Contours of FaithRelated Media
George Muller was a man of great faith and the founder of Great Britain’s orphanage ministry. Let me tell you a little bit about him.
An 1825 graduate of the University of Halle, Muller was more interested in women, drinking, and worldly pleasures as a university student than he was in his studies. His interest in Christianity was almost nonexistent. But God was working in Muller’s life and be began to ponder the faith promises of Jesus in the Gospels. “Did Jesus really mean what he said about ‘asking’?” Muller wondered.
Sitting in his room one day looking out over the town to the sea beyond, Muller thought about people he knew who were afraid of life or afraid to launch out on some daring, life-changing vocation.
As he thought about the faith-promises of Jesus and people whose lives were empty and drab, he saw walking on the cobblestone sidewalk below two little orphan girls who had no one to care for them. Their father had gone down with his ship in the Magellan Straits and only two weeks before their mother had died of tuberculosis. Knowing the girls, Muller was aware that the eleven and thirteen year old girls had three younger brothers and sisters at home for whom they were trying to care. “What will happen to them?” Muller questioned.
Muller turned to an open Bible laying on the table beside him. Suddenly from the Scriptures, God spoke to Muller: “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). Bowing his head, Muller said he was opening his mouth to ask for divine guidance and he made the promise to do what the Lord wanted him to do.
In 1830 he married Mary Groves and they determined to part with all their worldly goods and depend on God alone for support. They gave away their possessions not telling a soul why they were doing it.
Muller opened his first orphan’s home on April 21, 1836, in a rented building. Within days, they had forty-three children for whom to care. Among the commitments Muller and his fellow workers made to God were these: They would never solicit funds, never incur debts, and their financial accounts would be audited annually.
Continuing to pray for God’s blessing and depending on him to supply those blessings, Muller’s work grew in leaps and bounds. Starting out with forty-three children in a rented building, they eventually had five new buildings, 110 coworkers and 2,050 orphans.
Before Muller opened his first rented building to orphans he told his Heavenly Father that the experiment would be counted a failure if a child went a day without food in the orphanage.
God blessed remarkably. The children were not taken care of minimally, but had maximum provisions: three pairs of shoes each; three suits for each boy; and five dresses for each girl. In addition, the tables were always covered with white tablecloths for the evening meals and flowers were on the tables when in season.
For more than sixty years, as George Muller recorded in his “journals,” God miraculously blessed George and May’s faith. It was such a testimony to God’s willingness to provide for his people that when Muller was seventy he began to travel, sharing God’s blessings on the ministry with believers in forty-two countries.
George Muller’s life is an undeniable testimony to the blessing of faith and faith that leads to blessing.1 He is literally a modern day model of saints from bygone eras as well as those found in Scripture. He was a man—rare for his time—who actively trusted God each day. In fact, many refer to him as “the man of faith.”
But where did George Muller’s faith come from? How can we develop such great faith? Perhaps Muller possessed the particular gift of faith (1 Cor 12:9), but nonetheless, all of us need to grow in faith. Certainly his faith arose out of need, but what gave it its daring shape? Undoubtedly his faith began and was nurtured through much prayer and through many experiences, but the ultimate shape of his faith undoubtedly arose out of his meditation on Scripture.
It is in Scripture that we too find our foundations and models for faith. It is in Scripture that we see what faith ought to look like and what unbelief looks like. This is true because it is in Scripture that we get the clearest understanding of the object of our faith, namely, God himself. Thus it is to Scripture that we now turn. Paul said in reference to the OT that “whatever was written in former times was written for our instruction so that through the endurance and encouragement of Scripture we might have hope” (Rom 15:4). So we turn to the Scriptures to look briefly at a segment in the life of Abraham—a man of unusual faith. Let us fill our minds and hearts with his story that it might become our story too. Let us allow his faith to critique our unbelief, motivate us to committed faith, and to shape our world.
Particularly we are going to look at Genesis 11:27-12:9. The text reads as follows:
11:27 This is the account of Terah.
Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 11:28 While Terah his father was alive, Haran died in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 11:29 And Abram and Nahor took for themselves wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai. And the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. 11:30 Sarai was barren; she had no children. 11:31 Terah took Abram his son, and Lot his grandson, the son of Haran, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, the wife of Abram his son, and with them he went out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. When they came to Haran, they settled there. 11:32 And the lifetime of Terah was 205 years; and he died in Haran.
12:1 c 12:2 and I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, in order that you might be a blessing; 12:3 and I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
12:4 So Abram left, just as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 12:5 And Abram took Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his nephew, and all the possessions that they had acquired, and the people they had gathered in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. And they entered the land of Canaan.
12:6 Abram crossed over into the land as far as the place of the oak tree of Moreh at Shechem. Now the Canaanite at that time was in the land. 12:7 But the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your seed I will give this land.” And so Abram built there an altar to the LORD who appeared to him.
12:8 Then he moved from there to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD, and made proclamation in the name of the LORD. 12:9 And so Abram continually journeyed by stages down to the Negev.—NET Bible
Let’s begin by looking at 12:1 and let’s try to understand it first in its own context in the book of Genesis. These amazing promises given to Abram and his seed in Genesis 12:1-3ff do not come out of a vacuum in the text nor should we be totally surprised when we read them. Why is this so? Because we have been marginally prepared for this new development. Indeed we have been tipped off, as it were, in many ways, two of which will now be pointed out. They are both found in 11:27, which is really where this section, namely 11:27-12:9, begins—not in 12:1.2
We have already been somewhat prepared for the great movement in chapter 12:1-9 by what has come earlier in 11:27-32. Two facts in particular are worth mentioning: (1) the mention of the formula: “this is the account” in 11:27. Where have we seen this “formula” before and what does it signify? Well, we see the same thing several times throughout Genesis, the last major occurrence being in 6:8 in reference to Noah, where God began a new thing in Noah and his sons. This is one hint that what is coming in 11:27 and following—concerning the life of Abram—will be something new on a grand scale. But there is also a second reason; (2) the mention of Terah having three named sons (cf. 11:27) alerts us to a previous pattern. Adam and Noah both had three named sons and both of them obviously point out high water marks in God’s dealings with people. So here in 11:27 and 12:1 we are not totally surprised when God calls Abram and embarks on a new path in the fulfillment of his promises and plan of redemption.
Now we need to see from the text how Abram’s faith gave rise to his obedience. Genesis 12:1 says Now the LORD had said to Abram, “Go out from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s household, to the land that I will show you….” Though faith is not explicitly mentioned in this verse, it is implied, and it is the reason for Abram’s obedience. The term “go” is literally “go by yourself” and can emphasize loneliness, isolation; ideas of parting and seclusion are often implied. The subject is finding himself and establishing his own identity. He needs to find his own place by disassociating himself from the familiar and the group (Gen 21:16; 22:2; Exod 18:27; Song 2:10, 13; 4:6).3 It is used in Genesis 22:2 when God told Abram to sacrifice his son, that is, to get up in the morning and go by himself and take his son to a place that He would show him.
The Genesis 12:1 text emphasizes the solitude of Abraham that although he took his wife and nephew and the people they had acquired in Haran, Abraham was really leaving his country, relatives and immediate family behind. The inward movement of the concentric circles, country—relatives—father’s household—highlights the radical nature and cost of obedience. Abram’s faith in YHWH gave rise to a radical obedience.
Abram had originally come from Ur of the Chaldees which was located in southern Iraq and was a thriving Sumerian city before and during the times of Abram. Education was well developed and students learned to read, write, and do some arithmetic. Commerce was at a high point due in part to the shipping industry. Ships carrying gold, copper ore, ivory and various wooden products came into Ur through the Persian Gulf. The people of Mesopotamia, and therefore Ur, were very religious. Indeed, the people of Ur worshipped the moon god, Nanna, in a ziggurt (i.e., a large temple structure) they had constructed. Idols were also found in the walls of most houses.
