes to judge! If all this be not just Lot's place, what is it? Personal "righteousness"- in the low sense in which necessarily we must think of it here - no more exempts one from the condition pictured than it actually exempted Lot. God's Word persists in claiming one's voluntary associations as part of one's personal state. Not to be "unequally yoked with unbelievers" is the condition God gives upon which alone our Father can "be a Father to us;" to be " purged " from " vessels to dishonour" is the only state which has attached to it the promise, " He shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared to every good work." (2 Cor. vi. 17, 18; 2 Tim. ii. 21.)
I am well aware that such principles are too narrow to meet with aught but contemptuous rejection in the present day. Evangelical leaders even can now take their places openly on public platforms with Unitarians and sceptics of almost every grade; and societies, secret or public, can link together all possible beliefs in the most hearty good fellowship. It is this that marks the time as so near the limit of divine long-suffering, that the "very people who are orthodox as to Christ can nevertheless be so easily content to leave Him aside on any utilitarian plea by which they may have fellowship with His rejecters. Do they think that they can thus bribe the Father to forget His Son, or efface the ineffaceable distinction between the righteous and the wicked as "him that serveth God, and him that serveth Him not"? Alas! They can make men forget this, and easily teach the practical unimportance - and so, really, the untruthfulness - of what in their creed they recognize. O for a voice to penetrate to the consciences of God's people before judgment comes to enforce the distinction they refuse to make, and to separate them from what they cling to with such fatal pertinacity! The days of Lot are in their character linked in our Lord's words with "the day when the Son of Man is revealed." May his history, as we recount it, do its work of warning to our souls.
Communion we have found to be one thing impossible for Lot in Sodom. It is surely what is implied in that assurance on God's part, - " I will be a Father to you," - which He conditions upon our taking the separate place from what is opposed to Him that our relationship to Him necessitates. How is it possible, indeed, if "whoever will be the friend of the world is the enemy of God," to have communion with both at the same time? How is it possible to say to the world, " I will walk with you," and stretch out the other hand to God saying, "Walk with me"?
But if this be so, communion with God must be how rare a thing! How many things must be substituted for it, and, with the terrible self-deception which we can practice on ourselves, to be taken to be this even! With most, indeed, how little is Christ abidingly the occupation and enjoyment of the soul! And when we would be with Him, in our seasons of habitual or special devotion, how often do we perhaps all realize the intrusion of other thoughts - unwelcome as, to Lot, were the men of Sodom. We are apt, at least, to console ourselves that they are unwelcome, perhaps to silence, or seek to silence, conscience with the thought, as if this relieved us from responsibility about them. Yet who could assert that Lot was not responsible for the intrusion of the men of Sodom? If their being unwelcome settled the whole matter, there is no doubt that they were unwelcome. But why had Abraham no such intruders?
The thoughts that throng upon us when we would gladly be free - at the Lord's table, at the prayer-meeting, or elsewhere, - have we indeed no responsibility as to these? The effort necessary to obtain what when obtained we can so little retain, while other things flock in with no effort, does it not reveal the fact of where we are permitting our hearts to settle down?
It may be, perhaps, a strange and inconsistent thing at first sight, in view of what has been already said, and if we are to find a figure here in Lot's case as in Abraham's - that he has the materials wherewith to entertain his heavenly visitants. It is true he has neither the "calf, tender and good," which Abraham has, nor the "three measures of meal." Applying these figures, we may say that Christ is not, in the way thus pictured, present to the soul of one in Lot's case. Yet he has, what may seem almost as hard to realize, that "unleavened bread" with which the apostle bids us keep our passover-feast, and which he interprets for us as "the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." How, then, may we attribute this to Lot?
The answer seems to me an exceedingly solemn one. It is found, I doubt not, in the very first case in which the command to keep the feast of unleavened bread was carried out. How, and why, was it carried out? Nothing would seem clearer than to say, Because the Lord enjoined it. But it is not this that Scripture itself gives as the reason. "And the people took their dough before it was leavened; their kneading-troughs being bound up in their clothes upon their shoulders. . And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of the land of Egypt: for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry; neither had they prepared for themselves any victual." (Ex. xii. 34, 39.)
