A Believer's Journey

Genesis 12 marks a turning point in this book. You can essentially divide Genesis into two major sections with four defining features apiece. Genesis 1-11 is categorized by four great events: Creation, the Fall of Man, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. These are all macro level events that concern humanity in general. Starting in Genesis 12 and running all the way through Genesis 50, the focus shifts to four great people: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The book shifts from macro level to micro level, as we move from dealing with humanity in general and instead zone in on the founding of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. That all begins here with the calling of Abram, who later became Abraham.

Abraham is often considered one of the giants of the faith and a very important person in Scripture. He is mentioned by name 285 times in the Bible. There is a lot we can learn from his life. Before God called him, Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees, in what is now modern day Iraq. It was a city of great idolatry. We talked a couple of weeks ago about the Tower of Babel, and how it was likely a giant ziggurat that was built in defiance of God. In Abraham’s day, there was a ziggurat in Ur of the Chaldees, which was dedicated to the worship of a moon goddess named Nanna. The ruins of this ziggurat were actually excavated in the 1920s and 1930s, and Saddam Hussein partially reconstructed what was left of it. It’s still there in Iraq to this day.

We don’t know why the Lord chose Abraham. The Bible does not give us insight into God’s thought processes here, but we can be sure it was an amazing act of His grace. Why did God save any of us? It’s all a result of His mercy and grace toward us because of Jesus Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection. It’s not a matter of merit. Abraham’s journey as a believer began the same way all of ours do—by grace through faith. It is the gift of God. Tonight, we are going to look at Abraham’s journey as a believer, and I think we’ll find that it mirrors our own journey in many ways.

[Read Genesis 12:1-20]

There are two aspects of Abraham’s journey as a believer, and we’ll deal with a few points about each of them. First, we see Abraham…

I. Following the Lord (Gen. 12:1-9) – Abraham’s journey starts off well. God calls him to leave everything behind and go to a land that He would reveal to him. This is a great step of faith because the Lord did not tell him exactly where he was going [Hebrews 11:8]. Can you imagine what that conversation must have been like as Abraham tries to explain to his friends and family why he’s packing up and moving?

We’re going to have a quick English quiz here. Every complete sentence must have two parts: A subject and a predicate. The subject in this sentence is “Abraham.” What’s the predicate? “Obeyed.” If we reduce this sentence down to its simplest form, it would tell us, “By faith Abraham…obeyed.” Faith and obedience go together. The way you prove you believe something is that you act on it [Ex. of giving a gold dollar]. How did Abraham prove he believed God’s promise that He would give him a land that He would show him? He got up and left. We can’t claim to be living by faith if we’re not willing to obey Him. We say we believe the Bible is God’s Word. How do we prove it? We read it, we live it, we proclaim it. We say we believe God answers prayer. How do we prove it? We pray. We say we believe being a member of a local church is important. How do we prove it? We faithfully attend church. You get the idea.

A. The Promises (12:1-3) – These first three verses of Genesis 12 are what is known by some as the Abrahamic Covenant. This is the promise that the Lord made to Abraham and to his descendants after him. It is an unconditional promise, meaning that there was nothing required on Abraham’s part in order to receive it. God took it all upon Himself to fulfill every aspect of it. There are three things that the Lord promised to Abraham here:

  1. Land – First of all, we need to understand that this was a literal, earthly land. This was not a figure of speech or a picture of heaven. God promised to give a specific area of land to Abraham and his descendants. He details the dimensions of the land to Abraham later, but He does not give any specifics here. The entire territory promised to Abraham extends from the Nile River to the Euphrates River. Israel has never completely possessed the entirety of the land that God promised to them, but one day they will, when Jesus Christ returns to reign on the earth. God always keeps His promises, so we can be assured He will keep this one, too.

  2. Nation – The Lord promises to make a great nation out of Abraham. It is interesting to note that God promised two things to him that he currently did not possess and had no hopes of possessing on his own. The Lord promised to give Abraham a land that, from a human perspective, did not belong to him. The Canaanites lived in that land. God also promised to make a great nation out of Abraham, even though he did not have any children. On top of that, he was 75 years old, and his wife Sarah was 65 years old. Through the eyes of flesh, Abraham’s prospects may have seemed dim, but through the eyes of faith, his future could not be any brighter. As William Carey once said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”

  3. Blessing – This is a multifaceted blessing. First, God promises to make Abraham’s name great, and He has certainly fulfilled that. Even to this day, the name of Abraham is a name that garners great respect by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. Even secularists have shown great admiration for Abraham. Next, the Lord promises not only to bless Abraham, but to make Abraham himself a blessing. The life of Abraham would bring great blessing to those around him, particularly to those who bless him in return. “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” Throughout history, any world power that lifted up its hands against the Jews has been destroyed, whether you’re talking about Babylon, Greece, the Roman Empire, the Nazis, or the Soviet Union. You cannot side against God’s people and expect to come out on top. That’s why it’s very important for America to continue to be an ally to Israel. One of the most dangerous things President Obama has done is consistently side with the Arabs and Palestinians over Israel in Middle Eastern conflicts. That has never ended well for anyone.

Finally, the Lord promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed in Abraham. The perfect fulfillment of this promise came through Jesus Christ, who was born on earth as a descendant of Abraham. Salvation is available to everyone everywhere because of the blood of Jesus.

B. The Pilgrimage (12:4-9) – After receiving those promises from the Lord, Abraham obeys and heads out, along with his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, and all of his household servants. This would not have been an easy trip. It was about 400 miles from Ur to the land of Canaan, and you had to go the long way around. You couldn’t take a straight shot there because there was a large desert in between. You had to go up and around to get there. It reminds us that the Christian life is not always a straight shot. Sometimes we get detoured and sidetracked, but Abraham did not let that stop him. He eventually made it into the land of Canaan. There are two things we can see that characterized his pilgrimage from Ur to Canaan:

  1. He journeyed by faith (Heb. 11:13-16) – We already talked before about how Abraham left without knowing exactly where he was going. Life is unpredictable. We don’t know what it has in store for us. Circumstances change all the time. It has been said that “change is the one constant in life.” However, there is something as a Christian we can put confidence in to never change, and that’s God and His Word. No matter what may come, the Bible will always be true and right. If you keep your eyes on the things of this world, then you will ultimately be disappointed and dissatisfied. If you set your focus on things above, then you will find contentment and satisfaction in the Lord Jesus Christ.

There were two things that characterized Abraham’s life. One of them was a tent. Although he lived in the land God had promised him for 100 years, the only piece of property he ever owned in the land was a cave he used to bury Sarah when she died. Abraham was careful not to get too attached to this world. He had a far grander destination in mind, and so should we. We need to recognize that this world is not our home, and this world is not all there is. The Bible calls us pilgrims, not vagabonds. A vagabond is someone who just wanders aimlessly. A pilgrim has a destination in mind, and for us, that’s the heavenly city. When you live with an eternal perspective, it changes your priorities. You don’t live for the here and now, and the things that will be here today and gone tomorrow. You focus your attention toward things that will last forever. How much of what you’re living for will matter 50 years from now?

  1. He built altars – The other thing that characterized Abraham’s life was an altar. Pretty much everywhere he went, he built an altar. The altar was the place of dedication and sacrifice. It was a landmark to signify that everything he had belonged to the Lord. Abraham did not want to hold anything back from Him. Do we have the same mentality? Is there anything in your life that you’re not willing to let God have? Is there some worry that you’re not willing to let God take care of? Is there something of value where you say, “God, You can have nearly anything, but You can’t have that?” It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything material. Is there some sin you know you should not be committing, but you’re not willing to let go of it? Your life will be so much better if you just follow Abraham’s example and let God have it all.

