Cultivating a Life of Faith:  A Man of Carnality (Pt 10) – Genesis 20.1-18

Genesis 19 ends with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Lot barely escapes the destruction.  His wife is a pillar of salt, his two daughters get him drunk with wine, and his grandchildren are result of incestuous relationships with both of them.  The Bible leaves him in the mountains around the city of Zoar.  He is afraid to go back into any city after witnessing such destruction by God’s hand of judgment.  It is terrifying to witness how far down Lot went.

Yet Abraham is still cultivating a life of faith.  He built altars to God, gave the best land to Lot, and later rescued his nephew from wicked men who carried him away into captivity with his family and his servants.  The King of Salem, Melchizedek, blessed Abraham upon his return, and the man of faith gave a tithe of the spoils to the King.  Abraham believed the promise of God, and his faith was credited as righteousness.  Abraham was a man of great faith.

Abraham is a striking contrast to Lot.  However, the Bible realistically portrays the sin of this man of faith.  He lied to Pharaoh according to a previous arrangement he had made with Sarah.  Instead of protecting his wife with godly authority, he gave into her demand and committed fornication with Hagar.  The result was not the heir God promised but the child Ishmael, one who would bring strife instead of peace.  You would think that after everything Abraham went through, he would not sin in the same way again.  You would think that, but you would be wrong.

God does not hide the deficiency and carnality of Abraham.  This simply fortifies the fact that we are reading the very words of God.  Abraham is certainly a man who cultivated a life of great faith, but he did so amidst great personal failure.  There were times during which he proved he certainly had a sin nature.  The carnality came out.

The Deception and the Dream (20.1-7)

Genesis 20 contains two dialogues.  One is between God and Abimelech (vv. 3-7) and the other between Abimelech and Abraham (vv. 9-13).  Verses 1-2 tell us that Abraham lied to a foreign ruler once again.  First, the Pharaoh and now the Abimelech.  Abimelech is a title similar to that of Pharaoh.  It is not a proper name.  It means royal father or “the king is my father.”  Abimelech sent for and took Sarah.  A crisis now presents itself.

This section begins with God’s ominous proclamation to the Abimelech:  “You are a dead man.”  It ends with another somber warning:  “If you do not restore [Sarah], know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”  God came to Abimelech in a dream.  He leveled this death sentence because Abimelech was about to commit adultery.

Abimelech, however, had not come near Sarah (v. 4).  He also claimed to be king of a righteous, blameless nation.  He acted with integrity and was innocent of wrong doing.  The Lord God always does that which is right.  Would he destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Abraham has asked that same question in Genesis 18.

God acknowledged the integrity of Abimelech (v.6).  As a matter of record, God Himself withheld Abimelech from sinning against Him; He did not allow Abimelech to touch her.  God restrains evil in the world.  He restrains His children from committing destructive sin.  He restrains the wicked as well.  The only reason Abimelech had a clear conscience before the Lord is that God had graciously intervened.

Abimelech and his household would live once Abraham prayed.  Right now, they all lived under a certain death sentence.  Some physical disease was more than likely sent from God, because He healed Abimelech.  The women of the nation became barren at the hand of God as well.  God would eventually open their wombs once again.

But still:  If Abimelech did not restore Sarah to Abraham, he was a dead man.  Restoration and forgiveness were possible for Abimelech,  but he had to restore Sarah.  Later, we find out that Abraham would have to intercede on his behalf.  Here we see God’s sovereignty and human responsibility once again in the Scriptures.  Both are stated.  God was in complete control of the situation, but Abimelech must restore Sarah.  There is the real and potential outcome that he would not.  Otherwise, the warnings of God make little sense.  

Fear prompts deceit.

Abraham had experienced the love and mercy of God to a great extent during his life.  But he still lied.  Fear prompts deceit.  Fear narrows our focus so that we see no way out other than deceiving people.  If God is as powerful as we maintain, He is certainly able to protect us.  Isn’t it true that we are indestructible until God is finished with us on this earth? How has God failed you?  Why are you doubting His love, faithfulness, and power over your current circumstance?   Deceitful lives resemble the father of lies rather than reflect the glory of God!

