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Third Quarter 2015 July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK OF LUKE
Week 2: July 4–10
COMMENTARY ON ABRAHAM: THE FIRST MISSIONARY
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This lesson seeks to establish a foundation showing that the major characters throughout Scripture were actually called as “missionaries” when God called them. This particular focus is contrived, however, because it is being used to reinforce the message to Adventist members that they must always keep in mind their mandate to “share the gospel” of Adventism with the world.
Adventism, however, proselytizes. It seeks to make Adventists out of other Christians (or non-Christians). This proselytizing is called “missions”, and Adventist proselytizers are called “missionaries”. If Adventists truly sent out “missionaries” in the classic sense of the word, however, they would have to refuse to attempt to “convert” people who are already Christians, born again and worshiping in Christian churches. The fact that Adventists want people to become Adventists, that being a born-again Christian who worships with a Christian church on Sunday is not enough from an Adventist perspective—this fact reveals the underlying agenda behind this quarter’s lessons.
This quarterly is contriving Bible stories to “support” the Adventist agenda: go make new Adventists!
Today’s lesson begins with a false premise and makes claims that are not part of the biblical account. First, The lesson states, “It’s no coincidence that three of the world’s major faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are sometimes called the ‘Abrahamic faiths.’ That’s because all three, in one way or another, trace their roots back to this great man of God.”
Judaism and Christianity do trace their roots back to the patriarch Abraham. This legacy is Scriptural, and Paul elaborates on this fact in the book of Romans, especially in chapters 4 and 11. Islam, however, is in a different category.
Many people do not realize that Islam is a relatively new religion. It does not trace its roots directly back to Abraham as do Judaism and Christianity. Its founder, commonly known as Muhammad, was born in 570 AD, and his first vision which eventually launched the new religion of Islam did not occur until about 610. Islam did not become a religion until the seventh century. The claims that Islam is an “Abrahamic religion” is based on the Islamic tradition that Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar the slave woman, was Muhammad’s ancestor.
Moreover, Islamic tradition typically teaches that it was Ishmael, not Isaac, whom Abraham took to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice.
Since Scripture is clear that it is through Isaac, the son of promise, that God would bless the world and bring the Messiah, and since Paul has carefully explained in Galatians 4 that the offspring of Hagar, which he actually compares to Mt. Sinai, or law-keeping, are slaves and do not inherit the promise, we have no option but to conclude that the Islamic faith is not an “Abrahamic faith”.
The argument is often made that Christianity and Judaism and Islam are the three “monotheistic faiths”. This claim, however, denies the biblical teaching that God is triune. Islam’s god does not have a son named Jesus.
Also noteworthy is the claim in the last paragraph of Saturday’s introduction: “God gave Abraham, and his family after him, a three-fold purpose: (1) to be recipients and guardians of the divine truth of God’s kingdom that had been lost in the earlier history of humankind…”
This statement is patently false. There is no indication in Scripture that God’s kingdom had been known but the knowledge lost in earlier history. Furthermore, there is nothing at all in the story of Abraham suggesting that God gave him the knowledge of and the job to guard the knowledge of His kingdom.
God called Abraham for the purpose of making an unconditional covenant with him, promising to give him seed, land, and blessing. The underlying idea that Abraham was the progenitor of the last-day “remnant” who have the last-day message that the world has forgotten is simply not in Scripture.
In order to understand the huge significance of Abraham, one must let go of everything Ellen White wrote about him and read the Bible alone. Ellen White manages to diminish the archetypal and actual significance of Abraham and of God’s purposes and plan.
Abraham is FAR more significant that if God had called him out of Mesopotamia to be a missionary. On the contrary, God called Abraham and gave him the faith to believe Him. God made Abraham the father of faith, the prototype of all humans who are saved.
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).
Today’s lesson focusses on God’s call of Abraham out of Ur found in Genesis 12:1-3. In the thought questions for the day, the reader is asked, “What did Abraham experience that we might experience in our own way, as well?” Furthermore, at the end of the day’s lesson the author states that the Hebrew of Genesis 12:1 “reads literally, “And God said to Abram, ‘Go for yourself from your land.’ He was told to go ‘for himself’; that is, for his own sake. How should we understand what that means, and how can we apply it to ourselves?”
This interpretation and personal application focus changes the meaning of the passage. God did not call Abraham “for himself” or for his own sake. The reliable Bible translations that bring us the meaning of the Hebrew in English words never suggest God was asking Abraham to leave Ur for his sake. God asked Abraham to leave Ur for God’s sake, and in the process, God blessed Abraham.
It is never accurate to read the Bible and jump immediately to attempting to apply it to our own lives. This method of Bible reading employs bad hermeneutics and will lead us far from the actual intent of the text. The first thing we must do when we read is to observe what the text actually says. Then we have to ask ourselves what the original audience would have understood when they first heard or read it.
