This series is titled “Meet the Parents”. It’s based on the fact that in these chapters of Genesis, we meet the ancestors of the nation of Israel. The forefathers. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and then his sons, who become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
But I like the title because it carries with it the idea of taking someone home to meet your SOMEWHAT EMBARRASSING parents for the first time. Did you ever have a situation like that?
Perhaps it was that popular person from school you were trying to impress.
Or maybe it was a new boyfriend or girlfriend. You were starting to get serious. And your parents had been nagging you for ages. So, you finally bit the bullet, and introduced them. And you just hoped your family could disguise what they were REALLY like for long enough to FOOL the outsider. That they could avoid doing anything WEIRD – just for an hour or two.
Meet the Parents. At times, dut the thing about ISRAEL’S parents is that they’re just like most of OUR parents. In fact, just like US. They’ve got some skeletons in the closet. Rather than being pillars of virtue. Always doing the noble and honest and patient and godly thing. Always making the right choices at the right times. People we can always look up to. And always COPY. That’s the way we like to THINK of these characters. After all, God must have CHOSEN THEM FOR A REASON.
But the reality is they’re VERY HUMAN. At times deceitful, faithless, greedy and selfish. Times when they do things we’re ASHAMED of.
But I think that’s the POINT. That God DIDN’T choose them because of anything about THEM. That’s what GRACE is all about. They DIDN’T deserve it. But God stood by them nevertheless. Which gives us the confidence that he’ll stand by US – even though WE’VE got skeletons in OUR closets. Things WE’RE ashamed of.
That’s the message of this part of Genesis. When people are faithLESS, God is faithful. When people are sinful, God is righteous. When people can’t be trusted, God is always trustworthy.
Keep that thought in mind as we begin looking at Abram – the FIRST of our parents today/ Let’s PRAY before we begin.
It’s not WHAT you know that counts
There’s a saying that goes “It’s not WHAT you know that counts, but WHO you know!”
Restaurants that are supposed to be booked out for everyone ELSE/ suddenly find a spare table when a celebrity fronts up without a booking.
“It’s not WHAT you know that counts”. The Aussie version of it goes something like “Jobs for the boys!” Politicians give out cushy diplomatic positions to their mates.
To our Aussie sense of fair play/ it reeks of being unfair. Of people pushing in. Of getting things they don’t deserve.
But there’s another way of looking at it.
Imagine you’ve just moved to a strange, new country. You don’t know a soul. You don’t know the language, or the culture. You don’t know how things are done, or where things are found. You don’t where it’s safe to live, where to buy food, how to travel around.
It’s the situation Martha Smith found herself in when she landed in Australia a few years back. Martha, and her various kids and nieces and nephews arrived as a refugee from Liberia. She’s got an amazing and tragic story.
If you land in a foreign country, what you need/ is to KNOW SOMEONE. Someone who KNOWS all the things YOU DON’T KNOW. Who’s got the connections. The information, the background.
When you’re in a position like THAT, the saying “It’s not what you know that counts, but WHO you know” becomes a lifeline. A wonderfully positive expression of HOPE. Of SURVIVAL.
And it’s THAT sort of slant to the saying I want to suggest we can bring to THESE chapters of Genesis. Firstly, to do with ABRAM. And then, TO US. The saying’s true “It’s not WHAT you know that counts. But WHO you know”.
1. God’s promises (12:1-9)
We’re taking up the story of Abram in Ch 12. which we began looking at last year. And just to bring us up to speed it’s a chapter that’s all about GOD’S PROMISES.
Abram’s in UR. That’s in Babylon, down near the Persian Gulf. Modern day – southern Iraq. And, there in v1, God SPEAKS to Abram.
“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
In other words, Give up everything you’ve ever known. Everything you’re comfortable with. Everything you put your security in. Turn your back on your LAND. Turn your back on your NATION. Turn your back on your FAMILY HOME – your possessions, your comforts and your relatives. And GO. Go to ANOTHER land. Not telling you WHERE. You’ve just got to GO FIRST.
