God Allows Us to Choose

Explore the Bible Series

January 13, 2008


Background Passage: Genesis 12:1-14:24

Lesson Passage: Genesis 12:1-9; 13:8-13


Introduction: Other than the Lord Jesus, Abraham may be the most important figure in the Bible.  The Abrahamic thread runs through both the Old and New Testaments.  The ancient Jews traced their religious and ethnic identity to him, and New Testament writers, like the Apostle Paul, used Abraham as an example of justification by faith.  Indeed, Paul’s treatment of justification centers on the patriarch’s religious experience (See Romans 4:1f and Galatians 3:1f).  In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author included Abraham in the great catalog of the faithful.  This lesson focuses on the issue of faith as it relates to the example of this great Old Testament figure.


Readers from the Reformed tradition may bristle a bit at the title of the LifeWay lesson, “God Allows Us to Choose.”  This scope of this brief lesson outline prohibits any detailed analysis of the tensions in the Calvinist/Arminian debate; however, most evangelicals, I think, can find some common ground on the issue of faith.  Properly understood, this title proves helpful and accurate. 


Surely most would agree that Abraham received a wonderful gift of grace from the Lord.  The Old Testament makes clear that Abraham came from a pagan people, and the gracious covenant of God came to Abraham quite unexpectedly and undeservedly. Furthermore, the Lord gave this man an important command, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.”  Abraham responded to God’s command and traveled, with his family, to the Land of Canaan. As with all people of faith, Abraham received God’s promise and grace freely and willingly.  He obeyed God because he loved and trusted the Lord, without coercion or manipulation.  All evangelicals believe that sinners must come to Christ freely and willingly.  The point of disagreement centers on the condition of the human will, prior to grace.  Some believe, as I do, that the will is fallen and horribly disfigured by sin, rendering people incapable of right moral choices, apart from the gracious work of God on the heart.  Nevertheless, those who hold to a Reformed view do believe that sinners come to the Lord freely, as result of the awakening work of the Holy Spirit.


This particular text, historical (not theological) in nature, does not deal with the internal workings of the Holy Spirit in Abraham’s heart; instead, it depicts the historical events that led to the patriarch’s pilgrimage to Canaan.  The passage reflects Abraham’s responsiveness to God’s directives, struggles with the life of faith, and victories in times of testing.  In that regard, all Christians can gain helpful insight into the pilgrim way.


As we approach the lesson, perhaps a word about the tension between faith and doubt might prove helpful.  We will, of course, find that Abraham’s faith did not always remain strong.  He loved and trusted the Lord, but, at times, his faith staggered in the face of some grievous tests and trials.  Like Abraham, our faith does not always remain strong.  Sometimes doubt troubles even spiritual giants like Abraham, David, Jeremiah, Micah, John the Baptist, Augustine, Martin Luther, C.H. Spurgeon, and Jonathan Edwards.  Frankly, I distrust those who seem to have all the answers, to all the questions, all the time.  Indifference, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. Abraham struggled sometimes, and we will observe some of those struggles in this lesson; nevertheless, the patriarch’s passion for God, in time, overcame his doubts.  That is always the case with God’s true people. Do you, at times, wrestle with a wavering faith?  Welcome to the human race! 



Lesson Outline:


I.                   God’s Grace and Promise to Abram (12:1-9)

A.    God’s unexpected grace to Abram (v. 1): Please note that God had not yet changed the patriarch’s name to Abraham (Abram means “exalted father”). At the time of his call, Abram lived, with is extended family, in Haran.  The Lord called Abram to leave his familiar surroundings and travel to an undesignated land; thus, the man of faith had to trust God to provide guidance to the new home. So far as the text reveals, this call came abruptly, unexpectedly, and graciously.

B.     God’s promises to Abram (vv. 2-3)

1.      “I will make you a great nation”: Initially, God fulfilled this promise in the nation of Israel.  Ultimately, this promise culminated in the Kingdom of God, established at the advent of Christ.

2.      “I will bless you and make your name great”: Millions (perhaps billions) of modern people trace their religious heritage to Abraham: Jews, Christians, and Moslems.

