Friday, November 5, 2010

Hall of Faith Series Part 4 - Abraham

Today we continue in our series on the men and women featured in the "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11.  Today our subject is Abraham.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he 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; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  Hebrews 11:8-10 NKJV
The story of Abraham is an amazing one and one worth taking a close look at.  God used the faith of Abraham mightily in that its effects were felt throughout history and even today.  By coming to Jesus, we were grafted into the line of Abraham.  Before the death of Jesus, those righteous were sent to Abraham's bosom after physical death to await their eternal reward.  Through Abraham, God brought forth His chosen people.  Through Abraham, ultimately, comes our Lord.  We return to Genesis for our study of just one small part of Abraham's amazing life in God. 
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."  Genesis 12:1-3 NKJV
Abraham (Abram was his name where we pick things up as God later renamed him Abraham) at this point was in Haran.  In the New Testament we learn that Abraham was originally called while in his home country of Ur of the Chaldeans.  Ur was a place where polytheism and other pagan religious practices were very popular and so God is calling Abraham out of that corruption.  We learn in Genesis 11 that Abraham did not completely obey God when first called.  First he took his father the rest of his family (God told him to leave the house of his father) and he only made it as far as Haran where we pick up here.  Abraham was not entirely obedient to God.  I am not saying this to pick on Abraham, but to show his humanity.  We sometimes forget the fact that these great men of God were still only just imperfect men.  Abraham, as we read in Hebrews, was made righteous through his faith and not through the work of perfect obedience that none of us are capable of. 

We also read here the amazing covenant established between God and Abraham.  God promised Abraham a few things.  First, he promised Abraham that he would become a great nation.  He also promised to make his name great.  He also made a promise that those who blessed Abraham would be blessed and those who curse Abraham would be cursed.  Finally, he promised that through him, the world would be blessed.  All these promises were ultimately fulfilled.  Through the seed of Abraham, we have the Jewish people as they (among other nations) were all descended from Abraham.  Abraham's name is great as we are reading and talking about him even to this day as a great man of faith.  Abraham was a blessing, where God blesses those who bless his descendants and curses him who curses his descendants in how we see God dealing now and in history with the nations that came against Israel.  And all the families are blessed through Abraham in that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a descendant of Abraham. 

Those are tremendous promises and from Abraham's perspective probably very hard to believe.  He was just a man coming out of a pagan nation called to a place he did not know.  He took that message in faith and ultimately obeyed God and left Haran for the land of Canaan.  God made amazing promises to Abraham, but those promises were premised on his obedience to God.  Abraham stepped out in faith on a long journey to a foreign land and through that faith, he was greatly blessed.  In fact, through that faith we all were blessed.  Again, I bring up what amazing things God can do through the faith of just one man. 
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. Genesis 12:4-6 NKJV
And so Abraham departs for Canaan.  Still he is not entirely obedient as he does brings along his brother, but faithful in that be believes the promise of God.  It must have been quiet a caravan.  They took their wives, servants, possessions, animals, and everything else they could put on a donkey.  It was also quite a long journey of about 400 miles and with all their stuff, it most likely took quite a bit of time.  Abraham pressed on though, through faith in that God that He will hold true to His promises. 
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.  Genesis 12:6-7 NKJV
And so they came to their resting place.  They stopped at Shechem and there God told Abraham to build an altar as the land he was on would be the land promised to his descendants.  It is amazing on how God encourages us along the way as we are obedient to Him.  Abraham did not receive the promise yet.  He was in the land promised to his descendants, but Abraham was still childless.  God encourages him as he walks in obedience telling him that while the promise is not to be realized yet, he is still on the right path. 

