Yesterday we studied the beginning of our history: Adam and the fall. We also looked at how Jesus never sinned and his action of obedience on the cross, dying for our sins and then coming back to life, has given a pathway to a restored relationship with God the Father. Jesus’ ascension into heaven gives us a promise of hope that we will one day be with him. However, we also discussed how God always gives his people hope. So we are going to move a little further into the book of Genesis and talk about Abraham.
Cain has already murdered Abel. Noah and the flood have happened. The tower of babel incident has resulted in humanity having many languages. The Bible now focuses on a man named Abram (later to be renamed by God to Abraham).
Who was this Abraham? He lived 2,000 years before Jesus and is the single person to whom the Jewish people draw their lineage, even to this day. He was the start of the Jewish people and his ancestor was Shem, one of the sons of Noah. He lived in the city of Ur, which is in Sumer (present day Iraq). It was an advanced civilization but a pagan one. At some point, Abram’s father took Abram, Sarai (Abram’s wife), and Lot (Abram’s nephew) and set out for Canaan. However they did not make it. They ended up settling in a town called Harran (present day Turkey). This is when the Lord enters into the story.
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-3 NIV
Abram was 75 years old at this point. Understand that he had already picked up and moved his household over 600 miles from Ur to Harran. Now, God was asking him to do it all over again and go to… “a land I will show you.” They didn’t even know where they were going! (we now know it was another 355 miles into the land of Canaan) This was a serious request!! Remember, it wasn’t just three people. It was the whole household: servants, the families of the servants, cattle, possessions, food, money,… everything. Oh, and they didn’t load it on a truck by the way. They had to do much of it on foot, in wagons, and on the backs of animals. It was one tough journey. They would need to give up the comfort and luxury of where they were and travel to an unknown place, at an unknown distance, to settle amongst unknown people.
Despite all that difficulty, Abram went. And he went with the hope that God gave him, that he would be made into a great nation. He would be blessed. He would be a blessing to all peoples on the earth. Wow! I would move for all of that too! But how much more of a promise was this for Abram! You see, he and Sarai had no children. At this point, with both of them in their 70s, I think it’s safe to say that they couldn’t physically have children anymore. The thought of children of their own had definitely left their minds and they were resigned to the fact they would have no children. Then enters God, telling them that in fact, they were going to have many descendants (which means they’d have to have at least one child first). What hope they must have had from this! So they packed up and started on their journey.
They stopped a few times, built altars, and talked with God. At some point, famine drove them to Egypt where Abram did a not-so-great thing.
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.
Genesis 12:10-20 NIV
At this point, it would be very easy to think that God would not honor Abram anymore. After all, he had gone to Egypt and offered up his wife to the Pharaoh. He even profited off of it! Not a great move, to say the least. God was so angry that he afflicted Pharaoh and his household. It was only at this point that Abram confessed that Sarai was his wife. It is unclear in the scripture if Abram felt any remorse. I would like to think that he did. Whether he did or not, we can all see where he might actually lose hope of God keeping his promise. After all, he had sinned egregiously.
However, our God is a God of his word. There was no reason for Abram to lose hope. You see, God knew what Abram was going to do before he did it. Yet he still promised Abram great blessings. Despite all our failings, God loves us and we can always hope in that.
So Abram goes back to the lands of Canaan and subsequently parts with his nephew Lot. There were just too many people and livestock between the two families and quarreling started brewing. So they split ways. It was at this time that Abram ended up in the area that we now call Israel.
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.
Genesis 13:14-18 NIV
God took time to reiterate his promise to Abram, to give him the hope to keep faith. God was letting him know that he was going to have so many offspring that no one could count them. How Abram probably needed this reassurance. People of different beliefs, who worshipped pagan gods, surrounded Abram. He was wandering around and had yet to receive an heir. In chapter 14, we read about battles he had to fight. He had a lot of earthly circumstances working against him, not to mention personal and familial sin problems.
In chapter 15, we see that he is starting to lose hope.
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Genesis 15:2 NIV
Abram was seriously concerned that God was not going to fulfill his promise through a son. He was losing heart and hope. Reading further, we find that he is starting to doubt that God will fulfill his promise in giving him the land. You see, although he was in the land, he did not yet own it. Abram was really starting to lose hope that God was going to do anything.
But here’s our lesson learned. Abram went to God with his doubts. He didn’t go anywhere else. When he gave his doubts to God, God gave him the faith and answers he needed. So Abram’s faith and hope were restored.
It has now been 10 years since they left Harran. Sarai is antsy to start her family. She convinces Abram to start a family through her slave Hagar. When Hagar became pregnant and then hostile toward Sarai, Sarai mistreated her to the point that Hagar left. But an angel stopped Hagar and sent her back to Abram, promising her that her descendants would be too numerous to count. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Because Sarai lost hope in God regarding having a son, many offenses occurred, including trying to take the place of God and force events in her own way. But God did not go back on his promise to Abram. Despite the sin, despite giving Hagar a promise that was very much like Abram’s, and despite Sarai laughing in the face of angels, the Father kept his promise. God reiterated again to Abram that he was going to be blessed and gave Abram and Sarai new names, Abraham and Sarah. God promised Abraham that he would have a son through Sarah and that this son was the one with whom he was fulfilling his covenant. However, Ishmael, Hagar’s son, would also be blessed. Both sons would be too numerous to count and both would father 12 rulers/tribes. (Note: Muhammad in Islam traces his lineage back to Ishmael.)
