Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 3: Disruptive Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 2: God’s Call to Abraham: The Disruptive Truth of Man’s Kingdom Rejected
Lesson 39 – The Call of Abraham, Genesis 12–14
14 November 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
I’m going to review what is going on at this crisis when Abraham is called, then we’ll see the call of Abraham and get into the text in Genesis 12. Get a translation that is comfortable to read and speed read Genesis 12-50, don’t try to go for details, just go through it as fast as you can. It’s important that you get the flow, because that’s what we’re going to deal with, basically we’re going to cover the entire structure of the rest of the book of Genesis. It’s unavoidable to do it that way because we have to get into the other events of history. So now we begin to accelerate our pace through the Old Testament. I know there are arguments about the different translations, but for the big picture you don’t have to get into the nitty gritty of which translation, etc. Most people’s problem isn’t the translation; it’s that they just don’t read whatever translation they have. But after you’ve read the translation then we can start talking about little details, but let’s just try to read first.
On page 19-20 what I’ve tried to do is outline the structure of the world system. And once again to make the point that it was the world system that came into existence during this time, just after the Noahic Covenant. By the time God called Abraham, the world system, the spiritual orientation of civilization had already begun to set, sort of like wet concrete. The incident at the tower of Babel was, obviously, the only event that the Holy Spirit considered significant between Noah and Abraham. We know from Scripture at least five centuries passed, so we have to keep coming back to the fact that something must be very important about the tower of Babel because God obviously thought it important enough to make an issue out of in the text. On page 19 we deal with the first of those three lots, and we said that we’re just using the tripartite structure that the Apostle John spoke of, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. These are forever with us, they are forever a part of society, forever a part of the world system. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life were John’s terms, but you can see those same elements appear as early as the temptation of Eve. You can even make an argument that the three temptations of Christ followed that same pattern, it’s a little more difficult but I think you can make the case.
That tripartite structure occurs throughout the Scriptures, so I’ve tried to just kind of organize it as to how these three elements control the structure of civilization. Not that they control the technology of civilization or the arts, or science, or business of civilization, rather they’re an agenda that is played out in all these areas, where art, music, business, all the activities of civilization tend to further these three things. They’re always competing in this unseen spiritual force that shapes our society, wherever, west, east, north, or the southern hemisphere, it doesn’t make any difference.
The first one, the lust of the eyes, I have taken in a larger sense on page 19 to refer to the eyes in your head, inside your brain, that the mental pictures we have, therefore I’ve labeled it: The Corruption of Human Imagination because it’s the vain thoughts, it’s the things we conceive of with our own little autonomous sin natures, our flesh, what we think of, the movie screen in your head, that’s what we’re talking about. It’s corrupt, and in particular we said that one of the central points of corruption is that we, as creatures made in God’s image, want to see the big picture. We’re made, our hearts are made, to conceive of the whole. And the moment we try that in the eyes, or the imagination, we come up with this thing that we’ve seen so often, this Continuity of Being and again I point this out, all that fancy phrase means is that God, man, animals, molecules are just shades of each other. In other words, there’s just a quantitative difference between them. One Christian writer put it this way, Mr. man and Dr. God. God isn’t the Creator; He’s just a more intelligent man. In other words, there’s this continuity that goes on. What that does is everything shades into everything else, and you can see that although this arose centuries ago, back in the time of Nimrod, that same Continuity of Being underlies Darwinism. Darwinism is the application of the Continuity of Being to biological history.
It’s a universal premise, it occurs everywhere, and again I direct your attention to the quote from Rushdoony where he says, and he’s absolutely correct as far as I’ve been able to read the scholars of history on the history of men’s thought, the first sentence in that quote: “Apart from biblically governed thought, the prevailing concept of being has been that being is one and continuous. God, or the gods, man, and the universe are all aspects of one continuous being,” and then the last sentence of that quote, the corollary that most people never think of is that it “eliminates creation ex nihilo.” If everything’s a shade of everything else, then thinking back, in Genesis 1 I had you read the creation account according to the pagan Tiamat, the Enuma Elish myth. In that myth the universe is part of the anatomy of the gods, the universe comes out of the anatomy of the gods, the gods have sexual intercourse and they open the universe up so the universe is an extension of the very being of God; that’s not a biblical view. It idolizes creation, because if creation is an appendage of God, then you have to worship the creation, I have to serve the creature. That’s exactly the heart of paganism, serve the creature. God’s attribute of eternality, the universe is eternal; God’s attribute of omnipotence, the universe is all powerful; God’s attribute of omnipresence, the universe is everywhere, so there’s a transfer of those biblical attributes to the universe.
Again I remind you that this is not just a theory, there’s a spiritual reason this happens. It’s got to happen, it’s the way the rebellious heart insulates itself against the claims of God. Sin always does that. What we’re seeing here is to get insight into our own flesh because judgment begins in the house of the Lord, and we have to start with ourselves, not our neighbor. We want to get a grip on what is this thing, sin, that we always deal with, and it starts here with a completely falsified view of God. So one of the things that we’re always fighting spiritually in our hearts is to keep purifying and purifying and purifying our heart picture, the power of our imagination, to make it biblical. Because you know that every time you’re tempted, you rehearse it, you think about it, it goes over and over again in your mind’s eye, your imagination is filled with it, filled with it, filled with it, and then it breaks out into an act, or into a word or a gossip, a malign or something, that’s the way it happens. The fountainhead of all this caldron of stuff is in this imagination.
