Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
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. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b] considered him faithful who had made the promise. 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.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (NIV)
Abram, later changed to Abraham, is lifted up as an excellent example of faith. I find that a great relief, because his faith wasn’t steady throughout his life… at least that is if you mean faith as an unwavering belief that God’s got it all worked out and we have to just sit back and wait to see what happens… to see how God will work it out. Abram and Sarai didn’t do that at all.
Well, they did do that for a while.
It was back in Genesis 12 when the promise first came to Abram. God said, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation… all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3, NIV) Abram was told to pack up his family and go. And he did. Abram was already 75 years old at that time. Men can still father children at that age. At least it isn’t unheard of… It was clear that was necessary. God told him that his offspring would possess the land of Canaan in Genesis 12:7. We aren’t told how old Sarai was at that time. Maybe she was a lot younger. (We don’t learn until Genesis 17:17 that Sarai was 9 years younger than Abram. She was 90 when he was 99 and the angel told him that by this time next year she would bear a son and they would name him Isaac.) Abram and Sarai got up and went. In the next episode of their life story we are told she is a very beautiful woman and when they went to Egypt to escape famine in Canaan. Abram passed her off as his sister so the Egyptians wouldn’t kill him to possess her.
That is one of the many problematic stories in the Bible; proof positive this is an ancient book, representative of a time and culture long gone that is not full of timeless advice for how to live in today’s world. No one takes this part of the Bible as literal, prescriptive truth; not even the biblical literalists! Most people just skip right over it because it is troublesome. But think about this; Abram’s faith wasn’t great enough for him to believe God would protect him. If he really believed God would “make of him a great nation” then he should have trusted that God would protect him! No one talks about this as an episode of his great faith. This is an episode of the failure of faith!
But God rescued him even though his faith faltered and protected Sarai as well. This is an episode of God’s great grace.
So time and more drama went on. In the middle of all that, God reinforced the promise of offspring and the promise of a land of their own again in Genesis 13:15-17. Finally we come to the passage that is our reading from the Hebrew scripture for this week that I wrote about yesterday, Genesis 15:1-8. (If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, be sure to do so. These two go together.) God reinforces the covenant promise with Abram and gives him more details BECAUSE HE WHINES AT GOD. He asks “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of [the land]?” THAT is NOT a question a man of faith is supposed to ask! Or at least what we have been told. Faith is NOT supposed to ask so many questions. (Malarkey! I say.)
But Abram is not done losing faith even yet!
Pretty soon, Sarai got to thinking God’s promise wasn’t happening, and they weren’t getting any younger. It was already way too late for her, so maybe they better do something to help God along. Sarai cooked up this plan to have Abram have sex with her slave Hagar so she would have a son through a surrogate. Abram doesn’t try to talk her out of it. He goes along with that plan. Once again, lots of drama ensues because of their lack of faith.
You see, their great faith is an average, human kind of faith. It is at times strong and weak. It is not always the great faith of Abraham’s last big story.
Of course eventually in Genesis 21 we learn Isaac was born to Sarah and they rejoice. Then the word comes to Abraham to sacrifice him. This is the episode that cements Abraham as a man of great faith. He goes ahead and makes the preparations, makes the trip and starts to execute the plan. God intervenes of course. Only Isaac couldn’t have known God would, and seriously, neither did Abraham or it wouldn’t be called faith. This is the outstanding, almost inhuman, almost unbelievable level of faith Abraham gets lifted up for.
Abraham didn’t get to see his descendants. He would not get to know Jacob, Isaac’s son, nor Jacob’s twelve sons that would be the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. Abraham had to trust that the promise would would begin while he was alive, but would extend beyond his lifetime.
We also are asked to trust that all of what God promises us may not be immediately visible and certainly won’t be clear or understandable in this lifetime. I take great comfort from Abraham. His story of an up and down faith, and the twisty-turny path that he went down as a result, that led him straight to where he needed to be, encourages me that my faith is sufficient for me too. I have a twisty-turny path as well. Thanks be to God I have the assurance from Abraham’s story that God is faithful even through all the missteps, false starts and sidetracks of life.
I trust I’m not the only one. I bet you need that reassurance too. I believe that’s why Abraham’s story is even IN the Bible. We ALL need that kind of reassurance. Life is a twisty-turny path that leads us straight to where we need to be when we look to God for guidance along the way. Another way of saying it might be that In God’s realm, the ditches are just as much a part of the road as the main travel lanes. Thanks be to God.
Blessings to you,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.