24. Predestined

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 24. Predestined  

Rom 8:29b “he also PREDESTINED.”

So He called you because He knew all about you long before you came on the scene. That’s what we’ve just been considering in the previous study, so now let’s see some more about that with these three words in our starter verse.

Now a simple synonym for ‘predestined’ is ‘predetermined’ which is made up of two parts: ‘pre’ meaning before, and ‘determined’ which means resolutely and definitely decided. Now don’t feel that God is a bully who is going to make you conform to His total perfection because if that was so, every one of us would be superman or superwoman by the time we died – but we aren’t. 

No, it just means that God knows everything there is to know about you and me and knows how He can weave His good and wonderful purposes into our lives without overriding our free will, so that together we can achieve more than we could on our own. Let that sink in – and then worship! Let’s think some more of that in the light of one particular famous person in Scripture.   

The person I have in mind is Abraham, the father of faith, God’s friend (Jas 2:23). That latter word is quite remarkable when you consider his history. Yes, he was called by God and arrived in Canaan but as soon as difficulty came (a famine) he quickly moved on to Egypt where he tells his wife to pretend to be his sister – and then lets her be taken to the kings palace (Gen 12:13,15). Fortunately the Lord intervened on her behalf (12:17). He goes back to Canaan and not long after he is complaining to God that he is still childless (15:2). The Lord reassures him and his belief is famously credited to him as righteousness. Excellent! But when the Lord speaks of the Promised Land, Abram is questioning again (15:8) so the Lord instigates a serious covenant to reassure him. A while later Sarai, his wife gets fed up waiting and presses him to have a child via her servant, which he does. Human endeavor with negative results. Sarai is upset that Hagar is pregnant, Abram washes his hands of it and she is driven out (16:6) and the Lord has to rescue and reassure her. When God again reassures Abraham that Sarai will have a child, he is doubting again (16:17,18), and so it goes on. What is so surprising when you work through Abraham’s story is, despite his initial belief (=righteousness) it is a story of bumbling faith that is full of doubts, questions and thoughtless acts. So what’s my point? This is still all about predestination, about God knowing us from before the foundation of the world and knowing what He can achieve through us. By the end of the story Abraham is a godly man fully sold on the plans and purposes of God for him and for his descendants – he got there! If you, in a moment of humbling honesty see your life as one of bumbling faith that so often finds itself questioning, resorting to self-effort and so on, just remember you are in good company but God KNOWS. He saw you before He started the world off and He knew that, with a little bit of help – you will get there!!!  Just declare that afresh today. Yes? Yes!   

2. Barren Women

Studies in Isaiah 54: 2. Barren Women

Isa 54:1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”

Ohhhhhh!: How easy it is to pass over words of Scripture and not let them impact you. The analogy here, of Israel (or perhaps Jerusalem), is one of a disheartened, broken woman. Few of us can understand the heartache of being childless, of the yearning to have that sense of fulfillment as a child-bearing woman but who has never yet conceived. But the Bible seems full of such women, key women in the plans and purposes of God, and so perhaps we need to note them to take in the awfulness of the picture that Isaiah now presents to us.

The Women of Anguish: The first of these is Sarai: “Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.” (Gen 11:30) When she seems unable to conceive, despite the number of times the Lord had promised a family that would grow into a multitude, she gave her servant girl to Abram, who promptly conceives; it is obvious the problem lies with her and not with Abram. (Gen 16:3,4) When God turned up and reiterated the promise that Sarah (as she now was) would conceive, she laughed, but it was laughter of unbelief, of derision, and the Lord pulled her up on it (Gen 18:10-15). When she does eventually conceive she laughs again but now it is of joy (Gen 21:6)

It almost seemed to run in the family. Isaac, Abraham’s promised son, marries Rebekah but she too remains childless for twenty years (Gen 25:21). We aren’t told what Rebekah felt but in the next generation the same thing happens to Jacob’s favourite wife, Rachel: “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”  (Gen 30:1) Perhaps this is seen most clearly in Hannah who became the mother of Samuel the judge-cum-first prophet: “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son.” (1 Sam 1:10,11)

Assessment: Children in the Hebrew culture (and in many others) were seen as a sign of God’s blessing: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psa 127:3-5) Thus the absence of children would have acted as a question mark over the spirituality of the wife if not the couple. The declaration of this barrenness that hung prophetically over Israel, as now declared by Isaiah, says six things: First it proclaims that bearing offspring was considered what was natural, what the Lord intended. Second, the absence of offspring was something to anguish over. Third, there must have been a reason for it.  Fourth, transformation was seen as only possible by the blessing of God, and that comes again later in Isa 66:7-11. Fifth, there is given an interesting comparison with others who are not barren but not blessed, which we will see shortly and, sixth, the end of their barrenness is expanded to reveal a much wider blessing on them.

