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No. 110: Crisis Time: Patriarchal Prologue, Part 2

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 110
Copyright (c) 1998 Biblical Horizons
October, 1998

Abraham and Joshua

In our previous two essays, we considered aspects of the lives of Abraham and Jacob, as these display how God works with men in history. These two men carry in themselves all the future of Israel, so to speak, and their lives at the individual level correspond to the history of Israel at the later, corporate level. God is One and Many, and so is humanity. History and biography follow the same general course, because history is corporate biography.

These present essays are part of our "Through New Eyes Volume 2" series of studies. A while back, in earlier studies, we saw that the Abraham narrative prefigures the Mosaic period of Israel’s history, the Jacob narrative prefigures the Kingdom period, and the Joseph narrative prefigures the Restoration period. The following chart briefly summarizes these relationships:

God: Father God: Brother God: Matchmaker

Adam Cain/Abel Sons of God & Daughters of Men

Sacrilege Fratricide Intermarriage

Abram/son Jacob/Esau Joseph/Gentiles

Sinaitic Era Kingdom Era Restoration Era

Apostasy Brother strife Gentile seduction

1st Word: 2nd Word: 3rd Word:

other gods images hypocrisy

What I wish to add to these previous studies is an application of what we dealt with last month. God comes at the beginning as a Tree of Life, making promises, offering blessings; then much later God comes at a time of crisis, threatening death, offering a chance to mature to a new, fuller phase of godlikeness.

We begin with Abraham and Joshua. The new covenant was made in the days of Moses, but the Sinai encounter is actually the Crisis-Threat event in the Joseph period, and so we shall consider it later on. The climactic crisis is the event that transforms the earlier form of the covenant into a new form. All that was in the earlier covenant is killed and then resurrected in a new form. Sinai is the crisis that ends the Patriachal covenant and initiates the Mosaic or Sinaitic covenant.

The opening chapters of Joshua consist of a command to enter the land and then the entrance into the land, clearly a fulfillment of Abraham’s first obedient entrance into Canaan. Next Joshua has the people circumcised, for they had not done it during the wilderness. Here is a new beginning, a new circumcision, again a recapitulation of the Abraham story. We are starting again, but this time not with an individual but with a full nation of tribes.

The Abraham story is a story of worship, altars, and sacrifices. It is a story of the coming of a seed, and the training of that seed as Abraham offers Isaac to God. As with Adam in the Garden, Abraham is called to have patient faith, not to try and seize what God is not ready to give. It is the God-man relationship that is primary in the Abraham story.

It is the same with the period from Joshua to Eli. To be sure, there are some brother-brother struggles, and the Samson story deals with temptation from the daughters of men, but the primary concern is with the God-man relationship. Repeatedly in Judges the people turn from God to idols, disobeying the First Word. At the chiastic heart of Judges, we find that Gideon, having been built up by God and established as a leader, makes a false ephah and seeks subtly to set up a dynasty. At this point, Israel falls into the sin of desiring a king to rule over them. God had planned to give them a king when they were ready, but they seized at it prematurely. Jephthah wanted a dynasty also, but God graciously thwarted him and took his daughter to serve at the Tabernacle. Finally the people came to Samuel and demanded a king.

Remember that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the Tree of Rule and Judgment. Adam was supposed to wait for God to give him the fruit of that tree, but he seized it. Israel did exactly the same thing when they demanded a king. They wanted glory and the visible protection, but they weren’t ready for it.

But we get ahead of ourselves. The Abraham story is a story of altars and worship, and the stories in Judges are about people who turn from the true God and then return to Him. The Abraham story is a story of fathers and sons, and we are told in Judges 2 that the fathers in Israel neglected to teach their sons, which is why they fell into idolatry repeatedly. Then came the crisis, and the crisis concerned the fall of Israel into a lust for the Tree of Rule.

God came to Abraham in the beginning with promises and the Tree of Life. He came the same way to Israel and Joshua in the beginning: making promises, circumcising them as priests, granting them a land. At the crisis, God comes as an adversary bringing death, and resurrection for those who maintain faith through the crisis. Only those who survive the crisis by faith are ready for the Tree of Knowledge, Rule, and Authority.

As we saw, Abraham had to see through the crisis, to see that God alone is Father and God alone is Governor. Abraham had to be ready to give his son to God. The same is true of the crisis that comes at the climax of the Sina-itic period. Gideon wanted his sons to rule, even naming one of them My Father Is King (Abimelech); he did not give them up to God. The result was that Abimelech killed all of Gideon’s other sons, and then was killed himself. Jephthah wanted to be king, and to have a dynasty. That dynasty had to come through his only child, a daughter, but God took that child for Himself and she served at His palace. Eli had sons, but refused to discipline and restrain them. He did not offer them to God, and they were killed. Their defilement of God’s sanctuary only made visible the attitude of Israel as a whole, and the major consequence was that the sanctuary was wrecked.

Because Abraham was faithful, and saw through the crisis, he was not ruined but blessed. Israel, however, did not see through the crisis. God attacked, and Eli and his sons died. The Tabernacle was rent in two, and the Ark went into captivity, never to return to the Tabernacle.

Abraham’s crisis lasted a few days; Israel’s lasted from Gideon to David. But the question was always the same: WILL YOU GIVE ME YOUR SON? Gideon didn’t. Jephthah did not want do. Eli didn’t. Samuel was faithful through part of the crisis, but in the end he appointed his two sons as judges and they proved corrupt, so the people demanded a king. (Why didn’t Samuel discipline his sons?)

The people demanded a king prematurely, and they got Saul, who was the best man in Israel, not a man after God’s own heart. The crisis continued as Saul repeatedly failed to obey. But then the crisis came into focus again, as David appeared and the people preferred him to Saul and Jonathan. Would Saul give up his son? No indeed. Saul wanted Jonathan to rule, and sought to kill David (1 Samuel 20:31).

But Jonathan saw through the crisis. He was willing to give up the crown for David. Saul was no Abraham, but Jonathan proved a willing Isaac. His sacrifice made the kingdom possible. And because Saul would not give up his son, Jonathan died with him.

The crisis continued. God had made promises to David, and David had started out in glory. But then David was driven into exile and hardship by Saul. The story now receives a twist, because David has the opportunity to kill Saul, but he refuses to do so. David sees through the crisis, obeying God even when it is hard to do so and everyone encourages him not to. His respect for God’s anointed makes him a fit king for Israel.

In a sense, the larger national crisis is now over, but the pattern continues. At mid-life, David goes through his personal crisis. He fails to go out to war, because he is tired of it. He ravishes Bathsheba. He kills Uriah. He fails to see through the crisis. And then, when his son Amnon imitates him and rapes Tamar, David refuses to give up his son for punishment. He holds him back and does not give him to God. So Amnon is killed.

Do we see a theme? Those who give up their children to God receive them back alive. Those who refuse to do so, lose their children.

Unlike so many before him, but like Jephthah, David repents, and so the kingdom is restored to him.

Let us now summarize. Abraham lived before Israel became a people, and the Mosaic period came before Israel became a kingdom. In both cases, the focus is on the God-man relationship, both in covenant loyalty and as that relationship is played out at the human level in the relationship of fathers and sons (or daughters). The mid-life crisis concerns the father-son relationship. Those who pass the test, who see through the crisis by faith, are ready for the Tree of Rule and can become kings.

But the story of the Sinaitic era adds a factor, which we see in David’s respect for Saul’s office. Sons must be given up, yes, but also authority must be respected. What made David fit for rule was that he gave due respect to the evil rulers who were over him in his early life. To be sure, he fled from Saul, and sought to be invisible to him. He did not give Saul blind and foolish obedience in all things. But he respected the office and did not lead a revolution. Later on Absalom failed to follow his father’s example, and rebellious Absalom, who would have been king, was killed.

The test of the Tree of Knowledge, as it comes to us as individuals and nations, means three things in its Abrahamic dimension: Will you wait patiently, despite encouragements to seize forbidden fruit? Will you give your sons, your future and your dreams, to God, even if it looks as if they will be killed? Will you respect the authorities God has put in place over you, even if they are trying to kill you? If we see through the crisis by faith, we shall inherit.

Before closing this section, let us consider this crisis more personally. When our sons reach 20, according to Numbers 1, it is time for them to be considered adults. We have to give them over to God, and not hold them for ourselves. Because we love our sons (and daughters), we want to protect them from the evil consequences of their sinful actions, but God says that when they have become adults, they must be treated as such. This is what Eli and Samuel and David failed to do. When their sons sinned grievously, they acted to protect them from judgment. And in so doing, they lost them completely.

Additionally, when our sons reach 20, it is time for them to move into their own callings. Yet men frequently try to force their sons into their own callings. Saul tried to make Jonathan a king, when Jonathan did not want to be one. Jonathan should have lived to be David’s chief warlord; his death meant that the dubious Joab inherited that office.

The crisis of letting our children go happens usually when men and women are in their 40s, which is the time of mid-life crisis. Only if we give our children to God and let them go will we mature to the fullness God designed for us.


The Structure of the Abraham Narrative (Genesis 11:27- -25:11)

Delineated by the Ever-helpful James B. Jordan

A. Link to preceding narrative, 11:27

B. Death of Haran, 11:28

C. Wives for Abraham and Nahor, 11:29

D. Sarai barren, 11:30 – dead womb

E. Terah departs Ur for Haran, without Nahor, 11:31-32

F. Command to enter the land, 12:1

G. Nations to be blessed, 12:2-3

H. Abraham enters the land, 12:4-6

I. Seed promised, 12:7-9

J. Woman attacked by serpent, 12:10-20

K. Lot strays from the covenant, 13:1-13

L. Abraham oversees the land, 13:14-18

M. Lot removed from Sodom, 14:1-16

N. Meal with Melchizedek; Sodom, 14:17-34

O. Covenant cut, 15:1-11

P. Covenant promise, 15:12-21

Q. Abraham and Hagar, 16:1-4

R. Sight, 16:5

S. Hand, 16:6

Abraham 86: midpoint of life T. Theophany Promise to Gentile son, 16:7-11

S’ Hand, 16:12

R’ Sight, 16:13-14

Q’ Abraham and Hagar, 16:15-16

P’ Covenant Promise, 17:1-22

O’ Covenant cut, 17:23-27

N’ Meal with Yahweh; Sodom, ch. 18

M’ Lot removed from Sodom, 19:1-26

L’ Abraham oversees the land, 19:27-29

K’ Lot strays further from the covenant, 19:30-38

J’ Seed attacked by the serpent, ch. 20

I’ Seed born, 21:1-7

H’ Ishmael leaves the land, 21:8-21

G’ Nations blessed, 21:22-34

F’ Command to reenter land (briefly) to offer Isaac, 22:1-19

E’ Nahor’s family back in Ur, 22:20-24

D’ Sarah buried, ch. 23 – tomb as womb

C’ Wives for Isaac and Abraham, 24:1–25:6

B’ Death of Abraham, 25:7-10

A’ Link to following narrative, 25:11

Note that the placement of the promises to Ishmael at the center of the narrative, coming at the center of Abraham’s 175-year life, establishes fully that the call of the priestly people was always with reference to serving the Gentiles. The son who goes out to become a God-fearing Gentile is at the core of the narrative.