Journeys with Abraham Part 8

In my last post on Abraham I want to look at how Abraham lived after Yahweh cut a covenant with Him. He had two more recorded failures; in one he was again deceptive about his relationship with Sarah (Gen. 20:1-7). The other was his relationship with Hagar that produced Ishmael. Scripture records that Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born (Gen. 16:16) and we have no record of Yahweh interacting with him again until he was 99 and Isaac was promised as a child to Sarah. It is in this encounter (Gen. 17) that Abraham had his named changed from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham, (father of a multitude) and Sarah has her named changed from Sarai to Sarah (princess).

15  Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16  And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” 17  Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18  And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” 19  Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. 20  And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21  But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” 22  Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham. Genesis 17:15-22 (NKJV)

Abraham interceded for Ishmael but while Yahweh promised blessing to Ishmael and his descendants He said He would only establish His covenant with Isaac.

The other great change that following Yahweh cutting a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15) was that he became a great prophetic intercessor. He interceded with Yahweh to have Sodom spared and in his intercession said one of the things that often touches and comforts my heart, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” It was a rhetorical question; assuredly He did, would and does.

We think we are doing well when we reach 100 years. After Isaac’s birth, Abraham was 100 at the time; he lived 75 more years, with no recorded failures and carrying a heart to bless others.

During this time period he did two very significant things. The land had been promised to him by Yahweh and sworn through a covenant, yet He still had to do something with the promise. Likewise, though we have many potential spiritual blessing we often have to do something to position our heart to receive them. We cannot earn blessings, wages are earned, and blessings are gifts that are given. Yet often we need to be in the right position, whether it is geographically, walking in the right relationship that will help us receive, or having the right heart posture. Positioning ourselves is like picking up a cell signal. The signal is there in the room but unless my phone is turned on I won’t receive anything.

What significant things did Abraham do? First, he purchased Sarah’s burial plot. Though he lived in a land promised to him by Yahweh he had to purchase a portion. What is the further spiritual significance? Jacob/Israel told us just before his death.

29  Then he charged them and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30  in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place. 31  There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, and there I buried Leah. 32  The field and the cave that is there were purchased from the sons of Heth.” 33  And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people. Genesis 49:29-33 (NKJV)

Years ago a dear friend and I were discussing where she wanted to be buried, my question was, “Who do you want to be resurrected with?” It hearkens back to what Israel said to his sons when he died in Egypt.

We can also reflect on what happened at Jesus crucifixion. At His physical death when He had paid the price for sins Jesus atonement released a foretaste of what awaits all who believe in and receive Him.

51  Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52  and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53  and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Matthew 27:51-53 (NKJV)

The burial place of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah was south of Jerusalem but perhaps they were some of the ones who were resurrected in this unique event and appeared to many in Jerusalem.

The other significant thing Abraham did was walk in obedience prepared to sacrifice Isaac. The story is told in Genesis 22:1-19, some key verses are below.

2  Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Genesis 22:2 (NKJV)

5  And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Genesis 22:5 (NKJV)

18  In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:18 (NKJV)

The above verses highlight some key points. Isaac is referred to as Abraham’s only son. Biologically he was not, but in terms of affection he was. They walked three days to Moriah (the modern day temple mount, near where Jesus was crucified). Abraham told the men with him that he and Isaac were going to worship and return. His confidence in Yahweh’s character and covenant had so grown that he believed if he was being called to sacrifice Isaac then Yahweh would raise him up as the promise was to and through Isaac. The last key point was the promise that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This promised seed is Jesus and His sacrifice of Himself released salvation to the earth.

May we be like Abraham and lay down the things He calls us to lay down that we may walk in His promise and provision.

Journeys with Abraham Part 7

In this post on Journeys with Abraham I want to look at the covenant Yahweh cut with Abraham and the events leading up to it.

I noted that when Abraham entered the land he encountered Yahweh and built an altar and began to worship Him (Gen. 12:6-8). He was at this time at Shechem, about 60 kilometres north of Jerusalem (Jebus at this point, it was named Jerusalem by king David). He then moved and pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai, about 10 kilometres north of Jerusalem, built another altar and worshipped Yahweh. Following this he went down to Egypt due to the famine and when he returned he again dwelt near Bethel (Gen. 13:3-4).  In Genesis 13:18 we find that after Lot and Abraham separated Abraham moved his tent south of Jerusalem and lived in Hebron,  about 45 kilometres south of Jerusalem, and built an altar and worshiped Yahweh. This is the third altar he built and a pattern had been established. Worship had become an ongoing part of Abraham’s life. The significance of this pattern of worship is revealed following the battle Abraham engaged in to rescue Lot. On his return he was blessed by Melchizedek, who many believe was the pre-incarnate Jesus appearing in bodily form.

18  Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19  And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20  And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. 21  Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” 22  But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, 23  that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’ – Genesis 14:18-23 (NKJV)

Upon being blessed by Melchizedek Abraham gave tithes to him and the king of Sodom who was present offered Abraham a reward. He refused because he said he had made on oath to Yahweh whom he described as “the Possessor of heaven and earth” the exact language Melchizedek used and language Abraham seemed familiar with. Clearly through his worship Abraham had received a greater revelation of this one he followed out of his former home and whom he now served.

It is following this response by Abraham that Yahweh now cut a covenant with Abraham.

7  Then He said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” 8  And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” 9  So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10  Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11  And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12  Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13  Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14  And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15  Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16  But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 17  And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18  On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates– 19  the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, 20  the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21  the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” Genesis 15:7-21 (NKJV)

In the covenant ceremony the two parties took animals and cut them in two and walked through the blood between. The covenant was a ceremony to honour and ratify a commitment enforceable by death. In fact a common expression of covenant language is seen in the books of Samuel and the era of the early kings in the following expression, or variation of it, ‘May God do to me and more’ (see 1 Sam. 3:17, 25:22, 2 Sam. 3:9, 3:35, 19:13, 1 Kings 2:23, 2 Kings 6:31) that in essence says, ‘May I be cut up and my blood spilled like these animals if I do not honour this covenant.’ In cutting the covenant with Abraham Yahweh passed between the animals as a smoking oven and burning torch. At the cutting of the covenant Yahweh again guaranteed this land to Abraham and his descendants and  a great darkness fell over Abraham and Yahweh told him his descendants would be in bondage for 400 years but would leave the land of their oppressors with great possessions. In this horrifying darkness and shedding of blood to create a covenant I also see a prophetic picture of the horror and darkness Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to His body being torn and His blood poured out to establish a new covenant – the one that saved us from eternal torment.

May we like Abraham have a pattern of being worshippers and walking with Jesus, knowing the great spiritual blessing we have in Him, and recognizing the great bondage He delivered us from through the horror of His atoning death upon the cross!

Journeys with Abraham Part 6

In my last post I looked at how Abraham’s obedience led to testing. We will now look at how his disobedience led to apparent blessing but subsequently created a problem that still plagues his descendants to this day.

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. 11  And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12  Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13  Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” Genesis 12:10-13 (NKJV)

Abraham had for some time now been going where Yahweh called and directed. He arrived at the land of promise, however, in response to the famine he left. Where did following Yahweh fit in and how does it connect to our lives? We have seen in following Abraham’s journey that he had some struggles with obedience but was always heading in the right direction. Here he changed direction and everything, very literally, went south, given that Egypt is south of Israel (Canaan at this point). Abraham journeyed south and went to live in Egypt to wait out the famine. He was now moving in fear instead of faith and got Sarai his wife (later Sarah) to lie to preserve his life.

As Abraham chose deception, because he believed it would preserve his life, the outcome was that Pharaoh gave him gifts for Sarai, Yahweh kept Pharaoh from taking Sarai to his bed and Pharaoh sent Abraham away and they returned to Canaan with the gifts. So there seemed to be no negative consequences to Abraham’s journey to Egypt and in fact he returned with further wealth. Yet one of Abraham’s descendants left us with this wisdom,

11  Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Ecclesiastes 8:11 (NKJV)

So while Abraham did not know Yahweh’s character he grew up with the rhythms and motions of agrarian life. He should have understood that often we do not immediately reap what we sow. The consequences of Abraham’s choices were revealed later.

Though he had come out of a pagan culture that really didn’t know Yahweh, Abraham had begun to follow Yahweh while not yet knowing His character. When we look at Abraham’s relatives that his grandson Jacob encountered we see that shrewd deceit and half truths was certainly part of the family culture and that was what Abraham engaged in rather than trusting Yahweh. So while Abraham had come out of the culture it was certainly not yet out of him. That is the process I referenced in an earlier post. Just as at creation Yahweh began separating light from darkness, so too in our lives He continually seeks to draw the darkness out of us to establish and reveal light.

