A new identity

Names in the Bible had more significance than what we think of them today. Beginning with Adam’s naming of the animals that God created, names were a mark of individuality and by implication authority over a particular activity or area of responsibility. Today we might think of it as having purpose or our reason for being alive. The Hebrew name Abram (ab-rawm) means high father or father of height (H87/H48). What this might suggest is that Abram’s father was a very tall man and his son was expected to tower over most of his peers, but the spiritual meaning could be more significant. One of the root words of Abram is ruwm (room). “Basically, ruwm represents either the ‘state of being on a higher plane’ or ‘movement in an upward direction'” (H7311).

Based on his name, it seems likely that Abram’s destiny was intended to be one of triumphing over his enemies. We don’t known exactly why God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:31), but it could be that his victory over the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim (Genesis 14:15) was due in part to Abram’s superior knowledge and/or experience with strategic warfare. The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires were associated with the Chaldeans (Isaiah 23:13, 43:14), Abram’s native people, and may have been the reason why God hand picked Abram to be the father of a great nation that would eventually overtake and eliminate these barbarians from the face of the earth (Isaiah 48:20).

The critical key to Abram becoming a great nation was the birth of a child that God promised to give him when he was 75 years old (Genesis 12:1-4, 13:14-15). After ten long years of waiting for God to fulfill his promise, it says in Genesis 16:1-4:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived.

The Hebrew word translated listened in Genesis 16:2, shama (shaw-mah’) can refer to hearing that is both intellectual and spiritual. “In the case of hearing and hearkening to a higher authority, shama can mean to obey” (H8085). To listen to one’s voice means taking note of something and believing it (H6963). In that sense, Abram’s response to Sarai’s direction was similar to his response to the word of the LORD, a prophetic message that indicated, “your very own son shall be your heir” (Genesis 15:4).

His willingness to conceive a child with Sarai’s Egyptian servant suggests that Abram wasn’t relying on the LORD to produce a family, but was relying on his own physical ability to achieve what God had promised him. In one sense, Abram was acting contrary to God’s will, but what he was doing was completely within the bounds of his legals rights. You might say that Abram was exercising his free will and God allowed him to do so because he was free to decide how his destiny would play out.

God’s ability to accomplish his will regardless of the individual choices and actions people take is what makes prophecy such an amazing feat. God does not limit our choices, but is able to predict and control what will happen as a result of the choices we make. Jesus’ birth is a perfect example of God’s ability to accomplish something in spite of his chosen people’s lack of cooperation and even rebellion against him. Matthew’s gospel states, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way” (Matthew 1:18) and then Matthew went on to say, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us)'” (Matthew 1:22-23).

The Hebrew name Immanuel (im-maw-noo-ale’) is derived from the two words im (eem) and ‘el (ale). Im specifically means “equally with” (H5973) and suggests that the name Immanuel referred not only to God being with us, but God being one of us, a human being. Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ’s birth was particularly significant because it was identified as a sign of God’s faithfulness and was intended to be something that was impossible for anyone but God himself to accomplish (Isaiah 7:11-14). The idea that God would become a human and live among his people was probably beyond the wildest imagination of most if not all of the Jews who were alive in Israel at the time that Isaiah spoke this prophecy.

Prior to Jesus’ birth, God’s identity was primarily linked to the names he was given when he manifested himself to believers. It says in Genesis 12:7 that the LORD appeared to Abram. The Hebrew word translated appeared, ra’ah (raw-aw’) means to see. “Basically ra’ah connotes seeing with ones eyes,” but it also can mean to perceive, get acquainted with, examine, and discover (H7200). One way of describing what happened when the LORD appeared to him would be to say that Abram had a personal encounter with God. Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian slave also had a personal encounter with God. After she became pregnant with Abram’s child, Genesis 16:4 states that “she looked with contempt on her mistress” and so “Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her” (Genesis 16:6). Then, it says, “The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness” (Genesis 16:7).

The identity of the angel of the LORD was unknown to Hagar until he spoke these words to her:

“I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered from multitude.” And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” (Genesis 16:10-12)

Hagar’s response to this prophetic message is recorded in Genesis 16:13. It states, “So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’ The name “You are a God of seeing” or el (ale) ro’iy (ro-ee’) in Hebrew literally means the “visible God.” The primary distinction between God the Father and God the Son was that Jesus’ human birth made it possible for God to be visible to everyone in the world.

