Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Early Faith of Abraham - Genesis Chapter 12

Artist's rendition of the Ziggurat of Ur.
I have always thought that Abraham was one of the most interesting figures in Genesis.  He’s fascinating because of his faith.  The Bible says, “He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  But, Abraham, while he believed God, and was truly a man of faith, his faith, like ours was subject to failure.  His faith became real in an incident that took place later in life than his call out of Ur. 

The Bible tells us that God called him in Haran and he heard God and departed as he was told.  This is an amazing moment because Abraham had been raised in Ur.  The Ziggurat of Ur was built as a place to worship the Sumerian moon god Nanna.  Another name for Nanna, interestingly enough, is Sin.  Abraham was raised in Ur, the stronghold of Nanna worship.  It is likely that his whole family was involved in the worship of the god of this place.  This could be why God told him to leave his family and follow God to a place God would show him. 

This is what makes it even more amazing that Abraham would recognize the voice of God and respond when God calls him:

Genesis 12:1-4 (NKJV) 12:1 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. 2 I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3 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." 4 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.

So, when we hear this we think, “What faith!”  Even though he was raised under another religious belief when God called Abraham responded and did what God old him.  He heard the voice of God and knew it was God.  That’s powerful.  There are many Christians who know God and don’t respond to God’s call like that.  But was Abraham such a great man of faith?  Was his faith greater than yours?

Abraham responded to God’s call but he had struggles along the way.  In the same chapter as the story of God’s calling, we see another story that speaks of Abraham’s faith.  But this story doesn’t portray that faith as boundless, like the other does.

Genesis 12:10-13 (NKJV) 12:10 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. 11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you."
So, here is another snapshot of Abraham’s faith.  This takes place after God has promised to give the land to his descendents.  He’d heard from God and responded by leaving Haran and following God.  He’d heard the promise of God to leave this land to his descendents and he believed.  He had begun to worship God by building and altar and calling on the name of the Lord.  These are all the actions of a man of faith.  But right after that comes the big BUT.  But there was famine in the land and Abraham went down to Egypt.  This is where the trouble began.
Suddenly, he’s asking his wife to say she’s his sister.  He’s afraid that they’ll kill him.  Suddenly, his faith in God’s promise is gone.  His faith is gone, at this point.  How can God give the land to his descendents if Abraham is dead before the first one is born?  Like most of us when things get really, really hard the faith goes.  Abraham’s faith went.

There is an interesting corollary to this in the New Testament:

Matthew 8:23-27 (NKJV) 8:23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" 26 But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, "Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"
The disciples are in the boat and out at sea.  Jesus is with them.  They have come to see Him for who he is.  They believe that He’s the Messiah.  They’ve seen miracles.  They’ve seen healings.  They know that God sent Him with a purpose and they know that purpose hasn’t been fulfilled.  But they’re afraid that they’re going to die and He will die with them.   Jesus is irritated by their lack of faith.  “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” 
This is the same thing going on with Abraham in Egypt.  He’s got all these promises before him, but Sarah’s not pregnant.  There is no heir, so there are no descendents.  In his eyes the promise isn’t happening.  Abraham’s faith has fled.

Abraham’s faith strengthens in the following chapters.  By the tie God calls on him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham knows that God will raise him in order to keep the promise. 

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NKJV) 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
Sometimes we all struggle with faith, even the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews Chapter Eleven.  It took about eight hundred-twenty years for Abraham’s descendents to take he land promised by God.  They had to go through a few things first.  We expect God to deliver his promises right now, and it takes faith to wait on God. 
Abraham was seventy-five when God called him out of Haran and promised his descendents the land of Canaan.  He was 100 when the first descendent was born.  It was another eight hundred years before the promise came true. 

Stream of Thought:

  1. Abraham had faith to answer God’s call.
  2. He believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.
  3. But his faith failed in Egypt.
  4. Like the disciples faith failed in the storm.
  5. Abraham’s faith strengthened over the years.
  6. He was able to offer Isaac knowing God would raise him.
  7. We all struggle with faith
  8. Sometimes God’s promises take a while.

No comments:

Post a Comment