By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Four: New Beginnings
the people of the God of Abraham
'Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;' wrote William Cowper, 'It is the Lord, Who rises with healing in His wings:' Sometimes the same light surprises the Christian while he reads. It happened while reading Psalm 47:9...The princes of the peoples are gathered together To be the people of the God of Abraham: For the shields of the earth belong unto God; He is greatly exalted. (Psa 47:9 ASV) What an amazing phrase this is...the people of the God of Abraham
Genesis 15 is a defining moment. It is a defining moment in the history of Abraham. It is also a defining moment in the history of believing people. And, most amazingly of all, it is a defining moment in the history of God. Let me illustrate from the Psalm we have already quoted. It refers, in the ASV, to peoples who have become a people; that in itself is an amazing concept but one we cannot examine at this time. We might have expected it to say "the people of God" or "the people of Abraham", but why "the people of the God of Abraham"? The people in Psalm 47 are not being defined by their relationship to Abraham but by their relationship to Abraham's God. Seventeen times in the OT and the NT God is referred to as the "God of Abraham". It is one of God's titles.
God's titles are not distinguishing labels in the manner of our personal names, and they are revelations of his character. The title "the God of Abraham" is a revelation of God's character; God's dealings with Abraham have revealed his character for all time. He is still "the God of Abraham". This is why our study of the life of Abraham is so significant for all Christians; our God is "the God of Abraham" and we are "the people of the God of Abraham". We are not "Abraham's people" but we are "the people of Abraham's God". "Abraham's people" would be his physical descendants in the biblical people of Israel, but "the people of Abraham's God" are those who have shared Abraham's experience. They have met and entered into faith relationship with Abraham's God. I often say that Bible words do not have definitions, they have histories. And the phrase "Abraham's God" and does not have a definition either, but it does have a history and one of the defining moments of the history is Genesis 15. Are we "the people of the God of Abraham"? Answer: Only if we have had our personal experience of Abraham's experience.
Abraham is the Bible's ultimate illustration of faith and Genesis 15 is its clearest focus. For Paul in Romans it is the starting point of his examination of Abraham's relationship with God. He asks, "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?' (Rom 4:1 KJV) Most people will have heard of Archimedes' famous cry "Eureka"; it means "I have found it". Paul is asking the question 'what did Abraham discover?' He immediately answers the question by closing in on Genesis 15:6. "If Abraham was declared righteous from his own contributions" says Paul "he has something to boast about." [Rom 4:2] Paul goes on to say that if this were the case God would be morally obliged to declare Abraham righteous; Abraham would have earned his own declaration of righteousness. If this were true salvation would not be God's gift but man's wages; not grace but moral self-sufficiency. Having demolished any possibility of do-it-yourself salvation Paul concentrates on Abraham's faith; "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness". [Rom 4:3] Paul is quoting from Genesis 15:6. In the history of the word 'faith' Genesis 15:6 is a defining moment.
For those who like the technicalities, Abraham believed God could be translated Abraham believed God-wards. Abraham's faith was fixed absolutely in God himself; it was a faith that looked God-wards. He withdrew his gaze from every other possibility, and every past disappointment, and fixed it resolutely on God. The letter to the Hebrew's uses the phrase "looking unto Jesus", the NASB has fixing our eyes on Jesus. (Heb 12:2 NASB). The word really means 'looking away to Jesus'. Abraham's faith was a faith that looked away from other things and to God; we are defining faith by its history. Paget Wilkes, missionary to Japan, used to define faith by using the word 'faith' as an acrostic; Forsaking All I Trust Him. And he would add, "it takes some Christians a whole lifetime to understand what 'forsaking all' really means." We put our faith in our feelings, or in our experiences, or in a Bible verse, or in faith itself. None of these can save, Abraham believed God-wards and if we are to be "the people of Abraham's God" we must believe in the same way.
