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What is the most-shared ‘encouragment’ verse in the Bible? The verse from Jeremiah 29 must be a strong contender…
Jer 29:11″For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
It is a classic case of taking a verse out of its context and changing its original meaning.
Well meaning, false, prophets
At the time of Israel’s expatriation to Babylon there is an interesting division among the prophets. Daniel and Ezekiel, as young men, were taken captive to Babylon but Jeremiah was left behind in Jerusalem. This affects their perspective as they speak for God about the tragedy that was engulfing their nation. These three were not the only prophets. There were fake prophets too; some were left behind and some were taken captive. Some of the fake prophets set about the work of trying to raise the morale of their fellow captives. One line of their strategy was to declare that exile in Babylon was just a passing shower. Their prophecies were the equivalent of saying “don’t even unpack, you’re not staying around long enough to make it worth while.”
Back in Jerusalem Jeremiah heard the account of the false prophets and set himself to write a letter. Jeremiah 29 is the record of that letter; the first epistle of Jeremiah. His letter includes the famous verse 11, and its ‘words of comfort’. Time, I think, to take a closer look.
Time-locks and other preconditions
The previous verse sets part of the context.
For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD. For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. Jer 29:9–10 NKJV.
These introductory verses show us that the promise of the next verse is actually time-locked. As a young man I worked in a national bank where the vaults were opened with two keys. Technically, the two key-holders could open the vault. However, the vault was on a time-lock as a security device and the vault needed both the key-holders and the correct time of day before we could swing open its great metal doors. Jeremiah’s promise is similar. It is not a verse that can be lifted from the scriptures and applied at will; it is time-locked. In Jeremiah’s case it required a further 70 years to pass before the time on the dials said ‘Now’.
And this was not the only precondition. Together with the designated time on the dial something else had to be in place. The key-holders had to do their unique work. Even the right time did not gain access; it needed the action of the key-holders. Jeremiah’s key-holders are in verse following the ‘word of comfort’.
Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. Jer 29:12–13 NKJV.
Jeremiah’s two key-holders were
- Prayer and
- a resolute Seeking for God himself.
Then, and only then, when all three conditions of designated time, prayer and heart resolution, were in place would the great doors swing back and the nation be set free.
Jeremiah’s promise is a promise certainly but it is not a promise to be ‘claimed by faith’. It is a long-range promise to be received by ‘patient endurance AND faith’. It is a promise to encourage ‘hope’. Hope is long-range faith; beyond our reach but just as certain.
Ready, steady… go!
There are promises which are to be grasped immediately by faith. They are plainly marked with today’s date.
For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Cor 6:2 NKJV.
Almost 70 years later Daniel read these words of Jeremiah and did some calculations;
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. Dan 9:1–3 NKJV.
He checked the dates, set his face toward God and prayed earnestly. He held firm…
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the LORD God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. Ezra 1:1–3 NKJV.
When God says ‘now’ we must be careful to add no preconditions. But some promises are time-locked and nested within necessary conditions. For those we must determine the time, fulfil the promises and refuse the temptation to ‘snatch’ at a prize.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. Hab 2:3 NKJV.
Even ‘if it tarries’ its time will come.
the crown of Smyrna
Over 30 years ago as I stood in the beautiful sweep of Izmir’s harbour I looked upwards to the hill behind the city. In Bible times the city was known as Smyrna and the hill was known as “The Crown of Smyrna” because of the way that buildings ‘crowned’ the hill’s summit. It inevitably brought to mind the promise of Jesus to the congregation in Smyrna that the overcomers would receive ‘the crown of life’;
Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Rev 2:10.
There are some mind-stretching concepts here. This congregation was about to undergo the devil’s wrath against the people of God. God could have stopped it easily but he had chosen not to. Why? Any answer would be just human speculation. Their imprisonment, although the consequence of the devil’s activity, had a divine purpose; in order `(Greek hina) that you may be tested. Trials are an inevitable part of Christian experience; they ‘go with the territory’. As Peter tells us it is not ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’…Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 1Pet 4:12. My old Bible college principal used to say that ‘Satan was God’s chief inspector of boilers’! God is confident in his workmanship in the lives of his saints and is not afraid that they will fail the testings.
The sufferings of the congregation in Smyrna were not a mere possibility; they were scheduled. These are things that they are ‘about to suffer’ are definitely on the way, but their duration is fixed from before their beginning.
