|HOW THE SOUTH WAS FUN
Series: Abraham - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
February 5, 2017
What do you think?
Which one is the better quarterback? (Matt Ryan / Tom Brady)
We all have our favorites. Right?
Maybe one of these? (Tony Romo / Aaron Rodgers / Derek Carr / Colin Kaepernick)
Spiritually - thinking about our faith - when you think about a man or women of great faith - who inspires you? Someone that you can say, “That is a great man or women of faith.” “That’s what it means to follow God.” (Corrie Ten Boom / Billy Graham)
This morning we’re coming back to Genesis. We’re jumping ahead from where we were - jumping ahead to Abraham. If we were to put a list together of the most significant people in the Bible - the top 10 inspirational people of faith - excluding the default “Jesus” answer. Who would you put on that list? Moses. Paul. David. Hannah. Mary. Peter. Without question - Abraham would have to be on that list. Yes?
Which is where we’re going in this series on Abraham - thinking through what it means to live by faith. What it means for us to live in obedience to God as God unfolds His plan of redemption in human history - even uses us for His purposes - for His glory.
The more we get into this study - what is hugely encouraging - is that unlike some people who seem larger than life - untouchable spiritual giants - we’re going to see that Abraham struggled with faith just like we struggle in our faith. His faith wavered. He messed up. He had his hang ups. He had lessons to learn. Abraham is a guy that we can relate to on the level of where we live life.
And yet - what gives us hope - is that through it all he grew in his relationship - his faith in God. God continued to be gracious and loving and forgiving and to use Abraham for His glory.
We are at Genesis 11:27 - which is The Background on Abraham. Let me read this for us.
Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.
Two Sundays ago when we were last in Genesis - looking at chapters 1 to 3 - we saw that God - who exists totally apart from His creation - God calls into existence out of nothing - everything that exists. Then God focuses His attention on this obscure little planet - our little planet - creates this amazing bio-ecosystem. Creates mankind - male and female in His image for His purposes - places them in a the garden that He caused to exist as a place for them to dwell with Him.
Which is amazing to consider. To try to process all that. Everything we are - the atoms and what holds us together - the thoughts we’re capable of - the universe we’re beginning to be aware of - all that seems so enduring for us - what we so easily take for granted - feel entitled to - get nutted up over - what seems to us to be so permanent - all that exists simply because God wills it to exist.
It is the answer to our origin and the purpose. Our very existence and relationship with God is all because of - all about - all for God.
Then, we looked at the account of the fall and the answer to the “Why?” question. Remember this?
Looking around at the world we live in - every time we experience tragedy and sorrow and heartache and misery and blood, sweat, and tears - when we struggle with our addictions and failures - looking at the disaster of human relations between peoples and nations and in our families - even in the natural disasters and resistance of the planet to our efforts - in our hearts we ask the “Why?” question.
The answer is the Fall: Adam’s sin and the consequences of his sin. Our own sin that confirms our own falleness - our own depravity - before God. The hopeless eternal severing of our relationship with God.
But God gives us hope. In chapter 3 God lays out the consequences of the fall and what He - God - is going to do to bring us back into a right relationship with Him. What is the first glimpse we get of Jesus and His work on the cross. What is a crushing - total - epic defeat of Satan.
After the fall things continue to go downhill. God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden. Cain was not able. With the wrong attitude he offered a sacrifice. Ended up killing his brother. Adam and Eve have another son - Seth - that continues the line of descent. Meaning there is still hope.
Mankind multiplies - both in numbers and in our degree of wickedness - sin. So God judges mankind. The great flood. But Noah - who at the time is probably the only righteous man on the planet - Noah finds favor in God’s eyes. God preserves Noah and family in the ark. What is a foreshadowing of our salvation in Jesus. Again, there is hope.
Then there’s that Tower of Babel. More of our “in God’s face” human arrogance. God disperses mankind over the face of the earth. One family - descended from Seth via Noah via Shem - one family settles in Ur. 19 generations from Adam - Terah is born to Nahor.
Terah had three sons - Abram - who was married to Sarai - Nahor - who was married to Milcah - and Haran - who had at least three children - one of whom was Lot. They all lived in Ur - which is located here in what is now southern Iraq - about 186 miles southeast of Baghad on - until the river shifted - used to be a bend in the Euphrates River.
In Abraham’s day Ur was a very sophisticated city. It had great wealth - culture - a library - a university - office buildings. It was a highly complex - literate civilization.
Central to all that was the Zigguarat of Ur-Nammu that was dedicated to the moon god Nanna. It was about 80 feet tall - made out of mud-bricks. Impressive. The religion of Ur was the usual mix of sacred prostitution and idolatry. Like everyone else in Ur - Abram was probably a worshipper of the local Moon goddess.
This is a picture of Ur today.
In the book of Acts - Stephen tells us that while Terah and his family were living in Ur - while according to Joshua Abram is worshipping idols - God broke into Abram’s life. God commands Abram to leave Ur and head to a land that God would show him. Which is what verse 31 describes. (Joshua 24:2,3; Acts 7:1-8)
The family leaves Ur - travels as far as Haran - located here - looks like this today. Then in Haran - at the ripe old age of 205 - father Terah dies.
One major significance to all this background is that the Bible can be divided into two basic sections. That division occurs here between chapters 11 and 12. Everything before God calls Abram. Everything after God calls Abram.
Chapters 1 to 11 are evil on display. The wickedness of mankind run rampant. The fall. The first of uncountable numbers of murders. Wickedness cleansed in judgment with the flood. Again judged with the dispersion at Babel. The disaster we make of things with our sin.
Abram is a new beginning - a renewal of hope. The hope that God first shared with Adam and Eve back in the garden. Here, God is choosing a people - choosing a family - choosing a line descendants through whom God will bring about blessing and salvation - even for us.
What should be hugely encouraging to us. In the midst of the drama of our lives - past and present - in the midst of all that God calls to us. We have hope. We can live with faith - we can live in relationship with the living God. God’s blessing extends to and through us.
Chapter 12 - verses 1 to 3 bring us to God’s Covenant with Abram. Covenant meaning agreement. Will you read with me?
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Let’s walk through this together. There are two parts this covenant.
Part one is what God commands Abram to do. Leave.
First: Leave your country. Some of you have done that. Some of you have crossed borders to live here. You’ve left what was familiar to you. The climate - the scenery - the basic feel of the place.
As I’ve lived and traveled through a lot of places - maybe like some of you - there’s just something familiar about where we grew up. It just kind of sticks inside us.
God is calling out Abram. Don’t get comfortable here in Haran - keep going. Leave where you’ve been living - what you’ve accumulated around you - the security you’re clinging on to - your ambitions and loyalties. Leave it behind.
Second: Leave your relatives. Those people that we grew up hanging out with. Gone to their birthday parties and back yard Bar-B-Ques. Their culture is a culture we get. The foods. They speak our language. They’ve influenced us with their opinions and traditions and pressures.
Third: Leave your father’s house. The sights and smells and feel of what’s most familiar to us. People who look like us. We get our good looks from our parents. Or not. A good family is a place of security. Should be. Home is the incubator - where we learn to process and do life. Good parents provide good resources for life - genetically - spiritually - financially.
God says leave. Which is what God speaks to us. Even today. We all fall into ruts of complacency and comfort.
To follow God means leaving behind the old life - often times the values we’ve lived by - what we’ve tried to control our lives with - our goals - our desires - the world we’ve constructed around ourselves. Leave behind the stuff of the world.
To follow God means choosing to leave behind what others think - what they think of us - their opinions - and to be concerned only for what God thinks.
To follow God means leaving behind our dependence on our own looks and talents and natural resources. Our whit, wisdom, and working.
To follow God means learning to depend on God to do what we cannot do for ourselves. Especially spiritually - in our relationship with Him.
To follow God means we must be willing to leave all that behind to go where God calls us to go.
The second part of the covenant God makes with Abram is what God promises Abram.
This incredible promise that God makes Abram is what theologians call the Abrahamic Covenant. There are other covenants in Scripture. For example: The Mosaic Covenant - where God gives His people the 10 Commandments. Another incredible offer - God telling His people - live this way before Me and I’ll take care of the rest.
Here with Abram - God is initiating a covenant - an agreement. Trust Me - have faith - and leave. Leave and go to the land that I’ll show you and this is what I will do for you and through you.
God promises first: A Land. A place to call home. To put down roots. To belong. To cease wandering and restlessness. To watch generations grow.
If you’ve ever listened to country music - anyone willing to admit that? Those truck drivers are the loneliest people on earth. White line fever and the good woman waiting at home. Second only to cowboys out on the range.
We long for a place that’s ours - where we feel secure - welcomed - a place of peace. What God promises here is a place of peace and security to dwell with Him. That’s what the promised land is all about. Not dirt and rocks. But about God’s people dwelling with God. When God’s people - trusting God - dwelt in the land - God dwelt with them.
What God is talking about here - on an even deeper spiritual level - is about living daily in a deeply satisfying - intimate - growing relationship with God - and God’s people - where we know that we are His - that we belong to Him.
Let’s not miss that. In many ways God has designed the church for that. The church is a covenant community. When we come to Christ. When we trust God with our lives He puts us into the Church - Christ’s Body - the family of God - this community - the fellowship of believers.
Love Others describes that community. The commitment that it takes - the commitment that we make to each other - the commitment that it takes for the Creekside community to have value. To hang in there with each other despite our hang ups. To risk being known and knowing others because our trust is in God and what He desire to do in us and through us as we dwell together with Him.
Second - God promise Abram to make him a great nation.
There are about 15 million Jews living today. Many more that have some Jewish blood in them. In the four thousand years since Abraham - maybe there’s been a billion Jews. We don’t know. But there’s been a lot.
Would you agree that greatness is not just because of numbers? 22% of Nobel prize winners have been Jews. 36% of the recipients from the United States have been Jews. Every book of the Bible has been written by a Jew or under the influence of a Jew. Jesus the Messiah is a Jew. Think about the impact that this small people group has made on the world - on world history - even today. Huge.
Third promise: Blessing. Which first is about Abram himself.
The Hebrew word for “bless” is “barak.” It has the idea of “bending the knee.”
When the patriarch of a tribe knew that he was going to die he would pass on to his eldest son his inheritance. The son would come and kneel before the patriarch. The patriarch would bestow on the son the role of leadership and the wealth of the family. He was given twice the inheritance of the others - given the authority and power of the patriarch - the responsibility for leading the family.
Behind the word “bless” is this picture of bestowing wealth and honor - of well-being - and ultimately happiness. Blessed has the idea of receiving what makes us feel peaceful - satisfied - happy.
Looking down the line at Abram’s life - Abram received great wealth. In today’s world - Abram’s wealth, prestige, and influence would blow Bill Gates out of the water. No comparison.
But let’s be careful. God’s blessing isn’t about stuff. Right?
God’s blessing is about what really satisfies our hearts.
Abram’s name has become great - revered by billions today. Not because of wealth. Not because of his politics or ethnicity. But because of his relationship with God. What God did in him and through him.
Paul writes in Romans 11:33: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!”
God knows what we’re searching for and how to bless us with it. Only in Jesus is the answer to what we crave - restoration - self-worth - self-esteem - purpose and meaning in life - the possibility of being the men and women that we’ve been created to be.
God says, “I’m going to bless you and make you a blessing to others.”
Jesus said - John 12:26: “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me… If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” Life - greatness - isn’t about being honored by men. It’s about pleasing God - about God’s approval of our lives.
God bestows His blessing on us - lifts us up - restores us - makes us to be His covenant people so that we can be used by Him to make a real difference in the lives of others - to display Him to others - for Him to use us to bring glory to Himself.
That is a blessing. Isn’t it? God Himself - the Almighty Holy God Who’s created us out of nothing - using us - according to His will - giving to our lives real purpose and meaning and significance.
God’s promise of blessing - secondly - comes with a promise to bless all the families - all the nations - of the earth - through Abram.
God identifies with Abram. Those who bless Abram are going to be blessed. Those who curse Abram are going to be cursed. The dividing line is how people treat Abram.
Looking down the line of history we see the fulfillment of that promise. The dividing line of blessing and cursing - eternally - is how people treat Jesus Christ the descendant of Abram.
Grab this: God is offering to do something incredible here in the life of Abram - to do something through Abram that transcends Abram. God is calling Abram to become part of a larger reality. God’s work of buying back mankind from our sins - His work of restoration - of salvation. God’s redemptive work in history that flows from Adam - through Abram - through Jesus Christ descendant of Abraham - crucified on the cross.
That’s huge. A beginning point. An incredible offer made to Abram. God does the work. The weight of fulfilling the promises is on God not Abram - not us. Just leave - meaning in faith step forward - trust Me.
Spiritually speaking that’s the same offer God makes to us today.
In the places where we live our lives - our version of pagan Ur - or maybe the distractions - the comfort - of Haran. God calls on us - like Abram - calls us to step out in faith - to trust Him - to leave behind the stuff of this world - what we’ve built up around us - what we’re clinging to for security - to step forward in faith trusting God.
When we put our trust in God - trusting in Jesus as our Savior - God pours out His blessing on us - and we become part of that larger movement of God through history - part of God’s blessing to others.
And God gives to us the covenant community of the church - promises to dwell with us - to bless us - to give significance and purpose and meaning to our lives - to use us in the lives of others according to His will and for His glory.
God will do all of it - all of what He promises to do. Just leave - by faith - trust Him to do what He promises to do.
Verses 4 to 20 record Abram’s Response to God’s Covenant promise.
Let’s read verses 4 and 5 together: So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan,
Abram’s first response? He went - just like the Lord told him to go. Abram and company leave the country - their relatives - father Terah. They take their own possessions - nephew Lot that Abram had responsibility for - and head south - down to Canaan.
Verses 6 and 7 - let’s go on reading together: Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
The highlands of Canaan brought them to here. This is a picture of what the highlands look like today.
Underline that statement. “To your offspring I will give this land.”
This is it. Your journey is over. You’ve arrived. This is the place of blessing - where I’m going to fulfill my promises to you. There are Canaanites here now. But their days here are numbered.
Shechem is the same place where Joshua - years later - after Israel’s years of slavery in Egypt - after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness - now a mighty nation - when Israel first enters the Promised Land - Joshua brings them to Shechem - this place - where they build an altar - just as Abram did. God’s people come to this very place to renew this covenant - this promise - to consecrate themselves and to praise God for fulfilling His promises.
Abram builds an altar - leads his household in worshipping God.
The Negeb is the great southern desert. Abram is moving south through the Promised Land - building altars - spending time with God. It’s a beautiful picture of life with God - intimacy - blessing - faithfully living within the promises of God. Abram and his family.
Which brings us to verse 10: Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.
Canaan is like California - great agricultural land - Mediterranean climate - dependent on annual rainfall. Like here - after a short time without rain people start using the “D” word - drought. Abram is a man of flocks and herds. He needs grass. Food is getting scarce. The famine is severe. Abram heads even farther south… to Egypt.
Notice - there’s no waiting for God’s instructions. No God speaking to Abram. Abram takes matters in his own hands. After doing everything right - after experiencing such an intimate relationship with God - living in God’s promises - dwelling in the Promised Land. Abe blows it big time.
Which we can relate to. Yes?
When we go through times of famine - the hard stuff of life - drama - when our lives are dry - when we’re weak and weary of being weary - we struggle with the temptation to head south - to trust ourselves rather than to wait on God. God Who seemingly never does things the way we know is the right way and right timing to make stuff happen for us or to change other people.
Maybe we head south mentally. Going back to old patterns of sin. Self-destructive sinful habits and addictions that we used to lean on to help us cope with stuff. Maybe drugs or alcohol or porn or eating or entertainment or some kind of virtual life.
