Sunday, February 21, 2016

SOJOURNERS – THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM


Abraham Lifts His Eyes

Many years ago, in the days when my family and I were preparing for a move to Venezuela from our home in Wisconsin, I identified with Abraham more than any other Bible character.  Like Abraham and his family, that time in our lives was one of sojourning for us. In the course of making the eventual move to Venezuela, we stayed in many different hotels and many homes and for many nights had different hosts.  We often spent long weeks living out of our suitcases. This is often the case in the life of a missionary.

After traveling to several parts of the United States, when we at last had enough financial support to begin our work, we still had one more step we had to make before we could depart for Venezuela. We were next required to attend language school in Costa Rica. While living in that Central American country for some eight months, we came to feel comfortable there and in many ways made it our home. However, because we knew we were not to be there for a long and extended period, we could not come to the point where we felt completely settled there. In some ways, our thoughts were also always directed to the next step we were to take.

Eventually, we did make it to Venezuela. However, even after arriving there, we could not immediately find a home where we would eventually settle. Even when we finally made it to our new country of residency, our sojourning in some ways continued. We first stayed in another house temporarily with a month-by-month rental agreement until we could at last find and settle into the house that would become our permanent home – at least as permanent as we were to be living in that country. 

Dealing with Discouragement as Sojourners

The life of a sojourner has its own special challenges, especially for ones like our family who had previously been accustomed to a settled kind of life and growing deep roots.  Sojourning can be disheartening. In more ways than just the living situation, sojourning can be unsettling. Things can sometimes happen over which we have no control, situations that would not happen if you were in a permanent place of residence. One sometimes wonders when he will again be able to allow himself to feel completely at home.  It was like this for Abraham, and so it was at times for us.

However, the application is wider.  All of us, if we are God’s children, are sojourners, even if we do not actually realize it.  There are some ways that none of us are able to allow our roots to sink deep in the soil of this world. There are unsettling things that happen in this world over which we have no control. These things have a way of discouraging us, making us wish that life could be better. However, the reality is, we will never be completely at home until we are in the home of our Father.

I think it is safe to say that all of us, as sojourners in this world, sometimes feel discouraged.  Abraham knew discouragement dwelling in tents. He often wished that his situation could be better. But he dealt with those times by looking ahead to what the writer of Hebrews calls, “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10).  It was Abraham of whom it is said, “he believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

How do we as believers and sojourners deal with the discouragement of not feeling settled?  If we are to take an example from the life of the sojourner Abraham, four times in his story as we have it in the Bible, do we find Abraham “lifting his head.”  I think these times are very instructive in teaching us how we, too, can handle this discouragement when it comes to us. 

Abraham Lifts His Head to See the Land

Abraham had left all he had known to follow the Lord’s direction.  He had left not only his home, but also even his home region and most of his family.  The only family he had with him was his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot.  The first time we read of Abraham lifting his head is after Lot had separated from him to move down to the Jordan valley. 

So Abraham said to Lot, “Please, let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers.  Is not the whole land before you?  Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:8-9 NAS). 

I think this was a time of discouragement for Abraham for two reasons.  He and Sarah were saying good-by to the only real family they had, the only one with whom they could share a common and large portion of their lives.

Also, Abraham must have felt discouraged concerning some of  the yet unfulfilled promises that God had made to him. God had promised Abraham a homeland in which to live, and an heir for him that would grow into a multitude of people – a whole nation. Now with Lot leaving and separating himself from Abraham, he saw even less evidence than before that these promises would be fulfilled.

When God saw his downcast demeanor after Lot had left, God renewed his promise and said to Abraham,  

Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give to you and to your descendants forever.  I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered” (Genesis 13:14-16 NAS). 

God reminded and reconfirmed his promise of a homeland for Abraham.

Abraham Lifts His Head to See the Stars

The second time we find Abraham lifting his head is similar to the first in some ways, but in other ways it is not. The first time that God told Abraham to lift his eyes was so that he could see that land that he promised to give him. Now, by this second time, even though God had abundantly blessed him materially, Abraham found himself wondering if the promise of an heir would ever come. He and Sarah had had no children and they were getting beyond the years to have them.