What we have to realize is that to stand against the world system requires a cleansing on the inside, we need spiritual soap to cleanse our hearts, and the way we do that is to take in the Word of God. If we don’t take in the Word of God, if we don’t hold ourselves under its authority, and constantly remember that we have to do with the Creator of all things, then give us five minutes in the world and we’ve sucked it up again, it’s insidious, it is all around us, and it’s a constant spiritual battle to maintain an orientation toward God as Creator, not God as some sort of super man who along with us is jointly—jointly, working His plan.
The other thing that we want to be clear on is the other feature that occurs again and again in pagan thought is it makes evil normal. So we always have the idea that good and evil have always coexisted. So we create this kind of a universe in our evil imagination because if by creating a universe that has evil and good in it forever, then we’re not responsible. This transforms us into victims. We’re not responsible, it’s only if we have a creation that originally didn’t have evil and we have [not sure of word, sounds like: guys] that brought it into existence, now we’re responsible. But if we don’t have a real fall, and everything always was evil, we’re just victim, hey, don’t look at me, I’m not responsible. So this trend toward victimization, don’t confess sin, you can’t confess sin unless you’re convinced you’re responsible, you don’t confess that you’re a victim. So that’s the whole thrust of what’s going on here in the rise of this paganism and the corruption of the vain imagination.
On page 20, the next thing, the lust of the flesh, there we have a corruption of the devotion. What the flesh is always involved with are the energies, where it’s all going, and particularly the corruption of human devotion has a close alliance to sexual intimacy, and that’s what’s going on in Romans 1:26-27, there’s a close allegiance in Scripture between sexual intimacy and worship, believe it or not. You see this in the Mosaic Law Code. That’s why in this area the lust of the flesh is basically serving self, serving, in other words with effort, with the expenditure of energy, with time, catering to self.
And it’s this, according to Romans 1, that precedes things like drunkenness, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, and all the (quote) “social sins.” The Bible is not minimizing those, it’s simply saying hey guys, you’re shooting the gun at the wrong target. This is why programs that aim at “just say no” don’t really work, because you can’t just say no unless you’re dealing with the root of the thing. And if it’s really true, the biblical model of man, that when I serve myself God allows—He takes the lid off of restraint and says okay, you want to serve yourself, go ahead, be My guest, watch what happens. You’re going to find that when you try to serve yourself that you wind up out of control because the whole object of serving self is I want to be in charge of my life. And the irony, God always works in irony, the irony in Romans 1 is that the more you try to serve yourself and bring ourselves and our program into effect, it always falls apart.
And homosexuality, which is the illustration in Rom. 1, is the hallmark of a pagan society. We’ll see this in Genesis 14. The hallmark of a pagan society has always been homosexuality, ALWAYS, on every continent, all the time. It was prevalent in the Greeks, it was prevalent in Rome; we think we’ve got a problem, the Greeks and the Romans were like San Francisco from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, that’s the way it was. Paul lived in that, the early church lived in that, they lived in a profoundly perverted society and Paul makes a statement in Corinthians that many of those in the Corinthian church were, past tense, homosexuals. They were cured. If you mention that today, everyone blinks, you’re kidding, nobody can be cured of that, it’s too deeply rooted, oh you can stop the behavior but you can’t really stop the orientation, the orientation is in the genes, it’s so deep, that orientation is so deep that it can never be cleansed. My friend, if that’s the way you think, that’s a sub-biblical view, I’m sorry, that’s wrong, the Bible says that hope is there, the orientation can be dealt with. I’m not saying it’s going to be over, just like that, but it can be dealt with.
What is Romans 1 talking about, that these things can be … the problem is that paganism doesn’t have the power to deal with it, and therefore it says I’m helpless, because it goes back to … what is one of the axioms of paganism? Good and evil are always there, I am a victim, I am a victim of my genes, I am a victim of something else, or my mother dropped me on my head when I was a baby, or something. I’m always a victim of something, don’t look at me, hey, don’t hold me responsible for something. That’s just part of pagan society, it always has been and always will be, so we shouldn’t think in America as we see it rising it’s head, oh gee, what’s happening to our country, it’s just going pagan, that’s what’s happening. We’ve known that for quite some time, you plant the seeds and you get the plants. So it’s just night follows day.
The third area, The Corruption of Human Judgment, and in Romans 1:32 which we dealt with last week we mentioned that that’s where the summary of these three, Paul says these people not only do these things, but they approve of those who do these things. In other words, they redefine the notion of deviancy. Deviancy is redefined. It’s done with vocabulary, it gets into the literature, it gets into the media, and finally it gets into our written rules and regulations and laws. Like some judge in Illinois said that now you can’t discriminate against homosexuals on the job. It’d be interesting to make a test case. I don’t discriminate against homosexuals, never have, I just discriminate against homosexuality, like I discriminate myself between anger, theft or anything else. I’m not discriminating against angry people, I’m discriminating against anger. But if you can’t tell the difference, then you’ve got the problem, not me, because I have to start with myself, and I don’t see that if I have to deal with my sin then I don’t understand why someone else needs a special privilege. I could say the same thing, every one of us has our pet sin, everybody has them, so what right does some subset of sinners have, to say that our special sin isn’t really sin, we’re just victims. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do that to your pet sin; wouldn’t that relieve a lot of pressure? Hey, no problem, I’ll just redefine my problem out of existence.
