Abraham Goes Three for Four
Scripture: Genesis 12:10– 14:24
Abraham Goes Three For FourGenesis 12:10-14:24
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
I am going to say that dreaded word that most students at this time of the year would prefer not to hear. The word is "test" - going without sleep, packing your brain with information and entering the examination room at times with tension and uncertainty. Not too many people like tests, especially ones like final exams when so much of our grade rides on the outcome. It's so nice to pick up that diploma and be able to tell ourselves, "No more tests!"
Well, not so fast! God is our Professor and this life is the classroom, and the tests just keep coming from His hands every day. Through His sovereign wisdom, many situations enter our lives, tests, which call us to give an answer. Throughout the day we are either passing or failing these tests.
I am irritated by my spouse, how will I respond? The conversation turns to religion, how will I respond? The wallet is found on the sidewalk, how will I respond? The movie is taking an immoral turn, how will I respond? Help is needed at the church, how will I respond? I am dating an unbeliever, how will I respond? To gossip or complain seems appropriate, how will respond? Everyone else is doing it, how will I respond? There is an occasion to fudge the numbers, how will I respond? I gave my word, but a better opportunity became available, how will I respond?
There are no cheat-sheets available. The Professor never turns his back. Grades are not given on a curve and most of the examinations arise without any warning. We can say our lives are one big period of testing. Are we aware of the tests? Do we know how to do well on these tests? Are we seeking to pass every test in a way that honors Christ? It comes down to what we learned last week, do we have faith in God's promises that He has revealed to us in the Bible to live a life of obedience?
From Satan's perspective, these are temptations. He seeks to use these tests (or as some say, trials) to destroy us. He seeks to get us to gratify our flesh and pursue worldly wisdom and live by our feelings. However, God sends them into our life for our good. For it is during these times of adversity that the degree of our faith is not only revealed, but it is also strengthened. As Augustine once said, "Trials come to prove and improve us."
Last week we were introduced to a man named, "Abraham." The man is mentioned over 300 times in the Bible, oftentimes in connection with his great faith. God has moved from the nations to one man, and from this one man He will bring forth all of His spiritual offspring. In chapter 12, Abraham was given a command, a test, and by faith in God's command, Abraham obeyed. He left his roots and traveled across the desert with his wife and nephew to the land that God had designated. And when he arrived, he went through the land from the north to the south building altars and worshipping the Lord.
This morning as we cover two-and-a-half chapters in Genesis, we will see that Abraham was given a least four more tests from the time he entered the Promised Land. They will be our four sermon points this morning. We can learn a lot from his tests because they are no different than ours. Will we make decisions that align with God's will as it is found in His Word? The message is entitled, "Abraham goes three for four."
1. Egypt is Looking Pretty Good!
Let's begin with Abraham's first test. Specifically here I want you to see how the trials come immediately after we call upon the Lord. So do not be surprised or think you are exempt. They come to all God's people, the carnal and the faithful alike, all the time.
Last week in chapter 12 we witnessed Abraham's triumphs. He went to the Canaan as God commanded him, and when he arrived (as I just mentioned) he traveled the land from the north to the south (Shechem to Bethel to the Negev) and planted altars for the Lord along the way. Yet it wasn't long until Abraham's faith was put to the test. Chapter 12, verse 10: "Now there was a famine in the land."
Abraham has a serious decision to make. Will he keep trusting the Lord for the land which was promised him, or will he bail on the plan, leave Canaan and take matters into his own hands? Will his joy in the promises of God be superseded by his desire for earthly security? Abraham has done well and God has been faithful to His promises. Now the stomach starts grumbling. Will Abraham have the faith to stay the course or will he be overwhelmed by his circumstances? Do you see the test?
Abraham fails. He leaves the land of promise and goes down to Egypt (verse 10). Then while in Egypt he runs into another test. Pharaoh is interested in his wife, Sarah. By the way, what is up with Sarah? She's probably in her 70's and everywhere she goes the guys want to be with her! So what does Abraham do with his beautiful wife (cf. Gen. 12:11, 14)? Here is the man's plan. Verses 11-13, "It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, 'See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife'; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you." Wonder what Sarah thought of that plan? We get no verbal response from her in the text. It was probably just a stare and classic "hands to the hip" moment.
So Abraham not only misleads people about his wife, but he also schemes and convinces Sarah to join Pharaoh's harem. As it often is with sin, one sin has led to another. In going to Egypt, he has destroyed his family, ruined his reputation, brought pain on others and dishonored God. He even boxed himself into a corner. How is he going to get back to the Promised Land while Sarah is now locked-up in Pharaoh's court? The man is not doing too well with this test, is he?
Now it is good to know as we get ready to look at Abraham's second test that this story does end on a positive note. The goal is to pass the tests sent from God. But we all have to admit that none of us can say we pass all of God's tests with flying colors. So what do we do when we blow it? Answer: we repent!