But that’s not ALL. God doesn’t just COMMAND. He’s got some PROMISES for Abram to go WITH it. V2.
2 “I will make you into A GREAT NATION and I will BLESS you; I will MAKE YOUR NAME GREAT.
You’ll need to leave your people behind. But I’ll make YOU into a NEW people. Replace one with the other.
And I’ll LOOK AFTER YOU. I’ll BLESS you.
If you’re going to move to another country – that’s the sort of promise you want to hear. Having GOD on your side, really makes the saying true, “It’s WHO you know that counts”.
But God goes on. Not only is HE someone it’s worth knowing. But he’ll make ABRAM someone worth knowing TOO. “You will BE a blessing”
Anyone who blesses you – anyone on YOUR side – I will bless. And anyone who CURSES you – anyone who’s your ENEMY – I will curse. What’s more, ALL PEOPLES on EARTH will be blessed through you.
If it’s true that it’s WHO you know that counts, then Abram is someone WORTH KNOWING. You can be BLESSED if you hang around him. Better than any celebrity, or politician!
That’s the word from God. But what will Abram DO?
V4. He GOES. He lays it all on the line. He packs up everything. And ends up in Canaan. Where God had told him.
But when he arrives, there’s a problem. V6. The NO VACANCY sign is up. The land is ALREADY FULL. “At that time the Canaanites were in the land”.
Have YOU ever done that? Thought you had all your plans in place? Turned up at your holiday destination, only to find it’s been double-booked. Or they were expecting you NEXT week. Or the FOUR star resort is really a shipping container in someone’s backyard – That’s what Today Tonight said this week had happened to some poor family.
Ben Johnson had a similar thing happen with Blacktown East Youth Group camp in Jan this year. They’d organised with Port Stephens Pressy church to sleep in their hall. But there was a problem, and so the minister emailed Ben to say they couldn’t use the hall. Problem was Ben didn’t get the email!
And so, when he rang up the WEEK BEFORE to check final details, everything fell apart! Luckily they were able to find ANOTHER church on the South Coast – and everything worked out fine.
And it seems like the same thing had happened to Abram. Perhaps God got the directions wrong. Or Abram didn’t listen properly.
But God’s got it all in control. V7, he REASSURES Abram. It’s okay – “To your offspring I WILL give this land.”
God’s promised Abram that he’ll become a GREAT NATION. And that he’ll BLESS him. And now he’s promised him the LAND.
And Abram BELIEVES God. He builds an altar, and WORSHIPS God.
And although the specifics are different. It’s the same call God gives to each one of us. A call to give up our OLD lives – everything we’ve trusted in, that we get our security from. And step into a NEW life where we do what GOD says. Following his Son Jesus. Trusting HIS promises, and HIS direction.
WE/ are to follow Abram’s example. When it comes to showing what FAITH is, He’s the number one model. The pattern to copy.
That’s the point of Hebrews 11, which describes a whole list of OT heroes who had FAITH. People like Abraham. Listen to what it says there. Heb 11 v8
8 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. 9 BY FAITH he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; …
11 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.
To step out in FAITH means to CONSIDER GOD AS BEING FAITHFUL – someone WORTH TRUSTING. Worth trusting our future with. Our finances, our plans, our families, our health.
It’s what Abraham did, and it’s, supremely, how God wants US to respond to him too.
2. God’s promises threatened (12:10-20)
But even though Abram’s our model to copy, he’s still a long way from perfect. That’s the point of the next section. It shows how when God’s PROMISES ARE THREATENED, rather than keep TRUSTING, Abram replaces it with DECEPTION.
It’s a story where we SHOULDN’T follow Abram’s example.
Let me set the scene. God’s promised Abram the whole land he’s in. But the promise is THREATENED when there’s a severe FAMINE. There’s nothing to eat, so Abram decides to head for Egypt. But just before he gets there, he concocts a story with his wife Sarai to protect himself. Look at v11.
“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.”
Nice guy! Is it a LIE? Well – sort of. It’s a HALF-truth. Because Ch 20 v12 tells us that Sarai is his HALF-sister. Same Dad, different Mum.
But it’s still deceptive. Because she IS his wife. And he’s prepared to LOSE her for the sake of saving HIS OWN NECK. It’s a rather unflattering little portrait.
And, if we read on, we see Abram’s worst fears are realised. Sarai IS taken into Pharaoh’s harem.
I’m not sure what Abram thinks about the trade. He keeps his life. And gains sheep and cattle and donkeys. But loses his wife. Not much of a compensation I would have thought.
But we DO know what GOD thinks about the arrangement. Look there at v17. Abram’s made a mess of things, and now God’s got to set things right.
17 But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.
And it has the right affect on Pharaoh.
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!”
And so Abram comes up from Egypt back to Canaan. Pharaoh’s acting with more integrity than Abram. And yet God still stands by Abram. Because that’s what he’s PROMISED.
He’s supposed to bring BLESSING to the nations, but instead, by his deceitfulness, he’s brought CURSE. One story we’re we SHOULD follow Abram’s lead, and this one, where we SHOULDN’T.
3. God’s promises threatened again (13:1-18)
Next up, in Ch 13, we get a story where God’s promises are threatened again. But this time Abram TRUSTS GOD in the face of the threat. Perhaps he’s learned.
He’s back in Canaan. And he and Lot have found some land among the Canaanites. By this stage they’re both pretty wealthy. Lots of tents and sheep and cattle. In fact they’ve both got SO MUCH stuff, there’s overcrowding. There’s a shortage of FEED AND WATER, and so there’s a shortage of PATIENCE. V6.
6 But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
Too many sheep. Too little space. And so Abram comes up with a solution. V8. He says to Lot, you pick which direction you want to go in, and I’ll go in the other. I’m easy. It’s YOUR CHOICE.
It’s a generous gesture. But it seems like a threat to God’s promises. Because what if Lot chooses the BEST land. And leaves Abram with the scraps? How can God make a great nation with RUBBISH to work with? It’s tempting to think like that.
But it doesn’t bother Abram – perhaps he’s learned something from the Pharaoh episode. Learned to take God at HIS WORD.
And so, v10, Lot takes a good look around, and chooses the fertile river plain of the Jordan. Great for farming, great for grazing, able to support large numbers of people.
And so, v11, the two men part company. Abram lived in Canaan. Which, by the sound of it, wasn’t quite so rich for farming. And Lot lived near Sodom.
Abram was willing to let Lot choose FIRST because he trusted God’s promises. And Jesus calls US to do the same. Are YOU willing to be last because you trust the promises of God.
“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Dean was telling me yesterday about something Katrina’s husband Marty said. They were getting into the car, and Marty said, “Bags Christian shotgun”. Often people getting into a car will say “Bags SHOTGUN.” Meaning, I want to ride shotgun – I want the front seat. But Marty was baggsing Christian shotgun – he wanted the BACK seat.
Jesus calls us to be LAST.
Are you willing to be last because you trust God’s promises?
The last to receive things – because you trust Jesus’ promise “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Are you willing to be the last in recognition and authority? To be content at the bottom of the pile – because you’re exactly where God wants you. Paul was willing to be called a FOOL for the sake of Christ. That’s what the good news is – foolishness to the world. Are you willing to stand up for that? To NOT be ashamed of the gospel.
Are you willing to be last to receive THE CREDIT – are you willing to WORK IN THE BACKGROUND, without being noticed, because you’re content with God’s approval “Well done good and faithful servant”
Are you willing to follow Abram’s example? To be LAST, because you trust God’s promises?
It’s a little confusing, isn’t it? Two stories where Abram does the RIGHT thing, and one in-between where he gets it BADLY WRONG.
So, is Abram our model, or not?
He IS. But the thing to remember is it’s really a chapter about GOD’S PROMISES, not about Abram. He’s a HUMAN example. He’s not perfect. And I think that’s the POINT. People CHANGE. People are unreliable. But the one constant through it all is GOD’S PROMISES. You can trust THEM. However man changes, God stays the same.