Hannah’s Blessing:  When Hannah conceived, prayed and sang, she declared, “She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.” (1 Sam 2:5) Whether she waited until years later to pray and sing, or whether she was declaring her anticipation of what would come, is unclear, but what is clear is the extent of her blessing, seven children, joy, and a sense of being loved (implied by the way her adversary now pined away). The releasing from barrenness in the present passage is similarly indicated in the same way that Hannah had prayed: “because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”  (Isa 54:1)

Now Get Ready to Expand: She, Israel, now has (or is about to have) more children than other nations (whose husbands were idols, we might suggest), and is thus told to get ready to expand. (v. 1-3) Expansion in abundance and enlargement is what is coming. Previously, “you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste,” (49:19a) but now the land, with the Lord’s blessing, “will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away.” (Isa 49:19)

Forgetting the Past: As He now says in the present prophecy, You will forget the shame of your youth.”  (54:4) The history of Israel, right from the start of the Exodus, was never glorious, filled with grumblings and disobedience and as the years unfolded in the Land, in the period of the Judges, it never improved.  But the good news is that although the Lord requires us to confront the present, He does not hold the failures of the past over us; He is more concerned that we repent (Ezek 18:23,32, 2 Pet 3:9). Now the past will be forgotten in the light of the present blessings and, as we saw yesterday, those blessings can come to us because of the work of Christ on the Cross.

New Application: Under the New Covenant the apostle Paul took this present passage and applied it to the present reality.  (See Gal 4:24-27) So, Sarah was the barren woman who, though technically was Abraham’s wife, never had been previously able to fulfil the full outworking of marriage – bear children – and was replaced by Hagar. Yet we know that the desolate woman, Sarah, was enabled by God to bear Isaac, the child of promise. Paul applies all this to the Law and to slavery because although Hagar (representing the Law) had children naturally with Abraham, she was still a slave.

As the message version puts those first verses: “The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God. One is ….a slave life, producing slaves as offspring. This is the way of Hagar. In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother—this is the way of Sarah.”  Through new birth, from heaven, from the city of God in heaven, the ‘invisible Jerusalem’, which acts as our mother, we are children of promise born to be free. The ‘mother’ of the old covenant was the Law but all those who sought to follow it found themselves slaves to failure and guilt. Born from above, we are now free, children born by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, who will one day return to our home – heaven. Hallelujah!

4. Young Believer Abram

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 4. Young Believer Abram

Gen 12:10-13   Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated

 Our goals: We are, may I repeat, considering the lives of a variety of people in the Bible as we explore God’s intentions to ‘redeem’ us. Inevitably, but I hope not surprisingly, they are episodes that reveal the poor side of humanity but also the grace and mercy of God.  Redemption, we have said, is all about God working to bring us back from a bad place into a good place, and when we see this in operation and consider how it might work today, I believe it will possibly change how we think about one another in the church, especially those who don’t live up to our high expectations.

Abram: We move on to consider something of the life of this man who the Jews consider the father of their nation, a man we consider as the father of faith. In many ways he is a most remarkable man, somehow hearing God back in his home, Ur, leaving there and travelling roughly a thousand miles to Canaan, purely on God’s say-so. Yet there are three episodes in his life that might leave an intelligent person to cry out, “God, how could you let him do that,” or “I thought he was supposed to be the chief example of faith. Where is it here?” Now we are not out to do character assassination, but it is important that we face these things in our heroes.

Situation 1: He hasn’t been in Canaan very long when a famine hits the land and so hearing it is not in the south, he travels down to Egypt. Next, we read, “As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”  (Gen 12:11-13) What he is about to do is well thought out, but I like how the notes in one modern Bible describe what is about to happen as his “morally dubious actions”. The result is that he obviously goes too near the seat of power for Pharaoh’s officials see her and “she was taken into his palace,” (v.15) and you may guess what happened to her there. Now if such a similar thing happened today there would rightly be an uproar. This is sexual abuse of the worst kind. It took the Lord to intervene for the situation to be sorted. Not a good start for this ‘man of faith’, we might say!

Situation 2: A while later (ten years) we find, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. (Gen 16:1-4) So here we have this man who has been told a number of times by God (Gen 12:2,7, 15:4,5,13-16) that He will make him into a nation, now listening to the wisdom of his wife which, in any other context, might have been wisdom but here was unbelief. The result was Ishmael and the Arab nations that have been a thorn in the side of Israel ever since. No so good, man of faith!

Situation 3: Time passes, a lot happens and then we find, “Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.” (Gen 20:21,2) What???? There is a sense of deja-vu about this. This is a repeat of the first situation. Now what makes this doubly difficult is that this is the third time a difficulty has arisen and you might have thought Abraham might have learnt by now that he could trust the Lord’s protection. Even more Abraham is a rich and therefore powerful man. The result of the first debacle was amazingly, by the hand of Pharaoh, “He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels,” (Gen 12:16) and we later read, “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.” (Gen 13:2)

More blessing: The Lord intervenes yet again and so, “Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.” To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” (Gen 20:14-16) Oh my goodness! Abraham can’t go wrong – even when he gets it wrong!!!!

