What Enduring Faith Looks Like and Looks Forward Towards

Life isn’t a calm breeze. Sometimes the winds gust and the storms batter from within and without. Life can be a grueling journey of endurance and faith is necessary.

We need examples. We need people we can look to and say, “If they did it, so can I.” When it comes to big time examples of faith, Abraham is a name that often comes to mind. Abraham was called by God to go to an unknown place. He journeyed even though he didn’t know exactly where God was taking him or what the journey would look like (vs.8-9). It was a true journey and test of faith (Gen. 15:6).

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents” – Hebrews 11:8-9a, ESV

Faith acts by moving forward. Abraham and Sarah never fully reached the Promised Land during their lifetime, but it was realized through the purchase of a small burial plot where Abraham would bury Sarah. The duration of their lives was lived as strangers in a strange land, yet they looked forward to a better country, a heavenly one that God was preparing for them (v.10; cf. 13:14). Their faith looked forward beyond the grave (vs.13-16).

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” – Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV

Faith acts on what seems impossible. A at 90 years old, God said he would open the womb of Abraham’s wife making it possible for her to bear a son (vs.11-12). Although, at first she laughed (ha!), God made the impossible possible (ah!). It was God’s starting point for fulfilling a promise to Abraham making his descendants as numerous as the stars.

“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” – Hebrews 11:11-12, ESV

Faith acts on what it knows about God. Abraham’s biggest test of faith was when God would ask him to sacrifice that son—his one and only promised heir (vs.17-19). Abraham acted in faith. He had faith that God would raise his son from the dead.

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” – Hebrews 11:17-19, ESV

Faith acts on what God has already done. Abraham’s descendants Isaac, Jacob and Joseph continued on, but not without their own enduring challenges and faith struggles (vs.20-21). Joseph, was sold as a slave to Egypt by his brothers. His brothers would later come to Egypt bowing before Joseph demanding food amidst a famine. This fulfilled Joseph’s dream and he responded by embracing and providing for his brothers. Interestingly, after his death his bones were brought back to the Promised Land (v.22).

God’s plans aren’t always immediate. Sometimes they span generations. God has an enduring love for his people and the working out of his plans. God will do as he says even amidst the wind and storms of life. We too must have enduring faith in what God is doing and will do because of what he has already done.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • What is endurance? How is endurance linked to faith? Why is endurance often difficult?
  • What do you learn about endurance from the life of Abraham, Abraham’s children, and Abraham’s children’s children (e.g. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph)? How does their faith speak to you?
  • What do you learn about enduring faith through the life and death of Jesus? What was the reward he was looking forward to and the city he is preparing for us? (cf. Hebrews 13:12-14) How does the dramatic story in Genesis 22 anticipate the central work of Christ?
  • How do you hand down these stories to the next generation? Are there new stories of faith you can hand down? What are they?
  • In what areas of your faith and life is God calling you to endure?

journey of faith

Have you ever been on a road trip when you got lost taking a wrong turn? I remember back in college after finals I drive home for the holidays. Back then I did not have a GPS or cell phones. I had a few college buds with me along for the ride via Chicago. I drove while the 13-hour trek while the one sitting shotgun navigated with an old Randall McNally map. When we reach Indianapolis we got on the I-465 beltway. It was sometime after midnight, we were getting tired. With the windows cracked, Mountain Dew running through our veins, the music cranked to DC Talk, and sunflower seeds all over the car seats we made our way around the beltway. I do not think any of us were paying attention to the road signs and detours because of the construction on the beltway. We missed our exit. For the next 2-hours we drove around and around the Indy beltway before we realized that we were just going in circles.

I am sure you have been there, right? Sometimes life can be like that too. You seem to be going somewhere and then you find yourself lost, spinning in circles, and delaying the journey. Life is a journey, especially if you are living a life of faith. Abraham is on that journey of faith. His journey of faith might not be that much different than yours.

DIRECTION FROM GOD FOR THE JOURNEY: A Call to Faith [Genesis 12:1-9]

God calls Abram out of a sinful people and nation to go to a place he does not yet know. As Abram goes, God makes a promise to him that He will make him a great nation. At this moment Abram is 75 years old, without an heir because his wife is barren, and attached to his father’s possession. Abram does know how God is going to fulfill His promise, but in faith he goes. When he reaches Canaan [a dead end for a nomad] he sets up an altar of worship for God will give him this land. As Abram and his family settle in the land they face a series of obstacles that from the human perspective seem like major detours.

