Life-Study of Genesisby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
In this message we come to Genesis 17, a record of God's crucial dealing with Abraham in confirming His covenant. We have seen that Abraham was called and that he received God's call, promise, and covenant. After God called Abraham, He gave him the promise and then He confirmed the promise by making a covenant with him. After Abraham received the covenant, he accepted his wife's proposal to exercise his flesh along with the expediency of Hagar to produce a seed. The result was Ishmael. Here we see three things: Sarah's proposal, Hagar's expediency, and Abraham's exercise of the flesh to produce Ishmael.
Abraham might have thought that it was not serious for him to exercise his flesh to produce Ishmael, but according to God's economy for His eternal purpose, it was very serious. If we compare the first verse of chapter seventeen with the last verse of chapter sixteen, we can see that between these two chapters there was a period of thirteen years and that there was no record of Abraham's life during those thirteen years. When Abraham brought forth Ishmael, he was eighty-six years of age, and thirteen years later, when he was ninety-nine, God appeared to him again. During that long period of thirteen years, Abraham, a man called by God, a man who was living by faith and who was learning to know grace for the fulfillment of God's purpose, missed God's presence. How serious it is not to have God's presence!
After Abraham had answered God's calling and had begun to live a life by faith in God for his existence, he had a failure. Being short of faith, he went down to Egypt where he was even planning to sacrifice his wife. According to the human concept, that was much worse than using Hagar to produce Ishmael. But if we read these chapters attentively, we shall see that God was not as displeased with Abraham's going down to Egypt as He was with his using Hagar to produce Ishmael. Of course, it was not good for Abraham to go down to Egypt, but that did not offend God as much as his exercise of the flesh to bring forth Ishmael. Going down to Egypt was a failure without, but taking Hagar to produce Ishmael was failure within. It was deeper, for it was not merely related to circumstances but to life. Taking Hagar to produce Ishmael was not simply a matter of right or wrong or of committing a sin; it was a matter of life. Nothing that we do by ourselves is life. Whatever we work by ourselves is not life. Life is God Himself. It is God being something to us in our very being. We should not do anything by ourselves but by God's being wrought into us. Whatever we do by ourselves is not life but death, for it is the issue of our natural self.
In the eyes of God, our natural self is more dirty and more defiling than sin. Although sin is unclean in the presence of God, it is not as offensive to God as our natural self is. While we all recognize the seriousness of sin, not many people realize the seriousness of our natural self. If we commit a sin, we would immediately confess it to God, but if we do certain good things by our natural self, we do not have the sense that we are offending God. If I hate a particular brother, it is easy for me to recognize that this hatred is a sin and confess it as such to God. But if I love this brother by my natural self, it would be difficult to realize that this is against God. Sin only offends God's righteousness, but our natural self offends God Himself. God wants to come into us to be our life and our everything that we may live, work, and do everything by Him. But when we do things by our self, our natural self, we put Him aside. By this we can see that the natural self is against God Himself. It is not only against God's righteousness or holiness but against God Himself.
God's intention with Abraham was that He would work Himself into Abraham so that Abraham might bring forth a child to fulfill God's purpose. God did not intend that Abraham do this by his natural strength. Nevertheless, Abraham used his natural strength to bring forth a child to fulfill God's purpose. Nothing offends God more than this kind of natural doing. Working by our natural self is the most offensive thing to God. To Abraham, it was not so serious for him to take Hagar. His wife, Sarah, even proposed this, thinking that it would help Abraham to produce the seed since Abraham was old and she was out of function. But God had promised that they would have a son. Since they did not know how this could come about, they took the expediency of using Hagar, the Egyptian maid, to produce a child, not realizing how offensive that was to God. It was an insult to Him. Therefore, God disappeared from His dear called one for thirteen years. It was as if God had turned His face away from Abraham and had refused to speak to him for that length of time. There is no record in the Bible of what happened during that period of time. We only know from the last verse of chapter sixteen and the first verse of chapter seventeen that God reappeared to Abraham thirteen years later. According to the Bible record, thirteen years of Abraham's life were wasted. In the heavenly record those years were lost because Abraham exercised his natural self to do something for the fulfilling of God's purpose.
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