Personal

Chapter 10

Personal 

 

‘But you, Israel, my servant,

    Jacob, whom I have chosen,

    you descendants of Abraham my friend,’

Isaiah 41:8

‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.’ John 15:13-15 

‘Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations..’ Romans 4:18

Read Hebrews 11:8-19  and Romans 4:18-22    

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In the shadow of the serpent many things were lost and broken, precious things, beautiful things, things that God had woven deep within the sinews of our Imago Dei being and threaded into the rhythm of our beating human hearts. This image of God within human beings now wisps threadbare thin, torn threads pulling apart, fraying at the edges, floating on the breeze of history. Threads like our sensitivity to God’s voice, commitment to being our ‘brother’s keepers’, caring for other human beings, commitment to keeping love for God at the centre of our being.

How God’s heart must have broken that day long ago, when He came walking in the garden that one evening, to find His children hiding from Him, lying to Him and then blaming Him and one another for their fraying falling condition. How everything began to  tear then, undoing, unravelling the grace that once was us.

God had walked with them, partnered with them, blessed them and cared for them, threading together the tapestry of all the thousand ways He’d loved them, providing a world of wonder woven only with strands of light, a tapestry woven in gold and goodness, grace and givenness. 

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But now. Where was it now? Torn and threadbare, fraying in the breeze of a world that had forgotten the image of God within them and the person of God who had formed them. 

In the wake of the flood people had re-populated the earth with the same corruption that had lead to the deluge in the first place, building monuments to their monumental emptiness, the epic achievement of living a vacuous life devoid of connection with God. Babel. At Babel God once more came down and intervened in love, dividing the languages like He had divided the oceans, forging smaller communities so humanity had the chance to reconnect with itself, with it’s beating-heart Imago Dei within. In the rubble of the post-Babel experience God gave people the opportunity to be small enough to know they weren’t the centre of this spinning universe, but that they were loved universally at the centre of God’s heart. 

God still longed for that intimacy with human beings, to walk with them, partner with them, bless them and care for them, threading together the tapestry of all the thousand ways He loved them.

But so few were listening. So few heard. As history unfurled He’d found that intimacy in one in a thousand, in Seths family line, Enoch, Noah… and now, with this one man.  

Abram. 

‘The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’ Genesis 12: 1

Go… leave behind all you have ever known, all your familiar places, family faces, cultural assumptions, leave everything behind and follow me to the edge of the unknown. Go. Go to the land I lead you to when I lead you to my heart, lead you to know me, lead you to know yourself through my eyes, lead you to a re-imagined future lived in partnership with me.

Adam and Eve had mistrusted and disobeyed God’s voice, Abram did not. The great lineage of faith recorded in the book of Hebrews chapter eleven is a list of people knit together not by blood, but by obedience to the voice of God.

This lineage of people were ‘certain of what they could not see and sure of what they hoped for’ (Hebrews 11:1) not because they were out of touch with reality but because they were in touch with God’s voice and the reality He speaks into being.  They lived by faith in God.

‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise…’ Hebrews 11:8-9

Abram steps out with no final destination in view, no map, no back up plan, no insurance policy, no assurance beyond God’s word. He left the place he comfortably belonged in to become a stranger in a strange land. God’s land. Abram entered a whole new life in partnership with God, founded only on God’s word.  God’s word that was heaven-bent on the building of a whole new world, a Kingdom with foundations constructed by God Himself.  

‘… For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ Hebrews 11:10

Abram gave God his obedience and God gave Abram His word, His word in the form of a promise to bless. Here, right at the beginning of Abram’s story God made the first of a string of promises, promises that will be scattered throughout a life like breadcrumbs to follow, leading Abram straight to God’s heart. 

And it is these promises that Hebrews eleven declares are the inheritance of Abram’s future line…”he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise” Hebrews 11:8-9. The promise was their inheritance, and now is ours also (Galatians 4:28).

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God’s first promise to Abram is a commitment to bless.

 ‘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

The last mention of blessing in the Bible was when Noah left the ark and God re-established His blessing with Him, the blessing He first gave humankind at the beginning of all things. And this blessing God gives Abram, like the re-blessing of Noah as the new Adam,  has similar themes and overtones to the blessing of Genesis one.

God is faithful to all His intentions for humankind and His intention right from he beginning of all things has always been to bless. He wants us to be fully alive, fully flourishing in our Imago Dei humanity. 

We can’t bless ourselves, we can run ourselves ragged with ambition and drivenness, but true blessing, the empowering anointing of God’s favour, can only be given by God Himself. The people of Babel tried the whole ambition-driven-self-blessing thing. But they had not chosen to put themselves in the lineage of faith which ‘called on the name of the lord’, instead they attempted ‘to make a name for themselves’. They were building a tower to heaven in order to ‘make their names great’, and to avoid the thing the feared most; being scattered over the earth (Genesis 11:4).

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The story of Babel in the Bible is found in chapter eleven. The story of Abram is found in chapter twelve. Abram’s story is the antithesis of the story of the people of Babel. 

Abram  didn’t need to build a tower to reach up to Heaven. Heaven came down and reached out to him. Heaven comes down and calls Abraham to ‘Go from your country, your people…’ (more of a command than a question). The people of Babel had feared this being scattered ‘over the earth’ but God commands Abram to do just this, to leave his home and enter into a nomadic life with Him. When we step out into the unknown with God, it is less of a scattering and more of an awakening to our true selves. The people of Babel feared this letting go and scattering because they weren’t with God in it, they weren’t calling on His name. They only had themselves, and the fear that they weren’t enough. 

The very thing Babel feared is the first thing Abram obeys and trusts God in, and then the very thing they desired (to make a name for themselves), was among the first things God promises Abram.

‘I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.’ Genesis 12: 2

And don’t we all crave this sometimes? To have a name that is great and to live for something greater than ourselves? Are these desires not simply echoes of our true identity and calling as children formed in the image of God?  We are created in the image of the almighty God who is the creator and sustainer of this whole expanding Universe. We are significant. To Him. 

Though our desire for significance and to have a ‘name that is great’ may come from an authentic Imago Dei place, the thousand ways we humans reach for them when we do not reach first for God, becomes the gangrene rot of our souls. All our insular striving, and self absorbed monument building only bleeds us out empty. But the true desire of our hearts, the wholeness and fulfilment we crave under all our broken reaching is the very thing God plans for us when we join Him in our journey through life. And it will be a journey this partnership with God, this bathing in His blessing, this fulfilling of our calling. 

God had come down to Babel. But the name they were trying to forge for themselves was all about them, there was no room in their ambition driven hearts for either Him or for their true Imago Dei Humanity.

The great distinction of a life forged by selfish ambition, grasping and independence from God, is that it ultimately only benefits the one grasping for it. A supernova star collapsing in on itself. It’s all about us. 

God promises to fulfil the very thing for Abram that people of Babel had craved; to make a name for him, but God’s blessings are never just about us. God is a giving God, and He knows our lives are are only fulfilled in generous givenness also. When God works in our lives to restore the calling and blessing in us that He first gave as an inheritance to all humankind, this blessing becomes not just a gift to our own lives, but also a gift we bring into the rest of the world. 

Abraham, His blessing is not simply a reward for following God. Abraham’s calling and blessing was not a dead end dam, a ponding stagnation, it was a river, a wild roaring river stretching out in all directions, and we today all still grow and flourish in the swirling waters of Abraham’s blessing, the blessing he received and the blessing he became, his whole family line eventually became, all the way down to Jesus; God’s ultimate blessing for the whole human race.  

And what was the shape of this meant to be? How was Abraham to bless this whole world? Well his ‘so that’ isn’t spelled out clearly until years after God’s first utterance of this blessing, later when God is about to hold Sodom and Gomorrah accountable for their evil, He visits Abraham in person.

‘Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Genesis 18:16-20

‘For I have chosen him so that…’ Abraham was called by God to leave his home and follow God into his calling as the earthly father of God’s new family line. A family line that is blessed to be the river of God’s blessing to the world, blessed ‘so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.’ (emphasises added). Abraham’s blessing from God is contingent on him living fully into this calling to be different in the world, marked to be remarkable by his justice and righteousness.

