Genesis 12:10-20; 15:1-19; 16:1-16
- Every day we exercise faith
- on the highway. -pick me up
- hardware store without my wallet
- faith in God
- looking for direction
- experience an illness,
- When our resources are not sufficient
- When our hopes are not being fulfilled,
- “Can I really believe in God
- God made promises to Abram,
- Would Abram have faith in God?
- promises of blessing,
- famine in the land of promise. Well, moving wasn’t that hard since he was a nomadic shepherd and had already moved a lot and so he went down to Egypt. The land of promise is very hilly and if the rain does not come on a regular basis, it can result in a drought and create a problem for farming. Egypt, on the other hand, was flat land and had the Nile River running through it and thus a steady source of water even when things were dry elsewhere, so Abram took all his flocks and herds down to Egypt.
As he approached Egypt, he became afraid. He knew the power of the Egyptian rulers. He remembered the promises of offspring and he was afraid that when he went to Egypt, the Pharaoh would kill him and take Sarai to be his wife. I don’t know how it was that at the age of 75 Sarai was still considered beautiful and desirable, but she was and Abram was afraid for his own skin and that the promise of God would not be fulfilled. He saw the power and ungodliness of the Egyptians and became afraid. He knew that strangers are often treated poorly. Even in Canada today, immigrants are treated with suspicion and sometimes exploited. Abram knew this and became afraid. So in order to protect himself, he told Sarai to tell others that she was his sister. What would then happen was that they would treat Abram well and he could simply refuse to allow anyone to marry his sister. This was not unusual and we have a number of other stories in which brothers determined whether or not their sister could marry (24:55; 34:13-17. He feared, but thought he had a good solution that would overcome his fears.
But it turns out it wasn’t such a good solution. The people of the land did find his wife quite attractive, but things got worse when Pharaoh found out about her and desired her for his own harem. Pharaoh was not like any other man and Abram could not refuse to give her to him in marriage. At this point, Abram was in trouble. He could not tell the truth now because then he would surely be a dead man. He could not stop Sarai from going to the house of Pharaoh. What trouble! His fears were justified, and the worst possible scenario happened.
When Pharaoh found out about the deception, because God inflicted Pharaoh’s house with diseases, he became very angry. The questions Pharaoh asks were not nice gentle questions, they were questions spoken in anger. “What have you done?” “Why didn’t you…” “Why did you…” They are accusatory questions.
His anger resulted in the immediate expulsion of Abram from Egypt. He said to Abram “Take her and go!” He then gave orders to his officials to escort Abram out of Egypt. Sort of like a referee escorting a ball player who has been ejected to the dressing room. You can almost hear him say - “get out and stay out.” Abram makes no defence on his own behalf because he is guilty and he knows it.
The consequences of Abram’s fearful action were not the death of Abram, but the expulsion of Abram and Sarai. His fear did not bring blessing, but trouble. We have a rather “unheroic performance of the hero.” Are these the actions of a man of faith?
We would wag our fingers and cluck our tongues at Abram if we didn’t know that we are not much different. How many times have we failed to express faith because we were afraid. How often does the obstacle loom large in our minds? How often are we afraid because what is bothering us seems so large, even larger than God! You know how you can be fooled by an optical illusion in which something looks larger than it really is? That is what happened to Abram and it also happens to us. We fear because an enemy, a difficulty, a problem looks bigger than God and His promises. As a consequence, we act in fear rather than in faith.
How can we have the courage to trust God even when the thing in our face looks so large.
The first thing we need to do is be reminded that God is bigger by placin our focus on God once again. We can do this by looking at what God has done. Meditating on creation is one way to do this. When we realize the wonder of all that God has made and are astounded at His awesome works, we can regain a perspective on ourselves. If we would visit the mountains and see how big they are, or at the shore of the ocean or a large lake and realize that God has created all these things, then our perspective can be restored once again and we can realize that God is “bigger than any mountain” as the song says. We can also focus on God in His word and as we read the creation story or the Psalms which describe the amazing power and love of God, then we can be reminded that God is bigger than any problem we might have and remember that He is worthy of our trust. Recently someone who is going through difficulty told me that it helps to look out at the trees and be reminded of the creator by looking at His creation.
We can also be reminded of past experiences of God’s work. If we read Scripture and recall God’s amazing acts in the past - the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, the coming of Jesus to die on the cross and every story of God’s amazing work in between. As we remember how God has acted in the past, we are encouraged to trust him in the present. We can also remember God’s work on our behalf. That is one reason to keep a journal and to record when we see God at work. Then in a time of trouble, we can remind ourselves of what God has already done for us and have faith instead of fear. Participating in an act of remembrance is also helpful. That is why communion is so important. There is something about physically participating in such an act that reminds us in a tangible way of how God has come to earth to bring us salvation. Such acts of remembrance can help us take our eyes off of our fears and put them on the Lord.
