“What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
Remember that last week we looked at that event in Genesis 17 that is called the Abrahamic Covenant. That was one covenant, but there are several covenants or promises that God made to Abraham. But what I want you to especially recall is when God reckoned Abraham to be in a state of righteousness on account of his trust in God – that was before the Abrahamic Covenant, it was before the covenant was cut and it was before God gave the rite of circumcision to Abraham as a sign of the covenant. Abraham was in an uncircumcised state. Now remember that a blood covenant was a bond of life-fellowship that was made not only with the persons involved, but with the children yet unborn that were within their bodies, with their seed as well.
This brings up the importance of understanding what it means to be “in” someone and all the more so because we will see that Paul uses this imagery over and over again when he is writing about what it means to be a Christian. Being “in” someone can be a blessing or it can mean death. So Paul wrote in Romans chapter 5:
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
What Paul meant is that by virtue of being in Adam we participate in his unbelief, his disobedience, and his death; but by virtue of being in Christ we participate in his faith, his obedience, his life. Paul uses the same imagery in Romans chapter 6:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”
Jesus himself speaks in this manner, for example in John 17 when he prays for the Church:
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…”
So what exactly does it mean to be “in” someone? We have already seen that those who cut a blood covenant are not cutting it for themselves alone; they mean to cut it for all that they represent, especially their unborn children. In a sense that means to represent, re-present, to make everyone else, including one’s future children, present in the cutting of the covenant. Representation in that sense means to take on fatherhood – as in God’s promise that he would make Abraham a “father of many nations.” Those nations were in Abraham at that very moment God reckoned him righteous.
I want to use two narratives from the Old Testament to clarify what it means to be “in” someone. There came a time in Israel’s history that she was up against the Philistines, whose menacing army was well trained, well equipped and physically intimidating. You all know this story of David and Goliath recorded in I Samuel chapter 17. The Philistines and Israel had been encamped against one another for weeks without going to battle because before the fighting even began Goliath, the Philistine champion, had employed what we would call “psych ops.” Every morning he would step out of his camp and mock the armies of Israel and the God of Israel. Goliath knew who he was and he declared for all to hear that he represented what it meant to be a Philistine, and I submit to you that in some sense he made all of Philistine history present in himself right then and he called upon Israel to do the same – to send a worthy representative of Israel, a man who could fight and whoever was killed, his people would serve the victor.
“I am a Philistine… I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we might fight together.”
Every morning Goliath would come out and humiliate the army of Israel, especially aiming his insults at Saul their King, who was, by the way, reputed to be the tallest man in all of Israel. After six weeks of this humiliation, back in Bethlehem an old man named Jesse, whose sons were with King Saul, began to worry over his children and he called his youngest, David, to take some food and provisions to his brothers and find out what was happening. When David arrived at their camp he was astonished and humiliated that no man in Israel including King Saul would go out and fight Goliath.
David took this 6-week-long running insult to be a shame upon his nation and upon the God of Israel. He volunteered to take on Goliath. Saul was at first reluctant, but he finally gave him permission to go out and fight the giant, and he gave him his own armor to wear with his own sword. But David would have none of it. He did not put on Saul’s armor and he refused the sword. And as he went out to meet Goliath with only his shepherd’s staff and his sling he declared:
“You come at me with sword and spear and javelin and well armored. But I come to you in the Name of the Lord of Hosts… for this battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hands.”
And with that David began running like the lion of God to leap upon Goliath. And as he ran the Bible says:
“(He) put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead; and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell upon his face to the earth… And David took Goliath’s own sword and cut off his head.”
On the other side of the valley the soldiers of Israel began shouting and like David they sprang upon the Philistines and drove them back that day.
Now permit me to make just a couple of observations about this story: First of all when David left Israel’s encampment and went out to meet Goliath he ceased to be a mere citizen and he became the representative of Israel. That is why this story is in the Bible. Just as Goliath summed up the Philistines, so David summed up the people of God in his own body so that what happened to David that day happened to all of Israel. At that moment the future of Israel’s yet to be born children was decided. The second observation is why didn’t David wear the King Saul’s armor and use his sword? David said because he had not proved them, but even more important than that, to put on Saul’s armor and to take his sword would in a manner of speaking be to put on Saul himself. Paul frequently used the imagery of putting on a garment as a way to speak of unity and participation in Christ. So he would say “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” which is also a way of saying that you are in Christ since you are inside whatever you put on. So David would not put on Saul’s armor because he was not “in” Saul. If he was not “in” Saul, if he was not “in” his King then who was he “in?” David was in Abraham. He was in Abraham when God cut the Covenant with Abraham and he was in Abraham that day when he represented all of Israel. He was “in” Abraham when Goliath mocked and cursed Israel and it is because he was “in” Abraham that day, a beneficiary of the promise made to Abraham, that he was able to defeat the godless giant.
Let me give you one more story from David’s life that will throw more light upon the blood covenant. Right after David defeated Goliath he was ushered into King Saul’s tent where he met Saul’s son Jonathan. They immediately saw in one another the character of a true Israelite and they cut a blood covenant:
“Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.” I Samuel 18:3,4
Jonathan and David trusted one another and even when Saul turned against David, Jonathan remained his true and loyal friend. Each of these young men stood as representatives of their families yet unborn. Their children, their grandchildren, all their seed would benefit from the covenant.
“And you shall not only show me the kindness of the Lord while I still live… but you shall not cut off your kindness from my house forever, no not when the Lord has cut off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” I Samuel 20:14,15
It was not long after that that Saul and Jonathan were both killed by the Philistines and fear and panic gripped all of Israel, especially the family of Saul, because all his children and grandchildren would be marked for death. Everyone including Saul’s family fled for their lives. The royal nurses ran to the babies’ rooms to save Jonathan’s children but as one of the nurses ran with a little boy in her arms, a little boy named Mephibosheth, she slipped and the baby was thrown from her arms and his legs were crushed. She scooped him up and safely escaped to a desert town where he was raised in obscurity. As all of that was going on, David led his men of valor against the Philistines and ultimately he took his rightful place as King of Israel. It took years but eventually David established peace and safety in Israel and with that accomplished he began to inquire about Jonathan’s family:
“Now David said, ‘Is there still anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’”
But fear still reigned in Saul’s family and many of them expected that David meant to do what other conquering kings did, that is to eliminate any possible competition for the throne of Israel. But eventually David did find the crippled Mephibosheth and he sent his men to fetch him back to his palace. When Mephibosheth was brought to David he fell upon his face before the king in fear and trembling waiting the word of his execution. But then David spoke:
“So David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore to you all the land of Saul your grandfather; and you shall eat bread at my table continually.’” 2 Samuel 9:7
What I want you to see is that David did not treat Mephibosheth with loving-kindness because of his track record of loyalty to David, but on the basis of the blood covenant David had cut with his father Jonathan:
“So David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake…”
David loved Mephibosheth, he delighted in him as if he were Jonathan his father.
What does this have to do with Romans chapter 4? Just this, that the main question of chapter 4 is who is in Abraham? Paul believes that the “promise” made to Abraham, the really critical one, is that all the nations will be blessed “in” Abraham; that is all nations will participate in Abraham’s blessing and thus benefit from Abraham’s faith. “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” but it was not just reckoned to him as an individual person, it was reckoned to everyone who was “in” Abraham. The point that Paul is making is that the promise was made to Abraham before he was circumcised and therefore the promise applies to both Jew and Gentile. These words also apply to all of us; we who believe in God who raised Jesus from the dead – we too are reckoned righteous; we too are children of Abraham and feed upon his faith.