So what was the final outcome of Abraham’s deception? While we are often taught in evangelical circles that God leads through circumstances we don’t need to look very far in scripture to realize that not only is that not true it is frequently the exact opposite of the truth. Yahweh frequently leads us in spite of circumstances! Abraham’s situation is a very good example of that. Based on his circumstances Abraham left Canaan and went to Egypt. Based on his circumstances Abraham sought to deceive Pharaoh. Later, based on his circumstances he conceived Ishmael with Hagar and created problems for Isaac’s descendants that persist to this day. The repercussions from that one decision, based on circumstances, have lasted thousands of years. When we look at it verse one there is a critical point.

1  Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. 2  So Sarai said to Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai. 16  Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. Genesis 16:1-2, 16 (NKJV)

Sarai, had an Egyptian maidservant. The scriptures do not tell us where she came from but given that her identity is highlighted the inference is clear that Hagar was one of the ‘gifts’ that Abraham received from Pharaoh. So eleven years after Abraham went to Canaan he now had a son in the land but from the wrong mother, his choice not God’s choice. Our decisions led by our circumstances rather than His spirit may have long lasting consequences!

Journeys with Abraham Part 5

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.

 

Journeys with Abraham Part 4

We continue our journey with Abraham. So what is the significance of the land Abraham was called to go and possess? The language in Genesis is very interesting.

6  Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. 7  Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:1-7 (NKJV)

When Abraham arrived at his destination Yahweh appeared to him. Scripture notes that the Canaanites were in the land but simply points out that they were at that time in the land, not that is was their land. Clearly Yahweh, as creator, saw the land as His and He had a plan and purpose for it. He said the land belonged to Abraham’s descendants, something that is still an ongoing issue today, and that we will explore further later.

When Abraham had his encounter with Yahweh and again received a promise he responded with worship, he built an altar and began to seek Yahweh’s face. To this point Yahweh had been the pursuer and initiator, as He is in all of our lives. It is important to see how Yahweh’s promises built as Abraham responded to His heart. At the beginning of chapter 12 the promise was tied to a destination but Abraham did not know he would be assigned an inheritance in the land he was going to – only that he was to go to a specific location. Once at the destination the promise was expanded to land.

How does this apply to our lives as we journey with Abraham? We need to consider where He has called us to function? If He has a plan and purpose for our lives then we will only function optimally when we are engaged in it. Many quote Romans 8:28 but don’t examine it in detail.

28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

This promise has an important condition, all things work together for our good when we are walking according to His purpose. We know His purpose is to shape us to reflect the image of Jesus, His character. Yet just as He does not force us to choose salvation He does not force us to cooperate with His purposes in our lives. The New Testament letters are replete with warnings about the loss we suffer if we fail to continue to follow Him. A simple example is the famous salvation by grace passage.

8  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9  not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)

Our salvation is by grace through faith, we cannot earn it. However, the following verse lays out the next steps.

10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

We should walk in the things He called us to but we have the freedom to choose. A similar passage is below.

12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13  for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (NKJV)

The above passage could be paraphrased as, “Do the things I taught you so that His purpose will be realized in your life.”

So, back to Abraham. Our land, the place of promise in our lives, is found in walking closely with Him and being where He wants us to be. However, as we studied, Abraham’s obedience was not complete and utter, he was however walking in the right direction and growing in faith and encountering Yahweh as he stumbled forward. As soon as our heart seeks to walk in obedience He meets us.

Let’s resolve by His grace to continue in the direction of His calling and purpose and like Abraham to worship and seek His face wherever we find Him.

Journeys with Abraham Part 3

I said that in this post I would look at how the first portion of Genesis 12 lays the foundation for the covenant Yahweh would later make with Abraham, how Yahweh began to call a people out of a people, and how the foundation was laid through Abraham for the eventual nation of Israel to become connected to the land. I will also look at the application for our lives.  Here is what Genesis says,

1  Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. 2  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3  I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4  So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5  Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. 6  Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. 7  Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:1-7 (NKJV)

In this passage there a few things to consider. Yahweh essentially says, ‘Do this and I will do that.’ The promises being fulfilled are contingent upon Abraham’s obedience. Abraham is being offered something but first has to exercise faith and go somewhere to find out what he will receive. 12:1 tells us that Yahweh spoke to Abraham and Acts 7:2 includes the further detail that it was in the context of an appearance that Yahweh spoke. The promise is incredible; if Abraham will obey his obedience will affect all of humanity, a pretty lofty promise. He is to be the source of blessing for everyone on the planet. Now at this point Abraham’s world was small by our standard. He couldn’t fly around the planet in a day or know how many people and nations he would affect. At the same time, I’m quite sure an encounter with Yahweh was a little different than your neighbour popping over to say hello!