Deceit becomes an avalanche.

Abraham’s deceit quickly became a problem not just for him but for the many around him.  It could have cost him his wife and the favor of God.  It could have cost Abimelech and his people their lives.  This is the consequence and nature of deceitfulness.  If God had not intervened, the promised Messiah would not have come.  Nothing can be left to us because of our unfaithfulness.  All is of grace.  And yet our deceitful avalanche will cause collateral damage.  While the promises of God remain unaffected, our lives take a turn for the worse.

The Disgrace and the Disapproval (20.8-13)

This is the second main section of dialogue in the chapter.  Abimelech is a Gentile king who, unlike Pharaoh, has a sensitive conscience.  He seems to know right from wrong.  He is open to the revelation of God.  This was not the case with Pharaoh.  Abimelech reacts to his dream by rising early in the morning, reporting to his people what had happened, and the men feared.

It’s a bit ironic.  Everyone is afraid here.  Abraham was prompted by fear to lie.  Abimelech and his people feared God because of the fact that Abraham lied.  God’s promises to Abraham did not stop him from fearing other men.  He resembles Lot more than a man who is cultivating a life of faith.  That means we are prone to the fear of men as well.  Your faith can and will fail at times.

This is really a catastrophic failure.  It’s one thing to fail within a small circle, but to fail in such a public way and be rebuked by a worldly leader is certainly disgraceful.  It must be remembered that he has failed like this twice in very public situations.

The question in v. 10 from Abimelech is quite penetrating.  What did Abraham have in view?  His answer reveals his problem:  He thought of Gerar in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He assumed that the fear of God was not in this place.  Sarah was so beautiful; he believed they’d kill him for her.  After all, God caused him to wander in this strange land.  His focus was not on God but on the world around him.  He allowed experience and emotion to direct his steps.  When fear dictates our steps, we act as disgracefully as he did.

It is hard to imagine Sarah’s mindset.  Abraham should have protected his wife.  Instead, he led her down the paths of deceit and sin.  Abraham should have been willing to sacrifice himself for the honor of his wife; instead, he sacrificed his wife’s honor for fear of man.  He also brought Abimelech and his household under severe judgment.  Had Abimelech and his family died, Abraham would have been the cause of it.  Deep shame and sorrow now belonged to Abraham.  It’s hard to think of anything more disgraceful than allowing your wife to be taken by another man, no matter how powerful he is.  Still God dealt mercifully with Abraham.  The offended king did not treat Abraham the way he deserved to be treated.  He was more honorable than Abraham in this situation.  He was careful, fair, and even virtuous in his response.

The Deference and the Deliverance (20.14-18)

Abimelech’s fear of God prompted a quick response from him and from his people.  He gave much to Abraham in addition to restoring Sarah.  He goes above and beyond what God had commanded he do.  He gave Abraham the choice of the best land, which is quite haunting when compared to the early decision Lot had made regarding land.  He also gave Abraham 1,000 pieces of silver, and Sarah was vindicated and justified (not rebuked as in the NKJV).

I should like to hear Abimelech’s tone when he said to Sarah, “Behold, I have given your brother a thousand pieces of silver…”  Perhaps a little sarcasm was present?  Abimelech could have been angry about the malady his household had suffered and about the barrenness in his house, but his rebuke is recorded in the penetrating question he asked Abraham:  “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”

Abraham prays to God.  He would have to come face-to-face with his own unfaithfulness in the midst of God’s great faithfulness.  We make decisions that cause a great deal of pain in our lives, but these choices don’t impact that overarching plan of God.  “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2.13).