Justice, righteousness and love are the the shape of this God’s heart. It’s who He is. It’s who we were. Once. 

God through Abram was establishing a new family line, a lineage of faith which didn’t just scramble over one another to make their own name great, but rather ‘called on the name of the lord’ and humbled themselves in obedience to receive greatness from His hand; greatness shaped like justice, greatness shaped like righteousness. Greatness shaped like love. 

Justice is mentioned just over 120 times in the bible, Righteousness just over 200 times and Justice and righteousness paired together are mentioned 32 times. 

These two threads woven together with love form a foundational picture of who God is and what is important to Him. In the scriptures Justice and righteousness are described as…

  • Attributes of God (Job 37:23, Psalm 36:6, Isaiah 33:5, Isaiah 56:1, Jeremiah 9:24, Hosea 2:19, Psalm 11:7, Zephaniah 3:5, Psalm 50:6, Isaiah 32:16), 
  • The foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14, Psalm 97:2)
  • The calling of Kings (1 Kings 10:9, 2 Chronicles 9:8, psalm 72:1-2),
  • Something God loves (Psalm 33:5, Jeremiah 9:24, Psalm 11:7) 
  • Something God actively works for (Psalm 103:6, Job 37:23, Isaiah 1:27, Isaiah 51:5, Jeremiah 9:24, Zephaniah 3:5) 
  • Something God decries the lack of in Israel (Isaiah 1:21, Isaiah 5:7, Isaiah 59:9 and 14, Amos 5:7, Amos 5:21-24, Amos 6:12, Habakkuk 1:4, Isaiah 28:17)

…And the very things the Messiah will establish (Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 11:4, Isaiah 16:5, Isaiah 32:1)

Justice and righteousness are are not just idle words to God, there’s no empty rhetoric from the mouth of this God. Justice and righteousness are who He is. Who He says He is, and who He wants us to be in Him.

‘…but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord’. Jeremiah 9:24

‘Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’ Isaiah 9:7

In the beginning of all things just after the breaking all things, after the renewed family line of Adam and Eve was re-established through Seth, this one small line had appeared like a thread of gold stitched into a canvas of grey At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.’ Genesis 4:26

The next time this line resurfaces in the Bible is with Abram (Genesis 12:8, 13:4, 21:33) and it will appear again with his son Isaac (Genesis 26:25). 

Abram is in many ways like Seth and Noah, another renewed creation story. The re-establishing of a human family line which calls on the name of the Lord.

God, through Abram was establishing a new kind of family, a family line with a different heritage than script lines laid out by broken Babel generations. Abram was to be the new father, the new beginning of this new kind of family a new family line calling on the name of the Lord, living in His presence and living out His justice and righteousness on earth.

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There was just one problem with all of this.

Abram, his name means ‘exalted father’. But he wasn’t. A father. 

He and his wife Sarai had been unable to conceive. In our day that means sadness, in those  days it also meant disgrace. It also meant a dead end for a family line. How could a blessing to ‘become a great nation’ be fulfilled with no children? No descendants? No bloodline heirs? No hope? But… 

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed’ Romans 4:18

It would be 25 years from the time God first promises Abram that he will become ‘a great nation’ to when he will hold the new born Isaac in his arms. God is speaking to Abram throughout this time, through His voice, through visions and in-person visits but 25 years is a desert plod length of time to wait.

Sarai remained childless for 24 long turns around the sun  after God’s first promise to bless them. And she would have been feeling the absence of a child long before the promise arrived. Barren. Empty. Where a child should have been there was nothing. And barrenness for a woman at that time, well it made you feel like nothing. So Sarai (like Eve) decided to take things into her own hands and led her husband to do likewise. She reached for the right thing in the wrong way, the impatient way. She reached for the very thing God had promised before God’s hand had provided it. 

‘Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar;  so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’

Abram agreed to what Sarai said.’ Genesis 16:1-2

‘The Lord has kept me from having..’ Sarai’s words hang on the air of history, clanging against the story of all that God eventually did in their lives. She did not yet have the benefit of hindsight, of experience with God, of faith. Sarai thought God had been withholding good from her. She was still learning who this God was. How good this God is. That God withholds no good thing ( Psalm 84:11 ) without good reason. 

