ONE HOLY TRIBE
God Fathers His Family Through Covenants
I want to give you a brief, maybe one or two sentence summary of what we're trying to do. First, we are looking at the series of covenants understanding them as family administrations that God uses to father his children. We begin in the smallest possible family unit, the marriage, the covenant structure that God established with Adam, and the covenant mediator is a husband. That is his capacity as a mediator of the covenant.
We move now to consider the second major covenant or family administration in the Old Testament, and that's with Noah. The family structure at this point is literally a household and so Noah, the covenant mediator acts out his responsibilities as a father. He is also a husband like Adam, but now he is the father of three sons who are also married, raising their own families. Together that forms a household. As the covenant family of God grows additional laws, and regulations and principles have got to be applied because it gets more complicated. When I was first married, it was easy. Now that we've got three kids, it's a lot more complex. So the covenant has to be enlarged to account for the organic growth and also for the complexities of life.
Now, in the third covenant we want to get to tonight we have God choosing Abraham. At this point we don't just have a marriage or four marriages that comprise a household or family. Now we've got a tribe. In Genesis 14 it's clear that Abraham, although childless in his seventies, is nevertheless the chieftain ruling over a tribal unit that historians estimate may be numbered in the thousands. In Genesis 14 he's able to automatically muster overnight 318 warriors from within his own household who were born in his household for war. That suggests that you've got a lot of men and women and children, and so it numbers either in the high hundreds or the thousands. The crisis for Abraham is that he continues childless and so this tribe is going to go without a crown prince or successor. But God finally gives him Isaac, and then Isaac has Jacob and so on and so forth.
The next covenant then, is when God enlarges the family further. Not just a marriage, not a household, not a tribe of many households but a nation under Moses and Mount Sinai where he gives them a very large constitution. We call it the Law of Moses. It's a lot like our own constitutional convention which organized the thirteen colonies into a nation, where the twelve tribes are organized into one nation-family of God. They are called upon to reflect out to the world God's wisdom and righteousness, his love and his mercy in obeying this constitution that he's giving them. And he says, "I'm going to make this nation, not just any old nation but a nation above nations." And so He sends them into the promised land. They conquer that land and the next covenant is not a marriage or a household or a tribe or a nation of twelve tribes, but under King David, it becomes a national empire that makes other nations vassal states and colonies.
So, forcing these Gentile nations, these pagan peoples to finally learn the law of God, because after all, they're God's children, too, even if they're rebels and runaways, God ultimately sees the Gentile nations as His children. He is using Israel like a father might use a firstborn son as an example to call obedience forth from the younger siblings.
And so this fifth covenant in the Old Testament flow of salvation history is sort of like the penultimate, the next to the last, the final installment as far as Old Testament covenants go, because when Jesus Christ comes as the Son of David, he doesn't just establish a national empire. He, through the twelve Apostles and their successors, establishes an international kingdom. It's spiritual. It's sacramental. It isn't military and political. We actually discover that heavenly authority is more powerful than military might. And so Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world." But it is in the world. It just doesn't derive its authority from majority vote or at the end of a gun or the sword's edge.
Christ establishes a world wide Church family breaking down the boundaries that separated the Israelites, God's children, from the outsiders, the Gentiles. Now, all of a sudden everybody throughout the whole world is called into full membership in God's household. That's what we are trying to do as we take this panoramic sweep of Salvation History this week. We are trying to understand how through the covenants God fathers his family.
Continuation of the Covenant of Creation (marital covenant)
Now, we looked at the foundation covenant, the Adamic covenant, the covenant of creation which was a marital covenant. We saw how the mediator, a husband, was tested in his obedience. Now we move on. We ought to pick up, I think, at God's response to the temptation and fall. In Genesis 3, verse 15, we read how the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the cattle and above all wild animals. Upon your belly shall you go and the dust you shall eat all the days of your life." And here is the key, verse 15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel." Or you could translate that, "He or she shall crush your head and you shall bruise his heel." It goes on talking about the punishment as it applied to the woman in childbirth and then to the man through toilsome labor.
But this passage in Genesis 3, verse 15 is the hinge on which so much of the rest of salvation history will turn, because here we discover two seeds at work. Now we might think, "Well, he's just thinking about snakes or dragons or what?" No. We discover as we read the next chapter that the seed is Satan and the seed of the woman is ultimately not just reptiles versus humans but the line of Cain which constitutes the seed of Satan, the family, the descendants, the legacy of Satan. The snake versus the seed of the woman, which will be shown as following through Seth.
Let's take a look at that. You know what happens in the next chapter. "Adam knew Eve, his wife and she conceived and bore two sons." First comes Cain, the wicked firstborn, which by the way, is a pattern throughout Genesis and all the way into Exodus -- that the firstborn succumb to pride and injustice and arrogance and selfishness. So God will have to pass over the firstborn in order to get to the righteous son who will live out God's righteousness.
That's even found in Exodus with the Passover where the firstborn are slain and God passes over Israel and redeems them. But here is the first example of how a firstborn son succumbs to the pride of place and position in the family. His younger brother Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a tiller of the ground. After a while, at the end of a time they both bring offerings to the Lord, and Cain's is unacceptable. Abel's is acceptable, and what does Cain do? Does he succumb to jealousy? No. He succumbs to envy.
Jealousy, technically speaking, is when you see somebody else's advantage and you try to get it for yourself. Envy, on the other hand sees somebody else's advantage, resents it and tries to take it away or destroy it. There's a big difference. Say you're a teenage freshman girl and you see a really pretty sophomore and, if you're jealous, you dress up and look like her. If you're envious, you might rip her dress while she's in the physical education class or something.
