Abraham, Part 1
Updated: Sep 9, 2019
Faith is holding on lightly in this life in anticipation of something better in the next.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10).
In verse 8 alone there is a wealth of teaching for us: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he wouldlater receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”
It is often assumed that Abraham or, Abram, as he was so named in the early parts of his faith journey, had his life-changing encounter with God when he and his family were living in Ur of the Chaldees. In Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7, Stephen says: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you’ So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.”
According to Genesis 11:27-32, it was Abram’s father who left Ur to go to Canaan.
“This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no children. Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.”
Is this a contradiction? In a patriarchal society it would be normal for the senior mal member of the family to make momentous decisions such as the one that Genesis describes as being made by Terah, even though Abram was the one called to make the move. It is likely that Abram shared what he had been told with his father and Terah made the decision to go. The delay in Haran may have been due to illness or age that made it impossible for Terah to go any further. Out of respect for the patriarch of the family Abram and the others waited until Terah was gone before they moved on to Canaan. We are not told the details.
We do know that both Ur and Haran were well-developed cities and that the people who lived in both places were worshippers of idols, principally Nannar the moon-god.
Terah didn’t complete the journey to Canaan but his son did. We can only speculate as to how life would have been different for Abraham if his father had completed the journey he set out to make. If Terah had refused to go with Abram in response to the call of God on his life we may believe that Abram would have gone anyway based on the strength of his faith and the obedience that grew out of that faith.
“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and 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. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.”
Compare these verses with Hebrews 11:8 which says: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”
From what we read in Hebrews, Abraham did not know where God was taking him. We are programmed to program! We are taught to make a plan early on in life and then work that plan until it happens. To be asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” and not have a specific goal in mind is looked upon with raised eyebrows. To be asked, “Where are you going?” begs a destination. To just pick up and walk into the unknown—especially because “God” told you to do it—invites speculation about the mental state of the person or persons doing the picking up and walking!
No Google Maps. No vision trip. No Wikipedia to find out all the information possible. Of course, if you don’t know where you are going even those resources will not help.
From what little we know about what might have been running through Abram’s head, it appears that all he wanted to do was obey God, “mas nada!”
Doubtless there were people who knew Abram who thought he had lost his mind, just as surely there had been many who thought Noah was crazy for building a boat where there was no water. Sometimes God asks us to do what makes no sense to anyone but Him.
If the nature of faith is believing without seeing—or understanding—then Abram’s obedience to God’s command is a perfect example of faith. Abram acted without any more of a plan than “go.”
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament make an interesting connection when speaking of Abraham’s faith.
Genesis 15:6— Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Romans 4:1-5— What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
There is an important distinction to be made note of here. If Abram was declared righteous because he did what God told him, the argument could be made that Abram worked for that declaration. In fact, it was his faith, his belief, the evidence of which was given by his obedience, that resulted in Abram being declared righteous by God.
Galatians 3:1-9— You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard. Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
We often dismiss the Old Testament because it is all about law, and on this side of the cross we consider that everything is about grace apart from the law. This, or similar statements, are a mantra for some. Even prominent evangelicals diminish the Old Testament as though the Old and the New are not connected. But the Old Testament doesn’t teach justification by law, it teaches justification by faith as we see in the example of Abraham who was justified by faith long before the law came into being. Paul was correct when he wrote that the law was, and is, simply a means by which God shows us that we can’t be saved by it because we are incapable of living up to its standards. The law condemns us but can’t save us—it was never intended to. Galatians 3:24 says: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”
MacLaren: “It is remarkable to find this anticipation of New Testament teaching so far back. It is like finding one full-blown flower in a garden where all else is but swelling into bud. No wonder that Paul fastened on it to prove that justification by faith was older than Moses, than law or circumcision, that his teaching was the real original, and that faith lay at the foundation of the Old Testament religion.”
Because Abraham obeyed and went out in faith to embrace the unknown God made him the promises that are outlined in Genesis 12:2,3.
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and I will make you a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
There are many layers to this promise. A great nation, being blessed, becoming a blessing that would extend to his friends but not to his enemies and have an impact beyond Abraham’s own lifetime.
The promise at the end of verse 3 impacts us: “…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Matthew 1:1-16 outlines the genealogy of Jesus and begins with “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”Luke 3:23-38 records the same line from a slightly different angle. Through Jesus the whole world would be blessed.