Conclusion:  

  1. Speak the truth.  It is rare to find people who speak the truth.  We often think we’re fine as long as we don’t tell unadulterated lies.  It’s okay to shade the truth for most of us.  We tell white lies because it’s not possible to tell evil, black ones.  We magnify sin in others, and this is a great deceit.  We lie to gain the praise of men or avoid being persecuted by them.  We exaggerate a temptation or conceal it.  We justify it by saying simple and foolish things like, “It’s only in this one little area.  Nobody’s perfect!”  We lie to one another and then come to church in great hypocrisy and claim to worship God.  Perhaps our meditation this week ought to be David’s in Psalm 119.29:  “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”
  2. Keep yourself pure.  We turn from sin and forsake it because of the grace of God.  We forget that we are able to fall again to the same sin even as Abraham did.  What is your besetting sin.  You mourn over it.  You have victory in Christ.  God has chosen not to take away the temptation, but He has enabled you to stand against the temptation and experience victory and purity.  Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.  But still temptation will come.  Abraham was well along in his relationship with God.  He failed due to fear and unbelief.  Let his failure serve as a bracing warning to you this week. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor 10.12-13).  Keep yourself pure!
  3. Be grateful for grace.  God protects and preserves us by grace.  If it were up to us, we would dishonor God and despise our privileges as sons and daughters of the Almighty.  Even when we were enemies of God, he kept us from all that we could have done.  There were snares and dangers from which He mercifully kept us.  Grace is truly amazing.  It kept us from certain death and enables a powerful life worth living!
  4. Mitigate the damage.  Once we sin, the only way out is genuine humility.  It is here where we begin to mitigate against the damage we’ve caused in our own lives and the lives of others we claim to love.  God hears the broken and contrite heart.  Our lives will become edifying and useful again.  We cannot cancel out the consequences of our sin; however, should an opportunity present itself to bring good to the situation, we ought to take it by the grace of God.  Pray for those you have hurt.  Ask God to take away the bitter memory someone has of you.  Pray that He would not be dishonored and disgraced by your foolishness.  Take opportunity to show the love of Christ through a gracious and forgiving spirit.

Cultivating Faith – Part 6

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Conviction (Pt 6)

Genesis 16.1-16

The descendants of Abraham would number as the stars are numbered in the heaven (Genesis 15).  God is gracious to reveal that Abraham’s future descendants would one day come out of Egypt after about 400 years of affliction with great possessions, great numbers, and a great God.  While God accomplished much for Abraham, what do we read of Abraham’s accomplishments?  We sum everything up in two words:  Abraham believed.  However, the years pile up until…

Conviction is undermined by compromise (Genesis 16.1-3).

The temptation for believers to compromise intensifies when…

        A Problem in Life Presents Itself (16.1)

Compromise of our convictions in the Lord begins when an insurmountable problem presents itself to us.  The temptation is to lift ourselves out of it or access that which cannot be humanly accessed.  We don’t pray or turn to God; instead, we take matters into our own hands.  This is a devastating decision.

The problem is obvious to Sarah at the outset of Genesis 16.  She didn’t have a son, but she had a maidservant.  Certainly Sarah’s plea for her husband to go into her maidservant would be persuasive in more ways than one.  Abraham cared for and certainly dearly loved his wife.  Surely his heart ached due to her barrenness.  Sarah had a solution to a problem that perplexed Abraham.  And one must conclude that what Sarah suggested would have been a great temptation for a man like Abraham, even though quite common in the day in which he lived.  So, the downward spiral continues…

        A Pragmatic Plan is Set in Motion (16.1-3)

Ten years passed since Abraham had come into the Land.  Sarah felt that it was her fault that God was withholding the promised heir from her.  But she would do well to remember that God made His promise with Abraham and not with her.  Sarah had carried a burden she was not meant to carry.  Instead of giving into his wife’s request, Abraham should have comforted and assured her.  He should have reminded her of the power of God to keep His promises.

We are so easily derailed by pragmatism when problems present themselves.  There will always be many options for us.  There will always be many voices or counselors to advise us.  We need discernment and wisdom from God in a sea of options and the cacophony of counselors.  It is important that we do not allow godly convictions to suffer under the corrosion of compromise.  If we fail to listen to the still, small voice of God, then we will quickly realize that…

Compromise always brings devastating consequences (16.4-16).