That’s exactly what Romans 1:32 is doing. What else does it mean? Commentators have long puzzled over that verse because they can’t figure out why is it that Paul says that it’s worse to approve people who do sins than do the sin? That’s the rest of the verse. You say wait a minute, I thought it’s wrong to do it and you’d think doing the sin was worse than approving of others that do it. That’s not the way Paul puts that verse together. If you look carefully at the construction, what Paul says is those who redefine the sin are worse than those who do it. Why? Because they’re contaminating the ethical structure of their neighborhood, of their society, of everything, they’re contaminating their entire environment by redefining deviancy. As I said, this is going to be a hot topic, we think we have little problems now, I foresee this as one of the central points of persecution, legally, against us as a community. We are going to be singled out legislatively and perhaps judicially for the fact that we refuse to redefine these deviant behaviors.
The Christian church that sticks with the Scripture is going to continue to assault these areas, not the people, we’re wrong if we do that, but if we continue to hold a Scriptural standard we are going to come into tremendous collision with the way the pagan society is moving today. We’re just on the railroad tracks and it becomes a train. But the advantage we have is that the church has always survived. The empires that have tried to destroy the church have come and they have gone and the church remains today. Rome thought she could destroy the church, the Romans are a dead language, Latin; the Romans are a has-been group. Nazi Germany thought they would crush the church; Nazism is a ghost of history, the church remains. So we have no sweat that we are going to survive and the society that attacks the church will go down, but the church will go on and on until Jesus Christ chooses to take her home to be with Him. Those are the three areas.
Now we come to page 20, an important fallout of the Babel incident. After the flood these three patterns were enforced. Before the flood, before the Noahic Covenant, the human race had the first divine institution which was dominion, responsibility, it had marriage, it had family, and that was the limit, we don’t know what else went on, we haven’t the foggiest idea because the Scriptures don’t say, maybe angels helped rule the earth before the flood, we don’t know, we know it was an angelic police force with armed swords who could kill people at the gate of Eden, and that anybody that tried to get back into Eden would be killed if they didn’t mind the sentries, but apart from that it’s a mystery what happened. But after the flood, we have the addition of this new divine institution of civil government which means the sword has now been placed into the hands of man, not angels. Then it was Nimrod who combined the agenda of paganism with the state, so that now the sword of the state became controlled by these three things. And not only did the sword of state become under the authority of these three lusts, but it became a world-wide government. Actually you could say that Babel was the first United Nations building, because that was the first call for world government. It was a call in disobedience to God; it was a call for a one-world system that would be united. Why did man want to have a one-world system? For security. Security against whom? Security against God.
I want to look at a phrase in the tower of Babel incident because we’ll see the counterpoint to that phrase in Genesis 12. Genesis 11:4, listen to this verse and capture the spirit of the verse in your mind’s eye, in your heart, visualize this as kind of music with a beat and hear the beat, hear this because it’s all over, it’s all around us in the world, “And they said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city,” is there any submission there, do you detect any “what does the Lord want me to do” spirit in the verse? Is there any question about what God wants? No, we, WE have the plan and WE will “build for ourselves a city,” and not only will WE build a city for ourselves, but WE will make its top go all the way to heaven. Thankfully the Hebrew has that expression “top to heaven” elsewhere and if you look it up in the concordance you’ll see that it means a high building, like a skyscraper type thing, it doesn’t mean that they thought they were going to actually get to heaven. But in one sense they did, because remember if you go back into the Continuity of Being, if it’s just a case of Mr. man and Dr. God, does that tempt man to become Dr. God. If it’s just a question of IQ, if it’s just a question of a quantity increase in knowledge, why not try? Why not try to be like God? See that spirit; WE will get the whole thing together.
So it says, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name,” look at what the text keeps on doing. Count the number of pronouns and reflexives. “Let us build for ourselves a city and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Notice the last verb, “be scattered,” is it active or passive? Passive, it means they are afraid somebody else is going to scatter them; the subject receives the action of the verb in the passive. So now it’s we are afraid that we will be scattered. By whom? You know very well by whom. Who said in the Noahic Covenant that you shall go forth into all the world? God did. Were they ignorant of that? Of course not, they knew that. So secretly they don’t want to say in verse 4, “lest God scatter us over the earth,” because that makes the rebellion out in the open. See this feature about sin is it’s always sneaky, let’s just rephrase it a little bit, it’d be too offensive to say we’re going to do this because after all, we don’t want God doing it. No, no, no, we’re just afraid that we might be scattered abroad by someone, you know, someone. See the spirit in that.
That’s the spirit of a world government that was brought into existence at the beginning of our civilization for the express purpose of defying God. Note that the whole scheme in verse 4 is… what are the verbs that man is the subject of, what are the verbs that are active in that sentence? First one, “they said,” then “let us build,” so who’s doing the action of the building? Man is doing the action. So now we have a grand program of works. See the whole thrust of this is WE are going to do it, God isn’t going to do this, we’re going to do it because we don’t want Him interfering, after all, if we trust in the Lord He might have us scattered abroad, He might call me to North America, I don’t want to go over there, I’m comfortable here in the Mesopotamian plain, I don’t want to lose my children, we might send them off a thousand miles and not see them for 500 years. We want to all stay in one cuddly little group, our comfort zone, it’s scary out there. Even though, because to get out there, remember we gave you all the background what was going on climatologically during this time, ice age, volcanic activity, it was pretty nasty out there, the sky was black half the time, it wasn’t a pretty place. So in order for you to be a pioneer and go all the way off to North America some place, what did it require in your heart? Trust. In whom? You, or the Lord? The Lord who said “go out into all the world.” If God said it, He must be giving me the means to accomplish what He told me to do.
