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A Faithful God for the Weak in Faith | Gen. 11:27-13:1

As preached by Timothy O'Day.

In this sermon, we learn that:

1) The Lord is intimately active in bringing about his promise (11:27-32).

2) The Lord's promises are the foundation of faith (12:1-9).

3) The Lord's faithfulness overcomes imperfect faith (12:10-13:1).

A Faithful God for the Weak in Faith

Genesis 11:27-13:1

July 16, 2023

I’m blessed to have 3 older siblings. Over the years, I have learned a lot from them. But they were not always examples of perfection from whom I got to learn. Much of the time I learned from their mistakes. In a similar way, when you read the Bible you do not always find moral heroes. In fact, much of the time you find great sinners who are held out as examples. Why? It isn’t because they are always moral. Much of the time they are held up as a warning of what to avoid or as an example of faith in the God who overcomes the guilt and shame of sin. That’s what we find in the man Abram who will soon have his name changed to Abraham.

At the end of Genesis 11, the book turns from deep history to ancient history. Thousands of years are covered in Genesis 1-11:26, but Genesis 11:27-25:18 covers around 100 years. The story starts to slow down here and focus in on one man, Abram who becomes Abraham, and his family because he and they are central to what God is doing in this world. Genesis 11:27-13:1, which introduces us to Abram, is pivotal in the book of Genesis and the Bible as a whole. As we see here in these verses and the chapters that follow, we can learn from Abraham. The lessons learned are rarely about morality and almost always about knowing God.

What do these chapters teach us about the Lord and our walk with him?

The Lord is intimately active in bringing about his promises (11:27-32)

Our passage begins in 11:27 with “Now these are the generations of Terah,” which moves us from the story of Shem and his more immediate descendants to the story of Abram and his. But it also connects Abram with the generations that have come before, which, as all of the genealogies and Genesis do, connects us to Genesis 3:15, which is God’s promise to bring one from Eve who would crush the serpent and reverse the curse that has come on creation because of sin.

In this short synopsis of Terah, Abram, Nahor, and Haran, we see that when God called Abram out of Ur—12:1 being a flashback that is situated within this short genealogy and description (cf Gen 15:7)—many of his family members came with him. Eventually they settled in Haran, where Terah died.

Once again, this short genealogy and the description that comes with it is not window dressing; none of the genealogies are without a point, so what are we to gather from this one? Namely this: Abram does not arise from the ether. He is connected, by descent, all the way back to Adam through the elect line of descent that goes back through Shem to Noah, Noah to Seth, and Seth to Adam and Eve.

While Abram is from this line, he is unique from Nahor and Haran in that he is called by God to go, as we read in 12:1. But Abram, in being called by God, is not clean in his background even though he is of the chosen line of Shem. There is a hint here that Abram is an idolater when God calls him because it isn’t until he follows the call and goes to the land that he, as it says in 12:7, calls upon the name of the Lord. This suspicion that he is an idolater is confirmed in Joshua 24:2. There Joshua explicitly says that Abraham “served other gods.” And yet, God called him and makes a covenant with him to bring about his promise.

All of this should make clear to us that God is gracious an precise in how he brings about his plan. Genealogies shout out to us the reality that God is carefully and personally carrying along his plan and bringing about the people he needs in order to fulfill his promises. In other words, this genealogy, like other genealogies, tells us that God does not just throw things together but is bringing out his intended purposes constantly.

Salvation is Greater Than a Movie

I remember when, as a teenager, I finally learned that making a major motion picture takes years to plan, along with months and sometimes years to shoot, and then months to edit and polish for showing. After learning this, I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t obvious to me in the first place. It wasn’t as if people were getting together and ad-libbing the story day by day, hoping that schedules would line up, and that the end product would be a coherent whole. Just as the finished product of a good movie demands that we understand that it took intricate planning and action, so should the reality of salvation draw our eyes to the intentional and loving hand of God in all things.

