Sunday, 22 June 2014

Perspectives on Abraham

One of the outstanding characters of the Bible is Abraham: (a) he is a central figure in the history of redemption: to him God gave promises of blessing concerning his spiritual seed; (b) he is a Pauline example of the doctrine of justification by faith; (c) when Jesus teaches the Sadducees about the meaning of the resurrection, he refers to Abraham, mentioning how God was still in a personal relationship with Abraham long after he had died (Matt. 22:32); (d) he is mentioned of with regard to heaven; Jesus said that heaven would involve sitting down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 8:11); (e) James tells us that Abraham is an example of a person who showed his faith by his works of obedience to God.
Clearly, Abraham is an example for believers today and here are four details about him, each of which is important for us.
What his neighbours thought of him. We discover this in the story connected to Abraham attempting to buy ground in which to bury Sarah. Abraham by then had been living in Canaan for six decades, so his neighbours had ample time to assess his character. This is what the Hittites said of him in Genesis 23:6: ‘Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.’
Abraham gained this testimony not by isolation from those with whom he lived – he was among them. Yet they realised he was not of them. He maintained a distinction without being remote. The words ‘mighty prince’ can be translated ‘prince of God’, perhaps pointing to their awareness of God’s blessing on his life.
What his wife thought of him. In order to discover this, we have to go to Peter’s first letter (3:6), where he says, ‘Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.’ This is a reference to Sarah’s response when God told Abraham he would have a son. She said within herself, in Genesis 18:12, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’
Note that this assessment was from within her. It was not something she was compelled to say. This was her heart attitude towards him. Further, this was her assessment despite Abraham’s failings. We know that twice he had put Sarah into danger because of his fear. She was aware of his weaknesses, yet she still valued him highly. She forgave him his failings, and because she did so there was domestic harmony.
What his God thought of him. We discover this in the book of Isaiah, several centuries after Abraham had died. In Isaiah 41:8, God says, ‘But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend.’ The friendship began with God’s sovereign initiative, when he appeared to him in Ur of the Chaldees and brought him into a saving relationship with himself. It continued throughout a variety of experiences. On God’s side, the friendship involved promises, protection and power. On Abraham’s side, the friendship involved worship (he built altars to the Lord), loyalty and obedience.
What Abraham thought of himself. We can look at this in two different ways. When he approached God, Abraham likened himself to dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27). In contrast to God Abraham was insignificant and unclean. He knew he was both a creature and a sinner. This was said despite all the previous blessings Abraham had known.
When he spoke to those who lived alongside him, Abraham described himself as an alien and a stranger (Gen. 23:4), even although he was living in the land God had promised to his descendants. He knew he was an exile from Heaven and he was looking forward to going there.
Think about these four areas of Abraham’s life: his public life, his home life, his relationship with God and his opinion of himself. Do our contacts sense that we have their good at heart, are our homes places where forgiveness and respect exist, is our walk with God that of two friends, and do we see ourselves as nothing in comparison to God and are we looking forward to heaven?

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