Questions & Answers: No wonder that the modern Bible version I referred to before, in its notes at the beginning of the first situation, states “The events described in this section raise many questions that go unanswered.” Do these episodes teach us that we can get away with any misdemeanour and God will just smile on it and bless us? How does faith interact with unbelief in all this? Why does God let him get away with this? Some tentative answers.

Answer 1 – Long Term Plan: Hold in the back of your mind that God works on the long-term plan; He looks to what He can achieve with his man by the end of his life. This is about redeeming us from being messed up faithless pagans (Abram and us) and changing us into faith-filled, mature believers who are a light to the world. Very quickly let’s note, Abraham excelled in faith in the episode of apparently sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22), he becomes a man who treats with kings and army commanders (Gen 21:22-32, 23:3-20), and he appreciates his birth right and makes careful preparation to get the right wife for his son, not from among the local pagans (Gen 24). An amazing man.

Answer 2 – Faith in the midst of unbelief: You may not have been able to accept it yet, but we are ultimately, even after our faith commitment that saved us, so often people who struggle with unbelief (watch the disciples with Jesus) and faith breaks through as flashes of light, occasionally! God understands that spiritual growth takes time. He doesn’t want you and me to keep on tripping over our feet, but He doesn’t give up on us when we do. He is constantly working to change our feet of clay into feet of flesh and spirit.

And so? a) remember you are still “a work in progress”, and b) those around you are the same! Be there for one another, despite the stumbles, because God is!

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I take this on board: I am indeed “a work in progress” and thank you that you love me like this and are working with me in the long-term to make me something more than I am at present. Help me to see those around me in the same light.

12. Faith against the odds

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 12.  Faith against the odds

Heb 11:11,12   By faith Abraham, even though he was past age–and Sarah herself was barren–was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

In unpacking these verses there are various aspects to be considered. First of all God made a promise. We find it first in Gen 12: I will make you into a great nation.” (v.2a) There is more to the promise but that is the basic aspect of it. The significance of this promise is only realised when you read a few verses earlier, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.” (Gen 11:30) So here is Abram, this simple pagan who appears to hear God telling him to leave his homeland and go to Canaan and, ‘oh, by the way, I’ll make you into a great nation.’ Not just a little nation, but a great nation. But my wife is barren; we cannot have children. Now that may have gone through his mind at some point and all the more because Sarai was past child-bearing age, but in the long-term it did not put him off.

The promise of a land and of becoming a nation seem to come together and we are told, “Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran,” (Gen 12:4) and so if the word had come to him back in Ur, it may have been some years before that, but it would seem he was at least seventy when the promise first came. Later we read, “Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.” (Gen 21:5) At least twenty five years, if not more, passed between the word coming and the word being fulfilled.

Now not wanting to be too indelicate about it, to have children a couple need to have sexual relations  and if you have been promised you’ll have children, you keep on and keep on – for twenty five years. I cannot think what Sarai must have felt about this. The more the years pass the more impossible it must seem and therefore the more futile it appear, and yet Abram carried on hoping. Yes they go through the disaster involving Hagar (Gen 16) but the actual fulfillment that involves Sarai doesn’t happen for a long time! Yet, for some reason, Abram is sure he has heard God and he believes what he has heard and acts upon it. So first of all they start out from Ur and second they start trying for a child again. This is double faith.

The Hebrews writer marvels over this, “even though he was past age–and Sarah herself was barren,” and “as good as dead,” (which sounds a bit hard but was essentially the truth as far a child-bearing was concerned). Those were the facts, they were both too old, humanly speaking. These facts that make this impossible keep getting put before us as if to say, it doesn’t matter how impossible a situation appears, if God speaks into it, it is no longer impossible!

But this is the thing about faith, “faith is being sure of what we hope for,” (v.1) and it is a hope that is based upon something. Most of the time we focus on the end product – “was  enabled to become a father” and with “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” – but the reason that came about was “because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.” What kept Abram trying throughout those twenty five years or more? He trusted in God’s faithfulness. How incredible!

It is indeed incredible. We have the whole Bible that builds our faith but Abram had nothing – except what he was hearing directly from God. Next time you doubt what you are hearing, remember Abram.  Now of course the truth is that after that initial hearing from God that resulted in Abram leaving Ur, there were a reasonable number of times when God spoke and moved on Abram’s behalf and each of these would have built this sense of security, this confidence in God’s faithfulness, this sureness that if God says something He will do it.

