Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man_34
I want to say more about Genesis 16 but I think it will make more sense if we revisit later rather than try to look too far ahead. In essence, Ishmael was fathered by uncircumcised energy. Such children can have long lives and long term consequences. We will need to understand the significance of circumcision and its institution in Genesis 17 before we can fully understand why God works this way. Watch this spot; well be back
Let me put Genesis 17:1,2 into context. It is pre-law and pre-circumcision. This may give us some valuable insights into the New Covenant, which is post-law and post-circumcision. We may even get some insights into why John Wesley called his exposition of the New Covenant, Christian Perfection. So here is a little examination of Abrahamic Perfection based on a single verse: And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (Gen 17:1 ASV).
God is about to cut a covenant with Abraham, personally. Most of this covenant will be expressed in terms of what God undertakes to do, with some very simple instructions for Abraham. We often call this the Abrahamic Covenant, but, strictly speaking, that is to get the cart before the horse; God calls this covenant my covenant. Nine times in this single chapter God refers to it as my covenant. It is an intensely personal covenant; And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly (Gen 17:2 KJV) This is not a corporate covenant of the kind that was enacted at Sinai; that covenant was not addressed to a thee but to you.Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine: (Exo 19:5 ASV) (Such vital details are one the reasons I am still using the King James Version; just temporarily, until I can find something better.) This is a between me and thee covenant.
So the Abrahamic Covenant is between just 2 persons; it is always between two persons, but we will examine this at another time. Abraham is one covenanting party, who is the other? Lets allow Him to introduce Himself. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (Gen 17:1 ASV). This is Jehovah. It was Jehovah who had first spoken and revealed Himself to Abraham. It was Jehovah to whom Abraham had raised his altars and upon whose Name he had called. It was Jehovah who had given Himself to Abraham to be his shield and exceeding great reward. Abraham knew something about Jehovah; part of Abrahams pilgrimage has been getting to know just who Jehovah is. For Abraham, each revelation and subsequent obedience has been part of the process of becoming Abraham, My Friend. One of the foundations of such friendship is the process of self-revelation. Abraham is increasing in the knowledge of who God is. At this point in his pilgrimage other attributes of the nature of Jehovah are to be revealed to him; the Jehovah who speaks now describes Himself as God Almighty. El Shaddai. Whenever God reveals Himself He does so in a manner which is significant to the individual or the event; Christs self-revelatory introduction to each of the churches of the Revelation illustrates this point.
El Shaddai; this is the first time we hear that title although it will become the title by which the patriarchs will know Him. [Exodus 6:3] I dont know that we have ever quoted the Geneva Bible in these meditations but here is a good time to start
When Abram was ninetie yeere olde and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said vnto him, I am God all sufficient. walke before me, and be thou vpright, (Gen 17:1 GB) El Shaddai, God All Sufficient. The word almighty gives the feel of physical strength, and this would fit the Hebrew which has the sense of muscular shoulders about it. The translation all sufficient includes this sense but adds the idea of strength used for our benefit rather than against us. This is not a macho-God, but an all-we-need God. Adam Clarke says that the word Shaddai is derived from the Hebrew word shadah meaning to shed, or pour out. In fact, it is almost certainly derived from the Hebrew word shad meaning a womans breast. This is God All Sufficient. The Hebrew word is in its masculine form but its origin is the picture of the all-sufficient care of a mother.
I am told that the natural focus of a babys eye is the distance between the mothers breast and her face; a baby cant feed from its mother without looking up into her face. Of course, it just the right distance to begin to hear the mothers voice too, and to learn to recognise its moods and accents. And it just so happens that its the safest place for the baby; wrapped in its mothers protecting arms. Of course, it also happens to be the position in which the baby can receive absolutely all its needs. So from this unique position the baby discovers fellowship, protection, instruction, and provision for every possible need. It seems to me that this is just too many coincidences; I think God is trying to tell us something!
I would like to share a story of true mother-love. Many years ago a Turkish man became a Christian; he came from a simple family with a simple pattern of village life. He married an English Christian who was a close friend of mine. Later he became very ill and Christians from the west arranged for various tests which confirmed that his kidneys were badly diseased; the only hope was a kidney transplant. After more tests it transpired that only his mother had the right match and she was asked if she would be willing to give her kidney for her son. It was explained that without a kidney her son would die. She never hesitated and the operation went well; the son lived. Some time later an amazing subtext to this story emerged. The simple village mother had not known that healthy people have two kidneys; she thought everyone had just one. She wasnt even a Christian
just a mother!
