Abraham and His Household: Chosen by God
Genesis 18:18-19 (text); Acts 16:31-34 * Download this sermon (PDF)
Trinity Covenant Reformed Church (Imus, Cavite) * June 8, 2014
Congregation of Christ: Our text this morning is part of a long narrative of events leading to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19. The LORD first appears to Abraham “by the oaks at Mamre” to confirm his promise of a covenant son and to announce the impending judgment against Sodom. Alas! Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family live in Sodom, so Abraham intercedes for Sodom. But Abraham’s mediation fails because there were not even ten righteous people in Sodom, so the LORD rescues Lot and his family before he destroys Sodom.
But before the LORD executes his judgment on Sodom, he asks himself, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Gen 18:17) God says yes, Abraham has to be informed since he chose him and made covenant promises to him that he “shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Gen 18:18). Abraham showed much hospitality to the LORD and his two companions, having just served them food and drink. He had just spoken with the LORD about his covenant promises. James even says that he was called “a friend of God” (Jas 2:23). So even if God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he will still fulfill his promise to Abraham, who was his chosen instrument to bless all the nations of the earth.
In choosing Abraham to be his instrument of blessing to the nations, the LORD reveals two reasons why he was chosen: first, To Receive the Promise; and second, To Command His Household to Keep the Way of the LORD.
Chosen to Receive the Promise
In Genesis 12:1-3, God revealed to Abram that he was chosen by God to bless him because he will be the father of “a great nation” and to be the instrument to bless “all the families of the earth.” The LORD commanded Abram to leave his country, Ur of the Chaldees (present-day Iraq), and go to the land that the LORD would show him.
But Abram’s wife Sarah was barren, and years later, in Genesis 15, he was worried that they were still childless. So the LORD again came to Abram in a vision, promising him children as numerous as the stars of heaven. Abram believed the LORD, and it was “counted to him as righteousness” (verse 6). God revealed one more promise to him, that he will give Abram the land of his sojournings, and in a covenant ritual, God promised to give Abram and his descendants the vast land between the Nile River and the Euphrates River (verses 7-21).
Again, years passed, and still no covenant child. When Abram was 99 years old and his wife Sarah was 75 years old, the LORD again appeared to him, to reaffirm his covenant promises of a multitude of descendants a land wherein they would settle. This time, the LORD gave him a sign of his covenant: “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you… throughout your generations” (Gen 17:11-12).
The following year, when Abraham was a hundred years old, Isaac was born, and to Isaac was born twins, Esau and Jacob. Like Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, only one of the twins, Jacob, was the child of promise, as Paul says in Romans 9:13 (cf Mal 1:2-3), “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Jacob bore 12 sons, and his whole household of 70 people moved to Egypt during the great famine when one of his own sons, Joseph, was the prime minister there.
But 70 people was not even close to the number of the stars in heaven or the sands on the seashore, as God has promised Abraham. However, 430 years later, Moses writes about the explosion of Abraham’s descendants in Egypt, “But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exo 1:7). Even during the time of Solomon, Israel’s number was “as the sand by the sea for multitude” (2 Sam 17:11). God fulfilled this portion of his promise.
What about the promise of all the land between the Nile River in Egypt and the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia? Forty years after the Hebrews escaped Egypt, they came into the land, conquered the nations there, and each tribe settled in its own inheritance. At the conclusion of the conquest of the Promised Land when all Israel has rested from their battles, Joshua summarizes what God has fulfilled for Israel:
Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers… Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Jos 21:43-45).
These two promises””innumerable descendants and a land of inheritance””having been accomplished, one last promise has to be fulfilled, wherein God originally said, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3; 18:18). The LORD repeats this promise to Isaac (Gen 26:4) and to Jacob (Gen 28:13; 35:11-12). 1
From this multitude of Abraham’s descendants, God promised an “Offspring” who will inherit the Promised Land (Gen 12:7). This single descendant will also conquer “his enemies” (Gen 22:17). A thousandÂ years later, God again confirms his covenant promise, this time to Israel’s King David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom… I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:12-13).
