|Topical Bible Study||March 1955|
The People of the Bible
Article III—Genesis 11:10 – 25:10
Abraham and His “Seed”
ABRAHAM is one of the outstanding personalities of the Bible. Although an Old Testament character, his name is mentioned seventy-four times in the New Testament. Because of his great faith he was called “the Friend of God.” (James 2:23) He is first presented under the name Abram, and in Genesis 14:13 he is called “Abram the Hebrew.” He was probably called a Hebrew, or Eberite, after his ancestor Eber. In the genealogical line from Eber to Abram were Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah, Terah being Abraham’s father. This family was a branch of the descendants of Shem, one of the sons of Noah, and it is from this name that the word Semite, or Semitic is derived.
Terah had two other sons, Nahor and Haran. The family lived in Ur of the Chaldees, where Haran died leaving a son, Lot, who would be the nephew of Abram. After Haran died, Terah took his family, including his grandson, Lot, and moved to Haran, in Mesopotamia, Abram also taking his wife, Sarai. Haran was, in reality, intended to be only a stopover point; for Abram, at least, was on his way to Canaan.
Terah died in Haran, and then the little company proceeded into Canaan, as planned. The motive for this journey was a statement the Lord had previously made to Abram, evidently while still in Ur of the Chaldees—“The Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”—Gen. 12:1-3
This was a remarkable promise, and Abram believed it to be true. He believed it so thoroughly that he was willing to leave Ur and go to an unknown country in order that the Lord might use him as indicated, and through him establish a “seed,” or family, that would be used as God’s channel of blessing to “all families of the earth.”
In this we have the first demonstration of Abram’s faith in the true God and in his promises. Archaeological discoveries reveal that the inhabitants of Ur, where he first lived, were moon worshipers. Probably Abram was one of the few who knew and believed in the true God. Heathen gods never speak to their worshipers, and it might well be that when the people of Ur learned that Abram was leaving home to go into an unknown country because his God had spoken to him and promised to establish him as the head of a nation, he became the object of considerable ridicule.
Another difficulty which Abram’s faith had to surmount was the fact that his wife, Sarai, was barren and, it was supposed, could not have a child. But he believed that God was able to overrule this, so he stepped out on his faith, and as the New Testament explains, “not knowing whither he went.”—Heb. 11:8
After Abram entered Canaan, the Lord appeared unto him and said, “Unto thy seed I will give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.” (Gen. 12:7) Traveling a little farther, he pitched his tent, “having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.”—Gen. 12:8
About then there was a famine in Canaan, and “Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there.” In Egypt he had a very unhappy experience. According to the record, Sarai, his wife, was a very beautiful woman, and Abram feared that the king of Egypt might have him killed and take Sarai for himself. The best solution Abram could think of was to have Sarai say that she was his sister. She was, indeed, his half-sister.—Gen. 20:12
This solution to the problem might have saved Abram’s life, but had the Lord not intervened, the king would have taken Sarai. Learning the truth of the situation, Pharaoh ordered Abram and his kinsfolk to leave Egypt, which they did. The account shows that by this time Abram “was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.” (Gen. 13:2) All the while Lot and his family were accompanying Abram, and they returned north from Egypt to Bethel, where Abram had previously built an altar.
Together Abram and Lot had more cattle than the land thereabouts could support, and strife arose “between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle.” Abram, in the largeness of his heart, suggested to Lot that inasmuch as there was ample land for both, an agreed upon division be made, giving Lot the first choice.—ch. 13:5-9
Lot chose the rich Jordan valley, because he saw that “it was well watered every where, … even as the garden of the Lord.” Sodom and Gomorrah were located in this territory. Because of their wickedness these cities were later destroyed, and Lot and his family were forced to flee. Lot’s wife, unhappy over the necessity of leaving their home, stopped to look back, “and she became a pillar of salt.” (Gen. 19:17-26) Jesus used this experience as a warning against being unfaithful, especially at the end of the present age. He said, “Remember Lot’s wife.”—Luke 17:32
“Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan,” the record states. (ch. 13:10-13) After Abram and Lot had separated, the Lord said unto Abram, “Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.”—ch. 13:14-17
Chapter 14 contains an interesting account of various warring factions in the general territory surrounding the land being occupied by Abram, leading up to his nephew Lot being taken captive, with all his possessions. Then Abram “armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.” Abram must have been very rich indeed, in cattle and goods to require the help of more than three hundred servants.
Abram made a night attack on the enemy, rescued Lot and brought back all his goods. As he was returning from this skirmish, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, … which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he [Abram] gave him tithes of all.”—ch. 14:18-20
In one of the prophecies Melchizedek is referred to as a type of Christ—“The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps. 110:4) This prophecy is quoted in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul. (Heb. 5:6,10; 7:17) Paul explains that Melchizedek was without father or mother. This is understood to refer to his office as a priest; that he had no predecessor and no successors in the priesthood.