That is, their obedience to the divine command was not the fruit, alas, of the spirit of obedience. It was the product of necessity, the fruit of their being forced out of Egypt. And do we not, indeed, easily recognize in the Church's history under what circumstances in general the feast has thus been kept ? Has it not been when by the hostility of the world she has been forced out of the world? Persecution has always helped men to reality. If it be simply a question between open acceptance of Christ or explicit rejection of Him, this will be a matter necessarily settled alike by every Christian. The black or white would have no possible shades of intermediate grey. The "perilous times" of the last days are not such to the natural life. All the more are they perilous to the soul.
Similarly, in the shadow of calamity and distress men wake up to reality. Their desire, the object of their lives, is taken from them, but the stars come out in the saddened sky. Face to face with eternity they have to learn how "man walketh in a vain show, and disquieteth himself" too "in vain." There are times when even Lots become real. Yet, as the mere fruit of circumstance, it has no necessary permanence in it, nor any power to lift to a higher level one in fact so low. Nay, a Lot stripped of his cover, how degraded does he seem! Strip some of my readers, perhaps, of every artificial help to make something of them, - of every thing outside the man himself, - what would be the result? Yet to this it must come: aye, to this. We brought nothing into this world; we can carry nothing out: the world passeth away and the lust thereof. If our hearts have chosen that which passes, retain it we cannot. We must some day stand where Lot stood, and hear, as he did, words of judgment from the very lips of grace.
"And the men said unto Lot,' Hast thou here any besides? Son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place: for we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it."
And then we find how utter had been the wreck of testimony with a man personally righteous. Nay, that character of his (who can doubt) would only contribute to the rejection of so strange a story as that God would visit with signal judgment for its wickedness a place so attractive as Sodom had proved to righteous Lot. God, then, it would seem, had not been in sympathy with him. This was his own confession: but if He now were, who could then possibly tell? " He seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law."
Here we have, clearly, designed, sharp contrast with what had been God's own testimony as to Abraham's household. Evil has thus its law and order, we may be assured, as good has. " Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Train him up for the world, and can you marvel if your work be as successful? " And when the morning arose,, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, 'Arise, take thy wife and thy two daughters which are here, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.' And while he lingered, the men" - notice how in the time of his strait the more familiar term is used again, - "the men laid hold upon his hand and the hand of his wife and the hand of his two daughters, (the Lord being merciful to him,) and they brought him forth and set him without the city."
But now the shipwreck he had made of faith begins to be apparent in him. How often do you hear people speak of not having "faith for the path"' Here, it becomes plain that what is needed is to have the path in order to faith. How, indeed, can one speak of faith except for God's path ? Can we have faith to walk in some way that is not God's or does He put before us one way for faith, and some alternative way if we will be excused from the necessity of faith?
If we have not, then, faith for the path, we must walk, manifestly, in unbelief, where God is not with us, where no promise of His assures us, where the might of His arm cannot be reckoned on. What a thing for men to choose - from weakness, as they would urge, or fear - a path in which God is not! Surely the sense of weakness it is not which drives men away from Him: it is willfulness, or love of the world - sin; but never weakness. Had one to ask really, Have I faith for the path? Who could dare to say he had? This excuse might well excuse us all. Which of us knows where God's path may lead? The one thing certain is, it will be a path contrary to nature, impossible to mere flesh and blood. Had we in this sense tc count the costs - or better, to meet the charges of the way, we would all be bankrupts the first day's journey.
But is there, then, no Shepherd of the sheep? Does He not lead now in green pastures, and beside still waters? Even in the valley of death-shade is there no virtue in His rod and staff? Shall we malign a path which is His path, or count upon all that which calls for His power and grace, but not upon Himself to show this?
