I want to camp a bit on a couple of concepts as we continue our journey because these concepts marked Abraham’s journey and are usual patterns, especially the latter one, when we begin purposefully walking with Jesus.
I have worked in the human services field for over three decades and started out working with children and youth. One of the things I was taught in college and at work was that children need rules, routines and structure. These things provide a sense of safety and structure that help them navigate their world and move through developmental stages. Not too far into my career I realized that adults need the same three things – rules, routines and structure. We tend not to think about them as much but they sit in the background ordering and guiding our lives and helping us navigate life stages.
The denial of the idea of rules, routines and structure is like the foolish idea “you can’t legislate morality.” Our heart attitudes cannot be legislated but legislation is just that, rules about what we can and cannot do, about what is right and wrong. For example, speed limits, the Criminal Code, or tax laws. An example of a structure that helps to order our lives is how we drive. In Canada we drive on the right side of the road and with traffic lights stop on red, go on green, and yes, accelerate on yellow! Now imagine driving to work with these rules arbitrarily changing every day, when you wake up in the morning you don’t know if you are driving on the right or left side of the road today and don’t know if today you are stopping on the green or red. A drive on a busy day would be terrifying, if we got anywhere at all!
In addition to traffic rules we have all of the social structures and routines that guide our lives, the familiar relationships and places. Abraham left all this when he went out ‘not knowing where he was going.’ He left his familiar culture and routines, his friends and family, his social supports. In our western culture, although there are now concerns with them, we have old age security and pensions. In Abraham’s world old age security was your children, he had none. Following children, it was your extended family, he was to leave his.
Many of us may have been raised in a Christian home or culture. Though in recent decades our society has been growing increasingly intolerant of a Christian biblical worldview, we are for the most part not stepping into a wholly unfamiliar world when we choose to follow Christ. We can usually depend on some social and cultural supports. This is why what Abraham did was such an act of faith. He went out acting on Plan A with no Plan B – which is why he is known as the father of faith.
The other concept I want to look at is the role of testing and trials in spiritual maturity. Abraham arrived in the land, encountered Yahweh and was promised the land he was in for his descendants. He now began to worship and pursue Yahweh through worship. This is when we would expect that everything should go well for Abraham. Does it? No!
8 And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. 9 So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South. 10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. Genesis 12:8-10 (NKJV)
What blessing does Abraham encounter in the land of promise as soon as he becomes a true worshipper of Yahweh – severe famine! Seems like a great bargain. However, if we examine scripture we see this pattern repeated over and over; a promise, then a test that seems to be the exact opposite of the promise. How many of you have received a prophetic promise you rejoiced over and then suddenly everything started going in the exact opposite direction?
Why does this pattern exist? He wants us, like Abraham, to commit to walking by faith and believing Him in spite of our circumstances. We see the pattern in the life of Joseph, great dreams, accompanied by some obvious pride, and then slavery followed by prison. The scriptures say,
18 They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. 19 Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him. Psalm 105:18-19 (NKJV)
The Psalms in describing this event say Joseph was “laid in irons” but the Hebrew literally says Joseph’s “soul came into iron.” It says this came about because “The word of the LORD tested him.” This refers to the testing of the prophetic promise, the word given in Joseph’s dreams.
In the scriptures we see David, anointed as the future king, his subsequent victory over Goliath and being honoured by the nation, then not long after being chased around the wilderness as a fugitive.
As Mark records the events this pattern is the most obvious in the life of Jesus.
9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. Mark 1:9-12 (NKJV)
Upon His baptism Jesus is publicly affirmed by His Father through an audible voice then immediately driven into the wilderness by the Spirit to have this word tested. As the Son in human form He still had to respond to the same question Eve failed to deal well with, “has God said?” When our walk is tested it is always a question of whether we still choose to believe the word He has spoken about our life and circumstances. What is He speaking in our lives? Do we believe what He is saying about us through His written word or prophetic promises?
Given this pattern is evident in the lives of the descendants of Abraham, even Jesus, should it not mark our lives as Abraham’s spiritual descendants? We should learn from the experience of the children of Israel, the fastest way through the wilderness is obedience. Paul said these stories from history were given as examples for us to learn from (1 Cor. 10:1-11), may we learn them well.