Reading: Rom. 4:13-35; Heb. 11:12,17-19.
We have been occupied with the Lord's purpose to have a heavenly people, a spiritual seed, and we have been seeking to see something of the nature of such a people and what is required for their constitution and seeing all this being worked out in the life of Abraham. We have seen him as setting forth this heavenly people. We have mainly been concerned with how such a people are made - that is, by the deep inworking into the heart of circumcision. Now we want to look over on to the other side.
On the other side, we find the passages we have read have definitely given us not the death side, but the resurrection side of Abraham's life. You notice that connection in Romans 4. Abraham is brought into view, and by a swift transition, we are carried to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It says here in these passages that all that Abraham apprehended and came into, and all that was secured in Abraham, was on the ground of resurrection; he believed in God Who raises the dead. A tremendous amount is made of this whole matter of the necessity for resurrection if there is going to be anything at all. See how much there is about this in the background of Abraham's life. He is really the embodiment of the law of resurrection as over against the necessity for it, and so, at a certain point, Isaac becomes the dominating figure. It is interesting to note what that point is. Do remember that Isaac stands for the full, comprehensive embodiment of Abraham's life. All the meaning and all the significance of Abraham's life becomes embodied in Isaac. That is the marvel of things, that if Abraham had really slain Isaac and God had not raised him from the dead, the very meaning of Abraham's life and faith would have been snuffed out. The marvel is that, seeing that all his life, his vindication, his justification, and everything of his hope and God's promise was centred in Isaac, Abraham was ready to slay him, because he believed God would raise him from the dead. And he received him back, as in a parable, from the dead, so definite and strong was his faith in the resurrection. Isaac, as we have said, therefore becomes the full embodiment of all that Abraham represents, and that in resurrection.
I said just now that it is interesting to note the point at which Isaac came fully into view. Of course he has been there in the background from the beginning in the very promise to Abraham about his seed. Isaac was there, but not mentioned; that is, not defined, but at a point he comes right into view. The point is that Abram is out of Ur, he is out of that realm; he is out of Haran and what that means; he is out of Egypt and what that means; he is out of Lot and what he means, as we saw in our previous meditation. When he is out of these four things, then the Lord appeared to him and brought Isaac fully into view. It is interesting and full of significance to note the point at which Isaac, so to speak, came right on the scene in clear definition.
Natural Incapacity Sovereignly Ordained by God
But there are one or two things that we must take account of, certain factors which lie behind this. First of all, you have to take account of Sarai. It is not just a matter of detail that there, in Gen. 11:30 where the children of Terah are mentioned, it is said that Sarai, Abraham's wife, was barren. It is just put in amongst the genealogies, amongst the descendants of Terah. That is included. It is not just a detail included, it is there by Divine direction. And then you know all that is said about that in Romans 4 and Hebrews 11 about Sarai's condition. Here you have the sovereignty of natural impossibility, so far as heavenly things are concerned, the sovereignty of natural deadness. God has had a hand in this. This is not an accident, not just a chance occurrence. Our incapacitation for heavenly things is not just our misfortune, not just our disadvantage, not just something that happens to be. God has ordained it, has fixed it. It is something settled by the sovereignty of God that heavenly things cannot be born out of earthly.
Heavenly things cannot arise out of the natural, it just cannot be. God has settled it; and we may struggle for years in our Christian life to try to produce something of God by natural energies and natural resources of brain and will and organization and all that sort of thing, and nothing will come. We may build up something externally, we may make a big thing, but so far as it being of heaven is concerned, there is nothing. It is ordained of God. Sarai is not accidentally as she is, it is not just a misfortune. It is ordained of God. You know that that principle is made to hold good of a number of others in the Old Testament, showing how God is in this thing. There would have been no Samuel but for the Divine sovereignty in this matter, and so of others. But here it is. You have to take that into account. It is the background of the sovereignty established background of resurrection, where nothing can be unless heaven intervenes. We can have nothing of this heavenly Life unless heaven intervenes; it is quite impossible.
But we are keeping on the positive side. God intends it to be, but it cannot be until we come fully face to face with the fact that it cannot be unless God does it. There is no resource whatever for this but God Himself. A heavenly thing is wholly of God. Then you take, alongside of that, Abraham's own age. Here he says, "What wilt thou give me, seeing I go hence childless?" (Gen. 15:2). He was, we are told, about a hundred years old, actually ninety-nine years old, and he thought his time had come to die, he was taking it that his demise was arriving, he was now ready to pass on, that life was at an end for him. "I go hence childless." Much is made of that in the New Testament, "...his own body now as good as dead" (Rom. 4:19), and so on. But it is marvellous that God held on to that point, just as the Lord Jesus held on to the point where naturally Lazarus ought to be in corruption, so God has held on and will not intervene until the thing has gone beyond all natural hope. Oh, this is the realm of hope. It is not so hopeless as that, only in its own realm. God does this: He ordains that we shall get beyond hope when He wants to do His heavenly thing. Things have not gone wrong when they become apparently hopeless. From God's standpoint they are very often just as right as they can be when we are there. Remember that!
Then the third thing - Melchizedek in Chapter 14 of Genesis. You have only a couple of verses, three at most, about Melchizedek in the Old Testament. You have something over thirty verses about him in the New Testament. He has a very much larger place in the thought of God than you would think. What is the upshot of Melchizedek? The object of bringing in this man (as Hebrews makes clear, it being the letter of heavenly things) is to say that Melchizedek is the figure of the heavenly Man. The transition in Hebrews is with one bound from Melchizedek to Christ, leaping clean over Aaron and all the Aaronic priesthood, all that system which is earthly, which is temporal and temporary, leaping right over all the earthly as represented by Aaron. Where does this man Melchizedek come from? You do not know who he is; he has come out of oblivion, "Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually" (Heb. 7:3). Melchizedek, Christ, the heavenly Man, and in connection with Melchizedek in Hebrews, "Having then a great high priest, who hath passed through the heavens..." (Heb. 4:14). That is the conclusion of the matter. It is this heavenly Man that is in view, and so Melchizedek is introduced here as showing that all this is not possible, is not intended on an earthly level or along an earthly line. That will not get you anywhere at all, it is only heavenly, it must be heaven.
So the birth of Isaac became the focal point of all faith, and it was here that all the main testings of Abraham took place, and it was here that Abraham's greatest lapses took place.
The Test of Patience
Even when the Lord promised Isaac, and Abraham embraced the promise and believed God, it was not so easy as that. He was tested on it. First of all, tested on the matter of patience. It was necessary to come into a heart union with God's waiting, God's patience, to be conformed to Christ in the matter of patience. He was tested while nothing seemed to be happening at all.
If we went closely into details there, you would see how very exacting was that form of test, but we dare not go into the detail. Although the promise was given and the date fixed, nothing seemed to be happening, and in that 'nothing-seemed-to-be-happening' gap, Abram made his great lapse over Hagar, with Ishmael consequent - a seeking to realise heavenly things along earthly lines. What a terrible consequence that had! What a lapse it was! What sorrow, what complications it introduced!
It was about Isaac that all the testings were going on in the matter of the possibility of this thing, the realisation of this thing. It was a test as to the God of resurrection. Yes, the point is that when God purposes a purely heavenly thing, a purely spiritual thing, He takes infinite pains to undercut all natural ground, and while He is doing that, almost anything can happen to us. We are going through that test. God is showing that there is no natural ground, and anything that we think is good natural ground and we may be using, turning to any alternatives, any substitutes, any seeming useful things to realise the purpose of God, we are discovering that as we turn to them, they only create greater complications. God must do this, God must bring us through, it must be all of Himself, and He takes infinite pains to make it like that with a heavenly people. They will be a heavenly people, a spiritual people, there will be no doubt about it. There will be no ground whatever for arguing otherwise, that this, that and the other thing can account for it. No, it has to be attributed to the Lord. Whether it be in our life, our very survival, or in the work of the Lord to which we may be called, it is going to be like this. It is going to be heavenly, it is going to be eternal, it is going to be impossible, but for the Lord.
But what I want to emphasize is that that is what God has ordained; it shall be, and it is positive with the Lord. That is what He is after. Every fresh cutting with this knife deep down into the heart is not unto destruction and loss, it is unto increase. Every fresh pressing of the law that it cannot be except from heaven, is heaven saying, it is going to be from heaven. It is positive - it will be, and that is the focal point for faith.