And this is exactly what Abraham did. God intervenes on Abraham's behalf and strikes Pharaoh and his house with great plagues (verses 17). That's not exactly how Abraham was to be a blessing to others on the earth (Gen. 12:3). Pharaoh flips and says in verse 19, "Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go." Even in the midst of Abraham's disobedience, God enables Abraham to obey, gets Abraham out of his jam and boots him out of the land of Egypt. And where does Abraham turn? According to 13:1, he goes back to the Negev. He is back in the southern portion of the Promised Land. And from there he goes (verse 3) to Bethel. Do you see what he is doing? He is retracing his steps. He is returning to the Lord. Verse 4, He goes "to the place of the altar which he had made there formerly." And what does Abraham do there? Verse 4, "And there Abram called on the name of the LORD."
Sinclair Ferguson said, "Do I learn through dark providences, or simply seem relieved when they are over? (Healthy Christian Growth, p. 25). Abraham traded God's promise to him for the "abundant provisions" in Egypt. Then he gave his wife to another man to protect his own hide while he was in a place that he never should have been in the first place. Listen, before we beat too much on Abraham, we also walk away from God for things far less than a famine. Anytime we put ourselves first, trusting in our feeling and our thoughts and our security and our comfort we will always fail the tests. That is what Abraham did. But by God's grace, Abraham repented and Abraham called upon the Lord and Abraham learned.
2. Your Get First Pick
In our second point a second test comes Abraham's way. When he departs from Egypt, Pharaoh allows him to have a substantial amount of possessions. He just wants them out of his land! (A little foreshadowing here of Israel's exodus from Egypt).
Now, many of us think having more stuff will make our lives better. The American Dream often equates stuff with happiness. We dare not equate stuff with sin, but we do know stuff can also be a problem as any person with a lot of stuff will testify. No wonder it is exclaimed in Proverbs 30: "Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Pr. 30:8-9). Abraham's stuff would be another test sent from the Lord as the man was about to find out.
Beginning in verse 5 of chapter 13, "Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together. And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock" (Gen. 13:5-7).
The time has come for Abraham to split off from his nephew, Lot. So who gets first pick of the Promised Land? The land was given to Abraham. He is the older of the two. He is married. He has been carrying Lot all along. All (except Lot's) fingers point to Abraham as having first choice. Abraham would have been perfectly justified to send Lot away, but he doesn't. He takes the humble, Christlike road.
Verses 8-9, "So Abram said to Lot, 'Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left."
Abraham knew God's promise that the land was his. He saw no need to fight for his rights. He was willing to put others before himself. He was generous. He had his mind set on "the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). Abraham was walking by faith. He passed the test doing as Jesus would have done.
So Lot picks first and Lot chooses the area of Sodom and Gomorrah. So while Abraham is living by faith, verse 10 says, "Lot lifted up his eyes." He was walking by sight and chose the place most appealing to his senses. Verse 13 describes the people in this location as "wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD." Obviously raising his family in that environment didn't matter so long as his worldly needs were met. Last week we saw Abraham go to the pagan temples, "the oak of Moreh" (Gen. 12:6), to be a light to darkness; here we see Lot choose darkness because it seemed most appealing to him. A big difference!
In the New Testament, Lot is referred to as a "righteous" man (2 Pet. 2:7). Obviously he was on the inside (because the Word of God says it), but as you read about his life in Genesis, there isn't much to show of it on the outside. Lot was nothing but a lot of trouble. As we'll learn in the weeks ahead, Lot goes from near Sodom (Gen. 13:12) to in Sodom (Gen. 14:12) to the gateway of the city (Gen. 19:1) to pledging his daughters to be married to the men of the city (Gen. 19:14). As we'll learn in the weeks ahead, Lot failed this test and failing to learn from his uncles failures in Egypt brought great consequences in his own life. His land that he loved is destroyed. His wife dies. He daughters are perverted. And he barely escapes with his life.
It is not always smooth sailing with God. God is forever seeking to strengthen our faith with tests. Satan, like he did with Adam and Eve, uses these tests to convince us that his ways are easier and with him the grass is always greener. Then we suffer with the consequences. But here is where faith comes in that doing it God's way is always in our best interest and the only way to honor the Lord. Lot blew it here, but Abraham succeeded on this one. And while it looked like he lost, in reality he was the one who won.
After Lot departed it was God that blessed Abraham and spoke to Abraham beginning in verse 14: "Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you" (Gen. 13:14-17).
3. Should I Help the Guy?
A third test, our third point, is given to Abraham. Chapter 14 talks about a war between the kings of the land with strange names much too difficult for me to pronounce. In verse 9 of chapter 14 we basically learn that it is four kings and their people against five kings and their people. The army with the four kings wins and they plunder Sodom and Gomorrah (verse 11). That point is significant to us because who is living in Sodom and Gomorrah? Verse 12 of chapter 14, "They also took Lot, Abram's nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom."
