Our Text … (Genesis 11:31 – 12:20)
Our Theme … God honors fearless faith
I. Abram’s Fearless Faith
II. Abram’s Faithless Fear
The word “faith” gets tossed around today with little or no significance attached to it. We hear such expressions as “Keep the faith”; “Faith in the media”; “politics and faith”; and “people of faith.” Concerning faith, bible teacher Stuart Briscoe put it this way, “Faith is only as valid as its object. You could have tremendous faith in very thin ice and drown.” Evangelist D. L. Moody said, “Trust in yourself and you are doomed to disappointment; trust in your friends, and they will die and leave you; but trust in God, and you will never be confounded in time or eternity.” Webster’s Dictionary defines faith as a belief and trust in and loyalty to God; a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.
Thus, faith is something we wish we had more of, especially when facing overwhelming problems. Yet, most of us are well practiced in faith, simply because we sit down in chairs without checking them out or we use microwave ovens without analyzing how they work. We don’t go around saying, “If only I had more faith in chairs or in microwaves.” Jesus didn’t say to His disciples, “Have more faith in God.” He simply said, “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22). But is faith whatever a person chooses to call it, or is faith genuine only if it meets Biblical criteria? Our study identifies genuine faith and illustrates how a most unlikely person exercised it. Abram was an unlikely hero of faith. He lived as a pagan until God reached down in grace and claimed him for Himself. When that occurred, Abram turned his back on paganism and became a man of God. Using only one word, we could define faith as:
(3) Belief, and
I. Abram’s Fearless Faith (Genesis 11:31-12:8)
Genuine faith launches a believer on a spiritual journey, an adventure that holds not only numerous blessings but also a host of challenges. When those challenges occur, we can either follow by faith or question God’s leading. In our study we find that God made a choice … He chose Abram, and singled him out from among his fellow-idolaters, that he might reserve a people for himself, among whom his true worship might be maintained till the coming of Christ. From henceforward Abram and his seed is almost the only subject of the history in the Bible. Abram was tried whether he loved God better than all, and whether he could willingly leave all to go with God. His kindred and his father’s house were a constant temptation to him, he could not continue among them without danger of being infected by them. Those who leave their sins, and turn to God, will be unspeakable gainers by the change. The command God gave to Abram, is much the same with the gospel call, for natural affection must give way to Divine grace. Sin, and all the occasions of it, must be forsaken; particularly bad company.
FAITH is not to question God
As we read the call of God to Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee,” we need to realize that this was not God’s initial call to Abram. In Genesis 12 the call of God came to Abram when he was in Haran; but God first called Abram in Acts 7:2 and 3, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in [Haran], and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee.” When Abram heard that initial call, “he [came] out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in [Haran]”.
God’s call to Abram was a command to leave his heathen environment and his relatives, to whom he was no doubt emotionally attached. It was a terribly clear, sharp, exacting command that demanded of him a great renunciation. He had to abandon his country, his home, and his friends and renounce the kind of life that was found in Mesopotamia. Abram lived in a pagan, sophisticated, wealthy city and grew up among idol worshipers. He himself had been an idol worshiper, as were his father, Terah, and his brother, Nachor. We know about their idol worship from Joshua 24:2. This verse reports, “And Joshua said unto all the people, ‘Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and father of Nachor; and they served other gods”. Although it must have been difficult to leave his familiar surroundings behind, Abram did not question the Lord. He forsook the old life and got out of Ur.
Leaving Mesopotamia as God had commanded, Abram; his wife, Sarai; his father, Terah; and a number of servants embarked on the trade route to Canaan. They traveled up the Fertile Crescent along the Euphrates River and then detoured to Haran. We may question whether Abram’s father should have accompanied Abram, for it appears that the family settled in Haran because of Terah. Perhaps his health would not permit him to complete the journey to Canaan. At any rate, Abram and his family stayed in Haran until Terah died. For Abram to be six hundred miles away from Ur was not enough; he was still four hundred miles from Canaan. However, God faithfully repeated the original call, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Geneses 12:1).
How did Abram respond to God’s call? Did he say, “Give me the details, Lord? I would like to know not only the direction I am to travel but the final destination. I would also like to know something of the climate, the people I will live among, the problems I will face, and the opportunities I will confront. Let me know what to expect? Abram did not have to know any details. It was enough to know that God would eventually give him the land his descendants would inherit and that God would bless him. He did not balk at living as a stranger in a strange country (Hebrews 11:9); for he knew that God is faithful and would fulfill His covenant promises. According to Genesis 12:2-3, what promises did the Lord make to Abram? God promised that He would:
(1) Give him a land,
(2) Make a great nation of Abram,
(3) Bless him,
(4) Make his name great, and
(5) Make him a blessing to all the families of the earth. He also promised …
(6) Bless those who blessed Abram; and
(7) Curse those who cursed him.
