Posthumously, Abraham was referred to as “the friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8.James 2:23). Neither he nor Yahweh are noted in the biblical text as referring to each other as “mutual friends” in Abraham’s biblical biography. Even Abraham’s response to meeting Yahweh at the door of his tent in Genesis 18 was far distant from a twentieth century, “Hi Dude! Gimme a High Five!” sort of informality. It still reads very much like a “Lord and servant” model of relationship both outwardly and inwardly. At least that is how it seems to my mind when I read and meditate on Abraham’s biblical memoir.
The Posthumous Statement of Abraham’s “Friendship” with Yahweh.
It was over a thousand years after Abraham’s cadaver was concealed in the cave in Machpelah field when Isaiah first referred to the patriarch as the “Friend of Yahweh.” In twenty-first century “relationship boundaries” and street language, even though the New Testament interprets Psalm 22:22 as Christ referring to the redeemed as “brothers,” and we have three times the use of the word Abba, which is transliterated instead of being translated simply because it is a Hebrew word in the midst of the Greek text, Abraham never ever sounds informal or even near the relationship model of what we would say today is a “friendship.”
Of course there is a total commitment by both man and deity in this relationship, and an incredibly close bond between the patriarch and his Lord. By any definition, formal or informal, we are talking of friendship and oneness. Yahweh bonded Himself irrevocably with Abraham by virtue of the unsolicited yet freely and graciously given promises that He made to the man from Ur.
Abraham’s responses to God, however, are always humble, respectful and worshipful. There is definitely courage and freedom in what Abraham says to God, but the awe and reverence he had towards God is clear. I have to add as a kind of confession, that even though I have always seen Christ as my “brother” and “friend” since the day of my conversion, and even though I have always perceived Heavenly Father as the loving intimate “Dad” I never had, I have never felt free – except in a preaching scenario when touching on the word “Abba” – to refer to God as “Daddy” apart from the occasional precious moment in prayer, and even then it is the Hebrew word Abba I pronounce, not “Daddy.”
To be Formal or Informal, and to what degree? That is the Question.
It is true that a believer’s relationship with God, by faith in Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, is the most intimate and meaningful bond that two beings could possibly have, but somehow I feel I am repressing my own concept of His awesome greatness, power and omniscience by referring to Him in anything but terminology that exalts Him and His holiness. And the word “Daddy” doesn’t quite express my inner sense of awe towards Him.
“Here am I and the children God has given me,” is placed into the mouth of Christ by the writer to the Hebrews in Isaiah 8:18, revealing the necessity of God’s attempt through the scriptures to explain His relationship with the redeemed of mankind by using purely human relationship terminology. I fall on my face in worship that God should refer to me in any terms that suggest “higher and cleaner than “sinner.”” I trust the Master’s use of terminology. Yes! It is incredibly important to me how He refers to me. To be one of His children is a privilege beyond words. For Christ to refer to me as His brother is a superlative that cannot be graded. Thank you Father I am your child. Thank you Jesus, I am your brother. But personally, my clear vision of His omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence restricts of me in my use of totally informal language.
Prototype, Template, Example and Model in Abraham
Abraham is, said the apostle Paul, the “father of all believers” (Rom. 4: 11). This suggests that he is not only the prototype of how we need to walk in faith, but a template and pattern of what we can expect of the experience of believing God and walking with Him. Even the process of his coming to faith is a classic pattern of archetypal dynamics throughout the time that all of the millions who have come to faith. In plain language: In the twenty-first century the understanding of the life of faith, and the underlying force of relating to Christ by faith in the Holy Spirit, is exemplified with a publicly administered divine stamp of approval by Abraham the friend of God and the father of all believers. This is clearly shown in almost every New Testament reference to his character and person. We cannot move on with Christ and leave Abraham behind or even have him omitted altogether from our meditations. A friend of mine wrote a book where he actually talks about “leaving Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant behind us as we move on in God.” I expressed total incredulity to him that he could even think of such a thing. The apostle Paul, James the Elder, and even the Lord Christ Himself brought Abraham before our eyes on several occasions as a model of some importance in several aspects of our relationship with God.
Abraham and the Word and the Spirit
Yahweh’s appearance to Abraham, and the promises given in that Initial Theophany, model the New Testament reality of the power of the word and the Spirit in tandem being received in the heart. I do not mean it was a type, a picture or an allegory. I mean that the visible appearance in Abraham’s sight, no matter how plainly human, of God Almighty – the God of all Glory who dwells in light inaccessible – was as impacting as the Words Yahweh spoke in that revelation. Abraham’s moving from a static home and a settled society into a migrant, nomadic, bedouin type of lifestyle was a giant step that changed his life, and, indeed, has impacted the whole of mankind (Genesis 12:1-4). It was, at that point of time, the biggest step of Abraham’s life. It was undoubtedly the biggest step he ever thought that God would ever be asking of him. It was huge, not only because it was the first step into a journey to the unknown, but also because he did not have a full revelation of God or His purpose. However, the audible hearing of the voice, and the visible sight of His being convinced Abraham profoundly about the Person who had initiated the relationship and the dealings and commitments He had promised. Abram packed and migrated on the basis of God and His promise.
