17 (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.
18 Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.
1901 ASV Translation:
17 (as it is written, A father of many nations have I made thee) before him whom he believed, even God, who giveth life to the dead, and calleth the things that are not, as though they were.
18 Who in hope believed against hope, to the end that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, So shall thy seed be.
I. Abraham's Fatherhood "of Us All".
A. The first issue is the fact that "it stands written" that Abraham was to be the father of many nations.
1. This is a consuming issue: it is recorded here as a parenthesis and it is then repeated again at the end of 4:18. The Word of God is the bottom line; what He says is what will prove to be.
a. The statement that "stands written" is that God "has made" (perfect tense, done deal) Abraham a father of many nations.
b. The point is that whatever God says defines reality for him that believes Him -- and the definitions of reality are what control our thoughts and choices.
1) But, as Genesis 12:11-20 and 20:1-18 reveal, the "control" is only real when the faith is. Romans 15:4 plays into this reality with significant weight.
2) It does not "compute" that Abram would pull this stunt twice; but he did. Nor does it "compute" that a ninety year old Sarah would be so sexually appealing that Abimelech would want her in his harem, but she was.
2. Between the two statements are two other issues:
a) that God both gives life to the dead and calls things that are not (as yet) as though they already are; and
b) that Abraham's response was "faith". The historical reality to date is this: Abraham did not personally experience the fulfillment of the promise in his entire earthly life.
B. What is really going on with the "Abraham is the father of us all" issue?
1. What did it matter to Abraham if he was to be a "father" at all, let alone to be the "father" of all.
a. At some point this is going to be fundamentally "T"heological: why did God create at all?
1) Is the "creative impulse" a fundamental attribute of Yahweh? Has He been doing this as long as He has existed?
2) That the creative impulse led to a major clash that was to be resolved so that participation in eternal life is possible means that participation in Life is as important as creating is -- perhaps more so.
b. In what way was Abraham's fixation on having a "son" an expression of the divine desire? How could having "one" son really address this?
c. How have men gotten so far away from God that they have no real desire to have children? Worse, how is it that we have no interest in pressing His agenda?
d. "Abram" became "Abraham"; but the underlying issue is still the same: what is it about "multiplying and filling the earth"?
2. There are two issues...
a. One is the issue of the "being a father at all" issue -- the question of a man's participation in the revealed/declared/written plans of God.
b. The other is the issue of "being the father of all" -- the fact of being an extremely major player in the plans of God.
3. There is one answer: Life consists in being a co-laborer together with Christ.
II. Abraham's "Faith".
A. Paul says that Abraham "believed" the God of the Promise in 4:17.
B. He then turns right around and says that he "alongside of hope and upon hope" believed.
1. These prepositions are highly significant (as we have seen in 1:17).
2. The "upon hope" phrase is found multiple times in the New Testament and signals a foundation "upon" which a matter rests.
3. The "alongside of hope" phrase is unique in this place in the New Testament. What does it signal?
a. "Against" most uses of "para", the translators seem to posit the notion that Abraham had to go "against" some form of "hope" (i.e., he had to go against what hope his experience had developed; a "hope" that was "hopeless" in terms of a son). The question is whether Paul is saying that Abraham had to "overcome" one kind of hope in order to "believe" upon the foundations of another kind of hope. This scenario is true. Abraham did have to do something with his "experience" and the "hopeless" hope that it had generated. The question, though, is not whether the scenario is true; the question is whether that is what Paul intended to say. Was he primarily interested in revealing how one must "pit" contrary hopes against each other, or was he primarily interested in revealing how Abraham "believed"?
b. It seems more likely that "anti" would have been used if Paul had meant to pit hope against hope.
c. The "para" issue seems to signal an "in the presence" concept where Abraham "believed in the presence of hope". In other words, "in the presence of hope, upon the foundation of hope", he "believed". Paul does bring the "contrary" circumstances up. The focus in the text is upon how Abraham did not "stagger" at the claims of the "reality" of his long-experience. But the Bible does not support the idea that "hope" is a negative thing. So, how did Abraham "believe"? He was able to do so because he was "in the presence of hope" and had, in specific revelation, concrete definitions of hope "upon which" he could "believe".
C. And then he declares that Abraham's ability to "become" what was promised was tied to the "believing". "He believed so that..."