Abraham

Obeyed God without question

Genesis 12:1­4 (NIV) The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." 4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.....

What did he do right?

God asked him to pack up and leave to go to an unknown place. He obeyed. No ifs, no buts. He obeyed God even though he was seventy-five years old at that time. Many people would have thought that at that age, they should sit back and relax and leave the hard work to the younger generation.

What were his difficulties in obeying God?

He must be feeling very insecure to just pack up and go to an unknown place. What if that place was not safe? What if he cannot make a living there?

What were the consequences of his decision?

If we encounter trials, it does not mean that we are not in God’s will. In fact, someone has said, “When everything is going wrong, you may be doing something right!”

God promised to give to Abraham's descendants the land that he went to.

Genesis 12:7 (NIV) The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land."

However, the immediate consequence was that there was famine in the land where God called Abraham to. It is easy for us to expect that if God calls us to do a certain thing, He will also guarantee a bed of roses for us. So much so that when something wrong happens, we think that it certainly cannot be God's will. This form of thinking is not correct. God sends trials along the way to strengthen our faith. The trials are part of God's will!

What made him do the right thing?

Abraham could obey God because he trusted Him. He knew that if God called him to do something, He will surely provide for him.

Hebrews 11:8­9 (NIV) By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.

Life application

God sometimes calls us to obey Him in areas where He doesn't give us all the details but expects us to trust Him. God strips Abraham of everything that makes him secure and is not shy about it (Gen 12:1). In the same way, God could be calling us to serve full time, to witness to a friend or to make a faith pledge. It is easy for us to feel insecure during those times and wonder how we can support our family or how we can witness to this person who is so anti-Christianity or even how we can fulfil our faith pledge. Yet God will ensure that we were to just trust and obey, He will surely ensure that we can do it and reward us richly.

Use deception to get out of a difficult situation

Genesis 12:10­20 (NIV) Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, "I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you." 14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh's officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels. 17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

What did he do wrong?

Abraham told Pharaoh that Sarah was her sister. That was not an outright lie. Sarah was his half-sister (Gen 11:29). But when Abraham said that she was her sister, even though that statement was not an outright lie, it displeased God because his intention was to lie (See verses 11-13). Therefore, the intention is just as important as the words.

What were his difficulties in obeying God?

He probably knew that what he was going to do was wrong but he feared for his own life.

What were the consequences?

The problem became worse. According to the words of Pharaoh, it seems like he would have not taken Sarah as his wife if he knew that she was already Abraham's wife. Instead, now his whole household suffered and Abraham probably got more scared because Pharaoh found that he was dishonest.

We may not place lying as very serious sins but the Bible places it among murder, stirring up strife, etc.

Proverbs 6:16­19 (NIV) There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Not only was lying put alongside the sins we consider as more serious, lying was mentioned twice while the rest only once.

What made him do the wrong thing?

He lacked the faith that God could protect him. He may have felt that telling a half-truth is not as bad as an outright lie.

Application

We should not only be concerned about words of untruth but should also check our intentions to see if we want the other party to be deceived. For example, we may be late for an appointment for half and hour and we explained to our friend that there was an accident along the way. It may be true that there was an accident along the way but that may have delayed us for only five minutes. The real reason why we are late is because we overslept and we conveniently left this part out. Our statement that there was an accident may not be wrong but we said it intending for the person to think that that was the only reason and it was none of our fault. I think that we can classify this as intending to lie.

Was willing to avoid conflict at all cost

Genesis 13:5­9 (NIV) Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarrelling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. 8 So Abram said to Lot, "Let's not have any quarrelling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. 9 Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left."

What did he do right?

Abraham avoided conflict at all cost. He was willing to forego his rights even though as Lot's uncle, he could have insisted on choosing first.

What were his difficulties in obeying God?

Abraham stands to lose face if he cannot even enforce his rights on his nephew.

What were the consequences of his decision?

The land that Lot chose was the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were eventually destroyed by God because of their evil deeds. Abraham, on the other hand, was promised by God that wherever his feet landed, God will give the land to him and his descendants.

What made him do the right thing?

Abraham could give way to Lot because he humbled himself. Also, he must have trusted that no matter which land he had, God would be able to bless it.

1 Peter 3:10­11 (NIV) For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.

Believed God for the impossible

Genesis 15:5­-6 (NIV) He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars­­ if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." 6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Hebrews 11:11­12 (NIV) By faith Abraham, even though he was past age­ and Sarah herself was barren ­­was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

What did he do right?

He believed in God's promise that he will have a son even though both he and Sarah were very old.

What were his difficulties in obeying God?

It goes against pure logic.

What were the consequences?

God delivered His promise and Abraham's descendants became as many as the sands on the beach.

Not only did God bless Abraham by giving him many offsprings, He also blessed Abraham by pronouncing him righteous and giving him salvation.

(Gen 15:6 NIV)  Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

James later expounded on this incident in the book of James.

(James 2:21-23 NIV)  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous (in KJV “justified”) for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? {22} You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. {23} And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.

