Monday, May 12, 2003

The Dynamics of Faith in the Life of Abraham

This is the second post of a series that looks at faith in the life of Abraham. To start at the beginning, click here.

Obedience was the Result of Abraham’s Faith

From the beginning Abram obeyed God. No matter what else may be said, however, that obedience was the result of his faith. Hebrews puts it this way:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going. By faith he lived as a foreigner in the promised land as though it were a foreign country, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, who were fellow heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with firm foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10, The Net Bible)

Abraham “by faith” acted. By faith, Abraham obeyed the call of God, went out to Canaan, and lived as an alien or perpetual visitor in the land God had promised him. These verses reveal that Abraham looked forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 

What did it mean for Abraham to go out? The original account of Abram’s call and leaving begins in Genesis 12:

So Abram left, just as the Lord had told him to do, and Lot went with him. (Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.) And Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they left for the land of Canaan. They entered the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:4-5)

The Scriptures are amazingly terse sometimes. The brevity of these two verses give the impression that Abram’s leaving was comparable to a next door visit. A somewhat expanded version would include these items, at least:

  1. Abram needed to settle whatever affairs he had active in Haran (like selling house and property).
  2. He needed to acquire provisions for a 300-mile trek to Canaan’s border for himself, Sarai, Lot, over 300 other people, and livestock.
  3. He had to walk away from “country, people, and father’s household.”
  4. He had to make the trip, itself. This, at the least, included activities to smoothly start and stop the parade of people, animals, and supplies each day. Seemingly inconsequential items, like water, become major constraints on such a journey.

In short, Abram’s setting out required detailed planning. It was far too difficult a journey to make on impulse. It required the certainty Abram had in the call of God and cannot be viewed as a small undertaking.

What did it mean for Abraham to live as an alien? Note that Genesis 12:4 tells us that Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran and Genesis 25:7 tells us that Abraham was 175 years old when he died. In other words, after leaving Haran, Abraham had walked the length and breadth of Canaan according to God’s command for one hundred years. For a century he never stayed any place long enough to mix with the Canaanites or participate in their idolatry.

One can more easily appreciate what Abram accomplished by realizing how much easier it would have been for him to settle somewhere. Consider his nephew, Lot. He never blended with Abram’s company and apparently maintained a careful accounting of what belonged to him. Eventually, the effort to maintain a separate togetherness proved too much and he and Abram parted ways; Lot had first choice and chose the easy ground.

Lot looked up and saw the whole region of the Jordan. He noticed that all of it was well-watered (before the Lord obliterated Sodom and Gomorrah) like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, all the way to Zoar. (Genesis 13:10)

This left Abram the rough hill country. But before long, Lot had pitched his tents near Sodom. A little later, he lived in Sodom whose wickedness, according to Peter, distressed him greatly. Apparently, however, the distress was easier than the rootless life Abraham led. 

So, Abraham continuously trusted the Lord to meet his needs, and the Lord met them continuously. Abram’s trust in God enabled him leave Haran and to confidently walk the length and breadth of Canaan as an old man. His life, goods, and people were secure and uncorrupted.

Tuesday: The City That Never Was

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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