NOTES on Hebrews
11:8-10 (click here for study)
Abraham, the father of all who live by faith, has more verses devoted to him in Hebrews 11 than does any other single person. He was the recipient of God's promise of Seed, land, and a blessing. Through Abraham came a new line of people: those who are "children of God's promise" instead of "natural" men and women. Through Abraham the promised Redeemer would come, but He would not come by natural means. Abraham would have a miracle child, and from that child would come the nation of Israel, God's chosen people. Israel would bring forth the Messiah, and from the Messiah would come forgiveness and healing from sin. Those that embraced the Messiah and his grace would become the Church, the body of Christ on earth. The story of God's call to Abraham begins in Genesis 11:26, and it continues to Genesis 13:18. The story of his son Isaac continues in later chapters.
Called from Darkness
Abraham's original name was Abram, and he received it from his father Terah, a moon-worshiper from Ur of the Chaldeans. Joshua 24:2 indicates that Terah worshiped the moon, and we have no reason to think that Abraham did otherwise before God's call changed his life.
Excavations suggest that Ur was a highly developed civilization before Abram's time. When God called him, Abram responded. He left, "as the Lord told him" (v. 4). He did not know where he was going, but something in Abram responded to the call of God. By faith he left his prosperous, sophisticated life at the age of 75, and with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and his father, he left for a new land.
From then on Abram (later called Abraham) lived like a nomad. Wherever he settled, he and his household lived in tents, not in houses. God called Abraham from a comfortable, cultured life and led him into remote foreign lands. God did not help Abraham to integrate into the civilizations he encountered. Rather, He instructed him to stay separate. Abraham did not live in cities; he lived a rural life in tents which he could quickly move.
God called Abraham to trust Him only. He called him away from his home, his friends, his habits and traditions. He called him to a relationship with Him. God asked Abraham to trust Him to lead him where he needed to go. Abraham found himself in a strange land with none of his familiar props. He had to identify himself with God alone rather than with his place in society.
God called Abraham, and with the call came a new identity. Instead of being Abram the Chaldean, he became Abraham, father of many, man of God. He no longer defined himself by his home, his "career", or his friends. His only identity was God, and he lived his life to please Him. God called him away from Ur so he would have to depend on Him. He called him to a nomadic life so he wouldn't feel grounded and identified with a place. God wanted Abraham to identify "home" as being where He was. Abraham was no longer a citizen of earth. Now a citizen of heaven and the father of God's people.
"The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you,' " says Genesis 12:1. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (v. 2-3)
Prior to God's call which turned his life upside down, Abraham was living and prospering in post-Babel civilization. In fact, God's seeking and calling Abraham is the first event recorded in the Bible of God's interacting with humanity since the Tower of Babel fiasco.
Following the flood which destroyed much of the evil and the consequences of evil that filled the earth, the people quickly forgot how God had judged human wickedness. Their arrogance was boundless, and they conspired to make a monument to themselves. They began to build a tower, probably a ziggurat like other monuments in Mesopotamia connected with the people's pagan worship.
"Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth," they said to each other. (Genesis 11:4)
Other Mesopotamian ziggurats bore names suggesting they also served as proposed links to heaven. The Study Notes in the NIV Study Bible mentions four: The House of the Link between Heaven and Earth at Larsa, The House of the Seven Guides of Heaven and Earth at Borsippa, The House of the Foundation-Platform of Heaven and Earth at Babylon, and The House of the Mountain of the Universe at Asshur.
The descendants of Noah embraced pagan concepts of worship and, as they began to repopulate the earth, they turned to glorifying themselves instead of glorifying God who had redeemed them from self-destruction a few generations before.
"But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.'" (Gen. 11:5-7)
The people's wickedness was running unchecked. The implications of God's statement, "Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them" is staggering. Because their hearts were unchanged even after so recently experiencing the destruction of nearly all humanity and human accomplishment, the descendants of Noah would have been able to accomplish any diabolical scheme they could conceive. No secret of biology or physics would have been unavailable to them. They would have been able to collaborate to accomplish any scientific or technological advancement they wished, and because their hearts were unrepentant, their brilliance would have multiplied evil instead of accomplishing good.
God confused their languages so they could no longer collaborate. Instead of focusing their energies on their mutual advancement, the post-Babel civilizations focused instead on protecting themselves and their individual accomplishments from the greedy curiosity of their now-rivals who spoke differently. God interrupted humanity's arrogant indifference to His flood of judgment and judged the earth again. He destroyed people's ability to be unified and to accomplish mutual goals. He confused their words, and then he withdrew from them. He allowed humanity to continue for several generations without His intervention.
And then God decided to start over once again.
Father of a New Nation
"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:2,3)
God decided to create a nation of people who would belong to him. These people would not be ordinary people born to ordinary parents who would succeed at making a nation. Rather, these people would be descended from a miracle. God chose an old man and a barren woman, and when they were 100 and 90 years old, respectively, he caused them to bear their only son together: Isaac. Isaac was the son God promised to Abraham. He was not the result of Abraham's will; he was the result of God's direct intervention in the lives of an elderly childless couple.
When God created Adam he "blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.' " (Genesis 1:28) Adam and Eve were not born; they came directly from the hand of God. Isaac, the son of God's promise, was born, but not in the ordinary way. When Jesus was born, he was born to a virgin. When God creates a new birth in us, our new selves are not physically conceived.
Each time God began a new group of people to usher in his salvation, he performed a miracle. Each time, his blessing accompanied his miracle. Just as Adam was blessed and commanded to be fruitful, Abraham received God's blessing and the promise of countless descendants. Just as Adam's descendants were to fill the earth, God promised Abraham that he and his countless descendants would receive land and through them the whole earth would be blessed.
God fulfilled his promises to Abraham, but only partially. He continues to fulfill them to this day. God blessed Abraham and prospered him. His name became great; countless people including Jews, Moslems, and Christians consider Abraham to be their father or spiritual patriarch. Through Abraham's descendants came Jesus, and in him all nations for all time are blessed with forgiveness of sins. Through Abraham's Seed, Jesus, humanity can be restored to intimacy with God, and eternal life can be ours.
From the time God covenanted with Abraham and throughout the history of Israel, God kept his promise to bless those who blessed him and his descendants and to curse those who cursed him. This promise was passed from Abraham to Isaac and on to the children of Israel. God is still fulfilling this promise; ultimately those who honor Abraham's Seed will be blessed with eternity with God, and those who reject him will be cursed with eternal death.
All people on earth have been and are still being blessed through Abraham. The nation of Israel descended from Abraham, and their contributions to the world for millennia have blessed the earth. Through Israel God first revealed his plan to save mankind from destruction. Most significantly, Jesus descended from Abraham's offspring, the nation of Israel. Through Jesus all the earth has been blessed, even those who lived before Abraham. Through Jesus, not only Abraham's genetic offspring have been blessed, but also the Gentiles. Because Abraham received God's promises through faith, not through his own maneuverings, he is the father of all who live by faith. Through the Seed of Abraham, God's blessings of forgiveness and grace have come to the world, and the world is still being blessed through the father of faith.
When Abraham began his God-directed journey out of Ur, he didn't go straight to Canaan and settle. First he and his caravan went north to Haran where they stayed for several years and where Terah died and was buried. After Terah's death, Abraham, Sarah, and Lot packed up the goods they had accumulated and began their trek to Shechem. When they arrived, however, a famine forced them out, and Abraham took his family to Egypt while the famine raged and waned.
Abraham's detour into Egypt was the first in an ongoing series of events that has led to Egypt being dubbed "the womb of Israel". Isaac later spent time in Egypt, and it was Egypt under the direction of Joseph that provided food to keep Jacob's family alive during the seven-year famine. After the famine, Jacob and his eleven other sons moved to Egypt, and for 400 years the people of Israel increased in number while they worked as slaves for the Egyptians.