Perhaps the key here is the passage from Galatians 3. In a lengthy passage on justification by faith with Abraham as its centerpiece, Paul writes: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
The promise made to Abraham is a promise passed on to us by inheritance. The Gospel, as it penetrates hearts in whatever corner of the world that happens, adds family. We, as children of the King and of the kingdom are part of legions of other kingdom dwellers, of that nation that has no boundaries or borders, whose constitution is the Scriptures and whose inclusion as equal participants in based on faith in Christ. While in this world, we live with bias, in Christ’s kingdom, and by inference in the church, there should be no bias. Perhaps it is my own over-sensitivity here but am I wrong to think that we use the world as an excuse for living like the kingdom is the church? Do we cling to our biases because the world is biased, forgetting what Paul writes in these verses and using the world, our human frailties, as a excuse for prejudice? Are we, as Paul says a little later, “…turning back to those weak and miserable forces… Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?”
The next part of Abraham’s story creates a bit of a conundrum: Hebrews 11:9, 10 tells us: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”
God had brought Abraham to the land that would be his permanent inheritance and that of his descendants. If the passage simply had said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in tents all their lives, we wouldn’t be surprised. They were herders and they needed to be able to move about to find pasture for their animals. But the passage makes living in tents an act of faith. How could living as nomads be considered an act of faith?
The clue is in the last part of the passage. Abraham believed that this land was only a temporary possession, that there was something better to come. So he lived in the light of that, he lived out the faith that believed that there was more, that there was a Promised Land beyond Canaan. He seems to have understood that from the beginning, before his arrival. Though God has called him to this land and has promised this land to him and to his descendants, it was never meant to be a permanent possession, or the final possession. This thought is critical to the issues being faced in the Holy Land today. Are we supporting the wrong battle when we argue that Israel must have back its land when that land was never intended to be a permanent possession, only a stepping stone to the real possession, the eternal one, the heavenly city? Do we do the Jewish people a disservice by emphasizing the earthly kingdom over the heavenly one in our prayers and in our giving?
I am a stranger here, within a foreign land;
My home is far away, upon a golden strand;
Ambassador to be of realms beyond the sea,
I'm here on business for my King.
This is the message that I bring,
A message angels fain would sing:
"Oh, be ye reconciled,” Thus saith my Lord and King,
"Oh, be ye reconciled to God."
This is the King's command: that all men, ev’rywhere,
Repent and turn away from sin's seductive snare;
That all who will obey, with him shall reign for aye,
And that's my business for my King.
My home is brighter far than Sharon's rosy plain,
Eternal life and joy throughout its vast domain;
My Sovereign bids me tell how mortals there may dwell,
And that's my business for my King.
Remember how Hebrews 11 ends: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Abraham held on lightly to his home, his family, his possessions, even this land that God promised to his descendants because he knew BY FAITH that something better was coming. This same principle appears in the following:
New Testament Examples
“19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24No one can serve two masters.Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money. 25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
This is the sense of passages like Matthew 10:37-39: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
And Luke 9:57-62: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”
There is an “Abraham principle” in these passages, a faith principle.
The underlying principle applies to all circumstances. This world and all that is attached to it is secondary to the striving to prepare for the next. Abraham’s obedience to God and his faith in the promise of a future kingdom, another city, was his priority above all else.
CONVERSATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
1. How close have you ever come to moving ahead with something you felt God was calling you to do but without being sure where that journey might take you? How did taking that step of faith feel at the time?
2. Abraham lived before the Law was introduced. What significance does that have when we are tempted to think of the Old Testament as unrelated to the events and teachings of the New Testament?
3. Martin Luther became a believer when he understood the meaning of being justified, or declared righteous, by faith. How would you explain that to someone who was unfamiliar with the phrase?
4. Living with a view to a future kingdom as opposed to building an earthly kingdom. Explain.
5. Report on how you are doing in strengthening your relationship with God as a vital part of your faith journey.
In some translations, “Haran” is written “Harran.” In Hebrew the name of the place differs from the name of Lot’s father.
Samuel J. Schultz, The Old Testament Speaks, (New York, N.Y. Harper & Row) 32, Second Edition.