John Bradshaw - Abraham
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Emily Post became famous for writing about etiquette. By the time she was 50 years old, she was already an accomplished writer, but it was then that her best-selling book, "Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home," was published. In 1922 a lot of people needed a little guidance in how to... live like ladies and gentlemen. One writer noted that at the time, "The country's exotic mix of immigrants and newly rich were eager to fit in with the establishment. Men had to be taught not to blow their noses into their hands or to spit tobacco onto ladies' backs".
Emily Post wrote advice like this: "Best Society is...an association of gentle-folk, of which good form in speech, charm of manner, knowledge of the social amenities, and instinctive consideration for the feelings of others, are the credentials by which society the world over recognizes its chosen members". She believed a man wasn't a gentleman if he didn't live up to a code of honor, which she said is "more important than any mere dictum of etiquette". So, should the man always pay for dinner? Should a man hold open a door for a woman? How about this question: Should a man ever give his wife away to a stranger if he feels that he's in danger? How do you think Emily Post would answer that? We're continuing our series "Great Characters of the Bible," and we're looking at a very flawed individual who made some terrible decisions. He had an affair with his wife's personal assistant, fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife. He attempted to kill his son. And he's often referred to as "the father of the faithful".
In spite of his, his considerable personal failings, Abraham was God's man, and we're going to see together how that could be and how Abraham's experience can encourage us to grow in faith in God. His name is mentioned 294 times in the Bible, the first time in Genesis 11, verse 26. And way back then, his name wasn't even Abraham. "And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran". The three boys were raised in the same circumstances, yet one of them was changed, transformed really, and became one of the pivotal figures in all of the 66 books of the Bible. Today he's revered and respected by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which means that he's important to more than half of the world's population. And we're going to find out just what it was that makes Abraham such a big deal. Hebrews 11, the Bible's great faith chapter, says, "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".
Now, those two words, "by faith," without exaggeration, they're two of the most important words in the entire Bible. And if we understand them, they'll provide a framework for our entire lives. If we don't get hold of that concept, then there's no way we can live a successful life in this world or in the world to come. To track Abraham's journey of faith, we'll begin in Genesis chapter 12, starting with verse 1: "Now the Lord had said to Abram: 'Get out [from] your country, from your [kindred] 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.'"
See, God had an important work for Abram. God was looking for someone who would keep alive the knowledge of the true God and represent God and make Him known throughout the land of Canaan, where idol worship and human sacrifice were common. Now, this was just 100 years or so after the Tower of Babel. God wanted a living example of what a life of faith in God looked like. And there had to be a line so that God could fulfill His promise to Adam and Eve that one day the Seed of the woman would be victorious over the serpent. God was looking for a family into which the Messiah could be born. And for that to work, Abram really needed to get away from his idol-worshiping family and friends. So off they went. But before too long, a famine caused them to detour to Egypt, and just 10 verses after God told Abram that He would make of him a great nation, Abram, well, let's just say his actions wouldn't have been recommended by Emily Post.
What Abram did was not "best society" by any means. His wife Sarai was very beautiful, and Abram was afraid that Pharaoh would kill him in order to take Sarai as his own. So instead of defending his wife's honor and instead of trusting God to work it all out, Abram convinced Sarai his wife to be complicit in what was a terrible scheme. He said that Sarai was his sister, which, in fact, was technically true as she was his half-sister. But fear had got the better of Abram, and he lost out because of that. God was trying to build and grow his faith, and Abram lost the opportunity to see God work in his behalf. You know, God will allow difficult situations to come into our lives so that we can exercise faith, so that we can see Him work, which would then increase our faith.
Is there something God wants you to grow from that instead you're running from? Didn't work out well for Abram when he ran. But God didn't cast him off, and the Pharaoh didn't keep Sarai, Abram's wife, as his own, even though pharaohs could do that sort of thing. God intervened, and He continued to work with Abram, just like He does with us, even when we make mistakes. It's good to know that God is the Potter, we're the clay, and He allows life's experiences to mold us on our journey to the promised land.
According to Genesis 13, "Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and...gold," but all was not well. His nephew Lot had traveled with him, and things became tense. "Now the land was not able to support them, that they might dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together". Verse 7: "And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock". But rather than get embroiled in an argument, Abram saw a solution. He met with Lot and gently laid out the problem, and then he said, "Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left". Abram could have chosen first. God had promised him the land, and as leader of the family, he had the prerogative to choose the best.
Lot, on the other hand, "lifted [up] his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan, that...was well watered everywhere". And that's what he chose. The River Jordan ran through the valley, making it the perfect place to settle down and be comfortable. After Lot left, the Lord said to Abram, "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 then God made this beautiful promise: "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". You know, Lot's decision wasn't wise. That beautiful valley was soon to become... it was soon to become a battlefield. More on that in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. We're continuing our series "Great Characters of the Bible". We're looking at Abraham, the father of the faithful. When given the choice, Abram's nephew Lot chose the well-watered valley and plains close to the city of Sodom as his own. In other words, he chose the best for himself. It turned out to be a disastrous decision. In the long term, there'd be the calamitous destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the ruinous effect that living there had on his family. He'd lose his wife; he'd lose all of his possessions. But in the short term, five kings marched against the people of the valley and took Lot and his family captive. So Abram took 318 servants, pursued the invaders, attacked swiftly, and recovered all of the prisoners and all the spoils.
So you're seeing growth with Abram. He's flawed, but he clearly wishes to honor and serve God, and he's a man of courage and principle, mostly. When he asked about an heir, about a son, God said to him, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them". And then He added this: "So shall your descendants be". Right then and there, God made a covenant with Abram, and God always keeps His promise. But as time marched on, Sarai remained childless, and the two got older and older. And Sarai figured that she'd never be a mother. So she took matters into her own hands. She decided to give Abram her servant Hagar. Polygamy had become so widespread that it wasn't considered to be abnormal or unacceptable. It was okay in that time and culture. They'd have a child one way or another. In this instance, not God's way.
Abram didn't bother to check with God, and he took Hagar. When a son was born, well, it got about as complicated as you might imagine. Sarai was hard on Hagar, and Hagar "fled from her presence". Abram and Sarai could have just trusted God. Things would have worked out. They had God's word, but they didn't do so. Really, they tried to help God. I mean, who ever heard of a couple that age having a child? But God didn't need their help. In their minds, even God telling them it was going to happen didn't mean it was going to happen. So they did what they could to help the process along, and it all went bad, as it does when we think we know more than God. But God was so gracious.
"Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness". He took the time to seek out Hagar. "And He said, 'Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?' And she said, 'I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.' So the Angel of the Lord said to her, 'Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.... I will multiply your descendants exceedingly.... And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction.'" There are only a few people in the Bible that God Himself named. Ishmael was one of them. Ishmael means "I have heard you". You don't want to forget that. Hagar was a lowly servant in distress, and God heard her. And when I say lowly, I mean the kind of lowly where your employer can decide to impregnate you, and you don't have a say in the matter. Lowly.
God wants us to know that however insignificant you may think you are, His heart is toward you. He sees your distress. He knows what you're going through. He hears your cry, and He cares. Now, "When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to [him again] and said to him, 'I am Almighty God; walk before me and be blameless.... My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.'" God then went on to tell Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son, not Sarai anymore, but Sarah. The change of name indicated a change of experience. They were going to trust God, to lean on God, to follow Him by faith.
One day Abraham was sitting outside his tent when three strangers stopped by to visit. They told him something that would change everything. In all honesty, it was something that would change all of history. Abraham was told, again, that Sarah would have a son. "And the Lord said to Abraham..., 'At the appointed time I will return to you, ... and Sarah shall have a son.'" And it's in the book of Romans where the gravity of all of this is pointed out. Paul writes that righteousness comes to a believer by faith. Abraham gives us a powerful example of this. Now, this is Romans 4, verse 13: "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith".
Verse 19: "And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform". Now, that is one of the best definitions of faith that you will read in the entire Bible. "Being fully convinced that what He", God, "had promised, He", God, "was also able to perform". That is faith. When you accept and believe the promises of God, the word of God, that's faith.
"And therefore," Paul wrote, quoting the book of Genesis, "'it was accounted to him for righteousness.'" Righteousness, salvation, comes by faith. But let me clarify something: This does not mean that the law of God is not important. It doesn't mean that a person shouldn't obey the law of God. That would be anarchy against the government of heaven. The emphasis here is on how salvation comes, how righteousness comes. Salvation, righteousness, does not come by the works of the law, but by faith. We're not saved by the law, but by faith. That's how we receive the gift the salvation. But once we've received it, of course you want to honor God and obey God. To say that you don't need to obey God after you're saved, it, well, it just doesn't make any sense at all. Now, in a moment, Abraham takes faith to a whole new level. I'll be right back.