Thus Abraham’s background was as an idolater, but here he was following the command of YHWH to leave Haran and go to a land he had never seen before. He responded to the call of God—who is always the initiator—by faith and left, though there was no visible certainty of his future. In fact everything in his circumstances seem to mitigate against going to Canaan.
Ben Patterson in Writing, recounts a story about mountain climbing:
In 1988, three friends and I climbed Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. Our base camp was less than 2,000 feet from the peak, but the climb to the top and back was to take the better part of a day, due in large part to the difficulty of the glacier we had to cross to get to the top. The morning of the climb we started out chattering and cracking jokes.
As the hours passed, the two more experienced mountaineers opened up a wide gap between me and my kess-experienced companion. Being competitive by nature, I began to look for shortcuts to beat them to the top. I thought I saw one to the right of the outcropping of rock—so I went, deaf to the protests of my companion.
Perhaps it was the effect of the high altitude, but the significance of the two experienced climbers not taking this path did not register in my consciousness. It should have, for thirty minutes later I was trapped in a cul-de-sac of rock atop the Lyell Glacier., looking down several hundred feet of a sheer slope of ice, pitched at about a forty-five degree angle…I was only about ten feet from the safety of a rock, but one little slip and I wouldn’t stop sliding until I landed in the valley floor some fifty miles away! It was nearly noon, and the warm sun had the glacier glistening with slippery ice. I was stuck and I was scared.
It took an hour for my experienced climbing friends to find me. Standing on the rock I wanted to reach, one of them leaned out and used an ice ac to chip two little footsteps in the glacier. Then he gave me the following instructions: “Ben, you must step out from where you are and put your foot where the first foothold is. When your foot touches it, without a moment’s hesitation swing your other foot across and land it on the next step. When you do that, reach out and I will take your hand and pull you to safety.
That sounded real good to me. It was the next thing he said that made me more frightened than ever. “But listen carefully: As you step across, do not lean into the mountain! If anything, lean out a bit. Otherwise, your feet may fly out from under you, and will start sliding down.”
I don’t like precipices. When I am on the edge of a cliff, my instinct is to lie down and hug the mountain, to become one with it, not to lean away from it! But that was what my good friend was telling me to do. For a moment, based solely on what I believed to be the good will and good sense of my friend, I decided to say no to what I felt and, to stifle my impulse to cling to the security of the mountain, to lean out, step out, and traverse the ice to safety. It took less than two seconds to find out if faith was well founded!
Don’t you think that’s what Abraham felt like? Isn’t that what we feel like when God tells us to do something that seems to go against all that feels natural? I’m sure there was a good part of Abraham that would have just liked to stay in Haran or perhaps move back to the home he knew in Ur, where he married his wife and where all the family could be together. But like Ben Patterson, he listened to another voice, to the voice of the Lord, and he leaned out…he went against all that to him felt natural…and he trusted God. Are you willing to do the same? When everything screams in you against it, do you still seek to share your faith with that person sitting next to you? Are you willing to leave your job for the uncertainties of a higher calling? Faith gives rise to radical obedience. Abraham made the choice to trust God and God blessed him exceedingly. Look at vv. 2-3.
Abram trusted in YHWH and YHWH responded. Abram came with a mountain of faith, but YHWH responded with a universe of blessing! The text of vv. 2-3 focuses on promises and blessings. Promises and blessings were given to Abram because he put God first and by faith obeyed (Matt 6:33). He left Haran and started out for Canaan. Let’s look at these promises in vv. 2-3 more closely. There are two aspects to these promises that must be seen: blessings and curses.
First the blessings: The blessing promised Abram is both personal and national, as well as international in scope and focus. Verse 3 says that “all peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” Isn’t it just like our God to determine to bless us? Isn’t it interesting that when he chooses Abram, an idolater, he moves toward him in order to bless him, and not only him, but the entire planet? Five times in vv. 2-3 the term “blessing” is used. God wants to bless his people. In fact, if you remember, this goes right back to creation where God blessed Adam and Eve (1:28) and then later that original blessing was repeated in 5:2. God also blessed Noah and restated the mandate in creation, namely, that man rule (9:1-2). God’s plan is to bless the world.
Indeed, the idea of blessing is used more in Genesis than in any other book: 88 times, compared to a total of 310 in the rest of the Old Testament. The term “blessing,” barak in Hebrew, includes God’s gracious provisions of personal well-being, long life, wealth, peace, abundance of food and crops, children, and personal knowledge of himself and his ways.
Yes, God’s plan is to bless the world. But, not everyone in the world wants his blessing, nor the way he has chosen to carry it out. There will be people who will curse or level insults and accusations against Abram and in so doing bring a judicial curse from God on their heads. They will be cut off from the hope of blessing.
The promise here in Genesis 12:1-3 shapes the lives of patriarchs as narrated throughout Genesis and can be seen to shape the entire Old Testament. The great name promised Abram is developed in God’s promise to David (as Abram’s seed) in 2 Samuel 7:8-16 and the particular means by which universal blessing was to come to the world is developed in the new covenant in Jeremiah 31. But the most significant fact about Abram—and indeed the most significant fact period—was that Abram knew God. He had come to personally know the Lord. He was learning to trust in him as his all in all. Just “Him.”
In The Cure for a Troubled Heart, author and pastor Ron Mehl writes:
I heard once about a dear, saintly old woman who was gradually losing her memory. Details began to blur…. Throughout her life, however, this woman had cherished and depended on the Word of God, committing to memory many verses from her worn King James Bible.
Her favorite verse had always been 2 Timothy 1:12: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
She was finally confined to bed in a nursing home, and her family knew that she would never leave alive. As they visited with her, she would still quote verses of Scripture on occasion—especially 2 Timothy 1:12. But with the passing of time, even parts of this well loved verse began to slip away.
“I know whom I have believed,” she would say. “He is able to keep…what I have committed…to him.”
Her voice grew weaker. And her voice became even shorter. “What I have committed…to him.”
As she was dying, her voice became so faint family members had to bend over to the few whispered words on her lips. And at the end, there was only one word of her life verse left.
She whispered it again and again as she stood on the threshold of heaven. “Him…Him…Him.”
It was all that was left. It was all that was needed.
My friends, there is the blessing of Abraham. To know God personally. Personal knowledge of my Savior, the One who loves me with an unquenchable love, this is the ultimate goal of the promise of blessing through Abram. The One who has spoken into my darkness and made himself known to me, He is what life is all about. “He” was enough for Abram and “He” is enough for me. To know him is to enjoy eternal life, both now and in eternity (John 17:3).
Paul makes this point abundantly clear in Galatians. He argues that if you are a Christian, you participate in the blessing given to Abram; Abraham’s story has become your story, his God, your God, his blessings, your blessings, and indeed more in Christ Jesus. In Galatians 3:29 Paul says: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abram’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” As we live in Christ and obey him we enjoy tremendous blessings including personal knowledge of God, help in trials, answered prayer, and, according to the mercy of God, many physical blessings as well.
We might even add another point in keeping with the universal blessing outlined in the Abrahamic promise of Genesis 12:2-3. We now, as heirs of that promise, and followers of Christ, become to the world what Abram was—a proclaimer of the one true God and repentance and belief in him. Our commission to make disciples of all nations has its origin in the Abrahamic promise which itself is inextricably rooted in the creation mandate to bless the world (cf. Matthew 1:1; 28:19, 20). Those who reject God’s blessing in Christ, the greatest son of Abram, will experience the curse of ultimate separation from the Lord (2 Thess 1:8-9). Let us then move out into the world with the light of love and the gospel of Christ. We have been blessed. Let us seek to bless (Matt 5:16; 2 Cor 1:3-4).
So faith in God brought Abram into the realm of God’s blessing. But a faith that has never been tested is not as genuine and mature a faith as it otherwise could be. It’s still an infant faith.
