Sarai and Abram’s Shortcut

1Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2so she said to Abram, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress (Genesis 16:1-4).

Have you ever been tempted to take a shortcut to what you believe to be God’s will? Abraham had been promised by the Lord that he would be the father of a multitude, but there was a problem, Sarah (at this point she is still called Sarai) was way past the age of having children. But how does one get to have many descendants if his wife cannot bear children? It was now impossible for it to happen through Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Sometimes we get desperate and look for a logical way around a situation. Sarah thought about her handmaid—Abraham could have a child through Hagar, their maid, and it could be called Sarah’s. The shortcut was at the initiation of Sarai. Maybe God’s way was for their family to be built around Hagar, their servant girl, who had been added to their household while in Egypt.

Sarai’s motive was probably a good one, but a good motive does not make a bad decision right. Sarai loved her husband and trusted him implicitly and was willing to sacrifice even their special intimacy with one another for the sake of his vision and dream to be fulfilled. This says a lot for Sarai’s commitment and character that she would do this for Abram, but there was no evidence that Abram and Sarai stopped to think about the consequences of what they were about to do. This was a life-changing decision and one wonders if they stopped to ask God about it. Certainly there is nothing in scripture that tells us that they did. This seems to be a low point in Abram’s faith walk. For him to go ahead with this shortcut even when he knew in his heart that this was not God’s way was resorting to man’s way of doing things.

Abram is not a picture of a godly husband at this time, ready to protect the intimacy of his marriage. His first response to Sarai’s idea should have been a courageous, “absolutely not!” There was also no seeking after permission of Hagar’s father in Egypt, that we are told about.  We are not even told if Hagar herself had any say in the matter. I’m sure she was asked, but she would have thought to herself that if she didn’t go ahead, it would have meant her job, and another of the slave girls would have been chosen over her. Hagar became a second wife to Abram and, as far as we know, God was not brought into the picture (Verse 3). Of course, God had already revealed His will that a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). The Lord had not changed His mind and allowed for a threesome!

Things are about to get complicated for Abram and Sarai. It does not take a lot of imagination to see how this could have affected their relationship, their home life, and even their faith. Culture and traditions may change, but there are at least two things that do not, the Word of God, and basic human nature. When we try to do short cuts to our faith walk, it never works out. It honors the worldly way of doing things rather than the ways of honoring the Lord and walking by faith. There are no short cuts to faith and walking in the ways of the Lord. Live your life by being completely devoted to God and His ways, not the ways of this world. Keith Thomas

Abraham Believes the Lord

It is a possibility that Abram’s vision of the stars and the dust of the earth represent the heavenly seed as well as the earthly seed. The dust of the earth could be a picture of the earthly seed of Abraham, the Jewish people, and the vision of the stars of the sky represented the heavenly seed, those who were born again of the Holy Spirit, the church of the Living God. In this sense, we see an earthly and a heavenly seed. God often speaks to us in a natural and spiritual sense, as He calls out a spiritual truth and illustrates a truth, which is mirrored in a natural way.

Something happens within Abram’s heart when he sees the awesome vision of the stars of the sky. He is told that his offspring would be like the stars in number. Notice Abram’s response: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Verse 6). This was before circumcision, and more than four hundred years before the Law and the Ten Commandments were given. The Lord sees that inside Abram’s heart, there is a deep-seated trust and inner rest of belief that had come to him. On account of his faith, the Lord imparted to Abram the gift of righteousness—it was credited to his spiritual bank account. W.H. Griffith Thomas, in his commentary on Genesis, writes:

“The original Hebrew for ‘believed’ comes from a root whence we derive our ‘Amen,’ and we might paraphrase it by saying that ‘Abraham said Amen to the Lord.’ ‘Amen’ in Scripture never means a petition (‘May it be so’), but is always a strong assertion of faith (‘It shall be so,’ or ‘It is so’).[1]

This is how God still operates today in the world we live in. When we hear the gospel of the finished work of Christ in paying our debt of sin upon the cross, and we believe in our heart that God raised Christ from the dead, the gift of righteousness is credited to our spiritual bank account. No longer do we work at trying to please God by empty works, but we rest our souls on the finished work of God at the cross. The gospel (the good news) is that Christ has completely restored relationship between God and man through His substitutionary work in dying for us and as us on the cross. If you will place your life into His hands and simply believe (trust), just as Abram did, then you too will have credited to your spiritual bank account the righteousness of God. God gives us faith to reach out to Him and receive the gift of eternal life in Christ.

There is a gift of righteousness from God that is given to Abram upon his trust and belief in God’s Word to his heart. This righteousness comes as a gift apart from anything Abram or we can do to earn it. It is given to us apart from any obedience to a set of laws.

20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:20-22).

There is nothing that you can do to earn this gift, otherwise it would not be a gift! A gift is so easy to receive—God has made it so. It is man’s way to try to complicate things. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17). Go to your Father today and ask Him for the gift of righteousness. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He accomplished for you on the cross and you shall receive the gift of eternal life.  If you have not yet prayed this prayer, do not put it off. Do it today! Keith Thomas.

[1] W.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946) p. 138.

What is a Vision?

“Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Abram was given a vision of what the future would look like. When God calls a man or a woman, often He will give them a vision. Any leader worth his salt has been given a vision in his mind’s eye of what the future will look like. After getting a vision one must prayerfully plan how he or she is to bring the vision into reality. I am reminded of the things God used to envision me for my future. It is not the same method for every person. Stay open to God and be alert to His promptings.

God used various things in my life. Shortly after my fishing career ended, I worked for a while as a window cleaner, and as a painter and decorator. During this time, I was also involved in starting small groups and leading a small group in our home, along with my wife, Sandy. At one point, I worked in a print shop for a Christian printing organization called Cornerstone Print and Design. This small printing company served missionary agencies as well as other churches and Christian organizations in England by printing all kinds of literature that would help them to reach the world for Christ. I remember they had a sign on the wall that said: “A drop of ink will make a million think!” At that time, I really didn’t see myself as a Bible teacher, I was more of an evangelist that would share the message of Christ whenever I had the opportunity. But the sign on the wall grabbed my attention. God used my time at that printing agency for me to get a vision for spreading His Word to others, even in other countries. I could see the need for Christian literature that would help people understand the gospel of God’s love. It was good to be a part of printing tracts for Christians to use in other countries. These tracts explained the Gospel in their own language. God began to show me His vision to reach the world, and that is what I am still seeking to do today.

What is vision? I have heard it described as “foresight with insight based on hindsight.”  We ought to look into the future and begin to see with the eyes of faith what God wants us to do. Vision also focuses on one’s present circumstances and asks the question: “how do I get to there from here?” Also, vision takes into account the learning that one has accumulated from the past. Vision is a clear mental image of a preferable future that is given to a man or woman of God, to enable him or her to work toward that particular goal that he or she has seen. When a person has obtained a clear vision of what God wants to do, then the man or woman of God goes to the Lord in prayer for practical steps to reach that goal or vision. Without practical steps toward the preferable future, there is difficulty in stretching beyond the present reality. Abram is shown a picture in his mind’s eye of the future that he is waiting for and holding onto in faith.

What methods does He use today? How can you tell if a vision is from God?

God will often use His Word, or a message through a dream, through song, encouragement from another, a mentor, or someone who inspires us to do what they are doing. It can also be a need which we want to meet, or a strong desire to do something. It can be as simple as a natural God-given talent mixed with a strong desire. If a vision is from God, it will always be in line with scripture. Test your vision to see if it matches up with the Word of God. Ask Him to give you the first step in seeing your vision come to pass. Be ready to take a step of faith. Often, there is an excitement that comes when we see what God has for us to do… 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). What vision sustains you while you wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled? If you do not have one, ask Him for a vision for your life. Keith Thomas

 

What Do You See–What is Your Vision?

1After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” 2But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” 4Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:1-6).

One of the most stunning sights that I can remember happened one night while I was working as a commercial fisherman on the East Coast of England on my father’s fishing boat. At the time, I was working the boat all alone during the night. Way past midnight, more than 8 miles from land, I set the boat to automatic pilot and turned off all the lights on deck. Then I went out on deck, laid down flat on my back on one of the unused nets and looked up at the stars. Have you ever been away from civilization where there are no lights and looked at the stars on a clear night? It is one of the most stunning sights of this world. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that night, and no artificial lights to hinder the view. I sensed that the Lord was telling me that there was more to my life than spending most of my waking hours working in solitude away from others on my father’s fishing boat. That moment is one that I will always remember, and the sight of that night sky will always stick with me. It was a moment when I became convinced that the future held something different for me, and that God would teach me a different kind of fishing.

Instead of using a net, I would learn to use the Word of God. Instead of catching fish, I would learn to fish for men; a call that Jesus had made to His early disciples. I felt that I just had to be faithful to learn from Him and do what was at my right hand to do in the meantime (Ecclesiastes 9:10). This was the vision that God gave Abram. He told him to go outside of his tent and look up at the stars. Count the stars, if indeed you can count them—so shall your offspring be. A vision that he could hold in his mind; a vision that would enable him to persevere in his faith through many challenges. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. At that point in the account of his life, his name was still Abram, which means exalted father, but God would give him a name change to reflect the vision that he held in his heart from that day. He would be called Abraham—Father of a multitude. What vision do you hold in your heart? Does this vision shape your daily actions? Are you working towards fulfilling it? If you have no vision as to your future, God wants to plant one in your heart. Life is not about living for this world, but for the next. May a vision of how God wants to use you begin to take hold of your life and propel you to be closer to God.

Keith Thomas

Trusting in One’s Own Resources

10Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you” (Genesis 12:10-13).

To the spiritual man, Egypt is a picture of one leaning on the arm of flesh rather than the power of God. Egypt was watered not by the rain or dew, but by the pumping up of the water with the foot pump. The River Nile was the source of water for the Egyptians, but to get the water to the fields required man to pump it up with their feet. God spoke of the land of Israel, that it was different from Egypt: The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden (Deuteronomy 11:10). In talking about Abraham’s faith, we must remember that God never spoke for him to go down to Egypt. When things were getting difficult from lack of rain, Abram was just like us; we often resort to the arm of flesh rather than take the time to seek God for His guidance. We are moved by fear—the “what if” syndrome. Israel has had a history of turning to Egypt for help instead of going to God:

2who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. 3But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace (Isaiah 30:2-3).

What fear rears its head before you today? For Abram to go down to Egypt there was a fear of death for Sarai’s sake. He had seen the looks that men had given to Sarai when they thought that Abram wasn’t looking. Perhaps he felt insecure in this new culture of Egypt. Insecurity will breed actions whereby a man will trust in his own resources rather than the provision of God.

Abram makes a deal with Sarai to call him her brother (v. 12). Actually, Abram is Sarai’s half-brother, so it is a deception that is conceived. Since Sarai’s father is no longer around, any suitors to obtain the hand of Sarai’s in marriage would have to negotiate with Abram, her brother. The common custom of the day was for the brother to assume legal guardianship in arranging marriage on Sarai’s behalf. This would give them time to slip away before Sarai would actually have to become anyone’s wife. Abram’s deception and mistakes should encourage us greatly, because we see that even those who have great faith can slip up occasionally, and the Bible never glosses over sins of the flesh by the Lord’s heroes. We see Abram not only going to Egypt, but also deceiving the people there for his self-protection. What promise should Abram have rested on? God had given him the promise that he would become a great nation—without his wife this could not happen. The promises of God often require us to hold on in faith and persevere over difficulties.

Perhaps Abram did not realize that Pharaoh would pursue Sarai. How it happened we do not know, but the text tells us that she was taken into Pharaoh’s household. Now what, Abram? How are you going to get out of this mess? We don’t find any complaint from Abram at Sarai being taken into Pharaoh’s court, but God steps in and afflicts Pharaoh’s household with serious diseases. Somehow the secret is out and Abram is severely scolded and shamed for his faithless act. How embarrassed he must have felt as he was told to leave with his head held low.

This is a reminder of the fact that even when we fail to act in faith, God has a plan. There is never a dead end when we submit our life to the Lord. He will always provide a way for us to respond and act in faith. If you have made mistakes in your life and feel that you have lost your way or made a wrong turn in your life, it is important for you to know that God is not finished with your story! The thing you need to do now is submit your way to the Lord and ask Him to give you the next step on your journey. Are you ready to trust Him?

Keith Thomas