The Lord acted on their behalf down in Egypt (Gen 12:17-20), he had a reassurance from the Lord about the land and his offspring (Gen 13:14-17), and reassurance about his son in a dream (Gen 15:1-5) and it was at that point that we read those famous words, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15;6) After this the Lord reassured him about the land again (Gen 15:7-19) making a covenant with him that was quite spectacular.  After the birth of Ishmael the Lord again came and reassured Abram (Gen 17:1-8) about being a mighty nation and then instigates the covenant of circumcision with him (Gen 17:9-14) and then reassures them both about the child again (Gen 17:15-22). All this happened while Abram was 99 and the Lord changed his name to Abraham and tells him his son is to be called Isaac. Subsequently the Lord appeared to them in the form of three men and yet again reassured them about the child who will be born in a year’s time (Gen 18:1-15). By my counting that is seven times (the perfect number in scripture) that the Lord came and reassured Abram.

There are three points to make here. First, the time between a promise and a fulfillment may be lengthy and in that time the Lord simply looks for your faithfulness – “full-of-faith-ness”. You go on believing and you go on acting in the belief that it will come. The second thing is that the Lord will bring reassurance and encouragement along the way. Very often, I have found, the same prophetic word may come to a person three times, if not more. The Lord knows we need the encouragement. The third thing is that in the waiting period it will be a time in which the Lord will go on teaching you and changing you. They will not be wasted years. You will be a different person by the time the word is fulfilled. Sometimes the word cannot be fulfilled unless we are changed. At other times our being changed is just part of God’s general plan for us and the fulfilment is not dependant on it.

There are two verses that may help you if you are in a waiting phase. First, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 3:10) The heavenly powers look on with wonder as they see God’s grace being worked out in you and they praise Him for it. Your faithfulness brings praise to God in the heavenly realms. Second, “Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus coped with the Cross by looking beyond it. You and I can cope with waiting by looking to and beyond the fulfillment. See it and praise the Lord for what will come. That is faith.

4. Against all Hope

Meditations in Romans : 4:  Against all hope

Rom 4:18   Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

We concluded the previous meditation considering the reference in verse 17 to “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” and the challenge came never to write off any person as for ever spiritually dead, for God comes and does what we consider impossible and brings life where we think it can never be. This is at the heart of Christian doctrine: God is a life bringer!

But we need to realise the impossibility that challenges faith sometimes. Paul continues, “Against all hope.” When you gaze on a dead body being lowered into a grave, there is no hope. When they have switched off the life-support machine, there is no hope. In the material, human world, there is going to be no last minute reprieve. It is finished. In an aging human body, male and female, there comes a time when child bearing is well and truly passed. There is no hope. This is what the situation was with Abraham. What made it worse was the fact that his wife had never borne a child. It wasn’t just a case of a wish for another child in old age.   The scriptural record is quite clear: “Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.” (Gen 11:30) And then God speaks. This is the bizarre thing: faith flies in the face of the absence of hope, in the face of the impossible. Humanly it’s just not going to happen – and then God speaks and says it will!

It is at this point that we have a choice: to believe God or to focus on the impossibility and declare it cannot be so. And so then we read, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.” (4:18) It was utterly hopeless, but this amazingly frail believer did just that – he believed God. His knowledge of God was limited, he came from a pagan background, and he had every reason for not believing – but he believed!

He believed God and so “became the father of many nations.” This was spiritually true. Because he believed and continued to try having children, God enabled he and his wife to have a child in old age, Isaac, and from Isaac, Jacob and the nation of Israel and eventually into Israel, God’s Son, Jesus, and through him, children of God from every nation on earth. It was exactly as prophesied: “just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (4:18) quoting Gen 15:5 – “He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” That had been God’s promise and in the fullness of time that was what happened.

But Paul restates this again so that we will not forget it: “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” (4:19) Faith does not ignore the facts; it faces them but believes God. It is the attitude that says, “Yes, I can see that there is absolutely no hope of life here – but God has said there will be, so I will believe Him!” Notice the phrase, without weakening in his faith.” Faith holds on and actions follow. He might have said, “Oh, this is crazy, this is hopeless, I’m giving up this pointless activity!” but he didn’t. Paul then reinforces that: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.” (4:20) Unbelief is the opposite of faith and Abraham didn’t allow unbelief to rise up and quench faith.

No, something else happened: “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” (4:20) He believed and then God spoke again and again, confirming and strengthening his faith. God sees our heart inclination to believe and He comes and strengthens that resolve and speaks the word again and again into our hearts.

But it really started with Abraham’s simple faith: “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (4:21). It was then that God strengthened him, and encouraged him so that he and Sarah persevered and eventually gave or brought glory to God.  Yes, He is the God who brings life where there is none!

