The Altar of Abraham

Genesis 10:8; Genesis 11:27‑32; Genesis 12:1‑7  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 6
We are going to examine the various circumstances which furnished Abraham occasion to offer his worship to God. We will also consider his walk and the character of his worship, and how he was led by faith to present this worship to God.
It is very precious to find in Genesis the elements and the broad principles of the relations of God with man in all their freshness, from the creation, sin, and the promise of the second Adam. We also see how the government of God was exercised; in what manner man fell; the judgment of the deluge, which put an end to the old world; the promises made to Abraham; the two covenants of Sarai and Hagar; the relations of God with the Jews in the beautiful typical history of Joseph. Thus, in a word, we find in Genesis, not only a history, but the grand bases of God's relations with man. Abraham under this holds a chief place as the depositary of the promises. We may understand this by what the apostle Paul says to the Galatians, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:13-1413Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13‑14)).
We see by this word, “blessing of Abraham, the importance of that which is attributed to him. In considering the blessing of Abraham, we shall see the position God has made for us, in His grace, as to the accomplishment of the promises; even in considering it as a principle, we shall better understand the glory of Christ, heir of all promises of God. It is true that the relations of Christ with the church were as yet hidden, having been revealed only after His death, save at least in type; nevertheless, the various aspects of the relations of God with man, in all their freshness, and the various cases in which they have place, are in the germ found in this book.
In chapter 9, after the account of the deluge, we find that Noah, to whom the government of the earth had been entrusted, fails in this position.. He got drunk: we see then the iniquity of Ham, who mocked his father. Afterward, in Babel, comes the separation of the nations, each after his tongue (ch. 10).
In chapter 11 men, united amongst one another, exalt themselves against God. In the midst appears Nimrod, the violent man upon the earth; while the family of Shem, blessed in the earth, is that in the bosom of which God establishes particular relations with men. Babel presents itself, whether as the commencement of the kingdom of Nimrod, or as the false glory of those men whose unity was in Babel, and who were dispersed of God.
Such are the principal features of the three preceding chapters. Noah had failed; then the nations. Men exalted themselves against God instead of being subject to Him; they joined themselves together to make themselves a name, and not to be scattered; but their exaltation becomes the cause of their dispersion.
Before we stop at the race of Shem, concerning whom God is particularly occupied, one remark is needed. A terrible principle is come up in this state of things. Man exalts himself in separating from God. But, insufficient to himself, he becomes a slave; he submits to Satan's power, serves him and adores him. Having abandoned God, Satan usurps this place; he alarms the conscience; he takes possession of the heart and energy of man, who gives himself up to idolatry.
You will find this fact in Joshua 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2). It is the principle of Satan's power on earth; which adds to the history of man. Joshua furnishes us with this addition to the account of the things which came to pass after the deluge—the violence of man, the dispersion of the nations; that is, that the family of Shem even, these children of Heber, worshipped other gods than the true and living God. The apostle tells us they were demons. The things which they sacrificed, “they sacrificed to devils and not unto God” (Deut. 32:1717They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. (Deuteronomy 32:17)). Such is the new world; Satan becomes the ruler of the one we inhabit (a circumstance we set too much aside). God can deliver us, in one sense, from the yoke of Satan as ruler, although it abides true that this latter can tempt us by the lusts of this world, and make us fall morally under his yoke. For example, if the gospel be received outwardly in a country, and if the word of God have its free course there, whilst in another country evangelization is not even permitted. It is evident that, in this latter, souls labor under a yoke which does not weigh in the former, and that Satan rules over one of these countries as he does not over the other. I believe it is important in these times to discern these two things.
The simple fact of being entrapped by one's own lusts is a yoke of Satan, but is not the rule of which we speak. Now, it may happen that several persons of the enfranchised country may be more guilty, for the very reason that they have superior advantages; but the yoke is not the same.
Independence of God is the desire of all men. Man will do his own will, and he falls into the enemy's hand. Such was the state of Abraham's family, as of all other men. In the midst of this evil, God comes, and manifests these three principles to Abraham; election, calling, and the promises. He finds him in the evil, and He calls him according to the choice He has made; then He gives the promises to him He has called, and Abraham receives them.
Besides this, we have the manner in which God does this. He manifests Himself, then He speaks. Often, in those days, He visibly did so. He came down to the earth and spoke to the individuals, and He has even done so since. Let the manner be what it may, He manifests Himself to faith by producing confidence. For example, when Jesus manifested Himself to Paul on the road to Damascus, He did so by a visible glory, but acting on the conscience and drawing the heart. Paul asks himself, “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:99For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? (1 Corinthians 9:9)). In Acts 7:22And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, (Acts 7:2) you will find these words of Stephen: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran.”
