SECTION THREE - ABRAHAM
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT Gen. 14-17
THE NORTHEASTERN KINGS.
Abram apparently lived in comparative quiet and security in Mamre for several years after Lot departed from him. Archaeology has confirmed that, during those early years of Abram in Canaan, all the lands from Syria through Sinai were peaceful and fruitful.
Then, however, the calm was broken, and broken severely, as a great northeastern confederation of kings swept through the land, devastating everything in their path. This was a new and serious danger and, humanly speaking, could easily have destroyed Abram and his possessions and left Gods promise utterly broken.
The confederacy consisted of the kings of Shinar (Babylonia), Ellasar (the leading tribe in southern Babylonia), Elam (the original kingdom of Persia), and Goiim (translated "nations," but probably a tribe of northeastern Babylonia).
At this time, of course, kingdoms were still small, probably not much more than city-states; so these invading armies were not comparable to those that invaded Palestine in later times. Nevertheless they were fierce and cruel and could well have destroyed all the inhabitants. Archaeology has revealed, as is well known, that such invasions and destructions were common all through the Middle East, as each tribe sought to obtain for itself the most desirable lands and mineral resources. This particular invasion probably had as its goal the rich metal deposits of the region.
Because of the difficulty in identifying the kings, and also because their invasion route did not seem to follow the usual trade routes through the region, scholars at one time thought this whole story to be fictitious. In recent years, however, further exploration has unequivocally confirmed its historicity. Dr. Nelson Glueck, the leading Palestinian archaeologist of modern times, has said:
After the cities of the plain had been under tribute for twelve years, "in the thirteenth year they rebelled" (verse 4). This is the first occurrence in the Bible of the number "thirteen," and it is interesting that it should be associated with rebellion (as it often seems to be throughout the rest of Scripture).
The result of this ill-considered rebellion was that it precipitated Chedorlaomers destructive invasion. Apparently, he not only directed his bitterness against the Jordanian cities, but against all others in the region.
I found that every village in their path had been plundered and left in ruins, and the country-side laid waste. The population had been wiped out or led away into captivity. For hundreds of years thereafter, the entire area was like an abandoned cemetery, hideously unkempt. Pp. 72-73 Nelson Glueck
ABRAM PURSUES AND OVERCOMES THE 5 KINGS Gen. 14:13-16
This is the first time this word occurs in the Bible, where it is a title used of Israelites either by foreigners or in speaking of them to foreigners, or in contrast to foreigners. After the exile of the Ten Tribes, when the tribe of Judah (Yehudah) remained the principal branch of Israel, the name Yehudim (translated Judaioi, Judaei, Juden, Jews) came into general use. The Rabbis, also modern scholars, are divided as to the origin of the name Hebrew. Either the word is to be connected with EBER and signified a descendant of Eber; or it means one from the other side, in accordance with the statement, "And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River (Euphrates) Joshua 24:3. It is also claimed that the name is identical with that of the HABIRI, a nomad people mentioned in the Tell-el-Amarna Tablets, as making war upon the Canaanite towns and population.
Abram by this time was practically a king, or at least a tribal chieftain. From his retinue, he was able to gather 318 men, all of them trained in his own household, to pursue the kings and to rescue Lot. It seems probable also that a number of the Amorites went with him.
In any case, their total numbers were surely no match for those invading armies who had already overwhelmed many armies much larger that the contingent following Abram. The odds were no doubt quite comparable to Gideons 300 battling later against 135,000 Midianites (Judges 6:7; 8:10). But God was with them, as He was with Gideon; and that was more than enough.
Quite probably, the returning armies were relaxing and enjoying the spoils of war, and the idea of a sudden nighttime attack was absolutely the remotest thought from their minds at this time. Those of the invading armies that had not been slain no doubt straggled back to their homelands as best they could, amazed at this unexpected end to what had been until then a mighty wave of conquest. Small wonder that no mention of this battle has yet been found on any of the Babylonian or Elamite inscriptions; ancient kings were accustomed to recounting only their victories. Defeats usually left them either dead or in slavery. Abram himself would not boast of such a victory, because he well knew that it had come from the Lord, and not from his own exploits.
The name is given to the place by anticipation. Formerly it was called Leshem (Joshua 19:47) or Laish (Judges 18:29). It is in the extreme North of Palestine.
MELCHIZEDEK, KING OF SALEM Gen. 14:17-24
Melchizedek ("king of righteousness"), pr. N. Melchizedec, king of Salem (Jerusalem), and priest of Jehovah, Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4. Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon Gesenius
In the light of recent excavations, every reasonable doubt as to the authenticity of the account of Melchizedek is removed. Among the Tell-el-Amarna Tablets are letters to the Egyptian government, written in the fifteenth pre-Christian century by the vassal king of Jerusalem, or Urusalim. Like Melchizedek, he was a priest-king.
