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Abraham’s Faith Anchors Both Eschatology and Duty

Abraham’s vision for the future shaped how he walked, and we must adopt the faith of Abraham in its fullness when looking into Scripture.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
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Abraham’s vision for the future shaped how he walked. He casts his long shadow across eschatology as well. And it is at the intersection of the first and last books of the Bible that we start to grasp how faith is focused upon the Kingdom, the city of God. Dr. R. J. Rushdoony helps us navigate the highway between Abraham and the book of Revelation. Consider his two comments:

As a book for sight, Revelation becomes a frustration; as a book for faith, it becomes a joy and a comfort.1
It is a mark of the church’s decline in our time that too little is made of Abraham and his faith.2

A reversal of that decline would require renewed respect for, and adoption of, the faith of Abraham, especially as it relates to its object: the city of God. This would put our understanding of Revelation and eschatology on a more proactive basis.

When Abraham came to “the land of promise,” he dwelled there in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were “heirs with him of the same promise” (v. 9). All “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (v. 10). They were promised more than a land for themselves: they expected a new society founded on God’s law and word, and it was this they longed for. This new city or social order would be the reverse of the Tower of Babel: its purpose would be, not the glory of man, but the glory of God.3

The relevance of Abraham’s walking by faith and not by sight is reflected in how Christians approach the book of Revelation: for some it opens up new avenues of active service for the Kingdom’s enlargement, while others become culturally paralyzed by it.

[But] for too many people, the purpose of any reading of Revelation is to enable them to walk by sight … But the calling of the Christian is to walk by faith, and the purpose of Revelation is to strengthen us against the enemy, prepare us to do battle, and to walk in the faith that our Lord will triumph, that the great work He has begun, He will accomplish.4
But Revelation makes clear that the kingdom is now, and that, not by evading conflict, responsibility, and suffering, but by assuming it, do Christians and the Church gain their inheritance. Both compromise with the world and flight from it assume that Christ is impotent and that His kingdom is in the future and has no power today.5

We must adopt the faith of Abraham in its fullness when looking into Scripture. For this purpose, we will turn to Isaiah 51.

Isaiah 51: A Pivotal Scripture

In Isaiah 51, the righteousness and justice of God winds through the chapter, introducing Abraham and then taking us deep into the future.

Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people. My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust … Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. (Isa 51:1-5, 7).

Starting with those who follow after righteousness, we look from Abraham, then to the transformation of the wilderness into Eden and the desert into God’s garden, to a law proceeding from God whereby His judgment provides light, wherein those who know righteousness are “the people in whose heart is my law,” viz., those who need not fear men nor their revilings.

Have I gratuitously steered this discussion into the field of ethics, of law, without warrant? Schilder’s comments on Isa. 28:9-10 captures that same objection against Isaiah himself:

The … priests and prophets united themselves in a witty, yet hideous, reproach that Isaiah actually was only a very unfortunate teacher of ethics. For from his mouth nothing else proceeded but cowardly and molesting morality sermons … Thus [they] bemoaned themselves that Isaiah allowed prophecy to decline into moral lessons: commandment upon commandment, precept upon precept, today this and tomorrow that.6

We propose to take Isaiah at his word. Let’s dig deeper to see where he takes us.

The Meaning of Righteousness (mishpat) in Isaiah 51

Both before and after putting the focus on Abraham (Isa. 51:2), Isaiah focuses on the mishpat, the righteous judicial requirements, of God in verses 1, 5, and 6 (where the word appears in both masculine and feminine forms). George Adam Smith says of verse 1,

The loyal Israelites fall back to doubt themselves. They see with dismay how few are ready to achieve the freedom that God has assured, and how small and insignificant a group of individuals the future of the nation depends. But their disappointment is not made by them an excuse to desert the purpose of Jehovah: their fewness makes them the more faithful, and the defection of their countrymen drives them the closer to their God. “Righteousness” here is more probably used in the outward sense … of vindication and victory: the “coming right” of God’s people and God’s cause in the world, their justification and triumph in history. They who are addressed will then be they who, in spite of their fewness, believe in this triumph, “follow it,” make it their goal and their aim, and “seek Jehovah,” knowing that He can bring it to pass.7