While this may seem obvious to an believer with a modicum of maturity, it is still something that we practically forget as we live life disconnected from the will of God.  Do this long enough, and…

        Compromise Breeds Contempt (16.4-6)

Abram went into Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid.  She conceived, and then the contempt ran in both directions when it came to Sarah and Hagar.  Hagar not only looks down upon Sarah, but she fears her.  As for Sarah, she deals harshly with Hagar.  So much so that Hagar flees for her home in Egypt.  Compromise always breeds contempt.

However, all hope is not lost.  It never is for the child of God.  Devastating consequences help us turn the corner.  We learn that…

        Compromise Deepens Conviction (16.7-16)

     The Angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Himself, found Hagar by a spring in the wilderness.  The common current of questioning from the Lord finds another place within the historical account of Genesis.  “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”  This is so reminiscent of what we see as God confronts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The Lord commands Hagar to return and submit to Sarah.  He also promises her that her descendants will multiply exceedingly.  They shall be innumerable!  The amazing announcement the Lord makes at this point in the narrative is so clearly aligned with the announcement of our Lord’s birth.  It is uncanny:  “Behold thou are with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction” (Genesis 16.11).  The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and declared, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1.23).

Compromise can deepen conviction once we repent and turn to a firm stand based upon firm dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  All of us fall short of the glory of God.  All of us have had times of compromise in our lives.  While we do not need to compromise in order to deepen godly convictions, the raw truth is that such a scenario has the potential to do just that.  The awful, bitter fruit of compromise will goad us back to the Savior and deepen our relationship with Him.  The only other option is to go adrift and rudderless in a sea of sin.

Our text is clear.  The Angel of the Lord names Hagar’s child through Abraham Ishmael, which means “God hears”.  The close parallel with our Lord’s birth announcement to Joseph points forward to His name Immanuel, which means “God with Us”.  It is one thing for God to hear us; it is quite another for Him to be with us.  Ishmael is born because God heard the affliction of Hagar; Immanuel is born because God heard the affliction of the world!

But Hagar named the Lord.  She called Him:  “Thou God seest me”  (Genesis 16.13).  The name of the well is named Beer Lahai Roi (Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me).  Hagar left Abraham and Sarah and fled for a familiar place.  However, something quite unexpected happened to her.  God came after her when Abraham or Sarah did not.  She could leave behind them, but she could not leave God behind.  He pursued her!  He sees.  She saw the God who sees her and learned that she, too, could have Abraham’s God as her own God.

The cultivation of a life of faith necessitates an uncompromising stand upon the truths of God’s Word.  One of those great truths concerns His revealed character.  One powerful meditation concerning His character is that God sees …He sees all.  God knows …He knows all.  When Hagar comes back to Abraham and Sarah, she will become an ensign of their compromise before the Lord.  She will be an instrument that deepens the conviction of God’s revelation and promise to Abraham and Sarah.  He sees and He knows.

Cultivating a life of faith motivates an uncompromising stand for at least three reasons:

    1. God’s omniscience convinces and grieves the compromising heart.  Don’t be among those who say, “How does God know” (Psalm 73.11)?  Don’t think that no one sees; God sees.  He searches the heart.  He knows you.  You cannot hide in darkness from Him (see Psalm 139.1, 12).  This may bring fear and grief, but it is an important step to hope and the cleansing desire to welcome the searching penetrating gaze of God in order to melt away anxiety (see Psalm 139.23-24).
    2. God’s omniscience reaches the thoughts and intents of the heart.  You cannot claim that God is not fair or that He does not judge with righteous judgment every man.  We are finite.  We only see the outward actions of people; God sees the inner man, the soul (see 1 Samuel 16.7).  All the ways of man may be pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit of a man (see Proverbs 16.2).  The only intent that rings true is that which is for the glory of God.  Beg God for the discernment and protection from deceit that is needed due to our easily corruptible hearts.
    3. God’s omniscience heals and comforts the broken heart.  There is hope for those of us who have compromised our convictions.  Don’t run from the harshness of real-time life as desperate and broken Hagar did.  When you are slandered and cannot defend yourself, remember that God sees.  All things are naked and open to the One who will judge righteously (Hebrews 4.13).  His eyes still run to and fro and throughout the whole earth in order to show Himself the strong and all-seeing God that He is.  He reveals Himself to those who humble themselves, submit, and return.

