The Declared Purpose and Present Moral Processes: 5. The History of Faith

What follows of Abraham's life is not so much the exhibition of faith and its lessons, as the foreshadowing of God's purpose. And the character of the type is in keeping with the family character of God's dealings and promises to these saints of old. Take the marriage of Isaac. The inhabitants of the land wherein Abraham dwelt were a doomed race, on account of their exceeding iniquity, and Abraham would not have a wife for his son from among them, but one of his own kindred. Nor, if the woman refused to leave her country, would he allow his son to be brought thither again. He would neither mingle with the Canaanite, nor go back to his old country. The land of his sojourn was God's gift, and there he and his must abide. The Lord God of heaven had taken him from his father's house, and from the land of his kindred, and neither would he, nor should Isaac, return thither again. No doubt Abraham believed that God would bring a Rebekah to Isaac; nevertheless, happen what might, Eliezer had to swear that he would never take Isaac back to the place which Abraham had left in obedience to the call of God. “Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again.” (Gen. 24:66And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. (Genesis 24:6).) It is a domestic arrangement in accordance with the promises made to Abraham. Called to separation, he in faithfulness would maintain it intact in his family and household. A Christian parent who sanctions the union of one of his children with a godless family, is surely not walking in the steps of faithful Abraham.
But the marriage of Isaac gives a picture of the church's union with Christ-not so much the present union, which is by faith with an absent Lord, as when the marriage of the Lamb is come, and the bride hath made herself ready. (Rev. 19:77Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7).) Eliezer had adorned Rebekah with bracelets of gold and jewels, gifts from the bridegroom, and she said, “I will go.” She made herself ready. So the church, adorned with and by the Holy Spirit, will be presented to Christ, arrayed in all His precious gifts. The domesticity of the type tells of the intimacy and communion of Christ and the church; not national, not governmental, but the Lamb and His wife. But the journey across the wilderness comes before the presentation, and under the competent guidance and protection of Eliezer she is led to Isaac's home, henceforward to be her own home. She rides on Isaac's camels; ample provision is made for the journey, suitable attire-all she has is Isaac's gift. Not a stranger, but an inmate of Abraham's household, leads her. The ornaments of the church are the gift of her Bridegroom, and, as she goes through the world, is sustained by His power-if we may so say, rides upon His camels—and the Holy Spirit is the Eliezer of the church. “When he the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:13, 1413Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. 14He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:13‑14).) Precious communication!
But it needed New Testament light to see the type of it in the marriage of Isaac with Rebekah. How admirably suited was Isaac to be the type of Christ! Not till in figure he had passed through death and resurrection is Rebekah brought to him; he is the quasi risen man. So, not till Christ had suffered death and was alive again in resurrection power, was the Holy Spirit sent down to form the church to be His bride. Not as the Incarnate One, which was first necessary, but as the risen Man, is the church united to Him. To be the risen Man, after glorifying His Father and God to the uttermost, was the motive for His coming into, the world. As such He will exercise all His rights which were conferred upon Him as man; as Messiah, Son of David, Son of man, Lord and Christ, as well as being the only way in which He could be Head of the church, His body, all eternally secured in resurrection power and glory. “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again.” (John 10:1717Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (John 10:17).) It was the Father's commandment. Resurrection was the only way in which all these glories could center in Him. The world's judgment, too, by Him is assured by it. (Acts 17:3131Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:31).)
So the marriage of Abraham with Keturah points to the future blessing of the nations in resurrection power. Abraham's faith had reached to resurrection, life from the dead; and all that follows, from his receiving Isaac back from the image of death, has a resurrection impress. The power of it, the first lesson, was taught when the promise was given that Sarah should have a son, He did not laugh incredulously, like Sarah; he did not consider present things, “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom. 4:1717(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. (Romans 4:17), &c.), fully learned when he would have offered up Isaac, abundantly proved in his children by Keturah. The man whose body was dead has many sons.
Abraham is gathered to his people, and Isaac and Jacob now appear. Very little, comparatively, is said of Isaac, but much concerning Jacob. In both a sensible difference from Abraham is seen as to communion with God, and in the power of faith. Nature was prominent in both: in Isaac, the weakness engendered by it; in Jacob, the cunning. In neither do we see the continuous energy, victory, or the endurance of faith. Nor were the communications of God to Isaac so intimate in character as to Abraham. The promise was renewed to Isaac, but it was “because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Gen. 26:55Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Genesis 26:5).)
