Walk by faith and not by sight

Nearly 200 years ago there were two Scottish brothers named John and David Livingstone.  John had set his mind on making money and becoming wealthy, and he did. But under his name in an old edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica John Livingstone is listed simply as “the brother of David Livingstone” (1813-1873). While John had dedicated himself to making money, David had invested his life as a missionary to Africa. He resolved, “I will place no value on anything I have or possess unless it is in relationship to the kingdom of God.” The inscription over his burial place in Westminster Abbey reads, “For thirty years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize.” Two men…two brothers, yet, both lived very different lives.

 

In Genesis 13:5-18, we will look at the lives of two men, Abram and Lot, two family members that lived very different lives. Thirteen chapters in Genesis are devoted to the life and times of Abram; of these, five tell the story of Lot, his nephew. Unlike Abram’s story, Lot’s describes complete failure. Why is so much space devoted to telling us about Lot’s tragedy? His life offers a sharp contrast to Abram’s. Lot represents the walk of sight, while Abram’s represents the walk of faith. Lot looks for a city built with human hands; Abram looks for a city whose builder is God (Heb 11:10). Lot fails. Abram succeeds. In both lives we see critical lessons that relate to our struggles today. This section brings out three principles that will help us walk by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). The first principle is…\

1. Handle your conflicts wisely and graciously (13:5-9). In 13:5-7a, Moses writes, “Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” Like Abram, Lot became rich in Egypt (cf. 13:2, 5). No doubt, Uncle Abe blessed Lot with some of the gifts he received from Pharaoh (cf. 12:16). Maybe this act of generosity alleviated some of his guilt for giving away his wife, Sarai, to Pharaoh (12:10-15).

 

Regardless, both Abram and Lot were “living large.” In fact, their “possessions” had become so large that they could no longer dwell together. This point is repeated twice in 13:6-7 for emphasis. The wealth of Abram and Lot consisted of flocks and herds. As nomadic tribesmen they had to travel about looking continually for pasture for their sheep and cattle. Since the land was already inherited, there wasn’t a lot of pasture to choose from. Consequently, each man’s herdsmen sought water and the best pasture for the animals of their master. This competition inevitably led to conflict (cf. Jas 4:1-3). The result was a range war—the kind of western-movie scenario with which we’re so familiar. The only thing missing is Gene Autry’s background music—“Oh, give me a home where my shepherds can roam.”

In these three verses, two biblical truths are apparent. 

First, we may have riches if riches do not have us. I know many wealthy Christians that live far below their means and use their wealth to help others and serve God’s kingdom. There is nothing wrong with being rich, as long as you do not horde that which God has given you. 

Second, wealth can be a blessing and a curse in a man’s life. We can understand and appreciate the blessing of wealth but we often forget that more money equals more problems. One of the many reasons is money can divide families.

 

In 13:7b, there is a significant parenthetical phrase: “Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.” This brief commentary suggests that the conflict between Abram and Lot was on full display before the unbelieving Canaanites and Perizzites. Whether you realize it or not, unbelievers are watching your life: how you treat your spouse and kids, how you conduct yourself—at work, on the road, when you’re under stress, when you think no one is watching. And what they see will either draw them to Jesus Christ or repel them. Sadly, many people will never listen to what any believer says because of what some believers are (see 1 Pet 2:12Phil 2:14-16).

 

Two Christian ladies had to share the same office. They fought like cats and dogs. One always wanted the window open; the other wanted it closed. “I feel I am going to suffocate in here!” said the one. “I’m going to die of a cold!” retorted the other. Finally, a co-worker came up with a suggestion. “Why don’t you keep the window closed until one of you dies of suffocation and then keep it open until the other dies of pneumonia. Then we’ll have some peace around here!”

 

We laugh at this story, but it’s true to life. When Christians have disputes, it hurts the testimony of the Lord. On the eve of His death, Jesus prayed that His people might be one that the world might believe (John 17:20-23). When we exhibit unity in the body of Christ, the world is bound to be attracted to Christ and the church (John 13:34-35). When we don’t, the world is repelled.

 

In the face of this family feud, Abram speaks to Lot in 13:8-9: “Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left.” In these two verses, we learn a great deal about how to appropriately handle conflict.

First, believers should seek to resolve conflict (see Matt 5:23-24). Abram took the initiative to resolve the conflict with Lot. Abram could have said, “Now, look here, Lot, this land belongs to me. God has promised it to me, not to you. You’ll simply have to move on.”

 

Instead, he surrendered his personal rights and sacrificed his interests (Phil 2:1-11). Likewise, it is our responsibility to surrender our personal rights. The lazy, unbelieving way is to let the conflict drift and become steadily worse. Yet, the Bible is clear; when there is a conflict with a brother or sister we should take the initiative. The life of faith involves learning to live with brothers and sisters.

With that said, there are times when brothers and sisters must separate for the sake of peace (see Acts 15:39).

 

This side of heaven, believers will not always see eye-to-eye. Therefore, there are occasions where a parting of ways is appropriate. For example, in a local church, if there are strong preferences or opinions that cannot be resolved, it can be appropriate for a member to depart for the sake of harmony. We must be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3).

 

Second, believers should exhibit tenderness. Abram’s words to Lot were explicitly tender. Twice Abram says, “Please” (lit. “I pray you.”). He then appealed to their kinship—“for we are brothers.” Unlike Cain, Abram believed he was his brother’s keeper (cf. 4:9). He diffused any anger or defensiveness that Lot may have had and he refused to argue. Now you cannot have a fight if one person refuses to be party to it. It takes two to tangle. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to have a good fight, only to discover that the other person is unwilling to fight. May we follow in the footsteps of Abram and refuse to fight or argue. Instead, may we exhibit tenderness with the goal of unity.

 

Third, believers should wait on God. When confronted with worrying circumstances that seemed to be clamoring for his immediate action, Abram’s first reaction was to do nothing. He simply waited. He was confident that God would soon make His way clear. On this occasion, Abram refused to take matters into his own hands (cf. 12:10-20). Instead, he left his circumstances in God’s capable hands.

 

I sense that Abram had a great deal of confidence because he knew, by faith, that no matter what Lot chose, God would fulfill His covenant promises in his own life. I like that! Abram didn’t get ahead in life by looking out for number one. No! It was God who exalted him because he placed the interests of others ahead of his own (see Phil 2:3-11). The world’s way of getting ahead is to look out for number one. But God’s way is to look up to number one and to be a blessing to others.

 

People who truly believe God’s promises of provision can be generous with their possessions. You don’t have to be worried about “losing” if others are blessed. So be generous! Help others succeed! God will see that kind of Christlike faith and you will be rewarded! When you face troubling circumstances like Abram, don’t do anything rash. Just wait. Do nothing. Ride it out. In time, God will reveal the way to you.

[You and I are to handle our conflicts wisely and graciously. We are also to…]

2. View life from an eternal perspective (13:10-13). In the next four verses, we have a deliberate contrast between Abram and Lot. Moses writes, “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. [Every movement away from God thus far in Genesis has been designated as toward the east, 3:24; 4:16; 11:2.] Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD.”

 

Lot. saw that the valley of the Jordan was lush, green, growing, and well watered…just like the garden of the Lord and the land of Egypt. It was a modern real estate developer’s dream! It was a place where Lot could add to his considerable wealth and status.

 

As Lot went his way, I believe he patted himself on the back for putting one over on old Abe. Abe must have been soft in the head to give such an advantage to Lot, and Lot was just sharp enough to cash in on it. Perhaps Lot thought, “Uncle Abe has more than I have anyway, this will just balance everything out.” Or, “Old Uncle Abe is kind of naïve—he doesn’t really care. After all, he gave me my choice.” Or, regarding Sodom, Lot might have said to himself, “That wicked city really needs a strong witness for the Lord. After all, who’s going to tell them about God?” Or perhaps he felt his family needed a little “broader exposure” to the world. After all, Uncle Abe was getting pretty religious, building altars all over the place and calling on the name of the Lord. Whatever his rationalizations or excuses, Lot’s decision was based on his own selfish desires.

 

Lot saw, he chose, and he acted. This reveals the downward spiral of sin (Jas 1:14-15). We can see this in Lot’s three choices. First, Lot chose himself ahead of others. The text records these words: “So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of Jordan” (13:11a). What a revealing statement! Lot’s primary concern wasn’t the glory of God, the benefit of his family or Abram’s, or even his own spiritual welfare. His primary concern was, “What’s in it for me?” The simplest and fairest separation would have been to make the Jordan River the boundary between the two men. What would have been fairer than to have chosen one side of the river to dwell in and to leave the other to Abram? But Lot chose all of the land for himself. Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

Lot “settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom.” At first, Lot simply pitched his tent near Sodom. But in 14:12, we discover that he had traded in his tent for a townhouse in Sodom. Then in 19:1, we find that he was sitting in the gate as a leader of these wicked and godless people! I’m sure Lot did not intend to actually live in the cities of the valley. At first, he simply set off in that general direction (cf. 13:11). But once our direction is set, our destination is also determined, for it is now only a matter of time. While Lot lived in his tents at first (13:2), before long he has traded in his tent for a townhouse in Sodom (19:2, 4, 6). He may have lived in the suburbs initially, but at last he lived in the city (19:1ff).

 

Some decisions may not seem very significant, but they set a particular course for our lives. The decision may not seem very important, but its final outcome can be terrifying and tragic. Material prosperity should never be sought at the cost of spiritual peril.

 

Second, Lot chose his occupation over his family. Lot had “flocks and herds and tents” (13:5) but he did not have an altar (cf. 13:4). As a result, he did not ask, “Is this a good place to raise children? He asked, “Is this a good place to raise cattle?” He did not ask what God had chosen for him. He did not consider the impact that living in sin city would have on his wife, his children, and himself. His choice was entirely determined by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). When you are contemplating a move, one of the first questions you should ask is: Will this move draw me and my family closer to Christ? Unless God explicitly calls, do not move until you are confident that there is a strong Bible-believing church where you and your family will be able to worship and fellowship. You owe it to yourself and your children to prioritize your relationship with the Lord.

 

Third, Lot chose the immediate over the future. Lot’s eyes became the windows of his soul. He chose the path of least resistance. It is not that Lot was evil; he simply seemed to be adrift without an anchor. He lived life on the edge, and like so many of us, he eventually lost his way. When faced with a hard decision, he acted selfishly. Yet, as we will see in chapter 19, this would prove to be the biggest mistake of Lot’s life. As a result of this careless choice, his wife would turn to a pillar of salt, his girls would commit incest with him, and Lot, a righteous man (2 Pet 2:7-8), would live an unrighteous life.

 

There are two questions that come to a human soul: The first question is, “Heaven or hell?” Lot answered this question when he left Mesopotamia and followed Abram to Canaan (cf. 12:4). The second question is, “Heaven or earth?” Lot answered this second question when he chose Sodom. What about you? If you have trusted in Christ, you have heaven instead of hell, but the question for you today may be: Do you have heaven or earth (Matt 6:19-20)?

[You and I are to handle our conflicts wisely and graciously and view life from an eternal perspective. Lastly, we are to…]

3. Express confidence in God’s promises (13:14-18). In 13:14-16, Moses writes, “The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered.”’ It is interesting to note that God did not speak to Abram until after Abram had made his decision to finally obey God’s initial command to separate from his father’s household (cf. 12:1). Humanly speaking, the only thing that stood in the way of divine blessing was human disobedience. God eventually removed that barrier by forcibly separating Abram and Lot. At that point, God once again speaks to Abram and reaffirms His promises. I believe that many of us have missed tremendous blessings in life and the opportunity to be used of the Lord simply because we have refused to obey His Word. In most cases, we trade away the bounty of God for the scraps of the world.

 

Previously, Lot “lifted up his eyes” (13:10) and had seen the land before him with the eyes of one weighing financial promise. Here, Abram “lifted up his eyes” (cf. Deut 34:1-4) also and he saw the whole land as far as he could see in every direction. Abram was without an heir. However, the Lord appeared to Abram at this crucial time and reconfirmed the promise of land that He said He would give to Abram’s offspring (13:15). God repeated His promise to give him and his descendants all the land he saw. This promise was more specific than God’s previous promises regarding the seed and the land (12:2, 7). This was God’s third revelation to Abram. It contained three specifics.

 

First, God would give the land to Abram and his descendants forever (13:15). Second, Abram’s heir would be his own seed (offspring; 13:15-16).

Third, Abram’s descendants would be innumerable (13:16). The figure of “dust” suggests physical seed (13:16; cf. 2:7). The reference to the dust of the earth is a figurative expression for a number too large to be counted, since it would be impossible for the earth’s population to be as numerous as there are grains of dust in the earth.