Another way of removing fear is to talk to someone who has gone through a similar situation. Sometimes when we have problems, we want to keep it to ourselves. That is a trick of Satan because if we are not listening to God or to supportive friends, then Satan has our ear. Talking to others who understand helps us gain perspective and as they pray for us, we are encouraged and blessed. We learn that although serious, our problem isn’t as big as we thought.
Another thing that happens as we talk to people is that they pray for us. As we talk to them, we can confess our fears and even the act of saying, “I am afraid, I wonder if God will…” can be a tremendous help. As people pray for us after this, we can be greatly encouraged not to fear, but to have faith.
If we skip over to Genesis 16, we have another story in which faith was tested in another way. Abram had no children. I know that today, when a couple desires to have a child and is unable, it can be very devastating. This was true at that time. In fact, at that time, it was a disaster. There was a social stigma attached to childlessness. Children were a mark of success for a wife, to have none was failure. Childlessness also had other implications. It meant that there would be no one to carry on your family line, no one to preserve the family inheritance, no one to look after you in your old age and no one to plan and carry out your funeral. This week, a man in Brandon died and had no family. He left an estate of over $100,000 and there was no one to claim it, no one to plan his funeral except a few friends. He was all alone in the world. That is the kind of situation that worried people like Abram and Sarai in their childlessness. On top of that, there was the matter of the promises of God. He had said, “I will give you offspring.” Abram and Sarai wondered if God would really fulfill his promises.
After 10 years, nothing had happened and Sarai began to get to the place where she was blaming God for not giving her offspring. We read in 16:2, “The Lord has kept me from having children…” Once again, Abram and Sarai were confronted with a problem that they desperately wanted solved and it wasn’t being solved. How would they handle it?
Well, Sarai had an idea. There was a custom, which was not that unusual in their society. Offspring could be gotten through a slave. Since the slave belonged to the woman, the child of the slave would also belong to the woman and would, in a legal sense at least, be her offspring and could be treated as such. When she says, “The Lord has kept me…” she blames God for her predicament and decides to solve God’s mistakes, hardly a model of piety.” Sarai had given this a lot of thought and finally was desperate enough to offer her maid, Hagar, to Abram so that she could have a child through Hagar. Her thinking was like this: “I have waited so long and God is doing nothing about it! I will have to help him along.”
The results of this effort to solve the problem on their own were not good. It worked, but brought with it all kinds of difficulties. Abram went along with it and before long, Hagar was pregnant. When she become pregnant, she began to despise Sarai. Sarai became jealous and began to treat Hagar poorly. In fact, the language is such that it says she abused her and it is the same word as that used when describing the way in which the Egyptian task masters abused the Israelites when they were in Egypt many years later.
Disapproval of this plan is implied in the passage. If you will look at 16:3, you will notice it says, “Sarah took her maid and gave her to Abram.” The same sequence of words is used in the story of the fall into sin when Eve took the fruit and gave to her husband. The same censure is implied.
In verse 5 we notice that Sarai blamed Abram, but, in a sense, she had brought this upon herself. That doesn’t soften the blow, however, and once again we see that solving it on their own did not turn out to be such a good idea. Were these the actions of a man of faith?
“Hasty action springing from unbelief does not forward the divine purpose.”
We could shake our heads at Abram and Sarai, but we need to do so carefully, for all of us have run ahead of God.
It is always trouble when we run ahead of where we ought to go. I was on a canoe trip quite a few years ago. There were many people on the trip and it was difficult for me to lead because some of the others on the trip were older than I was and I didn’t know them that well. At one point, they didn’t wait for everyone to finish a portage and went ahead and when the rest of us finished, we didn’t know where they had gone or if they had gone the right way and we had to waste a lot of time looking for them and then getting back on the right course.
We run into the same problems when we run ahead of God and engage in solutions of our own making instead of waiting for God’s timing. It is an act of unbelief to think that God is not acting fast enough.
How can we walk in faith instead of running ahead of God?
Prayer and sensitivity to God’s Spirit are very important. Waiting on God always takes time spent in prayer and listening to God. It is also an act of faith to believe that God is leading us.
A community of people who can help us discern is very important. As we talk to others about our plan, they can help us distinguish between what is faith and what is running ahead of God.
Reading the Bible is also important. As we read the Bible, particularly the stories that talk about waiting, we begin to see how often we are too quick to run ahead. God’s plans often involve waiting, but they also always bring blessing. Reading the Bible stories helps us see how waiting for God always brings blessing. Isaiah 40 calls us to wait until God’s timing is right and until God acts, then we can see how God brings blessing into a situation.
We are quite often very impatient and our society approves of impatience. The other day, I saw an advertising that said, “Patience is not a necessary virtue – next day service.” I don’t remember what it was advertising, but it reinforced this idea that we don’t need to wait, we can have it all right now, the solution should be instant. God doesn’t work that way, in fact, he teaches us that patience is worth waiting for. Hebrews 10:35,36 encourages us to learn patience, “Do not lose your courage, then, because it brings with it a great reward. You need to be patient, in order to do the will of God and receive what he promises.”
So we have this great man of faith, who in many instances did not act very much like a man of faith. Sometimes he acted in fear and sometimes he ran ahead of God and did things on his own. How did he come to be known as a man of faith? If we go back to Genesis 15, we find the answer to that question.
Once again the same question comes up as has come up so often. God made a promise that they would have many descendants, but Sarai was barren. In Genesis 15, we have the story of another encounter Abram had with God. In Genesis 15:1, God promised, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram wasn’t easily convinced of all these blessings of God and so began to question God. In 15:2, we hear the response of Abram, “What can you give me…” He wanted to see God act on the promises, particularly to reverse the barrenness of Sarai. He was thinking, “No offspring yet God, how are you going to do this? When are you going to do this?” Abram explained further that at this point a servant of his, one who belongs to his estate was the heir. He also accused God, “you have given me no children.”
As we have already seen and see again here, this was the big problem for Abram and Sarai, this was the situation in which they wrestled with faith.
Once again God came to Abram and made a promise and we read in Genesis 15:4, “Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He further promises that his descendants will be like the stars of heaven.
The faith of Abram is made evident in Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” This verse appears at least four times in the New Testament. Romans 4, Galatians 3, Hebrews 11 and James 2. Particularly in Romans 4, it becomes a lesson on what it means to live by faith. In this case, it is a matter of Abram believing what God says. That is faith, to trust the word of God, to believe what God has said. Because of this action of trusting God’s word, believing what God has said, even without evidence, is what made Abram a man of faith.
Did he always act on that faith? Well, we have already seen that he didn’t. The story of running ahead of God comes after this story. But this moment defined the life of Abram. He believed what God had said and was declared righteous because of his belief.
The wrestling with faith is also seen further here. Even though it says that Abram believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, we still find that right after this he asked in verse 8, “how can I know?”
The picture which follows shows Abram how he can know. God enacted a wonderful illustration. He asked Abram to bring some sacrificial animals. He killed them and laid them out in two rows. With the larger animals, he cut them in half and put one half in one row and the other half in the other row. With the smaller animals - the birds, he just put some in each row. Then he waited and as he waited, birds of prey came and tried to eat from the carcasses. Abram chased them away, but eventually he became sleepy. Then a fire pot came with a blazing torch between the pieces. It seems like a rather strange event, but speaks powerfully to affirm Abram’s faith. The sacrificial animals represent Israel - God’s people. The birds of prey represent unclean nations who will attack them. Abram’s actions represent defending his descendants. The fire pot which is between them represents God walking with his people. God gave Abram a picture of his promise and his continued guidance.
Unlike the stories which demonstrate lack of faith, we find in this story that when faith is exercised, God confirms that faith and blesses those who trust.
What can we learn about faith from this story? The story is mentioned several times in the New Testament. Two of the most famous passages which tell the story are the use Paul makes of it in Romans 4 when he is demonstrating that Abram trusted God’s word and was declared righteous. Faith is believing what God says and we act in faith when we hear God’s word and trust that it is true. The other famous passage is that in James 3 where James teaches that Abram trusted God and then acted on that faith by offering Isaac on the altar. Faith that is just spoken is not the whole picture. If we truly believe, then we must also act on what we believe. These are the two components of faith - to believe what God says and to act on His words.
There is another wonderful aspect to what it means to be a people of faith in these stories. We have already seen how when Abram believed God, it resulted in blessing. We have also seen the disastrous results of acting in fear or running ahead of God. But Abram was a man of faith in spite of these lapses and God does some amazing things because Abram is a man of faith. God took those disasters and continued to act on behalf of Abram in spite of the lapses. In the case of the lie Abram told in Egypt, we find that Abram was not killed by Pharaoh because Pharaoh saw that God was on his side and when Abram left Egypt, he left with many possessions, a large portion of which he had gained in Egypt. In the story of running ahead of God, Ishmael, who was born to Hagar, became a part of the fulfillment of the promise to Abram that he would become the father of many nations.
This observation is not intended to make us be careless about acting in faith, but to encourage us that in spite of our acts of lack of faith, if we continue in faith, God can bring blessing out of our mistakes, even though there will be negative consequences.
One lesson we learn from these stories is that the promises of God are carried by imperfect people who sin and make foolish decisions, but are blessed of God and end up trusting Him. I love these stories because they are stories about us. Our faith is like that - sometimes we fear, sometimes we try to do it on our own without God. Sometimes we trust God. Let us learn to trust the promises of God more and more each day.
If we trust God, we will believe what God says. Question: what does God say? Do we believe it?
It is obedience, action which follows up on what God says.
Question: what does God expect? Do we do it?
God gives us every reason to believe. Will we?