In the Bible's hall of fame in Hebrews 11, candid pictures are given of great men whose faith stands out in Old Testament history like stars on a dark night. All except Abel and Enoch are descendants of Abraham, the man of faith.
In this chronicle Abraham is given almost half the space, twice that allocated to the law-giver, Moses. Likewise in Genesis, the story of Abraham and his family is spread over the book from chapter 11 through chapter 50, while only two chapters are given to the entire story of creation. What was there in the life of Abraham that distinguished him as a man of faith?
The life story of Abraham begins in Ur of the Chaldeans where Abraham lived in a comfortable home and in pleasant circumstances. Archaeology has disclosed that Ur, located not too far from Babylon, was a prosperous city with lovely homes, beautiful parks and public buildings. Abraham was comfortable and secure in Ur, but it was also a wicked city where pagan sacrifices — including human sacrifices — abounded. This was no place for Abraham's faith to be nurtured.
According to Genesis 12:1, God directed Abraham to leave Ur, leave his kindred, and dwell in tents for the rest of his life. Abraham started out with his father and his nephew, Lot, and got as far as Haran. Only when his father died did Abraham move on to the promised land with Lot. At long last he had come to the place of God's appointment. Hebrews 11:8 records, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his possession, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going".*
Abraham Went to the Land God Promised Him
In the prophetic program, the promise of the land was to be one of the main elements of Israel's destiny. Abraham's descendants went down to Egypt, but came back to the land. In the captivities, Israel was carried out of the land only to come back after seventy years as God had predicted. Finally after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they were literally scattered all over the world. In the last half of the twentieth century they came back, probably the beginning of the final regathering of Israel which will be completed at the second coming of Christ. For Israel, the land is the place of blessing.
For the Christian, the life of faith is living in God's appointed place in this life. While free to pray for changes in our physical circumstances, a Christian is willing to accept by faith the place God appoints for his service and testimony.
In Abraham's life, he manifested faith that God would supply his needs: "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 are heirs with him of the same promise" (Heb. 11:9). In his daily walk Abraham learned to trust the Lord. God's provision was not only a matter of faith for a time, but it was also a matter of faith for eternity. Hebrews 11:10 reveals that in addition to accepting the promise that his descendants would inherit the land, Abraham looked forward to his own eternity, "for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). Abraham had hope for this life, but he also had hope for a life to come.
Our Possessions Are Always Temporary
How important it is for those who live by faith to recognize that earthly possessions are always temporary, and only that which is eternal abides forever. God has not exhausted His grace in providing for us in this life. For the Christian, there is also the hope of the blessing of our eternal home, the New Jerusalem, the central feature of the new heaven and the new earth.
Abraham, despite his great faith, had one great frustration. For most of his life he and Sarah, his wife, had no children. How could the promises of many nations coming from him, and of his descendants inheriting the land, be fulfilled if he had no children?
According to Genesis 15:1-3, Abraham suggested that his chief servant, Eliezer, be made his heir, but God said, "This man will not be your heir" (Gen. 15:4).
Sarah, too, though she is commended for her faith in Hebrews 11:11, suggested to Abraham that he have a child by Hagar, an Egyptian slave that they had brought back with them from Egypt. In due time Ishmael was born, and Abraham's heart was delighted. But this was not the plan of God for the line of faith that would culminate in Jesus.
When Abraham was already ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety, there was really no human basis for hope that Sarah would bear a son. Nevertheless God said, "Sarah, your wife, shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac" (Gen. 17:19). Hebrews records it, "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age — and Sarah herself was barren — was enabled to become a father because he 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 of the seashore" (Heb. 11:11-12). Abraham by faith believed that God would supernaturally give him a son.
Abraham Believed God – Do You?
In like manner, we today by faith believe that God has given His Son, born of a virgin, one who died on the cross and rose again. And like Abraham, we are justified by faith. Of Abraham it was said, "Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He promised. This is why it was credited to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:20-22).
The supreme test of Abraham's faith was yet to come. Fiery tests of faith which occur early in life sometimes climax in much greater tests of faith in a time of spiritual maturity. So it was with Abraham.
When Isaac had reached his early teens, God told Abraham to do a strange thing. One day God said to Abraham, "Take now your son, your only son, whom thou lovest, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you" (Gen. 22:2). What an astounding command! Abraham was to take the promised son on whom all the promises of God for the future of Abraham depended, and offer him as a human sacrifice upon an altar on a distant mountain.
Even though Abraham had been accustomed to human sacrifices in his pagan life in Ur, how could this possibly fit into the plan of God? What was to happen to all the promises that depended on Isaac? While Abraham early in life manifested the human tendency of incomplete obedience and incomplete faith, there is no scriptural record of any wavering. Early the next morning the journey began.
Sarah apparently was not even informed. It would have been too much to expect her to understand. Taking two young men with him, his son Isaac, and wood for the offering, Abraham began the journey that on the third day brought them near to the place of sacrifice. When Isaac asked the searching question, "Behold, the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" (Gen. 22:7). Abraham replied, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Gen. 22:8).
When they came to the place, Abraham apparently had to tell what he was about to do. And Isaac, being a strong young man, had to be willing to be bound on the altar as God had directed Abraham. Just as Abraham took the knife to take the life of his own son, God stayed his hand, and told him to offer instead a ram caught in a thicket nearby. Hebrews expresses it: "By faith Abraham, when God him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'Through Isaac shall your promised offspring come'" (Heb. 11:17-18).
Although God intervened and saved the life of Isaac, the day would come when God's own son would be stretched upon a cross, and God would not undertake to save Him because there was no other acceptable sacrifice for sin.
How Mature Is Your Faith?
The incident with Isaac reveals more clearly than any other the maturity of Abraham's faith. As stated in Hebrews, "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death" (Heb. 11:19). Abraham had such confidence in God that he believed that out of the ashes of the sacrificed Isaac — consumed as a burnt offering — he would be restored in resurrection to his father to fulfill the promises of God.
In a similar way Christians can point to the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ, and believe the miracle of the power revealed on that resurrection morning. As Abraham pinned his hope on a son who in a figure was resurrected from the dead, the Christian can put his trust in one who literally died for his sins and literally rose from the grave.
Abraham was a man of faith who believed he could live in God's place, who believed in God's provision for him in time and eternity, who believed the promise of the son whom God would give him miraculously, and who believed in God's divine power of resurrection. Our Christian faith today stands upon the same foundation. Like Abraham, we are called to live by faith in the living God who will accomplish for us in time and eternity all that He has promised in His love and grace.
*New Testament Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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All Old Testament quotations are from the New American Standard Bible. © The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973. Used by permission.