The faith of Abraham is held up as a pattern to the church of God both by Paul and James. In Rom. 4 it is the principle of faith. In James 2 emphasis is laid upon its fruits. So in the former it is accounted to him for righteousness; in the latter, if it be not accompanied by good works it is worthless. Faith without works is dead. Abraham was justified by faith-it was the moral ground of his justification. But, says James, he was justified by works; that is, his good works, when he would have offered up Isaac, proved the reality and genuineness of his faith.
We have seen that the latest aspect of his faith was victory over death by resurrection power; and so the typical Isaac cannot be separated from the typical Abraham. It is a continuation of the same line of faith's teachings. If Abraham shows the power of resurrection faith, Isaac shows the result in the position into which Christ leads as a risen man. And whatever the personal trials and failure of Isaac, as the typically risen man he never went into Egypt. The interposition of God keeps him out. Personally he failed in Gerar, as Abraham, and would, like him, have gone into Egypt, but for the warning. Abraham and Isaac, viewed as one, present. the power of subjective faith, and the blessed position given to it by God. “If ye then be risen with Christ.” This is the standing we have now. Whether we set our minds upon the things above, or on things of the earth, is our responsibility, but does not affect the standing which grace has given. If by faith in Christ we are joined to Him, we are on resurrection ground, for Christ is risen. We can never be thrust back into the region of death. Our being there is the divine reason why we should seek, as to practical life here, the things where Christ is-at the right hand of God. Our high and blessed position is the starting point for a holy walk. Law never did, nor could, give such a position; therefore he who takes not resurrection, but law, for his standing before God, never does, nor can, walk in the true paths of holiness.
It was not suitable, typically, that Isaac-apart from his personal faith-should be found in Egypt, for he occupied the place of a risen man. We are not of the world, neither should we seek its advantages. This world is to the Christian what Egypt was to Abraham and Isaac-always a temptation. There was another famine in the land “beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham” (Gen. 26:11And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. (Genesis 26:1)), and to both Abraham and Isaac Egypt seemed to be a resource from the evil. God permitted Abraham to go, using it as a means to teach him, and saints at all times, the danger and loss-which grace alone can avert-of departing from the place where God has brought us. When trouble now arises in the assembly of God, there are some ready to leave it, thinking to escape. They may by so doing be free from the particular thing which is dishonoring to the Lord, but they fall into worse, and, moreover, lose the blessing peculiar to the place they leave. The word says, “Purge out therefore the old leaven,” not, Leave the assembly. God forbade Isaac: “Go not down into Egypt, but dwell in the land that I shall tell thee of.” Isaac's faith was not so vigorous as Abraham's, and God would not suffer him to be tempted above that he was able. When God sends trial, He always gives grace to bring us through it. But we sometimes make trial for ourselves; even then, if the backsliding heart looks wistfully upon the corn in Egypt, God, who is faithful to His purposes of grace, interposes in sovereign mercy, and, in spite of our unfaithful longings, preserves us for Himself.
