Chicago, Illinois Address, 1958
Brother W. Norman Woodworth

Abraham and His Seed

THIS is a very important topic for us to consider today, living as we do at the end of the Gospel Age. It has always been an important subject for the Lord’s people to be familiar with, because the entire plan of God is wrapped up in the promise which God made to Abraham; it has a very direct bearing on our faith, our hope, and on our Christian lives.

We remember that the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham was finally sealed by God’s oath. The Apostle Paul mentions this occasion in Hebrews 6, telling us that “God, willing more abundantly t o show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, … we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest forever after the order of Melchisedec.”—vss. 17-20

Here Paul makes the Abrahamic promise very clear. He says, in the 13th to the 15th verses, “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” God’s promise, and his oath gives us this wonderful assurance, this wonderful hope, that reaches right beyond the veil—a hope that is centered in the promise made to Abraham.

The subject of Abraham and his seed is important to us today particularly, because of the fact that in fulfillment of the prophecies there are upwards of two million natural descendants of Abraham who have already returned to the land God promised to him. We are captivated by this development because we are confident that it is as a result of the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise, in the outworking of his plan of the ages.

Let us go back and take another look at the promise made to Abraham by the Lord, and how Abraham himself reacted to it. Abraham is referred to in the Bible as the father of the faithful, and we know he was just that. And yet, Abraham’s faith was sometimes not as strong as the Lord would have liked it to be. And so it is true with us also; therefore we are encouraged to realize that even though sometimes our faith could be firmer, the Lord continues to deal with us, giving us lessons to increase our trust in him, just as he did with Abraham and other faithful men of old.

Abraham was so eager to have God’s promise fulfilled concerning the seed which would bless all the families of the earth, that on at least two occasions he attempted to help the situation along, not trusting completely that God was fully capable of handling the circumstances in a much better way. And so it could be with us at this end of the age. We could become so interested in that which we can see with our literal eyes, that we might be tempted to do something we think would help God fulfill his promises to Israel. Abraham’s enthusiasm led him into this failing, and we are not too different than Abraham!

The promise was that in Abraham and his seed, all the families of the earth would be blessed. (Gen. 12:2,3; 18:18; 22:18) Although Abraham did not understand all the implications of this pledge, he did see in it the assurance that he would have a seed. When this promise was made to him, his wife, Sarah, was barren. But Abraham had sufficient faith to believe God would be able to do something about that. However, as time went on and it did not seem as though God intended to do anything about it, no doubt Abraham began to wonder if he had misunderstood what God meant. Maybe God wanted him to take action; and so the Bible reveals that this is exactly what Abraham did.

In the 14th chapter of the Book of Genesis we have the account of Abraham’s battle with the heathen kings who had invaded Sodom and Gomorrah, taking Lot and his family captive. Abraham gathered together his servants and raised an army. He pursued the kings, defeating them, and rescuing Lot. Upon his return home he paid tithes to Melchizedek, and divided up the spoils of battle, keeping nothing for himself. Apparently the fact that Abraham saw his duty and did it, without interest in any reward, was pleasing to the Lord. He unselfishly rescued Lot, and that was his only concern in the matter.

So in the beginning of the following chapter we read, “After these things, the word of the Lord came unto Abraham in a vision, saying, Fear not Abraham, I am thy exceeding great reward.” (Gen. 15:1) Paraphrasing, we could say, ‘You have been very noble in not taking any spoils for yourself, Abraham. But that is all right, I will reward you; I am your exceeding great reward.’ Then Abraham reminded God, “Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abraham said, Behold to me thou hast given no seed: and lo one born in my house is mine heir.”—vss. 2,3

Abraham wondered what reward the Lord had in mind, and the most important thing to Abraham was that God fulfill his promise regarding the seed. And so he took this opportunity to remind the Lord that he was still waiting for the honoring of this promise. He asked the Lord to accept his faithful steward, Eliezer, who had been born in his household, as Abraham’s heir and seed. But the Lord answered Abraham, “This [Eliezer] shall not be thine heir, but he that shall come out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.” (vs. 4) This information imparted new understanding to Abraham, who now knew that he must be the actual father of the seed. This seed could not be an adopted son, but must be a natural one.

A little later on, the promise still not having been fulfilled, Abraham and Sarah worked out another, different arrangement, whereby Hagar bore to Abraham a son, Ishmael. Perhaps, they thought, this would be pleasing to God, since he had said that Abraham must be the father. (Gen. 16:1-3) But the Lord appeared to Abraham again, telling him that Sarah would have a child. The Lord explained that not only must Abraham be the father, but Sarah must also be the mother. This was so ludicrous to Abraham—since Sarah was an elderly lady, as well as having been barren all her life—that he fell face-down upon the ground and laughed! But, the Lord did perform that miracle as promised, and in due course of time Isaac was born. (Gen. 17:15-17; 21:1,2) God had his own way of fulfilling his promises!