Abram was a pilgrim who had embraced the promises of God and was looking “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). There is a vast difference between pilgrims and fugitives. When Adam sinned, he became a fugitive, running away from God, fleeing judgment. When Cain killed his brother, he became a fugitive, wandering in the land of Nod. Moses was a pilgrim in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. The apostle Paul was a pilgrim, on a journey to the City of Light. We, too, are “strangers and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11). We will “camp” on earth until God calls us Home, and we will take nothing to Heaven, our destination, except the record of our Christian service. It is important, therefore, to maximize our time “down here” to store treasure “up there.”
FAITH is to obey God
When Terah died, Abram gathered his possessions and his family, left Haran, and traveled southwest to the land of Canaan. Entering the land from the north, he kept moving south until he came to Shechem. The land to which God had led Abram was inhabited, “The Canaanite was then in the land” (Genesis 12:6). How was that country ever to become Abram’s? Every appearance was against the possibility of the fulfillment of the promise. The Canaanite would be a stubborn foe. He would oppose Abram and his descendants every foot of the way. Indeed, about four hundred years later, Abram’s descendants, the Israelites, did not drive out the Canaanites when they first occupied the land. However, when Abram’s greatest descendant, Jesus, rules the planet, the Promised Land will be Israel’s without contention. Faith in God has always involved conflict. If we trust and obey God, the powers of darkness will oppose us vigorously. The Lord appeared again to Abram to reassure him. He said, “Unto they seed will I give this land” (Genesis 12:7). Abram responded with worship; he built an altar to the Lord. Worship rests solidly on faith; without faith there can be no worship. No one adores God if he or she does not believe in Him; no one reveres God if he or she does not trust Him. In verse 8 we learn that Abram “pitched his tent” and built another altar. A tent and an altar, how these two symbolize the believer, for the believer is a worshiping pilgrim.
II. Abram’s Faithless Fear (Genesis 12:8-20)
One of the greatest obstacles we face in following Jesus Christ is fear of the unknown. We yearn to know in advance the outcome of our obedience and where He is taking us, yet we are given only the assurance that He is with us and that He is in charge. And with that, we venture into the unknown with Him. Abraham modeled the response of a person who is willing to walk with God into an uncertain future as noted in Hebrews 11:8. One of life’s most distressing experiences is being separated from the things and the people we love most. It’s often difficult to leave a house that holds many pleasant memories, and it is always hard to say goodbye to loved ones when we must leave them. So it wasn’t easy for Abraham to obey God’s demand that he separate himself from his country and his friends and relatives. Yet, without obedience to God’s command, there would have been no blessing for him or his descendants. Abraham knew that God had called him and had given him a promise and that was enough. He was willing to entrust his future to the Lord. We may do the same by trusting our Lord for the future and stepping out in faith. If the Bible were merely a human product, the faults of its heroes would never have appeared on its pages. However, the Bible is God’s written Word, and it portrays heroes of the faith as people like you and me, sinners saved by grace and prone to lapses of faith.
Genesis 12:8, “And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hari on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. 10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.”
FEAR of losing his flocks and herds (Genesis 12:8)
Abram had stopped for a while at a mountain east of Bethel, about thirty-five miles south of Shechem; but after building an altar and calling on the name of the Lord, he pulled up stakes and kept traveling south. By that time he had traveled the entire length of the land of Canaan. It seems that he kept moving when he should have stopped. He was already on the border of Egypt when famine came to Canaan. He was already leaning in the wrong direction. Famine in Canaan was the greatest threat to Abram’s faith at that time. Would his faith stand the test? My friend, faith that cannot be tested cannot be trusted. Abram had exercised enough faith to leave his home at Haran; but in a strange land and in serious need, would he still trust God? God gives us what we need, and sometimes we need to be tested. There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity. Thus, because of the famine, Abram decided to leave the land to which God had unmistakably called him. He was afraid to trust God to feed him so he went down into Egypt. He went down from the hill country of Canaan, and he went down spiritually from the place of faith and obedience. Sinning is one way of stepping out of God’s will; unbelief is another. Abram went “to sojourn there.” He had no intention of staying in Egypt. He intended to stay there only until the famine ended. But it was not the length of time he planned to be there that made going to Egypt wrong; it was going there in the first place. He looked to Egypt for help instead of looking to God.
Genesis 12:11, “And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake: and my soul shall live because of thee. 14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.”
