What is faith? According to the ‘Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible’, faith is a belief in or a confident attitude toward God that involves commitment to His will.
However, the question is on what grounds does this confidence in God lie? In the book of Genesis, instances of faith by people are shown as models for those who would read about them. We will examine two characters of faith, Noah and Abraham and show where they displayed faith and when they did not and why.
Genesis in Context
Before a character analysis of Noah and Abraham can begin, it is important to analyze Genesis in the context in which it was written. Genesis was the first of five books written by Moses called the Pentateuch. His audience was the nation of Israel who were just delivered by God from cruel bondage in Egypt. This people, who have been living in Egypt for so long, were indoctrinated by the myths and the customs of the Egyptians and were not familiar with the Lord who saved them and how they should worship Him. Moses introduces God to them in Genesis. It is a book of begetting, describing the family tree from Adam to the foundation of the nation of Israel. Throughout the book Moses describes how the Lord interacts with his creation and how He chooses certain people in order to fulfill His will.
Noah: A First Example of Faith
The story of Noah begins in Genesis chapters 6-8. Before an examination of his faith in God let’s examine the world which Noah came from:
The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:9 (NIV)
The world was full of wickedness. So much so that the Lord regretted that He even created humanity. Yet despite this, only one man shined in the midst of all this wickedness: Noah. According to the Scripture, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” Noah was a man that did not walk in the ways of the people in his generation, which probably did not make him all that popular. But he found grace in the eyes of the Lord, and this was honor and comfort enough for Noah.
Now the stage is set, God is about to pronounce judgment on mankind. However because He had grace for Noah, the Lord revealed to him what He was going to do and instructed Him to build an ark so that he and his family and a remnant of all creation would be saved from the flood which God was about put on the earth. Noah did as the Lord had commanded and built the ark. The question is though on what grounds did Noah believe that God was going to do what He said He would do? The Scriptures state that Noah walk with God. His life was a model of the kind of life that finds grace in the sight of God. That model consisted of simple obedience to God’s commands and trust in His provision. Before the flood, Noah must have experienced the power of God in his life, so it was natural for him to believe the revelation of judgement which He gave to him. As a result of his obedience in faith in God’s promises, Noah, his family, and a remnant of all animals were spared.
Abraham: A Series of Belief and Unbelief
Abraham was the founder of the Hebrew nation. It is through him that God’s promised Messiah would come to save the world from all its sin. Before that could happen however, Abraham first had to learn to believe in God and this was something that did not happen overnight.
Genesis 12: 1-9 (A Moment of Faith)
It in this passage that the Lord called Abraham (at that time he was called Abram) from the comforts of his homeland:
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Abram was an idolater when God called him (Josh. 24:2), revealed His glory to him (Acts 7:2), and spoke to him. From this portion of the Scripture a couple of things can be noticed that could make one who does not know the Lord hesitate in obeying His voice. First, the location is undisclosed; Abram had no idea where he was going. Second, Abram had to leave his father’s house; a source of security. Despite this, Abram did as the Lord commanded him, why?
The answer lies in the given text. God promised Abram that he would be blessed and become a great nation. Furthermore, the Lord assured him that his name would be great and a blessing to all people. This showed to Abram that he had found grace with God and that all these things would happen only if he obeyed God. So Abram did as he was commanded and traveled all the way to the land of Canaan. It was here that God showed him that this was the land which He was going to give to Abram. To show his gratitude, Abram built an altar and worshiped the Lord as His God. By this act, Abram made an open confession of his religion, established worship of the true God, and declared his belief in God’s promise.