The challenge of this passage is obviously, will we believe the Lord when He speaks. We believed Him when we came to salvation for we declared our trust in Jesus, but that was just the starting place. The Bible declares a number of times, “The righteous shall live by faith”. Now, yes, that does mean that life flows to the righteous when they exercise faith and come to Christ, but it also means that their ongoing lives will receive the life of God as they exercise faith. Faith is the channel, if you like, which allows the blessing and life of God to flow to us. It is that important!

13. A Plan

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 13. A Plan

Gen 12:11-13    As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, `This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

People sometimes get confused with the Bible when they are asked, “Is it all inspired?” The answer has to be “Yes!”, for “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Tim 3:16) but that doesn’t mean to say that we take everything we read as right and an example to be followed. In Job, for example, we find his three friends saying wrong things and so we need to discern what was right in their discussions. In Ecclesiastes we find Solomon writing out of a period in his life when he has lost contact with God. There is much to learn in it but we must realise the context. Now here in the story of Abram we find him following a course of action which is only a half truth and we cannot say we should follow his example here.

What we must do is remember what we’ve said before: this is the story of a man whose faith is embryonic and he is feeling his way through life and not getting it all right. We’ll see more of this as the story progresses. In this instance Abram does not pray and seek God for protection as he goes intoEgypt. He hasn’t learned to do that yet, as many young Christians don’t learn it until later in life. Instead he hatches a plan for his own protection, though it may not go well for Sarai. Not good!

At the heart of his scheme is fear. He fears that when he goes into the land and the powerful people there see his beautiful wife they will kill him to take her. The only way, as he sees it, is to distance himself from Sarai in some way. So he tells her to say that she is merely his sister. Now, as we said before, there is a half truth in this. We find at a later incident him explaining, “she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife.” (Gen 20:12) In other words Terah had either been married before, or had two wives or had a second wife when the first one presumably died, and through the other woman had had Sarai. She was, in fact, Abram’s step-sister.

As the story progresses, we will see that it is the Lord who protects her, but Abram wasn’t to know that. Put very simply, he has hatched a human plan to protect himself that involves a half-truth and putting his wife at risk. Not very honourable – but he knows no better. Note, as we said before, the Lord doesn’t reject him. The Lord will not approve this course of action, but He will also not reject this man with his young faith. What reassurance! How many times in our lives have we been godless (not referring our problems to Him) and planned our own way through our difficulties in ways that have been less than perfect, if not less than good?   The reality is that on our own (and the ‘old nature’ is just waiting to rise up and do its own thing without reference to God) we have done this and will do this many times before we get to heaven. Of course the Lord wants us to learn to refer everything to Him, but it IS a learning process and that means it happens slowly and gradually.

Please see the truth here of what we have been saying. This is why Jesus died – for our sins, big ones and little ones, sins of commission (thing we do wrong) and sins of omission (where we should have done something). Where you are, is not where God wants you to be; He wants you to change! He has something better for you than you are now.  If you are still following this behaviour pattern as much in five years as you are now, you haven’t learnt what the Lord is trying to teach you.

The Scripture is quite clear. When you don’t know how to do something, or you can’t see the way through difficulties, ASK the Lord: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5) and “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There it is: talk to the Lord about these sorts of things. Look to Him for answers. But if you are sufficiently young in the faith, and forget to do this, the Lord will not reject you – just give you some more difficulties until you do learn to do this! Be blessed!

4. Childless

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 4. Childless

Gen 11:30    Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

Now I know we have touched on this in one of the earliest meditations in this series as we observed the nature of this family and its various hurts, but I feel we need to pause up and consider this particular issue in more detail. Our verse above stands there is terrible starkness; eight horrible words.

Now if you are a husband or wife who has no desire for children you might like to move on to the next meditation for you are an unusual person. Most women desire to have children. In today’s work-orientated culture they may leave it until later in life, but it is still there, this desire to let your body do what it was designed to do – to procreate. Women who do not want children are relatively few and, from personal experience, at least one of the reasons they do not is fear. When we were first married, my wife will not mind me telling you that she did not want children. The Cold War was still a reality and it was a time when there was a lot of talk about persecution of Christians behind the Iron Curtain, and my wife feared bringing children into that sort of world. It took the Lord four years to bring her to a place of security where she felt she could trust any children into His care in such an environment. She is now a wonderful mother of three and a wonderful grandmother of five.

If we had shared our testimony with Sarai she would have been hurt because it wasn’t a case of what she wanted, it was a case of what she was able or not able to do. For those of you who are walking the same path as Sarai, I understand that it is an incredibly sensitive and hurtful subject, and there are many like you. From all I have observed I conclude that desperately wanting children when none come is one of the most heart rending experiences in human life.  You see people around you breeding like rabbits and your greatest longing is to hold a little bundle of your own, but month after month just brings yet further loss of hope and you begin to wonder if, for the rest of your life you are going to be destined to be childless, and a knife seems to pierce your heart. This is at the heart of this story of this couple, Abram and Sarai. One could almost say that their story is all about this – and about God, of course.

