How do you describe it? What do we expect? How do I get it? These questions are not only relevant, but they will challenge the way we think of ourselves and the way we think about who God is. In some personal way, we all have an evaluation of God, based on the answer to these questions.
Is blessing when things go good at work and I'm finally making the kind of money I deserve? Is blessing when my kids are happy, healthy, and living in a stable home? Is blessing when my marriage is just the way it should be and I'm comfortable?
So, what about when these things are not true in your life? Does that mean that God is no longer blessing you? What if you can't seem to make enough money to pay your bills, is God not blessing? What if the kids are not happy or worse, they’re dying, is God not blessing? What if your home is broken by the pain of divorce or abuse, or tragedy, is God not blessing? What if your husband is unfaithful and you've paced the floor all night waiting for him to come home knowing full well where he has been, is God not blessing? How do we know the difference? How do we know when God is blessing our lives and when He has withheld his blessing? How much depends on me and my obedience and how much is the result of my sin or from others sin?
I love listening to testimonies on a Sunday morning at church. Occasionally the pastor will ask if anyone has a testimony. Presumably, this should be a positive story where there was great peril of significant loss, then at the last possible moment, God came through in a miraculous way and smoothed the path and brought victory. Then the person sits down and everyone congratulates the winner of this weeks most exciting story for their great blessing from God. Please don't get me wrong. I congratulate too. We are all pleased when good things happen in our life, and I certainly believe that we should always give credit to our Lord. He is Good and His mercies endure forever!
I'd like to spin off into a story directly from the pages of the Bible. Arguably one of the greatest stories of blessing in the entire book. Without a doubt, the story of Abraham is one of the promise of blessing. Let's look:
God says to Abram (later Abraham). He said, “Get of out from your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Now that's a monumental blessing! Is there anyone who wouldn't want to experience those words from God? What if God came to you and said “I will bless you and make your name great!”? Sign me up! This is a promise from the God of the universe. This doesn't come with any conditions. No expectations, no reasons. Just simply, Abram, I've decided to bless you today, are you in?
There is no question in my mind that every single person who ever lived would kill for this blessing. Ya, I'm in. What did God ask him to do? Easy – GO. Abram, get out. Go to a land that I will show you. Wait. Did you say I have to leave my family, my comfort zone, my position? I just started this job God, and it pays really well. God, my family is all I have.
Keep in mind that in those days, family isn't just mom, dad, and your siblings. Family is your roots, family is everything you know. It's the people, the places, the possessions. Leaving family is leaving the monarch, the father who is the support, the reputation, and the protection. Without dad, you are a nobody in a very dangerous land. This isn't a story about a young man being asked to leave mom and dad and go off to college. This is a story of a man who was asked to leave everything he's ever known; to leave everything that makes him a person; to leave his identity, his purpose, and his circle of safety. This was not done... ever! You traveled as a family, your married within the extended family, you accepted the gods of your family, you built your reputation and life within that family. Leaving is a really big deal.
God said, “get out... from your family...”.
But there is something missing from this story. Something so painful, so overt, and yet, missing. It's a question. It's a question that everyone of us would have asked. Yet the question goes unasked. I don't believe it's missing simply because it wasn't recorded, I believe it was never asked. The question: WHY? Why leave? Why leave my family and go to another land? What land? Where? When? Why?
Abram never asks; Sari never asks; his father never asks. There is something we learn about the character of Abram in the absence of the question that we need to, not only recognize, but we need to learn.
Abram lived in a time of many gods. He is what we would call today 'poly-theistic'. Poly meaning many, and theistic meaning gods. They had a god for rain, and another for sun. They had a god for fertility and another for grain. You get the picture, no question, they lived a life worshiping, sacrificing, and obeying many gods. But there was one god they revered more than all the others. Abram knew the stories of creation, he knew them well. How this God, in just six days created everything; the world, the sun, the animals, the plants, and their own life. The other gods answered to this god. The sun god was subject to this god. He also knew the stories of how the world had turned their backs on this God and He destroyed the world and everyone in it with a flood. He saved only one man and his family. He knew the story of Noah well. He remembered how God came to Noah one day and told him to build a boat in the desert. He explained in detail how to build it. He also knew well that Noah did not question God. He never asked why. God did what He told Noah He would do. He destroyed every living creature and saved Noah and his family. Why? - because He's God! There is no 'why'.