Abram demonstrated phenomenal faith in light of God’s call and was thoroughly blessed for it. So it is with us as well when we trust in Christ. But that does not mean that everything in our lives will run smoothly, so to speak. Quite the opposite actually. Let’s look at vv. 4-6.
There are many things to discuss in these verses, but I would like to point out a few that demonstrate that Abram’s faith was real and that it was developed in the laboratory of life. God was in the process of deepening the good work he had begun (Phil 1:6).
First, note that the text says in v. 4 that Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Two important facts emerge from this: (1) Though he lived to 175 years old, Abram was no spring chicken when he decided to follow the Lord to Canaan. Age is no hindrance to faith and taking bold steps for the Lord. In fact, it was through the problem of age that God showed himself to Abram and Sarai as the God of the impossible; (2) Abram’s father was not yet dead, in fact he was only 145 years old, sixty years before his death. Therefore, Abram really did pay the cost to follow the Lord. He left his own family to pursue the call of God on his life. Jim Elliot once said: “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose!”
But that’s not all. Look at v. 5. The text says that Abram took his wife Sarai with him. Now the struggle comes to the forefront. In 11:30 the text goes out of its way to point out that Sarai was barren, that she didn’t even have a single child. Then, in 12:2, God says he’s going to make a great nation out of Abram. Well, its obvious that it won’t be through Sarai. She’s barren. So it must be through someone else. But here in 12:5 we find out that there isn’t a “someone else.” We find out that Abram took his wife Sarai. In spite of the obvious tensions, Abram must have believed God’s promise. Though Sarai struggled deeply with her bareness later and Abraham sought to fulfill the promise through Hagar, God did fulfill his promise for Sarai to have a son. But their faith was developed through suffering through this.
Sometimes we forget what childlessness meant in the ancient Near East. It involved shame, social ridicule, and implied that the woman/couple were not in the favor of the gods. Why then should they trust YHWH when he makes “high-flutin’” promises about a nation; they don’t even have a single child. Sometimes some of our greatest struggles believing God and his good promises center in one way or another around our kids.
Author Marshall Shelley, who suffered the deaths of two of his children, writes in Leadership journal:
Even as a child, I loved to read, and I quickly learned that I would most likely be confused during the opening chapters of a novel. New characters were introduced. Disparate, seemingly random events took place. Subplots were complicated and didn’t seem to make sense in relation to the main plot.
But I learned to keep reading. Why? Because you know that the author, if he or she is good, will weave them all together by the end of the book. Eventually, each element will be meaningful. At times such faith has to be a conscious choice.
Even when I can’t explain why a chromosomal abnormality develops in my son, which prevents him from living on earth more than two minutes…Even when I can’t fathom why our daughter has to endure two years of severe and profound retardation and continual seizures ….
I choose to trust that before the book closes, the Author will make things clear.4
So it was with Abram and Sarai. Certainly they made mistakes along the way, but overall they trusted the God who loves to do the impossible. What are you trusting God for that only he can do? In order for faith to grow it must see beyond the obstacles and pain to the God of our circumstances.
And there’s yet another thing, even more serious to the life and faith of Abram and his wife, that is, more serious in an insidious way. Look at v. 6. The text says that Abram traveled through the land as far as the great tree of Moreh and that the Canaanites were living in the land at that time. These are two very significant facts in light of God’s promise to the patriarch that he would possess the land. Somehow the Canaanites would have to be driven out, but that is not the primary concern of the text right now. The primary concern of the text right now is to show that Abram’s growing faith in Yahweh was going to be tested. But both the inevitable loss experienced after leaving his home in Haran, and the bitter sorrow at the thought of being ultimately barren and having no son (cf. Gen 15:1-2) were trials from within the house of blessing. The Canaanites, however, pose a serious struggle from without, upon the house of blessing. They threatened an even quicker extinction to the line of Abram and faith in YHWH. Don’t you just love it when the Lord corners you, and you have to trust?
The Hebrew term Moreh means “teacher” and may indicate an ancient shrine or a place where oracles were declared by Canaanite priests. Hosea 4:13 talks about the use of a terebinth tree for idol worship. Thus, living among idolatrous people—people steeped in genuine unbelief—was going to test Abram’s faith. He himself was steeped in idolatry and the tendency to lapse into pagan religion would remain a very real and present danger to him and his family. And, as we know from the book of Joshua and several other places in the OT, the Canaanites would prove a formidable enemy for the Hebrews to drive out of the land.
The question is, “Will Abram hold up, or fold up?” What would you do? Are you responsibly in the world as God’s minister, or is the world in you?” Faith is not just believing God for great things and responding to his promises, it also involves a commitment to live as he desires in light of the circumstances he permits in our lives. Faith builds character.
Rosa Parks, mother of the civil rights movement, was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Boycotts and protests followed, and eventually the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation unconstitutional. In Quiet Strength she writes:
I have learned over the years that knowing what must be done does away with fear. When I sat down on the bus that day, I had no idea history was being made—I was only thinking of getting home. But I had made up my mind. After so many years of being a victim of the mistreatment my people suffered, not giving up my seat—and whatever I had to face afterwards—was not important. I did not feel any fear sitting there. I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up—or in my case, sit down. So I refused to move.5
What tremendous faith and conviction of character. Rosa Parks knew what was right and by faith she never backed down from carrying it out. So also Abram. He knew that God had called him to go to this new land, even though he didn’t know where he was going. His faith gave him the courage and determination to live for God in a pagan land. By faith he overcame the struggles and trials of leaving family, the bareness of his wife, and the hostilities of living in a foreign land. By faith he gained an exemplary character and did not succumb to the unbelievers around him.. His life matched his words, so to speak (cf. Heb 11:8-12). Does ours?
The key to growing a strong faith in the midst of trials is hearing and listening to the voice of the Lord, experiencing the presence of the One who made the promises. So God, knowing we are but dust, and among those who consistently need encouragement, appears to Abram—the one who is a stranger in a foreign land, with a foreign language, customs, faith, and way of life—and reaffirms to him the promise of offspring and ownership of the land. While God speaks to us primarily through the Scripture as the indwelling Spirit marries the very words thereof to our hearts, God appeared to Abram and spoke to him. In the midst of trials, nothing is more assuring and nothing is more clear, than the voice, yes the very presence, of our heavenly father.
In the first part of this century, Sir Ernest Shackleford began his voyage to the Antarctic. It was his dream to cross the twenty-one hundred miles of wasteland by dogsled. He didn’t make it that far, however. On the way his ship was stopped by an ice pack and sank. He and his men had to trudge over drifting ice floes trying to reach the nearest land, nearly two-hundred miles away, and the nearest human outpost nearly twelve-hundred miles away. They towed behind them a lifeboat weighing nearly one ton. When they finally reached waters clear enough of ice to navigate, they faced waves as high as ninety feet. Finally they reached south Georgia island, only to find that it had never been crossed before. When they finally reached their destination almost seven months after they had began the journey, they were so bedraggled their friends did not recognize them. To a man, however, those who had completed the journey reported that they felt the presence of One unseen to guide them on their perilous track. Somehow they knew that they were not alone.
As we make our way through life, strangers in a foreign country as it were (1 Pet 2:11), we need to know the presence of the One who will carry us safely to our appointed destination. We need to hear the voice of God in His word and prayer. So God appeared to Abram and restated the essential promise to him: “to your offspring I will give this land.” This, we know from Genesis 15:1ff was the besetting question uppermost in Abram’s mind.
So God comes to us in our time of need and encourages us with his voice: “So do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa 41:10). What a breath of fresh air!
A faith that is biblical, a faith like Abram’s, gives rise to radical obedience, hopes in the fulfillment of God’s promises of blessings, and grows through trials. But it also continues to proclaim God’s ways in the world, as vv. 7b-9 point out.