James seems to say that Abraham was justified by God when he offered Isaac on the altar. But interestingly he quoted Gen 15:6, the first instance when God pronounced Abraham as righteous for believing in His promise that he would have many descendants.

In other words, he wanted us to know that Abraham was pronounced righteous long before (in fact 40 years) before he even offered Isaac on the altar.

Why then did James say that Abraham was justified when he offered Isaac? This can be explained by examining the meaning of the word "justify". This word has two meanings. The most common meaning of the word is "to pronounce righteous". Besides that, this word can also mean "proven to be right or true". Look at the following verse.

Rom 3:4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right (same Greek word translated “justified” in other instances) when you speak and prevail when you judge." (NIV)

Now we can understand why James says that Abraham is justified by his act of sacrificing Isaac on the altar. The word "justified" here is used in the second sense of the word. In other words, Jas 2:21 could say that Abraham was justified when he offered Isaac because that action proves that he was in fact a true believer. Verse 23 says that God's recorded statement that Abraham was saved was later demonstrated to be indeed true by Abraham's subsequent obedience to the Lord.

What made him do the right thing?

Again it was faith that God was not bound by natural laws and that nothing is impossible.

Application

God wants us to believe that nothing is impossible for Him. This is especially important in the area of praying for someone's salvation when after many years of unsuccessful prayer, we may conclude that it is impossible for that person to be saved. We must not lose hope and remember that nothing is impossible for God. If He can even intervene in the laws of nature, He can change the heart of our loved ones.

Matthew 19:25­26 (NIV) When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 26 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

The verses tell us that salvation is an impossible task without God's intervention. So don't think that people become saved naturally.

1 Cor 12:3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, if every believer needs the Holy Spirit's intervention, why is it any different even for people who seem hard to be saved.

Faith faltered when the promise was late in coming

Genesis 16:1­2 (NIV) Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her." Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

What did he do wrong?

Abraham's faith faltered when he became older and older and still had no children.

What were the consequences?

He ran ahead of God's plan and eventually had a son through the maid called Ishmael. Ishmael would later grow up to be the ancestor of the Muslim race and a constant enemy to the tribe of his other son Isaac, who is the father of the Jews.

What made him do the wrong thing?

He did the wrong thing because he had no faith. He also thought why he need to depend on God if he could take matters into his own hands. Impatience was another cause of his disobedience.

Is there another person in the Bible who shares the same experience as the character we are studying? Did this person make the same decision? What were the consequences in this case?

We can think of John the Baptist's father who was also informed by the angel that he would have a son. He did not believe and God punished him by striking him dumb until the child was born. (Luke 1:11-20)

Can we learn anything by contrasting the two together?

One believed and his faith pleased God. The other disbelieved and was punished by God as a result.

Is there another passage in the Bible that explains the principle more directly?

Hebrews 11:6 (NIV) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

His compassion prompted him to intercede for others

Genesis 18:20­32 (NIV) Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know." 22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing­­to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" 26 The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake." 27 Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?" "If I find forty­five there," he said, "I will not destroy it." 29 Once again he spoke to him, "What if only forty are found there?" He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it." 30 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?" He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there." 31 Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?" He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it." 32 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?" He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."

What did he do right?

He interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah even though they were so wicked. Even though Lot did not act justly towards Abraham, his love for Lot prompted him to intercede on his behalf. Abraham was not afraid to pester God for answers. Even though he knew he may be asking too much, he went ahead and asked.

What were the consequences?

God answered Abraham's prayers and spared Lot even though Lot's life did not deserve it. Our prayers can and do change God's mind about punishing some of our loved ones who continue to be disobedient.

What made him do the right thing?

It was love that prompted Abraham to intercede.

Application

This passage is only one of numerous passages that teaches that God may refuse to do anything except in response to our prayers.

Ezekiel 22:29­31 (NIV) The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. 30 "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. 31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD."

Was willing to sacrifice to God what he holds dearly

Genesis 22:1­14 (NIV) Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. 2 Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" 8 Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. 12 "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

What did he do right?

He obeyed God even though God requires that he sacrificed his beloved son.

What were his difficulties in obeying God?

True, it is difficult for anyone to sacrifice his son but so much more difficult for Abraham because this is the son that God promised him and for whom he had waited for so long. Also, God promised to bless the whole world through Abraham. He must have wondered how this is possible if God were to take away his son. Besides anguish, I'm sure Abraham also experienced confusion.

What were the consequences?

Because Abraham obeyed God, God provided another sacrifice instead and Abraham did not have to sacrifice his son.

What made him do the right thing?

All the while, to the very last minute, Abraham must have believed that God will provide a way. Even on the way to the mountain, Abraham said to his son that God will provide a sacrifice and when God really did, he named the place Jehovah Jireh.

2 Sam 24:24 But the king replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.

Job 1:21 and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."

Application

God sometimes require that we obey Him regardless of how illogical it seems. That way, we can show that we really trust Him. Faith pledge is one good example of how we can be asked by God to make a sacrifice but we do not have the offering. In the same way, God will require that we rely on Him to provide us with the offering to make the sacrifice.