In Genesis 14:17-24, we have one of the most intriguing stories in the Bible, that of Abrams encounter with Melchizedek, king of Salem, and "the priest of the most high God." This fascinating individual is referred to nine hundred years later by King David(Psalm 110:4) and one thousand years later than that by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:6,10; 6:20; 7:1-21), where he is mentioned by name no less than nine times!
There is no question that Melchizedek must at least be a marvelous type of Christ. The passage in Hebrews draws many analogies between the two to this effect. But that fact in itself hardly explains the remarkable things revealed about him.
Certain questions suggest themselves:
If Salem, his city, is actually the same as Jerusalem, as most scholars are convinced, then both the Bible and archaeology indicate it to have been inhabited at this time by the Jebusites, one of the Canaanite tribes from whom it was eventually taken by David (II Samuel 5:7). There is no reason to suppose the Jebusites were different in their paganism from the other Canaanites; so it hardly seems likely that Melchizedek could have been a Jebusite But how otherwise could he have become king of Jerusalem?
Furthermore, how did he come to be recognized as Gods priest, especially by Abram? Abram had been called to go to Canaan to establish a new nation that would be true to God. Abram recognized
Melchizedek as his spiritual superior, giving a tithe to him; so why was not Melchizedek himself chosen to establish such a nation? The priesthood which he represented was later acclaimed as superior to the Aaronic priesthood established in Abram. Melchizedek also recognized himself as superior to Abram, because he gave him his blessing, though he recognized also that God had already blessed Abram in victory.
The problems are compounded when we find the Holy Spirit, almost a millennium later, through King David, speaking of "my Lord" (Hebrew adonai) as "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:1,4). Melchizedek was not alone as a non-Levitical priest; there was an "order" of Melchizedek, and this order was an eternal order!
The commentary in Hebrews adds the information that Melchizedek was "without father, without mother, without descent [genealogy], having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually" (Hebrews 7:3). The same writer strongly stresses the superiority of Melchizedek to Abram, as well as to the Levitical priests who descended from Abram. He also notes again the fact that it was witnessed of Melchizedek (that is, in Psalm 110:4) that he did not die.
LETS ATTEMPT TO ANSWER THE QUESTIONS:
There is an ancient Hebrew tradition, which of course would not have been affected by the passage in the Book of Hebrews, that Melchizedek was actually the patriarch Shem, still alive during Abrams day. Assuming there are no gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 11, Shem would have lived until thirty-five years after Abrahams death, so that this would be possible. The name Melchizedek would, in this case, be regarded as a title rather than as an actual name. It does not seem unreasonable to imagine that, after the Dispersion at Babel, Shem might have moved, under divine guidance, to the place where God would one day establish His temple. As the custodian of the patriarchal records, he could then have transmitted them to Isaac after Abrahams death. This would also help explain why there was no document entitled "the generations of Abraham." Terah, according to Genesis 11:32, continued to live in Haran for sixty years after Abram had left for Canaan, and therefore also was still alive at this time. Isaac was thirty-five years old when Terah died and forty-five when Shem died, again assuming no gaps in the genealogies.
One could then interpret the eternal priesthood as referring to the order of Melchizedek, rather than to Melchizedek himself. That is, the line of the promised Seed, from Adam through Shem to Judah and finally to Christ, would represent the priestly order of those who, in their generations, were Gods representatives manward and mans intercessors Godward. The first "priest" in this order, Adam, had neither father nor mother, nor was he born. The last, Christ Himself, had no descendants, nor does He have an end of life.
The one other possibility is that Melchizedek was not only a type of Christ, but was actually Christ Himself, in one of His preincarnate appearances. Although this interpretation is not without its own difficulties, it does seem to harmonize most naturally with the doctrine of verbal inspiration and the principle of literal interpretation.
Both thoughts have great possibility but only the student of Scripture will decide the issue. Remember "We see in part, and know in part". As the Apostle Paul states.
THE WORD OF THE LORD Genesis 15:1
One of the grandest concepts of human thought is that of the Word. Man is distinguished from the animals primarily by his ability to formulate and communicate ideas. His capacity for intelligible, abstract, symbolic language, both written and spoken, is unique in the world of living creatures.
The source of such a remarkable ability can only be divine creation. As a matter of fact, the very purpose of language is that God might communicate His will to man and man might respond in praise to God. Since man was created for fellowship with God, and since fellowship requires communication, it is essential that the Creator somehow speak to man.
