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Footsteps of the Flock (Part 3)

Author, expositor, preacher and missionary John Matthias Davies (1895-1990), whose collected writings span nearly 1,500 pages, was mightily used of God to bring blessing to those who heard him and those who still read his works. His exceptional gift for effective and powerful exposition of the Word of God was never more clearly seen than in his “Footsteps of the Flock” book, chapter 3 of which is reproduced below. 

Footsteps of the Flock

Part 3

Abraham “the father of all them that believe” (Gen 12:1-3)

The record of the life of Abraham in Genesis and the important lessons drawn from that life for God’s people today, as seen in the New Testament, make it necessary that we should consider the instruction the Lord would thereby impart to His own relative to their path.

Abraham is spoken of as the “father of all them that believe”, and we are told to “walk in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham”(Rom 4:11-12). Hence his call and separation are a pattern for all believers. It will help us if we group a few of the important lessons from “that which was written for our learning” under four simple heads:

1. The Compelling Power of his Separation

“The God of glory appeared unto Abraham” (Acts 7:2)
“He looked for a city that hath foundations” (Heb 11:9)

To bring about such a radical change with such tremendous consequences for himself and for his family and all his posterity, there must have been some adequate cause. There must have been some constraining power to enable him to leave his own city, the Ur of the Chaldees, his own people, and go in obedience to the word, not knowing whither he was going. This motive and propelling power is found in the verses quoted. A glory greater than all the glory of Babylon had dawned upon him. The God of glory had appeared to him. He had caught a glimpse of the city that hath foundations and that had so eclipsed the glory of Babylon that that of Babylon was no glory to him now. The word “looked” in Heb 11:9, is the same as that in James 5:17, translated “waiteth”, and also that in Hebrews 10:13 translated “expecting”. Abraham waited for and expected that city.

This must ever be the power behind a separated life. Only in the measure we look upon things unseen and eternal shall we be enabled to set aside earthly things. Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward and he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. Of our Lord we read that “for the joy set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame.” To be able to say “We see Jesus crowned…” and look with unveiled face upon His glory should result in a transformed life, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

“Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of the earth shall grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.”

2. The Character of His Separation

Of Abraham it may well be said that “God separated him.” The Lord had said to him, “Get thee out” (Gen 12:1). Thus he had the definite word of God to follow, the definite command to obey. He was also told “Come into the land…” (Acts 7:3) so that his path of separation was a walk in fellowship with God. Then in his words to the servant who was going to get a bride for Isaac he said “God took me out…” (Gen 24:7). This, coupled with “God brought me out” (Gen 15:7), would give us to understand that it was the power of God that enabled him to walk in that path. And in Genesis 12 and other portions there are recorded the promises that the Lord gave him to encourage him to walk in that strange path. So that Abraham had the Precepts, Power and Promises of God to assure him that he was in the right path.

It is important to note the dispensational significance of the call of God to Abraham. Noah was the 10th man from Adam, and in his day was the flood. God’s day of grace had lasted 10 generations, but it came to an end. With Noah and his family on the Mount of Ararat commences a new dispensation. This lasted for another ten generations, when another judgment came to pass. Romans 1:19-28 records the history and judgment of that dispensation. This synchronises with the call of Abraham, for he was the tenth man from Noah. Hence when the Lord gave command to Abraham to leave his country and kindred, it was a command to leave that which God had “given up”. “Wherefore God also gave them up” we are told. Seeing God had abandoned them it was only right that Abraham should leave them too. But until God had given them up, Abraham had no divine authority to leave them. This is highly important. To leave something which God has not given up is to be lacking in the grace of God to bear with one another. The scriptures are very clear that once the Lord takes up a people He is very reluctant to give them up. “How shall I give thee up Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee Israel” (Hos 11:8).

