GENESIS – SERIES NR 11 : Loss and Gain
Scripture : Genesis 12
Gen 12 is certainly one of the most important chapters in the Bible, because it describes the birth of the nation that would be God’s OT-church. And out of that church, the NT-church (who are us) was born!
In Gen 12 the Lord is really well on the way to fulfill the mother-promise (Gen 3:15)! But observe how things start off: without any drama – with the calling of a very ordinary man : Abram.
Abram was a complete pagan, but the Lord set him into motion. By grace alone. Abram did not look for the Lord. The Lord looked for him. And found him! Yes, the Lord really choose ordinary people! All this has therefore everything to do with US! In a certain sense it is also our story. The Lord calls ordinary people! Not people who first have to accomplish wonderful things. Abram could not impress the Lord in any way. He did not earn his passport to the land Canaan with his exceptional life. In any case, his journey to Canaan was not following a prescibed travel guide. It was a pilgrimage – a journey in faith. And that is purely by grace. That God would cross our lives, is pure grace. Whoever you may be.
But one thing is very sure: When the living God becomes involved with us in a grace relationship, then things start to happen! In the Lord’s company, nobody becomes somebody. You become an implement of God’s omnipotence and a channel of His love and mouthpiece of His Words. A human being par excellence: NOT by descent, origin or achievement, but only in fellowship with the living God! There is a miraculous power the Lord exerts in your life – according to Eph 1:20 – the same power God exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the grave!
But just imagine how impossibly difficult it must have been for Abram to hear: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. What a loss and a disillusion! Abram came from an affluent family. He was very comfortable where he was. But suddenly the Lord’s immigration-policy invaded his life and totally disrupted it. He only heard he had to leave. He did not know where to. Into the unknown. And he had to leave everyone behind. It was loss upon loss. Everything which was important to him, had to stay behind. Because the sovereign God came speaking to him! To those ancient people of the Middle East such an instruction would have meant nothing but voluntary exile. It was simply inhuman.
The only thing Abram could rely upon, his only security, was the voice of God. God who gave a vague promise: “a land I will show you”. But without true faith-confidence, a promise is but meaningless words. We would think that Abram would ask for some kind of security. But nothing like that was given. He looked into the future… and saw nothing. Nothing! Except God’s promise. And God was a stranger to him. Remember: he was a pagan. The Lord just came and spoke to him. Out of nowhere! And all Abram could see at that point was a road into the unknown: with all its dangers and hardships.
Nevertheless, Abram started the journey. Because, a miracle had taken place in his heart, a sudden change which could only have been brought about by the Lord himself. Suddenly obedience to the Lord was all that mattered to him. A sure miracle!
This description of Abram’s calling sounds very plain and insignificant, but Abram was God’s fullstop in a world of decline and ruin. It was destined to bring about a change in history. Because this was laying the foundation of the OT-church – from which the Christ would come. But it began with one man who heard these words: “Leave your country…”
We would like to see that the Lord would work on a bigger scale in our own town and church and bring about a mighty revival. But often the Lord chooses to start with individuals. And sometimes on a small scale. And He says: “Set yourself apart! Take the road the Lord will show you. Forget about the rest. Follow me!”
And a divine call demands an answer! Obedience. Which could bring about loss. But when the individual – to whom the Lord speaks – says YES and surrender, then it is an expression of faith. Then we are connected to Him. And it is not a daring undertaking. It is a walk with GOD himself.
Actually, our Lord Jesus himself rounded off Abram’s obedience perfectly when He – in obedience to His Father – went out and humbled Himself by his incarnation and was obedient onto death – even death on the cross! (Phil 2:7-8).
We should, however, also take note that there was a specific future aim and plan why the Lord called Abram. The Lord did not plunge Abram into a total uncertainty. He knew that noboby can live without some form of future expectation. Therefore He committed Himself to make a great nation of Abram and to bless him and to make a blessing of him. And even to bless all the peoples of the earth through Abram. We know that that blessing is still being fulfilled every day when people from all nations are being incorporated into Christ. But Abram could see nothing of this. It is very easy for us to look back. But he only had the promise from God to cling to. In the end, God’s future plan will ultimately have a greater blessing for Abram than he could ever have imagined. The blessing would radiate outwards – through the coming of Christ – to all nations up to the end of time!
The Lord equiped Abram in a powerful way with His blessing, and THAT enabled Abram to answer with obedience. This blessing-promise was however, more than that. It was the hinge onto which the coming of the kingdom of God would hang – up to our present day. It is the lense through which we must view the world today. If we look WITHOUT this lense, we see irreparable confusion. But should we look WITH this lense, we see how God is daily busy including thousands of people into the kingdom, and renewing lives. We see how He uses His people to be a blessing to others and to make the earth a better place. As with Abram, a child of God’s life is a channel through which His blessings can flow to others. The life of Abram was not meant to be a reservoir of grace, but a CHANNEL of blessings to others.
And look carefully at the blessing-promise (covenant) in verse 2-3: The Lord said over and over: “I will, I will, I will”. He didn’t say: “I first expect this and that from you and THEN I will..”! God’s covenant operates like a testament/will: It contains promises. It is crystal-clear grace. But exactly that creates the power to obey. Look at verse 4: “So Abram left”. Because he believed God, there was a practical reaction: HE LEFT!! He did not confess his trust and then did nothing. He did everything! Part of the everything was that he went and built an altar. The same as Noah had done when he came out of the Ark.