Abram’s response in v. 7b to God’s appearing and His reassuring word in 7a was to worship. The text says that God appeared to Abraham and said…so Abram built an altar there to YHWH who had appeared to him.” Though the passage does not explicitly say that he sacrificed, we can be sure from Noah’s example in chapter 9—as well as Abraham’s in 22:13—that Abram offered sacrifice to the Lord.
Worship is the first and foremost response to the voice of God. Obedience, and the proclamation of God’s grace and greatness inexorably follows like the rainbow after spring showers.
Thus worship has consequences. Verse 8 says that Abraham pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai which probably indicates that he stayed there for some time. And, during his time there, he continued to worship by building an altar. But then notice that the text also says that Abram called on the name of the Lord. This phrase “called on the name of the Lord” is used in Genesis 4:26; 13:4; 21:33; 26:25, etc. It means much more than simple worship. It carries the idea of proclaiming the name of the Lord (cf. Zeph 3:9). Isn’t it interesting that God promised Abram to make his name great and here Abram is making the Lord’s name great in Canaan? In the midst of a foreign and thoroughly pagan land Abram erected an altar and there proclaimed the name of the Lord. What amazing faith! He truly shone like a star in the universe by holding out the word of life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (cf. Phil 2:16).
In contrast to Abram who attempted to make a name for YHWH, the Shinarites of Genesis 11 tried to make a name for themselves.6 They tried to make a name for themselves and indeed they did, but it’s not the kind of name one would want for oneself! They are named among those who received the judgment of God (11:4). So much for our own agendas in God’s world. “Seek great things for yourself, seek them not!” Abram did not seek his own glorification, but the Lord’s, and so throughout Genesis and indeed throughout all of Scripture God highly exalted him (James 4:10; 1 Pet 5:5-6).
In Sports Spectrum Ken Walker tells how after a Monday night football game in 1990 several players did something for the first time that would later become a common sight. When the game ended between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants, eight players from both sides gathered in a huddle in the center of the field at the 40-yard line nearer to the scoreboard. There they bowed their knees for all to see and prayed together in the name of Jesus Christ.
The brief prayer meetings caught on and gained their highest visibility several years later with Reggie White and his 1997 Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. One Packer, Eugene Robinson, explains the purpose of the players coming together to bow their knees: “We don’t pray about who wins the game or any of that stuff. That’s not what it’s there for. We pray basically as an acknowledgment of who God is and that men will see that He exists.”
The players have taken heat for their public stand. An article in Sports Illustrated advised the players to pray in private, and the NFL made noises for awhile as though they would shut the practice down. But the players stood firm, some saying they were willing to be fined for the practice, and prayer huddles went on.7
Just like Abram these players were trying to make a name, as it were, for the Lord Jesus Christ, and not for themselves. They worshipped God through Jesus Christ and the proclamation of his existence and saving grace was the most natural thing in the world for them to do. Faith cannot help speaking about what it has seen and heard!
So then, how did George Muller’s faith take on such strong and daring characteristics? He allowed Scripture to shape his heart for and trust in God. He meditated on Scriptural examples of faith like Abram. Abram’s life of faith challenges us to respond with obedience to God’s call, to wait patiently for his blessing, to overcome trials, and to proclaim God’s way in a very, very fallen world.
1 This material has been taken from J. B. Fowler, Jr., Illustrating Great Words of the New Testament (Nashville, Broadman, 1991), 55-56. For more information on George Muller see Nancy Garton, George Müller and His Orphans (Worthing, West Sussex : Churchman, 1987); Roger Steer, George Müller, Delighted in God, rev. ed. (Wheaton, Il.: H. Shaw, 1981); Basil Miller, George Muller, Man of Faith and Miracles: A Biography of One of the Greatest Prayer-Warriors of the Past Century (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, , c1941); Roger Steer, George Müller, Delighted in God, rev. ed. (Wheaton, Il.: H. Shaw, 1981).
2 Genesis 11:27-12:9 forms one section in the narrative and should be understood in this way. It does, however, break down quite nicely into two sections, namely, 11:27-32 and 12:1-9, the former providing much historical background to certain assumptions about Abraham made in the latter.