Life From the Dead
(Hebrews 11:12) Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. The Apostle Paul suffered much at the hands of his own countrymen because he consistently stood boldly for the true “hope of Israel,” the resurrection of the dead (ACT 23:6; ACT 24:14-15; ACT 24:21; ACT 26:6-8; ACT 28:20). Israel had over the years generally lost sight of their true hope although the essence of “life from the dead” had been part of their history from the beginning. Israel's great patriarch, Abram the Hebrew (GEN 14:13) was so persuaded of God's promises and power that he would have sacrificed his only begotten son, Isaac, “...Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (HEB 11:17-19). But that is not the first example of the principle of “life from the dead” in the record of Abraham and Isaac. When God called Abram (later named Abraham) out of Ur of the Chaldees, He promised that a seed would be given him that would be as the dust of the earth for number (GEN 12:7; GEN 13:16). From a human standpoint, Abram and his wife, Sarai (later named Sarah) were probably thinking that time was of the essence, since they were getting up in years and she had long been barren. But God thinks not as man thinks (ISA 55:8-9) and He is prone to eliminate the possible that He might do the impossible so that no flesh can boast (ROM 3:27). God purposely waited for a quarter of a century (GEN 12:4 c/w GEN 17:17) to fulfill his promise to Abram. By this, He would test not only Abram's faith but his patience, and give us an example to follow that we “...be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (HEB 6:12). Abram's reproductive ability remained vital for a few years after he left Ur, as is evident by his fathering of Ishmael by Hagar, an Egyptian bondwoman (GEN 16:1-4). But by the time God would fulfill his promise of a seed for Abram, not only was Sarah still barren, “...it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women” (GEN 18:11), “...she was past age...” (HEB 11:11). Biologically, physically, practically, conception was a joke. So she laughed at the prospect (GEN 18:12), just as Abraham had done a little earlier (GEN 17:17). Whereas laughter may be a good medicine (c/w PRO 17:22), it is neither a fertility drug nor a fountain of youth. When Isaac was born, Sarah said, “...God hath made me to laugh...” (GEN 21:6). This is true “holy laughter” and has nothing to do with the Toronto Blessing (a modern phenomenon which was itself laughable). There was a further complication. As our featured text notes, by this time Abraham's reproductive ability was defunct. In that sense, he was as good as dead (per our text). Paul even goes so far as to say in another place that, reproductively, Abraham's body WAS dead (ROM 4:19)! Thus, in the conception and birth of Isaac, it was a receiving (as it were) of “life from the dead.” Abraham and Sarah show us something about the nature of true faith: without works, it's dead (JAM 2:17), as dead as Abraham's loins or Sarah's womb. Abraham and Sarah could have stifled their doubting laughter and believed with all their heart that Sarah was going to conceive and then done nothing, in which case they would get nothing (for a “do nothing” kind of miraculous conception was reserved for a woman named Mary many years later). Abraham and Sarah show us that mental assent alone to God's promises is not what proves one to be of faith. What proves one to be of faith is what one does about what he or she believes. Devils believe that there is only one God (JAM 2:19) and that Jesus is His Son and the Christ (LUK 4:41), but they are hardly models of true faith. Many believe and call Jesus “Lord” but keep not his sayings (MAT 7:21-23; LUK 6:46). When Scripture says that Abraham “...staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief...” (ROM 4:20), and “Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed...” (HEB 11:11), it is evident that God is focusing on what they did in defiance of their senses, not their mental assent (which initially was marred by doubting laughter). Abraham and Sarah obviously did not let the apparent futility of their circumstances stop them from undertaking to conceive Isaac according to the word of God. What they could not see (that God had fructified both of their reproductive systems) was outweighed by what God had said. Faith is indeed “...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (HEB 11:1). Paul tells us that the difference between Ishmael and Isaac is an allegory (description of a subject under the guise of some other subject of aptly suggestive resemblance): (Galatians 4:21) Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? (Galatians 4:22) For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. (Galatians 4:23) But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. (Galatians 4:24) Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. (Galatians 4:25) For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. (Galatians 4:26) But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. (Galatians 4:27) For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. (Galatians 4:28) Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. (Galatians 4:29) But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. The account of Abraham, Sarah (the freewoman), Agar (the bondwoman), Ishmael and Isaac is one of real people and actions in history. But Paul declares there is a spiritual message under guise of that account: Agar and Ishmael accord with the Law Covenant, bondage and only an earthly Jerusalem for an inheritance. Contrarily, Sarah and Isaac accord with the Covenant of Promise “...confirmed before of God in Christ...” (GAL 3:16-18), freedom and a heavenly Jerusalem for an inheritance. The conclusion of Paul's allegory (below) draws further from the historical account by utilizing Sarah's order to cast out Ishmael (GEN 21:10). He thus shows that those who only have an inheritance from the Law Covenant which could never make one righteous (GAL 2:21; GAL 3:21) have no part in the heavenly inheritance: (Galatians 4:30) Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. (Galatians 4:31) So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. The overall message underlying the historical account of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac is: 1. Isaac's conception required a miracle of resurrection power, so God's spiritual children of promise exist only by a sovereign action of God making them alive from the dead. 2. Isaac was the child of promise and therefore Abraham's only heir, so God's spiritual children of promise are God's only heirs of heaven. 