The Faith of Abraham
Abraham is a significant person in Bible history. He believed the promises of God and he is the father of those who have the same kind of faith today. I hope that this Bible study will help you to understand the life of Abraham and enable you to walk in the footsteps of his faith.
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1) The Life of Abram/Abraham
2) God's Promises to Abraham
3) The Faith of Abraham
4) God's Promises to Us
5) Faith like Abraham
6) Extra: Abraham and Jesus
7) Extra: Abraham's Experience of God
1) The Life of Abram/Abraham
You'll find the account of the life of Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:11. Here are some key points for a quick read - Abraham's age is in brackets.
- From Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran - Terah moved north from Ur (now south Iraq) to Haran (now Harran in Turkey near Syria) with his family. This included Terah's son Abram and wife Sarai and Abram's nephew, Lot. (Gen 11:27-32)
- Haran to Canaan (75) - God spoke to Abram with several promises including possession of the land Canaan, many descendants and God's blessings. He moved south with Sarai and Lot to Canaan. They spent some time in Egypt during a famine and then return to Canaan. (Gen 12:1-20)
- Abram and Lot separate - Abram and Lot separated because their households and livestock were increasing. Lot moved to the valley near Sodom, Abram settled at Hebron in the hill country. Lot became entangled with a battle between local kings and was kidnapped with his family. Abram came to his rescue and then had a strange encounter with a priest called Melchizekek. (Gen 13:1-14:24)
- Covenant ritual - God spoke to Abram again and renewed his promises with a dramatic ritual. (Gen 15:1-21)
- Ishmael is born (85-86) - 10 years after God's orginal promise Sarai got desperate because she had no children and offered her servant Hagar to Abram. Hagar gave birth to Ismael who was Abram's first son. (Gen 16:1-16)
- Covenant sign of circumcision and name changes (99) - God appeared to Abram again, renewed the promises and gave the covenant sign of circumcision. God also renamed Abram (=exalted father) to Abraham (=father of a multitude) and Sarai to Sarah (both=princess) and said that Sarah would bear a son called Isaac. (Gen 17:1-18:15)
- Lot escapes destruction of Sodom - God revealed to Abraham that he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham pleaded with God because Lot lived in Sodom. Angels rescued Lot and his family from Sodom before it was destroyed - Lot's wife died in the process and he was left with his two daughters. Abraham had a brief stay in Gerah. (Gen 18:16-20:18)
- Isaac born (100) - When she was 90, Sarah gave birth to Isaac who was Abraham's second son but the heir to God's promises. Unfortunately, Hagar and Ishmael were sent away and lived in the wilderness of Paran. Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech. (Gen 21:1-34)
- Sacrifice of Isaac - Surprisingly, God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac on mountain in Moriah. God intervened at the last moment as Abraham was about to kill Isaac. After this test of faith, God renewed his promises to Abraham. (Gen 22:1-24)
- Death of Sarah (137) and a wife for Isaac - Sarah died at age 127 in Hebron and Abraham buried her in the cave of Machpelah in a field which he bought from Ephron the Hittite. Abraham sent his servant back to his family at Nahor near Haran to find a wife for Isaac. God guided the servant who then brought back Rebekah who married Isaac. (Gen 23:1-24:67)
- Abraham's later years and death (175) - After the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah who bore him several children. He died at age 175 and was buried by Isaac and Ishmael in the cave of Machpelah with his wife Sarah. (Gen 25:1-11)
Note: In the rest of this study, I refer to Abram/Abraham by his better-known later name "Abraham".
God's Promises to Abraham
God made promises to Abraham many times during his life. These promises formed a covenant.
