A Pattern of Action for Pleasing God
WHAT does pleasing God mean to you? Are you one of many persons who say: “The religion of my parents is good enough for me,” or, “I was born in my religion and I’ll die in it”? Or have you put off taking action in the matter of religion until you have made your position secure in the world, or done some things you want to do first? Perhaps you have wondered whether it is of any value to be pleasing to God, to be a friend of his. Whatever your position, your life is too valuable for you to assume any of these attitudes when there is ample information available to enable you to be sure as to what action to take, with the happiest, most beneficial outcome in view.
A realistic pattern for us can be found in the life account of the man Abraham, one of the relatively few men in history who became friends of God. A consideration of the account will convince the honest inquirer that there is nothing that any man could work for that would begin to compare in value with the friendship of God. But one who wishes to have this valuable friendship must be willing to take action to obtain it, for God is a God of activity and he requires active obedience on the part of those who would please him.—Jas. 2:23.
Abraham was the tenth generation after Noah, descending through Noah’s faithful son Shem. Nimrod, the grandson of Ham and the first king of ancient Babylon, did not prove to be, as his followers had hoped, the seed promised in the garden of Eden who was to bruise the Great Serpent in the head. No, this seed was to come through the line of Shem, the only family line that is continued for generation after generation down through the books of the Bible, until it ends with the coming of the true Seed of God’s woman. This true seed proved to be the Son of Jehovah God.—Gen. 10:1; 11:10-26; Luke 3:23-38.
The Bible account opens with Abraham (who was then called Abram) living with his father in Ur of the Chaldeans, a very ancient city located in southern Babylonia. It became the capital of Sumer. The people of Sumer had many gods. But each city had its special god whom it considered to be its patron.—Gen. 11:28, 29.
Just as Marduk (Merodach) had come to be the god of the city of Babylon, so Sin was the city god of Ur. Sin was a moon-god, and was worshiped because the Babylonian year was a lunar year, making the moon very prominent in their calendar. He was considered to be the invisible lord of the city and its territory during peacetime and the leader of its army during wartime.
ABRAHAM ALOOF FROM BABYLONIAN RELIGION
Did this condition make Abraham’s situation comparable to our day? Yes, because, just as today, there were many gods and much religion of the false variety. Also, religion had much to do with politics—with the State, just as it has today. C. Leonard Woolley, in a book entitled “The Sumerians,” 1929 edition, pages 128, 129, comments:
In considering the priesthood we have to remember that the Sumerian state was essentially theocratic. The god of the city was in reality its king; the human ruler, patesi (governor) or king, was simply his representative—the ‘tenant farmer’ of the god. Civil and ecclesiastical offices were not clearly distinguished. The king or governor was himself a priest, in fact in the case of the patesi the religious aspect was the older and in early days the more important; . . . The deification of the Sumerian kings only carried to its logical conclusion the theory that they ruled in the name of god. Conversely the high priest of one of the larger temples was a person of great political importance and was often chosen from the royal house. Church and State were so inextricably mingled that while the State has to be regarded as a theocracy the Church must in part at least be judged as a political institution and the state religion as a political instrument.
It is likely, therefore, that Abraham’s father Terah participated in the city’s idolatry, inasmuch as Joshua 24:2 says to the Israelites: “It was on the other side of the River [Euphrates] that your forefathers dwelt a long time ago, Terah the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they used to serve other gods.”—See also Jos 24 verse 14.
Regardless of his father’s religious belief, Abraham (born 2018 B.C.E.) displayed faith in the God of Shem, who was still alive. The Christian martyr Stephen tells us that Abraham was in Ur when Jehovah commanded him: “Go your way out of your country and from your relatives and from the house of your father to the country that I shall show you; and I shall make a great nation out of you . . . and all the families of the ground will certainly bless themselves by means of you.”—Gen. 12:1-3; Acts 7:2-4.
It was a long trip northward from Ur to Haran on the Belikh River, sixty miles from where it joins the Euphrates. There Terah died and Abraham, now seventy-five years old, crossed the Euphrates into the land where descendants of Canaan, the uncle of Nimrod, lived. The date of this crossing was Nisan 14, 1943 B.C.E.—Gen. 12:4, 5; Ex. 12:40, 41.
