The Triumph of Abraham's Offspring
March 5, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Book of Genesis
Topic: Biblical Theology Passage: Genesis 22:16–18
THE TRIUMPH OF ABRAHAM’S OFFSPRING
An Exposition of Genesis 22:16-18
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: March 5, 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.
THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT
Hear the Lord’s solemn declaration to Abraham:
“By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 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, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:16-18)
For those of you who heard last week’s sermon, you know that we pondered these same verses last week. The lesson I emphasized in the previous sermon was that by God’s gracious design, Abraham’s obedience was instrumental in God’s plan to fulfill His promises to Abraham: “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you”, “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Our practical obedience is the pathway into the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.
Of course, we must remember how obedience fits into the bigger picture: we are forgiven, justified, and reconciled to God by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, all of which unfailingly generates a lifetime of ongoing transformation and heartfelt obedience to God’s Word, and this heartfelt obedience is the necessary and God-appointed pathway that leads to our resurrection and glorification in God’s presence forever. When Jesus inaugurated the new covenant through His blood, He secured all of this for His chosen ones.
Genesis 22:16-18 shines the spotlight on the role of Abraham’s obedience, and that was the focus of last week’s sermon. The focus of today’s sermon is the fact that the Lord’s promises to Abraham are oriented to the future through Abraham’s offspring. The Lord declares four promises to Abraham in verses 17-18. The first promise is: “I will surely bless you” (v. 17). The final three promises all relate to Abraham’s offspring:
- “I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” (v. 17) Abraham’s offspring will be too numerous to count.
- “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” (v. 17). Abraham’s offspring will be triumphant. This is why I’ve titled today’s sermon: “The Triumph of Abraham’s Offspring.”
- “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (v. 18). Abraham’s offspring will bring the blessing of God to the whole world.
The phrase “your offspring” invites and requires Abraham to look forward into the distant future. Abraham must continue to trust the Lord – specifically, to trust the Lord to keep His promises to Abraham by fulfilling those promises to and through Abraham’s offspring after Abraham is dead.
THE PROMISES REGARDING ABRAHAM’S OFFSPRING
Now it is time to get into the substance of the Lord’s promises regarding Abraham’s offspring. The Hebrew word translated ‘offspring’ is ‘zera’. It can be translated “offspring”; it can also be translated ‘seed’. ‘Zera’ has to do with the capacity to be fruitful and multiply. God has put in living beings the capacity to reproduce and generate offspring. In fact, the first occurrence of this word is in Genesis 1: “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” (Genesis 1:11) Even though plants and fruit trees are not living creatures, they still function according to the principle of vitality and reproduction. The living creatures of land, sea, and sky were created to multiply. And God’s very first instruction to mankind was: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
From Genesis 4 onward, we learn that mankind is indeed generating numerous offspring: Cain’s descendants (Genesis 4:17-24); Adam’s descendants through Seth (Genesis 5:1-32); and Noah’s descendants through Japheth (Genesis 10:2-5), Ham (Genesis 10:6-20), and Shem (Genesis 10:21-31, 11:10-26). Noah’s descendants through Shem eventually got to Terah and Terah’s son Abram (Genesis 11:24-32). Abram, whose name God eventually changed to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), has been the focus of Genesis 12-22. God’s promise to Abraham concerning Abraham’s seed came early: “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7). God’s promises concerning Abraham’s seed continued in Genesis 13:14-17, Genesis 15:12-21, Genesis 17:7-21, and Genesis 21:12. An essential part of Abraham’s walk with God was trusting God to accomplish great things in and through Abraham’s seed, Abraham’s offspring, Abraham’s descendants. These great things would obviously be accomplished well into the future, over the course of centuries and millennia.
Abraham’s Four Lines of Descendants
But in order to unpack Genesis 22:16-18 and what God is promising to Abraham concerning his offspring – numerous descendants, triumph over enemies, and blessing to all the world – in order to unpack this, we need to ask a question: Who is Abraham’s seed? Who is Abraham’s offspring? Who are Abraham’s descendants?