3.      “you will be a blessing”: This phrase has a messianic tone.  Through Abraham, the blessing of God’s Son would come to the world.

4.      “I will bless those who bless you…”: There is a narrowness to God’s grace.   The “Door of the Sheepfold” opened to mankind through the seed of Abraham (See John 10:1).  God’s redemptive work came to mankind through the descendant (Jesus) of Abraham.

5.      “…in you all the families of the earth will be blessed”: God’s gracious blessing does not center exclusively on one people; rather, in Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

C.     Abram’s obedience to God (vv. 4-9): Abram, accompanied by his nephew, left Haran and settled at Shechem, on the slope of Mount Ebal, in Central Canaan.  The Lord appeared to Abram at Shechem and revealed that this was the land God had promised.  After building an altar to worship the Lord, Abram moved southward to the hill country near Bethel, and there he worshipped God again.  Still, Abram did not settle down.  He moved into the desert region (the Negev) in southern Canaan.


II.                Two Tests of Abram’s Faith (12:10-13:18)

A.    The famine in Canaan (12:10-20): after Abram’s initial pilgrimage through the land of promise, a terrible famine struck Canaan. The famine tested Abram’s faith.  The text does not explicitly reveal that Abram’s faith wavered, but he certainly left the land God had shown him.  Abram sought relief in Egypt.  While in this alien land, Abram, for the first time, lied (a half truth) about his wife Sarai. It appears that his faith failed to trust God for provision for his family and protection from the Egyptians. God, ever faithful to his covenant, protected Sarai, despite her husband’s failure. 

B.     The dispute between Abram and Lot (13:1-18)

1.      Abram’s wealth (vv. 1-7): Abram was a wealthy man, by ancient Middle Eastern standards.  While this wealth might seem like a great blessing, it also occasioned a dispute between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s servants.  The land could not sustain the flocks and herds of both men, and a sharp dispute threatened to tear the family apart. 

2.      The resolution of the dispute (vv. 8-13): The reference to the Perezzites and Canaanites may indicate that these people observed the conduct of Abram.  Rather than suffer disgrace before ungodly men, Abram elected to give choice of the land to his nephew.  Lot, compelled by the fertility of the Jordan Valley, chose selfishly and unwisely.  Eventually, Lot left the security of his uncle’s wisdom and settled among the wicked people of Sodom, a decision that proved disastrous for Lot and his family.

3.      Abram’s contentment with Lot’s choice (vv. 14-18): Abram did not allow Lot’s selfish choice to embitter him; rather, he contented himself with God’s promise of blessing and a renewal of the covenant.    


III.             Another Test of Abram’s Faith (14:1-24)

A.    The War of the Kings (vv. 1-12): For the first time in the Scriptures, “secular” history intersects with the sacred narrative.  Genesis describes a lengthy, bloody war between two powerful confederations. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, led one of the armies and held Canaanite cities as vassals for over a decade.  Eventually, the Canaanite kings rebelled against their oppressor and provoked a battle, a fight they lost.  In the aftermath of the battle, Chedorlaomer took the possessions of his victims and held Lot as slave.  

B.     Abram’s heroic action (vv. 13-16): Abram received word of Lot’s plight, and the patriarch determined to raise an army from among his servants and rescue his nephew from Chedorlaomer.  After tracking Chedorlaomer all the way to Damascus, Abram defeated his enemies and rescued Lot and his family.

C.     Abram and Melchizedek (vv. 17-24): Genesis introduces this mysterious character, Melchizedek, rather abruptly.  The text identifies him as the king of Salem (Peace) and a priest of the Most High.  He met Abram with wine and bread, and blessed the servant of the Lord, and Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war.  Sodom’s king tried to give an offering to Abram, but the patriarch would not receive anything except the food of his men had eaten.  A careful study of Hebrews Seven will provide a rich explanation of the messianic element in this Old Testament story. According to Hebrews, Melchizedek was a type of Christ in the following ways.

1.      He was a king and priest.

2.      He was king of righteousness and peace.

3.      He received the offering (tithe) of Abram.

4.      He had no father, mother, or genealogy, having neither beginning nor end.

5.      He continued as a priest forever (therefore, his priesthood predated and superseded the Aaronic priesthood).