Be sure to read the first installment on this subject.
In our first article based on Matthew 3:9 we noted that John the Immerser warned his audience, comprised of, at least, the Pharisees and Sadducees, that if they did not repent, but instead relied on their ethnic lineage, that God would raise up children of Abraham from the dead stones.
I suggested that to the Jewish mind, the idea of bringing forth children of God from the stones would have immediately taken the mind to Isaiah 51:
“Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, You who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him. For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody. Listen to Me, My people; And give ear to Me, O My nation: For law will proceed from Me, And I will make My justice rest As a light of the peoples.”
In this great text, God called on Israel to remember that God had called Abraham– who was an Amorite, and Sarai was a Hittite, to be His child. And in doing so, God had created children from the stones!
Not only did Isaiah call on Israel to look to the rock from which they had been hewn, he likewise called them to remember that they were taken from the pit. The word translated as “pit” (Strong’s #0953) is the word commonly used for the grave, especially in the Psalms. So, Abraham, and thus Israel, was, in the mind of the prophet, taken from the grave, when Abraham was called. This is resurrection imagery, which, when one looks at the life of Abraham, is a major motif.
Both Abraham and Sarah were considered “dead”, barren and beyond the age of child bearing. Paul commented on this in Romans 4:16f:
“Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed––God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
Notice the emphasis on the deadness of both Abraham and Sarah (cf. also Hebrews 11:12). But of course, resurrection imagery is also associated in other ways with the story of Abraham. According to Hebrews 11, when Abraham was going to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but God intervened, that Abraham received Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).
There is something at work here in regard to the barrenness of Abraham and Sarah, indeed, in the entire story of Abraham and his sons. Notice that Sarai was barren, but, God brought forth a son through her anyway. Likewise, Rebekah was barren, and Isaac prayed to the Lord, and Rebekah gave birth (Genesis 25:21). In the same way, Rachel was barren, yet, God produced children for her and Jacob. In each of these examples– that led to the nation of Israel– we find the idea of life from the dead. (Remember that in Romans 9 Paul emphasizes the barrenness aspect of these narratives and says “they are not all Israel that are of Israel.”)
We would be remiss at this juncture to overlook the fact, just as in so many of the OT stories of God’s dealings with Israel, children being produced from “the dead” i.e. barrenness, was likewise the story of John himself. Luke 1:7 tells us that Elizabeth was barren, but, as a result of Zecharias’ prayers, they were given a child– the one named John. So, once again, the production of children of God was not based on the flesh, or the will of man, but, on the power of God. Thus, when John warned his audience that God was able to raise up children of God from the dead stones, he knew precisely of what he spoke! He was himself the result of the power of God.
So, what I am suggesting is that when John the Immerser in Matthew 3:9 spoke of God raising up children to Abraham from the stones, that there is actually an echo of the entire story of Abraham that spoke of Abraham’s deadness, but, God producing life out of deadness. And the point is that the children were not produced “naturally” or through emphasis on blood, but on the power of God.
Now, while a person could say that all of this involved the blood line of Abraham, which of course was true, nonetheless, the power was not in the bloodline, but in the promise and power of God. And notice that the bringing forth of sons of God is, in other texts, tied, not to blood, but, to resurrection from the dead. We will examine that in our next and last article in this series.