Stage Five (Gen. 22)
by Bob Whitaker
We are considering another stage of faith that developed in the life of Abraham – Genesis 22. This part of the story might not the final stage of faith in Abraham’s journey, but it was certainly the most epic. We might describe this step of faith with these words: Trust me when faith produces terror.
At this point in Abraham’s life the promise is finally fulfilled – Isaac has been born. What a euphoric experience the birth of Isaac must have been! What a delight it must have been to see him grow up in Abraham’s household. Isaac was the living, walking, breathing, laughing illustration of the faithfulness of God. If you are a parent, you know the joy of young children – every smile, every wiggle, every step, every word is a joyful celebration. Abraham and Sarah were experiencing this…and then the hammer drops.
God says to Abraham, “I want you to take your son, your only son, to the land of Moriah and sacrifice him on an altar.” What must have gone through Abraham’s mind? “Lord, you promised, we waited and then you fulfilled the promise. Remember how I chose to believe that nothing was impossible with you? And now this! I’ve walked with you all these years and still I have no answers but I also have no choice because I know I must follow you.”
It is interesting that this devastating news came at a high point. Isaac was now a young man, he had survived infancy, and the promise was even more real. Still, Abraham trusted God. When they got to the foot of the mountain it was Isaac who asked this penetrating question: “Father, we have the wood and the fire but where is the sacrifice?” To which Abraham replied, “God will provide the sacrifice.” Abraham made another remarkable statement of faith to his servants at the bottom of the mountain. “Stay here while the boy and I go to worship and then we will return.”
You know the rest of the story. When Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, an angel called out for him not to harm the boy, and there appeared in the thicket a ram which was used for the sacrifice. The New Testament sees this as a picture of Jesus Christ, but of course, unlike Isaac, Jesus was not spared from death – he was sacrificed for us. The writer of the book of Hebrews said that Abraham had the faith to believe that even if Isaac died, the same God who produced the miracle of his birth is the God who would produce the miracle of resurrection. What a wonderful picture of Jesus Christ.
As with the example of Abraham, sometimes faith produces terror. Sometimes God calls us to do things, to walk through situations that seem impossible but remember, nothing is impossible with God. Walk with God through the fear and the fire because in the end God will always produce a resurrection. That’s what God always does!
Stage Four (Genesis 18)
by Bob Whitaker
Once again, I invite you to explore Abraham’s faith with me today. I’m calling this stage, “Trust me when it seems foolish.” An intriguing story develops in Genesis 18. It had been a long time since God originally promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son. They have reached the age when it seems foolish to trust. Then the promise is once again renewed for Abraham and Sarah – this renewal comes with an angelic visit. And this time the promise is attached to a date – the angel promises that within one year they will have a son. When Sarah hears this inside the tent she laughs out loud – this is impossible at her age. Now, think about it. Who can blame her for laughing? She is almost 90. Remember Sarah has been listening to this promise for 25 years. Who can blame her if she thinks this latest promise is foolish?
Often, we forget that Sarah was also in this journey of faith – she has to trust, too. She may have thought to herself, “This crazy husband of mine has come home with new promises for the last 25 years.” In order to believe God, she has to believe her husband. She has to believe that there is an invisible God who speaks to him and gives him instructions that seem foolish. When she laughed at this news it might have been a way of saying this: “Don’t play with my emotions again! Don’t insult my intelligence! Don’t mock me! I’ve heard this promise over and over again! I need more than words!” Again, who can blame her for thoughts like that?
This is real life and as you read this story and vicariously feel the pain of Sarah, maybe it seems like your story. Maybe you have been trusting God. You have been following God, worshipping God, being faithful, but you are exhausted. It seems like the promises of God are for others but not for you. I don’t want to belittle your pain, but I do want to encourage you to continue in faith. I hope that you can trust God even when it seems foolish. It doesn’t mean that you will get the outcome you were looking for, but it does mean that you will have a loving God at your side. It is that God, the God of promises that says, ”I will never leave you or forsake you and where I am, someday you will be there with me.” Life might not always turn out the way we want it but the promise of eternal life will eclipse all the trouble that we experience here and now. Trust the God who promises eternal life, because as the Psalmist said, “In his presence there is fullness of joy, at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Stage Three (Gen. 15-17)
by Bob Whitaker
We have been thinking about the stages in the journey of Abraham’s faith. This stage I am calling, “trust me in the silences.” As you may recall, Sarah and Abraham had been promised a son to carry on their name, one who would make them a great nation and a child that would bless the whole world. By the time we get to this part of the story in Genesis 15, we realize that Abraham and Sarah waited for 25 years for the promise to be fulfilled.
Often, we think of Abraham as being in constant communication with God. That may have been true. He may have been in conversation with God every day, feeling his real presence, but the communication with God concerning the promise of a child…well, those conversations included large gaps. It could be that God renewed his promise vocally to Abraham every day, but that is not how it is recorded in Genesis. The renewals of the covenant were many years apart.
One time when God renewed the promise to Abraham, he literally fell down laughing. In effect he was saying, “Seriously, God? At my age?” Sometimes we remember how Sarah laughed when the angels visited with a renewed promise, but Abraham laughed, too.
