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VENTURING INTO THE UNKNOWN
Hebrews 11:8

2nd February 2003

This week Beverley and I followed in the footsteps of Charles Sturt. Sturt was that heroic Australian explorer, who from 1828 to 1846, charted some of our greatest rivers including the Darling, the Murray, the Brogan, the Castlereagh, and the Murrumbidgee. I was always captivated by how he led his small band of starving men rowing up against the flooded Murray and Murrumbidgee from its mouth in South Australia, back to safety in New South Wales, against hostile Aborigines and without adequate food. It is one of the great sagas of Australian history of brave men who ventured into the unknown.

In 1829 Charles Sturt discovered the Darling River and came to the area later called Bourke. It was extremely hot there this week, 46 degrees Celsius or 114 degrees Fahrenheit. Normally, huge areas of land are planted in cotton, grapes and citrus crops. The river supports sheep and cattle, all of which are suffering incredibly because of this long drought. The mighty Darling River, once the home of scores of paddle steamers, drains from central Queensland down to the great Southern Ocean some 3000 kilometres. The River runs deep and in flood times wide as some states, moving the same quantity as in the Sydney Harbour through Bourke every day. But just now, all is dry. The river is not running. The mighty river is just a series of water holes. The river is dry. The river has ceased to run.

"Back o' Bourke" is where the real Australian outback begins. Charles Stuart, the explorer, moved through this region not knowing know where he was going. Perhaps he would discover a great inland sea. The quest drove him on through some of the world's harshest terrain.

The explorers walked through thousands of sand dunes, over saltpans, in blinding dust and heat - driven by the dream of a promised land. Such venturing takes courage, strength and mind concentrated commitment. While I was in Bourke I was thinking of the example of Abraham in a similar harsh terrain. It is an amazing fact of history, that three of the biggest religions in the world, call one man "father". Abraham lived 4000 years ago: 2000BC. The name Abraham means, "father of a multitude." Abraham certainly became the father of a multitude: he is regarded as the father of the faith of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He was a Semite and grew up in Ur of the Chaldees, now known as Iraq. This was his harsh terrain.

Here is relevance as the major powers are considering bombing Iraq, as Arab and Jew are fighting over the land he claimed and as Muslims are in conflict with Jews, and Christians in a dozen countries are suffering persecution from Muslims. Yet, these three faiths regard Abraham as one of their founders. Over the next weeks, we will learn many new facts about Abraham that will help us understand some present world conflicts. Some of you have studied the Bible for years and know the Jewish interpretation and the Christian interpretation about Father Abraham. But I have also studied Abraham, or Ibrahim, as Moslems know him, and their interpretation will teach you many new facts that differ from Jewish and Christian understanding. Iraq, Syria, The West Bank, Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, Christians - no one man straddles all of these as does Abraham. Terah, his father, moved to Haran (now Syria) with the family Genesis 11:31 and after some years died there. It was only the first part of the venture into the unknown.

God called Abram to migrate to Canaan, assuring him that he would father a vast nation in that land known today as Israel. Hebrews 11:8. "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." Like our explorers, he ventured into the unknown.

1. ABRAHAM'S CALL.

Abraham was to Israel second only to Moses. In Christianity, Abraham is mentioned in the Christian scriptures 74 times. He was Paul's great example of how a person becomes right with God through his obedient faith. All greatness can be traced back to a calling. Abraham had a definite call from God. But it was going to be a venture of faith - venturing into the unknown. Terah and his family, including Abraham and Lot, had left Ur of the Chaldeans and traveled as far as Haran, enroute to the land of Canaan. v32 There is no mention of the call of God until 12:1 after the death of Terah. v32b

We are explicitly shown that Ur of the Chaldeans, not Haran, was the place of Abraham's birth. v28-31 Thus when the command is given Abraham to leave the place of his birth "your country" only Ur of the Chaldeans is meant. That is significant. The call of Abraham from Ur is seen also in the Book of Nehemiah 9:7 and in The Acts Of the Apostles. 7:2-3

By putting the call of Abraham within the setting of Ur of the Chaldeans, the author aligns his narrative with themes that will prove central in later prophetic literature. For Isaiah the "glory of the Chaldeans" Isaiah 13:19 is the city of Babylon. The Chaldeans were those who later enslaved God's people and carried them off into captivity.

As Abraham was to be called from "Ur of the Chaldeans," so God would call all those future exiles who, in faith, wait for their return to the Promised Land. The prophet Micah pictured the remnant that awaited the return from exile as descendants of Abraham faithfully trusting in God's promise to lead them home. Micah 7:18-20 God would one day call them as He did Abraham.

