ABRAHAM – AN ACT OF FAITH

Bible Reading: Genesis 22:5; Acts 12:1-11

The words, “and come again to you,” [verse 5] are among the most remarkable words in the Bible. They speak of tremendous faith and trust in a faithful God. God has told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering, and yet Abraham tells his two servants that he and Isaac will return to them.

How is it that Abraham can be so sure? It is because he understands the character of God. It is impossible that the death of Isaac would bring glory to God. God had promised Abraham that in his seed, that is, through Isaac, all nations of the earth would be blessed. Isaac is still a young man and not yet married. If he were to die at this time, then the promises of God are not trustworthy and cannot be relied upon. With the assurance that God fulfils His promises, Abraham can say with certainty that he and Isaac would return.

Abraham has faith in the promises of God, but how God would work out those promises must still have been unclear. Perhaps God would, in some way, intervene and provide a substitute for Isaac. If Isaac did die on Mount Moriah, then in order to fulfil His promises God would have to raise Isaac from the dead. How God would fulfil His promises should not be the most important issue for Abraham. The most important issue is that he is obedient to God and leaves the consequences with Him.

There is a similar situation in the life of Peter, recorded in Acts chapter 12. Herod had killed James [verse 1-2], and then held Peter in prison with the intention of killing him. Although chained between two soldiers, Peter slept so deeply that night that an angel had to strike him on the side to wake him up [verse 6-7]. As with Abraham, so Peter had a promise from God that was not yet fulfilled. Jesus had told Peter that he would live to be an old man [see John 21:18-19] but he was still a young man. Because he had a promise from God Peter knew that it was not time to die and he could trust the Lord to deliver him from this situation. That was the reason for his peaceful sleep!

Faith is the substance of things hoped, the evidence of things not seen [Hebrew 11:1]. If you can see the answer to your situation with natural eyes then you do not need faith. Faith sees the invisible. It doesn’t need to work out how God’s promise will come to pass – it just rests in God’s promise. God said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand” [Joshua 6:1]. With his natural eyes Joshua saw an impossible situation, but by faith he saw what was yet unseen and trusted God to do what He said. The examples of these three men, Abraham, Peter and Joshua remind us of the meaning of faith.

Questions:

Has God given you a promise that has not yet been answered and seems to be an impossible? What should your response be in that situation?

Why is faith described as “seeing the invisible”?

Are you prepared to speak out in faith what God has promised and trust Him to do what He has said in His way?

ABRAHAM – THE HEART OF WORSHIP

Bible Reading: Genesis 22:5; Romans 12:1-2

“And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” [Genesis 22:5]

This must be one of the most remarkable verses in the Bible. God has told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering, and Abraham calls it worship and says that he and the lad will return.

In the late 1990s, the pastor of the church attended by Matt Redman sensed that worship in his church was no longer vibrant and that people were not singing from the heart. The pastor bravely decided to get rid of the sound system and the band for a season, and as a result of this Matt Redman wrote these words:

When the music fades
All is stripped away, and I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless your heart

I’ll bring more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart

I doubt that Abraham was singing when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice, but he called it worship [verse 5]. It was more than a song. It was the sacrifice of an obedient heart. Many years later, David said that he would not offer to the Lord that which cost him nothing [2 Samuel 24:24].

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul also links sacrifice and worship. Writing to the Roman Church he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” [Romans 12:1 ESV].

James also writes about true worship and says, “Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world” [James 1:27]. The word “religion” in this verse is translated from a Greek word used only four times in the New Testament and on one of those occasions it is translated as “worship.”

Questions:

Why do you think that the Bible links sacrifice and worship together?

What do you think is the real heart of worship? In the light of our reading today, how would you evaluate your own worship to God?

ABRAHAM – HIS OBEDIENCE

Bible Readings: Genesis 22:2-3; John 14:15-24

“Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” [Genesis 22:2]

This verse reminds me of a well-known verse in the New Testament that says, “God so loved… that He gave His only begotten Son” [John 3:16]. Now God is asking Abraham to sacrifice his son and He seems to strongly emphasise that it is Abraham’s only son, whom he loves. God does not ask Abraham and will never ask us to give something that he Himself is not prepared to give.