Subsequently, there was a famine in the land and Abraham made his way into Egypt.  There he had another hiccup in his faith where he lied to Pharaoh about Sarah being his sister so as to keep him from getting killed and Sarah becoming part of Pharaoh's harem.  It is amazing how sometimes we think we need to help God!  Sarah was taken in by Pharaoh but before was able to do anything, the Lord chastised Egypt.  Pharaoh confronted Abrahan.  Abraham repented.  Abraham was back in line with God's plan.  He and Lot and everyone else eventually departed from Egypt to return to Canaan and ended up back where they started.  The herdsmen of Abraham and Lot had some kind of an argument and so Abraham and Lot decided to give themselves some elbow room.  Abraham allowed Lot to decide first what part of the land he wanted and Lot chose a real nice piece of land.  And now we will pick up after that.
And the LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: "Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are— northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you." Then Abram moved his tent, and went and dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and built an altar there to the LORD.  Genesis 13:14-18 NKJV
It is amazing what God can do with a generous faithful heart.  Abraham let Lot choose first.  Lot chose what he thought was just about as close to the Garden of Eden as you can get.  What Lot did not know is the land he was in was not only full of sin (Sodom and Gomorrah), but was not the best choice agriculturally either.  Lot chose his place and God showed Abraham was He chose for him and what an amazing place it was.  Abraham had a great vantage point from where God had him and he was able to see the expanse of beauty that God had in mind for him.  Not only for now, but for his descendants forever.  God is again encouraging Abraham along the way.  The land he was in was to be for his descendants forever, but note that Abraham still lived in his tent. 

In fact, Abraham never stopped living in tents.  Abraham lived in tents with his family and Isaac and Isaac lived in tents with his family and children as well.  They built no cities.  They made no permanent homes.  They never stopped living as strangers in a strange land.  They never had possession of the promised land.  In fact, God's people did not get to the promised land until after fleeing from Egypt many many years later and even then through their unfaithfulness they still did not get in.  The land of promise remained a promise until Joshua led Israel into the land to conquer it.  But despite that, Abraham then Isaac then Jacob all held onto that future promise that God was going to give this land to their descendants forever. 

This legacy of faith all began with the promise God made to Abraham and despite many bumps in the road known as disobedience to God, God remained true to His promise.  Abraham held onto his promise as we read in Hebrews 11:10 "for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God."  Abraham knew God would be true to His world and in that faith he knew God would be true to his promise.  He was awaiting that eternal city of God promised to his descendants.  He was a man of faith, able to look ahead to God's promise instead of looking at his present circumstances.  May we have that same faith. 

So what can we learn from this part of Abraham's life?  We can learn some very valuable lessons.  First of all, we know that Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith, but we also see here that many of the promises of God were contingent on his obedience.  For Abraham, God have him an inheritance and a promise, but he would have received neither if he never trusted God to move to the land of Canaan.  For us we learn that while our salvation is by faith and not by works, we also know that many of God's promises for us are contingent upon our obedience.  For example, God does promise to provide for our needs, but that promise is contingent upon us seeking His kingdom and His righteousness first.  We can not just float through life never being obedient to God while claiming His promises. It is for our own good because we would never grow spiritually if God treated us like spoiled children. 

We also learn that while Abraham had amazing faith, that faith (at least at this point of his life) was fallible.  Abraham's faith grew more and more as he trusted the Lord more and more to the point where he was willing to offer his own son of promise as a sacrifice knowing God would still somehow make a nation through him.  At this point, we see Abraham not being entirely obedient in leaving Ur and his family and I spoke of his time in Egypt where he tried to "help" God by lying about who Sarah was.  Please do not get the message that this excuses lack of faith in our lives.  It does not.  The lesson in this is that as we grow in the Lord there will be some bumps in the road.  The wrong response is just to give up and walk away from God.  The correct response is to confess and repent and trust that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins.  God's goal in all our stumbles is to restore us, and that goal is much easier on us if we just cooperate.  If you stumble, stop what you are doing and ask God to help you back up.  Ask God to teach you to walk in the area in which you fell. 

And we also learn patience.  God gave Abraham a promise that was a long time coming.  Abraham never lost his faith that God would come through with his promise.  So many times, we grow impatient and try to help God.  We will see that next week with Sarah.  We need to be patient and trust that no matter what it may seem, God will honor His promises.  Abraham lived his whole life in tents waiting on God knowing the land he was in would be for his descendants forever.  Abraham never saw that promise in his life on earth, but he will see it in eternity.  We will not see many of our own promises of God in this life, but we will in eternity. For us, our tent is our body and our land is the kingdom of God.  Only for us that promise is not for our descendants but for ourselves.  If Jesus returns, that promise can happen today.  If not, we may still have many years to dwell in this tent living as strangers in a world that rejects our God.  May we have the faith of Abraham to always look to our promised future. While we dwell on this planet bound to mortal flesh, may we never lose sight of the hope we have in God's promise that someday we will be free from our flesh and this world and present with our Lord for all eternity. 
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 NKJV

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