The Result of Abraham's Obedience
February 26, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Book of Genesis
Topic: Christian Life Basics Passage: Genesis 22:15–19
THE RESULT OF ABRAHAM’S OBEDIENCE
An Exposition of Genesis 22:15-19
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: February 26, 2023
Series: The Book of Genesis
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Last week we walked through Genesis 22:1-14. God examined Abraham to see if Abraham truly feared God without reservation. God instructed Abraham,
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2)
Abraham was diligent to obey God’s instruction. At the climactic moment when Abraham was ready to slay his son, the angel of the Lord showed up:
“Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” and he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”” (Genesis 22:10-12)
So, that was the first time in Genesis 22 that “the angel of the LORD called to him [Abraham] from heaven”. But shortly thereafter, with Abraham’s obedience still in view, “the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time” – and this will be the focus of today’s message.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Holy Scripture says,
15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, 18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:15-19)
AN OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT
Let’s begin with an overview of the text, and then we’ll unpack its meaning and significance.
Verse 15: “the angel of the LORD”
In verse 15, we are told that “the angel of the LORD” spoke to Abraham a second time. The angel of the Lord is closely associated with the Lord Himself and speaks on the Lord’s behalf. The angel of the Lord speaks forth the declaration of the Lord in verses 16-18. What is it that the Lord is declaring?
Verses 16-18: “because you have obeyed my voice”
Let me summarize the Lord’s word in verses 16-18: the Lord pledges to fulfill His earlier promises to Abraham because of Abraham’s obedience.
In the beginning of verse 16, the Lord declares that He has sworn, that is, that He has sworn an oath – that He has solemnly pledged – to keep His promises to Abraham. But why?
The end of verse 16 and the end of verse 18 are like two pieces of bread forming a sandwich, and both pieces of bread emphasize Abraham’s obedience. The end of verse 16 says: “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son”. The end of verse 18 says: “because you have obeyed my voice”. Abraham’s obedience to the Lord’s voice – specifically, his readiness to obey God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac – is given as the reason why the Lord has sworn to keep His promises to Abraham. The Lord is communicating to Abraham that the earlier promises will be upheld and come to fruition because Abraham obeyed the Lord.
If these two references to Abraham’s obedience are like two pieces of bread, then sandwiched in between are the substance of God’s promises, which God has pledged to fulfill. The Lord calls attention to four promises in verses 17-18. It is easy to identify three of these promises as the restatement of earlier promises that God had made to Abraham. The fourth promise is a new one, although it is related to the earlier promises and is a logical extension of the earlier promises.
Turning to verse 17, the Lord’s first promise to Abraham is: “I will surely bless you”. The Hebrew text literally says: blessing, I will bless you. The repetition of the word blessing makes it emphatic: “I will surely bless you” (italics added) or ‘I will certainly bless you’. This promise is a restatement of one of the initial promises that the Lord gave to Abraham: “and I will bless you” (Genesis 12:2). After Abraham’s demonstration of fullhearted obedience, the “I will bless you” becomes “I will surely bless you”.