New Testament Understanding of Godliness through Word and Spirit
However God revealed Himself on several occasions to the son of Terah in the book of Genesis, and each time, not only did God visibly and tangibly appear to him, but He spoke words that expanded his personal vision of life, increased his intelligence concerning the foundation of his faith, and gave him a deeper and more sustainable motivation to fulfill God’s purpose for his existence – even to his own hurt. Yes indeed! A Christ-like attitude of “self-denial” was embedded into Abraham’s psyche by the spirit of the conditions and means of his faith two thousand years before Christ uttered the words, “If any man would follow me, let him take up his cross.”
Open Relationship with Yahweh was Non-religious and Free
The acceptance that Abraham experienced by God’s words and continual revelation of Himself to the sojourning patriarch was total. His divinely granted approval was not a “religious” formula embedded in some ceremony or rite. It was completely and utterly as “natural” and relational as one man could be in relating to another. What is an absolute fascination in negotiating the attributes of Abraham’s relationship with God, is the very manner in which Yahweh reveals Himself and relates to Abraham when He interfaces with him. Clouds of glory and heavenly throne rooms are simply not there at all.
Yahweh Himself is seen to enter into the ways and manner of life of the biblical characters of the book of Genesis in a manner of utter simplicity, totally lacking in the drama of a burning bush, a smoking and quaking mountain, a throne in heaven with four headed living beings continually singing and/or clouds of glory, or a calling of somebody’s name in the darkness of the night. In Genesis God appears in ways suited to the simple and primitive life-style that was Abraham’s, and was typical also of the generation in which he lived. So much of Genesis is story lined and screenplayed in domestic scenes while cooking food, family disputes and dialogues. Whenever Yahweh communicates His purposes, or manifests Himself to human beings throughout the Genesis plot, it is always after the same simple pattern of a “face to face chat.” In the First Book of Moses He never employs a dramatic and/or prophetic Elijah, Elisha or a John the Baptist, but He personally interfaces with people and makes His plan and purpose known at set times. Sending a prophetic voice, it seems, would have been too distant, too reserved to suit the general routines of life of the characters involved. It may be in a dream, or with a voice, as well as by personal manifestation in real time; but it is still and always Yahweh Himself engaging in what we refer to as a “one to one chat.” And even if angels are employed, they are more His “travelling” companions than His messengers. In fact, the vast majority of the academic scholars believe firmly that each time “the Angel of the Lord” appears in Genesis, it is actually Yahweh Himself in the person of Christ. There are, clearly, no clouds, no thunder and no earthquakes. There are no singing angels or visions in the sky. It is God in a human or human-like form who comes to speak, or even, comes to genuinely exchange views with mortal man. In this easy quiet manner God repeatedly approached Abraham.
God’s Informality in Genesis
It was in the cool of the day that He walked in the garden with Adam. It was in the field He pleaded with Cain. He came down to the building site at the imaginations of Babel’s construction, and came down yet again in response to the resounding scream of evil in the city of Sodom and even conducted a casual walk in that direction from the Sacred Oak of Mamre. It was all activated in direct divine contact and conversations of purpose and intimacy initiated by God and not man. Now that remark is an important one!
He did all this in the manner of an “eye to eye” engagement that penetrated all “Deity to human” relational boundaries, He again and again appeared to Abraham, and later Isaac and Jacob, inviting their confidence, expressing His displeasure, or conveying His purposes and stating His promises, in ways of full personal familiarity, wanting to be related to – just as human beings do – in a bond based on love, trust and reality.
God wanted to be known and loved simply for Who and What He is, just like we do, and just as He still desires today with us. It was to kings and Pharaohs, not only Abraham and his stock, that the Lord God appeared in dreams by night; and being received totally without any sense of amazement, warned them of sin crouching at the door, telling them of the danger of the moment, and pointing them to their destiny. He even started one conversation with the Philistine Abimelech with the words, “You are a dead man.” Now that’s what I call, “down to earth.”
