God’s Promise to Abraham
Gen 22:16–18 By Myself have I sworn, said Jehovah, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son: That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed My voice.
This is an unabridged account of God’s blessing to Abraham. Though brief, its content is rich: It includes the reason for, and background to, God’s gift to Abraham, and what it was that He gave to Abraham. It is also imbued with the joy and excitement with which God uttered these words, as well as the urgency of His longing to gain those who are able to listen to His words. In this, we see God’s cherishment of, and tenderness toward, those who obey His words and follow His commands. So, too, we see the price He pays to gain people, and the care and thought He puts into gaining them. Moreover, this passage, which contains the words “By Myself have I sworn,” gives us a powerful sense of the bitterness and pain borne by God and God alone behind the scenes of this work of His management plan. It is a thought-provoking passage, and one that held special significance for those who came after, and had a far-reaching impact upon them.
Man Gains God’s Blessings Because of His Sincerity and Obedience
Was the blessing given to Abraham by God that we read of here great? Just how great was it? There is one key sentence here: “And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This sentence shows that Abraham received blessings not given to any who came before or after. When, as asked by God, Abraham returned his only son—his beloved only son—to God (note: Here we cannot use the word “offered”; we should say he returned his son to God), not only did God not allow Abraham to offer Isaac, but He also blessed him. With what promise did He bless Abraham? He blessed him with the promise to multiply his offspring. And by how many were they to be multiplied? The Scriptures provide the following record: “… as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” What was the context in which God uttered these words? That is to say, how did Abraham receive God’s blessings? He received them just as God says in the Scriptures: “because you have obeyed My voice.” That is, because Abraham had followed God’s command, because he had done everything that God had said, asked and commanded, without the slightest complaint, thus God made such a promise to him. There is one crucial sentence in this promise that touches upon God’s thoughts at the time. Have you seen it? You may not have paid much attention to God’s words that “By Myself have I sworn.” What they mean is that, when God uttered these words, He was swearing by Himself. What do people swear by when they make an oath? They swear by Heaven, which is to say, they make an oath to God and swear by God. People might not have much of an understanding of the phenomenon by which God swore by Himself, but you will be able to understand when I provide you with the correct explanation. Being faced with a man who could only hear His words but not understand His heart, once more God felt lonely and at a loss. In desperation—and, it can be said, subconsciously—God did something very natural: God put His hand on His heart and addressed Himself when bestowing this promise upon Abraham, and from this man heard God say “By Myself have I sworn.” Through God’s actions, you may think of yourself. When you put your hand on your heart and speak to yourself, do you have a clear idea of what you are saying? Is your attitude sincere? Do you speak candidly, with your heart? Thus, we see here that when God spoke to Abraham, He was earnest and sincere. At the same time as speaking to and blessing Abraham, God was also speaking to Himself. He was telling Himself: I will bless Abraham, and make his progeny as numerous as the stars of heaven and as plentiful as the sand on the sea shore, because he obeyed My words and he is the one I choose. When God said “By Myself have I sworn,” God resolved that in Abraham He would produce the chosen people of Israel, after which He would lead these people forward apace with His work. That is, God would make Abraham’s descendants bear the work of God’s management, and the work of God and that expressed by God would begin with Abraham and would continue in Abraham’s descendants, thus realizing God’s wish to save man. What say you, is this not a blessed thing? For man, there is no greater blessing than this; this, it can be said, is the most blessed thing. The blessing gained by Abraham was not the multiplication of his offspring, but God’s achievement of His management, His commission, and His work in the descendants of Abraham. This means that the blessings gained by Abraham were not temporary, but continued on as God’s management plan progressed. When God spoke, when God swore by Himself, He had already made a resolution. Was the process of this resolution true? Was it real? God resolved that, from that time onward, His efforts, the price He paid, what He has and is, His everything, and even His life, would be given to Abraham and the descendants of Abraham. So too did God resolve that, starting from this group of people, He would make manifest His deeds, and allow man to see His wisdom, authority, and power.