This is what we call 'the fear of God'. We have minimized the understanding of the fear of God in our world. We call it 'respect' or 'reverence'. That’s not what it says, it says 'FEAR'. Fear, by proper definition is the translators attempt to describe absolute sheer terror. If God says 'go', and I respect Him I might humbly ask 'why?'. If God says Go and my response is absolute sheer terror, then I 'GO'! I don't ask why. (Before the ensuing debate begins, understand that I realize that the word 'fear' also includes respect and reverence and in some applications those words are appropriate. However, at this time, as it relates to Abram, I believe the word is dramatically stronger.)
When I grew up, my father was a man of sheer terror in my eyes. When he came home from work I did not run to meet him, I would find a place to hide. I would stay busy with some project in the basement, or be working in the barn. Then last thing I wanted was for him to come home and find me idle when he thought I should be working. I don't suggest his form of parenting was ideal, but I do use that as an understanding of the current revelation of God in Abram's time. When my father said to go do a certain chore, not only did I jump and go without asking why, I was afraid to even ask how to accomplish the task. I would rather find the tools and find a way to accomplish it than to ask anything. Respect?, no way - FEAR.
What Abram knows about God is recorded in the first twelve chapters of Genesis. No more, no less. He was the God that created in six days. He was the God who cursed Cain. He was the God who destroyed the city of Babel and confused the languages. These were Abram's ancestors, his close family. Not many generations, but his own living relatives. His father and grandfather would have known people who experienced Babel. Do you realize that Abram's father Terrah could have sat for many years listening to stories from Noah himself? Abram might have known Shem, Ham, or Japeth personally. Can you imagine listening to Shem tell how God spoke to dad and said to build the ark. How dad was restless that night and began writing down all the details of this huge boat. Maybe it sounded like this, “Ham and Japeth and I didn't know what was happening, dad was in sheer terror, working tirelessly to make sure he had every instruction detailed just as God told him. As sweat ran down his brow he nervously told mom to keep the coffee brewing all night. Without a word we did our chores in the morning, dad was pacing the front yard. Nobody spoke a word.” Now wouldn't that make for a memorable campfire story?
Do you realize that it's not only possible that Abram had listened to Shem tell this story, it's probable. Not once, but over and over again. Shem might have also passed on the stories his own grandfather would have told about the old man Adam. How his grandfather Lamech had listened as old Adam would tell the same story over and over again of creation. What is was like when he walked and talked with God in the cool of the evening. He would have remembered the days when the lion laid down with the lamb. How, on that fateful afternoon, many years before, he and Eve were out for a walk when this beautiful serpent begin to mesmerize them once again with his lies. Then how the sheer terror of their sin had overcome them when they heard God walking in the garden. Maybe he told a story like this, “I felt something when I took the bite. I didn't know what it was then, but now I know it was shame. Understand children that Eve and I had never felt shame before. We never felt any kind of guilt. We spent our days naked and free in the garden, with the creator. We talked every day and He would tell me how he meticulously created everything with just a word. He had explained before that we could eat of every tree except this one. We knew the consequences, but we didn't fully understand. He would lower his voice when He spoke of death, but we knew nothing of what death was. I remember once when He talked of death that the creator got this far away look in His eyes, like He knew something that He wasn't ready to tell me yet. Something grave and painful. It's a mystery yet today. It was like when He spoke of it He understood both immense pain and sadness, and yet was full of joy at the same moment.
