Traveling across the United States I was surprised at how every state struck me as being very different from every other state. Before I set out on my journey my expectation was that the drive along interstate 40 would be little more than flat plains inhabited by normal people carrying out the daily business of their lives. However as I drove past every state, the landscape seemed to change quite dramatically, and culturally I began to feel more and more like a foreigner. If the characteristics of my own country could feel so different regionally, I wondered how different it must feel on the other side of the world. For the first time in my life I realized what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land.
The world of Abraham some 4000 years ago must have felt unimaginably different from the world today. Over the millennia it seems that God has revealed Himself to mankind in very real ways, only to be forgotten by a vast majority of the population. Abraham or Abram as he was then known lived in such a time. Hundreds of years before Abram a vastly different world was destroyed by a flood, and only Noah and his immediate family survived. The descendants of Noah then built the ancient city of Babel, where the entire population united against the God of their forefather. At Babel God confounded the language of mankind, and different people groups began to migrate from Babel across the earth, each claiming their own variation of a god. Abram was born into a family of moon worshipers, and it can only be assumed that the God of Heaven was all but forgotten.
There was nothing outwardly special about Abram, as he was a simple shepherd and old man who never had children. In the culture of the time, children were very important to the name and identity of a people group. As an eighty year old man, Abram very well could have thought that his life had been wasted and a failure – until one day God Himself appeared to him. No one knew of God at the time, and all Abram knew was that some higher being had appeared to him and made a promise. The promise however that God made to Abram spoke to the deepest desires of his soul, and Abram was prepared to believe and follow the God who appeared to him. God told Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, and he would make him not only a father – but a father of many nations.
When Abram left the house of his father he and his elderly wife became a new people group on the earth – one that was defined by an unknown God. The new identity given to Abram was accompanied by a new name, Abraham. Unlike other people groups however, Abraham and his family were strangers among other people groups in a land that he would never inherit in his lifetime. Although Abraham would become famous among the inhabitants around him, he lived for the hope of a promise that would only be fulfilled after his death. Speaking of Abraham and others, the author of Hebrews writes, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth.” –Hebrews 11:13
As followers of Christ, our lives today really do look a lot like Abraham’s. Our identity is found in a God who has been forgotten by much of the world, and we have received a new identity and the promise of eternal life from that same God. Like Abraham our inheritance is not to be gained in this lifetime, but we are called to be strangers among people who serve other gods – and have their inheritance in this life. Our purpose in this world, beyond living an ordinary life, is to represent the God who has given us our identity. Like Abraham, we “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city.”-Hebrews 11:16
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