Abraham: How God will Provide

Abraham lived 4000 years ago, traveling to modern-day Israel.  He was promised a son that would become a ‘great nation’, but he had to wait until he was very old to see his son born.  Jews and Arabs today come from Abraham, so we know the promise came true and that he is an important person in history as the father of great nations.

Abraham was now very happy to watch his son Isaac grow up into a man.  But then God tested Abraham with a difficult task.   God said:

“Go get Isaac, your only son, the one you dearly love! Take him to the land of Moriah, and I will show you a mountain where you must sacrifice him to me on the fires of an altar.” (Genesis 22:2)

This is hard to understand!  Why would God ask Abraham to do this?  But Abraham, who had learned to trust God – even when he did not understand

… got up early the next morning … and left with Isaac and two servants for the place where God had told him to go. (Genesis 22:3)

After three days travel they reached the mountain. Then

…when they reached the place that God had told him about, Abraham built an altar and placed the wood on it. Next, he tied up his son and put him on the wood. He then took the knife and got ready to kill his son. (Genesis 22: 9-10)

Abraham was ready to obey God.  Just then something remarkable happened

But the Lord’s angel shouted from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am!” he answered.

“Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.”

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son. (Genesis 22: 11-13)

At the last moment Isaac was saved from death and Abraham saw a male sheep and sacrificed it instead.  God had provided a ram and the ram took the place of Isaac.

Here I would like to ask a question.  At this point in the story is the ram dead or alive?

Why do I ask?  Because Abraham will now give a name to the place, but most people miss its importance.  The story continues…

Abraham named that place “The Lord Will Provide.” And even now people say, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”  (Genesis 22:14)

Another question: Is the name that Abraham gave to that place (“The Lord Will Provide”) in the past, present or future tense?

Looking to the future, not the past

It is clearly in the future tense.  Many people think that Abraham, when naming that place, was thinking of the ram provided by God by getting caught in the thicket and then sacrificed in place of his Isaac.  But when Abraham gave the name that ram was already dead and sacrificed.  If Abraham was thinking of that ram – already dead and sacrificed – he would have named it ‘The LORD has provided’ – in the past tense.  And the closing comment would read ‘And even now people say “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’.  But the name looks to the future, not the past. Abraham is not thinking of the already dead ram.  He is naming it for something else – in the future.  But what?

Where is that place?

Remember where this sacrifice occurred, told at the beginning of the story:

(“Go get Isaac, …. Take him to the land of Moriah”)

This happened at ‘Moriah’. Where is that?  It was wilderness in Abraham’s day (2000 BC), with only some bushes, a wild ram, and Abraham & Isaac on that mountain.  But one thousand years later (1000 BC) King David built the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there. We read later in the Old Testament that:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah… (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Mount Moriah became Jerusalem, the Jewish city with the Jewish Temple. Today it is a holy place for the Jewish people, and Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel.

The Sacrifice of Abraham and Jesus

Let us think a little about the titles of Jesus.  Jesus’ most well-known title is ‘Christ’. But he had other titles, like

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Jesus was also called ‘The Lamb of God‘. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It was in Jerusalem (which is the same as ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clearly stated that:

He [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s authority. Herod was in Jerusalem at that time, so Pilate sent Jesus to him. (Luke 23:7)

The arrest, trial and death of Jesus was in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah).  The timeline shows the events that have happened at Mount Moriah.

timeline of major events at Mount Moriah
Major events at Mount Moriah

Back to Abraham.  Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’?  Isaac had been saved at the last moment when a lamb was sacrificed in his place.  Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and he is sacrificed at the same location – so you & I could also live.

A Divine Plan

It is like a Mind has connected these two events that are separated by 2000 years of history.  What makes the connection unique is that the first event points to the later event by the name in the future tense.  But how would Abraham know what would happen in the future?  No human knows the future, especially that far into the future.  Only God can know the future.  Foreseeing the future and having these events happen at the same place is evidence that this is not a human plan, but a plan from God.  He wants us to think about this like below

Abraham's sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus
Abraham’s sacrifice at Mount Moriah is a sign pointing to sacrifice of Jesus

Good News for all nations

This story also has a promise for you. At the end of this story God promises to Abraham that:

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

If you belong to one of the ‘nations on earth’ then this is a promise to you for a ‘blessing’ from God.

So what is this ‘blessing’?  How do you get it?  Think of the story.  Just like the ram saved Isaac from death, so Jesus the Lamb of God, by his sacrifice at the same place, saves us from the power of death.  If that is true it would certainly be good news.

