The Abrahamic Covenant: Part 17

Being Coached for the Lifelong Race


John Plunkett

October 10, 2015


Today’s sermon is the penultimate message of this long Bible Study series – the second-to-last Bible Study on the subject of the Abrahamic Covenant.


We finished last time with the first half of Hebrews 11:16 from which we were discussing the potential difficulty of the departure of Abram, Sarah and their extended family out of the prosperous, affluent city-state of Ur. 


Let’s back up a couple of verses – still in Hebrews 11 – just to pick up the context:


15:  And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.


As we saw last time, Abraham and his family did not take advantage of the opportunity to return to the relative comfort of Ur.


16a:  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country…


Yes.  God did provide physically better countries for Abraham’s progeny.  But they came to more deeply desire an ultimately better country – the best country – the heavenly country.


But again, not the Kingdom in Heaven; but the Kingdom of Heaven – or the Kingdom from Heaven; but right here on earth. 


Not just a country; but a very special city as well:


16b:  … therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.


I’m sure that God would be ashamed to be called the God of a family – or a people – or a church – who are only interested in the physical.  But because Abraham and his family came to desire His heavenly country even more than any merely physical country, He is not ashamed of them. 


Or, at least, He was not ashamed of them – past tense!  But if we look at Abraham’s progeny today, I’m sure that God must be ashamed of the totally hedonistic, backsliding people of our modern Israelite nations, as a result of which we should not be surprised that (as Paul told us in Romans 11):

·        God has given physical Israel a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, to this very day,


·        He has made their table and their recompense to be a snare, a trap and a stumbling-block to them,


·        He has darkened their eyes, He has blinded them so that they do not see,


·        He has bowed down their backs in spiritual slavery – perhaps – even likely – to soon become physical slavery!


·        He has caused them to stumble,


·        He has partially and temporarily cast them away from Himself,


·        He has broken off some of their natural olive tree branches so that the gentiles could be grafted in.


What about us in spiritual Israel?   Could God be ashamed of any of us?   Are any of us more interested in the physical trappings of this world today than the better country of the World Tomorrow?


If we are, God will judge us by the same set of rules that He judged physical Israel.


Do you want him to be ashamed of you?  I am sure that you don’t.  I don’t want Him to be ashamed of me!


Because of the faithfulness of Abraham and his family, and because they sought and desired that better country, not only has God prepared a better country for them.  He has even prepared a special city for them.  I’m pretty sure that that special city is twofold:


i.        The physical Jerusalem that will be rebuilt and transformed after Jesus’ return there.

ii.      The New Jerusalem – the amazing Holy City – that will come down from God – as described in the 21st and 22nd chapters of the book of Revelation.


But let’s leave our discussion of that until the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day; and let’s move on now and continue in Hebrews 11:


17:  By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

18:  of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called” {Genesis 21:12}


This verse says that Abraham “had received the promises.”  As used here, the aorist tense in the Greek comes out as the simple past tense in the English.  However, this does not mean that the covenant promises had all been actually fulfilled at that time during Abraham’s lifetime.  Merely that he had received the promises verbally from God.


This is very significant because, as I’m sure Abraham asked during this great trial, how could he receive the promise of seed – both race (physical) and grace (spiritual) – that God had specifically promised would come through Isaac (Genesis 21:12) if Isaac was dead and unable to sire any children?  So if he couldn’t sire any children, how could he receive the promise of seed?  God had specifically promised that this would come through Isaac.


The answer is in the very next verse:


19:  Concluding that God was able to raise him {Isaac} up, even from the dead, from which he {Abraham} also received him in a figurative sense.


We know now, in hindsight, that God sent an angel to stop Abraham from actually killing Isaac.  But the point is that, with the help and the strength of his God-given faith, Abraham was willing to do it.  So the deed was as good as done when he raised that knife.


Yes, Abraham had a great faith.  He was "the father of the faithful."  And please remember that Abraham’s faith was firmly grounded on solid experience.  In other instances; but especially through the humanly impossible birth of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah had witnessed the faithfulness of God first-hand, over and over again – absolutely proving to them that God always follows through on His promises – perfectly!


Through his exercise of his great God-given faith, it is likely that Abraham assumed that, if he went ahead and killed Isaac, in order for God’s unbreakable promises to be fulfilled, God would physically resurrect Isaac at some point so that the covenant lineage could continue.


The Hebrews author then moves on with the covenant story through Abraham’s progeny:


20:  By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.