Yes, it is so easy to leave God out of this. I don’t know about you but after you have prayed and prayed and prayed, and still there is no answer, you begin to wonder if God is still in this universe, and so you just get on with life without Him. But this is a story, not of a man who persevered believing in God, but of a God who kept on breaking in to his childless life with promises of a child. In fact it may have been this that was the driving force that got Abram and his family moving, because when we start chapter 12 of Genesis, which is where most of us start Abram’s story, we read, “The LORD had said to Abram.” (v.1a) which signifies that previously, before they started their traveling the Lord had spoken to Abram. But not only had the Lord spoken about leaving that land and going to another land, He had also promised, “I will make you into a great nation.” (v.2). Now for a nation to arise, there needs to be at the very least one son! In other words God’s instruction that seem to intrude in Abram’s thinking could be summarized as, “Go to the land I will show you and I will enable you to have children.”

As I said, was this THE motivation that got Abram to move? And when his father settled in Haran, which was NOT the land of their destiny, was Abram torn in two between his loyalty to his father and his desire for his wife to have a child. Eventually, as we saw previously, he moved on and left his father there. The desire for a child was greater than the desire for the family to stay together.

The Bible seems to be almost littered with couples who could not have children. Hannah (1 Sam 1) anguished over not being able to have a child, but Samuel was the result of her surrender to the Lord. Isaac, the eventual son of Abraham and Sarah, had to pray for twenty years before the Lord gave he and his wife Rebekah twins (Gen 25:21). An elderly childless couple are at the start of the Gospel story and eventually become the parents of John the Baptist (Lk 1).

Twice in my life I have prophesied over childless couples, you will have a baby within a year. Those words make me tremble for I hate giving false hope, especially in this so sensitive area, yet God fulfilled His word on both occasions. Don’t every pray, “Lord, if it is your will, please let us conceive.”  Assume it is God’s will because Scripture testifies to the goodness of having children and of a God who steps in and enables it to happen. Assume it is God’s will until He tells you clearly otherwise, and merely because doctors say it is not possible, don’t give up. God can change genetic imperfections in one or other of your family histories and He can do what men declare is impossible. This is what this story of Abram and Sarai is all about. While you pray, read this story again and see if the Lord will speak words of life through it. Be blessed!

2. Wrong Settling

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 2. Settling in the wrong place

Gen 11:31,32  Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.

There are mysteries in life, things we’ll never know this side of heaven. It’s like that in the Bible as well. There are times when the Bible seems frustratingly sketchy and we want to ask lots of questions. Why did Terah leave Ur? Why did he settle in Haran? We simply aren’t told, so this tends to be a little speculative. All we can do is look at what we are told and speculate in the light of what we know about life.

There are two areas where the Bible gives us information about Terah. The first is about his family. As we noted yesterday, when his first son came along, he seems to have high hopes of the family name being carried on through this son for he names him ‘exalted father’. Yet as the years pass that doesn’t happen. Obviously it would be a number of years before Abram grew up and took a wife, and then some more years before they concluded she was barren. In the meantime Haran is married and has a son, Lot, but then some unspecified time later, dies.

Now it may just be possible that Terah takes the family and leaves Ur because he wants to escape the unhappy memory of losing Haran. That is one possibility. It may also be possible that, being a superstitious man, he wonders if Ur is an ‘unlucky’ place and further wonders that if they go somewhere else, Sarai may be able to conceive and have a child to carry the family name through the eldest son. There is a faint possibility that Terah heard from God because their departure was with the express intent of ending up in Canaan, which is where, we find, the Lord told Abram to go. The truth is we just don’t know, but life decisions are so often made through a combination of such things. There is a further probability that we’ll consider later.

Now there is a second area of information about Terah that we only get later in the Bible. Presumably the story of Terah was handed down by word of mouth and that in more detail than we find recorded in Genesis 11. We have to wait to some way through Joshua that we find this prophetic word coming from the Lord through Joshua:Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River (Euphrates) and worshipped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants (Josh 24:2,3). Ah, Terah worshipped idols!  It is said that the moon-god was worshiped at both Ur and Haran so it is likely that Terah worshipped the moon at least. Now there is an interesting thing about people who worship the elements or idols; they indicate a need to reverence some other Being or force.

They recognize a spiritual existence but may be completely misled in their understanding of it, for understanding of reality can only come from God. But their hearts are inclined more in His direction than in no direction, such as the atheist would claim.  So Terah sets out from Ur and intends to go to Canaan. As we’ve said previously, we are not told why he left and even more we’re not told (here) why he was aiming for Canaan. As we wondered previously, is it coincidence that Abram ends up in Canaan? (Yes, as we read on we’ll get answers but in these early verses these are legitimate questions). However he’s got his leading, and we said it may be through a variety of feelings or circumstances, he’s had this sense that he wants to take his family to Canaan. When we consider all that subsequently took place in Abram’s life, we can only conclude that that initial sense was a good one. So he sets out from the place of hurt towards a place of hope. (We will come to more definite conclusions later in the series).

