Delivered By
C.C. Risenhoover
Delivered On
February 21, 2016
Central Passage
Genesis 12:1-7
Promises of God

February 21, 2016


Genesis 12:1-7

In the first half of chapter 12 we find that God called Abraham to go to a certain place to receive His promised blessing…but Abraham didn’t go far enough.  In the second half of the chapter, we discover that he went too far.  In both halves he missed the fullness of God’s blessing.

Abraham was like most of us.  We will only go so far in Christ’s service…but that’s it.  We want His promised blessing before we arrive at the destination He has chosen for us…or before completing the task He has set before us.

We are accustomed to thinking of Abraham as a great hero of the faith.  After all, Hebrews 11 says of him, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

That’s certainly true.  Yet Genesis 12 shows us things weren’t quite as simple as that.  Abraham had a few struggles of faith along the way.  Just like an athlete who learns through hours of practice…Abraham had to learn faith.  He had to learn how to do God’s will.  Until he did, he made many mistakes.  In fact, when we look at Abraham, we look at someone just like us.

How God did it, we’re not told.  But, somehow God told Abraham to leave his way of life…his home, his country, and his family…and to go to the land of Canaan.  God promised Abraham that there he would be blessed in all the wonderful ways mentioned in verses 1-3.

So Abraham did leave what was his home…but not his family.  I suppose it was fair enough if they wanted to go with him.  He could hardly have stopped them.  But, the problems came when they reached this place called Haran…which was only half way to Canaan. That’s where we meet Abraham at the beginning of chapter 12.

Abraham must have known he wasn’t at the center of God’s will for him.  He must have lacked a sense of peace and assurance in his heart… and yet he settled there.  I suppose he must have discovered a relatively comfortable life…so he shut out the part of God’s command he didn’t like: “Leave your country and your people and your father’s household.”

Genesis 12 makes it clear the Lord had said that to Abraham long before his father died.  In fact, Acts 7 tells us God had told him that while they were still at home in Ur in Mesopotamia…before they set out for Haran.

Only when Terah died…mentioned at the end of chapter 11…did Abraham apparently think about moving again.  That causes me to wonder if God had to take Terah’s life…plunging Abraham into sorrow…in order to get through to Abraham again.  Maybe bereavement was the only way God could remind him that true security…a true future and real blessing…lay not in a settled existence or in the bosom of his family…but in God and His promises alone.

Does that speak to any of us today?  It’s easy to be so caught up with keeping ourselves comfortable…or to maintaining our families…that we forget that these are things cannot last.  One day they’ll be gone…taken from us…or us from them.

Jesus had something to say along these lines, didn’t he?  Here’s what He said about the subject of leaving home and family and getting our priorities right.  He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword, for I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in law-against a mother-in-law.  A man’s enemies will become members of his own household.  Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Those are strange, strong words, aren’t they?  Taken on their own they could make the Christian way sound terribly foreboding, grim, hard, and sorrowful.  But, of course, there’s another side to it.  While it’s true that denying self for the sake of Christ is about giving up things…it’s also about gaining far more than we can ever give.

Jesus further said, “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home, or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age and in the age to come, eternal life.”

That’s how God’s economy works.  The more you give…the more you get.  Of course, I’m not talking about getting material things.  I’m talking about spiritual things that last…not something that wears out with the passing of time.  That’s because when you’re with God there’s no such thing as time.

So the more you obey…the more you’re blessed.  Why then, are we so often like Abraham and hold back from total commitment?  Why are we prepared to go just so far, but not all the way?

Jesus says to each of us, “Come and be a member of my family and a citizen of my kingdom.  Live by my standards and my values.  Give me your heart and life and soul.  Put me first…before your work, financial gain, and your hobbies.  Hate evil and cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Share with those in need.  Bless those who persecute you.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Forgive as you have been forgiven.”

But, we only go so far in obeying Jesus…then go no further.  Believe it or not…God knows what works and what’s best for your life.  After all, He made you.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have in abundance.”

Going halfway with God is worse than going no way at all.  What if you were ill and needed to go to a doctor for healing.  Would you go only halfway to his or her office and stop?  That sounds nonsensical, doesn’t it?  Well, it sounds just as nonsensical to go halfway in Christ’s service.  It’s all or nothing.  We need to go all the way to receive God’s blessing.