Envy resents and tries to pull down. There was a movie several years ago, with Cissy Spacek where she is this homecoming queen and the people resent her beauty, so they throw pig's blood on her at the homecoming dance. That's envy. That's what Cain has. He doesn't go back and say, "Well, back to the drawing board. I'll try a second sacrifice." He kills his brother. Just like Satan, the liar and the murderer. Just a chip off the old block.
Adam and Eve Bear Three Sons
We see now Satan's seed springing forth in human culture. After Cain is punished by God, he is banished from the land and he goes to the land of Nod. There he has a son named Enoch and after he has that son he builds a city and names it after his son Enoch. There follows the line of Cain. Seven generations down, (seven is a kind of number of perfection) we can see now Cain's line coming to its full completion, sin reaching a kind of diabolical perfection in the seventh generation with Lamech. Verse 23: "Lamech said to his wives" (the first record of bigamy or polygamy in the Bible). Remember the marital covenant is this primordial covenant. Lamech is flaunting God's standard with a high hand. He's got two wives and he says to them, "I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold." Here is a tyrant singing his little song, saying, "If somebody brushes up against me and bruises me, I'll kill him." In other words, we see Satan's family reaching its ugly and evil completeness in Lamech.
Then we read in verse 25 how Adam knew his wife again and bore a son named Seth and then when Seth had a son, he named him Enosh and here is the crucial passage, verse 26: "At that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord."
That phrase "to call upon the name of the Lord" signifies worship. When Cain had Enoch, he was building his own name. He had a son and he named the city after his son to make a name for himself. But when Seth has a son, his work is not for himself but rather for God. "At that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord." That word in Hebrew for name is Shem. Keep that in the back of your mind.
Seth's Family Line is Righteous
At that point, the City of God begins. God's covenant family finally begins to progress, even if it seems somewhat belated. There we read about the generations of Adam beginning in Chapter 5: "When God created man he made him in the likeness of God." Then it goes on talking about how Adam had Seth in his own image and likeness. He fathered a son just like God fathered a son, Adam. Adam fathers a son Seth. Then Seth has Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and then, finally in the tenth generation from Adam and Seth we have Noah.
Now, what happens at this point? We all know about the flood. But I would suggest to you that the ancient Rabbis and the early Fathers of the Church saw quite clearly and with good reason an intense conflict between two divergent, two contrary cultures. What do I mean?
The family of Cain had reached its evil, tyrannical completeness, whereas the family of Seth which was built upon worship and God, calling upon the name of the Lord. Naturally these two groups are going to have to live on the same earth and figure out how to live in harmony and as long as there is evil, pride and injustice, there won't be any harmony, So we read in verse 1 of chapter 6, "When man began to multiply on the face of the ground and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair and they took to wives such of them as they chose. Then the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not abide in man forever for he is flesh, but his days shall be 120 years.' The Nephilim, the giants, were on the earth in those days and also afterward when the sons of God came into the daughters of men and they bore children of them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown." "The men of renown," literally in the Hebrew it's the "Men of Shem," the men of the name, wicked tyrants who were making a name for themselves, unjust, violent men, building a culture of pure evil.
The Families of Seth and Cain Intermarry
God would have no more of this violence. So he sent this disastrous flood as a punishment 120 years after pronouncing the sentence and giving them due warning. But what is going on in Genesis 6, verses 1 and 2? "The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair." Now some translators see this as mythical language suggesting that the angels or some celestial beings intermarried with earthly women. Why punish all the world, then? Why not punish the angels and only those offspring? Plus, there's no suggestion of angels here in Genesis being sons of God. That's taken completely out of context. I mean you might have to go to Job or some book of Enoch for that but in context who are the sons of God in the preceding section of Genesis 5?
You know it! God had Adam in his own image and likeness, and Adam fathered a son named Seth in his own image and likeness. So, if A equals B and B equals C. A equals C. If Adam is the son of God in his image and likeness and Seth calls upon the name of the Lord, after being fathered in the image and likeness of Adam, the image and likeness of the son of God, who are the sons of God? The Sethites, that family of God that built itself up, calling upon the name of the Lord. In other words, it's the Church against the world. It's God's family against the family of Satan that loves power and comfort and luxury.
You can see all this, by the way, if you take an in-depth study, an in-depth look at the passages concerning the seed of Cain as it developed throughout the generations. So, what's happening? Well, we know that in the seventh generation of the wicked Cainites, Lamech became a polygamist. He started treating women like objects, taking one then two, whatever he wants. Then he started treating men like objects: You bruise me, you wound me; I kill you.
Any culture that has at its head a man like Lamech is not going anywhere but down. In contrast we have the Sethites line, calling upon the name of the Lord, right? Wrong! "When men began to multiply on the face of the ground and daughters were born to them, the sons of God (the Sethites) saw that the daughters of men (the Cainite women) were beautiful." Now just ask yourself. In your experience, what group of women tend to be more beautiful -- those who are constantly devoted to prayer and calling on the name of the Lord or those who are associated with worldly secular society, who dress to kill? Right? And religious men who go out into the streets of this world and see these beautiful woman dressed to kill often die, at least spiritually from temptation. It ain't new! The more things change, the more things stay the same.