Abram journeyed all the way to Canaan to hold a simple worship service. It was not a great show drawing attention from all the nations. He did not go and overwhelm the pagans with a spiritual powerplay. He did a very humble thing. He built a stone altar and knelt down because the Lord did not call him to create sensations or build great monuments. He was called to be faithful and to worship. But he also proclaimed God’s authority over the world. When the altar was built, God’s divinity was thereby acknowledged and proclaimed. And by this time we know that the altar was a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus’ cross-altar.
The fallen human-heart is always inclined to trust on great and spectacular things. On that which glitters and shines. On kings and kingdoms. On signs and wonders. But the living God’s heart does not beat that way. When Abram’s great descendant – Jesus Christ – appeared on earth, He did exactly what Abram had done. He calmly glorified His Father and proclaimed the kingdom to everyone who would listen. And He relayed love to a loveless world. And called sinners to repentance. But in actual fact He was busy preparing an altar. And in the end, when this altar was completed, it did not look like an altar at all. It looked like a cross. And stood on a small hill. And He placed Himself upon it as a sacrifice. That is how the blessing-promise to Abram was poured out on the nations – by the blood of the Son.
So it was not for nothing that Abram obeyed and left. It was not in vain that he left everything behind in obedience to God. It was not in vain that he built that altar in the unknown. Because the work he began in pure faith, was perfectly completed at Calvary. In fact it shall be absolutely complete at the second coming when the last saved person walks into the new Jerusalem.
But now the Bible is blatantly honest. Abram did truly transfered his faith-trust over onto the promise of God. That is certain. One sees the authenticity of his repentance in his actions. His obedience. He LEFT and began his journey to the promised land.
But Abram was still someone who could sin. It is not an excuse, it is a reality.
The events which have been recorded in verses 7-20 are truly disappointing. But it is also an encouragement, because through those events WE are included in the story, and not excluded. Because we can seriously associate ourselves with that.
Why are verses 7-20 so disappointing? Because the man from whom we want to learn the ABC of a faith-walk with God, is apparently suddenly off-course. It seems as if he has lost the plot. His actions are cowardly. We find him here in a strange place – far away from his altar. With little faith and confused.
What was the cause of this change in Abram’s life?
There was a famine in the Southern country, and Abram was suddenly stuck with a hungry stomach and an empty breadbox. And that breadbox could certainly not be filled by an invisible God and faith in Him. One cannot eat promises. It was not time to worship at an altar. Plans had to be made! It was as if Abram’s conversion and experience did not synchronize. Suddenly he felt far away from the altar of praise and worship. Because where would he find food? And in that way he once more became the architect of his own life and worked out a route for personal survival. If the need is at its greatest, there is no time to calmly worship at the altar. He would go to Egypt. That was the only way. There was food in Egypt. But he would live there as a stranger. He would not return to Ur of the Chaldeans – to his former life. Because he still believed in God’s calling. But he also did not stay with the altar. He chose a compromise-route: to Egypt. No wonder that God’s voice went quiet!
Seen from God’s point of view this compromise-route Abram chose was not good at all. Even precarious. Because Egypt was not on God’s route-map for Abram. Moreover: Look how Abram sank away into sin. He chose to lie about Sarai, his wife. Just to play safe.
In Egypt, there was no trace of Abram’s call and of him as a channel of God’s grace. A lie was blocking the powerflow. Indeed, in these verses one does read much about material prosperity yes, but nothing about the Lord God.
All of us know all too well how we all are masters of compromise. How much of our prosperity does not originate out of the granaries of Egypt? How easy it is to shift our loyalties over onto the world and worldliness? No, we will never again return to the road before our repentance. We do want to remain God’s redeemed child. But our calling and blessing and walk with God were lost on the way to Egypt. And God’s voice has faded more and more.
Often CIRCUMSTANCES cause us to take a compromise-route. And make plans in despair. It is then that we lose our focus on the solidity of God’s promises and His faithfulness, but rather focus inside ourselves, and see how our faith-confidence fade. Exactly what we should NOT do.
A certain preacher has on occasion suffered terrible affliction. Spiritually he began to grow weak. He wrote to a friend: “I am ill. Daily my faith in God’s promises is fading”.
The friend wrote back: “Are you perhaps not making the mistake of examining your TRUST in God’s promises, instead of examining GOD’S PROMISES?”
See the difference?
And then the surprise!
In verse 17 it says: “But the Lord…”
Suddenly everything swings around. Suddenly this story becomes the story of the Lord’s great “BUT” in the life of His child in stead of the story of His child’s compromise-route.
The Lord would not allow His plan through (and with) Abram to miscarry. That is why He took control! Because He is not the God who calls in vain. He would not allow his child to bastardize in Egypt.
But the Lord did not punish Abram. Rather He made the Egyptians to suffer. Because, what Abram did not teach them, the Lord would now teach them: You are dealing with the living God. The God of Abram is the God of heaven and earth.
But, the Lord…
With this Divine BUT, there was a sudden turning-point in the life of Abram. A change of direction. When the Lord asked him: “My child, what are you doing in Egypt?” Abram’s life changed anew. That is the mighty power of God’s voice!
And we read in Genesis 13 that Abram immediately returned to the Southern country – where famine was still prevailing. Abram made a 180 degree turn. And what did he do when he arrived there? He built an altar! Worship and substitutionary sacrifice were once more the priority of his life – even if he had to go hungry!
That is also the place where our lives are always to be renewed and restored. When we hear the Lord’s BUT in a mysterious way. And we make a 180 degree turn back to the altar – the place of forgiveness by means of sacrificial blood. The place of rest with the Lord. The place of worship and listen to His Word.
We should go and look for the direction of our lives in the right place: At the altar where the Lamb of God was sacrificed for us.
Translated by Marthie Wilson