After thinking about the first audience’s response, we have to begin looking in the rest of the book of Genesis to see how the story of Abraham developed, and then look in slowly widening concentric circles through the books of the rest of the Old Testament and then of the New to see how the Bible itself develops and explains God’s call to Abraham and the influence that moment has on the rest of history.
The call of Abraham is not a prescriptive passage; it is descriptive. We cannot take an account of someone else’s story and apply it to ourselves. It is not our story, nor is it instructing us.
It is, however, showing us how God sovereignly called Abraham with no previous preparation, and it states what God said He would do. This passage actually is a turning point in the book of Genesis.
Here God promises that He will bless the world through Abraham, a blessing that promises some sort of reversal of the negative things that happened from the moment of the fall recorded in Genesis 3 through the flood to the formation of the nations described through chapter 11.
To make the call of Abraham an object lesson for “us” is to miss completely the singular act of God as He introduced His plan to create a nation out of which would come the Savior and the reconciliation of fallen, depraved humanity with God through the blood of the Lord Jesus.
Today’s lesson camps on Genesis 14:8-24 and attempts to make the case that Abraham witnessed to the ancient kings he conquered as he rescued his nephew Lot. As evidence that this focus is valid, the author quotes Ellen White from Patriarchs and Prophets where she says, “By the usage of war, the spoils belonged to the conquerors; but Abraham had undertaken this expedition with no purpose of gain, and he refused to take advantage of the unfortunate, only stipulating that his confederates should receive the portion to which they were entitled.”
The clear implication of Ellen’s statement is that Abraham compassionately refused to take the spoils from those unfortunate kings whom he conquered, implying that he had mercy on them because his conquering of them had left the in an unfortunate condition, stripped of their honor and glory. Abraham, she suggests, refused to shame them further and graciously allowed them to keep their things.
Notice how different Ellen’s interpretation is from the text of Genesis. Moreover, notice what central passage the lesson completely ignored in Genesis 14:
Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out, and they joined battle in the Valley of Siddim with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar, four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country. So the enemy took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram's brother, who was dwelling in Sodom, and his possessions, and went their way.
Then one who had escaped came and told Abram the Hebrew, who was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and of Aner. These were allies of Abram. When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them and pursued them to Hobah, north of Damascus. Then he brought back all the possessions, and also brought back his kinsman Lot with his possessions, and the women and the people.
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share” (Genesis 14:8-24)
Abraham did not take spoils from the kings NOT because he didn’t want to take advantage of them when they were down. Quite the contrary. He did not take the spoils because he refused to give those kings the opportunity to boast, “I have made Abram rich.” His refusal to take the wealth that victory had awarded him had nothing to do with compassion or pity; it had everything to do with refusing to grant those pagan kings any opportunity to take credit for any part of Abram’s success.
Furthermore, the lesson completely ignores the archetypal exchange between Abram and Melchizedek. This interaction is a primary foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus and His superior priesthood. Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, not of Aaron. The author of Hebrews uses this story to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of Melchizedek’s priesthood, not of Aaron’s:
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.
See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever (Hebrews 7).
The most important details of Genesis 14 are ignored in today’s lesson, while the text is contrived to be a moral lesson for us to be kind to the unfortunate as part of our “missionary strategy”.
Today’s text is Hebrews 11:8-19:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back (Hebrews 11:8-19).
The lesson opens with this sentence: “Though hardly perfect, Abraham was a man of God, and time and again in the Bible, even in the New Testament, he is used as an example of faithfulness and of what it means to be saved by faith.”
Once again, the trivializing of what God was doing through Abraham has been erased with a few words which wrongly interpret the significance of the faith of Abraham.
Abraham was not a “an example of faithfulness”. In fact, he was not faithful for much of his life. Twice he sent his wife to pagan rulers with instructions to lie about her identity. He took matters into his own hands to produce his promised heir. Abraham is not one of the Bible’s better examples of “faithfulness”.
But Abraham believed God. That belief in God is what Scripture identifies as his “faith”, and that belief was credited to him as righteousness.
It is important to realize that Abraham had faith in God, not faithfulness in his general life. In fact, Abraham actually had nothing whatsoever to recommend him as God’s chosen man through whom He would reveal the mystery of His salvation and through whom He would bring the Holy Seed, the Savior of the world.
Once again, the lesson emphasizes Abraham’s journeying as an example of a missionary’s lack of complete knowledge of where he was going. This point is nonsense. Abraham was not a missionary, and God’s call on his life was not a call to go and witness. It was a call to obey, and God sent him to the place where He would ultimately plant Abraham’s offspring: the Promised Land. Abraham’s job was far, far bigger than being “a missionary”.
Abraham was the first person recorded in the Bible to hear and respond to God’s voice after the story of Noah. The judgment God brought on the earth resulted in one family being given the responsibility of repopulating the earth, and those people quickly spiraled into egregious sin.