Famine made Isaac leave his place, and though not to Egypt, he went among the Philistines. Faith would have remained, and trusted in God, unmoved by famine. Isaac got into trouble among the Philistines. Gerar was no place for him. The word, “dwell in the land that I shall tell thee of,” is a call to leave it. He did not obey the call, and, like many another saint, has to be driven from a false position. No doubt he knew of his father's failure, and this, with the call of God, “Sojourn in the land,” ought to have hastened his steps away from the place. “And Isaac dwelt in Gerar.” Hence his trouble, his sin; the same experience as Abraham. Had he remained in the land, he had not so failed. But he must learn experimentally, in common with all believers, the seductive power of the flesh. When Pharaoh knew the relationship of Abraham with Sarah, he sent them away-” Take her, and go thy way.” But he did not leave Gerar when Sarah was restored to him. Abimelech said, “Dwell where it pleaseth thee.” (Gen. 20:1515And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee. (Genesis 20:15).) Was it pleasing to God that he should remain in that land? He remained long enough to experience the injustice of the servants of Abimelech, in violently taking away his well of water. This drives him to Beersheba, within the land, though at that time a possession of the Philistines, for he “sojourned in the Philistines' land many days.” Then the well that he digged was confirmed to him by an oath. (See Gen. 21) Isaac knew all this, yet he remains. He must learn for himself. If he fail to learn the lesson taught through Abraham, he must realize in his own person what Philistine enmity is. In spite of his increasing greatness and possessions, the Philistines stopped his wells, and filled them with earth. Of what advantage were his numerous flocks without water? In scripture water is frequently used as a symbol of God's blessing. The daughter of Caleb had the upper springs and the nether springs. (Josh. 15:1919Who answered, Give me a blessing; for thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water. And he gave her the upper springs, and the nether springs. (Joshua 15:19).) For the saint passing through the valley of Baca, God makes it a well. (Psa. 84:66Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. (Psalm 84:6).) So in the New Testament, “The water that I shall give thee.” (John 4) It is the peculiar character of Philistine evil to mar God's highest blessings, and to hinder our enjoyment. The Christian now, if he is not in complete separation from the religious world, is like Isaac in the land of the Philistines; earthly hindrances prevent his communion with God, his wells are filled with earth. Flesh is the same, whether in Egypt, Gerar, or in the land (as Isaac afterward proved). And we learn this important truth, that though by resurrection-our standing in Christ-we are separated from the world, yet, if not practically separate by faith and holiness, we are exposed to the temptations of the flesh, and suffer through it.
The flesh always brings suffering to the saint. Only he who has suffered in it ceases from sin. (1 Peter 4:22That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. (1 Peter 4:2).) Not that suffering in the flesh necessarily implies the commission of sins. The most faithful are the most conscious of its presence, and the nearer we are to God in practical holiness, the more we groan, being burdened. The irreclaimable flesh always lusts against the Spirit, and there must be ceaseless watching, Lest, in an unguarded moment, it suddenly shows itself in act or word. This is not rest, but toil and suffering. The fully armored soldier (Eph. 6:1111Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11), &c.) on guard is not taking rest. If through unwatchfulness sin be committed, suffering takes another phase, and is accompanied with the consciousness of willful failure, and of having grieved the Spirit of God.
God told Isaac to sojourn in the land, but Isaac is not obedient, nor does he go until Abimelech bids him depart. “Go from us, for thou art much mightier than we.” Yet how loth he was to depart! Three successive attempts he made to remain among the Philistines, and as often failed. God would force him back to his right place. He re-opens the wells that Abraham had made, as if the Philistines would be kinder to him than to his father. He digs for himself, and finds contention (Esek). Again he digs, and feels their hatred (Sitnah). At length he gets within the border, and there he finds room (Rehoboth), and soon pitches his tent at Beersheba. Here Jehovah renews the promise made to Abraham, and Isaac builds his altar. No more in Gerar than in Egypt can there be an altar unto Jehovah. But mark the cool assurance of the Philistine— “We have done thee nothing but good!” And this after they had driven him away! To do all the evil they can, and then say they have done good, is the Philistine character. The race is not extinct. In fact Abimelech was afraid of Isaac. The world, in any form, is secretly conscious of the saints' superiority. This but intensifies its hatred. The Philistine, no more than the Egyptian, can endure the presence of God's saints. (See Gen. 26)
Though out of his true place, yet Isaac showed how he could yield to the injustice of others. He might have disputed for the possession of the wells, but he would trust the word of promise. The wells, yea, the country, were all his by the gift of God; but he, like Abraham, must be a pilgrim, and wait for possession until God's time. Now at Beersheba he has his altar, God gives water, and confirms His promise. Still it is “for my servant Abraham's sake.” How prominent the place given to Abraham!
In the next scene Jacob is nearly as prominent as Isaac. There are but three things recorded of Isaac-his marriage (which is not a lesson of faith, but a type of God's purpose concerning the church); second, his dwelling at Gerar; and now his failure as regards the line of promise. Jacob's history begins here, and here we get the index to his natural character, so marked with the cunning and shrewdness of the world we may say with its dishonesty too. He took advantage of Esau, in a very unbrotherly way, to obtain his birthright. Rebekah knew that the elder was to serve the younger, and doubtless told her favorite Jacob. Why did he, then, seek to obtain, through Esau's necessities, what God had promised? There was no faith in God's word. What a contrast between this and the steady faith of Abraham! But Rebekah afterward did worse. And God is warning us in the faithful recital of their failings, as well as accomplishing His own purpose.
