Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Three examples of faith in God
Nearly 4000 Years ago God made some very remarkable promises to a man named Abram who lived in Ur of the Chaldees, a city in Mesopotamia near the river Euphrates where most of the inhabitants were idolaters.
The promises were as follows: Now the LORD had said unto Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”. (Gen. 12:1-3)
Let us look closely at these clauses in this composite promise which Yahweh made to Abram. One that would act as a good incentive, particularly in Abram’s case, was the promise, “I will make of thee a great nation”. To Abram this would sound very good news because his wife Sarai was barren. (Gen.11:30)
In spite of this, Abram believed that his wife would have at least one son that would begin the process of developing his descendants into a great nation.
The second promise – “I will bless thee” – is surely much to be desired, coming as it did from the Creator of the human race. A list of such blessings for those who would be obedient to Him were later detailed in the book of Deuteronomy. (28:3-13)
These were applicable to Abram’s descendants who had been brought out of the land of Egypt. They included having a healthy family, good increases in flocks and herds, successful crops, an abundance of food and safety from dangerous enemies. In short they would enjoy prosperity throughout their lives.
The following two clauses – “And make thy name great and thou shalt be a blessing” – would be appealing even though their fulfilment would be unknown. He as a blessing was fulfilled later when he and his men and his friends went to the rescue of his nephew Lot and others from the clutches of marauding kings bent on plunder (Gen.14:16).
Abram’s greatness was also acknowledged by neighbouring landowners when he requested a burying place to buy for Sarah who had just died. They addressed him with the words, “My Lord: thou art a mighty prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchres bury thy dead” (Gen.23:6).
Lastly, the far-reaching extent of the blessings was also described, “In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”. This clause does not mean that everyone will be blessed: it applies to those who are ‘in Abram’ – those who copy Abram’s faith and seek to understand the meaning of the promises. Details of these have been revealed little by little, down the ages until New Testament times. The Apostle Paul, when writing about the curses contained in the Law of Moses, revealed that Jesus Christ has redeemed us from them adding, “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ: that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal.3:14). This means that these blessings would be granted to Gentiles as well as Jews through Jesus Christ who has provided the necessary sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.
The apostle Peter also, when addressing the Jews about the Lord Jesus declared, “Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:26). Peter’s declaration shows that these great promises have to do not only with material blessings but with spiritual ones too. This ‘turning away from iniquity’ implies a return to a righteous life of faith in God to be rewarded with eternal life in the age to come.
Eternal salvation for Abram and his faithful descendants was, in fact, inferred when he was sojourning a little later in the hill country of Canaan. The details are given as follows: “And the LORD (Yahweh) said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever… Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Gen.13:14-17).
Here was a clear promise, made to Abram that he would one day inherit that land for ever. It was inevitable that he would die in the normal course of events. Therefore God must have purposed to raise him from the dead at some future time in order to fulfil this promise. There was no scope for believing that Abram was being promised some vague possession in heaven. Nothing could be clearer than that Abram was being promised not only eternal life but also an inheritance of the land on which he then walked.
However, these great promises could only be realised if Abram complied with the initial command to leave his country, his kindred and his father’s house and make the journey to an unknown land that God would show him. It appears that Abram’s family was closely knit because of their marriage arrangements. Abram had married his step-sister, and his brother Nahor had married Milcah the daughter of his other brother Haran (Gen.11:29).
Abram had admitted on a later occasion to the king of Gerar the situation concerning Sarai his wife saying, “And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife” (Gen..20:12). It is suggested that the reason for these unusual marriages was that the women of their neighbourhood in the city of Ur, being idolaters, were quite unacceptable as wives and there appeared to be no other alternative.
Abram, having decided to obey the command, gathered alltogether and journeyed north-westwards for some four hundred miles along a caravan route as far as Haran. There he and his company stopped for a while to rest. Later Abram renewed his journey to Canaan leaving his father Terah in Haran, so fulfilling God’s command.
Twenty years and more passed by and still there was no sign of promised descendants. When Abram requested an assurance that he and his descendants would inherit that land, the LORD made a covenant with him as described in Genesis ch 15, “In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’’.
After many years, when Isaac, the son of promise was born and had grown to early manhood, God appeared again to Abram, now called Abraham, with another command to test his obedience, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of” (Gen.22.2). The following verses describe the details of the preparation for the journey to Mount Moriah. In spite of the heartache and the inexplicable nature of the command, Abraham showed every intention of obeying, trusting that God was able to restore Isaac again to life in such a way as would enable him to fulfil all His promises. Without delay, then, together with Isaac and two servants, he went to Moriah and prepared for the sacrifice. So it was that at the last moment, when Abraham was about to slay his son, God stayed his hand calling out to him NOT to slay his son. In the event, a ram caught in a thicket was found which was offered in Isaac’s stead.
In this prophetic episode the part played by Isaac needs to be considered. Here was a lad strong enough to carry a bundle of wood on his shoulder for a mile or so. He was therefore strong enough, if he so wished, to resist his father binding him with cords and laying him on a pile of wood in preparation for sacrifce. This shows that Isaac, in submitting to these proceedings, exhibited full obedience to his father Abraham.
No wonder God, in glowing terms, rewarded Abraham (and indirectly Isaac) for his remarkable obedience. “By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen.22:16-18).
Abraham’s obedience and Isaac’s submission are a wonderful type of the way that God, as the Father of another obedient son, would one day provide the propitiatory sacrifice in a sinless man, our Lord Jesus, to take away the sins of the whole world (1 Jn.2:2).
Abraham’s son Isaac continued to dwell in the land of Canaan and at the age of 40 Abraham secured a suitable wife for him from among his God-fearing family then living in Mesopotamia. After a while twins were born to them, Esau being born first about an hour or so before his brother Jacob. They were not identical. The difference of their characters showed up later when on one occasion, when Esau was very hungry, Jacob was able to persuade him to sell his birthright for a bowl of lentils.
It was after this incident that the LORD appeared to Isaac to promise him similar blessings as he had to his father saying, “Dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father, and I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen.26:2-5).
Some years later when Isaac was about 120 years of age and had become blind, he prepared to bless his eldest son Esau. However, Rebekah was sure that the blessing should be Jacob’s (see Gen.25:23) and contrived to deceive Isaac into blessing Jacob instead. It appears that Jacob was willing to acquiesce and deceive his father and so obtained the blessing. This included the far-reaching promise originally made to Abraham, “cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee” (Gen.27:29). However unethical we may view this transaction of Jacob and Rebekah, it is evident that they all believed that what God had promised he was able also to perform.
Because of Esau’s anger at losing the blessings, Jacob had to leave home immediately. Isaac took the opportunity to instruct Jacob to seek a wife from among his family living in Padan-Aram. If successful, this would ensure the preservation of the worship of the one true God in the family.
On the way God appeared unto him in a dream in which Jacob saw a ladder which reached up to heaven. At the top of it the LORD appeared and gave him a promise virtually identical with the one Abraham had also received saying, “I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen.28:13-14).
Jacob subsequently married four wives and had twelve sons and one daughter. At the close of his long life he pronounced a blessing on Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh saying, “…the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen.48:15-16).
Finally, we could add that God so highly appreciated the faith and obedience of Abraham that he counted it to him for righteousness (Gen.15:6). The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans draws particular attention to this graciousness of God towards Abraham, he writes, He “was strong in faith giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness (Rom.4:20-22).
“Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification”. (Rom.4:23-25)
Bro. Ralph Green (Torquay, U.K.)