Genesis 12: 10-20 (A Moment of Unbelief)
Faith is always tested for three reasons: to prove whether our faith is real; to help our faith grow; and to bring glory to the Lord (1 Pet. 1:6–9; James 1:1–8). A famine hits the land of Canaan and Abram took his family to Egypt still keeping his faith in God’s promise. However when they got to Egypt, Abram was struck with fear as it will be seen here:
As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”
Did Abram have doubts that God would keep him alive while he was in Egypt? The carrying on of this deception almost threatened the covenant which God made to Abram because Sarai was taken by Pharaoh of Egypt.. That promise was that through Sarah (then Sarai) God’s promise would be fulfilled. In the face of such a threat, however, God remained faithful to his word and safeguarded the promise. Pharaoh and his household were plagued because of Sarai and it was made known to him that she was really Abram’s wife. He returned her to him and sent them away with great abundance. After leaving Egypt, Abram, went back to Canaan and rebuilt the altar he made to the Lord. He probably realized that what he did in Egypt was a mistake, yet God had grace upon him. Which made Abram have a greater confidence in the Lord.
The Hagar/Ishmael Affair Genesis 15-17
By Chapter 15, Abram and Sarai were still childless and the promise which God had made was not yet fulfilled. Abram questions God in this fearing that his steward would become his heir and the Lord answers:
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Following this, the Lord went made a covenant with Abram making the promise legal and binding. Notice in the Scripture that Abram believed in what the Lord promised. This faith was founded by Abram having grace in the eyes of God. God’s covenants are all based on His grace (Eph. 2:8–9), and our works are but evidence of our faith.
However, not everyone believed as Abram was. Sarai decided to take things into her own hands and gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abram so that she would have a son through her. When our hearts are too much set upon any creature-comfort, we are easily use indirect methods for obtaining it. It should also be noted, that Abram did not refuse Sarai’s request to marry Hagar, was Abram having a moment of disbelief? Abram’s compliance with Sarai’s proposal was probably from an earnest desire of the promised seed, on whom the covenant was based upon. He did not understand that it was through Sarai that this promise was to take place.
So it happened that Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. In chapter 17 the Lord returned to Abram and renamed him Abraham and instituted the custom of circumcision as proof of the promise that God had made with Abraham and his seed. In addition to this, He renamed Sarai to Sarah telling Abraham that she too will have a son. Here was Abraham’s response:
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Then God said, “No, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.
Abraham went and circumcised himself, Ishmael, and all that was in his household. By obeying God’s command to circumcise every male, Abraham confirmed his faith in the promise which God had made to him and to his seed. Despite his initial disbelief, Abraham still trusted in God. It would not be until the twenty-first chapter, that Isaac, born of ninety year old Sarah, would come, thus fulfilling the promise which God made to Abraham. The importance of the announcement of Isaac’s birth can be described by this statement,“the Lord was gracious” (Genesis 21:1) which focused on God’s attentive care and concern.
Genesis 22- Abraham’s Test of Faith
The Lord God had been gracious to Abraham. He had fulfilled the promise of giving Abraham a son through Sarah his wife. Abraham was faithful and waited patiently for the Lord to administer His grace. However, the Lord was not done with Abraham: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Nothing is written in the Scripture about the anguish that Abraham went through upon hearing this command from God. How could God make such a command to Abraham, I am sure it would have broken heart. Nevertheless, he obeyed the Lord and immediately set off with Isaac to the destination which the Lord told Abraham.
When they came to the mountain he told his servants to stay at the base of the mountain and to wait until they returned. Why would Abraham say that, he was going up to mountain to kill his son? Abraham trusted in the Lord’s promise and knew that it was through Isaac that God’s redemption would be fulfilled. Due to this trust, Abraham believed that God would raise his son from the dead! He had experienced resurrection power in his own body (Rom. 4:19–21), so he knew what God could do.
This faith in God was not just exclusive to Abraham. Isaac, who was probably in his twenties, allowed himself to be bound and to be slain by his own father; he too had faith in the power of God, since he was a product of that power. So it happened as Abraham was about to kill Isaac that God stopped him and put in Isaac’s place a ram to be sacrificed. Abraham passed the test! As a result of Abraham’s faith, God blessed him and reaffirmed His covenant with him.
WHAT IS FAITH?
It can be seen in these case studies that faith is a response to the grace which God gives to an individual. The response to grace should be obedience from the individual to the One who gives it. Now this obedience does not originate from laws, but by experiencing God’s grace and trusting in His power and allowing Him to have control over your life. To accept His grace and faithfully obey results in righteousness and blessing