What is also significant is that the promise was tied not to leaving but rather to going to a specific place, the where being more important than the what. There is something important about where Yahweh wants Abraham to go. Over the years there have been variations of a popular saying in our culture, ‘The journey is more important than the destination.’ A nice sounding platitude, but very misguided. I think the intent is to help us enjoy the journey, and in many things in life that is true. However, the most important choice we can make has eternal consequences – where we are headed? It is nice to enjoy the trip but I would rather have a difficult trip and arrive at the right place than enjoy the trip and arrive to an eternal horror!

So Abraham obeyed and went. He knew that he was to head to Canaan, a geographic area, but that was all. When he obeyed and left and subsequently arrived he again encountered Yahweh. This encounter was in spite of his partial obedience. I referenced in a previous post how his father Terah may have been initially called to do this and how though Abraham was called while in Ur he didn’t actually obey until he was in Haran, furthermore, he was told to leave his home and family, which in the culture of the day meant to leave his security and familiarity. However, he took part of his extended family along, Lot and his family, which later led to a ‘lot’ of trouble.

What do these things tells us about our lives. When Yahweh calls us He begins a separation in our lives. Just as He divided light from darkness in Genesis 1:4 when He created, He seeks to do the same in our lives. He both calls us out of something and to something. In the New Testament Paul was a Pharisee before He encountered Jesus. Pharisee means a ‘separated one.’ The focus of the Pharisees was on being separated from things. Romans 1:1 is very instructive here.

1  Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God Romans 1:1 (NKJV)

After his conversion Paul describes himself as separated to something. Prior to encountering Jesus his life was built around what he was separated from. He now focused his life on what he was separated to, his purpose and calling in life. The same was modeled by Abraham. He had to walk away from something, not by focusing on his current life, but by focusing on what he was going to, he had to be future focused. We need to remain aware of where we came from but our focus needs to be on where we are going to!

If we have walked with Jesus for any length of time we will be able to look back at how He began to separate light from darkness in our lives. We will be able to see where we have cooperated and where we have drawn back, and if we are wise will receive wisdom to walk more purposefully into our future.

Doing this requires vision and a sense of purpose. One of the challenges in our culture is the emphasis on comfort. Adventures are not comfortable. Making a path where there is no path is hard work. Climbing spiritual mountains is hard work. Pressing into His purposes is hard work. Yet is it all worth it for it is tied to a promise. Hebrews 11 is instructive here because it tells us how Abraham did it.

9  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Hebrews 11:9-10 (NKJV)

Abraham did not find all that he was looking for but his heart was anchored in an eternal promise. What he received in Genesis 12 was a promise that later became a covenant in Genesis 15:18. A covenant tied to a land and a people. (What has He promised us that we can anchor our hearts in?) Through Abraham Yahweh began to separate out for Himself a people from all other peoples and began the shaping of a nation for His redemptive purposes for all mankind, Israel.

While I did not cover all I desired to in this post, our Journey with Abraham will continue and we will get there.

Journeys with Abraham Part 2

Journeys with Abraham Part 2

So we have an apparent conflict between what Hebrews says of Abraham and what Genesis records. Prior to resolving the difference, let me pose a question. How many of us have instantly obeyed the Holy Spirit each time He has spoken to us? Whether He spoke via scripture, a dream, vision or prophetic word, how many of us have instantly obeyed? If you are like me, many of you have struggled at times with obedience to His call upon your life in both great and small things. In fact in talking to people I believe this is the testimony of most Christians. Yet we are often told of Abraham’s great obedience and how he simply and obediently walked out his call from Yahweh. We also often hear of the instant response of His disciples when Jesus called them. Just this past week I heard a radio preacher talking about how the early apostles immediately dropped their nets and followed Jesus when He first called them; he then held them up as the standard of how we should live.

