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The Promised Son

Angels Unaware

Abraham’s tent was located by the oaks of Mamre near the town of Hebron.  Hebron is approximately twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem in the area known as the West Bank.  As Abraham sat in the door of his tent, three strangers approached.

“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.  So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, ‘My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.  Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.  And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.  They said, ‘Do as you have said’“ (Gen. 18:1-5).

Who were these men?  His guests were angels of God; however, Abraham may not have been aware of this.  In fact, the first verse says that one of these men was God himself.  That man, who is the chief spokesman and leader, was Christ in His preincarnate state.  There is strong Scriptural support for this view.

In John, chapter one, we read: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).  Jesus is more direct:  “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’  Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” (John 8:56-58).

There are several other places in the Old Testament where there is support for the idea that the preincarnate Christ appeared before man.  Many scholars believe and have some support for the idea that whenever the term “The Angel of the Lord” is used, it refers to the preincarnate Christ.  The term “The Angel of the Lord” is used many times in the Old Testament.

After Abraham’s guests had refreshed themselves and were fed, they announced the nature of their two-fold mission. They came to announce the time of the birth of Isaac, and to destroy the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Since the birth of Isaac is such an important event in the history of the world, it seems that Christ himself came to make the birth announcement.  Isaac was to be the most complete prophetic picture of the nature of Christ in all Scripture.  “Then they said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ So he said, ‘Here, in the tent.’  And He said, ‘I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son’” (Gen. 18:9-10).

Hearing what the Lord said, Sarah laughed within her heart and wondered how this could be.  “And the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?   Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son‘“ (Gen. 18:13-14).

After predicting the time of the birth, the visitors proceeded to finish their appointed task.  Sodom and Gomorrah, located on the southern end of the Dead Sea, had become cesspools of immorality and iniquity.  Men there had given themselves up to unnatural desires in their pursuit of physical pleasures.  Men burned with lust for each other; homosexuality, fornication, and adultery had become an accepted way of life.  God had determined to destroy the cities because their wickedness was so great.

Abraham pled for mercy for the cities, but not even ten righteous persons could be found in those cities.  Although the cities had to be destroyed, God agreed to spare Lot and his families if they would leave quickly and never look back. “Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.”  “And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot had dwelt” (Gen. 19:24-25, 29).

God provided an escape for His people, but Lot’s wife apparently could not resist the pull of the cities as she was leaving.  Defying God’s warning, she turned back, looked at the city and was changed into a pillar of salt.  Lot’s association with the wickedness of these cities ultimately caused him even more grief because the Biblical record of him ends with him sleeping in a drunken stupor with his two daughters.  They each gave birth to sons – one became the father of the Moabites, and the other became the father of the Ammonites.

Isaac – The Only Begotten Son

“And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.  And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac.  Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” (Gen. 21:1-5).

We pointed out in the last section that Isaac was a prophetic picture of the nature of the incarnate Son of God.  It is amazing how the birth of Isaac foreshadowed the birth of Christ.  The late Dr. Arthur W. Pink in his book “Gleanings in Genesis” gave us seven very striking similarities between the birth of Isaac and the birth of Christ.

“First, both Isaac and Christ were promised seed and sons of Abraham.  Second, a long interval of time elapsed between the promise and the realization of the promise.  Third, both mothers, Sarah and Mary, were startled by the announcement of the impending births, and wondered in their hearts how it was possible.  Fourth, the names the children were to receive were announced in advance.  Fifth, both births occurred at God’s appointed time.  Sixth, both births required a miracle from God to bring it about. Seventh, both sons were beloved sons of the fathers.”  Perhaps, you will read Pink’s book for a more detailed exposition of these relationships.

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’ She also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.’ So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned” (Gen. 21:6-8).

There was great joy in the household of Abraham.  The mighty power of God had been manifested in the birth of a son to a ninety-year-old woman.  And not only was Sarah able to give birth, she was able to nurse the child which shows that God had regenerated all of her reproductive functions. The name, Isaac, means laughter and he was his father’s delight – a beloved son.

In the midst of all the joy and excitement, a dark cloud moved over the household.  A young boy named Ishmael has been living in this home for nearly fifteen years and the old conflict between Hagar and Sarah began to resurface in the form of jealousy. “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac’“ (Gen. 21:9-10).

Jealousy blinded Sarah; she lost her faith in the promise of God.  She became afraid that Ishmael, being the elder brother, would inherit the covenant of promise.  Oh, how short our memory can be!  “And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.  But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.  Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.’  So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba” (Gen. 21:11-14).

What a sad day at Abraham’s house!  Many people have suffered the agony of losing a child, and there is probably no way for those who haven’t been through this to understand the depth of the hurt and the grief that follows.  God’s request was difficult for Abraham but he obeyed.

There is at least one important issue, which may be raised in connection with the removal of Ishmael from Abraham’s household.  Is God punishing Abraham because of his sin with Hagar or was Abraham allowed to suffer for some other reason?  Quite possibly, Abraham experienced this pain because he created and introduced an additional element into the perfect plan of his Creator.  Abraham’s impatience and his human attempt to bring about the promised heir brought complications to his life that had to be dealt with.  God, in his infinite wisdom, could see that harmony in Abraham’s household could only be accomplished by sending Ishmael away.  To bring a measure of comfort to His servant, God promised Abraham that the outcast son would become a nation even though it was not to be the chosen nation of God.