Moses, the son of Hebrew slaves raised by an Egyptian princess and trained at court, became the leader of the Israelites when they left Egypt and began to become a nation. Jesus, years later, went to Egypt with Joseph and Mary for a few months to wait for Herod's death. Their stay in Egypt ultimately fulfilled the prophecy in Hosea 11:1, "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (see Matthew 2:13-15)
When the famine was finally over in Shechem, Abraham, Lot, and Sarah finally went back to Shechem and pitched their tents. Even after Abraham reached his final destination, he still lived in Canaan as a stranger. Indeed, he was a stranger. He knew and followed the one true God; the Canaanites were pagans. He never assimilated into the local culture. On the contrary, God protected his descendants from assimilating by establishing rigid social and religious customs that would keep Israel distinctly set apart from the nations around them.
Abraham knew he belonged to God, and he knew God would bless his descendants and would set them apart from the idol-worshiping pagans. Even though Abraham came from a highly civilized and cultured city, he did not seek to become part of the social and political life of his new land. He was willing to live as a stranger on the outskirts because he knew his inheritance was not in the wealth and success of the surrounding cities. He knew his inheritance was coming from God himself. He didn't need to belong to the local culture; he belonged to Someone much more powerful and trustworthy.
Abraham knew he belonged to a city "whose architect and builder is God." He looked forward to a city with foundations. Abraham knew by faith that he was a citizen of the New Jerusalem, the city of God, a city with foundations and permanence unlike the tents in which he lived. By faith Abraham knew he belonged in God's city-a city that existed only in eternity. It would be built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles (Ephesians 2:19-20). Abraham only knew these things by faith, because the foundations had not yet come in time. But in eternity, the Redeemer was already killed and raised to life. In eternity God's final work was already reality. Abraham lived, by faith, in eternity. Even though he lived as a stranger and a wanderer on earth, Abraham looked forward to the city where he really belonged, the city built on the cornerstone of Jesus Christ which is eternal and from which nothing could wrench him.
God asks each of us to follow him by faith on a journey. He does not tell us in advance where we will go on this journey or what we will experience. The only thing he promises is that which he promised Abraham: he will never leave us, and he will be with us to guide us on the journey.
The only way we can follow God on this journey is by accepting his love through the death and resurrection of Jesus and by accepting his Holy Spirit into our spirits. Like Abraham, we may experience famine and desperate loss on this journey. We will not know in advance where we are to go next. We will have to take detours, and the place we want to stay may not be the place in which God allows us to stay.
God wants to protect us, however, from being compromised by the detours. Abraham left Egypt taking a little piece of Egypt with him: Hagar. All history is different because of that one slave girl.
God reassures us, however, that even if we are compromised, he can redeem our mistakes. Even if we carry a little piece of Egypt with us, God can use it for good even though Satan means it for harm.
We must be willing to face the truth, though. Abraham had to be willing to send Hagar away when God told him to. He had to be willing to give up one of his heart's dearest treasures-his firstborn-and entrust the boy to God. He had to be willing to embrace God's promise to him-Isaac-and let the outcome of his own efforts go.
God is asking you to trust him completely. He is asking you to follow him by faith. You will not know what God wants you to do before you trust him; you must put yourself at the mercy of his love and let him show you his will. You will not know the outcome in advance.
But you will know his love. When you put your trust in Jesus and follow him by faith, not by sight, you will experience peace and rest more profound than anything you felt when you were planning and controlling your own life. When you are willing to follow by faith, your soul will finally know peace, and you will experience living in love.
God asks you to leave the familiar life you have lived and go with him on a journey into territory you've never experienced. He's asking you to give your loved ones, your possessions, your hard work, your career, your lifestyle, and your dreams into his hands.
God promises to give you himself in exchange for your familiar life. Instead of the precarious relationships and alliances you've always had, God offers you his eternal commitment and security. He will replace your shallow relationships with new ones of his design. He will give you work to do that is rich with significance. He will give you what you need for the life he gives you.
Even though your life will feel less planned than ever before, it will be more secure than ever before. No matter what happens on your journey with God, his love will never leave you. His Spirit will never stop teaching you. His wisdom will never stop enlightening you.
This journey requires everything you have. God asks you to give up everything for him. But the love and surprises with which he will fill your life and heart are beyond your imagining.
Praise God for choosing us to walk with him. Praise Jesus for redeeming us from eternal death. Praise the Holy Spirit for filling our hearts with eternity.
Praise Him for his unspeakable love!
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 1, 2001.