What You Need to Know

We may be able to grasp this about God working salvation, but we often fail to grasp it when we consider God’s activity in our own lives. Do you think that you are just randomly moving about this world? Are you frustrated with your place in life right now? Stop and consider how God, in his kindness, has brought you right here, right now. God’s plan for you, Christian, is to craft you into the image of Jesus. I hope you know this and I hope that you measure his work not in minutes but in years and decades because that is how detailed his work is in you.

What God is orchestrating in the hearts of his people is massive in beauty and in scope. Like an artist chiseling away at a large piece of marble, he has his plan and he is working diligently to reveal the person in the stone that he knows is there. But if you were just a spectator of this artist, you may wonder why he is chiseling in certain places and why he isn’t going faster. If that is you, remember: he is the artist and he knows what he is doing. His care and his skill are deep and great. Trust him.

God deliberately moved Abram out of idolatry so that the promised seed in Genesis 3:15 would come all the more closer to being brought into this world in the person of Christ. It may be hard to see how Genesis 1-11 is leading up to Christ, but God is surely doing it. And if you are in Christ, then he is deliberately making you more and more like him. You must view your circumstances that way. He is moving you out of idolatry so that you may be conformed into the image of the promised seed by faith.

The Lord’s promises are the foundation of faith (12:1-9)

There are many misconceptions about faith in this world, which is why we should be grateful for passages like this that instruct us in what faith is and what it looks like. What we see in these verses is that biblical faith requires a promise and a promise maker.

Chapter 12 begins most likely as a looking back at the genealogy and movements of 11:27-32 and provides and explanation for the movement of Abram and his family. Why did Terah take his family from Ur? Because, as Genesis 15:7 says, the Lord brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Genesis 12:1-3 captures what the Lord said to Abram to bring him out.

The Promises

These verses constitute a call that is attended by various promises. This call and its promises are similar to what in the ancient world was called a royal grant, which is a type of covenant made without stipulations. It is a gracious covenant in which a sovereign simply says “This is what I promise you. Receive it.” You can see the graciousness in these verses as the Lord constantly says “I will…” in verses 2-3. “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great…I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” God is the one who will bring these things about.

What is promised by God to Abram? We can summarize the promises as land, seed, and blessing, all of which should draw our thoughts back to the beginning of Genesis where man dwelled with God. Let’s consider each promise in turn:

Land: “The land that I will show you,” which we will come to know for sure means that land that he will give to Abram. This is made clear in 12:7 once Abram is in the land. This promise of land, or promise of a place, should make us think of God giving Adam and Eve a special place in which he dwells with them. As verses 4-9 unfold, we see that the land is a place in which God will be with Abram. 12:1 begins with the Lord speaking to Abram, but once in the land the Lord, as it says in verse 7, “appeared” to Abram. This is not just any land but the land in which Abram and his descendants can be with the Lord.

Seed: “And I will make of you a great nation,” is perhaps the most surprising promise given to Abram. We know from 11:30 that Sarai is barren and, as the narrative unfolds, we come to find that they are both advanced in years. Having children seems unlikely, yet God promises that he will make a nation out of Abram. Yet again, this promise should draw out minds back to Genesis 3:15. There God promised Eve descendants, one of whom would crush the head of the serpent. Now Abram is receiving a similar promise of descendants.

Blessing: “And I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” The fall brought a curse on the earth and this promise of blessing is a call back to God’s original intention to bless humanity (Gen 1:28) by reversing the the curse laid out in Genesis 3:17. God’s intention to bless is now bound up in Abram. We see this in two ways. First, if anyone treats Abram poorly and dishonors him, God will curse him; but if anyone blesses Abram, then God will bless that person. Second, God will bless all of the families of the earth in Abram. Again, this should draw our minds back to Genesis 3:15 in which Eve is promised that one of her descendants will crush the serpent. What is being promised to Abram, and to us, is that one will come from Abram who will reverse the curse by crushing the devil and his schemes. Abram is blessed as the source of universal blessing because from him will come the Christ.

