Robert Jeffress - Abraham, A Most Unlikely Hero
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Abraham stands out as one of the greatest heroes in all of Scripture not because of his perfect choices but because of his unwavering faith. Today we're beginning a brand new series called "Walking by Faith". In this first study, we'll examine how Abraham chose to walk into unknown territory, trusting God for a new destination. My message is titled "Abraham: A Most Unlikely Hero" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
A few years ago I read the book "True Compass". It was the autobiography of the late senator Ted Kennedy. Reviewers of the book were surprised at the honesty at which Kennedy addressed some of the big issues in his life: his battle with alcoholism, his notorious philandering with other women, and of course the incident on that bridge at Chappaquiddick with Mary Jo Kopechne. The reviewers said that Kennedy's candor gave credibility to his book. You know, it's the same way with the Bible of the many evidences. For the inspiration, the trustworthiness of the Bible is the way the Bible treats its heroes.
Instead of whitewashing their mistakes and portraying them as saints, the Bible tells their whole story, defects and all; and that's certainly true for the character we're going to begin looking at today, the man named Abraham. Although Abraham is called the friend of God, even though he's the father of the Jewish nation, even though he's used in the New Testament as the supreme example of faith, he had tremendous character deficiencies and made some tremendous mistakes in his life. That ought to be an encouragement to us. If God can use Abraham, he can use anybody.
If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to the beginning of Abraham's story. It's found at the end of Genesis chapter 11. Today we're beginning our study of Abraham, who was truly a most unlikely hero. You see, the one quality God admires, God desires more than any other quality in our life is faith. What is faith? It's believing that God will do what he has promised to do and acting accordingly, believing that God will do what he's promised to do and acting accordingly. Remember Hebrews 11:6. "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for those who come to God must believe that he is, and that he's a rewarder of those who diligently follow after him".
The call of Abraham, it actually begins at the end of Genesis 11. We find that Terah lived 70 years and became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Now, Terah was the father of Abram. Abram was born in the city of Ur of the Chaldees, center of the Mesopotamian Valley; and that's where God's original call to Abraham came. Let's look at the setting, first of all, of God's call to Abraham. The setting for the story is the city of Ur, and Ur was a metropolitan city. It might be like New York or London today. And it was known for many things. It was a port city. It sat at the edge of the Persian Gulf. It was bordered by the Euphrates River. It had a population of 300,000.
Now, notice the command. "Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you'". Now, this is the same call he had received 15 years earlier. Fifteen years earlier living in Ur of the Chaldees, God said, "Abram, I want you to do something. I want you to leave your country". Have you ever gone on an overseas trip to a country you weren't familiar with? And, you know, it's interesting to visit, but it's difficult because you don't understand the language probably, you don't understand the customs. You deal in a different currency. And as interesting as that trip is, you can't wait to get home. Just imagine being told that you have to go permanently to a country you don't even know about. You have to follow God to reach it, and you're totally unfamiliar with it.
That's what God said. "I want you to leave the country you're familiar with". He said, "Not only do I want you to separate yourself from your country but also from your relatives. Leave behind your relatives, everybody you're related to". F.B. Meyer says, "God's commands are not always accompanied by reason, but God's commands are always accompanied by a promise either spoken or unspoken". And we find that promise beginning in verse 2. God has already said, "I want you to go to a land that I will show you," verse 2, "and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed".
These are probably the three most significant verses in all the Bible because they tell us God's plan not just for Abraham and his descendants but for the entire world that includes: you and me. We call this the Abrahamic Covenant, and really the rest of the Bible from Genesis 12:4 to Revelation 22 is a story of God's fulfillment of this unconditional promise to Abraham. Now God comes to Abraham and he said, "I know what you want, Abraham. You're like every other person. You want security? I'll give you security. I'm going to give you a land that will belong to you and your descendants forever". And that was the first part of the Abrahamic Covenant, the promise of a land. He wasn't talking about heaven, he was talking about a land here on earth.
In Genesis 15 we find the borders of that land that belong to Abraham's descendants, to Israel. Interestingly, that outline in Genesis 15 describes land that Israel has never in history completely inhabited, but it will one day. In the millennium when God fulfills his promise to believing Israel, all of this land unconditionally promised to Abraham will belong to believing Israel. "You want security? I'll give you a land. You want solidarity? You want to have a community, Abraham, like Nimrod did? I'm going to give you a nation. You're going to be the father of a great nation. Even though you're an old man and you're married to a barren wife, you're going to have not just one descendant. You're going to have so many descendants you can't count them".
Genesis 15 says they will be like the grains of sand on a seashore. They'll be like the stars in the heaven. It will be impossible to count them. "And those who bless you and your nation, I will bless," God said. Notice that? "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you". And then thirdly he said, "Plus, I'm going to give a blessing to the entire world. Through you all the nations of the world will be blessed". And that is a reference, of course, to the Lord Jesus Christ. What was Abraham's response? How did he respond to God's call? He responded, first of all, with initial enthusiasm.
Genesis 11:31 says when this call came initially, Abram was 60. They picked up and off they went in search of this country that God had promised them. Verse 8 of Hebrews 11 says, "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going". Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Only he who believes obeys, and only he who obeys truly believes". There's an inseparable link between believing and obeying. Abraham believed what God said, and he packed up his possessions and off he went to this new land.