What I’m trying to get at here, Genesis 11:4 is an extremely important verse to capture the spirit of civilization. This is always present, it is present in business plans, it is present in academia, it is present in novels, books, stories, everything. Notice something else about verse 4, after they “build for ourselves” look at the next main verb, “let us make for ourselves,” very important, “a name.” Now what is a name? When you go back to Genesis 1-2, what did God want Adam to do? To name the animals. If you think about it, Adam was created on the sixth day. What does God do in that Genesis narrative? He says “Let there be light,” and what does He do, after He thinks “Let there be,” it comes to pass, and then what do you always see after something happens in the Genesis narrative when God works? “And he called it …” He called it light, He called the dry land earth, He called. You see, God’s doing the naming, up until He gets Adam on the scene, then Adam is to continue the naming process. But who initialized the language? Who set up the first noun? God did. So what does that mean? It means that if Adam looks to see what these creatures are that are coming around, he is to kind of take his cue from the Creator of those things, thinking submissively under the Creator’s mind, Lord, how did you make this, that’s the spirit of the naming. Now contrast that with verse 4, “Let us make for ourselves a name,” that’s the spirit of autonomy. In a short sense, what it’s saying is I will define the meaning of MY life, or translated in a larger scale, mankind, the human race will define its own existence and meaning.
The Tower of Babel and the shape of it. Rushdoony’s quote on page 20 is very insightful, because most of you have seen pictures of pyramids, etc. That pyramid structure, besides appearing on our dollar bill, appears in both western and eastern hemispheres. It appears in Mesoamerica, it appears in Egypt, and look what it means. “The place of creation is the primeval … mountain, or pyramid, arising out of the waters of chaos to establish order. This sacred mountain or tower is … where communication is established [in the Continuity of Being] …. The significance of the Tower of Babel is thus apparent: it denied the discontinuity of God’s being,” that means the Creator/creature distinction, it denied that distinction “and asserted man’s claim to a Continuity of Being with God and heaven. The Tower was the gate to God… signifying that man’s social order made possible an ascent of being into the divine order.” The communism’s grip on the intellectuals was what? Why did people give up their life to advance communism? Why did young people go off and become willing martyrs for communism? Why did the Jesuits in Latin America apostatize and get into this Marxist economics? What were they trying to do? What were communists trying to do? What was the grand scheme that led to their dedication? A new social order for salvation, always a new social order, because it’s a corrupt one, and they think that they can improve, but they can improve by man’s works, that’s the theme.
We captured the point, now we come to Genesis 12. We’re ready for the call of Abraham. This is a fundamental point in the Old Testament; this is where we get into the substance of this great event. This is a climactic event. This is an event that defines salvation and the gospel for the rest of the Bible, the call of Abraham. Let’s look at Genesis 12:1-3. You might want to write a little note to yourself about this, because sooner or later someone is going be in school, the teacher is going to say oh, there’s a conflict in the Bible because if you look at verse 1-3 it’s reported by Stephen in Acts 7 as to having occurred in Ur, and if you look at the end of Genesis 11 Abraham isn’t in Ur because in verse 31 it says “they went out together from Ur” to “the land of Canaan, and they went as far as Haran.” Haran is up in northern Syria. So they say see, there’s a conflict in the Bible because Abraham was in Haran and then it says that God spoke to him in Genesis 12:1-3 but then Stephen didn’t know any better and so he said vs. 1-3 occurred in Ur. What’s the solution? Same solution as Genesis 1 and 2. The concept of Scripture is that verses are not always sequential in time, any more than when you read your newspaper front page story, the style of journalistic writing is, if you were given an assignment “what do you do in the first paragraph of your news story,” you’d basically tell the whole story. What do you do in your second paragraph? You go back and start developing details. Am I going to critique your journalistic story and say oh, that second paragraph must have happened chronologically after the first one, you’ve got a conflict in your article? No, because I’m halfway intelligent and I know that’s meant to be interpreted that way.
Genesis 12:1-3 explains the content of the call of Abraham. They are not intended to say that chronologically this happened while he was in Haran, at the end of Genesis 11:31. Actually verse 1-3 occurred while he was in Ur, it’s put there because now beginning in chapter 12 what is the theme of Genesis? The call of Abraham. So naturally the writer wants you to see the big picture, it’s not what happened to Terah, the big picture isn’t how long he lived, the big picture isn’t about Abraham’s son-in-law, Haran and all the details of 11:31, those are subsidiary. The key text is 12:1-3. Let’s look at that key text. Think of verse 4 of chapter 11 that we jut got through doing. Skim verse 1-3. What words do you see in verse 1-3 that remind you, that harp back to something that was going on in 11:4? Anybody catch it? The name. What had happened in Babel, WE will make a name for ourselves. Who’s doing the doing? Man is. Who makes the name in verse 2? God does, and there’s the difference. Right here, the call of Abraham, under one principle, man does the doing; the other principle is God does the doing. This is the grand theme of the Old Testament and you’ll see it in collision time after time after time. Abraham is said to be the man of faith, we’ll talk about his faith, his faith wavers because he and Sarah always want to get into the thing, WE will make our name… then they have a big mess, and then God says okay, got the picture, now I’m going to do this. Oh, fine, then a couple of chapters later, we’re going to do this, then they screw up, and it’s a big mess. Then they come back over here and say okay, God do your thing. And it’s a struggle. We laugh at that and it’s kind of nice we because we always like to know somebody else fails, it helps the ego.
Abraham is a realistic guy, and he didn’t come submissively to this principle perfectly right in the beginning. There’s a period of adjustment. The next 40 chapters are going to talk about Abraham, and about Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. All four of these generations have to live under the verses 1-3 principle. All the stories basically hang on that, that’s the theme of the rest of the book. Every event you read has to do with how they are adjusting to this, or not adjusting to it; they’re obeying it or they’re rebelling against it; they’re submitting to God in trust or they’re doing, doing, doing it with the energy of the flesh. Doesn’t that sound familiar? So the Scriptures hammer away at this theme. So when we brush aside all the details it gets back to the same old thing we’re dealing with all the time.
Let’s look further at verses 1-3. Do you see three things in that section, we’ll come back to them later in more detail, but what do you see as themes? What is it that God is offering him in verse 1; a “land.” What is He offering him in verse 2; “a seed.” What is He offering him in verse 3; a blessing? A blessing to what? The entire world. What was the theme of Genesis 11:4, Nimrod’s kingdom was to prevent a government for the entire world. Do you see how 11:4 is in collision with 12:1-3? There’s a profound collision here. Grasp this because this is the heart of our personal struggle today, it’s the heart of the Old Testament, it will unlock page after page of the Old Testament. All these stories that may have seemed disconnected to you will come into focus and you’ll see this, and you’ll see the magnificence of our God, as He works down through the centuries of history, always with the same theme, I will do the doing, you do the receiving. I am the giver, you are the receiver. And we always, in our arrogance, think we are going to do the doing and He will do the receiving. No-no, wrong! That’s what this theme is all about.
Let’s look further. What was Abraham to do in order that this whole thing happens? Where was he? What’s the significance of where he was? He was in the heart of where Nimrod developed his empire. Abraham came from the very heart of the world system. What had he had to do? What did God say I want you to do? I want you to get out of there. What were they afraid of doing while they were in Mesopotamia according to Genesis 11:4? They didn’t want to leave, that was their comfort zone. I don’t want to get out of my comfort zone, I have to trust the Lord if I do that. So what did God ask Abraham to do? Get out of the comfort zone and trust me. So here we have the march of the man of faith. He has to get out of the world system.
There’s a cycle here that I want you to notice, because very few people seem to see this about the Old Testament particularly. They think missions started in the New Testament, not so. Here’s the cycle. You have the world, the world system, then you have what we’ll call the land, in this case the Palestine land. Abraham has to leave to get over here, but is he to stay over here in the sense that this is going to become a sort of green house where he’s going to grow all of his spiritual flowers, and they’re going to stay inside the greenhouse. What does verse 3 tell you ultimately is to happen? That the entire world will be blessed, but it starts by separation. Ironically it starts by separation and lo and behold, after the separation the world gets blessed, but the world can’t get blessed until he first gets out of this in order to grow spiritually so that he can be a blessing. Actually in the Hebrew text, look at verse 2, the last clause, “And so you shall be a blessing,” an alternate translation is “to you shall be a blessing,” because the Hebrew is the verb form that can be passive or reflexive. If you take that verb as reflexive, it says “and be a blessing.” Go be a blessing. A blessing to whom? A blessing to the whole world, they will all be blessed in you. So Abraham has a worldwide call by leaving the world system. There’s irony in this.
[blank spot] A little note about the structure of Genesis on page 24, these texts, 11:27, 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2 if you look those up, that’s where that “these are the generations of…” and if you trace what X is, you’ll see that it keeps getting to a smaller and smaller group of people. What it’s doing is setting up your focus on what line is going to go into the New Testament? We are focusing on the development of a Messianic line, promised way back in the Garden of Eden, when the seed of the woman was to come into the race. So here begins the drama, and slowly as each marker goes by in Genesis, our scope condenses, and condenses, and condenses, and condenses.
We want to move on to Genesis 14 for a moment, we’ll skip chapter 13, I feel bad about having to rush through this but if this were a class in Genesis we’d go through every chapter, but to summarize chapter 13 is the case where, you can always use this with your kids, when you’re serving something nice at the table, and you say so and so, do you want this piece, and of course, yes, I want the best piece, so they grab it. That’s a “Lot” operation, Lot wanted the best piece, the best real estate, which tells you the climate was different because the Dead Sea, I guarantee now you wouldn’t want to buy that per acre. In those days it was well watered, it says, a testament to the fact that it was the end of the ice age. Lot decided he wanted the best place, and it turned out the best place was the San Francisco of the ancient world, called Sodom. And the whole story of chapter 13 is the story of the Sodomites, and all the kind of things that went on there, the set up for it, etc. The Sodomites are going to come up again in chapter 18.
Lot no sooner gets down there and there’s a war, he gets taken captive and in Genesis 14:13, here is Abraham, by the way, he’s not poor, this man is a wealthy rancher, he had many head of cattle, he runs a ranching business basically, and this is his company. In Genesis 14:14 it tells you how many people he had in his company, this is a big ranch, he had 318 people, all the ranch hands and their families. So this can be viewed as a business man. “A fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre,” etc. Verse 14, “And when Abram heard that his relatives had been taken, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen,” which shows you obviously there was more than 318 in this whole group, “and went in pursuit as far as Daniel  And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them,” verse 24, that 318 gives you a perspective at this point in human history of how big cities were, or how big armies were, and how big battles were. When you read about battles in the ancient days it was probably only a few hundred people at most, because the population was just growing then. So he had 318 people, this was his company. Kind of reminds you of Ross Perot’s deal, when one of his employees got held up in Iran years ago, and he tried to get the government to do something, they never would do anything, so he hired his own soldiers and they went in and solved the problem. So this is the kind of thing Abraham did, remarkable parallel here, that there was nobody else to do it, so he armed his company and his employees went out and took out these people. It was a nasty little operation but he took care of the problem and he got his people back.
