This is the second part in the Bible study series: How to Be God’s Friend. What key qualities did Abraham have that defined his walk with God and made him a friend of God?
[Darris McNeely] Good evening everyone. Welcome to our Wednesday night Beyond Today Bible Studies here at the home office of the United Church of God. We have a nice crowd here this evening in the office facility. And to all of you that are online, watching this live, and others that will be joining us at another time, we welcome you to this series of studies that we are now into.
I think this is the second in the series that we are doing on the subject of walking with God. Tonight we’re going to talk about Abraham and that character from the Bible; one of the most eminent names from the Bible. I think a story everyone knows. Hopefully we’ll walk away tonight with something that we have not yet, perhaps, thought about in regard to Abraham and how he walked with God as he was a friend of God.
I’ll go ahead and ask God’s blessing on the Bible study. You can remain seated here and, if you’ll just bow your heads, we’ll get started then. “Our Father in heaven; our Great God, we bow to Your holy presence and to Your throne. Thank You for this evening and this Bible study. For those who’ve come here to be a part of it here in Cincinnati; for those who are online with us and tuning in. Thank you, Father, for the facilities and for the technology that makes this possible to be able to reach a large number of people with a message that we hope will help us all in our relationship with You and the walk that we have with You in our daily lives. So, Father, I pray that You would be with us tonight and Your spirit would guide what is said; the hearing; the understanding. Father bless this, wherever it goes, and to whomever and whatever may be in our lives and minds at this time, that we would find something that is necessary to help us in our relationship with You. We thank You. We ask all of this, Father, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
We’ll be having another study in two weeks and I believe Steve Myers will be dealing with that one. But, tonight, we are going to be talking about the subject of Abraham and his role as a friend of God and the walk that he had with God. This series we have designed here is to help us all think about the daily relationship that we have and putting our hearts and our minds into a relationship with God and this journey we call life and the calling that God has given to each of us. We’re right now fully into summer. We’ve got thunderstorms about every night, at least here in Ohio. We have some tornados over in Indiana last night but summer’s fully arrived and it is a time of long days, vacations. We are in that period of time between the festivals. We’ve had Pentecost just a little more than two weeks ago and it will be several weeks until we come back together for the Feast of Trumpets; the fall festivals. So this summer period, if you look at in terms of how the holy days teach and line up it is a time when there is a period in the sense as the first fruits are maturing and growing toward the harvest of the fall. And in this period of time I’ve always looked at this period as a kind of a metaphor for the long and patient journey that we make toward the Kingdom of God in our lives. And it’s fitting that we look at Abraham tonight because Abraham had a long journey. He had to develop a great deal of patience and he went through a number of stages in his relationship with God. And I think that life and the example that we have from the Book of Genesis and other references and scriptures gives us some very good insight for us to consider in our own walk with God and what we can learn about that.
So let’s jump into that tonight and let’s see what we can learn in terms of Abraham. It’s such a big subject, obviously in a one hour study we’re not going to be exhaustive in our approach toward his life and I will not even cover all the details and even some of the big ticket items but I do hope that we will at least gain a bit better appreciation for, not only some of the big things that he did, but also some of the small things that the scriptures tell us about Abraham and relate that to our lives.
If you would, please turn over to Isaiah, Chapter 41 , and let’s look at what is said here by the prophet about Abraham. A familiar statement that is repeated in James, Chapter 2 but I thought I would read it out of Isaiah tonight. God said to Israel in Verse 8 :
Isaiah 41:8 Isaiah 41:8But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.
American King James Version× “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.”
Abraham has that distinction of being called “a friend of God”,” my friend”. That’s quite a distinction; one that we might all wish that we could have as well.
“You”, He says, as he continues talking to Israel, “(Thou) whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.”
James 2:21 James 2:21Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar?
American King James Version× “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?”
V.22 “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”
V.23 “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.”
V.24 “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
And so God chose Israel just as He had chosen Abraham, their forefather, and He has chosen us. God says this here in the context of a man who was taken from a far country and developed a relationship with God as a friend of God. We are told in the scriptures that Abraham believed; that it was credited to him as righteousness through the actions that he did. We find a correlation with that if you look over in Romans, Chapter 4, in Verse 1 :
And all that he did, whether it was the taking of his son, Isaac, up on Mount Moriah, or leaving his home and going to the land of Canaan, or waiting patiently for God to deliver on His promises. Paul writes about this. He says,
Romans 4:1 Romans 4:1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, has found?
American King James Version× “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?”
V.2 “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God .”
V.3 “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
V.4 “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.”
So what Abraham did was credited as righteousness to him in God’s plan and in God’s purpose. So we can learn from these examples. Let’s turn back over to Genesis, Chapter 12 , and we will begin looking at what exactly we are dealing with in this life of this man that looms quite large in the Bible. He’s “the father of the faithful” . Paul spent some time talking about Abraham in Romans. Hebrews 11 talks about Abraham. He stands quite large in this juncture in Genesis, Chapter 12, where he comes on the scene as the plan of God kind of narrows down to one man and what God begins to do with one man and the descendants that would come from Abraham. But Abraham’s story takes up a large section here of the Book of Genesis. And it begins in Verse 1 as he known as Abram and I’ll skip the formalities. I’ll just go ahead and refer to him as Abraham rather than Abram as he is here. His name is changed at a later date.
Abraham lived in the area of what is now Iraq. His family had gone up into ( Verse 32 of Chapter 11 ). They had migrated up into the northern part of again, what is Iraq and that is to the city of Haran. We don’t have the means of projecting a map of modern day Iraq on this but I hope that you could, at least in your mind’s eye, because Iraq is one of those nations that is in the news right now with what’s going on over there and what we have been involved with for the last 12 years since we went into Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Sadam Hussein. But that’s the very region where Abraham came from, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and actually where Abraham was when he got this call from God in Haran; he was up in the northern part of what is Iraq today, exactly where, if you’re following the news with this Islamic extremist group that has now begun to dismantle the modern state of Iraq. And it is creating quite a bit of chaos. The area of their strength and their power in the northern part of Iraq right now is exactly where Abraham was when God called him.
Genesis 11:32 Genesis 11:32And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.
American King James Version× “And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.”
Just as another aside, you hear of the city called Mosul in northern Iraq. You know what city that is? It’s Nineveh. It’s near Nineveh; the ancient ruins of Nineveh. So when you hear the fighting going on in Mosul, that has been captured, that’s Nineveh. So these are the places that relate to what we know from the accounts in the Bible. But that’s exactly where Abraham is when he gets this call from God. That’s his home territory. And God calls him here and He tells him:
Genesis 12:1 Genesis 12:1Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you:
American King James Version× “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:”
V.2 “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:”
V.3 “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
This is where the covenant relationship begins with Abraham and the promises that will expand and we’ll just note a bit of that expansion tonight. But it begins with this calling to a man who was very likely a merchant in the settled regions as it were at the time of Haran and that area of Mesopotamia. Abraham was not what he became in many ways. He was certainly not a man of strong faith. That faith developed. He was not the man with the herds and the servants that we will see. That came later. He was likely among a group of merchants because it was a settled, more urban area where he was. And what he is being called and challenged to go to is a completely different place but also a completely different life. And this was not something that was a part of life even at that time for a man to do that. We think about a career change today. We think about somebody moving across the United States or even to an international posting for a company and that’s nothing in our culture today. For Abraham to have done what he did was completely out of the norm.
There’s a book that I read a number of years ago that I want to read just a little bit about what Abraham did as this one author describes it. It’s a book called, “The Gifts of the Jews”, by Thomas Cahill. “How a tribe of desert nomads change the way everyone thinks and feels.” It’s an interesting series of books that Thomas Cahill’s written called, “The Hinges of History”, and this one dealt with the Jews. He’s got a lot right. He’s got a few things that we might take issue with but the way he puts this particular episode is quite instructive because, as he writes about what is in these first few verses of Genesis 12, and what Abraham did, here’s what he said,
“The phrase that ‘where Abraham went’, in Verse 4, or ‘Abraham departed as the Lord had spoken to him and Lot with him’. Those two words, “Abraham departed”, or “Abraham went”, he says are two of the boldest words in all literature, “Abraham went”. They signal a complete departure from everything that has gone before and the long evolution of culture and sensibility. Out of Sumer, the area where Abraham was, civilized repository of the predictable, comes a man who does not know where he is going but goes forth into the unknown wilderness under the prompting of his God. Out of Mesopotamia, home of canny, self-serving merchants who use their gods to ensure prosperity and favor, comes a wealthy caravan with no material goal. Out of ancient humanity, which from the dim beginnings of its consciousness has read its eternal truths in the stars, comes a party of people traveling by no known compass. Out of the human race which knows in its bones that all its striving must end in death, comes a leader who says he has been given an impossible promise. Out of mortal imagination comes a dream of something new; something better; something yet to happen; something in the future.”
I think the way he puts that is quite well. Abraham and his party with Lot and his family, they were walking by no known compass of that day and age when they departed and went to this land that God said that He would show to them and that is a remarkable step that takes place with Abraham. It gives us a setting to consider what we have done as well. What Abraham did took a great deal of courage, a great deal of courage. I’ll go ahead and put this word up here because it’s a word we’ll focus on at least as we describe Abraham and what it takes to walk with God. Courage.
Abraham doesn’t yet have the full faith that will make him be known as the “Father of the faithful”. That’s going to have to develop. But he does have a measure of courage. How did he know what to do? How did God talk with Him? Most feel that it was a voice. There’s no reference to some type of an appearance; of him talking to God face-to-face. He very likely heard a voice. Now if you and I heard a voice today, how would we respond to that voice? Well we have a different means by which God communicates with us than he did in the time of Abraham. But, regardless, the fact that he responded in the way that he did speaks to the courage that he had. He acted decisively. He was a personally brave and courageous man to do what he did. To leave his family and the account gives us no indication that he ever saw them again; certainly that he would have gone back. Later, when he sends for a wife for his son, Isaac, he sends a servant back to his home to do that. He didn’t go and do it himself. You and I may be away from family not living next to family but we make periodic trips to go and visit with them. And we will have reunions and we will see our family in most cases. That’s not the case of what happened here.
Well what this does when it comes down to you and I is to cause us to ask some questions about the leaving that we did when we responded to the calling of God. When we decided to do what God showed we had to do: keep the Sabbath; join His church; begin to fellowship with a different group of people who would have been a group of people that in most other circumstances, we would have never been around. We would have never crossed paths. When we first started attending church; when my mother did back in 1962, ’63, we drove through the country into a place in southern Illinois, small town, and the church was meeting in an Oddfellows hall. I remember thinking, after getting acquainted with some of them and the church - everybody joked about this so it was nothing bad - it was an appropriate place (smiling). But we begin to fellowship with a different group of people and that’s what we have done and a whole different way of life and to define us in that way. And that takes a personal amount of courage.
Sometimes I think we forget what it takes for a person to step away from all that is known and familiar in their life and to walk through the doors of the Church of God on a Sabbath day or to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s been so long since most of us did it we take it for granted now. But today, in 2014, for a new person who finds out about the Sabbath, becomes acquainted with the United Church of God, to take that step into a room full of people they don’t know. That takes courage, I think. But I think we forget about that.
Now, what I’d like for us to do- I’m going to be putting on the board a number of different thoughts here tonight. I’m going to call them - you can call them a thought. I put down as I was writing this, ponder this for a moment, alright? Nobody uses the word ponder today, but I do, at least here tonight.
Here’s Ponder #1 , alright?
Think about this for a moment. Was there a moment in your life when you made a decision to step out in faith and follow God? Even today, beyond our calling, that was initially. But another part of our life for us to step into a different relationship and make a decision to step out in faith. Think about that. Write it down and think about that. It might give you something to consider. Where we have been asked to do something that stretches us; that is not our norm and in our comfort zone; that can result in something good and a measure of personal, spiritual growth as we have to work with people. As we have to, maybe, take on a new assignment. A person’s asked to have a speaking assignment at a club. Maybe it’s a woman giving a talk about something going on in her life. In some of our women’s clubs, ladies do. And it’s an uncomfortable situation. We have summer camps and a person is, somebody thinks, “Well, maybe I can contribute at the summer camp.” And to do so requires stepping into a different role. It might be some area of service in the church. It may be some act of even more, deeper, dedicated faith, that we have to do and we don’t know where it’s going to take us. We don’t know how it’s going to wind up. In Hebrews 11 – hold your place here – as Hebrews 11 talks about Abraham, remember what it says about him when he left?
Hebrews 11:8 Hebrews 11:8By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went.
American King James Version× “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.”
He didn’t know where he was going. As Cahill puts it in his book “this group walked by no known compass”. There were no bearings on it. There was no GPS coordinates, “in 2 hours and 45 minutes”, you will be at your destination after you make every right and left turn and bend that she tells you on your GPS. Abraham didn’t have that and we don’t always have that when we step out into a new area of faith in our life. It takes courage to step out in faith just like Abraham did. So what do you think about a moment in your life when you had to face a decision to step out in faith and to follow where God was leading and taking you?
We see Abraham in this opening scene not having a fully formed faith yet he begins to obey God. You know when you and I came into the church and, through our years, our faith took a period of time to form by degree as well. When you look at what Abraham did, here in Verse 10, of Chapter 12 of Genesis, he comes into the land that God has promised him, which is the land of Canaan, modern state of Israel.
Genesis 12:10 Genesis 12:10And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
American King James Version× “And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.”
And then you know the story. He persuades Sarah to lie to the Pharaoh that she is not his wife, okay? Now that’s real faith, isn’t it? Lie: “Honey, we’re going to cross the border here and I want you to kind of…. Here’s the story. Let’s get our story straight. You’re not my wife.”
First of all, he was going down into Egypt. No servants of God really wanted to go into Egypt. You can search the Bible. They wanted to get out of Egypt. And God’s instruction was always to avoid Egypt. But here Abraham, at the beginning of his life of faith; he goes into Egypt when it gets tough; when there’s a famine in the land. He goes into Egypt which is a well ordered, urban society. Well defined: food, predictability. He’s not living by his wits and he’s not living by this hand, up in this undeveloped wilderness of the land of Canaan. They’ve got “Costco’s” in Egypt. “ Jungle Jim’s” , in Egypt. Everything that he could want; leaks and garlics. And he goes down there and he gets, you know, into the situation where they have to lie. But, at this point in the story he is moving and living more on his wits than by his faith and that’s not good but its part of the process of learning. God hasn’t abandoned him just as he doesn’t us when we get into those situations. In fact, when you look through the story and you come down to Chapter 13 , and look at verses 1 and 2 ,
Genesis 13:1 Genesis 13:1And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.
American King James Version× “And Abram went up out of Egypt,” finally when he got Sarah back, and “… he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south.”
No Abraham was no dummy. He’s a very shrewd man. He left Egypt better off than he went in, okay? How many trips do you and I take where we come back with more than we started with? That’s really what’s being described here. He says, you know, Pharaoh can’t get him out of there quick enough and Abraham leaves a richer man. So, this tells us that Abraham is man who knows how to handle a Pharaoh of Egypt. It gives you a little bit of insight into the type of person that he was.
I’ve never seen anybody in any portrayal of any film about Abraham that, to me, is credible. In fact, Abraham’s probably been always the worst portrayal. At least Charleton Heston with Moses was something that you might want to emulate, alright? But I’ve never seen any character portrayal of Abraham as one that comes anywhere near the type of man that he really must have been. And Sarah. Some of the Apocryphal stories of her indicate that she would have likely been a very beautiful woman. Some feel, I think it’s Josephus that says that she was a princess or some type of royal lineage. But, why else would a Pharaoh want her, alright? The Pharaoh had his choice of his own women and wouldn’t have been drawn to her unless she was. So he comes back into the land. Lot is still with him. Now, in Chapter 13 of Genesis , we find that there’s a dispute between Abraham and his nephew, Lot, and their herdsmen and the land is, in Verse 6 , is not able to support them. It’s just not enough there. Their possessions are so great; their herds; that they couldn’t dwell together. There is conflict between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot. And so Abraham goes to him with a solution. He says, “Look we don’t need this conflict between us. The whole land is spread out. You choose. Separate from me”, in Verse 9 .
Genesis 13:6 Genesis 13:6And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together.
American King James Version× “And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together.”
Genesis 13:9 Genesis 13:9Is not the whole land before you? separate yourself, I pray you, from me: if you will take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.
American King James Version× “Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.”
Genesis 13:10 Genesis 13:10And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as you come to Zoar.
American King James Version× “And Lot lifted up his eyes,…” saw that the plain of the Jordan; he would have been looking down over the plain of the Jordan “… and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar.”
He saw that the plain was like a garden and so he chose that and there he went. And Abraham and Lot come a parting at this particular point in time.
When this happens, God expands His promise to Abraham. If you look down in Verse 14.
Genesis 13:14 Genesis 13:14And the LORD said to Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:
American King James Version× “And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:”
V 15 “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.”
V 16 “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.”
That’s quite a lot of numbering, “as the dust of the earth”, which obviously can’t be numbered. And so the descendants of Abraham, in a sense, are innumerable, uncountable.
So he moved his tent. He said,
V 17 “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.”
V 18 “Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.”
Think about this. He brought his nephew, Lot, with him from Haran. Why? Possibly he didn’t have any children; maybe that Lot was going to be the one to inherit. Maybe he was like a son to Abraham. It’s possible. Now they separate. Now these are two individuals that had to go their own separate ways. They were both righteous men. I mean, Lot is called – even after all his escapades – “righteous Lot”, as the ending account that we have in the Bible. Sodom and Gomorrah; Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt; he’s with his daughters; you know the story there. It’s not a pleasant story. It’s not your perfect story of what happens with Lot. But there’s no perfect story in the Bible, except one and that’s Jesus Christ. But the people of faith took some circuitous routes toward that. And again, as we’ve already seen, Abraham is not perfect in his faith as well. But they were both righteous men seeking as they knew to do what was right. But they both had some certain contradictions. But, what’s interesting to consider is that they both had to go their own path from this point forward. Go on with Lot’s story and, of course, Abraham’s story goes on as well. But for them to develop they had to part company and go separate ways.
2 Peter 2:7 2 Peter 2:7And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:
American King James Version× “And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:”
I read a book in the last year and a half, called “Necessary Endings”, was the name of the book. It was a book that talked about the fact that there are certain relationships that will come in life where there will be a necessary ending. It was not talking about marriage. But it was talking about, you know, employer/employee relationships primarily and how to negotiate those in an effective way. And beyond even job-related matters there are those things that do take place in relationships that, at times, there has to be a separation and we’re seeing one right here. And I want us to think about it in terms of faith and walking with God because there are times when we have to go our own way in our relationship with God to develop and, in a sense, go to the next level. See that when Lot left God then comes on and says now He expands the promise and the relationship. “I’m going to give you all of this. Walk through the land. Look at it. Every point on the compass will be yours.” And Lot has to go through his road to learn what he has to learn as well.
So that brings me to Ponder Point #2 , alright, for us to think about. (He took a few minutes to find a dry erase marker, then continues):
Ponder #2: Think about the time when you grew in understanding about yourself, God, and the Bible.
Think about some point where, because of what you learned; because of what you were going through; what was developed in your life you went to another level of understanding, alright? Where you grew in understanding.
What brought it about? What was going on? Was it a job change? Was it a time of change in the church? Was it a time of change even in your own family? Maybe when your kids left home; you had an empty nest. Maybe it was a time of one of those stages of life where other things come in. Was it with someone? Was another person involved? Your wife? Your husband? Or was it done alone? Think about a time when you grew in understanding about yourself because, in this episode here both men had to separate and go their way.
Now, in Verse 18 , I want to call your attention to something. We’re going to come back to it. It says, “Then Abraham moved his tent and he went and he dwelt by the terebinth trees of Mamre.” One of those little phrases that you kind of read over. We’ll come back to it. You might just kind of note that; we’re going to come back to it here in a little bit. But, trees are interesting to kind of note in the story of Abraham and what took place there.
Let’s go on to Chapter 14.
Lot gets himself captured and Abraham has to rescue him and what takes place here is rather interesting. Some of the kings of the valley were there. They gathered. They made war amongst themselves. They joined together and they went up and they took all the goods. In Verse 12 , it says, as the cities were ransacked:
Genesis 14:12 Genesis 14:12And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelled in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.
American King James Version× “And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.”
So Lot got caught up in these skirmishes among these various towns, he calls kings.
It’s interesting just to note something here as a sidebar. It talks about, in Verse 2 : “the king of Sodom; Birsha, the king of Gomorrah; Shinab the king of Admah…”
Genesis 14:2 Genesis 14:2That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
American King James Version× “That these made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.”
You read these and you think, “Wow. Kings; you know, realms; kingdoms.” No, they are more like mayors of very small cities. You can go to these places today and I’ve stood on the big pile of dirt that the current archeologist is excavating and has been for the last seven or eight years; where he thinks Sodom is, or was. And he’s probably right. But it’s on the north side of the Dead Sea; different from the traditional side if you look in your Bible maps. But I’ve stood on that hill a couple of times and it is a hill that, frankly, would take in about where our office is here, down to the bottom of our property that slopes off through the woods over here, down to the bottom of the hill. Maybe not quite that far; maybe not quite that wide and that was the city of Sodom. The circumference of it, or the area that it covered. Hardly more than a kingdom. So the king of Sodom and these kings were basically mayors, okay, with fancy titles. But they warred and they went back and forth, alright.
To get back to the story. They took Lot and they departed while Abraham, feeling a sense of responsibility, he heard about it, Verse 14 .
V.14 “And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.”
Dan is into the north. So, he acts. Abraham is a man of action. He’s decisive. He saw something that had to be done and he got it done. He didn’t quibble. He didn’t wait. He immediately gathered up 318 of his own men, at his own expense, which tells you the amount of wealth he had. And they saddled up and they rode out. (Love a good Western.) And they got Lot back and defeated everyone as the story goes on.
As Abraham comes back he runs into Melchizedek, in the story here. The King of Salem in Verse 18 . And it’s here that Abraham tithes.
V.18 “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.”
And this is the first reference we have of tithing which, as we understand and know the teaching about tithing in the Bible, you talk about a relationship builder with God. When it comes to our money, or better put, our realization that that 10% is not our money but it is God’s. That really begins to develop a relationship with God in our walk. And to do that; not just once; not just twice; but over and over again. This is where we begin to see a man of faith giving to God as He recognizes in Melchizedek, who He is, and he tithes to Him off the spoils that he has. But Abraham would not take of his personally from the spoils because they offer some to Him. In Verse 21
V.21 “And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.”
And Abrahams says:
V.22 “And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,”
I like this phrase back in Verse 21 , “Give me the persons; take the goods for yourself.” It reminds me of that line from the Godfather, you know, “Leave the guns. Take the cannoli’s”. This guy’s saying here, “Leave the persons. Take the goods,” and Abraham won’t have any part in it. It’s just not the way he is wired at that particular point in time.
In these events we see again Abraham recognizing whose God God is. He’s a man of integrity in that he will not take something that he does not feel rightfully is his, even though, by the rules of war, he could. He doesn’t do that except to recompense some of those who have gone along with him. And so he is building faith. And we see that as he recognizes who Melchizedek is and what He does there.
Faith is built a bit at a time by the events that take place in our lives and how we react to them; how we respond, when our belief in God might be tested. At a time of illness or a time of job loss or some other type of crisis. And we are tempted sorely to discount and even to the point of unbelief that there is God or that He’s working with us. Maybe we think that all we’ve done is for nothing in our life of obedience. And even at that moment our faith is being formed and stretched and shaped and tested just as Abraham’s is here. And the response in the moment is what tell us.
Here Abraham did several things. He went and rescued Lot but then he gave to God what was God’s and then he refused to take any more than that for himself after he could have done so. These were decisions that he had to make in the moment as the offer came to him; as the situation developed before him at this point. And we do see a man that is beginning to develop faith.
So, here’s another point to consider or another point to ponder. We’ll call this one #3.
Ponder Point #3: Think about a major challenge to your faith; to your belief; to your conviction. What was it?
A challenge. A test of faith. Maybe something recently. Two years ago. At some point in your life. What was it? How did you respond? Did you doubt? Did you draw back? How did you come out? Did you come out stronger than you were before?
We’ve all had challenges to our faith. We’ve all had times of stress that have put our convictions to the test. How did you react? Did you go inward? Did you go into depression? Did you skip out? Was that time that you just took a hike? Took a break? Sabbatical from church; from God? Did it drive you to your knees? Did you come out of it more convicted that you have God who hears?
See faith is built by degrees and the journey and the walk that we have with God; becoming like Abraham and that is having a friendship and a relationship with God, comes by degree. And it comes out of a test.
Back in Hebrews Chapter 11, Verse 34, it says of those who are these examples of faith in this chapter:
Hebrews 11:34 Hebrews 11:34Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
American King James Version× “Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”
“… out of weakness were made strong…” (repeats)
Abraham was strong; he was weak; he lied about his wife, but he came out of it and he was stronger. He made a decision to separate with Lot and he was stronger. Out of weakness comes strength if we recognize it, confront it, and deal with it. So, think about something that has been a challenge to you and to your faith.
Let’s go into Chapter 15 (Genesis) here.
In this, again, we see an expansion of the promise. In Verse 1:
Genesis 15:1 Genesis 15:1After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.
American King James Version× “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.”
Now, when God says, “I am your shield,” that is one of the names that God reveals Himself by. It’s the “El Shaddai” God. “I am your Shield, your Protector”, like that piece of armament that Paul talked about that is part of the shield of faith; part of the armor of God. God says, “I am your Protector, I am your Shield.” And this is how He reveals Himself. You see, Abraham came out of a past where they worship many gods with many names and he began to worship one God who had many names. And this is one of them right here by which He is revealed, the “El Shaddai” God.
What Abraham does then:
V.2 “And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?”
V.3 “And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.”
V.4 “And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.”
V.5 “And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him,” It wasn’t enough to not be able to number the dust of the earth; now you can’t number the stars of heaven. “ So shall thy seed be.”
But Abraham was afraid of being childless. Here’s the God that he listened to and made the big move. This is the God that he tithed to. This is the God who said that now your descendants will be as the dust of the earth – innumerable. And he challenges Him and doubts Him on whether or not He will provide an heir. His property is at stake and whatever thoughts that he had had been turned upside down. If he thought Lot would inherit that, that’s not going to happen now. But Abraham has to come to God now and trust Him who says that He is his shield and that He will do as He promises to do. And Abraham has to now learn to trust in this El Shaddai, that He’s revealed as and build a deep, lasting, trust in this God. Trust is a very important part of a relationship; of walking, not only with God; but walking with each other. If you don’t trust somebody, guess what? That walk’s going to be very challenging and very difficult if it happens at all; that relationship. A marriage can’t be built without trust. Family cannot operate without trust. No organization can operate without trust. An organization that does not trust is just about “dead in the water”. Every organizational management book that you will read lists this as one of the most critical aspects of a sound and a healthy organization. Whether it’s business; whether it’s in church; whether it’s in our personal relationships, trust must be at the heart of everything. Abraham had to learn how to trust God. Without it there would be no “Father of the Faithful”. None of what He was saying was going to come to pass.
We have to be able to fully, completely trust God that He will do with us as He says. That He will be our Shield and Protector and that we can walk with Him, day by day, with that.
As you and I think about this; looking at the story of Abraham, there are some situations, I realize, at times, that we come into, where it’s only God and the trust that we have in Him to deliver us; to be with us; to protect us; to see us through. There are certain situations that we will come into where we have to trust God to understand our heart, who we are; our motives; and the desire that we have that it is right; that it is good, when maybe no one else does. And there’s no one else that’s going to deliver you. No minister. Not even your best friend. There can be certain situations where you get into and you have to recognize them. I really, truly believe this; that you can’t go and beyond surface talk to somebody and say, “Listen, I’ve got this trial. Will you pray for me?” But you can’t go back, and go back; and go back, and look to them for a solution because, either God’s going to deliver you; provide the answer; work it out; because you’ve done all you can do. There’s nothing else that can be done. Not even your best friend, your “bff”, can help you. You have to put it all in God’s hands, which brings us to Ponder Point #4, for you to think about.
Ponder Point #4: Have you ever been up against a wall, where only God could show you the way forward?
Only God can show you the way forward. You have to rely on Him. When you came there did you then begin to look at God as your True Shield, your “El Shaddai”? Your protection which amounts to a shield of faith as Paul describes it in Ephesians 6 ? Did you look to God only?
Ephesians 6:10 Ephesians 6:10Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
American King James Version× “ Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”
V.11 “Put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
V.12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
V.13 “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
V.14 “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;”
V.15 “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;”
V.16 “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
V.17 “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:”
Did you quit gossiping about it? Did you quit undermining somebody else? And did you then put it completely in God’s hands and did you go, on your knees in prayer, repeatedly, and talk to God about it knowing that the solution would only come from Him? Frankly, we as humans often make a big mess out of our spiritual growth opportunities, what I call our “SGO’s” , when they come because maybe we don’t even recognize them. So many have come and went by at 100 miles per hour. We didn’t even see it. But God, in His mercy, gives us more.
You know Abraham took some matters in his own hands, notably the one with where he went into Hagar after God had made the promise of a son. And Sarah says, “Here, take my handmaid” and Abraham trots off to the next tent and does it. Nine months later here’s Ishmael. He took it into his own hands. You know the problems that ensued from that. Again, sometimes we try to work it out ourselves – what God has promised to do for us. That path, that walk isn’t always the best. You have to take it to God.
Let’s move onto the next Chapter 18 of Genesis . This is what I really like. This is where Abraham negotiates with God. You know the story. Three men appeared to him as he’s sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. In Verse 1 . He lifts up his eyes and he comes to understand that one of them is the Lord. After they have a big meal, two of them go on down to Sodom because God is going to destroy Sodom.
Genesis 18:1 Genesis 18:1And the LORD appeared to him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
American King James Version× “And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;”
V.16 “And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.”
But they go on and God says:
V.17 “And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;”
V.18 “Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?”
V.19 “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.”
And so He explains what He’s going to do.
V.22 “And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.”
He stood up and he stood before God. And he came near and he begins to negotiate with Him.
V.23 “And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?”
“Suppose, think about it, God. If there’s 50 righteous people in a city would you destroy the place and not spare it for 50 righteous people?” And then begins the negotiations. “50. 50. Do I hear 50?” “No”.
“Do I hear 45?” “No.”
“Do I hear 40?” “No.”
“Will You do it for 30?” “No.”
“Alright, I’ll do it. Maybe there’s not 20.”
And he comes down to 10. “Will You do it for 10?” “Well, I’ll do it for ten”. We know there’s not 10 and God goes His way as soon as He’s finished speaking with Abraham in Verse 33. And Abraham returned to His place and you know the story. There were not 10 people. In fact only 3 walked out of Sodom. 4 left. One turned back; turned to a pillar of salt, Lot’s wife. The other three escaped.
But here’s the point about the story. Abraham negotiates with God. Now that took boldness. This is the third quality that I’m drawn to about him. And what it takes to have a relationship with God. I think, sometimes, we miss this point. I think God likes us to stand in front of Him as Abraham did and approach God in a direct, face-to-face manner. Honest. Authentic. Expecting a relationship on that basis as well as answers to real things in our life. And some of the real challenges that we do deal with. That’s authentic Christianity. That’s a real relationship with God. And if there is something we are struggling with. If there is something that we cannot overcome. If there is something we must understand if we are to remain faithful to God in obedience in a life of faith, we have to do what it takes to get it done. Counselling will do some part of it. Prayer will be a part of it. Encouragement from each other will be a part of it. Knowledge will be a part of it. Raw guts and boldness may get us over the hump because, at some point, we have to cut the cord and just do it, and have the type of boldness that Abraham, who stood up before God and tried to negotiate for the lives of people in a city out of just sheer humanity. He had the boldness to say to God, “You can’t do this! Would You do this and be a righteous judge of all the earth?”
What might be so vitally important in your life? And this is the next point to ponder. #5.
Ponder Point #5: What might be so vitally important in your life that you would boldly approach God in prayer, in fasting, in a dedicated, devoted period of time that amounted to the type of an attitude that Abraham had here when he negotiated with God?
Not that you’re going to negotiate away sin or negotiate your way to grace. That’s going to be God’s free gift to us ultimately. We can’t finagle that. But doing what Abraham did, in the spirit of what he did; knowing even that God is not bound to negotiate with us because He is the Righteous Judge of all the earth. God might even already have the answer but I wonder sometimes if He wants to see how long we will stay with Him. How long. How fervently. How hard we will go to Him to get an answer; to get to a point where with what we need. And a boldness like Abraham did where he stood in front of God and negotiated.