 

These blessings are good news for Abram but far from the reality he saw. The land was under the control of the Canaanites and the Perizzites (cf. 13:7). The leftover grazing land belonging to Lot (cf. 13:11). He had no kid. Sarai, his wife, is beyond the age of bearing children. If I had been Abram, I would have negotiated the promise. “Lord. I know you’re going to give me the whole land but do you think that you could inform the Canaanites and Perizzites? In fact, I’d be happy with a couple of acres. Offspring like the dust of the earth? Lord, just one kid will do.” Yet, unlike me, Abram expressed confidence in God’s promises. Even though he could not see anything with his natural eyes, he chose to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

 

After reaffirming these great promises, God said to Abram, “Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you” (13:17). The practice of walking through the land appears to have been a symbolic, legal practice related to the idea of staking a claim on a piece of real estate (cf. Josh 1:3; 24:3). Abram would not take possession of the land (Heb 11:13-16); his descendants would (12:7; 15:17-21). For now he was not to possess it, but was simply to inspect it with the eye of faith (see Rom 4:20-22). Have you walked through the land that God has given you? We all live somewhere, whether it is a house or an apartment. Have you ever walked through your home and prayed? This is one way you can say, “Lord, all that You have given me, belongs to You.”

 

Genesis 13 closes with these telling words: “Then Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD” (13:18). Despite occasional failures, Abram was a man of faith. In the face of unbelievable odds, he builds an altar to the Lord. Do you know what he is saying by building that altar? “Lord, I don’t know how it is going to happen. I don’t know how You are going to do it. It sounds impossible. But if You said it, I’m going to build an altar and trust You for the impossible.”

 

Interestingly, this is the third altar that Abram has built: one in the north (Shechem, 12:7-8), one in the central (13:4), and now one in the south, Hebron. Abram was claiming the whole land of Canaan for God. The word “Hebron” means “communion.” It was in the region of Hebron that Abram made his home base (18:1) and was eventually buried (25:9). How appropriate, for Abraham’s life was characterized by “communion” and friendship with God (2 Chron 20:7Isa 41:8Jas 2:23).

 

In the end, Lot who sought this world lost it, and Abram who was willing to give up anything for the honor of God found it. Providentially, Abram had not lost a thing. The rolling grasslands greedily seized by Lot were still his, every stick and stone. The promises of God were not thwarted by the unselfishness of Abram and the materialism of Lot. God’s arithmetic is not like ours. According to us if we subtract one from one we have nothing. But, according to God, if we subtract one from one we still have everything. Jesus said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:29). That is God’s arithmetic. Have faith in the sovereignty of God. He will be faithful to every one of His promises. In the meantime, look for every opportunity to humble yourself before God and others, and God Himself will exalt you in due time (Jas 4:61 Pet 5:5b-6)!

 

Live a life of faith

What are the highpoints of your life? A family memory? A special award? Graduating from high school or college? Securing your first job? Getting married? Having your first child? Landing a sought-after promotion? Buying your dream home? Becoming a Christian? After experiencing such a great moment, what do you expect? If you’re like most people, you expect celebration, satisfaction, joy, rest, and peace. Unfortunately, in life things don’t always work out that way. After a high point you must assume that Satan will attack you or the Lord will test you, or both. This is the only way you can grow in your faith. God uses the tough circumstances of life to build the muscles of your faith and keep you from trusting something other than His Word. In Genesis 12:10-13:4, we find that Abram, the man of faith (12:1-9), was also, at times, a man of failure (12:10-20). In these verses, we will learn that any man or woman, regardless of his or her spirituality, is capable of faltering in the faith. Nevertheless, we will also find hope that God loves to restore people to Himself (13:1-4). When our faith fails, God doesn’t. Look with me at three principles that will help you live a life of extraordinary faith.

 

  1. Expect your faith to be tested(12:10). The Bible teaches that the life of faith is full of obstacles. This is confirmed in the life of Abram. Already, in his spiritual pilgrimage, Abram has experienced several tests: He was called to leave his hometown (11:31-32); his wife was barren (11:30); and the land that God promised to him is occupied (12:6). Now there comes another challenge. Verse 10 reads, “Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.” As soon as Abram arrives in Canaan he experiences his most severe test to date—famine. Imagine what must have gone through Abram’s mind: “I came all the way out here for this! I thought Canaan was to be a land of blessings!” Imagine the complaining of those closest to him: “Abram, I told you that you were crazy to come here! So you obeyed your God! For what reason? So He could bring us all out here in the wilderness to destroy us!” Does this sound familiar? How many times have you said, “God, I deserve better than this. I’ve tried to serve you and live for you and this is the thanks I get for my efforts? Thanks a lot!”

 

Abram was overwhelmed with the circumstances that God dealt him. Now he was not wrong for being concerned about the famine or feeding his family, but he was wrong for failing to trust God to provide for his needs (Isa 31:1). Abram acted prematurely. In alarm, he felt like he must do something and it seems he will have to go to Egypt where there is likely to be more food. Abram’s going down to Egypt was not so much an intentional sin as it was a reflexive turn to his own devices. He did not deny God; he simply forgot Him. He forgot how great God is. We are so much like Abram! Trials come and we automatically go into survival mode. We scheme, we prognosticate, we run through the “what ifs,” we shore up our position, and we pile sandbags. And God? Oh yes…we ask Him to bless our ways.

 

Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. Almost as quickly as Abram enters into Canaan, he leaves. Isn’t this strange? Abram trusted God for over 1,000 miles from Ur to Canaan. He followed. He left behind his culture, his friends, and his possessions. He traveled to a country where he had never been. Why? Because he believed that God was going to make him into a great nation. But when Abram arrived in Canaan and a famine hit the land he does not think he will be alive for more than a few weeks. What does he do? He goes to Egypt and tries to solve his problems. The man who trusted God for the ultimate—his future—was unwilling to trust God for the immediate—food. It doesn’t make sense! Abram trusted God for the big things of life, but messed up when it came to smaller things. Yet faith means trusting God for the big things as well as for the little things. This is where we often fail. We trust God with our eternal salvation, and then we worry about the struggles we’re going through and the decisions we have to make.

 

Can you relate to this? Do you trust the Lord for your eternity and panic over the trivial issues of your today? Abram lost faith in God’s protection and took matters into his own hands. Abram is motivated by fear for his life. But there are options open to God that Abram does not see.

 

When circumstances become difficult and you are in the furnace of testing, remain where God has put you until He tells you to move. Faith moves in the direction of peace and hope, but unbelief moves in the direction of restlessness and fear (Isa 28:16). In times of testing, the important question is not, “How can I get out of this?” but “What can I get out of this?” (Jas 1:1-12). God is at work to build your faith and He alone is in control of circumstances. You are safer in a famine, in His will, than in a palace, out of His will. It has well been said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

 

But if we are to live this type of life we must become little children in the kingdom of God (Matt 18:1-4). If Abram had been a little child, he never would have left Canaan. The famine would not have deterred a little child from listening to his father. But Abram did not play the part of a child, and the result was all the complex actions that followed his decision to leave the land and make for Egypt. When you and I encounter trials and tests, God wants us to immediately exercise child-like faith and cry out to Him. “Father, I’m scared. What would you have me do? Help me hear from you.”