So the sons of God, the Sethites, were beginning to look at the forbidden fruit, these beautiful Cainites; and they didn't just marry, they took to them, they took to wife such of them as they chose, implying that polygamy now enters into the line of Seth, the covenant family of God. Sin is becoming institutionalized. Marital infidelity every time, in every age of the Old Testament salvation history, is the cause, the trigger that when it's pulled, brings the curse and brings God's judgment. Sexual immorality, marital infidelity, these things go hand in hand and clobber a culture. Afterward, only a remnant survives. This is the continual pattern all the way down through Ezra and Nehemiah in the 5th Century B.C., all the way down to the coming of Christ, in fact. And here's the first instance of it. God is saying, "I will not allow the seed of the woman, the righteous family of God to become interspersed with and co-mingled and confused with the family of Satan."
Covenant with Noah
So the judgment of the flood comes and wipes out the human family except for this one covenant household family of Noah. Now I won't go into all the things that happened with Noah. Suffice to say, well you know the story of the flood and the ark and the year of flood waters. Then finally the dove is sent out and brings back the olive branch and they disembark. And Noah offers a sacrifice on an altar that pleases the Lord and that is when God makes his covenant, which is by the way, the first time that the Hebrew word covenant is explicitly used in Genesis.
God makes his covenant with Noah. Actually it's used before, but it's talking about how God will make it in the future. Here in Genesis 8 and 9, he does make it with Noah and the family under his authority. Noah then does something that we can get into later, if you have a question about it. Noah gets drunk, lies in his tent, naked. One of his sons, Ham, walks in and sees his nakedness, which is a Hebrew phrase for (get this?) for incest. Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20, verse 17, we can look at these passages in the question and answer period, but scholars Basset in Deus Testamentum and others have seen that the Hebrew idioms that are used in this story are very, very explicit in a sexual sense.
What happens? Well, as I mentioned verse 20 of chapter 9, "Noah was the first tiller of the soil, he planted a vineyard and he drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent, and Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside." Now in all cultures you refer to sexual intercourse using idioms or phrases. "Making love," what does that mean -- an assembly line manufacturing love? No. It's referring to the act of marriage, the covenant renewal. So likewise, this phrase here, "to look upon the nakedness" is a phrase that refers to marital intercourse or extramarital intercourse, as the case may be. I can get into this later. We're going to see it in fact with Abraham's nephew Lot, as well.
"Ham, the father of Canaan viewed the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away and they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him," (See that? "What his youngest son had done to him") he said, "Cursed be" -- Ham who had viewed his nakedness? No.
Later on when Noah woke up and realized what had happened, he says, "Cursed be Canaan." Why? "Cursed be Canaan, a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers. He also said, "Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem and let Canaan be his slave." What's going on here? I wish we had another hour to explain it all, but I think we could prove that what's gone on is that Ham has performed an act of incest with his mother and that the fruit of that incestuous union is Canaan.
Very coincidental that in the law of Moses, the next time we read about the Canaanites, God through Moses is telling all the people.... Remember how God brought Israel out of Egypt...this is centuries later: "God brings Israel out of Egypt and he says, 'I am going to send you into the Promised Land, the land that's supposed to be yours, the land of Canaan. When you get to the land, don't do what the inhabitants there do. They've got perverse customs.'" And then in Leviticus 18, all the perverse customs of the Canaanites are mentioned and listed. Heading is "You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father." You shall not have sex with your mother. Because the Canaanites considered this not only licit, but it was actually part of their religious worship and their fertility cults. Like father, like son, like grandson and so on. For centuries, the Canaanites practiced the same perverse incest that had spawned the founding father of the Canaanites in the first place. The exact same phrase found here in Genesis 9 is then used later on in Leviticus 20, verse 17, to speak of incest, "to look upon the nakedness of your father." So we see that the effects of sin do not end with the death of the sinner but travel down through the generations unless they are repudiated through an act of penance.
Now, what has gone on here? Well, Basset and other scholars point something out: that what Ham is doing is trying to overthrow his father Noah by taking his mother. Throughout the Old Testament, if you want to topple your father, you sleep with his wife or his concubines. David's son, Absalom did it. He drove David out of Jerusalem and the first thing he did was to publicly sleep with his father's concubines, showing that I've got the royal harem. I've got them and so, I'm in charge!
Shem, Noah's First Born is Righteous
Ham is trying to topple Noah and then later on Canaan is trying to topple Shem. In fact, the Jews believed (you can see this in the Book of Jubilees. which was a popular Jewish book in Jesus' time) that the Land of Canaan, which was the Promised Land that the Jews were supposed to enter into under Joshua, led by Moses to the border. The Land of Canaan was not supposed to be known as Canaan. It was supposed to be Shem's land, which the Shemites, the Jews, were supposed to inhabit. If you're anti-Jewish, you're anti-Semitic, because Semetic comes from Shem, the firstborn son of Noah, the righteous one who was blessed.
It would be sort of like, suppose all of you went into a deep slumber and twenty years hence you woke up, and I said, "Welcome to Saddam Huseinville!" You know What? You would need a quick explanation for why the town had been renamed, but that name would probably evoke certain suspicions in your mind. So likewise, as you read about Ham trying to overthrow Noah, you're not surprised to see that Canaan is trying to overthrow the crown prince, Shem. He actually usurps the property, the land that was intended for him.
All of this is so deep and detailed; I just want to mention it in passing because it's going to help explain why God issued a command to the Israelites to go to this land, after the Exodus, and conquer the Canaanites and take that land for your own. I am giving it to you. Now on the surface, that seems strikingly immoral, doesn't it? Well, you could say, "Well, it's God. So it doesn't matter." Well, God doesn't tell us to go around committing adultery, and since God said it, it's okay, you can murder. God said it's okay. No. What God says he says because it's just and righteous.
