Understanding The Faith of Abraham

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How much does God desire to have a relationship with us? The answer can be found as early as the book of Genesis. After His relationship with Adam and Eve broke down, God reached out to Abraham. So important was that relationship, that Romans 4 traces our faith back to Abraham.

Israel’s Mission is a study for those who are serious about the study of the Bible. Lesson one of this video study is being made available this week. Go to Study Gateway to continue with the rest of the book. Your first 30 days on Study Gateway are FREE! ~ Fred Bittner, FaithGateway Bible Study

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Watch the Trailer

Abraham and Sarah and Three Strangers

The Bible opens with the story of God bringing order out of watery chaos. His amazing creative work accomplished, God entrusted it to the care of our human ancestors, Adam and Eve. He gave them the responsibility to care for it and the freedom to choose how to rule and manage it. From that point on, the biblical story reveals a series of disappointing choices made by God’s human partners that resulted in the return of chaos to God’s created order.

Adam and Eve chose to eat from the one tree God had forbidden. Their oldest son, Cain, murdered his brother, Abel. With each passing generation, humankind became increasingly corrupt and wicked. By the time Noah entered the story, the heart of God was deeply troubled because

every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. — Genesis 6:5

In order to end the evil, God wiped the human race from the face of the earth, sparing only the family of Noah because he was a righteous man who walked with God. But even the cleansing of the Great Flood didn’t change things for long. Noah’s grandchildren refused to “fill the earth” as God had instructed, preferring to settle together and make a name for themselves by building a city with a great tower — as if to challenge God Himself (Genesis 9:1-11:8).

Surprisingly, God did not give up on His human partners! After generations of silence, the story picks up again with Terah, Abraham’s father, leaving Ur of the Chaldeans (believed to be near the city of Mosul in northern Iraq) to move his family to Canaan. They did not complete the journey, but settled in Harran, a few miles north of today’s Turkish/Syrian border (Genesis 11:27-32). After Terah died, God commanded Abraham to leave his present life — land, community, and even family — and “go to the land I will show you.” The offer came with the promise of great blessing — a message of hope and mission not just for Abraham, but for him to be a conduit of God’s blessing to all people on earth (Genesis 12:1-3).

God was asking Abraham to turn his back on the life he had known and to become His partner in redeeming a world in chaos! In a dramatic reversal of the choices many earlier characters in the biblical story made, Abraham committed himself to do what was right and just in the eyes of the Lord. Responding in faith, he left Harran. From that point on, Abraham would be different; he walked God’s path and taught his children to do the same:

Then the Lord said… “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.” — Genesis 18:17, Genesis 18:19

Whereas Adam and Eve failed to faithfully obey God, Abraham eagerly demonstrated what a faithful partnership with God looks like. By choosing to be God’s partner in restoring shalom to a world in chaos and bringing alienated sinners back into relationship with God, Abraham became a model for all who have come after him. The Jewish writer, Matthew, certainly intended to communicate more than just biological descent when he began Jesus’ family tree with Abraham. Although Abraham could never effect the changes in a sinful world that the Messiah did, this Bedouin nomad lived in a way that showed how the world could be when God’s people live according to his design. Since everyone who places his or her faith in Jesus is in effect a child of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9), let’s discover more about this faithful partner who lived to be a blessing to everyone he met.

The Very Words of God

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” — Genesis 12:1-3

Think About It

In the Bible story, the Lord is portrayed as the One who redeems His people and calls them to be His “partners” in redeeming others. In Western Christianity, we tend to think of redemption as being synonymous with salvation. While there is no doubt that the reality of God’s salvation is included in what it means to redeem, the word actually has a broader meaning in the context of the Bible.

Talk for a moment about what is involved in redeeming something or someone. What examples of redemption can you think of (in history, contemporary life, or the Bible)? What does the act of redeeming indicate about the value of what is redeemed? Who redeems, and why? What is the response to and result of redemption? What insight do these observations give you into the broader meaning of redeem?

Watch the Video

Video Notes

Partners in making God known

Life in an ancient city

The patriarch’s role and responsibilities

Go’el — “to redeem”

Beth ab — “the Father’s house”

Using the resources of the Father’s house

Abraham

Boaz

Hosea

Jesus

Redeem with everything you’ve got!

DVD Discussion

  1. In what ways does what you learned about Arad and the lifestyle of people who lived there help you to better understand the world of Abraham? What particularly impressed you?
  2. What has been your impression of a patriarchal society, and in what ways do the cornerstones of the ancient Hebrew patriarchal society — go’el, meaning to “redeem,” and beth ab, meaning “the Father’s house” — differ from what has been your understanding?
  3. Throughout human history, God has always sought to redeem and restore his lost children to his house. We sometimes think of the lost as pagans and sinners who need to be saved. Although that is true, redemption is bigger than that. How does our attitude and motivation toward those who are lost change when we see them as God does — as His very own children — children who are in great trouble, overwhelmed by debt they can never pay, lost and cannot find their way home?
  4. At Mount Sinai, God gave the Hebrew people a mission: to be a kingdom of priests who would extend God’s reign by obeying His commands and putting Him on display so that all people and nations would be drawn to him. Hundreds of years earlier, the Hebrews’ ancestors, Abraham and Sarah, were already living out that mission. They provided for the Hebrews — as well as for us — a powerful example of how to be God’s partners in redeeming and restoring His lost children.
  5. In what ways does Abraham and Sarah’s response to their three visitors reveal the depth of their commitment to live out that mission in their world?
  6. What might a similar commitment to restoring the lost to God’s beth ab look like in our world?

Small Group Bible Discovery and Discussion

Extending the Blessing of the Beth Ab

Life in the ancient Middle East centered around the extended family or household, which was called the “Father’s house” or beth ab in Hebrew. Such a family could comprise thirty, fifty, or more people representing several generations: the head of the family (known as the patriarch), his wife or wives, his younger brothers, unmarried children, and married sons with their families (a woman customarily joined the beth ab of her husband). The patriarch controlled all family resources, using them to protect and care for each family member.

In this setting, the beth ab was the context through which each member was connected to the rest of society. If a member lost connection to the family due to oppression, capture by enemies, poverty, or bad choices, the patriarch was responsible to restore the “marginalized” member to the family. Anyone who found himself or herself without a beth ab was in serious trouble. Widows and orphans were particularly vulnerable because they had no means of support or protection outside the beth ab.

  1. Abraham was a patriarch with a mission. He recognized his role as God’s partner in extending the Father’s house to bless all people and nations and to put God on display in such a way as to attract those who were estranged from Him, so that they could experience restoration to the beth ab. Let’s see how Abraham (and Sarah) modeled this mission when three total strangers suddenly appeared at his desert home.

Read Genesis 18:2-8.

  1. What do we learn about Abraham’s servant heart? (See Genesis 18:2-5.)
  1. What evidence do we see that Abraham taught his family about caring for people in need — the poor, the oppressed, the alien — according to God’s desire? (See Genesis 18:6, Genesis 18:19, Genesis 19:1-3. Note: As Abraham’s nephew, Lot had previously lived in Abraham’s beth ab.)
  1. What indicates that Abraham spared no expense in serving his three guests? (See Genesis 18:6-8.)
  1. Matthew began his gospel by identifying Jesus as a descendant of Abraham (see Matthew 1:1-17). With what mandate does Matthew end his gospel, and what earlier command and promise does it echo (see Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 28:19-20)?
  2. According to Paul, what connection do believers have to Abraham through Jesus?

(See Galatians 3:14, Galatians 3:29.)

  1. What, then, is the mission of God’s people today?
  2. When Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13:33 and mentioned the large amount of flour made into bread, what story would the Jewish people — who knew their Scriptures very well — have likely remembered? What picture would it have given them about the kingdom of heaven, the Father’s house?

Faith Lesson

The mission that the God of the universe entrusts to His people — to display His character by demonstrating compassion for those in need — began in ancient times in the Negev desert with Abraham and Sarah. It continued throughout biblical history with significant moments in which God’s people acted similarly and brought lost children back into the “Father’s house.” We have been given a truly amazing privilege and responsibility to share through our actions and words the message of redemption that God offers to everyone in our broken world.

I want to share with you an image that conveys a sense of the opportunity we have. It occurred during the filming of this session. In the tent of a Bedouin family, the family patriarch offered us fresh camel’s milk. One could sense from his wife and eight children the honor we were being given. Neither our host nor his family drank but simply sat and watched in silence as they honored us with this symbol of great hospitality. We were of a different culture, race, nationality, and religion. They honored us anyway. It is hard to describe the overwhelming sense of appreciation we felt. It was as if God gave us a lesson in how we are to present ourselves and hence our God to those among us (or strangers who enter our lives) who are in need.

  1. Jesus said to His disciples, You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven. — Matthew 5:14-16
  2. What impact might those of us who claim to follow Jesus have on our increasingly secular culture if we imitate Abraham and Jesus — and display God and His ways by being a blessing to other people, whether they be friends or even enemies, strangers or well-known public figures?
  3. As you think about your daily life, what opportunities do you have to put God on display — to be the light on a hill — and invite people to be redeemed and to experience the blessings of the Father’s house?
  4. Who are the marginalized people you see who live outside the family of God, and what blessings do they need that God has given you to share with them?
  5. How eager are you to share God’s blessing with them, and how much are you willing to sacrifice to do so?

Closing

Read Genesis 12:2-3 aloud together:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Then pray, thanking God for the blessing of His beth ab, praising Him for the miracle of His redemption that restores even the most broken, lost, and hopeless children to His faithful care. Thank God for the privilege of being a blessing to His lost children. Ask Him to give you a willing heart, generous spirit, compassionate wisdom, and mighty strength as you seek to display to a watching world the God who redeems.

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Your Turn

Come join the conversation on our blog and share your answers to the questions above! We want to hear from you!



Ray Vander Laan

Ray Vander Laan is the founder of That the World May Know Ministries and creator of the Faith Lessons video series with Focus on the Family. An ordained minister, he holds the chair of biblical cultural studies as a religion instructor at Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Michigan. He and his wife, Esther, have four children and fifteen grandchildren.

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