Struggle To Believe (e)
James R. Davis
When I attended Bible class as a child I developed
the idea that Abraham was a man that had it all together. I wondered, "How
could a man be so blessed?" My perception of Abraham was different then.
I thought that Abraham was such a great man that he stepped from one mountaintop
experience to another.. He was so blessed, called by God, specially chosen,
spoke to God face to face, and given a very special son. Abraham was the
father of the faithful, who to me at that time seemed to have no trouble
obeying God, even if it meant killing his own Son. In those classes, we
seemed to dwell on Abraham's victories.
The trouble about learning a few basic facts
is that we tend to hold on to the basics and overlook the details. There
is a tendency to dwell on the mountain peak experiences of the lives of
great men and miss many great lessons that need to be learned. Those mountain
top experiences must be observed in the context of their entire lives.
If we fail to do this, it will have a tendency to produce a feeling of
bewilderment. How could I sacrifice my son or daughter? How could I become
a great man like Joseph? How could I ever route an army of thousands like
Gideon with only three hundred men? How could I ever be a man after God's
own heart like David, especially after all I have done?
How could I ever be as wise as Solomon? How
could I ever be what God is asking me to be?
Abraham Didn't Live
On A Mountaintop
Abraham's life wasn't lived on the mountaintop;
it was only a place he visited occasionally. He spent much of his time
feeling washed out in the valleys. A woman that is a personal acquaintance
said, "Life is hard!" She was serious; she has had a hard life. Another
person said, "Life is tough, then you die." It is true, "Time wounds all
heals." (Yes, it is backwards, but true.) We often fail to see the struggles
of these great men, . . . and it makes our lives seem even harsher.
If you think living for God is easy, you really
need to take another look at those Bible heroes. They lived lives where
"time wounded all it healed." They died chasing what the rest of the world
believed to be illusive dreams.
The Struggle To Believe
God called Abram when he lived in Ur of Chaldees.
(Genesis 15:7; Nehemiah 9:7.) Isaiah says that when God called him He called
him alone. (Isaiah 51:2.) If one only reads the account of Abram's call
in Genesis 12, it is easy to get the impression that Abram had no difficulty
at all in obeying the call. But that is not the case.
"Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee
out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house,
unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation,
and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee:
and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. So Abram departed,
as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy
and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai
his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they
had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went
forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came."
Abram left Ur but it was not alone, as Isaiah
indicated it should have been. Abram took all his excess baggage with him
-- his family -- father, nephew -- and of course his old self. All due
respect to our families, but sometimes families can become excess baggage,
especially if they are pulling your heart away from God. Don't forget that
Abram was 75 years old when God called him. At 75 you have a lot of excess
baggage, especially if you are thinking about changing the whole course
of your life. It is like a 75 year old person entering college as a freshman,
Abram left Canaan but he took all the baggage
with him. They went to Haran and dwelt there. (Genesis 11:31-32.) Abram
acquired more baggage, possessions, servants and no doubt status in the
community. He was tied down until his father died. You can only wonder
if his life had become somewhat stagnant. When will he go to Canaan . .
. the place to which God called him?
When Abram initially obeyed the call of God
. . . he just sort of inched toward God . . . just barely moved in the
general direction with little sense of direction. Once he stopped he just
set up camp there instead of moving on. I used to think that Abram took
a giant leap toward God.
It reminds me of someone who made the move
to believe and commit to the Lord in baptism but he/she is having difficulty
moving on in the Lord. Life becomes stagnant after the initial plunge.
As a preacher I have moved a few pieces of
furniture. I've always noticed that the hard part about sliding a piece
of furniture across the floor is getting it to start moving. If it stops
moving, it seems even harder to get moving again.
Well that's how Abram's first move was. He
made the initial move . . . acquired possessions and servants . . . now
it'll take three U-haul trucks just to clean out the garage. An so he thinks
to himself, "It would be much easier to stay right here. I'll just stay
where I am. After all I am doing great . . . the old man is proud of what
I have accomplished and acquired. He would be mighty disappointed if I
just up and moved. I think I'll settle down here in Haran, after all God
has really blessed us here.
The difficulty with faith is that if it's
real . . . I can't stay where I am. It doesn't matter how blessed I am,
how much I have done or how far I have moved, or how much I know . . .
the journey isn't ever over in this life. In a very real sense each day
is a new beginning. Life has only just begun.
God Calls Abram The
It was in the midst of this mind set that
God tapped Abram on the shoulder. God said, "This isn't exactly what I
had in mind. I want you to leave this country and your people, your father's
household and go to the land I will show you." (Genesis 12:1-4.)
