Read Part 1.
The God of the universe has told Abram to do the unusual. Leave everything. Leave country, home, family, culture. Pack it all up, leave, worship Me, and I will show you where I want you to go. How would you respond? What would you do? When God puts your faith into the tempest of trial and obedience, what emerges?
In Genesis 12:4 we read a very simple statement: “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…” Obedience. Complete, total, no reservation, no guarantees, no back up plan (Abram is 75 years old—he doesn’t have time for a back-up plan). No, Abram simply packs up everything, brings his family and nephew with him, and starts in total obedience to God’s calling.
One day I want to ask Abram about that trip. I want to ask him about the faith that moved him to obey the call of God on his life. Until then I want to emulate this: total obedience rooted in total faith and reliance on God and His infallible Word. Three things I see here that are applicable to the lives of all believers:
1. We must obey the revealed Word of God.
God doesn’t tell us to pack up everything and take off to some random place that He is preparing for us. And yet, He has given us His Word and we are to obey it. That it both scary and comforting. It’s scary because God has revealed a lot and I am a frail and fallen human being. It’s scary because all around me I see Christians who are compromising the revealed Word. Compromise on homosexuality or immorality. Christians falling into pornography, drunkenness, sensuality, selfishness, greed, gossip, lust, and the list goes on and on. But this idea is also very comforting because we have the revealed Word. I don’t ever have to sit in my home stressed and anxious about whether I am going to accidentally step across some hidden line that I didn’t know anything about. God has revealed Himself and His character to us in His Word. Lord, give us strength to obey You out of a heart of complete faith in You!
2. We must obey despite apparent challenges.
Our obedience is going to face some opposition! Abram had been given a promise of an heir. His wife is 65 and is barren. How is that going to work? Oh yeah, and verse 6 tells us that “at that time the Canaanites were in the land.” Such an innocuous reference. You could almost read it and not think anything else about it. Oh, but how those people would test the faith of Abraham and his descendants! Once again, our faith will not face the same challenges, but nevertheless, opposition remains. You don’t feel like it, you want something else, your spouse distracts, your kids distract, your job throws hurdles onto the path of obedience, your friends think it is their sole purpose in life to trip up your faithfulness to Christ. Saturdays become a massive string of late-night activities that keep you either out of Sunday worship or existing as the morning of the living dead, performing zombie worship. Let me challenge you—eliminate those obstacles that can be eliminated, and prepare yourself for those that cannot be eliminated! Because your obedience will be tested!
3. We must obey even if it means massive life change.
Abram’s life change meant a 400 mile journey away from everything familiar. Yours and mine might mean moving if God chooses to move us. But it also might mean family members who don’t like being around you or mock you. It might mean a change in jobs or careers. It most certainly will mean a radical shift in attitudes and belief systems. Because when someone comes to Christ and their faith is rooted totally in Him, their life will change in radical ways!
In closing, could I submit that what God wants from each one of us is a simple but total faith that results in simple but total obedience? There has been an emphasis in Christian circles on “radical” faith. And there is a point to what those authors have said. But we can go too far to the point that we hold in less esteem those believers who have simply been faithful and obedient to Christ in the simple areas of life over a long period of time. That is what we want, and that is what the world needs to see. Husbands who love their wives. Wives who respect their husbands. Children who obey their parents. People who live out the fruit of the Spirit in their everyday life, showing grace and mercy to those around them. That is what the world needs to see. Some may hate us for it. Some may fall on their knees and turn to the Savior. Others may respond positively, but not put their trust in Christ. But all of them need to see Christians living out their faith in the day to day experiences of life.
Like a light shining into darkness, God’s call has been placed on Abram’s life. The promise, echoing down in human history from Genesis 3:15, is still alive. Abram obeys. He leaves family, culture, traditions, and friends to travel to wherever God sends him. God leads him to Canaan. But there are problems. God has promised Land and Seed (Genesis 12:2). But Abram has no children and his wife is unable to naturally conceive. And when Abram enters the land, there are pagans there. Not just pagans, but twisted and perverse men who have nothing to do with Yahweh. But, Abram is in the land—the place where God will forever attach His promises to Abram’s descendants. How does Abram respond to all of this?
First, God appears and confirms Him promise (7a).
Abram has walked the land, and he has seen the beauty of it. But he’s also seen the challenges—the Canaanites. He’s seen the “Oak of Moreh,” often believed to be a place of divination and oracles among the pagans. And in that moment God does what only He can do. He appears and confirms His divine promise and presence to His servant. Abram owns none of the land (Acts 7:5). He has to live his life completely trusting God’s promise and walking by faith.
God’s appearance serves two distinct purposes:
(1) It sustains Abram in the land of the Canaanites. If I could make a New Testament parallel, Abram didn’t have the completed Word of God. As believers, we also dwell in the midst of a pagan and perverse culture. But when life seems dark and evil seems to be winning, I can look to the Psalms and cry out to my God, or go to Paul and read his overwhelming confidence in the power of the Risen Lord. Abram has none of this. Second, God’s appearance serves to confirm God’s promises to Abram. We could probably have a healthy debate over what the ministry of the Holy Spirit looked like in the OT, but I don’t think this is the time or place. I believe something changed when Christ ascended and He sent the “Divine Comforter.” I know God’s promises will come true because He has given me a deposit, and that what began with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (among other things) will be brought to completion (Phil. 1:6)
(2) Abram responds to the promises of God with a faith that manifests itself in worship (7b-9). At this point, Abram doesn’t question—the doubts will come later. In this moment, his faith has been reinforced, and his natural inclination is to build an altar. He doesn’t build a city or a tower, like his ancestors had done (Gen. 11:1-9), but an altar to the One in Whom his entire life was now invested.
He then travels east of Bethel and builds another altar (v. 8). There, Abram “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a public event with a public proclamation. We too often have this picture of Abram on a mountainside all by himself, building this little altar and saying a prayer (probably with his hands raised!). But this is even more significant. This would have involved Abram’s entire clan (probably well over a hundred people at this point). He exalts the LORD, and in the midst of a dark place he makes the name of the LORD famous! Every time I read this, I am challenged about my own sinful tendency to try to blend in as much as possible with the world around me instead of being a scripture-infused, Holy Spirit indwelt man of God who lives in a dark place while publicly proclaiming faith in Yahweh.
I doubt Abram had any idea how the promises of God to him would be fulfilled in the long-term. He probably couldn’t dream that one of his sons would have the greatest name ever given (Phil. 2:9-10), and how one day people from every nation on earth would be blessed through him (Psalm 117). And yet, he took the steps of faith that God asked of him. Move, settle, believe, worship. A few reminders to New Testament believers from this text:
- We are pilgrims. This was Abram’s relationship to the promised land (Heb. 11:9-10), and it is our relationship to this world. We are looking to a better country—don’t get too attached to the things of this world.
- We are public proclaimers who proclaim a message that is counter-cultural. We stand in contrast to the world’s philosophy. Instead of self-preservation, we are called to self-sacrifice. Instead of comfort, we are called to ministry to others. Instead of security, we are called to faith.
- We are those who are elect—and that election requires a response of faith. When true faith is present, it is life-changing and brings about obedience and worship. Let’s make sure we get that order right!
- Finally, hold on to this world loosely. Christ does not call everyone to leave everything, but He does call everyone to let go of everything.
Brian Dempsey is the Lead Pastor of Washington Baptist Church in Dillsboro, IN. Brian has degrees from Northland Baptist Bible College (BA), Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv) and is currently a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin).