Abraham the binding call of God
The binding call of God
Doxology: Hymn 331 “Majesty”
The organ will start playing without this Hymn being announced.
Call to worship
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care. Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. (Psalm 95:6-8)
The Lord’s Prayer
Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.
Hymn No 106: “How greatly blessed”
(tune 472, 4 verses)
Prayer of Adoration and Invocation
Scripture Reading Romans 11:25-32
Prayer of Confession
Declaration of pardoning
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
Hymn: Psalm 32 (Tune 602, 5 verses)
Offering and Dedication
While the offering is taken up, remaining seated all sing:
Hymn 364: “Almighty Lord of all created things”
Prayer for others
Scripture Reading Genesis 20:1-18
Sermon Abraham: The binding call of God
My dear brethren,
To preach the Word of God is not always easy. To preach the Word in an expository series, is more often than not very difficult. Every now and then you have to try to explain and proclaim the Word of God from chapters in the Bible you would under normal circumstances skip and leave for a later stage.
Preaching from Genesis 20 is such a chapter. Because we, in this series, focus on the life of Abraham, I have deliberately left out chapter 19, which more or less deals with Lot and his family and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
What makes this chapter so difficult to preach? Is it the grammar of this chapter, or are the great truths imbedded in it too hard to understand? No! It is the embarrassment it presents to a Christian; it is the fact that God’s elect children can sometimes fall so low that in the eyes of the onlooker, that it becomes awkward to defend grace. Further, the embarrassment we may find ourselves in, lies in the fact that we see ourselves mirrored in the lives of those fallen in sin. Now, we’d rather not talk about it. It’s like having a brother in prison: he remains your brother, but you’d rather not talk about him.
But the biggest problem we have is that, according to human argument, there must be a limit to the grace and forgiveness. According to human argument, there must by necessity be in the end a total falling from grace: God cannot be so gracious as to forgive a person when he has fallen too low!
The wicked with the righteous?
In the previous chapter we find Abraham the priest, interceding for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. More so, Abraham interceded for Lot and his household, living in the ungodly city. One of the grounds on which Abraham pleaded is found in Genesis 18:25
Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)
In chapter 20 we find a similar thought. Abimelech, the ungodly king, pleaded with God on the same ground:
Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? (Genesis 20:4)
The only problem now is that Abraham is not innocent. In a human way of speaking Abraham is not righteous. The plea Abraham had before God now has become his charge: if God does not treat the righteous and the wicked alike, it implies that were there the unrighteous and the wicked are found together, God would have all the right to treat them alike. And this is exactly where Abraham found himself.
Abraham shifted away from Mamre and eventually found himself on the edge of Philistine territory. The king there was Abimelech. He was an ungodly king. Now Abraham looked at Sarah and they put to work a treaty they had made long ago:
This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, He is my brother. (Genesis 20:13)
He pretended Sarah was his sister. In part that was true, but in part it was a lie. The moment he got married to Sarah, she became his wife. The sister-thing stopped there. Facts can be and often are used in such a way as to convey falsehood. Statistics are sometimes employed in this way: You have your head in the freezer and your feet in the oven, but, on the average, you are comfortable. The fact that he was willing to give her away as his sister is witness to the fact that this arrangement was purely one of convenience. She was his wife and God honoured that by promising him and her that He will give them a son.
Now, look at the series of events: God had revealed to them that only in one year He would visit them by opening the womb of Sarah and give them a son along the line of promise, along the line of the covenant. And now this! Then he believed God, and his faith was accredited to him as righteousness.
Strange as it may seem, Abimelech stood head and shoulders above Abraham in this passage. We must admit that there is no sin into which the Christian cannot fall in times of disobedience and unbelief. At such times, unbelievers may put the Christian to shame by their integrity and morality (cf. I Corinthians 5:1ff).
The wonder of God’s grace
The wonder of this passage is not the fact that Abraham could relapse so far in his Christian growth and maturity. From my own experience I am ashamed to admit that this is entirely believable. While the faithlessness of Abraham comes as no surprise, the faithfulness of God to Abraham at this time of failure is amazing.
This must have left Abimelech shaking his head. How could Abraham be a man of God at the same time he was a liar? Abimelech, however, was not given any opportunity to take punitive action in spite of the problems Abraham’s disobedience had brought upon the king’s household. Abraham was the source of Abimelech’s suffering, it was true, but he was also the solution. Abimelech and Abraham both found themselves in a very awkward position.
Why have you done this, Abraham?, Abimelech demanded. Listen to the answer:
Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ (Genesis 20:11)
Three reasons are stated for Abraham’s deception, but none of them satisfactorily explain his actions. First, Abraham acted out of fear. He feared that because of Sarah’s beauty he would be killed, and she would be taken as a wife by violence. This fear was based upon a faulty theological premise: God is only able to act when men are willing to obey. God could save Abraham only in a place where He was known and feared by men. The inference is that where ungodly men are, God’s hand is shortened and unable to save.
If Sarah was thought to be unable to have children, her becoming a part of the king’s harem might not be taken so seriously. Abraham might have thought the laugh would be on Abimelech for taking as his wife a woman who was old enough to be his mother.
Now the embarrassing part: There is absolutely no indication of acceptance of responsibility for sin, nor of sorrow or repentance. While his arguments fail to satisfy us, as they did not impress Abimelech, they did seem to satisfy Abraham.
It also explains the repetition of this sin by Abraham and, later, by his son Isaac. Abraham never said to himself, “I’ll never do that again,” either in Egypt or in Gerar. In both cases Abraham escaped with his wife’s purity and with a sizeable profit to boot. So far as I can tell, Abraham never saw his deceptiveness as a sin. Consequently, it kept cropping up in later generations.
What a humbling experience it must have been for Abraham to intercede on behalf of Abimelech. A deep sense of unworthiness must have (or at least should have) come over him. It was surely not his righteousness which was the basis for divine healing. Any time that we are used of God, it is solely because of the grace of God.
While this was a tragic time in the life of God’s chosen, it was necessary, for it prepared the way for the following chapter in which the promised child is given. God’s promise to Abraham was kept because God is faithful, not because Abraham was faithful. “Every good and perfect gift,” in the words of Scripture, “cometh from above” (James 1:17). Such was the case with Isaac.
What does this teach us? What can we draw from it tonight?
The fallibility of the saints.
I know there are those who teach sinless perfectionism, but I cannot fathom why. The old nature, while positionally dead, is very much alive and well for the time being. While we should be living out the victorious life of Romans 8, most of us find ourselves continually in chapter 7. Such was true of Abraham, the friend of God, also.
Privileged position does not preclude failure. Abraham was God’s elect, God’s chosen, but he still floundered and failed. Abraham was God’s prophet, but that did not make him more pious than others. Abraham prospered both in Egypt and in Gerar, but it was not because he attained a higher level of spirituality. The most dangerous doctrine for the Christian is that which suggests that Christians can be above temptation and failure in their Christian lives, even after years of service or in a privileged position.
Our disobedience is often camouflaged by excuses transparent to all but ourselves.
Abraham’s excuses are easily seen to be a sham, and yet variations on these three themes serve as justification for much wrong that we do.
The first is situational ethics, which is a system of ethics based upon the denial of either the existence of God or His ability to act in man’s behalf. Situational ethics always conceives a dilemma in which there is no alternative other than a sinful act. In such cases we are forced to decide on the basis of the lesser of two evils.
First Corinthians 10:13 teaches that God never places the Christian in a circumstance where he or she must sin. It reads:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
The outcome which we dread is always a figment of our fearful imagination, and not of reality. Abraham feared that someone would kill him to take away his wife. It never happened. Faith in a God Who is sovereign in every situation keeps us from flirting with sinful acts which allegedly will deliver us from emergency situations—ones in which godliness must be put on the shelf.
Technicalities rather than truth
The second is dealing in technicalities rather than truth. The information Abraham gave to Abimelech was totally factual (verse 12). Sarah was his sister. But what Abraham failed to report made it all a lie. She was his wife, as well as his sister.
How often we allow people to draw the wrong conclusions or impressions by withholding evidence. We want to give the impression we are spiritual when we are not. Faith is facing up to reality and dealing openly with others, even when the truth may appear to put us in jeopardy or may make us vulnerable.
Our failures will not keep a person from coming to faith in our Lord
While Abraham was not eager to talk about his faith to Abimelech, God was not reluctant to own Abraham as a person and a prophet. Why didn’t God keep His relationship to Abraham quiet? Wouldn’t the poor testimony of Abraham drive Abimelech away from God?
We would have expected Abimelech to respond to Abraham’s sin as many do today: “The church is full of hypocrites. If that’s what Christianity is, I don’t want any part of it.” Such excuses are no better than Abraham’s.
Abraham’s failure provided Abimelech with the best reason in the world to be a believer in his God: the God of Abraham was a God of grace, not of works. Abraham’s God not only saved him apart from works (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4) but kept him apart from works. Abraham’s faith was in a God Whose gifts and blessings are not based upon our faithfulness but His. The kind of faith Abraham had is the kind which men desire, one that works even when we don’t.
The grace of God and the eternal security of the believer
That brings us to our final point: the Christian is eternally secure regardless of failures in faith. Backsliding is never encouraged, never winked at, and never without painful consequences according to Scripture. Nevertheless, backsliding will never cost the Christian his salvation. The salvation which God offers to men is eternal. If anyone should have lost his salvation, it was Abraham, but he remained a child of God.
God blessed Abraham, He gave him wealth (Genesis 12:16,20; 13:1-2, 20:14-16) and the son He had promised (Genesis 21:1ff). He also gave him a privileged position (Genesis 20:7, 17-18). All those blessings were gifts of God’s grace, not rewards for Abraham’s good works.
What a background chapter 20 sets for chapter 21. We would have expected Isaac to have been conceived at a high point in Abraham and Sarah’s lives, but it was not so. We would at least have expected Abraham’s unbelief to have been exposed and finally conquered in chapter 20, but it did not happen. In fact, Abraham never even acknowledged the sinfulness of his actions.
Hymn No 98: “Whatever God ordains is right”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)