The Lord’s second promise to Abraham in verse 17 is: “and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore”. Here also the Hebrew text literally says: multiplying, I will multiply. Once again, the repetition shows emphasis: “I will surely multiply your offspring” or ‘I will greatly multiply your offspring’. This promise is also a restatement of earlier promises that the Lord gave to Abraham. In Genesis 13, the Lord said to Abraham: “I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” (Genesis 13:16) The phrase “dust of the earth” is similar to the phrase “sand that is on the seashore”. Then in Genesis 15 the Lord invited Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” (Genesis 15:5)
The Lord’s third promise to Abraham in verse 17 is: “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies”. This particular promise is a new one, although it is consistent with the earlier promises and with earlier events. In Genesis 12, the Lord told Abraham: “And I will make of you a great nation…. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” (Genesis 12:2-3) The logic of this promise is twofold: Abraham and Abraham’s descendants are going to have enemies (those who dishonor Abraham and, by extension, those who dishonor Abraham’s descendants); but clearly Abraham and the great nation of which he is the father, will have the upper hand over their enemies (since God curses Abraham’s enemies, Abraham’s enemies will not triumph over him). The new promise “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” is entirely consistent with these earlier promises. This new promise is also consistent with earlier events. For example, after Abraham defeated the four Mesopotamian kings, Melchizedek said to Abraham: “blessed by God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” (Genesis 14:20) Abraham’s victory over the four kings is a preview of things to come: Abraham’s “offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies”. If you possess the gate of your enemies, then you are the victor and ruler – you have taken away your enemy’s defense, and you get to determine who and what enters in through the gate, and you get to determine who and what exits out through the gate. Later, the Lord said to the Abraham’s descendants, the children of Israel: “The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you.” (Deuteronomy 28:7)
The Lord’s fourth promise to Abraham comes in verse 18: “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed”. This promise is a reiteration of earlier promises, although this particular statement of the promise extends the earlier promise into the future through Abraham’s offspring. In Genesis 12, the Lord told Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) Notice that in the earlier promise, the promised blessing to “all the families of the earth” was promised “in you [Abraham]”. Now in Genesis 22, the promised blessing to “all the nations of the earth” is promised “in your [Abraham’s] offspring”. But this shift from Abraham to Abraham’s offspring is not surprising, given other promises that the Lord had made to Abraham in Genesis 17. Early in Genesis 17, the Lord told Abraham: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7) Later in Genesis 17, the Lord said to Abraham: “I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:21) So in terms of the overall trajectory from Genesis 12 to Genesis 17, we have been getting prepared for this statement in Genesis 22: it is not only in father Abraham that God’s blessing will visit the nations, but also in Abraham’s covenant son Isaac and in Abraham’s numerous covenant offspring that God’s blessing will visit the nations.
Verse 19: “Abraham returned”
After hearing the Lord’s declaration, Abraham made the return trip to Beersheba (v. 19), where he had been living at the end of Genesis 21 (see Genesis 21:33-34).
Now with this knowledge of what is found in verses 15-19, we need to dig deeper. There are at least two important lessons from this passage. One important lesson relates to the emphasis on Abraham’s offspring, which is mentioned three times in verses 17-18. This emphasis on Abraham’s offspring points forward to Isaac and Jacob and the children of Israel, and ultimately to the Messiah. Lord-willing, we will dig deeper into this lesson next Sunday.
Another important lesson – the lesson we’re going to dig into right now – is the necessity and significance of obedience. I presented the Lord’s declaration in verses 16-18 in a matter-of-fact fashion, but it raises a very important question for us to consider. Many people assume that God’s earlier promises to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3, 12:7, 13:14-17, 15:4-5, 15:18-21, 17:1-8, 17:21) are unconditional. Many people assume that God’s earlier promises to Abraham are not in any way conditioned on anything that Abraham does or fails to do. But then we come to Genesis 22, and an honest reading of Genesis 22:16-18 challenges that assumption. According to Genesis 22, God’s promises to Abraham were conditioned on Abraham’s response: Abraham’s obedience meant walking into the fulfillment of God’s promises, with the implication being that if Abraham had disobeyed the Lord’s voice, his disobedience would have meant the forfeiture of God’s promises. As students of the Bible who want to understand the ways of the Lord and to walk in those ways, we need to think through how God’s earlier promises relate to what is revealed in Genesis 22, for Genesis 22 reveals that the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham are conditioned on Abraham’s obedience.
The apparent conditionality of God’s promises in Genesis 22 might challenge some of your assumptions about how God’s promises work, but the truth revealed in Genesis 22 is taught and expressed in various ways throughout the entire Bible. Let me give you some other examples where this same principle is taught, and then I’ll attempt to break it down into its various parts.
Scriptural Passages that Show the Necessity of Obedience
For our first example, remember God’s promise to Noah in Genesis 6: “I will establish my covenant with you” (Genesis 6:18). That promise was made to an already obedient man (see Genesis 6:9), and the promise was made before the flood. Then after the flood, in Genesis 8-9, God actually established His covenant with Noah. But what transpired in between? Noah’s obedience: “he/Noah did all that God/the LORD had commanded him” (Genesis 6:22, 7:5).
For our second example, remember how Abraham’s life has already unfolded. God’s initial promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 were preceded by a command: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) By obeying this initial command, Abraham began to walk into the fulfillment of God’s promises. God’s promise to give Abraham and Abraham’s offspring the land of Canaan was only given after Abraham had obeyed the initial command by journeying from Ur to Canaan. If Abraham had never left Ur in the first place, he would have remained a stranger to the promises of God.
