Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 1 (weeks 1–4; January 6–27, 2019) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Aim: Faithfully obey the Lord and experience his rich blessings.
By Mark Scott
Faith in God is like a muscle in the body. It has to be stretched to be strong. Each of the Old Testament people we have studied this month had their faith stretched. Abel stretched his faith with his sacrifice. Enoch and Noah stretched their faith in their daily walk. Eleazar stretched his faith is his specific prayer. But the man looked to most in the Old Testament for having his faith stretched was Abraham. No wonder the New Testament commends this man (Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:9).
When He Was Called | Genesis 12:1-7
Hebrews 11:8-10 helps us label this section of our text. Abraham’s initial stretching of his faith took place when God called him. He had been living in Ur of the Chaldeans. God moved him to Haran of Mesopotamia and then called him to go to the land of Israel. This text is the great commission of the Old Testament. While there are hints in Genesis 3-11 of God’s efforts to save the world through Jesus, the real plan to do so begins in Genesis 12:1. This plan to save the world would emerge from one man and his family.
This “exalted father” (the meaning of Abram), was told by God to “Go,” and there is something refreshing about reading, “So Abram went.” That is what faithful obedience does. This calling was to be complete. In an effort to work through one man and his family, Abram’s leaving included country (land or earth), people (kindred or relatives), and household (family or descendants). God would lead him to the land, so Abram went out not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8).
This calling was embedded in a promise of blessing. Some form of the word bless (the very powerful Hebrew word barak) appears five times here. This blessing would extend to Abram in a four-fold way: 1) Great nation (numerous, see Exodus 1:7); 2) Great name (in contrast to those who tried to make their own name great, Genesis 11:4); 3) Great protection (blessing those who bless and cursing those who curse); 4) Great influence (the families of the earth would be blessed).
This calling also involved his family. Abram left most of his extended family behind. But he took his wife Sarai (princess), his nephew Lot (from whom Abram was separated in Genesis 13), his people (souls), and his possessions (goods or property). These all went to the land of Canaan (lowlanders).
This calling also involved going to a new land of trees and rocks. Dr. Matthew Sleeth has suggested that every significant character in the Bible was associated with a tree (24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier Happier Life). They came to the great tree of Moreh at Shechem—unknown to us but not the patriarchs. It might have been an old Canaanite place of worship (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible). But Abram would sanctify the place with a little pile of rocks—an altar where he would worship Yahweh who had called him.
When He Was Tested | Genesis 22:15-19
Hebrews 11:17-19 helps us label this section of our text. Several events have taken place in Abram’s life since his initial calling. He fled to Egypt to feed his family. He separated from Lot and then had to rescue him. The covenant was formally established with him and sealed with circumcision. His name was changed. He fathered Ishmael through Hagar. He entertained angels. He interceded for Sodom but saw it destroyed. He lied about Sarah and a pagan king rebuked him. Finally, his son of promise was born.
But with this son of promise came a terrible test. We know it is a test because the narrator tells us that (Genesis 22:1). God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. Faith is stretched in initial calls but also in the tests of life that come our way. This “third day story” found Abraham seconds away from sacrificing his promised son on Mount Moriah. But by the grace of God the sacrifice was averted. Abraham had passed the test.
The angel of the Lord, who sounds very much like the Lord himself, reaffirmed the promises made to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17. Blessings, numerous descendants, victory over enemies, and all nations are all part of the reaffirmation of the promise to this man of faith. Once back from Mount Moriah, Abraham journeyed south to Beersheba where he stayed for some time. The blessings of God are best experienced through the door labeled “obedience.”
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2018 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
Image: Detail of Rembrandt’s “Sacrifice of Isaac” (1635); courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.