The great test of Isaac's faith is now before us. It is the trial, the most prominent event of his life, as regards his personal faith, and as great a failure as any recorded; for his carnal appetite is but a small part of it. The gravity of it is that he deliberately sought to turn the purpose of God into another channel, and in intention he gave to Esau the blessing which God said was for Jacob. It is a solemn but most instructive scene. Faith came in at the end, and it is noted in Heb. 11; but it is the only one, while for Abraham there are many instances recorded. In fact, that which most demands our attention-yea, our admiration-is the wonderful way in which God, apart from His saints' responsibility and failure, overrules all, and bends all into subservience to His will.
Here was amplest room for the discernment and intelligence of faith. But it is the complete absence of both these qualities which marked Isaac at the beginning. The eye of faith was as blind as the eye of nature. Whatever Isaac's blindness, on the one hand, or Jacob's deceit, on the other, God's will is done. But this in no way lessened their responsibility and sin. Indeed the whole family were just then leagued in sin, although in opposition, that is, Isaac with Esau, and Rebekah with Jacob. Isaac would give the promised blessing to Esau, which is evident from the words of his blessing. He intended to say to Esau, “Be lord over thy brethren.” This was Jacob's prerogative, And to him it was said, as God purposed. But where was Isaac? How very far from communion, how low his soul in every way, to think of giving Jacob's blessing to Esau! Departure from God's word to satisfy a carnal appetite. Esau, already pronounced a profane man for selling his birthright, abets his blind father, and agrees with him to frustrate, if possible, the counsel of God. For, no doubt, Esau knew that God had said, “The elder shall serve the younger,” and he hoped to regain the blessing. Did Isaac hope to restore it to him? Evidently Rebekah was equally determined that Jacob should have the blessing; but her way of securing it was not of faith, for then she would have quietly trusted in God. He who had promised was faithful, and able to do it. But her preference of Jacob was quite as fleshly as that of Isaac for Esau. Hence her deceit and lying, and teaching Jacob to lie. It was a most shameful conspiracy of wife and son to deceive a blind and aged husband and father.
How came Isaac to be deceived by such a clumsy artifice? He knew the voice; were the neck and wrists, covered with the skin of a kid, a surer test than the voice? Isaac was deceived in a way in which no man of the world, with common sense, would have been. How came it to pass? He was not in communion with God, and a saint not in communion is liable to be deceived by the grossest means. His thoughts were fleshly; his soul loved venison, and the savory meat blinded his mind. “Bring me savory meat, that my soul may bless thee"-give thee the blessing-” before I die.” When he became conscious of what he had done, of his attempt to set aside God's order and choice, of the mistake in not recognizing Jacob beneath his disguise, he trembled exceedingly. Then faith awoke, and the scales fell from his eyes. God's will, that the younger should rule over the elder, came into his remembrance; and, spite of his earthly preferences, he said, “Yea, and he shall be blessed"-yea, shall have the blessing. He sees how God prevented his giving the promise to the wrong man. He judges himself. He takes God's side of the question. “Thy brother came with subtlety.” Jacob deserved to lose the blessing; by his meanly lying conduct he forfeited the place given by promise. Where would he have been, and the nation called after his name, if grace had not covered his sin at the very outset of his career? Isaac, had he allowed his natural feeling to work, would have been more likely to curse him rather than bless. But the eye of faith is now wide open, and he will not recall the blessing which he unwittingly pronounced upon Jacob, but sinfully wished to give Esau. Faith being restored to exercise, he puts his Amen to what God had said-” Yea, and he shall be blessed.” This was his one great victory of faith. In the conflict he had not been scatheless, for a while he was under his enemy, and it was with fear and trembling that he rose. Not like Abraham, whose victory was over parental affection, a thing righteous in itself, and pleasing to God. The arena of Isaac's combat was of a much lower character. That which hindered his faith was the lowest of animal appetites-something savory and pleasant to the taste. Nevertheless, the meanest foe, as well as the greatest, can be overcome only by the same power, and this invariably is, faith in God. And for this reason it is written, “By faith Isaac blessed (τὸν) Jacob and (τὸν) Esau concerning things to come.” Not Esau and Jacob together, but Jacob first, and Esau in a lesser way.
