We’re starting into the part of the Old Testament where we talk about
“heroes of the faith.” What does that mean and does an ordinary person have any chance of pleasing God in that way?
Those are the questions we’ll answer in today’s lesson.
Plus the video has some FASCINATING material on the archeological discoveries in Ur, Abraham’s home country.
Below are the podcast, video, and notes.
Founding Father & Hero of the Faith
and how we can be like him
teacher, Yvon Prehn
What makes a hero of the faith?
• Though we will take much of this lesson to give an expanded answer, I’m going to give you the answer to this question at the beginning of the lesson….
• So that we correctly understand the story of Abraham, and all the characters we study in the Bible the proper way.
• And the answer to what makes a hero of the faith is not only ultimately about what any person does, but that the person trusts in God, who is the ultimate hero of Abraham’s and every story in the Bible.
Romans 4 explains this well
• Romans 4 1-3 MSG. . . If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.”
• . . . . . 17-18 We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do.
This understanding is important as we start reading through the Bible because
• Often the “heroes of the faith,” the superheroes of the Bible, are held up as paragons of godliness, especially to little kids, but upon closer study and as we get older, we see their flaws.
• If we don’t understand what I’m going to talk about here, this can have a destructive effect on our faith.
• Though many of these “heroes of the faith” did incredible things, they weren’t flawless, they were a mixture of good and bad actions, Moses committed murder, David adultery and murder, Peter denied Jesus.
• The point here isn’t to bash Bible characters, but to always direct our emphasis back to the correct hero, our God without whom we can do nothing of spiritual significance.
• And from their failures, to learn how they picked themselves up, trusted God for forgiveness, and pressed ahead to serve Him.
What we can learn from them
• From their lives, we see examples of how to please God, how to recover from failures, how to serve God through a lifetime of challenges, how to praise God no matter what.
• And much more specific to each character
• As we go through the following lessons on the Bible, I’ll comment on how we learn from them and how we can apply both positive examples and negative warnings in their lives to our lives.
• With this foundation, let’s look at Abraham, the next major character as we go through the Bible in chronological order.
To start: Abraham’s background, its historical and archeological importance
• Abraham’s story did not take place in a “galaxy far, far away.”
• Our faith and the life of “the father of our faith” Abraham, does not have a mythological foundation.
• It began in an identifiable place you can visit today,
Ur of the Chaldees
About the archeology of Ur
• Many people have seen pictures of Abraham’s birthplace, though they mostly likely didn’t know what they were looking at.
• These are the pictures of U.S. soldiers standing on the steps of a reconstructed an ancient temple that was literally standing in Abraham’s time. The steps and the form of the temple is built over the original temple itself.
• Though the pictures have been shown across the world in the last few years, the early discoveries and excavations of Ur are one of the great archeological stories of our time, which I’ll get to in a minutes.
• That aside, what it fascinating to me is the totally different view I got, and I trust you will also, of what Abraham left behind when God called him from Ur to go to Canaan.
• My idea and that of many others is that Abraham left a middle eastern area and lifestyle that was very similar to the one he was going to—sort of a pastoral wide-open, living in tents area to a similar one we see in all the Bible stories.
But reality is…..
• VERY DIFFERENT!
• A modern-day equivalent, would be like leaving the big-city excitement of Los Angeles to pitch a tent in the Mojave Desert.
• And the archeology shows us this reality.
• To understand what this means, let me tell you about the fascinating discovery of Ur, which is the story of a very dashing, Indiana Jones type character….
Leonard Woolley, the English archeologist, who excavated UR from 1922-1934
• He was a fascinating character who had been doing archeological work prior to WW1 in the Middle East, some with his assistant T.E. Lawrence, AKA Lawrence of Arabia.
• The two of them worked for British intelligence during WW1, but a ship Woolley was on was blown up and he spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp.
• After the war, he returned to the Middle East and in 1922 started work on Ur.
• This was about the same time the King Tut excavations were going on in Egypt.
• Here is an overview description of his discovery by National Geographic:
“In the 1920s and 1930s, British archaeologist Leonard Woolley dug up some 35,000 artifacts from Ur
• ….including the spectacular remains of a royal cemetery that included more than 2,000 burials and a stunning array of gold helmets, crowns, and jewelry that date to about 2600 B.C. . . .