There are some things that we will struggle with in this life that will only be overcome with that type of an approach that incorporates the needs; the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, fasting, and anything else we’ll throw into the mix to get to a point where there is overcoming. That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what’s important.
You know Abraham looked at his encounters with God as something that was sacred; that were beyond the temporal world and I think that that’s how we have to look at our relationships with God as well.
You know, if you go back to Genesis 12, Verses 7 and 8 , he went into the land and he built an altar.
Genesis 12:7 Genesis 12:7And the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, To your seed will I give this land: and there built he an altar to the LORD, who appeared to him.
American King James Version× “And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.”
V.8 “And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.”
Over in Chapter 13, Verse 18 , the same location, he comes back and he built an altar before God.
Genesis 13:18 Genesis 13:18Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelled in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar to the LORD.
American King James Version× “Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.”
“… built an altar before God.”
V.4 “Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD.”
You know an altar is a pile of stones, probably at that time. And he cut the wood, put it on there, prepared it. Then he took a lamb or a heifer and killed it; cut it up; slapped the raw meat on this burning fire. It took a lot of work to get to that point. And that was a sacrifice. That was an act of devotion to reflect the sacred relationship that he had with God in calling upon the name of the Lord which is what he said that he did in Verse 4, here. Abraham called on the name of the Lord in this whole process.
To him that was a sacred time requiring an altar, a sacrifice, and a prayer. He knew God by many names and so many times he builds an altar like this and he makes a sacrifice which required not only work but also a realization that there’s a lot of money going up in smoke here; a few hundred dollars in meat. And he’s doing this throughout the whole story. He has an encounter with God. He calls on the name of God. His whole life was like that.
Our whole life is a sacrifice. We are living sacrifices, Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version× , tells us. And it requires that we think about that covenant, that relationship with God in that way.
Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
American King James Version× “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
In Chapter 21 and Verse 33 , one last example here. This is after working out a relationship with Abimelech and it’s an interesting story. It begins in Verse 22 , but, when it was all done, Verse 32 , they made a covenant. He made a covenant with Abimelech in this area of Beersheba.
Genesis 21:32 Genesis 21:32Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.
American King James Version× “Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.”
Two strong men, Abimelech, Abraham; they come to make a covenant, an agreement. God’s made covenants and expanded it with Abraham through the story here. But now Abraham makes one with Abimelech that basically is an agreement between the two as to how they would conduct their business.
V.33 “And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.”
Reference the tree back in Genesis 12:6-8 Genesis 12:6-8 6 And Abram passed through the land to the place of Sichem, to the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
7 And the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, To your seed will I give this land: and there built he an altar to the LORD, who appeared to him.
8 And he removed from there to a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he built an altar to the LORD, and called on the name of the LORD.
American King James Version×
Genesis 12:6 Genesis 12:6And Abram passed through the land to the place of Sichem, to the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.
American King James Version× “And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.”
V.7 “And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.”
V.8 “And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.”
There are other references to where a tree is involved. Not that as a place of worship. They didn’t worship the tree. Pagans later come along and they worship the tree. In this case though we find, remember, Abraham was sitting under the tree in the heat of the day when God came to him along with the two other angels before they destroyed Sodom.
Here’s a covenant that is made and Abraham plants a tree; a large tree it would eventually become. And he calls on the name of the Lord and this tree is associated with this covenant which is an agreement that seals a relationship.
Here’s the last point to ponder.
Ponder Point #6: What relationships do we have that require a covenant?
Baptism. Is that a covenant?
Marriage. Is that a covenant?
Is friendship a covenant?
What we have right here in the story of Abraham and Abimelech. Friendship is a very important covenant.
How about our fellowship? How about being together in the church and what we bind ourselves together and agree to do in terms of our collective mission before God. That’s a covenant, too. And those are all sealed in various forms. Baptism, that relationship with God is sealed through the act of baptism; the laying on of hands. A marriage relationship is two people standing before witnesses and vowing before God. Friendships develop in a little different way but they become covenants as well in time if they’re really deep ones. And the fellowship we have among ourselves is an extremely important one as well.
And, when we stop and think about those every one of them needs to be honored because they reflect a relationship not only with each other but with God and they all form a part of our walk with life. And every one of them takes courage and trust and boldness to accomplish and to be a part of. And every one of them we need to approach just like Abraham did. When we do we are walking with God. We are becoming a friend of God. And that is worth the journey. That is worth the effort. The sacrifice, of a living sacrifice, for us all to be a part of.
Those are some things to think about. Not all the big ticket items of Abraham’s life but some of them along with a few other matters that hopefully will draw us into an understanding of the relationship that we have with God and how we walk with Him.
So, we’ll end it there tonight. Thank you all for coming out and be sure to drive safely on your way home and we will see you next time. We will be back here in two weeks for the next Bible study in the series.