In the path it is that He sustains the faith for the path. Out of the path, faith goes overboard at the first step; and then the after-life becomes necessarily the diligent practice of an unbelief which strengthens itself with all the maxims of sense and selfishness and worldly calculation. In Lot we have to recognize now this utter prostration of faith in a believer.
"And it came to pass, when they had brought him forth abroad, that he said,' Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.'
"And Lot said unto them, 'Oh. not so, my Lord: behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy which thou hast shown me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die: behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one : oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live!' "
How many prayers does not unbelief dictate! How plainly does it characterize this prayer throughout! He owns a mercy he yet dare not trust; asks God for Zoar as a little city, that He might spare as such; and for his own good, not the human lives that were involved. How base is unbelief! How wonderful the goodness that, at such intercession, could spare Zoar!
But for Lot there is no revival. His wife's end follows, involved in the destruction of the city from which she had never really separated. Then he leaves Zoar, haunted still by the unbelieving fear which had taken him there at first. Finally, he is involved in the infamy of his own children, and his death is unrecorded: he had died before.
Thus far, if the anchorage be lost, may the vessel drift. And this is what the Spirit of God has put before us as the contrasted alternative with the life of faith in Abraham. Let us remember that the grossness of the outward history here may have its representative before God in what to mere human eyes may appear as correct as can be. God knoweth the heart. Blessed be His name, He has shown us also what is on His own.
After the judgment of Sodom, and before Isaac is yet born, we find Abraham again in the south country, and in connection with a people who in the after-history of Israel have a much more important place. Throughout the times of Samson, Eli, Samuel, and Saul, (whom they defeat and slay,) the Philistines hold the chief place among the enemies of Israel. David defeats and subjugates them, although they appear again in the times of his degenerate successors.
Their typical importance must correspond to their place in an inspired history of "things" which "happened unto them for types," and their general history and character throw light upon what is written of them in that part of Genesis to which we are now come. The Philistines were not Canaanites, although sons of Ham. They sprang, according to Genesis x. 14, from Mizraim, to whom the land of Egypt gave its distinctive name. Yet we find them in the land of Canaan always, on the lowland of the south-west coast, with their outlook indeed toward Egypt, with which they had (as see Ex. xiii. 17,) the freest and most unobstructed communication.
To translate this spiritually, they are natural men in heavenly things. Of Ham and Mizraim we have already briefly spoken. Ham is the darkness of resisted light, and out of this, Egypt, the natural world, is come. Its name, " Mizraim," or " double straitness," applies with unmistakable clearness to the strip of land on either side of the river, maintained in fertility and beauty by its yearly overflow, and bounded strictly by the desert on either hand. From their land the people derive their name. As natural men, they are conditioned and limited between narrow bounds, within which they may do great things, but not transcend them. They are governed and characterized by their conditions, naturally; are governed and get their name from what they should govern.
Such limits - indeed, much narrower - confine the Philistines to their strip of sea-coast. They hold but a border of the land; and, however fertile, its lowest part. Other parts they may ravage, not really possess: there, they are (according to their name) "wanderers" merely. Here too they are sojourners in a land that is not theirs: it belongs already, in divine purpose, to the seed of that "Abram the Hebrew," who now comes to Gerar, no wanderer, but a "passenger," or pilgrim. To the one alone is there a future, a fixed point beyond, faith in him the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Yet as the order is, first, that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual, the Philistines for long seem to possess the land. Abraham already finds a king at Gerar whose name, however interpreted,* speaks of established, successional authority, while the captain of his host is Phichol - i.e., the "voice of all." Who that is prepared to find meaning here at all can fail to see in this the shadow of that traditional authority to which human religiousness, ignorant of the living Spirit, ever appeals? And completely in accordance with this it is that with Abraham and Isaac, as with the men of faith of every age, their great contention is about the wells of water which they themselves never dig, but of which they would with violence possess themselves, only to stop them again with earth. Of how many Sitnahs and Eseks has church-history been the record, until in God's mercy a Rehoboth came and they who sought the truth found "room"! All this in its general meaning seems easy enough to follow, and to make the typical character of these Philistines very clear.
*Abimelech: either "Father of a king," or "Whose father [is] king:."
It is noteworthy, too, that while never themselves possessing more than a border of it, they have loomed so largely in men's eyes as to give their name to the whole land. Palestine is only Palestine. So the traditional church is "catholic" - universal. And now at Gerar we find Abraham once more failing as long before he had failed in Egypt. These Philistines, too, are but Egyptians, though in Canaan; even as the world, though come into the church, is still the world. Sarah, the covenant of grace, belongs still and only to the man of faith; but how often has he failed to assert this absolutely exclusive claim! In the present day there is surely more failure in this respect than ever; when, with an open Bible ours, and more enlightenment, Protestant traditions are become the rule of what is no less a world church than Rome itself. For such, the Abimelechs and Phichols will have their place as of old; human authority be substituted for divine; the wells which faith had dug be stopped again. And here, how great the danger of Sarah being given up - of grace being divorced from faith!
Alas the liberality of the day is gone so far in this direction, that grace must not be denied where not only faith, but the faith, is absent, - where Christ is Himself denied. Orthodox and unorthodox mingle on platform and in pulpit. All lines are being surely and not slowly effaced. Churches with orthodox creeds open their doors widely to what is popular enough to make it worth their while; and Christians, with whatever trouble of conscience or grief of heart, dare not purge themselves from the evils which they feebly lament. They have obeyed one scriptural injunction at least - they have "counted the cost:" alas! with too cold a calculation, into which neither the glory of God nor even their own true blessing has been allowed to come.
How little man's hand is competent to hold what God has intrusted to it we may see in Abraham. It is not the young and raw disciple, but the man who has walked in the path of faith for long, who here shows himself ready to give up the partner of his life, and the depositary of all the promises! What then is man and what hope for him except in God? None, surely. And it is to ground us well in this that we are given to see the sad and terrible failure of these honoured servants of God. Not to discourage, but to lead us to the source of all confidence and strength. Only in realized weakness do we find this. Only when unable to do without God for a moment do we find what He is for us moment by moment. And it is the best blessing that we show most our incompetence to hold. Our place in Christ is that upon which all else for us depends, yet who of those to whom God has in His goodness been showing it in these last days is not aware how the knowledge of it had for ages almost disappeared out of the faith of Christians? Justification by faith, given similarly back to us in Reformation days, has been only by the same goodness preserved by constant revivals out of perpetual decline since then. Well for us will it be in proportion as we learn these lessons and our faith takes hold upon the living God. Alas! that even here the very failure of man should tend to shake our hold of His faithfulness, - as if He, not we, had failed ! But "hearken unto Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by Me from the belly, which are carried from the womb, even to your old age, I am He; even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you."
In a marked way God interferes here for His tailing servant, suffering him indeed to find for awhile the fruit of his own ways, but coming in for him at last in how tender and gracious a manner, to speak of him as "a prophet," and to make Abimelech debtor to his prayers. How different from our own ways with one another, ready as we are so easily to give up each other, sometimes at the mere suspicion of wrong-doing, when faith would hold fast the people of God for God! How sweet and restoring too for Abraham's soul this goodness of the ever-faithful One! for grace it is that restores alone: "sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under law, but under grace."
Let us hold each other fast for God, if of this grace indeed we would be ministers. Members of Christ as we are, we are members also, and thus, of one another. This bond will survive all failure, and it should in whatever failure be felt (the more, not the less, for the strain upon it,) in our hearts.
And now, unmoved from His own purposes of wisdom and of love, the Lord fulfills to Abraham the promise that He had made. A son is given to gladden his life, and be the pledge of mercies yet to come. Isaac is born, type of a greater, in whom all promises find completion. In Him, dwelling in the heart by faith, the life of faith finds its completion. From the first its one necessity, He now becomes its abiding realization. Let us look at this briefly, as the prayer in Ephes. 3 develops it.
