Summary: Abraham is not really a "bad boy" but he did have some occasions when he had trouble making good decisions. What can he teach us when he did obey God and was ready to sacrifice his son?
Abraham’s Struggle to Be Faithful
February 17, 2008
One of the greatest privileges I have had in my adult life is to visit the Holy Land. It was a relatively short trip, but we traveled from Jerusalem down to the Dead Sea and the desert fortress of Masada, up along the Jordan River Valley to the city of Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, west to Nazareth and Megiddo, on to the seaside city of Caesarea, and then to Mount Carmel where Elijah had his confrontation with the 400 prophets of Baal.
But it was Jerusalem that fascinated me the most. There is a mental picture that I carry with me whenever I think about that city; one iconic picture that remains with you forever. It is the striking visual image of the Dome of the Rock towering over the old city.
The Dome of the Rock was built between 688 and 691 on the site of the Jewish Temple. With its golden dome, it dominates the 24 acre Temple Mount. It is not a mosque, but rather a shrine. The El-Aksa mosque, which was built between 709 and 715, stands at the southern end of the Temple Mount. For Muslims, it is the third most holy site in the world after Mecca and Medina. The Dome of the Rock was built as shrine and resting place for pilgrims. The huge rock over which it towers is the central piece of real estate for world monotheism.
The three great monotheistic religions all agree on one thing. Before time began, there was water and darkness covering the deep. The first piece of land that emerged from the water was the rock. The first ray of light radiated from this rock. Adam is buried here. Solomon built his Temple here. Muhammad ascended to heaven here. And Abraham brought his son Isaac here in order to offer him as a sacrifice to God.
I realize that we live in a time and atmosphere when it is not necessarily a welcome topic of conversation to suggest that Christians, Muslims, and Jews share the bedrock of faith. That bedrock is Abraham. He is the shared ancestor of Jews, Christians, and Muslims and as such, is the great patriarch of the Hebrew Bible, the forefather of the New Testament, and the architect of the Koran. He is believed to be the biological father of 12 million Jews, 2 billion Christians, and 1 billion Muslims around the world.
This morning, we continue on with our journey through Lent as we take a closer look at some of the Bad Boys of the Bible. I want to spend some time with Abraham; a strange choice perhaps, but one that fits with our theme.
Abraham probably isn’t a fellow who comes to your mind if you were to choose some bad boys. Last week, if you remember, I said that none of the bad boys we are going to look at are bad all the time. If it were not for Abraham and his willingness to trust and follow God, we wouldn’t be here today. But as great a man as he was, as close to God as he was, as solid of a role model as he was; Abraham still had some periods when he made some bad decisions.
He is a man of faith, but sometimes forgets that. He seeks to walk in God’s ways and yet he is a dead-beat dad. He extends gracious hospitality to strangers, but stands by as his wife Sarah exploits his mistress Hagar. He negotiates justice with God at the same time he is telling lies to kings. He lives his life as an alien on the lands of others, but insists that his son Isaac marry within his own clan.
In the end, we all want Abraham to be better than we are, but often he isn’t. His life is pretty messy at points, but it is that messiness in which we can learn some things about our relationship with God.
Very quickly, let’s remember Abraham. Back when he was simply a seventy year old man named “Abram,” the Lord called him and told him to pack up everything he had and set out on a journey. God was determined to make a great nation out of Abram’s offspring. To his credit, Abram didn’t question God. He simply showed up for duty. He gathered up his wife, household staff, all of his household goods, and all his animals. And they all set off together, open to whatever God had in store for them.
But it didn’t take long for his initial act of badness to rear its ugly head. When they got to the land of Canaan, there found a famine, and so continued on to Egypt. There, upon meeting the King, he told him that Sarah was his sister. He was afraid that if the Egyptians knew that she was his wife, they would kill him. So he took the chicken’s way out and publicly announced that she was his sister. He proved himself ready to sacrifice the purity and dignity of his wife for the sake of his own skin.