The Promise of the Spirit
Part 2 of 2
The Making of a Covenant
With us also when, after coming to rest in our justified condition, we are drawn to consecration, our trust increases and our spirit of consecration deepens. As our consecration increases, we appreciate our need for total submission. Our only concern is how to achieve it. And here our heavenly Father leads us forward demonstrating yet again our need of Him, He arranges our covenant just as He did for Abram. (See Gen.15:9‑21)
When a covenant between two parties was made in that day, an animal was sacrificed and divided into two portions. Then the two would walk up and down between the sacrifice and thus seal the agreement. God directs Abram to lay out the pieces. After he did so, Abram waits. God seems to delay. The day draws on, but still the Lord does not appear. Now the vultures see the carcasses and descend. Abram dares not let them even touch the sacrifice or it will be defiled. All day he walks up and down between the offering to keep the birds away. When night comes, he falls into a fitful sleep. He wakes to see a lamp of fire moving up and down between the offerings.
The Lord was making the covenant to guarantee the promise. But Abram was not walking with Him. Neither we nor Abram can keep a covenant perfectly, and God cannot accept less. The law covenant demonstrates this. Since God is clearly the only party in the Abrahamic Covenant, it is sure. God had permitted Abram to prepare the offering, and it was all he could do to keep it from the birds. But this demonstrated his sincerity and intention, and this was all the Lord needed.
We also must bring our offering to the Lord, "presenting our bodies a living sacrifice." (Rom.12:1) We must endeavor to keep it before Him, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, realizing that it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. (Phil.2:12,13) God will keep His side of the covenant if we walk in sincerity of purpose before Him. We will make mistakes and will not always fully understand His will for us, but our heavenly Father can use our shortcomings to teach us what it is to walk after the spirit and not after the flesh.
The next incident in Abram’s life illustrates this. God again seems to delay. The important matter of the seed grows more pressing to Abram and Sarai. So they use their own judgment and a son is born to Abram by Hagar, Sarai’s handmaiden. The unhappy consequences of this soon became apparent. So it is whenever human wisdom is used to further the Lord’s work. Some arrangement is devised other than that which the Lord has in mind. Before we know it, we are placed in a position where we must wait for the Lord’s favour to return.
At last Abram clearly sees that God must provide the seed and that Sarai’s age and his own waning vigour are not important. Now he waits. God once more reiterates the promise. More than this, He gives Abram a new name, and a sign: Circumcision. All of this occurred before the promised seed had come. Circumcision was a sign of that righteousness of faith (Rom.4:11) but also a figure for us of that complete separation from the flesh which allows us to walk in the spirit. The apostle Paul clearly shows in Col.2:10‑12, "Ye are complete in him [Christ], which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead."
This is a "circumcision without hands," owing nothing to our own efforts (and therefore miraculous), being the "circumcision of Christ." Now the seed of promise will come, the "new man." Born not of the flesh by our own efforts, but of God. With the sign and the new name comes a closer walk with his creator. God takes him into His confidence; he is no longer a servant but a friend. God appears once more to him. (Gen.18:1). Then comes the revealing of the Lord’s mind, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I (shall) do?" (v.17)
The Lord had revealed that He was about to overthrow Sodom. Abraham intercedes not just once, but a number of times. He is heard in that Lot is saved. (Gen.19:29). From the beginning of the Gospel Age the intercession of one for another is an evidence of spiritual maturity. As we read in Gal.6:1, "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in...meekness."
Abraham’s Tests Continue
One last step now remains before the child of promise is brought forth. A "root of bitterness," long thought dead, must be dealt with. Once again all the events seem to occur in a natural manner and they reveal the hidden fault. All Abraham must do is recognize his mistake.
Abraham journeys south once again, this time into the kingdom of Abimelech. Just as with Pharaoh, Sarah is introduced as his sister. Although Abraham had undoubtedly learned from his last experience, he had not realized the need to completely eradicate this dangerous half‑truth from his thinking. It had lain all these years as an error from the old life, springing up now to bring forth its fruit of contention and strife. Once again we see the patience, love and wisdom of the divine creator towards those who are sincerely endeavoring to walk with their God. He makes a means of correction and grace, a means for the new man to advance spiritually.
Originally Pharaoh had become aware of Abraham’s deceit by the force of circumstances. Now the hand of God is seen more distinctly. First, He holds Abimelech back from his intended act. Then God disclosed in a dream what He had done and that he had been saved from death. (Gen.20:3‑6) Then comes the surprising instructions from God to Abimelech respecting Abraham. Verse 7: "Now…restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live."
What can we say of such grace and favour? Abraham had certainly wronged Abimelech and he was rightly admonished by him. Yet God clearly upholds Abraham before him. It seems that as the Lord’s people walk before Him sincerely endeavoring to be led by His spirit, the very mistakes they make bring to light their secret faults. Under His hand their experiences have a remedial effect which bring them to judgment. Once this is dealt with, they may stand before Him.
Paul prays in Phil.3:9 to "be found in him, not having mine own righteousness…through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Or, as he says elsewhere, "Christ...loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph.5:25‑27)
So too, Abraham realized that God was bringing to light his shortcomings in faith which, when seen, can be remedied, that after correction he could stand before his creator, being upheld by him, that he might intercede and bless.
Now at last the Lord visits Sarah according to His word. (Gen.21:1).The child of promise is born, weaned and comes of age. It must have seemed to Abraham that the Lord had achieved his aim. But the greatest lesson of all was yet before him.
When it came, the word of the Lord must have been a thunderbolt out of a clear sky.Gen.22:2, "take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest...and offer him…for a burnt offering. "Abraham offers not one word of denial and without delay, "early in the morning and (with)...Isaac his son...went unto the place of which God had told him." (Gen.22:3).There was no shadow of turning. His faith was complete. God had promised that "in Isaac shall thy seed be called." (Gen.21:12).The Lord had spoken. His word could not be broken.
At the beginning of his call Abraham believed that God’s word was true. This was belief in God. At the end of his journey, he knew that God’s word could not fail. This was faith in His God. God’s word was greater than any earthly event. Even the death of the seed itself could not disannul it. If God had asked for Isaac as a burnt offering, it could only mean that He intended to raise him up again. Such a thing had not been known before, but Abraham’s faith was being perfected. It was reaching forward from the known to beyond the knowledge of this world into the face of his God whom he trusted.
We can and must, if we are to be like Abraham and be led beyond ourselves, come as Paul declares, to know the love of Christ that passeth knowledge. As our opening text states: "that the blessing of Abraham might come on us through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the spirit through faith."