Kingdom of God No. 3: God’s Intended Kingdom Renewed by Faith

For two weeks, we have looked at the Creation story with an eye towards the kind of Kingdom God intended for the human race, and what happened to that ideal when the sin and human foolishness entered the equation. This week, we are looking at what God has done and is doing today in the lives of people of faith to renew his original intention by creating his own kingdom in the midst of the nations.

The author, C. S. Lewis, created an imaginary vision of what might have been the case if we human beings were not warped by sin. In the second book of his famous Space Trilogy, Perlandra, his hero, Ransom, is taken to Venus to fight demonic spirits and those inhabited by those spirits in order to prevent Perlandra/Venus from falling under the power of the Dark Spirit, as has the Planet Earth. [1] Lewis, in a wonderful imaginative way, pictures what an unfallen earth and an unfallen Adam and Eve might be like.

In the end, his Adam becomes a great king and his Eve a great queen, living in fellowship with God and with God’s creation in wisdom, love, and happiness, in dependence on God. As we mentioned the first week, this is what God initially intended for the human race. He wanted to create a people to live in wisdom and love of God and others, gradually becoming more like God, drawing others and creation into that same relationship. He still does.

Unfortunately, human sin and brokenness, our anxiety and tendency towards violence and self-seeking prevente the human race from achieving its original destiny. As Genesis 3-11 unfold, the human race falls more and more deeply into the patterns of personal and social behavior we experience today. On the other hand, as learned last week, God has never given up on the human race or human history.

The Call of Abraham

The story of who God intends to go about creating his New Kingdom within the world and his new family of kings and queens begins in Genesis 12. Hear the Word of God to us today:

Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you shall be cursed—and in you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3).

Today, we know much more about the implications of these words than Abraham would have known. When he first heard the promise, he was thinking about his desire for an heir, not God’s promise to make him a great nation. He was just hoping to have a son who could carry on after him. As to the part about being a blessing to all the nations, I suspect he barely understood what that might mean. Yet, the Bible records that

Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan….” (Genesis 12:4-5).

Let us Pray: Eternal God, we ask now that you come into all of our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, that we might become your children, remade in the image of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Step 1: A Decision to Trust and Obey

Abraham was born somewhere near Ur of the Chaldees in the Middle East almost 4,000 years ago. His father’s name was “Terah.” They were descendants of Noah, about whom we spoke last week. Today, Ur of the Chaldees is gone—a reminder that no civilization lasts forever.

Abraham was the leader of a tribe known is the “Iburu,” which in our speech is translated, “Hebrews.” The Iburu were what we would call “Bedouins,” a group of people related by blood and marriage, together with servants and slaves, which wandered from place-to-place tending sheep. They did not have an established nation, but wandered among the nations. [2]

Abraham must have been a fairly astute businessman. [3]  He had many sheep, and his shepherds relied upon him for their livelihood. As we meet Abraham, he is at the age when men in his culture (and ours) are inclined to be careful and conservative in business and in decision-making. They are older, experienced, near retirement, and thinking about their heirs. They no longer have time for mistakes or delay. In this respect, Abraham had a big problem. For all his success and wealth, despite the position he held among his people, he was without anyone to whom he could bequeath his properties and who would carry on his work.

Abraham lived in a world in which there were many gods. One day, he heard the voice the LORD God, promising he would be the “Father of Many Nations,” if only he would follow God in the life of faith. Abram decided to cast his lot with God, and so Abram obeyed God and went. This is important. Since the Reformation, Christians have often debated the relationship between faith and works. The word in Hebrew and its connotations really do not open the door for that kind of debate, for “faith” means “trust” and to trust means to act upon what one believes. Abraham believed God, trusted God, and obeyed God.[4]

There is an old story that illustrates this point. A man walks across Niagara Falls on a rope pushing a wheel-barrow. When he returns to the US side, he asks the crowd, “Do you believe I can cross Niagara Falls with this wheel-barrow?” Everyone says, “Yes.” Then he asks, “Who will get in the wheel-barrow and let me push them across?” No one responds. The Christian life means not only intellectually believing in Christ, but being willing to get in God’s wheel-barrow. In creating his new nation and people to bless the earth, God needs people willing to get into his wheelbarrow and risk.

Step 2: Patience in Wandering

Abram traveled through the northern part of Mesopotamia, then south along a well-established trade route until he reached Palestine, the land that we currently call, Israel. This was a long journey—600 miles or more—and just as dangerous almost 4,000 years ago as it is today. The journey was not completed at one time. As the author of Hebrewssays, Abram left “not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11: 8). Along the way, Abram stopped, grazed his sheep, and waited for God to show him the Promised Land and deliver the son of the promise. He had no idea whether the trip would last a week, a month, a year, or longer; however, I bet he never thought that it would last over a quarter of a century!

