by Tom Wacaster
The point in this article is to set forth an examination of the Biblical background of the events that have transpired throughout history in the geographical location of what is now referred to as the Middle East. A failure to keep present day circumstances in their Biblical context has led to a number of fanciful theories regarding the promise to Abraham, the second coming of Christ, and the Kingdom which our Lord established and over which He presently reigns. It seems that every time things heat up in the Middle East the prophets of doom appear on television and radio to spew out their predictions of an imminent return of the Lord, a massive battle at Armageddon, and the establishment of a world-wide earthly Kingdom by our Lord. Religious bookstores are literally stocked with books that speak of the immediate return of the Lord. According to the preposterous proponents of premillennialism a number of nations will enjoin the battle on a battleground not much bigger than an enclosed football stadium and when all the smoke clears Jesus will sit enthroned on some material throne in the city of Jerusalem serving as some sort of super dictator Who will settle all the disputes of the nations for a period of 1,000 years. As the late Guy N. Woods noted, “Not one feature, peculiar to it, is true. The doctrine is a figment of the imagination, conjured up by perversions of scripture and destined ultimately to disappoint and destroy its duped adherents” (Woods, Biblical Backgrounds, 4). When a sheik of some prominent Arab nation sneezes, or the Prime Minister of Israel threatens to defend his homeland against Arab intrusion, the ink flows freely and another publishing company rakes in the dollars at the expense of the ill-informed. A proper understanding and knowledge of the Biblical background concerning the races of people involved in this on-going conflict in the Middle East, along with a correct understanding of the promise made to Abraham would go a long way to helping the interested student sort out truth from error.
The story of Abraham is one of the most intriguing stories in the Old Testament. There is more space given in the Sacred record to this great man of faith than any other single character, with the exception of Jesus our Lord. Thirteen chapters are devoted to the inspired account of this faithful patriarch, with abundant additional references throughout the pages of the Bible. He is mentioned by one of his two names (Abram and Abraham) more than 250 times in the Old and New Testaments. When we are first introduced to Abram he is living in the Ur of the Chaldees and bears the name “Abram,” meaning “father of elevation” (Gen. 11:27). His name was later changed to “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” Abraham’s father, Terah, was evidently an idol worshipper as suggested by Joshua’s statement in Joshua 24:2: “And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.” Abraham’s father, Terah, had three sons, Abraham, Nahor and Haran. Haran, the oldest of the three boys, evidently died before the family made the trek to the city of Haran, more than a thousand miles removed from their home land of Ur of the Chaldees. As to why Terah and Abraham suspended their journey in Haran we are not left in the dark. Stephen, first martyr of the early church, informed his audience that the family came “out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Haran; and from thence, when his father was dead, God removed him into this land” (Acts 7:4). They were, therefore, led to Haran where they awaited further instructions, and following the death of Terah, those instructions were revealed. In Genesis 12:1-3 we read of God’s call to Abraham:
Now 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.
The incredible faith of Abraham is one of the foremost features of this patriarch. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham, “when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Heb. 11:8). We often think of Abraham as a great man, and long to imitate his faith! But Abraham was who he was, and what he was, because of two basic attitudes in life! Consider for just a moment the importance of a proper “mindset.” The Proverb writer tells us that “as a man thinketh, so is he” (Pro. 23:7). The Titanic sank because of a mindset that thought not even God Himself could sink that glorious ship. Please note two important phrases in Genesis 12, both of which reflect upon Abraham’s character, and consequently his faith. First, it is said in Genesis 12:8 that Abraham “pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east.” Abraham was a sojourner. He was known by his dwelling in tents (Heb. 11:9). Abraham was not a poor man. Every indication is that he was rather wealthy. But he never settled down and built a palace or a permanent fixture in which to dwell. Instead, “he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10). Secondly, it is said that Abraham “builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 12:8b; see also Genesis 13:18 and 22:9). “Built” stands in contrast to “pitched.” One is permanent, the other temporary. Perhaps herein is the key to the amazing faith of this man of God. He knew what was truly important in life. The late Guy N. Woods addressed this marvelous faith of Abraham:
At the top of the list of qualities which made Abraham’s name great was his unquestioning obedience to his Maker. To his eternal credit is the fact that he never faltered in following the leading of the Most High. When God called he always answered. Even when the command conflicted with his conception of what was proper in the circumstances, he justified God with the calm conviction that the Judge of all the earth will do right. Called to go out into a strange land he turned his back on the comforts of home forever and became a homeless wanderer simply because the Lord commanded it. It may truly be said that the story of his life was one of weary waiting and hope long deferred. The land promises though of greatest scope for that day were to be realized only in his posterity and it was his to dwell in tents which [sic, likely ‘while’] others tilled the soil and ate of its fruits, and built and dwelled in cities (Woods, By Faith, 35).