Yes, we should imitate Abram. Consider God faithful – trustworthy. But it’s not about how perfect our faith is. (Because there are times when we’ll falter – choose to DOUBT.)
Rather it’s about how perfect THE FAITHFUL ONE is. We can’t trust ourselves, or others. But God can ALWAYS be trusted.
4. It’s WHO you know (14)
That’s 13. Let’s take a quick look at Ch 14, because it gets us back to the idea we BEGAN with. The idea of “It’s WHO you know that’s important.” Because Abram is someone it’s important to KNOW. (Remember God said that whoever BLESSED Abram, God would bless, and whoever cursed Abram God would curse).
And you can see how that works itself out in Ch 14. It’s a story with a fair bit of confusing detail. But the plot’s simple enough. Let me give you a quick run-down.
The kings around Sodom and Gomorrah, together with some other kings were paying tribute to ANOTHER king, Kedorlaemer, king of Elam. Protection money.
After twelve years they were pretty tired of it. So they STOPPED. Before long Kedorlaemer came along with his group of school yard bullies, and started a war.
Sodom and Gomorrah lost, and Kedorlaemer looted the cities, taken whatever he could. INCLUDING (v12) Abram’s nephew, Lot, and his possessions. And they start heading north, back home. And Lot looks headed for a life of slavery.
But remember, Abram’s someone it’s worth knowing. And when he finds out, he comes to the rescue. Together with some of his allies, he rustles up 318 fighting men, and sets off after Kedorlaemer and his army.
He catches up to them just north of Damascus, defeats them, and recovers all the bounty, including Lot and all his things. Not a bad uncle to have on your side! Not a bad GOD either!
And when Abram returns in triumph, two kings come out to meet him (there in v17). One is the king of SODOM, the other the king of SALEM, or Jerusalem – Melchizedek.
We’ll just look at Melchizedek. You might remember Melchizedek. We met him when we were studying Hebrews last year. Pick it up with me in v18 of Gen 14.
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
He’s a bit of a mysterious figure in the Bible. Somehow, he’s a follower of the one true God – just like Abram. But what’s more, if Abram’s someone it’s important to know, then Melchizedek must be even MORE important. He blesses Abram – a sign that HE’S the important one. And then Abram goes and gives HIM a tribute gift. Another sign that this guy’s important.
But the writer to the Hebrews goes even further. He says Melchizedek is someone who POINTS US TO JESUS. A shadow, or a copy, or a foretaste, of the sort of man –the sort of MINISTRY – that Jesus had. Jesus is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.
In Heb 7 he points out his NAME – it means King of righteousness – just what Jesus was. What’s more, there’s his JOB – a priest – just like Jesus. And his title – king of Salem – which is Hebrew for King of PEACE – SHALOM. Again, just what Jesus was.
There’s a number of other comparisons he makes there in Heb 7. But here’s the point of it all. If Abram, the father of the Jewish nation, the father of every priest and high priest- if Abram bowed down to Melchizedek. And if Jesus is a priest like Melchizedek, then Jesus is greater than any other priest before or since. Greater than every other representative before God.
And here’s WHY. Hebrews 7 concludes this way (p849). V23.
23 Now there have been MANY of those priests, since DEATH prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives FOREVER, he has a PERMANENT priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to SAVE COMPLETELY those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
26 Such a high priest meets our need-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins ONCE FOR ALL when he offered himself.
That’s the sort of man you REALLY want to know. Much more important than Abram, or Melchizedek. More important than someone who can rescue your from a foreign king. Or present you with a nice herd of goats.
Jesus is Someone who can represent you before GOD HIMSELF. Who can SAVE you from the judgment your sins deserve. Who can intercede for us, someone we can have confidence in.
That’s the sort of person you need to be connected to. Someone about whom it really is true to say “It’s not what you know that counts, but WHO you know.” And that’s Jesus.