It must have been a very tough thing to offer his own son as a sacrifice to the Lord, but Abraham did so without complaining or pleading for more time to spend with Isaac. Early the next morning, Abraham set out for the place that God had told him to go to. His obedience was instant and total.

Oswald Chambers once said that maturity does not depend upon a person’s age but upon their obedience. Obedience is important because it is the language of love. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments” [John 14:15]. Because we love Him we cannot help but obey Him. It is love for God that makes us obey Him. We don’t obey Him in order to love Him, but we obey Him because we love him. Love is the motive behind obedience. John more than any other Gospel writer emphasized love, and yet more than any other spoke about obedience! The two go together [See John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10].

Obedience is important because it is the twin of faith. Faith and obedience always go together. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down but obedience to what God had commanded Joshua was the evidence of faith. By faith Abraham offered up Isaac [Hebrews 11:17], but it was an act of obedience. Faith increases when we obey God. In response to the disciple’s request to increase their faith, Jesus told a parable about an obedient servant [Luke 17:5-9].

Obedience is important because it is the key to blessing. Deuteronomy 28:1-68 is an exposition of the blessings that come through obedience [verses 1-14], and the curses that come through disobedience [verses 15-68].

Questions:

Why do you think it is that in our modern culture obedience has been more equated with authority and submission to authority and less with love?

Are you prepared to obey God and, like Abraham, give to Him whatever He asks of you?

Would you apply the quote from Oswald Chambers, that maturity is not dependant upon age but obedience to your own life? What difference would obedience to God make in your own life?

ABRAHAM – HIS AVAILABILITY

Bible Reading: Genesis 22:1,7 and 11

In Genesis chapter 22 Abraham says, “Here I am” three times. The first time it is when God called him by name [verse 1]. The second time is when Isaac speaks to him and says, “My father” [verse 7], and the third time when the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven [verse 11].

Abraham is now an old man but he is still able to hear and respond to the voice of God. Over the years he had such communion with God, that God’s voice was very familiar to him. He is able to hear God’s voice even in a moment of great emotion, as he is in obedience about to slay his precious Isaac.

It seems often to be the case that when a person gets older they become less sensitive to the voice of God, but not so with Abraham. I have often wondered why this should be. Perhaps as we get older and gain more experience we rely upon that more than dependence upon God. Maybe it is the sound of so many other voices that crowd out God’s voice. Our bodies become tired. We ache in places where we didn’t seem to have places in our younger days and we listen to the voice of our body rather than the voice of God. Could it even be that we now lack the spiritual discipline of our earlier years that is still needed to be alert to God’s voice? Whatever the hindrance to hearing God’s voice may be, we see in Abraham a man in excess of 120 years of age who is still sensitive and alert to God’s voice.

Not only is Abraham able to hear God’s voice, he is also sensitive to the voice of his son. Isaac is puzzled because there is fire and wood but no lamb for the burnt offering. Some father’s might brush off their son’s question with a “Don’t bother me now, boy,” but not Abraham. Research has shown how little time the average father spends with his children in meaningful relationship each day. How destructive might that little phrase, “I am too busy,” be? There is no such thing as a close relationship without quality time and a listening ear. Don’t put off a close relationship with your children until a more convenient time. It will never happen. If you are not willing to listen when your children ask you a question, then they may stop asking, or worse still try and get their answers from an unhealthy or negative source. How many children have been sacrificed on the altar of their parent’s busyness? Decide today, that like Abraham, you will give time to your children and listen to their questions.

Questions:

What are the main reasons people find it hard to hear God’s voice?

Why is it important that any relationship requires time and a listening ear?

A Prayer:

Lord, help me to be constantly alert and sensitive to your voice. Help me also to be sensitive to my children’s questions and needs. In Jesus Name I ask this. Amen.

ABRAHAM – GOD’S TESTING

Bible Reading: Genesis 22:1-19

“After all these things God tested Abraham” [Genesis 22:1]

Isaac was now a young man, and Abraham would probably have been at least 115 to 120 years old. The word ‘lad’ [verse 5] can be translated from Hebrew as a ‘young man’. The words “After all these things” summarises everything that has happened in Abraham’s life until this moment. It has been a life with some amazing highs including God’s covenant with him, his financial integrity, defeating kings to rescue Lot, intercession for Lot, and the birth of Isaac. There have also been some low times, such as the move to Egypt, using Hagar to produce a child, and lying to Abimelech. After all these things – this amazing life, God tests the elderly Abraham.

God’s testing is not limited to young people, but can come at any time in a person’s life. Because a person has become spiritually mature does not mean that there will be no tests. It might even be that the more spiritually mature a person is, the more likely it is that there will be tests of faith and obedience.

God knows everything so this test could not possibly have been for His own sake, because He knew in advance how Abraham would respond. It was also not to trip Abraham and watch him fall because that would be contrary to God’s nature. This test was primarily for Abraham’s sake.

There perhaps are two reasons why God tested Abraham. Firstly, to keep him focused. It is possible that Abraham was so satisfied knowing that God had fulfilled His promise and he enjoyed Isaac so much that he forgot that the real goal was not Isaac but the Lord Himself. I have discovered that when God has blessed us, it is possible to so enjoy His blessing that we lose our focus on His purpose. Sometimes the blessing becomes more important to us than God Himself.

Secondly, God tested Abraham in order to deepen his capacity to obey God and to develop his faith so that it became even stronger. Tests and trials strengthen our faith. Job testified to this when he said, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” [Job 23:10]. James confirms this when writing about the various trials that test our faith by saying that these produce patience that leads to maturity so that we will lack nothing [James 1:2-4]. At whatever stage we are at in our walk with God, there is still room for growth.

Questions:

James makes it clear that our faith will be tested. He says, “when” and not “if” [see James 1:2]. What should our response be when our faith is tested?

Why do you think that God tested Abraham and why do you think that the test God required of Abraham was to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering?

 

ABRAHAM – LISTEN TO YOUR WIFE

Bible Reading: Genesis 21:8-21

Abraham loved both his sons but the presence of Hagar and Ishmael antagonised Sarah. In Genesis 16, we see how she had afflicted Hagar and how Hagar had run away. The final straw for Sarah was seeing Ishmael laughing [“mocking” KJV] at Isaac, and so she demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away. This distressed Abraham because he loved both Isaac and Ishmael.

In Genesis 16:2 Abram had heeded the voice of impatient Sarah who, so desperately, wanted a child and had not waited for God’s time. Sarah had been wrong at that time, but now God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. God knew that it would be impossible for Isaac and Ishmael to grow up together in the same environment, and His promise was that Abraham’s seed would be in Isaac. Therefore, although what Sarah demanded seemed harsh and unkind, it was actually best for both children, and therefore Abraham on this occasion should listen to his wife and do what she said. Even if Hagar and Ishmael were sent away God would take care of them, and make a great nation from Ishmael.

I am specifically writing to married men today. Some years ago in a Missions Convention, we invited a couple from Malaysia to be our key speakers. On the final night of the convention, 21 overseas missionaries stood at the front of the meeting and our guest speakers prayed for them. For most of them there were words of prophesy, and when they had all been prayed for our speakers returned to their seats on the platform. I too was a missionary and felt sad that they did not have a word from the Lord for my wife and I. Suddenly, the speaker’s wife turned to her husband and said, “We didn’t pray for Michael and Esther”. They came back off the platform and began to pray for us. My great longing is to be constantly filled with the love of God and the word from our speaker blessed me so much. Years later, I can still remember him saying, “You are an apostle of love”. My heart was overwhelmed. Then his wife took hold of me, and said, “I think that the Lord wants to say to you, ‘Listen to your wife more!’” The congregation, who knew me so well, erupted with laughter. It really was a word that I needed to hear.

Many men might find it difficult to accept being told to listen to their wife more, but I have learned that Esther is so often right and it is of great benefit to me to listen to her. If God gave her to me as a helper [Genesis 2:18], then surely we should work together, and she will hear from the Lord and be a part of all the decisions that we make. When I married Esther, I promised to love and honour her. That includes her spirituality and her God-given gifts. As I look back, I now realise how many more mistakes I might have made if I did not have Esther beside me.

Question:

If you are a married man, will you make a decision today to honour your wife by listening to her opinion and making decisions together as a couple? This might well give you protection but will also strengthen your marriage.

ABRAHAM – GOD ALWAYS KEEPS HIS PROMISES

Bible Reading: Genesis 21:1-7

For 25 years God had been promising a son and heir to Abraham and Sarah. Both of them had doubted at different times but finally what God had promised happened, just as He had spoken.