The blessings mentioned here in this verse were the passing on of the Abrahamic Covenant blessings – the wonderful “things to come” – primarily through Jacob – but also secondarily through Esau – although Isaac’s so-called “blessing” upon Esau was a somewhat dubious one.  Let’s take a quick look at:


Genesis 27:
38:  And Esau said unto his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father?  Bless me, even me also, O my father.”  And Esau lifted up his voice, and wept.
39:  And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, “Behold, your dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above;
40:  And by your sword shall you live, and shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass when you shall have the dominion, that you shall break his yoke from off your neck.”


One wonders if this last prophecy of verse 40 is beginning to come to pass right now. 


However, in the end-time prophecies of Jeremiah, Amos and Zechariah, despite their waywardness, the descendants of Jacob are likened to a beloved “only son.”


But although Esau/Edom will likely be involved in end-time events, the Abrahamic covenant was, without doubt, passed down only through Jacob.  Esau was never included.  Because Esau despised his precious birthright, God disqualified him and rejected him from receiving any of the Abrahamic Covenant promises.


If you do a study on this, you will find other Old Testament prophecies that are even harsher condemnations of Esau – even harsher prophecies on his descendants for the future.


So again, the Abrahamic Covenant was passed down through Jacob only. 

Now back to Hebrews 11:


21:  By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff.


Just as with both of Isaac’s two sons, blessings were pronounced on all of Jacob’s sons – all twelve of them. 


These blessings were much more than just wishful thinking.  Much more than a mere death-bed hope that things would turn out well for his sons and their descendants.  They were prophecies – given by God through the failing Jacob.


And, just as those pronounced on Jacob and Esau, so these blessings certainly did vary in actual value. 


The Abrahamic Covenant grace blessings – including the sceptre, crown and throne (which we might consider for the most part to be physical race blessings) – were passed down through Judah.


The main race blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant were passed on through all of the tribes (with some truncations and/or modifications for the tribes of Levi, Simeon and possibly Dan); but primarily through Joseph and his two sons – Ephraim and Manasseh (verses 21-22)


A limited fulfilment of the race promises was fulfilled even while Jacob’s children, grandchildren, etc. were still in Egypt.  Yes, even during the time they were in Egyptian captivity, there was one of God’s commands that Jacob’s children and grandchildren were adept at obeying!  They were fruitful; they multiplied; and their numbers “grew like topsy” – much to the concern of their Egyptian captors. 


Sadly, this is being reversed nowas the children of Esau and the children of Ishmael are rising up in numbers while our modern physical Israelite numbers are dwindling.  But that’s another story!


After 400-odd years in Egypt, God raised up another special and faithful servant – not of the primary covenant tribes of Judah, Ephraim or Manasseh – but of the priestly tribe of Levi:


24:  By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,


That was because he knew that he was the son of the Israelite priestly tribe of Levi.


26:  Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.


Just as "Father-Abraham" had cast the relative comforts in Ur behind him and sought the city, the country, the homeland, and all else that God had promised him – including the relatively difficult road to those goals, in the same way as Abraham did, so Moses put the comforts of his royal position in Egypt behind him once Christ – the LORD/YHVH – had given him a clear vision of the future reward.


(This verse is another proof that Jesus Christ was the LORD God of Moses’ time).


27:  By faith he {Moses} forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king {Pharaoh}: for he {Moses} endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.


Just like "Father-Abraham," Moses:


·        Patiently endured the hardships of the road (from Egypt through the wilderness to the “initial Promised Land” of Canaan),


·        Never got to enjoy the initial race blessings of that “initial Promised Land”


·        Only had a brief glimpse of the land (from Mount Nebo),


·        Was able to “see” the invisible God with his mind’s eye.

These are wonderful examples showing that these two men were very alike in their experiences.


39:  And all these, having obtained a good report {martureo} through faith, did not receive the promise,


Not one of these great heroes of faith, listed here in Hebrews 11, actually received the total fulfilment of the full Abrahamic Covenant promises.  Not one of them!  Not Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Ephraim, Manasseh or Moses. 


Not even those listed in verses 30-32, who were blessed to be able to live in the "initial Promised Land" of Israel – not Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, Samuel nor the other prophets.  Not even David – even though he was "a man after God’s own heart."  None of them received everything that God had in store for them – and has in store for us!


Yes, their population had mushroomed, just as God had promised that it would.  And yes, God had led this latter group into this wonderful land of milk and honey, just He had promised.


But although they might seem huge to us, these were only two relatively small parts of the promised reward of the Abrahamic Covenant.  There was much more to come.


40:  God having provided something better {Greek: kreitton} for us, that they {all the heroes of faith listed previously} should not be made perfect apart from us.


