Genesis11:27—25:11 & Hebrews 11:8-19
Philippe R. Sterling
Amazing Grace is the most loved of all hymns. The second verse is Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; ‘Tis grace that has brought me safe thus far; and grace will lead me home. What a great description of the journey of faith!
The life of Abraham illustrates the journey of faith. On the journey he experiences detours where his faith weakens, disputes with relatives and neighbors, and discouragements in his attempts to have an heir. Through it all he grows in faith and receives the title “friend of God”. His journey can serve as a dynamic example for us.
We cannot fully understand the Bible without considering Abraham. The story of Abraham contains the first mention of justification by faith (Gen 15:6). Matthew traces the beginning of salvation back to Abraham in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:1). Luke declares that the birth of Jesus occurred in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham (Luke 1:68, 72-73).
Great sections of the New Testament explain the significance of Abraham. The Apostle Paul devotes an entire chapter of Romans to God’s dealing with Abraham in support of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. He uses Abraham’s life in two chapters in Galatians to demonstrate that our salvation is by grace apart from good works. One of the longest paragraphs on faith in Hebrews 11 concerns the growth of faith in the life of Abraham.
2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23 refer to Abraham as the “friend of God”. Why is he called God’s friend? It is because he lived a life of faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. Romans 4:11calls him the father of all who believe (see also vs. 16).
In Abraham we see the life of faith. Let’s take a panoramic view of his life. First we will survey the narrative of his life in Genesis 11:27—25:11 and then we will turn to Hebrews 11:8-19 which isolates four major features of his faith.
The Abraham Cycle
The theme that ties Genesis 11:27—25:11 together is the problem of an heir. The Abraham cycle begins with 11:27-32 which immediately presents the problem: Sarai was barren; she had no child (11:30). Following soon after the statement of the problem is God’s promise of an heir, an inheritance, and a heritage. The narrative sets up a tension between the promise of God and the problem of faith in the promise because of Abraham’s lack of an heir. The text maintains the tension throughout the entire cycle by a series of eight crises which threaten to nullify the promise interspersed with seven affirmations of the promise of an heir. The drama of Abraham and Sarah illustrate the folly of human solutions. Ultimately, however, they testify to the faithfulness of God in keeping his promise. The central theological concern of the Abraham narrative is God’s plan to restore his blessing to humanity through the seed of Abraham.
Problem: Sarai is barren (11:27-32).
Promise: God will give an heir (seed), an inheritance (land), and a heritage (blessing) to Abram (12:1-9). The promise is first made in 12:2 and repeated in 12:7
1st Peril – Pharaoh’s Harem: A famine drives Abram into Egypt where he, being fearful for his life, passes Sarai off as his sister (12:10-20). Will Abram lose his wife? No! But God has to intervene.
2nd Peril: Abraham must separate from Lot, his heir apparent (13). Who will be the heir? It will not be Lot.
3rd Peril: Abram gets caught up in a Middle East war which exposes him to retaliation but God promises to care for him and reveals his own son will be his heir (14—15). Who will be the heir? Not Eliezer but Abram’s own son.
4th Peril – Attempt at Self-Fulfillment: Abram bears a son by Hagar, Sarai’s maid (16—17). Will Hagar’s child be the heir? No! The heir will be Abraham’s son by Sarah.
Parenthesis: The contrast between Abraham and Lot shows that wrong human choices lead to catastrophe (18—19). The angel of the LORD announces the coming birth of the promised son. Is anything too hard for the LORD? (18:14). No!
5th Peril – Abimelech’s Harem: Abraham passes off Sarah as his sister in Gerar (20). Will the heir be reckoned as Abimelech’s, not Abraham’s? No! But God has to intervene.
6th Peril: There is conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (21). Will Ishmael displace Isaac as the heir? No! Abraham disinherits and dismisses Ishmael.
7th Peril: God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (22). Will the heir be killed? No! But God has to intervene to stop his faithful servant.
8th Peril: After Sarah’s death, Abraham seeks a wife for Isaac (23—24). Will the heir remain unmarried and childless? No! God guides to a bride.
Postlude: Abraham dies and leaves everything he owns to Isaac (25:1-11). Will God bless the heir? Yes!
The Faith of Abraham
Abraham’s life reflects some specific features of faith. Hebrews 11:8-19 isolates four features of the faith he patterned.
- The person of faith obeys God even when he does not know where he is going (Heb 11:8-10).
When Abraham left Ur he had no idea where he was going. God called him, and only God knew what was in store for him. Even after God led him to Canaan he had to live in it as a pilgrim.
Suppose I tell you that on this piece of paper I have the will of God for you. You might ask “What can you tell me about it?” “Three things,” I could say, “I can tell you that it’s good, it’s acceptable, it’s perfect.” “Wow, that sounds appealing!” you say, “Let’s see what’s on the inside.” But as I open it up, you discover a blank sheet of paper except for a line at the bottom for your signature. And God says, “Sign it.” “Oh,” you say, “but, uh – What are the details?” My friends, the will of God involves committing yourself to the person of God before you ever discover his plan. That’s what Abraham did.
- The person of faith obeys God even when he does not know how God will fulfill his promises (Heb 11:11-12).
Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children. Yet they believed that God would do this miracle (see Rom 4:16-25).
- The person of faith obeys God even when he does not know when God will fulfill his promises (Heb 11:13-16).
Abraham never owned an acre of real estate except a burial plot. Here was a man who lived for a hundred years in Canaan, clinging to a promise he never saw fulfilled in his lifetime. He was satisfied to live in tents and to look for the heavenly city. He kept an eternal perspective.
- The person of faith obeys God even when he does not know why God calls for great sacrifice from him (Heb 11:17-19).
Finally, Abraham obeyed God even when it was incomprehensible. Why would God want Abraham to sacrifice the son he had given him? All of the promises were wrapped up in Isaac. Abraham didn’t understand; but he believed. He believed the impossible promise and obeyed the incredible command. God intervened to stop him from taking the life of Isaac and provided a ram as a substitute.
Hebrews 11:19 states that Abraham received Isaac back as a type. Isaac serves as a type of the crucified and risen Messiah. In the case of the Messiah God did not spare his own son but delivered him over for us all (see Romans 8:32).
Suppose we were writing the story of your life, could we find four episodes that demonstrate your faith? Abraham gained the approval of God by his faith. How about you? The person of faith obeys God because he knows who and what but not necessarily where, how, when or why. We know God and his commands and his promises. That is all we need to know to journey in faith. We walk by faith, not by sight.
Summarize your journey of faith.