Here is a people serious about victory! Righteousness here doesn’t mean the personal character of the faithful, because “what troubles them is not that they are personally unrighteous, but that they are so few and insignificant. And what God promises them in answer is something external, the establishment of Zion.”8 Smith’s exposition of Isaiah 42 explains the meaning of mishpat:

“mishpat” is not only the civic righteousness and justice ... On the one hand it is conterminous with national virtue, on the other it is the ordinance and will of God. This, then, is the burden of the Servant’s work, to pervade and instruct every nation’s life on earth with the righteousness and piety that are ordained of God. “He shall not flag nor break, till he hath set in the earth Law.”—till in every nation justice, humanity, and worship are established as the law of God.
And the marvel of so universal and political an ideal was that it came not to a people in the front ranks of civilization or of empire, but to … a mere herd of captives, despised and rejected of men.9

Isaiah 51:16 gets particular attention by Smith:

The last verse of this reply is notable for the enormous extension which it gives to the purpose of Jehovah in endowing Israel as His prophet,—an extension to no less than the renewal of the universe,—“in order to plant the heavens and found the earth.”10

This is no surprise, given that Abraham was to be the heir of the world (Romans 4:13). We’re not to “look to Abraham” and then forget what we saw (cf. James 1:24). We are to look to Abraham to do the works of Abraham (John 8:39) and advance the Kingdom on earth.

The objection that there was no law or mishpat among the patriarchs has been ably refuted elsewhere.11

The Vision of Victory in the City of God

The early Christians saw the Kingdom’s advance clearly, as Westcott observes:

The thought of the Christian polis, politeia [city of God], which must be regarded on the one side as opposed to all earthly states and institutions, and on the other as absorbing and transforming them, finds frequent expression in early writers: Clem. Ad Cor. i. 2, 54; Polyc. 5; Herm. Sim. i. 1; Ep. Ad Diogn. 5; Clem. Al. Strom. iv.174.12

This confidence was not restricted to Christian writers:

The faith of Abraham is no less conspicuous in later Jewish teaching than in Christian teaching. He is said (Mechilta on Ex. 14:31, ap. Delitzsch l.c.) to have gained this world and the world to come by Faith. In this respect he is spoken of as a father of the Gentiles (Delitzsch, Brief an d. Römer, p. 80).13

The city which has foundations “is essentially comprehensive. It includes men as men, and places them in their due connection with Nature. This inherent universality of the Order … explains the silence of [Hebrews] on the call of the Gentiles.”14

“The city of the Great King” (Ps. 48:2; comp. Mt. 5:35) … tended to create a sense of spiritual fellowship offering the hope of an indefinite enlargement (Ps. 87).15

Lessons from the Rock Quarry

John the Baptist shocked the scribes and Pharisees when he said that “God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Klaas Schilder adds,

The Baptizer was proven right. Soon the heathens did come; they were attributed to Abraham. They did not have his blood, but they had his faith … One who is born again is exactly as great a wonder as a stone that becomes a man and is incorporated in the manhood of God’s election. No, he is an even greater wonder. For a stone does not resist life. A sinner does.16

Consider another possibility why the Baptist referred to making children from Abraham out of stones: he was aware of Isaiah 51:1-2 where Abraham is “the rock from whence ye are hewn.” God hews out children for Abraham: the imagery of rocks and stones may be intentional.

In that light, Jesus marveled at the faith of the centurion, a faith greater than any encountered in Israel, adding,

many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 8:11)

The centurion’s faith aligned him with no less a personage than the patriarch Abraham. But the supposed keepers of Israel’s faith (the seminarians of the age) would be “cast out into outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12). Similarly, “the Church of today also has the name of Abraham and the covenant. But if that is all she believes, she has fallen from Abraham and God.”17

A City that hath Foundations: Abraham’s Goal

The psalm that most extols the transnational nature of Zion opens with praise for its foundation: “His foundation is in the holy mountains … Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (Ps. 87:1, 3). What’s so glorious about Zion?