Abraham named his son Isaac as God had commanded him [Genesis 17:19]. The name Isaac means “he laughs”. With great joy, Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me” [verse 6]. Abraham’s earlier laughter [Genesis 17:7] as well as Sarah’s [Genesis 18:12] were unbelieving responses to the miracle of Isaac’s birth, which to them still lay in the realm of impossibility! Now they were filled with joyful laughter. God, who is faithful to His word, delights to do what is impossible for men.

Three young Christian women in Korea needed to cross a flooded river. They knew the story of Peter walking on the water and thought that they could do the same. Tragically, the three women drowned. In Greek, there are two different words for word: logos and rhema. Logos is the general Word of God that we read in the Bible. Through the logos we can learn about God and His promises, but logos does not create faith. Rhema is a specific word to a specific person in a specific situation. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” [Romans 10:17]. In this verse the ‘word’ is rhema. Faith comes when God speaks a rhema word, to a specific person in a specific situation! The three women who drowned acted on the logos and not rhema.

Many years ago, we were in the process of adopting an Indonesian baby. In a remarkable way, God had given us a promise to “take this child and nurse her for Him.” The Muslim head of the religious office in Jakarta was blocking our way. Day after day he said to me, “Come back tomorrow”. I knew that what he wanted was for me to pay him a bribe, but I refused. I flew home to East Java feeling very discouraged. On the Sunday afternoon, as we were reading His word, God gave us a promise. “I will bring your children from the East and gather them in the West.” That word was quickened to my spirit and I knew that God had spoken to me. I returned to Jakarta the next day full of faith. Three days later, and after two more refusals, the Muslim head was promoted and replaced by a new man who gave us the permission we needed. God even moves heads of government departments so that His promises are fulfilled!

Questions:

Can you remember a time when God gave you a specific promise and later fulfilled that promise? What emotions did you feel when that promised was fulfilled.

If someone asks you about faith, how would you explain difference between logos and rhema words?

Are you facing an impossible situation? Why not ask God to give you a specific promise that you can hold on to for that situation?

ABRAHAM – THE SAME OLD MISTAKE

Bible Reading: Genesis 20:1-18; 21:22-34

Although Abraham’s home was in Hebron, he would sometimes move from place to place in search of pasture for his herds. In today’s reading, Abraham is in Gerar, a Philistine city some 40 miles west of Hebron and near to the Mediterranean Sea.

Abraham was afraid that someone in Gerar would take his wife, and so he said that Sarah was his sister. This was exactly the same mistake that Abraham made years earlier in Egypt, and just as there were serious consequences then, so it would be the same in Gerar. Abimelech took Sarah because he believed Abraham’s lie, and Sarah was complicit in this wrongdoing by telling Abimelech that Abraham was her brother. God is very patient and did not disown Abraham, even though he was in the wrong, and had made the same mistake twice. God is gentle with us in just the same way that He was with Abraham.

Instead of rebuking Abraham, God spoke to Abimelech and warned him of the consequences if he did not restore Sarah to Abraham. It was God who had kept Abimelech from sinning, and told him that Abraham was a prophet [verses 6-7]. God actually used Abimelech to rebuke both Abraham and Sarah. The way that Abimelech confronted Abraham [verse 10], and the way in which Abraham responded is a remarkable picture of conflict resolution and the diffusing a potentially explosive situation. Abraham confessed his mistake and his motive for the mistake [verse 11-13]. Abimelech blessed Abraham with gifts, generously offered his land to Abraham as pasture for his cattle, and restored Sarah to him [verses 14-16].

Even though he had taken Sarah in innocence, nevertheless a curse had come upon Abimelech and his household. God kept all the women in his household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah [verse 18]. Having admitted his mistake Abraham, then prayed for Abimelech and his household, and God healed Abimelech, and also his wife and female servants, so that they bore children [verse 17].

Questions:

What are the lessons that we can learn from the story of Abraham and Abimelech about conflict resolution?

In what way was God especially gracious to Abraham? Would you be equally gracious if someone had made the same mistake twice?

Why do you think it was that God did not directly rebuke Abraham?

 

Read Genesis 21:22-34. In what way did Abraham’s honesty, confession and prayer bless Abimelech and become the basis for the covenant that they later made together?