3. Ishmael was only a natural child of Abraham and was cast out, so those who are only the natural posterity of Abraham are not God's children, “...That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed” (ROM 9:6-8). Likewise, all who have nothing more than an inheritance according to the Law Covenant and all others who are only natural men are not God's children of promise and heirs of heaven. 4. God's children of promise include His elect from among the Gentiles (GAL 4:28-31; ROM 9:23-26). 5. All who manifest resurrection power inwardly by their outward faith and obedience to the gospel have the assurance that they are alive in Christ and shall partake of His bodily resurrection into glory. Given that Paul is evidently using the whole story of Isaac and Ishmael as an allegory of the difference between the heirs of heaven and all others, let us explore a little further. The “life from the dead” principle which created Isaac is a miracle repeated in every one of God's elect children. That they exist as such at all is entirely owing to the resurrection power of God, not their own power. By nature, God's children were spiritually “...dead in trespasses and sins;” (EPH 2:1), totally incapable of doing anything to change their nature into one which is spiritually alive. God must do it by Himself by quickening them (making them alive) inwardly; they are thus “...born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (JOH 1:13). Regeneration (called “born of the Spirit” in JOH 3:5-8) is God bringing life from death, an operation that God by Himself plans and causes where it is not humanly possible, even as God planned and caused Isaac. Ishmael was conceived by natural generation by a fertile man and woman (nothing extraordinary there). By contrast, God promised and caused Isaac to come into existence by resurrection power, “life from the dead.” NOTE: Abraham and Sarah by faith produced Isaac, the man; they did not produce Isaac, the spiritual man, since “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (JOH 3:6); “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing...” (JOH 6:63). Grace is not inherited from one's parents, only sin. The story of Isaac (which is allegorically the story of God saving His elect children) contains the elements of 1) something humanly impossible, 2) God must quicken the dead (resurrection power), 3) two had faith to look past death, 4) a child of promise is produced, 5) the child of promise is born of the Spirit. With the above in mind, consider: Believers have “...hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (TIT 1:2), even “...the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus” (2TI 1:1), “...not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2TI 1:9). As Abraham and Sarah had faith that looked past their deadness, so Two of the Trinity exercised perfect faith that looked past death. The Father entrusted to the Son all of His elect children of promise to be saved from sin and gloriously resurrected at the last day (JOH 6:37-40; JOH 17:2); the Father had “...faith in his blood...” (ROM 3:25) to remit their sins. The Son faithfully accepted the responsibility to bear and discharge all the sins of the elect by dying for them, having faith in the Father: “...thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (ACT 2:27) and, true to His word, “...God raised him from the dead” (ACT 13:30). The cooperating faith of the Father and the Son paid the sin debt of all the elect. Their cooperating faith guaranteed the Son's bodily resurrection to ascend to heaven and also that of all His elect at the Second Coming (1CO 15:20-23). That resurrection power is applied inwardly to each of the elect in time by the Spirit Whom no man controls: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (JOH 3:8) and they thus are regenerated inwardly with a new nature so that they may “...yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead...” (ROM 6:13). And none of this was/is humanly possible: the children of promise are saved by God's grace and mercy (not their race or merit), God planning and causing their existence through His active intervention with resurrection power, as He had done to produce Isaac, the child of promise. God specializes in bringing forth victory from impossible situations, and particularly in bringing forth life from the dead. Whether it be the fructifying of dead reproductive organs, the inward regeneration of spiritually dead sinners or the resurrection of physically dead bodies, what is impossible from all human observation, reckoning or ability is no problem with Him, “...for with God all things are possible” (MAR 10:27). The supreme example of this great “life from the dead” power is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who was not just “...as good as dead...” (our text) but very dead indeed. What else was said of Abraham in our text is paralleled in Jesus Christ. From Him also “...sprang there even of one...” (c/w ROM 5:19; HEB 1:3) “...so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.” In being the “...firstborn from the dead...” (COL 1:18), He became the “...firstborn among many brethren” (ROM 8:29), “...bringing many sons unto glory...” (HEB 2:10). They, too, are “...a great multitude, which no man could number...” (REV 7:9).