Melchizedek was both a priest and a king, and therefore a fitting type of the twofold office of Christ, who also is both a priest and a king. A priest is one who offers sacrifice, and upon the basis of the sacrifice extends blessings to those for whom it is offered. Jesus offered himself in sacrifice, and during the thousand years of his kingdom will extend to mankind the blessings of life provided by his offering. He will also reign as “King of kings and Lord of lords.”
The Promise Renewed
“After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou host given no seed: and, lo, one born in mine house is mine heir.”—ch. 15:1-3
Here, perhaps, we have an indication of a slight lack of faith on the part of Abram, coupled with an effort to learn from the Lord a little more definitely just what his intentions were concerning the promised “seed.” The Lord said to him, “I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” Abram knew that the Lord had protected him in many ways, in Egypt and elsewhere. He knew also that the Lord had richly blessed him with earthly gain, for he was rich in silver and gold and in cattle. But the one thing he wanted above all else was a “seed,” the seed which the Lord had promised but had not given.
Abram explained to the Lord that since he had no child of his own he had made his servant Eliezer his heir. In other words, to this extent he had taken the matter into his own hands. And, since the prospect of having a child of his own seemed to be fading, he may have hoped that the Lord would accept this substitute arrangement. But the Lord said to Abram concerning Eliezer, “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.”—ch. 15:4
Verse 6 states that Abram “believed in the Lord; and he counted it unto him for righteousness.” At that time there was a renewal of God’s promise concerning the land. In the fifteenth chapter the narrative returns again to the subject of the seed. No doubt Abram told Sarai, his wife, concerning God’s latest affirmation of the promise concerning a seed, and that he assured him this child would be his own, not a servant whom he had adopted.
Sarai thought the matter over; realizing that she was barren, and daily getting older, she proposed to her husband that their maid, Hagar, mother a child for him, and, as she also stated it, “that I may obtain children by her.” (Gen. 16:2) Of interest, in passing, is the fact that in 1901 there was discovered what is known as “The Code of Amraphel,” (Gen. 14:1), a standard of ethics which seems to have been in force throughout Babylonia and Canaan at that time, and the arrangement of Abram and Sarai involving Hagar was in strict conformity with this code.
Hagar bore Abram a child, who was named Ishmael. It resulted in a strained relationship between the two women; nevertheless Abram felt that this was the solution to his problem. The Lord had said he must be the father of the promised seed, and now he had become a father. Ishmael was his very own, not an adopted heir. Ishmael was born when Abram was eighty-six years old. Thirteen years later the Lord spoke to him again and said:
“I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” (ch. 17:2) The Lord also said, “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”—ch. 17:5-8
Then, after outlining to Abraham the covenant of circumcision, the Lord said, “As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.” (ch. 17:15,16) Abraham found it difficult to believe this. He “fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!”—vss. 17,18
Just as Abraham had previously endeavored to have the Lord accept his adopted heir, Eliezer, to be the promised seed, so now, he was pleading to have Ishmael accepted. His faith was surely tested! All that the Lord had previously told him was that he was to be the father of the promised seed. Now, although he was thirteen years older, the Lord would not accept his son, Ishmael, saying instead, not only that he must be the father, but that Sarah must be the mother, even though, in addition to her barrenness, she was now ninety years old.
But the Lord would not change. He said again that Sarah would bear the promised seed, and that her child was to be named Isaac: “And I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.” (vs. 19) The Lord promised to bless Ishmael and his descendants along other lines, “but,” he said, “my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.”—vss. 20,21
A little later the Lord sent three angels, first mentioned as “three men,” to reassure Abraham that Sarah would bear him a child. Sarah overheard the conversation, and like Abraham, she “laughed within herself.” The Lord gently rebuked her, asking Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son,” and she did. (ch. 18:14) Later we read, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken; for Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.”—ch. 21:1,2
Abraham’s Faith Tested
Years later, when Isaac was probably past twenty, God spoke to Abraham again and asked him to offer up his beloved boy, this miracle child, as a burnt offering. This was to be done in the land of Moriah, a three days’ journey from where Abraham was then living. This, again, must have been a severe test to Abraham’s faith. Indeed, the Apostle Paul comments on it in the 11th chapter of Hebrews and informs us that Abraham had such great faith that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead.—Heb. 11:17-19
So Abraham obeyed. At least he went so far as to prepare the altar and to put Isaac on it ready to be slain. He even raised his knife to slay the boy, when an angel of the Lord intervened, telling him not to harm the lad. Abraham’s attention was then called to a ram, or lamb, in the bushes nearby, and he offered this ram in the place of Isaac.—ch. 22
Then it was that God confirmed his covenant with Abraham by his oath, saying “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”—ch. 22:16-18
Many long years had passed since God first spoke to Abraham concerning a seed. That was while he still lived in Ur of the Chaldees. In obedience to God’s call he had left that country and had been a sojourner in Canaan. He had endeavored twice in his own way to provide the seed of promise, but the Lord had refused to accept the result of his efforts. Finally, by a miracle, Isaac was born. He had grown up, and in obedience to God’s request the father had demonstrated his willingness to offer the boy in sacrifice. As a result of this the original promise, or covenant, had now been confirmed by God’s oath.
