Do You Obey In Faith?

Explore the Bible Series

February 10, 2008

 

Background Passage:Genesis 20:1-23:20

Lesson Passage: Genesis 22:1-6; 9-18

 

Introduction: The story of Abraham provides an invaluable case study for Christian living.I have some curiosity about the patriarchís life before the call to leave Haran, but I feel certain about one thing.Trusting God did not bring an unending procession of prosperity and goodwill.It seems that Abraham met with withering tests, at every turn.At times, his faith proved noble and strong; at others, his trust reeled under the stress.Still, he continued to grow in grace and persevere in faith.

 

In our lesson material for this week, Abraham faced various kinds of tests.

  1. In Chapter Twenty, Abraham faced the trial of recurrent sin.In a previous study we encountered the failure of Abrahamís faith when he lied to Pharaoh about Sarah.Many years passed; yet, even in his senor years, Abraham lapsed into the same kind of sin when he lied to Abimelech.The latter story revealed a policy of deceit that Abraham and Sarah adopted when they entered Canaan.Surely many of us can identify with Abrahamís besetting sin, a sin that surfaced more than once.Perhaps, like Abraham, we have cultivated our besetting sin to such a degree that it has become a kind of unofficial ďpolicyĒ in our lives.Nevertheless, Godís wonderful grace sustained and protected Abraham from the destructive consequences of his actions.
  2. In Chapter Twenty-one we encounter the domestic discord that Abraham endured.The poor decision to father a child by Hagar had not solved any problems for the patriarch.Instead, marital discord troubled this dear man for many years.The problems between Sarah and Hagar must have tested the faith of Abraham.
  3. Later in Chapter Twenty-one we encounter the story of Abrahamís conflict with Abimelech over an important source of water, in the Negev.This, of course, was not the first time Abraham faced a test over natural resources in Canaan.
  4. Chapter Twenty-two records the greatest test of Abrahamís life, the sacrifice of his beloved Isaac.As the boy neared young manhood, God told Abraham to take the him to mount Moriah and offer Isaac as a sacrifice to God.I cannot imagine a more rigorous, stressful test for this elderly man and his precious son.In fact, as a father (and soon to be a grandfather!), I have trouble understanding Godís design in this severe trial.Something about this particular test makes me recoil in horror and wonder about the Lordís purpose in imposing such a severe test.
  5. In Chapter Twenty-three, Sarah died, leaving the aged Abraham a widower.His life-partner, now dead and buried, could no longer encourage and comfort her dear husband.Throughout more than thirty years of pastoral ministry, I have often observed the staggering effects of losing a spouse, and, no doubt, Abraham felt the full range of human emotions as he faced the future without his beloved wife: fear, depression, hopelessness, grief, and loneliness.

 

Careful meditation on the life of Abraham will convince all of Godís people that we are not so different from our ancient brother.We face trials too, similar to Abrahamís difficulties. Sometimes the patriarchís faith wavered, and mine does too.Other moments, by Godís grace, Abraham persevered in faith and obedience, and, at times, God helps me to stand strong as well.Tests of our faith often produce fear, depression, and confusion. I donít understand Godís ways sometimes, but I do know that grave trials characterize all of the Lordís people.By his grace, may we all press on in the faith and continue in loving obedience to the direction of our loving Father.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Abrahamís Second Lie about Sarah (20:1-18): For the second time, Abraham lied about his relationship with Sarah.Now, at the threshold of the fulfillment of the promise, Abraham jeopardized Sarahís moral purity; yet, God, in his mercy, salvaged the situation and preserved Sarahís honor.

A.    Abrahamís deception (vv. 1-7)

1.      the journey to Gerar (v. 1): After the destruction of Sodom, Abraham journeyed to the southwest, toward Shur (meaning ďwallĒ).This region stood as a kind of protection for Egypt and her rich trade routes, but it was a particularly arid, barren area.The patriarchal band settled, for a time, in Gerar, a thriving Bronze Age city near the early Philistines.

