I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could deal if all we ever read about in scripture were perfectly holy people, never doing wrong, and shining through the ages as beacons of irreproachable righteousness.
I cannot adequately express how much that would suck.
So I am thankful that, for every example of faith, the Bible also keeps record of the mistakes, the sins, the doubts, the “bad-life-decisions”, and the utter failures that remind us God’s historical cast was broken, inadequate, temperamental, imperfect and, well, human.
And Abraham is no exception. Father of nations or no, Abraham pulled some really stupid stuff in his time. Like when he passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister. Or when he tried to take control of God’s plan and slept with his servant to produce an heir. Or when he abandoned that servant and her newborn child to his wife’s jealousy. Or when he passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister…again.
Really, Abraham? Not cool.
It is encouraging, then, when we get to Hebrews and find that even a life as flawed as Abraham’s can be marked by faith:
By faith [Abraham] lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11:9-10 [NASB]
Time after time, as Abraham journeyed, God told him that the land he was in would one day belong to his descendants. It was a promise that Abraham would not see fulfilled in his lifetime. To me, though, the most interesting thing about these verses is what they say about where Abraham kept his hope. Abraham didn’t just wander around daydreaming about the time he would be able to settle down with a few acres to call his own. He kept his eyes fixed on something far greater than the physical promise, he looked “for the city..whose builder is God.”
And it’s a good thing, too. Abraham didn’t get to move into the land and start taking possession of it, like Israel would later do. Could you imagine the bitterness that would have grown in him if he had kept his thoughts on his circumstances and looked for immediate fulfillment? How long would he have been able to keep up positive thinking before “I trust God will give me this land.” would have turned to “God, when will you give me this land?” and then to “God, I deserve this land! Haven’t I waited long enough?”
Instead Abraham kept his hope, not on the physical fulfillment, but in the God who was able to fulfill. (And we are so coming back to Abraham and God’s promises in a couple of weeks.) This is where Abraham’s faith comes into play. But Abraham’s faith didn’t just keep him looking higher, it allowed him to actually live in the land.
How did Abraham’s faith inform how he lived?
Yes, we are just now getting to that question. And yes, the answer is probably way bigger than what we are going to go into now. But there are two ways in particular that I want to look at:
- Abraham’s faith freed him to live in the land without being bound to it.
- Abraham’s faith became a blessing to those around him.
First: Living in the land without being bound to it.
For all God’s promises, Abraham never acted as if he was entitled to the land. He didn’t go up against any of the occupying kings. He didn’t start broadcasting that the land was his. And he didn’t crusade against all of the unholy people desecrating what was supposed to be his promised land.
In fact, Genesis 14 is a great example of how Abraham chose to live and, if you have time, you should read the whole thing. For now, I’ll offer a condensed version:
Then [the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim] took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed. And they also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.
Genesis 14: 11-12
And when Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. And he divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people. Then after his return from the defeat of [the kings] the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s valley).
And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” And Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”
Not only did Abraham not look for earthly recognition or rewards for what he had done, he actually refused it. It was more important for him to wait and trust in God’s fulfillment than to allow the world to hold any claim to his success and blessing. Abraham had just returned from defeating the enemies of the surrounding kingdoms, he held the wealth of nations in his hands, and I bet you that he could have made a play then and there for control in the region and would have seen countless of Sodom and Gomorrah fall in line behind him. But he set it all down, knowing it was not God’s plan.
This kind of faith only comes to those who know where their hope, treasure, and security are really held. And Abraham was the only part of a long line of people who knew to look higher than what the world had to offer:
Therefore, also, there was born of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews 11:12-16 [NASB]
Abraham, and his descendants, kept looking higher.
I particularly like verse 14: “For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.” That verb tense – “are seeking” – that’s the present continuous right there. It’s used to describe an action that is ongoing and unfinished, and I love that it is used in this verse because looking higher is ongoing and unfinished business. It’s something we do day by day, moment by moment, and may not see the fulfillment of in our time.
And if you doubt the ongoing, unfinished nature, just look at the next verse: “they would have had opportunity to return.” Abraham could have gone back to Haran, Ur, or Egypt. He could have stopped journeying. He could have been like Lot, seeking out what looked comfortable and familiar instead of following God into the promised land. He could have taken the gifts of Sodom and settled in to a lux life.
And you and I can take the wide road any day we’d like.
Looking higher is a choice. It’s an act of trust. And it’s the only thing that will give us the faith to let go of earthly recognition and reward.
Now that second thing: Abraham’s faith became a blessing to those around him.
Are you still with me? Because I think some of us need to hear this.
Abraham lived as an alien, but he did not cut himself off from the world. Abraham dwelt in the land, he interacted with his neighbors. Abraham did not make himself a happy little camp away from everyone to sit and wait for God to fulfill His promises.
Before you point out that, in Genesis 14, Abraham only went after the opposing kings when he heard that his own relative had been taken, I’d like to look at a couple of things. First, Abraham brought back all of the stolen goods knowing full well that he had no intention of keeping them. Why would he go through the extra trouble of returning the goods to Sodom? Second, and probably much more telling, check out Genesis 23:
And Sarah died in Kiriatharba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan; and Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. Then Abraham rose from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you; give me a burial site among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our graves; none of us will refuse you his grave for burying your dead.”
Genesis 23:2-6 [NASB]
We don’t have a record of all of Abraham’s living and dwelling in the land, but there is something revealing in Abraham’s interaction with his neighbors after Sarah’s death. Abraham’s neighbors call him a “mighty prince,” the Hebrew of which also translates to “prince of God.” They then proceed to offer him the “choicest” of all the graves, any he would pick. We may not have a record, but it is clear that Abraham was respected by and on good terms with his neighbors. Which tells me that Abraham’s righteousness was a blessing, not an annoyance, to the people around him.
Part of God’s promise to Abraham was that he, himself, would become a blessing. And, as active as Abraham was in his journey through the promised land, I believe that Abraham was actively participating in this portion of God’s promise.
It reminds me of God’s words to some other exiles later on, exiles that would have liked to keep themselves in comfortable little bubble while they waited for God to rescue them:
“Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.”
Jeremiah 29:5-7 [NASB]
So here we are, aliens living in a foreign land. And this week I ask myself, am I looking to the world around for what I can get, or for what I can give?