As we mentioned last Sunday Abraham is one of the more interesting persons in world history mainly because, while he’s undoubtedly known and beloved by most of the world’s cultures, fundamentally Abraham didn’t do anything noteworthy.
He didn’t invent anything. He left behind zero scientific advancements. He failed to make a philosophical contribution to the world. Abraham wasn’t a revolutionary or an agent of social change. He didn’t set out to start a religion nor did he discover a new land. For that matter Abraham didn’t even write or created any type of lasting literary work. And yet, not only is he famous, but Abraham is the only person Scripture defines as being the “friend of God.”
What makes this even more amazing to me is the fact the book of Genesis actually records more of Abraham’s failures than it does his triumphs! How bizarre! You know the more I’ve chewed on this thought and in light of the 74 times Abraham surfaces in the New Testament I’ve reached the conclusion this was the whole point of his life…
Now please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying as a knock against Abraham. On the contrary. I find myself convinced more than ever before that it is for this very reason Abraham is so beloved. Of all of the Biblical characters Abraham is written about more than all others not only because he’s so relatable, but mainly for what his life has come to represent. Abram goes down as the one guy known not for what he did, but rather Who he knew!
Let me break some difficult news to you… Unless you happen to do something particularly terrible there is a very strong likelihood that in just 100 years no one is going to have any idea who you were. Even as I was writing this I was shocked I could only remember the names of five of my eight great-grandparents (Mildred & Cleo Haskins, Charles & Estelle Shimp, and Junior Quincy Adams). And yes, I’ll admit I had a little help from my mother.
The brutal and honest reality is that while you may be a unique snowflake - snowflakes melt incredibly fast! The truth is that despite how awesome you are it’s unlikely you’ll make any type of contribution to the world so transcendent that you’ll be remembered after those who personally knew you also pass from this life into the next.
For example in a Top Ten list of the most famous people to have lived in the 19th century I was only familiar with the first seven: Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Thomas Edison, Karl Marx, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, and Napoleon Bonaparte. Amazingly, I didn’t recognize 30% of the list: #8 was Michael Faraday (electromagnetism), #9 was Gregor Mendel (genetics), and #10 Marie Curie (Theory of Radioactivity). The chances of any of us in this room making a top ten list of this centuries most famous is likely nil.
And yet, though I will admit this is a rather depressing way to start a Bible study, this is why I find Abram’s story to be so encouraging. While there is no earthly metric that explains why he’s known, Abraham is famous because his life was significant to God. Like Abraham, your life will not be evaluated or remembered via the things you accomplished… Instead, your lasting legacy will be based solely upon your faith in Jesus Christ.
As Abraham’s life so starkly illustrates, your time on earth will not be remembered for your successes or for that matter your failures, but instead the one thing that will cause your name to be remembered for all of eternity is a faith in Jesus that declares you to be the friend of God. Honestly, with all of this in mind, may I ask what matters more to you… Being remember on earth (which is highly unlikely) or being remembered by God?
Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
Before we continue in our examination of Abram’s story it’s important we first reiterate that Abraham’s life illustrates several key truths concerning our relationship with God:
First, Abraham’s life illustrates the reality that God’s grace initiates first contact… As we noted last Sunday, did God appear to Abram because he was seeking? Nope! Scripture tell us Abram was a gentile idolater living in a pagan land. Did God call Abram because he demonstrated worthiness or did something to deserve it? On the contrary, while in Ur Abram was making money promoting the worship of the false moon-god, Nanna (Joshua 24). The truth is that there was nothing inherent to Abram or his character that precipitated God’s appearing or His calling. God chose Abram before Abram chose to follow God!
I hope you understand Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save you because you were worthy. As a matter of fact it was specifically because you weren’t worthy that “God sent His only begotten Son.” God’s amazing grace and not your worthiness is the entire reason you have a relationship with Him! How sad we’re so quick to forget this blessed truth.
Never forget if God’s first contact was based upon His love for you and not your worthiness then the entire basis for your continued relationship with God is still based upon His great love for you and not the fact you deserve it. Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Secondly, Abraham’s life illustrates the reality that only faith in Jesus makes us right with God (establishes our relationship with Him)… Understand, God’s grace is the means by which our faith in Jesus is made possible! Over and over again the New Testament authors make the case that it was because “Abraham believed God” that “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” According to Galatians 3 Paul even builds the case that Abraham was right with God and enjoyed a relationship with Him because he believed the Gospel. In writing to the Ephesian church Paul reminds these believers “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
While living as a pagan idolater in Ur the “God of glory appeared to Abram” and not only called him to go to a land of promise, but revealed to him that this move would be necessary so that He could provide a Savior through his family lineage! God’s grace made first contact, but Abram’s journey was motivated by a fundamental faith in the Gospel!
Thirdly, Abraham’s life illustrates the reality that this relationship (begun by grace and then motived by faith) naturally results in God’s will being accomplished in our lives…
Notice in these three verses we just read (verses that record the original call and promise God made to Abram while he was still living in Ur - a call that’s now been reiterated after a tragic delay in Haran) how many times God declares to Abram, “I will!” Note: I counted a total of six: “I will show you a land… I will make you a great nation… I will bless you… I will make your name great… I will bless those who bless you… I will curse him who curses you.”
Don’t overlook what this tells us… God’s work in and through Abram’s life would be accomplished by God alone! These were things God would do apart from Abram’s involvement. “I will!” The truth is that Abram would play no significant role in the work. This work would be supernatural… which was important for we learned in the final few verses in Genesis 11 that “Sarai, Abram’s wife, was barren.” These promises to Abram demanded God’s specific involvement or they’d never happen. There was no natural way!
I hope you understand this reality remains the same today. God has promised to save you from the judgment to come, restore the parts of your life destroyed by sin, provide you life and that more abundantly, fill your heart with love, joy, and peace, heal your innermost wounds, accomplish His will in and through your life, and in the process transform you more into the image and likeness of His Son Jesus through His indwelling Spirit.
And realize… There is nothing you can do to manifest these promises. This is a work that can only be accomplished by God and He alone. The Bible describes these things as fruit produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit and not things we work to see developed or manufactured. Never forget both your salvation and your sanctification are only made possible through the direct actions of God apart from your specific involvement.
In 1 Corinthians 12:6 Paul writes that “God works all in all.” Then in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 he adds that it is “the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” In Ephesians 2 Paul gets even more specific writing, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Fourthly, Abraham’s life illustrates the reality that our only responsibility is to walk with God according to His Word… So many people struggle with the particulars of how we’re able to abide in God’s will! While we want God’s will and work to be accomplished in our lives we wonder what we need to do to insure it manifests accordingly.
This is where Abram’s life serves as an incredible type… Did you notice in these verses there was only one thing God asked of Abram - one thing required of Abram to insure he remained in the perfect will of God? Once again we read that God appeared to Abram and gave him a simple command that would enable these promises, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”
What a fascinating paradigm! God told Abram to “get out of… To.” Or as the Old King James Version translates, “Get thee out of… Unto.” The way this verse is structured communicates the idea that Abram was being asked, in an act of faith, to exchange what he presently had for something God would later give. The Message translates this as, “Leave… For.”
Notice God asks Abram to leave behind his present “family” so that God could “make him a great nation.” Additionally, God asks him to leave behind his “father’s house” and all the benefits it would provide for “a land God would show” him. God commanded Abram to leave behind what he presently had “for” something much better God wanted to give him.
You see Abram had to decide what we must… “Keep the life he had and therefore forgo the life God wanted to provide him” or “Forgo the life he had so that he might attain the life God wanted to provide him.” The “to” (God’s will) would only be realized if Abram first “got out of.” Please notice the “unto or for” was not “to” a specific destination… The invitation was rather to engage in a journey that led to a particular destination. God was in essence inviting Abram to leave his present life in order to begin a new journey with Him.
What makes Abram’s faith evident is that he chose to walk with God no matter where that might have led as opposed to remaining in the comforts and security of Ur. What’s then interesting is the fact Abram never ends up settling in one specific area… The story of his life is that he engaged in a journey with God that never ended. The reality is that God’s will for his life was that he’d simply walk with Him! The same is true for you and I!
This is probably as good a time as any to define what it is God was promising Abram, because there tends to be a lot of confusion around this. While it’s true in a literal sense God was promising to grow Abram’s actual descendants into a might nation we know today as the Jews… And though true God was promising a specific land this nation would inherit known also as Israel… The reality is that these promises transcended their practical fulfillment. If you filter these specific promises through the prism of the much larger promise that it would be through Abraham’s family God would provide a Savior, the “nation” being described transcends the Hebrews and the land not limited specifically to Canaan.
Galatians 3:6-7, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.”
Hebrews 11:9-10, “By faith Abraham dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…”
As we read of this “nation” it’s important you see its fulfillment in all those who, like Abraham, place their faith in Jesus and choose to walk with God instead of settling in this world (applicable to Jew and Gentile alike). Additionally, the “land” God promised spoke more of heaven than it did a specific area of real-estate off the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.
Here’s my point… Abraham’s life teaches us that this journey of faith has no destination on this earth. As with Enoch this walk with God ends with us being called home to heaven where we’ll abide in the presence of God for all eternity.
Fifth, Abraham’s life illustrates the reality that God’s grace sustains our relationship even when we fail to be obedient… As we noted last Sunday, because Abram failed to obey God’s Word choosing to take his father Terah with him when he originally left Ur, his disobedience would subsequently delay God’s ability to take him “to” the place He had for him. God’s promises remained sure, but his refusal to “get out of” and “from” delayed the fulfillment of them. In a sense God’s plan was delayed because Abram stopped walking!
I hope you know that if you’re in a season of disobedience (you’re not walking with God), while His will and work may be delayed and on hold, God’s promises still remain. By His grace God is still speaking… Still calling… Still pleading for you to leave whatever it is causing you to hold onto the former life so that you’ll fully realize the new life God is calling you for! What’s so encouraging about the life of Abram is that when he was finally ready to leave and begin his walk again God was still willing to lead.