• Although now situated on a flat and dry plain, Ur once was a bustling port on the Euphrates River laced with canals and filled with merchant ships, warehouses, and weaving factories. A massive stepped pyramid, or ziggurat, rose above the city and still dominates the landscape today.
• Ur emerged as a settlement more than 6,000 years . . . . .But the real heyday came around 2000 B.C., when Ur dominated southern Mesopotamia after the fall of the Akkadian Empire. The sprawling city was home to more than 60,000 people, and included quarters for foreigners as well as large factories producing wool clothes and carpets exported abroad. Traders from India and the Persian Gulf crowded the busy wharves, and caravans arrived regularly from what is now northern Iraq and Turkey.
• One of the 60,000 people of that time of the “real heyday” of the city was Abraham.
• Now for more about it….
A large city, dominated by the temple
• As you can see from an aerial view of the site, the city was dominated by the large temple structure, the same one reconstructed and that many soldiers and tourists pose on.
In addition to the area of the homes
From another view
A harp with bullhead and gold and stone statues
Artifacts of life including everyday pottery, household items and games
One of the most famous, headdress of Queen Puabi
• Gold headdress, a diadem, huge gold earrings styled exactly like they are made today
But not everything was beautiful
• Woolley’s journals describe the royal tombs.
• In the tombs, along with the king and queen many were buried—warriors, attendants, male and female all richly dressed with gold and weapons presumably to serve their royalty in the afterlife.
• Animals hitched to carts were also found.
• What struck Wooley as unusual and he documented it in detailed drawings, was the orderly arrangement of bodies.
• It suggested they walked into caves voluntarily and died where they stood possibly poisoned (each held a little cup in their hands).
• Though some were found with their heads bashed in (perhaps those not willing to drink the poison).
A later artist’s recreation of the last royal cemetery caves
A summary of the society of Ur
• A rich, sophisticated, urban society.
• A poly-theistic religion, where the huge temple dominated the skyline and life of the city.
• It was a religion one based on servitude and fear, where one had duties and obligations, but little record of a personal relationship with the deities.
• They believed in an afterlife, but one of dust and darkness—little hope or joy.
• This is what Abraham was called out of.
Not only to a new place, but a new relationship with God
• As I was reading about the religion of Ur and the overwhelming sense of fear and dread in it, I remembered that in James 2:23 it tells us Abraham was called “the friend of God.”
• He is referred to in this way in other places that talk about him.
• And remember Jesus, when he was about to leave his disciples in John 15:15 says, I no longer call you servants, . . . . .. Instead, I have called you friends.
• What an extraordinary privilege—how different than any other images of a relationship with God in the ancient world, and with many religions today where religion is defined primarily by fear.
Keep in mind this truly extraordinary city he left to live in a tent, in the wilderness
• When you read about him in Hebrews 1:8-11,
where it says
• 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. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
• “the city with foundations” I don’t think that is entirely metaphorical and mystical.
Before being asked to sacrifice Isaac
• Abraham first sacrificed his home and lifestyle
• God calls us to sacrifice in many ways
• And I can’t help but think there must have been times when living in a tent in the middle of nowhere was depressing
• It must have been—it says he was looking forward to a city with foundations.
• The Message translation puts it this way, a city, “with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.”
• God may call us to a place, a job, a home setting that might not be all we want it to be, but we know it’s God’s will for us.
• But we also know, that like Abraham we can look forward to an eternal City, designed and built by God.
• And in that city there is room for us, that is even now, being prepared for us by Jesus as He promised in John 14.
We have the location, now back to the main plot line of the Bible story
• We are introduced to Abraham following the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. After God confuses the language of humanity and scatters the people, v.11 transitions from the broad story of many peoples into “this is the account of Shem.”
• Shem was one of the three sons of Noah and his linage of begots goes through to
• 24-25 Nahor was twenty-nine years old at the birth of his son Terah. He lived 119 years afterwards and had sons and daughters.
• 26 By the time Terah was seventy years old, he had three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
• 27 And Haran had a son named Lot. 28 But Haran died young, in the land where he was born (in Ur of the Chaldeans), and was survived by his father.
Meanwhile. . . . .
• Abram married his half sister Sarai,. . . But Sarai was barren; she had no children.
• 31 Then Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, and left Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; but they stopped instead at the city of Haran and settled there. 32 And there Terah died.
• If you listened closely you may be asking….
Wait! Who was called out of Ur?
• Terah or Abraham?
• We thought the story was about Abraham, but the passage seems to clearly say that Terah as head of the family took them out of Ur. Why did he do that?
• What is going on? Best way to answer this, as any confusion in scripture is to see what other passages say about it.
• The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 3 ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’4 “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. Acts 7:2-4
• Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. Joshua 24:2
• These passages clarify that the call was to Abraham and he was the one who responded and was blessed.
What I just did is an important habit to develop when you have a question about a Bible passage
• That is to see what other passages in the Bible have to say about it.
• Google is a great tool these days
• When I was studying this passage, I simply typed in “Abraham”
• There are over 300 mentions of him in the Bible, so I narrowed it down to “key passages about Abraham” and then read all of them.
• Those passages answered questions and filled in important facts about Abraham’s life.
• Remember God is the author of the entire Bible and this is what we should expect.
• In theological terms, this is referred to as “the sufficiency of Scripture” and is the idea that the Bible contains in itself all that is necessary for an understanding of it.
Why was Terah even mentioned?
• Maybe he had an opportunity to join in Abraham’s great adventure, started with him, but got halfway there and quit.
• With that in mind, here are some verses on endurance.
• Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
1 Corinthians 9:24
• Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
God gives strength to fulfill his calling
• He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:29-31
• I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness. 2 Timothy 4:7
• Think about, pray for application of these verses, so you don’t have to say at the end of your life, “God called me, but halfway to fulfilling the call, I quit and waited to die.”
Regardless of Terah’s role, Abraham’s story picks up with these words
• Note: names are Abram and Sarai at this time, God will change them later
• God had told Abram, “Leave your own country behind you, and your own people, and go to the land I will guide you to. 2 If you do, I will cause you to become the father of a great nation; I will bless you and make your name famous, and you will be a blessing to many others.3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you; and the entire world will be blessed because of you.”
• 4 So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed him, and Lot went too; Abram was seventy-five years old at that time. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—the cattle and slaves he had gotten in Haran—and finally arrived in Canaan. . . .
• 7 Then Jehovah appeared to Abram and said, “I am going to give this land to your descendants.”
• Genesis 12:1-7
Before the promise is fulfilled years of
life would pass
• Abram gets to Canaan and not long after, there is a famine in the land. And as is a pattern of Israel, they go to Egypt when there is trouble.
• The Sphinx, the Great Pyramids, and much of the greatness of Egypt is in place at this time.
• Abram heads down there, perhaps excited about a familiar urban area with many of the luxuries he hadn’t seen since Ur.
• And here we have a truly ugly incident in Abram’s life, where he asks Sarai to say she is his sister and not his wife and so in Genesis 12–
• 4 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.
• Abram may have forsaken his wife, but God did not.
• God severely judges Pharoah for taking her. Pharoah confronts Abram and sends him back to Canaan.
Back home in Canaan
• Abram and Lot separate because the land couldn’t support both of them, Lot moves near Sodom and eventually into it.
• War breaks out between Sodom and neighboring kings, Lot and family taken.
• Abram rescues him and on the way home he meets Melchizedek, described as “priest of Salem, of the most-high God.” He blesses Abram and Abram gives him tithes. Another example of God at work in ways where we don’t know the whole story.
• Back home—Abram has a dream and great fear. God appears and Abram challenges God who has promised him a son and he doesn’t have one. God tells promises again that he will. But God also tells him his descendants will be enslaved for 400 years.
• “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Gen.15:6
• But that didn’t last. Abram and Sarai get impatient…..
They decide to help God out
• Sarai comes up with the idea for her maidservant, Hagar, to provide Abram with a son.
• Hagar becomes pregnant and flees after Sarai’s mistreatment, but at God’s command she returns.
• Ismael is born when Abraham was 86 and life was not peaceful for the family.
• And the descendants of Ismael are still fighting the descendants of the promised son of Abraham, Isaac even today.
• Obvious challenge here is the danger of not waiting on God; of deciding to help God out if we don’t think He’s acting fast enough.
• That’s why we need to be very careful when we feel God is taking too long–and it almost always seems like that.
• But His timing is always what it needs to be and we must trust Him.
The years pass—Abram is now 99
• In Gen. 17:1, God says to him, “Walk before me and be perfect. (complete)”
• Just because we mess up, get impatient, do stupid things, these actions do not cancel God’s love or His plan for us.
• Abram is then given covenant of circumcision and
both of their names are changed.
• Abram “exalted father” becomes Abraham “father of multitudes”
• Sarai “contentious” becomes Sarah “princess”
• And then….
3 visitors arrive and tell him God is going
to give them a son
• Sarah laughs in disbelief, but they assure her it will happen.
• Perhaps as a reminder, her son is named Isaac, which means laughter.
• The visitors also tell Abraham that Sodom will be destroyed; Abraham pleads with them, and they agree that if there are 10 good men there the city will not be destroyed.
• They go to Sodom and there are not 10 good men to be found. We know Sodom will be destroyed.
The ending of Lot’s story
• Lot convinces the two men (angels) to come home with him; men of the city attempt to assault them and are struck blind; the men engaged to his daughters don’t believe Lot.
• The next day, the angels mercifully and forcefully take Lot and his family out of the city; Sodom is destroyed, Lot’s wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt.
• Lot fearful for his life, hides in a cave; incest with his daughters follows and the Moabites and Ammonites are the result. The conclusion of his life seems sad and tragic.
• And yet the final word on Lot is found in 2 Peter 2:2-9 “He[God] rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless 8 (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).
• God, in spite of all that happened ultimately declares Lot righteous—another example of God’s grace. God once again is the merciful and gracious hero of that story.
Back to Abraham
• Once more Abraham sins by claiming Sarah is his sister, this time to a local tribal leader he was afraid of.
• Once again God intervenes, and Abraham is rebuked by the heathen king.
• Finally, Isaac, the son of promise is born
• Ishmael sent away.
• Easy to assume life would now go well.
But then—Gen. 22:1 “After all this,
God tested Abraham”
• Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
• He obeys, but at the last minute, God stops him and provides a ram Gen. 22:2
• God knew, but Abraham did not—how deep his trust in God truly was
• And we see his faith expressed.
• As one commentator said—the purpose of much testing is so we see our own hearts
• You can’t say God is all to you until God is all you have.
• You are never too old for God’s testing, never a place where you can coast home…..
After this test, God shares a new name of His with Abraham—Jehovah Jirah
• “The Lord will provide”
• God first the provided the Ram as a substitute sacrifice for Isaac but also as a picture of the coming sacrifice of Jesus
• Based on his actions, God again promises to bless Abraham with many descendants, and not only him, but
• “. . . . . through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” Gen. 22:15
• Comment here:
• We never know how our actions will affect others. Often, we think of how sin negatively affects others, but God can also use our obedience to bless those around us and those who come after us.
• Our faith can have ripples that reach out far more than we first imagine. When we trust God, people see it. They remember it.
• My Grandmother had a great influence on me and still does not only because of her life, but in a little plaque she gave me that says, “Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for
Christ will last.”
• Pray for a good, inspiring, and godly heritage. Pray your life will be an enduring blessing. And ACT so that will be true.
The remaining details of Abraham’s life
• Sarah dies, Abraham buys the cave of Machpelah
• Abraham marries again (Keturah) and has many sons, but only Isaac is his heir. He gives them gifts and sends them away. Their descendants are the ancestors of many Arab groups today.
• Abraham gets a wife for Isaac.
• And we will pick up the story of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in our next lesson…
• And so ends the story of Abraham’s life, but this isn’t simply a lesson in archeology or biography.
• Let’s go back to our initial exploration of why he is called the “father of our faith” a “hero” of our faith and what we can learn from him.
What Abraham’s life teaches the Christian
• Though ultimately all we ever accomplish is based on God, Abraham shows us that we must also take actions and trust God to be pleasing to him. James 2, MSG sums it up well when it says:
• 14-17 Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
• 18 I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.”
• Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
The passage continues
• 19-20 Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands
• 21-24 Wasn’t our ancestor Abraham “made right with God by works” when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are “works of faith”?
• The full meaning of “believe” in the Scripture sentence, “Abraham believed God and was set right with God,” includes his action. It’s that weave of believing and acting that got Abraham named “God’s friend.” Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?
To answer the question of what makes
a Hero of the faith
• It is the “weaving together of faith and actions”
• The actions we need to take will be different for each of us—
• Chances are however that they will involve sacrifice of some sort, times of believing God when we can’t see the outcome and waiting far longer than we want for His promises to come true.
• There will be tangible actions to be done as well as difficult things to believe.
• But keep weaving together believing and acting—
• That is how to become a hero of the faith.
• And even more significant and precious, how to be called a friend of God.