On the way he passes through Haran, which in the Hebrew, I’m told, is spelt differently from his son’s name, but was it sufficient to trigger the memories all over again of the son he has lost?  We read,when they came to Haran, they settled there.” To settle means to stop moving on. If Canaan was Terah’s destiny, he stopped short of it, he stopped moving towards it and never arrived. We read that he died there in Haran.

Terah is the picture of a man who caught a sense of something new but stopped along the way and settled, so that he never reached it.  How many of us mirror in our lives what happened to Terah? We started off well, clear about where we were going with our lives, but somehow, somewhere along the way, we settled. Is it too late to get under way again? No, but we’ll probably need the Lord’s help to get out of our rut. When you settle, it’s difficult to get under way again, but not impossible.

Did you give up going to church some way along the path? Did you stop reading your Bible, stop praying, stop attending the mid-week meeting, stop giving, stop whatever it was that became your ‘stopping off point’?  If you stay in Haran you’ll die there. It’s not the place of your destiny. There’s a land out there for you to reach, a land filled with milk and honey, a place of plenty of goodness, a place of God’s calling. Please don’t settle, don’t remain at Haran, don’t accept second best. A lot of people are. There are a lot of people who are Christians who stopped along the way and settled. Your calling is to be a man or woman of God, a person of faith. The first step is to get under way again. If you remain in Haran it will kill you. Move on!

1. An Unknown

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 1. An Unknown

Gen 11:26,29,30  After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran….The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai…..Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

When you pass people in the street, do you ever wonder where they come from, what their background is and what they’ve been through?  We live in a world where celebrities, courtesy of the media, feature highly. If you were asked to list off fifty well-known names, you’d probably not have a problem.  However, the truth is that the vast majority of us are unknowns. If we are ‘anybody’ it’s probably because of our family. Families count for a lot. Some of us may have made our way through our education or through business or professional achievement, but for most, families do play a big part. It’s all right, actually, to come from humble beginnings and be a ‘nobody’ as far as the world is concerned. If we measure ourselves according to our family background and upbringing, we may truly be a ‘nobody’. If we measure ourselves on the basis of how much we have impacted the world, what we’ve achieved, we may, indeed, rate ourselves very lowly, but there is another means of measuring our value, and it is God!

Here is Abram, and he probably knows very little of God; in fact few people do at this time in history! It’s early days. Around the world the revelation of God is very limited. It is said that the Chinese had an early understanding of the God who is the Creator.  Most other peoples had a more superstitious, fact-absent set of beliefs. There was, in many, a sense that the world was more than just a material, senses-perceived existence, there was something more. Spirits? Demons? Things that needed to be appeased, things that needed bribing? It was early days as far as spiritual revelation was concerned. And Abram is a nobody who doesn’t know much, if anything, about God.

Well actually he is the eldest son of Terah, but that really doesn’t say much. When we first come across him in Genesis 11, there is no indication whatsoever that this is a man of destiny, a man whose name would become a household name to many. He’s got two brothers and he gets a wife called Sarai. His youngest brother has a son,Lot, and so far Sarai doesn’t have any children.  They live inUr, in the southern part of what we sometimes callMesopotamia, one of the so-called ‘cradles of civilization’.  Life just goes on year by year with nothing eventful happening. Time passes, and still Abram and Sarai don’t have any children. Eventually it is assumed she is simply childless.

This is all rather ironic because when Terah had had his first child, he named him ‘Abram’ which means ‘exalted father’. The implication is that Terah expected this son to carry on the family name, perhaps to be like him and have at least three sons of his own, a family at least, who would carry on the family name. But Abram doesn’t have any children because ‘Sarai was barren’. It’s the youngest of the three sons,Haran, who has a son,Lot, and thenHarandies. One way and another, this is probably not a very happy family.  So here we have this man who is a ‘nobody’, part of an unhappy family blighted by childlessness and a premature death. Not a very good scenario.

Perhaps, when you look back over your family life and background, you feel that it is similar to that which we’ve been describing. For many people when the stories are told, they realise their parents were not wonderfully happy, and indeed in many cases they actually weren’t wanted. In the nine months of being carried in the womb, all they had conveyed to them was worry, anxiety and fear. When they were born, it wasn’t a lot better. For many people childhood wasn’t a wonderful time of life. Teenage years were even more turbulent and a decidedly rickety launch into adulthood. And then the ups and downs of life hit. For some it is childlessness, for others divorce, for others unemployment, and the list could go on and on. Life is bumpy! Things go wrong! We live in a Fallen World when prevailing sin means our lives ‘break-down’.