2.      relationship with Abimelech (v. 2): Abimelech may not have been a proper name, but royal title.The king took Sarah into his harem.This may seem, in light of Sarahís advanced age, an odd arrangement.However, we must note that political marriages often characterize tribal societies. Abimelech may have married Sarah to ensure cordial relations with a formidable man like Abraham.Also, we should observe that the text, this time, says nothing about Sarahís striking beauty.She neared ninety years, and her beauty must have diminished by this time. Of course, we know little of the aging process in the patriarchal era, but it seems unlikely that she retained the attractiveness she once possessed.

3.      Abimelechís dream (vv. 3-7): God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and warned the king about the danger of keeping Sarah in the royal harem.The king, of course, married this woman innocently, and God spared Abimelech, pending the return of Sarah to Abraham.

4.      Abimelechís obedience (vv. 8-18): The king returned Sarah and scolded Abraham for the unseemly occurrence. Abraham excused his actions by explaining that she was, indeed, his half/sister and recounting a long-held policy of lying about Sarah (v. 13).A person can tell a lie so long that it becomes a kind of policy for coping with stressful situations, and Abraham fell into this trap.In this instance, Abimelech had greater integrity than the man of faith.The king gave Abraham an offering, and, after the patriarchís intercession, God healed the household of the king.

 

II.                The Fulfillment of the Promise (21:1-34)

A.    The birth of Isaac (vv. 1-7): Just as God had promised, Sarah conceived, and, during Abrahamís one hundredth year, the ninety year old woman gave birth to Isaac.Abraham kept the covenant by circumcising Isaac on the eighth day.

B.     The removal of Hagar and Ishmael (vv. 8-21): As Isaac grew, the old rivalry between Sarah and Hagar resurfaced.Ishmael was a teenager by this tie, and he apparently held Isaac in distain.His disrespectful behavior offended Sarah, and the old woman demanded that Abraham expel Ishmael and his mother.Abraham, grieved over this continued disruption in his household, reluctantly agreed to send them away.God endorsed Sarahís demands, and promised Abraham that Ishmael would father a great people.Hagar took her son into the wilderness, and she clearly believed they would die of thirst and starvation.An angel spared the two outcasts, and, eventually, Ishmael grew to manhood, took an Egyptian wife, and became a great hunter and warrior.

C.     A covenant with Abimelech (vv. 22-34): Abimelechís people had a dispute with Abraham over a well, and the king sought a treaty to resolve the disagreement.The patriarch planted a large tree to serve as a landmark of the agreement he made with Abimelech and gave the king sheep and oxen as a goodwill offering.From this time, the site of the covenant was called Beersheba, ďwell of the oathĒ.

 

III.             The Sacrifice of Isaac (22:1-24)

A.    Godís directive to sacrifice Isaac (vv. 1-2): Several years passed between Chapters Twenty-one and Twenty-two.Isaac had reached his teens, and God tested Abrahamís faith by requiring the patriarch to kill the promised son.The Lord did not disguise his awareness of the severity of this test, ďTake your son, your only son Isaac, whom you loveÖĒ

B.     Abrahamís obedience (vv. 3-14): Just as the Lord commanded, Abraham traveled to Moriah (present day Jerusalem) and prepared to carry out the anguishing instructions.After a long journey, Abraham arrived at Mount Moriah.He laid the wood on Isaacís shoulders, and the two made their way to the appointed venue of the sacrifice.Perhaps we should note the symbolism of this event.A loving father, with the power of life and death in his hands, accompanies his beloved son to the mountain to offer his boy as a sacrifice.The lad carried the wood up the ascent and compliantly awaited the violent obedience of his father.The son could easily have exerted his prerogative and stopped the proceedings, but he perfectly submitted to the will of the father.Abraham laid his son on the altar and raised the knife to take the boyís life.Thankfully, the Lord intervened, and provided an unexpected substitute, a ram, for the offering.

 

IV.             Sarahís Death (23:1-20): Many years earlier, God had promised the Land of Canaan to Abraham; yet, at this advanced age, the patriarch remained an alien and sojourner in the country.After Sarahís death, her husband negotiated a plot of land to bury his dead.A Hittite named Ephron offered to give the parcel to Abraham (probably an ancient Middle Eastern negotiating ritual), but the grieving man paid the landowner four hundred shekels of silver.After all these years, Abraham finally took possession of a small part of Canaan, a cave to bury his beloved wife, Sarah