(This study is an expansion of the worship section in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality” Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007)
Worship is our proper response to the Eternal, Almighty, All Knowing, Everywhere Present God. The Lord of Hosts created the Universe and everything in it and is deserving of our love and devotion. That’s how it started in the Garden of Eden, but it did not last long. Satan, the rebellious angel, moved in quickly behind God’s creation of Adam and Eve and deceived Eve with a lie. Satan is the father of lies and continues to lie to the human race to this moment.
The lies of Satan have never been a match for God. The Lord chose from out of all the people of the world a man who would become the father of God’s people. God called Abram to leave his country and travel hundreds of miles to a land He would show him. Abram obeyed the Lord and took his wife and nephew and traveled to Canaan. It was there that God taught Abram Who He was and how to worship Him. “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” (Genesis 15:1) Abram first learned that God would provide, protect and reward him – all excellent reasons to worship God with thanksgiving. We can call it thankful or grateful worship.
Abram had much to learn about how God provides for those He calls. As is the nature of man, Abram doubted. He looked around at his physical circumstances and questioned God about how He could possibly do what He had promised. How could God make Abram the father of a great nation seeing that Abram was an old man and didn’t even have a child? The Lord brought Abram outside and directed his eyes toward the heavens – “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5) God was the Creator of the heavens and had placed more stars in the sky than a person can count. He could certainly provide Abram with an heir from his own body.
How Abram responded is an important insight into worship – “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” This is faith worship – believing God even when we can’t see how He will do what He says He will do. Faith is an absolute necessity in true worship. We cannot worship the Almighty God if we don’t believe Him – “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is how God works.
Worshiping and following God is not based on “see it – believe it.” Instead, it’s “believe it – see it.” Faith comes first, then we see. It reminds me of the conversation Jesus had with Thomas.
“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:28-29
God has special blessings for His children who believe before they see. That’s the kind of faith Abram had. He believed God and left his country and family behind to go to live in a place he had never seen. God told Abram he would have descendants that would number as many as the stars in the sky. Abram didn’t see it, but he believed it – and God accounted it to him for righteousness.
The next thing God did was make a covenant with Abram about the land he would inherit. The Lord also foretold the suffering of Abram’s descendants and how God would provide, protect and reward them as well.
“Then He said to him, ‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.’ And he said, ‘Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?’ So He said to him, ‘Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.’ And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates— the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” Genesis 15:7-21
This was an amazing site to behold! God took the entire responsibility of the covenant agreement upon Himself! Covenants were made with two or more people involved in the agreement. In ancient times each party would make specific promises to the other party and expect certain types of benefits from the agreement. Covenants also carried penalties if the agreement was broken. Ancient covenants were “cut” (Hebrew karath berith), meaning that animals were sacrificed and cut in half to demonstrate the seriousness of the agreement. Blood had been spilled – a life had been taken for the covenant. It was a serious commitment that involved life and death. After the sacrifice and the cutting, the covenant parties would walk together between the cut pieces of sacrifice to demonstrate their commitment to keeping their agreement even to the point of death. So, did God walk with Abram between the cut pieces? No! God placed Abram in a deep sleep, then passed through the cut pieces alone, taking the full responsibility of the covenant upon Himself – including paying the price for any covenant failure on the part of Abram and his descendants. As we know, Abram’s descendants failed to possess the land as God commanded and the price God paid was the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
(Another amazing thing to note here is that God represented Himself through a “smoking oven” and “burning torch.” Where do we see this later in God’s relationship with Israel? When He led Israel out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud and pillar of fire.)
What was this covenant that God was willing to take upon Himself alone? The Promised Land. Abram asked God how he would know that he would inherit the land God had promised him. God’s answer was to tell Abram to bring the sacrificial animals to God to cut in two – “On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your descendants I have given this land.” God promised Abram land and He would deliver.
Abram had a lot to learn about God and how to follow Him. Abram believed God when He said he would have many descendants and shared that with his wife, Sarai. Sarai couldn’t see how any descendants would come through her body since was old and had never been able to give Abram a child, so she recommended Abram have his child through another woman. That was Abram’s chance to demonstrate his absolute trust in what God told him, but instead he did as Sarai requested. Notice how Sarai blamed God for the situation.
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived.” Genesis 16:1-4
Instead of trusting God to provide a child through Sarai’s body, she and Abram used a surrogate of flesh, Hagar, to produce what they thought would be the promised child. How do you think that went? Did everyone become a big, happy family? No, it made matters worse. That’s what happens when we don’t take God at His Word – when we run ahead of God and try to produce His will through our fleshly ideas and ambitions.
“And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me.’ Genesis 16:4-5
Hagar’s reaction is not at all what Sarai had expected, but it was certainly human. Hagar had left her home in Egypt with Abram and Sarai to serve them. She would have heard conversations between Abram and Sarai about what God had promised them. Hagar knew what Abram and Sarai were doing when they asked her to have Abram’s child. Something changed inside Hagar when she became pregnant with Abram’s first child that caused her to despise Sarai. It might have been that Sarai would get all the attention and praise when Hagar had done all the work. It may have been that Hagar became proud of her position as the mother of Abram’s first child and may have refused to obey Sarai and may have disrespected her. Whatever her reason, Hagar’s reaction to Sarai began a feud that has not stopped to this day. Sarai mistreated Hagar and she (Hagar) ran from Sarai.
End of story, right? We all know that the child of promise was going to come from Sarai’s body, so God didn’t care about Hagar. Wrong. God did care about Hagar because the baby in her womb was from Abram. God cared so much that he sent the Angel of the Lord to Hagar to provide, protect and reward her and her unborn son – just as He had promised Abram.
