Abraham, Part 1: Seeking Through Believing
Even though he lived almost 4,000 years ago, Abraham’s life still stands at the crossroads of human history as an example for us. The beginning of his incredible life is summed up in the following verse:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
What is significant about him having faith and obeying God? For starters, most people do not have faith and do not obey God. Thus, Abraham demonstrated a willingness to be different from society in order to pursue the Lord. The other significant thing is that travel was risky business in ancient times. Abraham had no idea where God was sending him, and there were no highways with luxury buses, railroads with first-class seating, or airlines with direct travel. Abraham’s options were to travel on foot, on the back of an animal, or in a wagon. He would have to make do without any maps, motels, or sandwich shops along the way. And to top it all off, there was no moving company to ship his household goods. Saying yes to God was a huge commitment, even if he had a sense of adventure. Also, at his age, Abraham was probably past the point of thrill-seeking; he was already “seasoned” and would have been eligible for Social Security, had such a program existed.
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and [his nephew] Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Genesis 12:1, 4
Can you imagine being 75 years old and receiving a command to pack up and start a new life (and not at a retirement center)? We don’t know what questions or arguments went through Abraham’s mind, what fear or uncertainty he might have felt. But we know he obeyed, trusting God. What did Abraham trust God to do? Let’s take a look.
God made some big promises when he told Abraham to leave:
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abraham was trusting God to fulfill these remarkable promises. God said he would become a great nation, but at that time Abraham did not have a single child. Additionally, God promised to give Abraham great blessings and to make him a blessing to the whole world. What kind of person has faith to hear such promises? To what kind of person does God give such promises? Perhaps the person who seeks the Lord, has a desire to follow God, and is willing to obey Him. Yes, this is the type of person Abraham was.
And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
What kind of person are you? Do you desire to follow God? Do you have faith to receive His promises? If a 75-year-old can have faith to start a new life with a difficult journey, you can have such faith as well. Hopefully, Abraham and the other examples in this book will challenge and build your faith as you seek the Lord.
Abraham had a lifestyle of seeking God, but in this beginning episode, we see him seeking God’s promises. The first promise was for his own land:
He was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.
By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
You might be wondering why was faith needed to live in the Promised Land. For starters, one man cannot truly possess a country, let alone a land filled with Canaanites (Genesis 12:6). Abraham would need God’s protection to move into a place with an established culture, economy, and false religions. Yet Abraham was not just seeking a physical land but the City built by God (Hebrews 11:10) where there would be peace and rest (Hebrews 4:1).
Here is an important point: while Abraham had been given earthly promises, he did not lose sight of the spiritual long-term reality. This is really significant because Abraham only saw part of the promises fulfilled during his lifetime. The rest would pass on to his descendants.
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Abraham and his early descendants believed God. Recognizing that this world of sin and sadness was not their final home, they desired
a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
What does this have to do with seeking God? Remember, Jesus said that your heart is where your treasure is (Matthew 6:21). Abraham showed that he treasured his relationship with God and that his heart was in heaven. His pursuit of God’s promises of an earthly inheritance was an act of faith that demonstrated he was really seeking the Lord. Abraham lived several big acts of faith (notice I said “lived acts of faith” not “did acts of faith”) in addition to the normal day-to-day faith that he showed. Now the question is, what act or series of acts of faith are in your life that demonstrate you are seeking God?
The early church leader James challenged people who hoped to show faith without actions. We can’t do it.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
Just as humans cannot see faith in God apart from actions, God desires us to demonstrate that we are actually seeking through actions. Otherwise, if we say, “I’m seeking God,” but are not doing anything, we are really just fooling ourselves.
WHERE'S MY SON?
That was just the beginning of Abraham’s story. Now let us consider another part of his life in relation to seeking God—looking for a child. Remember, God told Abraham he would become a great nation in Genesis 12:2. Yet Abraham still had no children to turn into a nation. At this point we get a great reminder that Abraham is human and not some Super Saint floating through life on a cloud. Just like you and I would do after waiting a long time for something we expected, Abraham asked God, “What's going on?” Here is how the conversation went:
But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one [servant] born in my house is my heir!”
Abraham essentially said, “Look, God, you haven’t given me any kids like You promised. My servant will inherit the land!” In his statement, Abraham showed he was a practical person. God had pledged, and Abraham was simply asking what was going on with His promise. God responded.
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 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 believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
God assured Abraham that his own son, not a servant, would get the land. Then He challenged him to count the stars. Of course, Abraham could not count all the stars, yet the Lord said his descendants would be just as numerous. This was quite a promise. However, God did not say when the child would appear. What was Abraham’s reaction? He believed in spite of being old. This trust demonstrated Abraham was seeking God.
The Lord saw Abraham’s trust and credited him with righteousness. That was a huge blessing, but what does that mean? Why did Abraham need righteousness? Wasn’t he already a saint?
There is none who does good, no, not one.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
All of us, including Abraham, are naturally sinners and unrighteous. (Abraham even sinned by trying to “help” God keep His promise in Genesis 16.) This is a wretched condition that we can’t change on our own. You might say, “I was never that bad!” However, the truth is, you were never that good and could not be good enough on your own. The Bible says God’s love comes to us
not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Only God can make a sinner into a saint and turn an unrighteous person into a righteous one. He does that through Jesus, who has paid the penalty for our sins (1 Peter 2:24). Today, now that Jesus has come, we believe in what He’s done, we are saved, and we are made righteous. Abraham lived before Jesus, but his faith and trust in God allowed the Lord to credit him with righteousness in advance. Thus, Abraham (and all the faithful people in the Old Testament) were made righteous looking forward to when Jesus would come, while we are saved looking back.
This episode of Abraham’s faith is so noteworthy that it was recorded again in Romans 4:20–22. Finally, it was rewarded and realized.
And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac.
What a day for Abraham! What a miracle for a 100-year-old man (Genesis 21:4)! We may wonder why God waited so long to fulfill His promise to Abraham and why sometimes it seems like God has not shown up for us. It might just be that He wants us to realize some things must be miracles and cannot be accomplished by human effort. When big blessings come, they should bring glory to God, not to us. We might be tempted to think Abraham, having received such a huge blessing, must have lived happily ever after. But the story doesn't end yet; there is more to come…
THINK ABOUT IT
1. Do you think it was easy for Abraham to leave his home and start a new life? How might you respond if God said, “Pack up and move”?
2. One big lesson we learn from Abraham is that he obeyed God. How did his obedience to leave home show his faith? What does your obedience to God say about your faith?
3. To wait for a child, Abraham needed faith in an unseen promise. Is it possible to believe God for unseen promises today?
4. Are there any promises you have yet to believe? And how strong is your belief?
5. When might it be okay to ask God for evidence of the unseen (or a sign) as Abraham did when he said, “What will you give me?” When might it be wrong? (Hint: if God has given a command, like “do not commit adultery,” don’t ask for a sign just because he or she “really loves me.”)
6. Do you think you could have faith like Abraham? Why or why not?
7. What might help you to have this type of faith? (Hint: who do you trust more, a stranger or a close friend? If you are seeking God and get to know Him, it is easier to trust and have faith in His promises.)
Pray that God would help you hold on to His promises even when it seems He is taking a long time.