Heroes In History (1) – Abraham


Key to his life – The Tent and the Altar. The tent was ‘‘pitched” for it spoke of temporary things, but the altar was “builded” for it spoke of permanent values.

The Voice of Command

“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country … unto a land that I will shew thee”, 12. 1. We note that the Lord had said, for the movement had already begun in 11. 31, 32. They “went forth … from Ur … and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there”. Terah’s journey stopped short at Haran; he looked only for pasture and dwelling. From Ur to Haran was an easy matter as both were on the same side of the river Euphrates. To cross the river meant a final decision.

The Venture of Faith

Abram did cross the river and he was called “the Hebrew” or the man from the other side. He saw the wider vision and obeyed. So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; … and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came”, 12. 4, 5. Many begin the course but not all finish it. When Terah died, death broke the link with Haran. In N.T. language the cross of Christ not only saves us but it also separates us from the world. Abram must not stay in Ur of the Chaldees, a highly civilised and cultured society, to convert them to the ways of God. There must be no compromise with evil. God said “Get thee out” not only from Ur but also from the half-hearted obedience represented by the sojourn at Haran.

Here, then, faith is seen in full exercise and Abram never had any desire after the old things of Ur again. Had they “been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly”. In this they declare plainly that they seek a homeland, Heb. 11. 14-16.

The Vision of Canaan

“And the Lord appeared unto Abram,, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land”, 12. 7. There was no further revelation to Abram while he remained in Haran. God adds to those who act; He draws us to the place of His choice but does not drag us. God wanted Abram alone, for His communications are made to solitary souls, “I called him alone”, Isa. 51. 2. Obedience is the pathway to further knowledge.

The Victory Anticipated

“And the Canaanite was then in the land … And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south”, 12. 6, 9. Abram’s strength was in the Lord although there was a foe in the land; the altar he built was a proof of this. But whilst his faith was equal to the foe, v. 6, it faltered when the famine came, v. 10. Hence we read “Abram went down into Egypt” and this was neither a safe nor a right step to take. This was followed by a half-truth to the king of Egypt which was but an intentional falsehood. “Say”, said he, “thou art my sister: that it may be well with me”, v. 13; cf. 20. 12. How this savours of the worldly diplomat! Abram staggered not at the big things but feared to depend on God for the smaller ones.

Let us take to heart some of the lessons of his life associated with altars. At the very commencement we find

The Altar of Obedience, 12. 7

All true life begins with the altar of obedience. “By faith Abraham, when he was called … obeyed”, Heb. 11. 8. Upon entering the inheritance “there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him”, Gen. 12. 7.

The Altar of Communion, 12. 8

Moving on to a mountain with Bethel on the west and Hai on the east “there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord”. Abram proved that constant communion is essential to spiritual progress. In Hebrews where we read the words “let us go on”, the subject of the priestly exercises of the people of God are prominent too.

Notice when Abram “went down” into Egypt there is no mention of an altar there. He needed to be restored, before the Lord was given His portion again. The believer is in constant need of restoration; the Psalmist said “He restoreth my soul”. Significantly therefore it was when “Abram went up out of Egypt … unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first” that we find that Abram “called on the name of the Lord”, 13. 1-4. However far and long we may have wandered, we must always return to the place where we were at the beginning and there call upon the name of the Lord – there is no other way.

The Altar of Separation, 13. 18

“Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord”. There are fresh lessons in this context.

In the strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot is seen the choice of the man of human reason and fleshly ambition, 13. 10, and the conduct of the man of faith, v. 14. What tragic consequences followed the worldly choice of Lot, but the lasting reward was to be Abram’s. The man who leaves the choice of life’s pathway to God can never be robbed of his possessions.

In the conflict with the kings recorded in chapter 14 Abram refused to accept “from a thread even to a shoelachet … lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich”, v. 23. We should beware of accepting privileges, positions and responsibilities which impose upon us an obligation to the world. The altar separates us from both the lusts of the flesh and the pleasures of the world.

It was after these things that “the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward”, 15. 1. To the one who depends upon Him, God is all that he needs. He is a shield in a time of war and then the reward when the victory has been won.

The Altar of Sacrifice and Surrender, 22. 9

God now proved Abraham, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest … and offer him there for a burnt offering”, 22. 2. Here we note

The bond of relationship. Abraham’s soul was torn by the conflict between human ties and obedience to God. There is a great emphasis on the loving links between Abraham and the son, the only son, the much loved son. Yet he “rose up early”, quick to respond to the voice of God. In N.T. language remember “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”, Matt. 10. 37.

The burden of responsibility. Faith in the promise of God that in “Isaac shall thy seed be called” had been the governing principle of Abraham’s life. However he cast the responsibility for the fulfilment of this promise upon God. “My son”, said he, “God will provide himself a lamb”. We may well leave the conclusion of any matter with Him: Mine to obey, His to perform.

The blessing of reward. “Jehovah-jireh … In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen”, v. 14. How much more precious was Isaac to Abraham as they journeyed back to Beersheba. Whatever we lay on the altar for God is rewarded an hundredfold. He will be no man’s debtor and they that honour Him, He will honour. This was the place of God’s deliverance and blessing as much as the place of Abraham’s testing.

Compare the blessing on the basis of believing, 15. 6, with the blessing on the ground of obedience, 22. 18. Faith begins the work which is carried on by obedience.

The End of the Journey, 25. 8

“Then Abraham … died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people”. Abraham was not only an old man but a full man. Many lives are long but comparatively empty whilst others are short but full. Quality not quantity determines the fulness of life.

Abraham was gathered to his people. His own people were buried in Mesopotamia but his grave was “in the cave … in the field … which is before Mamre”. Yet he was gathered to his people, those of like mind who waited for the city for which he looked, whose builder and maker is God.

The supreme lesson of Abraham’s life is the temporary nature of earthly things and the permanent value of the heavenly. To pitch a tent is cheaper than to build an altar, yet many build themselves ceiled houses and the ark dwells in curtains. Pagans build elaborate temples but their houses are often mere hovels; too many Christians do the opposite.


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