—GEN. 12:1-9.—JULY 28.—
ABRAM received his special call about four centuries after the deluge. The three sons of Noah became the roots, so to speak, of the different branches of the human family—spreading out in different directions. In the words of another, "The world was populated in three different lines by the sons of Noah: Shem, from whom were derived the Jews and other Semitic races; Ham, the ancestor of the colored races; and Japheth, amongst whose descendants are the European nations. To these three, the diverging races and the languages of men converge, as rays of light to their sources."
The four centuries had undoubtedly accomplished much in the way of populating the immediate district which is called the "cradle of the race," in the vicinity of Babylonia. During these four centuries the downward tendency of our fallen race was farther manifested; for altho Noah was evidently a man of faith in God, and his sons and their wives, saved in the Ark with him, were doubtless firm believers in Jehovah God—their experiences attesting his greatness and his wisdom—nevertheless, in a comparatively short time their posterity, lacking faith in God and in his promises that there would never more be a flood, undertook the erection of the Tower of Babel as a protection, little realizing, apparently, the folly of such an attempt to outwit the Almighty.
It was here that the oneness of the race, exercised injuriously, was effectually broken up by the Lord, by confounding the language of the people. Just how he accomplished this division of language is not explained, nor is such an explanation necessary. The fact is that language is split up not only into great divisions, but into minor dialects, notwithstanding the fact that, as surely as the whole race was originally one, the language at first must likewise have been one. This divergency of language tended to the disintegration of the race and its scattering into various bands [R2846 : page 230] or tribes—ultimately into every corner of the world, as at present. And such changes of conditions, in temperature, habits of life, etc., have undoubtedly had much to do with the great variety of types amongst men which we see today—these racial changes coming in gradually during the past 4000 years.
Abram, and so far as we may know from the Scriptures, his father and all of his brethren, maintained to a considerable degree a faith in Jehovah; and in harmony with this, enjoyed divine favors similar to those which operated in, and brought blessings to, Noah. But during those four centuries, so far as the records show, the world in general had become idolatrous and morally corrupt.
During all those four centuries there was no preaching of the gospel, because there was no gospel to preach, no good tidings authorized to be proclaimed. Nor was there any threatening of men with an eternity of torture, because no such thing is true. The world simply moved along, taking its own course, which, as we have seen, is a downward one. We may safely say that while an individual might for a time hold himself from a moral decline, or might even take a few upward steps toward a better condition, mentally, morally and physically, yet we cannot surmise, from what we know of the race and the tendencies of sin working in its members, that any number would make upward progress: on the contrary, experience proves that the tendencies on the part of the whole is continually downward, in response to some moral force corresponding to gravitation. Observation of the Scripture records as well as observation of life teach us that any particular and extended uplift of our race or its members must come through a power from on high—a power outside of mankind. And this power of God operates chiefly through the mind, and is conveyed generally through divine promises, which the Apostle declares are designed of God to work in us both "to will and to do God's good pleasure."
Here we find Abram, the youngest son of Terah, living with his father and with his brother Nahor. His elder brother Haran was of the same family group, and is supposed to have left two children when he and his wife died—Lot and Sarah. It was at this time that in some manner, not explained to us, the Lord manifested to Abram his favor, calling him to separate himself; to leave his own country and his father's house, and to expect, in so doing, increased manifestations of divine favor and blessing. Apparently this call, while given before his father Terah's death, was understood by Abram to be a preparatory admonition so that he might respond, as he did, directly after his father's death. Meantime he had reached the age of 70 years, had married Sarah and had considerable possessions in the way of flocks and herds, with quite a retinue of servants and assistants necessary to the care of these. Abram, for his name had not yet been changed to Abraham, was what is called in that country a sheik, and his change of abode in response to the Lord's call meant a great deal in the way of breaking up of established usages, sundering of family ties, etc. How large his camp must have been may be judged from the fact that a little later on (Gen. 14:14), the number of his armed servants born in his own household was 318—implying a general household of at least 1,000 persons. Abram was thus a sort of king according to the conditions of that time; or a feudal lord or baron according to later conditions and usages in Great Britain; a sheik, father or ruler, according to his own time and country.