Abraham is truly one of the great characters of the Bible. He was the father of Isaac, the grandfather of Jacob, and Jacob was the father of 12 sons, who became the 12 tribes of Israel. Genesis 21 starts by saying, "And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him". You can imagine the joy in that household when Isaac was born to a father who was 100 years old and to a mother who had entered her 90s. But some people in the camp weren't laughing. Hagar and Ishmael knew that the birthright and the inheritance would now go to Isaac.
There was ill feeling. It was a mess, and Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. This wasn't easy for Abraham, because he loved his son Ishmael. But God promised He would bless Ishmael and make a great nation of him, too. And to this day, the two nations that descended from Abraham have remained separated, and at odds with each other. Isaac became a fine young man who feared God. So imagine how Abraham felt when God said this: "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains... which I shall tell you". What did he do? Genesis 22, verse 3 says, "So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him".
They journeyed for three days, surely the longest three days of Abraham's life. But here's the thing. Abraham was used to obeying God. He knew the sound of God's voice. He knew when God was talking to him. Hebrews 11 says that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac back to life. Abraham placed the wood for the sacrifice on Isaac's back. It's reminiscent of Jesus carrying the cross on His own back. The old patriarch "took the fire in his hand, and a knife," and the two of them continued on together. Suddenly Isaac broke the silence: "My father"! he cried. "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering"? And Abraham replied in those never-to-be-forgotten words: "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering". Those words were prophetic. God would provide His only Son to be the lamb, "the Lamb of God, which [takes] away the sin of the world".
So the two of them continued their journey. They continued in silence, until "they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood". No doubt he explained as best as he could what God wanted him to do. And do you know what's truly remarkable about this? Abraham was, what, 115 years old? Isaac could have overpowered him, run away from him. It says a lot about the faith of Isaac that he trusted his father, and God, to that extent. Verse 10: "And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!... Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.'"
Abraham's faith was demonstrated by his actions. It's one thing to say that you're a believer, but your actions are really the proof of that. And God saw that Abraham was a man of conviction, a man of faith, and He said to Abraham, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice". And that promise was fulfilled in Jesus, and here's where faith really matters. The Jews in Paul's time had the idea that they were automatically saved because they were descended from Abraham.
But Paul said in Galatians 3 in verse 7, "Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham". And he clarified it again in verse 9: "So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham". The chapter concludes with this promise: "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise". Abraham is the father of faith, and God calls you to exercise faith, too, saving faith. Abraham couldn't see God, but he trusted God, and he carried out God's will in his life. Can you see forgiveness? No, you cannot. But you can know that God will forgive you, based upon what He says in His Word.
Can you see Jesus? Did you see Calvary where Jesus died? No, and no again. But you believe by faith that Jesus died for you and that when you accept Jesus as your Savior, you're a saved child of God. We've never seen Jesus return to this earth, but we know that one soon day He will, and that on that day He will take the people of faith home to be with Him forever. Let me ask you this: Can you exercise faith today? Like Abraham, can you believe? An old man believed he'd have a son, and when he believed God's promise, God counted it to him for righteousness. Faith in God, in a good God, a loving God, faith in Jesus, faith in a compassionate Savior, a loving Savior. Like Abraham, have faith in God today, and know by faith that eternal life is yours.
Let's pray together now, and we're going to pray that God will grow and increase our faith. Let's pray:
Our Father in heaven, we thank You today for the example of Abraham, a flawed man who grew in his relationship with You and in his faith with You to become the father of faith. And so, Father, I pray today that You would grow our faith. My friend, are you having trouble believing in God? Father, give us grace to believe You today. Do you have doubts about the Word of God? Oh, heavenly Lord, give us faith in Your Word as we read it and try it and see that You are good.
Friend, is there weakness in your life?
Heavenly Father, step into that weakness and give us Your strength and Your presence. Give us faith, for we read of Your people in the end of time: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus". Lord, we see those two things demonstrated in Abraham's life: obedience and faith. Let them be seen in us as Jesus lives His life in us. We thank You today. We ask Your blessing. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.