Let’s zoom out from Genesis 22:16-18 and look at the big picture. In the big picture, Abraham has four seeds or four lines of descendants. I’m not saying that all four lines of descendants are in view in Genesis 22:16-18, but it is helpful to see this bigger picture before we focus on the specific promises in Genesis 22.
The first line of Abraham’s descendants is all of his physical descendants not through Isaac and Jacob. In Genesis 21:12-13, the Lord told Abraham,
“Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also [in reference to Ishmael], because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:12-13)
Ishmael is Abraham’s physical offspring, but he is not the offspring associated with the covenant promises. After Sarah died, Abraham married Keturah and they had six sons. Looking ahead to the next generation, Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau, but Esau was not the offspring associated with the covenant promises. So, the Ishmaelites (the descendants of Ishmael), the Edomites (the descendants of Esau), and all the descendants of Keturah’s six sons, are Abraham’s physical descendants not through Isaac and Jacob. They are Abraham’s offspring, but they are not the ones through whom Abraham’s offspring is named.
The second line of Abraham’s descendants is all of his physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob. The physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob are later referred to as the children of Israel (the Lord changed Jacob’s name to Israel). All twelve tribes of Israel were physical descendants of Abraham who were party to the covenant promises.
The third line of Abraham’s descendants is a subset of the second line, namely, the physical descendants leading to the Messiah: Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Perez, Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David, and so on, until you get to the Messiah. In fact, the whole point of this critical third line is the promised Messiah. This takes us back to Genesis 3:15, when God pronounced judgment upon the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) From Genesis 3:15 onward, we are looking for the woman’s promised offspring who will strike the head of the serpent. In the midst of all the storylines and activities in the Book of Genesis, special attention is given to the promised seed line – that special line of descendants – that will ultimately lead to the promised son – the serpent-slayer – who will remove the curse and restore mankind to the blessing. This promised son is Abraham’s seed.
The fourth line of Abraham’s descendants is his spiritual descendants. The mere fact of physical descent from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob/Israel is no guarantee of the true blessedness of knowing God and is no guarantee of being a recipient of God’s steadfast love. Paul puts the matter clearly in Romans 9:
“For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” (Romans 9:6-7, italics added)
Over and against those who put their confidence in the flesh, a true Israelite – a true Jew – is a human being who has a heart for God:
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)
Abraham’s spiritual descendants are those who share his faith in the Lord and who show themselves to be in right relationship with the Lord through heartfelt obedience to the Lord. John the Baptist blasted the prominent Jews of his day and warned them to put no confidence in their physical descent from Abraham:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:7-10)
Abraham’s spiritual sons and daughters are those who repent of their sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and as a result bear good fruit. Speaking to Jew and Gentile believers alike, Paul said: “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7); “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:29)
- Line #1: Abraham’s physical descendants not through Isaac and Jacob.
- Line #2: Abraham’s physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob.
- Line #3: Abraham’s physical descendants leading to the Messiah, with the focus on the Messiah Himself.
- Line #4: Abraham’s spiritual descendants through faith in the Messiah.
Which descendants are in view in Genesis 22:16-18?
This leads to the next question: which descendants are in view in Genesis 22:16-18?
In the context of Genesis 21-22, we can be confident that Genesis 22:16-18 is related to God’s covenant promises that will be extended to and through Isaac (see Genesis 17:21, 21:12, and 26:2-5). Remember, even though Ishmael was Abraham’s offspring, he was cast out in Genesis 21 and God specifically told Abraham that “through Isaac shall your offspring be named” (Genesis 21:12). So, Abraham’s non-Israelite descendants, including the Ishmaelites and Edomites, are not in view in Genesis 22:16-18.
The other three lines of descendants, which are all related to God’s covenant promises, are in view to one degree or another in Genesis 22:16-18.
