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The Hundred-Seventy-Ninth (Romans Part 8)

I hope this week was an easy one for you, and if not, I hope you get a chance to rest this weekend!  What better way to start your weekend than with continuing our study of Paul's letter to the believers in Rome?  Last week, we looked at the first half of chapter 4, so let's finish off that chapter this week.  As we hinted at last week, Paul continues talking about Abraham for the rest of the chapter.

Starting with verse 13, Paul really digs into YHWH's promise to Abraham.  He is talking about the promise that is recorded in Genesis 22:17, where YHWH says Abraham's descendants will "possess the gates of their enemies."  If we look over at Paul's letter to the Galatians, we find that while this verse says "descendants" in some translations, it's actually referring to one descendant: Yeshua (Galatians 3:16).  The basis for Paul's statement is that the form of the word used is singular in that sentence vice plural, and it makes sense because there are other places where the term "seed" (which is what most translations use) references Yeshua (Genesis 3:15).  

The other interesting part about this reference is that where the verse says "possess," the Hebrew word yarash is used, which is also used to mean "inherit."  This is in line with scripture telling us we have inheritance through Yeshua (Ephesians 1:11), and Yeshua telling us people like the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).  Paul's point in verse 13 is that this promise was not made with YHWH's Law involved.  It was made because of Abraham's faith, as we saw last week.

If we look at the next verse, we find something that people tend to take out of context.  They like to look at this verse and think that Paul is saying if you live by the Law then your faith is worthless, but that's not true.  He's saying that if someone that is counting on the Law is considered an heir, then our faith is worthless in terms of giving us righteousness because in order to be an heir you have to be righteous and if you are able to follow the Law and be righteous then you don't need faith.

The NIV translation is a great one for this verse because it says if those who depend on the Law are heirs, rather than saying "obey the Law" or "live by the Law."  Going back to Paul's letter to the Galatians, we can use it to help fill out this picture (Galatians 3:15-18).  In it, Paul again talks about Abraham and this promise like he does to the church in Rome.  

He explains that the promise was not cancelled by the Law, and the Law didn't suddenly become the terms required for the promise to be fulfilled.  Especially when it was given 430 years after the promise was made.  It was faith in YHWH that led the Israelites to follow the commandments given, however over time, the focus shifted over to the Law rather than the promise YHWH made to Abraham and his faith.  Presumably, this occurred because it's easier for us to focus on something tangible, like the Law, rather than something intangible, like faith.

The next verse, 15, is another one that confuses people.  When you look at 1 Thessalonians 5:9, a letter co-written by Paul, it says believers are not appointed to wrath but to salvation through Yeshua.  This seems to give the impression that if the Law brings wrath, and we aren't appointed to wrath, we should not follow the Law.  This is not in context with what Paul is saying to the Romans, though.  As we saw in the previous verse, he's saying that if you depend on the Law for righteousness and subsequently you are not able to keep every part of it perfectly, then that transgression results in wrath, in various forms, according to the Law.

Paul then brings it back to the fact that whether you came from the belief that following the Law gave righteousness (like the Jews believed) or if you just came to have faith like Abraham (as all the formerly-Gentile believers did), Abraham is your father and as a result you are included in YHWH's promise to him and his descendants.  Paul's once again trying to bring Jewish and non-Jewish believers together by understanding that they both have faith in the One that matters: Yeshua.  Yes, the Jewish culture over time transitioned their faith in YHWH to faith in YHWH's commandments, but it was always intended to be faith in YHWH that set His people apart, and the Law is simply amplifying instructions, meant to remind His people what is right and what is wrong.  And the delineation between right and wrong has not changed over time.

Over the next few verses, Paul recounts the significance of Abraham's faith given his circumstances, quoting from the Torah as support.  At 100, Abraham was old, and it didn't seem like Sarah was even able to get pregnant.  They had not had success at getting pregnant until she reached the age of 90, which would turn out to only be about 40 years before she died.    

Can you imagine that?  We always think, "oh, they lived to be a lot older back then," but Sarah died at 127 years old, and Abraham died at 175 (he was 100 when Sarah gave birth).  For Sarah, she wasn't much older when she died than some who have died in recent history.  Jeanne Calment, for example, lived for about 122 and a half years, from February 1875 to August 1997.  So yes, Sarah was similar in actual body condition to 90 year old women you see around today.  It wasn't like the days of Methuselah or Adam, when being 90 you were like a spring chicken!  And not only did she give birth, but YHWH ensured she survived childbirth despite the condition of her body.

This is a lesson in faith to everyone, and is exactly why Paul emphasized it.  To Abraham and Sarah, having a child was hopeless.  In desperation, she even had Abraham have a child with her handmaiden, a lapse in judgment obviously, so he could at least have some offspring as an heir.  But their hopelessness ended up being offset by their faith in YHWH's word that they would have a child together.

This faith is the kind of faith we should strive to have.  In verses 23-25, Paul points out that Abraham's situation, and the status of his righteousness, was not recorded just for Abraham, but for us as well.  When you look at the world and the state of affairs, it seems hopeless.  Economic disaster on the horizon, a small group of people controlling the world and trying to create a universal government, evil is everywhere tempting people to commit various sins and succeeding the majority of the time, and the future seems uncertain.

We can read about our Yeshua's ministry, His message, His death and resurrection, and therefore His promise, but we didn't actually see it or hear it ourselves, did we?  Well, Abraham and Sarah didn't see themselves getting pregnant and giving birth before it happened, either.  All they had was YHWH's word, and that's the thing we have as well, in the form of scripture.  In fact, you may even say that we have it one better since we have the record given by His word made flesh, Yeshua (John 1:14).

It's easy to say things were different during Old Testament times, but the truth is people haven't changed much, if at all, over time.  If you place yourself in Abraham or Sarah's shoes and try to imagine how you would feel and react, you will likely come very close to their experience.  So, focus on trying to grow your faith into that comparable with Abraham.  Your faith is what leads to righteousness.

Shabbat shalom and YHWH bless you! 

-Rob and Sara Gene

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