ACTIVE IN SERVING GOD
Abraham was not inactive, but immediately began to call upon Jehovah and to declare his name to the inhabitants of that land. He and Lot, his orphaned nephew, whom childless Abraham had taken into the land with him, were cattle raisers. Finally they separated, Abraham, not materialistic, generously allowing Lot to choose the well-watered region in the Jordan valley, a place fruitful “like the garden of Jehovah.” In this region were the cities of the Plain, namely, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela or Zoar.—Gen. 12:8; 13:5-13; 10:19; 14:2, 8.
Early during Abraham’s stay in the land he proved himself a decisive, active fighter for true worship. For the five Canaanite kings in the area where Lot had settled joined in rebellion against King Chedorlaomer of Elam, a country east of Babylonia, who had held them in subjection for twelve years. In the fourteenth year, Chedorlaomer came with three other kings, including Amraphel, king of Shinar, to fight in the Low Plain of Siddim, near Sodom. The five Canaanite kings were beaten and Abraham’s nephew and fellow-worshiper Lot was picked up and taken back toward Shinar or Babylonia.—Gen. 14:1-12.
Abraham was living in a place called Mamre, near Hebron. On being informed of Lot’s capture, Abraham, who had left Shinar for good, certainly did not intend to let Lot be taken back if he could help it. So he mustered his 318 trained slaves and went in pursuit, accompanied by three confederates. This was no short pursuit of a few miles, but a long forced march up to Dan, more than a hundred miles north of Jerusalem and less than forty miles from Damascus. He was outnumbered, but with heavenly wisdom he divided his forces, defeated them and pursued them clear beyond Damascus, recovering all the goods and especially Lot his kinsman.—Gen. 14:13-16.
WORSHIPERS OF THE MOST HIGH GOD
Who was responsible for that victory? Genesis 14:18-20 tells us that, as Abraham marched back victorious toward Jerusalem, “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine, and he was priest of the Most High God. Then he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, Producer of heaven and earth; and blessed be the Most High God, who has delivered your oppressors into your hand!’ At that Abram gave him a tenth of everything.”
So true worship had not been introduced into the land by Abraham, for here we find a very important worshiper of Jehovah already there, in fact, the first priest or cohén mentioned in the Bible, this one being a priest of the one living and true God, at the same time being a king, with appointment from the Most High God himself. He was king of Salem. According to ancient Jewish and Christian understanding, Salem was the original part of what became Jerusalem. Thus at this ancient city Abraham met the cohén or priest of Jehovah sometime before 1933 B.C.E.—See Psalm 76:1, 2; 147:12.
Melchizedek was a descendant of the Flood-survivor Noah, a human worshiper of the Most High God, not a materialized angel. But the Bible does not plainly say that he was Noah’s son Shem, who was still alive. It purposely leaves out all information as to his ancestry, his descendants and his death so that he might serve as a prophetic picture or type of the promised Seed of God’s woman, who becomes the everlasting High Priest of the Most High God, to give the sacrifice that results in eternal salvation for mankind.
The greatness of this man is described by the apostle Paul at Hebrews 6:20 to 7:7, in which he says: “In being fatherless, motherless, without genealogy, having neither a beginning of days nor an end of life [in the written record], but having been made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. Behold, then, how great this man was . . . the man [Melchizedek] who did not trace his genealogy from [the Levite priests] took tithes from Abraham [from whom the Levites descended] and blessed him who had the promises [from Jehovah God]. Now without any dispute, the less is blessed by the greater.”
King David of Jerusalem wrote under inspiration showing that this coming one, who would be the greater High Priest like Melchizedek, would be a heavenly High Priest, when he said: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is: ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’ The rod of your strength Jehovah will send out of Zion, . . . Jehovah has sworn (and he will feel no regret): ‘You are a priest to time indefinite according to the manner of Melchizedek!’”—Ps. 110:1, 2, 4.