FEAR of losing his life (Genesis 12:10-14)
Abram knew what he was heading into; he was under no illusions about the character of Egypt. So he prepared to protect himself by the expediency of a lie. As Abram and Sarai neared the border of Egypt, Abram spoke to his wife: “Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, ‘This is his wife’: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. Say, I pray thee, ‘thou art my sister:’ That it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee” (Genesis 12:11-13). How quickly Abram had traveled from unbelief to the sin of deceit, deceit born of fear. Since he had not trusted God to feed him when there was a famine in Canaan, he was unable to trust God to protect him from the Egyptians. At this time in Abram’s life we find a lack of trust in God to protect him. If we were in Abram’s position would we have done the same thing?
If our faith is in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we can have confidence that our heavenly Father sees us in our trials and has promised His protection. Abram took his eyes off God and relied on his own strength. In times of distress, we can place our trust in the Lord. He wants us to call on Him so that He can encourage us with His presence and give us His peace. Psalm 56:3 puts it this way, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.” This is what Abram should have done, but didn’t, because he took matters into his own hands, and failed miserably. Unbelief can lead to all kinds of sins. For Abram it led to disobedience in leaving Canaan and deceit in Egypt when he lied about his wife. It seems, that Abram was determined to save his own skin at whatever cost, simply because he allowed Pharaoh to take his wife into his house in preparation for marriage (vv. 11-15). It appears that Abram was not going to interrupt the procedure either. He accepted many gifts from Pharaoh in exchange for Sarai, and he didn’t return even one of them (v. 16). How could he stoop so low? We ought to recognize that a believer who strays from God’s will is capable of more evil than he or she thinks.
Genesis 12:15-20, “The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels. 17 And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife. 18, “And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, what is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? 19 Why sadist thou, She is my sister? So I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. 20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.”
God intervened to avert a disaster. He did it out of mercy to Abram and Sarai and also because the Promised Seed was to come through them. He got Pharaoh’s attention by afflicting the house of Pharaoh with great plagues (v. 17). Realizing that he had been deceived by Abram, Pharaoh asked, “Why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?” (v. 18). How shameful that God’s man had to be rebuked by a pagan! Where was Abram’s testimony then? Pharaoh said, “Behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way” (v. 19). What did Abram say? He said absolutely nothing … not one thing, because there was nothing to say, just the experience of burning shame. God allowed Abram to be humbled, shamed, embarrassed; but He delivered him. Pharaoh sent Abram away but allowed him to keep all the gifts he had bestowed upon him. Abram prospered materially at Sarai’s expense, but his wealth was no indication of God’s approval. Believers are often too quick to excuse their sins when they are doing well financially; they assume that their prosperity indicates God’s approval and blessing. Spiritual prosperity and material prosperity do not always coexist.
Making it Personal:
Car racing legend Bobby Unser faced the toughest race of his life and won. He and a friend, Robert Gayton, were snowmobiling in New Mexico when both of their sleds quite working. Snowdrifts as high as their chests, temperatures as low as zero, and winds as stiff as 70 miles per hour hampered their attempt to find shelter. They even had to spend one night in a snow cave they made. Late the next day they found a barn with a heater and a phone. After the rescue, Bobby said, “Every decision we made had to be right.” He and his friend had experienced a terrifying struggle with the elements they couldn’t control as they did everything possible to stay alive. As believers in Christ, we are living in a world that is hostile to our spiritual survival. Every day we go up against forces that could destroy us. Some are internal ones such as our pride and selfish desires. Some are external forces such as ungodly media influences, acquaintances that don’t support our faith, and the stresses of life. Wrong decisions as we face these so called “blizzards” can lead us to destruction.
Every decision we make, each word and action, must be done in Jesus’ name. We must live according to God’s principles and act as we think Christ would. Pharaoh, a pagan ruler, rebuked Abram, a worshiper of the true God. Something is terribly wrong with that picture, but the picture can be duplicated if we allow faithless fear to replace fearless faith. Think about this … Lot was with Abram when he finally left Egypt and knew Abram had compromised his testimony while in Egypt. Do you think Abram was partly to blame for Lot’s later failure? Do you think Lot later justified his move to Sodom based on Abram’s sojourn into Egypt? Writing to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul admonished his readers to lead an exemplary lifestyle and to be fearless before their adversaries. As a believer in Christ, we must remember that: (1) People watch where we go; (2) They hear what we say, and (3) Observe what we do. So, if we fail to guard our testimony, we may lose it and cause many others to stumble. Every day we must choose to live either by fearless faith or by faithless fear. Making the wrong choices can lead to disgrace and guilt as it did Abram. However, making the right choices will keep our conscience clear and will gain us not only the respect of those who know us but most importantly the Lord’s approval. So, my brethren will you choose to live each day in:
(1) Fearless faith?
(2) Or faithless fear?