The black tent was pitched on the grassy knoll beneath the stately oak. Its sides were rolled up neatly and tied with thick flaxen rope revealing the colorfully woven rugs that covered the floor and the beautiful tapestries which were draped over a variety of overstuffed cushions that were used for dining.
As the edges of the tent fluttered in the late afternoon breeze, a delicious aroma of stewing meat filled the tent, evoking anticipation of the feast that was to soon follow. The table cloth spread upon the floor boasted of pottery neatly set before each place. Dishes of dried fruit and nuts and steamed legumes were already placed in the center of the table.
Outside a short distance from the tent a boy about thirteen years of age could be seen gathering wood for the fire. He was a handsome lad, bronzed by the summer sun. His curly black locks framed his face and dramatized his coal black eyes. A grand old man bent over a pot that was suspended above an open fire. Carefully he stirred the contents and stopped occasionally to blow upon a spoonful until it cooled. He sampled it and with the delight of an expert cook pronounced that it was ready.
The servants finished the preparations and the family sat down around the succulent meal – the grand old man, his lady, and one young boy. Heads were bowed. The old man looked up into heaven and gave thanks. Bowls were passed, pottery rattled and sighs of delight were heard. In the background strains of soft primeval music filled the air with celebration.
There was the customary exchange of the days events. The old man was actively engaged in the conversation at first, but as the meal progressed and the sun set and shadows began to play upon the faces of his loved ones in the flickering lamp light, the old man’s thoughts began to drift away and focus on other events.
It had been 13 years now – 13 silent years since he had heard the voice of God. At first the years had slipped by unnoticed, the old man had been so caught up with the boy. Then there had been the everyday managing of his estate. He wasn’t sure how long ago it was since he had begun to realize that it had been years since there had been any new revelation and that it had been such a long time since he had built an altar to God. It had been something that he had been pondering now for quite sometime and tonight for some reason he was keenly aware that it seemed like an eternity since he had received a word from heaven. There had been nothing – nothing but silence.
It had seemed like such a good idea. After all … he had been 86 years old and it had appeared to be the only reasonable thing to do. His wife was the first one to come up with it. She had been distressed for such a long time because of her inability to conceive. And he had to admit that he too had thought his heart would break with longing for a son.
At first he had been hesitant, but his wife was so sure. And, well, how could he deny her any longer. She was so overwrought with grief and he wanted her to be full of joy again as he had remembered her so many years before.
So, finally he had forced himself to believe that perhaps this was the way God was going to give him the son that He had promised him for so long. That night he had taken Hagar into his tent at his wife’s insistence to raise up a child for Sarah and for himself, one who would be an heir to whom all the promises of God would belong.
Ishmael had brought a lot of joy to their hearts. True, there had been a little problem between Sarai and Hagar at first, but that had all been worked out. As his gaze turned toward the lad talking to Sarai at the table he could not help but admire his handsome appearance. True he did a lot to provoke the servants and both Sarai and he were exasperated from time to time, but with more training he was sure to outgrow it. The boy after all was flesh of his flesh. He was his only son and he loved him.
Tonight Abram was 99 years old. It was his birthday celebration. With all of these earthly blessings a man should be satisfied. Yet, there was something deep within the recesses of his being that was missing. At times it produced an ache that could not be remedied by anything. He began to feel that ache coming on again tonight. After dinner he would go out for a walk on the hillside and just be alone for a while.
As he walked beneath the star studded canopy that seemed to engulf the hillside of Cannan, Abram was deeply lost in though. “I guess if I was really honest,” he pondered, “I would have to admit that the Voice was silenced after that evening with Hagar – I should have known the idea would not have been acceptable to such a Holy God – but why did I think – why did I act without at least consulting Him? Oh God! Forgive me!”
He sat upon the hillside lost in contemplation and sorrow. His eyes brimmed over with tears. Slowly he wiped the tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his long flowing robe. It was then that he saw it.
At first he had thought his eyes were just cloudy from tears. There was what appeared to be a white aura. But the longer he looked the brighter the light grew. As he continued looking the form of a man appeared whose face glowed so brightly that the surrounding hillside was bathed in light.
And then it was that simultaneously with the light, Abram felt the awe that always accompanied God’s presence. With eager eyes Abram fixed his gaze on the God he had yearned to be with for so long. Floods of love and mercy began to engulf Abram’s soul. It was then that God spoke to him.
“I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and live ever mindful of My presence and I will make My Covenant between Me and you and will multiply you exceedingly” (Gen. 17:1-2).