God manifests Himself to the conscience, which sees itself in the presence of God; it feels that God is there; it perceives beforehand a judgment which is impending; and, whatever be the lack of outward manifestation, man must find himself before God, must follow Him, whereas before this he did his own will. So it happened to Saul of Tarsus. Saul had not troubled himself about God's will; but as soon as he had heard Christ, he must enlist himself. The effect produced in the heart is expressed in these words: “What wilt thou have me to do” (Acts 9:66And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (Acts 9:6))? The communication of life, we know, takes place in the soul. Also, God speaks, even though He should have manifested Himself to the sight, as to Saul. It is His word which makes itself to be heard, even when it is written; and the written word is in fact of authority, without question, to judge what is said, though it were an apostle who spoke. The Lord Himself refers His disciples to it (“they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them,” Luke 16:2929Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. (Luke 16:29)), and places it as an instrument above His own words. I say as an instrument, or rather, as a rule; for, whether written or from His own lips, it is from Himself.
The authority of the word is immediate. The Lord may employ Paul, Peter, and John, as messengers, but He wills that it be received from Himself. The word of God, addressed to man; must be received on the sole authority, that it is God who has spoken it: if he does not know how to discern the voice of God and to submit to it, without the authority of man, it is not faith in God; the man does not receive it because it is God. In the natural state, the heart does not hear His voice. The principle of Abraham is, that he believed God, and God put him to this trial. There is hard work in the heart of man before the authority of God Himself be established in it.
I daily perceive more and more the importance of this. In an exercised soul which has felt that God has manifested Himself to it, which has known its responsibility, whose heart is in activity, the word has often but little authority. Such a soul may have received a strong impression. God has manifested Himself: the conscience is awakened; but it does not receive what God has said in that quiet faith which, having owned that God has spoken, is arrested by His word, confides to it unhesitatingly, unquestioningly, and is found in peace.
We must not despise the first of these positions, neither must we abide in it. If I belong to God, I can no longer do my own will, and this is what God says to Abraham: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred.”... This is neither pleasant, nor easy; but hearken to what Jesus says: “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:3333So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)). There is the grand principle. God will have a people that absolutely belongs to Him.
Christ gave not Himself by halves: circumstances may vary, but the principle is ever the same. Whatsoever be the friends, the things which retain us, we must nevertheless come to this: “Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred.”... This order is terrible to the flesh; it is not that we must hate our father and our mother as the flesh hates; notwithstanding the chain that is in oneself must be broken. It is from within the heart that we are detained; it is also from this we would escape; it is with self that we must break.
But God, who knows the heart, makes it deny itself, by making it break the ties with the world, which are without it. “Get thee out of thy country,” says He. He goes further: “And from thy kindred, and from thy father's house.” Because God had manifested Himself to Abraham, he must belong to Him entirely. Abraham does it, but not completely. He did not, at first, all he ought to have done. He truly left his country and his kindred generally, but not his father's house; he goes no farther than Haran, and stays there.
He desires not, like many, to take all with him: he gives up a great deal; but this is useless: Terah cannot enter into Canaan. He was not called. In chapter 11:31, Terah took his son Abraham, and Lot his grandson, and Sarah his daughter-in-law, Abraham's wife, and they went forth with him, from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran and dwelt there.
We see by this verse that Terah took Abraham; then he did not quit his father's house, and could not make much way. The thing is evident in Genesis 11; and Stephen speaks of it in these words, Acts 7:2,42And he said, Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, (Acts 7:2)
4Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell. (Acts 7:4)
: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran,” “and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell.” God had said to him: “Get thee out from thy father's house,” but he leaves it not. Just so it happens to a heart which has not understood that it must give itself wholly to God. It gives up a great deal for duty, it receives nothing. When the question is of following God, it keeps something for itself. Nevertheless, grace acted towards Abraham, but thus it is that one often plunges oneself into doubt.
The Lord had said, Get out and come into the country that I will show thee. Abraham, not having done so, might have said, What will become of me? I have not left my father's house: what will befall me? I have only followed half way the command of the Lord; I have not done all that He said to me; my heart not being in it, I have here neither the word nor the promises, I am about to perish in Charran. But such was not God's thought. Now, in chapter 12:4 it is said: “So Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him.” All goes well. Lot goes with him; Abraham was seventy-five years old. They come not to Haran to live there, but “into the land of Canaan they came” That is to say, as to us, as soon as we will do God's will, all goes well, God takes care for all. Before this, Abraham had stayed at Haran, and there was no blessing. It is only when his father Terah is dead that he goes forth and comes into Canaan. This is what we see in the four first verses of chapter 12. We may remark how God presents Himself to Abraham. He does not reproach him. The obstacles are removed; he is put in the way of faith.
In verse 7 God appears to Abraham; it is a fresh manifestation. He says to him: “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” He renews the promises in a more definite way; He had already brought him to live and walk in dependence on Himself; now, He shows him the land and renews to him the promises, explaining to him the accomplishment of them. He will give the land to his posterity. In our case, it is heaven. God wills that we also should be in blessing, walking in dependence on Him.