Matthew’s gospel states, “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him'” (Matthew 2:1-2). The wise men were looking for God and understood that he could be found in a specific location. Because of their experience with astrology, the wise men were able to find Jesus’ birth place using the stars. The wise men were not believers and yet, they wanted to know God’s identity. They wanted to see him face to face and worship him

Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, it says in Genesis 17:1-2, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.'” God’s interaction with Abram was based on a new identity that was established when Abram became a believer (Genesis 15:6). Based on their personal relationship with each other, Abram was expected to become like God and God was going to become like him, a man. God made a second covenant with Abram that had to do with what is referred to in the New Testament of the Bible as sanctification or what God described as walking before me and being blameless.

The phrase “walk before me, and be blameless” consists of three Hebrew words that convey a message of spiritual transformation. The Hebrew word translated walk, halak (haw-lak’) can “be used of one’s behavior, or the way one ‘walks in life'” (H1980), the idea being that of repetitive motion or daily habits. The Hebrew word paneh (paw-neh’) which is translated before me, has to do with how God sees us or you might say God’s reaction to our behavior; does it make him smile or cause him to get angry. The Hebrew word translated blameless, tamiym (taw-meem’) “means complete, in the sense of the entire or whole thing” (H8549). Tamiym is derived from the word tamam (taw-mam’). “The basic meaning of this word is that of being complete or finished, with nothing else expected or intended” (H8552).

The transformation that God wanted to accomplish in Abram’s life had to do with his spiritual identity. God said to Abram, “Behold, my covenant is with you and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 17:4-6). It can be assumed that God was referring to physical kingdoms on Earth when he said, “I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you,” but there was more to God’s promise than that because he indicated that Abraham’s offspring would possess the land he was giving them eternally.

God told Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7-8). An everlasting possession is one that cannot be taken away and therefore, suggests that God was talking about a spiritual possession rather than a material one. His designation of “all the land of Canaan” implies that God was referring to a specific geographic location, but there may have been another aspect of owning land, a spiritual aspect to God’s promise, that was associated with Abraham’s eternal inheritance in Heaven.

The key to understanding God’s promise to Abraham may be found in the symbolic act that was established as a sign of his covenant. God told Abraham, “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you…Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:10-11, 14).

Essentially, circumcision symbolized consecration to God, “it signified Abraham’s covenanted commitment to the Lord – that the Lord alone would be his God, whom he would trust and serve” (note on Genesis 17:10, KJSB). Underlying the symbolic physical act of cutting off the flesh of one’s foreskin, was the spiritual intent to live according to God’s divine order and sovereign rules of law. Abraham’s circumcision was analogous to the oath which God had submitted himself to and was basically saying, “If I am not loyal in faith and obedience to the Lord, may the sword of the Lord cut off me and my offspring as I have cut off my foreskin.”

Circumcision, for all practical purposes, was a reminder to Abraham and his descendants that they were not to rely on their own physical capability of producing offspring in order to fulfill God’s promise to make them into a great nation. Ultimately, it took a miracle for Jesus, the Son of God to be conceived and brought into the physical world of humans. After he was born, Jesus was constantly in physical danger, starting with King Herod’s plot to find him and kill him before he had a chance to fulfill his destiny (Matthew 2:13).

An angel of the Lord instructed Mary’s husband Joseph to take Jesus out of the country to protect him from physical harm. He said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” The Greek word translated destroy, apollumi (ap-ol’-loo-mee) speaks metaphorically of spiritual destitution. “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622). Because Jesus was both God and man, he was subject to spiritual as well as physical death Later, Joseph and his family returned to Judea, “And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene” (Matthew 2:23).

The Greek word translated Nazarene, Nazoraios (nad-zo-rah’-yos’) means “a Nazoroean, i.e. inhabitant of Narareth; by extension a Christian” (G3480). In simple terms, a Christian is someone that follows Christ, but it also refers to being called out or consecrated by God and placed in a particular location to fulfill a divine purpose. Abraham and Sarah were technically the first Christians in that they were called out of the land of Ur of the Chaldeans and designated to live in the land of Canaan, but it was their faith in God that made them believers or followers of Christ. God told Abraham, “I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:8). The Hebrew word translated sojournings, magur (maw-goor’) is derived from the word guwr (goor) which means “to turn aside from the road” and is associated with living in a hostile environment as a guest (H1481). Jesus, who was a resident of Heaven, came to Earth and lived in a hostile environment for 33 years and was eventually crucified because he said he was God.

When he originally promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring forever (Genesis 13:14-15), God didn’t specifically state that his offspring would come from his wife Sarah. It wasn’t until after Ishmael was born that God told Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her and moreover, I will give you a son by her” (Genesis 17:15-16). Sarah was not only sterile, but also postmenopausal when God told Abraham she was going to give birth to a child. Sarah ability to conceive was dependent on her becoming a believer, putting her trust in God the same way that her husband Abraham did.