 

If you’re like me, you find this very difficult. It’s natural to want to take matters into our own hands. Many of us solve problems for a living. We rarely sense a need to rely upon God. We do quite well by ourselves…thank you! Yet, God will often bring tests into our lives that only He can solve. He does this so that we are forced to look to Him as our Father. When your child has a life-threatening disease, you have no choice but to turn to God. When you have a financial crisis that you can’t charge on your credit card, you have to turn to God. When you lose your job or your marriage, you have to turn to God. When you have an addiction that you can’t overcome, you have to turn to God. This is when God teaches us the most about faith. This is when He breaks us of our selfish pride. Abram lost faith in God’s protection and took matters into his own hands. Abram is motivated by fear for his life. But there are options open to God that Abram does not see.

 

Do not be surprised if a famine meets you. Tests are a part of the Christian life. They are necessary to build you up in the Lord. Paul tells us that “tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom 5:3-4). James echoes these sentiments and says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:3-4). You can’t grow in Christ apart from tests.

[Expect your faith to be attacked. Then learn to…]

  1. Face your fears with faith(12:11-20). When you and I fail to pass faith tests, God takes us to school once again and gives us additional pop quizzes. In 12:11-13, Abram was faced with another test. Moses records: “It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he [Abram]said to Sarai his wife, ‘See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.’”

 

Amazing! Even at age 65, Sarai is such a beautiful woman that just being seen with her was a life-threatening experience. WOW! You’ve got to love that! Abram knew that the Egyptians would not honor his civil rights, for they were noted for cruelty and immorality. Among these descendants of Ham polygamy and sexual promiscuity were common. Beautiful women who found themselves in a foreign land were sought out by the natives. Further, the marriage bond was respected enough so that if a woman was desired as a wife, it was thought necessary to dispose of her husband before taking her. Thus, to save his own skin, Abram devised this little ploy, which he offers as they approach Egypt. Interestingly, Abram’s request is really a half-truth, for Sarai was Abram’s half-sister (20:12). However, Abram’s intent here was clearly to deceive, and he was trusting in his deception to protect him instead of trusting in the Lord. Abram failed to fear God. He was more afraid of the Egyptians than he was of God. Fear of man is incompatible with faith in God (Prov 29:25).

 

Can you relate to this struggle? Are you afraid to talk to your friends about Christ because they may laugh at you or even worse, reject you? Are you constantly seeking to please people and win their approval? Do you live in fear of your boss firing you? All of these thoughts are natural, in our flesh, but God is not calling us to a natural life but to a supernatural life. He has given us the power to live above our circumstances (2 Pet 1:4).

 

Why does Abram succumb to such sinful behavior? Verse 13 reveals Abram’s two motivations: Abram is seeking to protect himself (“that I may live on account of you”) and to benefit himself (“that it may go well with me”). There are a few choice titles that come to mind to describe a man like this: self-serving jerk, insensitive brute, chauvinistic pig. In addition to being a jerk, he was also an opportunistic bum. He profited from his wife’s moral and spiritual endangerment. He put others around him at risk. He put his wife at risk. He put Pharaoh and his household at risk.

 

But before we jump down Abram’s throat, let’s put ourselves in his sandals. Abram is married to a hottie! What’s Abe to do? It’s not his fault that he’s been blessed by God and married up. So now it becomes a matter of self-preservation. Abram’s motives may not be as selfish as they appear. It is likely that Abram asked Sarai to pose as his (eligible) sister so that when the men of the land asked for her hand, he could stall for sufficient time for them to leave the land. It really was an ingenious plan. One of the local men would come to Abram to ask for his sister’s hand in marriage. Abram would consent but insist upon a long engagement (long enough for the famine to end). During this time Sarai would remain at Abram’s home where their marriage could secretly continue and the safety of Abram was assured. It seemed that the benefits were great and the liabilities of such a scheme were minimal.

 

However, such a plan was evil for several reasons. First of all, it tended to ignore the presence and power of God in Abram’s life. God had promised the ends, but seemingly He was unable to provide the means. He promised a land, a seed, and a blessing. Now it seemed as though Abram was left to his own devices to procure them. Second, Abram’s plan was wrong because it jeopardized the purity of his wife and the promise of God. God had promised to make of Abram a great nation. From Abram a great blessing to all nations, the Messiah, would come. Now Abram was willing to run the risk of another man taking Sarai as his wife. How, then, could she be the mother of Abram’s seed?

There are additional problems with Abram’s lying, and lessons we can learn:

  1. After lying once it becomes easier to do the next time. Abram later tried to pull the same stunt with Abimelech in 20:12.
  2. Lying influences others around us. In 26:7, we discover Abraham’s son, Isaac, pulling this exact same stunt with his wife Rebekah and Abimelech.
  3. Lying brings a reproach to the name of God. Sadly, a pagan king must rebuke Abram for his deception and lack of faith in God (12:18-19).

George Burns was joking when he said that the key to his success was first learning honesty; once he could fake that, he could achieve anything. We laugh at this but we all can acknowledge the truth that seems to be resident in this remark. Yet, God says lying is not an appropriate response for the believer. Are you careful to tell the truth to the best of your ability?

 

Now back to our story. In 12:14, Moses writes, “It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.” Sure enough, the Egyptians fell for Sarai. The impersonal identification of “woman” signifies Sarai’s treatment as an object. The men found her “very beautiful.” One of the questions posed in the commentaries is: “How could this 65-year-old woman have been such a head-turner?” There are several points worth making: First, there are beautiful ladies that have aged well, into their 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Examples?

 

Second, we must also remember the distortions our culture brings to our perspective. Our culture has persuaded us that beauty is closely connected with sensuality, youth, and certain facial and bodily features. Yet, not every culture is as superficial in their assessments of beauty as is ours. Biblically speaking, the phrase used here is also used to describe a fine specimen of a cow, in Genesis 41:2. Therefore, we need not assume that Sarai has miraculously retrained her stunning beauty of youth. Her dignity, her bearing, her countenance, her outfitting may well contribute to the impression that she is a striking woman. Finally, some scholars suggest that, since Sarai lived to be 127 years old (23:1), her 60’s would be equivalent to our 30-40’s. I think this is the least likely view.

