By Earl E. Robertson
About two thousand years after the creation of the world Abraham was born in “Ur of the Chaldees” (Gen. 11:28; 15:7; Acts 7:2-4). It seems that he lived here about seventy years, after which he lived in Haran – “then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran” (Acts 7:4). Terah, Abraham’s father, went with his son into Haran which was a few hundred miles from Ur. It was here that Terah died at two hundred and seventy-five years of age (Gen. 11:32). Through this time Abraham built altars and worshiped God.
From the mountain region between Bethel and Ai he moved southward. Finally the long famine in Palestine forced him into Egypt where food was plentiful. How long he stayed there we are not told. It is doubtful, however, that he dwelt in Egypt very long, because his fears concerning his beautiful wife were soon materialized. This forced his exodus and he returned to the place he had been before between Bethel and Ai, a very rich man (Gen. 12:17-13:4). From this it was God and His faithful Abraham with his posterity.
After this, many disturbing events and situations were experienced by this worthy patriarch. But God blessed him and continued to tell him of his future by a covenant.
This historical period, some four hundred years after the flood, was characterized with infidelity toward God and did, therefore, necessitate divine interposition to keep the knowledge of God in the people and faith in their hearts. Abraham was God’s man for the job. He went forth with God’s promise: “In these shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
The outward conditions touching Abraham’s life were not conducive to pleasure. Economically his life was somewhat nomadic; he lived in tents and his wealth consisted of animals and servants. He bore the social pain of casting out his oldest son when Isaac was born (Gen. 21:10-12; Gal. 4:22-30). His faith was in God because God had spoken to him. The character and behavioral patterns of his wife were conducive to his faithfulness to God. She was very much aware of his headship over the home and was subordinate to him, calling him lord (1 Pet. 3:6). This worthy woman’s faith in God helped stabilize Abraham in his fidelity to his Maker. She judged God faithful in His promises affecting them, and they staggered not in those promises which appeared impossible to be fulfilled (Rom. 4:16-22).
By Faith Abraham Obeyed
The apostle says, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; he went out, not knowing whether he went” (Heb. 11:8). What faith at the beck and call of God! This was not just faith, but obedient faith that committed its possessor fully to God. The obedience of Abraham is the first real evidence of the patriarch’s faith. God called him, and he responded positively to go to a land of which he did not know. The place into which he should go was to be received “for an inheritance.” From personal knowledge Abraham could not know at this time whether this would be a good move for him monetarily or not; his obedience to God was never determined on such conditions. God called him involving him with a place and time of which he possessed absolutely no knowledge. But he went; he obeyed!
Abraham became a sojourner, dwelling in tents! This promised land was to him “a strange country” (allotrios, “belonging to another”). Yes, this very land that Abraham was promised to receive for an inheritance he came to with Sarah and Lot – “and into the land of Canaan they came” (Gen. 12:5). In this land at the “plain of Moreh” God said unto Abraham, “unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen. 12:7). The remainder of Abraham’s life was lived in pure and complete trust in God and His word, dwelling as an outsider in the very land of God’s promise. Making his faith more noticable is the use of the two verbs, which, apparently is a play on words; disojourner – dwelling in tabernacles.” Temporary and permanent residency in the promised land! Abraham died believing what God promised him, but “not having received the promises” he confessed that he was a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth (Heb. 11:13). He sought a country, a better country (Heb. 11:14, 16)! The shifting and moving tent was the nearest approach that Abraham ever found in that land to be home. Time element in God keeping His promise was not a determining factor as to whether Abraham would believe and obey God.
The patient waiting for the fulfillment of the promise was not for one generation only. Abraham sojourned in that land dwelling in tents “with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Heb. 11:9). Abraham’s faith was in things hoped for and not seen. He understood God’s promise and had expectation for the future which embraced a city that had foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Of this the apostle said, “he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb. 11:16). The inspired writer shows why Abraham could patiently wait, “For he looked for a .city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11: 10). The preposition “for” introduces the reason. This city had foundations, the foundations that Abraham’s tent never had or could have had. The tent of the pilgrim was temporary, whereas, the city God had designed and built had permanency. Abraham could, therefore, look beyond the temporary and shifting tent, which was his home in Canaan, to a city that abides and changes not. In similar language, Paul, surrounded with struggle, conflict and affliction said, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, for the things which, are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
The Christian must always be aware of the temporal and fleeting “tent” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-10) in which he now dwells and not allow himself to be satisfied with such things that one sees (cf. Lk. 12:15). The Christian must “walk by faith,” desiring to be “clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” (2 Cor. 5:2,7).
Believed God Was Able and Faithful
Abraham could not know the future, and neither do we know it. However, what appeared to him from a human standpoint to be impossible was possible because God made the commitment. The very words of God commit God! If God spoke there were to be no doubts of shadows in Abraham’s trust. Abraham counted God faithful, because God commited Himself (Rom. 4:20,21). He believed that God was both able and faithful in the performance of His word. It seems so difficult for some to have faith in the non-tangible and unseen even though God has spoken. There is not the slightest indication in all the divine record that Abraham ever experienced such a problem.
When Abraham was called upon by his Maker to “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest -and offer him there for a burnt offering -” (Gen. 22:2), he rose up early in the morning and took Isaac to do exactly what God told him to do. Evidently running through the heart of this worthy patriarch were many ideas as to just what might be involved in this demand for sacrifice by the Lord. From the smoldering embers of that burning sacrifice Abraham reasoned “that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Heb. 11: 19). Whether the anxiety created in any human heart experiencing such an ordeal could be softened by the thought expressed in Hebrews 11: 19 we do not know. Anxiety or no anxiety was not a determining factor with this godly man. His faith was in his God – the God of creation and leadership of the human family. Oh for faith like this in the churches today! The will of God would be obeyed and the world evangelized!
Though man cannot know beyond the present, God knows all things before they happen (Isa. 48:3-5). There was no way Abraham could know the future; he just knew the God of the future. The voice of that God this man had heard and believed without reservation. This is the ultimate in trust in God. The entire journey of Abraham, embracing every heart-throb and fateful event was motivated by his complete acceptance of God’s judgments spoken to him. He could not argue with or doubt the God who had commanded him! This way of life – a life of yielding to every expressed mandate of deity – is somewhat demonstrated by Peter in his call to the apostleship (Lk. 5). Early one morning the Lord told Peter to “launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught” (5:4). The immediate reaction of Peter was, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing. ” However, he quickly yields saying, “Nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.” The fisherman yields to the advice of the one who had no reputation as a fisherman. It was his trust in the Lord who knew all things. From his experiences as a fisherman he could not think the daytime fishing would be productive of any good; neither could he foresee himself failing at the feet of Jesus confessing himself a sinful man when the boats were filled with fish to the extent they began to sink. His confidence in the Lord moved him to do exactly what the Master had bidden him to perform.
What a blessing it is to any one who can, like Abraham, look beyond the present that is filled with frustrations, problems, pain, disappointments and sorrows to a permanent abiding with the God that made man and sustains him with all the essentials both material and spiritual to make man complete. He desired a heavenly country, and so do we. He believed God rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6).
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 17, pp. 515, 535-536
September 1, 1983