The sacrifice of Abraham on Mount Moriah is an important event in ancient history.  It is remembered and celebrated by millions around the world today.  But it is also a story for you living 4000 years later.  Its theme is continued with Moses.

Getting Righteousness – Abraham’s example

Previously we saw that Abraham obtained righteousness simply by believing. This was stated in the little sentence:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Belief is not about the existence of God

Think what ‘believe’ means.  Many people think that ‘believe’ means believing that God exists.  We think that God just wants us to believe that He is there.  But the Bible states it differently.  It says,

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19)

Here the Bible is using sarcasm to say that simply believing God exists makes us as good as the Devil.  It is true that Abraham believed in God’s existence, but that is not the point of his righteousness.  God had promised Abraham that He would give him a son.  It was that promise that Abraham had to choose to believe or not – even while he knew that he was in his 80’s and his wife was in her 70’s.  He trusted that God would somehow fulfill that promise to him. Belief, in this story, means trust. Abraham chose to trust God for a son.

When Abraham chose to believe that promise of a son then God also gave him – ‘credited’ him– righteousness. In the end Abraham got both the fulfilled promise (a son from whom a great nation would come) and also righteousness.

Righteousness – not from merit or effort

Abraham did not ‘earn’ righteousness; it was ‘credited’ to him. What is the difference? If something is ‘earned’ you work for it – you deserve it. It is like receiving wages for the work you do. But when something is credited to you, it is given to you. It is not earned or merited, but simply received.

We think that doing more good things than bad things, doing good deeds, or meeting obligations allows us to deserve or merit righteousness.  Abraham proves this idea false. He did not try to earn righteousness. He simply chose to believe the promise offered to him, and righteousness was given to him.

Abraham’s Belief: He bet his life on it

Choosing to believe in this promise of a son was simple but it was not easy.  When he was first promised a ‘Great Nation’ he was 75 years old and he had left his home country and traveled to Canaan.  Almost ten years have now passed and Abraham and Sarah still do not have a child – let alone a nation! “Why has God not already given us a son if he could have done so”?, he would have wondered.  Abraham believed the promise of a son because he trusted God, even though he did not understand everything about the promise, nor did he have all his questions answered.

Believing the promise required active waiting. His whole life was  interrupted while living in tents waiting for the promise. It would have been much easier to make excuses and return home to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that he had left many years earlier, and where his brother and family still lived. Life was comfortable there.

His trust in the promise took priority over normal goals in life – security, comfort and well-being.  He could have disbelieved the promise while still believing in the existence of God and continuing with religious activities and good deeds.  Then he would have maintained his religion but not been ‘credited’ righteousness.

Our Example

The rest of the Bible treats Abraham as an example for us.  Abraham’s belief in the promise from God, and the crediting of righteousness, is a pattern for us. The Bible has other promises that God makes to all of us.  We also have to chose whether we will trust them.

Here is an example of such a promise.

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. (John 1:12-13)

Today we know that the promise to Abraham came true.  It is undeniable that the Jewish people today exist as that nation that came from Abraham.  But like Abraham we face a promise today that seems unlikely and raises some questions.  Like Abraham, we choose to trust this promise – or not.

Who pays for Righteousness?

Abraham showed that righteousness is given as a gift.  When you get a gift you do not pay for it – otherwise it is not a gift.  The giver of the gift is the one who pays.  God, the giver of righteousness, will have to pay for righteousness.  How will He do it?  We see in our next article.

The Ageless Promise to an Unnoticed Man

What the world takes great note of now in sports and politics will quickly be forgotten as we move on to other amusements, championships or political events. The highlight one day quickly becomes forgotten the next. We saw in our previous article that this was true in the ancient time of Abraham. The important achievements that held the attention of people living 4000 years ago are now totally forgotten, but a promise spoken quietly to an individual, though overlooked by the world back then, is growing and still unfolding before our eyes. The promise given to Abraham about 4000 years ago has come true. Perhaps God does exist and is working in the world.

Abraham’s Complaint

Several years have passed in Abraham’s life since the Promise recorded in Genesis 12 was spoken. In obedience Abraham moved to Canaan (the Promised Land) in what is today Israel, but the birth of the promised son did not happen.  So Abraham began to worry.

Then the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3)

God’s Promise

Abraham was camping out in the Land waiting for the start of the ‘Great Nation’ that he was promised. But nothing had happened and he was around 85 years old (ten years had passed since his move). He complained that God was not keeping His Promise. Their conversation continued with:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

So God expanded His initial Promise by declaring that Abraham would get a son that would become a people as uncountable as the stars in the sky.  And these people would be given the Promised Land – today called Israel.