Gen 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The Land of Canaan
- Go...to the land I will show you - The story began even before Abraham left Ur and continues when he was in Haran - God simply told him to go to the land that he would show him. (Acts 7:2-3, Gen 12:1, 15:7, 24:7)
- all the land that you see I will give it to you and to your offspring forever - When Abraham arrived in the land, God showed him it to the north, south, east and west and promises that it would be an everlasting possession for him and his offspring. (Gen 12:7, 13:14-15, 17:8, 24:7)
- walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you - God encouraged Abraham to walk through the land to get to know his possession. (Gen 13:17)
- To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates - This is the extent of the promised land - there is also a list of the groups of people currently occupying the land. (Gen 15:18-19)
- Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. - This surprising information let Abraham know something of the timescale before his offspring would possess this land - over 400 years in the future!! (Gen 15:13, Acts 7:6-7) God was waiting for an appropriate time to bring judgment on the sinful Amorites who would be occupying the land (Gen 15:16, Exodus 23:23-24, Lev 18:3, 27, 20:23, Deut 9:5, 1 Kings 21:26).
- Fulfilment - The Israelites eventually entered the land under Joshua and the largest geographical occupation was during the reigns of David and Solomon (map). Unfortunately, due to their disobedience and idolatry, Israel lost the land and went into exile. God, however, remembered his promises and the remnant of the Israelites (now called Jews) returned to the land which has been occupied off and on by them over the centuries. Present day Jews believe that the land is rightfully theirs because of these promises.
Blessings and a great name
- When God blesses people, he promises and makes good things happen to them. These good things may include provision, protection, possession, productivity, peace, God's presence, success and also spiritual and eternal blessings. God is the source of blessings, but we can be agents of his blessings by praying for the recipients and by our actions which bring about the blessings. When we bless God, we worship and praise him.
- and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse - God promised to bless Abraham and make his name great - this is proved by the fact you are reading this Bible study now about 4000 years after he lived! God promised that Abraham would be a blessing to other people - both personally and through his offspring. There was also a promise of returned blessing to those who blessed Abraham and a curse for those who dishonoured him. (Gen 12:2-3)
- And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies - This is a promise of victory for one or all of Abraham's offspring (Gen 22:17).
- I will make of you a great nation - God promised that Abraham would have many descendants - his offspring would be as many as the dust of the earth, the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore! (Gen 12:2, 13:16, 15:5, 22:17)
- Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him - God promised that this would be an everlasting covenant for all generations of the offspring of Abraham (Gen 17:7, 19) through Isaac (Gen 26:3-5) and eventually through Jacob (Gen 28:13-15, 35:10-12, 48:3-4).
- to be God to you and your offspring after you - Yahweh/El Shaddai promised to be the God of Abraham and his offspring (Gen 17:1, 7-8)
- and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations - This was now a much larger promise which included many other nations as well as the nations who would biologically come from Abraham through Isaac (Gen 17:4, 6). Abraham is also a father to those all over the world who share his faith (Rom 4:16-17).
- and kings shall come from you - This promise was also applied to Sarah and later to Jacob (Gen 17:6, 16, 35:11). There were, of course, many kings of Israel and Judah this promise may also include the King of Kings (Matt 1:1)!
- in your offspring shall all the nations (or families) of the earth be blessed - Through one of Abraham's offspring, the blessings of Abraham would spread to the families and nations of the world (Gen 12:3, 18:18, 22:18). The New Testaments identifies this single offspring as Jesus (Acts 3:25-26, Gal 3:8-9, 16). And so the promised blessing to Abraham comes to those from many nations who believe in Jesus and share the faith of Abraham (Gal 3:9, 14).
- Fulfilment - Abraham had 4 types of offspring:
1) Natural, biological offspring who do not inherit the covenant - These are the offspring of Abraham through Hagar (Ishmael etc) and Keturah (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, Shuah etc.). Also the offspring of Esau who sold his birthright and lost his blessing to Jacob. These became many nations and kings. (Gen 17:20, 21, 25:1-4, 12-18, 31-33, 27:22-23, 36-40, 36:1-19) Many Arabs trace their ancestry back to Ishmael.
