Many tributes deservedly can be paid to the patriarch Abraham. He is the source of several nations including the nation God called His own people. Peoples who trace their origin to Abraham still have a vigorous existence 4000 years after his death and still maintain their identity. He was the father of kings and the father of persons who influenced the thinking and the course of the world. Three world religions trace their origin to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism.
Of all the tributes that justly can be bestowed upon Abraham, no tribute equals the one conferred upon him by God. This nomad who lived a primitive existence as he wandered among foreign cultures was capable of having a faith which God declared to be the Christianís model for faith.
That remarkable accomplishment scarcely can be exaggerated. He produced that faith without benefit of having a written Word of God. He had less revealed to him about Godís plan for the redemption of mankind than any great man of God who followed him. Yet, it is the nomad Abraham who is the timeless example of the faith which God wants in His peopleónot Moses who led Israel out of Egypt and gave them the law; not David, the man after Godís own heart; not Elijah who was received up into heaven without experiencing death; not Isaiah who in evil, distressing times said, ďHere am I; send meĒ (Isa. 6:8). Incredibly, this nomadic patriarch who possessed so little information about God and His purposes trusted God in a manner which cannot be surpassed by those who have the knowledge of history and revelation.
The Christianís understanding of Godís promise to produce a universal blessing through Abraham far exceeds Abrahamís understanding. The Christian knows the full meaning of the promise, knows the ultimate fulfillment of that promise was achieved in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and knows the ultimate objective was the opportunity for all people to have salvation in Christ. He has the written Word. He can see God working through history to keep that promise. Yet, the best any Christian can hope to do is to equal the faith of Abraham. Godís purpose began to take its earliest earthly form in Abraham because he was capable of having a faith which God could reckon for righteousness. It is that same faith which will allow the Christian to be righteous before God.
The New Testament pays great tribute to Abraham, the man of faith. His name appears 30 times in the gospels, 8 times in Acts (5 in one sermon), and 32 times in the epistles. When a New Testament writer wanted to teach a lesson on the nature of or importance of faith, Abraham was the model. When Paul taught about the righteousness which exists through faith, Abraham was the model (Rom. 4). When Paul taught that all people became the heirs of Godís promises through faith, Abraham was the foundation of the lessons (Gal. 3). In Hebrewsí roll call of the people of faith, one section pays tribute to Abrahamís sojourning and another to his offering of Isaac (Heb. 11). When James taught that obedient works were the natural expression of a living faith, Abrahamís faith was a primary evidence (Jas. 2).
When the Christian properly understands Abrahamís faith which was reckoned for righteousness, he will understand the faith which will allow him to be righteous before God. It will be possible to gain that understanding by examining the development of Abrahamís faith.
In the city of Ur, a rich, highly developed culture predated life there. Over 600 years before Terah and his family lived in Ur, the city was a Sumerian royal city and culture center. Excavations of the royal tombs of the First Dynasty revealed impressive evidences of the wealth and artistic refinement of the city. Godís request to Abraham to migrate from Ur was no small request. Abrahamís leaving Ur would be like a person today leaving a city which was prosperous, was filled with opportunity, and provided safety and security.
Genesis 11:27-32 gives the following facts about Abraham and Ur. Haran, Abrahamís brother, died in Ur, ďthe land of his nativity,Ē before the family left (v. 28). Abraham married Sarah (Sarai) in Ur, and they lived there long enough for her barrenness to be an established fact prior to departure (vv. 29, 30). Terah ďtookĒ his family from Ur, and they left ďto go into the land of CanaanĒ (v. 31). Terah led the migration from Ur toward the land of Canaan. However, the migration stopped short of Godís intended destination. They settled at Haran, a place which held many things in common with Ur (v. 31).
Two other passages give insights into Godís call of Abraham at Ur. In his final address, Joshua declared to Israel that Terah and their fathers of "old timesĒ served other gods ďbeyond the RiverĒ (Josh. 24:2). If ďbeyond the RiverĒ is to be identified with Ur, Joshua declared that Terah and his family served pagan gods prior to Godís call of Abraham. In Stephenís sermon before the Jewish council, he declared that Godís call to Abraham in Ur was the same call Abraham received a second time in Haran: he was to leave his land, to leave his kindred, and to go to a land which God would show him (Acts 7:2, 3).
