The book of Genesis is often called the book of genealogies, the study of the earliest generations. In chs 12-25 the patriarch Abraham takes center stage. The end of ch 11 provides the very significant geographical background for Abraham—a point that will serve as the fulcrum for his walk of faith. In the account of Abraham’s call experience at least three ideas stand out. In fact, it is difficult to over-estimate the significance of the first few verses of Gen 12, for they compose much of the platform for the storyline of Scripture:

  1. Abraham would inherit a specific plot of land (v. 1)
  2. Abraham would become a great nation (v. 2a)—although his wife’s barrenness was already noteworthy (11.30)
  3. God would bless Abraham with a view to blessing all nations through him, preserving his descendants and cursing those who didn’t recognize his special stature (vv. 2b-3)—a promise that beckoned him to abhor the self-sustaining pattern of Noah’s descendants (11.1-4). Abraham was to rely upon God for protection and prosperity.

Although Abraham’s initial steps of faith were courageous and marked with scenes of worship (Gen 12.4-9), his faith in the promises of God was soon challenged. The following scenes reveal three ways in which the circumstances of Abraham’s life tested God’s promise to protect and provide for him while he waited to become a great nation and inherit God’s land:

  1. Famine and living in a foreign land tested Abraham’s faith in God’s promise (ch 12). The question in his mind may have been: “Can God protect me before I enter the land of promise?”       Abraham’s response was a failure of faith—even though God was sovereign over the land of Egypt (v. 17)
  2. Prosperity tested Abraham’s faith in God’s promise (ch 13).       Although Abraham failed the test of faith in Egypt, the Pharaoh was generous to him and he left Egypt with an abundance of assets (v. 2). As the scene progresses the patriarch’s faith took shape in the nitty-gritty of life, and he allowed Lot first choice of the land (v. 9). Upon Abraham’s step of faith, God blessed him straightway, reinforcing His commitment to care for the patriarch (vv. 14-18)
  3. Foreign powers tested Abraham’s faith in God’s promise (ch 14). In time Abraham’s nephew Lot became the victim of a hostile rampage by four Mesopotamian kings. Upon hearing of Lot’s captivity, Abraham responded in faith, traveling north as far as Dan to rescue his kin (v. 14). As was the case in ch 13, God again promptly rewarded Abraham for his faithfulness—this time through the mystic figure Melchizedek, the king of righteousness and peace (cf. Hebrews 5-7)

The concept of ‘land’ introduced in Genesis 12 plays a significant role in the storyline of Scripture. God set forth the Land of Canaan as a place where His special people would one day dwell in safety, rest, and obedience—making the other nations jealous for a God like Yahweh (cf. Deut 4.1-8; Josh 21.43-45). The patriarchs took this promise so seriously that Jacob—even at a time of severe famine, and when his son Joseph was ruling in the prosperous land of Egypt—was hesitant to leave Canaan (cf. Gen 46.1-7). After the exodus, Moses sang a song of praise that concluded with the phrase: “You will bring them (the children of Israel) in and plant them on the mountain of Your possession; LORD, You have prepared the place for Your dwelling; Lord, Your hands have established the sanctuary” (Exod 15.17). While the Israelites initially failed to enter the Promised Land, displaying cowardice when provided the opportunity for entrance at the southern edge of Kadesh-Barnea (cf. Numbers 13-14; Psalm 95), they eventually entered the land under Joshua and established it for the LORD in Solomon’s temple (Josh 3; 1 Kings 8-9). But it didn’t last. In time they were removed because of their propensity toward idolatry (2 Kings 17)—just as Moses predicted (Deuteronomy 28-30). The author to the Hebrews thus deduced that under Joshua the people never experienced the rest God intended for them in the land of Canaan—and his audience was in danger of not fully enjoying the promise of rest in Christ. It is here that we can synthesize the flow of redemptive history. Although the motif of the Promised Land dominates the scenes of the Old Testament, the New Testament is relatively silent on the matter. With the coming of the Messiah—and the promises of direct multinational blessing in Him (Matt 28.18-20; Gal 3.1-14)—the Land of Promise is ‘spiritualized’ as a metaphor for Christian obedience, and rest. The author to the Hebrews wrote:

“For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day. A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience” (Heb 4.8-11).

But this is not a recipe for spiritual sloth. For the author to the Hebrews, ‘rest in Christ’ was synonymous with the kind of courageous faith Abraham displayed when he separated from Lot, and then risked his life to rescue his nephew—the kind of courageous faith lacking in Israel in the days following the establishment of Solomon’s temple. Abraham was searched-out by God’s word of promise, and was approved for his faithfulness; the author to the Hebrews concluded his exhortation about faith and rest:

“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Heb 4.12-14).


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