It says of Abraham in Genesis 18:1-3, “And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, O Lord if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.” “This theophany (an appearance of God to man) may have been Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches that Christ existed coeternally with God the Father (John 1:1; 8:58; 10:30; 17:5; Col. 1:15-17), and it is entirely conceivable that he would at times take the appearance of humanity prior to his incarnation” (note on Genesis 18:1-33).

Sarah’s personal encounter with Jesus began with her listening in on his conversation with Abraham. After Abraham had served his visitors a meal, “They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘She is in the tent.’ The LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?'” (Genesis 18:9-12). Sarah’s private thoughts revealed her skepticism about God’s ability to give her a child when she and Abraham were too old to be sexually active.

It’s clear that Jesus performed a miracle in order for Sarah to become pregnant. After Sarah laughed at the thought of conceiving a child at the age of 90, the LORD asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Genesis 18:13-14). The Hebrew word translated too hard, pala (paw-law’) means “beyond one’s power to do” (H6381). Even though it was impossible for Sarah to conceive a child, it was still within God’s power to do it if she was willing to put her trust in him instead of relying on her own physical capability. Hebrews 11:11 testifies to Sarah’s belief in the LORD. It says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Humility

Peter’s first epistle contains a wealth of information about the reality of believers living in a fallen world. He stated, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NKJV). The Greek word translated fiery trial, purosis (poo’-ro-sis) is derived from the word puroo (pur-ro’-o) which means “to be ignited, glow” (G4448). Peter was most likely referring to the process used to purify metal. Gold is refined by melting it in a fire and removing the impurities. Another aspect of adversity that Peter may have wanted to bring out was the testimonies of faith that resulted from Christian persecution. Many first century believers were forced to take a public stand about their belief in Jesus because of their refusal to conform to the culture of the Roman Empire and as a result, the gospel became very effective in converting people to Christ during the first century.

Peter explained the process of purification that Christians go through in 1 Peter 5:5-10. He stated:

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (NKJV)

A key characteristic of a Christian that has been through the process of purification is humility. Peter said that we are to be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5). The Greek word translated clothed, egkomboomai (eng-kom-bo’-om-ahee) refers to putting on an apron as a badge or sign of servitude (G1463). Peter was most likely trying to communicate what Jesus did when he washed his disciples feet (John 13). The Greek word translated humility, tapeinophrosune (tap-i-nof-ros-oo’-nay) refers to “humiliation of the mind, i.e. modesty).” “This virtue, a fruit of the gospel, exists when a person through most genuine self-evaluation deems himself worthless. It involves evaluating ourselves as small because we are so. The humble person is not stressing his sinfulness, but his creatureliness, of absolute dependence, of possessing nothing and receiving all things from God” (G5012).

Peter said that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). Another way of stating it might be, God is on the side of the loser, the one that doesn’t think he can do it himself. Peter instructed believers to “humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). What Peter was saying was that we should submit ourselves to God because he can do more that we can do ourselves. Peter added, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV). Cares have to do with the thoughts that go through our mind on a daily basis, the things we focus our attention on. Peter was indicating that we need to focus all our attention on God because he is our provider and is responsible for our welfare. Peter’s warning to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8) emphasized the importance of spiritual awareness. Even though we cannot see what is going on in the spiritual realm, we can affect the outcome of spiritual wars by asking for God’s help when we are faced with trials and temptations.

Christians

Before Jesus came to Earth, God’s chosen people were selected by birthright. The idea that someone could be born into the family of God was thought of more literally than spiritually before the New Covenant was established. The term Israelite originated as a descriptor of the people that were descended from Abraham’s grandson Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel after he won a divine wrestling match that lasted all night (Genesis 32:24). Genesis 32:28 states, “And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” The segment of the Israelite population referred to as Jews was typically associated with the small remnant that returned to the Promised Land after a 70 year exile in Babylon (Nehemiah 1:2). The Hebrew word translated Jew, yehudiy (yeh-hoo-dee) means a descendant of Jehudah (that {is} Judah)” (H3064).

Luke tells us in Acts 11:19 that “they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.” In spite of what seemed to be an intentional effort to exclude the Gentiles from God’s free gift of salvation, it says in Acts 11:20-21, “And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.” The phrase “the hand of the Lord was with them” indicated divine approval and blessing on the activities that were going on in Antioch. The Grecians that were being saved were not Greek-speaking Jews, but Gentiles (note on Acts 11:20). Therefore, it could be concluded that God wanted the Gentiles to hear the gospel and was helping the men of Cyprus and Cyrene to do that.

When the church in Jerusalem heard about what was going on in Antioch, they decided to send Barnabas to check it out. Luke’s detailed description of this important turning point in church history can be found in Acts 11:22-26. It states:

Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. Then departed Barnabas unto Tarsus, for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people, and the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.