After the seed of promise, Isaac, was born and had grown to young manhood, the Lord subjected Abraham to another, and final test of faith—he asked him to offer Isaac upon the altar as a sacrifice. (Gen. 22:1-13) By this time Abraham had learned that God was able to perform miracles, and he knew and fully believed that if it were necessary, God would raise Isaac, the promised seed, from the dead. So he proceeded to carry out God’s request to offer up Isaac.

It was after Abraham had complied with God’s command that God confirmed the Abrahamic Covenant with an oath. (Gen 22:16-18) An angel stayed his hand as the knife swiftly fell towards Isaac’s breast; and the ram in the thicket provided by Jehovah was substituted and offered as a burnt offering to God. Remember that a burnt offering was representative of God’s acceptance of previous offerings. And so in God’s sight Isaac had been offered by Abraham and accepted by Jehovah. Once the sacrifice had been accepted and the Abrahamic Covenant confirmed with an oath, it became the ‘oathbound covenant’.

This was certainly a very difficult test of faith, and contained an important lesson for Abraham, and for us. We are told that Abraham did, in effect, receive Isaac in figure from the dead. (Heb. 11:17-19) This was an indication embodying the fact that in the outworking of God’s wonderful plan of salvation there must be a resurrection of the dead! We must not become so involved or so interested in what is happening in Israel today to forget that God has promised to, raise the dead! We cannot be deceived into thinking that Israel today represents the earthly phase of the kingdom. No, indeed! The resurrection of the dead is necessary to the outworking of the promises of God, and this was illustrated by all the prophets. The kingdom cannot begin on earth until after the resurrection of the Ancient Worthies is complete.

Passing over many centuries from Abraham’s day, we arrive at the time of the first advent of Jesus. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus was the promised seed of Abraham. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” We need nothing more than these words of Paul to assure us that the promised seed of blessing was actually Jesus Christ. He not only was the natural seed of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, but was also the spiritual seed as well.—Gal. 3:16

And there is still another facet to this consideration. Towards the end of this same chapter, the apostle adds, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (vss. 27,29) There is only one seed—Christ—consisting of one body, but which has many members. (I Cor. 12:12) The seed is Jesus and his church together, which will be the channel of blessing to all the families of the earth. It is quite remarkable how God has arranged all this to work out his purposes!

Returning to the Old Testament times, we realize that this promise to Abraham was confirmed to his son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob. And at the death of Jacob, his twelve sons became the nucleus of the nation of Israel. At the time they left Egypt, God entered into a covenant with them at Mount Sinai. This covenant promised them everlasting life, if they would keep their part of it—if they would obey the ten commandments. However, this proved to be impossible for them to do.

But this covenant also promised them something more valuable. It emphasized to them that if they were obedient in keeping the Lord’s law, and his statutes, he would make of them a holy nation, a peculiar people; they would become the seed that God had promised to their father, Abraham! They recognized this as their inheritance, and took it very seriously.

After many long centuries of imperfectly keeping the Law, and sometimes neglecting it altogether, we find that by Jesus’ day the nation as a whole were not living up to the conditions of the Law, and so the final test came to them. This test was the acceptance, as a nation, of this one whom God had promised—the seed of Abraham—the Messiah—and we know that he was not accepted. “He came unto his own and his own received him not, but to as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God.”—John 1:12

Jesus, speaking particularly to the religious leaders of the nation on one occasion, said that the kingdom “shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof.” (Matt. 21:43) The Apostle Peter identifies the nation ‘bringing forth fruit’ as his followers, saying, “Ye are a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people … which in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God.” —I Pet. 2:9,10

Another picture of this is given to us in Revelation 7, where we have the seed of Abraham presented to us as the twelve tribes of Israel, with twelve thousand in each tribe. (vss. 4-8) As Jesus said, there were some among the natural descendants of Abraham who accepted him 9s the Messiah, and to these he gave the power to become the sons of God. Paul asks, “I say then, }lath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” (Rom. 11:1) Paraphrasing Paul, he is saying, “Has God cast away his people? No, of course not—I’m one of them, and I’m here; I haven’t been cast off!”

Paul also said, “Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias, how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” (vss. 2-5) As it was in Elijah’s day, when there were seven thousand Israelites who had repented and wanted to please the Lord, even so it was in Paul’s day when many Israelites accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and who became the sons of God. They were an elect remnant, by grace.

