2017年8月5日星期六

Pilgrim's Progress with Abraham

Genesis 12:1-3

God called Abram to leave for a Promised Land

Abram (Abraham) and his father, Terah, lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. When Abram was 75 years old, God called him to leave Ur. Without hesitation, he set out from Ur to journey to the land of Canaan. Abraham had a good start!

Since then, Abram underwent drastic changes in life. He died at the age of 175. From 75 to 175 years old, his life was dominated by two themes: offspring (or seed) and land.

What are the themes of your life after you became Christian? Did God drastically change your direction and values?

The first record of God calling Abram is found in Genesis 12:1-3:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your fathers’ household to the land I will show you.
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.

Abram must leave an established life in post-Babel Chaldea to begin a life of pilgrimage with God. He was to journey to a better world of God’s making.

In Gen 12:1-3, the word “bless” (beraka) appears five times. The same word, “bless,” also appears five times 5 times in Gen 1-11.

1:22
God blessed every living thing that inhabit the water and that fly in the air on the Fifth Day.
1:28
God blessed mankind on the Sixth Day.
2:3
God blessed the Seventh Day and made it holy.
5:2
God blessed Adam and Eve.
9:1
God blessed Noah and his sons.

By calling Abram, God reaffirmed his intention to bless his creation.

In Gen 3-11, the word “curse” (arur) is also mentioned five times:

3:14
The Lord God cursed the serpent.
3:17
The ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin.
4:11
Cain was cursed and driven out from the land.
5:29
The Lord has cursed the ground.
9:25
Canaan was cursed.

So, in Gen 12:1-3, God pronounced blessing upon Abram five times to signal his intention to reverse the cursed scenario of Genesis 3-11.

In Genesis 3, human beings sinned against God and fell from his original blessing. From there on, the sinful state of humanity continued to aggravate. But now God’s original blessing would be revived in the lives of Abram and his offspring.

Abraham’s Trial – Land

In Hebrew, “chosen/elect” and “trial/test” are very similar. Jewish tradition stresses that God’s chosen people must go through trials and have their faith tested. Abraham started well by responding to God’s call. Subsequently, his life was dominated by the twin themes of “land” and “offspring.”

We will now explore the trials of Abraham, despite the good start he had, in connection with the Promised Land:

12: 6-8
Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Since the Canaanites were in the land, how could God give it to Abram? In fact, Abram was compelled to move around to find a place to settle. Wherever he went in the land, Abram built an altar to worship God called on the name of the Lord. This was an act of faith to declare that the land belonged to God and that God will definitely give it to Abraham.

12: 10
10 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.

But if the land was so good, flowing with milk and honey, how did it end up in a famine? Here, the theme of famine parallels the theme of women infertility, which we will look at later.

13: 5- 7
Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 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. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

If the land was so good, why do we read that, “The land could not support both Abram and Lot”? Why was the land so limited in its ability to produce for the two families?

13:8-12
So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarrelling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. 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.”
10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.

Abram initiated the parting of the ways with Lot. He allowed Lot to choose where he would settle. Had Lot chose the Promised Land, Abram would have forfeited it. Thankfully, Lot chose, instead, the fertile plains near Sodom and Gomorrah, which was outside the Promised Land. It was in this way that Abram got to remain in the highlands of Canaan, at Hebron, which was less fertile.

15:13-16
13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

Abram’s descendants would be enslaved elsewhere for 400 years and then only would they inherit the land. Abram himself would not inherit the land. Instead, he would die at a good old age.

15:18-21
18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites,Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Besides the Canaanites the land was populated by nine other people groups. For Abram’s descendants to inherit the land, they would need to get rid of these people. How would that be accomplished?

23:1-4
Sarah lived to be 127 years old. She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”

Sarah, Abram’s wife, died in the land. Up until this time, Abram was still just a sojourner who had no rights to the land. He paid a large sum of money to buy piece of land for Sarah’s burial. Abram acted out of faith. Instead of returning to Ur, he chose the land of Canaan as their burial ground. In those days, the site where one is buried represented one’s permanent home.

Recap:

The Canaanites were in the land
A delay of 400 years to inherit the land
There was famine in the land
Nine other people groups occupied the land.
The land could not support both Lot and Abram.
Abram needed to buy a piece of land to bury Sarah.
Abram allowed Lot to choose where he would settle.


If you were Abram, as you study the trials in that are tabulated above, would you hold on to the promises of God and believe that you and your descendants would inherit the land? Would you not be discouraged and felt bitter against God? Perhaps you might even move back to Ur of the Chaldeans?

Despite problems, obstacles, and trials, Abram had faith in God and he acted out of faith. He built altars in the land, worshiped God, and declared the name of the Lord. He declared that the land belonged to God. In his heart, he had permanently settled in the Promised Land.