You will have tribulation for 10 days.
There is a snippet of a hymn on the edges of my mind but I can’t recall it all. It contains the lines ‘if God hath set their number ten, you ne’er shall have eleven’. This is the promise for all the saints. It will not go on for ever… a lifetime at most. 😉 No trial permitted by God is open ended but carefully circumscribed, thus far and no further. It is said of one the riders in the book of Revelation that
‘power was given unto him to make war with the saints…’ Rev 13:7
‘it was given unto him’ , he did not usurp it and beyond his limits he cannot go.
There is a similar promise which is much better known generally to the saints.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1Cor 13:10
This is the ESV version. The assurance that there is a fixed ‘exit’ from this temptation is the hope that enables the saint to ‘endure’ under the weight of it. That sure ‘exit’ strengthens us as we ‘endure it’.
a fearless future
Perhaps the most amazing part of our original verse is the command
‘not to fear any of those things which you are about to suffer’.
They are coming but you are not to fear them. You are not to fear ‘any of those things’; we are not allowed a single exception. The saints’ trials will result in crowns to cast at his feet for those who obeyed him and refused to fear the future. And why should we not ‘fear the future’? Simply because of the central theme of the book of the Revelation… God is still on the throne.
(originally posted to our old Blog in January 2010)
This is part of the secret of the ministry of Paul to the churches. Certainly he had a ‘royal commission’ but he had something else too; the love of God had been poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit. Rom 5:8.
The heading is taken from Paul’s letter to ‘the saints’, the people of God, in Philippi.
…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. Phil 1:6–7 NKJV.
There is a line from an old Graham Kendrick song that comes to mind.
“where are the love tears that earned the right to speak?”
This is not the first time I have quoted these words on these blogs.
the common bond of genuine love
There is an interesting feature in the original of Philippians 1:6,7. Apparently, just as accurately, it could be translated ‘because you have me in your heart.’ This mutual affection is the uniting bond that linked these early saints together. Paul spoke to the saints at Philippi with a deep conviction that was authenticated by the fact that he had them ‘in his heart.’ It was a New Testament pattern;
But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. 2 Cor 8:16 NKJV.
He was not driven by duty or necessity but it was the ‘love of Christ’ that constrained him.
the right to speak?
Do we long to speak words of authentic comfort to the saints? We shall, if we have them in our hearts. We have no right to speak into the lives of those who we do not ‘have in our hearts’. At best such preaching will have reform at its heart rather than a love for the individual. It will have targets and milestones and the critical eye of the man who knows how other men ‘ought to behave’. But we usually recognise the man or woman who ‘has us in their hearts’ and to heed their counsel or receive their encouragement is not difficult.
Who has God put in our hearts? We have God’s authority to speak to them. It is said of our great Shepherd;
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 NKJV.
His commandments are not burdensome. Or as one version has it “his commandments do not weigh us down.”
It’s because he has us in his heart.
(first posted on our old Blog in March 2013)
G Campbell Morgan
This is a passage in G Campbell Morgan’s commentary on “the Gospel according to Mark”. He covers the attitude of the people at Nazareth to Christ’s return visit. The locals knew Jesus of Nazareth so well, they knew his family, his personal history as the local carpenter and they were astonished at the power they had heard of and at the wisdom of the ‘local boy’. In fact the passage records two different kinds of astonishment.
Mark 6:2 And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Mark 6:5–6 NKJV.
The people at Nazareth were astonished and so was Christ.
Campbell Morgan uses a surprising phrase to describe the second instance. He calls it the ‘paralysis of omnipotence’. It is a shocking phrase and something of an oxymoron. How can anything hinder omnipotence?
And yet clearly it did.
the frustrations of Christ
It is a sobering passage of Scripture. Christ comes, apparently with the desire in his heart to accomplish the will of the Father and his intentions are frustrated. I am choosing my words carefully here. I am not saying he ‘felt’ frustrated but that his intentions were frustrated. He knew the will of His Father. He was anointed with ‘power and the Holy Spirit’. He came to ‘do’ that will and yet He was ‘not able’ do what he wanted to do. As the passage declares, he was ‘not able to do a work of power there’, other than to lay his hands on a few sick folk and heal them.