The apostle's prayer is to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom every* family in heaven and earth is named." Christ in His place as Man, yet Son of the Father, is a new link of relationship between God and all His creatures. Angels as well as men have their place here. It is impossible but that the place He takes must affect all. He is Head over all things, as well as Head to His body the Church: the " First-born of every creature," - " Beginning of the creation of God." The arms which reach to man at the farthest distance encompass all between. The love which has displayed itself toward the lowest is felt as a pulse of new life by every rank of the unfallen " sons of God." Every family of these has for its Father the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. How this at once sets the one in whose heart by faith Christ dwells at the centre of all the divine purposes ! How "length and breadth and depth and height" begin to dawn upon him whose eye rests upon Him by whom and for whom all things were created! No wonder, therefore, that the apostle prays " that He would grant unto you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." The "inner man" and the "heart" are parallel in meaning in Scripture: the "hidden man of the heart," as Peter calls it; not affections merely, but the whole man himself - the true man under all appearances.
Here, in the centre and citadel of his being, faith receives its Lord. Christ dwelling in the heart by faith redeems us then from the narrowness and pettiness of mere individual interests, and brings us into the plans and counsels of a wisdom that embraces all things. "Rooted and grounded" ourselves "in love," which has met and satisfied all need in so wondrous a manner, "breadth and length and depth and height" begin to be revealed to us. All mysteries find solution in the deeper mystery of the cross. Evil is no where else so evil, but it is no where else so met, defeated, triumphed over, by the inherent power of good. And it is good which is in God Himself toward us, which manifests and glorifies Him.
* So the Revised Version, with Allord, Bllicott, etc.
The "breadth and length and depth and height," of which the apostle speaks, are not, of course, measures of "the love of Christ, which," he declares, "passeth knowledge;" yet are they the means of better knowing how infinite it is. The "love" in which we are "rooted and grounded" alone enables us to "comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height;" and these apprehended, heaven and earth, time and eternity, are filled forthwith with the fullness of a divine presence. We know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and are filled up in all the fullness of God.
This is the consummation of the life of faith when the true Isaac dwells thus with us. It is the conclusion, therefore, of this section of the book before us, save only the brief appendix in which we see, first, the bondwoman and her child cast out, and then the Philistines owning the superiority of the pilgrim man of faith.
The first has a dispensational application, which the apostle gives us in Galatians iv; and here Isaac appears, not as the representative of Christ Himself, but of those who by grace are one with Him. "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise; but as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.'"
In Christianity God had for the first time recognized relationship with a family not born after the flesh, as in Judaism Israel as a nation was, but with those spiritually born of Him. The children of law were born to bondage; the children of grace alone are free. But the Church had, as Isaac, its weaning-time, before the child of the bondwoman was cast off. The larger part of the Acts illustrates this, which the close of the fifth of Hebrews explains and applies. The last chapter of this epistle shows the camp rejected - Ishmael and Hagar, the nation on the footing of the legal covenant.
Cast out, they wander in the wilderness of Beersheba, and are nigh perishing for thirst. This I conceive to be the present condition of Israel. The water, the word of life, is spent for them, and the well they see not, although the oath of God, the covenant with their fathers, secures it for their final possession.* This, therefore, their eyes shall yet be opened to, and Hagar herself become a means of blessing to them (Deut. xxx. 1-3.); their dwelling still and ever outside of Canaan - the heavenly inheritance. The development of these things would be full of interest, but would lead us too far to follow. The individual application is clear in general, although the details may be less easy to trace. Most interesting is it to see that the Philistine has now to concede that "God is with" the man of faith, and that the well of water is all his own. Here, then, afresh he worships, calling on Jehovah, the everlasting God.
*"Beersheba" means "The well of the oath." (Ver. 14.)
Go To Next Part
Home | Links | Literature