Gods Word to man, therefore, is of unique importance; there is nothing else comparable in all Gods creation. "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (Psalm 138:2).
The concept of the Word of God includes both the written Word, Holy Scripture, and the living Word, the Theophany of God. After the Word was made flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ, and after He died and rose again, He proclaimed: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending" (Revelation 1:8). He is the sum of all that can be communicated. Alpha and Omega are, of course, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the language chosen by God in which to inscripturate His new covenant with man. This proclamation seals the oneness of the written and living Words.
"After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15:1). Not only does this remarkable verse contain the first mention of "word," but it also introduces for the first time in Scripture the words "vision," "shield," and " reward." Even more significantly, this is the first of the great "I ams" of Scripture.
Many of the great claims of Christ began with the words "I am.":
In fact, His very name is "I am that I am" (Exodus 3:14).
I want to take you back to Page 2 of this section.
"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad."
The day of Christ is His sacrifice of His body (the bread) and blood (the wine) this replaces the need for a animal sacrifice any more. (Hebrews 9:12-26).
Jesus said to the Jews: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad" (John 8:56). When they questioned how Abraham could have seen Him, He simply answered: "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). They recognized this claim as a claim to be God Himself, and immediately tried to stone Jesus. But, the truth Abram had seen Him! It was probably this very occasion to which Jesus referred, when He first identified Himself to Abram as the self-existing God, the One who was able and willing to supply every need in time and eternity.
"Fear not!" came the word of the Lord. This is not the first time the word "fear" occurs in Scripture, but it is the first time "fear not" occurs. Once before, "the voice of the Lord God" is mentioned, and it was that voice that caused Adam to "fear" (Genesis 3:10). This points up the striking contrast between Adam and Abram:
For the believer, Christ is both protection from all harm and provision of all needs. He provides our "shield of faith: (Ephesians 6:16)-indeed the "whole armor of God," so that we can "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might" (Ephesians 6:10,11). He is also our "exceeding great [literally abundant] reward.". We need not be enriched with the wealth of the kings of the East, because "he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20).
ABRAM PRAYS FOR A SON - THE SIGN OF THE THREE FOLD SACRIFICE Gen. 15:1-21
15:3 ONE BORN IN MY HOUSE
My servant. It is noteworthy that Abram does not think of Lot as his possible heir; he had returned to Sodom.
Once again, therefore, the Lord renewed His promise. Before, He had said Abrams seed would be as the dust of the earth. Now, He says they will be as the stars of heaven (Genesis 37:9-11). Not only does this imply a great number, but perhaps also that the sphere of activity of the promised seed in the eternal ages will be both on earth and in heaven (Revelation 7:3-10).
Now, once again we have a first mention, this time of the word "believe." Abram "believed God and he counted [or imputed] it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). Here is the great principle of true salvation, set forth for the first time in the Bible. Not by works do men attain or manifest righteousness, but by faith. Because they believe in the Word of God, He credits them with perfect righteousness and therefore enables sinful men to be made fit for the fellowship of a holy God. In this verse is also the first occurrence of "imputed" (Hebrew chashad) and the first occurrence of "righteousness" (except in the name "Melchizedek"; also, a similar word, though not the same, was applied to Noah, in Genesis 6:9, translated "just"). The whole vocabulary is new, because here is a new covenant. In Noahs case, "grace" comes before "righteousness"; In Abrams case, "faith" comes before "righteousness." The one stresses Gods sovereignty, the other mans responsibility. Both are true and necessary. (Eph. 2:8,10)
This wonderful verse, Genesis 15:6, is quoted in three epistles of the New Testament (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23); and in each it is stressed that Abraham was a type of all who would ever be saved, the principle always being that of salvation through faith unto righteousness.
God then renewed His promise also to give Abram the land. Abram responded by asking for a sign. By this time, Abram surely believed; so this request was not made in doubt. It was, rather, an inquiry, seeking fuller explanation and assurance as to details. God in grace granted his request, by means of a most remarkable ceremony.
One each of the five acceptable sacrificial animals (cow, sheep, goat, pigeon, dove) was to be slain by Abram and laid on the alter. The slain animals were placed in two rows, one bird in each, along with a half-portion of each of the other animals. This arrangement was evidently intended to conform to the custom of the day, when a covenant was made between two parties; each would pass between the two rows, as a sign that he was bound by the terms of the contract. The intimation perhaps was that, if he broke it, the substitutionary death of the animals would no longer be efficacious and he himself (or possible his cattle) would be subject to death. Following this, presumably, the animals would either be roasted and eaten or else simply consumed by fire.
