He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11–12 ESV)
God made Abraham the father of all who believe, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well. The apostle Paul declares that those who belong to Abraham and are counted as righteous are those who walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham. Therefore, learning about Abraham and his faith is important as an example for us in how to walk by faith. In this series we will examine the life of Abraham as recorded in the book of Genesis. We will have two goals for this series. First, we just noted, we will look at Abraham to see what walking by faith looks like. Second, and what is more important, we will see and learn about God and his dealings with his people.
The record of the life of Abraham begins in Genesis 11. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are not very hopeful. What we read is a world bent on rejecting God and his rule. Adam and Eve sin and the world is cursed because of their sins. The scene moves forward with a genealogical record (Genesis 5) to the days of Noah, and the people are so wicked that God must destroy the earth and start over. The scene moves forward with a genealogical record (Genesis 10) and we read about the peoples of the earth coming together to make a name for themselves by building a great tower in Shinar. God must enter into judgment, confuse their languages, and scatter them across the face of the earth. Judgment should burn through the earth because God has already given three opportunities for obedience and yet the world is sinning against him.
Rather than final judgment, we see God loving his creation and his people even though no one chooses him. God offers repeated “fresh starts” only to watch the people corrupt themselves in their sinful ways. The scene moves forward with a genealogical record (Genesis 11) and we are introduced to a man named Abram.
Read Genesis 11:27-32. The set up for Abram is not hopeful at all. Genesis 11:30 emphasizes a great problem. Sarai (su-rye) was barren; she had no children. The problem is double stated. A child cannot be born of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man. This is a picture of total hopelessness. Further hopelessness is described in verse 31. God has called them to go to the land of Canaan. However, when they came to Haran, they settled there. We can even show on a map that to go to Haran, assuming they followed the Euphrates River from Ur of the Chaldeans, then they deviated their path, headed north to settle in this town called Haran. As such, Abram’s father, Terah, dies in the city of Haran.
The Call of Abram (12:1-3)
The Lord comes to Abram with an amazing declaration:
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 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 12:1–3 ESV)
The word “bless” or blessing” is said five times by the Lord in this declaration. The reason this is amazing is because God had pronounced curses five times in the first eleven chapters. God will use the blessing on Abram to counter the curses of sin in the first eleven chapters. Abram will be the instrument for blessing the world. God so loved the world that he chose Abram so that through him the world would be blessed.
Notice that all the promises are what God will do, not what Abram would do. There are seven great promises to Abram. 1) I will make of you a great nation, 2) I will bless you, 3) I will make your name great, 4) you will be a blessing, 5) I will bless those who bless you, 6) those who dishonor you I will curse, and 7) in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. It must be completely about what God will do. Look at what God promised! God promised that a great nation would come from him. But Genesis 11:30 clearly declared that Sarai had no children and is barren. It is tough to be a great nation and blessing to the world when you are only two middle aged people. God will have to accomplish his purposes. God is promising to recreate for himself a people and nation. This will be the means that God will restore the world, reversing the curses of sin. God picks a childless couple, a hopeless family, to further these wonderful plans.
These promises also set up a clear contrast. The Lord promises that he will make the name of Abram great. What was the sin when the tower was being built by the peoples in Genesis 11? The people were trying to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). God judges those who try to make a name for themselves. God judges those who try to make much of themselves. But those who will humble themselves before the Lord, God will lift them up (cf. James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).
Preparing For God’s Promises (12:4-9)
The faith of Abram is immediately put to the test. In our society, leaving family and moving to an unknown land is not as significant as it was in that culture. For our world, this kind of thing happens all the time. But for a family-centered, agrarian culture, responding to God’s command would require great trust in the Lord. “Go from your country and your relatives and your father’s house to the land I will show you” (12:1). Physical supports were largely removed. Abram had to trust God and to prepare Abram for these promises we see the removal of security, land, and family. In that society, family and land inheritance were your whole security. This was a risky decision and God asks for full faith.
This teaches us something very important for our walk with God. Obedience can only come from fully trusting in the Lord. We sin because we do not trust God. We do not trust in his promises. We do not believe that our sacrifice and self-denial will be worth it. We do not believe that God is seeking our best good. Abram must believe in the bare word of God. There is nothing seen. There is no sign and no confirmation. Simply get up, leave all your security, and go to a place that I will show you. Full obedience will only come when we have full faith in the Lord.
As Abram passes through the land that God would give to him and his descendants, we see Abram worshiping the Lord. In verse 7 we see Abram build an altar to the Lord at Shechem, the heart of the land of Canaan. In verse 8 he builds another altar to the Lord in another location and calls on the name of the Lord. God’s promises are supposed to drive us to worship him. Worship is generated by believing the promises of God.
Rather than wiping out the world again, as he did in the days of Noah, God makes a promise in the face of the world’s sinfulness to bless it. God makes a promise that he will act for the world’s sake through this man named Abram. Abram represents the world, full of hopelessness and unable to change his condition. But the grace of God appeared, promising to change his life completely. Abram must believe that God will do as he said. Faith is the basis of our obedience and the basis of our worship. The more we focus on God’s faithfulness, the more we will desire to worship him. The more we see the goodness of God, the more we will believe in the promises of God.
Consider that the Gospel of Matthew opens with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Through Abram the world would be blessed and the curses of sin would be reversed. Through Abram’s family tree, Jesus was born to save humanity.
The writer of Hebrews ties this faith to our need to walk by the same kind of faith.
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. (Hebrews 11:8–10 ESV)
Abraham had faith because he was looking forward to the promises of God, to a city that has foundations. His eyes were not in this world. His hope was not in this life. Put your hope in Jesus. Have faith in God who promises an eternal inheritance for those who will live for him alone.