Neither are His words in any way communicated in the New Testament sense of being spoken to “by the Holy Spirit,” or by mystical inspirational promptings. That is not the way in Genesis at all. But it is, as we have seen, the personal interjection of the Lord Himself, coming in a lucid vision, or by a dream or a word; or in the still nearer way of taking the forms and attributes of manhood; and that, too, never in mystic dress or symbolism as He did afterwards to such as Isaiah, Daniel, or the apostle John. He came as one who was meeting a man in his work place, home or circumstances. He came as a traveller, needing hospitality, He eats of a calf and a cake at the tent door with one; with another He contends and wrestles, as a man with his fellow, having a quarrel or a matter of dispute with him.
Humbly and Homely He appeared in Genesis, but His Deity was always Immediately Perceived
But we must not let this distract us from the fact, no matter how non-religious and informal it may seem to us, that Abraham met, intimately with Yahweh on several occasions, and the naked statements made by God could not and would not have impacted Abraham if it hadn’t come to him in a manner that was received as “normal” or “natural.” “The God of Glory appeared” to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees (Acts 7:3). It was a divine interruption of Word and Spirit into Abraham’s life in Mesopotamia. What is most important is that in whatever way God appeared to the Patriarch, he knew the importance of what had happened to him, and the character of Him who promised. That is what made the whole revelation so solid and comprehensive in changing the course and manner of Abraham’s life and humanities history.
The Wide Variation of the Calling of Men in the Single Purpose of God’s Redemptive Plan
Adam in the full purity of innocence was a man of the earth. He had to enjoy it, knowing it all as his, but knowing nothing as his beside. But when he was sent out of Eden, he became a stranger in the earth. He received no commission to improve or furnish it. He had simply to till the ground for a living, and the later translation of Enoch the seventh from Adam, tells us that the destiny and inheritance of that earliest household of God was a heavenly one.
In Noah, however, in the process of time, the purpose of God is different. Noah is a man of the earth again. He leaves the ark with characteristics very different from that in which Adam had left Eden. Noah left the ark under a divine commission to keep the world in order. One can say that Noah was to be the judge and ruler.
It was not “strangership” on the earth, but citizenship in it, and government of it that was now once more the divine thought. God was already working towards mankind being in the same role as Adam was in before the fall. The planet was to be under the authoritative feet of redeemed humanity, which was to be under the love, influence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
However, tragically a second apostasy was witnessed in the midst of Noah’s descendants. In the process of time, the evil of the race negatively impacted human independency in the earth, casting off the fear of God, and seeking to do for themselves without Him, as Adam had (even seeking to be as God) in the garden of old.
With all this transpiring in a downward spiral, Abraham, finds grace in the eyes of the Lord. He is called out from this apostate scene; and, as we might expect, from this alternate telling of heavenly and earthly mysteries, after Noah the man of the earth, Abraham is called to be a man of heaven, and heaven on earth to be clearly envisioned.
God contracted with the Patriarch the covenant of faith (Gen. 15:5, 18). That was the time when Abraham received the Divine declaration of justification, and it is there that in the historic development of salvation the very first plain and express mention is made of the justification of a sinner (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:2-4).
The First Declaration of a man being justified by his Faith in God’s Word and Character
When exactly did Abraham reach the point of time when his faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness before God and with God? Was it before or after his circumcision?” (Romans 4:10). It could not have been less than 13 years before he was circumcised because the covenant of circumcision was first introduced when Abraham was already 99 years old (Genesis 17:1-14); but the covenant of faith and the biblical announcement of Abraham’s justification took place before even the birth of Ishmael, and therefore before his 86th year (Genesis 16:16; Compare with Genesis 17:1). Consequently Abraham had been justified already thirteen years before he was circumcised.
It is this piece of selected history that Paul, in Romans 4, builds his whole case from Scripture that justification is through faith and faith alone. As far as Abraham himself was concerned, from a plainly human perspective, it might have been without significance whether the justification had been before or after the circumcision. The truth is, however, there is no statement in the text that even suggests Abraham knew he was justified by his faith. If the bible had been given to us in movie format, Genesis 15:6 would have been a voice over spoken by an anonymous narrator: “Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.” Did Abraham know that? Who told him that because he believed what God had said he was justified and that his faith in God was accounted for in the heavenly record as a life fully lived in righteousness?
My belief in the divine order of things causes me to say that if in real time Yahweh could not pronounce Abraham righteous until that point in the narrative at Genesis 15:6 it was for a foreordained, predestined and deliberate purpose. Yahweh had a prophetic end in view in this precise sequence and timing. The fact that the pronouncement is made before his circumcision meant that Abraham was therefore the prototype, the ground-breaker, or, to use the biblical phraseology, the “father of all such as without circumcision, but through faith alone, should become justified.” This was only possible because he himself had Genesis 15:6 pronounced over his life as an uncircumcised man. Therefore the sequence in his life of the pronouncement of his justification before the covenant of circumcision is not a matter of indifference in God’s plan, but in relation to the development of the salvation of mankind, it is plainly prophetic. It is this very fact that makes it self-evidently plain that circumcision cannot be a condition precedent to being made righteousness, but only a “seal” of something that had already taken place, i.e. Abraham having been made righteous by faith (Romans 4:11). In history the seal of a monarch or Lord was only set to a completed document. The same principle runs here. The justification of Abraham must have been concluded in advance, and Genesis 15:6 declares this to be so.