After Abram made the preparations, however, nothing happened during the rest of the day, and finally the sun went down. The delay possibly symbolized the fact that, although Gods covenant would be sure, its accomplishment would take a long time. In the first place, Abram himself would have to wait many years for the promised seed. Even then, it would still be many long centuries before the seed would become a great nation and possess the promised land, and many millennia before the ultimate fulfillment would take place, with all nations being blessed through the nation of Abrams seed.
During the wait, as could be expected, Abram had to drive off the birds of prey that tried to devour the carcasses. This experience no doubt symbolized the attempts of Satan to thwart the plans of God, plus the need for alertness in the believer in order that the enemy not succeed.
Finally, however, the vision took a new turn. As darkness descended, Abram fell into a deep sleep, with "an horror of great darkness upon him." This could only symbolize death itself, from which Abram was to be delivered by Gods covenanted grace. In the case of the nation sired by Abram, it also symbolized their long tribulation in Egypt before they could inherit the promised land. Perhaps ultimately it also symbolized, as Adams "deep sleep" had symbolized, the death of Christ and the glory that would follow.
God said they would be in an alien land 400 years, a round number which was later seen to be exactly 430 years (Exodus 12:40). This was indicated to be equivalent to "four generations," perhaps since men were still living to be one hundred years of age and older as a general rule at that time. That is, among those leaving Egypt after the captivity would be old men whose great-grandfathers had been among the seventy Israelites who entered Egypt.
Then, when it was dark, a smoking firepot and flaming torch, representing Gods presence in the covenanted relation with Abram, passed between the two parts of the sacrifice. Only God passed through, not Abram, denoting an unconditional promise on Gods part, not dependent on Abrams fulfilling his part of the contract, since he had no such part. It was all of God, in response to Abrams believing faith. In order for God to keep His covenant, there must first be suffering, with glory following.
15:15 SHALT GO TO THY FATHERS
The death of Abram is predicted in one of those remarkable passages which seem to prove that the Hebrews were not unacquainted with the doctrine of immortality. Here the return of the soul to the eternal abodes of the fathers is, with some distinctness, separated from the interment of the body. That both cannot be identical is evident; for while Abraham was entombed in Canaan, all his forefathers died and were buried in Mesopotamia. (I Samuel 28:11-16; St. Luke 16:22-31).
ISHMAEL AND THE ARABS Gen. 16:1-16
Abram and Sarai, realizing what was happening in the aging of their bodies, began to feel that they must somehow intervene to help God out in the accomplishment of His promise. This is an all-too-common experience for believers. "God helps those who help themselves," as the motto goes. Failing to see God work as soon as we think He should, we begin to feel that He is waiting for us to do "our part" before He will do His. We then devise various plans and programs to get it done, only to find it is all in vain, and in fact we probably do more harm than good. This was now the unhappy experience of Abram and Sarai.
By this time, Abram was eighty-five years old, and Sarai seventy-five (note Genesis 16:16). Her maid, Hagar (an Egyptian girl, perhaps acquired during their stay in Egypt), was, in effect, her own personal property. Thus any children that she might bear to Abram would legally belong to Sarai (See Page 3 Introduction section Code of Amraphel), in accordance with the customs of the day.
Sarai probably imposed heavy tasks upon her, Sarah our Mother acted sinfully in thus ill-treating Hagar, and also Abram in permitting it; therefore, God heard her affliction and gave her a son who became the ancestor of a ferocious race that was destined to deal harshly with the descendants of Abram and Sarai (Nachmanides)
That Hagar was perhaps less blameworthy than the others in this unhappy situation is indicated by the way the Lord dealt with her. Hagar had started home to Egypt, but the journey through the wilderness was bound to be too much for her. Consequently, the "angel of the Lord" met her and constrained her to return to Abram. The Hebrew word, like the English angel, originally means Messenger and is applied to any agent or messenger of God. The phrase angel of the Lord, however is sometimes used to denote God Himself. This is the first occurrence of this phrase in the Bible, and the context indicates (verse 13) that this "angel" was indeed the Word (Memra) of God, that is, another preincarnate appearance of the Messiah.
The Lord addressed Hagar by name. Though He had called Abram and had given him special promises for a special work, He is interested in every individual, including Hagar and the child she would bear. It had not been Gods will for this union between Abram and Hagar to take place; but now that it had, He would make a gracious promise to their descendants. He promised Hagar a son, and even gave her the name for him, Ishmael, promising him also an abundant progeny.
God also foretold the nature of her son, that he would be, literally "a wild ass of a man," one who would be perpetually in conflict with others, dwelling "against the face of his brethren." The long history of the Arab peoples, who are descended from Ishmael, is an obvious commentary on the fulfillment of prophecy.
