Abram's Call Q&A


Yesterday we moved into a new stage of Biblical history. Last week we finished Creation (Genesis 1-11) and for the month of February we will be talking about the time of Abraham (Genesis 12-50). On Sunday, I focused on two passages in specific: Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 22. We focused on the difficulty of Abram's call. We realized that although every person's story is unique - Genesis helps us to understand our own call and the difficulties we all have to deal with. Scripture is so cool... even the difficult passages are meant to lift us up. God's Word is so encouraging. Below are my answers to the lots-a-questions I wasn't able to get to during our Q&A Time: 

@AllFoto01: How have I never related this to the walk and path CHOSEN by God and His Son Christ...how have I never compared the emotion of it?

Never too late to see the connections! It's quite enlightening to read Genesis 22 alongside the passages where Christ is being crucified... Christ really is the fulfillment of all God's promises given in the OT. The book of Hebrews is dedicated to making that exact point. 

@karencdannyo: I've never understood Gen.22. Seems like God was testing Abraham with a mind game! Why make him sacrifice Isaac?

I'll like to see if you still have this question after next week. Two weeks on Abraham may help us to understand this a bit more... but ultimately, some things God asks of us we can never understand this side of life. We will never understand why God would go so far to show Abraham that God is in control and will accomplish His great promises, but for some reason, Abraham needed to know of God's presence and power in a special way. Let's keep thinking about this question, b/c it's a good one.

@pian0dude: Jer 31:34 - Is this speaking of God's future reign on Earth or has this already been fulfilled? 

Great question from someone who is obviously doing his reading prep! For our readings, we had the following passages: 

  • Genesis 3:15 and Genesis 12:1-3
  • II Samuel 7:1-16
  • Jeremiah 31:1-6 and 31-34
  • Luke 1:29-33

I picked these passages b/c they are all connected. Many of you noticed how each promise is so similar to the others. They are similar b/c they are the promises God makes over and over again to His people throughout thousands of years so that they can be reminded that God is up to something! God is in the business of redeeming His people. Jeremiah 31:34 is an instance of God speaking to the Southern Kingdom of Judah around 700BC. At this point in history, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had fallen to Assyria and the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was about to be captured by Babylon in the 600s BC. God was telling them that one day, however, a new covenant would be made where "my law will be in their minds and I will write it on their hearts." The plain sense of this prophecy relates it to the historical nations of Israel and Judah. It refers, in the first place, to the return of exiles from Babylon (which ends up happening later). This is clear from the reference to the rebuilding of the city in vs 38-40. Also, the whole tendency of chapters 30-31 has been in this direction. So the first fulfilment of this is when God brings back the exiles in 539BC and in the following years. 

However, the prophecy suggests more than this. The inclusion of Israel which had ceased to exist as a nation by Jeremiah's time, suggests a deeper fulfilment since it looked for MORE than a mere physical return to the land. The ancient covenant would be fulfilled in the future in a new way. The NT teaches that the decisive fulfilment of the new covenant prophecy takes place in Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:7-13; 9:15). With Christ a new kind of forgiveness is possible because He has made a once-for-all sacrifice for sin that makes all other sacrifices obsolete (Heb. 10:15-18). This covenant cannot come to an end. There is therefore a parallel between how God acted towards ancient Judah in bringing them back from Babylon and how he acts to the whole world in Christ. Ancient Israel and Judah have their counterpart in the church, which is Christ's body. So, long story short, this prophecy has been fulfilled twice in history - and we can't wait to see the perfect completion of this with nothing hindering it, finally in heaven. 

@karencdannyo: How come if God is omniscient (all knowing) why did He not know that Abraham would obey his command to sacrifice Isaac? 

God did know what would happen, but Abraham didn't, and that is the point! This promise wasn't for God, it was for Abraham. Although God does have perfect knowledge, this doesn't mean we don't at the same time have to properly discern what to do in our own particular life situations and make real decisions that have real affects. This story not only ends up providing a foreshadow to Christ's death, but it showed Abraham once and for all that nothing would get in the way of God completing His plan of redemption. Through this difficult call, Abraham could believe God at His word... once and for all. 

@ptrainer3: Sometimes God's choice of person to favor seems random, but other times not, like David having a heart after God...? 

Great point. God's favor is always an instance of God's grace. In our sinful state - none of us deserve it. But when God gives it to us - it changes us. In the Apostle Paul's words, we become a new creation. We are given a new heart with new capabilities and new desires for God. I'm glad the Gospel is this sort of story... b/c if we had to earn God's favor, I would have lost a long time ago. David too, who had a heart after God but made some pretty big mistakes himself. But thankfully, God always makes the first step towards us, and I'm glad He never stops pursuing us, no matter what. 

@Shayganfar: what makes any type of #scapegoating #moral?