Few seem to get the proper thought respecting the call of Abram: he was not called to escape hell and eternal torment, nor was he called to go to heaven. He was called to leave Chaldea and go forth whithersoever the Lord in his providence might direct. Terah, his father, was not called, nor was Nahor, his older brother. Sarah, who had become his wife, shared with him in the call, of course, but altho he took with him his nephew, Lot, the latter was not included in the call; altho a sharer in God's favors to Abram, he had neither part nor lot in the call and the subsequent promises and covenant connected with it; and this was all right. It implied no injustice on God's part. God had a great and wonderful plan for man's salvation which he purposed to work out largely through human instrumentality, and it was his own business, and no one else's, whom of the fallen race he would elect to use as his servant and as the channel for these purposed blessings—the character of which will be more clearly delineated in future lessons.
During the five years between the time God first called Abram and the time when he started for Canaan, after his father's death, there was abundant opportunity for doubt and fear to do their work in his heart, and to hinder his obedience. Undoubtedly he thought the whole matter over carefully; and from what we know of his general character, we must assume that he decided the matter speedily—his confidence in the Lord being so great he could not question the wisdom of following such a guide. Nevertheless, the time must have come when it would be necessary to inform his friends and relatives respecting his departure and respecting his call of God. We may reasonably surmise their opposition, their lack of faith in the matter, and how they would endeavor to dissuade Abram from going, telling him he was deceiving himself, and that his chances for becoming great were far better at home than in his proposed emigration. No doubt they [R2847 : page 231] taunted him with a call which did not clearly specify where he was to go;—for we have the assurance of the Apostle that he obeyed God, "not knowing whither he went."—Heb. 11:8.
Abram's call very much resembles the call of the elect Church. Neither are we called to escape eternal torment. Neither do we at first comprehend the leadings of divine providence, but are to follow and be led and taught of God day by day. Our friends also are in Babylon, in confusion, and they, like Abraham's friends, would dissuade us from the exercise of full confidence in the divine promises—they would persuade us of the folly of leaving Babylon, its comforts and associations: they assure us that our opportunities for greatness, etc., will be distinctly lessened by the course of obedience which we take. Nevertheless we, like Abram, go forth taking all of our possessions with us, great or small—nothing must be left behind to be a treasure in Babylon and to attract our hearts thither again. All things must be brought with us so that not our own lives and talents only, but our influence upon others, must all be made to count—every item of it—in harmony with the Lord's promises.
The Lord's promise to his elect Church, designated Israel and children of Abraham, is very similar to the promise made to Abram, as recorded in this lesson. To us the Lord says, "Ye are...a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;" yet these promises belong in such a large degree to the future, that only by the exercise of faith like Abram's is it possible for us to appreciate the situation and rejoice in and live up to the privileges of this position.
To us who are united to Christ, the Father's words specially apply, "I will bless thee and make thy name great and thou shalt be called blessed." The fulfilment has already commenced in our hearts, but that is not the end, not the fulness, not the ultimate meaning of the promise; for by and by this holy nation (the body of Christ, the Church), shall be great indeed when filled with the divine blessing and power as God's glorified Kingdom. We realize, too, that while it is our blessed privilege to let shine upon others the light which the Lord by his spirit has graciously shined into our hearts, nevertheless, our time for bestowing the great blessing is still future—that it belongs to the period for which we pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth." We reason that, altho our name may be now cast out as evil, and the reproaches bestowed upon the Head of the body may fall also upon us, his members, nevertheless, the time is surely hastening when the name, Christ, shall be great throughout all the earth; and that being the name of our Bridegroom it will also be our name as his bride and joint-heir. We look forward with joy to the time when the holy nation, now so misunderstood and considered a peculiar people, shall recompense the poor, blinded, Satan-deceived world and nominal church for all the evils inflicted upon the Christ, head and body, by blessing them, returning good for evil in the highest degree—instructing and uplifting all who will to return to divine favor.
