Into the Unknown

Day 10

Into the Unknown

“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.” 

Hebrews 11:8-10 

Found in Genesis 12:1-4 and Hebrews 11:8-19

In the shadow of the serpent many things were lost and broken, precious things, beautiful things, things that God had woven deep within the sinews of our Imago Dei being and threaded into the rhythm of our beating human hearts. This image of God within human beings now wisps threadbare thin, torn threads pulling apart, fraying at the edges, floating on the breeze of history. Threads like our sensitivity to God’s voice, commitment to caring for other human beings, being our ‘brother’s keepers’, commitment to keeping love for God at the centre of our being.

How God’s heart must have broken that day long ago, when He came walking in the garden that one evening, to find His children hiding from Him, lying to Him and then blaming Him and one another for their fraying falling condition (Genesis 3). How everything began to tear then, undoing, unravelling the grace that once was us.

God had walked with them, partnered with them, blessed them and cared for them, threading together the tapestry of all the thousand ways He’d loved them, providing a world of wonder woven only with strands of light, a tapestry woven in gold and goodness, grace and givenness. 

Jesus God YHWHIMGP1532Jesus God YHWH

But now. Where was it now? Torn and threadbare, fraying in the breeze of a world that had forgotten the image of God within them and the person of God who formed them. 

In the wake of the flood people had re-populated the earth with the same corruption that had lead to the deluge in the first place, building monuments to their monumental emptiness, their epic achievement of living a vacuous life devoid of connection with God. 

At Babel God once more came down and intervened in love, dividing the languages like He had divided the oceans, forging smaller communities so humanity had the chance to reconnect with itself, with it’s beating-heart Imago Dei within. In the rubble of the post-Babel experience God gave people the opportunity to be small enough to know they weren’t the centre of this spinning universe, but that they were loved universally at the centre of God’s heart. 

God still longed for that intimacy with human beings, to walk with them, partner with them, bless them and care for them, threading together the tapestry of all the thousand ways He loved them.

But so few were listening. So few heard. As history unfurled He’d found that intimacy in one in a thousand, in Seths family line, Enoch, Noah… and now, with this one man.  

Abram. 

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

Go… leave behind all you have ever known, all your familiar places, family faces and cultural connections. Leave everything behind that tells you who you are and follow me to the edge of the unknown. Go from your country. Go to the land I lead you to when I lead you to My heart, lead you to know Me, lead you to know yourself through My eyes, lead you to a re-imagined future lived in partnership with Me.

This was no small ask. God was calling Abraham to give up the three things that gave ancient people their identity, their security and their sense of who they were in the world: land, family networks and inheritance1. Early hearers of this story would have gasped and drawn back in alarm. Abram didn’t. 

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him” Genesis 12:4

YHWH Jesus God

Adam and Eve had not trusted and obeyed God’s voice (Genesis 3:6), Cain had rebelled against God’s counsel, ignoring His voice, unleashing violence (Genesis 4:6), Babel hadn’t sought to hear God’s voice at all (Genesis 11). Abram was different. 

The great lineage of faith recorded in the book of Hebrews chapter eleven is a list of people knit together not by blood but by obedience to the voice of God. This lineage of people were ‘certain of what they could not see and sure of what they hoped for’ (Hebrews 11:1) not because they were out of touch with reality but because they were in touch with God’s voice and the reality He speaks into being. They lived by faith in God.

“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.” Hebrews 11:8-9

Abram gave God his obedience and God gave Abram His word, His word in the form of a promise to bless. 

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you” Genesis 2:2a

Here, right at the beginning of Abram’s story God makes the first of a string of promises, promises that will be scattered throughout a life like breadcrumbs to follow, leading Abram straight to God’s heart.

Abram steps out with no final destination in view, no map, no back up plan, no insurance policy, no assurance beyond God’s word. He lived and made his home in God’s promise alone. He left the place where he comfortably belonged to become a stranger in a strange land. God’s land. Abram entered a whole new life in partnership with God, founded only on God’s word. God’s word that was heaven-bent on the building of a whole new world. God didn’t just call Abram to join Him on a journey, He called Him into a mission, a story. The building of something eternal. Abram trusted and followed…

‘… For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ Hebrews 11:10

And what does this city with eternal Foundations look like? What does God’s outpost of heaven on earth look like? 

Different. 

Different to every other nation surrounding Abram at that time. Different to Ur of the Chaldeans and Haran which God had called him out of. Different to Egypt where God would not let Abram settle (Genesis 12:10).

God called Abram out of a comfortable existence, out of wealthy lands, rich with resource for fuelling big visions, out of lands where multiple empires such as Assyria, Persia and Babylon would spring from2 . God called Abram out of the land of mighty empires, into a land where he would be a nomad all the days of his life; into a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ enough to provide for a small nation, but not enough to become a mighty empire; into a land with a topography that would form people into smaller connected communities3. 

God called Abram into a land where dependance on Him was threaded into the landscape, faith in Him woven into the natural cycles, and love for Him stitched into the ecosystems4 , just as God, through Moses, made clear to Abram’s descendants…

“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. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your corn, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.” Deuteronomy 11:10-15

The land of promise was the promise of God’s presence with them.

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This land would not support a world dominating empire. God had intentionally called Abram away from lands where empires would flourish. God’s promise to Abram to make Him into a great nation was not a promise to make Him into a great empire. If Abram ever thought this he had much still to learn about the heart of YHWH. God’s definition of a ‘great nation’ is very different to human definitions. And this becomes clear as God further explains His blessing, 

“I will make you into a great nation,

    and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

    and you will be a blessing.

 I will bless those who bless you,

    and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

    will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12: 2-3

The last mention of blessing in the Bible was when Noah left the ark and God re-established His blessing with Him, the blessing He first gave humankind at the beginning of all things. And this blessing God gives Abram, like the re-blessing of Noah as the new Adam, has similar themes and overtones to the blessing of Genesis one.

God is faithful to all His intentions for humankind and His intention right from the beginning of all things has always been to bless us. He wants us to be fully alive, fully flourishing in our Imago Dei humanity. 

We can’t bless ourselves, we can run ourselves ragged with ambition and drivenness, but true blessing, the empowering anointing of God’s favour and grace, can only be given by God Himself. The people of Babel tried the whole ambition-driven-self-blessing thing. But they had not chosen to put themselves in the lineage of faith which ‘called on the name of the lord’, instead they attempted ‘to make a name for themselves’. They were building a tower to heaven in order to ‘make their names great’, and to avoid the thing they feared most: being scattered over the earth (Genesis 11:4).

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The story of Babel in the Bible is found in chapter eleven. The story of Abram is found in chapter twelve. Abram’s story is the antithesis of the story of the people of Babel. 

Abram  didn’t need to build a tower to reach up to Heaven. Heaven came down and reached out to him. Heaven came down and called Abram to ‘‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household…” (Genesis 12:1). The people of Babel had feared this being scattered ‘over the earth’ but God commands Abram to do just this, to leave his home and all his networks and enter into a nomadic life with Him. 

When we step out into the unknown with God, it is less of a scattering and more of an awakening to our true selves. The people of Babel feared this letting go and scattering because they weren’t with God in it, they weren’t calling on His name. They only had themselves, and the fear that they weren’t enough. 

The very thing Babel feared is the first thing Abram obeys and trusts God in, and then the very thing they desired (to make a name for themselves), was among the first things God promises Abram.

‘I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.’ Genesis 12:2

And don’t we all crave this sometimes? To have a name that is great and to live for something greater than ourselves? Are these desires not simply echoes of our true identity and calling as children formed in the image of God?  We are created in the image of the almighty God who is the creator and sustainer of this whole expanding Universe. We are significant. To Him. 

Though our desire for significance and to have a ‘name that is great’ may come from an authentic Imago Dei place, the thousand ways we humans reach for them when we do not reach first for God becomes the gangrene rot of our souls. All our skewed definitions of greatness, all our insular striving and self absorbed monument building only bleeds us out empty. But the true desire of our hearts, the wholeness and fulfilment we crave under all our broken reaching is the very thing God plans for us and provides for us when we join Him in our journey through life. 

God had come down to Babel, but the name they were trying to forge for themselves was all about them, there was no room in their ambition driven hearts either for God or for their true Imago Dei Humanity.

The great distinction of a life forged by selfish ambition, insular grasping and independence from God is that it ultimately only benefits the one grasping for it. It’s all about us. 

God promises to fulfil the very thing for Abram that the people of Babel had craved: to make a name for him, but God’s blessings are never just about us. God is a giving God, and He knows our lives are only fulfilled in generous givenness also. When God works in our lives to restore in us the Imago Dei calling and blessing that He first gave as an inheritance to all humankind, this blessing becomes not just a gift in our own lives, but also a gift we bring to the rest of the world. 

Abram, His blessing was not simply a reward for following God. Abram’s calling and blessing was not a dead end dam, a ponding stagnation, it was a river, a wild roaring river stretching out in all directions. And we today all still grow and flourish in the swirling waters of Abram’s blessing, the blessing he received and the blessing he became, the blessing his whole family line eventually became, all the way down to Jesus: God’s ultimate blessing for the whole human race.  

“I will make you into a great nation…    …and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12: 2-3

How were Abram and his descendants to bless this whole world? How were they to become a ‘great nation’ as God defines true greatness? 

God describes the shape of Abram’s gift to the world, the nature of the blessing his people will bring and the ‘greatness’ their nation will become several years later in a ‘so that’ statement describing God’s purposes for choosing Abram. 

‘Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” Genesis 18:16-20 (emphasise added)

Abram was called to be different. Through Abram God was establishing a renewed family line, a lineage of faith which didn’t just scramble over one another to make their own name great, but rather ‘called on the name of the lord’ and humbled themselves in obedience to receive greatness from His hand; greatness shaped like justice, greatness shaped like righteousness and greatness shaped like love (which cannot exist without justice and righteousness). Abram was called to become the earthly father of a family line that was blessed ‘so that’ they would become a living example of God’s intended storyline for all humanity ‘by doing what is right and just’ and in so doing become the river of God’s blessing for the whole world.

Abram’s promise of blessing from God is contingent on he and his family after him living fully into this calling to be different in the world, a people chosen to choose like God, to choose justice and righteousness over every other inclination in their hearts.

Justice and righteousness combined with love are the shape of this God’s heart.  It’s who He is. It’s who we were. Once. 

Jesus God

Justice is mentioned just over 120 times in the Bible, righteousness just over 200 times and justice and righteousness paired together are mentioned 32 times. These two threads woven together with love form a foundational picture of who God is and what is important to Him. In Scripture Justice and righteousness are described as…

  • Attributes of God (Job 37:23, Psalm 36:6, Isaiah 33:5, Isaiah 56:1, Jeremiah 9:24, Hosea 2:19, Psalm 11:7, Zephaniah 3:5, Psalm 50:6, Isaiah 32:16), 
  • The foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14, Psalm 97:2)
  • The calling of Kings (1 Kings 10:9, 2 Chronicles 9:8, psalm 72:1-2),
  • Something God loves (Psalm 33:5, Jeremiah 9:24, Psalm 11:7) 
  • Something God actively works for (Psalm 103:6, Job 37:23, Isaiah 1:27, Isaiah 51:5, Jeremiah 9:24, Zephaniah 3:5) 
  • Something God decries the lack of in Israel (Isaiah 1:21, Isaiah 5:7, Isaiah 59:9 and 14, Amos 5:7, Amos 5:21-24, Amos 6:12, Habakkuk 1:4, Isaiah 28:17)

…and the very things the Messiah will establish (Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 11:4, Isaiah 16:5, Isaiah 32:1)

Justice and righteousness are not just idle words to God, there’s no empty rhetoric from the mouth of YHWH. Justice and righteousness are who He is. Who He says He is, and who He wants us to be in Him. 

Justice and righteousness combined with loving kindness are how God defines true greatness.

“…but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord”.  Jeremiah 9:24

“Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

But how could a wandering nomad in a strange land become the vehicle of blessing, bringing God’s righteousness and justice to the whole world? What kind of plan is that? Wouldn’t Abram have had more opportunity, more resource, more networking opportunities, more might behind him to accomplish this task had he stayed in the lands of wealthy empires? Why did God call Abram out of the land of might and wealth into a land (apparently) of less? 

Because God’s intention for Abram to be a vehicle of blessing to all nations was built into the very geography of the land God was calling him into. The land God chose for Abram, for His chosen people (later called Israel) lacked the rich and readily available natural resource of the great empire producing lands that lay to the north and south of its borders in this region now call ‘the fertile crescent’. But one thing it did not lack was roads. All the major trade routes, the roads between these other lands, passed through this promised land. Ancient peoples would funnel through the land God called Abram’s people to inhabit like sand through the thinnest point of an hour glass. 

Abram’s descendants would, by virtue of their location, become visible to all the surrounding nations of the world. A light on a hill top. A lamp on a stand. A blessing to all nations as they role modelled a different way of life: the way of the Lord, the way of righteousness and justice. 

Moses, many years later will explain this to Abram’s descendants as they return (as God promised) to inhabit the land God gave Abram…

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (emphasise added)

‘..this great nation..’, ‘What other nation is so great..’ ‘what other nation is so great..’ Three times here Moses invokes God’s ‘great nation’ promise to Abram. But how are they great? What is the nature of true greatness in God’s eyes? What were they to be role-modelling ‘to the nations’?

Firstly…. 

“What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? “ 4:7

an intimate walk with God, remaining in a family line who ‘call on the name of the Lord’ and experience the close presence of God with them.

“And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”4:8

…living life with God His way. Listening to His voice, living in obedience to Him and His way of righteousness and justice on earth. 

God didn’t just call Abram (and his family line) to join Him on a journey, He called them into a mission, a story, the building of something eternal. Abram was called by God to partner with Him to establish His way of doing things on earth. Not to establish a monumental tower or a mighty empire, but to establish ‘a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God’, a people formed to influence every other nation on earth with the light of God’s righteousness, justice and love. God’s definition of true greatness. 

And we are now invited, called and blessed to join God on the same adventure Abram was called into, this adventure of a life lived in partnership with God, a life built on the foundation of God’s word. God’s word that is heaven-bent on the building of a whole new world. 

A world built on eternal foundations. 

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Journey Further

“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.” 

Hebrews 11:8-10

What foundations have you constructed your life on? How would you describe them?

What in your life would hold you back, or make you think twice, if God called you to leave everything and follow Him into the unknown?

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References Notes and Credits 

1 Notes on Genesis 12, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Zondervan 2016

2 Cyndi Parker ‘Encountering Jesus in the real world of the gospels’ 2021 Hendrickson Publishers

3 page 33-34 Cyndi Parker ‘Encountering Jesus in the real world of the gospels’ 2021 Hendrickson Publishers

4page 33-34 Cyndi Parker ‘Encountering Jesus in the real world of the gospels’ 2021 Hendrickson Publishers

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