Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Faith of Abraham

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. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)

Starting at Genesis 12, God once again took the initiative to make a new beginning. Except for chapters 1 and 2, the first eleven chapters of Genesis record one human failure after another. First, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). Then, Cain murdered his brother Abel in a jealous rage (Genesis 4). Humanity’s sin and corruption continued with Noah’s generations until God decided to cleanse the earth with the great flood (Genesis 6 – 8). Then in prideful defiance of God, humans built a city and a tower so they would no longer have to depend on God (Genesis 11). Thus, disobedience, murder, wickedness, violence, and rebellion marked the first eleven chapters of Genesis. So starting with Genesis 12, God once again started a new and fresh beginning with humans. God chose Abraham to make this beginning. God wanted to build a people He could call His own and that would worship and trust Him as the only true God of heaven and earth. Abraham and his descendants would become the foundation of this new nation wholehearted devoted to God (Yahweh).

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep His promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them. Hebrews 11:8-12 (NLT)

When God first called Abram (Abraham), God told Abram to leave his native country (Mesopotamia or modern day Iraq), his relatives, and his father’s family, and go to a land that He would show him (see also Acts 7:2). God promised Abram that “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great (make you famous), and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3, NIV). At God’s call, Abram obeyed and trusted God’s instruction. Abram departed his native country with his wife Sarai (Sarah), his nephew Lot, and all their possessions. At that time Sarai was barren (Genesis 11:30) and Abram was seventy-five years old when they all headed for God’s promised land – Canaan (Genesis 12:4). Though small in dimension, Canaan would become the focal point of Israel’s history as well as for the rise of Christianity.

Genesis 12:1-3 provides a foundational statement note only for Abram and for all humans. Not only would Abram and his descendants be blessed, but the other nations of the world would be blessed through Abram's descendants. God’s original blessings on the whole human race (Genesis 1:28) would be fulfilled in the lives of Abram and his descendants.  In various ways and degrees, God promises in Genesis 12 were reaffirmed to Abram (see Genesis 15:5-21; Genesis 17:4-8; Genesis 18:18-19; Genesis 22:17-18), to Isaac (Genesis 26:2-4), to Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15; Genesis 35:11-12; Genesis 46:3), to Moses (Exodus 3:6-8; Exodus 6:2-8), and to Abram’s physical descendant – and in Galatians 3:8 to Abram’s spiritual descendants (the Gentiles).

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your Shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “LORD God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless . . . . Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him (Abram) outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he (Abram) believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6 (NKJV)

Sometime later, God once again spoke to Abram. This time, God promised to be Abram’s “shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1, NIV). Abram was quite wealthy (Genesis 13:2; Genesis 14:23) but God reaffirmed to Abram that He was Abram’s greatest treasure, protection, and shield (Genesis 15:1). Abram said to God, “what can you give me since I remain childless” (Genesis 15:2, NIV). Then, God took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have! And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:5-6, NLT). In essence, God presented the impossible promise to Abram that he would have a son through whom his descendants would eventually be as numerous as the stars of heaven. Abram believed God (Genesis 15:6), and Abram’s faith proved to be an act of righteousness—faith is righteousness (see Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Romans 4:1-5, 17; Galatians 3:6, 11; Hebrews 10:37-38). This central statement about Abram’s faith is quoted three times in the New Testament (see Romans 4:3, 22-23; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23) to support the doctrine of righteousness before God comes only by faith in God. In essence, Abram revealed that faith in the true and living God is required to receive God’s blessings.

Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? . . . For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” . . . .  Now, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it also for uncircumcised Gentiles? Well, we have been saying that Abraham was counted as righteous by God because of his faith. . . . So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. . . . For Abraham is the father of all who believe. . . . And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. Romans 4:1, 3, 9, 16, 22 (NLT)

Ten years after settling in Canaan, Abram and Sarai began to question God’s promises since they had no children. Sadly, Abram and Sarai decided to take matters into their own hands and did not patiently wait for God’s perfect timing and guidance. Abram and Sarai attempted to obtain the promised offspring by using human efforts and not God’s power. So, Sarai gave her Egyptian servant named Hagar to Abram to conceive a child and Abram agreed with Sarai’s arrangement (Genesis 16:1-3). Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant (Genesis 16:4). However, once Hagar became pregnant, Sarai began mistreating Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away (Genesis 16:7). However, the Angel of the LORD found Hagar and told her “I will give you more descendants than you can count. . . . You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the LORD has heard your cry of distress. . . .  Yes, he (Ishmael) will live in open hostility against all his relatives” (Genesis 16:9-12). So, Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:15-16). Ishmael would become the founder of the Arab nations. Thus, Abraham's descendants include not only the Jewish people, but also the Arab world (through Ishmael) and the nations listed in Genesis 25:1-4.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve Me faithfully and live a blameless life. I will make a covenant with you, by which I will guarantee to give you countless descendants.” Genesis 17:1-2 (NLT)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God once again appeared to him. God told Abram, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life” (Genesis 17:1, NLT). The name “El-Shaddai” emphasized God’s power and greatness Abram. Nothing is too hard for God (see Jeremiah 32:17). Even more, God appearances to Abram reaffirmed to Abram to receive God’s promises he must live out “the obedience that come from faith” (Romans 1:5; see also Genesis 22). For Abram to receive God’s power and blessing required Abram’s wholehearted obedience to God and to walk a blameless life (see also Genesis 5:22; Genesis 6:8-9; Psalm 15:2; Luke 1:6; Isaiah 33:15; Isaiah 56:1; Micah 6:8; Habakkuk 2:4; and Mark 12:29-31). God wanted Abram and his descendants’ wholehearted trust and loyalty to Him. Even more, God wanted Abram and his descendants to look to Him as their Protector and Provider of all physical and spiritual blessings (Genesis 17:7). Previously, Enoch and Noah had walked blamelessly with God (see Genesis 5:22; Genesis 6:8-9) and God required Abram to continue this lifestyle.

Who may worship in Your sanctuary, LORD? Who may enter Your presence on Your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever. Psalms 15:1-5 (NLT)

Then God said to Abram, “This is My covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! I will confirm My covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:3-8, NLT). Then, God said to Abraham, “Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah. And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants” (Genesis 17:15-16, NLT). Both names, Sarai and Sarah, evidently mean “princess.” The renaming of Sarah also stressed that Sarah was to be the mother of nations and kings (Genesis 17:16) and thus to serve God’s purposes (Genesis 17:6).

In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God. What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. Galatians 3:6-9 (NLT)

Thus, Abram’s offspring, who like the descendants of Noah (see Genesis 10) would become many nations and spread over the earth. Abram means “Exalted Father” and Abraham means “father of many” (Genesis 17:5; see also Nehemiah 9:7). God’s promises to Abram was initially fulfilled in Egypt (see Exodus 1; Deuteronomy 1:10; Hebrews 11:12). Ultimately all who trust in and belong to Jesus Christ are Abram’s offspring (Galatians 3:29). Ultimately, Abraham’s promise finds fulfillment in his descendant, Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1). Through faith Jesus Christ, all people – Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) share in God’s blessing on Abraham (Genesis 12:3; see also Romans 4:11-25; Galatians 3:8-9, 16, 29; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 21:24).

Apostle Paul:  For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on the character of Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan,1992.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. New York: Zondervan, 2008.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989. 

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