Father Abraham

“These all died in faith … and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” – Hebrews 11:13 (NKJV)*

abraham_journeyI recently attended a Bible study on Abraham, father of our faith (Romans 4:16). The teacher said that Abraham had a wrong view of God because the Lord promised a great nation, name, and blessing – like the popular “health and wealth” gospel today (Genesis 12:2-3). Then he said that Abraham wavered in his faith; once he reached Canaan, he moved around instead of staying in one place like Shechem (12:6-9). God didn’t talk to Abraham after he built an altar in Bethel because he wasn’t supposed to be there (12:8). Following the Jordan River south was a remnant of his former worship of the Euphrates River gods in Ur (12:9, 11:28; Joshua 24:2). And Abraham certainly shouldn’t have gone to Egypt (Genesis 12:10).

Huh?

This teacher ignored the obvious and read some wrong things into the Bible narrative. He misunderstood God’s character too. The “father of our faith” is also the father of pilgrimage.

Let’s start with the obvious. I don’t know what Abraham understood when God told him that if he left his country and family, “I will make you a great nation … and bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:2). Yet Abraham believed God’s promise (15:6). The father of our faith believed without seeing. By faith Abraham saw the promised future (Hebrews 11:1).

melchizedek abrahamThis is the first divine blessing on a person. Although fulfilled in Jesus Christ, God confirmed parts of the blessing in Abraham’s lifetime. He troubled Pharaoh of Egypt and King Abimelech of the Philistines in relation to Sarah and called Abraham a “prophet” (Genesis 12:17, 20:3, 7). Melchizedek blessed him after he rescued Lot (14:19-20). Abraham then witnessed the birth of Isaac, the son of promise (21:1-3). When it was time to bury his wife Sarah, the children of Heth called Abraham “a mighty prince” even though he was a foreigner (23:6).

Abraham traveled to Canaan with Sarah, his nephew Lot, his material possessions, and his slaves (Genesis 12:5). Those possessions included animals, livestock. It’s not until Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt that we learn he had a lot: “sheep, oxen, male and … female donkeys, and camels” (12:16). Abraham was “very rich in livestock” when he left Egypt; some were a gift from Pharaoh (13:2). Lot also had “flocks and herds,” so many that the land could not support them; he and Abraham had to separate (13:5-11). Their livestock stretched as far as the eye could see.

abrahamWhy do I say this? Animals need food and water to survive. Numerous herds demand the life of a nomad. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the first patriarchs – moved constantly around Canaan in order to feed their animals. One follows the river in Israel because that’s where the water and best grazing grounds are. Away from the river one finds a lot of desert and rock. Besides, cities have always flourished near water. How else can their citizens survive?

Abraham finally went to Egypt because “there was a famine in the land,” a severe one (Genesis 12:10). He, his family, and his animals would have starved to death if they had stayed in Canaan. Jacob also went to Egypt during a severe famine (46:1-6). His father Isaac went to Abimelech because of famine (26:1). Expecting Abraham to stay in one place would have been suicide. His life was similar to the Native Americans who followed buffalo herds here between the 15th and the 19th centuries. They were hunters, not farmers. The reservation is cultural suicide. Today one finds nomads in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia moving constantly to feed their herds.

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage. … They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.” – Psalm 84:5, 7

Now let’s consider what is not so obvious in Abraham’s story – the life of pilgrimage. He was born and reared in the great city Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:28). When God told him to leave his country and family, Abraham moved west with his family to Haran (11:31). He was progressing, but it was still a city. He also obeyed only the “leave your country” part. The move to Canaan was the biggest leap of faith because Abraham took only his wife and nephew (12:4-5).

israel manna wildernessThis time, Abraham really didn’t “know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). This is just what God wanted. Abraham had to rely on God to lead and guide him no matter where he lived. His travels were an object lesson. God “led [Abraham] throughout all the land of Canaan,” just like Israel in the wilderness (Joshua 24:3). He “encircled” and “instructed” Israel; “as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him” (Deuteronomy 32:10-12). The life of pilgrimage, whether one like Abraham or millions like Israel, requires faith. They learned to rely daily on God for food, water, and shelter and he supplied their every need (8:4).

Abraham was one of the first “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13). He learned by faith to “wait for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” – not man like the cities of Ur and Haran (11:10). Abraham also learned to “seek a homeland” and “heavenly country” instead of identifying Chaldea or Canaan as his home (11:14-16).

How is Abraham the father of our faith (Romans 4:16)? God led Solomon to build a temple in Jerusalem, yet the “Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:48). Heaven is God’s throne and earth is his footstool (7:49, Isaiah 66:1, Matthew 5:34-35). Through the Holy Spirit he dwells in the temples of Christian believers, wherever they live (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). God will supply their every need if they seek his kingdom first (Matthew 6:25-33). The Holy Spirit is like the wind; he’s always moving and cannot be contained (John 3:8). Truly the life of faith is one of pilgrimage. We seek the New Jerusalem, the city of God (Revelation 21:2).

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing thru,
my treasures are laid up some where beyond the blue,
the angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
and I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

Oh Lord, you know I have no friend like you, 
if heaven’s not my home then Lord what will I do,
the angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
and I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

— Jim Reeves, “This World is Not My Home” (YouTube)

_____

* All Scripture verses come from the NKJV.

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