It is also true of the spiritual seed of Abraham that the Lord defends their cause, and that those who afflict or injure them, figuratively injure the apple of the Lord's eye, while those who bless them are sure to be compensated. Whosoever shall give a cup of cold water to one of the least of the Lord's disciples shall eventually receive a great reward for the kindness—if not in the present life, then, in the life to come.—Matt. 10:42; Zech. 2:8.
Abraham's experience is recorded as an evidence of his faith. It would have been vain for him to have pleaded great faith in the Lord and to have said, The Lord is as able to bless me and to use me in Chaldea, Babylonia, as in any other place; and since what he seeks is to know my faith, he can just as well see that I have it here. Some who class themselves as spiritual Israel, seem to reason after this manner, but they make a great mistake. It is true that the Lord looks upon the heart, and that it is our faith, and not our imperfect works, which commends us to him, but he assures us that if we have the faith it will speedily manifest itself in works; and that if we have the faith and fail to act in harmony with it, to the extent of our ability, the faith will die out. Perfect works are not demanded of us, because we are imperfect through the fall; but any who would maintain a justified standing before the Lord, through faith, must manifest works in harmony with their faith to the extent of ability, for faith without works is dead—has lost all its vitality, all its virtue, all its life. It is thenceforth dead, worthless.—Jas. 2:17.
Justification is a free gift, "not of works, lest any man should boast"—it is God's gift through Christ, based upon the ransom. But as it is accounted unto us only for the purpose of permitting us to go on—to sanctification—to self-sacrifice, such results or works must be forthcoming, or it will prove that we have received "the grace of God in vain."—Eph. 2:9; 2 Cor. 6:1.
After Abraham had thus proven himself obedient, showing his faith by his obedience, the Lord revealed his purposes to him much more specifically than at first, saying, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." This promise must have seemed quite improbable at that time, for the land was already peopled with strong nations, whose posterity would undoubtedly increase greatly, while Abram, on the contrary, had as yet no [R2847 : page 232] child. There was room for doubt in Abram's mind, but there was also room for faith. His faith accepted the promise, and he ratified it by building there an altar, on which we presume he offered sacrifices to the Lord, typical of the great sacrifice of Christ, through the efficacy of which all of God's promises will be fulfilled. Let us carefully notice that the special promise of God given to Abram ignored Lot and his family, and ignored the thousand or more persons of Abram's household. It is proper to call special attention to these matters in view of the very erroneous conceptions of God's elections, which have gained access to nearly all minds, and which need to be gotten rid of if we would rightly understand the divine plan of the ages. Those non-elect were "passed by" and not associated in the Abrahamic call and election, but not therefore sentenced to eternal torment; but, just like the non-elect of this Gospel age, they must wait for divine blessings until Abraham's seed shall bless the world during the Millennium.
There is no suggestion in this promise neither that Abraham was to preach the gospel to any of his 1,000 camp-followers, and herdsmen, nor that any of them were in any danger of an eternity of torture by reason of such a commission not having been given to Abram. The fact is that the wages of sin is death—including trials, weaknesses and sufferings of the present life incidental to the dying process. The whole world was in danger of this penalty,—more than this, the danger feature was past, for they were already in death;—dying under the original sentence passed against father Adam, and shared by all of his progeny.—Rom. 5:12.
The whole race therefore, including Abram and Lot and the servants and all the families of the earth, were going down into the great prison house—death. No way of escape had yet been provided by the Almighty on any terms or conditions, and hence there was no gospel to preach; hence, too, altho the Lord subsequently made known to Abraham that the blessing of all of the families of the earth would in due time come through his seed—the Christ—nevertheless, the proclamation of this gospel or good tidings of a resurrection—of a recovery of the dead through the merits of the great atonement sacrifice—could not be made, could not be authorized of God, till first of all our Lord Jesus had paid the ransom price with his own life, purchasing the whole world of mankind, and the right in due time to resurrect such of them as will come into full accord with the divine law. It is appropriate, therefore, that the Scriptures tell us distinctly that this great salvation from death "began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him."—Heb. 2:3.