It is difficult to move on in life. If you
don't believe it's hard to move on ask Abram. It is much easier to stay
especially when you have been there for 75 years. It doesn't get any easier
to leave things behind.
So God renews his promises to Abram (Genesis
12:1-4), and so Abram musters up the courage to renew his commitment to
God and moves on with his life. He moves into a very strange country. Abram
moved to Moreh at Shechem. Moving into new areas is always intimidating.
Especially in the service of the Lord. New territory is always intimidating.
Abram settled in Moreh at Shechem. Strange people, strange language, strange
gods who required the sacrifice of their children as an act of worship.
Yet, in many ways, it wasn't all that strange to Abram, after all he was
called from such an environment.
So God reassures Abram by reminding him of
the promises. That he would be blessed with a family, inherit an enormous
piece of real estate, leave a great heritage to his children and you will
be a blessing to the whole world. But more important than all of this,
God promised that He would bless all those that blessed Abram and curse
all those who cursed Abram. But these are such distant dreams for an old
man? Regardless Abram builds an altar and worships God.
Just moving to a new city is really difficult.
A strange place takes 90 days just to learn your way around. And forming
new relationships is even harder. Moving on in life is even more difficult.
Moving into new areas of service in the work of the Lord isn't any easier.
Then Abram moves on toward Bethel and pitched
his tent and built an altar. Each move seems to be getting easier now.
That is . . . till trouble comes. A great famine comes . . . a great depression
. . . like the thirties . . . only worse in a hostile land with no family
and friends. So Abram moves to Egypt. It is almost like saying, "I am not
sure about the promises of God, I'm going to fend for myself . . . in the
midst of this great depression . . . there's not much sustenance to these
promises of God . . . there's not much to hold on to."
The problem with stepping out on faith is
that the tangible is always much easier to hold on to. It is easier to
continue where you are . . . I feel comfortable. Have you ever noticed
that when you get on your knees and renew your commitment to God problems
come . . . every time? And at times it seems the further you go in your
commitment the more earth shaking the problems. The problems at 50 are
much different than the problems I experienced at 25. They are more complex.
A famine comes; Abram is in a strange land,
strange customs, strange language, and strange gods . . . how will he survive?
He will move to Egypt! "I'll go to Egypt and fend for myself." Going to
Egypt wasn't all it was cracked up to be; God made sure of that! Abram's
struggle was a struggle for life and death.
So Abram starts the tough task of networking
his way all the way to Pharaoh's throne. After all the entire world was
pressing in and in his struggle to survive he had to do something! So he
thought that he would network his way out of this danger. So he told the
Pharaoh of Egypt that his wife was his sister. What a man of faith. It
reminds me when the Pharaoh of Egypt gave his daughter to Solomon, it was
a political gesture. But giving your wife . . . but at least they were
alive, that's all that really mattered at this point, great networking
in such a difficult position?
So God steps in after Abram has really blown
it; He turned Abram's plans to dust. God inflicted serious diseases on
the Pharaoh. Abram left Egypt in shame. I don't want to judge Abraham to
harshly, it wouldn't be fair or right. It was a tough situation -- no food
-- no word from God -- strange people -- strange gods -- strange language.
What's one supposed to do? Survive at all cost! That is the major instinct
in life . . . survival. Abram was just trying to keep his head above water,
or even more graphic . . . just keep his head on his shoulders.
Since things were not going according to Abram's
plan, he thought that he would ask God a question. After all, since he
left Ur it has been one battle after another, famine, Egyptian failure,
dispute with Lot, went to battle to save Lot after Lot had lost everything
Abram had given him. It is only fair that Abram be allowed to ask God a
question. Hold to your seats . . . the question is . . . "Lord, how do
I know what you promised is true? How do I know that I can depend on you?
After all I'm getting on up in years and I have no heir. How can my seed
inherit Canaan." (Gen 15:8.)
I have wondered why lightning didn't strike
somewhere close by, just to put Abram back in his place. Just to remind
him, "Who was he to question God?" Why didn't God strike him dead! It is
weird how religion can leave one afraid to ask the really tough questions
in life? It isn't easy to know what to do when you are at rock bottom.
When you don't know anyone you can talk to, your personal network is destroyed
after working so hard to make things work. It is hard when all you have
is God . . . and you don't know him all that well. On second thought, maybe
we do know what Abram was feeling.
But God doesn't do any of that stuff. God
tells Abram to prepare a sacrifice. It was a sacrifice that was used between
two individuals to seal an agreement in Abram's day. Abram went to sleep
and God spoke to him in a vision. God said, "I want to reassure you of
my promise. This land belongs to your children, you will have an heir."
That's a much different approach than I would
take, I would prefer lightning.
Just about the time Abram settles into a passive
acceptance of what God promised, Sarai steps in for the rescue -- two heads
are always better than one. Sarai has a solution and there is not going
to be any peace at home until it is implemented! Of course in times like
these, God is probably using your spouse to give you a message -- or you
are hoping He is. This is the solution! You have children by our handmaid
Hagar. This child will take care of us when we are old.
There is nothing in the world any worse than
when you do what your spouse insists on and it backfires! You know who
gets the blame? You have been there . . . haven't you? So Hagar becomes
pregnant and begins to flaunt her ability to fill Abram's needs. So Sarai
says, "Abram this is all your fault! I put my servant in your arms and
now she is flaunting it . . . she despises me. "(Genesis 16:4-5.)
So Abram did the only thing a man in that
situation could do. Abram said, "Sarai, honey, she is your servant, you
do whatever makes you happy . . . so, Sarai being the faithful woman she
is . . . mistreats Hagar. Sarai made her life miserable to the point that
Hagar ran away. But God intervenes and persuades Hagar to return in humility.
God promises her that her descendant's seed would be too numerous to count.
She would have a fine son of whom she could be proud. Ishmael was born
when Abram was 86 years old.
The Bible doesn't indicate that God spoke
to Abram for thirteen years. We could be missing some details. It seems
to be thirteen years of silence at least before God spoke to Abram about
his promise. When God spoke, He gave Abram the covenant of circumcision
to reassure Abram of his promise. God changed Abram and Sarai's name. Abram
was to be called Abraham, which meant father of nations. Sarai was to be
Sarah, which meant mother of nations. Now at 90 and 99, that is something
to laugh about. And that is exactly what Abraham and Sarai did. "Will a
son be born to a man that is a hundred years old?" Abraham literally fell
on his face and laughed. (Watch out for the lightning strike.) Biggest
joke I've heard today. In fact Abraham said, "Will a son be born to a man
a hundred years old? Will Sarai bear a child at the age of ninety?" And
Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"
God says, "Yes, but Sarah will bear you a
son, and you will call him Isaac." Some people don't think that God has
a sense of humor. But the name Isaac means "laughter." But there was a
little more to the name than laughing, God was saying, "This son is going
to fulfill all your dreams and aspirations and bring you joy."
After Joseph spent years in a foreign country
and many years as a prisoner, he had two sons. One was Manasseh, meaning,
"God has made me forget." God had made him forget all the hardships as
a result of his blessings upon him. He named his second son Ephriam, which
means "double fruit", which indicated that God had doubled his reward.
Joseph's seed received a double portion of land when they inherited the
land in Canaan.
Twenty-five years of waiting when you are
25 isn't near as long as 25 years of waiting when you are 75. Abraham has
been struggling to believe in God's promises for 25 years. Going from one
difficult situation to another.
Then three men appeared to Abraham, they were
actually angels. (Hebrews 13:2.) These angels told Abraham that Sarah would
have a son within a year. Sarah overheard this as she stood inside the
tent and laughs saying, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will
I now have this pleasure?" . . . Then the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did
Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is
anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time
next year and Sarah will have a son." Sarah was afraid, so she lied and
said, "I did not laugh." But he said, "Yes you did laugh." (Genesis 18:10-15.)
It is amazing that after all the promises,
Abraham goes back to Negev . . . into the heart of hostile country. He
decides to network his way up again. You wonder why a man of Abraham's
stature would move back to a place where people did not fear God. When
the text says that those people did not fear God it simply meant that the
people in that country did not respect Abraham's God. That meant Abraham
was in danger. Because a big determining factor to those people entering
into war was whether their gods were stronger than their enemy's god. If
they had no respect for God, then Abraham was in danger.
So he uses his old reliable plan to protect
himself. He tells Abimelech that Sarah is his sister . . . in all the difficulties
Abraham's been . . . after all the experiences . . . he hasn't learned
much. After all the promises . . . all the reassurances given by God .
. . still the same old Abraham.
So God steps in and bails Abraham out again.
Surely God knows by now that a 99-year-old man should have learned something.
By the way if you ever think that you are too old to learn, you need to
take another look at Abraham. It is a wonder that God didn't let him stew
in his own juices.
Abraham says to Abimelech after God foils
his plan, "There is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me
because my of my wife . . . When God had me wander from my father's household,
I said to her [Sarai], 'This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere
we go, say of me, "He is my brother." Have you ever felt that way after
struggling with God's way for 25 years? It seems as though it doesn't get
The revelation in this passage is that Abraham
always had a contingent plan to fall back on just in case God failed. When
he left his father, they agreed that Sarah would always tell people that
she was his sister. It wasn't just at his weak moments that he used this
ploy. This was the philosophy he had been living by for almost 25 years
. . . and it never really worked for him. Of course God wouldn't let it
work. God always stepped in and foiled Abraham and Sarah's strategic survival
Even though God promised Abram protection
from the beginning it was hard for Abram to fully trust in God. "After
these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying,
Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." (Gen
Finally after twenty-five years of waiting
Isaac is born. But God asks him to sacrifice his son as an offering.
"And it came to pass after these things,
that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold,
here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou
lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a
burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And
Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two
of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the
burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told
him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place
afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass;
and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And
Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his
son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both
of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My
father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and
the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said,
My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went
both of them together."
Abraham is beginning to really believe that
God will provide. He has some experience under his belt. He knows by this
time that God has done what He promised. So he trust God to provide. But
he really didn't know what would happen. He was living this real life situation,
he wasn't reading it.
So Abraham prepares to offer his son as a
sacrifice. He ties Isaac up and places him on the altar and places wood.
He has brought fire to kindle the wood that he places under Isaac. He draws
back his knife to kill the sacrifice and God speaks from heaven and says,
"Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything to him: for
now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son,
thine only son." (Genesis 22:12.)
After probably about forty years of following
God, Abraham takes a leap of faith. He sees God differently now. He simply
says, "God will provide" before the sacrifice. But now that God has intervened
in this unique way, Abraham names his God "Jehovah-jireh. Names in the
Hebrew are descriptive of the one named. "Jehovah-jireh" means God will
provide. Abraham finally sees God as the one who will provide what Abraham
most needed. God has changed Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, but now
Abraham renames his God Jehovah-jireh . . .a God who provides. For the
first time in almost forty years he has really seen God!
Lesson To Be Learned
We must understand that God was always providing
for Abraham. He had multiplied his material possessions. When Abraham stood
before Abimelech lying about Sarai, God was providing for Abraham. When
his lie was discovered by the Pharaoh God was provided. God inflicted serious
diseases on Pharaoh telling him that he had better not lay a hand on Sarai
or Abraham. Years later when Abraham used the exact same ploy on Abimelech,
God stepped out and told Abimelech not to harm Sarai or Abraham. Abimelech
called all his royal officials and made sure that Abraham had a royal escort
for protection as he was leaving.
We sing a song, "He has the whole world in
His hand, He's got you and me brother in his hand." Once I saw a little
bird that had fallen out of its nest. It was afraid, new territory, no
protection, it couldn't fly. I picked up that little bird, but it kept
wanting to jump out of my hand, so I cupped it in my hand so it wouldn't
jump out of my hand while I was trying to put it back in the nest. Its
heart was beating so fast. It was even more afraid after I picked it up.
All I wanted to do was put it back in the nest. It was in the safest place
in the world at that moment. But it didn't know that. When I put it into
the nest initially, it jumped back over the side of the nest. That little
bird couldn't understand that I was trying to help. Finally, I got it to
sit in the nest.
Well, that's how Abram was when he came out
of Egypt. He didn't know God that well, and he wasn't sure of God's protection.
So Abram and Sarai devised a way to protect themselves and it always failed.
You can't understand God's grace and receive
comfort unless you understand these stories. When we are in God's grace
we are cupped in his hand, the greatest place of safety afforded. I wish
we could relax and enjoy it at times. While Abraham was struggling and
failing, he was in God's hand, a place of safety. God never got tired of
carrying Abraham not even in moments of great doubt. Not even when Abraham
said, "God you expect me to believe that I am going to have a son at this
age." God just named his son Isaac which means laughter. God was with Abram
when Abrahman was only inching in the general direction that God was asking
him to go.
God's grace is sufficient. It gives us strength,
protection and most of all direction in life. Won't you accept it.
If you are trying to use God's grace as an
excuse to stay where you are, you will find no encouragement in this story.
Abraham had to move out of Ur and later Haran to receive God's blessing.
God will help you as long as you are struggling to believe and understand.
But we must move on in faith. If we don't , God will not be able to bring
our lives to fruition.
"After these things the word of the LORD
came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield,
and thy exceeding great reward."
"Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the
time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life,
and Sarah shall have a son."
"Who against hope believed in hope, that
he might become the father of many nations; according to that which was
spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered
not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither
yet the deadness of Sarah's womb. He staggered not at the promise of God
through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being
fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform."