by Mike Feazell

As a boy I heard the story of Abraham recounted at least
once a week, and it usually went something like this: “God told Abraham to go,
and he went. He didn’t ask questions; he didn’t hesitate; he just packed up and
left everything he knew—country, family—and went. That’s how all of us should
obey God. When God says ‘jump,’ you don’t ask ‘how high?’ you just jump.”

Maybe you have heard a similar story. There’s no disputing
the point—we should put the will of God first in our lives. But we don’t. Not
all the time—not even most of the time. It usually takes us a while to get our
act together. We might want to do what God says, but we put it
off. We mighttry to do what God says, but we chicken out.

We might even get started doing what God
says, but then not follow through.

The background for the story above comes not from the
Genesis account of Abram’s call, but from Hebrews 11, commonly called the
“faith chapter.” Verse 8 reads: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to
go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out,
not knowing where he was going” (NKJV). Verse 11 adds, “By faith Sarah herself
also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past
the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”

You might at first think that the author of Hebrews was
reading the Classics Illustrated version of the Abraham story, because the
Genesis version paints a somewhat different picture—a not so sanitized picture
of the patriarch and matriarch of the chosen people.

The early record is found in Genesis 11:27-32. Let’s read

“This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of
Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father
Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his
birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and
the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father
of both Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

31 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.

32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.

It’s a sketchy story: Abram was the son of Terah; his wife’s
name was Sarai and she was barren; Terah moved Abram and Sarai, along with his
grandson, Lot, to Haran; Terah died. (There is no mention of the rest of the
family moving to Haran.)

And somewhere along the line (we are not told exactly when),
God spoke to Abram, giving him a most remarkable promise.

Let’s continue the story in Gen 12:1-3:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and
from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show
you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your
name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless
you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of
the earth shall be blessed.”

God told Abram to “go forth from your county.” What exactly
was Abram’s country? Haran was only a temporary home for Abram, not Abram’s
home country. Gen 15:7 says,

“I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the
Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” So Ur Abram’s
country and the location of Abram’s “father’s house.”

That means it is likely that God said these things to Abram
while Abram was still in Ur—while he was still with his
relatives and still in his home country. Which in turn tell us that Abram may
have been rather slow about getting out of his country, from
his relatives and from his father’s house.

It would make one wonder whether Terah, Abram’s
father, moved Abram, Sarai and Lot from Ur in response to what Yahweh had told
Abram, because Gen 11:31 says that Terah took Abram and headed to the land of
Canaan, but stopped short in Haran.

Was he trying to light a fire under Abram by getting him

Maybe so. But whether it was immediately or later, at some
point after God’s call, Abram did pack up all his considerable possessions,
including slaves, and traveled from Haran across the Euphrates River and down
to Canaan, leaving his father’s house and whatever relatives might have also
made the trip from Ur to Haran.

But Abram had barely set up shop in we call the “land of
promise” before there was a famine so bad that he again packed up and moved to

We have to wonder, if Abram trusted God’s promise about the
land flowing with milk and honey, why go straight to Egypt when there was

And then Abram’s stay in Egypt was no triumph of faith
either. Fearing that the king would kill him in order to marry his beautiful
wife, Abram asked Sarai to tell the king that she was his sister.

Let’s read it in Gen 12:10:

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

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that
she was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they
praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram
well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female
donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.

17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh
and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram.
“What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she
was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be
my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh
gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife
and everything he had.”

There are several things to consider here. One is that Abram
handled his affairs a lot like many of us tend to: Seek the most expedient way
out of a problem.

In other words, shortsighted, knee-jerk, unplanned living.

What about faith? Abram didn’t show much in this episode.
But there is another side to the story.

In this incident, Abram was weak in faith. But here’s the
kicker: Consider what God did in spite of Abram’s lack of faith. He blessed
Abram with more stock. He protected Sarai, in spite of Abram’s willingness to
let the king take her. He got Abram back into the Promised Land, though it took
a deportation to do it. Who knows how long Abram would have stayed in Egypt

What is the lesson?

God is faithful, even when we are not. That’s a pretty big
lesson. We begin to get the impression that these Genesis stories are not here
to give us models of excellent living, but to show us God’s
 to those who call on his name.

When we read Genesis, the facts are stacked against Abram.
He doesn’t sound very faithful at times.

But it’s often the case that the obvious, simple facts don’t
tell the whole story, or “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey’s popular
radio short was called. There is often something going on under the surface,
behind the scenes, that plain facts don’t have the capacity to convey.

From your own experience, you know that “just the facts,
ma’am” doesn’t always convey the real story. Sometimes the facts give a false
impression, because they don’t contain the deeper facts, the invisible
facts—the heart, the motivation, the mitigating circumstances, the personal

In Mark Twain’s story of Tom Sawyer, the facts were against
Muff Potter. He was holding the bloody knife, he was drunk, there was a witness
against him, and worst of all, he remembered nothing, so even he believed
he must be guilty—from the facts. But the simple, obvious facts conveyed an
untrue story. There were deeper facts, unseen facts, which told the true story
and spoke louder than the simple, obvious facts.

It’s easy to say Abram was weak in faith. But consider this
from Abram’s perspective: God spoke to Abram, giving him some of the most
dramatic, famous and far-reaching promises in the Bible. In spite of such
unprecedented special treatment from God, Abram’s life was far from a bed of

For example, where was God when the so-called promised land
of blessing and descendants was a parched, cropless wasteland with no kids
bearing Abram’s name, when in desperation Abram decided he had to head down to
Egypt so he could feed his wife, slaves and animals?