Abraham’s Response: Everlasting Effect

How would Abraham respond to the expanded Promise? What follows is a sentence that the Bible itself treats as one of the most important sentences in the whole Bible. It helps us to understand the Bible and shows the heart of God. It says:

Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is easier to understand this sentence if we replace the pronouns with names, it would read:

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD credited it to Abram as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

It is such a small, simple sentence, but it is truly significant. Why? Because in this little sentence Abraham obtains ‘righteousness’. This is the one – and the only one – quality that we need to get right standing before God.

Reviewing our Problem: Corruption

From God’s point-of-view, though we were made in the image of God something happened that corrupted us. The Bible says:

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

Our corruption has resulted in our not doing what is good –causing emptiness and death. If you doubt this, read the world news headlines and see what people have been doing the last 24 hours.  This means that we are separated from a Righteous God because we lack righteousness.

Our corruption repels God in the same way that we would keep away from the body of a dead rat. We would not want to go near it. So the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible come true.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Abraham and Righteousness

But here in the conversation between Abraham and God we find a quiet declaration that Abraham had gained ‘righteousness’, the kind that God accepts – even though Abraham was not sinless.  So, what did Abraham ‘do’ to get this righteousness? It simply says Abraham ‘believed’.  That’s it?! We try to earn righteousness by doing something, but this man, Abraham, got it simply by ‘believing’.

But what does believing mean?  And what does this have to do with your righteousness and mine?  We take it up next.

An Ancient Journey that Affects us Today

Even though Israel is a small country it is always in the news.  The news continues to report on Jews moving to Israel, on the technology invented there, but also on conflict, wars and tensions with surrounding people.  Why? A look at Israel’s history in the book of Genesis in the Bible reveals that 4000 years ago a man, who is now very well known, went on a camping trip in that part of the world.  The Bible says that his story affects our future.

This ancient man is Abraham (also known as Abram).  We can take his story seriously because the places and cities he visited are mentioned in other old writings.

The Promise to Abraham

God made a promise to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)

Abraham’s name became Great

Most of us wonder if there is a God and if He really is the God of the Bible. In the Bible God says ‘I will make your name great’ and today the name of Abraham/Abram is known worldwide. This promise has come true. The earliest copy of Genesis found in the Dead Sea Scrolls is dated 200-100 B.C. which means the promise has been in writing since at least that time. At that time the name of Abraham was not well-known so the promise came true only after it was written down, not before.

… by means of his great nation

Surprisingly Abraham really did nothing important in his life.  He was not a great writer, king, inventor or military leader.  He did nothing except camp out where he was told to go and father a few children.  His name is great only because the children became nation(s) that kept the record of his life – and then individuals and nations that came from him became great.  This is exactly how it was promised in Genesis 12 (“I will make you into a great nation … I will make your name great”).  No one else in all history is so well-known only because of descendants rather than from great achievements in his own life.

…Through the Will of the Promise-Maker

The Jews who descended from Abraham were never really the nation we associate with greatness.  They did not conquer and build a great empire like the Romans did or build large monuments like the Egyptians did with the pyramids. Their fame comes from the Law and Book which they wrote; from some remarkable individuals that were Jewish; and that they have survived as a somewhat different people group for thousands of years.  Their greatness is not because of anything they did, but rather what was done to and through them.  The promise says repeatedly “I will …” – that would be the power behind the promise.  Their unique greatness happened because God made it happen rather than some ability, conquest or power of their own.

The promise to Abraham came true because he trusted a promise and chose to live differently than others. Think how likely it was for this promise to have failed, but instead it has happened, and is continuing to unfold, as it was stated  thousands of years ago.  The case is strong that the promise came true only because of the power and authority of the Promise-Maker.

The Journey that still shakes the World

Abrahams Trek
This map shows the journey of Abraham

The Bible then says that “So Abram left as the LORD had told him” (v. 4).  He began a journey, shown on the map that is still making history.

Blessings to us

There is something else promised as well. The blessing was not only for Abraham. It says that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (through Abraham). We should pay attention because you and I are part of ‘all peoples on earth’ – no matter what our religion, color, background, nationality, social status, or what language we speak.  This promise for a blessing includes everybody alive today!  How?  When?  What kind of blessing? This is not clearly stated here but since we know that the first parts of this promise have come true, we can have confidence that this last part will also come true. We find the key to unlock this mystery by continuing to follow the journey of Abraham in our next article.