Melchizedek, king of this city that later became Jerusalem, proved to be against Babylon, for he blessed Abraham for having routed and despoiled the king of Shinar and his allies. This proves that God’s servants from the beginning were enemies of Babylon, for not only did Abraham get out of Babylon at God’s call, but he also fought against the king of Babylonia (Shinar) when the need arose. Abraham attributed the victory to God in giving Melchizedek, God’s priest, a tenth of the spoils while refusing to take anything for himself.
Differing from Nimrod, who opposed God and thereby caused his city of Babylon to be an enemy of God throughout its history, Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek. This blessing, coupled with God’s promise recorded at Genesis 12:1-3, meant that the Seed of the woman would come through Abraham. He would have an offspring that would become a great nation, and it would be through this nation that the Seed of God’s woman would come.
THE PICTORIAL SEED OF THE WOMAN
Abraham, still childless at the age of ninety-nine years, was visited by an angel of God who was sent to tell him that by a miracle he would have a son by his true wife, Sarah, in the coming year. God’s covenant of blessing was to pass on down to this one, who would be called Isaac, meaning “Laughter.”—Gen. 17:19; 18:1-15.
The next morning God’s angels wiped out four of the wicked cities of the Plain. Lot had been moved out of Sodom in the nick of time by Jehovah’s angels, along with his wife and two daughters. Zoar was spared so that Lot could find safety there. On the way, Lot’s wife disobeyed the angelic instructions and was destroyed.—Gen. 19:12-26.
In connection with his loved son Isaac, Abraham was given a most taxing test of his faith. This was when God commanded him to take Isaac, who was then about twenty-five years old,a back toward Salem, not to see Melchizedek, but to offer his son Isaac in sacrifice back to the God who gave him. Abraham acted with works of faith and went to Mount Moriah to the north of Salem as directed. There he as good as offered up Isaac, his beloved son, in sacrifice. Abraham’s faith was such that he did not waver in carrying out God’s command. He knew that Isaac was to be the one through whom the great nation should come and he was sure that God would fulfill his promise by resurrecting Isaac from the dead if necessary. Just as he was about to use his knife, Abraham’s attention was called by God’s angel to a ram caught in a thicket, which he was to use as a substitute for Isaac.
UNPARALLELED BLESSING FROM PLEASING GOD
Now, at the altar side, Jehovah God confirmed his promise to Abraham, making it clear that Isaac, the son of Abraham’s wife Sarah, was a picture of the Seed of God’s woman. He called out by his angel: “‘By myself I do swear,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘that by reason of the fact that you have done this thing and you have not withheld your son, your only one, I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens . . . And by means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.’”—Gen. 22:15-18; Heb. 11:17-19.
Though Abraham did not know it, God by him performed a drama of tremendous significance to us. This was summed up by Jesus Christ nineteen centuries later when he said: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that every one exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” This Son of God, Jesus Christ, was the One foreshadowed by Abraham’s beloved son Isaac and by that male sheep that was offered up as Isaac’s substitute. The Son of God became indeed the Lamb of God for mankind’s salvation.—John 3:16; 1:29, 36.
How greatly Abraham was blessed for having acted on Jehovah’s invitation to come out of Babylonia! Jehovah’s covenant of blessing was made sure to him. He died at the good old age of 175 years, with a surety of resurrection during the Kingdom reign of Jesus Christ, the Seed of the woman. Jehovah personally transferred the covenant to Isaac, then to Isaac’s son Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons, forming a foundation for that “great nation” of promise.—Gen. 26:1-5; 28:10-15; 29:1 to 30:26; 35:16-20; Heb. 11:13-16.
Abraham furnishes for us a fine example of faith along with works—action in obedience to that faith. He was not content to worship the idol gods of his fathers. He shunned false religion and stuck to true worship. He did not seek security in Ur of the Chaldeans, a highly civilized city. He went out into a land of which he knew nothing and lived as a stranger, in tents. He turned down rich materialistic opportunities in Ur. Yet how happy and purposeful his life was, and how fine a reward awaits him! If we wish God’s friendship we must follow the course of faithful Abraham.
a Josephus puts Isaac’s age at twenty-five years.—See Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 13, paragraph 2.