Regarding Abraham’s physical descendants through Isaac and Jacob, a genuine and specific fulfillment of God’s promises concerning Abraham’s offspring took place when the children of Israel grew into a large nation and came into possession of the land of Canaan. The Lord’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 15 are very clear in this regard:
“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…. So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16)
“To your offspring I give this land” (Genesis 15:18).
But if the physical nation of Israel is the only Abrahamic line of descendants in view in these verses, then the hindsight of biblical history leaves us with the sense that the whole thing was underwhelming. Why? Because physical Israel only possessed the gate of its enemies while it remained faithful to the Lord. But eventually Israel went the path of disobedience: the northern tribes fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, the southern tribes fell to the Babylonians in 586 BC, and after some more ups and downs, Jerusalem eventually fell to the Romans in 70 AD. Because of its unfaithfulness, physical Israel also failed to be a light to the nations. In fact, one of the prophetic rebukes against Israel was that it became just like the pagan nations that surrounded it. Instead of mediating the blessing of Abraham to the nations, Israel mimicked the nations and fell under the curse. In terms of the covenant promises, physical Israel fizzles out. The apostle Paul declares:
“And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.”” (Romans 9:27-29)
The failure of physical Israel directs our attention to Abraham’s other two lines of descendants, which are the most important two lines.
We can be confident that Abraham’s line of descendants leading to the Messiah is in view – for a reason that shall become obvious in a moment – but first we need to dig into the grammar of the word “offspring”. The word ‘offspring’ or ‘seed’ in verses 17-18 is the translation of a singular noun. Any translation that uses the word ‘descendants’ is unfortunate because it conceals the singularity of the noun. ‘Offsprings’ or ‘seeds’ would be plural nouns, but ‘offspring’ or ‘seed’ is a singular noun. Of course, a singular noun can be understood in a collective way. The simplest way to illustrate this is “the sand that is on the seashore” (v. 17). ‘Sand’ is also a singular noun, but sand doesn’t mean a single grain of sand; sand denotes millions of grains of sand. So ‘sand’ is a singular noun, but it should be understood as a collective singular – a singular noun that incorporates many into it. ‘Offspring’ or ‘seed’ should be understood as a collective singular when we are told that Abraham’s offspring will be multiplied “as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” Abraham’s offspring is a collective singular that encompasses innumerable descendants.
So, the singular noun allows for it to be understood in a collective sense. But the singular noun also allows for it to be understood in a focused sense on a specific descendant.
With this grammar lesson in mind, we are ready to hear Paul’s exposition in Galatians 3. Now I’m not going to exposit Paul’s exposition – that must wait for another time – but I want you to hear Paul’s exposition of the promises that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12-22. Let me read Galatians 3:13-29. Scripture says:
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
“To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:13-29)
Notice three things:
- God’s promises concerning Abraham and Abraham’s offspring were ultimately promises to one of Abraham’s descendants, namely, the promised Messiah, Christ Jesus our Lord. (See Galatians 3:16)
- “[In] Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham” comes to the Gentiles (Galatians 3:14), and this is the fulfillment of “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18), because Christ Jesus is the promised offspring through whom comes blessing to all the world.
- Even so, Paul retains the significance of the collective singular. Even though Christ is Abraham’s promised offspring, nevertheless those of us who belong to Christ are also Abraham’s promised offspring (as it says in Galatians 3:29, where the word ‘offspring’ is once again a singular noun). God views His redeemed people as a singular entity albeit with many members, and yet this singular entity has one Head, one Savior, one King – Jesus Christ our Lord. In Christ, the Abrahamic promises and Abrahamic blessing descend upon us.