 

In 12:15, Abram’s worst nightmare occurred: “Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh [The word “Pharaoh” is not a personal name; it is a title meaning “Great House.” It is the equivalent of “Crown” for the British monarch.]; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.” Great! Abrams’s plan backfires because Pharaoh does not take the time to negotiate. Sarai became a part of Pharaoh’s harem. What was going on in those chambers? Was she now in Pharaoh’s arms? On account of her beauty, Sarai would surely become one of Pharaoh’s favorite wives. And from then on, life would have taken its natural course. She well could have lived and died in Egypt, and had her place in a royal tomb.

 

In 12:16, we read these tragic words: “Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.” All of these gifts were provisions of wealth in Abram’s day. The last two gifts, the female donkeys and the camels, tell all. Female donkeys were far more controllable and dependable for riding and, therefore, the ride of choice for the rich (the Lexus’s and BMW’s of the Nile). To have a domesticated camel in Abrams’s day and age was the equivalent to owning a Ferrari.

 

So you would think Abram would be happy, right? Wrong! He would have been better off to suffer hunger in the Promised Land than to be rich in Egypt. Everything that Abram received in Egypt later caused him trouble. Because of the great wealth he acquired from Pharaoh, Abram and Lot could not live together and had to separate (13:5-6). Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant that Pharaoh gave to Abram brought division and sorrow into the home (16:1-16). Abram attempts to build a family through Hagar. This was not God’s plan. Hagar becomes the mother of the Arab nations. Sarai becomes the mother of the Jewish nation. Today, we live with the international tensions between these two countries, and the origin of the struggle goes back to Egypt. Abram failed to trust God. Abram failed to obey God. Abram failed to fear God. Today we feel the consequences of that terrible decision.

 

When we fail to trust, obey, or fear God, there are serious consequences. The wealth that Abram accumulated would be a perpetual reminder that Sarai was no longer in his household but in Pharaoh’s. God blessed Abram even when he wasn’t doing what he should; and God continued to protect Abram, even when Abram was being a liar. God did not call back His promise to Abram, because the promise depended on God, not on Abram. Some contemporary Christians have the mistaken idea that God always blesses obedience with abundance and judges sin with hardships. This is not always the case. Abram could have used that kind of erroneous logic to justify his spirituality during this lapse of faith. In reality, he experienced famine—in the will of God, and an abundance of material wealth—out of the will of God. The problems we run from in one place are usually greater at the next place.

How do you respond when the pressure is on? When the finances are low? When you’re having conflict with your spouse or a co-worker? When you have no idea what to do next? When you are discouraged or angry? Whether you realize it or not, your life, character, and choices are influencing people around you: your spouse, your children, your family, and friends. You may be the only “Bible” they’ll ever read!

In 12:17-20, our story heats up with intensity: “But the LORD struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.’ Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.” In 12:17, we find one of the greatest words in the Bible—the word “but.” Significantly, God had not yet been mentioned in this passage until here. Despite Abram’s lack of faith and unethical behavior, God intervenes on behalf of Sarai and the promises He has made to Abram. No matter what circumstance we may be in, God is greater than any famine or any Pharaoh. The Lord intervenes by sending “great plagues” on Pharaoh and his house.

 

Any misfortune in the ancient world was looked upon as an indication of divine displeasure. So when God sent great plagues, Pharaoh and his advisers may have tried to pinpoint when the troubles started. When they traced the troubles back to the time of Sarai’s arrival, they may have figured out what probably happened. Though the nature of the plagues is unexplained, it is possible that Pharaoh was inflicted with sexual ailments that prevented the consummation of physical union with Sarai. God was protecting the ancestress of Israel from the desecration of the body, from which the sacred nation was to come (cf. Ps 105:13-15).

 

How sad! Instead of bringing blessing and life (12:3), Abram brings cursing upon Egypt. What a turn of events! To make matters worse, a bizarre scene then unfolds before us: a man of God telling a “white” lie to a pagan ruler. Evidently, either from some innate sense of the fear of God, or from knowledge gained from Sarai herself. Pharaoh became convinced that the plagues came from God because of the intentions that he had concerning Sarai. When the Pharaoh later confronted Abram with that lie and its implications, Abram must have felt very small indeed. (Unfortunately, Abram did not learn the lesson from it that he should have, as we will see in Genesis 20.)

 

It is interesting to note that the Pharaoh’s inquisition of Abram is similar to the Lord’s words to Adam and Eve: “What is this you have done?” (3:13). He then follows this up with another question, “Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?” Ouch! Pharaoh assumed the moral high ground. Abram appeared the sinner, Pharaoh the saint. Abram remained silent under Pharaoh’s reproach, uttering not a word. What could he say? Abram was exposed and disgraced. He was thrown out! After being commanded by Pharaoh to leave, Abram does that, in company with an escort provided by the Egyptian ruler, perhaps to protect Abram and Sarai from the possibility of the defilement of Sarai, just as Abram had originally feared (12:20). Abram and his entourage must have humbly crept out of Egypt with their tails tucked between their legs.

Three very important principles can be found in these verses:

  1. The Christian’s conduct does greatly affect his credibility. How many non-Christians have been appalled by the behavior of a Christian? Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). What kind of person are you at work or at school? Do other people know what you believe and where you stand? Or, are you a Christian chameleon that just blends into your environment? If I were to show up at your work or school and go through the day with you, would you behave differently than you normally do?
  2. God would prefer for us to repent on our own, but if we are unwilling He will intervene. He does so for our own good and for His own glory. He is a loving Father who disciplines His children (Heb 12:5-11).

 

  1. If God is able to make out of this deceitful man one whom He shall call “my friend” (cf. Isa 41:8), He can do the same for you and me. Though Abram fails the tests of faith and ethics, God proves faithful. Though we are unfaithful, He is faithful (2 Tim 2:13). God takes pity on His children (Ps 103:13). He supernaturally intervenes to protect His own, though this is not always so (1 Kgs 18:13Heb 11:35-38).

[When you have succumbed to fear, there is only one solution…]

  1. Return to a life of faith(13:1-4). The great news of the Bible is that there is life after failure. Now that God has delivered Abram from this mess, how does he respond? In 13:1-4, Moses tells us: “So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, he and his wife and all that belonged to him, and Lot with him. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. He went on his journeys from the Negev as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly; and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.” We have no clue as to how long Abram remained in Egypt. No altars were built in Egypt, to our knowledge, nor are we told that Abram ever called on the name of the Lord there. But finally he does right before God. Abram goes back to Canaan. He goes back to Bethel, “the house of God” (cf. 12:8). He goes back to the altar! Hallelujah—there is life after the mess. Like Abram, when we lapse in faith we must return to the point of our departure from God if we desire once again to restore the joy of communion we once knew. Abram is today remembered as the man of faith—in part because he returned “to the place where his tent had been at the beginning” (13:3). If you have disobeyed and God is disciplining you, go back to the place you left Him and make things right. The victorious Christian life is a series of new beginnings. This is not an excuse for sin, but it is an encouragement for repentance.