2) Natural, biological offspring who inherit the covenant - These are the offspring of Abraham through his son Isaac and Isaac's son Jacob(=Israel) and all of Jacob's offspring through his 12 sons. This became the nation of "Israel" which divided into two kingdoms "Judah" (2 tribes) and "Israel" (10 tribes). The people of the kingdom of Israel were exiled by the Assyrians and lost. The people of the kingdom of Judah were exiled by the Babylonians during which time they became known as "Jews" (from Judah). Eventually after about 70 years, the Jews returned to their land. (Gen 26:2-5, 28:10-22, 35:9-15, Ex 2:24, Lev 26:42-45)
3) A single biological offspring through which the nations of the earth would be blessed - This is Jesus Christ whose mission on earth brought the blessings of Abraham and salvation to peoples of many nations. (Matt 1:1, Gal 3:14, 16)
4) Offspring who share the faith of Abraham - These are the Jews and Gentiles in the world who are children of Abraham because they have the same kind of faith as Abraham. These believe in Jesus as their saviour and lord. (Luke 3:8, Rom 4:16, 17, 18, Gal 3:7-8, 14, 16, 28, 29)
Confirming the Covenant
- Cutting a covenant - Covenants with oaths (swearing) and promises were very important in Bible times. One way for two people to make a covenant with each other was to cut animals and then walk between the pieces declaring their covenant promises to each other. The thinking was: "May the same thing happen to me as happened to these animals if I do not keep this covenant". People could also use this ceremony to make their promises to God (Jer 34:18-19).
- God and Abraham - In Genesis 15, a covenant ceremony is described. God instructed Abraham to set up the animal pieces (Gen 15: 9, 10). Then Abraham went into a deep sleep and God spoke to him making his promises (Gen 15:12-21) and only God passed between the animal pieces as a fire pot and flaming torch (Gen 15:17). The expression "make a covenant" also means "cut a covenant" (Gen 15:18).
- One-sided covenant - This was a covenant with promises only made by God - Abraham was not required to make any promises or do anything! This was a covenant of unmerited grace and the only response from Abraham was to believe God's promises. (Rom 4:16)
- God swore by himself - At a later date when Abraham was tested and nearly sacrificed Isaac, God swore by himself and further confirmed the covenant. This was because for God there is no greater name to swear by and his oath guaranteed the covenant (Gen 22:15-18, 26:3, Luke 1:72-73). And so we can also depend on the promises of God (Heb 6:13-18).
Sign of the Covenant
- Circumcision - More than 14 years after the covenant ceremony, God introduced circumcision as a part of the covenant. This was a requirement at 8 days old for all the males in Abraham's family to mark them out (Gen 17:9-14, 22-27, Acts 7:8). It was continued through Abraham's covenant offspring and became part of the law of Moses (Lev 12:2-3, Exodus 12:48, John 7:22) and even today Jewish boys are still circumcised. At the time of Jesus, it was combined with naming (Luke 1:59-60, 2:21). Muslims are also often circumcised.
- A sign - Signs are used to help remember the covenants with God. For Noah it was a rainbow (Gen 9:12-17), for Abraham it was circumcision (Gen 17:11), for Moses and the Israelites it was the sabbath (Exodus 31:13, 16-17). Apostle Paul is very careful to explain that circumcision was introduced some years after God confirmed his covenant with Abraham (Rom 4:11-12).
- Christians and Circumcision - The first Christian believers were Jews as was Jesus. Eventually the gospel was preached to Gentiles (non-Jews) by Peter (Acts 10:34-48), Paul (Acts 13:44-52) and others. When Gentiles adopted the Jewish religion, they kept the law of Moses and were often circumcised. Some early Christians assumed that when Gentiles became Christians they should also keep the law of Moses and be circumcised (Acts 15:1, 5). There was an important meeting with Paul and the church leaders in Jerusalem where this matter was discussed - the outcome was that Gentiles who became Christians were not obliged to keep the whole law of Moses or be circumcised (Acts 15:1-21). Paul also addresses this issue in some of his letters (Gal 5:6). Paul circumcised Timothy who was considered a Jew because he had a Jewish mother and Gentile father (Acts 16:1, 3) but not Titus whose parents were both Gentiles (Gal 2:3).
