Abraham Lifts His Head
In the days when my family and I were preparing for our first overseas move 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.
As we readied ourselves for our future work abroad, we were first required to attend language school in Costa Rica. While living in that Central American country for some eight months, we grew to feel comfortable there, but because we knew we were not in what was to be our home, I myself could not come to the point where I felt completely settled in that country.
Even before that time, while we were still in the US, we needed to travel extensively. We stayed in many different 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 our language school was completed in Costa Rica, we made our eventual move to Venezuela, where we were to settle and begin our first extensive assignment. However, even after arriving to our new hometown in that country, we could not immediately find a permanent rental house. For some months, we stayed in a house temporarily with a month-by-month rental agreement until we could finally find and settle into the house that would become our permanent house.
Since those early days of our work, our family has gone through several international moves. In my nature, I am a person who prefers to simply find a place and settle in—to make myself at home. However, this has not been the life that the Lord has given me. Through the course of my life, besides in my home country of the United States, I have lived in seven different countries in five separate regions of the world. This is not a description of a life where I have been allowed to “settle in.” On the contrary, in its own way, each move has been unsettling.
The life of a sojourner has its own special challenges, especially for ones like our family who would prefer to settle down and grow deep roots. Sojourning can be disheartening—wondering when you will once again be able to allow yourself to feel completely at home. It was for Abraham, and so it has been at times for us.
However, the application is wider. In some ways it applies to each one of us. All of us, if we are God’s children, are sojourners. There are some ways in which none of us are able to allow our roots to sink deep in the soil of this world. We may think that we are settled in our lives here, but we are not.
We cannot be, because we will not be completely at home until we are in the home of our Father.
We cannot be, because we will not 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, but he dealt with those times by looking ahead to “the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews ).
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 in this world deal with discouragement? If we are to take an example from the life of Abraham, four times in his story as we have it in the Bible, we find Abraham “lifting his head.” That is the way that it is stated in the Bible. I think these times are very instructive in teaching us how we, too, can handle discouragement when it comes to us.
The First Time Abraham Lifted His Head
Early in his adult life, Abraham left all he had known to follow the Lord’s direction. God had called him out of his hometown of Ur to go to a place that he had never before seen (at least as far as we know). He had left his home and his home region and most of his family.
Upon arriving in this new land, the only family he had with him was his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot. The small family did make a life for themselves there, and actually became quite wealthy in terms of livestock. In fact, the herds of animals that they acquired through the years became so great that they began to lack enough grazing land for all of them.
This situation led to the first time that we read of Abraham lifting his head. Since the shepherds of Lot and those of Abraham began to be in dispute because of grazing rights, it was decided that Lot would have to take his herds and move to a different location.
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 said good-by to the only real family they had. Lot had been the only one with whom they had in common a big portion of their lives, and the only one with whom they could share many memories.
Also, Abraham must have felt discouraged concerning his land of promise, as well as his promised heir. That heir had not yet been born, and although Abraham must have known it was not to be Lot, it still must have been discouraging to see that his family was getting smaller instead of bigger.
It was after Lot had separated from him to move down to the Jordan valley that we find the Lord telling Abraham to lift his head. God saw Abraham’s downcast demeanor after Lot had left and Abraham was left alone feeling discouraged.
God said to him,
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)
This was a reconfirmation by God. At a time of discouragement for Abraham, God gave him a tangible validation that Abraham could see with his own eyes. This visual validation was not to be the actual and final fulfillment of the promise of God; nevertheless, it was something to which Abraham could look right at that point. On that particular day, and for many days to come, Abraham could lift his head and remember the promise of God.
The Second Time Abraham Lifted His Head
The second time we find Abraham lifting his head is similar to the first. Even though God had abundantly blessed him materially in lands and in wealth, the promises about becoming a great nation of people had yet to be fulfilled. In fact, it began to look as if it would be impossible. Abraham and Sarah were becoming quite elderly—well beyond child-bearing age.
Abraham found himself wondering if the promise of an heir would ever come. God, in his infinite kindness, knew that Abraham again needed something tangible with which Abraham could identify—a constant reminder of the promise of God. He took Abraham outside, and told him to lift his head and look at the stars. 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 Abraham could not sleep, that he would slip outside and look up into the night sky. During these times of doubt, he would look at the myriads of stars and remember the words that God had spoken to him. “So shall your descendants be.”
The Third Time Abraham Lifted His Head
The third time we read of Abraham lifting his head is very unlike the first two and is, in fact, a little surprising. It came not in a time of reconfirmation or a validation of a promise, but during a time of great testing.
There is some background information concerning this time of testing. Even with the visual affirmation of the stars in the night sky concerning the number of the promised descendants of Abraham, this promise of Abraham having a son through his wife Sarah was not accomplished quickly. Because of this, Abraham decided to take the matter into his own hands.
Following a suggestion of Sarah’s, Abraham attempted to fulfill the promise of God on his own by taking Sarah’s servant girl and having a son with her. I suppose Abraham and Sarah looked at this as simply “helping God along” with his promise to make of them a great nation of people. But the son of the servant girl was not to be the heir of the promise of God. God clearly explained that to Abraham, and the couple saw that their solution had actually been a hindrance to God rather than a help.
Abraham learned that he must stop trying to fulfill God’s spoken word by his own strength. The promises of God will only come by God’s own hand. It was only after Abraham had learned this lesson that the promised son had finally came to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. The promise came only through the power of God. So old were the couple by the time the promise was fulfilled that the New Testament writer of Hebrews, in order to make a point of this, said they were “as good as dead.”
When this son Isaac, whose name meant laughter, was a young lad and a delight to his father, God asked 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, no reason or rationale was given by God to Abraham at this time. Only the directive. This was to be the death of the long-awaited promise of God
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 down at the ground in front of him. It was only on the third day that “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 as he had on the previous two occasions, 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. As he lifted his eyes to see the place of the death of what was promised to him, he would wait to see what God would do next.
The Fourth Time Abraham Lifted His Head
The last time we read of Abraham lifting his head comes at the very point when he is about to perform the act about which for three days he could not bear to think. Isaac was lying before him on the altar that was to be the place of his sacrifice. Abraham took the knife and raised his arm above his belov-ed son. He knew that the time had come in which he must slay his promised one.
Suddenly, in his ultimate anguish, Abraham heard his name being called once again by the voice of God, “Abraham, 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.”
Upon hearing these words, Abraham again lifted his head. This last time Abraham raised his eyes, he saw that the Lord was not taking the promise away, but was instead providing another way. It was the provision of the Lord—a ram caught in the thicket to be given 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 -14).
Lift Up Your Head
These four times that Abraham lifted his head are important 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.
Then, if God also calls us to a test to see whether we will place our faith in what he has told us to do, it will also help us to remember the test of Abraham’s. Our testing may never be as excruciating as his was, but perhaps it may even be. But be our test greater or lesser, there are times when God calls each one of us to 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. God will always fulfill his promise to you.
If this present time is a time of testing for you, lift up your head and obey.
In the mount of the Lord, it will be provided.