Paul first draws attention to the fact that, when God called Abram, as he was called then, he obeyed without knowing where he was to go. His reference is to Genesis 12:1-3:
Now the Lord had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
He had to leave his country, which was essentially Babylon; his family, meaning his ethnic kindred, the Semitic people; and his house, his near relatives. Verse 4 implies that he did not dilly-dally around, waiting for further or more specific directions, but that he responded quickly. It is not said how the Lord appeared to him. Perhaps He appeared to him physically, which would explain his quick departure.
Maybe God prepared him beforehand by revealing His existence to Abram, and this brought about social circumstances that added to Abram's urgency. In other words, God provided proof of His existence, which led to Abram receiving a measure of persecution in reaction to what he was learning. This is not unusual for God to do; He often provides incentive by leading a person through experiences in preparation for a more formal calling later.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
We are involved in an awesome adventure, but we are blind to many particulars that will affect us. What is emphasized from Abraham's life is his trust in God. Trust is the most powerful fruit, the strongest, clearest evidence, of belief. Trust is faith in action, setting a truly converted person apart from one who believes only intellectually. The Christian must live his life by faith.
Lack of trust is a major reason why young people "go bad" in their teen years. They do not really trust their parents. Rather, they trust other teens; they trust what they see in movies extolling the popular culture; they trust what they hear songs saying to their emotions. They trust their own thoughts and their own experiences, but Mom and Dad are low on the influence scale.
Notice, however, what Jesus says of Abraham regarding this principle: "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56). Abraham saw Christ as the Savior and Author of eternal salvation in his mind's eye and demonstrated his trust in this fact through his conduct. Abraham's proceeding on despite not knowing where he was going demonstrates that he put himself unreservedly in God's hands. He actually performed what he said he believed despite its potential cost. His feet, as it were, gave proof of what was in his heart by where and how he walked.
Jesus teaches this principle in Matthew 16:24-26:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Abraham did this to a degree few have even come close to matching. To deny ourselves is to set aside our claims on the day-to-day use of our time and energy in favor of another. Often God's commands seem demanding, even severe, but accepting God's calling has placed the burden of this responsibility squarely on our shoulders.
There can be no doubt that Abraham's neighbors thought he was loopy, even as Noah's neighbors undoubtedly thought he was crazy for building an ark. People of the world cannot truly understand the actions of one who walks by faith because their perspectives on the value of things are usually quite different. If confronted with similar knowledge and circumstances without God's gracious calling and gift of faith, the unconverted will adjust through compromise and self-justification. They will rationalize that under their "special" circumstances, God would surely not expect such things of them. The world of the unconverted is governed by its limited, carnal senses and feelings, not by faith in God's character. They walk by sight.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)
Abraham was drawn by faith to a land that he would afterward receive as an inheritance, the Promised Land, a type of the Kingdom of God. What if he had refused to step out?
What God has recorded of Abraham's life reveals that how he responded illustrates a path, a way of trust that will lead us to our inheritance. It is the "narrow way," the difficult way that leads to life. That way would have existed even if God had not revealed it to him, but Abraham's following that way in faith proved that his heart was one with God's. God expects us to follow the same trustful attitude that motivated Abraham's actions.
Abraham's obedient response suggests that no proud, stiff-necked rebel will be in the Kingdom of God. No one wrapped up in himself will survive this difficult path, only those who by faith are humbly submissive to God's will. In short, God's calling begins severing us from a number of important negative worldly and carnal factors. At the same time, it also attaches our loyalties, our responsibilities, and our purposes in life to God and His Kingdom.
In biblical terminology, we are transferred from death to life; from fleshly minded to spiritually minded; from Israelite or Gentile to Abraham's seed; from uncircumcised to circumcised in heart; and from the world to the Kingdom of God. It is essential that our severing from the old way be as complete and continuous as possible because, despite what happens to our heart in our attachment to God and His way, the world and carnality remain as constant threats, almost like magnets drawing us back toward them.
From this arises our need for faith to wage the Christian fight so that we do not backslide to where and what we were before. We see this in a small way from Abraham's life; his breaking away was not as smooth as it appears on the surface. Genesis 12:1 contains God's original charge: "Now the LORD had said to Abram: 'Get you out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you.'"
God was severing Abraham from his country, his kindred, and his father's house. Our severing rarely involves a physical separation from the nations of our birth, but it almost always involves a spiritual division from our natural families. Frequently, this severing causes strained family relations. It appears that it caused Abraham problems as well.
In Luke 14:26-27, Jesus admonishes all who desire baptism to consider well what He says:
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
As our calling begins, problems do not generally arise because the uncalled family members hate us outright. Instead, they love us in their carnal fashion, but our desire to obey God upsets their sense of family unity, loyalty, and responsibility. A related factor irritates them: They understand that we are rejecting many, if not virtually all, of the spiritual values they taught us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)
Elsewhere, Paul says Israel has zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. God has not cast away His people; He will still save them, but He lets us know why things are the way they are now. He has given them over to being deceived; He has permitted it. God, writes Paul, has given them a spirit of stupor. He permitted it even as He permitted Adam and Eve to be tested in the Garden. These scriptures show that Israel's spiritual diet was misleading them; their table had become a snare. A table is a symbol of where we eat. It is literally where we eat physical food, but spiritually, it refers to our mental and spiritual nourishment. What the Israelites were feeding their minds was distracting them to the degree that they were unable to see the truth when it was presented to them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Division, Satan, Humility
Hebrews 11:5-8 clearly teaches that God chooses to bless with rewards those who by faith choose to cooperate with Him in His spiritual creation. Abel, Enoch, and Noah are proofs of this fact. Thus, three major factors are linked in the spiritual creation process leading to salvation: grace, works, and rewards.
We can watch this unfold in Noah's experience with God. This is of particular importance to us living in the end time because both Jesus and Peter state that the end time would bear a similarity to Noah's day. Peter specifically shows in II Peter 2:5-6 that the Flood is a strong witness against the doctrine of uniformitarianism, the idea that earth's history has passed without variation through the ages:
. . . and [God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly. . . .
If God is the Savior and Rewarder of those who obey Him, then the opposite must be true: that He is the Punisher of those who despise Him. The Flood and Sodom are witnesses of this truth. Not all things have continued as they always have. The godly lived; the ungodly died. Despite what men say and think, God moved to punish mankind's sins in the days of Noah. That punishment came in the form of the Flood, which wiped out all land-based mammal and bird life except for Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark.
Genesis 6:8 reveals the beginning of Noah's salvation. It began in God's mind. It was absolutely unearned, being an act of God's kindness. This is step one.
Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah believed God's warning. This, combined with God's grace, becomes the foundation for Noah's reaction. Noah's belief is step two.
Next comes the effect of this combination: Internally, Noah "moved with fear." He was motivated—he felt an urge—due to his deep respect for God. The external effect was that he built the ark. This is step three.
The consequences of his foundation of grace and faith plus the impulse to move with fear comprise step four. He and his house were saved from the Flood, the world was condemned by his witness, and he became an heir of the righteousness that is by faith.
Did Noah's works save him? The answer is both yes and no. Consider: If Noah, not believing, had failed to prepare the ark, would he not have perished in the Flood along with everyone else? Certainly. Did his own efforts in building the ark, then, save him from the Deluge? No, they did not, because we have not yet considered all the parts God played in this scenario. He did far more than just warn Noah to build an ark.
Philippians 4:19 promises, "God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." This does not at all mean that we can do anything we want to, and that God will take up the slack. It means that God will supply all our needs within the project He has us working on.
Genesis 6:13-16; 7:14-16; 8:1; and other verses show God's oversight, guidance, and providence. Genesis 8:1 is especially important: "Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided."
"Remembered" indicates His special attention during the entire project, but it especially focuses on the time following the shutting of the door when those in the ark were helpless before the overwhelming onslaught of water. Huge torrents of water gushed from the earth, as well as fell from the heavens. This must have created huge waves. There is no indication that the ark had mast, sail, rudder, or wheel for navigation. Nevertheless, God was with them from beginning to end, giving them His special attention to preserve them and see His purpose accomplished.
This illustrates God working in them both to will and to do as they cooperated in their human, weak ways. This combination of God's grace and human cooperation produced their salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 11:8: