By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going… For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Hebrews 11.8, 10
Any time we tell ourselves following by faith doesn’t give us enough to go on, it’s wise to remember Abraham. He first shows up without fanfare in Genesis 11.27 in of one of those genealogical lists of unpronounceable names the Bible is so fond of. (“Arphaxad became the father of Shelah… Shelah became the father of Eber…”) Chapter 11 ends with Terah, the father of Abraham (né Abram), and his clan leaving their native land for Canaan. For undisclosed reasons, they homestead in a spot called Haran along the way. Then, like a bolt from the blue, Abram’s story takes off in chapter 12: “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” God promises to make him the father of a great nation, bless him, make him famous, and allow him to bless others.
We can’t pinpoint when God calls Abram, but that “had said” suggests he wrestles a while with the idea. He doesn't get around to taking off for Canaan, evidently where God wanted him all along, until he's 75. And he arrives there too late; pagans rule the land. Still, God promises it to his offspring and even if it will never be his, that’s good enough. Abram builds an altar at Bethel, the site of God’s promise. He never really settles down, though. Famine sends him to Egypt; after Pharaoh tries to steal his wife, he moves to the Negev; from there, Genesis 13.3 reports, “He went from place to place until he came to Bethel.” He’s back at square one. It’s more than not having enough to go on. In dynastic terms, he’s got nothing—no place of his own, no homeland, no nation, not even a successor. By now, people half his age would feel like victims of a practical joke. They’d say, “Get somebody else.” Abram returns to the altar he built long ago and calls on God.
One expects Abram’s faithfulness to move God to turn things around. But that happens much later than expected. In the meantime, things get worse. His nephew, Lot, causes undue grief by leaving Abram for greener pastures on the outskirts of Sodom. His wife, Sarah, fails to conceive, and his home turns into a war zone after Hagar, a servant, bears his son, Ishmael. At this point, he’s 86 and God has changed his name to Abraham. Then it’s back to the Negev, where another king plots to take Sarah from him. (It seems she’s quite a looker.) All of 25 years passes before God rewards Abraham’s faith and obedience; he’s 100-years-old when his heir, Isaac, is born.
So what’s up with Abraham? What’s he doing wrong, and why does God take so long to get things started? Which of them is out of synch with the plan? Did Abraham’s reluctance to answer God’s call cause the problem? Or did God send Abraham to Canaan before his time? The Hebrews writer says, “None of the above.” It takes Abraham 25 years to settle and start a family because he refuses to settle. Chapter 11, verse 8 tells us he’s “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Faith informs his wisdom and wisdom inspires his patience. Abraham’s confidence in God’s promise is so solid—he’s so utterly convinced he will father a great nation and God will deed Canaan to his heirs—just any old spot won’t do. He won’t compromise by looking around for a suitable location. He wants to build on the right foundation. Until he finds it, by faith, he relentlessly looks forward.
The Master Plan
We can safely challenge anyone to scour the Bible for one example where God tasks someone with an easy assignment. None will be found. The actual deed may require little exertion—speak to a rock, for example, or throw a stone at a giant. On the other hand, it may demand extraordinary trust and endurance—build a big boat and stock it with animals, or spend 25 (or 40) years searching for a specific place. Regardless of the physical and time challenges, every time we read of God calling somebody to do something, what He asks makes no earthly sense whatsoever. That’s because our lives and reality aren’t naturally constructed to the specifications of His master plan.
The elegance of Abraham’s faith comes in trusting God’s design without trying to understand it. The elegance of God’s architecture comes in the wondrous beauty rising from His eternal foundation. In 1 Corinthians 2.9, Paul writes, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him,” restating it in Ephesians 3.20: “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” What God does in our lives shouldn’t make sense. Our vision, understanding, and creative capacity are too meager to comprehend it. But if, like Abraham, we ignore what’s presently around us and keep looking forward, the day when we’re able to fully appreciate His work will arrive.
God’s master plan for us is so far beyond our comprehension, it shouldn’t make sense. So why does that bother us so much?
(Tomorrow: Coming and Going)
Personal Postscript: Taking a Break
Walt and I are off for a week’s vacation, which we both can really use right now. Being away provides the perfect chance to repost a series from last fall based on Ecclesiastes’ “To everything there is a season” text. Of all the series/themes we’ve explored so far, this strikes me as the best. So while we’re gone, I hope you’ll still be here to read or revisit it.
Of course, not a day will go by without thinking of you and remembering all of you in my prayers. And I’ll keep in touch with your comments and emails through the week. We ask your prayers for safe travels and daily protection.