Dear reader, the greatness of Abraham is not to be found in those areas where men seek greatness. He possessed no land but rather “looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). Brother Woods so aptly summed up the life of this great man of faith in the following poem:
He knew not the path where he wandered;
He knew not the journey before,
As the days of his pilgrimage lengthened,
And life to its eventide wore;
And oft by his tent in the desert
He dreamed of the way he had trod,
Ere he sought for the beautiful city
Whose Builder and Maker is God.
Above were the stars for his compass,
Beneath him the Syrian sands,
And only a promise to lead him
Through dreary and desolate lands;
Who doubts his faith must have wavered,
As he wandered with weariness shod,
In quest of the glorified city
Whose Builder and Maker is God.
He lay by his tent in the even,
And o’er him night’s pageantry rolled;
The stars in crystalline orbits,
The moon down a highway of gold;
And ever he heard it, the whisper,
‘Press onward o’er pathways untrod;
There waits you the wonderful city
Whose Builder and Maker is God.
He was broken and aged and weary;
He longed for the city of rest;
And doubt stood beside him to question:
“Is the way you have chosen the best?”
Yet still he pressed onward and forward,
O’er sand and desert and clod,
Still seeking the peace of the city
Whose Builder and Maker is God.
One night the great stars in their courses
Blazed o’er him and glittered and burned,
As he sank by the side of a brooklet,
And his soul for its heritage yearned.
“I’m weary,” he murmured; “no longer
May I on my pilgrimage plod;
Yet grant me one glimpse of the city
Whose Builder and Maker is God.”
They found him at daybreak; the breezes
Above him a requiem sung;
One cloud and its shadow crept eastward
And o’er him a cerement flung;
Yet he smiled as a sleeper who dreameth
Of fields that the angels have trod
And they knew that looked on the city,
Whose Builder and Maker is God (Woods, By Faith, 35).
But let us return to the promise made to Abraham. There were two parts to this promise. There was, quite obviously, the land promise. God specifically said, “Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen. 12:7). That promise was realized when Israel, under the capable leadership of Joshua, entered the land, conquered it, and settled therein. While there are those who think this promise has yet to be fulfilled, the Scriptures plainly teach otherwise. “Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the servant of Jehovah, that Jehovah spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel” (Joshua 1:1-2). When the book closes Joshua affirms that the promise had, indeed, been fulfilled. “And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which Jehovah your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, not one thing hath failed thereof” (Joshua 23:14).
But it is the second aspect of the promise to Abraham to which we must turn our attention. The promise to Abraham was more, yea, much more than a promise of land inheritance. As great as that promise and blessing was, it is overshadowed by the spiritual promise that through his “seed” that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3). No doubt Abraham did not realize the full extent of that promise. Believing God’s promise, Abraham knew that the promise inherently demanded that Abraham must produce offspring in order for that promise to be fulfilled. This Abraham accepted without question. Paul wrote, “And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, looking unto the promise of God, he wavered not through unbelief, but waxed strong through faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:19-21). There are a number of things worth noting from this passage. First, Abraham’s faith was not weakened by the realization that both he and Sarah were well past the age of bearing children. Second, he kept his eyes on the promise of God. Third, Abraham was “fully assured” that what God had promised “he was able to perform.” The record would suggest that Sarah was not immediately of like faith. She simply could not see how she should bear children. As a result, she took it upon herself to help God out, as it were, from the dilemma He now faced. As brother Woods noted: “In an attempt to resolve the matter [she] resorted to a device, the design of which was to extricate God from a difficulty in which she supposed him to be: She conceived the notion of having Hagar, her handmaid, to bear a child by Abraham and so enable the promise to be fulfilled” (Woods, Biblical Backgrounds, 18). As a result of this humanly devised arrangement, Ishmael was born.
Before we close, it important to give some consideration as to precisely how Abraham viewed the promise. Our studied conclusion is that Abraham recognized the spiritual aspect of the promise given to him and to his seed. The material promise of land possession meant nothing to Abraham. Consider again the fact that Abraham was said to have “pitched his tent,” but never was it said he “built his house.” The land possession was insignificant to him. Consider as well his willingness to depart from the land into Egypt when the famine came (Gen. 12:10). In addition, when the strife arose “between the herdmen of Abraham’s catte and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle” (Gen. 13:7), Abraham was not concerned in the least with what land he would possess. Instead he left the choice to his nephew Lot. “If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or I thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left” (Gen. 13:9). That does not sound like the words of a man who put the emphasis upon land possession. That Abraham’s view of the promise was the correct view was verified in later revelation to Israel. When Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage, that first generation murmured because they failed to realize the primary aspect of the promise was spiritual, not physical. “And ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us” (Deut. 1:27). In Deuteronomy Israel was described as being a great nation, not because of the land they possessed, but because they were a different people. The greatest blessing they received was that of divine revelation from God. They were to teach this to the generations to follow. THIS is what made them great! It was the spiritual character that made that nation distinct and great, NOT their land possession. The reason Abraham was such a great man of faith is because he recognized the spiritual promise far and above the physical promise. Would that men would do the same today.