God, in His infinite kindness, knew that Abraham needed something tangible with which he could identify – a constant reminder of the promise of God. He took Abraham outside and had him lift his head and look at the multitude of stars in the clear sky.  Then God said to Abraham, 

Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.”  And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5 NAS). 

I think there were many nights after that, in times when something was bothering Abraham and when he could not sleep, that he would slip outside and look up into the night sky. It was a reminder so that he could remember the words that God had spoken to him. “So shall your descendants be.” 

Abraham Lifts His Head to See a Time of Testing

The third time we read of Abraham lifting his head is very unlike the first two and even a little surprising.  It came not in a time of reconfirmation of a promise, but instead in a time of testing.  When God’s promise of having a son through his wife Sarah had not been accomplished quickly, Abraham decided to fulfill the promise on his own by taking Sarah’s servant girl and having a son with her. This was when the boy Ishmael was born.

But Ishmael was not the son of promise. He was the son of Abraham’s own determination. The son of promise would be one that was given to this old couple by a wondrous deed of God.

It was only after many years later that Abraham had learned to stop trying to fulfill God’s spoken word by his own strength.  It was only then that the true promised son had finally come through the power of God to him and Sarah in their old age (the writer of Hebrews in telling of this event, to make a point, said that Sarah and Abraham were “as good as dead”).

When this son Isaac, whose name meant laughter, was a young lad and a delight to his father, God asks of Abraham the supreme test.  God instructed Abraham to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar on the distant mountain of Moriah.  As far as we know, God gave no reason or rationale to Abraham in doing this. Abraham did not know why he was to do this, he had only the directive to do it. Nothing more.

For three days, the two, father and son, walked together.  The laughter of Isaac’s name was gone as they made the journey in silence and solemnity.  I think most of the way, Abraham looked must have down at the ground in front of him, but on the third day, “he raised his eyes, and saw the place from a distance” (Genesis 22:4).

This time Abraham lifted his head not to see the reconfirmation of the promise of an heir, but to see what would be its death.  This supreme test of Abraham’s must have been impossible for him to understand, and yet, in his years of sojourning he had learned two vital things that we all must learn:  to believe God and to obey.

Gone were the days when Abraham would try to place his own reasoning and abilities above those of God.  As the father of Isaac raised his eyes to see the mountain, he knew had come too far in his spiritual sojourning to return to the point of trusting only in his own understanding. 

Abraham Lifts His Head to See Salvation

The last time we read of Abraham lifting his head comes at the very point when he is about to perform this very act about which for three days he could not bear to think.  He stretched out his hand, took the knife, and knew that the time had come in which he must slay his son.

In his ultimate anguish, as he was about to plunge the knife into the son he loved, Abraham suddenly heard his name being called once again by the voice of God, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Abraham then lifted up his eyes and looked to see a ram that had gotten himself entangled in a thicket. This last time Abraham raised his eyes and saw the provision of the Lord. This ram was to be used as an offering in place of his son.  So meaningful was this to Abraham that he called the very place Jehova-jirah, “the Lord will provide.”

“In the mount of the Lord,” he said, “it will be provided” (Genesis 22:12-14). 

Lifting our Heads in Our Sojournings

These four times that Abraham lifted his head are important also to us as we sojourn through this life.  We must not always have our vision downcast on the things of this earth, but sometimes we must lift our heads and be reminded of the promises of God in our lives.  We must even allow God to give us a constant reminder of His promises, as He did with Abraham.

Our testing may never be as excruciating as Abraham’s was, yet there are times when God calls each one of us who are redeemed by the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to a test of obedience.  Like Abraham, if we mean to move forward in our spiritual lives, we must lift our heads and recognize the test, yet continue forward in obedience.

Because of his obedience, Abraham was finally able to lift his head and see that the Lord provides in ways that he would never have guessed.  If this is a time of testing for you, lift up your head, believe God and obey.  In the mount of the Lord, it will be provided.

No comments:

Post a Comment