If all the pieces of information are assembled, this would seem to be the situation when God called Abraham at Ur. Abraham was under the guidance and oversight of the family (clan) head, Terah. Religiously, they were polytheistic. Abraham married his half-sister (same father, different mother) who proved to be incapable of conceiving. God told Abraham to leave Ur, to leave his extended family, and to go to a place God would show him. Abraham understood his general destination to be the land of Canaan. Abraham believed the message which he received from God and accepted the responsibility. He had sufficient faith to forsake the pagan gods for the guidance of the God who called him. He had sufficient faith to leave Ur and its advantages. He had sufficient faith to migrate in the direction which God desired. However, he either would not leave the oversight of Terah, or Terah would not permit him to leave the family and his oversight.
It is possible that Terah forbade Abraham to leave without the family. Rather than allowing Abraham to leave the clan, Terah may have decided that the family must go with Abraham. Two facts might indicate that. Terah ďtookĒ the family on the journey, indicating that he was in charge (Gen. 11:31). The call to Abraham was not renewed by God until Terah died (Gen. 11:32-12:1; Acts 7:4).
Considering all the circumstances, Abraham had great faith in Ur, a faith which led him to accept the guidance of God and to migrate to a new home hundreds of miles away. However, at this point Abraham did not have the faith reckoned for righteousness.
After the death of Terah in Haran, God renewed His call to Abraham. Terahís position as head of the family may have been a formidable obstacle to Abrahamís fulfilling Godís call. It is implied that under Terahís leadership the family had settled and established itself in Haran.
Abraham was 75 and Sarah 65 when God renewed His call. The same requests were made. Abraham was to leave his country (now Haran), to leave his kindred (those who had migrated with him to Haran and those who had been born there), to leave his fatherís house (perhaps his position within the extended family), and to go to a land which God would show him. In doing so, Abraham was to be a blessing. In return, God would make Abraham a great nation, would bless him, would make his name great, would bless those who befriended him, would curse those who were his enemies, and would bring a blessing to all families of the earth through him.
Godís requests represented major challenges to Abrahamís faith. First, he must sever his ties with his kinsmen. There are many today who will not leave family ties for any reason. Second, he had to sever his tie to the place he had settled, to familiar things and customs, and with his roots. There are many today who have such a powerful bond to the place they live that they will not sever that bond for any reason. Third, he had to leave the known for the unknown. God gave him no description of his destination. Abraham knew nothing about where he would be or how long he would be there. There are few who would make a move today with so little information. Fourth, he had to trust Godís ability to protect him among strange peoples. In that time it was not safe for a man of wealth to live as a foreigner among strange peoples. Most people today would be hesitant to place their security solely in the hands of God. Fifth, he had to believe that God actually could cause his barren wife to conceive.
The key factor in Godís ability to keep His promises was His ability to enable Sarah to conceive. If Sarah did not conceive and bear a son, there could be no great name, no nation, no descendants to possess the land, and no blessing to come upon the families of the earth. The pivotal point of all the promises was Sarahís ability to bear Abraham a son.
In this situation, Abraham possessed and exhibited a remarkable faith. He did leave his family ties and his position in the family. There is no indication that his taking Lot violated Godís request. Since Lotís father had died in Ur and Terah had died in Haran, it is probable that Abraham was Lotís guardian, and that Lot was considered a part of Abrahamís immediate family. Abraham also left the known security of Haran for an unknown destination. He did travel to Canaan, and he did trust God to protect him.
However, Abrahamís trust was not perfect. When a famine forced Abraham to travel to Egypt, he feared that the Egyptians would kill him in order to marry the beautiful Sarah. He told the Egyptians only that she was his sister and deliberately hid the fact that she was his wife (Gen.12:10-20).
Even so, Abrahamís faith in God was great. Yet, it still was not the faith which God reckoned for righteousness.
1. What great tribute has God bestowed upon Abraham? Why is the fact that he had such faith so remarkable?
2. Discuss Godís call to Abraham at Ur.
3. Discuss Godís call to Abraham at Haran.
4. What was the key factor in God making all His promises to Abraham come to pass?
5. Was Abrahamís faith perfect at these times? Explain your answer.
6. Discuss the difficulty of being such a person of faith in those times and places.
Have some class members research life and civilization in ancient Ur by looking in such sources as Old Testament Times by R. K. Harrison. Let them report their findings to the class.
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