I will make mention of Egypt and Babylon as knowers of me. Behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia: this man was born there. And of Zion it shall be said, Each and every man is born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. (Ps. 87:4-5)18

This is, indeed, the city that hath foundations: the Kingdom of God into which by regeneration all living people will be born, so that the promise to Abraham would be fulfilled that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him.19

Abrahamic Faith versus Building the Prophets’ Tombs

Schilder expands on Luke 11:47-48 concerning those who “build the tombs of the prophets.”

Those prophets had left a last will and testament. They said, “Live and act in accordance to this testament and execute it.” But the Pharisees did not read those testaments, or if they did read them, they read them erroneously and explained them in a self-willed manner.20

Schilder indicts those who twist Scripture to avoid building anything which “the old prophets had instructed them to build.”21 Whatever labor they exerted was without value.

But if this labor is not a toiling by the light of the Word for growth and penetration of God’s eternal work from the past into our own present time, then we ourselves are like the tombs we build: whitewashed, but on the inside full of dry bones of the dead.22

The Faith of Abraham:It Lives Beyond Today

Dr. Rushdoony commented on an autobiography by Rolf Thomassen, “a cripple, a spastic. Neither his feet, hands, nor his tongue are under his control … He entered life with only a helpless body, but his heart and faith have been strong … His parents could not give their afflicted son a sound body, but they did give him a sound faith, and the results have been great accordingly.”23 Thomassen’s marvelous achievements are to be credited to his being able to live “beyond today,” adopting the orientation of Abraham to his circumstances. The message of Thomassen’s life resonates in light of Abraham’s example: “If the world disappoints us or cripples us, our hope is not ended … The man to be truly pitied is not Rolf Thomassen but the man who lives only for today. It is he who loses his life and is left desolate and crippled in the end.”24

1. Rushdoony, Rousas John, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1970]1998), p. 211.

2. Rushdoony, Rousas John, Hebrews, James & Jude (Vallecito, CA: Ross Hoss Books, 2001), p. 113.

3. ibid, p. 112.

4. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come, p. 211.

5. ibid

6. Schilder, Klaas, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh Vol. 4 (Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 2013), p. 731.

7. George Adam Smith in The Expositor’s Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books House, [1903] 1982), vol. 3, p. 827.

8. ibid, footnote with asterisk contradicting Dillman’s proposed interpretation.

9. ibid, p. 805.

10. ibid.

11. Bruckner, James K., Implied Law in the Abraham Narrative: A Literary and Theological Analysis / Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 335 (New York, NY: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001).

12. Brooke Foss Westcott, Commentary on Hebrews at Hebrews 11:10, Kindle.

13. ibid.

14. ibid.

15. ibid.

16. Schilder, Klaas, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh Vol 1 (Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 2013), p. 55.

17. Schilder, Vol. 1, p. 55.

18. The idiom “this man and that man” means “each and every man” and is translated this way at Esther 1:8.

19. “Cultural pessimists” argue that passages like Hebrews 13:14 (“here we have no lasting city”) absolve them of cultural responsibility. But “we must explain Heb. 13:14 in light of the prediction of Christ about the destruction of Jerusalem … We cannot permit ourselves to base our pessimism about culture on this text. How dangerous it is to adopt this manner of speaking.” Cf. Van Der Waal, C., The World Our Home: Christians Between Creation and Recreation (Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 2013), p. 35. This book examines Biblical texts used to “refute” cultural involvement: texts about deserts, pilgrims, strangers, aliens, etc., and is highly recommended.

20. Schilder, Klaas, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh Vol. 4 (Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 2013), pp. 652-653.

21. ibid, p. 653.

22. ibid.

23. Rushdoony, Rousas John, Good Morning, Friends Vol. 2 (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2018), p. 164-166.

24. ibid, p. 167.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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