 

If Abram had stayed in Canaan when the famine came, his faith would have grown. He would have seen the Lord provide for him. Since he did not stay in Canaan, the same famine that could have been a means of spiritual growth actually took him away from God, led to sin, and eventually brought great humiliation. What an important step it would be if we would learn that lesson about life. Instead of complaining, we would trust God. Instead of saying, “Why has God let this happen to me? Doesn’t He care? Why has God abandoned me?” we would say, “Here is another opportunity for me to trust God. I wonder what wonderful things He is going to do for me this time.” It is not always easy to do that. It sometimes takes more grace to stay in Canaan than to get there. But that is what God wants. He does not want our way to be easy, because if it is easy we will not grow. He arranges the steps of faith in an upward direction so that our spiritual muscles will grow strong and we can eventually scale the heights of great blessing.

Abraham’s great adventure

Genesis 11:27 begins a new division in the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis can be structured by tracing four great events and four great people. The four great events are laid out in chapters 1-11: Creation, Fall, Flood, and Nations. The four great people complete the book in chapters 12-50: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The point being: God’s first concern is all the people of the world (Gen 1-11), but the focus of Genesis (and the rest of the Pentateuch) is on God’s choice and care of His chosen people, Israel (Gen 12-50). This sovereign choice begins with the call of Abram. The book of Genesis covers more than 2,000 years and more than 20 generations; yet, it spends almost a third of its text on the life of this one man (11:27-25:18). What a reminder that God truly cares about people and considers individuals valuable. This passage is going to challenge us to live a life of faith.

  1. Faith grows gradually(11:27-32): In these six verses, the genealogy of chapter 11 becomes quite specific and focused. Moses begins with the familiar phrase, “Now these are the records of the generations of…” (11:27a). This “formula” serves as an outline throughout Genesis. The last major occurrence of this phrase was in 6:8, in reference to Noah, where God began a new thing in Noah and his sons. This is one hint that what is coming in 11:27-32 concerning the life of Abram will be something new on a grand scale. Moses goes on to say that “Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran” (11:27b).Again, this doesn’t seem to be terribly significant until we realize that the mention of Terah having three named sons alerts us to a previous pattern. Adam and Noah both had three named sons and both of them obviously point out high water marks in God’s dealings with people. So we should not be totally surprised when God calls Abram and embarks on a new path in the fulfillment of His promises and plan of redemption. God is preparing His way for His man.

 

In 11:27c, Moses also informs us, “Haran became the father of Lot.” Lot is introduced quickly because he is a major character who serves as a contrast to Abram. In 11:28, Moses records that “Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans.” This is an important comment because it tells us that Abram, the son of Terah, was born in Ur of the Chaldeans (11:28). This will become important in just a moment. Verse 29 states that Abram and his brother Nahor “took wives for themselves” (cf. 6:2). Abram married his half-sister, Sarai (see 20:12), which was not contrary to God’s will at this early date in history. The marriage of Abram’s brother Nahor is mentioned because he became the grandfather of Laban and Rebekah, both of whom would figure largely in the history of Abram’s grandson Jacob. Many of the names in 11:29 come right out of the cult of moon worship. Joshua 24:2, 14-15, make it clear that Terah (and quite possibly his family) worshipped many gods. In 11:30, Moses makes an emphatic remark that Abram’s wife, Sarai, “was barren; she had no child.” Sarai’s infertility tests Abram’s faith and drives the whole story. Verses 31-32 then inform us that Terah took Abram and his family from Ur of the Chaldeans “in order to enter the land of Canaan.” The family, though, only went “as far as Haran, and settled there.” Sometime after settling in Haran, Terah died at the age of 205.

 

At the core of this story is the principle of God’s sovereign choice of an individual. God’s call to Abram was pure grace. There is no evidence in the text that God chose Abram because he merited favor. On the contrary, God chose Abram from a family steeped in idolatry. He did this so that He might receive all the glory for what became of Abram. The great thing about God is that when He is forming His family and choosing servants, He selects the most unlikely people! After all, He chose you and me. He did so not because of whom we would become; He did so because He chose to love us and He then made us into whom He wanted us to be (Rom 8:29). Today, may we express gratitude to God for choosing us to have a relationship with Him. May we also thank Him for calling us into service. It is a privilege to both know and serve God.

 

Before we move into chapter 12, it is important to observe some interesting clues in this section and the rest of Scripture. An important point of interest is that God first called Abram to leave his home when he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans (12:1-3; cf. 15:7; Neh 9:7; Acts 7:2-4). Evidently, God’s initial revelation of Himself to Abram was of such a powerful and convincing nature that his father Terah was not only persuaded to join the pilgrimage but actually took the lead.17 (Abram, Sarai, and Lot followed Terah to Haran.) Unfortunately, the caravan stopped in Haran instead of going all the way into Canaan. There the pilgrimage bogged down and, it would seem, remained inert and inactive for many years until the death of Terah. Likewise, there are many people today who respond to God’s call to be followers of Christ, but only partially obey. Yes, they have left the gross idolatry and rebellion of “Ur”, but instead of pursuing the abundant life in the Promised Land of Canaan, they settle for something in between. They settle down in Haran, which means “barren.” And like Abram, they have wasted many years of their lives living in the comfortable and familiar land of “Haran,” a land of spiritual compromise.

 

When Abram received his first call from God, he was only partially obedient. Fortunately, God is patient. Abram was very young in the faith. He had much to learn, and God could afford to wait. So the wasted years slipped by and then upon Terah’s death, Abram began to make the progress God desired. This should encourage us. Abram, the great father of our faith, started his Christian pilgrimage slowly. He also wasted some years along the way. If that’s true of Abram, and God used him powerfully, how much more can that be true of you? If you started your Christian faith slowly or if you have found yourself squandering precious time, you can get back into the race. Don’t wait another minute.

[While faith grows gradually, we learn in 12:1 that…]

  1. Faith steps out(12:1). Moses writes, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.’” The famous call of Abram in 12:1 was a command to go away from three things and unto one thing. The three things that God called Abram to forsake were natural sources of security for any ancient, Near Eastern nomad. God lists the three in rapid succession, each succeeding item narrowing the base of personal support and security:

(1) His country (or “land”) was his nationality and was the largest group in which Abram moved.

(2) His people (or “clan”) was smaller than his tribe, but larger than his immediate family. Such groups in ancient tribal societies provide personal identity and security.