The Faith of Abraham
God's covenant with Abraham is an illustration of the grace of God. The promises and blessings were given purely because God chose Abraham - he only needed faith. This is very different from the covenant of law with Moses where the blessings are promised with conditions of obedience. This is why we are children of Abraham - not Moses!
- Chosen and called - Abraham was chosen by God to bring about his purposes (Gen 18:19). Abraham came from a culture that believed in many gods and it is remarkable that he had an encounter with Yahweh, the true creator God. Like many people in the Bible, God called Abraham. (Acts 7:2-4, Gen 12:1)
- Going to the land - The faith of Abraham was first illustrated when he set off towards a land that God would show him (Gen 12:1-2, Heb 11:8). God didn't appear to give him too much information - it was one step at a time. Abraham's obedience to the word of God and his actions showed his faith (Heb 11:8).
- Possessing the land - Abraham spent his life wandering around in the land of promise believing that it would belong to him and his descendants. He lived in tents and never settled and only owned one field with a cave that he bought as a burial ground (Heb 11:9). God eventually let him know that his descendants would actually possess this land more than 400 years later! By faith he was able to believe God even though he did not yet see the outcome of the promise - this is an illustration of this well known definition of faith:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)
For Abraham this was not about trying to believe in or imagine something in the present. It was about believing the promise of God for something that was going to be there in the future. He died in faith but having seen only with the eye of faith knowing that he was part of God's big plan (Heb 11:13).
- Having many offspring - Abraham and Sarah were quite old (75 and 85) when he had his first promise about having many offspring (Gen 12:2, 13:16). This promise was a challenge of faith for Abraham and Sarah because they had no children and there seemed to be no way to have many offspring and to bring blessing to the nations of the earth. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations as he had been told (Rom 4:18). They used Hagar to try to fulfil this promise their own way (Gen 16:1-2). However, this was not God's way and eventually 25 years after the original promise when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 they had Isaac who was the offspring of the promise and from whom came the many descendants (Rom 4:19, 20-21, Heb 11:11-12).
- A testing time - One of the most surprising events in the life of Abraham is when God asks him to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:1-2, Heb 11:17-18)! Abraham's faith is so great that he obeys and is just about to kill Isaac when God intervenes (Gen 22:11-12). Abraham believed that whatever happened, God was all-powerful and would achieve his purposes in whatever way he wanted including raising Isaac from the dead (Rom 4:17, Heb 11:19).
- Eternal perspective - Abraham had a much bigger perspective than just the land he was walking on. By faith he looked forward to a permanent city designed and built by God (Heb 11:10, 16). This describes the future new, heavenly Jerusalem which is our final destination (Heb 12:22, Rev 3:12, 21:2-3, 10). Abraham's faith was not limited by his life and difficulties here on earth but he was able to appreciate the much bigger plan of God extending into eternity.
- Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.(Rom 4:3) - There are two kinds of righteousness in the Bible:
1) Human righteousness by good works - This is a simply doing good deeds, being moral, kind, honest etc. so that other people consider you to be a righteous person. Although this kind of righteousness is good, it does not reach God's perfect standard and so cannot save you.
2) God's righteousness freely given to us and received by faith - This is unearned, undeserved righteousness which enables us to appear perfectly righteous in God's sight (counted or credited as righteousness). Only with this righteousness from God can we be saved. Another description of this righteousness is being "justified". Abraham had such faith in God that it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6, Rom 3:28, 4:9, 13, Gal 3:11).
- Faith is not a work - Faith in the promises of God is not a work. It is simply believing that God is faithful. If someone offers you a free gift and you receive it and say thank-you, you are not earning the free gift but simply accepting it (Eph 2:8-9). This is the kind of faith which Abraham had and which we can have.
- Faith with obedience - Having believed God's promises and being counted as righteous, Abraham then did certain things - for example he set off from Haran to a place where God led him, and he went with Isaac to a mountain in order to sacrifice him. These actions of obedience illustrate Abraham's faith in God and his promises (Gen 22:18, 26:5) - this is also what is meant by the passage in James (James 2:21-24).
