Faith in a Big God

Hebrews 11:17

“By faith Abraham, being tested, offered up Isaac…” This perhaps was the supreme test of his faith but by no means the only test. It would be easy to conclude that the purpose of the test was so God could find out what sort of stuff Abraham was made of. That is, until you remember that God is omniscient; he already knew the answer to that question. OK, next idea? So that Abraham could find out what sort of stuff his faith was made of?. Maybe, that might have been part of what Abraham was to get out of his experience.

More important than what Abraham learned about himself during this test as well as other previous circumstances was what he learned about God. Isn’t that the purpose of testing anyway? To increase the strength of our faith by increasing our understanding of and confidence in its object? In various ways at different times Abraham learned much about the bigness of his God, his immensity to use a technical term.

My God is bigger than I am,
Strongest of all;
He is able to make the summer turn into fall;
He controls all that happens,
His pow’r is plain to see;
And I know I can trust him,
For with his pow’r he cares for me.

A. Bigger than the unknown Gen. 12:1-6

Do you trust me enough

to leave:

country?
relatives?
ancestral home?

for an unknown destination?

no way of knowing

how far distant
if he would ever see home & family again
what sort of culture awaited him

to inspire faith and confidence

in your wife
in your nephew
in your servants

to take all your earthly possessions

with no reserves
with no “Plan B”

God required Abram to stake his own personal future as well as that of every one of his dependents on God and the simple promise he made to show Abram where to go. Abram had none of the “safety net” type resources we take for granted – credit cards, cell phones, unemployment insurance, friends with an extra couch.

Before Abram would make a move, he had to be convinced that this God who called him out of an idolatrous culture and family (Josh. 24:2) was bigger than all his unanswered questions, all his unknowns. Abram had to trust that God had a plan, had answers to the questions, and that the plan would be in Abram’s best interests. “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken” (Gen. 12:4) “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called…And he went out not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8)

B. Bigger than Geography Gen. 12:10-13

How about when it appears that God’s plan isn’t working? Or when it looks like the thing he promised is more of a liability than an asset? Welcome to the Promised Land, the land promised to Abram and his descendants, the land of no food.

Another test of Abram’s faith – God had brought him 1000 miles from home, long enough for the coolers to be empty, the sandwiches to be all gone.

The choices open to him:

eat his bank account – the livestock brought with them

which wouldn’t last long ’cause there wasn’t food for them either

go back home to the eastern tip of the Fertile Crescent

and abandon the inheritance God had promised him
and the faith he had placed in the God of the covenant

keep going to a place of food

Do you trust me for protection in Egypt?

Could God reach that far? Remember Abram and his ancestors had been idol-worshipers, worshiping local gods specific to a particular piece of geography. Egypt was far beyond the reach and influence of Abram’s ancestral gods. In fact, Egypt had its own pantheon of gods to worship distinct from both the Canaanite gods and the eastern Mesopotamian or Chaldean gods.

Abram had to come to terms with the concept that the God who had called him out of Ur had no geographical limitations. In fact, as he learned later, God was sovereign over both stars and sand (Gen. 15:5; 22:17), basically the whole universe. But God hadn’t revealed that clearly to Abram yet; he was still learning by experience just how big his God was.

That Abram continued on to Egypt rather than return to Haran or Ur indicates the focus of his faith – he was trusting God to provide for him, not relying on his own experience and wisdom. When the time came that God promised him offspring as numerous as the stars, Abram’s faith in a God bigger than geography had grown to the extent that God commended him for it – “he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness”. (Gen. 15:6)

C. Bigger than earthly powers Gen. 12:14-20

Do you trust me to protect you from Pharaoh?

…from Abimelech, king of Philistia? Genesis 20:1-17

What about when it involves someone close to you? Can you really trust God with the details then? Even or especially when it also has the potential for great personal risk?

Going to Egypt for food was one thing; it had gotten to be sort of a tradition in those parts that when times were tough elsewhere, people would head for the Nile delta. Food could always be found there. But there was a complication – Abram was in need and he had something Pharaoh might want for both political and personal reasons. Sarah.

Abram (in Pharaoh’s perception) was:

a wealthy eastern sheikh
far from home
in need of food for himself and his retinue

A political alliance with this sheikh could prove advantageous and besides, he had a beautiful sister. So much the better! What about Pharaoh’s response when he finds out he’s been deceived?? Abram hadn’t thought of that. He was worried that Pharaoh would kill him to get his wife, hence the sister deception. Now Pharaoh knows the truth and has just cause to kill him.

Yet Abram learns once again (at least for the moment) God is bigger than the earthly power represented by Pharaoh. Abram is sent away, keeping his life and his possessions, thanks to God’s intervention. Similarly with Abimelech, it is the intervention of God that protects both Sarah and Abraham from harm.

Further God used Abimelech to teach both Sarah and Abraham a lesson, to rebuke them for their sinful deception and lack of faith. Abraham thought the fear of God was absent from Abimelech and his kingdom yet it was Abraham and Sarah who acted faithlessly. Patiently God showed his children that he was in fact sovereign over earthly powers whether in Egypt or Philistia.

In quick succession here Abram’s faith has been challenged 3 times

D. Bigger than impossible personal situations Gen. 11:30 Gen. 15:2-5 Gen. 18:9-14

Do you trust me to provide the fulfillment to my promise?

…a son?

…a specific son born to you and Sarah?

This was before fertility treatments and in-vitro fertilization and all the other gee-whiz technological stuff to help women get pregnant. Abram and Sarai’s only option was a surrogate mother of sorts, something culturally acceptable in those days but not part of God’s plan for giving the world His Son. For Abram and Sarai to have a son of their own, especially after (in the words of John Gill) “her monthly visitors had left her”, a miracle beyond their comprehension would have to occur.

And for many years the fact that God would perform such a miracle seemed beyond the reach of their faith. Abram expressed faith in the promise first when God told him Eliezer was not to be his heir but rather a son of his own (Gen. 15:2-4). But later he acquiesced to Sarah’s suggestion that he father his heir with Hagar, a bad plan from the beginning. Then when God repeated the promise, Abraham fell on his face laughing at the idea (Gen. 17:17) as did Sarah at the Angel’s announcement (Gen. 18:12).

However the author of Hebrews writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit declared that it was “by faith [that] Sarah herself received power to conceive, …since she considered him faithful who had promised”. Sarah and Abraham also had faith in the God who could accomplish the impossible, a faith later demonstrated by Abraham at the top of Mount Moriah. If God could give a natural son to those for whom it was impossible to conceive, he could bring back that son alive from the dead.

E. Application

God says he fills everything Jeremiah 23:23-24

The Catechism asks:

Q4: What is God?

A4: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

Turretin says:

Bodies are conceived of as existing in space circumscriptively, because occupying a certain portion of space they are bounded by space upon every side. Created spirits do not occupy any portion of space, nor are they embraced by any, they are, however, in space definitely, as here and not there. God, on the other hand, is in space repletively, because in a transcendent manner his essence fills all space. He is included in no space; he is excluded from none. Wholly present to each point, he comprehends all space at once.

Charles Hodge says:

He is in all, and over all things; yet essentially different from all, being over all, independent, and infinitely exalted. This immensity and omnipresence of God, therefore, is the ubiquity of the divine essence, and consequently of the divine power, wisdom, and goodness.

If this is true of God, then no situation…

lies outside his knowledge

exceeds his power to deal with

escapes his wisdom to resolve rightly

exists where his goodness cannot reach and be displayed

OK, so now let’s get personal.

All the unknowns of when the recession will end and you’ll find a job, how your disease will progress, if a particular relationship will stand the test of time, when will the property sell and where will you go, all are known to God. He can be trusted to do the right thing in each.

How about those circumstances that involve loved ones in different time zones? whether there by choice or deployment or the call of God? God is present there and will display his abundant goodness for us to see if we but look and trust them to his protection.

Turmoil in the Middle East, acts of terrorism near and far, nuclear aspirations in North Korea and Iran, unprecedented expansion of federal government programs and powers, even global warming or climate change or whatever it’s being called now – these are no match for the power of God who can be trusted to keep us secure in his grasp.

Whether a difficult-to-deal-with family member or ex-family member, or an overbearing boss, an impossible-to-manage tax bill, or a bleak diagnosis from the latest doctor – nothing is too hard for our immense God. Remember, this is the God who spoke and a universe billions of light years across sprang into existence.

Jer. 32:17 Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.

Still trying to fix it by your own genius? or are you just quietly worrying about how it’s all going to turn out? STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! Instead, exercise the faith in a big God which that big God gave to you! Trust him to keep you safely in his care and work out the details in a way that is good for you and brings glory to him.

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