Part 4 of “The Tree” – a study of Jesus’ family tree.
Before discussing Abraham’s story, I’d like to begin with anecdote. A man named Jack accidentally fell of the edge of a steep cliff. On the way down he was able to grab hold of a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down, and to his horror, discovered that there were hundreds of feet between him and the bottom of the cannon. He couldn’t hang there forever, and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff. So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him. “HELP! HELP! Is anyone up there? HELP!” He yelled for a long time, but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice.
“Jack, Jack. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, yes! I can hear you. I’m down here!”
“I can see you, Jack. Are you alright?”
“Yes, but who are you, and where are you?
“I am the Lord, Jack. I’m everywhere.”
“The Lord? You mean, GOD?”
“God, please help me! I promise if, you’ll get me down from here, I’ll stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person. I’ll serve You for the rest of my life.”
“Easy on the promises, Jack. Let’s get you off from there, then we can talk.”
“Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.”
“I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me what to do.”
“Okay. Let go of the branch.”
“I said, let go of the branch… Just trust Me. Let go.”
There was a long silence.
Finally, Jack yelled, “HELP! HELP! IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?”
The definition of faith, according to the Bible is, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). I am not sure what Abraham was hoping for, or to what sort of convictions he held, but his family’s home was in the City of Ur, where Nanna, the Mesopotamian Moon god, was worshiped. Although childless, Abraham was prosperous, settled, and old. What he may not have known was that he was a descendant of Shem, ten generations removed, and the last time God spoke to anyone directly was with Shem and his brothers.
Abraham Heard God’s Call
Before Abraham had an encounter with God, he was known as “Abram,” which means: “Exalted Father.” As the story unfolds, God eventually renamed him Abraham which means, “Father of many.” Both names are all well and good for people with children, but Abraham was childless. No matter how hard he and his wife tried, Sarah could not get pregnant.
When he first heard God’s voice, Abraham was seventy-five (75) years old and his wife Sarah was sixty-five (65). Although old, God promised Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Through this statement, God promised three things to Abraham: (1) Land, (2) descendants, and (3) that through him the nations would be blessed (redemption).
At this time, Abraham was oblivious to God; all he knew was the gods his ancestors worshiped. Yet, God pursued him, and Abraham responded to God in faith and obedience:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb. 11:8-10).
Abraham Eventually Obeyed God
When Abraham decided to move his wife and her family to famine struck Canaan, he first took a detour to Egypt. However, knowing that his wife was beautiful and that others in Egypt would kill him in order to take her, Abraham said to his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake” (Gen. 12:11-13).
At this point in Abraham’s story, we should be asking ourselves three questions: (1) If God said that He bless Abraham and make him the father of a great nation, why did he feel the need to go to Egypt? (2) In order for God to fulfill His promise, He had to keep Abraham alive and Sarah safe, so why did Abraham feel he had to put his wife in harm’s way to save himself?
Think about the unfair situation in which Abraham put his wife. He was willing to have her sleep in another man’s bed so that he would not be harmed. Once in Egypt, Sarah was noticed, and taken, by the Pharaoh. Thankfully, God intervened by afflicting Pharaoh and his household with what the Bible calls, “great plagues.” To make a long story short, Pharaoh returned Sarah to Abraham, and commanded that they both leave immediately. God spared Abraham from making a bigger mess than he had already made.
I wish I could say Abraham learned his lesson and that he and Sarah lived happily ever after, but he didn’t. In Genesis 20, Abraham repeated the same sin by telling Sarah to again pretend to be his sister in order to protect himself. Again God not only spared Sarah from being violated by another man, but also spared Abraham from making a bigger mess. In both instances that Abraham directed Sarah to pretend to be his sister, he was motivated by fear instead of faith. Before we are too hard on Abraham, how many times have we focused on fear rather than faith in our own lives?
There is one more example of Abraham’s faithlessness; however, in this instance, both Abraham and Sarah were guilty. In Genesis 15, God reiterated His promise to bless Abraham; in fact, God entered into what is called a unilateral covenant of which He was obligated to honor. After God reiterated His promise to Abraham, we are told that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he [God] counted it to him [Abraham] as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Then in Genesis 16, Sarah develops her own plan to help God fulfill His promise to them. “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”
That phrase: “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” is language intended to force the reader back to Genesis 3, referencing God’s words to Adam: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it’ cursed…” (v. 17).
