Summary: Lessons from Abraham’s life: 1. God uses imperfect people. 2. Having received grace, we give grace. 3. A life of grace will sometimes be difficult.
Abraham: Living by Grace
Abraham’s experience with God began when the Lord appeared to him and said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go 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. . . all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3). This is purely an act of grace on the part of God, for Abraham has done nothing to deserve the blessing of God. As far as anyone could tell, there was nothing special about Abraham. He was an ordinary person. He and his relatives most likely worshiped idols at this point. And this is long before Moses has gone to the Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments. There are no moral laws in place, and Abraham has not been circumcised, which was so important to the Jews later on. Abraham was not a perfect person, as we shall see. But when God appeared to him and told him to leave his home and his country, he believed the Lord and obeyed. He does not have a clear understanding of who this God is, what he is like or what he actually expects of him, except that he has asked him to leave his homeland. He was seventy-five when God asked for this dramatic change in his life. It was difficult to leave his home, as well as all his family and friends, but he went. It was an adventure which would change him and the world forever.
I see the first lesson from Abraham’s life as: God works through imperfect people. The Lord said to him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” God promised to bless him. How wonderful to know that God had a special purpose for him and would be with him wherever he went! But the very next verse of scripture says, “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.... He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran” (Genesis 12:4-5). What did God tell him to do? God told him to leave his extended family and God would give him directions as he went along. But Abraham did not do what God told him to do. He wanted the security of other people. He wanted protection. He wanted to have people around him whom he knew and understood. So Abraham took Lot with him. And the problems caused by Lot were many. Tensions arose between the families and Lot moved away from Abraham and settled in Sodom — and you know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But bringing Lot was not Abraham’s only mistake. God told him that he would be with him and protect him, but twice, when Abraham entered unfamiliar territory, he told his wife to tell the people in those places that she was his sister. He was afraid to tell them that she was his wife, because she was beautiful, and he feared that they would kill him in order to have her. His fears were not unfounded, because this often happened back in that time. It was the prerogative of kings and other powerful people. But Abraham’s fears overruled his trust in God, and because of his deception, Sarah was taken into the palace of — not one — but two different kings. God had said to Abraham: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). But he did not listen to God, and he foolishly and selfishly placed his wife in danger trying to save his own hide. God would never have approved of what he did, and neither would God have approved of Abraham endangering his plan for him and Sarah, and ultimately the world. How could he become the father of a nation if his wife was no longer with him? What if Sarah was returned to him, but was bearing another man’s child? What an enormous mess he created.
But even Sarah became frustrated with God’s slowness to act. Abraham told her of how God had him go out into the night, telling him that his offspring would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. But nothing was happening, and it had been many years since God made that promise. Finally, Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands. She offered her maid to Abraham so that she could bear children for Sarah. This was also a common practice in the culture of that day. There was only one problem: it was not God’s plan. They were trying to do God’s will, but they were doing it their way. The resulting birth of Ishmael, the child of Sarah’s maid, caused enormous problems for Abraham — and continues to cause problems to this very day — for Ishmael is the father of the Arab nations who follow the Muslim faith. If it were not for this huge mistake of Abraham, we would not be having the violence between these two sons of Abraham today: the Jews and Muslims. Muslims say that they are the true sons of Abraham through Ishmael, and deserve to have the land promised to Abraham, since they are the descendants of Abraham’s oldest son. The Jews, on the other hand, claim that they are the legitimate sons of Abraham and Sarah through Isaac, who was the son promised to them by God. They believe that they therefore deserve to have the land promised to Abraham by God. Abraham’s lack of faith continues to haunt us to this very day.