Father, why are we moving again so soon?” Perhaps Isaac asked this question as he untied ropes and pulled up stakes. Abraham and his family had been living in tents ever since coming to Canaan. They were temporary residents in a land that God had promised to one day give them.
Abraham had come from a land of idolatry, called by the one true God. His life of following God was not without difficulties and disappointments, but Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3). His life of faith gained him a place in Hebrews 11, where the commentary on his life has valuable lessons for us. There are four things that the writer of Hebrews 11 links to Abraham’s faith.
His Obedience (v8)
When Abraham lived in Mesopotamia, God appeared to him and told him to leave his home country and his family and go into a land which God would show him. The difficulty of this instruction can be judged by the fact that he only went partway, to Haran, and stayed there until his father died (Act 7:4). He didn’t completely leave the land and he didn’t completely leave his family. Is it any wonder that there were no altars of devotion nor any divine appearances during this time? He is remembered for his faithfulness, but he also had his failings. Yet Hebrews 11 overlooks those and notes that when he was called, he obeyed and left his land, not knowing where God would take him.
Abraham was leaving his relatives behind, perhaps never to see them again. He was making a break with the paganism of Mesopotamia. This was no small sacrifice to make. But for all he left behind, God had called him to a better life. He would now build altars and commune with Jehovah. Here God was giving him a land and here he would have a son.
Like Abraham, when God calls us to follow Him, the sacrifice will always be eclipsed by the blessings, if we will only see them. Worth more than any sacrifice we could make are the value of quiet fellowship with our Savior and the confidence that comes from time spent in His presence. We must live with an intentional awareness of the purpose for which God has called us – to know Him, to become like Him, and to bring others to Him.
His Perseverance (v9)
Abraham lived in the promised land as a foreigner. He did not reside in an established estate but lived in a movable tent. He never settled down and staked his territory even though a vast tract was promised to him. For nearly a hundred years, Abraham dwelt in the land, but God did not give him a place to settle (Act 7:5). He continued to trust that what God had promised He would fulfill. He persevered when God’s promises concerning a son seemed to be delayed. When a famine came and Abraham failed to trust God, he afterwards came back to his first altar and called again on God. He persevered when his nephew, a believer, went to live in a wicked city.
We, too, must learn to trust God. When things are ordinary and mundane, we must trust Him. In the face of personal disappointment and failure, we can always count on Him. And when other believers turn away from truth and are conformed to this world, we must continue to trust God.
His Vision (v10)
Abraham did have a vision, an appearance of God, but he also had another kind of vision; he was looking for a city beyond this world. Perhaps he was tempted to lay a footer, pour concrete walls and build a mansion, but he recognized the transient nature of this world and looked for a city with eternal foundations – the city built by God. Abraham was a wealthy man, for he was not negligent about his business, and God blessed him plentifully. Yet he lived with a sense of God’s claim on him and an awareness of eternal values.
What about my outlook on my possessions? Do I hold my possessions with a loose hand, accounting that they are temporal? Is my worldview calibrated to the Word of God, or has our materialistic, self-obsessed culture shaped the way I think and act? When have I last reflected that my eternal citizenship is in heaven, that we are but strangers here (physically and spiritually), and that my stuff is merely earthly?
His Sacrifice (vv17-18)
This is perhaps the pinnacle of Abraham’s trust in the character of God. God asked Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering on a faraway mountain. The significance of offering Isaac is emphasized by the description of Abraham as “he who had received the promises” (v17). Isaac had been a miracle baby; he was the heir through whom Abraham’s descendants were to be as prolific as the sand of the sea. So it would have seemed to Abraham that this request was contrary to God’s purposes and promises. Would his obedience now mean the forfeiture of his future and the invalidation of God’s promises to give him a posterity as numerous as the stars?
But God was testing Abraham (v17; Gen 22:1). Would there be anything Abraham valued more than God? Would Abraham be constrained by his ideas of what it meant to serve God or his perception of what acceptable service looked like? There is no hint that Abraham wavered for a moment as he readied to do what God had asked. Obedience to God came first, and Abraham left no room in his mind for alternatives. He didn’t know what this turn of events meant, but he calculated that God could raise Isaac out of death in order to fulfill His promises. But before Abraham could carry through with the sacrifice, the angel of the Lord intervened, saying, “Now I know that you fear God!” (Gen 22:12).
There may be specific times of testing in our lives when God tests our hearts to prove our loyalty and devotion to Him. In the middle of our perplexity and uncertainty, God is looking to see if we are willing to sacrifice our comforts and notions in simple obedience to Him.
The testimony of Abraham’s faith challenges and encourages us. He knew the trials and triumphs of walking with God. But through it all, he trusted in the character of God and aligned his life with God’s word and promises. He lived by faith.