A GREAT AND HOLY NATION
A. God promised Abraham that He would make of his seed a great nation.
Genesis 12:1,2 (NRSV)
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you (NKJV – “I will make you”; NIV – “I will make you into”) a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
B. Created and Fathered by God. In the Old Testament, God calls Israel his “firstborn son” (Ex. 4:22). Beginning with Abraham’s call (remember God’s word=his “seed”), Israel was the first nation “adopted” (cf. Rom. 9:4) or called into existence out from the illegitimate “orphan” nations of Babylon – those “fathered” and “reared” illegitimately by false gods and demons. The nation was brought into existence or “born” miraculously through the Spirit’s power in Isaac’s birth. The nation was also called and brought out of Egypt not by human strength, but miraculously by God’s power. The nation thus owed its very existence to God’s power and word alone. That was the point. God intentionally birthed the nation in a way that removed all grounds for human boasting.
Exodus 4:22-23a (NIV)
22 Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.”
Deuteronomy 32:5-6 (NIV) (Portions of Deut. 32 sung every Sabbath)
5 They have acted corruptly toward him; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation. 6 Is this the way you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?
Isaiah 63:16 (NIV)
But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.
Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Genesis 21:12 (ESV)
But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your seed be named (NIV “be reckoned;” NKJV – “be called;” Young’s Literal – “for in Isaac is a seed called to you;” cf. Rom. 9:7; Heb. 11:18).
Galatians 4:28-29 (ESV)
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.
C. As the “firstborn,” this nation is promised a double portion when the Father’s inheritance (the earth) is finally released (in the age to come).
Deut. 21:15-17 (ESV)
15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17 but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.
Isaiah 61:7 (NIV)
Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.
Jeremiah 3:19-20 (NIV)
19 “I myself said, “ ‘How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me. 20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the Lord.
D. The nation is required to humbly yield in repentance to the Father’s corrective and instructive discipline in this age.
Jeremiah 31:18-20 (NIV)
18 “I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning: ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined. Restore me, and I will return, because you are the Lord my God. 19 After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’ 20 Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the Lord.
Hebrews 12:7-8 (NIV)
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
E. Constituted of Seed Blessed and Multiplied by God (cf. Gen. 12:1-2, 13:16, 15:5, 17:6, 22:17, 26:24, 28:14, 32:12, 35:11). There was a quantitative dimension to God’s promise. By God’s power, many descendants would come into existence through Isaac’s line.
Genesis 12:1-2 (ESV)
1 Now the Lord said) to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
Genesis 13:16 (ESV)
I will make your offspring (seed) as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring (seed) also can be counted.
Genesis 15:5 (ESV)
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring (seed) be.”
F. The Qualitative Dimension – “great nation” does not simply mean numbers to God. It also means the nation being remade into God’s image through God’s filing, molding, purging, and refining in this age, and ultimately being remade in the resurrection. In Babylon, the nations rebelled against God by fashioning from wood and stone idols made in the image of man. The irony of this is that God had originally fashioned human beings in His image to worship Him. Idols are the work of man’s hands.
Isaiah 44:12-13 (NIV)
12 The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. 13 The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine (cf. Rom. 1:22-23).
Isaiah 2:8 (NIV)
Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made (cf. 2 Chr. 32:18-19, Mic. 5:13).
G. Human beings, in contrast, are the work of God’s hands made in His image. In stark contrast to the idol-making happening in Babylon, God promises to mold, shape, and craft of Abraham’s seed a nation refashioned and re-chiseled back into His image. In Scripture, Abraham’s biological descendants through Isaac are likened to a national “lump of clay” (Is. 29:15-16, 45:9, 64:8; Rom. 9:21), a “rock quarry” (Is. 51:1-2), and a “vineyard” (Is. 5:1-7) that provides the materials for God to do His work. The righteous – those in Israel who humbly submit and yield to God’s refining work – are forged back into the image of God over time and exalted and vindicated as righteous in the Day of the Lord. They are the “work of His hands,” His “handiwork.” The wicked and unrepentant within the nation – the “dross” – are ultimately filed off, purged, cut off, and separated from the nation in the Day of the Lord.
Genesis 12:1-2 (ESV)
1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you (NKJV – “I will make you”; NIV – “I will make you into”) a great (quantitative and qualitative) nation
Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Jeremiah 18:5-6 (NIV)
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
Isaiah 51:1-2 (NIV)
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness (like Abraham and Sarah) and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; 2 look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many.
Isaiah 29:22-24 (NIV)
22 Therefore this is what the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the house of Jacob: “No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will their faces grow pale. 23 When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. 24 Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; those who complain will accept instruction.”
Isaiah 60:21-22 (NIV)
21 Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted (vineyard analogy – i.e. the righteous and humble from the vineyard), the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. 22 The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.”
Isaiah 5:1-6 (NIV)
1I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? 5 Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. 6 I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.”
Isaiah 1:21-26 (NIV)
21 See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers! 22 Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. 23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. 24 Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies. 25 I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. 26 I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.”
H. We must articulate, interpret, and present the Abrahamic Covenant in terms not only in terms of the end-game of God’s plan, but also in terms of the refining processes necessitated by the revealed character of the end-game. The age to come is going to be an age of righteousness. Therefore, the inheritors of the age to come must also be forged into vessels of righteousness.
Genesis 46:2-4 (ESV)
2 And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, “Jacob, Jacob.” And he said, “Here am I.” 3 Then he said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
Genesis 15:12-16 (ESV)
12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring (seed) will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
I. Preserved by God – God has promised to preserve the nation’s existence and national identity forever. Israel will always have a national existence. To fight this is to fight God, because God is a God of integrity and will always keep His promise to Abraham. The rebellion of part, or even most, of the “lump of clay,” does not negate His commitment to ensuring the “lump’s” survival unto the accomplishment of His God-ordained purposes for that nation.
Genesis 12:3a (NIV)
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse…
Jeremiah 31:35-37 (ESV)
35 Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: 36 “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring (seed) of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” 37 Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring (seed) of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.”
J. What this doesn’t mean. The fact that God has promised to preserve the nation’s existence on some level, doesn’t mean that He winks at the sin of the wicked and rebellious within the nation simply because of their lineage. Nor does it mean that all of Abraham’s biological descendants through Isaac will automatically receive the inheritance in the age to come simply because Abraham is their biological ancestor. It does mean that in this age, in faithfulness to Abraham God is committed to preserving the “lump of clay” (the nation) and even uses the wicked and rebellious within that lump to carry out His purposes (e.g. the crucifixion). In the age to come, the entire nation will be righteous and forever preserved by God, the dross (wicked) having been completely purged and cut off from the national “lump” in the Day of the Lord.
Matthew 3:7-10 (NIV)
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Isaiah 4:2-4 (NIV)
2 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. 3 Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.
Romans 2:7-10 (NIV)
7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
Romans 11:28-29 (NIV)
28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, 29 for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
Acts 26:22-23 (NIV)
22 But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles” (Gentiles not the only ones who need the light of the gospel).
Edersheim, A. (2003). The Temple, its ministry and services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ. (188). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.