To sum it up, The Lord promises to make his people from Abram, to bring his people into his place, where they can experience his blessing.

The Fulfillment of the Promises

All of these promises find fulfillment in various stages. For example, much of the rest of Genesis is the story of how childless Abram can become a great nation by simply having one child. He is only able to taste the fulfillment of this promise. But as the Bible unfolds, we see this one child turn into a nation in Exodus 19 after God calls them out of Egypt and makes them his own. But the nation was never the sought after end; it served to prepare the way for the One promised child, Jesus the Messiah, to come into the world in order to bless all the nations. As you read in Genesis, you see that people are blessed simply by associating with Abraham in a positive way. But ultimately the world is blessed because from him comes Jesus, the Messiah, and by faith in him people from all nations are justified by faith.

The Call That Must Be Answered Before the Promises Are Experienced

But these promises come along with the call to “Go” in verse 1, and we cannot move past the magnitude of this call lightly. Abram lived in time in which there were no police departments or armies set out to protect. There is no social net to catch those who hit hard times. During this time, your kin group served as your protection from outsiders, famine, disaster, and tragedy. To leave them behind was to leave behind all known security. The Lord calls him, in verse 1, to leave what he knows in order to go to what only the Lord knows, losing all protection and economic ties and security. By going, Abram was saying “I believe that you will protect me and provide for me.” In short, the promises outweighed the loss.

This is the call that comes before all of us. Jesus is the promised seed of the woman and the offspring of Abraham by whom the nations are blessed. In order to receiving the blessing he brings—forgiveness of sins and communion with God—you must leave behind all else. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” We are blessed by our union with Christ through faith, but this union calls us to let go of any sin to which we cling and any security we find through other means.

Do You Have Biblical Faith?

Abraham believes God’s specific promises. The proper response to God’s promises is faith, and faith can be seen. You see it in Genesis 12:4-9. There we see that Abraham goes (4), brings others with him (5-6), and devotes himself to the Lord in prayer and worship (7-9). You can see his faith in 12:4 because he does indeed go. Lot his nephew goes with him and in leaving Abram leaves behind the practice of idolatry. We see in verse 7 that, now in the land, the Lord appears to him and he builds an altar to him. Then in verse 8, after traveling further into the land, Abram builds another altar and “called upon the name of the LORD,” which is language that should take us back to Genesis 4:26. There we saw that the line of Seth called upon the name of the Lord, meaning that they were known as those who hoped in the Lord by praying to him and proclaimed the promises of God so that others may hope in him as well. This is what Abram has now started doing in response to God’s promise to him.

This is what biblical faith looks like: hearing God’s promises and acting in accord with them. So the question before you right now is “do you have biblical faith?” My mother works in palliative care. This means that her job is to step into caring for people once the doctor has determined that there is nothing more than can be done for a patient. Her role is to help prepare the family for impending death and to help make the patient as comfortable as possible before his or her passing. Often what she will deal with, though, when meeting with families, is their unwillingness to let someone die. This, I think, is completely natural. When you love someone it is difficult to accept that he or she is going to go. A statement that she often hears after explaining why hospice is the right move is, “But I have faith that he will get well.” Now, it is true that God can heal. But faith that God can heal is different than faith in a promise that a person will be healed. Devoid of a promise from God that says this person will be healed, what should be said is, “But I really want him to get well.”

Biblical faith goes after and trusts what God has promised rather than our desires. What can happen to us is that our desires end up masquerading as faith. You can end up saying something like, “I really want to be happy and I think God wants me to be happy. Having X (this job, this spouse, this house, good health, this circumstance) would make me happy, so I have faith that God will give it to me.”

But God has not made promises to you that you will have a great house, spouse, career, or good health. What God has promised is eternal life through his Son Jesus Christ. This is greater than any treasure you could ask for on earth because it gives us God for all eternity—which is to say that it spares us from eternal misery and gives us eternal joy in God.