Overcome with joy which expelled all grief and yet with a deep sense of his own unworthiness, Abram fell on his face before God. With words that seemed to shatter and yet heal his entire being, God continued speaking.
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you and you shall be the father of many nations. What’s more, I am changing your name. It is no longer Abram (Exalted Father), but Abraham (Father of Nations); for that is what you will be. I have declared it. I will give you millions of descendants who will form many nations! Kings shall be among your descendants! And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting, solemn pledge to be a God to you and to your posterity after you” (Gen. 17:4-7, Amplified and Living).
“As for Sarai your wife, her name is no longer Sarai, but Sarah (Princess) And I will bless her, and give you a son from her; yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
Abraham raised himself and looked up into the face of God. “What was that?” he thought. He couldn’t be hearing right. Sarah, 90 year old Sarah, having a baby. And will I, 100 years old, have a son? Is this some kind of a divine joke? Suddenly the thought stuck him as so humorous that he quickly hid his face on the ground so God would not see it. A wild joy began to rise up from deep down in his being and uncontrollable laughter began to roll from his lips. He knew God could do anything he pleased, but this was too much.
As all these thoughts raced through his mind he suddenly thought of Ishmael. God had said nothing about him. He hadn’t mentioned him in the blessing or the covenant. Abraham had so much hope pinned upon the boy, so many dreams, so many plans for the future. Surely God wasn’t excluding him. An ache began to fill his heart until he was unable to restrain himself. “O that Ishmael might live before You!” he pleaded.
Steadfastly God answered, “That isn’t what I said. Sarah your wife shall bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant and with his posterity after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard and heeded you. I will bless him and make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly … but My covenant, My promise and pledge, I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” (Gen. 17:19-20, Amp. and Living)
Divine Prerogative and Calling
There are several analogies that can be drawn from the life of Abraham. The first one we will look at and one most apparent is a lesson that is reemphasized throughout the Bible. Paul summed up Divine prerogative by saying, “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth…. So then it is not to him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy (Rom. 9:11,16). Abraham through his own fleshly efforts produced Ishmael. God refused to confirm His covenant through the product of Abraham’s flesh. For the promises of God are not according to the will of flesh or the will of man.
Referring to God’s prerogative in calling and choosing men, Paul explains in the book of Romans that when Rebecca had conceived by Isaac before either children were born God told Rebecca that twins were in her womb and that the elder, Esau would serve the younger, Jacob. Paul explains that God proclaimed His choice, the one whom He had called, before the children were even born, to make it plain that the purpose of God according to election might stand. This meant that God’s calling was based not on their good behavior or on any good works that they had done but on God’s choosing. It was to prove and confirm the Divine purpose in election which depends on the call of God and not on anything man does.
Paul concludes by saying, therefore, “it is not a question of human will or effort but of divine mercy.” Salvation, calling and anointing throughout scripture is emphasized as God’s unmerited grace and favor toward man. The Living Bible says, “Was God being unfair? Of course not for God had said to Moses, ‘If I want to be kind to someone, I will. And I will take pity on anyone I want to.’ And so God’s blessings are not because someone decides to have them or works hard to get them. They are given because God takes pity on those he wants to” (Living Bible Rom. 9:14-16).
God settled the question with Abraham’s offspring by confirming his covenant with Isaac and maintained His prerogative of choice. Thus it is recorded for the generations that would come, for all who would walk by faith as Abraham had walked, that the efforts of the flesh profit nothing and will never be acceptable to God.
This issue of Divine prerogative and calling of God was emphasized again in the life of Moses. Moses grew up in the house Pharaoh, and perhaps realized that he had been miraculously spared from death as an infant to someday deliver Israel from bondage to Egypt. Seeing an Israelite being mistreated by an Egyptian soldier, Moses rushed out to help him, killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. Moses wound up having to flee from Egypt fearing for his life. Moses fleshly efforts to fulfill God’s will profited nothing.
After 40 years in the wilderness tending sheep, Moses had no inclination to get involved with Israel or Egypt again. It was God who called to Moses from the midst of a burning bush and commanded him to go to Egypt to lead Israel out of captivity. The prerogative was God’s from start to finish. Moses argued with God at length, telling the Lord how unqualified he was for the job. Moses finally yielded to God’s command and went out in the power of the Holy Spirit to confront the most powerful nation on earth and overcome it.
Not According to the Will of Man
When Moses led the children of Israel in the wilderness, Korah and a few of his friends began to covet Moses’ position. They stirred up 250 popular leaders of the congregation of Israel against Moses and Aaron. Korah said to them, “We have had enough of your presumption; you are no better than anyone else; everyone in Israel has been chosen of the Lord, and He is with all of us. What right do you have to put yourselves forward, claiming that we must obey you and acting as though you were greater than anyone else among all these people of the Lord?” (Living Bible Num. 16:3)
Korah and his friends made the mistake of thinking that they could take unto themselves offices that God had called Moses and Aaron to fill. They thought that Moses had attained his position by his own volition. Korah made the mistake of thinking that Moses job was up for the taking of anyone who could challenge his authority.
When Moses heard what they were saying he fell face down to the ground. Then he said, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring him near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose; He will bring near to Himself” (Num. 16:5).
Moses did not try to defend himself but he simply in effect replied, “Let’s go to the tent of meeting and let God decide … the prerogative is with Him.” God decided and the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and all the men who were with Korah and they went down alive into hell. And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 leaders who stood with them in their rebellion. God settled the issue and had the account recorded for posterity that all might know that “His purpose according to election” was an immutable, eternal principle.
Absalom, son of King David, would later make the same mistake. Absalom thought that the kingship of Israel was up for the taking. He thought that he could usurp his father’s place and take the throne. He appeared to succeed for a while, but he wound up losing his life and bringing destruction to Israel. The throne went back to David the rightful heir according to God’s election.
God has throughout the ages maintained the right to call, choose, and ordain men. When a man or woman of God had fulfilled God’s purposes, or adversely were no longer able to be used by Him because of disobedience or for whatever reason, God never took that person’s position away and gave it to another while the one who was originally called remained alive. By Biblical example we find that the Lord always removed that leader by death before he replaced him with another man. It was so in the life of Moses and Joshua, of Saul and David. When Moses died the mantle passed on to Joshua. Although David was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to become king in Saul’s place, David did not ascend to the throne until after Saul’s death. The “gifts and callings of God are without repentance.”
After the resurrection of Jesus the eleven disciples decided to cast lots to come up with a replacement for Judas who had hung himself. They felt that God would determine His choice by causing the lot to fall upon the man whom He would choose to replace Judas. The lots were cast and fell upon Matthias. The strange thing is that you never hear of Matthias any more in the Bible after the disciples had chosen him.
It seemed that for Judas’ replacement the Lord had his eye upon a young man named Saul who was a zealous persecutor of the Church. When Saul was on his way to Damascus to try to imprison or kill Christians, the Lord knocked Saul off his horse with a blinding light and called Saul to follow Him just as He had called his other disciples years before. Saul’s name was changed to Paul and for 13 years in the wilderness Jesus gave Paul the basic foundations for the New Covenant through personal revelation. God was again re-establishing a precedent that He would personally call those whom He would send to preach the gospel. He would not recognize those whom men had chosen no matter how good their intentions.
The Futility of Self-Will
Let’s look at Abraham’s experience with Ishmael in another light. Abraham endeavored to fulfill God’s word and accomplish His purposes through his own human effort and reasoning. He did not inquire of God to make sure that his effort to produce a son would meet God’s approval.
Jesus laid down certain principles to help his disciples avoid this mistake. Jesus taught, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son does in like manner. I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear I judge; and My judgement is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 5:19,30)
Jesus taught that in order to please God things must be undertaken not through initiative of self, but in response to what the Spirit of God initiates within the heart. This of necessity infers that to know what the Spirit of God desires we must spend time in God’s presence hearing His voice and receiving His guidance. We must be seeking not our will but His will. Jesus was a continual example of what a New Covenant man or woman should be doing to receive direction from God by always withdrawing into the lonely places to pray and to seek the Father. The most common error of the church today is to engage in the reasoning of Abraham, to proceed forward in the strength of Moses, omitting the burning bush, or the sweet hour of prayer.
The church, like Sarah finds herself getting older and stays barren. Therefore the church forces itself to produce. Abraham rationalized, “We are suppose to have a baby, yet he overlooked the Sovereignty of God’s time. In recounting the story, Paul writes in the book of Romans, “For this is the word of promise, at this time will I come and Sarah shall have a son” (Rom. 9:9). The promise to Abraham was fulfilled at a time fixed by God and was accomplished by Divine visitation.
The price of moving ahead of God’s timing and not according to God’s prescribed order is emphasized again in the life of King Saul. Saul had been instructed by Samuel to wait with his men at Gilgal where Samuel would meet him to offer sacrifices to God. Samuel was delayed and after waiting seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed the people began to scatter from Saul. So Saul “forced himself” to offer the burnt offering to God which was not lawful for anyone but the priests to offer.
When Samuel came and asked Saul why he had done such a thing Saul gave three reasons. One, the people were scattering from him, two, Samuel did not come within the appointed time, and three, the Philistines were gathered at Michmash with 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and people as the sand on the seashore for multitude to fight against Israel – he had a war to fight. Samuel responded, “You have done foolishly … because you have not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God which he commanded you your kingdom shall not endure” (1 Sam. 13:13-14).
There is a way that seems right to a man but the end is death. Saul’s reasoning was rational, but it was deadly. It cost him his kingdom. Saul’s fear of losing the people’s support, his inability to wait for God’s timing, and the very real and present danger of a formidable enemy waiting to strike caused Saul to violate God’s prescribe order and to take things into his own hands.
Saul had become a little too sure of himself and thought that he was able to fight the Lord’s battles in his own strength, not realizing that success in battle hung not on the people’s support nor in Saul’s ability to lead and fight, but in God’s favor secured and His directive revealed.
How easy it is to put too much stock in self’s importance and man’s strength and forget to take time to secure the direction and power of a Most Holy God who works all things according to the council of His will and pleasure and, instead, race ahead of the Spirit’s leading coming up with great loss and failure instead of victory.
How many Christians have found that they have made this mistake? How many have failed to wait upon God for His timing and His empowering and have had to deal with the consequences of an Ishmael? How many have suffered the consequences of broken communion with God resulting in no fruit, no personal growth, no spiritual progress and yet have gone through the motions of serving God when their heart had really grown cold and was in reality far from Him? How many have lived on yesterday’s memories and did not even realize it until one day when, by the mercy of God, they came to their senses and realized that there had been no fresh truth, no fresh manna, no fresh revelation.
There still remains something in human nature today that does not want to wait on God’s timing or direction. With battle in view, self still thinks it is up to the fight and bids God bless its efforts.
The Peril of a Self-Confident Spirit
When God gave the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, the people were ready at once to promise, “All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient.” There was little understanding of their own sinfulness, no understanding of the holiness of God, no understanding of their own desperate need of the blood of the Covenant. With perfect self-confidence they considered themselves able to undertake to keep the Covenant and obey God. In their own strength, in the power of the flesh, they were ready to serve God.
The Israelites thought that it was simply a matter of hearing and knowing what God desired for them to do. They were certain that they could obey. They were self-confident. They did not know that it is only the presence, the fear, the nearness and the power of God that humbles us and makes us fear Him, that can only conquer the power of sin and give us power to obey. In fact there was such an awesome holy fear when God spoke to them from the mountain that the Israelites went so far as to ask Moses to speak to God for them and return and instruct them. It is always easier to receive instruction from man and live than to wait and hear the voice of God and die to all of self’s goodness. Israel wanted it so, and so do many Christians.
In this same self-confident spirit many Christians who have entered into the New Covenant and have received the New birth and the Holy Spirit feel that they are able to undertake to keep God’s covenant.In this same spirit many Christians regard the Bible as a system of laws, a course of instructions to direct us in the way God would have us go. Many Christians believe that all God asks of us is that we do our utmost in seeking to fulfill these principles. More we cannot do, this we are sincerely ready to do.
Because of this many Christians seek to serve God without ever seeking to live in daily contact with Him. Christianity becomes a matter of outward instruction from man. Waiting to hear God’s voice that they may obey is unknown. The death to the flesh and the world that comes from a close walk with God are not experienced.
Not I, But Christ
The legal spirit of self-effort which hindered Abraham from trusting God and which may be found amidst very great zeal for God’s service and very earnest prayer for His grace, must be removed. We must follow the example of Christ in His death as He in utter impotence counted upon the power of God to work all and give Him life, and raise Him from the dead. We must see that self is incurably evil and must die; we must give self up to death, and entirely cease from self and its works.
We must receive instead that servant spirit that waits in childlike dependence for all on God. There we will find the God of love waiting to do everything in him who is willing to be nothing. Jesus explained it 2000 years ago when He said, “I can do nothing of Myself.”
“Take it straight from the heart of Christ and hide it in your heart. Meditate on it till it reveals the beauty of His Divine meekness and humility and explains how all the power and glory of God could work in Him. This is one of the keys to the New Covenant life. As I believe that God is actually to work all in me, I shall see that the one thing that is hindering me is my doing something of myself. As I am willing to learn from Christ by the Holy Spirit to say, Nothing of myself, I shall have the true preparation to receive all God has engaged to work, and the power to confidently expect it. I shall learn that the whole secret of the New Covenant is just one thing: God works all!” (Andrew Murray, The Two Covenants, Christian Literature Crusade, Fort Washington, Penn.1974., p.136).
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved