Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man_35
A Covenant with Abraham
I have opted for the title above very consciously. We often speak of the Abrahamic Covenant but this covenant was very narrow in its inception. Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said unto him
I will make my covenant between me and thee. (Gen17:1 KJV) This is not a general covenant into any may choose to add themselves; it is a me and thee covenant. I am back to my preoccupation with pronouns! The terms of the covenant, however, are very precise; not me and you plural, but me and thee singular. It was my covenant between me and thee. It had a future perspective in that it included a promise to multiply thee exceedingly but the whole focus is a private covenant.
Abrahams response is to fall upon his face: [Gen 17:3] and God talked with him. In the following verses it will be well to remember the relative physical positions of me and thee. We are not told whether the God who appeared to Abraham at this point was standing or sitting, but we are told most carefully the position of Abraham; he is on his face. Neither is this a conversation as previous appearings of God to Abraham have been; there is not single word spoken by Abraham. It is not conducive to conversation to have one of the partners face down on the ground. Take a moment to picture the scene.
We have seen Abraham giving himself to God in the symbol of burnt offering. We have seen him build his altars and set his face to do the will of God. But here Abraham is speechless in worship. Here God talked with Abraham, but Abraham did not respond with words but by falling upon his face in abject surrender and worship. The main Hebrew word for worship means just this; to prostrate oneself before another. The word is first used of Abrahams greeting of the strangers who arrived at his tent door in Gen 18:2 but it was at the cutting of this covenant that this first record of worship is found.
It is all the more remarkable because it came after a silence of thirteen years. The something must be done philosophy of Sarah and Abrahams passive consent had resulted in Ishmael. Ishmael was the product of uncircumcised flesh; naked human energy untouched by the knife. This is power without the cross; carnality. At first sight it is a much more effective solution than waiting Gods way and time, but the lasting consequences are devastating and though God may even be prepared to bless it He will never own it; His covenant can never be with an Ishmael.
Gods behaviour towards Abraham at this point in time is that of an absolute ruler and Abrahams response is that of His conquest. Here is a biblical illustration of ancient practice; Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and made him king in his father's stead in Jerusalem. Joahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign; and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. And the king of Egypt deposed him at Jerusalem, and fined the land a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. And the king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. And Neco took Joahaz his brother, and carried him to Egypt. (2Ch 36:1-4 ASV) It tells the story of the disintegration into chaos of the kingdom of Judah following the premature death of Josiah. Josiah died because he didnt believe that God would speak to him through the mouth of an enemy; let him who hath ears to hear
[2 Chro 36:22] He died at the hands of Pharaoh Necho and the people crowned his son as king. The unnecessary battle with which Josiah had involved himself resulted in Judah coming under the control of Egypt and Necho demonstrated his absolute power by imprisoning the legitimate king; installing that kings brother as puppet-ruler and sealed his total domination of the moment by changing Eliakims name to Jehoiakim.
A name is a very personal possession. It is not accidental that one method of controlling people is to give them numbers instead of names. The Tibetans believe that to know someones name enables you to control that person. They are given a secret name, known not even to themselves, and at death their ceremonies use the secret name so that no daemonic powers can steal the soul at the last moment. It is an interesting, although hopelessly twisted, insight. To change a persons name is to demonstrate absolute ownership. Within a very short time Egypts power waned and Babylon became Judahs puppet-master. Ultimately Judah was taken captive to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar who stamped his authority upon his new subjects; Now among these were, of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And the prince of the eunuchs gave names unto them: unto Daniel he gave the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego. (Dan 1:6-7 ASV) I sometimes think this is why we love to define things; we think it gives us control over them.
While on his face, in total submission to his liege lord, Abram receives the name by which we have known him through these devotional meditations; Abraham. Names, particularly those used by God of Himself or of others, have great significance. Gods names are revelations of His character, never simple labels. When He gives new names to people it is always highly significant and marks a new starting point for that person; Abraham, Israel, Jeshurun, Peter. His name is changed from High Father to Father of a Multitude. After thirteen years of silence and Abrahams fond watching of Ishmael it must have come as something of shock. Abraham had been contentedly watching young Ishmael, thinking him to be the beginning of the fulfilment of Gods promise I will make of thee a great nation [Gen12:2]. Suddenly God breaks into his peaceful presumptions, and completely ignores the object of Abrahams current affections. It is as though Ishmael had never happened. This is probably what provoked Abrahams cry; And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! (Gen 17:18 KJV) It is Abrahams only request in the whole event.
There is something of a pattern in Gods dealings with Abraham which may help us to see things from Gods perspective. It had begun with a promise twenty five years earlier in Genesis 12; 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: (Gen 12:2 KJV). I wonder how often Abraham turned this promise over in his mind? It came without explanation of how it would ever be be accomplished. There is an old English harvest hymn which begins
The sower went forth sowing,
The seed in secret slept
Through weeks of faith and patience,
Till out the green blade crept;
Sometimes God plants a seed promise into our heart long before it germinates. It is always folly to try to hurry Gods processes. God had many things to accomplish in the life of Abraham before His time would come. God would have to strip away many invisible things on which Abrahams life was built. The secret is not to measure the progress but to obey the voice; For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (Hab 2:3 KJV) If God has spoken, keep your heart in peace, it will surely come, it will not tarry.
Then, in our pattern, we move forwards many years and God appears to Abraham. How often, in these devotionals, have we said it must all begin with Gods self-revelation? Jehovah appeared to Abram. [Gen 17:1] His time has come. He will breathe something fresh into Abraham. Did you notice that in the change of name for both Sarai and Abram God simply adds a letter? It is the Hebrew letter He (ה, or h). It is the aspirate. Did you know that God can change the nature of something simply by breathing into it? Of course you did; And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen 2:7 ASV) We must be sure to distinguish between the promise and the breath; the first guarantees the second, but the first remains but a promise until the second is accomplished.
This is a familiar OT theme. Ezekiel saw a valley of bleached corpses and was commanded to prophesy to them. What was his prophesy? It was a promise; And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord Jehovah, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. (Eze 37:3-5 ASV) The prophecy seems to have had its own effect; So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and, behold, an earthquake; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. (Eze 37:7 ASV) There is often a lot of noise and an earthquake or two between the promise and its fulfilment; be sure not to confuse the one with the other. But the reality is unmistakable; Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. (Eze 37:9-10 ASV) Ah, it was not the promise but the breath that made the difference between death and life.
As a result of Gods exhalation something happened to Abraham. And here we see a thrilling glimpse of Gods perspectives in time; As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. (Gen 17:4-5 ASV)
. (Gen 17:4-5 ASV) Notice the order of the tenses; thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Thats the future tense. but thy name shall be Abraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee. (Gen 17:4-5 ASV) Thats the past tense. Let me run the ideas together; thou shalt be what I have made thee. This is why we get so many frustrations in Christian experience; we exhaust ourselves trying to be what God has not made us. But when God breathes into us life begins and things impossible to Abram become gloriously possible to Abraham. Romans 4 speaks of Abrahams body being dead and the deadness of Sarahs womb. In fact it was Abram and Sarai who were dead until that Divine aspirate. It is the breath that makes the difference. Abraham became what he had been made;