Let me pursue this wonderfully tender picture into the New Testament. Paul is often libelled as macho and misogynist, but on two occasions he pictures himself as a woman. The first picture is of child-bearing; My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, (Gal 4:19 KJV). Do you see that again
. How many times are you willing to go through this Paul? As often as it takes, until
The second picture is that of providing for their daily needs; even though as apostles of Christ we might have made such demands. Instead, we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own children. (1Th 2:7 ISV) The picture behind the nursing mother is of a mother suckling her own flesh and blood baby. There are many lessons to learn here. Chief among them may be that only what has passed through our own souls can ever provide food for the next generation.
To return to Genesis 17
God presents Himself to Abraham in the language of the faithful provider of all he could ever need. This is an important point. Only those who have had such a vision could ever receive such a commission. The culmination of Gods word to Abraham will be be thou perfect. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Dictionary defines this word perfect as follows;
1) complete, whole, entire, sound
1a) complete, whole, entire
1b) whole, sound, healthful
1c) complete, entire (of time)
1d) sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity
1e) what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact (neuter djective/substantive)
To this breathtaking concept of Abrahamic Perfection we need to add the observation that the verb here is be not do. God is not requiring of Abraham a single perfect act but a life which is perfect. Impossible, you cry. Well, yes, it would be if that had been the start of the commission, but it isnt. and be thou perfect is the consequence of something else; it is the effect not the cause. In my old KJV the last clause reads; and be (or become) thou perfect.. And implies that something came before what follows. My point is that in this context God did not simple say become perfect; He said do something and become perfect. Do what?
walk before me This is the most common Hebrew word for walk being used over 1500 times in the Old Testament. How would you define walking? Well its not complicated, just put one foot in front of the other. Now do it again with the other foot. Now if we say walk we seldom get the cry its impossible; we know we are being asked to make a start and an uncomplicated start at that. We can be overcomplicated with simple Bible concepts. Heres an even easier explanation of the word walk. Take a single step. Good, Now take another one. Why should we cry impossible? Even a babe can learn to walk; even a babe still dependent upon its mothers milk can do this. (in simpler cultures weaning took place much later than in our western ones, usually around 2 or even 3 years.)
But what step should I take? The Hebrew preposition before is really the Hebrew word for face. It is often translated before or in the presence of. It is a Hebrew idiom. In this picture it is someone in eye-contact with the person who is directing their steps. I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee. (Psa 32:8 ASV) Notice, those thous again. You wont remember, but this is the way your mother taught you to walk. She got your attention, fixed her eye on you, opened her arms and said Come, and you walked. If you had stopped to work it all out, you would have cried impossible, I dont do walking. Did you never read that you must come as a child? This is why children make such astonishing progress; they dont know they cant so they do. I remember teaching my children to jump into the swimming pool. I cant they cry. Come on, says Dad, Ill catch you. I cant says the child, Come on says Dad Ill catch you. He jumps, hes caught, I did it cries the child. He has done what he couldnt do because he believed his father. Simple isnt it?
Abraham is to be accountable to God alone; walk before me. He carries no law written in stone, but He is required to hear Gods voice and obey it. The Law cannot get a grip on him; he is outside the Laws power and demands. His way to Abrahamic Perfection is simple and unique. There is no familiar path made clear by habitual walking. There is no list of does and donts; just an insistence upon personal communion, step by step obedience, and a moment by moment dependence on God All Sufficient.
This whole, impossible, life style can only be sustained as we live in the power of the revelation. It begins, as always, with Gods initiative; the revelation of who He is. He is Jehovah-Jesus whom you have known and who has already opened your eyes to wonderful things. But He reveals Himself now to thee in a new way as God All Sufficient. You have never seen Him before like this, but you know He is all you could ever need. He commissions you to walk in His presence, with your eyes in mutual contact; in fellowship with Him. He commands it; His commands are His en-ablings. Its impossible? To whom?
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. (1Th 5:23-24 KJV)