“Now the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?’ She said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’ The Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.’ Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.’ And the Angel of the LORD said to her: Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has heard your affliction. He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.’ Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?’ Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered. So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.” Genesis 16:7-16
Several powerful things came from his situation. We see the Son of God personally involved with Hagar – “Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, ‘I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” This was not an angel speaking for God – this was God’s Son speaking for Himself. We learn more about God and how He sees and knows everything (Hebrew El Roi – God Who sees). We learn how God keeps His Word even when we don’t. We learn how getting ahead of God can cause bigger problems than having to wait on God. We see how one judgment in error can affect hundreds, thousands, even millions of people in future generations. We also learn an important lesson about the power of Law and Grace and which one is what God has for us today.
God made specific promises about what would become of Abram’s descendants – those who came from his body. Ishmael came from Abram’s body. God kept His promise to Abram and provided for his first descendant. The line of Ishmael became extremely large – too many to count – even as the Angel of the Lord had said. Ishmael had 12 sons who became leaders of many of the tribes of Arabia. Ishmael’s sons and their sons and their sons and their sons were involved in many battles with other tribes, just as the Angel of the Lord had said. Those who trace their lineage back to Ishmael believe he is their connection to the promises of God to Abram. That has caused many problems – even to this day.
Muslims believe that Ishmael is one of the prophets of Islam, with roots that connect them directly to Abram. Many believe that Ishmael is the son who Abram was ready to sacrifice to God, rather than Isaac. Muslims believe that Abram and Ishmael rebuilt the foundations of Kaaba, which is the most sacred site in Islam (a large cube-shaped building) – located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslim tradition holds that Adam, the first man, built Kaaba as the first building on earth dedicated to God and that Abram and Ishmael rebuilt it on Adam’s original foundation. Muslims face toward the Kaaba during their prayer times every day (no matter where they live in the world) and are supposed to visit the Kaaba at least once during their lives, if possible, and walk around the structure seven times in a counter-clockwise direction.
The Apostle Paul shared some fascinating insight into the spiritual nature of Hagar and Ishmael in his letter to the Galatians.
“Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: ‘Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.’ Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted himwho was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” Galatians 4:21-31
Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that Hagar is the bondwoman and the conception and birth of Ishmael is symbolic of the flesh. God made two covenants – one to Abram and one to Hagar. The covenant God made with Abram is about spiritual freedom. The covenant God made with Hagar is about spiritual bondage. Ishmael, son of the bondwoman, will not be heir with Isaac, son of the freewoman. “So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.”
God was about to take the next step in revealing Himself to Abram and Sarai. The Almighty God (Hebrew El Shaddai) appeared to Abraham 13 years later and revealed more about what He was going to do through Abraham and his descendants. He began by changing their Chaldean names to new names that would become Hebrew names.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’ And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” Genesis 17:1-14
You can imagine that this is a lot of for Abraham to take in at one time. God tells him that the land covenant will be an everlasting covenant. He reveals to Abraham the covenant sign of circumcision. If a male child in Israel is not circumcised, that person will be cut off from God’s people as a covenant breaker. Abraham’s still listening – no response yet – until what God says next.
“Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!’ Then God said: ‘No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.’ Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.” Genesis 17:15-22
Abraham had faith in God, but still had things to learn about the Power and Purpose of the Almighty. Abraham looked at his age and Sarah’s age and their physical condition and questioned what God had said concerning a child being born to them. Abraham actually laughed at what God said and prayed that his teenage son Ishmael might live before the Lord. Abraham went with what he could see with his eyes instead of what he should have seen with his heart and soul. God’s answer was quick and to the point – “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.” The name Isaac means “he will laugh.”
God had introduced to Abraham the importance of covenant worship – worship and service to the Lord based on covenant agreements with God. The land covenant was all on God. He passed through the cut sacrifices alone. Keeping the provisions of the covenant were up to God’s faithfulness. The circumcision covenant was on the people of God. If they were circumcised, they were part of the people of God through the covenant. If they were not circumcised, they were not part of the people of God – they were cut off as covenant breakers.
Abraham did just as God commanded and circumcised every male in his household. Abraham was also circumcised.
“So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.” Genesis 17: 23-27
The foundation had been laid for what would happen next. God chose who He would use for His Eternal Purpose and sent him to the land of promise, established a covenant for that land involving the cutting and halving of sacrificial animals, and another covenant for the cutting of the foreskin of every male. The Land Covenant is still in effect today and will always be in effect because God is solely responsible for that covenant – and He cannot fail. God has already returned His people to part of the ancient Land He gave them and will protect them there until Jesus Christ returns to rule and reign the world from the Promised Land. At that time, Jesus will expand Israel to take all of the land God had promised Abraham thousands of years earlier. The Circumcision Covenant is no longer in effect. Israel rejected their Messiah and were cut off. God revealed the end of that requirement through the Apostle Paul as He turned His attention to Gentile nations.
So, if God rejected Israel and gave His salvation to Gentiles, doesn’t that mean that Israel’s rejection is final and complete? That’s what many people believe and teach today and have taught for centuries. But it’s not true. God’s rejection of Israel is only temporary and partial. The Lord made that clear through Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, ‘LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life’? But what does the divine response say to him? ‘I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day.’ And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always.’ I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in. ‘Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.’ Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?’ For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11
Yes, to God be the glory!
(You can read more about Abraham’s adventures with God on pages 532 – 562 of “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality.”)
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”