The Israelites’ population explosion and the verdant but tiny “land of milk and honey” certainly were very wonderful blessings.  But again, there was something much better to come. 


Yes.  There was the physical race blessing inheritance of the beautiful lands of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Western Europe, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Australia and many more.  Were these the “something better” that the Hebrews author was referring to here?


Maybe; but if so, only partially.


Looking at this verse (40) logically, the writer of Hebrews and his fellow church members of his lifetime – those he referred to here as “us” – did not live to see the wonderful gifts of the modern Israelites' real-estate, which were a deferred extension of the race blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.  And of course, neither did their predecessors – the heroes of faith listed here – nor any of the other dead-in-Christ of the biblical era.  No.  The author wrote that we are all going to see it together.


So then, just what was the “something better” mentioned here in verse 40?  The Hebrews author gives us the answer right here in the very same verse:  That “something better” is being "made perfect."


Yes.  This “something better” – this being "made perfect" – is something that all generations of God’s people will receive together.  Well, virtually together anyway.  Maybe just a few split seconds apart, as indicated in Paul’s prophecies of the event (see I Thessalonians 4:15-17 and I Corinthians 15:51-52).

The appearance of the returning Jesus Christ, the first resurrection, the beginning of the Millennium, and the calling and conversion of the physical human beings who will still be alive during the Millennium: these will be the very next stages of the fulfilment of the grace part of the Abrahamic Covenant.

God speed that day!  In the Feast of Tabernacles each year, that is what we look forward to.  The Good News.  The true Gospel of Jesus Christ.


Chapter 12 of the epistle to the Hebrews begins as a continuation from chapter 11, with God – speaking through the author of the Book of Hebrews – giving the readers (us) a series of instructions of what we must be doing on our side of the covenant agreement.  We know what God has promised to give us, and we want to be there to receive it. 


Not salvation by works!  I am not saying that!  But there are certain things that we need to do on our side of the covenant agreement in order to receive its wonderful blessings.


Without going through it all in fine detail, let’s just read through the first fifteen verses.  Then I’ll give you a summary list of instructions that our loving God gives us here:


Hebrews 12:1a: 
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…


This doesn’t mean to say that the cloud of witnesses are sitting in heaven right now, looking down on us. 


I was reading a commentary this morning on these verses; and being a Protestant writer, he thinks that these witnesses are all up there in heaven looking down on us and cheering us on. 


They're not!  They're dead!  They're a cloud of witnesses who are our examples.  They are the heroes of faith listed and discussed in Hebrews 11.  This is just saying that they are wonderful examples of faith for us.


1b: ... let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,


This "race" is set before us by God.  The aHebrews author continues in this vein all of the way through here.  God is our coach and we are the runners in this race.

2:  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3:  For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds.


Not necessarily in your body, as a runner would be; but in your mind.


4:  You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.

5:  And you have forgotten the exhortation {quoted from Proverbs 3:11-12} which speaks unto you as unto children, “My son, despise not you the chastening of the lord, nor faint when you are rebuked of him:”

6:  For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.”

7:  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chastens not?

8:  But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are you illegitimate and not sons.

9:  Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

10: For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.

11:  Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

12:  Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; {This is a quote both from Job 4:4 and Isaiah 35:3}.

13:  And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

14:  Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

15:  looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

What is being described here is initially like the pep-talk of an athletics coach.  It then seems to roll over into a father disciplining his children, and then it comes back to the athletics coach again who is helping his team’s runners to train for a big race.  He is training them to run and to win that race.  In our case, for every single one of us, this is the most important race ever. 


I will now give you my own paraphrase of what is being said here.  This is what I believe that our wonderful , heavenly "coach" is telling us "runners" what we have to be doing on our side of the New Covenant.

·        We are to run with patience the race that our “Heavenly Coach” has entered us into. 

I am not running against Trish or against Fred, and they are not running against me.  We are all running the race and we are all aiming to get to that finish line and to receive the prize. 

But we have to run!  We have to participate!  Our heavenly coach has entered us into the race and we can’t give up on it.  We have to keep on going!


·        We must strive against sin.  We have to lay aside every sin and every unnecessary, energy-sapping weight (i.e. pursuit or activity) which can so easily slow us down, and impede our progress.


·        We need to keep looking at those heroes of faith,

All of them were great examples; but most especially, we are to look to the example of Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother, because He is the author and the finisher of our faith – our Pacesetter and our Forerunner, the One who has already made it across the finish line. 

We can’t keep up with Him, of course even though we would like too;  but we have to try.  We have to look to Him and say: “You did it.  We know we can’t be as good as you; but we are determined to cross that finish line too.”