Now, have any of you got stuck in your commitment?  Are you in Haran when you should be in Canaan?  Don’t be like Abraham…the man who didn’t go far enough.  God had to put him through a time of sorrow to shift his gear into forward.  We need to take risks of faith.  We can’t lose.  Faith is not a gamble.  Faith is the certainty of winning with God.

Eventually Abraham did move on.  He entered the land of God’s promised blessing.  But, from not going far enough he suddenly went to the opposite extreme.  He went too far.  He entered into his new country from the north and began to work his way south through the places mentioned in chapter 12.  At Shechem God met him…and again at Bethel he worshipped both places right in the heart of the land.

But then Abraham went further and further south…right into the hot, dry Negev desert.  And, there be began to get into trouble again.  There was a famine in the land…which is hardly surprising in a desert.  But, Abraham… instead of running back to where he had met with God…instead of returning to the place God had promised to bless him….instead of trusting God where he was…he went south.  He went to Egypt.  Fear made him rely on his own judgment…his own scheming…and what he saw the world had to offer rather than what God offered.

The mention of Egypt in the Old Testament always symbolizes the barrenness of the world and life without God.  Egypt in scripture always spells trouble for the people of God.  So Abraham was soon in real hot water.  In fear of his life he lied about Sarah’s identity to Pharaoh.  That’s how sin works isn’t it.  One sin leads to another and another.  As the old rhyme says, “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  If only Abraham had turned the other way in his fear…back to God instead of away from him…how different things would have been.

The lesson is crystal clear, isn’t it?  When life becomes difficult for us the place we need to run to is the place of God’s promises.  We need to run to him…not from him.  We need to open His Word where he has spoken to us in the past and remember who he is.  We need to go back to our Bethels and our Shechems.  What we must not do is trust in ourselves and what the world has to offer.  We need to stick where God has put us and look for him to help.

So, we’ve seen Abraham the man who didn’t go far enough and Abraham the man who went too far…a man who seemed to be constantly missing the mark.  Interestingly enough that is the literal meaning of the words the Bible uses to define what sin is.  To sin is to miss the mark.

Yet the most wonderful thing about Abraham’s story is this…that by grace God intervened and overcame Abraham’s imperfect obedience.  When he was stuck in Haran…God prodded him on.  When he was in terror in Egypt…God, by nothing less than a miracle rescued him unharmed.  God…it seems…was absolutely determined to bless Abraham and to make him into a man of faith that He could bless.  I don’t know about you, but I find that tremendously encouraging.  God doesn’t give up on us when we fail.  He is patient and He perseveres.  His love for us never fails.

There’s one more thing I want to mention.  In the earlier chapters of Genesis we read the story of Satan’s deception of Adam and Eve and the entry of sin into the world.  These chapters present a sordid story of damage done to God’s creation and to human relationships.  Read them and you’ll agree.  The devil actually thought he had beaten God right at the beginning of humanity’s story.

But God said no.  In Genesis 3.18, God told the serpent, the devil, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”

God said he would triumph through a man.  And, God began that triumph with Abraham.  Abraham’s life…like the lives of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph that followed…was a spiritual battleground between God and Satan.  God said “I will bless Abraham.”   And, all the while the devil was saying “No you won’t.  I’ll stop him in his tracks,” which he did in Haran.  But, God moved Abraham on.

“All right,” the devil said, “then I’ll send him out the other side.  You will not bless him.”

But, God said, “Oh, yes, I will.  My kingdom will come, my will shall be done on earth, and I’ll use even this man’s failures and his weakness and every evil that is thrown at him to show you how great I am.  I will triumph.”

This battle carried on throughout the Old Testament in the story of the nation that grew from Abraham.  Ultimately, of course, it came down to one man again…Jesus, a descendant of Abraham.  It came down to the cross and God’s final victory there.

But, here was Abraham…all those centuries before Christ…learning what it was to share in the sufferings of Christ…learning to take up his cross and follow…and learning the meaning of faith.

He learned before Christ.  We learn after Christ.  But, we all learn.

We all travel the same road.  And, on that road God will mold us.  He will shape us.  He will teach us what it means to walk by faith.

As we travel we will learn…and less and less we’ll miss the mark.  One day God will take us to be with Him and we will be perfect as Christ is perfect.   The work He has begun in us…He will complete.  As Paul wrote to the Philippians “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Then, we’ll miss the mark no more.

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