We want to focus in on what happened when he came back in verse 18. As he was coming back he was met by this guy that comes out of a place called Salem, and there are all kinds of things going on here. Do you know what city today that’s part of, that name? Jerusalem. Jeru-salem. Salem is the Hebrew word, SLM is a stem for peace and welfare, like today in Israel the greeting instead of hello is “Shalom.” So it’s a city of peace. As far back as this early point in civilization, the city we now know as Jerusalem is known as the city of peace. But it’s in the land of … this is the irony; it’s in the land of the Canaanites. What does it tell you when you read in verse 18 that all of a sudden this person, and it’s hard to say whether this is his name or whether this is his title, because verse 18 could refer to the fact, Melchizedek, Melech, the MLCH, that ch, that ka, that hard ch, MLCH in Hebrew is king, and ZDK, zedek, is righteousness. The king of righteousness or the righteous king. It’s not too clear whether it’s his popular name or whether it’s his title. Whoever he was, he comes out. Some people think he actually was Shem. “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of the Most High God,” or El-Elyon. So here is a city in the middle of a Canaanite pagan land, here is a leader who worships El-Elyon. He is a priest of this God.
Now we are introduced to a theme that plagues us in our witnessing often times, what about the heathen who have never heard. We want to focus on that for a minute. The implication goes like this, and I have the logic on the bottom of page 25. “Let’s look at the logical flaw in the pagan objection—the so-called “heathen problem. The argument looks like this: (1) vast numbers of mankind have never heard the New Testament; (2) the New Testament insists upon Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation; (3) therefore Christianity is unjust to insist mankind cannot be saved except through a message they have never heard.” Sounds very potent, actually when I was a non-Christian I said that was a pretty cool argument. “The flaw is found in (1)….” Let’s reread (1): “vast numbers of mankind have never heard the New Testament.” Yes and no, vast numbers have never been introduced to the New Testament in a literal sense but the truths that are in the New Testament were originally in their culture because who did they all descend from? They had to have descended from whom? Noah, so no matter what tribal group we’re talking about, somewhere in their corporate memory are pieces and chunks of the Noahic gospel, or the Noahic Bible, Genesis 1-9. Every tribe on earth has its roots back to Genesis 1-9. If they don’t have it, whose fault is that? They were given it at one time; corporately whose fault is it? What’s the spirit of paganism? Genesis 11:4, we don’t’ want to trust this God, we want to do it ourselves, so we start suppressing it.
So the first answer to the heathen problem is that it’s a wrong setup. We can’t emphasize this enough, don’t answer questions that are loaded. The classic one: how many times did you beat your wife last week? What answer do you give to that that doesn’t incriminate you? If you say none, well none that week, what about the week before? So the question has a skew to it, and we have to be careful. That’s why Jesus didn’t answer questions at the trial, Jesus was quiet, didn’t speak. Why do you suppose He didn’t speak? Because they were stupid questions, stupid questions get stupid answers. Proverbs says answer not a fool according to his foolishness, so don’t answer foolish questions without redefining the question. Two can play the redefinition game. The fallacy in the heathen argument, first off, in statement one is it is not true that vast numbers of people have never heard.
Vast numbers of people are living in people groups who at one time had complete access to Genesis 1-9 and may, if you look carefully, still have pieces of access, as many of the people in New Tribes Mission have found in the islands of the Southwest Pacific, these people have quite a bit of information, nobody ever noticed it before. Then you have the Chinese Christian scholars who all of a sudden are looking at the Chinese characters and saying holy mackerel, look at this, one of the old Chinese characters for God [word sounds like: Chantey or shang tian] which was this mysterious God that existed back in Chinese history and somehow disappeared, he walked away. I wonder why, and his picture in the Chinese script is that, and if you look at it carefully it’s quite obvious, when the Christian Chinese guy points it out, that picture is a man in the clouds. Where did they get that from? It wasn’t from Confucius. It goes back to the fact that’s a memory deep and buried inside the Chinese alphabet of the one true God of Noah, shang tian [sp?]—the God of the sky, the God above all. They remembered that, come on, it didn’t just happen, that’s there. So the first problem with the heathen argument is it’s simply not true that vast numbers of mankind never heard. They haven’t heard the New Testament gospel perhaps, but they have access to revelatory information.
There’s a secondary comment, not only do they have the corpus of the Noahic Bible, but they also have inner God consciousness given in Rom. 1. They’re not living in a vacuum, they have a conscience, they’re very aware of their sin. Now how God deals with those people out in Timbuktu, who haven’t heard the gospel… all we know is we’ve been given mandates to go carry the gospel to them, but for example in 200 BC in North America if someone wanted to be saved, how were they saved? They must have been saved by the residual revelation available to them that God made available to them. In Jeremiah he says if you seek Me with all your heart, I will show Me to you. God may have His ways of doing that. The point is that He’s given the church the mandate to carry the gospel into all the world because that’s what He wants, and for various reasons.
Let’s go back and summarize Genesis 14. You have in verse 18-20 the blessing of Melchizedek upon Abraham. In the notes on page 24 I give verses in the New Testament and Psalm 110 where this act, this mysterious act, is remembered throughout the pages of Scripture, even though it only occupies three verses, as the defining act of Jesus Christ’s priesthood; it’s remarkable that when Jesus Christ rises from the dead and He ascends to heaven and sits on the Father’s right hand, His priesthood is not Levitical, as you would have expected to be for the Jewish Messiah. That was the Levitical priesthood. The book of Hebrews says it’s Melchizedekian, isn’t that a dinger? What, the Jewish Messiah is a Gentile priest? Let’s put this together a little bit. Why do you suppose the book of Hebrews insists that Jesus priesthood is Melchizedekian and not Jewish? Think back. What have we already seen about Abraham’s ultimate call? Is it just to be a hot house, or is he called out of the world to do something, to walk with God in such a way that he will be what? That the world be blessed through him.