We can head south spiritually. Letting other stuff crowd out our commitment - our relationship - with God. Maybe neglecting our time in God’s word or prayer or worship.
Maybe physically we head south. Distancing ourselves from people - moving out. Or we change jobs. Or head off on a trip someplace - anyplace but here. We change churches - dogging on our commitment to Love Others.
Point being that - rather than hanging in there by faith - patiently seeking after God - waiting for God’s direction and movement in our lives - like Abram - way too often we take matters into our own hands - trusting ourselves. We head to south to Egypt whatever that might mean for us.
Let’s go on reading together at verse 11: When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”
This is really romantic. Right? “My dear lovely wife you are so beautiful in appearance. You flirt with the Egyptians so I can live.”
Backing up to the background we saw in chapter 11 - the reality was that Sarai was Abram’s half-sister. Terah’s wife - Abram’s mother - had died. Terah had remarried and had Sarai - Abram’s 1/2 sister. So Abram isn’t exactly lying. But, he isn’t exactly telling the truth either. He’s bending the truth just a little bit. Truth verses a good lie is just a matter of perspective. Bottom line this the ugly side of Abram trusting himself not God.
Let’s read on at verse 14: When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
How much for the woman? How many sheep? Apparently a lot. Sarai must have been drop dead absolutely gorgeous. Sarai gets taken. Abram gets blessed. Things are going according to Abram’s plan. Livin’ la vida loca in Egypt.
The wording of verse 17 - in Hebrew - has the idea of God - with His own hand - physically striking Pharaoh and household with severe afflictions - diseases - plagues plural. Pharaoh gives orders and Abram and his whole household get escorted to the border and dumped there in disgrace.
Processing all that… what we can take home with us...
What’s recorded here is to help us understand the contrast - the incredible promise that God makes to Abram and the foolishness of trusting ourselves.
Abram - rather than being a channel of God’s blessing to Pharaoh and the nation of Egypt - because Abram is trusting in himself and not God - Abram actually becomes a means of great suffering.
Abram - trusting in himself - forces his wife into an adulterous situation - potential sin against God - in order to save his own neck. A position of danger he wouldn’t have even have been in if he’d stayed in Canaan. Stayed within the promises of God.
Because Abram failed to trust God we’ll never know what would have happened if Abram had stayed in Canaan. How God would taken care of the Canaanites - a people that have always since then been a thorn in the side of Israel. We’ll never know how God would have provided for Abram’s needs in the midst of famine.
There are huge opportunities here - for blessing - for God to be glorified - huge opportunities that were lost because Abram takes matters into his own hands and heads off south to Egypt.
For 51 years Hudson Taylor was the great 19th Century missionary to China. During the closing years of Taylor’s live the Boxer Rebellion had broken out in China. Every day reports were coming to the missionary headquarters of the death of national pastors, or the persecution and imprisonment of missionaries. It seemed like everything that Hudson Taylor had given his life to was crumbling before his eyes.
That’s famine. Very dry times. Very tempting to head south.
One dark depressing day, after some really distressing news Taylor’s associates wondered if it would be too much for the old man. He’d spent the morning in his house, alone. When they came to see him in the afternoon, they we’re sure what they’d find. But as they approached the house, they heard him singing to himself the words of a hymn:
Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness,
Of Thy loving heart.
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole. (1)
Proverbs 23:18 - grab this as a take home promise for yourself: “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
Maybe you’re in one of those times when it seems difficult to step forward in faith. When it seems easier to head south to Egypt - hoping for some kind of relief. But the cost of Egypt is very expensive.
In the midst of the ongoing disaster of our depravity and sin and the dram of our lives - God - our creator - offers us so much. Surely there is a future. Surely there is hope. His promises are trustworthy.
Hang on to that promise. Hang on to Him. There is a future. There is hope. He will fulfill His promises to you.
1. Ray Stedman, sermon on Genesis 12:10-13:4 “The High Cost Of Letting Down” http://www.pbc.org/files/messages/3442/3657.html
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.