2. ABRAHAM'S OBEDIENCE.

HEB 11:8-10 "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."

God's call received the desired response: Abraham obeyed. "When called" translates a present participle that indicates a very prompt obedience. "He obeyed the call (as it were) while it was still ringing in his ears". His prompt obedience took him out to a region as yet unknown to him but which he would later receive "as his possession", "inheritance". The last half of this verse is a classical statement of the obedience of faith. We like to know where we are going and to choose our own way. But the way forward can be obscure. Abraham was one who could go out, knowing that it was right to do so, but not knowing where it would all lead. God told him to go "to the land that I will show you". Genesis 12:1 That required obedient faith.

3. ABRAHAM'S FAITH.

Paradoxically, when he got to the land of Canaan that God had promised to him, Abraham lived in it, not as its owner, but as a resident alien. The verb translated "made his home" is not normally used of permanent residence but, it means to "inhabit ... as a stranger" like some of our illegal immigrants from Iraq and other Middle eastern places, who have come here, but who do not yet belong. They are still aliens, and may have yet to pass on to some other place. Abraham was eventually to go to Egypt.

It was not till some time after he reached Canaan that he was informed that this was the land God would give his descendants. Genesis 12:7 To leave the certainties one knows and go out into what is quite unknown, relying on nothing other than the Word of God, is the essence of faith, as the author sees it. There was no proof able to be given to others - just faith in God. The phrase, "The promised land" is found only here in the Bible. As the context plainly shows it means Canaan, or Israel, on today's maps. But there is a deeper meaning. "The promised land" also means heaven. The earthly Canaan is a foretaste of God's heavenly country where we will be citizens not just passing aliens. Though Canaan was to be his own land in due course, Abraham, when he first arrived, had to live there as though "in a foreign country." He had no rights. He and his household lived in tents, in temporary dwellings. The whole land had been promised to him. Yet Abraham did not even have a proper house in it. The verb rendered "lived" has the notion of settling down. It is normally used of a continuous, permanent dwelling. But Abraham's permanent dwelling place in Canaan was a temporary tent!

Right to the end of his life the only piece of the country he owned was the field he purchased as Sarah's burial place. Genesis 23 God "gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground" as the Acts of the Apostles puts it. 7:5 Abraham did not end up with much of this world's goods and possessions. But incredibly, he became the father of a great nation. Charles Sturt, revealed the secrets of our inland and chartered our greatest rivers. But every opportunity of reward and return on his investment of time and life eluded him. He owned only a little of this country he had opened up when he died.

Sometimes God calls us in a clear but unexpected way. If we obey, we also must venture into the unknown. We will be required to live in faith. We may not receive a great reward, but God knows our faithfulness, and there is reserved for us an eternal home in heaven. I met two Abraham's this week. Both women. Both without children. Both from the midlands of England. Both were teachers and trained child-care workers. In their church two years ago, they had a calling of God to go into the unknown - the outback of Australia - where God would show them the work He had for them among children in need. By a series of unmistakable miracles, they have ended in Bourke.

At 46 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit) the weather was totally opposite what they had been used to in England. They had no money, but from a source totally unexpected they were given $25,000 as a deposit upon a large house. They were given two teaching jobs. They have no visas to work or to stay, but the police have been bringing them abandoned indigenous children for their care. Now, without resources they have been given a second house.

There are more children arriving. Food and provisions arrive. They have gone where they were led. They are trusting God for all of the outcomes. The story is unfinished.

For the local police, their presence is a godsend. For the local Christians, their service in God's name is inspirational. For the public servants in the Immigration Department, they are a nightmare, because they do not fit into any of the categories. They have ventured into the un-known, not knowing where, knowing only that God is going with them. They trust Him. Maybe God will give them an inheritance of children beyond their dreams. It has happened before to those who have had faith and trusted God. Here is Miss Abraham in duplicate, "back O' Bourke".

When God calls you venture into the unknown, heed His call and obey. Who knows? It may be to the adventure of your life!

The episodes of of the film and television series, "Star Trek" began with a declaration of goals: "These are the voyages of the star ship Enterprise. Her five year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to go boldly where no-one has gone before."

That is living! That is obedient faith! Who knows what God has in store for you! Venture! It all starts with your obedient faith. Have faith in Jesus Christ and follow where-ever He calls you.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.