If you are joining us for the first time, please be sure to read the previous posts in this series:
- Part 1: Three verbs that describe someone who has encountered Jesus Christ
- Part 2: Comparing the parable of the four soils
- Part 3: Who is the third soil?
- Part 4: The fourth soil
- Part 5: The meaning of the four soils
- Part 6: God is not unjust to forget your work
- Part 7: Deny yourself and pick up your cross
In this last section of Hebrews 6, we see the certainty of God’s promises to His children. The author of Hebrews uses Abraham and Melchizedek as examples. We will first of look at Abraham, and as we do, you will see that it is indeed the grace of God, form beginning to end, that keeps those who are His children, versus us, by our own supposed strength and goodness, keeping ourselves:
13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.” 15 And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. 16 For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 17 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us.
The “two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie” mentioned in verse 18 are His oath and His promise. Both of these God will unequivocally do and keep.
Take note of what this passage says of Adam. If all that we had about Abraham was what he find here in Hebrews, you might think that he was an incredibly stalwart man who unflinchingly followed the Lord in a totally uncompromising manner. However, that is not the case! Rather, we find Abraham to be a man who was just like us – fearful, doubting, compromising, and narcissistic. But we also see a man who, after his born again commitment to the Lord, began a spiritual journey in which through all of his failures as a born again believer in the Lord, God never gave up on him but rather continued to work in and through him to bring him to a place of deep brokenness and repentance. In this state of repentance, Abraham grew spiritually to the point of fully trusting in the Lord and obeying Him in faith, regardless of his circumstances, but this took years of God’s disciplining work in Abraham’s life. But in all of it, even in his serious failures of faith and trust and serious, moral compromise, God was at work guiding, protecting, and breaking him in order to bring him to the point where he would become the man of faith and obedience God intended for him to be from the moment of God’s calling Abraham.
When Abraham and his family were initially called by the Lord, they were living in what was called ancient Sumer, which was a fully pagan society, and they themselves took part in the worship of these “other gods”:
2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods. . . . 14 Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 “And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
(Joshua 24:2, 14-15)
At the time Noah got off of the Ark, God gave him and his sons the first of what might be called ‘societal laws’ and guidelines:
3 “Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. 4 “Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 “And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. 7 “And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”
In verse 6, we read, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” The phrase, “by man his blood shall be shed,” literally reads, “by the man his blood shall be shed.” In Hebrew, the words “by man” is written, בָּֽאָדָם (bā’ādām), and the Hebrew letter בָּֽ (bā) is to be translated “by the,” which is implying some form of jurisprudence that God was establishing for capital punishment, which was and is a cornerstone for societal order in the face of murderers of all types. That is, there was a man assigned as the executioner for those guilty of capital murder, and what we see is that God began to give to Noah the foundational principles for an orderly society, and this may very well indeed be in stark contrast to the type of society that came to exist before the flood where evil prevailed, and very likely that included the lack of societal order and justice (Genesis 6:5).
At any rate, God was giving Noah these foundational principles for an orderly society, but within several years after Noah and his sons had planted a vineyard, harvested the grapes, and made wine, from which Noah got drunk, Noah was apparently sexually assaulted by Ham, and perhaps even Canaan, Ham’s son (Genesis 9:20-27), and Noah cursed Canaan, which had to affect Ham as well. The Hamitic line was the line that primarily settled and developed Mesopotamia, in which ancient Sumer was located in the southeast corner where modern day Kuwait is located.
There is no indication that Ham in any way ever repented for what he did to his father (Genesis 9:24), and thus, as a result of his sin and the apparent hardness of heart that ensued in him, as well as his prodigy toward God, the people groups that emerged from him began to establish their own form of worship—self-deification (this is seen repeatedly in the writings of ancient Sumer). However, what we see in Genesis 11 is the end result of the Hamitic line’s self-deification. They built a tower—a tower “whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). What this “tower” was intended to be was a monument to their own deification, which is seen in the phrase, “let us make for ourselves a name,” and this is clearly implying “a name” over against and above the ‘name of the Lord’. Thus, God destroyed the tower, and the people were scattered, developing various languages and dialects, along with very perverted forms of worship, as is seen in the following quote from ancient Sumerian texts:
The Sumerian gods, as illustrated graphically by the Sumerian myths, were entirely anthropomorphic; even the most powerful and most knowing among them were conceived as human in form, thought, and deed. Like man, they plan, act, eat and drink, marry and raise families, support large households, and are addicted to human passions and weaknesses. (Samuel Noah Kramer, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture And Character
[Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1963], 117)
However, there was an admixture of the lines of Noah’s sons’ prodigy, and some of the line of Shem ended up settling in Mesopotamia, which ultimately included Terah’s ancestors, and Terah was the father of Abraham (Genesis 11:10-26). As a result of the study of the ancient Sumerian and Akkadian texts, we know that a migration began to take place some time around 2000 BC of people groups from Mesopotamia and its surrounding areas into “the land of Canaan,” which is what the Bible also records with regard to Terah and his family:
27 Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. 28 And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 And Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and settled there. 32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.
The following quote, therefore, accords with the biblical evidence of this migration into Canaan:
But though we cannot date the patriarchs with any precision, and though future discoveries may force a redrawing of the picture presented here, evidence presently available suggests that the patriarchal traditions for the most part fit best in the context of the early centuries of the second millennium (Middle Bronze II [ e.g., 2000 – 2550 B.C. – my note). Not only does the nomenclature of the stories, as we have said, have close parallels in the texts of that period; a date for the patriarchal migrations in the centuries after ca. 2000 B.C. accords splendidly with archaeological and other extra-Biblical evidence.
(John Bright, A History of Israel, 4th ed. [Louisville: John Knox Press, 2000], 85)
The reference to “Ur of the Chaldeans” in Genesis 11:18, therefore, is referring to that area that was in ancient Sumer, which is today modern Kuwait. The reason for going into this background is to demonstrate to you that God’s purposes and plans are in no way deterred by the self- deification and utter paganism of man against Him, but rather, God sovereignly uses man’s rebellion to accomplish His ends, and we see that here with Abraham, as God was calling out to Abraham, not Abraham calling out to God:
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. 6 And Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. 7 And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. 8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev.
It is at this juncture that we see Abraham engage in a serious compromise with regard to Sarai as he migrates to Egypt due to a famine in Canaan:
10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 And it came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12 and it will come about when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 “Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” 14 And it came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. 17 But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 “Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” 20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.
Now, indeed, Sarai was Abraham’s half sister (Genesis 20:12), but she was still his wife, first and foremost. Thus, it may very well have been that Abraham’s compromise, which was a practice in the ancient Hurrian society of Haran where Abraham lived for a period of time (i.e., in the Hurrian upper class, a wife could be adopted by her husband as his sister), was a manifestation of his embracing a cultural practice of his day in order to deliver himself, but it wasn’t at all something God ordained, directed, let alone blessed and sanctioned. However, even in the face of Abraham’s sinful, cultural compromise, God was there to deliver him from himself. He was about 75 at this time, and then after being back in Canaan and no child is born to him, he once again resorts in his thinking to the cultural practices of his day, and this one had to do with who would be his heir since he had not as yet had a son:
1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” 2 And Abram said, “O Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” 4 Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” 5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6 is of primary importance because it categorically states the means of our salvation – faith in God ALONE – and as a result of Abraham’s faith in the Lord, the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness.” So, at this point, we may say that Abraham was born again and truly became a child of God, and Paul says as much in the following passage:
6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree “—14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
(Stay tuned for more on Abraham next week!)