Wonderful and gracious lessons here-the constant need of communion with God, that our faith may be kept bright and intelligent as to His ways! How easily the least allowance of what is very natural—the love of anything may darken our perceptions, and dull all the spiritual faculties of the new nature. “The love of venison” stands here as the representative of earthly things, and these sadly interfere with a life of faith. But how great the grace which restores the soul, and gives to us, even as to Isaac, to bow to His will; not because we must, but because we desire it! For Isaac not only said that Esau's brother had come and taken away the blessing, but adds, Yea, and he shall have it. All through these narratives there are examples given to be followed, and others to be avoided. Not by precept only does God teach, but by the victories and the failures of those of old. It is His moral process in our souls of raising holy desires, holy fears, and holy love, bringing us into lowly obedience and conformity to His mind and will. The triumphs of faith beckon us onward in the same pathway, the slips and failures of the believer are a beacon that warns believers of the dangers of the flesh.
Isaac, restored in soul, follows now in the wake of the promise, and forbids Jacob to take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. This was right; but was it done intelligently, or persuaded by Rebekah's fears? However this may be, Jacob is sent to Padan-aram, and the lessons of faith are continued in his history. Isaac disappears. At first the insubjection of the natural mind is manifested, not till after many sorrows is be broken. Bitter were his trials, sharp the chastisement laid upon him. Yet all through it is the dealings of grace. How plainly seen are the loving perseverance of God, and His faithfulness to His own. God will have His way with us at all cost. If we will not be guided by His eye, He will hold in with bit and bridle, blessing all the time. The time comes when we praise Him for His love and care, and kiss the rod that smote.
Jacob is a homeless wanderer: stones are his pillow. God speaks to him in a dream, and renews His promise, and, moreover, adds a word which was never spoken to Abraham-” I will never leave thee.” Abraham confided in God: was there no need to tell him that God would never leave him? In grace He does tell Jacob, teaching him faith, assuring him of constant care and protection, by loving-kindness and tender mercies. He would lead Jacob to trust in God. He knew how prone he was to trust to himself and his own cunning. God would draw him away from self, and gives him a special word suited to his circumstances. He would be with him in his wanderings, would bring him again into the land, would never leave him “until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” (Gen. 28:13-1513And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. (Genesis 28:13‑15).) Is not this inviting, attracting Jacob's confidence, and affording a sure standing-place, where the foot of faith may be immoveable? The providing such a firm foundation, such a resting-place, is truly gracious. Jacob was beginning his journey, and for many years would be an exile from home. God, knowing his need, places all His resources at Jacob's disposal. In casting a glance over his life, and marking the painstaking of God with him, we are reminded of the song of Moses (Deut. 32:11, 1211As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: 12So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. (Deuteronomy 32:11‑12)): “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.” Strange gods might bring idolaters and the heathen under their power, demons might make men do their will, and lead them on to destruction, but they were not permitted to use their power upon Jacob, the chosen of God. No strange god, but the Lord alone, did lead him. God would be no strange god to him. No doubt this song looks forward to millennial times, but it is true of Jacob. And how sweet to our souls to know that the same God that watched over Jacob with such unremitting care, bearing him on His wings, now watches over us with the same untiring love! If God said to Jacob, “I will never leave thee,” Jesus tells us that nothing shall take us out of His Father's hand.
How did Jacob respond to this care and loving-kindness of God? There was no confidence, and necessarily more or less fear. In his dream he saw the angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder, set up on the earth, and he awoke affrighted. He said the place was the house of God and the gate of heaven. The Lord was in that place, and he did not know it. To him it was a place to dread. The presence of God to every soul not in communion with Him must be “dreadful.” Abraham never said, never felt so about the presence of God. Jacob is very far behind Abraham.
God had been in a dream telling Jacob not only that He would never leave him until His word was fulfilled, but in a symbolic way shows how He would keep up the communication between Himself and Jacob. His ministers (see Heb. 1:1414Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)) would be carrying up from Jacob to God, and bringing down from God to Jacob. That is, the angels ascending and descending were emblematical of God's providential care of one who had not yet learned to trust Him. But Jacob knew not what his dream taught, and he was afraid. No marvel, for it is only the knowledge of the perfect love of God that casts out fear.