This reminds us that the life of faith requires patience. Trusting God is not a “one and done” kind of thing. Like Abraham, Christians have to follow God through uncertain times not just for a part of their life but throughout all of life. Christians have always faced difficult and uncertain futures. We live in such a time just now. As we face our uncertain future, we believe in God, believe in Christ as God in human form, the love and wisdom of God made human,  pray for the Spirit of God to enter our lives, read our Bibles, live in Christian community, worship, pray, and continue to believe in the answer God gives to our prayers.

Step 3: Recovering from Setbacks and Family Trouble

You might think that, because of Abraham’s faith and obedience, his life and the life of his family was easy or perfect. But, it was not. From the beginning, Abraham endured problems and setbacks. This gives us a third clue about how we can become true children of God—we can learn to recover from sin and setbacks and family trouble. We need resilience in the life of faith.

For example, in the course of the journey, Abraham eventually went as far as Egypt. Like all Bedouins, he was suspicious of what might happen in a foreign place. When Abraham arrived in the Land of Egypt, he was worried that the people of Egypt might kill him and others in order to acquire his wife, Sarai, who was beautiful. Therefore, he told her to masquerade as his sister. This turned out to be a mistake, for the fact that she was beautiful and unattached caused Pharaoh to desire her. He actually took her into his harem! God, who was protecting Abraham and Sarai, caused a plague to fall upon everyone belonging to Pharaoh’s house. When Pharaoh found out what Abraham had done, he gave Abram back his wife and expelled him from the land. [5]

His nephew, Lot, was also a problem. God had told Abraham to go and to take his household, which he naturally assumed included my nephew. Abraham was wealthy, and Lot was wealthy as well. As they traveled through a land in which there was little water and grazing land for their flocks, their herdsmen argued over water and grazing rights—and some of those arguments resulted in violence. Eventually, Abraham understood that the two families needed to separate, which they did.  Lot chose the fertile lowlands near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This turned out to be a huge mistake, for other groups desired this land, and the cities had an evil reputation and corrupted Lot and his family (See, Gen. 13:1-13). [6]

Finally, Abraham agreed with Sarai to have a child by her maidservant. This may seem morally wrong to us, but in Abram’s culture it was customary for a barren wife of a wealthy man to give one of her female servants to bear for her the child she could not have. [7] Of all his mistaken ventures, this was the most serious, because after the child was born, and especially after Isaac was born, Sarah and Hagar simply could not get along. Hagar was haughty towards Sarah, and Sarah was fearful of her position, and later of the position of Isaac, since Ishmael was the first son and would inherit the family fortune if something happened to Isaac. In the end, Abraham was forced to send Hagar and Ishmael away. [8]  Even today, the human race lives with the consequences of that choice. [9]

This part of the story reminds us of the consequences of sin, consequences that can have an impact long even after the lifetime of the person who falls short of God’s will. Since we all do sin and fall short of the glory of God, and since we all do make mistakes in life, we all have to live with the consequences of our decisions, not all of which are pleasant. This is a part of the life of faith. We have to learn to recover from our life mistakes.

God’s Faithfulness

Throughout Abraham’s wandering and wavering faithfulness, God was faithful. He constantly reaffirmed his promises to Abraham. [10] When Abraham despaired of the fulfillment of the promise God had made, God appeared in a vision and assured him that his descendants indeed would be as many as the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:1-6). He believed God; and it is at this time that the writer of Genesis relates, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). This verse points to the fact that, although Abraham was not perfectly obedient to God, he had faith and lived by that faith, and God honored that faith. [11]

When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, and had wandered in the wilderness a quarter of a century, God appeared and confirmed his covenant one final time. It was at that time that God changed his name from Abram, which means “Exalted Father,” as he was the father of my tribe, to “Abraham,” which means the “Father of Many Nations”. [12]

The author of Hebrews uses Abraham as the supreme example of faith. “Faith,” he says, “is the assurance of things hoped for and a certainty about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1). He is, of course, talking about the things of God. Faith as to God is accepting and trusting the promises of God. Hebrews goes on to say:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Hebrews 11:8-12).

We Christians are no different than Abraham. We live withn earthly kingdoms of one kind or another, but we look forward to a different kind of Kingdom, one whose architect and builder is God. Christ came, as we shall see, to institute that Kingdom. It is not a kingdom made by human hands we seek, but one made by God. It is not a kingdom separate from all the kingdoms of this world, but one that exists within those kingdoms as a source of wisdom, love and growth.