Abraham’s spiritual descendants: Genesis 22:16-18 is fulfilled in the church
Therefore we can confidently say that in Christ Jesus, the reality of Genesis 22:16-18 is fulfilled in the church, which consists of Abraham’s line of spiritual descendants. All Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus constitute
“the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him [we] also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
By God’s redeeming grace, we are the great and “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) stemming from Abraham, a mighty throng of faithful believers from every tribe and language and people and nation, purchased and purified by the blood of the Lamb. Our number is vast – even as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore – so that when John got a peak into the future, he beheld “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”” (Revelation 7:9-10)
By God’s redeeming grace, the triumph of the church is inevitable. As our Lord does indeed possess the gate of His enemies, so His people share in His victory. Our Lord has “disarmed the rulers and authorities” (Colossians 2:15); by His death He destroyed the devil (Hebrews 2:14); He “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” (2 Timothy 1:10); after His vicarious death and victorious resurrection, He “has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” (1 Peter 3:22) As the Father “raised him [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Ephesians 1:20-21), so has the Father “made us alive together with Christ… and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5, 6). The One who has all authority in heaven and earth has commissioned us to go “and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), because He is the promised offspring through whom “all the nations” shall “be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). Therefore, all people-groups everywhere should trust Jesus as the one and only mediator who brings the blessing of salvation to sinners who are under the curse. By Christ’s commission, we are authorized and sent to bear witness to His gracious salvation. God has declared to the Messiah and to the Messiah’s people:
“I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47, in reference to Paul’s ministry; quoting Isaiah 49:6, in reference to the Messiah’s ministry).
Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and those who believe in Him are “sons of light” (John 12:36) and “have the light of life” (John 8:12) and thus become light reflectors whom Jesus calls “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The church’s witness to the Lord and the proclamation of His saving grace is our fundamental and necessary task. And the church’s triumph is certain, for our Lord Jesus said: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Even as the Lord possesses the gates of His enemies, so the Lord’s people possess the gates of our Lord’s enemies. Even those things that appear to be obstacles and setbacks are, in fact, part of our procession to final victory: “in all these things [in tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger, see Romans 8:35] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) For the crucified Lamb, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the offspring of Abraham, the offspring of the woman, has conquered (see Revelation 5:5), and nothing will ever separate us from His great love (see Romans 8:38-39). Our serpent-crushing Lord says to His faithful bride: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20)
Brothers and sisters, Genesis 22:16-18 tells us what the church is: in Christ Jesus we are a blessed, innumerable, and triumphant people who declare God’s gracious salvation through Jesus Christ to every nation on earth, and we must teach the nations to observe all that our King has commanded (see Matthew 28:19-20). And you’re part of it, dear Christian believer! Don’t settle for lesser things! We should be encouraged and strengthened in view of such a high calling, and yet we must not pursue our assigned mission with swagger and self-confidence. We follow One who conquered through the cross, through opposition and rejection, through suffering and sacrifice and death. We must follow in His footsteps; we must lay down our life in this world for the sake of advancing the kingdom of our Lord; we must be willing to suffer loss so that others might live; and we must be eager to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Will we follow in His train?
Listen the words of a hymn from the early 19th century:
“The Son of God goes forth to war,
a kingly crown to gain;
his blood-red banner streams afar:
who follows in his train?
Who best can drink his cup of woe,
triumphant over pain,
who patient bears his cross below,
he follows in his train.
“The martyr first, whose eagle eye
could pierce beyond the grave,
who saw his Master in the sky
and called on him to save:
like him, with pardon on his tongue
in midst of mortal pain,
he prayed for them that did the wrong:
who follows in his train?
“A glorious band, the chosen few
on whom the Spirit came,
twelve valiant saints, their hope they knew,
and mocked the cross and flame:
they met the tyrant's brandished steel,
the lion's gory mane;
they bowed their necks the death to feel:
who follows in their train?
“A noble army, men and boys,
the matron and the maid,
around the Savior's throne rejoice,
in robes of light arrayed:
they climbed the steep ascent of heav'n
through peril, toil, and pain:
O God, to us may grace be giv'n
to follow in their train.”
 The hymn “The Son of God Goes Forth to War” by Reginald Heber
More in The Book of Genesis
March 19, 2023Passing the Baton: Part 2
March 12, 2023Passing the Baton: Part 1
February 26, 2023The Result of Abraham's Obedience