PARTNERS WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT: PART VI
Abram/Abraham became an example of how one learns to partner with the Spirit of God. He learned to trust in an invisible Being with immense powers, and allowed himself to be guided by God’s Spirit. The Spirit was and still is the link and lineage between man and God. And faith makes this link between God and man believable and possible. Faith, regardless of its size, it is like a hand or a foot that has to reach out and step out before anything gets done. Man may not always have the right faith, but without faith man cannot live. Faith is as basic as food and water. With man’s spirit tuned in on God’s Spirit, life can become more productive and more fulfilling. Abram led such a life. The writer in the Letter to the Hebrews in exile, gave us this picture of a proactive man with a faith moved on God’s Promise. However, Abram tried to speed up the God’s Promise by creating his own heir in Ishmael rather than wait for Isaac, who was God’s choice. Abram, like for so many of us, could not and can not understand what is keeping God from improving our predicaments. Being impatient, Abram hurt Hagar and Ishmael. However, God did not. And God had a promise for the two people, whom Abram and Sarai forced to leave with nothing, but only their clothes on their backs:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven andas the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your posterity be named.” He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his burial (Hebrews 11:8-22).
PARTNERING WITH GOD CALLED FOR HARD AND PAINFUL DECISIONS
It was no simple matter to obey God’s order — to leave home and go to Canaan and wait for further orders. This was the God who had flooded the world! And the God, who stopped the building of the Tower of Babel. Apparently, Abram was discontent with the society he lived in; and therefore, the promise of God that he would become a great nation was an attractive offer. Abram did not follow his faith blindly, but he had specific instructions where he had to go. When Abam arrived in Canaan and things did not fall into his lap, he helped himself by going to Egypt and by fathering Ishmael as his own heir to speed up the promise of God (Genesis 16; 18; 21). The Hebrew historian, too, was displeased with the inhuman and heartless behavior of his heroes:
And the child (Isaac) grew, and was weaned; and Abram made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the child.” And as she sat over against him, the child lifted up his voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink. And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt (Genesis 21:8-21).
These are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the first-born of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the their sons of Ishmael and these are their name, by their villages and by their encampments twelve princes according to their tribes. (These are the years of the life of Ishmael, a hundred and thirty-seven years; he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his kindred.) They dwelt from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria; he settled over against all his people (Genesis 25:12-18).
PARTNERSHIP WITH GOD WAS SEALED WITH A COVENANT
Abram had to learn to let God do His job. It was after Ishmael was born that God set up an “Agreement/Covenant” with Abram as the one who had to obligate himself and his offspring to keep the Covenant for ever on earth. In the Covenant, Abram became Abraham. And the circumcision was the induction act into the Covenant. Circumcision affected all of Abraham’s children by natural birth and by adoption. Circumcision also included Hagar’s son Ishmael and Keturah’s sons: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian (He will assist Moses), Ishbak, and Shuah. Abraham did not provide materially for his sons. Abraham left all his wealth to Isaac. Ishmael and Isaac were the only sons present at his funeral at Machpelah near Mamre, in Hittite land (Genesis 25:1-11).
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty (El Shaddai); walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan for en everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant (Genesis 17:1-14).
ABRAM OR ABRAHAM HAD TO LEARN THAT GOD ONLY ANSWERS IN DUE TIME
God has set limits for man and for the world to be governed by His Words and by His Laws. Abram had to reach a hundred years to be reborn into “Abraham” before he could father a son Isaac, whom God’s Spirit would endorse. And it had to be through Sarai, who too had to be reborn as “Sarah,” before she could mother a son with God’s Spirit alive in him. God made man with a will and with a spirit that can manage him/herself and also choose between right and wrong. And until man experiences the “rebirth” in his own spirit, God cannot diverge from His Self-imposed limits to help man. Man must want to change! And man must want be reborn to receive God’s Words and God’s Laws to affect his life and to affect his condition. Hence, it is what man plants and what man sows that he ends up harvesting (Galatians 6:7-10). It is by a person’s choice that one can be a temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19) or a housing for demons (Mark 5:1-17). No one can serve two masters at the same time (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).
God will not do what man was created to do for himself; namely, to provide for himself and his family and for those that may be temporarily disabled. Satan tried to tell Jesus the Son of God, to partner with God and create a world for man where God would supplies the bread. That would have made Jesus acceptable and popular. The world was hungry, even starving, why not turn stones into bread and feed the world, and be honored for doing it. What was Jesus’ answer? “Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The “words from the mouth of God” for Jesus were the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, and Jesus’ Words in the New Testament (Luke 24:44). The “Word” is Spirit, rather uttered by the Spirit (John 6:63). But the “Word” must be energized and empowered. The disciples of Jesus, who had the breath and the spirit in them at birth, were renewed when Jesus did breathe on them His Spirit; yet, they were not active enough, but they had to wait to be empowered by God’s Spirit to get them moving. Jesus’ message to the disciples was, “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). A similar process took place in the lives of Abram and Sarai, before they became the parents of the legal heir Isaac, at a miraculous age. They also became the spiritual parents of all who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Circumcision was the sign that Abraham’s descendants had chosen to be the children of Yahweh. Abraham became an “umbrella of faith” for all men who lived within his faith. The Apostle Paul offered this explanation why God granted his blessings to all believers based on Abraham’s faith:
We say that faith was reckoned (given) to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteous. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believed without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants — not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, “So shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able toe reckoned to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespassed and raised for our justification (Romans 4:9-25).
SARAI TOO HAD TO BECOME SARAH AND MAKE THE PARTNERSHIP WITH GOD POSSIBLE
And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” Then Abraham fell on is face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live in thy sight!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be a father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.”
When he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham. Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin; And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; and all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him (Genesis 17:15-27).