the divine arch of human redemption (6)
THE PATRIARCHS (CONTINUED) – THE EVENTS AT MAMRE
In our last chapter under this heading, we referred to that quality of mind which distinguishes all men of God from the generality of mankind. It is characterised by a sensitivity to all things Divine and a readiness to obey God, come what may, in response to His Great Love wherewith He has loved us, and quickened us together with Christ. This is amply demonstrated in the life of Abram. We left him in the plain of Mamre near Hebron, where God attested the promise of eternal life in the everlasting possession of the land of Canaan by the cutting of a covenant as graphically described in the manner indicated in Genesis chapter 15 which we briefly considered.
Whilst still at Mamre and when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared and spoke to him again concerning this great covenant and the certainty of it’s fulfilment. In token of this, the name of Abram was changed to Abraham. Intrinsic in the covenant was the promise that he should become “the father of many nations” and his new Divine name means, “Father of a multitude”. Sarai, Abram’s wife had her name changed at the same time to Sarah, meaning “Princess”. In so doing, we see how God caused them as the progenitors of God’s people, natural and spiritual, to become by their very names, living witnesses of His unchangeable purpose as expressed in the terms of His Covenant. Abraham is the father of the people of God, through whom the purpose of God would be made manifest. Sarah as the mother of all those who, by faith, are to become the Bride of Christ, whom God “hath … Exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour” (Acts 5:31) – and therefore his Princess.
THE ORDINANCE OF CIRCUMCISION
In addition, the ordinance of circumcision was given to Abraham and his seed after him in their generations. This was a command of great significance in relation to our subject.
Not only was it a further token of the covenant made by God, but by its nature, was a constant daily reminder of what was expected by God in the cutting off of the flesh on the part of the individual in order to obtain the promised blessings. But, like the Divine institution of sacrifice, that of circumcision without faith was a mere formality, the value of which lay in it’s spiritual significance rather than it’s outward performance. Though incumbent upon every Israelite from Abraham to Christ, it was valueless, unless accompanied by a circumcision of the heart made manifest not only in belief, but in daily repudiation – the cutting off – of the works of the flesh.
It is this fact which makes us realise that only those who are so circumcised in heart can inherit the promises. Whilst the physical ordinance has been replaced by the rite of baptism, we do well to remember that likewise this too is a public renunciation of the flesh – and all it represents. It is the means by which we are inducted into Christ in whom the flesh was crucified and sin removed. The way into the paradise of God was re-opened by this means, and access to the Tree of life made possible for us if we, in our daily lives, crucify the flesh with the lusts thereof and walk in ‘newness of life’ exhibiting the mind of the Spirit.
We take note therefore that circumcision, in the fulness of it’s significance was a foreshadowing of the redemptive work of Christ and of the effect such knowledge would have in the daily life of the intelligent Israelite, as baptism is now a type of that same work in retrospect to the intelligent Christadelphian. In neither case was, or is, the mere performance of the physical act of efficacy in itself. It is what is kept in the mind and what ensues from that, which is crucial. These facts in relation to Abraham and his seed concerning the subject of the atonement are of great import as the Scriptures make clear. They reveal to us that it was in the year after Abraham was circumcised that Isaac was born. Abraham was then a hundred years old, and Sarah ninety. It is quite evident therefore that Isaac was a very special child. Not only was he born as a result of direct action by God upon his parents, returning to Sarah “according to the time of life” (Gen 18:14), thus making it possible, but his conception followed Abraham’s circumcision, signifying the cutting off of the flesh with it’s thinking and lusts.
In all this we see how Isaac was a Type of Christ. THE MAN who was to be born by Divine intervention, by whom the diabolos was not only to be overcome, but completely cut off. It is in the knowledge of these facts and what they portended that the importance of the words of God to Abraham relative to Isaac are appreciated. When Hagar and Ishamael her son and Abram’s were cast out (a matter of considerable concern to him), God said, “let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said to thee hearken unto her voice, for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Let the reader at this point reach for Elpis Israel and read the section entitled, “The Allegory” found in Chapter 2 of the second section of the book. The exposition will enlarge the mind and make clear that only when the bondage of sin and death is removed by the antitypical son of her who was free, can God’s purpose be consummated, all of which is elemental in the subject of the Atonement.
In the second of these studies, we made the observation that the whole scheme of human redemption was devised by God, put into operation and superintended at all times by Him. Here in Isaac we see some of the evidences for that statement. Abraham was fully aware of all the principles of salvation as portrayed in Type. With him, as with all the faithful men and women of all ages there was a discernment between formal, though necessary divine observance, and what those observances represented. They looked forward beyond their day to the manifestation of the one great sacrifice, the Lamb of God, the firstling of the flock, the seed of the woman. They looked to the one who would bruise the seed of the serpent in the head by his perfect sacrifice, and so provide the means by which resurrection from the dead to a life no longer subject to all the trammels of sin, would be possible. So it was that Jesus himself was able to say, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it and was glad” (Jno 8:56).
It was these vital matters which formed the mainspring of their faith and hope. They were fundamental to their understanding of the way of salvation from the time of righteous Abel right down the generations of faithful men to our own day. To these principles were added the Things concerning the Kingdom of God. These were intrinsic to the promise of God to Abraham: “Lift up now thine eyes and look from the place where thou art, northward and southward, eastward and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it, and the breadth of it, for I will give it unto thee.” (Gen 13:14-17).