If you are hoping for something greater, you will not find it. If your hope is in this but your vision is getting clouded by worldly desires, then reset your gaze on the beauty of God in Christ for you. Additionally, take comfort int he fact that God is gracious and merciful when our faith in his promises is weak. In fact, that’s exactly what we see next in 12:10-13:1.

The Lord’s faithfulness overcomes imperfect faith

We see in verse 10 that a famine in the land makes Abram turn elsewhere for food. But going to a new place introduces an opportunity for fear. Knowing that he is going to a place in which Pharaoh has dominance, he predicts that he will be killed because Sarai, his wife, is beautiful. His thinking is laid out in verses 11-13 and goes like this:

1. Sarai is beautiful and is married to me

2. When people in the land see her, they will see that she is beautiful

3. Thus I will be killed so that another can enjoy her beauty by having her as wife

So he devises a plan and tells her in verse 13 to tell others that she is his sister, which, as we see in Genesis 20:12, is a half truth because they share a father but not a mother.

Sure enough, we see in verses 14-16 that after entering the land the Egyptian princes saw Sarai and noted her beauty to pharaoh. As a result, Pharaoh took Sarai so that she would become part of his haram. In exchange, we see in verse 16, he paid Abram handsomely.

This is nothing other than an abject failure on Abram’s part. God has promised to bless him with dominion, dynasty, wealth, and regal influence, but instead of trusting God to give what he has promised, he lies and fails to protect his wife in order to protect himself.

What does God do? He remains faithful to his promise even when Abram’s faith wavers. Look at verses 17-20. There we see that God afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai. In some way that is not told us, Pharaoh became aware as to why his house was afflicted: Sarai was not just Abram’s sister but his wife!

And note what does not happen: Pharaoh does not demand back the goods that he gave. Nor does he retaliate against Abram. Instead, as it says in verse 20, “Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had,” meaning that Pharaoh order no one to harm him and that he should simply go. How could this happen? Because God had graciously promised to make of him a great nation and to give him the land that he had showed him. God’s faithfulness does not depend on Abram but only on himself.

Trusting God’s Faithfulness and Not Your Faith

As we close, let’s apply the truth in these verses in two ways. First, you can wreck your life with fear, but you cannot wreck God’s promises. Fear is making a prediction. Notice that fear led Abram to make a prediction—and he was not wrong in his prediction. He predicted that the people of the land would notice Sarai’s beauty and that someone powerful would want her as wife. You are prone do to the exact same thing: make predictions and then compromise. What Abram should have done is exactly what you need to do when in fear you start making predictions: make your predictions interact with the promises of God. That is, examine your fearful predictions in light of what God has specifically told you. Here is what I mean: Abram’s first prediction was right, people did notice Sarai’s beauty. But his second prediction, that he would be killed, was wrong. God had promised to make him into a great nation and that could not happen if he died without a child. As we will see, Abram grows in his faith as he combats his fear with the specific promises of God.

So what are you afraid of right now? What predictions are you making because of your fear and what promises can you bring into interaction with these predictions?

Second, faith, even faith that is prone to doubt, is all that is required to obtain the promised blessings of God. The strength of your faith is not the object of your faith—The Lord and only the Lord can be the sustaining and true object of faith. This is what you will see again and again in these chapters with Abram and, as you follow Christ, it is what you will see in your own life. The reality that we see in chapter 12 with Abram is the reality that is communicated by Christ in John 6:37-40,

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

For all who follow Christ and have come to him, he will not cast you out. Today your faith may feel frail, weak, and poor, but your Savior is not frail, weak, or poor. Jesus stands faithfully over you even in your unfaithful moments.

For all who have yet to trust in Christ, you are welcome to come. If you come, he will never cast you out. He will not say you are not welcome but will receive you with open arms.

This strong and good Savior of weak and compromised sinners is who we celebrate as we come to the table every Sunday. Let me pray for us as we prepare to receive Christ in this meal together.


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