I closed last week talking about how the individual matters to God, But how was Abram to know this God?
In 1988 Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity looked for a building in New York City suitable for a homeless shelter they wanted to open. They visited Mayor Ed Koch and he offered them 2 fire-gutted buildings for $1 each, the nuns raised $500,000 for renovations, and they started the project.
Wedging itself between the Mayor’s gracious heart and the nuns’ homeless shelter was the massive bureaucracy of New York City. For 18 months the nuns traveled in frustration from hearing to hearing trying to get permits for this and for that in order to remodel the buildings. The final insult came 2 years into the process when city officials suddenly
decided they now required an elevator, adding over $100,000 to the cost, though the homeless shelter would only occupy the bottom floor and the nuns explained, their beliefs forbade them from using an elevator.
Mother Teresa walked away from the project. This is the opening story in Philip Howard’s excellent book from 1994, The Death of Common Sense. Though it is a secular book about how ever increasing though well intentioned law gradually strangles a society’s creativity and ability to function, it could just as easily be about religion versus relationship.
As a parable, the well intentioned Mayor relates to the Lord, and Abram is represented by the nuns, with the bureaucracy of New York being the religion Abram left behind. The nuns had personally visited the Mayor and gotten his word, just as Abram had been personally visited by the Lord. There is no other way to know a person or God but by their word and by their presence in our lives. Don’t let religious bureaucracy and rituals get between your relationship with God or it will shut you down as surely as those nuns were shut down from their noble goal.
Once off the wheel, how do you know Him?
Abram, now Abraham, walked away from the rituals of the religion he was raised with, rituals placed between man and the gods as a sort of buffer. But this God of Abraham gave no ritual, no action, no good work between the two of them which would have enabled Abraham to know his standing before this God.
Thus, over the next 100 years of his life, God revealed elements of His character to Abraham. (We are told he was 75 when he left town upon seeing the Almighty, and he lived to 175 years. Genesis 12:4, 25:7)
Over the span of a century Abraham learned He was the Giver of the Promised Land in Genesis 12, the Almighty God in Genesis 15, El Shaddai the Source of Life in Genesis 17, The One allowing tender intercession in Genesis 18, Jehovah Jireh the Provider in Genesis 22 and into friendship.
Thus, Abraham knew God by His Word when He appeared to him, and by His presence in his life. This is how we know Him too. For this reason in part Paul says: “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles (non-Jews) through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” and “You are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:14, 26)
The blessing of Abraham is in part, the freedom from ritual to know God by His Word and by His presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit. It is by faith so that God might demonstrate His grace to us.
The reason for the law
You may ask about the laws of Moses and the ritual God Himself gave Moses – those 613 laws outlining how man may approach God, how man is to treat man, even down to what types of food to eat and not eat. If God wanted relationship, then why did He give Moses the law?
The answer is found in Romans 3:19 and Galatians 3:21: “Now whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and all the world may be found guilty before the Lord.” “If a law could have been given that would have imparted eternal life, then righteousness would have come by the law.”
In other words, God gave the law to Moses to show mankind there is no ritual, no religious action that could make man righteous. So once again, the Lord took mankind back to the truth revealed to Abram – there is no ritual, no law, no exercise that can make a person right before God. Only a 1 on 1 relationship with God with no ritual between us, makes a person righteous. What Jesus did on the cross ensured this ability to personally know God.
The Word revealed
After the deaths of Moses and Joshua, Israel went through nearly 4 centuries of roller coaster existence, from revival to the depths of sin and back again. Finally came a boy named Samuel, to whom one night the Lord stood in his room and called: “Samuel, Samuel”. When Eli figured out it was the Lord calling the boy he told him to go back to his room and answer:
“Then the Lord came and stood as He had the other times, and said, ‘Samuel, Samuel.’” The Lord appearing to Samuel was the start of the ‘modern’ age of prophets in the Old Testament. Samuel was the first prophet in relationship with a king of Israel, and this pattern of king and prophet would continue through Malachi. In keeping with this pattern I Samuel 3:21 says: “…the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel as the Word of the Lord.”
As Abraham knew God by His Word when He appeared to him, so too would the prophets through the centuries. The vision of the Word of the Lord was how He communicated to the holy men. If you have had the idea the prophets wrote their books as if some unseen hand were merely guiding their pen, you are incorrect. The Word of the Lord appeared to them, and they wrote what they saw:
Isaiah – “The vision of Isaiah the sone of Amoz which he saw…The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” Isaiah 1:1, 2:1
Jeremiah – “…then the Word of the Lord came to me saying, Before I formed you in the belly I knew you…then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth…” Jeremiah 1:4-9
Ezekiel – “…the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God…the Word of the Lord came specifically to me, Ezekiel the priest…” Ezekiel 1:1-3, (but most of the book is his visions of the Lord)
Hosea – “The Word of the Lord that came to Hosea…and the Lord said to Hosea…” Hosea 1:1-2
Joel – “The Word of the Lord that came to Joel…” Joel 1:1
Amos – “The words of Amos which He saw concerning Israel…the Lord said…” Amos 1:1-2
Obadiah – “The vision of Obadiah, the Lord God says…” v1
Jonah – “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah…And the Word of the Lord came a second time to Jonah saying…” Jonah 1:1, 3:1
Micah – “The Word of the Lord that came to Micah, which he saw…” Micah 1:1-2
I don’t have the space to list the rest - but understand that ever since “The Lord appeared as the Word of the Lord to Samuel”, when the OT prophets say ‘The Word of the Lord came to me’, they are talking about the Person known as The Word of the Lord, in a vision or what we’d call, visitation. (You may be interested in my 2cd/mp3 series ‘I AM’ to learn more)
It is this same Word of the Lord that Abraham got to know when he stepped off the circle of religious ritual to know God. He knew Him by His Word and presence in his life – that same for the prophets – they saw Him as the Word of the Lord.
A person’s word is the expression of their character, the word of a person flows out from their character, and their word is a result of their presence in your life. Thus, the Word of the Lord which flows out from His (the Father’s) presence became THE means of knowing God. The Lord would appear as the Word, give him His word on the subject at hand – and let them walk it out in faith.
From Abraham to Malachi they knew God by His Word, with each appearance/visitation revealing a little bit more about His goodness, His plan, more about the Word of the Lord.
The Word of the Lord came to men down through the centuries: Abraham in roughly 1900 BC, Moses in 1400 BC, Samuel about 1050 BC, Isaiah in 750 BC, Habakkuk in 620 BC, to Malachi in 430 BC…and then 400 silent years….as if the universe itself was waiting, counting down the time…then around 4 BC-1 AD this most amazing thing in all the universe happened:
“And the Word was made flesh, and lived among us…” the apostle John makes that amazing statement in John 1:14 – that Word of the Lord who appeared to the boy Samuel, to Isaiah and showed him heaven in Isaiah 6, who put His hand on Jeremiah’s lips to call him as a prophet, who appeared to Jonah and told him to go to Nineveh, then a 2nd time after his time at sea, to Ezekiel who saw the cherubs and Him on His throne in chapter 1, to Micah with the revelation that ‘He has shown you what the Lord requires, to do right, love mercy, and walk with your God’…and now THAT Word of the Lord who visited the prophets through the centuries, has become a Man and lived among us.
Amazing Grace! Forever freed as Abram was from the circle of religious ritual, the whole of mankind can know the Word of the Lord personally – He became one of us! The conclusion of this series next week. Blessings,