Did Abraham Keep the Law?

This is some of what I shared with my Life Group Wendesday night in our discussion about our weekly Bible reading plan.

Some you may have picked up on an odd statement made about Abraham when God reaffirms His covenant with Isaac. It is made during an unusual, yet similar, account of Isaac leaving the Promised Land to live in Egypt. This was intended to be a foreshadowing of how God dealt with Abraham on two different occasions (12:10-20; 20:1-17). In other words, it is not here by coincidence. We shouldn’t just see this as, “like father, like son.” In fact, it really isn’t about Abraham and Isaac as it is about God. These accounts illustrate Yahweh’s faithfulness to Abraham and Isaac, and shows the future generations that God can be counted on in difficult times and even personal failures. Notice the similarities of Abraham and Isaac:

  • Both dealt with a famine in the land (12:10; 26:1).
  • Both mention Egypt (12:10; 26:2).
  • Both dwelt in Gerar (20:1; 26:6).
  • Both dealt with Abimelech the Philistine king (20:2ff; 26:8ff).
  • Both deceived Abimelech (wife was their sister) (20:2; 26:7).
  • Both were rebuked by Abimelech (20:9; 26:10).
  • Both prospered while living among the nations (12:16; 20:14; 26:12-13).
  • Both angered the Philistines with their prosperity (13:2-7; 26:14-16).
  • Both were told by Abimelech that God was with them (21:22; 26:28).
  • Both trusted God and lived in peace with the nations.

It is in the midst of this famine, when Isaac goes to Abimelech, the LORD reaffirms the promise He made to Abraham.

  • Isaac will be blessed (12:2; 26:3).
  • Isaac will be made into a great nation (12:2; 26:3).
  • Isaac will be given the land (12:7; 26:3).
  • Isaac will be a blessing to the nations (12:3; 26:3).

This is all pretty cool stuff, but that is not what got my attention.  It is what is said about Abraham in the midst of the covenant reaffirmation.

Genesis 26:5, “because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My mandate, My commands, My statutes, and My instructions.”

Wait, what?! The Law and commands of Yahweh doesn’t happen for another 400 years. Is this a misprint? And get this, it is the exact same language the writer uses of the Law of Moses.

Deuteronomy 11:1, “Therefore, love the LORD your God and always keep His mandate and His statutes, ordinances, and commands.”

Does this mean Abraham knew the Law before it was given to Israel? There is nothing that indicates that would be the case. We never read of copies of laws being carried around by any the patriarchs. However, when we pay attention to the life of Abraham, we pick up on ways he was following the Law.

John Sailhamer uses Genesis 14 as an example.  Here we find Abraham mustering up an army, with his three friends, to defeat the four kings. This was a rescue mission for his nephew Lot. After this victory, Abraham meets with the king of Sodom and the king of Salem (Melchizedek). The king of Sodom wanted to give Abraham all the possessions that had been recovered in battle (14:21). Abraham refused and made a powerful statement of faith.

Genesis 14:22-24, “I have raised my hand in an oath to Yahweh, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or sandal strap or anything that belongs to you, so you can never say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the servants have eaten.”

He refused to allow anyone, except the Most High God, to provide for him. It mirrors the Law given in Deuteronomy 20:1-15, about wars with foreign nations. It talks about going to war against larger armies and not being afraid because the LORD will be with them (Deut. 20:1-3). Abraham was not afraid to go against any army, no matter if he is outnumbered. He only had 318 of his own men (Gen. 14:14). (A number reminiscent of a narrative in Judges). He only took food from the battle, as it in Deuteronomy 20:14 (NIV says “eat” instead of “enjoy”). Abraham believed his friends deserved a share (Gen. 14:24), as given in the Law (Deut. 20:14). We even find this mysterious priest-king of Salem, Melchizedek, of the Most High God. He blessed Abraham and gave praise to the the LORD for delivering his enemies to him (Gen. 14:20). Before Israel was to go to battle a priest was to address the army and declare Yahweh would fight against their enemy (Deut. 20:4).

That’s all good, but what does all this mean? Long before Laws were chiseled into rock tablets, Abraham was living in harmony with the will of God. He demonstrates what it looks like when God’s Law has been written on the heart. It was not about following a list, but trusting the One who called him out of the land of his ancestors to be blessed. Which speaks of a future promise and new covenant (Jer. 31:31-33), when God will write His laws on the hearts of His people. The Pentateuch was already pointing to that day.

Deuteronomy 30:6, The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.

Later on, Paul picks up this theme of Abraham as one who had a heart for God and exemplified a life under the new covenant (Rom. 4:1-5; Gal. 3:11-14). With the coming of Christ and the new covenant, the emphasis is placed on faith. Once again we are linked back to the Garden of Eden. So many see “Law” or “commands” in a negative way. We miss the point. Each day we stand before the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and decide if we will follow the Creator. Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the tree to keep them from the curse of death, which meant being separated from the Tree of Life.  Just as the first humans were depended on the Creator’s knowledge of good and evil, so are we as we approach God’s instructions for humanity. God’s Word was given to us to show us what is good and needed to regain life lost in Eden. If Genesis has taught us the importance of walking with God. Enouch, Noah and, of course, Abraham walked with Yahweh. They walked in faith and trust. None fo them were perfect, but they continued to move along the path of their Creator.  Abraham loved God, and it was out of that love and trust, he obeyed. It was not about checking off a list, but walking closer with the Most High God.

When Jesus walked the earth, the Word became flesh, and He showed us what it looked like to fully trust in the Father. He was surrounded by Scribes and Pharisees who were meticulous in following Law (Matt. 23:23), but their hearts were far from God (Matt. 15:8). Abraham kept the instructions, commands, mandates and ordinances of God, yet was not given a list of what those were. He followed out of a genuine love and trust for God. Now the Spirit of life has come in us to breathe God’s heart into ours. By the Spirit, our hearts have been circumcised (Rom. 2:29). We are baptized into the death of Jesus and raised in a new way of life (Rom. 6:4). Sin and death no longer rule our lives. God lives in us and empowers us to a life of obedience.

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