My only issue with the idea of these early apostles instantly dropping everything to follow Jesus when He called them is that it isn’t true! It appears some did respond instantly, but if we look at Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James and John away from their fishing we need to look at the timing and location. This took place at the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel and is recorded in Matthew 4:12-22, Mark 4:14-20 and Luke 4:38 -15:11. Matthew and Mark record the 4 of them immediately leaving their nets after they were called. However Luke provides more detail. We find that the day prior to these events Jesus was in Peter’s (Simon) house and healed his mother in-law. The next day he taught out of Peter’s boat before calling them and they were aware of the miracles He performed before He called them. More importantly, Matthew and Mark record that these events took place after John was imprisoned by Herod. Why is this important? It is important because after Jesus had been baptized by John we find in John 1:29-51 that two of John the Baptist’s disciples left him to follow Jesus, one of whom was Andrew, Peter’s brother, he immediately went and got Peter and introduced him to Jesus. Jesus then called Philip, who was from the same town as Andrew and Peter and Philip went and recruited Nathaniel. So what we have is a group of at least 5 people called to follow Jesus, probably all disciples of John the Baptist at this point. The fifth of the four was likely John as he narrates these events. All of this happened prior to the events recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Some, if not all of them, had already been following Jesus and had returned to fishing before being re-called.

How does this apply to Abraham and Hebrews and our lives? It goes to grace. What Hebrews records and what actually happened are at odds. Yet are they? Just like we have ‘halls of fame’ in sports, music or the arts, Hebrews 11 is the great hall of fame of faith and concludes as follows.

39  And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40  God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. Hebrews 11:39-40 (NKJV)

It says they all ‘obtained a good testimony through faith’ and Samson for example is included in the list. What does it tell us? It tells us that in the final record of our lives the Lord focuses on how we obeyed Him! He views even weak and faltering following as a great example of faith. Our success depends on Him in us anyway. He asks us to keep following and when we fall to fall forward into His arms so He can pick us up and point us in the right direction again. This is not using grace as a license for sin. It is acknowledging the reality of failure and the need to keep looking to Him and His strength to be found faithful to follow Him. The key is not how we start, it is how we finish! The more we become accustomed to hearing and obeying Him the deeper we walk into His heart and purposes.

Another important point is that at times I think we fail to understand the opportunities we have in Him. It may not fit with your theology but I believe scripture teaches that many things are more open ended than we may believe. Genesis 11 records an important point.

31  And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. 32  So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. Genesis 11:31-32 (NKJV)

This passage tells us that Terah was the initiator in taking his family and leaving Ur with the intent to go to Canaan. My question is whether Yahweh initially called Terah to do what Abraham did? I believe Abraham did what Terah failed to do. Below is another scriptural example of what I am referring to.

13  And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14  But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 1 Samuel 13:13-14 (NKJV)

When Saul fails in his role as king Samuel then informs him that if he had made the right heart choices his kingdom would have been established forever. He lost this and what Saul lost was given to David as spoken through Nathan the prophet to David.

12  “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NKJV)

What David was given is what Saul had. I believe that those we read about throughout scripture and those who follow Jesus are the ones who said yes. He gives great opportunity to all and the question is, no matter how feebly, are we saying yes when He calls? A couple of years ago I shared with a friend that I had the same birth date as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and commented on how much he had accomplished compared to me, she commented, “Yes, but you’re not dead yet.” Like you, there is great opportunity before me!

In my next post I would look at how the first portion of Genesis 12 lays the foundation for the covenant Yahweh would later make with Abraham, how Yahweh began to call a people out of a people, and how the foundation was laid through Abraham for the eventual nation of Israel to become connected to the land.

Journeys with Abraham Part 1

January 29, 2014

Journeys with Abraham

I want to spend some time looking at Abraham’s life as an encouragement in our walk with the Father. I will begin by laying out some history and basic facts then look at his life from our perspective and from the Father’s perspective. Abraham is introduced in Genesis and most of what we know about his spiritual journey is found in Genesis. However to get a sense of how important he is in our spiritual history, he is also referenced in 1 & 2 Chronicles, Nehemiah, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Act, Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, James and 1 Peter. Quite a list!