For our third example, when the Lord established His covenant with the children of Israel, He said: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6) This goes right along with the promise of covenant blessings in Deuteronomy 28:1-13, which I read two weeks ago when I was explaining how Abimelech would have known that God was with Abraham. That impressive catalogue of promised blessing begins with, “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:1)
Psalm 103 celebrates that the Lord’s favor rests on those who, like Abraham, fear the Lord and obey Him: “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17-18)
Similarly, the good news of forgiveness – spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah – is promised to those who repent and obey:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:16-20)
When a preacher proclaims forgiveness apart from repentance, he is preaching a distorted gospel. When a preacher proclaims forgiveness apart from repentance, he is basically telling people that they can remain in their sin and still be forgiven, that they can cling to their idols and still be forgiven, that they can continue in their disobedience and still be forgiven. But that is a false gospel. The true gospel demands a transfer of our allegiance from idols to the Lord. When the true gospel came to the folks in Thessalonica, it came in power and powerfully transformed their hearts and lives: “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we hand among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
So far we have seen that Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah are unified in the teaching that the experiential fulfillment of God’s promises belong to the obedient, whereas the disobedient forfeit any claim to God’s promises. Jesus, who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17), teaches the same principle.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5, quoting Psalm 37:11) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) According to the apostle John, everyone who has this confident expectation of seeing God “purifies himself” (1 John 3:3). Back to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10) Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are the ones who are “[seeking] first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus went on to say that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, this superior righteousness that Jesus is talking about is practical righteousness that results from a transformed heart, which is superior to the showmanship of external performance that characterized the scribes and Pharisees. The Sermon on the Mount concludes by telling us that everyone “who hears these words of mine and does them” (Matthew 7:24) will stand firm amid the battering storms, whereas “everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them” (Matthew 7:26) will come to utter ruin (see Matthew 7:24-27). As I have said many times before and plan to say until I lose my voice: obedience is the pathway that leads to future and incomparable glory, but disobedience is the pathway that leads to future and catastrophic ruin.
Similar Scripture passages could be shared for hours, but this sampling from different parts of the Bible makes the matter clear: God’s promises come to fruition in those who walk in obedience to Him, whereas those who walk in disobedience forfeit their share in God’s promises. And lest there be any confusion, the phrase ‘walk in obedience’ doesn’t mean perfection. In this life, God’s faithful people still face temptation, still experience the workings of the flesh, and still sin (see 1 John 1:8-10). Nevertheless, ‘walk in obedience’ does mean real and genuine obedience: the true believer – who trusts in and loves the Lord – takes actual steps of obedience, and the believer’s obedience increases and matures over time (e.g., see 1 John 2:28-3:10).
Why This Matters
Now if you’ve been around South Paris Baptist Church for a while, then what I’m saying here should come as no surprise. For many years I have been deeply troubled by the cheap grace of modern evangelicalism in which people who remain in their sin are nevertheless assured that their sins are forgiven because they supposedly believe in Jesus, even though they aren’t following Him, they aren’t putting His Words into practice, they aren’t striving after holiness, purity, and righteousness. The preachers of cheap grace will carelessly throw around the word ‘unconditional’ and use it to cancel the clear teaching of Scripture. They proclaim ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace. They proclaim ‘peace, peace’ to those who are at peace with their sin; this is something that preachers should never do.
How Obedience Fits In
That said, once the necessity of obedience is established, we still have some important work to do in terms of understanding how obedience relates to the overall Christian life. Just as it is wrong to make obedience optional, so it is also wrong to speak about the necessity of obedience in the wrong way. For example, mere external obedience – going through the motions and managing your observable behavior – is not walking in biblical obedience. Further, anxious obedience – walking on egg shells and always being fearful that you’re about to lose God’s favor – is not walking in biblical obedience. Biblical obedience is neither the obedience of managing appearances nor the obedience of managing angst.
Also, self-trusting obedience – trusting yourself to win God’s approval by doing the right thing – is not biblical obedience. Noah’s obedience in building the ark wasn’t a strategy for winning God’s favor. Noah had God’s favor before he received the instruction to build the ark. Noah was righteous before he received the instruction to build the ark. Noah’s obedience in building the ark demonstrated the righteousness that he already had: for it is the nature of walking rightly before God to do what God says.
