The Family of Abraham

Sermon given on Sunday, March 4, 2018, the 3rd Sunday of Lent during which the sermons are focusing on the Old Testament families and the lessons for the 21st Century

Scripture connections:

Genesis 12:1-4a

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

     So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed. . .

 

Genesis 12:7-9

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord. Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

 

Genesis 13:1-3

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.

 

Genesis 18:3-8

     “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

     So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures[a] of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

 

Genesis 18:13-14

“Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

 

 

Reflection: The Family of Abraham

How many of us would pick up and leave our homes without knowing where we were going or how we were going to make a living? How many of us would trust our own “hearing” if we thought God was telling us to do just that?

Dare I suggest that if we ‘hear’ God talk to us, we would demand some verification that it was God speaking. As a people, a culture, we question everything that we hear, even demanding some form of proof. We certainly would not just pack up and leave like Abraham did.

In Genesis 12, there is a key to the importance of the scripture. Look closely at the six clauses of verse two:

  1. I will make you into a great nation. . .
  2. I will bless you and make you famous . . .
  3. . . . you will be a blessing to others.
  4. I will bless those who bless you. . .
  5. . . .and curse those who treat you with contempt.
  6. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.

Those are extremely compelling reasons to follow God’s command.

Looking at each of these clauses and reflecting on today’s world, there are challenges to our understanding of how this one man and his family fit into our 21st century world. Abraham’s full story covers almost 15 chapters in Genesis, but I suspect many churchgoers would only identify the story of Abraham offering his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.

Abraham follows God’s call to walk away from his birth family, which was against the culture’s social rules. The oldest son was the rightful heir and expected to remain with the family until the patriarch died. That son then had the responsibility for the remaining family members. The system was complicated; for instance, when Abraham’s brother died, he was responsible for his nephew Lot, so he included him in his household when he left his father Terah’s house.

Following God’s instructions was not simple for Abraham as John Wesley noted:

Abraham is called to abandon the security of his homeland, social sanctuary, and family support, in order to become the head of a new household, even while he himself is still childless, and without knowing where he is going . . . Abraham needed to depend upon the Lord alone for guidance, because this call upon his life tested in Wesley’s words, “whether he could trust God farther than he saw him”. [i]

 

Following God’s call defied all the traditional expectations. Yet, Abraham heard God call him to go out on faith and establish a new nation.

How does this fit into today’s world? Our understanding of the nations is much more concrete with all the scientific and geographical knowledge that is available today. The idea of establishing a new nation is not logical for us. Yet stop and redefine nation.

The nation that God led Abraham to establish has evolved into a religious nation, not a political nation. In fact, the family of Abraham is credited with the founding of three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

In Genesis, when Abraham left his father’s home, God appears to him:

Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to the Lord, who had appeared to him. After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to the Lord, and he worshiped the Lord. Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

 

The journey continues even after this point because a famine hits and Abraham moves his family on to Egypt.

Still the challenges continued. Using a trick, Abraham attempted to fool the Pharaoh concerning Sarah. The Pharaoh figured it out and sent them out of Egypt. And the story continues as recorded in Genesis 13:

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped the Lord again.

 

How does Abraham’s story fit into our world today? Think about how many times we are asked to relocate. Life’s circumstances can dictate changes that may not make sense, but when Abraham’s circumstances led him to move, God never left him. God led him in making the decisions of where to go and how long to stay. Abraham’s faithfulness made his family into a nation of faithful people.

Is your faith strong enough that as you travel through life, God remains by your side? Do you live your faith in such a manner that you demonstrate God’s grace and love to others? Do you see how Abraham’s faithfulness led to the blessings promised in those first verses of Genesis 12?

In the ancient culture, wealth was amassed by possessions, by the size of the family, by the territory the family inhabited. The fact that Abraham and Sarah did not have any children was a difficult truth and challenged their faithfulness.

The concern was so overwhelming that Sarah decided Abraham should have a son through her slave-girl Hagar. Much like a surrogate in today’s society, Hagar did give birth to a son Ishmael. The story is complicated with a power struggle between Hagar and Sarah, but also for Abraham. A son signaled the continuation of a nation. God had promised Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation.”

The birth of Ismael could have completed the promise, yet God returns to Abraham to reaffirm his covenant including Sarah:

19 But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac, and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant. 20 As for Ishmael, I will bless him also, just as you have asked. I will make him extremely fruitful and multiply his descendants. He will become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant will be confirmed with Isaac, who will be born to you and Sarah about this time next year.” 22 When God had finished speaking, he left Abraham.

 

Even though Abraham laughed off the possibility of Sarah and he having a son, he continued to demonstrate the love for others and is noted for his hospitality to strangers. The story includes the example when three strangers arrived and he served them (Genesis 18:3-8):

     “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

     So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.

 

These strangers asked about Sarah and also told Abraham that God would bless them with a son. Now it was Sarah time to laugh, but one said,

“Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old? Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”

 

Abraham’s story continues as Sarah does give birth to a son Isaac. God kept his promise. The familiar story of Abraham is filled with examples of faithfulness. We may not understand how God could ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son Isaac, but we do know that God tests us. When we follow God’s law, God will provide. When we follow God’s law, he rewards us.

A study of Abraham’s family shows that the nation God promised is really a nation without boundaries. Abraham’s family continued teaching how to be faithful. Ishmael may have been sent away, but even his faith established the Islamic religion. Isaac is identified as founding the Jewish faith.

And the nations continue.   Jesus was born as man whose lineage is traced back to Isaac. Those who accept Jesus as their savior are part of Abraham’s nation that continues to grow as Christianity—a nation that continues to grow.

The family of Abraham teaches us how to be faithful, how to listen to God, and how to trust God. Today’s nations may have boundaries, but the heavenly nation established by God has no boundaries. Remain faithful to God. Listen for God’s instructions. Trust God and you will be blessed.

Works Cited

The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009.

 

 

[i] (200918-19)

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