God's Promises to Us
God made promises to many people in the Bible and he also makes promises to us.
Promises in the Bible
The Bible is full of promises but this does not mean that we can take any nice sentence or phrase in the Bible and claim it as a promise in our own lives! The Bible is not a magic book of promises, it is book inspired by the Holy Spirit revealing the intentions of God and should be read and interpreted with integrity and care. Here are a few pointers to identifying relevant promises:
- What is the context? Who is the promise addressed to? - Is the verse or passage of the Bible in the Old or New Testament? Is it addressed to an individual or to a group of people such as the kingdom of Israel, the kingdom of Judah, the exiles etc? How does it fit into the section of the Bible it is in - what are the verses either side of the promise? It's always best to read the whole Bible and not just use spot verses. Is it actually a promise or is it a biblical principle or a statement about the character and ways of God?
- Is it applicable to you? - Clearly the promise to Abraham about becoming a great nation is a personal promise to him and not a direct promise to you or me! You may decide that other promises made to individuals reveal the character of God and may be applicable to Old Testament followers of God and Christians - for example "he will not leave or forsake us" (Deut 31:8, Josh 1:5, 1 Chron 28:20, Heb 13:5). We also generally assume that the promises made by Jesus to his followers are also applicable to us although there are some that were made to individuals or to the apostles.
- Whoever, everyone, all etc. - These kinds of universal words may indicate that the promise is applicable to everybody - and that is probably all of us, especially if it is in the New Testament.
- Is there a condition attached? - Many promises in the Bible are conditional upon some response or behaviour. An example in the Old Testament are the blessings promised for those who obey God (Deut 28:1-14) and the curses promised to those who do not obey God (Deut 28:15-68)!
Promises to us
Here are just a few of the promises which we have from God.
- Forgiveness of sins - Our sins can be forgiven if we repent (Acts 3:19, 5:31, Luke 24:47), humbly confess (Luke 18:13, 14, 1 John 1:9), have faith (Mark 2:5, Acts 10:43), and forgive others (Matt 6:14-15, 18:33, 35).
- Salvation and eternal life - Salvation and eternal life are promised as the free gift of God and not earned by our works (Rom 6:23) but here are a few of the requirements: need to repent (2 Cor 7:10), have faith (Luke 7:50, John 3:16, 36, 6:40, Acts 16:31, Rom 10:9, 1 Cor 1:21, Eph 2:8, 1Peter 1:8-9), only enter by Jesus (John 10:9, 14:6, Acts 4:12), call upon the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21).
- Answered prayer - God promises to hear us and to answer our prayers but here are some of the conditions: Ask, seek, knock (Matt 7:7-11), have faith (Matt 21:22), be persistent (Luke 18:1-8), pray in secret and without empty phrases (Matt 6:6-8), pray in Jesus' name (John 14:13-14, 16:23-24), abide in Jesus and his word (John 15:7-8, 16), pray according to God's will (1 John 5:14-15).
- Provision - Jesus encouraged us not to be anxious about food, clothing and other material things - we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and then he will look after all the other things (Matt 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-31, 1 Peter 5:7).
- Jesus is with us now and for ever - He has promised (Matt 28:20, John 12:26, 14:1-2, 3, 17:24)!
- Personal promises - You may feel that, like Abraham, God has given you personal promises by inner conviction, revelation or through someone else etc.
Faith like Abraham
Abraham is the father of those who have faith like him (Gal 3:7) and they share the blessings of Abraham (Gal 3:9, 14, 29). We need to walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham (Rom 4:12).
- Faith that we are chosen - Abraham became aware that God had chosen him. God chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5, 1 Thess 1:4-5, 2 Thess 2:13, 2 Tim 1:9, James 2:5), we were elected (Rom 9:11), appointed (Acts 13:48), foreknown and predestined (Rom 8:28-30, 1 Peter 1:1-2), for doing the work of God (Eph 2:10, 1 Peter 2:9) and our names are in the book of life (Phil 4:3, Rev 3:5, 13:8).