So what do we know about Abraham’s background, decisions and walk with Yahweh? We know that Abraham was from Ur (Gen. 27:11-31, Neh. 9:7, Acts 7:1-4). We are also often told that he left a great city. It is more probable that he left a smaller less significant city. Ur was a large city on the banks of the Euphrates river about 50 km West of where it joined the Tigris and then emptied into the Persian Gulf. However scripture says Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees, and as one commentary notes,

Ur of the Chaldees. It has been somewhat of a mystery why this southern city would be referred to as Ur of the Chaldees—since at this time the Chaldeans were settled primarily in the northern section of Mesopotamia. An alternative was provided when textual evidence from Mesopotamia began to produce evidence of a smaller town by the name of Ur in the northern region, not far from Haran (where Terah moves his family). This town could logically be referred to as Ur of the Chaldees to differentiate it from the well-known Ur in the south. This would also explain why Abraham’s family is always seen as having its homeland in “Paddan Aram” or “Aram Naharaim” (24:10; 28:2, descriptions of northern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates). Bible Background Commentary – The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament.

So Abraham appears to be from this northern city of Ur. From here the family moved to nearby Haran and then Abraham, Lot and their families moved to Canaan, which became modern day and ancient Israel. Here we have an anomaly introduced in how Abraham’s life is generally understood and it has implications for our walk with Jesus. To understand it we must be careful to let scripture interpret scripture.

It is generally taught that Abraham left Ur when he was called by Yahweh, we have that testimony in Hebrews.

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 (NKJV)

So it appears that we have a call by Yahweh, a response by Abraham and on we go. This seems to be affirmed by Stephen,

1  Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2  And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3  and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ 4  Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.” Acts 7:1-4 (NKJV)

Our anomaly is that while Hebrews 11:8 informed us that Abraham obeyed and left when called, and this seems to be affirmed by Stephen, a careful reading of Genesis suggests something different. Below is a passage of scripture that will clarify this.

27  This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. 28  And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29  Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. 30  But Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31  And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. 32  So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. 1  Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. 2  I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. 3  I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4  So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5  Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Genesis 11:27-12:5 (NKJV)

An important point here is that Abraham is at this point known as Abram, Yahweh has not yet changed his name to Abraham. I will however simply refer to him as Abraham and cover the significance when we come to his name change. We know from what Stephen said that Yahweh appeared to Abraham while he was still in Ur. Whether this was a vision or an actual encounter we do not know. This appearance is affirmed in Gen. 12:1-3 where we even have recorded what Yahweh spoke to Abraham. However, verse one says Yahweh ‘had’ spoken to Abraham (in Ur) and then verse 4 says Abraham departed, however it says he departed from Haran. So we know from letting scripture interpret scripture that Abraham was called while in Ur and responded from Haran. So while Hebrews presents a picture of instant obedience (By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called) the chronology of history in Genesis does not support this presentation. In my next post I will get into why this is so and how it applies to our lives.

Walking by the Word

In my previous two posts I talked about the place of scripture in our lives. I want to take that a bit further and talk about what it means to walk by His word. Many years ago, actually over two decades ago, I decided I would write about what it meant to walk in the Spirit. Once I began I realized I didn’t really have much to say! I needed far more experience in walking with Him to be able to say something of value on the subject. Now that I have had a bit more experience I have a little more to say. However, I also notice that my frame of reference has shifted. Part of that shift is that I see a very strong connection between walking in the Spirit and walking by the word.

Below are two passages that reference walking in the Spirit (see also Rom. 8:9-14).

1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 (NKJV)

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NKJV)

What we find in these passages is that when we walk in the Spirit we fulfill the righteous requirements of the law through Jesus sacrifice. We also find that our life is in the Spirit so we should walk in the Spirit. So how do we do that? There is an expression that most in evangelical circles will be familiar with. ‘The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.’ Let me suggest another version, ‘The Spirit of God will never lead you where the Word of God cannot keep you.’ Walking in the Spirit requires learning to hear His voice and discern His leading in our lives. Because He calls each of us into a unique relationship with Him our experience of His leading may vary but it will never contradict His word.

He may lead us through things like inner promptings, through highlighting a scripture verse or passage, or through someone constantly coming to mind (this is not an exhaustive list). Inner promptings may be a sense of something to do, or a sense to call someone. We may come across a scripture that speaks to our experience. We may keep thinking about someone and often that means He is calling us to pray for someone. We may meet someone who reminds us of someone we have not seen for a long time, it may be a call to intercede for the one we are reminded of. As we open ourselves to these experiences we learn to discern and how to hear His voice.