In the fullness of time, Jesus the Son of God, was born. He is also called the Son of Abraham and the Son of David. As the Seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, he crushed the head of the ancient serpent, conquering his enemies. He was the “Seed,” the “Offspring” of Abraham, who is Christ (Gal 3:16).
How then is this oath to Abraham fulfilled in Jesus Christ? Paul says that all those who have faith in Christ alone are children of Abraham and are blessed along with Abraham:
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith (Gal 3:7-9).
Gentiles who believe in Christ are also Abraham’s children! And these multitudes of believers are now found in all the nations of the earth! Now all of God’s promises to Abraham””unnumbered descendants; the heavenly Mount Zion, the church; and the blessing of all the earth”” are being truly fulfilled in Christ.
But for what purpose did God choose to covenant with Abraham and not another?
Chosen to Command His Household to Keep the Way of the LORD
A quick sweep of redemptive history in all of Scripture yields a common thread: when God makes a covenant with someone, he does not make a covenant with him alone. The covenant is always with him “and his children after him.” And the one with whom God is making covenant always represents his descendants.
Adam represented all his descendants, namely, the whole humanity from beginning to end, in his covenant-breaking act, so that all humanity sinned with him (Rom 5:12, 18). Noah was like Adam who represented all humanity after him when God commanded him to be fruitful and multiply after the flood, also promisingÂ to restrain judgment against the world until the last day (Gen 9:1, 8-17). After God covenanted with Abraham, he covenanted with Israel through Moses the mediator of the old covenant, “you and your children… [the LORD will circumcise] your heart and the heart of your offspring” (Deu 30:2, 6). With David, God promised an offspring who would be on his throne forever (2 Sam 7:12).
In the new covenant, the LORD promises his people, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Ezk 36:26). But this covenant promise is also given to the children of the covenant, “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them” (Jer 32:39). This new covenant promise is the fulfillment of God’s command and promise to Abraham, “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen 18:19).
Notice that the command-promise was to Abraham and his household. Did his children belong to his household? Absolutely! In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “household” is oikos, the same word that is used in the “household baptisms” in the New Testament. What else can “household” mean except the whole family, plus whoever lives in the house?
This covenant principle, commonly called the “oikos principle,” is carried over into the accounts of the baptisms of whole households in the New Testament. But most evangelicals, when confronted with these household baptisms, argue that only after the members of the household believed that they were baptized. They also counter that the Bible is silent whether or not there were children in these households. But the accounts do not necessarily say so.
In Acts 16:14-15, we read about the conversion of Lydia and the baptism of her household, “she was baptized, and her household as well.” The text does not mention that any others in her household believed. In fact, she mentions only herself as a believer, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” The next event mentioned is in Acts 16: 30-34, when the Philippian jailer believed, “and he was baptized at once, he and all his family… And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” He and all his family were baptized, even though it says only he had believed.
Then in Acts 18:8, we read of two implied household baptisms because the head of the households believed. One was in Acts 18:8, where “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” Another one was in 1 Corinthians 1:16, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas.”
Notice that in these accounts, the word used to connect the household members in faith is “with”: the jailer believed “along with his entire household”; Crispus believed “together with his entire household.” Contrast this with the use of “and” as the connecting word used for baptism: Lydia “was baptized, and her household as well”; the jailer “was baptized at once, he and all his family.” The head always believes “with” the whole household; but always, he/she “and” the household are baptized. Therefore, the use of the word “with” to connect the head of household with his/her household in faith in these instances includes members””whether adults or young children””passively joining in the activity of faith. 2
In addition to these household baptisms, five additional aspects of infant baptism may be noted. First, since the Book of Acts is about the missionary ventures of the early church, it contains stories only of adult converts baptized after believing. After all, this is precisely what the so-called Great Commission is all about: evangelizing unbaptized adult converts. And based on believers’ only baptism, there must have been thousands of children who grew up in these households who professed faith later as a teen or adult, and then were baptized. But there is not even a single case of this kind of baptismÂ in the 60-70 years between Pentecost and the completion of the New Testament.