Genesis 12:4-10, “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land.”
Finally, Abraham’s life illustrates the reality that we must trust God with our circumstances… Did you notice what Abram does as he makes his way through the land of Canaan? We’re told on two separate occasions “he built an altar to the Lord.” The first mention of this occurred in “Shechem” (“backbone” - heart of the land). We read, after the “Lord’s appearance” when God reiterated his promise that though “the Canaanites were in the land” it had been promised “to his descendants,” that Abram built an altar to the Lord.
Don’t miss the significance and deeper impact of this statement “the Canaanites were then in the land.” While God promised the land to Abram and his descendants, following the events of Babel, it would appear the family of Canaan (Noah’s grandson) had already migrated and settled there. I imagine this would have been particularly intimidating to Abram.
Don’t forget… Because of the events of Genesis 9 Canaan and his descendent had been cursed by God. As we’ll see in the coming weeks these Canaanite cities possessed a particular wickedness and perversion. Additionally, they were strong and mighty. In Numbers 13:31-33 we’re told, “The men who had gone into the land said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we… The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants; and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight.’”
You can imagine Abram was thinking, “How am I going to possess a land currently being occupied by this wicked people?” He was a nomadic shepherd. At the time he possessed a small family with modest resources. He had no army. No claim. No ability to command and conquer. And yet, because he’d been faithful to go there anyway, in this moment of doubt and understandable uncertainty, the “Lord appeared” to Abram and reiterated His promises. It’s for this reason Abram built an altar and made an offering to God.
Now contrast this with the second time Abram builds an altar… We read Abram travels from Shechem to “Bethel” where he builds an altar and begins “calling on the name of the Lord.” It would appear from the text his motivation was this “severe famine in the land.”
How interesting that after finally making it to the land God had led him to he now encounters a “severe famine.” I hope you know walking with God does not guarantee you’ll be immune from the trials and struggles of life. Nor is it true that trials and struggle are somehow proof that you’re outside the will of God or that you’ve done something wrong. Abram was facing a “severe famine” and he was right where God wanted him to be.
Understand… A test of faith is not designed for God to evaluate how dedicated you are (He already knows the answer). Tests are instead designed to reveal to us how much our faith needs to grow! James 1:2-4, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
What’s interesting about these two occasions is the difference in purpose behind the altar itself… In much the same way as Noah, in Shechem, it would appear this act of erecting an altar and making an offering to the Lord was in response to God’s grace and goodness!
While these Canaanites may have shaken his confidence in God’s promises, as an act of grace, it seems the Lord appears to Abram and calms his fear. The altar and offering was a response to his increased faith and trust in God’s promises. However, in Bethel, while the circumstance may have been equally daunting, we see something different altogether.
Because “there was a famine in the land” Abram builds an altar and makes an offering to the Lord in much the same vein as the pagan. This altar was not a response to God’s goodness nor was it motivated by faith, instead this altar represented Abram’s attempt to get something from God. The offering was an appeal for God’s intervention. Understand… Altars and offerings are only accepted by God as a response to His favor and are never successful as a way to curry His favor or motivate His intervention.
As the “Lord’s appearing” in Shechem illustrated, while facing this famine in Bethel, Abram didn’t need to erect an altar to speak with God. He didn’t need to do something to garner God’s attention or motivate His intervention. God’s first appearing was manifested by His grace and His subsequent appearings would always be manifested by His grace. The interesting thing about Bethel is that it appears God not only doesn’t recognize his altar or speak to Abram, but He allows the famine to continue and increase in its severity.
Keep in mind, the famine as with the Canaanites was a test of Abram’s ability to trust God. In Shechem God spoke to Abram because his faith was young, but now that he was facing this famine in Bethel would Abram trust that where God guides He always provides? Would his confidence in God’s ability to “work all things for the good for those who love God and are called according to His promises” remain sure or would his trust in God’s Word waiver.
Yes, it was true God called him to this land, but now that this famine was making life difficult Abram tragically begins to wonder if he should move South for greener pastures - even if that require he move outside the land God’s will had led him to inhabit. Sadly, because he doesn’t hear from God his trust waivers and his time in Egypt will only prove to be disastrous.
Abraham’s life illustrates the reality that while God’s grace initiates first contact it is only by your faith in Jesus that you’re made right with God and afforded a relationship with Him - that naturally results in His will and work being accomplished in your life. And yes, while God’s grace sustains this relationship even when you fail to be obedient, never forget your fundamental responsibility is to walk with God according to His Word - which will require trusting Him with your circumstances…
And when you face circumstances that shake your trust in God there is nothing wrong with “calling out to the Lord.” But the lesson of Abram clearly illustrates that God takes no delight when we revert to these pagan attempts to garner His favor. God was silent not because He didn’t love Abram. He was silent so Abram’s trust in God’s Word would grow stronger!
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