DETOUR #1: Making up your own story is not part of God’s story [Genesis 12:10-20]

As Abram settles in Canaan, another challenge arises for Abram and his family. There is no food. So Abram, being the man of his house, takes action and heads south to Egypt. Afraid that he will lose his beautiful wife he crafts a story, “Sarah, babe, those Egyptians are going to think you are a smokin’ hot! Surely they will kill me to get you. Let’s pretend you’re my sister.” Lying is never part of God’s plan; truth is always the best option. Truth is part of God’s plan.

Indeed, when Abram and Sarai roll through town, Pharaoh’s prince’s gawk at Sarai—like men whistling at a passing girl next to a construction sight. They ran back to the palace bragging about her beauty to Pharaoh. And what Pharaoh wants, Pharaoh gets. Lucky, for Abram, Pharaoh is feeling particularly nice and spares Abram’s head. Unlucky for Pharaoh, he and his house get stuck with a plague. Knowing something is wrong he calls for Abram, “You have some explaining to do? Everything was groovy around here until you can around. Is there something you want to tell me about this woman? Why did you lie to me?” God had his hand on Abram. He should have been executed for lying to the ruler of Egypt, but God had grace on him through Pharaoh. Abram must have learned a valuable lesson that day: speak the truth and let God deal with the possible obstacles.

DETOUR #2: Sometimes the most obvious choice is not the right choice [Genesis 13]

I am not sure Abram and Sarai did much talking on the way home from Egypt. So Abram worships at the altar [13:4, maybe seeking forgiveness; cf. 12:8] and then goes back to work with Lot among their herds. Both men have large herds. Their herds are so large that their workers were not getting along [over turf, pooper scooper duties, etc.]. As a peacemaker, Abram asks Lot to leave, but gives him first choice of the land. Lot chose the greener grass, eastward [towards Sodom].

I am sure this was a hard decision for Abram. God gives him a nephew—possible heir—but they are forced to separate. Could Lot be the seed God was promising? According to Abram, the choice was not working out as he planned. He sits and sulks about his conflicted family separation, but God is working out His plan. In fact God says to Abram, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth [i.e. countless], so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” [13:14-17; cf. 12:7] God has a different choice for Abram’s seed in mind, but He also reaffirms His promise to Abram it will happen,

DETOUR #3: Expect unexpected challenges with unexpected results [Genesis 14]

A great war breaks, Lot’s city is taken captive, and Lot becomes a prisoner of war. Word gets to Abram through an escapee, and he pulls together 318 of his own men who are trained warriors. This gives you an idea of the wealth of Abram that he had his own personal army and defeated those holding onto Lot. Abram was not alone in this battle. He ultimately won this battle by the blessing of God who promised to protect him and curse those who cursed him [cf. 12:3]. Abram then praised by kings [i.e. Melchizedek, more on him next week] who also recognized that it was God who won the day [14:20].

COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: The Seed will come from through Abram [Genesis 15]

Following these three divine detours God sheds some light onto the path for Abram. God tells Abram in a dream that the promised seed would come through his seed. There is just one major problem: Abram has no children and he’s really old. Notice For the first time Abram speaks up, and asks God a question, “What about Eliezer?” God responds and reaffirms His covenant with Abram, “I will not use Eliezer [a non-related heir], but one of your own children.”

Again, with radical faith, Abram believes God [15:6; cf.12:4], and God “counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:6, becomes central to Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith [Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6]. Also, James quotes this verse to teach that true faith in God results in good works in life with God [2:23-24]. God’s covenant with Abram was confirmed with a sacrifice and the shedding of blood, which foreshadows the New Covenant confirmed with Jesus’ sacrifice of His own life on the cross and the shedding of His blood.

DETOUR #4: Ignoring the possibility of the impossible [Genesis 16]

Sarah is not mentiond in the promise [cf. 15:1-6]. Abram does not even consider Sarai. Sarah is old and barren, and too old for it to be humanly possible for her to carry a child. They had waited a long time on God to come through with His promises. What options did Abram have? Taking matters into his own hands, he logically concludes that Hagar—one of his servant girls—is a prime candidate to carry his seed. Of course, Sarai spearheaded the faithless idea. So Abram slept with Hagar and she bore him a son [Ishmael, the son of Islam].

Is Abram immoral? Is he doing what he thinks God wants him to do? Impatience on God is never right the option.[1] If you are unsure waiting on God is always the best option. Ironically, Sarai bitterly blamed Abram for the split in their family because he slept with Hagar, and Hagar flees from the Sarai’s fury. Again, God intervenes.

COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: God gives a sign and specifics to His covenant [Genesis 17:1-18:21]

God reaffirms who He is and how He will fulfill His promises through Abram. Abram immediately worships [17:3, maybe seeking forgiveness; cf. 12:8; 13:4]. First, God confirms his covenant by giving Abram a new name and give a symbol for the covenant between God and Abraham, circumcision.[2] Second, God confirms his covenant with Abraham through Sarai by giving her a new name and saying the promised seed will be born through her barren womb. In one moment, God’s promise becomes very specific to Abraham and Sarah. And with a miraculous divine intervention God will open Sarah dead womb at 90 years old and give her a son who will be the living Seed of Promise [cf. 21:1-7].

DETOUR #5: Failing to see trials that purify your faith [Genesis 19-21]

In short, God sends His wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah for their perverse sexual sin, which leaves a salty crater where the cities once stood [Genesis 19]. Lot and his daughter are not much different than the community he lived and farmed [19:30-38]. Again, Abraham lies and gives Sarah away to another man, almost identical to the situation with Pharaoh [20:1-18; cf. 12:10-20]. God in His grace and sovereignty intervenes preventing Sarah from getting pregnant by another man. Then tensions stir between Hagar son, Ishmael, and Sarah’s son, Isaac. Ishmael is the one favored by everyone in the passage, except Sarah; however, God does not favor him in relationship to the covenant promise, but cares and provides for him. These detours are looking more like construction zones where God is at work growing your faith.

FINAL COURSE DIRECTION FROM GOD: God uses sacrifice as the proof of faith [Genesis 21-23]

25 years after the promise and nearly losing his wife twice, God gives Abraham and Sarah a son. He finally has his boy. They name him, Isaac, meaning laughter, which is fitting for a boy born from an old lady. Isaac is the promised seed. However, in a climatic twist God tests Abraham’s quarter century churned faith. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son.

Up to this point in the narrative, Abraham has seen God fulfill promise after unbelievable promise and made a womb that was dead-dead alive. Echoing his call [12:1-3], he immediately responded in faith. Was he really going to kill his son on the altar? I think so. I think he knew God would raise his son to life because He has already done it through Sarah’s dead womb.

God answers by providing a sacrifice caught in the thicket. In doing so He fulfills all His promises just as He said. What about the land? The last promise that we do not see fulfilled is the land promise. In an obscure way, Sarah’s small and insignificant burial plot was the only property Abraham own in the Promised Land [Genesis 23]. The land that was promised to his heirs would not arise as a nation until God would call another man, Moses, who would take God’s people to the Promised Land [cf. Exodus & Joshua].

In Hebrews 11:8-12, Abraham went where God asked, even though he did not know how God would work it out, but his faith believed God would work it out. God blessed his faith then and offers it to you now through His Promised Seed—His Son—Jesus Christ. The story that climaxes with Isaac, ultimately climax with Christ:

  • Isaac and Jesus were both sons promised many years before their birth.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both born to women who could not have conceived apart from a miracle.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both firstborn sons.
  • Isaac and Jesus were both loved by their father/Father.
  • Isaac and Jesus both carried wood to their sacrifice.
  • Isaac and Jesus both willingly laid down their lives to their father/Father.
  • Isaac and Jesus both laid down as a burnt offering for sin.
  • Isaac was resurrected figuratively and Jesus was resurrected literally.
  • Isaac was just a man, but Isaac was the God/Man who came to save mankind.

[1] Abram marries Hagar while married to Sarai. The result of this polygamy is truly tragic, as is the case with other instances of adultery and polygamy in Scripture. God’s intention is that each man would have one wife [Genesis 2:18; Matthew 19:4-6]. The first man to take more than one wife was the godless man Lamech [Genesis 4:19-24]. Two women is two too many. Polygamy is wrought with favoritism, fighting, jealousy, and mistreatment [i.e. Genesis 25:28, 27:1-45, 35:22, 38:18-28; 2 Samuel 3:2-5, 13:1-29, 15:1- 18:33; 1 Kings 11:1-4]. In the New Testament church elders serve as the pattern for Christian families are to be one-woman-men [1 Timothy 3:2,12].

[2] It is uncertain why God chose circumcision as the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant. Possibly the seed comes from the male organ and/or Headship is an important concept to God. God used symbols to convey his covenant with mankind [i.e. a rainbow was a sign of covenant between God and Noah; Genesis 9:14]. Throughout the rest of Bible the concepts of covenant and circumcision are built upon to include Christian who are the descendants of Abraham by new birth. Circumcision points to the circumcision that God brings to our hearts through His covenant relationship with us [Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Ezekiel 44:7-9; Romans 2:25-29; 4:1-12; Colossians 2:11; Galatians 3:6-8].