(3) His father’s household referred probably to a call to give up his right of inheritance in his extended family. To abandon his father’s house would certainly involve giving up his economic security.

 

In a sense, God was calling Abram to go backpacking. God removed anything that might weigh him down or prove to be unnecessary for a trek through the woods. This illustrates Christian discipleship in several ways. God’s claim on our lives always beckons us to leave certain things behind at the same time we are taking up a new journey and following Him (Mark 1:18).

 

The term “go” is literally “go by yourself” and can emphasize loneliness, isolation; ideas of parting and seclusion are often implied. Abram needs to find his own place and his own identity by disassociating himself from the familiar and the group. Put yourself in Abram’s sandals. I’m sure there was a good part of Abraham that would have just liked to stay in Haran or perhaps move back to the home he knew in Ur, where he married his wife and where all the family could be together. Why would he leave his home, a progressive metropolis equivalent to Dallas or New York, to journey to a new land, following the command of a God who was not even locally acknowledged? After all, there was no AAA “Waze” or MapQuest directions. The only promise from God was that He would reveal the path to Abram. There was no visible certainty of his future. Abram was to follow the command of the Lord to leave Haran and go to a land he had never seen before. He is to step out in blind faith…a land God would show him.

 

Would you have gone? Are you willing to obey the voice of the Lord when He goes against all that makes sense and feels? When everything screams in you against it, are you willing to leave your job for the uncertainties of a higher calling? Faith steps out in obedience. Abraham made the choice to trust God and God blessed him exceedingly.

In these three verses, we see the inauguration of God’s covenant with Abraham. This covenant is

everlasting (13:15; 17:7-8, 13, 19),

unconditional (15:9-12; 17-18), and

literal.

It involves a

land (12:7; 13:14-15, 17; 17:8), a

seed (12:2; 13:16; 15:4-5; 15:18; 17:4-6), and a

blessing(12:3; 17:2, 6; 18:18).

In these verses, God gave Abram a seven-fold promise. The call had two imperatives, each with subsequent promises. The first imperative was to go (“Go forth from your country…to the land which I will show you”), and the second imperative was to be (“and so you shall be a blessing”). Abraham’s obedience would bring great blessing. Also notice that five times in these verses you will see the phrase,

“I will…” Everything is from God Himself.

 

  1. “I will make you a great nation”(12:2). This promise is connected to the “seed” promise of 3:15. Since the fall of man, God chose certain lines of human descent to carry forward the promise that He would send a deliverer to crush Satan. That line now flowed through Abram to the Hebrew people (13:16; John 8:37), to the descendants of Ishmael (17:18-20), and eventually to all believers (John 8:39; Rom 4:16; Gal 3:6-7, 29). When God called Abram to separate from his family and his country, He did so with the purpose of producing from Abram a great nation. As the founder of the Jewish nation, Abram was appointed by God to be a witness to the rest of mankind concerning God (Isa 44:8). Further, that race was to be a storehouse of divine revelation (Rom 3:2) and a channel of blessing to the world (15:8-12). The ultimate objective in God’s choice of Abram was to prepare the world for the coming Messiah and Savior of that world (Isa 53). Do you see how God carefully unfolds His program through individuals? Have you asked Him to reveal His plan for your life?

 

  1. “I will bless you”(12:2). The word “bless,” which occurred five times in chapters 1-11, now occurs five times in 12:1-3. God wants to bless his people. In fact, if you remember, this goes right back to creation where God blessed Adam and Eve (1:28) and then, later, that original blessing was repeated in 5:2. God also blessed Noah and restated the mandate in creation, namely, that man rule (9:1-2). God’s plan is to bless the world. Indeed, the term “blessing” (barak) includes God’s gracious provisions of personal well-being, long life, wealth, peace, abundance of food and crops, children, and personal knowledge of Himself and His ways. Yes, God’s plan is to bless the world. When God blesses someone, He intervenes in their life to do good things. God’s blessing to Abram caused him to prosper in all that he did. He was blessed both temporally (13:14-18; 15:18) and spiritually (15:6; John 8:56). Are you seeing God’s blessings in your life?
  2. “I will make your name great”(12:2). To be given a great name is to have a good reputation and a secure identity. The builders of the Tower of Babel tried to make a name for themselves (11:4) and thereby gain power and prestige before the world and in the face of God. On the other hand, Abram’s power and prestige was to come directly from God. In time, God did make Abram’s name great when he became known as the “friend of God” (2 Chron 20:7; Isa 41:8; Jas 2:23). Do you rely upon God to make your name great, or are you making a name for yourself? How can you submit more of your plans and goals to Him? Today, God wants you to believe that He has designed mankind to desire and pursue greatness.

 

But rather than finding that greatness the world’s way, Christ taught that true greatness is found in: being the least and the servant of all (Matt 20:26), losing your life for the sake of Christ and others (Luke 9:24), and being last now so that you might be first in His kingdom (Mark 9:35).

 

  1. “You shall be a blessing”(12:2). The Hebrew text says, “Be a blessing,” not “you shall be a blessing.” This was a command rather than a prediction. However as Abram blessed others he would become a blessing. God chose the family of Abram through which He would channel His blessings to the nations of the world, thereby drawing all nations to Himself (cf. Gen 10). We never experience God’s best for us until we are used to touch the life of someone else. Who can you bless today? Remember the words of 1 Peter 3:9: “Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing” (NET).

 

  1. “I will bless those who bless you” (12:3). Now God moves from personal blessing to global blessings. Those who honor Abram and his God will be blessed.

 

  1. “The one who curses you I will curse”(12:3). Unfortunately, not everyone in the world wants God’s blessing, or the way He has chosen to carry it out. There will be people who will curse or level insults and accusations against Abram and in so doing bring a curse from God on their heads. They will be cut off from the hope of blessing.

 

  1. “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed”(12:3). This is the great messianic promise fulfilled in Abram’s descendant, Christ (John 8:56-58; Gal 3:16).

 

  1. Faith experiences obstacles(12:4-6). Abram demonstrated phenomenal faith in light of God’s call and was thoroughly blessed for it. So it is with us as well when we trust in Christ. But that does not mean everything in our lives will run smoothly. Quite the opposite actually. Moses writes, “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him” (12:4a). This time around, Abram immediately and completely obeyed God. Did Abram know he was headed to Canaan (12:5)? Apparently not. Hebrews 11:8 states that “he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Verse 4 even says, “Lot went with him.” Since Lot voluntarily chose to accompany Abram, he probably believed the promises as well.