Let me share an example from a number of years ago that played out over a number of years but included some of the elements I mentioned above. We lived on an acreage and I had a sense we were to move so I began praying about it and bringing it before the Father over time. This process lasted about 3 years. This isn’t something I prayed about every week or even every month. It was an internal awareness I had and included regular prayer about it. Then at one point we decided to have a garage sale. At this point, 3 years into praying about this my wife and I had decided we should sell our home and had decided on a price. So back to the garage sale – I don’t enjoy them but on this occasion things were slow Friday and on Saturday morning it was overcast and at noon we discussed shutting down the garage sale. I, the guy who doesn’t like them, said I would keep it going for a while (I had an internal sense to continue). It then began drizzling, another indicator to stop. Yet I decided to continue for a bit. Shortly after that a couple came by and bought some plants. The wife then looked at our house and said something like, ‘I don’t suppose you would consider selling your house as well?’ In the end we sold our house, which we had not listed or advertised, to this couple. They paid right to the penny the amount that my wife and I had previously agreed upon.

In looking back at this there was no scripture verse that said anything like ‘hold a garage sale’ or ‘stay out in the rain.’ Yet there is a scripture that says we are to ‘walk in the Spirit’ and a scripture that says, 14 “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Romans 8:14 (NKJV) I sought over time to be led by His Spirit and the fruit in this instance was the sale of our home.

The Place of Scripture Part Two

In my last post I included what Paul wrote, 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV). What does this mean in practice and what is the role of the Holy Spirit? The scriptures, Old and New Testament, are our rule for faith and practice. I want to look at how we apply this to our lives and also address Jesus saying below.

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Matthew 22:29 (NKJV)

What did Jesus mean when He made this statement? Many years ago I wrote a note in my bible beside this verse. “They stood before the Lord of life and could not discern Him because they loved philosophy more than truth.” We should ask ourselves whether we truly value our opinions or His? His are found in His word.

In my own journey, in my early years of walking with Jesus I spent a great deal of time in the Word, and still do. At the same time I sought a genuine relationship and ongoing encounters with Jesus, both good goals. As I journeyed this way I met a man who seemed to have a deep walk with Jesus and who lived from a place of deep contentment. I spent a lot of time with him and though he had something real there was also something not right. Over time he continued in spiritual experiences but not only moved far away from the truth of the Word, he did many things in direct opposition to the scriptures. I believe this happened because he began to interpret the scriptures through his experiences rather than his experiences through the scriptures.

In applying 2 Tim. 3:16 we need to hold to the truth that the scriptures both point us to Jesus and also mediate our relationship with Him. The scriptures, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, are meant to lead us into a relationship with Jesus and they are meant to keep us in a relationship with Jesus.

In my own walk with Jesus I have at times begun to walk down the road of error, whether in a simple decision or in larger theological issues. What has always gotten me back on track is the whisper of the Holy Spirit drawing me back to align my behaviour and thinking with His word. I find when I hear sermons or listen to people share in groups I instantly start to weigh what I hear against scripture. In my early years of walking with Him this often turned into judgment. Over time I learned to use a filtering process – do I like this person, do I respect this person? I had to learn not to add things when I liked someone or take things away if I disliked their style or presentation. It is important to separate the message from the messenger and weigh the message against scripture. We cannot build doctrine or live our lives from a place of subjective experience. To do that is to make ourselves gods and the arbitrator of all experience.

Having said that, I believe we need spiritual experiences, after all, the scriptures are meant to point us to the one who is the source of all life! How could we ever walk with Him and not have spiritual experiences! At the same time deception is also always looking for an entry point into our lives. We need to measure our experiences by the Word while not replacing adherence to written words with encounters with the Living Word. When our experiences are genuine they will be aligned with the scriptures.

To close this post let me go back to what Jesus said. “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Matthew 22:29 (NKJV). The word ‘mistaken’ is the Greek word planaō and it means to,

Lead astray, mislead, deceive, seduce; go astray, be deluded, err, deceive oneself, sin.

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary.

To keep from being led astray we need to know the scriptures and His power. The scriptures are the anchor. However, if we know them without knowing Him we are in a dangerous place. After all, the scriptural experts in Jesus day were unable to recognize the one the scriptures pointed to and they were the ones who engineered His crucifixion.