I remember when He spoke to Eve and I in front of the Serpent. I blamed Eve, but it wasn't her fault any more than mine. She blamed the beautiful serpent. WOW, did the creator's voice boom when He spoke to the serpent. I've never seen him angry before, but there was power in His words that shook the stars. Again, He spoke of death, but with an absolute confidence of victorious power. Like through this thing called death He would once again make all things new. Then I remember he escorted us out of the garden, I didn't say a word, I didn't dare. My legs could hardly hold me, my voice would not have served me even if I could have formed a word. Our disobedience to the creator had resulted in sheer terror in our hearts. I wanted to stop breathing. We stood there as he closed the gates and placed powerful angels there with flaming swords. He left us that day. He just walked away. We haven’t seen Him since. I see the work of His hands, I know He is with us, but He no longer walks with us and talks with us.”
Shem would stop for a moment and clear the lump from his throat. You could see a tear in his eyes when he would explain how Lamech would describe the look on old Adam's face when he would tell how the creator had left them all alone. “Lamech said it was sheer terror. Understand children, you don't want to stand in the presence of an angry God!”
That is the God that Abram knew. The creator of the universe, the God of Sheer Terror! He understood that God wanted to walk and talk with His creation, but sin separated us. He understood that any contact with God from that moment on was only terror – Fear. Obey or die. Not just stop living, but absolute destruction of mankind.
God said “Go”. Abram went. No question. Where? To a land that God would show him. Abram packed up his wife, their servants and all their belongings. Abram wasn't a poor man. He had many possessions, many slaves, and many animals. Moving was no easy task. They began to walk. South was the general direction. I don't know how he knew what direction to go. The family wanted to move to Cannan years ago and never made it, so maybe it just seemed natural to go in that direction. I can only guess. They traveled a great many days. We don't know how long before they came to this place called Shechem.
When he got to Shechem something extraordinary happened. It's almost lost in the pages of the book. The writer says that “the LORD appeared to Abram”. Do you understand the gravity of this? The creator of the world, the same God that old man Adam had told about. The same God that spoke to Noah. This same God that never appeared to Adam again after he left the garden. For the first time since the garden gate was locked, “God appeared”. I promise you the reaction to Abram was FEAR! Absolute, Sheer, Terror! God had spoken before to men. He spoke to Cain. He spoke at Babel. He spoke to Noah. He had even spoken to Abram. But now Abram is standing face to face with the same God that Old man Adam had described, and Abram knew from the stories grandpa Lamech had told. God Appeared!
Again, God reinforces His blessing to Abram. “To your descendents I will give this land.” Again, there's that world class blessing from the creator – God, to a man.
Abram did the only thing he knew to do. When you have contact with a god, you kill something. You make a sacrifice. God didn't tell him to do this. Abram just understood that when you're standing face to face with a god, you sacrifice. When you stand face to face with THE GOD, all the more true. No question, no words. Sacrifice!
But, something was beginning to change already. Not much, just a hint. Years ago God had walked and talked with his ancestors. God enjoyed their company. God actually enjoyed talking with Adam. Yet because of sin, God no longer had any intimate contact with his people. But something is changing. God called Abram out, with no explanation. Then He appears to him in Shechem, and makes another blessing. God wants this relationship. Abram isn't there yet. But he understands something is shifting. His understanding of who this god is – is somehow maturing.
Abram continues to move from that place. Nothing like time to walk and think about the events of the last few days or weeks. The God of creation, the God of Noah had spoken to him and told him to “go”. Abram went and because he obeyed God appeared to him” He must have said those words to himself a thousand times, “God appeared to me”. “God Appeared to me”. “God Appeared to me”. He came to a mountain. The Bible explains it was east of Bethel and west of Ai. He put down roots for awhile. The Bible says “He pitched his tent”. That means he stopped for an extended period of time. Months, years... we don't know. He built an alter to the LORD there. Again he sacrificed.
But, again, something extraordinary. Did you catch it? The writer says he “called on the name of the LORD”. A better way of saying that is that “he proclaimed the name of the LORD”. This isn't a private little prayer to God. No way! Abram is in a heathen land. These are the descendents of Ham, the brother of Shem. Ham was cursed by his father Noah. Ham wanted nothing to do with dad and nothing to do with the god of his father. He didn't tell the stories that Shem told. He didn't pass down the legacy of his fathers and tell his children about the creator of the world. He hated everything that had anything to do with this god. Now, Abram is in the land populated by the children of Ham and they don't know this God. But in the past few months and years, Abram has learned a thing of two about the character of God. He knows that God is to be feared and that the descendents of Ham don't have any fear of God. He sees the sin and debauchery they are living in and know they are just like the men of Noah's day. “Every intent of man's heart was evil continually.” The God of the garden is forgotten.