Where was God when Sarai’s desperation over her barrenness
drove her to offer her servant Hagar to Abram to give him a child, or when
Abraham had to contend with Sarah’s bitter jealousy toward Hagar and Ishmael?

Where was God when Abraham’s love for Ishmael was brushed
aside as irrelevant when it was time for Isaac to come along? What were the big
promises worth to Abraham when he had to struggle with water rights, when he
had to go to war to rescue his kidnapped nephew, when he had to send Ishmael
away with nothing but the bread and water he and his mother could carry, and
most of all when he was trudging along beside a donkey toward Mount Moriah like
some worshiper of Molech to make a burned sacrifice of Isaac?

Abraham had to deal with strife, pain, heartache, tragedy
and grievous disappointment, just like you and me.

And through it all, he kept trusting God to be faithful to
his word of grace and promise.

Look at what Paul wrote in Romans 4:

1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather,
discovered in this matter? 2If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had
something to boast about—but not before God. 3What does the Scripture say?
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to
him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5However, to the man who does not work but
trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
6David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom
God credits righteousness apart from works:

7″Blessed are they

whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sins are covered.

8Blessed is the man

whose sin the Lord will never count against

Paul is telling us the real meaning of Abraham’s story, the
truth behind the bare facts. Abraham did not earn righteousness by what he did,
not even by his own faith. God gave it to him. It was a gift. His faith, weak
as it was, was credited as righteousness. Paul doesn’t say his
faith wasrighteousness. Paul says his faith was credited as

Let’s continue in verse 13:

13It was not through law that Abraham and his
offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through
the righteousness that comes by faith.”

Again, Paul is not saying that faith itself is righteousness;
he is saying that righteousness comes byfaith. In other words,
righteousness is God’s gift; its free; and it is experienced by

Let’s go to verse 19:

19Without 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. 20Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding
the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,
21being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22This
is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23The words
“it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24but also
for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who
raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25He was delivered over to death for our
sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

Did you see that? Paul is telling us the end, the
outcome, the meaning 
of the story as God sees it. In God’s view, the
facts, the details, the places where Abraham was not full of faith, aren’t
important. What is important is what God makes
of the facts and details

We don’t see unwavering faith in Gen 17. Let’s turn there,
Gen 17:17, and read what actually happened.

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself,
“Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child
at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael
might live under your blessing!”

Abraham found the promise that he and Sarai would bear
a child to be laughable at this point. He had already resolved himself to
accept Ishmael, who was born of Sarai’s handmaid Hagar, to be the fulfillment
of the promise. That wasn’t unwavering faith. But

Paul gives us the real story behind the story – it wasn’t
the strength of Abraham’s faith that made any difference, it was the truth of
God’s promise.

Human faith, by nature, does waver, but truth is truth, and
the truth of God’s word is certain regardless of the strength or weakness of
our faith.

Abraham is called the father of the faithful: not because he had
unwavering faith – his faith wavered a lot. He’s the father of the faithful
because God transformed his weak and wavering faithinto the
strong and unwavering faith of Jesus Christ, whose atoning work reaches both
forward and backward in time.

Abraham believed God would do whatever he promised, even
though he had no idea how he would bring it about. He stuck with God in spite
of his personal weakness, not because of his personal strength.

What Paul calls “unwavering faith” has to do with trusting
God in spite of your doubt.

Faith is not about your strength; it’s about God’s strength.

We trust in Christ, not in our faith. Our faith can’t save
us: Christ saved us.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that when the story
in Genesis moves over to Jacob, Abraham just kind of fades out. He remarries –
a woman named Ketura – has more kids, and you just don’t hear much about him
any more.

The same happened with Jacob, once the spotlight moved to

All the so-called giants of faith of Hebrews 11, the faith
chapter, were just regular people who had to struggle their way through life
like the rest of us. They live, they struggle, and they die.

Their story is our story. They didn’t have super powers.
They weren’t X-Men or born on Krypton. They doubted, they lusted, they lied,
they got mad, just like us….

And yet, God loved them, just like he loves us. In their
weakness, God made them strong, just as he does us.

God takes our story, including all the ugly facts of our
lives, and transforms those facts and that story into his victory, the victory
of Jesus Christ, and that new story, that new creation he makes of us, is more
real and more true than the weak, wavering and failing story we see in the
mirror every morning.

So what’s the real story of Abraham, the father of the

Well, sometimes Abraham put things off. Sometimes he tried
to solve things himself (he did the tell-them-you’re-my-sister thing again the
very year Isaac was born). Sometimes he acted unwisely.

But it was in the middle of the pains, problems,
frustrations and mess-ups of life that Abraham trusted God, not in some happily-ever-after
fairy tale land where heroes are practically-perfect-in-every-way and nothing
serious ever goes wrong.

And God was faithful to Abraham, just as he is faithful to
us—not faithful to do the kind of things we think a proper God should do, like
giving us whatever we long for or think we need—but faithful to us,
his beloved children—to his redemptive purpose for us, to his new creation of
which he has made us part in Christ.

In the same way, God has redeemed your story—your personal
history, the record of your weaknesses, shortcomings and failures, and has
transformed you and your history into something new—his new creation in Jesus

In Christ, we can put our troubled past behind us, and trust
his word of truth for us.

As Paul put it, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a
new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”
(2 Corinthian 5:17, NIV).

–  Mike Feazell.

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