Lot chose the fertile plains and Abram remained in the infertile highlands of Hebron. Abrahm trusted that the Lord would provide for all his needs. He believed that his descendants would one day inherit the land. He also bought a piece of land to be Sarah’s burial site as a gesture towards making the land his permanent home.

The New Testament, in Hebrews 11:8-10, gives credit to Abraham for his faithful acts. Let’s read together:

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. 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. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 

How would you evaluate Abraham’s faith in his pursuit of the Promised Land? Abraham had weaknesses just as we do. His decision to part ways with Lot and let his nephew choose which land to settle have put the promise of the land at risk.

How do you evaluate your own journey of faith? Have you fallen short? Let us advance in our faith! We will inherit the Promised Land!

Abraham’s Trial – Offspring

God promised that Abram would have many descendants and they would become a great nation.

11:30
Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.

However, Abram’s wife, Sarah, was infertile. As mentioned earlier, this paralleled the “famine” theme.

12:11-13
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.”

There was famine in the land and Abram went down to Egypt. To protect his own life, he lied to the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister. What would happen had Pharaoh or any other Egyptian take Sarah as their wife? How then could Abram have an offspring through Sarah? Abram was an irresponsible husband. But God intervened in the nick of time to remedy the situation.

14:11-12
11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

At one point, Lot was considered to be the heir of Abram but he was taken captive by the four kings. This was an endangerment to the promise of descendants to Abram.

15:2-4
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 

After that Abram thought that his servant Eliezer was to be his heir. But God said no. He said, “A son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”

16:1-4
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

After spending ten years in Canaan, Abram remained childless. Sarah made her servant girl, Hagar, to be Abram’s concubine. Abram’s son with Hagar, Ishmael, appeared to be Abram’s heir-apparent. However, God said that Sarah’s son, not Ishmael, who would be the chosen heir of Abram. Sarah and Abram made the mistake of acting out of their own accord rather than seeking the way of the Lord.

20:1-2
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

In Gen 20:1-2, for the second time, Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister. This time it was to Abimelek the king of Gerar. Again, what would have happened had Abimelek taken Sarah to be his wife? This would, again, endanger the promise of offspring to Abraham. And, yet again, God intervened in the nick of time to remedy the situation.

22:2
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Finally, Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering to the Lord. But had Isaac, his only son, die, how would happen to God’s promise of descendants to Abraham?

We can compare Gen 22:2 with 12:1, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’”

The same word, “Go,” is repeated here. Notice also the three-step progression of “your country, your people, and your father’s household” in Gen 12:1 versus “your son, your only son, whom you love” in Gen 22:2.

When Abraham was first called by God, he experienced the initial challenge (or, blow). This was followed by a series of trials. Finally, he faced another great challenge! Does this not reflect our own journey of faith with the Lord?

Conclusion:

Sarah was infertile
Eliezer was not to be Abram’s heir
Sarah was beautiful
Ishmael was not to be Abram’s heir
Lot was taken captive
God commanded Abram to sacrifice Isaac

Again, how do you evaluate Abraham’s faith? In his weakness, he denied his wife and took Hagar as a surrogate mother. But God was faithful to Abraham and intervened to remedy his faults.

Let’s read together Hebrews 11:11-12:

 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she 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.

Also, Hebrews 11:17-19:

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Abraham was faithful in many ways but he also had weaknesses. He did not pass every test with flying colours. However, God evaluated him to be the father of faith and his friend. This reveals to us that our God is great and faithful. His grace is sufficient for us. As long as we are willing to step forward in faith, God will take care of the rest. He even makes up for our weaknesses and mistakes. He wants to bless us until the very end.

Genesis 25:1-8 concludes the life of Abraham:

Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Ashurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanok, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah.
Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east.
Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. 

At the end, Abraham had many descendants but his chosen heir was Isaac. He died a 175-year-old. The Bible describes him as having “died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.”
This is the best way of passing on to rest in the Lord. What a blessed life Abraham led! His legacy continues on up to today for all nations were blessed through his descendants, Israel, and uniquely through the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
Today, what legacy do you want to pass on?
Calling and Prayer:
Have you learned anything from Abraham’s journey of faith? What do you do when you face trials along the way?
Our God is greater than all your problems and trials. His grace is sufficient for you to sail through the trials and to finally inherit the promised blessing.
Allow God to be the vision of your life. Let his kingdom be the theme of your life’s journey. Continue on within the covenant community of God. All the riches and blessings of the Abrahamic covenant promised by God will be bestowed upon us for we are the spiritual descendants of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ.
Today, let us start building “altars,” worship the Lord, and declare his name wherever we go. Let us invest our time and money into a “piece of land” and make that “land” our “permanent home.”
This little piece of “land,” the promised Holy Spirit, is the initial portion of the total blessing that God will shower upon us until we are filled to the brim and cannot contain it all! And we will also be passing on a precious legacy as we leave this world to rest in the Lord. By doing so, we fulfil our calling as God’s children, the spiritual descendants of Abraham, which is to become “a blessing unto others.” 

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