Abram becomes an Evangelist in his day. Not an evangelist like we think, but he knows the God of creation; he knows the God of the flood. He knows the terror of this God, and knows that this God desires to talk with his people. Abram understands the devastating effects of disobedience and understands the blessing of obedience. He begins to proclaim to the people of this land who have forgotten God. He begins to proclaim the reputation, the character, of God to the people.
Did they listen? We don't know. Nothing is said in the Bible of a great revival in the land of Cannan. Yet, something stirred in the heart of Abram to Call out the Name of the LORD! To proclaim the reputation (the name) of the LORD!
This is where the story takes a twist. A twist that keeps me awake at night to this day. Something happens here that every TV preacher says will never happen. I've listened to preacher after preacher tell me of the promises of God. The blessings of God. How God only wants to bless me, bless me, bless me. Abram has a world class blessing from God. Nobody before or after ever gets a blessing like this. Yet here we are. Standing face to face with reality. God said “go”. Abram obeyed. God blesses Abram again, this time face to face with a man. Abram obeys. Abram is now standing exactly in the midst of the land that God has promised him. This land that is promised to Abram and his descendents forever. Abram built an alter, he sacrificed to God. Abram then decides if he is going to live here he better proclaim the name of the LORD to the locals. You can't shut him up. “God has spoken to me and I have obeyed. God has appeared to me and has blessed me. God will destroy sinners. But God want's relationship with his people.” Abram goes to extreme to tell of the character of God to a sinful and lost generation. You cannot find any fault with Abram. He has done everything God has told him to do. He stands rock solid in his faith in the God of creation who he has met face to face. So what's the twist? There's famine in the land, not just an ordinary famine, but the Bible says “the famine was severe in the land”... and Abram has to leave. Not only does he have to leave, but he has to go to a land that is also full of ungodliness. A land that not only is poly-theistic, but they know nothing of the God of creation. They are their own gods and their wealth and power is their highest god. Abram will have to lie about his wife because the power of the king. In this land the wealth of Abram is no comparison with the wealth of the pharaoh. A foreigner is nothing more than an animal. If they want you dead, you're dead. A man like Abram with a stunningly gorgeous wife would be killed almost instantly to have access to her. So, to lie and say she was his sister, maybe they would allow him to live. Either way, she would belong to another very soon. But at least they would survive. Now that's a famine!
In truth, she really was his sister. She was a half sister. Remember we said at the beginning that family is everything. They would even marry into extended family. This wasn't unusual in those days. So, it wasn't a terrible lie, and any one of us would have done the same thing. A minor stretch of the truth to maintain our life.
So tell me you preachers of God's blessings. Tell me you proclaimers of God's promises. Speak to me now about how if we just have enough faith..... Or, tell me how if I obey that God will bless. Explain to me again how God has plans of blessing for my life and will pour out rivers of wealth and goodness if I will just have enough faith or obey his commandments. Explain then to Abram while he's pacing the floor in an Egyptian hostel, wondering the fate of his beautiful wife in the hands of the cruel pharaoh, how this God his has promised blessing upon blessing and he ended up here. God promised him a land in Cannan; He obeyed in fear. He sacrificed to God, He proclaimed the name of the LORD in the land... where is this blessing now?
Every fiber of my being wants to cry out “WHY GOD?”
At this moment, Abram's life is a utter failure. He's left his family when everyone knows you should never leave. He took his wife to this 'god-forsaken' heathen land. He still has no children, no heir. They are literally starving to death. His livestock, his wife, his servants, all without food or water. They're driven by desperation to another land of evil and godlessness. His wife is taken from him to be used by the king for his pleasure. He's alone, far away from home, hungry, broken, with a pocket full of empty promises.
Tell me, where is this blessing?
I'm still working on this.....