 

ABRAHAM – REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE

Bible Reading: Genesis 19:17, 26; Luke 17:20-37

We know very little about Lot’s wife or her background. Did Lot meet her in Egypt, or was she from Sodom? The only thing that Bible says about this woman is that she looked back at Sodom and was turned into a pillar of salt. The angels had said to Lot and his family that they were not to look back [Genesis 19:17]. When Lot’s wife looked back, it was an act of deliberate disobedience. It was not just a cursory glance – the Hebrew verb indicates a prolonged, intense gazing toward Sodom and not just a curious glance!

When Jesus spoke about the coming kingdom of God, He illustrated His teaching by saying, “Remember Lot’s wife” [Luke 17:32]. When Jesus comes back it will be sudden and without warning. He likened it to the days of Noah [verses 26-27], and Lot [verses 28-29], when people lived for pleasure and for the moment and did not consider the eternal consequences. In both these cases, judgment came suddenly.

Lot’s wife’s affections were with Sodom, not with God. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” [Matthew 6:21 ESV]. The Lord had graciously brought her out of Sodom but her heart was divided and was still in Sodom. “Those who crave the life of this wicked world will lose this world and the next” [NLT Study Bible]. When Jesus used the illustration of Lot’s wife the very next verse says, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it” [Luke 17:33]. Jesus made it clear that we are to abandon the values and attachments of this world in order to be ready for His return.

Judgment came quickly for this woman who “loved this present world” more than God. Writing to his friends, the apostle John said, “Do not love this world, or the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever” [1 John 2:15-17 NLT].

Even today there are strange salt formations near the southern end of the Dead Sea that were probably formed when a great explosion took place as salt and sulphur were thrown red hot into the heavens and fell to the earth as fire and brimstone. Lot’s wife was encrusted in salt and became a monument to the divided heart that loves the world more than it loves God.

Questions:

What is the most important lesson that you have learned today from the story of Lot’s wife?

What do you think that Jesus meant when He said, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it”? What is the love of the world? How can you let go of your life?

ABRAHAM – THE TRAGEDY OF LOT

Bible Reading: Genesis 19:1-38

“Later, God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people. But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. Yes, Lot was a righteous man who was tormented in his soul by the wickedness he saw and heard day after day.” [2 Peter 2:6-8]

Twice Peter emphasises that Lot was a righteous man and also implies that he was a godly man. Although God said that he was righteous, Lot suffered so much loss because of his wrong choices and compromise. He had chosen to move towards Sodom because the land reminded him of Egypt. Later, Lot moved into Sodom and even became a judge in that city. Lot did not enter in to the sins of the people of Sodom, but rather their sin sickened and tormented him. He should never have been in Sodom!

Let’s follow the events when the angels arrived in Sodom to execute God’s judgment on the city. Firstly, the angels preferred to sleep in the open square than accept Lot’s hospitality [verse 2]. Secondly, Lot offered his own daughters to men of Sodom instead of releasing the two angels to them [verse 8]. Thirdly, Lot’s sons-in-law thought he was joking and were judged with Sodom [verse 14]. It does seem that Lot had compromised so much that he had never even spoken to his sons-in-law about godly things until this time. Fourthly, when told to leave Sodom Lot lingered. Lot and his family had to be pulled to safety by the two angels [verse 16]. Fifthly, Lot’s daughters got their father drunk and slept with him in order to obtain children.

The two sons who were born were the fathers of the Moabites and the Ammonites who opposed Israel and caused them so many problems in later years [verse 30-38]. Sin has long-term consequences.

Lot lost his position, his wealth, his sons-in-law, his wife, his testimony, and his self-respect because of his compromise and wrong choices. He was a righteous man and hated the sins of the people of Sodom but seemed unable to recognise his own sins of compromise and selfish decisions that caused him so much loss.

Amos 4:11 and Zechariah 3:2 speak of a “brand plucked from the burning.” and perfectly describes Lot’s experience of leaving Sodom. Believers can be saved but their works are destroyed by fire [1 Corinthians 3:15].

Questions:

Why do you think that God called Lot a righteous when he compromised and made such disastrous choices?

Why was Lot able to see so clearly the sins of the people of Sodom but unable to see the sins in his own life? What was the primary sin of Lot?

When God spoke to Lot he lingered in Sodom. In what way might we also linger as Christians when God speaks to us?