Second, Paul says that children of at least one believing parent are considered as “holy”(1 Cor 7:14), the same word he uses in addressing the church in Corinth as “those sanctified in Christ” and “saints” (1 Cor 1:2). After Israel was called out of Egypt, the covenant LORD set them apart as his “own treasured possession” and as a “holy nation” (Exo 19:6). Incidentally, God called them “holy” even thoughÂ only a small fraction of them were true believers. If the children of Christian parents are not set apart in water baptism, are they not also to be considered outside of God’s covenant community, and are therefore pagans? This is why J. C. Ryle says that without circumcision, Jesus “would have been regarded by all Jews as nothing better than an uncircumcised Gentile.” 3
Third, why are children of believers in Ephesians 6:1-3 addressed together with all those Paul calls “saints” (holy ones) in Ephesians 1:1? (see also Col 3:20; 1:2) Why would Paul instruct children of believers to “obey your parents in the Lord” if they are pagans outside of the covenant?
Fourth, if the apostles refused to baptize the circumcised little children of Jewish converts, why is it that there was no howl of protest among them? Remember that these Jewish converts understood that their infants or little children are circumcised members of the old covenant people of God. Wouldn’t they have surely demanded that their children be baptized as members of the new covenant people, since they were circumcised members of the old covenant people? If this were the case, why isn’t there even a hint of explanation of this unthinkable change””a horror of horrors””to the Jews? There was absolute silence because their children were surely baptized by the apostles!
Fifth, many who disagree with infant baptism reply that the oikos principle is an argument from silence, since there may not have been any infants or young children in those households. But this silence is deafening! Since household baptism was the obvious pattern, there must have been thousands of household baptisms. Remember that on Pentecost Sunday alone, which we commemorate today, about 3,000 Jews believed, many of them heads of households. One must be out of his mind to suppose that there were no infants or little children in any of these thousands of households!
It is clear that the pattern of covenant solidarity of children with the head of household continues from the Old Testament to the New Testament. So one writer even favors the term “oikobaptism” (household baptism) over “paedobaptism” (infant or children baptism), because many people misunderstand paedobaptists as those who baptize only children, not adults. 4
Beloved Friends: Today is a joyful occasion in our church, as we witnessed the application of the covenant sign and seal of water baptism to one of our children. But as our text says, Abraham was chosen by the LORD to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth “that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.”
Abraham had a great responsibility towards his children, and his children towards their own, throughout their generations. Since God is righteous and just, righteousness and justice are two demands brought by Isaiah and other prophets on God’s people, but to no avail. They did not heed God’s demands and did not teach their children the same, which finally led to their exile.
Like the old covenant people, you are to “teach [all the commandments of the LORD] diligently to your children” (Deu 6:7). After Jesus fulfilled all the righteousness and justice demanded by the Law, he offered himself on the cross for the sin of unrighteous and unjust sinners like us. There, he washed away all your sin with his own blood.
After he rose from the grave, Jesus also commanded his apostles to “[teach] them to observe all that I have commanded you… to the end of the age” (Mat 28:20).
This is why we have catechism classes for your children, and also for adults. Because you must not depend on the church to teach your children. And this is also why Paul echoes this command-ment to parents, to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Teaching your own children is primarily your ownÂ responsibility.
Let this be a reminder to all of us””parents and children””as we meditate upon the promises God made to us in our own baptisms.
- This is very much contrary to dispensationalists’ assertion that the promises to Abraham are still to be fulfilled. ⇧
- For a fuller treatment of this idea, see Dr. James W. Scott,Â “Saving Faith and Infant Baptism,”Â New HorizonsÂ 4/1992. Accessed June 5, 2014. ⇧
- J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke Volume I, Banner of Truth Trust, 1986, p. 62. ⇧
- William Shishko, “A Better Case for ‘Infant Baptism,’” New Horizons 3/2008. Accessed June 6, 2014. ⇧