In verse 2 God had said to him: “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee”; in verse 3: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee, and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” God will be glorified, and He will bless; two precious things, for He glorifies Himself by blessing. He encourages Abraham in the way of faith, by identifying himself with the blessing. He engages him to trust in Him; “I will bless them that bless thee.” Thus Balaam cannot curse; and in Jesus we are blest. God Himself conducts us, and identifies us with the blessing of Christ. The church may be tried, may encounter difficulties; but the blessing resulting from it is assured in Christ.
God then brings Abraham into Canaan: what is there for him there? Nothing as yet to be possessed. The Canaanites are there; enemies all around in this land of promise. He has only his faith for his pains, not a place where to set his foot on, which properly belonged to him. Stephen tells us so in Acts 7:55And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. (Acts 7:5): “And he gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child.”
This also happens to the church. In the land of promise we find the wicked spirits, and we are pilgrims here below. Abraham also was a stranger and a pilgrim. He had not where to set his foot. It is a little hard to the flesh to have forsaken all and to have found nothing. But he cannot yet possess the country. This happens to us as well as to the Jewish people, who went up to the wilderness, and find but a wilderness. Man must sacrifice all he loves, and rise to the height of the thoughts of God. But thus it is that the call and the deliverance make us strangers even in the very land of promise, until the execution of judgment be come.
We read in Hebrews 11:88By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. (Hebrews 11:8): “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” There is that which characterizes his faith. “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country; for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:9-109By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Hebrews 11:9‑10)). In drawing him by the path of faith and renunciation in the land of promise, God gives him nothing; but He sets him on a position elevated enough to see the city which hath foundations.
God draws us also into the wilderness; and when we are there, He gives us nothing; and if we ask for anything, God answers: It is not good enough. The disciples would have liked to remain and for Jesus to remain; but Jesus tells them, It is good enough for your heart, but not enough for Mine; I would not that you should remain where you are; but where I am, there ye shall be also. He desires a complete felicity for His own. He tells them, before leaving them, I go to prepare a place for you. For where I am, I desire that “there ye may be also” (John 14:33And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:3)).
When we are come out of this world and of that which keeps back our heart, then He can receive us. Abraham being thus separated from his earthly ties, He shows him the city which hath foundations. The great principle we find here is that, these Canaanites (to us the wicked spirits) not being yet driven out, we are strangers in the land; but, on the other hand, Abraham being in the land, the Lord appears to him. He had the revelations from God, no longer to make him walk (it was no longer a question of manifestation for the walk), but for him who has walked in order that he might enjoy God Himself.
I have wished you to observe, that God begins by making the conscience act. Afterward He gives the enjoyment of Himself and of converse with Him after we have walked; such is the difference. The God of glory appeared indeed to Abraham in Ur. Thus perhaps He reveals Himself to our souls to draw them. But after that, He will have the conscience touched, and completely separates us from all that nature would retain, or by which nature would retain us, and that we should walk as called of God and belonging to Him, that the heart may thus peacefully enjoy Him in communion with Him when we have walked.
God can speak to Abraham, not now to make him go on, but that he may enjoy Him and converse with Him; and, further, to communicate to him all His thoughts as to the fulfillment of the promises. God will bless. Here is his position. He has walked with God, but as yet possesses nothing of the inheritance in the place to which God has led him. The enemies are there. But the Lord appears to faithful Abraham. In the enjoyment there of this communion and of this hope, Abraham builds an altar to Him who thus appeared to him.
God introduces us into the position of promises, in order that we should render Him worship, and make us understand distinctly how He will accomplish His promises. When Christ shall appear, then we shall also appear with Him in glory. We shall have all things with Him.
The portion of God's child is communion, intelligence of the counsels of God for the enjoyment of what God will accomplish. Thou shalt be a stranger, but I will accomplish my promises it giving the land to thy posterity. And Abraham builded an altar to God who had appeared to him. His first manifestation made him walk; this makes him worship in the joy of communion in the land of promise whereinto faith introduced him, and in the intelligence of the promise relative to it. We see God by faith, and how by-and-by He will fulfill the promise. He makes us see Jesus, the true “Seed” and “Heir” of all things, and gives us the enjoyment of it in our souls.
Abraham, stranger-like, goes here and there. He pitches his tent and builds an altar. It is all he has in the land. Happy and quiet he rests in the promise of God. And this also is what we ourselves have to do. Perhaps it will happen to us, as to Abraham, to buy a sepulcher (ch. 23), and that is all.
The Lord give to us a like position, that is to say, a quiet faith, like his who left all. God cannot be satisfied with a half-obedience; but, having walked in what God says, we may rest in His love and have His altar until He come in whom are all the promises; even Jesus, in whom all the promises of God are YEA and AMEN to the glory of God by us.