The story of Babel in Genesis 11 reveals that God once again judged sin by confounding language. As the people separated, finally filling the earth by settling with those who shared their language, there is no mention of God speaking to men from that judgment at Babel until He called Abram out of Ur in Genesis 12. No one knows how many years passed between Babel and Abram, but the important detail of this sequence is that God once again spoke to mankind as He called Abram, and as Abram obeyed.
God spoke to Abram, and as he obeyed, God revealed the foundation of His plan to save the world from sin. He called Abram, and it was God who was faithful. He took a pagan man out of his culture and sent him to a place he did not know. Abram had only God as a constant in his life, and Abram trusted Him.
Abram had faith because God was faithful.
Today’s lesson again emphasizes that Abraham was a missionary whose missionary and reforming “episodes” were mostly connected with his wanderings.
The lesson makes a point that God used Abraham’s wanderings to “shape Abraham into a reformer and missionary”. Moreover, the lesson also says that in spite of Abraham’s faults, God used Abraham because he “wanted to be used by Him, and thus the Lord was able to mold His character.”
These comments are simply not even suggested in Scripture. In spite of Ellen White’s statements that God kept Abraham from worshiping the idols of his ancestors, thus suggesting that Abraham was somehow worthy and had a right attitude for God to use him, Scripture is clear that Abraham himself worshiped idols:
And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac (Joshua 24:2-3).
God didn’t call Abraham or use him because he “wanted to be used by Him.” God called Abraham for His own reasons which we do not know. Abraham was a pagan who worshiped idols, and God called him and took him from his home. And Abraham believed God.
Again, there is nothing in this story of Abraham which we can twist to use as commentary on how God makes good missionaries. Abraham was not a missionary. He was God’s man for God’s plan, and while it is true that Abraham grew in his trust of God, we cannot look at his story and explain how his moving about gave him spiritual lessons.
Abraham was a wanderer who owned no land at all except the cave of Machpelah where he buried Sarah. Yet he possessed God’s promises, and he knew that God was giving him something far greater than anything he could see. He knew he was receiving his inheritance from God.
Today’s lesson uses an Ellen white quote from Education to try to establish the idea that a good missionary begins by being a missionary in his own home. Here is the quote:
“God called Abraham to be a teacher of His word, He chose him to be the father of a great nation, because He saw that Abraham would instruct his children and his household in the principles of God’s law. And that which gave power to Abraham’s teaching was the influence of his own life. His great household consisted of more than a thousand souls, many of them heads of families, and not a few but newly converted from heathenism.”
This quote is nonsense. God didn’t call Abraham to be a teacher of His word; he called him to be a man of faith from whom He would bring about a holy people and the Savior of the world. Furthermore, Abraham’s family consisted of much chaos in addition to his heir of God’s promises, Isaac, and to Sarah who also had to believe God in spite of the physical evidence to the contrary.
Moreover, even if Abraham was a “teacher of His word”, he did not have that title because God “saw that Abraham would instruct his children and his household in the principles of God’s law.”
God chose Abraham NOT because there was something in Abraham that wanted to be righteous or which God “saw” that qualified him to do the job. God called Abraham sovereignly, in spite of Abraham’s paganism and sin. God called Abraham for His own reasons and purposes, and Abraham did not participate in making God’s will happen.
Furthermore, Abraham did not teach his family “God’s law”. He taught Isaac about God, but Galatians 3:17 is explicit: the law did not come into existence until 430 years AFTER Abraham.
Abraham was the father of the son of promise, but nowhere does Scripture ever suggest he was a teacher or a missionary to his own family.
Other places in Scripture do tell us to teach our children the truth, and no doubt Abraham did, but the Bible does not make the point about this idea that Ellen White makes. Her quote is designed to guilt faithful Adventists into teaching Adventism to their children so that God will see that the faithful parents are worthy of His blessing.
The week’s lesson ends with another Ellen White quote from Patriarchs and Prophets. In this quote she explains her fabricated details about Abraham’s involvement with the people where he lived, of his “friendly relations” with local kings, his integrity and unselfishness, his valor and benevolence—all of which represented “the character of God.”
Again, nonsense. These moralistic details are not stated in Scripture, and Abraham wasn’t in Canaan “representing the character of God”. That great controversy idea plays no part in Abraham’s story. What Scripture wants us to know about Abraham is that he believed God, and that trust was counted to him for righteousness.
Further, God chose Abraham to be the “father of the faithful”, both Jews and uncircumcised gentiles who believe God.
We are called to something far greater than moral behavior and good reputations. We are called to trust God, to respond when He calls, and to all Him to be sovereign over our lives.
Like Abraham, He credits our belief in His provision for us in the person of Jesus as righteousness. He credits us with the alien righteousness of Jesus when our lives are hidden in Christ.