- You may be worried that you are not one of the chosen ones! Generally you can see how God has been leading you by looking back through your life. Even though my own parents and family were not believers, I was attracted towards Jesus and the Christian faith at an early age and began to sing in a choir at a local church when I was around 7 years of age. Then there were so many other ways that God led and guided my life eventually to become a follower of Jesus and so much more. Everybody's story will be different - look back and see what God has done in your life and his plan for you.
- Faith that we are called for salvation - This is closely connected with the fact we are chosen. It is when we hear the gospel and respond by repentance and faith and become a follower of Jesus. God's election becomes a reality in our lives. (1 Cor 1:9, 23-24, Eph 1:18, 4:1, 2 Thess 2:14, 1 Peter 5:10, 2 Peter 1:3, 10)
- Faith that God has purpose for our lives - called for a task - As well as Abraham, there are many people in the Bible who are called by God in different ways for a particular task - here are some of them - Noah (Gen 6:13-14), Moses (Exodus 3:4), Samuel (1 Sam 3:10), David (1 Sam 16:13), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8), Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), Ezekiel (Ezek 2:3), Amos (Amos 7:15), Jonah (Jonah 1:2), John the Baptist (Luke 1:76), Peter and Andrew (Matt 4:19), Paul (Rom 1:1, Gal 1:15-16).
- Of course, we are not mentioned in the Bible and the call of God for a task is very individual. God may call you by a strong inner conviction, by a prophetic word, circumstances etc.
- God once spoke to me in a significant way through the notices in church! - The notice was simply that a well-known speaker and evangelist who I greatly admired had serious cancer. A thought went my mind that it would take 10 of me to replace him! At that time, I was very much enjoying a scientific career and was able to serve God in many ways in my spare time and I saw no need to give up my secular work to serve him. However, this thought triggered a challenge for me to leave behind my scientific career and work full-time for God. Well this happened and I soon became a full-time leader of a church for the next 34 years! Always listen to the notices!!
- Faith that we are counted righteous - But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.(Rom 4:23-25)
This is the faith which we have in Jesus in order to be counted righteous, justified and saved by the grace of God (Rom 5:1). This is by faith and not by works or the law (Rom 3:27-28, 4:4-5, Eph 2:8, Gal 2:16, 21, 3:5-6, 11, 24-25, 5:4) - this is the gospel (John 3:16).
- Faith in the promises of God with patience - Abraham had to patiently wait for the fulfilment of God's promises. He was 75 when God first promised he would have many descendants and it was 25 years later when Isaac was born as a beginning of the fulfilment of this promise! And as far as possessing the land, God eventually told him that this would happen in over 400 years time! We need to be patient with the promises of God - they may even be for another generation!
- Faith day by day for living - Abraham learned to trust God through in all sorts of challenging and testing situations culminating in almost sacrificing Isaac. Faith is a way of life and needs applying to all the parts of our life and so we will overcome (Gal 2:20, Eph 6:16, 1 John 5:4).
- Faith with obedience - For Abraham, it was natural for his faith to lead to obedience which was evidence of his faith (James 2:22). The law, good works and obedience are not the way of salvation (Gal 2:16, 3:11), but they are the way to live as believers and followers of Jesus (Matt 5:19, John 14:15, 21, 1 John 2:3). You will make the most of your life by living according to God's word.
- Faith with an eternal perspective - Abraham looked forward to a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (Heb 11:10, 16). It's always good to keep an eternal perspective in our faith - after all, we are only here for a short time but we'll be in the city of God forever!! (Rev 21:2-3, 22:4-5)
Extra: Abraham and Jesus
Here are some connections between Abraham and Jesus:
Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. (John 8:56)
At the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus engaged in a long discourse in the Temple which may have spanned two days (John 7:14-8:59). In the later part of this discourse, the discussion involved Abraham (John 8:31-59). The discourse ends as his audience pick up stones to throw at him! This is a summary of this discussion:
- Jesus: The truth will set you free (John 8:31-32) - Jesus was making the point that true freedom come from listening to him, knowing the truth and being his disciple.