At the ages of 100 and 90, Abraham and Sarah had a son named Isaac. If we were uncertain about their ability to have children before, we are definite now! The Bible even specifically states that they were beyond child bearing age. Talk about a miracle! Their hope had been fulfilled!
Despite all the mistakes made by Abraham and Sarah, despite the unbelief of Sarah, despite God giving blessings to illegitimate children, despite Abraham’s faltering faith, and despite the outright sin engaged in by both of them, God never faltered. He kept his promise despite sexual sin. He kept his promise despite doubt. He kept his promise to a son and his mother who were the collateral damage to someone else’s lack of faith. This is what gives us hope and what gave Abraham and Sarah hope. God is constant. He does not break his promises. This is what I believe helped Abraham go through with what God would ask of him next. At this point, he knew that God would keep his promise. He had a consistent hope in the covenant that God made with him. So when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham said ok.
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Genesis 22:1-5 NIV
Kill his son?! Yes, that is exactly what God asked Abraham to do. Abraham didn’t falter. He got up the very next day and went about preparing to do that exact thing. Abraham, Isaac and two servants went on a three day trip to worship God, but only Abraham knew who the sacrifice was going to be. Was he worried? Probably. But he had learned through his life that God keeps his promises. Abraham was hoping in this. After all, he told the servants “we will come back to you.” That’s hope if I’ve ever heard it and we get an even better glimpse of this hope when Isaac starts questioning.
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Genesis 22:6-8 NIV
This is where we truly see that Abraham’s hope has become a steady constant in his soul. His hope has given him an unshakeable faith. No longer is he wavering like he did with his wife. He is locked in step with God the Father, putting his hope in God alone.
God rewards Abraham’s hope and faith by saving Isaac seconds before Abraham was about to plunge the knife into him.
When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
Genesis 22:9-18 NIV
It was a test! God was testing Abraham’s faith and loyalty, and he passed! Much has been written about this part of Abraham’s life, but I want you to take this away today: Abraham’s hope in God’s promises led to an unshakeable faith. This kind of hope doesn’t come easily, but once obtained it is not lost easily. We obtain this type of hope by keeping our eyes on God. By keeping our eyes on the promises of God, we grow our faith .
In hope he (Abraham) believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”
Romans 4:18 NIV
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore….
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
Hebrews 11:8-12,17-19 NIV
You see, Abraham kept his focus on the promise God gave him. Most of the promises were not even his own. He would not see them in his lifetime. He experienced the birth of his son and he saw the land God promised to him, but it would be generations before his descendants would possess the land. However, because he kept his hope in God’s promises, passing the covenant down through the generations, his descendants received the promises made to him by God.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Just as Abraham kept his focus on the promises of God, we also have promises that we can look to in order to give ourselves hope. Jesus, himself, is promise fulfilled. He gave his life for our sins so that we could have life abundantly with him in Heaven. God could’ve fulfilled his promise of a Messiah in so many different ways. Yet he chose to send his son to earth to die a horrible death in order that we could have a pathway to restoration. Jesus was the sacrifice to cover our sins. When he beat death and rose from the dead, we are given an abundance of hope in the heaven that Jesus promises. If Jesus can beat death, just as he promised he would, then surely the heaven and eternal life he promises believers is legitimate. What hope we have that we will be sitting with God himself in heaven! As if this wasn’t enough, we have even more promises! A few are listed below.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 ESV
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16 ESV
And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
1 John 2:25 ESV
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
John 10:28 NIV
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
John 14:2-3 NIV
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
There are so many promises that God has given us in his word. Jesus himself spoke many promises to those that would follow him. These are the things that we need to cling to when things get hard. Remember, God never leaves his people without hope. He has given us promises to look to when we can’t see any other way out. These promises remind us that he hasn’t forgotten us.
We can look to the people in the Bible and see that despite all their circumstances and despite all their mistakes/sins, God never left. He never forgot his promises. He always worked to the good of his people. As we focus on hope during this advent week, take time to reflect on the promises that God has kept in your life.
Thank you for showing me how you are faithful in keeping your promises. Thank you for being a God that is constant and true, despite my failings. Lord, I come to you, worshipping your faithfulness and goodness, and asking that you fill me with the hope that can only come from you. Show me how you have kept your promises in my life so that I can worship your greatness. Bring these memories to me when I am starting to doubt. Give me a hope that leads to unshakeable faith.
In your name,
- Write down promises in the Bible that God makes with his people. If you aren't sure where to start, go to OpenBible and search "promises of God."
- How has God come through on his promises in your life?
- What promises do you cling to when things are difficult?
- Record what you have learned about God, his promises, and how they apply to your life. When things are difficult, come back and reflect on these.
TRADITIONAL ADVENT READINGS FOR DAY 2
Psalm 4, 7
2 Peter 1:1-11