Here is the point: Abraham had many long segments of silence between the renewed promises from God. As one author has said, “God’s voice comes intermittently, not in unbroken chatter but in episodes of speech punctuating seasons of silence.” My, how true that is! We forget that faith means trusting God during the silent times. God does not need to remind us daily, he expects us to take him at his word and trust in the midst of the silence.
Have you ever experienced those spiritual dry times when it seems like you can’t hear from God? You probably have and during those silent times your faith actually grows. We understand this concept in the physical world – our muscles develop only when they are stretched and under duress, when exercise puts strain upon them. In much the same way our spiritual growth happens under stress and there are few things more stressful than periods of silence from God.
When we do not feel God’s presence it is not necessarily punishment, it is often for our good. God wants us to walk by faith and not by sight. So here is the reminder that I need. I need to remember that God is still there even when I don’t hear him. I need to remember that God still loves me even when it seems that he is absent. Even in the silences, God is there. Remember that today.
Stage Two (Gen. 12:1-9)
By Bob Whitaker
Today we look at stage two of Abraham’s faith. Abraham has traveled to the new land and God now challenges him, “Trust me when you are most vulnerable.” After arriving in Canaan, the land faced a disastrous famine. To the south of Canaan was the land of Egypt, back then known as the “bread basket of the world.” When Abraham and his family were staring in the face of starvation, he conceived of a plan. It may have been during this difficult time that Abraham began to question his decision to follow the advice of an invisible God. It could have been that his family and his servants questioned his judgment in moving away from home. With all of that in the background, Abraham conceived of a plan – go to Egypt where the food is plentiful.
When he arrived in Egypt, it occurred to him that he had another problem. His wife Sarah was beautiful, and he was concerned that the king might kill him and take Sarah as his wife. So, he conspired with Sarah to say that she was not his wife but was his sister. That plan did not work very well because Pharaoh found out the truth and confronted Abraham. “How could you do this,” he said to Abraham, “I might have taken her to be my wife and God would have punished me. Take these gifts and get out of my land.”
Realizing how foolish he had been, Abraham takes the gifts and heads back to Canaan. But notice something. In spite Abraham’s foolish decision God blesses him through Pharaoh. Clearly Abraham conceived of his own plan and did not trust God. He was overwhelmed with self-protection. In fact, he actually put Sarah in harm’s way and there is no indication that he was really worried about her; instead, he was looking out for himself. This is a strange story but there is a silver lining of encouragement in all of Abraham’s foolishness. In spite of his self-centered ways God did not revoke his promise to Abraham. He still used him in spite of his sins.
It reminds me that no one has perfect faith, not even Abraham. It encourages me because I see myself in Abraham’s story. Sometimes I am willing to follow God and other times I am just plain stupid. When I feel most vulnerable I often become the most foolish. When my back is to the wall I come up with crazy plans that have nothing to do with following God. When I am afraid, I become self-centered and self-protective. In times like those I need to remind myself that the Lord is my shepherd. I need to remember that God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory through Christ Jesus.
I have a feeling that I am not alone in this dilemma. I suspect that some of you right now are feeling very vulnerable. Don’t do something foolish. Don’t trust your own wisdom. Instead, follow your faithful, all-wise, and good shepherd.
Stage One (Gen. 12:1-9)
By Bob Whitaker
For the next few devotional segments, I want to explore the nature of faith by looking at the life of Abraham. In order to do this, I would like to consider the stages of faith that God brought him through during his long life. The first stage of faith comes when God says, “Trust me even when the future is unknown. I want you to leave your country and journey away to an unknown future.” Now, most of us think it would be a sacrifice to give up the land of our birth and move to an unknown place. Of course, it does happen but it comes with numerous challenges. Missionaries leave their country to go to a foreign land in order to share the Gospel. Immigrants leave their country for a variety of reasons, some to escape persecution, others to simply find a better life. They leave behind their native language, a familiar landscape, food and customs. Perhaps most importantly, they leave behind all their contacts, such as friends, business associates, even the familiarity of which person to call when someone breaks into your house or your vehicle.
It is difficult enough to leave all your contacts, but it is often more difficult to leave your family. In those days it is likely that leaving family meant leaving an inheritance that included land. God says to Abraham, “I want you to leave your people and your land for a journey to an unknown land.” If we were traveling to a remote location in another part of the world, it is likely that we would do our research. We have plenty of resources to find current information on places all over the world – travel books, documentaries on the country and of course we can Google almost anything. But with Abraham there was no way to research the land where God was sending him. He simply had to trust God.
Of course, God did provide a promise. “If you follow me to this unknown land I will bless you. I will give you a son and make you a great nation. In fact, the whole world will be blessed through you.” That is a wonderful promise but there are no details, just a promise. He must have wondered about this strange, unknown land. What would it be like? Who would be its inhabitants? Would they be friendly or hostile? Would they accept a nomadic farmer like Abraham or would he be viewed with suspicion? Was it dangerous? These and many others must have been the questions that Abraham asked. So far as we know, God did not answer the questions, he just said, “Follow me.” The message was simple: “Trust me when your future is unknown.” Have you been there personally? Maybe you haven’t been called to leave your country for an unknown destination but you have probably been asked to trust God when your future is unknown. Things are very uncertain for many of us right now. What does the future hold? Will we be safe? Will our families be okay? When will things get back to normal? Right now is a good time to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. He called Abraham to follow and he calls us daily to follow him into an unknown future. I hope you are ready to trust God and follow him no matter how uncertain things may seem.