- Crowd: We are offspring of Abraham and so are already free (John 8:33-36) - The Jews claimed that they were offspring of Abraham and so were free and not slaves. Jesus explained that the Son is the one who bring true freedom from sin.
- Jesus: If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did (John 8:37-40) He acknowledged that they were indeed physical offspring of Abraham but questions whether they were true offspring of Abraham because they wished to kill Jesus, did not accept his words, and did not believe he was speaking God's words.
- Crowd: God is our Father (John 8:41-43) - His listeners then defended themselves saying that only God was their true father! Jesus replied that if God was their father, they would love Jesus and accept to his words because he came from God who sent him.
- Jesus: You are of your father the devil (John 8:44-47) - Jesus had been hinting at this in the previous verses. He backed up this strong assertion by saying that they shared the devil's characteristics as a murderer and liar from the beginning! Both of these qualities can be seen in the Garden of Eden when the devil lied about the command of God in order to bring about the death of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1, 4). The crowd were not receiving the words of God and were trying to kill Jesus and so they were not of God but of their father the devil.
- Crowd: You have a demon (John 8:48-50) - The crowd retaliated by suggesting that Jesus had a demon. Jesus obviously denied this and explains that he was only seeking to honour his Father who is the ultimate judge.
- Jesus: If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death (John 8:51) - Jesus was now introducing the idea of eternal life related to how we treat his words.
- Crowd: Are you greater than Abraham - he died! (John 8:52-53) - The crowd misunderstood his comment about never seeing death. They made the point that even great men of God like Abraham and the prophets died!
- Jesus: It is my Father who glorifies me. I know him and keep his word (John 8:54-55) - Jesus made some bold statements about his relationship with the Father. He claimed that his hearers did not truly know the Father but that he did and that he kept his word.
- Jesus: Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day (John 8:56) - We don't know how much Abraham actually understood about the promises of God but he knew that through one of his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12:3, 22:18, Gal 3:16). As Abraham thought about this amazing promise and wondered about the offspring, he rejoiced and was glad. Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of this promise. It can even be said that God preached the gospel to Abraham through his promises (Gal 3:8)
- Crowd: You are not yet fifty, have you seen Abraham (John 8:57) - The crowd did not understand the significance of Jesus' statement.
- Jesus: Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58) - This is one of the most extraordinary claims that Jesus made about himself. First of all he was claiming to have existed in some form before his physical life on earth and even before Abraham. We know from other places in the Bible that he has always existed as the eternal Son of God, the Word etc and was involved in the creation of the heavens and the earth! (John 1:1, 2-3, Phil 2:6, Col 1:15-16, Heb 1:2-3) Secondly, his use of the expression "I am" was very significant and it was probably what offended his listeners and resulted in them picking up stones to throw at him (John 8:59). "I am" was the name used by God of himself when he revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). This is similar in Hebrew to Yahweh the personal name of God (Exodus 3:15). On several other occasions, Jesus claimed to be one with God (John 5:19, 23, 10:30-31, 14:9, 10).
You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb 7:17)
One of the major themes of the book of Hebrews is that Jesus is the great high priest. This is introduced in Heb 2:17, 3:1 and developed more fully in Heb 4:14-10:39. Jesus as the great high priest is able to sympathize with us and represent us before God (Heb 4:15). As the high priest in the Old Testament took the blood of an animal sacrifice into the most holy place in the tabernacle, Jesus effectively took his own blood into heaven itself once and for all to make atonement for our sins (Heb 9:11, 12, 24, 25, 26, 10:11-12, 14). The Jewish readers of this book would have difficulty with the idea of Jesus being a high priest - here are just some of the arguments.
- Jesus was from the Israelite tribe of Judah, not Levi - In the Old Testament, the priests always belonged to the tribe of Levi (Levitical priests) and the family of Aaron (Exodus 30:30). Jesus was from the tribe of Judah which was the tribe of the Kings in the line of David - this is why Jesus is a king and the Messiah (Matt 1:1-16). The Jews would think it was impossible for Jesus to be a priest.
