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If we can visualize Enoch, Noah and Nimrod as a widening tunnel leading to a relationship with God, then the passageway bursts into an epiphany of sound and light with the advent of Abraham.  This Bedouin sheep farmer from Ur of the Chaldees demonstrates that the complexion of God’s relationship with man changed drastically in every way, in voice, intimacy, interaction and appearance.  We now witness an aspect of divinity that had been hidden from view in all previous dealings with man. 

The first eleven chapters of Genesis cover an enormous amount of time and deal with a range of events and personages with relatively minimal detail.  The next thirteen chapters focus on the life of one man, replete with detail, and are especially enlightening about the relationship between God and Abraham.  This disparity between these segments of history could not be more distinct.  It is a fascinating account that not only establishes Abraham as the patriarch who was called the “Father of the Faithful,” and—even more appropriate to our theme, “the Friend of God”—it delivers exciting and invaluable insight into discovering a fulfilling relationship with God today. 

Abraham’s Call: Faith

Exploring the complete life of Abraham chronologically would be both instructive and inspiring, but such histories have been written in abundance.  Rather, let us look at specific events in his life that will help us to understand his intimate relationship with God.  We cannot repeat Abraham’s unique experiences, but we can reflect on the kind of attitude and heart he possessed that gave him such closeness to God.  Three major incidents in Abraham’s career showcase relationship qualities:  his call, his encounter with Lot and the sacrifice of Isaac. 

Before Abraham, God had entered into two covenants with man.  The Edenic Covenant specified that Adam and Eve were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or else they would die.  The Noahic Covenant promised that the earth would not be destroyed by a flood again.   Neither of these covenants, though, carried the personal interaction of God with man as did His covenant with Abraham.  “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3. 

God’s call of Abraham was conveyed in the framework of a covenant.  This covenant speaks to His expanded relationship with Abraham in a number of critical ways.  Like the other covenants, it was spoken through direct communication, but the personal nature of the command goes beyond anything experienced by Adam or Noah.  First, God gives Abraham definite traveling and relocation instructions and takes care to reference his native land, his fellow citizens and his relatives, all of which signal God’s concern with Abraham’s relationships.  Then, He lets him know that He has designated a country where Abraham should go, a directive that implies more revelations to come.  A promise of further revelations foreshadows a continuing and developing relationship between God and Abraham.  These features enable us to see thematic overtones of relationship in God’s involvement with those who trust Him.

The most profound component of the covenant, however, has to do with God’s purposes on a much grander scale in terms of the history of man.  His goal was not just the preservation of one man or of the survival of one family, but to establish an entire nation built upon the foundation of the one, true God.  As grand as it was, however, this purpose had to begin with the faith of one man, Abraham, and proceed from there.  The success of the plan was a function of God’s relationship with this man.  On that basis, the provisions of the covenant held that it would be a great nation, that Abraham would be blessed, that his name would be great, that Abraham would give and receive blessings, that God would curse anyone who cursed Abraham, and that all the families in the earth would be blessed through Abraham.  All of these provisions indicate God’s accelerated intent to bind Himself to the fortunes—and failures—of the man he had chosen to become His representative nation on earth.

So, how did Abraham respond to this call?  He embraced it with such pure faith that it rewrote the history books.  Hundreds of years later, the annals of the New Testament recorded, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:  For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Hebrews 11:8-10.  This response was remarkable because prior to Genesis 12:1, nothing suggests that Abraham even knew God.  In fact, he was undoubtedly reared in a pagan culture.  But, somewhere, the revelation of the Creator God must have come to him, and the impact must have been so powerful that it produced a consummate relationship between God and Abraham. 

While we don’t often perceive faith from relationship perspective, that is precisely the case.  No one can acquire Abrahamic kind of faith apart from a close-knit relationship with the God of Abraham.  It is a mistake to isolate faith as a stand-alone attribute, as though it could exist by itself.  Spiritual commodities do not come cafeteria style.  Rather, they come bundled in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Jesus Himself issued this warning, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”  Even if we were able to make human faith work in some sort of dysfunctional way, the end result would be a dead-end street.  That’s why many attempts to reform or improve the unregenerate man are akin to rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.  We are too often so absorbed in intermediate goals that we lose sight of the ultimate goal.  It calls to mind the old saw that “the operation was a success but the patient died.”  It is not faith that causes the relationship; it is the relationship that gives birth to faith.

Abraham and Lot: Humility

The second incident that signals the depth of Abraham’s relationship with God involves his dealings with people.  Abraham and Lot each had herdsmen and servants who traveled with them.  These two groups clashed and the strife escalated to the point where coexistence was impossible.  Abraham, the uncle, asked his nephew, “Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.” Genesis 13:9. This magnanimous offer showed the spirit of Abraham, but the younger Lot should have rejected it.  The right thing would have been for him to acquiesce and insist that his uncle choose first.  Instead, he jumped at the chance to take what he perceived was the better route.    “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere … Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.” Genesis 13:10-11.

This exchange between Abraham and Lot illustrates a fundamental relationship principle: humility and deference.  Assuming that Abraham was of superior intelligence, he understood the rights of seniority and respect for elders.  He was not fooled by Lot’s impudence, yet he allowed it to happen.  The quality of Abraham’s character seen here grew out of his greater relationship with God.  Those who fight for their own way, those who put their personal welfare above that of others, those who are willing to cause others to suffer so they can gain the upper hand fail at functional relationships.  On the other hand, those who pursue a right relationship with God will reap positive relationships with others. 

God and Abraham:  Unconditional Love

Finally, other than Calvary, no more vivid example of unconditional love exists in scripture than Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah.  It strained the upper limits of the relationship because not only was Isaac Abraham’s legal son through his wife, Sarai, and Abraham was totally invested in him emotionally, but Isaac was the miraculous result of the promise of God.  For God to demand that Abraham kill Isaac created an unthinkable paradox.  It forced Abraham to choose between his natural parental feelings and his love for God.  The brutality of the choice was mitigated by the knowledge that God had already provided the ram caught in the thicket as an alternative sacrifice, but Abraham, of course did not know that.  His willingness to sacrifice his Isaac proved to God that Abraham’s love for Him superseded his natural affection for his only son.  “And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”  Genesis 22:12. Even if Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac up from the dead (Hebrews 11:19), it did not lessen the trauma of killing his own son.

The fine reticulation that binds us in a relationship with God must withstand every trial, every threat, every interference and every temptation.  Before the Mosaic law, there were no guidelines to prove the strength of the relationship other than personal encounters with God.  With the law, as we shall see, came a more impersonal and vicarious system, but one wonders if the best proof of a relationship with God remains up close and personal.  David certainly thought so. 

“I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.” Psalm 40:1-3.

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