Wednesday, March 6, 2013
In Search Of Truth, Genesis 15:1-6
In chapter 14, a number of local kings went to war with each other. In the aftermath, Abram's nephew Lot was taken captive from the city of Sodom as the victors claimed the spoils of war.
Leading over 300 men, Abram reclaimed his brother and the stolen provisions. The king of Sodom then came out of hiding after his defeat and offered to let Abram keep the provisions and valuables he had recovered while defeating the enemy to rescue Lot. But Abram had sworn to Yahweh that he wouldn't accept any gifts from the king of Sodom, so that the king could never say that he made Abram great. We pick things up now in chapter 15.
The first words of this chapter sound a little like consolation from Yahweh. Abram did the right thing in refusing the king of Sodom's gifts, but it may also have been tough to walk away from all of those riches and provisions, things we often associate with security in life. After all, Abram still lived in a foreign land with an unknown future.
Yahweh then promised Abram that he would protect him and that he would have a great reward (despite the offer of wealth he had just refused). Still, Abram was having trouble picturing this big future of blessing for him and his descendants when he and his wife had been unable to have children. It was looking as though his entire estate would have to be handed off to one of his servants when Abram died. But Yahweh assured him that Abram's own son would be his heir.
Yahweh compared the number of Abram's future descendents to the stars in the sky, in that their number would be too many to count. Abram, despite his doubts and concerns, trusted that Yahweh was telling him the truth, and Yahweh "counted it to him as righteousness".
We've seen indications in previous passages in Genesis that possibly more than anything else, God wants us to trust him. Trust that he is who he says he is and that he'll do what he says he'll do. This moment between God and Abram is one of the most striking examples of this, because of God's response to Abram's trust. He "counted it to him as righteousness". So what does THAT mean?
The Hebrew word here for "counted" is "chasab", an accounting term (Leviticus 25:27, 50, 52 and 27:18,23) used here to describe a "spiritual transaction" of some kind. I think calling faith the "currency" here might imply something misleading or harmful by its commercial connotation, but God did "credit" Abram with righteousness as a result of Abram's trust in him, and the accounting background of the Hebrew word also implies that the metaphor isn't all bad.
So what is this "righteousness" thing that Abram was credited with because of his trust in Yahweh? "Righteous" and "righteousness" appear in our worship songs, liturgy and statements of faith, but outside of those instances its not a word we commonly use or really consider for its meaning.
The Hebrew word used for "righteousness" here seems to translate to our English word "righteousness" directly. And Paul's commentary on these verses (found in Romans 4:4-5 and surrounding context) indicates that a "righteous" person is "justified" before God. So in a nutshell, a righteous person is someone who meets the perfect moral standards of God. And this "status" was credited to Abram when he placed his trust in Yahweh.
If trusting in Yahweh translates to meeting his moral standards, then faith is a very big deal, and trusting Yahweh is the most important thing I can think of for us to do in life.
The Apostle Paul expands our understanding of faith and justification in his commentary on this passage in Romans 4:1-5-
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, (ESV)
For believers today, we know that the work of Christ finished and perfected this "transaction".
Romans 8:1- There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (ESV)
So we might say, "Well what's the point of faith now? The deal is done, I'm in the clear." But there is so much more to be gained by having a growing relationship with Yahweh that goes beyond justification. And faith is the language we use when investing in that relationship.
If God seems so big and cosmic that a "relationship" with him seems out of reach, if we find ourselves wondering how in the world we can express love to this infinite, incomprehensible God in a way that will be meaningful and worth anything to him, the answer, I think scripture tells us, is to trust him. In the big decisions and the small day to day tests of patience and endurance, trust that he loves us and that obeying him is worth it.
Believe it or not, our trust is something of immense value that we can give the God who has everything.