|IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 1, Number 4, March 22 to March 28, 1999|
Orlando, Florida, my home, is not in the south. Jackson, Mississippi, or Plains, Georgia — both north of here — are in the South. Before moving to Orlando, when I mistakenly thought that it was in the South, I prepared to live here by reading southern Presbyterian theology, history and culture. One name connected with Southern though is the writer and poet Sidney Lanier who died at the end of the last century.
Lanier wrote the following poem about the Chattahoochee River in Georgia:
The river is tempted by the rocks and trees to stop its journey from the hills down to the plain. But the river will not yield to the temptations.In some ways, Abraham, our main subject in this sermon, is like this river. He is a beautiful example of faithfulness moving forward in spite of obstacles.
Although most of us like to hear good stories, even of people who lived thousands of years ago, the message of Abraham is not just interesting. Abraham's lessons are about the nature of God himself and God's faithfulness. Abraham's lessons are also about how we Christians can walk on this earth today in humble obedience to God.
GOD'S "COVENANT" OR PROMISE WITH ABRAHAM IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENTS IN THE ENTIRE BIBLE
I hope I am never too old to be thrilled by the fact that God walked and talked with Adam and Eve, or that he talked with Noah and opened the door of the Ark for him and his family. God also revealed Himself to Abraham (Gen. 12:1 and 13:14). He spoke and appeared (Gen 12:7) to him. When God spoke, he spoke a gracious word of promise.
The first word of promise was a word of choosing. Earlier in Genesis God had chosen Shem (Gen. 9:26). Moses informs us (Gen. 10:21-24; 11:14) that Shem was the great-grandfather of Eber, from whom we get the name "Hebrew." Eber was the great-great-great-great grandfather of Abraham. The nature of this first "choosing-blessing" had three parts: 1) Abraham was blessed; 2) beyond him his friends were blessed; 3) and through him the world was blessed.
The nature of those three promises (Gen. 12:1-3) is very important to us. The first two promises are clear: Abraham was blessed by God; and God would bless anyone in friendly association with Abraham. The third promise went well beyond Abraham — it was also stated differently, as an imperative. God commanded a blessing to "all the families of the earth" through Abraham.
Connected with the spoken promises of Genesis 12:1-3 was the appearance of God at Genesis 12:7. That appearance had a "choosing-blessing" too. "To your descendants [or Seed] I will give this land." The word "descendants" in Hebrew is a collective singular noun. Knowing this is a collective-singular helps us to understand Paul's statement in Gal.3:16: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say ‘and to seeds,' as of many, but as one, ‘And to your Seed,' who is Christ."
GOD'S LESSONS TO US FROM ABRAHAM
Abraham was a very special man. He was "blessed" of God. In the New Testament the only person so designated was Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. Through Abraham God teaches us how a "blessed" man exercises his faith.
Abraham was a man who "called upon the name of the Lord" and who built an altar to him (Gen. 13:4,18). This phrase means that Abraham professed the true and pure worship of God. Abraham had a true altar to God in his heart, and joined that proper "heart-worship" with visible testimony of that fact, in contrast to the pagan alters around him. As Christians we cannot grow cold concerning this simple and well-known truth about Abraham.
Abraham was the direct descendant of Eber, who was the direct descendant of Shem. But were all of Shem's sons faithful to God? The Edomites and Moabites were pure Shemites just as the Hebrews, but they were polytheists! God eventually cursed the Edomites. More particularly, Abraham's father Terah, and his grandfather Nahor were judged by God (Josh. 24:2) for serving strange gods! Thus, God's mercy to Abraham was in spite of his father. Abraham called on the name of the Lord properly and was obedient was in spite of his culture and lineage. This is a good lesson for us, especially as we think of our walks with God in our present cultures, and with our parents and children.
Further, Abraham demonstrated his faith by obedience. The Lord commanded him to leave, so he did. Like Noah who built the enormous Ark, Abraham made an enormous move. Abraham was "faithfulness moving forward." My own family's move from Grand Rapids to Orlando was long and hard: we drove for nearly twenty-four hours and covered 1,300 miles. Abraham, however, traveled 1,500 miles —without air conditioning, without a radio or musical tapes, and more importantly without a car or nicely paved roads with clearly painted signs.
As a "blessed" man "full of faith," Abraham was also a wealthy man full of possessions. Abraham left the Egyptians with an abundance of goods. With that abundance he continued on his journey in faith. Surely God has two lessons for us here. First, a "blessed" man full of faith can also be a "wealthy" man full of possessions. It cannot be argued that because this is Old Testament history it can't be normative for the New Testament era. Many evangelicals — and I too have been attracted to their teaching — affirm that there should be a progressive tithe based upon income levels. Thus, anyone who makes over a certain amount of money must give it all to his daughters (or to his church!). Abraham's wealth and the blessings of God speak against this current teaching.
Second, amid the sweetness of the wealth of Abraham and Lot came bitterness. Although there was no strife between the two men, their very wealth became a source of bitterness. Their hired men fought. Later, through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 16:49), God reported the sin of the city of Sodom to which Lot was headed as being saturated with bread and wine, filled with delicacies and being proudly cruel to the poor.
Our lesson is that when we are prosperous we remember Abraham's problems connected to his wealth. The bitter medicine which Abraham had to swallow kept him from becoming addicted to the good things of this life. Likewise when we are poor the Lord is saving us from many headaches.
In the New Testament, Paul tells us that Abraham had faith in God's promises to him. Abraham's faith was well-grounded. In Genesis 13:14 God spoke to Abraham again. At this time, Abraham was dejected by Lot's departure. There is no passage which says, "Abraham felt bad." But we know that he did. Lot was as dear to him as a first-born son, perhaps as dear as his own life. As there had been a "medicine" of bitter strife connected to the sweetness of his wealth, so God provided a "medicine" of sweetness as an antidote to the bitter separation connected with it. The "medicine" to the many bitter pills we must swallow in this life is found in the sweetness of God's holy Word.