Now, the trip from Ur where he was living to Haran was a relatively easy journey. There was plenty of pasture along the way to feed their livestock. When they had arrived in Haran, the culture was very much like Ur, what they had been used to. The language was the same. The customs were the same. And when they got to Haran, Terah, the father of Abraham said, "This is far enough, Abram. We've gone far enough. Now let's settle down here. We've obeyed God enough". You know, Terah is like many parents. Many parents want their children to be religious, just religious enough not to get on drugs or to have a baby out of wedlock. They want just enough of God to keep their children on the right track, but they don't want their children becoming religious fanatics. They don't want them listening to God too closely because if they do they might do something radical.
That was Terah. He wanted Abraham to obey God just enough. And so that initial enthusiasm led to prolonged disobedience on the part of Abraham. In Genesis 11:31, "Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, and his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law. They went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans in order to enter the land of Canaan; and they went as far as Haran, and they settled there". We know from scholars that Abraham probably spent 15 years in Haran. How did he rationalize that? Perhaps as he looked back on his original call he thought, "Well, maybe that wasn't God's voice I heard," or, "Maybe I didn't understand it correctly," or, "Even though maybe God told me that years ago I'm too old now to make any significant changes in my life".
What is it that caused Abraham to settle? In a word, it was his father Terah. Terah is the one who encouraged him to stay, and it would take the death of Terah for Abraham to hear the voice of God. It would take Abraham experience a deep loss in his life, taking away his father whom he obviously admired. He would have to take his dad away before he could obey God. Genesis 11:32 says, "The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran". Unless you think I'm reading too much in this, listen to what Stephen said in Acts 7:4. "Then," after Terah died, "he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. From there, after his father died, God had him move to this country in which you are now living".
It was after Terah died that God had Abraham to move; and that led to the third period of time, Abraham's ultimate obedience. Again, the call of God came in verses 1 to 3 of Genesis 12, and look at verse 4. "So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And he took Sarai his wife and Lot and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan". That's what is Israel today. "They set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan".
Now, remember I said the first part of that journey from Ur to Haran was relatively easy? The journey from Haran to Canaan was difficult. It was 400 miles of desert. Josephus the historian tells us that on the way to Canaan they came to what is now the city of Damascus. There was an oasis there, but Abraham refused to stop. He didn't want to be tempted to make the same mistake he had made when he settled in Haran. And finally, verse 8, after that 400-mile journey, look what happens. "Then he," Abraham, "proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD". From this point on, Abraham had a consistent, not spotless but a consistent obedience to God, even though he lived in the middle of a cultural cesspool with the Canaanites.
What is it that kept Abraham's faith intact and his obedience on track during the rest of the time he spent in Canaan? Again, the biographer F.B. Meyer points to two words in verse 8 that explain Abraham's consistent obedience to God from this point on. First of all, a tent. Verse 8 says that he pitched his tent. Now, think about this. Even though God had promised this land to Abraham, even though Abraham was a wealthy, wealthy man, from this point, from age 75 till he died at age 175 he never lived in anything except a flimsy tent. He never built a house. He never bought a piece of real estate except one on which to bury his wife. He lived as an alien, why? Because he wanted to be ready to hear and obey the voice of God in case God told him to move again. He lived as an alien in this world.
Hebrews 11, verses 9 and 10 says this: "By faith Abraham lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God". Even though Abraham lived in this world, he was not of this world. He was looking for a better country with a better reward, and because of that this world had little appeal to him. What is the focus of your life right now? Is it this world or is it the next world? Can you honestly say as the gospel hymn writer said, "This world is not my home. I'm just passing through". That was Abraham.
Now, you know, interestingly you may remember Abraham had a brother named Nahor. He built a city in Genesis chapter 24. In the world's eyes, he was Terah's successful son. Why do they remember Abraham? Because he had another world focus for his life. What kingdom are you building? Are you building your kingdom or are you building God's kingdom? It's so easy for us to become focused on this world building our business, building our reputation, building our family. And those are all important, but in the final analysis, as one scholar said, they are like dandelion seeds scattered in the wind. They dissipate very, very quickly. It's what's done for God's kingdom that ultimately counts. Abraham pitched his tent. He was an alien in this world. And the second keyword in this passage, chapter 12, verse 8, is an altar. He built an altar when he got to Canaan.
Did you know for those 15 years he was in Haran he never once built an altar? No record of it. He never once worshiped God. It's easy to see why. When you're living in disobedience, disobedience pushes you further and further away from God. But when he finally heard the voice of God again, he knew he had to build an altar in order to commune regularly with God. Even though he was a wealthy man, even though he lived in a moral cesspool in Canaan, he was able to keep his obedience intact because he regularly communicated with God. Do you have an altar? What is the condition of your altar? Are you meeting regularly with God?
You know, I imagine there are some of you here today, some of you watching this program, as you review your life there's a lot of disappointment. Maybe you haven't fulfilled the goals you or perhaps other people had for you and yet deep down you may know why. You can look back to a period in your life, a time in your life when you didn't obey God's command or you only obeyed it half-heartedly. You know why. You know the point you got off track with God. Let me remind you of something. The point of departure is usually the point of return back to God. If the story of Abraham tells us anything, it tells us this. It doesn't matter how old you are. It doesn't matter how far you drifted away from God. You can't come back. The story of Abraham is an invitation to come back to the altar of God, meet with God. Listen to his voice. Obey his command. That's how you become a friend of God.