Sarah could not see or believe that God could do the impossible, so she encouraged Abraham to have sex with their servant so that the servant would get pregnant. This was the culturally acceptable thing to do at the time, but the problem with their little plan was that it rubbed against the grain of God’s design for their marriage and His promise for their lives. Still, Abraham got Hagar pregnant, and the child she bore is part of the reason for the unrest in the Middle East today. Abraham and Sarah’s plan to assist God caused unspeakable misery. Abraham listened to Sarah even though God promised that He would do the impossible.
All three blunders in Abraham’s life could have resulted in an end to God’s determination to bless the nations. Over and over again, God proved faithful by redeeming Abraham’s seemingly unredeemable choices.
God was Faithful to Abraham
Nothing about Abraham’s actions warranted God’s favor. When God called Abraham for the purpose of blessing him, and blessing the nations through him, He did it for a bigger reason than Abraham and Sarah could have ever imagined.
The promise to Abraham was not just for him. The key to the promise is that God was going to make of Abraham a great nation to bless the nations of the world. God said, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Abraham and his descendants would be the instrument of God’s blessing to the world, because through Abraham’s descendants, would be born the Savior of the World.
God honored His promise to Abraham; both he and Sarah became the proud parents of Isaac. We are not told how many years it was after Isaac’s birth, but at some point God spoke to Abraham and said some of the most horrific words Abraham would ever hear: “Take 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 of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2). However, things were different this time as Abraham had known God for many years since he was first called out of his homeland. The Bible tells us that that Abraham, “rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac.”
Abraham did not argue, debate, or protest. He simply obeyed. Abraham believed if he followed through with the sacrifice of his own son; God was big enough to raise him up from death to life. For this reason, when Abraham took Isaac up the mountain, he told the young men he brought with him: “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” Abraham would have followed through with killing his one and only son had God not stopped him. Abraham had no longer put limits on God’s abilities. Abraham understood that God was too big for any limitations, because at this point in his life, Abraham knew His God. In response, God reiterated His covenant promise:
By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice. (Gen. 22:16-18)
There are so many practical applications that can be drawn from the life of Abraham for our lives. However, there are four primary points highlighted below:
- God never breaks His promises, but does answer His promises in His own perfect time.
- Anytime you try to force the hand of God because you think He needs your prodding and assistance, you will most likely make a mess of your circumstances and cause undue pain to those around you.
- God does not want your help, but He does want your obedience and faith.
- Finally, God loves you too much to leave you as you are; He is committed to molding and shaping you into the man or woman you were meant to be.
There is a more obvious thing to be gleaned from the story of Abraham’s life. Abraham was ready to slit the throat of his only son Isaac. He was committed; however, God called out to him: “Abraham, Abraham!” and stopped him. If God was able to resurrect Isaac, why didn’t he allow Abraham to kill his son? Because there was a better sacrifice in the future, and it was not Isaac! The better sacrifice would, however, come through Isaac’s bloodline. This sacrifice would not test our faithfulness and righteousness, but would die as the only person in human history who was perfectly faithful, righteous, and innocent.
The one who would come through Isaac’s bloodline would not carry a pile of wood, as Isaac and Abraham had, but would bear a wooden cross to the place of his execution. The one who would eventually come through Isaac’s bloodline, would not be tied down to some alter as a test of his father’s faithfulness, but would be nailed to a cross for your sin and mine because God is faithful. He is faithful to the promise that he made long before, that He would crush the head of the serpent and liberate us from the bondage of our own sin. Why? Because we are sinners under a curse due to the sins of Adam and of ourselves. Someone perfect, someone human, and someone qualified to do so, had to step in our place to receive the full judgment of God on our behalf. Isaac was only a foreshadowing of what God would do through Jesus of Nazareth when Jesus became sin for us so that we could be forgiven and pardoned from our sins just as the prophet Isaiah foretold 600 years before Jesus was even born:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth…. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:4–10, ESV)
Jesus, as the seed of Abraham, died to save and redeem you for Himself, so that we might experience the promise made to Abraham long ago:
…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal. 3:26-29)
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