So, when I proclaim the necessity of obedience, you have to get counterfeit obedience out of your head. God abominates counterfeit obedience, and so should we. Biblical obedience, however, is a profoundly good and satisfying and necessary part of the Christian life. So let me attempt to explain biblical obedience in three steps.
Step #1: Trusting the Lord
First, trusting the Lord is at the root of a believer’s right relationship with the Lord. The proper response to the Lord’s gracious promises is to believe Him. We learned this lesson back in Genesis 15:1-6. The Lord promised Abraham that he would have a son and that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. How did Abraham respond to these promises? “And he believed the LORD, and he [the LORD] counted it to him [Abraham] as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) The apostle Paul draws upon Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4 and in Galatians 3. In Galatians 3, Paul drives home the lesson that God’s favor and life-giving work toward us is received by faith:
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith – just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” (Galatians 3:1-9)
A right and healthy relationship with the Lord is not achieved by acts of obedience. Instead, a right and healthy relationship with the Lord is received by trusting the Lord’s promise, by banking on the Lord’s grace, by being persuaded that the Lord’s words are trustworthy, by relying on the crucified Christ, who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). You cannot obey your way out of the curse that is upon you for your past acts of disobedience, which are many. You cannot obey your way into the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. Instead, you must hear the good news of Christ’s perfect obedience, perfect sacrifice, and perfect victory – and hearing it, you must trust Him and entrust your heart to His mercy. As Scripture says:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:1-2).
Trusting the Lord is at the root of a believer’s right relationship with the Lord.
Step #2: The Fruit of Obedience Grows on the Tree of Faith
Second, a believer’s right relationship with the Lord, which the believer has by faith, necessarily expresses itself in obedience. By faith, we obey God’s Word. Our faith-fueled obedience doesn’t make us righteous, but it demonstrates the righteousness that we already have. True faith is a living faith – a lively faith – that believes God’s promises and lives in the good of these promises. If you truly believe and grasp that the Holy One has forgiven your sin and called you into fellowship with Himself, then you begin to live in light of this reality. You begin to take steps of obedience and live unto the Lord.
The hall of faith – Hebrews 11 – emphasizes the truth that those who have faith in God actually do what God tells them to do. Hebrews 11 doesn’t praise ‘invisible faith’; instead, it praises ‘faith made visible through obedience’. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.” (Hebrews 11:8) “By faith he went to live in the land of promise” (Hebrews 11:9). “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” (Hebrews 11:17). Those who trust the Lord follow the Lord as He leads them in paths of righteousness. Although we receive salvation by faith alone apart from works, true faith never remains alone but is accompanied by works: “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). And dead faith never saved anyone.
One of the most instructive passages on the relationship between Abraham’s faith and Abraham’s obedience is found in James 2:
“But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” – and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:18-24)
Paul’s statement that we are “justified by faith apart from works” (Romans 3:28) and James’ statement that “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24) has baffled some readers of the Bible. But there is no need to be baffled. Paul and James are addressing different matters.
Paul is saying that the foundation of our right relationship with the Lord is the Lord. Therefore, our faith must be in the Lord, period, not in anything that we do or attempt to do. Our confidence must be in the Lord only, not in our own performance.
But James is addressing a different issue. James is saying that true faith is not merely a theoretical and intellectual affirmation that certain things are true. True faith is a living reality that bears tangible fruit (Paul would agree: read Galatians 5:6-26 and Titus 3:1-8).
The word that is translated “justified” in James 2 can be used in more than one way. It can mean ‘declared to be righteous’/‘accounted righteous’/‘reckoned righteous’ (which is how Paul often uses the term), but it can also mean ‘vindicate’ or ‘shown to be righteous’ (which is how James seems to be using the term). We know that Abraham was ‘declared to be righteous’ in Genesis 15:6, and James affirms this in James 2:23. But Abraham was ‘shown to be righteous’ by obedience: “Was not Abraham our faith [shown to be righteous] by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works…. You see that a person is [shown to be righteous] by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:21-22, 24) Abraham was ‘declared to be righteous’ by faith alone, but he was ‘shown to be righteous’ – that is, he was shown to be a man in right relationship with the Lord – by his acts of obedience. Faith activates and generates works. Invisible faith comes to full expression in the form of visible fruit, and the visible fruit shows the fruit-bearer to be a man of faith who lives in right relationship with the Father.