How confident Abraham must now have been that he would be the head of a nation, a seed through which all other nations would be blessed! The Apostle Paul tells us that Abraham “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 11:10) So far as the record indicates God had said nothing to Abraham about a “city.” However, a city is used in the Scriptures to symbolize a government, and Abraham evidently interpreted from what the Lord told him that his seed would constitute a government, a kingdom, which would exercise control over all other nations and be God’s channel of blessing to them.
To understand Abraham’s viewpoint we must remember that nations and governments of his day were not as they are now. A reading of Genesis, chapter fourteen, gives a little idea of the situation in that ancient time. At least nine “kings” are mentioned in the chapter. Verses 8-12 tell of a combination of four of these lined up for battle against the other five. The four defeated the five, and took Lot, Abraham’s nephew, a prisoner. Then, Abraham, with more than three hundred of his servants, defeated the four kings and their armies, and rescued Lot.
“Nations” in those days were frequently just families, with one of the family serving as tribal head, or king. Naturally, they grew larger through the centuries; but in the early days of Abraham nations were very small. The promise that he was to have a seed, that would become a great nation and dominate other nations, would therefore imply that his offspring would become more powerful than the others, or as Paul states it, a city; a city which would have “foundations”—sure foundations—because its builder and maker was God. He knew that God was already working, for had he not given him Isaac by a miracle?
A Larger Plan
But God had a much grander, and more far-reaching plan in mind than that visualized by Abraham. This is revealed to us by the many references to the seed of Abraham which we find in the New Testament. In Galatians 3:8,16 Paul mentions the promise concerning the seed, and explains it in such a way as to indicate that even Isaac, the miracle child, was not the real seed of promise. In verse 16 Paul explains that when God made that promise to Abraham of a seed, the One he had in mind was in reality Christ.
In verses 27-29 of this same chapter Paul further explains that the true followers of Christ during the present age, those who have “put on Christ,” are also “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Those who compose this larger faith seed of Abraham include Gentiles as well as some of the natural descendants of Abraham, the Jewish nation.
In the fourth chapter of Galatians Paul explains this matter further, in the form of an allegory. In this lesson he endeavored to show Jewish converts to Christ that they were no longer under the Law Covenant which was given to the nation of Israel by Moses, but under a grace covenant, which he says was represented by Sarah, the mother of Isaac. Hagar, the bondmaid of Abraham, he explains, pictured the Law Covenant, to which the Jewish nation, Ishmael, was in bondage.
“Jerusalem which is above [represented by Sarah] is free, which is the mother of us all,” Paul writes, adding, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise.” (Gal. 4:21-31) In this lesson Paul quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah (54:1), “Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.” (vs. 27) This ties in with the fact that Sarah was barren for so long, illustrating that many centuries would pass after the promise of the seed was first made, before Christ, the real Seed, would appear, and before the development of the remainder of the faith seed would begin, Isaac being a type of both Jesus and those who would make up his mystical body.
Offered in Sacrifice
God’s promise was that through the seed of Abraham all the families of the earth were to be blessed. In the offering of Isaac as a sacrifice one of the prerequisites for this coming blessing is illustrated. By this illustration we are reminded that before all the families of the earth can be blessed through the seed of Abraham, a loving father must give up in sacrifice his beloved son.
As the plan of God for human salvation and redemption unfolds, we find that it is our loving Heavenly Father who does this, that he gives his only begotten Son to die for the sins of the whole world. Although Abraham had other children, by Hagar and later by Keturah, in Hebrews 11:17 Isaac is referred to as his “only begotten son,” indicating that God, by this expression, is impressing upon us that Isaac was a type of his Son Jesus, and of his church who suffer and die with him.
And this is the only condition upon which any individual can be a part of the Christ company, a part of the faith seed of Abraham, typified by Isaac; that is, by being baptized into Christ’s body, which is a death baptism, a being “planted together” in the likeness of Christ’s death. (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27-29) Those who thus qualify are “heirs of the promise,” and will be associated with him in his kingdom, that government which will be the channel of blessing for all mankind.