And this ‘perhaps’ business. There might be a ‘perhaps I can..’ but there isn’t a ‘perhaps God can’. There is no haphazard ‘perhaps’ no make-shift plan of God. There is no perhaps, no maybe-maybe not, no cross your fingers hoping, no striving to make it real.  If God says it, it is already is real. There is no perhaps in God’s Kingdom. No unintentional gifts. Only certainty.  Only confidence in what is hoped for and assurance in what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1). We don’t have to hustle. We just have to trust and wait. 

But waiting, well, it can feel like a desert plod and when your yearning-thirst for your childless arms to be filled takes hold… Sarai, like the rest of us, was still learning to trust this God. Sarai saw the absence, the emptiness of her womb, the absence of a child, the absence of a family, the absence of hope. She didn’t wait. She didn’t wait long enough to see that the absence would become the presence, the wonderful presence of God’s hand giving this child against all odds. The miracle. 

Silence can feel like an absence of God. But the truth is God is never absent and He always hears authentic human prayers.  Often silence is not an absence but a presence, a presence of a long term plan costing us short term gratification.  God wants us to see clearly that it is not circumstance or our own striving that gives us good gifts, but His hand alone.  And His gifts are often seen most clearly after an absence, like an oasis in a desert, like a long cool drink after a dehydrating wait, like a child finally born from an ageing barren womb.

Any fit young person can have a baby… but a baby born to remarkably ageing parents? That alone is a gift from God. Remarkable. Marked by a miracle. A clear statement that God is up to something. How would they see God’s hand was with them if it had all been too easy? Normal? Natural? How would it be a sign that they are chosen and blessed if it was no different to any other pregnancy on earth? This pregnancy was a supernatural gift, not a natural one. And the pain of patience was going to be rewarded one-day with the joy of laughter.

But then, right then in that moment, that moment right there beneath Sarai’s feet in all the absence and the longing and the nothingness and fading hopes… all Sarai could see was the lack, and so she reaches for the right thing (God’s promise) in the wrong way. And it costs. Not just her, but Hagar and Abram and not-yet-born-and-not-his fault- Ishmael. It will cost Ishmael his bond with his father and Abram his bond with one son. 

Their family becomes broken with bitterness, blaming and eventually the abandonment of one child.

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And it played out just like Genesis chapter three, Sarai reaches, Abram concedes, everyone suffers.  Sarai didn’t know, didn’t yet fully understand. This God. This God who is powerful beyond measure and  faithful beyond comprehension.  She thought she had to hustle. She thought that nothing in her womb meant she was nothing in God’s plan. Nothing in God’s heart. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

She didn’t yet understand who God was. And she didn’t understand who she was. Twice her husband had lied and let her be taken away by other men (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:1-18). It was God who had been faithful to Sarai when Abram wasn’t. It was God who intervened both times on her behalf. Abram was a man who called on the name of the Lord, but he wasn’t perfect. He and Sarai were still hustling. 

But God. God is merciful. He works with where we are at. He had made clothes for Adam and Eve when they had disobeyed themselves into shame, He marked Cain with grace after he murdered his brother, He picks through the rubble of our hustling brokenness and re-weaves His love into every broken thread, His love binding the broken threads of our stories back together. 

And this is what we see repeatedly between the lines in Abram’s story again and again and again. Weaving up and down and in and out. Abram messes up but God sets things right. 

God himself takes the broken threads of Abram’s and Sarai’s broken choices and rethreads a brand new story, taking the cords of brokenness and reweaving them into a new picture, a renewed image of how much God loves, a new tapestry woven with threads of broken human choices and God’s own redeeming threads of mercy.

Ishmael’s name means “God hears”. Because He does. Ishmael is the first child in the Bible to be given his name, not by humans, but by God. God meets Hagar on the road when she runs away in pain and He counsels her, sees her, respects her and restores her to her family. Because God sees and hears our pain.

Before Ishmael was born into the messiness of his family’s brokenness God set out a path before him for restoration and a future. God hears Ishmael’s cries and is with Him as he grows up, rejected and fatherless because of Sarai’s choices (Genesis 21:17-20).

