By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Three: Down into Egypt
We have tracked his disastrous descent into Egypt, now let's track his restoration. He went up out of Egypt into the Negeb. And Abraham was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. Or as the Hebrew idiom has it, 'very heavy' in cattle, in silver, in gold. Would you be rich? Riches are a heavy burden and not many can carry them without becoming bent under the weight; that was ‘not many' not ‘not any'.
He returns to the exact spot where he had first called upon the name of Jehovah. (Cf. Gen 12:8, Gen 13:3) The intervening verses have been a parenthesis; the story of Abraham's pilgrimage has not moved on. How long was he in Egypt? We are not told but during that time the clock stopped; no progress. He is now ‘very rich' but has added nothing to his spiritual wealth. Let him that hath ears... God's chronology is different to that of earth. There is an interesting verse in 1 Kings 6:1 which states that the time between the Exodus and the building of the Temple was 480 years. However if we add the years together we would discover that 594 ‘earth' years had passed. Of these 594 years, 114 were spent under God's displeasure in the wilderness and under oppressors during the time of the Judges and were lost as regards the ongoing purposes of God in the nation. Take 114 from 594 and we find the 480 that counted. When ‘time is no more' I wonder how many years will have ‘counted'?
Abraham has gone forward to the past, or ‘back to the future' as there can be no ‘future' until he returns to the past. His life has come ‘full circle'. This is a sobering but glorious truth. It is ‘sobering' that we often have to return to ‘the beginning'; it is ‘glorious' that we can. and he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; unto the place of the altar which he made there at the first: and there Abraham called on the name of the LORD. (Gen 13:3,4) Beginnings are vital. If ‘the beginning' has been right we can return to it again and again. It provides a unique spiritual reference point. If we become spiritually disorientated or ‘go down into Egypt' there can be a return to that fixed point and we can begin again from there. In ordinary life I am notorious for my (ab)sense of direction; I once got lost from the middle a funeral cortege travelling at 15 mph. In between the church building and the cemetery I and my passengers lost the plot! I have a friend in Warsaw who won't allow me out in the garden unless the gate is closed! What I lack is that unique starting point from where I can orientate. A genuine spiritual beginning is such a point. If you become lost don't try to be clever with the short-cuts, take the advice of a ‘professional' at getting lost; it will be quicker and safer to start again.
Where would you have placed Abraham's beginning? Ur? Haran? Shechem? Or Bethel? There had been visions and words from God before Bethel. There had been at least one altar before Bethel. But Bethel is the place where he ‘called upon the name of the LORD'. (Gen 12:8) This is the place where he had reached out to God in desperation, and called upon the name of the one he knew as Jehovah. 'Jehovah' is not a convenient label as human names are; it is a revelation of character. All God's names are revelations of His character; Jehovah becomes the personal name of the God of Israel. The name signifies the Eternal One; 'I am that I am'. I am Jehovah, that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise unto graven images. Isa 42:8 For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Mal 3:6 KJV) The unchanging and unchangeable God, who in the Beginning already ‘was' and who was to join Himself in covenant to His people.
This ‘god' had revealed Himself to Abraham, and to this ‘god' Abraham built an altar. It was to this ‘god' that Abraham called, by name. It was this ‘god' who Moses would ask to see. And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. (Exo 33:18) God's answer to Moses is full of instruction. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. (Exo 33:19 ASV) Did Moses expect to see spectacular demonstrations of power? God's glory is His character. Moses asks to see ‘glory', God says I will make all my goodness pass before thee. Other generations seem to have seen this so much more clearly than our own.
GREAT God of wonders! all thy ways
Display the attributes divine;
But countless acts of pardoning grace
Beyond thine other wonders shine:
Who is a pardoning God like thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
And Jehovah descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, (Exo 34:5-6 ASV) This is Moses' God, this is Israel's God, this is Abraham's God, this is our God. This and no other. This is the ‘god' that the Son revealed and still does; And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:26)
God had more to show and He showed it in His Son. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for Jehovah, even Jehovah, is my strength and song; and he is become my salvation. (Isa 12:2 ASV). Jehovah... is become my salvation? We have a word for that; Jehoshuah... Joshua... Jesus. The revelation is now complete. The ‘god' who declared His nature standing on a stone in the desert declared it in even greater fullness nailed to a cross. Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Act 4:10-12 KJV)
We cannot know what Abraham knew about God, but God had ‘appeared to him' and at Bethel Abraham had ‘called upon His name'. Abraham has now returned to the exact spot and calls again upon the name of Jehovah. Those who shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom 10:13) and he is ‘saved' back into the revealed will of God. Many a visitor to Egypt has returned feeling that things can never be the same again; whatever happens from now can only be ‘second best'. Abraham will discover what many have discovered since that with God ‘second best' is only ‘second' in relation to time and never to quality. For those who will return to the place of their beginnings there awaits a new robe and new sandals and a ring. The ring is the sign of delegated authority; authority to act for the giver. He is the Lord of the rings.
So to all who have taken a ‘sojourn in Egypt' here is your invitation. Turn around and head back to your beginnings. Recall to mind the character of your God, give yourself to Him again as you did before, and call on His Name. The promise is not just of ‘restoration' but more blessing than ever before; And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. (Joe 2:25-29 KJV)