·        We are to treat the resistance and hardships of the “race-course” like opportunities for spiritual exercise. 

Running itself – both physical and spiritual – is hard because of the inherent resistance of our own bodies. The resistance and hardships of our spiritual “race-course” include the world, the flesh and the devil.  But God, through the Hebrews author, is telling us to treat these hardships and resistances like spiritual exercise.

If we emulate the endurance of Jesus – the One who endured so many sinful contradictions against Himself – the world, the Jews and Satan (who resisted everything that Jesus was trying to do).  But Jesus endured.  He didn’t give up.  He kept going.


·        We are not to allow ourselves to become spiritually weary or faint. 

We all get physically tired, and we all sometimes get mentally tired; but spiritually, if we keep studying God’s Word in the Bible every day and if we keep that contact with God the Father in prayer every day, He will not let us become spiritually weary or faint. 


·        We must heed the exhortations of God the Father (our coach) that He gives to His beloved team of runners – the runners who He has entered into this Christian race.

We didn’t volunteer and we didn’t say that we were going to go into this race.  He called every one of us and said that He wanted each one of us on His Team.

·        We are to be in total subjection to Him.


·        We are not to despise His loving chastening or rebuke, both of which may be considered additional parts of our spiritual exercise program; but we are to endure them without fainting. 

We are all getting older and we all have our own "thorns in the flesh." 

Again, when we run into trials – and we all do – let's think of them as just parts of our spiritual exercise program and let's endure them without fainting.

·        We need to build spiritual muscle and strength, again by making spiritual exercise a daily priority with prayer and study.


·        Let's not neglect our fellow-runners.

We need to help one another, especially those who have, for one reason or another, become weak, faint or weary.  Let's lift up any hands which we see hanging down.  Let's help strengthen any knees which have become feeble.  The Hebrews author is not just talking physically; but also spiritually and mentally.  We have a great responsibility to have love for one another.


·        We musdt beware of becoming spiritually lame ourselves! 

If any of us do find ourselves becoming spiritually lame, we must urgently seek spiritual healing from our loving Coach, who cares so much for every one of us.  He cares about our progress and He cares about our well-being!


·        We must maintain the straight spiritual path!

Satan is going to set before us crooked, time-wasting, energy-sapping paths – paths which we might be deceived into thinking are short-cuts! 

We must refuse to be turned out of the true way.  We must refuse to be turned away from the "race-course" we know to be the correct one! 

The correct course may not be the easiest one.  It might be far easier to go around the hill than to go over it.  But if that is the way that He wants us to go, then that is what we need to do.  We have seen too many brethren opt for the easy way, and we know that it is not the answer.


·        We must keep the prize in our mind’s eye – just as Abraham and Moses did. 

It is not selfish – but right and good – for us to pursue the race’s prizes.  And again, there is one for every one of us; so we don’t need to try to nudge each other out of the way.  We all have that prize ahead of us, as long as we don’t give up. 

The prizes are fantastic.  The Hebrews author mentions some of them: e.g. holiness.  Earlier he was mentioning perfection.  Perfection and holiness go hand in hand.  

Another example of the future prizes is peace.  But we are told that, even now, we should be pursuing peace with everyone – both the not-yet-called and, of course, the called – no matter which Church of God group they might fellowship with. 
We have brethren – both "independent" and in various groups – many who keep the Feast at different times during this era; but we don’t need to fight with them, call them down, or keep agressively disagreeing with them. 

Yes, peace is a great prize in itself.


·        We must avoid roots of bitterness. 

We must not allow any root of bitterness to trouble or defile us – not against any of our fellow-runners, or even any who we might think of as being on an opposing team. 

The majority of our brethren fellowshipping with other Church of God groups than ours are not on an opposing team.  Like us, most of them are on God’s team as well. 

God knows who His people are.  It is not our job to claim that all of those other than those in "our" group are a bunch of bad guys, or to claim that we are the only ones who are doing what is right.


And finally, another repetition of an exhortation that we have been given a few times already in previous parts of this series:


·        Look diligently! 

Yes, seek diligently!  Let’s keep our eyes on the finish line. 

Let's just imagine the winners’ podium and the receiving of the prizes – the covenant rewards! 

I don't believe that there will be bronze, silver and gold awards.  I belive that there will be a gold one for every one of us!


So we must all keep our eyes on that goal and those prizes that we have talked about throughout this series – the blessings, the promises and the rewards of the Abrahamic Covenant and of the New Covenant.  We must seek those things diligently and keep them in our mind’s eye. But also, we need to diligently seek and search out the things that will get us there!