God sees and hears the pain we live in, in the womb of this unravelling world, and He weaves His grace around us to restore us to ourselves. This God sees. This God hears. And this God names us who we truly are long after we have forgotten. 

And God, all through the Bible, He is renaming people. Naming and renaming, restoring and renewing. Reclaiming our true names. Because with Him, we all become more than we believe we are. He takes our one small identity our life has given us and wraps it around His beating heart and says “trust me, this is who you are in Me”, even as we are still becoming it.

God had promised to make Abram’s name great, but He changed Abram’s name in the process. Because often the names humans give us don’t capture the great love God has for us, or the greatness He has called us to in Him.  

God didn’t just join His heart with Abram, He joined His name with him. One letter from God’s personal name YHWH (the equivalent of the H, ‘ה’) is added to Abram and Sarai’s names renaming them Abraham and Sarah. And this one small letter renames their lives from emptiness and childlessness to a life of flourishing future family lines. A family line renamed through calling on the name of God.

 ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: you will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you….’ Genesis 17: 4-6 

‘…God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah.  I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’ Genesis 17: 15-16

Hebrew names, like many cultures are intended to capture the destiny, character and calling of a person. Abram’s name was changed from ‘exalted father’ to ‘Father of many nations’, and Sarai became Sarah, meaning queen or princess,  a ‘mother of nations’.

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God makes it personal. He makes a covenant with Abraham He changes their names interweaving them with His,  He commits Himself to them, and He asks them to commit themselves to Him also. This covenant is not one sided like God’s covenant in the time of Noah, this covenant is a mutual commitment.

The rainbow was a sign of a covenant God made with Noah and all the earth “I will remember…” (Genesis 9:16).  Now God makes a covenant with Abraham’s family, and the sign of this covenant is not distantly draped across the sky like the rainbow. It’s personal. Intimate. Right there in the place where intimacy is experienced, where life begins, a symbol of fertility and fruitfulness and a reminder against infidelity. You can’t get much more personal than this.

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.  You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.’ Genesis 17:10-11

This family was to be different. And they were to know they were different. It was to become an everlasting covenant in their flesh (Genesis 17:13). The sign of God’s commitment to them and their commitment to God was in them, on them and all-around them.

And one more small sign would soon arrive that would confirm every other part of God’s blessing and every word of His covenant to them. A miracle was about to arrive. Finally. The evidence of what Abraham had hoped for and the certainty of what he had not yet seen.  

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.  When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ Genesis 21:1-6

Isaac. It means laughter. And how they must have laughed with breathless incredulity and eye shining joy.

When God is fulfilling His large purposes He is also fulfilling our small hopes, answering our silent prayers, weaving all our longings and lack with all His plans and purposes and in the warp and weft of it all, forming a whole new thing. 

‘Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah….’  ‘the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised…’ For Sarah. For Sarah who had been left barren for so long, who’d made all the mistakes with Hagar and lived with bitter resentment. The Lord was gracious and filled all Sarah’s emptiness with the fullness of a full womb and the fullness of an over brimming heart. A heart now overflowing with joy and love for this one small person who was the fulfilment of all her once tear-filled now thanks-filled prayers. Sarah, she was learning that God is always faithful. Even when we are not. She was learning who God is.

God had made it personal with Abraham and his whole family. Because when Abraham chose to obey and follow God, to walk with Him, to live in God’s reality rather than his own broken and limited view of reality God became part of Abraham’s family. The third strand in Abraham’s and Sarah’s marriage fighting for their unity when Abraham didn’t (Genesis 12:10-20, 20:1-18), providing a child for Abraham and Sarah when they couldn’t (Genesis 21:1-7),  seeing and caring for Hagar when Sarah hadn’t (Genesis 16:1-16), watching over Hagar and Ishmael when Abraham and Sarah  didn’t (Genesis 21:8-21). 

God was the strengthening strand in their family line, weaving their broken threads with His whole ones.  Ecclesiastes says ‘a cord of three strands is not quickly broken’ (Ecclesiastes 4:12). A chord of three strands of which one is God will never break. It will become a lifeline through many generations.

