By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Four: New Beginnings
The Lord hath need...
We are meditating on Abraham's meeting with Melchizedek and have tried to identify some key elements of this encounter. We have seen authentic "communion" with God, a genuine priest's power to bless in the name of the Lord, the way in which a genuine priest becomes a vehicle for new revelation. It would be good to remind ourselves that all these elements are initiatives of Melchizedek himself; it was Melchizedek who brought out tokens of fellowship to Abraham; Melchizedek took every first step. There is much to learn here. God is the first mover. He must always be the origin, and originator; our responsibility in these matters is simply to respond to God's ability and direction. It is time now to examine Abraham's response.
Tithing can become a matter of controversy in modern Christian circles and when it does reference is usually made to this passage of Scripture. This passage of Scripture however lends no support to mandatory tithing; this was Abraham's spontaneous reaction not a command. It is a curious reaction when you examine the circumstances. Abraham had just received a revelation that God was "possessor of heaven and earth" and if this were true why would Abraham need to give anything to God through the priest? There is a truth here which may help us to understand the link between man's responsibility and God's sovereignty.
It is a theological axiom that God is the only self-sufficient being; all other beings have some kind of dependence but God is totally independent. Charles Wesley wrote;
Fountain of good, all blessing flows
From Thee; no want Thy fullness knows;
What but Thyself canst Thou desire?
Yet, self-sufficient as Thou art,
Thou dost desire my worthless heart;
This, only this, dost Thou require.
This really is a theological axiom; it is a divine attribute. Abraham has just seen a glimpse of this truth in the revelation that God is "possessor of heaven and earth" and yet his instinct is to give something to God. How can we understand this?
Perhaps we will begin to understand if we look elsewhere in the Scripture. Some of us who have spent time in the Anglican Communion will recognise these words; "all things come from thee, and of thine own have we given thee". The words are usually spoken at the time of the collection. They come from the story of David and the building of the temple. We will not rehearse the whole story here but this passage records David's joy at the privilege of being allowed to contribute to a house for God. As a result of his warfare and conquest David has amassed a vast fortune to facilitate the building of a house fit for God. If we had the time we could trace his history and try to measure the energy that he had put into this treasure; it was considerable. Nevertheless David shows his amazing ability to focus on the real issue; he declares that everything he has had been given to him by God. We might say that God had no need for David's contribution. After all God is self-sufficient, by definition. He needs nothing. And yet God had taken David through multitudes of trials and tribulations to enable him to fund the temple. It would probably be too much to hope to solve the Arminian and Calvinist controversy in one short sentence but we may make a small contribution. It would seem that God has decided to do certain things in certain way; this is His sovereign choice. Surely this is what sovereignty means. When Christ became man He consciously emptied himself. [Philippians 2: 7] In so doing he limited himself and this voluntary limitation has confused Unitarians ever since. Having chosen to be "the son of man" it was essential that He behave as man. In the wilderness He was strongly tempted to behave as "the son of God" but His reply showed clearly the terms on which He had chosen to live His life on earth; But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Mat 4:4 KJV). He lived his life on earth as ‘man' with all man's limitations. He chose dependence upon his Father and the Father would now only do His will through the dependence of the Son. [John 5:19]
Let's see if we can see this working in another narrative. It is the story of a fulfilled prophecy. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. (Zec 9:9 KJV) God gave this revelation to Zachariah 500 years earlier and having given it had limited Himself to a particular way of working. As a result of this prophecy Zion's King would have to arrive riding upon the colt of an ass; any other means of arrival had been automatically disqualified. As a result of God's free determination he now needed a colt. The gospel writers take up the fulfilment of this prophecy; And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. (Mar 11:2-3 KJV) What amazing combination of words this is; the Lord hath need... Were ever such words juxtaposed? There are some astonishing statements in Scripture; the Lord hath need is surely among them. As a result of a self-imposed limitation, the Lord hath need.
Let's return to the story of David and his prayer. His statement is theologically accurate; Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name. But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding. O LORD our God, all this store that we have prepared to build thee an house for thine holy name cometh of thine hand, and is all thine own. (1Ch 29:13-16 KJV) David was blessed with some amazing insights. His prayer continues... I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee. (1Ch 29:17 KJV) He has discovered something. He has discovered that ‘God gives us things to see what we will do with them'; He trieth the heart. Job uses the verb tried in a particularly relevant context, the purification of metal. But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10 KJV) God is often doing more than one thing at a time; He is not preoccupied with mile-stones. He is also the supreme multi-tasker; And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28 NASB) Did you notice that phrase "all things"? It really does mean "all things". And did you notice that phrase "work together"? This is the word so much loved of corporate business and project management, synergy. Everything that God works is perfectly synchronised with everything else that God works; all things are divinely ‘synergised' for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I often claim that ‘I can cook anything; any one thing'. It is not difficult to do one thing, but it takes God to do everything, at the same time, perfectly.
The Jesuits taught that ‘the end justifies the means' but this has never been a biblical pattern for life. God is not just achieving milestones; He is working in the lives of His workers. Is anything too hard for the Lord? If He had wished He could have spoken the temple into existence, but that would not have provided the opportunity to try David's heart. The means are every bit as important as the ends in the work of God. There's only one reason why God can't do things without human agency, and that is that He has decided He will not do so! For praying men and women that concept has awesome implications. If there are things that God has decided He will not do without human agency, the implication is that some things will not happen that might have happened... if we do not pray. This does not mean that our prayer has intrinsic power but that God has decided His will should be accomplished by this route, and by no other.
Abraham knows that God needs nothing; God is possessor of heaven and earth. Nevertheless, God does "need" this gift from Abraham. It is a vital part of the heart preparation of the man who will become the Friend of God. Hudson Taylor used to say "God's work done in God's way at God's time will never lack God's resources"; this is a true testimony. God's work does not need human resources in the way a business would need resources. God's work needs human resources because God has decided that God's work will need human resources. Spiritual bookkeeping is very different to the ordinary kind; "two mites" is more than the combined offerings of Israel. Not relatively more, just more. The widow put in more than all the others; she put in two mites. Abraham is learning that although God does not need our contribution He does need our cooperation... because He has chosen to need it.
There is an amazing phrase used in Paul's 1 Corinthians; But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; (1Co 12:20-22 NASB) It is amazing because Paul constantly refers to Christ as ‘the head of the body', but in this verse insists that the head cannot declare its independence of the foot. Can it be true that one single member is vital to the working of the one body? Is it true that the foot is necessary for God to work His perfect will? Not optional, but necessary? Yes, because God has ordained it so. In terms of human significance, of course, I am nothing, but then God has ‘hung the world on nothing'; He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. (Job 26:7 KJV). There is a wonderful little saying about Moses; he spent 40 years learning to be a somebody, 40 years learning to be a nobody, and 40 years learning what God can do with a somebody who has learned to be a nobody. You and I are nothing and nobodies; forget all the ‘poor self-esteem' cures, we are nothing. But we are very significant nothings, and although we are nothing and have nothing and can give nothing, it still remains true... the Lord hath need of thee.