And the thing which caused the paralysis of omnipotence was ‘unbelief’. Is ‘unbelief’ more powerful than omnipotence? We are touching this amazing mystery again that God, although omnipotent, will not use his omnipotence to force human beings to do things which they do not desire. It seems that in that crowd there were some who did respond to him and to those ‘who received him he gave the right to become…’. Perhaps it is the same in almost every gathering of people. There will be those who shut out the word of Christ and shrink away from his outstretched hand. He can do no work of power for such. But there are those who receive his word and long for his touch.
the power of unbelief
Christ marvelled at the ‘unbelief’ of those who rejected him. Has God given any greater power that the power to say ‘No’ to God? Will he ‘marvel’ at our reluctance to hear what he says to us, or will there be rejoicing in his presence as we voice our ‘Yes, Lord’?
In George Orwell’s devastating critique of totalitarianism, “1984”, one of the party workers has been given the job of culling the dictionary. The strategy is to make ‘thoughtcrime’ impossible by the removal of words that describe things forbidden by the party. Words like ‘freedom’ and ‘rebellion’. If there are no words then there will be no thoughts, or so the theory goes. As he removes the words the party worker says the words at the head of this blog.
“It’s a beautiful things, the destruction of words.”
There is another famous quotation from the same book which declares “but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”. Together the two quotations describe a brilliant propaganda strategy. Either remove the words altogether or, as an alternative, continue to use the word but redefine them. What does this have to do with us? Much, in every way.
Let’s remove some words, shall we?. Sin? an old fashioned concept surely. Judgment? Not a word we hear much in the normal course of our lives is it? Adultery? Covetousness? Holiness? “it’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words”. Remarkably ‘freeing’. Of course we shall need to redefine the word ‘free’. But that’s not difficult and when we have corrupted the word we have corrupted thoughts and made communication all but impossible. What a strategy. Corrupt the language, corrupt the thinking processes. Break up the whole communication process. What a strategy.
It’s not only in evangelism that we are struggling. Word’s are dropping out of our Bibles too; concepts are vanishing. “the old man” has disappeared from almost all modern versions. New words are being introduced instead with entirely different meanings e.g. “the self”; a Freudian psychology concept. When is a Bible no longer a Bible?
There is a battle waging
There is a battle on, brothers and sisters. Time to wake up and enlist.
In desperation the psalmist asked a question;
If the foundations are destroyed,
What can the righteous do? Psa 11:3 NKJV.
A word of assurance came to his heart…
The LORD is in His holy temple,
The LORD’S throne is in heaven; Psa 11:4 NKJV.
(first posted on our old Blog in June 2014)
the wartime slogan
This wartime slogan has gone through thousands of permutations in the last couple of years. You will find the general idea of the slogan on T-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, fridge magnets. It would be hard to go out in public in the UK and not see some reference to the idea. There is one place however where you will not find it… heaven. Only people who can’t see the throne need this kind of advice and the presence of the Throne is fundamental to our revelation of heaven. ‘The Throne’ appears 33 times in the book of the Revelation. It is one of the central revelations of the Revelation.
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. Rev 4:2 NKJV.
in the midst of chaos, the Throne
John’s world was falling apart. Jerusalem, the city he had known so well in his youth was destroyed. The temple and the priesthood were gone. All his brother-apostles were gone; he is the last swallow of the summer. The local churches that he knows best are in disarray; leadership is degenerating into control. Then to top it all he is exiled to a island and most likely put under house arrest. But comfort does not come from a poster or fridge-magnet bearing the words “keep calm and don’t panic” but from a revelation of things as they are to the eye opened by the Spirit. He beholds, amidst all the shambles of his earthly experience, a throne set in heaven, and it is occupied;
One sat on the throne.
As long as that throne is occupied by its rightful owner we have no need of worldly epigrams. Campbell Morgan called it ‘the throne that never trembles’.
We don’t need to be in heaven to see the Throne. Christ saw it after a busy day of teaching as he lay asleep with his head on a cushion in the stern of a small boat on the Galilean sea.
And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith? Mark 4:37–40 NKJV.
They mistook his faith for complacency and passivity; true faith is neither.
An old hymn captures the truth…
Give to me a vision
Reaching to the throne.
Let me see earth’s problems
In that light alone:
‘Tis Thy Word assures me
All shall work for good,
Things that long have baffled
Soon be understood.
(first posted on 1st April 2013 on our old Blog Site.)
The Lord bless you
Let’s continue a little on the theme of God’s promise of blessing for and through Abraham.
We use it so often don’t we? The word ‘bless’? As a testimony; “The Lord blessed the meeting”, “I was really blessed”. Or an exclamation of gratitude; “Bless the Lord O my soul”. Or a prayer; “Lord, bless this marriage”. “God bless America”. Have I ever stopped to ask, “what do I expect God to do in answer to this prayer?” Someone prayed for me, (by email!), just this morning; “Lord, Bless my friend Ron…” What am I asking for? If I don’t know what I am asking for, how will I recognise the answer when it comes? (more…)
He is here
It is wonderful to consider the way in which God, who measures the cosmos with a single span, is able and willing to focus on a single individual. I sometimes think of it as one of those ‘zooming in’ sequences we see in films and adverts. This is one of the wonders of the Bible revelation of God. Some religions have a god who is so transcendent that ‘nothing on earth touches Him’; one worldwide religion teaches that if the whole world were saved it would give God no pleasure, and if the whole world were lost He would shed no tears. Some religions teach that god is constantly ‘under our feet’; he is everywhere, in every stone and stream and must be placated with careful sacrifice and ritual. The Bible teaches that God is, at one and the same time, Transcendent and Immanent. (immanent means ’permanently everywhere’, imminent means ‘about to happen’.) Although the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, He holds all things in His hands, and, at the same time, He is here. Go on, tell yourself some truth, speak the words, “He is here”.
Abraham was a descendent of Shem and hence Semitic. He was also a descendent of Eber and hence Hebrew. [Gen 11:10,15, 26] However, there was nothing inherently remarkable about Abraham, until God chose Him. It seems that when God embarks upon a campaign of reclamation He always chooses a human beachhead. My dictionary tells me that a beachhead is ‘a military term for a fortified position established on a beach by landing forces’. When God was about to reclaim the human race in the days of Genesis 6, He chose ‘a fortified position’ whom we know better as Noah. In Noah, God had landed. God re-peopled the earth from this ‘fortified position’ and the immediate danger of a world taken over by a race graphically described in Gen 6:5 was averted…
the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
What a terrible description… only evil, continually. Invariably, unendingly evil. The flood was an act of mercy for our race.
one man standing
There is an important truth to grasp from the story of Noah and the Flood. God’s covenant of salvation was made with Noah. Read Genesis 6-9 again, if possible in an archaic translation that will let you see the personal pronoun ‘thou’. God’s dealings were all with Noah. God’s covenant of salvation was with Noah personally. All those who enjoyed that salvation are described by their relationship to Noah himself; Noah, Noah’s wife, Noah’s sons, the wives of Noah’s sons. Everything hinges on Noah. Noah is God’s beachhead. God’s promises are to Noah but those who are rightly related to Noah benefit from them.
God’s purpose with Abraham was different, but he too would become God’s beachhead. In Abraham too, God had landed. God’s promises to Abraham were all made to Abraham personally.
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. [Gen 12:2,3]
We notice again that the blessings are all personal to Abraham and the relationship of others to Abraham will determine their destiny and their own blessing, or otherwise.
I wonder what Abraham made of the first part, “I will make of thee a great nation”. We need to put ourselves into Abraham’s sandals and think what did he understand from this? How did he understand nationhood? How do we? In the 3rd Century BC the Old Testament was translated into Greek. For the Hebrew word ‘nation’ the Greek Septuagint translation used ‘ethnos’. Ethnos can mean a nation state, but it can also mean a people bound together by a culture and history. I doubt that Abraham was thinking in terms of nation states and dynasties, but here was a promise that Abraham would not remain alone. Others would be added who would share his culture and history, and his destiny. Abraham’s people ultimately would be identified by their trust in God and their abandonment to Him.
I will bless thee…
And what a wonderful word this is; I will bless thee. People can bless people; Melchizedek will bless Abraham, Jacob will bless Pharaoh, but what a promise this is that God would take personal charge of Abraham’s blessing. We shall see Abraham later, turning from those who would bless him in earthly ways, lifting his hand and rejecting all riches that did not come from God. This is a challenge to our day. What do we want? Do we want blessing or do we want God’s blessing? In some circles we hear that kind of language, “have you received the blessing?” What are we seeking, blessings or the Blesser?
The blessing continues with promises that God will make thy name great; literally I will cause it to grow. With God, growth is always more important than size. Growth is a sign of life, size is not. Consider the lilies, see how big they are? No, consider the lilies, how they grow. How do they grow, by the way? They abide in the place of their planting, and God brings everything necessary to them, in the place of their abiding. Strange, isn’t it, that some people will cross oceans to get a blessing, when all they needed to do was abide in the place of God’s choosing?
be a blessing
And the last personal word of the blessing? The KJV says and thou shalt be a blessing, but the ASV translators spotted something that they were able to capture in their version. They noticed that the mood of the verb was imperative; that is to say not a promise but a command.
I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.
Abraham would be blessed. There was no doubt about it, but the ultimate purpose of Abraham’s blessing was not his own personal benefit but that he, in turn, would become a blessing… in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
He was to be God’s beachhead; a fortified position established on a beach by landing forces. He was just the starting place for an amazing campaign of reclamation; so are you. The blessings that God brings into your life are not intended to make you a shining museum trophy. You are God’s point of contact with those men and women around you. In you, God has landed. You are the way in which God has determined to bless men and men around you. It’s the way we faith-sons of Abraham (of either gender), do things. It is part of our culture and history; it’s the way we do things in our family.
be thou a blessing… in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
It is a very obscure verse and seldom preached on but it gives a unique insight into the gracious care of the creator.
How lovely are your dwellings, Jehovah of Hosts! My soul longs, and even faints for the courts of Jehovah. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Yes, the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young, Near your altars, Jehovah of Hosts, my King, and my God. Psa 84:1–3 WEB.
What would a sparrow be doing in the Tabernacle? Imagine the bustle, the priests moving to and fro, the bleating of the sheep, the flames on the altar spitting and flaring. And yet the psalmist has noticed something and it has touched his heart. In the midst of all this activity, sweat, and blood a sparrow has found a place where she can settle. A home in the holy place.
Sparrows aren’t swallows. They don’t soar in graceful arcs above the storms of life. They struggle to get a few crumbs to keep their poor bodies alive. In the last few months I have experienced the sudden loss of two of God’s sparrows. They were both elderly women whose lives had been completely disrupted by events that were far beyond their control.
The first had sustained serious injuries in a car accident when she was a child. She never regained her full cognitive abilities. She lived alone and had few, if any, real friends. Her relatives had moved abroad years previously. I don’t know how she came to attend our meetings but she found a spot near the radiator and nestled. Slowly she was drawn into the family of the church and revealed extraordinary skill in knitting. She knitted dozens of beautiful little coats for the Unuit children. She had found her own place in our church family. The sparrow had found a home. A few months ago she flew the nest into the loving arms of One who always noticed the sparrows.
The second was an elderly women whose life seemed to have been dogged by tragedy. She lost all her children in their early years, one by one, through a degenerative hereditary condition. Later her husband died in an accident with a gas leak. She was crushed. Her emotions and thinking processes were just overwhelmed with the enormity of the tragedies that had broken, wave upon wave, upon her life. She was taken into a local mental hospital and well cared for but her life was a routine of pointless events. Why would she take the trouble to make the effort to live? What would the next wave bring?
A young woman from the church came into contact with her and in spite of the disparity of ages they became friends. She began to come to the meetings and was taken into the heart of several families. Slowly she emerged from the shell of her existence. Her sense of humour surfaced. She spent many hours with the saints and was regularly in the meetings. She began to enjoy the hymns and developed some personal favourites. She managed to find a place in a care home just a hundred yards or so from the meeting hall. She was often early to the meetings and greeted her friends with a broad smile of welcome. She had found her own place in our church family. The sparrow had found a home. She flew the nest early this month and we attended a sweet little thanksgiving and burial service just this week.
It is easy to develop a picture of ‘church’ that is straight from the glossy advertising folder. Lots of bustle and activity. Our sparrows would have struggled to make it in the mega churches. They never aspired to ministry. They wouldn’t have understood the concept. They never became burden bearers or prayer warriors. They never evangelised the neighbourhood . But they found a home prepared for them by God, a corner where they knew they were loved and safe and where they could nestle. Whatever your vision and mission statements, be sure you keep a place in your heart for the sparrows. God does.
Chapter Two: The Blessing
It is time now to examine the Blessing. Thus far we have identified Abraham as an ordinary man who became an extraordinary man. He was born into no special family and had no special advantages but he is a man with an amazing destiny. My purpose in making such a leisurely start has been to emphasise that in choosing Abraham God did not choose a star or a man with all the right qualifications. What God has done once He can do again, and what He has done with one He can do with another. Why not you, why not now?
Let’s see if we can reconstruct the events of the Blessing. We have two accounts and we shall see if we can combine them to discover the original scenario. One of the questions we must answer is “Was there one call, or two”. Where was Abraham living when God pronounced this blessing? Was it in Ur of the Chaldees or 600 miles to the North West, in Haran?
Stephen tells us plainly that it was in Ur that God appeared to Abraham.
And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. [Acts 7:2-4]
first, obedience by faith…
A careful examination of Stephen’s words will show that this is not the promise of blessing that we find in Genesis 12 but a series of separate commands; “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.” It links very neatly with the letter to the Hebrews where an important truth is almost lost by the position of a verb. The KJV says
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. [Heb 11:8 KJV]
The verb is pushed to the end of the sentence. The original word order is captured much better in the NKJV By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called… The first word to Abraham was not the promise of a blessing but a command to obey; faith, of course, is necessary for such obedience. This was not a conditional promise, it was a non-conditional command; and Abraham obeyed. So too pilgrims in our own age must bow the knee to become heirs of the promise,
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent [Acts 17:30].
God’s first word to us is a command not a promise and “all men, everywhere” doesn’t leave many escape clauses.
I suspect that the best known translations of Gen 12:1 have based their translation on evidence gathered from Acts 7 and have “Now the LORD had said”. This “had said” pushes the next verses back to Ur, but there is no real reason to have translated it like this. It simply says as in the ASV
Now Jehovah said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed. So Abram went, as Jehovah had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
…then the blessing
When did God say this? Well, the end of this section has the location as Haran. In other words this is a second encounter. The first was a revelation of God in Ur of the Chaldees with a command, the second is a word which comes to Abraham years later and one which adds a series of blessings to the original series of commandments. The first half of the message is a repeat of the original, but the second part is just full of ‘blessing’.
If this scenario is true we can construct an interesting history for Abraham. Abraham’s departure from Ur was triggered by the circumstances of his father’s migration AND by a clear word of command from God who appeared to him. Terah was heading for Canaan; Abraham had no idea where he was going, but went anyway. When the clan arrived at Haran they settled down. Later Haran is referred to as the city of of Nahor [Gen 24:10]; that branch of the family had found all they wanted in Haran and saw no need to further their journey. Terah died here. The story could well have died here too except that Abraham had a second encounter with God who reminded him of the original command and added that series of amazing blessings;
and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
This is enough for Abraham. He loads up and moves on, leaving Haran behind. The truth that excites me in this account is what we might call the gospel of the second chance. Now, I know that evangelicals can get very worried about that kind of language, but what I mean is simply the truth captured in Jonah 3. Jonah had ‘blown it’; he was the ‘prodigal’ prophet. The consequence had been ejection into the storm and finally a place in the stomach of a great fish. When you have ‘blown it’ do you ever feel ‘down in the mouth’? No-one was ever so ‘down in the mouth’ as Jonah! But what a prayer!
When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD. [Jon 2:7]
here come the prodigals
The Prodigal Son came to himself, the prodigal prophet remembered the LORD. In Jonah chapter 3 the story just flows on without a break and with the words And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time. Oh Hallelujah, this is the God of all grace, Who comes the second time.
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?
Perhaps someone who reads feels that they have ‘blown it’. Prodigals! The Bible is full of them; prodigal sons, prodigal kings, prodigal wives, prodigal prophets, prodigal apostles. Men and women who started well; they began with such courage but somehow they find themselves in Haran, and the vision has dimmed. “You were running well, who hindered you?” Is it too late now? Not while we have a God who will speak the second time, and with such grace, adding to what He has already said.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him. [Gen 12:4] So here he is, back on the flight path; a fresh start with even greater possibilities. My old Bible School principal used to say “can the bird with the broken wing ever fly as high again?” then he would pause, smile and say “no… higher!”