 

Abram’s call had been to separate from his pagan relatives, so he was not disobedient by allowing Lot to accompany him. Moses goes on to inform us that “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” Though he lived to 175 years old, Abram was no spring chicken when he decided to follow the Lord to Canaan. Age is no hindrance to faith and taking bold steps for the Lord. It’s never too late. Despite Abram’s age, responsibilities, and various commitments, he stepped forward in a venture of faith, in obedience to God. Fortunately, this principle remains true today. If you are getting up there in age, God still wants to use you. He wants you to finish your race well (2 Tim 4:7-8).

 

Verse 5 says that “Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.” The text says that Abram took his wife Sarai with him. Now the struggle comes to the forefront. In 11:30, the text goes out of its way to point out that Sarai was barren, that she didn’t even have a single child. Then, in 12:2, God says He’s going to make a great nation out of Abram. Well, it’s obvious that it won’t be through Sarai—she’s barren. So it must be through someone else. But here in 12:5 we learn that there isn’t a “someone else.” We are told that Abram took his wife Sarai. In spite of the obvious tensions, Abram must have believed God’s promise.

Sometimes we forget what childlessness meant in the ancient Near East. It involved shame, social ridicule, and implied that the woman/couple were not in the favor of the gods. Why then should they trust the Lord when He makes “high-flutin’” promises about a nation; they don’t even have a single child. Sometimes, some of our greatest struggles believing God and His good promises center in one way or another around our kids. So it was with Abram and Sarai. Certainly they made mistakes along the way, but overall they trusted the God who loves to do the impossible. What are you trusting God for that only He can do? In order for faith to grow it must see beyond the obstacles and pain to the God of our circumstances.

Verse 5 also informs us that Abram’s entourage included “the persons which they had acquired in Haran.” While this could be a reference to slaves, it is more likely referring to converts that Abram won during his sojourn in Haran. So while Abram was in a challenging and irreligious land (Haran), he shared his faith with many people. Consequently, he won converts. By God’s grace, you and I can do the same here. The city we live in is certainly no worse than Haran. If God can use Abram to win converts in Haran, He can use you to do the same. (John 14:12).

 

In 12:6, Moses records that “Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land.” Abram’s first settlement was in Shechem. This was God’s second major revelation to Abram. Shechem was near the geographic center of Canaan (cf. Josh 20:7). It lay in the heart of the land God now promised to Abram. The Hebrew term “Moreh” means “teacher” and may indicate an ancient shrine or a place where Canaanite priests declared oracles. Thus, living among idolatrous people—people steeped in genuine unbelief—was going to test Abram’s faith. He himself was steeped in idolatry, and the tendency to lapse into pagan religion would remain a very real and present danger to him and his family.

 

To further complicate matters, Abram could not take possession of the Promised Land immediately because the Canaanites occupied it. Some five centuries would pass before the descendants of Abram would, under Joshua, conquer the Canaanites and take the land God had given them. The presence of the Canaanites was yet another test of Abram’s faith. God had promised to give his descendants an already-possessed land. The presence of the Canaanites indicated opposition that was going to be a reality as Abram continued his life of faith. A godly life must always be lived out in the middle of misunderstanding and even persecution.

Faith is not just believing God for great things and responding to His promises, it also involves a commitment to live as He desires in light of the circumstances He permits in our lives. Faith builds character; so also Abram. He knew that God had called him to go to this new land, even though he didn’t know where he was going. His faith gave him the courage and determination to live for God in a pagan land. By faith he overcame the struggles and trials of leaving family, the barrenness of his wife, and the hostilities of living in a foreign land. By faith he gained an exemplary character and did not succumb to the unbelievers around him…His life matched his words, so to speak (cf. Heb 11:8-12). Does ours?

 

  1. Faith leads to reassurance(12:7a). In 12:7, the Lord speaks to Abram. This is none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. The key to growing a strong faith in the midst of trials is hearing and heeding the voice of the Lord, experiencing the presence of the One who made the promises. So God, knowing we are but dust, and are among those who consistently need encouragement, appears to Abram—the one who is a stranger in a foreign land, with a foreign language, customs, faith, and way of life—and reaffirms to him the promise of offspring and ownership of the land. While God speaks to us primarily through the Scripture, as the indwelling Spirit marries the very words thereof to our hearts, God appeared to Abram and spoke to him. In the midst of trials, nothing is more assuring and nothing is clearer, than the voice, yes, the very presence, of our heavenly Father.

 

As we make our way through life, strangers in a foreign country, as it were (1 Pet 2:11), we need to know the presence of the One who will carry us safely to our appointed destination. We need to hear the voice of God in His Word and in prayer. So God appeared to Abram and restated the essential promise to him: “to your offspring I will give this land.” This, we know from Genesis 15:1ff was the besetting question uppermost in Abram’s mind. God comes to us in our time of need and encourages us with His voice: “So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10). What a breath of fresh air!

[A faith like Abram’s steps out in obedience, hopes in the fulfillment of God’s promises of blessings, and grows through trials. But also…]

  1. Faith proclaims God(12:7b-9). Abram’s response, in 12:7b to God’s appearing and to His reassuring word in 12:7a, was to worship. The text says that God appeared to Abram and said…“So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.” First God speaks (12:1-3), then Abram journeys (12:4-6). Next God appears (12:7a), then Abram worships (12:7). Though the passage does not explicitly say that he sacrificed, we can be sure from Noah’s example in chapter 9—as well as Abraham’s in 22:13—that Abram offered sacrifice to the Lord. Worship is the first and foremost response to the voice of God. Obedience and the proclamation of God’s grace and greatness inexorably follow like the rainbow after spring showers.

 

Thus, worship has consequences. Verse 8 says that Abraham pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai, which probably indicates that he stayed there for some time. Abram “pitched his tent.” In 1 Peter 2:11 we are exhorted to live “as aliens and strangers in the world.” We are to live as people who have their permanent dwelling place in heaven, not on earth. Unfortunately, too many Christians want to build mansions on earth and are happy with tents in heaven!

 

During his time on the mountain, Abram continued to worship by building an altar. But then notice that the text also says that Abram called on the name of the Lord. This phrase “called on the name of the Lord” (cf. 4:26; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25, etc.) means much more than simple worship. It carries the idea of proclaiming the name of the Lord (cf. Zeph 3:9). Isn’t it interesting that God promised Abram to make his name great and here Abram is making the Lord’s name great in Canaan? In the midst of a foreign and thoroughly pagan land Abram erected an altar and there proclaimed the name of the Lord. What amazing faith! He truly shone like a star in the universe by holding out the Word of Life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (cf. Phil 2:16).

 

My prayer for you today is that you become a man or woman of faith that transforms your culture. As you step out in obedience, overcome obstacles, and proclaim God, you will accomplish His will for your life and for the generations to come.