So the point is that the call of Abraham, while it brings into existence the Jew, this is the first Jew of history, Abraham, it brings into history the Jew and the Jewish nation. At the very point the Jew and the Jewish nation come into existence, they come into existence for a mission to the rest of the world. So the rest of the New [?] has the Gentiles in mind, even though they’re always peripheral. You always read about the nations around Israel, etc. it’s always on the outside because the Holy Spirit’s focusing on what God is doing in Israel, it never gives up mentioning that ultimately all the show is designed for all the nations of the earth. So the point about the Melchizedekian thing is that verse 19, Melchizedek comes and he blesses Abraham, not the other way around, so there’s a transfer here. There’s a transfer of sorts, in verse 19 it’s like a spiritual transfer from a Gentile priest to the Jew.
The Jew receives the torch, as it were, from the last pieces of that Noahic generation. They carry the torch for 500 years. These people taught the Word of God to every race on earth, they were exhausted at 500 years. They were dying out. The human race was becoming contaminated and you have these little pockets of believers left, the little remnants, and here’s one of those remnants, probably one of the greatest Gentile believers in that era of history, who is led by God to go to Abraham and say the torch is yours, I recognize in you, Abraham, that God has called you, that you now have the blessing of El-Elyon and you will carry the torch after I’m gone. It’s a dramatic moment in the history of the Old Testament.
Immediately after that there’s something else and this has to do with the exclusivism. Verse 21, “And the King of Sodom said to Abram,” now here’s the other king, first the king, Melchizedek, king of Salem, then the king of Sodom comes, “‘Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” That was the prisoners and the booty.  “And Abram said to the king of Sodom,” this is a classic, this is a CLASSIC about giving money or receiving money, “And Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to Yahweh El-Elyon the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth,  that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.” Why did he do that? In the theme that we’ve been looking at tonight, going back all the way to Babel, what was the theme of Babel, what was the theme of God? The theme at Babel was who was going to do the doing. Man, “we will make for ourselves a name,” we will do it. What does God say to Abraham? I will do it. Here in a dramatic act of submission, verse 23, he refuses to accept booty from the world system, because he doesn’t want to be indebted to it, and he doesn’t ever want the world to say well, those Christians, those spiritual people, got their stuff because we gave it to them. He cuts that one right off at the pass, you can keep your money is basically what he’s saying, forget it, my God’s big enough to supply my need and I don’t need to be a beggar to the world system, and I’m not going to. It’s a dramatic point.
But what we want to see is that you have now set up in this tension, the tension between how he acts toward Melchizedek and how he acts toward Sodom, there’s a definite breech there, if you’ll notice, that in one sense he recognized those who are believers, those who are godly, those who have submitted to what they knew of God, Abraham’s friendly to them but he will not compromise and submit and become dependent upon the world system. What a model. This is why Abraham is picked out as a man of faith.
Next time we’ll go on and deal with the Abrahamic Covenant, because this is the beginning of the plan of salvation in great detail in the Old Testament. And you’ll see that many, many stories that maybe didn’t make sense to you before will make sense because they are actual recordings of this Abrahamic Covenant.
A short Q and A. … Strangely, some very nasty characters of history may have been believers. If you look at the book of Daniel, you have a case where the foreign minister of Iraq and Iran, basically, witnessed obviously to all the political hierarchy, and they couldn’t avoid his testimony, he was quite public, and it appears from time to time you get glimpses, you wonder whether Nebuchadnezzar himself might be a believer. If he wasn’t, he surely recognized the authority of Daniel’s God. And the way God treats him, as though He’s disciplining him for being an out-of-it believer. So there’s a case.
A fascinating book, if you’re interested in this question about mission fields and what target groups look like, I recommend Don Richardson’s Eternity in Their Heart. It’s a paperback book, Don Richardson was the pioneer missionary from New Tribes Mission that has done so much, it’s the only mission board I know of that has actually had a dedication to the principle that when they go into a group of people, they don’t start with the Gospel of Mark, this is what for years, I don’t know why we got into this… yes I do, because one translator said they always would go in and translate the Gospel of Mark and then here you are, talking to people you hardly know, and you’re trying to get them to talk about all the parables in Mark. Good grief, how do you communicate the gospel with that? No slice on Mark, it’s just that the Gospel of Mark was written to Jews who had known their Old Testament. You don’t start in the last chapter of the book, you start in the first chapter of the book, and New Tribes mission has done that. They have a missionary strategy that is part of their structure, that when they go into an area they start with Genesis, because they’ve learned the hard way that if they can get in there and find names…
For example I was asking the missionary that just spoke to us about the people group he was talking about, has he got a name for God yet, and he said no, he said that’s what he’s got to deal with when he goes back is they’ve got to do some good research on this because you can get in some deep trouble if you don’t root it into whatever these traditions are. Example being, a classic boner that was picked up by the church, was when the Catholic missionaries went into Korea they picked up what they thought was the word for God, and they made the Catholic translation of the Bible in Korean, and then about 50 years later, Richardson has this whole messy account in his book, then the Protestant missionaries go in there and by this time the science of linguistics has gotten a little better, and they say holy mackerel, they picked the wrong word, the word that they picked has the connotation of being a demon. And they always wondered why the Koreans didn’t seem to appreciate this addition of the Bible. Well, it’s kind of understandable.
