Abraham’s Death And God’s Salvation

Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. 3 Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. 5 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. 6 But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country.

7 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. 8 Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9 Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

INTRODUCTION

We’re about to turn a page on the story of God’s plan of covenant salvation—from Abraham and his son, Isaac, to Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau. Concerning the nature of His promises, God has taught us much through Abraham and He will teach us a great deal more through Isaac and Jacob. Before we get there, however, this short passage teaches four more things we don’t want to miss from Abraham’s life and death.

But here’s the thing, Grace, as much as we learn about salvation from the story of Abraham while he was alive, we learn much, much more from the way the way the New Testament describes him. For that reason, having come to the end of Abraham’s story in Genesis, in the second part of this sermon I’ll unpack a few aspects of how Abraham was understood in NT times and by the NT authors.

The main point of all of this is this: God would be perfectly faithful to the covenant He made with Abraham, but He would do so at a time and in ways no one could have predicted. And from that we catch a wonderful glimpse of the creative, faithful, gracious, omnipotent and triune nature of God. And from that we gain more and more understanding of what we must do to be saved and fuel for our worship of our Savior. Let’s pray.

ABRAHAM’S DEATH

The main points of this section are, (1) to highlight the significance of Abraham in God’s plan of salvation, and also (2) to demonstrate that God’s plan wasn’t dependant on Abraham. That is, as I said earlier, the main point of our passage is that God would be perfectly faithful to the covenant He made with Abraham, but He would do so at times and in ways no one could have predicted. Abraham was chosen by God to receive the covenant promises and he was mostly faithful to God in them. But when Abraham died, God’s unfolding plan would not die with him. It would continue on through Isaac and then, as we will see, through his offspring and then theirs and then theirs, until reaching its true fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Again, then, from this short section I want to draw your attention to four things that largely summarize the key points of Abrahams life and significance in God’s plan.

Abraham Was Questionable as a Husband

The first thing to see is that Abraham was questionable as a husband. As we saw from the first pages of Genesis, God created marriage and He created it to be between one man and one woman. There can be no doubt as to the uniqueness of Abraham’s marriage with Sarah or the fact that he did love her, but there can also be no doubt that he was far from being in complete compliance with God’s marital design. To save himself Abraham twice handed Sarah off to pagan rulers and charged her to lie to them. What’s more, though culturally acceptable at the time, Abraham took concubines against God’s good design. The exact timing and nature of his marriage to Keturah isn’t easy to determine. Did he marry her as a widower after Sarah’s death or was she among the concubines mentioned in v.6? Either way, as a result of Abraham’s choices, Sarah was provoked and Abraham was eventually forced to drive all of his concubines out, away from Isaac and the promise.

Abraham Was Questionable as a Dad

Abraham was questionable as a dad as well. He clearly loved Isaac and provided well for him in life and death. While it is clear that he loved Ishmael too, it is equally clear that his place in Ishmael’s life was far from exemplary. Likewise, as we see in this section, Abraham was eventually forced to drive out not only his concubines but also all of the sons he had with them as well. Thus, as we will see in the second section of the sermon, while the NT authors were right to point to Abraham as an example of genuine faith, we’ll also be able to see that none of them pointed to him as an exemplary father.

Along these lines—that is, in the context of critiquing Abraham as a husband and father—it is important for us to notice that it is through his lack of conformity to God’s good design for marriage and parenting that God kept one of His promises to Abraham. We rightly understand Abraham as the father of the Jews (of the nation of Israel), but God made another promise to Abraham as well. Back in Genesis 17:4 God said to Abraham, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” Again, while it’s hard to understand the goodness of some of Abraham’s marital and parental choices, it is clear that it was through them that God kept this promise. Let us rest easy in the knowledge that God moves in mysterious ways; that He performs wonders through means we’d never expect.

More importantly still, we must see that God never accepted Abraham because Abraham was perfect. God accepted Abraham because God chose to be merciful and gracious and because Abraham trusted in God’s mercy and grace. That’s it. Nothing in Abraham warranted God’s choosing or salvation. Nothing in Abraham could have earned God’s favor on his own. God was kind and Abraham was trusting. As well see in just a bit, there’s a lot more to that equation than Abraham or any of his descendant before Jesus understood. And that leads to the third thing we see in this short passage.

Abraham Was Unquestionably Committed to the Covenant God Made with Him

That is, while Abraham was questionable as a husband and father, he was unquestionably committed to the covenant God made with him. Though harsh, it was right for Abraham to remove all potential covenant challengers. Abraham knew that above all he needed to protect Isaac as the one through whom God had determined to fulfill His promises. Again, it is for that reason (his covenant commitment) that Abraham “gave all he had to Isaac” (v.5) and only “gifts” to the rest of his offspring (v.6). And it is also why “he sent [the children of his concubines] away from his son Isaac.”

God Was Unquestionably Committed to the Covenant He Made with Abraham

Finally, God was unquestionably committed to the covenant He made with Abraham even after Abraham’s death. One simple line in v.11 subtly and unceremoniously captures this fourth point plainly, “After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son.” At this point in Genesis we don’t know yet how God’s would ultimately fulfill His covenant promises, but we are told here that they would not die with Abraham but continue on through the son of the promise. Thus, Abraham lived 175 years and then “breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years” (v.8).

ABRAHAM’S PART IN THE NEW TESTAMENT’S PLAN OF SALVATION

This passage marks the end of Abraham’s life on earth, but it did not mark the end of Abraham’s effect on the people of God. Abraham was the recipient of the promises of God and therein the father of the people of God. For those reasons we should not be surprised that even centuries later these things played a central role in the hearts, minds, and lives of his offspring. With that, let’s quickly reconsider the promises of God to Abraham, consider the shape they would take in the coming generations, and then ultimately consider the manner in which Abraham was understood when Jesus came.

Do you remember the covenant promises that God made to Abraham? In Genesis 17 we read these words, “I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly…you shall be the father of a multitude of nations…kings shall come from you. 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. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you…all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession…”.

What’s more, do you remember what we were told about Abraham’s response to God’s initial offer of these things or God’s response to Abraham’s response? We find both in Genesis 15:6, “[Abraham] believed the LORD, and [the LORD] counted [Abraham’s belief in His promise] to him as righteousness.”.

God promised Abraham descendants beyond measure and a land of their own. He promised to be their God and bless them forever. Abraham believed God and God accepted Abraham’s belief as righteousness. That’s a remarkable set of promises and responses, isn’t it?

So what would become of all of that? Would God deliver? If so, would Abraham’s descendants remain faithful? The rest of Genesis (as we’ll see in the coming weeks and months), along with the rest of the OT, answers those questions for us. God did deliver. Abraham had millions and millions of offspring. They did eventually conquer the Promised Land. They were ruled by mighty kings; chief among them were King David and his son, Solomon. However, in spite of God’s faithfulness Abraham’s children would come in and out of faithfulness. As a result the kingdom would be divided, Abraham’s offspring would be enslaved and exiled, and by the time of the NT the everlasting nature of God’s promises seemed to be in question.

As you can imagine, therefore, Abraham, and God’s covenant promises with him, both play a big role in the NT. In broad terms there are seven things to understand concerning Abraham’s role in the NT times. I’m just going to name the first six of them and give you a verse or two to check them out if you like. But then we’ll close by drilling down a bit on the seventh.

The Jews Still Understood Themselves to Be Abraham’s Sons and Daughters

The first thing to see concerning Abraham’s place in the NT times is that his offspring still understood themselves to be Abraham’s sons and daughters. Being children of Abraham was still their primary identity. We see this in passages like John 8:31-33 where Jesus addressed a group of Jews who had believed in Him saying, “’If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ 33 They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?””

See also passages like Luke 13:16, Acts 3:25, and Acts 13:26.

The Jews Still Understood Themselves to Be Beneficiaries of God’s Covenant with Abraham

Not only did the Jews continue to find their identity in being Abraham’s descendents, they also continued to understand themselves as beneficiaries of God’s promises to Abraham. In the NT the prevailing idea among the Jews was that to be a physical descendant of Abraham was to be in God’s favor. This idea is embedded in nearly every NT passage. It’s beautifully found in the song Mary sang after being told that she would bear the Messiah. She sang, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55).

See also passages like Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8-9, and Luke 19:9.

The Jews Still Understood and Practiced Circumcision as the Sign of the Covenant

In Genesis 17:10 God instituted circumcision as the sign of His covenant with Abraham. Centuries later, in the NT times, Abraham’s offspring still practiced circumcision as a sign that they were still covenant participants. Indeed, we read of Jesus’ own circumcision in Luke 2. We also see this as the practice of the Jews in John 7, Acts 7 and Acts 10 for instance.

Abraham Held a Prominent Place in Heaven

Forth, during the NT times, many of Abraham’s offspring understood Abraham to be in a prominent place in heaven. That seems to be near the center of the story/parable of Lazarus in Luke 16. Abraham was, they believed, in God’s presence and favor, and still an active participant in God’s plan.

Jesus Used the Father’s Words Concerning Abraham to Prove the Resurrection of the Dead

Fifth, and very interestingly, and connected to the last point, Jesus used God’s words concerning Abraham to prove the resurrection of the dead. In three of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we read Jesus quoting the Father (from Exodus 3:6) to the Sadducees (who denied the resurrection), “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:32; see also Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37). Again, the NT understanding was that Abraham’s soul was with God in heaven, that he was still involved in the work of God, and that in his resurrection was an example for all of God’s people.

Jesus Was One of Abraham’s Offspring

And sixth, is important for us to understand that Jesus was one of Abraham’s offspring. The NT is unambiguous about this fact. The significance of this will become clear with the final point, but here I want to simply you’re your attention to the fact that Jesus was a son of Abraham. We see this most clearly, perhaps, in Matthew’s genealogy where Abraham was the beginning and Jesus was the end.