Paul gives as more light on Abraham's faith. Abraham believed in God's creative power; (as it has been written, "I have made you a father of many nations") --before God, whom he believed, who makes the dead live, and calls the things which do not exist as though they do exist. (Rom 4:17 MKJV) This is Abraham's faith, and without Abraham's faith we are not "the people of Abraham's God'. Let's spell this out. Abraham put his faith in the God who could make dead things alive. I wonder how many modern day 'believers' really believe this? With Abraham this kind of faith was not a luxury but an absolute necessity because Abraham was dead and so was Sarah; And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: (Rom 4:19 KJV) Sometimes we need to repeat a thing again and again. As regards the things that God had promised, Abraham and Sarah could make no contribution; Abraham's body was dead as regards his ability to father a child, and Sarah's womb was the same. Only a life-giving God, who needed no help, could fulfil this promise; Abraham believed in such a God, do we? This is not all, Abraham believed in a God who could create just by speaking; (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Rom 4:17 KJV). Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.
Let's continue our examination of Abraham's faith. Paul tells us... He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; (Rom 4:20 KJV) Abraham did not doubt the promise of God; to do so would have been to discredit the promiser. Abraham gave glory to God. This phrase has a history too. At the beginning of his letter to the Christians in Rome Paul gives the history of man's defection. He declares that the race did not glorify him as God. [Rom 1: 21] That is to say the race did not acknowledge him as God; we did not credit him with god-ness, we would not allow him to be God to us. Abraham's faith is a complete reversal of this attitude; Abraham believed God. He gave God his rightful place in his thinking. Paul knew what he was talking about; later in his life it would be put to the test. The supreme moment after the account of the shipwreck in Acts 27 is in verse 25. Paul is surrounded by experts who know better, and by terrifying personal circumstances. But he does not consider the hopelessness of his condition, he declares Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. (Act 27:25 KJV). It is the secret of his salvation and his service for God; Paul, like Abraham, believed God. He is staking his life on God's reputation.
Paul's exposition of Abraham's faith continues... And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (Rom 4:21 KJV) This is Abraham's faith; no contingencies, fully persuaded, all his eggs in one basket. God has identified himself with this kind of faith; this is Abraham's faith and is endorsed by Abraham's God. How different this is to the easy-believism of our day. Abraham's faith is the archetype of ‘justifying faith'. He is the father, or the first, of a new people,' the people of the God of Abraham'. He is the father of all believers. This is the glory of genuine faith and the tragedy of ancient Israel. They had his genes but not his faith; I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you. I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. (Joh 8:37-39 KJV) Or as Paul expressed it... Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. (Gal 3:6-7 KJV)
It is not the natural seed that is 'the people of the God of Abraham' but those who share his faith. There is a wonderful phrase in it Rom 4:13 where Paul refers to Abraham as the "heir of the world'. How could Abraham inherit the world? His faith opened up the channel for blessing to the whole world. It is fulfilled in Abraham's Seed, Christ, to whom the Father has repeated the promise; Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. (Psa 2:8 KJV) But the human link by which this is achieved is Abraham-type faith. By this means the peoples (plural) become the people (singular). ...The princes of the peoples are gathered together To be the people of the God of Abraham: For the shields of the earth belong unto God; He is greatly exalted. (Psa 47:9 ASV)
Abraham's faith is not just the personal possession of Abraham; it is a particular kind of faith which is illustrated in the life of Abraham. In the Scriptures God constantly draws our attention to Abraham's faith. If we would understand the basis upon which God "justifies the ungodly" [Rom 4: 5] we will need to have a solid understanding of Abraham's faith. Abraham's faith was not just faith in theological propositions, but faith in the person of God himself. It was faith that looked away from every other contingency. It was faith in Someone who could bring life to what was utterly dead. It was faith in Someone who could speak into existence things which be not. It was faith which gave God his rightful place and rested entirely upon God's enabling. And without such faith, irrespective of our theology, sincerity, ingenuity or energy, it is impossible to please God. [Heb 11:6]