Recently it’s been impressed on me that if, as a Christian, I want to see God doing stuff and recognise His work more, then I need to be more serious about the Bible. Not that I didn’t take it seriously, but if I’m being honest, it wasn’t necessarily the priority that it needed to be. This was hammered home in a talk by Simon Ponsonby at the Vineyard Cause to Live For conference last weekend when he gave his two observations about the church that he’s realised on his travels.
1) There is a great hunger for God around the country.
2) People aren’t reading their Bibles much.
Obviously both points are generalised; there will be Christians who actually aren’t that hungry for God, just as there’ll be Christians who are reading their Bibles a lot. But those are the observations he’s made, and they definitely struck a chord with me.
With that in mind, I want to start something new on the blog. Every Wednesday (as far as it’s practical) I’ll write about something that’s come up in my reading of the Bible. This will not be to show off how much I’m reading it, if anything it’s a practical thing that will keep me reading it! It also means that this blog stays Bible-centred, and it will hopefully give you guys a way into the Bible if you’re looking for one, even as an introduction if you’ve never read it, or maybe bring up look at something in a different way to you might look at it. And don’t worry if you like the other stuff I post, I’m going to aim for a more thematic/issue driven post every weekend.
So to kick us off, here’s a short passage:
Genesis 17:18-19 – “And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’ Then God said, ‘Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”
The promise that God makes to Abraham is twofold. He will multiply Abraham’s descendants like stars in the sky (17:6) and he will give them the promised land for eternity (17:8). The immediate question the passage raises is why won’t God fulfil the first part of the promise through Ishmael? What’s Ishmael done wrong?
Well Ishmael hasn’t done anything, but Abraham has seriously underestimated God. Ishmael’s mother was Sarah’s slave whom Abraham slept with because he and Sarah believed that Sarah was barren, and that God’s promise wouldn’t come to pass. Essentially Abraham was doubting God’s power to keep His promises, so he tried to take the responsibility onto himself. God had other ideas. One message that comes through again and again in the Bible is that God’s strength is far greater than our own, and if we want to see God’s will done we have to rely on that strength. Through the power of God Sarah was able to conceive a child, Isaac, and it was through him that God kept his promise. God made the promise and God made the means of keeping that promise because He is faithful to His word and would not let Abraham down, even when Abraham couldn’t see a way through and tried to do it himself.
What’s really cool about this whole chapter is the way it points to Jesus. As I’ve said, the promise was twofold, and just as the descendants part was covered by God’s provision of a son, so too was the land part covered by God’s provision of a son: Jesus. Jesus, descended from Abraham biologically, was born to be a child of the promise even more than Isaac was, and he was conceived just as miraculously, if not more: a sure sign of God’s provision. God gave the world Jesus to be the insurance of the inheritance promised to Abraham.
But wait, isn’t Jesus the inheritance for Christians, and wasn’t God’s promise for Abraham’s descendants? Yes and yes. But as Paul said in Galatians 3:29, God wasn’t just speaking biologically. When it comes to God’s promises – his covenant – there’s more at stake. Though we Christians aren’t descended from Abraham, by the grace of God we’re included in that promise that God made to Him. We’re children of the covenant, and in God’s eyes that’s what counts.
So are we all going to live in Canaan forever? Well my knowledge gets a bit stretched here, but the final vision of Revelation is the new Jerusalem on the new Earth. This is the eternal fulfilment of the promise. As I understand it at the moment New Jerusalem (presumably in the new Canaan..?) will be our eternal home, thus the promise will be fulfilled in its entirety.
The key thing here is that when God makes a bold promise like this, He ensures that He keeps it. This particular promise was too big for Abraham (it would be too big for any of us), but it wasn’t too big for God, and through the provision of two baby boys, God made sure that He kept it, and the consequences of that faithfulness are eternal.