Matthew 1:17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

The Jews Fundamentally Misunderstood what it Meant to Be Children of Abraham and the Covenant Sign

Finally, the key to understanding not merely the prevailing ideas concerning Abraham in the time of the NT, but the way the NT authors, under the inspiration of God, taught concerning Abraham is this: the Jews fundamentally misunderstood what it meant to be children of Abraham, the sign of circumcision, and, therefore, the essential nature of what it meant to be and what it took to become the people of God. I want to point you to Romans 4 and from there draw your attention to four specific ways that the Jews of Jesus day misunderstood these things. Grace, growing in your understanding of each of them is critical for growing in your understanding of the Christian gospel. I’ll get you started here, but please don’t stop here. There is unbelievable treasure in each of these points.

  1. Abraham was justified by his trust in God, not his good works. That’s the essence of Romans 4:1-8.

    What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

    The Jews of the NT times misunderstood the basis of Abraham’s favor with God. It was not on the basis of his keeping God’s commands. Truly, we’ve seen several ways in which Abraham failed to do so. Instead, it was always on the basis of trusting in God to provide for Abraham all that Abraham needed. It was by grace, through faith that Abraham pleased God. This was a critical mistake the Jews in Jesus day made. And a critical piece of the gospel that we all need to embrace if we are to be saved.

  2. Circumcision of the heart, not the foreskin, was the true sign of the covenant. For circumcision of the foreskin to be of any value, it needed to be the result of a circumcised heart; a heart set apart for God. That’s the essence of Romans 4:9-12.

    9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.

    A second tragic mistake the Jews made was in believing that circumcision had value by itself. The NT authors, however, helped explain the mystery that had been kept hidden for ages and generations. No physical act that we can perform can move us one iota closer to the pleasure of God. We are not saved by any of our own works, but by trusting wholly in the only one who worked all things perfectly, Jesus Christ!

  3. Salvation was for the children of Abraham’s faith, not his flesh. That’s the essence of Romans 4:13-21.

    16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

    We saw at the beginning of this sermon that Abraham was the physical father of many nations through the children of his concubines. But this passage in Romans tells us that the true fulfillment of God’s promise here was not physical but spiritual! Abraham would be the spiritual father of many nations as he is called the father of all who hope in God.

    Again, then, salvation and blessing would come to the children of Abraham but not in the way the Jews expected. Oh, Grace, this is such a critical thing for us to understand. The Jews believed that they were in God’s favor because they were physical descendants of Abraham. They believed God was pleased with them because they were physical offspring of Abraham. But that was never what God said. It was never going to be the children of Abraham’s flesh who would receive the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to him (as the Jews believed). It was instead the children of Abraham’s faith; which is the only reason you and I can be saved.

  4. All of this was going to be in Jesus, not Abraham. And that’s the essence of Romans 4:22-25.

    22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

    Abraham’s faith was only able to be counted to him as righteousness because God knew that one day a child of Abraham would come to do what Abraham couldn’t by satisfying God’s righteous requirements. Abraham’s faith was able to be counted as righteousness only because Jesus was righteous. Abraham didn’t know it, indeed he couldn’t have known it, but the true object of his faith was Jesus. And so it is for us today. The Jews missed this, they missed Jesus, but we must not.

    In all of this, Grace, the main point of Abraham was to serve as a shadow of what was to come. Abraham was in many ways a living prophecy. He lived out visibly and physically what the gospel of Jesus Christ would bring invisibly and spiritually. Abraham gave us categories to understand the real meaning, nature, and recipients of the gospel. Such is the nature of history according to God, the divine author of all time. Many misunderstood that for many years. Some still do today. But God has revealed to us the fullness of the story of Abraham in the person and work and teaching of Jesus. Or, as we read in Galatians 3:29, which is the key to all of this in one sentence, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

CONCLUSION

Abraham wasn’t entirely exemplary as a husband or father and yet he remained exemplary in his commitment to the covenant God made with him. God was perfectly faithful to the covenant He made with Abraham. There are some important distinctions between how the Jews in the NT times understood the significance of Abraham and the actual significance of Abraham. All in all, as I said from the beginning, the message of this sermon is that God’s perfect faithfulness to His promises would come at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. But what are we to do with all of this?

There are a number of ways that we might apply this passage. Chief among them is to be humbled before God. We must be humbled by the awesome power of God to keep every promise even through death and generations. We must also be humbled by the awesome wisdom of God to do so in ways no human could ever imagine. We must be humbled by the awesome love of God that would sacrifice His own Son to accomplish all of this.

We must be humbled and we must hope. We must hope in the God who keeps his every promise, possesses all wisdom, and has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through the blood of His only Son. We must take our trust off of the things of this earth (including ourselves) and put them entirely on God who alone can bear its weight.

This passage demands that we must be humbled, that we must hope, and that we must herald. We cannot keep this good news to ourselves. We must share it with all who will listen. We must tell the world of the glory of God who saves by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This passage points to the supreme value of God, the necessity of being among the people of God, and the Child of Abraham who alone made the way.