Sketch by Patrick Murphy
The Lord promised Abram and his seed the land of Canaan. Abram grew into this promise through a series of events: the death of his father, Terah (Gen. 11:32); leaving Haran for Canaan (Gen. 12:1); going down to Egypt because of famine (Gen. 12:10); coming up out of Egypt (Gen. 12:13).
Spiritually, these events show a deepening fellowship in Christ’s death and resurrection. Abram lived generations before Jesus or the cross. How could he fellowship in Jesus’s death and resurrection? Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Divine life ever pours Himself out (death) and is reborn of His indestructible selflessness.
How is the flow of divine life evident in Abram’s story? We start with the death of his father, Terah. Some affectionately call their father “my old man.” A preacher once observed that Terah, Abram’s old man, died. Paul says our old man was crucified with Jesus (Rom. 6:6).
Tongue-in-cheek theology aside, Paul said, “So death works in us, but life in you” (2 Cor. 4:12). Terah’s death released Abram from living in Haran so that he could go to Canaan and pursue the Lord’s promise. Genesis says Abram left with his wife, his nephew, and all the wealth he had accumulated. This wealth of people and possessions shows the harvest that only comes when a seed falls into the ground and dies (John 12:24). Leaving the place of Terah’s death with such increase was a manifestation of resurrection in Abram’s soul.
Abram again experienced Christ’s death when Canaan was struck with famine. New Testament resurrections are often accompanied by food (Mark 5:43; John 12:1-2; Acts 20:9-11). Famine is death. The connection is as basic as it gets. Egypt is also connected with death throughout scripture. Being geographically “below” Israel, scripture always talks of “going down” to Egypt (like going down to Sheol, the grave–Gen. 42:38). Because of the famine, Abram went down to Egypt.
In Egypt, Abram acquired more livestock, silver, and gold (Gen. 13:2). Scripture says he “went up” from Egypt. Abram rose from Egypt and death with a harvest as he knew the power of Christ’s resurrection (Php. 3:10).
After coming up out of Egypt, the Lord said to Abram, “Look north and south, east and west, for I will give you and your offspring forever all the land that you see” (Gen. 13:14-15). Imagine lines stretching out from Abram in the four primary directions and you can see the land of Canaan marked with the cross. This is the same land God would describe as flowing with milk and honey (Deut. 6:3). Here we find the mark of the cross juxtaposed with milk and honey–figures of death and resurrection.
Abram and his seed couldn’t inherit Canaan forever. Nothing of this earth is eternal. But he could inherit the crucified and risen life of Jesus forever. Fellowship in His death and resurrection is what was spiritually promised to Abram that day.
Considering the nature of the inheritance, Abram could only grow into it by experiencing death and resurrection himself. Abram’s preparation had to be equivalent to the inheritance. Peter describes it as “participating in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
We too grow by experiencing Jesus’s death and resurrection in our souls. Abram’s life is a model for us. God’s Spirit orchestrates seasons of knowing Jesus in death. Jesus’s death is always unto new life. As with Abram, new life comes with harvest and increase. Abram was always richer after going through death. This is because of the reality of sowing and reaping. Comparing a seed with a tree gives us some sense of the fullness resurrection brings within.
Said another way, Abram conformed to the land he was in. The land was marked with the cross and flowing with milk and honey. To inherit this land, Abram needed to inwardly conform to it. In his travels, he was marked with the cross of the land he was promised; he enjoyed the milk and honey of resurrection flowing from his soul.
Paul talks about being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18, 4:7-11). To conform to the image of Christ is to conform to the crucified and risen One. We are heirs of His death and resurrection.