Abraham looked for a city, a government, but he did not understand the grand scale on which the promises of God pertaining to it would be fulfilled. Paul says that Abraham looked for a heavenly city, but this simply means that he believed the God of heaven would work through his seed to bless mankind here on the earth. Abraham did not expect a heavenly reward. God promised him the land, promised it to him and to his seed—not to the faith seed of this Gospel Age, Christ and his church, but to his natural seed.
In making promises to Abraham God said that his seed would be as the “stars” and also as the “sand.” This suggests spiritual and earthly seeds, and indeed Abraham will have a vast earthly seed. His earthly seed also is reckoned through Isaac, not Ishmael. In our next part we will begin an examination of the wonderful promises of God in connection with the natural descendants of Abraham.
This faithful servant of God, thoroughly believing that Isaac had been given to him in fulfillment of God’s promise, was concerned lest in generations to come the seed should become contaminated, so he did not want Isaac to take a wife from among the Canaanites. He therefore commissioned his faithful servant, Eliezer, to go into his country and to his kindred, to take a wife for Isaac.—Gen. 24:2-4
Eliezer was willing, but wondered what he would do in the event the girl he chose would not return with him. Abraham explained that in this event he would not hold his servant responsible. But Abraham assured him that his mission would be successful. He said to his servant, “The Lord God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence.”—ch. 24:7
So Eliezer took ten camels and went to Mesopotamia, to the city of Nahor. He stopped by a well of water just outside the city. It was evening, “even the time that women go out to draw water.” There he prayed for guidance in selecting the right one to be Isaac’s wife. It was to be the one who was willing not only to give him water to drink, but to give water also to his camels.
Just as he was through praying, Rebekah came to the well and fulfilled the conditions he had outlined. He gave her an earring, and bracelets. Upon inquiry he learned that she was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor, and therefore would qualify as being from his own people. Rebekah showed her hospitality further by inviting Eliezer to remain overnight with the family, assuring him that they had room, both for him and for the camels.
Rebekah’s brother, Laban, hearing of this and noticing the bracelets and the earring and getting her personal report of what had occurred, met Eliezer at the well and graciously confirmed his sister’s invitation to remain with them overnight.
During the evening Eliezer made known his mission, and all agreed that the Lord’s hand was in the matter, and that they were willing that Rebekah should return to Canaan with him. They suggested, however, that he should allow her to remain with them for yet a little while. Finally the choice was left to Rebekah, and she said, “I will go.” (vs. 58) Thereupon Eliezer returned to Canaan, taking Rebekah with him. As they arrived near Abraham’s home, Isaac met them in the field; immediately he loved Rebekah, and she became his wife.
In being offered for sacrifice, Isaac was a fitting picture, or type, of Christ and the church offering themselves in sacrifice during the Gospel Age. In the story of how Rebekah became his bride there are a number of interesting similarities to the manner in which Christ secures his bride, his wife. The Bible presents many illustrations of the oneness of Christ and his church, and the bridegroom and bride picture is one of them. “The marriage of the Lamb is come,” the Revelator says, “and his wife hath made herself ready.” (Rev. 19:7) It will be after this “marriage” that “the Spirit and the bride” will say to the sin-cursed and dying world, “Come. … And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.”—Rev. 22:17
The custom in olden times respecting marriage differed from the custom of our day. Thus, instead of Isaac seeking a bride for himself, Abraham sought a bride for him, sending Eliezer. This harmonizes with Jesus’ statement, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” (John 6:44) Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, would correspond to the Holy Spirit, which is the drawing power of God in the selection of the “bride” class during the Gospel Age.
The family blessing upon Rebekah was, “Be thou the mother of thousands of millions.” (Gen. 24:60) Many see in this an implication that the church of Christ, the antitypical bride class, will mother in regeneration the millions of Adam’s race, the glorified Redeemer being “the Everlasting Father.”—Isa. 9:6
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, died before Isaac received his bride. After this Abraham married Keturah, who bore him six sons. Little information is given concerning these, nor are we given any further details of Abraham’s life, except the manner in which he divided his wealth before he died. (Gen. 25:1-6) He died at the age of one hundred and seventy-five years.
This, the record says, was a “good old age,” adding that when he died Abraham “was gathered to his people.” (ch. 25:7,8) In many instances when deaths of the ancients are recorded in the Bible the statement is made that they “slept with their fathers.” The righteous among them did not go to heaven when they died, neither did the wicked go to a place of torment. They were all “gathered to their people,” they all “slept with their fathers” and are still sleeping in death, awaiting the resurrection, when, by divine power, they will be called forth from the tomb.
Abraham was buried in the “cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre.” (ch. 25:9,10) This was the location Abraham purchased for a burial place when Sarah died. God had promised the whole land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants, but while he lived in the land, he was a sojourner there, and felt it necessary to purchase a small piece as a family burying plot. (Acts 7:5) However, this Promised Land will yet be possessed fully, and forever, by Abraham and his descendants. God’s promise will be fulfilled!