Ah, now we see where theology moves into the realm of moral philosophy (insert me getting all giggly with excitement since, academically speaking, this is one of my pet fortes). This is a phenomenal question which goes to the heart of not only the story of Scripture but the logic of Scripture. I have to say, as I see it, this is where Christianity may shine brightest of all. Especially as it relates to other systems of thought. I've done a lot of thinking and research in this area. In the next year I am hoping to write a longer paper on this precise topic b/c I think it is one of the most important questions we could ask - and it allows us to plummet the depths of what Christ's death means, how it works to tie all of Scripture togther, and how that event relates to all humanity. For now, I'll just give you some initial thoughts... a few lines of teaser so to speak and I'm sure we'll be in touch on these matters. In order for us to answer this larger question you asked, we have to also have answers to the following questions: 

  •  How can a good God be judgmental? If God is so loving and kind, why doesn’t He just forgive people? Can’t God just get over His anger?
  • What is "love"? What is "true love"? If "love" finds itself to be completely arbitrary, is it still love?
  • Are the concepts of "love" and "judgment" mutually exclusive or do they work together somehow? 
  • What role must justice have in a moral system? What role must justice have in our relationships? 
  • How closely should we expect every point within the Israelite law system to coincide with our own current political system or understanding? Is it to be blamed if it doesn't? Who is to say a modern Western or Eastern understanding of law or justice is the most enlightened one? 
  • Are our concepts of law in any way related or compatible with Scripture's concept of law? 
  • Is Christ's sacrifice on the cross to be the normative model for our lives, or is it simply a formative model for us today? 
  • How is Christ's sacrifice and righteous identity transferred to believers?

To answer your question isn't to just answer one simple question... it is to have the answers for, at least, all of the above questions as well. I'm pretty close to knowing where I stand on these issues but I haven't yet put it all down to go together. So this will require more conversation in the days ahead. 

From the Congregation: 

"Why does our heart break for Abraham at the thought of him having to be obedient to sacrifice his only son, but we are content with being lukewarm in teh faith, letting THAT therefore train up our children and those around us, therefore sacrificing them?" 

This is a convicting question. It forces us to ask, what is the worse sacrifice...listening to God and following His difficult calling on our lives, or "cop out" and go the easy way? Definitely food for thought. 

"From Noah week - Why does God say man wouldn't live past 120 years when Noah lived to be 950 years old?"

This is a somewhat confusing passage for us. In this verse (Gen. 6:3) we have a few words in Hebrew that show up only here and nowhere else in the OT ("contend" and "for they are mortal" in the NIV), and so different translators translate the words, differently. For scholars, this leads to a bit of disagreement as to how those other words are connected and related to the number given in the same verse, 120. We aren't extremely sure of the nuance here. But primarily, there are two ways of thinking about this if we understand this text in a plain, literal way:

  1. Either this verse means that humans will have a shorter life span of only 120 years,
  2. Or this verse refers to the length of the grace period before the flood would take place. 

As I see it, both of these interpretations are problematic. Alternatively, I think we are helped when we place this verse in its ancient context. In the Epic of Gilgamesh which was was a separate Ancient Near Eastern Flood story, it says that the Anunnaki (netherworld gods) fix the fates and have established Death and Life. Without getting into it (unless someone asks), there are many parallels between that story and Genesis 6. This doesn't mean the writer of Genesis was copying other stories, but it does show us what the Ancient Near Eastern people would have understood the flood stories to be talking about and what the main points were. We do know that a major point of the Gilgamesh story (10.319-322) is that the gods fix the fate of humanity. That isn't exactly the same thing as what is happening in Genesis 6 - but I think it is very similar. So, it is reasonable to deduce from the context that Genesis 6 was one way for YAHWEH God to show the Israelites a truth they needed to know in a way they could have easily understood: That the eternal YAHWEH God is the one in control and humans are mortal. I have many reasons to doubt the Israelites would have read "120" literally the way we moderns normally do. I think instead, Genesis 6:3 is pointing the Israelites to the fact that no matter what, men, because of their sin, are mortal. Every person will eventually die. 120 isn't to be understood literally (and the Scripture writers don't try to pretend that every person who lived after this statement was made only lived 120 years or less). Instead, I'm guessing 120 was a way to point out the general fact of man's limitation and mortality. In this interpretation, 120 is not just a number, but a concept that was used for the sake of teaching them something they needed to know: Apart from God, no one can live on forever. That isn't the only way to read the passage, but that's how I (and some other OT scholars who are much more studied on this point than I) read it. 

"Why would God give Satan any power - and you will strike his heel?" 

God isn't afraid of putting some sort of power into the hands of His creation. In fact, part of being made in God's image is to be able to follow God and do things that are similar to what God can do (albeit on a limited level). God isn't insecure about these things. But more importantly, God wants us to use our power correctly and in a way that benefits creation, ourselves, and others. But we don't always do that. Satan is the most extreme example of someone who uses his power wrongly EVERY single time. Satan uses his power always in a non-beneficial and non-godly way. Although this saddens God, it does not overwhelm Him. Satan will never be able to ultimately usurp God's authority. Satan thought he had at the cross, until He realized Christ defeated death itself!

Concerning God's power as practiced in our own lives: It does sadden God when we make bad decisions, but at the same time God never forces us to do things we don't want to do. There is always an element of real choice to be made on our part... So in a sense, God deals with Satan as God deals with us. What makes Satan so evil is that we know he will never come to God... Satan is so depraved and bent on evil, he will never seek God. This, despite God's desire that "none perish, but that all would come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Thank goodness God gives us His grace and mercy. It is foolishness to reject those good things b/c when we do, we begin to use our own power in a manner that is not helpful to creation, ourselves, or others. 

"In comparison to the crucifixion of Jesus - wasn't Isaac's age the same as Jesus - age 33?" 

We aren't 100% sure how old Isaac was when Abraham and Isaac had that fated 3 day journey as seen in Genesis 22. Most likely, based on what we are told explicitly in Gen. 12-25, Isaac had reached at least the stage of adolescence. We know he could walk, but we don't know much more than that. The Biblical narrative doesn't say. My guess is that he was entering young adulthood - probably around 18-25 years old. But Isaac could have been much younger, some scholars guess around 12-15 years old. 

Keep those questions coming, you know I love them! 

- Pastor Mike 




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