- But there is another kind of priest in the Old Testament - There is a priest called Melchizedek who is mentioned a couple of times in the Old Testament. Abraham met Melchizedek and paid tithes to him (Gen 14:18-19, 20). There is a psalm which suggests that the Messiah will be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). Melchizedek must be a greater priest than the Levites because he blessed Abraham and received tithes from Abraham - and by extension the Levites who were descendants of Abraham (Heb 7:6-7, 9-10).
- Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek - So Jesus was a priest like Melchizedek and lives forever and is also able to make intercession for us (Heb 7:15-16, 23-24, 25, 26).
So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide” (Yahweh Jireh) (Gen 22:14)
The place Moriah is the place where the Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac (Gen 22:2) and the mountain region in Jerusalem where the Temple was built (2 Chron 3:1). Many people have seen significance in this fact.
- The place where Abraham was about to sacrifice his only son was close to the place where, many years later, animal sacrifices took place at the temple and also near to the place where God sacrificed his only begotten Son on the cross.
- When Isaac said “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen 22:7), Abraham replied “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Gen 22:8). Later when the angel interrupts the sacrifice of Isaac, a ram was caught in a thicket nearby which became a substitute for Isaac (Gen 22:13). Abraham calls that place “The LORD will provide” (Gen 22:14). This is the origin of the famous and popular "Jehovah Jireh" or Yahweh Jireh. A ram is not a lamb and many preachers and commentators have suggested that the provision of the lamb spoken of in verse 8 is fulfilled when Jesus, the lamb of God, was crucified very close to this place.
- It is worth noting that "Jehovah Jireh" (Yahweh will provide) is not a name given to God but is the name given by Abraham to Moriah, the mount of Yahweh (Gen 22:14)! This is the place where God provided a ram for Abraham and the Lamb of God for the sins of the world.
Extra: Abraham's experience of God
God interacts with Abraham over many years. Abraham had a clear idea of who God was and was very sure that God was speaking to him.
God's name and titles
Various names and titles of God are used thoughout these events.
- Yahweh (the LORD) - The name Yahweh (YHWH) is the personal name of God and is used throughout the narrative. Abraham appeared to be familiar with the personal name Yahweh and used it. He built altars to Yahweh and called on his name (Gen 12:8, 13:4, 18). His servant used the name Yahweh, as did Abraham's family, Laban and Bethuel (Gen 24:48, 50-51).
- El or Elohim (God) - These titles are also used throughout the narrative. Yahweh is the personal name and El or Elohim are titles like our word "God".
- El Shaddai (God Almighty) - This is the title that God used to reveal his identity to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The name Yahweh was more fully revealed by God to Moses later (Gen 17:1, Exodus 6:2-4).
- El Elyon (God Most High) - This title for God was used by the priest, Melchizedek. Abraham replies by combining it as Yahweh El Elyon (Gen 14:18, 19, 20, 22).
- Other titles - Abraham also refers to God as Adonay Yahweh (Lord Yahweh) (Gen 15:2,8), Yahweh El Olam (Yahweh the Everlasting God) (Gen 21:33) and as Yahweh the God of heaven and God of the earth (Gen 24:3, 7).
How God speaks to Abraham
God speaks to people in the Bible in various ways - here are some of the ways that God spoke to Abraham.
- The LORD or God said to Abraham - We do not know how God spoke to Abraham! It may have been an inner conviction or may have been an audible voice (Gen 12:1, 4, 13:14, 17:3, 9, 15, 19, 22, 18:10, 13, 17, 20, 26, 21:12, 22:1).
- The LORD Appeared to Abraham - Here Abraham saw God in some visible way (Gen 12:7, 17:1, 18:1).
- The word of the LORD came to Abraham in a vision - A vision is a clear picture from God when we are awake, a dream is when we are asleep (Gen 15:1, 4, 12).
- The angel of the LORD called to him from heaven - Angels are a common way that God speaks to people in the Bible (Gen 22:11, 15, 18:22, 19:1).