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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Abraham: Living by Faith

This week for my Bible study I've been reading in Genesis, chapters 12-22.  These are the ones about Abraham and Sarah.  I haven't really pondered their journey recently, and reading this story anew brought things to light that I hadn't thought about before.

First, Abram and Sarai (their original names) traveled with Abram's father and family from Ur to Haran-- quite a long way.  Then when Abram was seventy-five and his wife was sixty-five, God called them to leave their family behind and move again, this time all the way to Canaan.  (Click on this link to see a map of their journey.)

God made a promise to Abram before they left Haran:
2 "And 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.” Genesis 12:2-3

Shortly after their arrival in Canaan they traveled to Egypt to escape a famine (Gen. 12:10-20). Pharaoh tried to make Sarai part of his harem because Abram lied and said she was his sister (see 20:12).  Pharaoh found out and was not happy, but gave them riches and servants anyway and sent them on their way.

They went back to Canaan where Abram parted ways with his nephew Lot, who had been traveling with them.  Lot got into trouble with local kings and Abram had to rescue him (Gen. 13-14).  Abram and Lot were successful, and once again God blessed them through their enemies.  God renewed his covenant with Abram, promising him the land in which he lived would belong to his descendants, of which there would be more than there were stars in the sky (Gen 15).

However, Abram and Sarai were getting old, and Sarai doubted that she would be able to have a child.  So she gave her servant Hagar to Abram to conceive a child, which Hagar did, bearing Ishmael.  Unfortunately, as soon as Hagar became pregnant, Sarai was jealous of her and treated her poorly (Gen 16).

Not long after that, God and three angels appeared to Abraham (whose name God had changed) in the form of human men.  They told Abraham that in a year's time, his wife would bear a son.  God had already informed Abraham of this (17:15-22), but this time it was in Sarah's hearing (18:1-15).  Her response was the same as Abraham's when he heard:  She laughed.

Later, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot and his family were living.  Only Lot and his two daughters escaped, and they did not live God-pleasing lives (Gen. 19).

Another king, this time Abimelech king of Gerar, tried to make Sarah part of his harem and God spared him punishment (Gen 20).

Finally, Abraham and Sarah's son Isaac was born, fulfilling God's prophecy (Gen. 21).  Then when Isaac was in his teens, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.  Abraham was about to do it when God stopped him and provided a ram for the sacrifice instead, rewarding Abraham for his faith and obedience (22:1-19).

Isaac, of course, was the father of Jacob, who had twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel.  From Abraham the entire Jewish line was descended, and through his son Ishmael the Arabian tribes descended (Muslims trace their heritage back to Abraham as well as Jews and Christians).  But Abraham and Sarah couldn't see how God's promises would be fulfilled, hundreds and thousands of years into the future.  They both struggled to trust.  They lied, doubted, tried to do things their own way, and laughed at God's words.

Despite all of this, Abraham was praised by the writer of Hebrews as a man of faith (Hebrews 11:8-12).  This passage says that Abraham trusted God "by faith," and that even Sarah "considered [God] faithful who had made the promise."  And that was after Sarah had laughed at God's prediction of her conception!

In 1 Peter 3 we read that the holy women of the past used to make themselves beautiful with "the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4).
For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (3:5-6)
Abraham trusted and obeyed God, and Sarah trusted and obeyed her husband.  No, they did not do it perfectly.  They sinned.  They doubted sometimes.  But what does the writer of Hebrews tell us?  They had faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9) 
The faith in God that Abraham and Sarah had did not make them perfect.  It did not make them impervious to fear and doubt.  But that faith was not something that they had by their own doing.  God blessed them with faith to trust in him.  He blessed them even when they faltered.  And God does the same with us.

I think too often we read the Genesis passage in light of the Hebrews one.  Abraham was a man of faith, so those things he did in Genesis weren't as bad as they really seem.  Well, they really were bad!  Abraham was a sinner, just like you and me.  But when we look at the Hebrews passage in light of the Genesis one, we see God's grace.  We see that God counted Abraham and Sarah righteous, and faithful, not by anything they had done, but because of God's grace and mercy--because of Jesus and what he did for them.

The same is true for us.  We are sinners, yes, but because of Jesus, God looks at us with love and grace.  He does not look at the sinful things we have done or count them against us, because Jesus has paid the price for those sins.  God looks at us as perfect and holy, because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross in our place.  He died for us and for all people who have ever lived (including Abraham and Sarah) so that we don't have to die eternally, but can look forward to eternity in heaven with Jesus.

Therefore, like Abraham, we may live by faith--by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

Can you relate at all with the struggles of Abraham? How do you see God's grace working in your life?  

Linking today with Upward Not Inward, Exceptionalistic

2 comments:

  1. What a precious reminder! God sees our faith, even when it looks like foolishness to the rest of the world. And He rewards it, too! Found you through today's linkup - hope you're having a wonderful week!

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