The Power of the Truth Contained in Abraham’s Relationship with Yahweh and its Relevance to Today
This is why the faith of Abraham, and the divinely declared justification of the patriarch is so marvellously vital for the understanding for the teaching of the New Testament. From what we have just explained above, it follows that now, from Acts 2 onwards circumcision is an irrelevance for Gentiles that come to faith. It is by their faith in Christ that they are circumcised. Circumcision becomes obsolete and has absolutely no religious or spiritual significance. Nevertheless, of course, Jewish converts must still have the faith of Abraham, i.e. believing the promises of God for salvation, even though they are circumcised.
I believe it was a German theologian whose writings I read that stated: “To attain to the temple of salvation the Gentile must not first pass through the ante-room of the Jews, that is, through the law, but the Jews must first pass through the ante-room of that faith which Abram already had while being, so to say, a “heathen gentile.”
So it is clearly explained by Paul that what happened in Abraham’s life is intensely and vitally important to our understanding of faith and how it relates us to God. It was the very foundation of the argument against the judaising Christians who perceived Christianity and following Christ as just part of the normal Jewish belief system that followed Moses, with “a little extra doctrine.”
So the entire force of Abraham’s biblical biography teaches us clearly that salvation is utterly without human merit and that redemption is totally of God’s amazing grace. Salvation is purely a free gift, and proof is given that the gospel of the church age since Acts 2 onwards was exemplified in real time in God’s covenant with Abraham.
This means of course that the “New Covenant” as prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel is the continuation and glorious perfection of the covenant with Abraham (Galatians 3:9, 14; Romans 4). This suggests the anomaly that the New Covenant is, in reality older than the “Old Covenant.” That is, that the gospel message of grace is actually older that the covenant that started by Moses’ days up in Mount Sinai (Hebrews 8:8-9).
What is relevant is the old quote that I have in my old notes that are over 30 years from some Christian scholar, author or preacher that “The patriarchal age is more evangelical than the law; as the age before the law is a prototype of the age after the law.” (I really do not know where that quotation comes from.
But together with the Abraham being made righteous there was the glorious promise to Abraham concerning the Land.
“I am the Lord who caused thee to migrate out of Ur of the Chaldees, so as to give thee this land for an inheritance” (Genesis 15:7).
With the declaration of righteousness which meant in reality a new life to be lived in the presence and in the blessing of Yahweh, Abraham also received the promise of the Land. This is why Abraham journeyed for he looked for a city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11: 8-10). The scripture actually suggests that the Patriarch was looking to see where God lived. It seems to this writer that God appeared so often to Abraham while he tented in Canaan that by the fact he would walk to his tent to meet him, and then walk away when his business with Abraham was finished that somehow Abraham must have deduced that God had a city somewhere in the land of Canaan where He “lived.” Does that sound stupid?
Romans 4:13-17 places the same value on this aspect of the Divine promise as on his righteousness before God. Abraham was heir to the world, and Paul mentions this in a fully organic connection with his rationale of Abraham’s justification being given him without any circumcision. One preacher, I heard said, “Justification is not connected to any law apart from the law of faith as in Romans 3:27.”
Paul’s letter to the Romans is the sledgehammer to destroy legalism and ramming the thought into the human psyche that the law is irrelevant to a person’s justification. And the same apostle’s letter to the Galatians is the steamroller to crack the nut of the thought that sanctification and growth in holiness is of the law. The entire process of a person’s salvation is all about faith. And with these mountainous issues resolved, he reasons that there is nothing in the cosmos that can interfere with the redeemed of humanity gaining their eternal inheritance, and ethnic Israel gaining the Land. It is all a done deal to those of faith. (John 10:28, 29; I Peter 1:4, 5; Romans 8:30).
We need to get hold in our understanding that the foundational covenants of faith in Genesis chapter 15, and the covenant of Genesis 17. The Covenant cut in Genesis 15:18 is with “Gentile” Abram. Genesis 17:7 is a Covenant cut with the already justified and newly named Abraham. The latter covenant was not eternal as was the first one (Galatians 4:2). Genesis 15 is the rock solid foundational covenant exhibiting God’s grace and kindness to Abraham and mankind. This means that Genesis 15 could be rationally argued as the most important and ground level chapter of salvation in the whole of the Old Testament.