Suppose somebody took over your home and you were driven out. Would you be allowed to use force to reclaim your property and inheritance? Of course, if necessary. And that's why the Shemites, the Israelites, the children of Abraham are allowed centuries later to conquer Canaan because it's supposed to be the land for God's family. From Noah through Shem and then in the genealogies of Genesis 10 and 11, we discover that in between Shem, ten generations later, we have a man named Abraham -- a family genealogy tracing Shem right to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
One Big Unhappy Family Torn Apart by Sin
So all the Israelites who read this history see this as their family story. Now they see why they are not on their own family property. Now they understand why God is commanding them to go into that property and lay claim to it by force, if necessary. It's all a family affair. It's a big family feud. In other words, what we discover after the flood is that instead of restoring righteousness, the human family becomes once more one big, unhappy family torn apart by sin just as it was before the flood.
How do we see it? Well take a look at Genesis 10. There we see the sons of Ham. Look at verse 6, "The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim or Egypt, Put and Canaan." He had four kids. One little boy was named "Egypt," recognize the name? Yeah, the nation Egypt, the horrible Egyptians who held the Israelites in bondage for hundreds of years all come from the son of Ham! The Israelites say, "Ah, no wonder. No wonder. They're Hamites; they've always been trying to undermine us. It's a big family feud.
Canaan: the Canaanites are wicked because they are all old chips off the old block, Canaan. And what Ham had tried to do to Noah, Canaan and Egypt and others tried to do to Shem and his family, the family of God. And it goes on talking about this one tyrant by the name of Nimrod in verse 8, "a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore, it is said, 'Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord'. " The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, which is going to link up with the next chapter, the Tower of Babel. This mighty hunter suggests a tyrant in the Hebrew idiom, a tyrant who was defiant before God's presence. He was building a kingdom for himself in defiance of God in Babel, present day Iraq!
It goes on talking about Assyria and Nineveh. So here we have in the family of Ham: Egypt, Canaan, Babylon, Assyria and the Philistines in verse 14. In other words, the Israelites would read this and see the "Hall of Shame." They would see the worse characters in history who all raised their families to become the worst nations in history. All of these nations are the worst enemies of Israel: Egypt, Canaan, Assyria, Babylon and the Philistines are constantly trying to exterminate the Israelites in their history. They look back and they say, "What's new? That's the way it's always been. "You see how important it is to keep a strong family in the faith. Descendant of Shem is Eber, From Which We Get the Term Hebrew
Then we see further on in chapter 10, the family of God through Shem, verse 21, "Through Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber." Now who is Eber? I said, "If you're anti-Jewish you're accused of being what? -- anti-Semetic from Shem.” Now what else do we call the Jews besides Semites? We also call them Hebrews. That is derived from the name "Eber" who is the great grandson of Shem. The Jews see themselves in the line of Shem and Eber, they're Shemites and they're Eberews -- they're Eber's kids. Then you trace it down six generations further and you come up with Abraham's father, Terah.
Tower of Babel
They are saying in effect, "We're going to build a city much like Cain built a city and it's going to be a tyrannical kingdom under Nimrod at Babel." And what's the purpose of this enterprise? -- to make a name for ourselves. What's the Hebrew word for name? -- Shem. These people are saying, "We will make a 'Shem' for ourselves." What are they doing? They are repudiating the crown prince, the firstborn of Noah. They're saying, "Righteous Noah and his holy- roller firstborn Shem. They're supposed to be the ones who rule over God's big, human family? Sorry, Charlie, we're going to make a Shem for ourselves! We build a kingdom. We build a tower, built not on faith and worship but upon force and fear." And the Jews look back and say, "Babel, Babylon" because they're the same word.
No wonder the Babylonians have always been wicked tyrants destroying God's people. That's what they were from the beginning. And God scatters them. You'd think at this point, "Well maybe God is going to do another ark-type rescue mission?" You know, wipe them all out with the flood? He can't. He promised not to. He swore an oath and made a covenant never to flood the world again. So what's the poor God to do? He does something which seems rather humble and almost impossible. Instead of an ark-type rescue mission, he's going to begin the conquest of the earth through Abraham.
Descendant of Shem and Eber is Abraham
At the end of all this Shem's genealogy is listed a second time leading straight up to Abraham. Look at Genesis 12: "The Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you so that I will make of you a great nation, so that I will bless you and make your name great." What would the Hebrew be? Your "Shem" great. We just read in Genesis 11 where Abraham would see himself as being in the line of Shem. The Tower of Babel builders were trying to make a Shem for themselves in repudiating God's family. He wouldn't let them and now through Abraham, he is going to restore the fortunes of Shem's lineage. He is going to try to refurbish the legacy of God's family on earth through Shem's great, great, great, great, grandson, Abram. "I will make your 'Shem' great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and him who curses you I will curse and by you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (or shall bless themselves)."
In other words God says, "I'm not going to wipe out my family again. I am going to do the impossible. I am going to take a man in his seventies and use him to bring about a blessing that is going to encompass the whole globe. That will include the whole, one, big, unhappy family of humanity that's been torn apart by sin. I am going to bring it all back together again through the seed of Abraham."
There are three promises here in Genesis 12. First of all: "I will give you this land. Go to the land so that I can make you a great nation." The first promise is land because if you don't have land, you're not going to be a nation. You're going to be immigrants or you are going to be something worse, but in order to be a nation you need your own homeland and so I am going to give you Canaan's land which was meant to be Shem's land in the first place.
Second, "I will make your name great." Now that word '"name" besides meaning Shem, it also means in Hebrew a dynasty. It means political authority and power. He is saying in effect, "I have deposed the tyrants and now, humble, faithful Abraham, I am going to give you a lasting legacy, a dynamic dynasty through which I will bless the earth" and that's the third promise. First, land to build a nation, second, a name to have a kingdom, and third a blessing for the whole world.