Gaining Those Who Know God and Are Able to Testify to Him Is God’s Unchanging Wish
At the same time as speaking to Himself, God also spoke to Abraham, but apart from hearing the blessings that God gave to him, was Abraham able to understand God’s true wishes in all of His words at that moment? He was not! So, at that moment, when God swore by Himself, His heart was still lonely and sorrowful. There was still not one person able to understand or comprehend what He intended and planned. At that moment, no one—including Abraham—was able to speak to Him in confidence, much less was anyone able to cooperate with Him in doing the work that He must do. On the surface, God had gained Abraham, someone who could obey His words. But in fact, this person’s knowledge of God was barely more than nothing. Even though God had blessed Abraham, God’s heart was still not satisfied. What does it mean that God was not satisfied? It means that His management had only just begun, it means that the people He wanted to gain, the people He longed to see, the people He loved, were still distant from Him; He needed time, He needed to wait, He needed to be patient. For at that time, apart from God Himself, there was no one who knew what He needed, or what He wished to gain, or what He longed for. So, at the same time that God was feeling very excited, God also felt heavy of heart. Yet He did not halt His steps, and He continued to plan the next step of what He must do.
What do you see in God’s promise to Abraham? God bestowed great blessings upon Abraham simply because he obeyed God’s words. Although, on the surface, this seems normal and a matter of course, in it we see God’s heart: God especially treasures man’s obedience to Him, and cherishes man’s understanding of Him and sincerity toward Him. How much does God cherish this sincerity? You may not understand how much He cherishes it, and there may well be none who realize it. God gave Abraham a son, and when that son had grown up, God asked Abraham to offer his son to God. Abraham followed God’s command to the letter, he obeyed God’s word, and his sincerity moved God and was treasured by God. How much did God treasure it? And why did He treasure it? At a time when no one comprehended God’s words or understood His heart, Abraham did something that shook the heavens and made the earth tremble, and it made God feel an unprecedented sense of satisfaction, and brought God the joy of gaining someone who was able to obey His words. This satisfaction and joy came from a creature made by God’s own hand, and was the first “sacrifice” that man had offered to God and that was most treasured by God, ever since man was created. God had had a hard time waiting for this sacrifice, and He treated it as the first most important gift from man, whom He had created. It showed God the first fruit of His efforts and of the price He had paid, and it allowed Him to see the hope in mankind. Afterward, God had an even greater yearning for a group of such people to keep Him company, to treat Him with sincerity, and to care for Him with sincerity. God even hoped that Abraham would live on, for He wished to have a heart such as Abraham’s accompany Him and be with Him as He continued in His management. No matter what God wanted, it was just a wish, just an idea—for Abraham was merely a man who was able to obey Him, and did not have the slightest understanding or knowledge of God. Abraham was someone who fell far short of the standards of God’s requirements for man, which are: knowing God, being able to testify to God, and being of one mind with God. So, Abraham could not walk with God. In Abraham’s offering of Isaac, God saw the sincerity and obedience of Abraham, and saw that he had withstood God’s test of him. Even though God accepted his sincerity and obedience, he was still unworthy of becoming God’s confidant, of becoming someone who knew and understood God, and someone who was knowledgeable about God’s disposition; he was far from being of one mind with God and doing God’s will. So, in His heart, God was still lonely and anxious. The more lonely and anxious God became, the more He needed to continue with His management as soon as possible, and be able to select and gain a group of people to accomplish His management plan and achieve His will as soon as possible. This was God’s eager desire, and it has remained unchanged from the very beginning until today. Ever since He created man in the beginning, God has yearned for a group of overcomers, a group that will walk with Him and are able to understand, know and comprehend His disposition. This wish of God has never changed. Regardless of how long He still has to wait, regardless of how hard the road ahead may be, and no matter how far off the objectives He yearns for may be, God has never altered or given up on His expectations for man. Now that I have said this, do you realize something of God’s wish? Perhaps what you have realized is not very profound—but it will come gradually!
Excerpted from “God’s Work, God’s Disposition, and God Himself II” in The Word Appears in the Flesh
Read more on our Sermons on Abraham page, or click on the related articles below:
• God’s Word “God Commands Abraham to Offer Isaac”
• God’s Word “God’s Blessing to Abraham”