His separation was to be threefold, and they have their counterpart in the New Testament. He was to leave his country, which would represent Political Separation. As has been mentioned above, God had given up the Gentile world and now He was choosing Abraham out of the idolatrous multitude (Josh 24:2). He was to understand that he was to be separate from a condemned world. He was not to be occupied in building up that which God had doomed to judgment. Yet how many there are who profess to be the spiritual sons of Abraham today who are busily engaged with political matters. Whereas the scripture says that our conversation (or politics) is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour. Some years back much was made of patriotism, but what the church needs is true christian patriots, believers whose one aim and ambition it is to further the interests of the country of which grace has made them citizens (Phil 3:9).

Secondly, he was told to “Leave thy kindred”, which was Social separation. This was more difficult than to leave his country, and many to whom it is very little or no trial to have nothing to do with the political world find it difficult not to conform to the world’s way and fashions. Yet the “way of holiness” that the redeemed are to walk in is no broader than the gate by which they entered. “Straight is the gate and narrow is the way.” Surely modesty of dress should characterise the believer, but some of the present day fashionable things are an abomination. “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of the mind” is an injunction we do well to ponder in the presence of the Lord, for He weighs the path of the just.

Thirdly, “Leave thy Father’s house”Ecclesiastical Separation. To some it may seem that we are introducing something into this portion by saying that it refers to ecclesiastical separation. But in his father’s house there would be a good many idols which he would have to worship if he chose to stay there (c.f. Josh 24:14). He would have no liberty to worship the true God in his Father’s house, hence the call of God to leave it in order that he might have liberty to worship in accordance with the demands of God’s word to him. Many there are who claim liberty to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, but this is a false guide. Saul of Tarsus served God in all good conscience prior to his conversion, but it was an unenlightened conscience. Later on he spoke of his conscience bearing witness in the Holy Ghost”. The conscience needs the enlightenment of the Spirit of God. It was the shekel of the sanctuary that was the divine standard in the Old Testament, and the Word of God will be that by which we shall be judged when we stand before Him. Hence it is important that we should be guided by it today. The separated man must be separated from the false ecclesiastical systems of the day in order that he might have liberty to worship in accordance with the pattern of the New Testament.

“…to a land that I will show thee.” The Lord would no only have Abraham separated from the condemned scene around him, but he would have him in the land that God had appointed for him. This is God’s ideal. But Abraham tarried in Haran till Terah his father died. He had partially fulfilled, he had set out to obey, but had stopped half way. While at Haran we do not read of any altar having been erected or of the Lord manifesting Himself to him, although we do read of the “souls that he had gotten in Haran.” And it is so easy to stay halfway, believing the Lord would have us stay there because He has graciously granted blessing in souls being saved, whereas the word is clear that such a place is only the second best for us.

God would have us go on in the path of obedience, and make progress in the path of faith. It was when Abraham reached Bethel that we read of him building the altar, and of the Lord manifesting Himself to him confirming the promises given to him before he started from Ur of Chaldees. The path of obedience to the known will of God is the only secret of knowing more of that will.

3, The Conflicts of the Path

It was not long before it was apparent to Abraham that in the path of separation and obedience to the word of God lay times of severe testing. “There was a famine in the land” (Gen 12:10). This is the first recorded in Scripture. Isaac had a similar test (Gen 26). A famine may represent a period of testing calculated to cast the believer upon the Lord, and as in the case of Abraham may come without any apparent his cause in the individual. A famine also represents a time of testing intended to bring sin to remembrance as with Joseph’s brethren (Gen 42:22), and with the slaying of the Gibeonites by Saul (2 Sam 21:2), or with the prodigal son (Luke 15). Yet the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him to keep them alive in famine (Psa 33:19). But Abraham failed, forsook his place and went down to Egypt. What sad consequences there were to that departure from God’s path. Hagar was taken into the tent and that led to his second fall. One failure leads to another of a more serious character.