What God has just done in Genesis 12 is to lay out for us the next three nights of our time this week, because when does God give Abraham's offspring the land to become a nation? The next covenant, the Mosaic covenant. When does God fulfill the promise to give him a great name and a great dynasty, a kingdom? The Davidic covenant. And when does God finally fulfill the promise to give Abraham, through Abraham's seed, such a great blessing that all the nations, all the families of the earth will be blessed? The new covenant, Jesus Christ. And the first verse of the new covenant, the New Testament is what? "This is the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham."
So you can see that through Christ God is going to fulfill his promise to Abraham. What else is interesting, I might add, is that in the next ten chapters, God makes three oaths. He swears three oaths and makes three covenants with Abraham. Now, you're not Biblical scholars and so you may not be aware of this, but three items in the next ten chapters God swears an oath to Abraham. He takes each one of these three promises and he reinforces them.
I could say, "I promise to give you all a million dollars." And you'd sit there and think, "Nice line." But if I said, "I swear to God I will and I have a cosigner by the name of Donald Trump." Well, then if I handed out checks, you'd probably hold them in your pocket. You wouldn't just throw them aside because that kind of oath reinforces somebody's word if too weak. God has given three promises to Abraham, a land and a nation, a kingdom and a name, and a blessing for all the world family.
God Reinforces Promises with Oaths, Covenants
Then in Genesis 15 he attaches an oath to the promise concerning the land, along with animal sacrifice. Then in Genesis 17 he adds an oath to the promise concerning a name, a dynasty. He says to Abraham, "Kings shall come forth from your line," and he changes Abram's name to Abraham. Then finally in Genesis 22 after Abraham had been willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, God swears an oath and he attaches it to the third promise and says, "Surely I will bless all the families of the earth through your seed." That's the way God works. He lays it out but he does so in a kind of cryptic way so that only as it unfolds down through redemptive history do we see the glory before our eyes.
Let's just step back and take a look now at how he does it. We could almost breath a sigh of relief and say, "Finally, God, instead of wiping out the world again is going to re-conquer the globe for himself and for his family." And what better place to go than Ur of the Caldeese; that's where Abraham was living, the Las Vegas of the ancient world, known for its wild but very prosperous culture, and Abraham is a rich man so you would think, "God's finally getting it on the ball." He is going to a rich, powerful city and finding a very rich, powerful man and he will say, "Get some weapons and get some money and go out there with your wealth and weapons and we are going to conquer this world. We're not going to give it over to the Nimrods. We're going to take it for ourselves."
He didn't do that. He says to Abraham there in Las Vegas in Ur of the Caldees, "Leave, leave this rich, powerful place and then go to this land that you've never been in." Leave all your family, leave all your land, leave all that real estate behind. Sarai looks at Abraham; he's in his 70s. When are we going to settle down? Find yourself a job? God said, "I'm going to bless you by having you leave your homeland, leave your family and kindred and go to a place you've never been before with all these perverted foreigners on their own turf. Rather a hard blessing.
So what happens? Well, Abraham obeys. Incredible faith! And he gets there and he probably says to himself, "Let the blessings begin!" And what does God do? Does he say, "Okay, now is the time to harness all this wealth and all your weapons and wisdom and let's go out conquering this land?" No, He immediately sends a famine. There's a famine in the land. Abram's got to leave Canaan. He's got to travel all the way down into Egypt, which is another foreign and perverse culture.
There he almost loses his life, and he ends up losing his wife because he lies like a rug. You know, he says, "She's my sister," and she is like a half-sister but he knows what he is doing. But God through, you know, some conniving restores Abraham and Sarai by sending plagues upon Pharaoh's house. It's almost like an exodus only centuries before. He sends plagues upon Pharaoh's house after Pharaoh took Abraham's wife Sarai. He restores her to him and then they come up out of Egypt enriched. And for her sake he dealt well with Abraham, and he had sheep, ox and he asses, men servants and maid servants, she asses and camels.
In other words Abraham comes up out of Egypt enriched. He's like, finally, now I've got lots of flocks and lots of servants and domestic slaves and so on. I can do some battle. But what happens when he gets up there? Look at Genesis 13. As soon as they get back to the promised land, (Abraham is probably in his late 70s at this point) it's like, "God, I'm getting to be an old man, give me a break." A family feud erupts and his nephew Lot split the family down the middle. He insists that it's just not enough land for all of them.
So Abraham like a nice, old faithful man says, "Okay, here's some land here; here's some land there. What do you want?" Lot looks at the poor land, looks at the great rich land and says, "Oh, well, if you insist, I'll take the rich land." And he does, which unfortunately for Lot ends up being the land that we now know as Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot, one of the few family members, one of the few relatives that came up with Abraham parts and takes the best land. What a stinking ingrate! I mean, he's been kind of hanging on the coat tails of his Uncle Abraham getting all this Divine blessing channeled to him through Abraham and then he kind of undermines him - - the little rat fink! It's going to come back around to him.
Then Abraham's thinking, "Well, maybe Lot wasn't part of the whole plan in the beginning, anyway. Okay, God, what's going to happen now?" All of a sudden the Promised Land becomes a major battle zone. Five kings and their armies war against four kings and their armies. Abraham steps out and just kind of watches this slaughter. This great, huge what would probably be like a world war back then with nine kingdoms warring there in that land. And he's probably thinking, Good, I hope they slaughter each other. You know, this will be great.
Then he gets news that Lot has been captured. Now if I had been Abraham, I would have said, "Serves him right, that stinker, taking the best land and leaving me high and dry." He gets captured, but no. Here's a righteous kinsman. Abraham's first response is what? -- To take 318 of his trained domestic warriors and pull off a kind of blitz attack by night whereby he routs the king’s armies that had captured Lot. He retrieves Lot and his whole family that had been taken captive and then he marches back into the Promised Land.
You'd think, now with all of this booty from all of these kings' armies, now that he has conquered the conquerors, Abraham's supremacy is unquestioned. He should come back and say, "Hey, I'm king of the hill. These kings beat those kings and I beat those kings, so I'm the greatest of the great. Now bow!" He didn't do that. Abraham, returning from the battle, finds the king of righteousness, this man named Melchizedek who is ruling in Salem, a city which later has its name changed to Jeru-salem. He goes there to Jeru-salem to meet Melchizedek and pays homage to him by giving a tithe of all the booty to Melchizedek. I mean, he can't even keep the wealth and the weapons. He gives it all away. I mean this man's got faith, but come on, Lord the guy's a senior citizen. He can't wait forever. If you're going to bless him, let's get on with it, right?
Abraham Pleads for Offspring
Finally, Abraham's faith began to crack a little bit in Genesis 15: "God says, 'Fear not Abraham, I am your shield. Your reward shall be very great.' But Abraham said, 'Oh, Lord God, what will you give me for I continue childless and this household slave Eliezer of Damascus is going to be my heir. Behold, you have given me no offspring and a slave born in my house will be my heir.' But behold, the word of the Lord came to him: 'This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.'" He promises him.
Now Abraham is like one of the men in the gospels who said to Jesus, "I believe, Lord, help thou my unbelief!" In Genesis 15:6, it says, "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned him as righteousness," but you can also see Abraham is still kind of doubting and wondering. So God adds to this promise an oath which he enacts by the sacrificial ritual. Abraham slaughters these animals; he cuts them in half and then all of a sudden God puts Abraham into a deep sleep and in his sleep he sees this vision of God passing through the animal pieces, which was an ancient oath saying, "May I be torn in two like these animals if I don't fulfill my promise covenant now to you." And the promise and the covenant oath is that - - well, put it this way -- Abraham wakes up from his sleep, goes to Sarai and says, "I've got some good news and I've got some bad news, Honey." Well, what's the good news? "Well, God has now sworn an oath to give our descendants this land." Great! What's the bad news? "Well, for the next three or four hundred years all our descendants are going to be slaves in another land."
With blessings like this, who needs curses, you know? Come on, give me a break! So Abraham is probably pacing around thinking, "What am I doing wrong?" And then like Benjamin Franklin he probably said to himself, "God helps those who help themselves." God has no hands but ours and then in Genesis 16 says, " Sarah, you're an old woman and I'm an old man. I can, but you can't. Now you've got this Egyptian maid servant named Hagar and she's not so bad." And Sarai said, "Yeah, why don't you take my maid servant and raise up a son through her?" Now that's not what God promised. Oh, Abraham could say, "You said my seed, my son." I mean technically the letter of the law might seem to be on Abraham's side, except for one thing: the marital covenant that God had revealed when he created mankind: One man, one woman. Abraham's fall is not so small. He is now a bigamist. He has taken a concubine. His trust in the Lord has waned, an Egyptian concubine, no less. Big time problems are headed his way.
But he's thinking, God helps those who help themselves. With Sarai's collaboration they go ahead and raise up a child named Ishmael, the founding father of the Arab people. Israelites and Arabs, they act like brothers, don't they? Brothers at each other's throats! Nobody fights like brothers, right? Sibling squabbles are always the worst. Well, history is nothing but a family feud, written large now, for centuries and centuries. Abraham might have made a little mistake. The sacred page is too reverent toward their ancestors to come out blatantly and say, "You sinned." But when you see that he fathers Ishmael, no Israelite needs to be told, "I kind of wish he hadn't done that." But he's thinking, "Get on with the blessings. Maybe you need my help to get things started; you know, prime the pump or whatever." So he does it.
What happens? Hagar bears Abraham a son and Abraham called the name of his son Ishmael. He was 86 years old when Hagar bore him and then all of a sudden in Genesis 17, he's 99 years old, 13 years later. Here he encounters God once more and this is where the second promise has attached to it a second oath, concerning the name and kings. So you can see here God changing Abram's name to Abraham. Can you imagine the embarrassment? I mean, Abram means "exalted father." This childless man goes around with the name "exalted father" and the people are thinking, "Poor guy." Then God says, "Hey, I want to change your name, Abram." And Abraham is thinking, "Eh, finally for a change." "I'll change it to Abraham,” meaning “father of a vast multitude."
What kind of joke is that? Then he changes Sarai's name to Sarah, which means this kind of Queen Mother. Now he's almost taunting them, testing their faith. Now again, if this is blessing, can you imagine what the curses would be like? Yet when God blesses us, isn't this the way he does it? Testing our patience and making us stronger through trials and tribulations. Sure it is.
So what does Abraham do? Verse 17: he fell on his face and laughed. He said, "Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old and shall Sarah who is ninety years old bear a child?" Lord, you know, the wrinkles on my wife's body are not from long showers, you know. She is a prune. She's not going to have a child! And then he said, "Oh that Ishmael might live in thy sight." Give us all a break, Lord. Come on, you can take him and use him. He's my seed.
"But Sarah your wife shall bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac," which means laughter because that's what you did! I'll bring you laughter. "I will establish my covenant, my family, with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." Since Abraham had said, "Oh that Ishmael might live in your sight," God goes ahead and gives a secondary blessing to Ishmael.
Second Covenant with Abraham
Now this is wonderful news. Wonderful news, a new covenant! Abraham goes back now, not this time to his wife. This time if you can imagine Abraham coming back to all of these domestic servants, all of these men in the tents surrounding their tribal chieftain, Abraham. He walks in and he's looking around and you can see all of the bunks, because he's a tribal chief and he has hundreds of men who are household servants. He walks in and they are all looking at him. "Got some good news and I've got some bad news." "What's the good news?" "Well, the good news is that God has renewed his promise with an oath, promising me not just a land and a nation but a kingdom, an empire!" "Oh great, oh that's wonderful, that's wonderful. What's the bad news; and what's that knife doing in your hand, Abraham?"
All of a sudden Abraham has to explain that the sign of this new covenant is circumcision and it isn't just for me, the ninety- nine men standing before your eyes -- ouch -- it's for all of you. "What's that?" I said, "It's for all of you." "A little louder." "It's for all of you." And there was the supreme loyalty test for Abraham's household members. They had to be circumcised as adults. Now I don't know how he generated the kind of loyalty sufficient for these grown men to consent to circumcision but somehow, apparently, he did. A rather hard blessing. I mean we think of circumcision as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant, a covenant given to a ninety-nine year old man, a year before he's supposed to father a son through Sarah. Give him time to recover from the operation. I mean, you talk about faith.
God sort of takes a rich, powerful man and says, "I am going to make you really rich and powerful." "Great, let's get started." "Okay, first, I'll make you poor -- famine, family feud, a big split between you and Hagar and all." And all of a sudden Abraham's life unfolds in tragic terms not blessed terms. Now you would think this ninety-nine-year-old man would kneel, slowly and painfully and pray, "Lord, are you ready to bless me yet?" And God says, "Well, I am ready to bless you, in a sense." And here, all of a sudden in chapters 18 and 19, he calls Abraham to become a kind of collective bargaining agent, because the word is -- well before we get to 18 and 19 -- we ought to see that these heavenly visitors come to Abraham, and they, too, have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that this time next year Sarah shall have a child. Sarah's kind of peeking and listening in. She starts laughing. And they say, “You were laughing.” And she says, "No, I wasn't laughing - God, Amen, praise the Lord ." She was laughing, so laughter will be his name, Isaac.
Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
Then, all of a sudden, the bad news: Sodom and Gomorrah, where your nephew Lot lives shall be destroyed because their perversion and wickedness have reached to the highest heavens, and God is so dismayed and disgusted. Then he says, "Oh no." And here all of a sudden, Abraham begins to beg the Lord. He says, "Look, if there are forty righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, will you promise not to destroy the city?" "Oh yes, for forty righteous, I won't destroy the city." He keeps trying to chisel the Lord down. "How about if there were thirty?" "Uh huh, for thirty," God says, "I won't destroy it." "Twenty-five?" "Okay, twenty-five." "Twenty?" "All right, twenty." "Fifteen, ten?" "All right, ten. I won't destroy it if there are ten." Abraham's probably thinking, "Well, Lot's been there a while. He's had time to kind of convert the pagans, at least a few of them." But there weren't even ten.
In fact Lot's wife and his two daughters were not thoroughly righteous, either. They were engaged to two wicked men who were citizens of Sodom themselves. So here the story unfolds in such tragic terms. Abraham has to watch as Lot and his wife and his daughters are commanded to leave the city right before it's destroyed and don't even look back or you might be destroyed. Now can you imagine poor Abraham, after all these events, he failed at his try for collective bargaining to save the cities.
Now he's kind of showing you family photos. "Here's my nephew Lot, you know the scoundrel who took the best land. Here he is just narrowly escaping, and here is his wife -- and you look -- where's the wife? Well, she's a pillar in the community, you might say. God a-salted her, so to speak. (Terrible, I'm sorry!) Then all of a sudden, Lot's two daughters who escaped with him and then fled to the caves, they thought the whole world had ended. So what did they do? They got their Daddy drunk and had incest with him. Here's Abraham saying, "Here are Lot's two kids here, Ammon and Moab." And every Israelite in history shrieks, "Oh, no! Is that where the Ammonites and the Moabites came from, the Nazis of the Old Testament set to exterminate the Jews whenever they could? The fruit of incestuous union here with Lot's two daughters. What a family portrait. What a Hall of Shame. Can you imagine, if you were one of the angels at this point looking down on poor Abraham, looking up at God and saying, "I thought you were on his side. With blessings like this, what is going on? When will the blessings begin?"
Isaac is Born
We go on. At last, finally God begins to open up the small window of heaven to pour out his blessings. Isaac is born of Sarah. Finally a blessed miracle occurs. Isaac is born and can you imagine the love and the joy -- there aren't words in the English language to capture the emotion, the ecstasy of these parents as they beheld the child they had waited a century for! What bliss; what harmony! Right? Wrong! It splits the family in two. At three years, there's a big family feud. Hagar's boy, Ishmael is beating up on Isaac. Sarah says, "You get those two out of this house, now that I've got a son. This slave boy is not going to be a co-heir along with my boy. Drive them out!" Abraham's walking around, "Oh, what's a poor man to do?" God says, "Do what she says, bigamist!"
So he does. He drives them both out. That's all he has left are Sarah and Isaac. Finally, you know, she's thinking, "Here I've been wondering when you would settle down and get a job. Finally we can retire, but with what? With one little baby boy. We're going to have to be nursing and changing diapers and all the rest in our hundreds, you know? Not exactly what you would consider a blessing, right?
Abraham is Asked to Sacrifice Isaac
Then comes the ultimate of all. The boy Isaac may have been in his teens. The evidence from the text suggests that Isaac was probably not seven or eight but probably thirteen or fourteen, maybe even older. Abraham is getting up there thinking, "Well, now I can kind of coast. Now the blessings can start rolling in. Now I can be sure that all the good things, the 'good times' are coming." God comes to Abraham, verse 1 of 22: "After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham, here I am. Take your son and sacrifice him."
Now, if that's all God had said, I know what I would have said if I had been Abraham, "Oh Ishmael, come here." I'd send out a caravan and track down Ishmael and say, "God's got a very great and holy duty for us to perform." That's not what God said: "Take your son, your only son, (Laughter) whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as an offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." You think he had it hard before. That was all duck soup compared to this. That was easy street. Now is the hardest of all.
So Abraham rose early in the morning. You'd better believe it was early -- he didn't sleep at all. "He saddled his ass and took two of his young men with him and his son Isaac. He cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, 'Stay here with the ass. I and the lad will go yonder and worship and come again to you - - we will come again to you. There you see a trace of faith ("I don't know how, but I know that God will bring this guy back.") "And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac, his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father, 'My Father,' and he said, 'Here I am, my son.' 'Behold the fire, here's the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"
"Abraham said, 'Yahweh jaera' -- God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.' So they went both of them together. When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac, his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand and took the knife to slay his son." Can you imagine? Can you believe what you're reading? What has God asked of this man? "He put forth his hand and took forth the knife to slay his son," and as he was ready to do it, "the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham,' and he said, (lickety- split, the quickest response in world history) 'Here am I.' 'Don't lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him,' (and I'll bet you he breathed the biggest sigh of relief in human history) 'for now, I know that you fear God seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.'
"And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked and behold behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns and he went and took that ram" (and he probably offered the fastest burnt offering in history.) Then he probably dashed down the hill with joy and relief. It says, "Abraham called the name of that place 'The Lord Will Provide' as it is said to this day, 'on the mount of the Lord it shall be provided."
Do you know where Moriah is? We're told exactly where it is in Chronicles 3, verse 1, because that's the place that Solomon decided to build the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem. That wasn't out in some desert. This was near the city of Salem. Psalm 73, verses 1 through 3 tell us that Jerusalem back in Abraham's day was called Salem. Why did they change the name? Because Yahweh will jaera there. And you add jaera to Salem and you come up with Jerusalem. He knew that God would provide there on Moriah, what, the Holy of Holies that Solomon would build? Something even greater.
We've got to step back and ask ourselves a question, though. What kind of God are we dealing with here? What kind of God did Abraham have on his hands? I mean, this God promised blessings and then he gave the worst hardships that you can imagine, heaping them, one upon another, making him weaker and poorer and more helpless. Why? How could he do it? What kind of God is he dealing with? The fact is, it's the same God that we deal with every day. You could say, "But how could he possibly demand of Abraham to take his only beloved son to this mountain and then offer him up as a sacrifice?" "Well, he stopped him," you could say.
I'll tell you how and I'll tell you what kind of God we're dealing with -- a God who 2000 years later -- called his only beloved son to go to that same exact mountain range, because Calvary is one of the hills on the Mount Moriah mountain range, and his only beloved son went up that hill, just as Abraham foresaw that the Lord will provide the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This time it wasn't Father Abraham stacking wood or the Roman Centurions piling a cross on the back of his only beloved son. This time when the hammer was raised and the spikes were put in his hands, there was no angel calling from heaven saying, "Stop, don't do it. That's my son you're dealing with."
Stone cold silence from the heavens as the hammer came down upon the spike and went through the hands and the feet and the cross was hoisted and went down and the only beloved, begotten Son of God was sacrificed like a lamb for our sins. What kind of God are we dealing with? A God who blesses us in a way that the world will never recognize. The God who said to Abraham: "The angel of the Lord called to Abraham" in verse 15 and said, verse 16, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord," which is a way of saying, "I swear to God says God," "because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you and I will multiply your descendants" -- and he goes on to say that all the earth will be blessed through your seed.
"The whole human family will be restored to me and reunited with each other. They'll be one family. I swear to God, says God." He pronounces a curse upon himself when he swears such an oath. He says, "I swear" (cross my heart and hope to die). Two thousand years later faithful Jews were wondering whether or not God was a liar. "God, you said 2000 years ago that you would take Abraham's seed and you would use that seed to bless the whole world, and we're slaves and the whole world is in darkness and the leaders are tyrants. What gives?"
God swore an oath, though. He took upon himself a self-curse. He said, "If I don't do it, may I be accursed." And then his Son climbed Moriah and went atop Calvary and took upon himself the curse that would unleash a flood of blessing for the whole world so that through the Catholic worldwide, universal Body of Christ, the family of God, all the nations might be regarded as children of God, not just Israel. No longer Jew and Greek. No longer slave and freemen. All of us now are called to be children of God. Jesus said, "Make disciples of all nations. I died and took the curse so that this blessing might come to the world family."
Praise the Lord. Thank God that we are a part of this family, that we receive the sacramental grace of Christ so that we can be the instruments like Abraham to bless the world. But don't expect easy street. Abraham is the father of faith and the example for us all. We are called to be a blessing. We have been blessed to be a blessing. So you can know for sure that God has given us Abraham as an example for the kind of life we must live to be that kind of blessing. And Jesus Christ endured so much more. Thank you very much.
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