AN EVERLASTING COVENANT Gen. 17
The next thirteen years are passed over in silence, so far as the record of Scripture goes. It would have been easy to forget Gods covenant promise. Abram was prospering financially, Ishmael was growing into young manhood, the land was at peace, and Abram had apparently given up all hope that he and Sarai would have a son of their own.
God had not forgotten, however, and in the fullness of time, He would bring it to pass. As the time drew near, it was important that the promise should be refreshed in their hearts and minds. On four earlier occasions, God had spoken His covenant to Abram (Genesis 12:1-3; 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:5-21), although He used the term "covenant" (Hebrew berith) only once (15:18, outlining the boundaries of the promised land). Here in chapter 17, however, God uses the term "covenant" no less than thirteen times! The adjectives attached to the word are significant. Nine times it is called "my covenant," three times it is called "an everlasting covenant," and once it is called "the covenant betwixt me and you." In every case, God Himself was speaking. In Genesis 15:18, it had been stated simply that "the Lord made a covenant with Abram."
17:1 I AM GOD ALMIGHTY
Hebrew El Shaddai; Compare Exodus 6:3, and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty. The derivation of the Divine Name, Shaddai, is uncertain. The usual translation Almighty, is due to the Vulgate (the Latin version of the Bible). The realization of Abrams hopes must often have appeared dim and distant to him. Here he is reassured: nothing is impossible to God Almighty. Shaddai has also been derived from a root to heap benefits ; and it would then mean Dispenser of benefits; the Friend who shepherds the Patriarchs and will preserve them from all harm. God had already made His covenant with Abram; He was now ready to put it into force.
ABRAMS NAME CHANGED TO ABRAHAM Gen. 17:1-8
God again promised to make Abram a father of many nations, and then changed his name to Abraham ("father of a multitude") instead of Abram ("exalted father") in token thereof. God stressed also that His covenant was not only with Abraham, but with "thy seed after thee," as an everlasting covenant. Specifically He said that Canaan would be an everlasting possession; so it is clear no action on the part of Abrahams descendants can ever permanently sever the land from them.
"I will be their God." Though many have gone astray, and the history of Abrahams seed has been long and sad, there has always been at least a remnant in every generation that continues to worship and obey the God of Abraham.
God here established a visible seal and sign of His covenant relation with Abrahams physical seed. Those males who would participate in the covenant not only must be descended from Abraham in the line of promise through Isaac (verse 19), but also must be circumcised. This requirement was to apply not only to all male children born into the family, but also to those coming into the household as servants, along with any children born to them. This aspect of the covenant was to be "everlasting" (verse 13).
17:10 THIS IS MY COVENANT WHICH YE SHALL KEEP
The meaning is not that the Covenant is to consist in the rite of circumcision, but that circumcision is to be the external sign of the Covenant. As the following verse declares, it shall be a token of a covenant, just as the rainbow was the token of the covenant with Noah. And even as the rainbow had existed before Noah, the rite had been practiced among other peoples before Israel.
Back to the name change of Abram to Abraham. AB means father; and RAHAM, the second half of the new name, is an Arabic word for multitude. The change of name emphasized the mission of Abraham, which is To bring all the peoples under the wings of the Shechinah (God).
SARAIS NAME CHANGED TO SARAH Gen. 17:15-27
After the instructions concerning circumcision, God also gave Sarai a slightly changed name, Sarah (meaning "princes"). For the first time, God now said specifically that Sarah would be the mother of the promised seed. As the mother of kings, therefore, it was appropriate for her to be called "princess." Twice, God said: "I will bless her." She had been barren all her life, and was now ninety years old; so it would take a very special blessing for her yet to have a son. When God said she would be a "mother of nations," He apparently meant Judah, Israel, and Edom.
17:17 AND LAUGHED
The Targum renders and rejoiced, to imply that he laughed for joy, not from incredulity. What follows would accordingly not be a question, but an exclamation of surprise. That it was not a laugh of doubt is evident from the fact that God gave him no rebuke, as He later did Sarah when she laughed (Genesis 18:13). The questions which Abraham asked likewise were not in doubt, but in wonder and happy amazement.
Then he remembered Ishmael, and it seemed as though Gods new promise would cut Ishmael altogether out of His favor. He therefore interceded for Ishmael, desiring God to bless him as well.
17:18 ISHMAEL MIGHT LIVE
This prayer that, though Ishmael is excluded from the spiritual heritage, he may yet live under the Divine care and blessing of God.
THE ANSWER: IS IN TWO PARTS.