Word makes it back to Abraham that Lot has been captured (verse 13). Another test, what should Abraham do? Remember, Lot has been a lot of problems. It was Lot's greedy decision that put him in that wicked town in the first place. Lot has aligned himself with sinful people. And Abraham was at least seventy-five at the time - I think a good excuse not to be a Navy Seal and take up covert operations to rescue his nephew. Yet he goes. Verse 14, "When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan." He defeats the other forces (verse 15) and, verse 16, "He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people."
We have seen Abraham demonstrate tremendous faith in God's promises. It has been said there are two kinds of faith we can demonstrate. There is passive faith. That was Abraham trusting the Lord, sitting back and allowing Lot to have first choice of the land. There is active faith. That was Abraham trusting the Lord, taking the initiative and going off to rescue Lot. But whether we have passive faith or active faith, we always need prayerful faith. As a matter of fact, sometimes prayerful faith is all we've got! For example, in the weeks ahead we will see that Lot after being rescued goes back to, of all places, Sodom! It's up to God this time to bring Lot out. Sadly it would not be a change in Lot's own heart, but by "kicking and screaming" when God brings total destruction on the town.
We'll look at Abraham's fourth test in a moment, but for now, how are you doing with the tests that God sends your way? Are you aware of the tests? Are you clinging to the promises of God in faith even when feelings or circumstances or popular opinion from the world is calling you in a different direction? Are you passing your tests? Are you growing like Abraham did in your faith? Robert Murray McCheyne, the great Scottish preacher from the 1800's said, "When God gives a promise, He always tries our faith. Just as the roots of trees take firmer hold when they are contending with the wind, so faith takes a firmer hold when it struggles with adverse appearances" (Comfort in Sorrow, p. 40).
4. Which King Should I Follow?
Let's go to the fourth point. After his victory, Abraham is greeted and honored by two kings. Again this is another test because both of these kings are total opposites. God usually tests us through other people, and these two kings symbolize so much in the decisions we are often faced to make between honoring the Lord and dishonoring Him when tested.
The first one is named Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem) (verse 18). The second's name is not provided, the king of Sodom (verse 17). The first one's name means the "king of righteousness" (Heb. 7:2). The second one rules over an evil territory. The first one in verse 18 is "a priest of God Most High" who came with "bread and wine" and kind words and praise to God for the victory. The second one did not acknowledge God's role in the battle and provided no gratitude toward Abraham, but does offer to Abraham all the goods that he plundered. The first one represents all that is good in God. The other one represents all that is "good" in this world. Here is the test, which one does Abraham chose to honor?
Verse 19 and 20, Melchizedek said. "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And in response, Abraham put his money where his mouth is. He blessed others as God blessed him. The verses says, "He gave [Melchizedek] a tenth of all." This is the first mention of a tithe (or ten percent) in the Bible. Overall, this is the biblical principle of first giving back to God our very best.
Instead of taking from the wicked king, Abraham chose to give to the righteous king. And what a full circle Abraham came. At first Abraham dishonored God and traveled to Egypt for provisions, and now while given provisions he honors God and refuses to take them from the wicked king. There was no way he wanted people to know that this godless king was a better supplier of his needs than the living God (verse 23). Though the offer from the second king was more attractive to the naked eye and Abraham was promised the land and the stuff within it, he would wait on God's timetable and not fall for Satan's shortcuts. Abraham walked by faith and Abraham passed the test.
As we have done, we see now how this account transitions to Jesus Christ. No one was tested more than our Lord, and as we know He never failed; He passed every one of them qualifying Himself to be our sinless substitute. Abraham told a lie to save his life. Jesus told nothing but the truth even though it would cost Him His life. Abraham put Lot's needs before his own and allowed him to have the land of his choice. Jesus was tempted to take the land of His choice by Satan, but rather put God the Father first and chose the path of suffering on our behalf. Abraham left his comfort to rescues Lot even though it was not deserved. Jesus left His heavenly abode and paid the ultimate sacrifice with His life to rescue us even though it was not deserved. And like Melchizedek, Jesus is our King whom we honor with our first fruits, and Jesus is our Priest who reconciles us with the Father through the once-and-for-all blood sacrifice of Himself.
Are you a Christian? If so, one of the clearest proofs of your salvation is not only the desire but also the ability to succeed in passing God's tests. Tom Wells once said, "You know why men test gold, why they put it in the fire. They know that if it is gold, fire will not hurt it. Men do not seek to destroy gold with fire. They do not seek to harm it in any way. Instead, they try to prove beyond all doubt that it is gold. And that is what God is doing when He [tests] His people. He seeks to show them, and the world, that they are true Christians" (Christian: Take Heart! p. 150-151).