“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.” Heb. 11:8
Two things, among others, always stand out in the life of every child of God. First, we must always believe, unconditionally, in God. We must believe in Him blindly, never questioning Him. And, secondly, this faith will always demand of us self-denial. We may never seek ourselves. Always we must deny ourselves, be willing and ready to follow Him.
How vividly this is exemplified in the life of Abraham! Indeed, this also applies to God’s people prior to Abraham, as recorded in Heb. 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah. But it is surely true of Abraham. Abraham was called by God to go to a country the Lord would show him. No promise was given him. He did not even know the way. And for this he must leave everything behind. And what did he get when he finally arrived? He dwelt in it as a sojourner, with Isaac and Jacob; he lived there and died there, never getting as much as a foot of ground in it. This is the life of the Christian in the midst of the world.
Abraham left all—for what?
We may read literally: “a place which he was destined, appointed by God to receive into an inheritance.”
For us, in the New Dispensation, an inheritance is something that is ours because of the death of the Testator, God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. All this God’s people in the Old Dispensation understood only typically and symbolically. Even so, for Abraham to receive it as an inheritance meant that it was not earned by Abraham, that it was given to him as something which God had willed to him.
What would he receive? On the one hand, the earthly Canaan is meant. To this land the Lord would presently lead him. This is plain from this text. This is also verified by what we read in Gen. 12:7 and Gen. 15:7. On the other hand, however, we read in Acts 7:5 that “He gave him none inheritance in it.” And in Heb. 11:9-10 we read that he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country. Indeed, Abraham would surely receive this earthly land of Canaan. But, he would receive it only in its heavenly reality and fulfillment. And Abraham knew this, inasmuch as he looked for the heavenly city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.
Abraham was called to leave all—how?
It is true that the Lord would bless Abraham, make a great nation of him, as great as the stars in the sky. Yet, of this nothing is said when the Lord calls him out of Ur of the Chaldees. All we read here is that the Lord calls him to a land that He would show him. Nothing is said of that land. Abraham obeyed,not knowing whither he went. He did not know where he was going; he did not even know the way. The land to which the Lord called him was some four hundred miles away, and the way would lead through trackless deserts. He would not know where he was going, from one day to the next. The Lord simply told him to “pack up and leave,” told him nothing of what awaited him. There is, therefore, really nothing to induce Abraham to obey this call, to induce him to leave his country, the family and community he undoubtedly had learned to love. We have no promise here. Everything here was indefinite, except one thing: the call. The call was very definite. Abraham knew that God had called him.
We ask: why such a call? We might ask: might not God, at least to some extent, have told Abraham something about the country to which he must travel? That it was about four hundred miles away, give him some idea of the way, and that after twenty-five years he would have a son? Would this not have made Abraham’s task, already difficult, a little easier? Why, then, was Abraham called this way? Because he must trust in the Lord and in His Word exclusively. Abraham’s obedience is a blind obedience. He knows nothing, either of the way or of the goal; but God knows it. That is quite enough. We must believe, exclusively, His Word.
This, of course, surely applies also to us. We have here a principle that was denied by man in Paradise. Adam was created God’s servant. The Lord was his Sovereign. Always he must reveal that God is God, that he, man, was called to love the Lord his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. And, as king under God, he was called to obey God, obey Him unconditionally. This obedience of Adam was now put to a test. The Lord forbade him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mind you, there was nothing wrong with the tree. The only issue ‘here was God’s command, God’s word, God’s right to tell him what to do and what not to do. He must ask no question, simply obey the Lord. And Adam fell. Yes, when he fell he made a very definite choice. He refused to permit the Lord to tell him what to do. He refused to submit to God unconditionally. He refused to obey simply because God had spoken it. God’s word was not enough for Adam to be obeyed.
And for us? To be sure, we know something. We know where we are going ultimately. The Lord has revealed to us certain things of the City that has foundations. But, we know nothing about the way. All we know is: where He leads me I must follow. All we know is that we must do His will, all things for the sake of His glory. All we know is that somehow all things work together for our good. Besides, is it not a good thing that we know not what lies before? Our sole calling is to obey God’s word: His will we must do, individually, collectively, everywhere and in all things. We must obey, blindly and unconditionally, never be motivated by practical or utilitarian considerations. This is the sole question: what will the Lord have me to do?
What an insurmountable difficulty for Abraham!
First, he must completely deny himself. He is called to leave all: his father’s house and kindred (Acts 7), his city and country that had become dear to him, all to which he had been tied and attracted in the midst of the world. Besides, he must go to a land completely strange to him. He knew nothing of the land, did not even know the way.
How tremendously difficult for him! He must pack up and leave everything. If we bear in mind that it was some four hundred years ago that the Lord had destroyed the world with a flood, that the world had surely fallen away from God, that, according to Joshua 24, also his immediate surroundings were filled with idolatry and superstition, so that the Name of the true God was not known among them anymore, we can easily imagine the reaction of Abraham’s call upon his community. The community undoubtedly considered him a fool. Asked by his neighbors whither he was going, he had to tell them that he did not know. Then, when asked in what direction he was going, he told them that he did not even know the way. Then they probably came to him with all kinds of objections. Is it not the height of folly to leave home and community and have not the faintest idea of where one is going? Perhaps Abraham’s neighbors tried to convince him that he had been the victim of hallucinations. Fact is, he must have told them that God had called him. So, perhaps he had had a dream, had merely dreamed things.
Nevertheless, Abraham persisted in his call. Indeed, Abraham had surely told his kindred and community that he was certain of only one thing: God had called him. And that was enough. The Word of the Lord meant everything to him.
And for us?
We understand the difficulty. Submitting to the Word of God may involve us in the loss of all things. Must we obey His Word only because it is His Word? Must we follow where He leads us and trust that all is well, even then when sickness and calamity and distress and death may be our lot? Must we follow Him to a glory beyond the grave, all because of His promise that He will save us to the uttermost? Must we do what He says, even when it involves us in personal disaster and we cannot possibly visualize any relief? And the answer is an emphatic YES.
Indeed, this is humanly impossible. It is impossible because we must completely deny ourselves. It is impossible because we must do all for God’s sake, and by nature we hate Him. Yet, whoever refuses to deny himself is not worthy of the Lord and is no disciple of Him.
We read: “By faith Abraham, when or while being called, obeyed.” So, his obedience was immediate. He obeyed this call of the Lord as soon as it came to him. However, this also means that God’s call itself was of such a nature that the father of believers obeyed. As the Lord called Abraham, He accompanied this call with His almighty Spirit and word, efficaciously enabling Abraham to obey it. This divine call to Abraham was, therefore, accompanied by the Lord’s own almighty, irresistible word.
Abraham obeyed by faith. And faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is surely that gift of divine grace, whereby we are united with the living God, live out of Him, put all our trust in Him, because His love has been shed abroad in our hearts; we are changed from the love of self to the love of God. Faith is confidence and trust, and confidence is an act of hope. Abraham believed in God, loved Him; and, believing God, God’s Word is enough; he did not care to disobey the Lord, and, trusting in God, even though he must deny himself completely, God is faithful and true, and Abraham knew that the God he loved and in whom he believed would never desert or leave him.
In this sense we, too, must believe in God. As He leads us we will follow. We will never question His guidance; we have learned, by grace, to deny ourselves and consider ourselves nothing; we will gladly forfeit and lose all that He may be glorified. Indeed, He will be glorified and finish His work in us whether we now see and understand it or not.
Where He leads me I will follow.
And then, only then, are we safe and secure, now and even forevermore. He will surely lead us into the heavenly Canaan, the city of our God, the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.