Don Richardson makes this very point, and if you look at the quote, Don makes the point that there are peoples all over this planet who have literally craved to have someone come and give them what they keep referring to as the forgotten God, and the missing book. It’s spooky, the guy goes into when some of our famous missionaries, I guess it was William Carey went into Burma and we always read missionary stories about he was a great missionary, etc. and he said what we forget is that he had absolutely no success until one day he was either singing a hymn or something and this guy passed by his door, was poor, out of work, and he wanted to be working as his housekeeper, or something, I don’t know what happened, but he was attracted by the music, and Don goes on to tell the story about how this man came out of the bush in Burma, and after he got under the employee of this man he noticed he was translating something, and he said what’s with that. And Richardson said the missionary kept saying I’m trying to translate this Bible, this is the Book of God. “The Book of God, you’ve got the lost Book of God?” And this guy all of a sudden says my tribe has waited for centuries, he says our grandparents have told us about the fact that God left us and He was going to come back and He was going to give us a book. Now what is this tradition all about?
If Richardson gives you one, he gives you a dozen illustrations, from today’s world, stuff that’s only been encountered in the last 200 years of history, where missionaries have gone out where they thought nobody ever went before, and apparently nobody ever did go before. We have the strange case that I mentioned earlier about why did the Aztecs and Incas allow the Spaniards to slaughter them? Because it was a tradition in the Aztecs and Incas that those most ancient pyramids of the Mesoamerica were made not by their ancestors but by these strange white people with big beards, that left and when they came back they were going to tell them the words of salvation. So the Spaniards came and they foolishly let down their defenses and let the Spaniard soldiers kill them all, and actually they had this built-in tradition that they were going to be visited someday.
Where do all these traditions come from? I claim that that must have been the work of the Holy Spirit in these people groups, while the Old Testament was going on the Holy Spirit was also ministering out beyond the boundaries of Israel, in ways He hasn’t shared with us, because if He did then we’d sit on our can and say go ahead, You ministered to them before You can minister to them now, why bother with missions. So He knows us, so He’s not going to give us excuses, and He doesn’t choose to share this. But apparently there are believers and there are these questionables that Richardson, these things where these men, they seem to be submissive to everything they know about God. Last year I handed out one of their hymns, and they’re singing hymns to this great God, YWA, and they talk about YWA and they talk about how He created the heavens and the earth, they talk about the first man and woman who had a rice bowl that they weren’t supposed to eat and they ate it and fell. For crying out loud, if that doesn’t look like Genesis I don’t know what does, especially since the Hebrew word for Yahweh is YWH, so that’s a profound question, what do believers look like.
We don’t know; we only have these tantalizing glimpses here and there. Melchizedek is the clearest case, clearly this man was a believer, and clearly he was not a Jew. Job may be another case. Job appears to be a Gentile, and look at all the theology Job knew, and not once in the book of Job, check it out for yourself in the concordance, not once in the book of Job even hint at the Mosaic Law, never talks about Israel, is talking about ice age conditions with dinosaurs, is total monotheistic, there’s no paganism at all in the book of Job, where did that come from, how did Job know all that? How did Elihu and those other guys get that? I don’t know, but they knew. So there were believers out there.
The other part to the answer to the question, what are believers like, is the book of Jonah. The book of Jonah is actually a missionary book in the Old Testament, it’s very modern because the modern argument against missionaries is that when you take a person from one people group and you mix them in with another people group you get this cross-cultural contamination. Frankly, if the universities had their way they’d stop all mission work, they think missionaries are the most dangerous people on earth because they think they do damage to cultures, because everything’s supposed to be left in its pristine form. Well, this pristine form is a fallen pristine form. So they’re trying to stop that. But the book of Jonah is a Jew who had a prideful ethnocentric viewpoint, he didn’t want to go, and what did God do? Get out there and go to Nineveh. Is Nineveh a Jewish city? Not the last time I checked, it was a Gentile city.
What happened when Jonah preached? People were becoming believers all over the place, and the funny part is, when you look at the language, when God said to Jonah, He said Jonah, don’t you know that I have X number of people and their cattle, I mean [can’t understand words] preach the gospel to cattle, very interesting phrase in the Hebrew. I have, those are Mine, those are My people and their cattle, and I want you to go bring the Word of God to them. Now were they believers? They must have been by the end of the book of Jonah because they had a revival at Nineveh that stopped judgment on that nation for a time. So there are believers outside the Old Testament, very definitely.
Question asked: Clough replies: That’s a speculation, and the reason it’s a speculation is that if you go back to that chart I drew, it’s not original with me, a lot of scholars have said that, because Shem appears to be the one in Genesis 9 that carries the torch, he’s the one that’s particularly blessed by Noah, and it would be very fitting if God calls Abraham to be the new one to have the old guy pass the baton, so to speak. The other thing is that those who take Melchizedek to be Shem argue that Melchizedek is a title, not a name, and that’s why it doesn’t say Shem in there. The other problem that you get into in making this identification, it goes back to the previous question, because of the fracturing of the language at Babel, it’s hard to say, like it’s clear that when Melchizedek worshiped God, his name for God was El-Elyon, it’s clear that Abraham’s name for God wasn’t that, it was Elohim and Yahweh. So you have probably believers from different culture groups with totally different names for God.
This may have contributed to a lot of confusion in these pantheons, where you have gods of different names and so on, it’s very hard to unravel because we live this side of Babel, and by two centuries after Babel everybody called… they might have been calling upon the true God, but they called upon Him by different names. And this could have got kind of confusing. So the issue of Shem, after Babel what was his name? Some scholars have traced this and feel like they can identify Shem as appearing in many different genealogies of different countries. But I’m not a linguist, and when they say Shem was Pharaoh’s son or something, is king something something of … well, maybe you say so but it’s hard because we don’t live the other side of Babel. So it’s very hard to trace.