Here is a vast estate, real, literal and tangible; here is Omnipotent power harnessed to a predetermined purpose. A sublime plan formulated by God, perfect in design, and certain of attainment. Abraham was under no illusions as to it’s meaning. He did not look for paradise in regions beyond the realms of time and space. Such fanciful dreams formed no part of his faith, however much the world around him, as now, deluded itself. The substance of Abraham’s faith was too “down to earth” for such credulity. God does not give what He has not promised; but what he has promised is as certain of fulfilment as His very Existence. Moreover the nations of the earth, all of them, were to be blessed in him and his seed (singular); the whole earth was to become heaven-like – as the Garden of the Lord – and “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14). All this, with a revelation of the means by which it would all be achieved, formed the substance of the gospel preached to this great patriarch.
GOD’S PERFECT PLAN OF REDEMPTION
Now was revealed to him the manner of the man who should accomplish the work essential for the plan of redemption. Here were seen, portrayed in the birth of Isaac, the distinguishing features of the Redeemer, additional to those already etched out. The saviour would be one of Abraham’s race, but his birth would be of God, not man, as a direct result of God’s will. He would be one in whom sin, and all it entails, would be cut off. So “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”. Moreover the record states: “Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him” (Gen 21:2).
How wonderful the words of God are! All goes according to plan; no errors, no miscalculations. Centuries later the Apostle Paul tells us: “but when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal 4:4,5).
So all the work of God in redemption is in perfect order and control, as also in the final scene of the drama: “because (God) hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained” (Acts 17:31). This is the same, the very same, man; for he is the one who took away sin by the sacrifice of himself that the whole long saga could be successfully concluded. Here in him is the plan complete in all it’s details.
A TEST OF FAITH
Some twenty years or so after these events, when Isaac was in early manhood, God saw fit to test Abraham in a manner which would exhibit to all – for it is a living witness – the quality, intensity and scope of that faith which rightly designates him as the father of the faithful. As we endeavour to project ourselves into the situation revealed to us in Genesis 22, we can only marvel at the control Abraham had over himself, so readily and without demur to hasten to obey the command of God. So that we may in some measure appreciate the severity of the trial, we must remember Abraham’s special circumstances. He had been promised by God – and at a time when he and Sarah were childless and in extreme old age – that he should become the father of a nation countless as the sand for multitude, and (what was a still higher and nobler blessing) that the promised seed of the woman which was to bruise the serpent’s head would spring from his loins. For it was to be in him that all nations should be blessed. When the fulfilment of this promise had become impossible to all human calculation, Isaac, in whom was predicated the realisation of all these expectations, was born. The great joy and happiness occasioned to his parents by the event is reflected in the name given to the boy – Isaac, signifying laughter in the sense of elation.
ISAAC CENTRAL TO ABRAHAM’S HOPES
This then was the situation of the patriarch at this time; all his hopes and anticipations, his very life indeed, all concentred and predicated upon his, his only son; for in him alone the furtherance of God’s purpose rested.
The Apostle Paul, commenting upon the mind of Abraham just prior to this time, states: “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Rom 4:18-21). Now, after having his faith realised, with all that was intrinsic to it, the command of God comes to him: “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).
From a purely human standpoint the command would appear to frustrate completely and dissipate for ever all the joyous anticipations bound up in the precious promises of God. Moreover the terms of the command appear as though by deliberate intent to be directed to the very heart of Abraham. Nothing that could more agonise or break his heart could have been included in that dreadful sentence: “thy son, thine only son Issac (the child of promise), whom thou lovest … Offer him … For a burnt offering”. What pathos! What terrible and dramatic words these are! But what follows is equally remarkable: “And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him” (Gen 22:3).
Here is displayed the implicit obedience which distinguishes the great men of God. How plausibly might he have stayed and pleaded with the Almighty! Had he not done so before? When Lot and his family were in Sodom he had asked, “Wilt Thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? … That be far from thee to do after this manner” (Gen 18:23,25). How plausibly might he have stayed to consult with Sarah! Was Isaac not her special treasure too? How plausibly the human mind in the circumstances of the case could have reasoned that God did not really mean what He said! The serpent mind in the beginning had easily succeeded in so doing. But with Abraham the direct unequivocal word of God demanded immediate action, and this to him was all-sufficient to overrule every objection and silence every complaint.
Here is seen the power of the spiritual mind of the natural. What a lesson to us all! Had Abraham’s whole mind not been stayed solely on the Lord he surely could not have passed through such a searching, white-hot crucible of faith and not been melted in the midst of it. His immediate response, however, reveals his singleness of mind and strength of character. It was the psalmist who said, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep Thy commandments” (Ps 119:60); and it is the Apostle Paul who tells us, “But when it pleased God … To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Gal 1:15,16). So it was with Abraham.
The moment we begin to prevaricate or fall back on human judgement, our testimony and service are marred. The Truth, God’s Word, is all or it is nothing. He requires truth in the inward parts. There may be much truth on the lips and much in the intellect, but God looks for it in the heart as it is made manifest in action. The ways of God are truth and righteousness, justice and love; and even where we may not discern these attributes through human frailty they are most surely there, and we may not question God’s wisdom, authority or prerogative: “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1Sam 15:22).
All these principles are exemplified in Abraham. “Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Gen 22:4,5). I would venture to suggest that there are few things better able to concentrate the mind than a journey taking three day’s travelling at walking speed. That the objective before Abraham must have loomed ever larger as the small company journeyed forward goes almost without saying. That he would have had ample opportunity to have turned around and gone back from whence he came seems evident. His resolve must have been set like flint to go forward to the accomplishment of that which had been commanded, holding fast the profession of his faith without wavering.
But when we carefully reflect on what is recorded, we perceive that it was not only the sacrifice of Isaac that was the objective. Abraham said, as they reached Moriah, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you”. For the present we leave the matter there. We will rejoin Abraham in our next installment and see how, as in a parable (for that is how the Apostle Paul describes it), the whole wonderful episode exposes the atoning work of Christ in all it’s details.