And what are we left with?  Very often it is low self-esteem. Very often it is a feeling of being locked into circumstances, locked into my personal history, locked in to the sense of failure. In reality many of us feel we are a ‘nobody’. In reality our knowledge of God is strictly limited. In reality we feel we have no future worth mentioning. We just live.

This is where the story of Abram and Sarai brings hope. This is a story of a man who didn’t know God, who has an encounter with God, and has his life changed for ever. This story is about an embryonic relationship that forms with God, the ups and the downs of the life of this ‘nobody’ that makes him a ‘somebody’. This is all about the life transformation that can take place, because God turns up. Are you ready for God to turn up for you as you read through these incidents in Abram’s life, because that’s what this is all about?

Over the years my understanding of the story of Abram grew in stages. The more you think about it the more comes out. In the early meditations in this series I am going to write as if that understanding grows and develops. Join me with our exploration into this man’s growing experience of God.

2. To Abram

“God turned up” Meditations: 2 :  To Abram

Gen 12:1,2 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. 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.

I wonder how many people God speaks to but they don’t realise they are being spoken to. Adam and Eve, we saw in the previous meditation, were very much aware of the Lord’s presence and of Him speaking to them. No longer do we see the Lord and thus we only ‘hear’ him in our spirit unless, on very rare occasions, He should speak out loud into our world. But Abram heard him.

Abram’s family lived in Ur which is believed to be in the south east of Mesopotamia, where modern Iraq is. Now all the Biblical account tells is that, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.” (Gen 11:31.32) Haran is in the far north west of Mesopotamia.  So what we are told is that Terah, Abram’s father, had led them from their home in Ur up the trade route towards Canaan but when they had got to Haran they settled there and there they remained until Terah died, after which Abram and his family set off again for Canaan.

Yet in Acts we read, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” (Acts 7:2) In other words it was before they left Ur that this word we find at the beginning of chapter 12 came to Abram and when we later read, “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him,” (Gen 12:4) that actually refers to leaving Ur. What is intriguing about all this is that the chapter 11 account has Terah leading the way although it was Abram who receive the prodding from the Lord.

Now culture experts will tell us that in that culture the father was the one who led the family and they did what he said, but it still means that Abram must have gone to his father and convinced him that he had heard from God. Now that in itself is intriguing when you think about it, because one wonders what Abram knew of God because the revelation of God, apart from the early accounts at the beginning, was very spasmodic to say the least. Moreover just how did the Lord speak to Abram?  This is a key question because we are not told he had an angelic visitation or that he heard a voice out loud, which rather supposes that it was simply in his mind he was getting this ‘message’.

Did the message come once, or twice, or was it an ongoing nagging thought that just wouldn’t go away. Whatever it was, it was sufficient to go to his father and convince him. Had his father been hearing from the Lord as well? It is a grey area and we just don’t know. What it does tell us, however, was that from the outset Abram was someone who believed in the divine and also that he could be ‘spoken to’. Centuries had passed since Enoch or Noah had lived, the most recent men who appeared to have some relationship with the Lord, and so although information had no doubt been passed down the family line, it would have been very sketchy.

So there is Abram, living with his family, married but childless, in Ur, and he starts hearing God. God turns up on his radar. We really don’t know if he had had any prior contact or knowledge of the Lord but now suddenly God starts speaking in such a way that Abram hears it. Bit it isn’t a quiet general word – leave your land – it is much more comprehensive than that.

There are really six bits to it. First, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” The only problem about that is that it included leaving his father which culturally was not on. So he shares it with his father, who concludes they all need to go and it is not until they settle in Haran and his father eventually dies, that he is able to fulfil this command. Second, and go to the land I will show you.” Although the chapter 11 account speaks of Canaan it is not clear that they knew that this was the destination when they set out. Third, I will make you into a great nation.” Now that was amazing for he was childless. That flew directly opposite to his experience. Fourth, and I will bless you.” That was very reassuring, “I will do good to you.” Fifth, I will make your name great.” He’s going to become famous! Sixth, and you will be a blessing.” In other words you will do good to other people.

This is an amazingly comprehensive message for this dweller in Ur to receive. He heard it, understood it and took it in and conveyed it. It is pure prophecy. Abram appears from no where; he is a nowhere man, a nobody, just the son of another nobody – and then God turns up and nothing is ever the same again.

There is something important to consider before we finish. All this might have been wonderful but it would just have remained a series of thoughts in the mind of a nobody, if he hadn’t then gone and done something about it. He tells his father in such a manner his father is moved into action. The working out of the “go to the land I will show you” took time and included delays, yet eventually we find, they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.” (Gen 12:5) and the rest, as they say, is history – but it needed him to respond to the voice of God – as it does us.