A believer’s right relationship with the Lord expresses itself in obedience.
Step #3: Obedience is the Appointed Pathway to Glory
Third, our practical obedience, which is the fruit of faith and the visible demonstration that we are rightly related to the Lord, is the appointed pathway that leads us into the fulfillment of God’s promises. Abraham’s practical obedience was the appointed pathway that led him toward the fulfillment of God’s promises (Genesis 22:15-18). Our practical obedience is the appointed pathway to the promised land – and I’m not referring to Canaan, but to the new heaven and the new earth. Second Peter 3:11-14 exhorts believers to live holy and godly lives in anticipation of what God has promised. Peter writes,
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:13-14)
Hebrews 3-4 reminds us that although the children of Israel had the promises of God, these promises did not benefit them because they did not truly believe them. Therefore, because of their unbelief and consequent disobedience, they failed to enter God’s rest. The author of Hebrews urges those who profess to be Christians to “hold fast our confidence” (Hebrews 3:6); to “strive to enter that [God’s] rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11); and to “not be sluggish, but [to be] imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). He says, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:36) “[Let] us… lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
No anxiety, no angst, no insecurity, but a deep and delightful persuasion that this is the way, walk ye in it! What is the way? Patient endurance, principled obedience, always pursuing the Lord’s way, eagerly waiting for His return. Practical obedience is the pilgrim’s pathway to the holy city.
Let me summarize:
- Faith is at the root of a right relationship with the Lord.
- True faith expresses itself in obedience.
- Faith-fueled obedience is the pathway into the promised blessings.
From the Lord’s perspective, all of this is simply His seamless plan for His redeemed people to inherit the glorious future of His incomparably good promises through obedience. This divine agenda is tucked away in a seemingly unrelated passage. When the Lord decided to tell Abraham about the imminent judgment that He was about to bring on Sodom and Gomorrah, He decided to tell Abraham about it because He planned to made Abraham a great nation and a means of blessing to the whole world. Then the Lord made this comment:
“For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:19)
In other words, obedience – keeping the Lord’s way and doing righteousness – is part of the Lord’s plan to get the reality of the Lord’s promises to the Lord’s people.
FINAL ENCOURAGEMENT AND EXHORTATION
If you belong to the Lord, then He is totally committed to empowering you on the path of obedience. What does the Lord do for the people that He redeems? He gives them a new heart, which has a disposition to cherish and keep God’s instruction (Ezekiel 36:26). He puts in His people the Holy Spirit, who leads them into practical obedience (Ezekiel 36:27). He also puts in His people’s hearts the fear of God, “that they may not turn from me” (Jeremiah 32:40). Having begun a good work in His people, He has pledged to see it through to the very end (Philippians 1:6) – He will not forsake the work of His hands – and He works in us “both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). So, if you are here this morning and you know that the Lord has set you on the path of heartfelt obedience, and you know that you actually have a freeing disposition to follow the Lord, and you know that He continues to sustain you and sanctify you on this heavenward journey, then you ought to be encouraged by this message. The Lord commends His faithful and obedient servants, and bids you to press on and bear fruit until the very end.
On the other hand, if you chafe at biblical obedience because it rubs you the wrong way, or if you find yourself to be a stranger to the Lord’s transforming work at the heart level, or if you simply have no idea what we’ve pondered this morning, I urge you to take heed and seek the Lord. Maybe you’re not stuck in the sin of immorality or unruliness; maybe you’re stuck in the sin of counterfeit obedience; or maybe you’re stuck in the sin of being afraid that your obedience will be counterfeit (and as pious as that fear may seem, it is not freedom). Friend, it’s time to wake up and breathe the fresh air: Christ the Lord is risen from the dead and He is able to lead you into genuine and pleasant obedience. As Scripture says: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
Assohoto, Barnabe and Samuel Ngewa, “Genesis.” In Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars. Tokunboh Adeyemo, General Editor. Zondervan Edition (first edition published in 2006).
Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Book of Genesis (Ariel’s Bible Commentary). Fourth Edition. San Antonio: Ariel Ministries, 2020.
Henry, Matthew. A Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company.
Steinmann, Andrew E. Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.
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