A large percentage of the East/West United States commercial traffic goes through Memphis, Tennessee. My former church was near IH-40, which is the major highway trucks use. Just after 9-11, we noticed a huge number of trucks carrying tanks, troop carriers and other items painted for desert warfare on IH-40. These caravans did not go on for hours or even days, but for weeks and months. The preparation for what became the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns had begun. It was obvious, visible and reflected just how much preparation goes into something like a human military campaign. We all knew something big was about to happen. Secular governments, you see most often try do things in a big, obvious, and powerful way. [13]

God has a different way of doing things. We are told that he chose one man and his wife, both elderly and unable to have children, and asked them to believe that he would give them a child and a family which would change the world.It was unseen by the high and the mighty, but in due time their child, Isaac was born, and after many years another family was formed, and Jesus was born, also unseen by the rich and powerful of the day.

Copyright 2022, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] C. S. Lewis, Perlandra (New York, NY: Scribner, 1004).

[2] The linage of Abraham and his tribe are unclear from the archeological evidence. Some scholars feel that Abraham was associated with the “Iburu”. Others point out the similarity between the customs of other groups and the narrative of Genesis, including Sarah’s giving Hagar to Abraham. See, Norman Gottwald, Light to the Nations: An Introduction to the Old Testament (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1959): 85-101. I have followed the Iburu tradition, but there are other possibilities. See, John Bright, A History of Israel 3rd ed (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1972, 1981): 67ff.

[3] It may seem from these verses that only Abram, Sarai, Lot and a few slaves. In other places in Genesis we see Abraham led 318 of his men to rescue lot (Gen. 14:13-16). Obviously, Abraham many families with him, together with slaves, and others.

[4] This last word, “Obey” is a connection between faith in the Old Testament and the Great Commission, where Jesus instructs his disciples to go into the world and teach people to obey (Matthew 28:16-20).

[5] This story is repeated in Genesis 20 as an event between Abraham and Abimelech, and again as a story about Isaac and Abimelech in Genesis 26. Critical scholars often point to the parallels as indicating a problem in the text, which could certainly be true. This, however, masks the fact that it is hard to believe that there is not some historical foundation for the stories. See, E. A. Speiser, “Genesis” in the Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964): 91-92.

[6] On two occasions, Lot had reason to regret his decision. First, the kings of the lands around the fertile area near what is now the Dead Sea attacked the place Lot was staying and he was captured. Abraham had to raise and army and rescue him (See, Gen. 14:1-16). Later, near the end of his wanderings, God sent his angels to tell Abraham that he was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot was then living. Abraham interceded for Lot and his family. In the ensuing destruction of the cities, Lot was saved, but his wife was lost and he was reduced to poverty and ultimately to living an immoral life. [6] In the end, Lot was one of those fundamentally good men who, through a small amount of moral laxity, destroy themselves—which he did. Today, Lot is seen as a type of man who is not evil or irreligious, but who lacks the integrity believers need to endure the pressure of a pagan world.

[7] The story is told in Genesis 16. Under Middle-Eastern custom, a wife could have a child through a maid and the child would inherit unless another child was born in the meantime, in which case the natural child inherited. See, John Bright, above, at 79.

[8] See, Genesis 21: 8-21 for the story of the casting out of Hagar.

[9][9] After Abram and Saria had wandered around in Canaan for a time without the promise having been fulfilled, Sarai suggested that Abraham have a child by Hagar, who was her Egyptian maid. In a purely human way, it seemed that this might be the way God intended to fulfill his promise. Of course, we now know Abram was totally wrong.

[10] After Abram and Saria had wandered around in Canaan for a time without the promise having been fulfilled, Sarai suggested that Abraham have a child by Hagar, who was her Egyptian maid. In a purely human way, it seemed that this might be the way God intended to fulfill his promise. Of course, we now know Abram was totally wrong. Finally, just nine months before Isaac was born, God sent his angels to visit him and to warn him about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (See, Gen. 18:1-33). He was sitting in Mamre under some very famous oak trees, when three men appeared. They told him that he would have son, but Sarah laughed (Gen. 18:13-16). By this time, Abraham was almost 100 years old, and could not believe that he could possibly have a child this late in life, even if Sarah were not barren. Nine months later, when he was 100 years old, Abraham finally had a son whom I named Isaac, which means “laughter.” Abraham had laughed when God promised me the child as did Sarah. God laughed at his lack of faith, and answered prayers thought impossible.

[11] Faith is an active trust in God and in the promises of God. As such, it has two components: (1) an intellectual component in which we hear and believe the promises of God and (2) a volitional component as we actively trust the truth of Christ we have perceived. See, R. L. Dabney, Systematic Theology 2nd ed. (St. Louis, MO: Presbyterian Publishing Company, 1878): 604-605. I am honoring the greatest Nineteen Century theologian of my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary. I could have cited many other theologians, ancient and modern.

[12] See, The NIV Study Bible 10th Anniversary ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995): note to Genesis 17:5.

[13] In the series of blogs I am working on just now, I often make the point that this propensity for the big in American government is mistaken. In the weeks to come, I will be discussinging how modern and post-modern ideas should be moving us into a new political direction, one characterized by respect for what already exists, dialogue, and slow and moderate change.