Summary: Abraham receives a staggering promise from God and believes it. God counts it for Abraham's necessary righteousnedd
The Life of Abraham, Part 5: You’re Going to be a Dad
In the last lesson, God had given a great victory over those who had captured his nephew Lot. In this episode, Abraham had met this shadowy person named Melchizedek, one greater than Abraham who blessed him for his belonging to the Most High God, the Possessor of Heaven and Earth. Lot returned to Sodom for a short while and Abraham returned home.
The journey of Abraham is part of God’s great and unfolding drama of the redemption of creation and the human beings he had created in His image. The final conclusion of this redemption will occur in the kingdom of God, a land God has reserved for his people. Here they will have eternal life, a life marked by its quality as much as its unending duration. We will then have fellowship in strife less love with each other and with God. We shall realize the fullness of being the children of the most influential Being in the universe.
Exposition of the Text.
In this lesson, we shall see further development of God’s promise to Abraham. Yahweh appears to Abram in a vision and promises to protect Abraham’s life as well as reminding Abram that God was his great reward. His reward was to be far greater than the stuff that human beings lust after. This is more than material blessing, even though God had blessed Him in that way.
Abram recognizes who has appeared to him and instead of addressing Him by His name Yahweh, but rather by His tile as Lord God. It is almost the response of a child about to ask his father for something. He emphasizes the relationship he has with his father. In this case, Abram addresses God as his superior and himself as God’s client. This implies a contractual obligation between benefactor and client. The benefactor was honored in return for his obligation to take care of his client. So this tells us that Abraham is reminding God of His promises to Abraham. He had heard the promise of his having children and was asking God after many years when he might expect this to happen. This is understandable because Abraham was in his eighties at this point and Sarai his wife past seventy. ‘he reminds God of the obvious. He had no heir, not even Lot who had left. Was he going to have to leave all his goods and promises to a foreigner, his servant Eliezer of Damascus? Surely God meant more than that.
God answers Abraham’s inquiry by giving Abram more clarity on the promise. Neither Lot nor Eliezer was the heir. God says that Abraham would physically become a father and not an adopter of an heir. Here is the first direct promise of a physical descendant. And this seed would become himself the father of many. He led Abraham outside and asks Abraham to count the stars if he could. He had earlier compared Abraham’s descendants as being more than the dust of the earth. I don’t know how many stars there are. I surely cannot count them. But God did not just make a little promise to Abraham. What Abraham was asked to believe was simply staggering. From Abraham’s current situation it would seem impossible.
How does Abraham respond to this promise? It says that Abraham believed God. And it says that God counted this belief for righteousness. The New Testament brings out the staggering implications of this verse. In particular, Paul in both Roman’s and Galatians make much of this statement.
Paul saw this verse as the very foundation of his argument that we are justified by faith alone and not by works. This promise was seen as a gift to Abraham from God and not a reward for Abraham’s good works. Abram is declared righteous in this passage simply on his believing the promise God had given to him. We can see from Abram’s life so far that he was not perfect. And we shall see down the road that he was not perfect then either. The promise Abram received was God’s free gift to Abram which is called grace.
It is important to understand exactly what grace means. If a person works hard for an employer, he receives his paycheck as a contractual obligation. One earns a paycheck. In no way can a person who has worked for the paycheck be seen as having been “graced” with a paycheck. If we were to use this language to describe one’s receiving a paycheck in would be saying that the man god paid anyway, even though he was lazy and did not really earn it. Paul takes pains to tell us that our salvation in Jesus Christ is a gift of God and not of works. This is one of the most revolutionary ideas that has ever come down to us. It is a staggering promise which is just as staggering as the promise given to Abraham that he would be the father of countless descendants despite his age.