FOLOWING OUR FAITHFUL FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS
"I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward" Genesis 15:1
In the following we are going to be looking at how God developed Abraham’s faith in Him. We should be mindful that Abraham didn’t become a pillar of faith one morning when he woke up! It was God who shaped and sculpted his faith, the same way He patiently moulds and conforms ours. God takes a lump of dirty old clay, which is you and me, and throughout our lives He gently carves it into a model of His Son. As He did for Abraham so He does for us: God develops our faith.
We’ll see that God develops our faith patiently. He is patient with us because His understanding is so far above ours that we can never learn everything all at once. And because our understanding of God, as individuals, is so sadly lacking we need to listen to what God is saying with extreme care.
How does God develop an individual believer’s faith? Well, He does it with Godly patience. We see something of God’s love and patience by the way He approaches His children. We never hear Him say to us, “Look! I’ve told you once and I won’t tell you again.” No. He is patient with all of His children. He bends over backwards to demonstrate His trustworthiness. If we can’t trust the One who made us to look after us, then we can trust no one.
God reassures His children just as he reassured Abraham. One way He reassures us of His faithfulness is by His Word. All through Scripture we see God make promises. And all through Scripture we see God keep and fulfil His Word. God is always true to His Word. Therefore, we can have faith in Him because He is faithful to His promises. He is reliable. He perseveres.
Our faithful father Abraham trusted the Word of God as it was spoken to Him. As Christians we find great comfort in the written Word of God because, like the Word of God Himself, it is equally dependable. It was written by our God who is faithful.
Abraham lived in a time long before the Bible, the Word of God, was completed. In those days God spoke to His children mainly in voices and in visions. In Genesis 15:1, as we have already seen, we see that, “The Lord came to Abram in a vision.” There’s Abraham, or Abram, as he was known at that time, sitting in his tent, or whatever. He’s probably thinking about the great victory he had just had over the four kings. He might have been thinking about Melchizedec, the mysterious character who had brought him bread and wine, and had blessed him. Melchizedec reminded Abram that it was God the Possessor of heaven and earth who had delivered his enemies into his hand. And Abram had given Melchizedec the priest of God the Most High a tenth of all he had. We see in this deed that Abram put his faith into action.
God says in Malachi 3:10, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.” When it comes to giving back to God what He has given to us we are invited to test Him to see, says the Lord of Hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing that there will be no room enough to receive it.” The Lord then goes on to say, “All nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land.” The Lord is faithful and His Word is our constant reminder.
However, the Lord is also patient with us as He develops our trust in Him. “Do not be afraid,” The Lord said to Abram. How many times has the Lord said those words to His children? “Do not be afraid Isaac, Do not be afraid Israel, Do not be afraid Moses, Do not be afraid, Joshua, David, Mary, John” or whoever. Who could forget the words spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “‘Fear not, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel! I will help you,’ says the Lord.” Do you get the impression that God is trying to tell us something? We need to learn not to be afraid but to really trust in God for all things. Jesus says that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added to us. “Do not fear little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
As with all of God's children, Abram's faith in the Lord needed to be strengthened and developed. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’” When the Lord’s your Shepherd you shall want for nothing! We have everything in Christ Jesus. But for all that, Abram's heart’s desire is to have his own son. He tells the Lord, “Look, you have given me no offspring.” Here, once again, we see the great patience of the Lord. He promises Abram that he will have a son of his own.
It was the Word of God that came to Abram. And it was by His Word that God assured Abram of His blessings. It’s by His Word that God assures all of His children. That He is the Fount of all Blessings. God is the Possessor of heaven and earth. All of creation belongs to Him. All of creation testifies to God’s faithfulness, The sun faithfully rises and sets on time because God is faithful.
We have assurance of God’s faithfulness by His Word, but also by His creation. Abram wanted God’s assurance that he would have a son. “Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall you descendants be’” Genesis 15:5. The One who is the Possessor of heaven and earth, to paraphrase, says, “Abram, I made all of those stars. Believe Me, you’ll have your son and a whole lot more!”
How many stars can be seen by the naked eye without a telescope, five thousand or more? How many grains of sand are on a beach? More than five thousand? The Word of God elsewhere compares the amount of stars in the sky with the amount of grains of sand on a beach! How could anyone possibly know this before the age of telescopes, even Hubble telescopes? Abraham was unable to number the stars in the sky just as no one can number the grains of sand on a shore. Abraham is the father of the faithful and the faithful are without number! John on the Island of Patmos wrote of his vision, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Revelation 7:9.
We see that the Lord was patient with Abraham and that His Word is true and dependable. Isn’t it wonderful how the Lord patiently develops the faith of His children?
God develops our faith patiently because His understanding of things is different to our understanding. God knows that we are fallen, finite and fallible human beings. With our limited knowledge we tend to view everything in human terms and not in God’s terms. In other words, human beings tend to be man-centred and not God centred. God said in Isaiah, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9. Clearly God has a different way of looking at things than you, me and Abraham.
We are never that sure how God will accomplish the things He has promised. We might get the general idea of what God proposes. It’s when we try to figure out how God is going to do such and such a thing that we begin to prove that our ways are not His ways!
Abram perceived a practical problem and focused his attention on it. In fact he was preoccupied with it. “Lord God what will you give me, seeing I go childless?” To paraphrase, “I'm not getting any younger and I want a son so bad!” We know that this was a problem to Abram because of what happened later on with Sarah’s maid Hagar. Abram knew the Lord, and he knew the Lord’s promises. Yet he continued to focus on the thing he wanted most – a child! This is where we can be thankful that God is patient with us because this is where we tend to get side-tracked. We need to realize that our understanding is limited, whereas God has infinite understanding.