He continued, “And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election [the elect remnant] hath obtained it.” (vss. 6,7) Some of the elect remnant of Israel, no doubt, came from each of the twelve tribes, originally. Paul goes on to show that as the natural branches [Israel] were broken off, wild branches [Gentiles] were grafted in to take their place, contrary to nature.

And so the remnant of the natural descendants of Abraham, with the addition of the Gentiles, together make up the 144,000 of the twelve tribes of Israel mentioned in Revelation. This is the spiritual kingdom of Abraham, although when God made that wonderful promise to him nothing was said about this holy nation being a spiritual nation. But if they had met the conditions they would have been God’s peculiar people, his holy nation, his royal priesthood.

In the promises made to Abraham there is mention, by symbol, of an earthly kingdom. It is referred to as the ‘sand of the seashore’. While the nation as a whole did not have too much respect for the promise, there were a few who did. In the 11th chapter of Hebrews the Apostle Paul takes us right back to Abel, saying that he was the first of this worthy class. Paul summed this up so beautifully here. He reminds us that Moses, while he was in the court of Pharaoh, chose to “endure the afflictions of Christ rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.”

The word ‘Christ’ used here is Messiah. Moses wished to be associated with the Messianic promises, and willingly endured whatever cost was involved in loyalty to the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. At the same time, Moses apparently knew, as did all the Ancient Worthies, that the promises of God were to be fulfilled at a later time, and not in their day.

Paul outlines the many, varied, harsh experiences endured by Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel, and other prophets, “who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:33-35,39,40) The hope of the resurrection! Here were people who endured terrible trials knowing that it would bring glory to God’s name eventually, when they would also receive the reward of a better resurrection.

Continuing to recount some of the lives of God’s people of old, he climaxes his summary by saying, “And all these, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us [the church class—the ‘seed’] should not be made perfect.” The two expressions—‘a better resurrection’ and ‘made perfect by the church’—are Paul’s way of expressing the great reward which will be the Ancient Worthies’ portion.

Where did they receive this hope of a better resurrection? What was their incentive to faithfulness? One source of this hope was a psalm written by Moses, himself. “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return ye children of men.” (Ps. 90:3) And again, Jesus said that the resurrection was taught when God spoke to Moses at the burning bush, when he described the Lord as being the God of Abraham and of Isaac, and of Jacob. Jesus said that “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:31,32), and since they had at that time been dead for centuries, a resurrection must surely be indicated!

The long period from Abel until John the Baptist was a preparatory stage, necessary for the training of the earthly personnel chosen by God for his kingdom on earth.

In the eleventh chapter of Romans, from which we have already quoted, outlines the thought of the broken off branches, and the Gentile branches being grafted in. Then Paul sounds the warning that if God can graft in wild branches, he can also re-graft in natural branches, if need be. He says, ‘Blindness in part has happened unto Israel until the fullness [full number] of the Gentiles be come in, … and so all Israel shall be saved.”—vss. 25,26

There shall come out of Zion [the spiritual phase of the kingdom] the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant with them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the Gospel they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed that through your mercy, they also may obtain mercy. For God has concluded them all in unbelief … that he might have mercy upon all.”—vss. 26-32

Here the apostle reminds us of the fact that when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, the New Covenant will be established with Israel. In Jeremiah 31 the Lord tells us that he will take away Israel’s sins, sins against the Old Covenant. He will write his law in their inward parts. That work will be so complete—so absolutely complete—that it will no longer be necessary for anyone to say to another person, “Know the Lord, for all shall know him from the least unto the greatest.”—Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:11

These scriptures teach that all Israel shall be saved. God will exercise mercy towards them, and all Israel will be saved under the provisions of the New Covenant. “I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (Jer. 31:31) This is a symbolic expression of the idea that the New Covenant will in the first instance be made with the Ancient Worthies at the time of their resurrection. This will be essentially automatic, since they will be the governing body of the nation of Israel.

But although the New Covenant will be made with the Ancient Worthies, its benefits and blessings will flow to all who follow its laws and precepts. The nation of Israel will no doubt be the first to feel these favors, but soon all men will say, “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” In Revelation 22:17 we read, “The Spirit and the bride say Come, let him who heareth say come.” As others hear, it will extend to all the families of the earth, and all the families of the earth will be given the opportunity for life, and all the families of the earth will be blessed!

The nation of Israel restored in the land today is in a precarious situation, surrounded with enemies. But God is getting ready to shower his blessings upon them! And the reason for this is because he loves them, and we should love them, and rejoice with them!

We must continue to take these wonderful prophets as our example. Abraham was a wonderful man of faith. His natural seed, those who proved worthy down through the centuries to be of the Ancient Worthy class, were wonderful servants of God. May we take them as our example. May we prove worthy for a place in the spiritual phase of the kingdom—that glorious prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. May we press on faithfully to the very end!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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