Now that I’ve said all that, you may be thinking, “Wow, Abraham was a pretty incredible dude. I don’t think I could ever live like that.” However, in many ways, he’s not that different from you and me. Yes, he gives us a great example of following the Lord, but he also provides us an example of…

II. Failing the Lord (Gen. 12:10-20) – Abraham was not perfect. Sometimes his faith was lacking. A famine comes in the land of Canaan, and so in order to take care of his family, Abraham goes down to Egypt to stay until the famine passes. There are many times we end up in the wrong place at the wrong time for a good reason. We can often come up with some good excuses for our sin, but that does not justify it.

A. Famine – As I said before, life is unpredictable. Circumstances change. For a while, things were great in Canaan, but then a famine hits. Instead of trusting God to take care of him through the famine, Abraham decides to take matters into his own hands and heads down into Egypt. The Lord did not tell him to go there. He had promised to give him the land of Canaan, and that’s where he should have stayed. We need to be careful not to wander out of the place God wants us to be. It usually ends up causing us trouble.

B. Fear – When Abraham gets into Egypt, he starts coming up with irrational fears. Many of our fears and worries are irrational. We spend a lot of time worrying about things that will never happen. Even though Sarah was 65, she was apparently still a very beautiful woman. The average lifespan was longer back then than it is now (Sarah lived to be 127 and Abraham lived to be 175), so she probably would have still been considered to be in the prime of her life. Now Abraham gets afraid that someone would kill him for Sarah’s sake. The Egyptians at least had enough respect for the institution of marriage that they would have felt obligated to kill Abraham first before taking Sarah, or at least that’s what he was thinking at the time. That leads to the third thing.

C. Falsehoods – Abraham insists that Sarah claim to be his sister, which was a very selfish request. He was looking out for himself and not for her, and we see the consequences of that when Pharaoh decides he wants to take Sarah for himself. It’s amazing Sarah ever spoke to Abraham again after this. He might try to justify it by saying that what he said was technically true. Sarah was indeed Abraham’s half-sister, but a half truth is still a whole lie because the entire point of saying it was to deceive those around them. We need to be careful to avoid rationalizing sin by acting like it’s not a big deal or that it’s just a little white lie or what have you.

D. Fruitlessness – This might be the saddest consequence of all. Once Pharaoh figures out what’s going on, he calls out Abraham for lying to him, and he had every right to do so. It’s a very shameful thing when a lost person has to call out a Christian for not acting the way a Christian should, because you’ve just lost your chance to be a witness to that person. I can imagine that Pharaoh would not have been very interested in hearing anything Abraham may have had to say about the Lord after all this. II Corinthians 5 declares that we are ambassadors for Christ. Whether you realize it or not, if you claim to be a Christian, you represent Jesus Christ on this earth. Lost people can’t see God, but they can see you. What they think of you will largely determine what they think of Christ. That’s why it’s important to make sure we represent Him well.

E. The Faithfulness of God – In spite of Abraham’s failure, God was still faithful. Abraham gained a lot of riches and possessions during his time in Egypt (although the acquisition of a handmaid named Hagar would eventually come back to bite them), and the Lord plagued Pharaoh’s house in order to protect Sarah from being defiled. One of the amazing things about God is that He is still good to us, even when we don’t deserve it. That doesn’t mean Abraham got away with everything scot free. He had to endure the shameful rebuke of Pharaoh, and he later had to deal with all the trouble that Hagar brought. However, through it all, God took care of Abraham and used this situation to force him back to where he should have been all along in the land of Canaan.

As you can see, Abraham’s journey as a believer is not so different from our own journey as believers. We go through periods where we faithfully follow the Lord, and we go through times when we fail Him. Don’t feel like the faith of Abraham is out of your reach. He may have had extraordinary faith, but he was still an ordinary believer. It was his extraordinary God that made it all possible. We serve the same God that Abraham did. Keep your eyes on Him.