By Joe Neil Clayton
When Paul wanted to define the faith that saves, he resorted to illustration. He said, “. . . Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In Thee shall all the nations be blessed. So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.” (Galatians 3:6-9). The fact that Abraham had faith in a promise that seemed impossible to fulfill marks him as an excellent example for believers in every age.
In order to bless all the nations through his seed, Abraham first needed seed. He was old, and his wife was barren. To believe in contradiction to such circumstances must have seemed futile, but faith leaps over circumstances, because it trusts in the power of God.
However, Abraham had to make some progress before he could believe so readily. His faith had to grow. At his first contact with the promises of God (Genesis 12), he did not accept fully the conditions connected with the receiving of the promise. God said, “Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house . . .” One condition was not fully obeyed. Abraham left his country, and his father’s house, but not all of his kindred. He took Lot with him to Canaan. Until he was separated even from his nephew, God did not begin to fulfill his promises, and nothing happened to alter the state of Abraham.
God had also promised security to Abraham. He said, “I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse.” But, we learn that there was a famine in the land of Canaan, and Abraham removed his household to Egypt. While there, he fell into fear for his life, and planned to lie about his relationship with his wife. This would secure him against being murdered by someone who coveted his wife for her beauty. The Pharaoh of Egypt was infatuated with Sarah, and took her into his house, thinking she was free to be claimed. Abraham did nothing, but God sent plagues on the house of Pharaoh, because of this abomination. Pharaoh came to realize his mistake, and sent Abraham away. God fulfilled his promise of security. Even though the lie was known, Abraham did not lose his life. He must have realized more than ever that the power of God would protect him.
After Lot left Abraham, God renewed his promises to Abraham in detail (Genesis 13:14-15), except for the promise that his seed would bless all nations. As yet, however, Abraham had no heir. Later, still, God heard Abraham say, “0 Lord Jehovah, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Gen. 15:2) In His sympathy for the anxiety of Abraham, God showed him the numberless stars, and promised that his seed should be as numberless. Then, the scripture says, “And he believed in Jehovah; and He reckoned it to him for righteousness.” Abraham, from this point on, had no doubt in his ability to father children, but he stumbled again by accepting from faithless Sarah her handmaid, Hagar, as his wife. When Ishmael was born to this union, Abraham offered him as the “seed” of the promise. He said, “Oh that Ishmael might live before thee!”
God rejected Ishmael. Had he not made his promise to Abraham, when he only had Sarah as his wife? God said, “Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son, and … In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” (Genesis 17:19, 21:12). With this rebuke, God finally disciplined the faith of Abraham, so that he patiently waited for the faith of Sarah to be aroused, so that Isaac could be conceived and born. When the boy was growing up, even God’s command to sacrifice the boy could not shake the faith of Abraham in the promises of God, because he ” accounted that God was able to raise up (Isaac), even from the dead.” (Hebrews 11: 19).
God would have us to develop the faith of Abraham. Apparently, that faith cannot be instantaneous, it must grow. It must grow in the light of seeing God’s power to fulfill, as Abraham’s did.
We will be inclined to make the same mistakes that Abraham did. We will accept the command, but will not quite obey it to the letter. We will hear God’s promise to secure us against our enemies, but we will resort to human devices to hedge against the failure of that promise. We will believe God, but we will try to help him out by shortcuts. Until we are disciplined in our faith, as Abraham was, and until we have the patience to know that the “Lord is not slack concerning His promises,” we will go on making these mistakes. But, once true faith is established in our hearts, God will be able to command nothing that will dismay us, or disillusion us. His power will be manifest, His will supreme. We cannot be satisfied with partial faith. We must not simply be satisfied to identify with the faith of Abraham in Egypt. That would be as disastrous to us as it was to him. If we have not yet identified with the faith of Abraham at the offering of Isaac, we must strive to reach that goal, and to serve God unflinchingly in every detail.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 48, pp. 12-13
October 11, 1973