"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." Hebrews 11:8-10
You will find that Abraham is mentioned twice in Hebrews 11. First for his faith when he picks up and moves to the land God shows him; and then again when he offers up Isaac as a sacrifice. Since the expression of Abraham’s faith is so different in each of those moments, we’re going to take a few days to unpack it.
What is interesting about the story that unfolds in the time between Noah and Abraham—or Abram as he begins—is that you have Babel right in the middle of it. Most of us know the story: at one time everyone spoke the same language, in total human fashion and arrogance they take the unity too far, God intervenes, and now we are scattered speaking multiple languages. This is a very elementary retelling of the story. It’s also a repeat in a cycle that happens over and over in the Old Testament.
However, it’s God’s response to the city that always seems off. Why would he not want the people united? Why would he deliberately divide us? Recently, it occurred to me that he handled the Garden in the same way. After Adam and Eve are cast out and he covers them with animal skin, he hides the garden, because, “Man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:22). God looks over the city the people are building and says, “Look, the people are united and they speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them” (Gen 11:6, NLT).
Our immature brains might say God is limiting us because he’s insecure and jealous and divisive. But if we look at the whole picture, in both instances, God indicates with great concern man's likeness to him. If man lives forever by eating from the tree of life, how will we ever walk with him again? If the people are united and nothing is impossible for them, when will they ever need or know him again? How will they be saved? God is not insecure, he knows what he’s doing. And God is not jealous of us but for us, which is very different. And if God were divisive, why then would Jesus call us to bring the Gospel to “every, nation, tribe, and tongue?”
I only bring up Babel, because first, this was the era Abram grew up in. He grew up in a culture that valued their own strength and innovation over anything else. His family’s business was in a society that made gods out of everything, but the One true God. The other reason for bringing up Babel is found in Hebrews 11. Verse 10 says, “For he was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” That is the exact opposite of what Babel was.
So, open up your Bible and read Genesis 12:1-9, 13:14-18, and 15.
In Genesis 12, what is Abram’s response to God? What does Abram do at each stop?
To whom does God promise to give land? What does Abram continue to live in?
So far, what has been the expression (what you can see, evidence) of Abram’s faith?
What was the content of his hope?
What did he have to endure by faith? What honor did he receive?
While the people of Babel feared to be dispersed over the face of the earth, Abram went in faith, not knowing where he was going. While the people built for themselves a city, time after time, Abram built an altar. While the people of Babel attempted to make a name for themselves, God declared to Abram that he would bless him and make his name great. As the people aimed to make a home for themselves apart from the Lord, Abram grew aware at every stop that his home would never be here and thus set his sights on a city with a sure foundation, whose designer and builder is God. This hope affected the way he lived here, embracing his purpose to witness to the world the way God intends to relate to man. Abram’s name would be great, not for the purpose of securing glory, but for the recognition of God’s presence upon this man who walked by faith, even amidst unknown, challenge, and delay.