God sees.  This is both comforting and convicting.  When we are hurting, God sees the hurt at its deepest level.  God sees us strive for lives of holiness in the face of those who accuse us of being sanctimonious and legalistic.  God sees when we go to Him yet again, broken and ruined by our sin.  We know that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin!  Even at the most depressing times of our lives, we can put one foot in front of the other and find our way back to Calvary.  God sees.  I know He sees me.

Spiritual Leadership

“One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren” (Matthew 23.9).

It is interesting that the Pharisees seemed to be quite accurate in their teaching.  Jesus told His disciples that they should observe and do what the Pharisees told them (23.3).  It’s just that the works of the Pharisees did not line up with the teaching of the Pharisees.  

First, they had great expectations for others but not for themselves (23.4).  Second, they did what they did in order to be seen by men not God – to be fawned over by these men (23.5-7).  Third, they liked positions and titles along with places of preeminence and power.  

So the problem was not so much the message or content of the Pharisees as much as it was the way they delivered and lived that message.  Only One is the Teacher.  Only One is the Christ.  The rest of us are on a level playing field as brethren.  The Lord Jesus communicates through the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures.  He is our authority.  

I may expect obedience from my boys because I have authority as their Father.  My wife respects my authority in the home and lovingly submits to God’s plan.  As a pastor, it’s my task to watch out for the souls of people in our local church as one who will be held accountable.  But all of these roles must be carried out with great compassion, mercy, and love.  What is demanded or expected of others must be demanded or expected in my own life first.  The final sum of it is that all of us are brethren bought by the sacrificial blood of the Lamb.

Two Important Prohibitions for Spiritual Leadership 

  1. Do not demand the respect the Lord Jesus deserves.  To be called ‘Rabbi’ was to convey a very high form of respect.  The Scribes and Pharisees relished the title and the attention that came along with it.  The Rabbi was wise.  He felt very free about vaunting himself up over others and telling them what to do.  But from where does wisdom come?  Who gives authority to the spiritual leader?  Everyone must look to the Lord Jesus for that which relates to the doctrine we believe and the faith we practice.  
  2. Do not usurp the authority the Lord Jesus has.  He is the only One who will sit upon the throne of David forever.  He is the only One who will rule with an iron scepter.  We are simply fellow-servants and brethren.  It is clear that the Lord Jesus taught that those with the most authority are those who serve and condescend to the needs of others.  “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (23.11).  Jesus illustrated this truth by washing the feet of His disciples on the evening of His arrest.

 “One Is Your Teacher, the Christ”

We have many people pushing us in many directions during any given day.  It’s amazing how we so freely accept the authority of others who hold temporal sway over our lives and neglect the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He has given you a task, namely to go into the world and preach the Gospel …also to love God supremely and then love others as you love yourself. 

If we would all do the will of our Master each day, we would sleep much better each evening.  How important it is to reach the end of a day and say, “Heavenly Father, I’ve done what you’ve demanded of me today.  Help me now to rest in order to build on what has been done today when and if I reach tomorrow.”  

“You Are All Brethren”

All fellow-believers in the body are brethren.  Some might be referred to as Pastor or Father or Mother or even Sir.  Jesus is not forbidding such titles in this passage.  But He does forbid that titles become marks of high distinction and great authority.  The Lord prefers the broken and contrite heart.  This is the mark of truly great leaders.  Good fathers make great sacrifices.  As do good pastors and spiritual leaders within a church congregation.  You are all brothers and sisters.  

Therefore, outward conduct cannot be so readily dispatched.  But it must be governed by humility and love within.  Our world must see a church filled with people who love and respect one another …who pay deference to one another …who are kind and tenderhearted toward one another.  This happened in the early church to be sure:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44–47)

Our salt has lost its savor. Our light has been greatly diminished in the world at large.  Now is the time to lead by serving not expecting anything in return.