To find barrenness in the place that God’s word has put us is not an easy test, but yet a very common one. Sometimes it comes as a surprise to us, and we are prone to wonder if we are where the Lord would have us be, but it is good to be guided by scripture rather than by circumstances.

“There was strife…” If a barren condition is hard to bear, contention amongst those who profess to be walking in the same path is harder. This ugly enemy would hardly have been expected to show its head so soon. Lot was Abraham’s nephew and had left his country to go with Abraham. They were two relatives and two fellow-pilgrims, and one would have thought that Lot would have been prepared to sacrifice anything for the sake of the fellowship of the man of faith. But the man who takes to the path of separation by going with another, without having counted the cost himself and seemingly without any recorded dealing with God about the matter, will not count the fellowship of his brethren dear. He will sacrifice the pilgrim walk for earthly gain on the least temptation. Was there any self-seeking there? Had Lot at one time thought that he would be the heir to all of Abraham’s wealth, and had he been disappointed when afterwards he found that there was going to be a seed given to Abraham? Desire for place and disappointment at not getting it – has it note been the cause why some have returned or turned aside? May we have no desire but for His glory. In the path of obedience to the word of God the difficulties that Abraham had to encounter seem to have been mainly associated with those of his own family. First his father hindered him, then his nephew harassed him, and afterwards his wife hurried him. The flesh will always seek to put obstacles in our path of allegiance to the word of God. When it fails to hinder us, and this will only be when we take our place in death, for it was the burial of his father that made it possible for Abraham to continue in his path, it will seek to harass us in one way or another in order to drive us from our inheritance. Failing that it will seek to hurry us on unduly to seek to do the things of God in a carnal manner (cf. John 7:3-4). Having begun in the Spirit it will seek to get us to be perfected in the energy of the flesh. This will make us legal, but legalism only produces proud Ishmaels that love to mock the sons of the promise.

But after the famine was ended and strife ceased, Abraham’s conflicts were not over. Time and again he was called upon to renounce what seemed to be his own rights, until at last he was called upon to give up his only son Isaac. God would engrave “death”and “judgment” upon everything that was of nature and of self. The path that he was called to walk in was a path contrary to nature, the path of crucifying self in all its varied forms and manifold workings. This is the hard lesson to learn, for we seem to be so dull of hearing.

4. The Compensations of a Separated Path

For one hundred years Abraham walked this path, pitching his tent from place to place and establishing his altar. Hence if there are any compensations it would be well to examine them. “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up the Cross.” But if “for His sake we have given up houses…we shall receive a hundredfold even in this life.”

God revealed Himself to him. The plains of Mamre witnesses 7 scenes of communion between the Lord and Abraham. Each manifestation was accompanied with some added revelation of God’s purposes in grace towards him. Thus he increased in the knowledge of God. Such conscious communion with the Lord is not to be underestimated.

God made him a blessing to his family (Gen 18:19). How different to Lot, who was saved as by fire, and that at terrible consequences to his family. His sons-in-law perished in the flames and his daughters disgraced him.

God made him a blessing to Lot (Gen 14:16; 18:29). The one to help backslidden Lot was separated Abraham. Abraham, being the one that was spiritual, sought to restore the one that was overtaken, even though it led through the valley of slime pits (Gen 14:1). But this vale of Siddim, full of slime pits, led to the King’s dale (Gen 14:17), where he was made the recipient of the blessing of Melchisedek, the priest of the Most High God; and to a further revelation of the Lord as “El-Elyon” – “the possessor of heaven and earth.” What a recompense for putting himself out a little for his brother. Later when fire from heaven was to fall upon Sodom, “God remembered Abraham and delivered Lot out of the midst of the overthrow.”

God made him a blessing to Abimelech the heathen king (Gen 20:17, 21:22-25). This was through prayer, through his life and through his testimony. It is the man that seeks to walk with God that has power with God for men, and power with men for God. Then let us be keen of vision to see, and strong of heart to desire the recompense of the reward. “Well done thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”