by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 3 Study # 4 Lincolnton, NC December 6, 2005
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.
19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:
1901 ASV Translation:
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.
19 And without being weakened in faith he considered his own body now as good as dead (he being about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb;
I. Abraham "Became".
A. Here is where the rubber meets the road in terms of the promise of God and the participation of man.
1. On the one hand, the promise is worthless if it is not going to be fulfilled.
2. On the other hand, the promise will not be fulfilled in the face of unbelief.
B. The tension is real: man will not experience the benefit of promise if he does not believe the promise.
C. But the bottom line is that man's faith is ultimately in the hands of God.
1. The reality is that man's willingness to "believe", and his capacity to "believe", are both not merely seriously compromised, but "beyond man's glory". Romans 3:23 declares that man is bereft of the glory of God, not that he simply "falls short" of that glory. That does not mean that man is not, still, an "image" of his Creator -- though seriously marred -- but it does mean that the particular aspects of the glory of God that have to do with the production of righteousness are missing intheirentirety. Paul could not have been more clear in his quotation of multiple Old Testament texts in Romans 3:10-18 that man does not have the necessary "fear" ("There is no fear of God before their eyes"), the necessary "interest" ("There is none that seeketh after God"), nor the necessary "understanding" ("There is none that understandeth"), to have the consequential capacity to "trust God".
2. So, how does God make, and keep, promises to such men about such men? That God said to Abraham, "So shall thy seed be", means that God had already determined that He would take the issues of Abraham's identity "in hand" and do whatever it took to make His words true. Because this verse says that Abraham "became by faith", there can be no question that the creation of the "faith" was a part of God's job. Apparently, though man is bereft of the glory of God, he is also bereft of the of glory of Satan in the magnitude of his depravity. In other words, though man does not have the capacities for faith and fidelity, neither does he have the magnitude of hatefulness that precludes the generation of those capacities by a skilful Redeemer. The Scriptures warn of the "hardness" that comes about by "deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13) as well as of the presence of a ruthless adversary (1 Peter 5:8) who seeks to develop that hardness in others. They also warn of the inevitable, incipient, development of that hardness over time (1 Corinthians 11:32) in the life of the world in general (this is the message of Dispensationalism) as well as the individual lives of individuals who are passed over by the Redeemer. So, a skilful Redeemer, as One Who has authority over the "clay", can address the absence of the necessary "glory" in order to generate it. One of the most fundamental elements of the divine process is "Promise". God "addresses" the lack of "glory" by speaking. The divine capacity to "generate by speech" is well established by Genesis One. All of the elements involved in the generation of the capacities to will and to believe are well within the bounds of the unbounded, divine glory (Philippians 2:13). NOTE: There are those in the world who have passed beyond the possibilities of redemption, having already been hardened beyond recovery (Hebrews 6:6). There are also those in the household of the faith who are almost to that boundary of the point of no return -- who are going to be put to death by their faithful Redeemer because that is the only effective method of stopping their movement into the realms of eternal death (Go back and look again at 1 Corinthians 11:32).
3. Thus, the man who "believes" is the man who has come to the willingness to "give glory to God" (as Romans 4:20 describes Abraham), to not "seek glory from men" (as Romans 2:29 characterizes the truly circumcised), and actively destroys "boasting" (as Romans 3:27 reveals). It is no accident that Abraham is declared to be "justified by faith" in Genesis 15:6, but is not stretched out to the boundaries of what that means until Genesis 22. Hardness is not the only thing that incipiently develops; faith is also developed in the same manner.
II. The "In faith/by faith" Issue.
A. The same form of the phrase is found in both 4:19 and 4:20 and the same form is also followed in the negative phrase of 4:20, "through unbelief". The point is that Paul is using the "faith/unbelief" phrase consistently in the dative case, but the translators do not show that to us. The question for us is this: did Paul mean the same thing each time, or did he intend for his readers to follow a difference in his thought even though he used the same grammatical construction to express himself?
1. The first use of the phrase: "and being not weak in faith...".
a. The issue of "weakness" is expressed in an active voice, aorist participle of a verb that typically indicates physical infirmity and is used metaphorically here in respect to the non-physical realm of heart/mind conviction.
1) The use is instructive. The term signals a condition of the body in which the conflict over which will exercise dominion (the forces of life, or the invading forces of death) is being won by the invaders. The body is "weak" -- i.e., it cannot throw off the illness while it is having to spend its energy and resources doing other things. But, the body is efficiently self-protective: it will take energy away from the components of the body which have little to do with helping to destroy the invaders and divert it to the marshalling of the forces of defense. But, this is a death process if the invaders get the upper hand as the body will continue to rob the energy from its components until one or more of them collapse and the body cannot function any longer.
2) The use in describing Abraham spills this meaning into the picture: Abraham was being invaded by "destroyers" who marched under the banner of "unbelief". Paul's declaration was that Abraham was unaffected by the invasion: he was not weak "in the realm of faith". The "immunity" to "unbelief" had been created over time as his "faith" was built through earlier invasions of unbelief to the point where such an invasion was overwhelmed pretty much as soon as it was launched.
b. Paul's use of this metaphor reveals that he has the "locative" force of the dative in mind: Abraham was not weak in the realm of faith.
2. The second use of the phrase: "he did not waver through unbelief".
a. The term translated "waver" generally means "to be stymied into inaction by the inability to decide which of two (or more) things is true."
1) The picture of the word is that of one who has a task before him that has the serious question of "possibility" in attendance and the person chooses to go with the "it is not possible" option -- denying all available forms of power.
2) Beneath this "choice" aspect of the term, there is the reality that there is at least some "mental arguing" going on in which the pros and cons are considered and the "cons" are permitted to carry the decision. Thus, the word is translated "able to discern"...the person has the ability to do the mental arguing.
3) The preponderance of uses is in the realm of allowing the wrong set of concepts to have the determinative weight in the decision.
b. The word "waver" is a poor choice. The idea is not that someone "wavers", but that someone "throws in the towel". There is such a thing as "wavering" and then recovering and there is such a thing as "wavering" and then being overwhelmed. The majority use of the term is the latter; thus my claim that "waver" is the wrong idea. The idea is "to give up".
c. Thus, Paul's use of the dative form of "unbelief" means "he did not choose to go with the arguments that exist in the realm of unbelief".
3. The third use of the phrase: "he waxed strong in faith."
a. This third use has the verb translated "waxed strong" is the passive voice. Interestingly, the translators almost invariably ignore the fact that it is "passive" and do as they have here: act like it is "active". But, this is an error in judgment. The point is not that Abraham was responsible for becoming strong, but that he had been subjected to tests of faith over and over with increasing levels of "onslaught" so that his "faith immunity" was built up over time to be able to withstand the attack.
b. The aorist tense indicates that the "strengthening" had already occurred and he was now in the position to take God at His word without submitting to the "counter-arguments" of "unbelief" as they were presented in the form of the deadness of both his own body and that of Sarah's womb.