We tend to focus on that which directly concerns us, whereas God is unfolding a plan which concerns all of creation. God would have us focus our undivided attention on Him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Yet we take our eyes off of Him whenever we imagine we need something to make our lives more complete. The Lord is everything we need. We are told to, “Be content with such things as you have, for He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” And the Apostle Paul could say, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
There was nothing wrong with Abram longing for a child, in the sense that it is normal for a married man. The fact is that God has said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is all in the context of marriage, of course. Abram’s preoccupation about having a child was causing him to miss the full depth and implication of what the Lord was saying. In other words, Abram was placing too much emphasis on his own ability to produce the offspring that God had promised him. Abram would be thinking, “Lord, You’ve promised to make me the father of a great nation. But don’t we need to hurry things up a little bit? I’m not getting any younger. Look at me, I go childless.”
It was God’s revealed will that Abram have a child, but Abram should have been letting God worry about bringing His will to pass. In this we see how our understanding and God’s understanding differ. We need to understand that God is God. He is not a man like us. He has sovereign control of everything that comes to pass. As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “With God nothing will be impossible.”
So we see that Abram's faith in God needed further development. However, we also see that God is patient with us. He has a higher understanding. Therefore we need to have faith in Him. We need to trust that He will provide.
We need to listen to God with more care because our faith develops the more we understand and experience who God is. Abram was interacting with God. We all need to interact with God, for this is how He develops our faith. As we interact with God we need to listen to Him as he speaks to us by His Spirit with His Word. Why? Because “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”
There are dozens of cults around today all because they are not listening to God! Even in some of the mainline churches people are losing faith in God, because they are not hearing His Word! We can’t expect a person’s faith to develop and grow in strength if that individual does not hear the Word of God. Therefore we must tell our ministers: PREACH THE WORD! If we don't hear the word of God our faith in God, if we have any, remains undeveloped. We need to listen to God carefully. Then we will understand that He doesn’t operate as a man but as God, the Almighty!
Abram was so busy thinking in human terms. So much so that he didn’t seem to quite catch what the Lord was saying. He’s too busy thinking, “Okay Lord, we need to do this and we need to do that. If I'm to be father of a great nation then I need a child. I have a plan! I'll put my plan into action. Then Bingo! –God’s will will be Done!” That smacks of immaturity! That’s running ahead of the Lord. That proves that you haven’t been as attentive to God’s Word as you should have. This is something that we’re all guilty of. But it’s all part of the development of our faith in God.
What we're looking at, by way of an example is how God patiently developed Abraham’s faith in Him. Abraham got his name included among the great pillars of faith, (as listed in Hebrews 11). In Hebrews 11:6 we find these words, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him, a rewarder of those who wait on Him – those who listen carefully to Him.
We seek God by trusting Him for who He is. And we discover who He is by carefully listening to Him. When God introduces Himself to you He reveals who He is. If you seek God He won’t come to you and say. “Hi! I'm that warm and fuzzy feeling you’re experiencing.” No, when you diligently seek God He begins to reveal to you who He is. E.g., “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
The more you seek Him the more He reveals Himself to you. The more He reveals Himself to you the more He is developing your faith. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Abraham was seeking the Lord. “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” And how does Abram react to this startling revelation from God? “But Abram said…” I think it was the Baptist preacher Spurgeon or somebody who preached a sermon on the word “but” in the Bible! “Yes Lord, You’re my shield, my exceedingly great reward, BUT what about this child you’ve promised me? – I go childless.” In other words, Abram could see no reward greater than that which he at that moment in time desired – a child.
Instead of paying close attention to what the Lord was saying, Abram turned his attention from the Lord and on to himself. He wasn’t quite grasping what the Lord was saying to him, “I [that is Me, God] am your exceedingly great reward!” To paraphrase, “In Me you have everything, Abram. What more do you need? I am your shield, the One who protects you, the One who guards and defends you. Not only do I shield you from your enemies in the physical realm, but I also protect you from your enemies in the spiritual realm. Being your shield means that I am your cover. I am also covering and protecting you with My righteousness. I am clothing you in My righteousness, like a cloak to protect you from you sin. Being your shield means that I have enclosed you, encircled you, as a garden is enclosed, even the Garden of Eden. I am the One who hedges you about. I am the wall which surrounds you. Being your shield also means that I am your deliverer – your Redeemer. I am the shield of faith.”
Scripture says in Proverbs 30:5, “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him” And in Proverbs 2:7-8, “He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints.” David says in Psalm 28, “The Lord is my strength and my shield.” Psalm 5:12, “You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; with favour You will surround him as with a shield.”
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield. Your exceedingly great reward.’ But Abram said, ‘What will you give me…” “Can’t You see it’s a child I’m needing?”
“I know Abram, I know. Come on outside and we’ll play at counting stars.”
The lord is patient with His children. He patiently develops our faith in Him. He reassures us by His Word, “Don't be afraid, Abram.” And by His creation, “Abram, count the stars I have made if you are able.” He is patient with us because His understanding of things is so high above ours. We are unsure of how God will accomplish His promises, and our tendency is to focus on the perceived problem and not on God. Therefore, we need to listen to God most carefully because our faith develops the more we understand and experience who God is.
The Lord is our shield, our exceedingly great reward. Who could ask for more?