This is the journal entry from my quiet time with God this morning. To see how I approach quiet time, go here.
Look: “Abraham replied, ‘I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’” (Genesis 20:11)
For the second time since he and his household left Ur to go to the land that God would show him, Abraham lies to a local king about who his wife, Sarah, is.
While it’s true that Sarah is his half-sister, more significantly, she is his wife.
Here, the king in Gerar is warned in a dream that Sarah, who has been taken into his household to be one of his wives, is actually already married to Abraham. God warns him of dire consequences if he keeps Sarah. (In fact, already, the women of Gerar are unable to conceive children because of this un-consummated adultery.)
I know nothing about the religious life of Gerar. But it is clear that there were people there who had encountered the God of Israel (as the king’s dream demonstrates) and that they had some recognition of His power.
So, the king asks Abraham why he had lied about Sarah. This verse is the first part of Abraham’s “explanation.”
Listen: What strikes me about Abraham’s answer is his belief that no one in Gerar fears the God he knows so well. “There is surely no fear of God in this place…” he tells himself.
Abraham assumed that only he knew God. And while it is true that Abraham was to be the father of the nation of Israel and the spiritual father of all who come to know Israel’s God through Jesus, he should have known, of all people, that God was never completely unknown in the world.
Back in Genesis 14, after fighting in a war for the liberation of family members, Abraham met a man who seems to show up from nowhere. He wasn’t a kinsman. He was Melchizedek, who came from Salem (later renamed Jerusalem). Here’s what we’re told:
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:18-20)
(The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus Himself was a priest in the order of Melchizedek.)
My point is that Abraham underestimated both the power of God’s continuing presence to the people of the world and the fear of Him--awe, respect, and terror of His power--that existed among these “foreigners.”
He reminds me of the self-pitying Elijah, who told God: "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." (1 Kings 19:14) I can hear the whininess in Elijah’s voice!
But God told him: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him." (1 Kings 19:18)
In other words, God was saying, get over your self-pity and your self-righteousness. There are more around you who believe than you know.
And there are more who are willing to believe than we know, apparently. When Jesus gave the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 22:44-49; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:8), commanding the Church to share the good news of new life for all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the underlying assumption was that even people who knew nothing about God would want to be reconciled to Him through God-enfleshed, Jesus. Jesus deemed all people worthy of, needy of, and susceptible to salvation by grace through faith in Him.
The apostle Paul understood the fact that he could find people open to the gospel wherever he went, even among non-Jews, Gentiles.
Acts 17 contains one of my favorite incidents from Paul’s life and ministry. He goes to Athens. Everywhere he looks there, he sees statues to various deities. This is an abomination to a Jew. To Christians too. For those of monotheistic faith, there’s only one God and to give credence to dumb idols is a violation of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”
But the evidence of idolatry didn’t cause Paul to be dismissive of the Athenians. He didn’t think, as Abraham had, “there’s no fear of God here” and conclude that trying to fulfill the great commission there was a waste of time.
Instead, he went to the Areopagus, the center of town where people discussed ideas and issues. It was sort of like Twitter without the 280-character limit. Then this happened:
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)
Paul begins by commending the people for the desire they have for the “unknown God” and he shows them how even one of their own poets had some level of fear in the one true God of all creation.
Paul would suffer many times for his faith. But, unlike Abraham, he never disdained the possibility of faith in those around him. And he never lied to save his skin.
I confess that I can be an awful lot like Abraham and Elijah, men of faith who often yielded to their fears and self-righteousness.
Paul had his own faults (I think of him as prickly), but he seems never to have allowed fear of the world to trump his fear of the Lord or his faith in Christ.
And, following his conversion to Christ, Paul seems to have usually seen the possibilities in others. He never underestimated God’s love for those who didn’t know God fully. And He never underestimated God’s capacity to love them to life with Him through Jesus.
Respond: Today, Lord, help me to see people, all people, as You see them: As objects of Your love for whom Jesus died and rose; as susceptible, by the power of Your Holy Spirit to the proclamation of Jesus as Lord; as people to whom Your truth is owed. Save me from being a snob. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]