It is not attentiveness to one another which strengthens a marriage, but attentiveness to God. When we find our strength in the healing, counselling, steadfast love of God we find the grace and strength to truly love each other. We love each other well when He first loves us into wholeness. And He is more faithful to the unity and wholeness of our marriages, families and relationships than we are. He is a loving Father. A trustworthy partner in life. A faithful and committed friend.

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All these years of God walking alongside Abraham are like years of a friendship deepening and a committed partnership strengthening. Moment by moment God invites Abraham to know Him more, to walk closer, to commit more of himself. And step by step as Abraham comes closer, God reveals to him more of His heart.

Many years later in the writings of the prophet Isaiah God calls Abraham His friend,

‘But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen,  you descendants of Abraham my friend,’ Isaiah 41:8

Let that hang on the air for a moment and settle into the stillness of your heart. This God who made the whole spinning Universe of exploding stars, all the miracles of life, the minuscule details in the tiniest creatures of creation, this God speaks of humans as His friends. He wants us to walk with Him as Abraham learned to. To call on His name confidently as friends call on one another. He wants to be known by us. As a friend.

Author A.W.Tozer describes this heart of God…

“God’s love tells us that He is friendly and His Word assures us that He is our friend and wants us to be His friends. No man with a trace of humility would first think to that he is a friend of God; but the idea did not originate with men. Abraham would never have said, “I am God’s friend,” but God Himself said that Abraham was His friend…”

“..It is a strange and beautiful eccentricity of the free God that He has allowed His heart to be emotionally identified with men. Self-sufficient as He is, He wants our love and will not be satisfied till He gets it. Free as He is, He has let His heart be bound to us forever… 

“…The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end.” The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer

This God is a God who wants to be known, to be in personal relationship with human beings. And the whole Bible, the Old Testament and the New, is really a letter from God to us revealing who He is. Personally. 

This book with all it’s endless stories is not just revelation of information about God, it is revelation of the shape of His beating heart and an invitation to join His heart in an adventure. This God wants to be known. 

And this is what His journey with Abraham has been all along, an intentional scattering of promises, blessings and interactions all revealing step by step the shape of God’s love for Abraham, for humankind, like bread crumbs leading Abraham (and us) straight to His heart.

And for Abraham, all these years of deepening friendship are deepening his trust in this God. He used to hustle to save his own skin at the expense of his family, but there has been a change. God’s faithfulness to Abraham has produced faith within Abraham’s heart. Unwavering faith.

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And then this one day arrives in Abrahams life. A day after decades of learning who this God is and learning to trust His heart.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’

‘Here I am,’ he replied.

Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.’ Genesis 22:1-2

In this moment, God was asking Abraham a question: How committed is this friendship? How deep does your dedication to me run? How much do you love and trust me? Is it just for what I give you? Is it just for all my promises, my blessing, my protection, my provision? Or is it for me? Is this thing personal to you? Personal enough for you to give up everything else, your own son on whose shoulders every promise I ever made you rests?

Is this as personal for you as it is for me?

When temptation and testing came, Eve and Adam gave up God in a moment, Cain gave up God in His jealousy and apathy, and a whole Babel world had given up on God for whatever identity drivenness their hearts were drawn to.

But this new family line, Seth’s family line that called on the name of the Lord and walked closely with Him, Noah, Enoch, now Abraham, this new family God was establishing, they needed to be different.

They were different.

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac’. Genesis 22:3

And the first born son of Israel is led up a mountain to be sacrificed.

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Unlike Adam and Eve who hid from God in the garden when He called to them, Abraham had answered “‘Here I am”. Abraham had such full trust in the loving and faithful nature of God that He did not waver, did not argue, did not run, even when it seemed God was taking away the very thing that all His promises relied on: Abraham’s own son.

Abraham was being tested. God was testing his friendship with Abraham, but ultimately what Abraham was really being tested on was how well he knew and trusted God’s heart. Abraham himself reveals this in his words to Isaac as they travel together to Moriah,

As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.’ Genesis 22:6a-8

The two of them went on together, trusting Gods heart. Abraham knew that God could not be other than Himself. He trusted God because he knew Him. Personally. He knew God’s heart was shaped like faithfulness. Righteousness. Justice. Love.

Abraham had no scriptures, no Sunday school lessons, no church teaching on faith, all he had was his personal relationship with YHWH.  And it was enough.  

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death’ Hebrews 11:17-19

Babel grasped the whole world and gained only emptiness (Matthew 16:26). Abraham gave up everything, first his homeland, his familiar surroundings, his family ties, his stable existence, and now here finally he gives up his own son. The son on whom all the blessings rest. Abraham gave up everything, but gained a personal relationship with the God who created everything.

It’s often when a relationship survives the crucible fire of challenge that the strength of that relationship is finally revealed. Real relationship, real love costs. If love has no cost, no burden, no investment, no cross, it is simply empty sentiment susceptible to the changeable winds of passion and emotion. We truly love to the extent that we sacrifice for and invest in the relationship with the one we love, ‘forsaking all others’ as the marriage vow says.

Forsaking all others, Abraham chose God.  Just as forsaking His own son, God chose us. 

This test for Abraham, it communicated more about God’s heart, God’s intention, God’s purpose and grace planned for us from before all time began (2 Timothy 1:9)  than Abraham (or the author of Genesis) could possibly comprehend in that moment.

This message, this unspoken intention is right there woven into YHWH’s words…

Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love …. ‘ Genesis 22:2

And it is right there threaded into that moment as God stops Abraham’s hand from doing what He centuries later won’t stop Himself from doing. For us.

‘…But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’

‘Here I am,’ he replied.

‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Genesis 22:11-12

You have not withheld from me your son, your only son…

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…’ John 3:16

That day long ago, that moment alongside Abraham His friend, on the mountain named Moriah, which means simultaneously “God sees’ and ‘God provides’, God revealed this plan He’s been carrying all along, a truth held deep in the beating rhythm of His heart, a story written between the sinews from before the world began.

‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.’ John 15:13-15

This is my plan to set this world right. This is the blessing this family will one-day bring. Walk it out with me for just a little while, comprehend for just a moment, understand from the inside what this means. What Great love means. What great love costs.

God had seen our Imago Dei wisping threadbare thin, torn threads pulling apart, fraying at the edges, floating on the breeze of history. A broken world unraveling, weft by weft, strand by strand, life by life; the grace that once was us.

God saw and God provided.

Himself.

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Years later Abraham’s calling to bless the whole world through his family line will find final fulfilment in one son. A son of Abraham’s family line, the first born son of God.

 ‘And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Matthew 3:17

Just as God wove His name into Abraham’s name, He then wove Himself into Abraham’s family line. Just as Isaac, the firstborn son of Israel was led up a mountain by his father to be sacrificed, the first born son of God will be led up another mountain by His father to be sacrificed. But this time there will be no exchange. No ram in a thicket, no voice thundering “Do not lay a hand on him”, no holding back the knife.

Jesus is the ram in the thicket, He is the sacrifice. He is the lamb given in exchange for Isaac, for Abraham, for every human being that ever walks this earth. Abraham said it long ago echoing through the ages like a truth waiting silently to fulfil itself in time…

“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Genesis 22:8 

And He did.

God made it personal. Binding His beating heart to ours, wrapping His love around our  shredded threads, reweaving them, restoring them, renewing our fraying Imago Dei, the grace that first was us.  His palms now carry the beautiful scar of our existence on them. Scars He chose when He chose us, from before the world was made (Ephesians 1:4-5). Because it was always personal. To Him.

This God made it personal because He wants to be known personally. 

God wants to walk with us, partner with us, bless us and care for us, threading together the tapestry of all the thousand ways He loves us, a tapestry woven in gold and goodness, grace and givenness, justice and righteousness.

A tapestry depicting the image of a family tree, a renewed family line, a lineage of faith ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, who are certain of what they cannot see and sure of what they hope for in Him (Hebrews 11:1), a family of people not striving to make their own names great but striving in humility for true greatness; greatness shaped like justice, greatness shaped like righteousness. Greatness shaped like love.

Great love. Like His.

‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ John 15:13

 

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