“So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.  He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (Gen 21:20-2).

Isaac – The Sacrifice

When Isaac was twenty-five years of age (based on the writings of Josephus), God made a very strange and unusual request.  He asked Abraham to take Isaac, the promised heir, and offer him as a sacrifice.  Never before had God required a human sacrifice – only animal sacrifices.  “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’  Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’“ (Gen. 22:1-2).

“So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off” (Gen. 22:3-4).

God’s request of Abraham had at least two aspects.  First, He wanted to test the faith of Abraham.  Second, the sacrifice of Isaac was a prophetic picture of the sacrifice God would make to pay the price of sin.

God presented Abraham with a dilemma.  How could Abraham receive the promise of many seed if his only heir, the promised son, was slain before producing children of his own?  His faith could be the only answer to his dilemma. Abraham had learned to trust God in all things; he knew, in his heart, that God would find a way to fulfill His promise.  Searching Abraham’s thoughts, God knew his heart and made plans to provide an alternative sacrifice.

Abraham did not know of God’s plan to save Isaac so, in his heart, his son was just the same as dead for three days.  Since God could look into the future and see that His Son would die, and be in a grave for three days, God could truly empathize with Abraham. The details of these parallel sacrificial events are phenomenal. God sent Abraham with his only son to the mountain called Moriah, which is in the city of Salem, the home of Melchizedek, the king-priest. The city was later renamed Jerusalem, and many believe that Solomon built his great temple near the place of Abraham’s altar.  Upon this same mountain, nearly two thousand years after Abraham’s test, Jesus was tested and found faithful even unto His death on the cross.

It is very interesting to observe the acts of faith demonstrated in this place.  Not only did Abraham demonstrate his faith, but so did Isaac and Jesus who were submissive to the sacrifice required by their fathers.  Surely the faith of Abraham must have been communicated to his son thus making the promise of future generations real to both of them.  What a demonstration of love and trust that a man was willing to give up his life for someone else! Otherwise, how could a 125 year-old man bind up a young adult man and lay him upon an altar?

“Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.  But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’  So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me‘” (Gen. 22:9-12).

This scene at Moriah foresaw the one human sacrifice that was required by God – that of His only begotten son who was given as a substitute for all men.  We do not know how much information was given to Abraham on that day, but it was enough to cause Abraham to give the place a new name.  He called it “Jehovah- jireh” which means “Jehovah will provide”.  Apparently God showed Abraham that some day, that some time in the future, He would provide a real and permanent sacrifice in that place. The writer of Genesis, recording the story years later, added these words of anticipation: “And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided’“ (Gen. 22:14).

Father of Faith

Abraham has grown spiritually since we first met him in his home city of Ur.  He has stumbled, fallen, and grown stronger as he struggled to heed and obey his Creator.  Distrust and sin have permeated his live, but slowly he completely trusted his God to the point that today he is known as the father of faith.  It is interesting and comforting to read of Abraham’s life in the New Testament.  Many believe that his record as recorded in the New Testament will be the final record, which will go into eternity with him – the record on which his works will be judged.

The writer of Hebrews recorded these words, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Heb. 11:8-9).

Where are the transgressions of his weaker moments when he was struggling to follow God?  What about the time he stopped in the City of Haran rather than proceeding on to the Promised Land?  What about Lot?  Didn’t God tell him to separate himself from his family?  We cannot forget about Abraham’s trip to Egypt and his lies to Pharaoh?  Where are the details of his plans to produce an heir on his own?  Why didn’t the writer of Hebrews record these events?

The Apostle Paul also recorded these words to the Romans: “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.  He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Rom. 4:19-22).

Again, Paul omitted the negative aspects of the Genesis record.  Records of Abraham’s acts of unfaithfulness are not found in the New Testament.  Could it be that the cleansing of Abraham’s record foreshadows things to come?  The New Testament clearly states that the sacrificial blood of Jesus can wash away the sins of men.  Consider this: If all sins were purged from the life record of a man of faith, wouldn’t the remaining picture present a perfect record of faithfulness?  There is strong Scriptural support that the presence of evil will, one day, be completely removed from the presence of God.  How great it will be to spend eternity, not only in a perfect environment, but also with a life history of perfection.  This is a most comforting thought as we reflect upon our own moments of weakness.

We need to consider another aspect of Abraham’s life.  He is not known for many great works as a servant to mankind; yet, James, the brother of Jesus, said that works justified Abraham.  How can we reconcile that statement with the statement in Romans chapter four stating that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness?  Abraham’s works were acts of faith and trust in his God – not good deeds, which were performed to earn his salvation.  James continued and summed it up this way: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23).

Faith is not faith unless we are willing to act on it.  Abraham slowly, step-by-step, learned to trust his God and lean not on his own understanding.  Because he stepped out on faith and claimed the promises of God, he became the spiritual father of the faithful (Gal. 3:7).

Now we will return to “Abraham, Issac and Jacob” to continue the story.

All quoted scripture is of the New Kings James version unless noted.