“By Faith … Not Knowing”

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” —Hebrews 11:8

ABRAHAM’S LIVING FAITH in the promises of God highlight many of the experiences of his life. The apostle cites other Old Testament saints as also being examples of faith, but dwells more upon the life of Abraham than on any of the others. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,” Paul writes, and “by faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death” because he “walked with God.” By faith Noah built an ark, and by faith Moses was hid three months by his parents and by faith he later forsook Egypt “esteeming the reproach of Christ” greater riches than anything that could be offered to him in the court of Pharaoh.—Heb. 11:1-27

These outstanding experiences in the lives of the various patriarchs are indeed wonderful examples of faith, and undoubtedly it was their continued strong faith that enabled them to bear up through all the trials which divine wisdom and love permitted to come into their lives. But in the apostle’s citation of Abraham’s faith he covers nearly the whole life of this father of the faithful in his endeavor to illustrate for us the manner in which faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”—Heb. 11:1

When God first called Abraham, he offered him a “land.” (Gen. 12:1) Abraham had never seen that land. He was wholly unfamiliar with its fertility and whether or not it was favorably situated. But he accepted the invitation and left his native country not knowing whither he went’.

God promised Abraham that he would have a “seed,” but his wife was barren, hence Abraham did not know how this promise would be fulfilled. (Gen. 17:7,8) His lack of knowledge, however, did not weaken his faith. Abraham believed God. He believed that God was both willing and able to fulfill his promises, so he embarked upon a life of faith, ever believing that the time would come when the seed of promise would be born.

When finally Isaac was born and had grown to manhood’s estate, God asked Abraham to offer this beloved son in sacrifice. Abraham did not understand why this was necessary, but he obeyed, ‘not knowing’. Finally, like the other Ancient Worthies—faithful ones of old—Abraham died in faith not having realized in full all the implications contained in God’s promises to him. Abraham did not know, and will not know until he is resurrected, the exact manner in which his seed is destined to participate in the blessing of all the families of the earth. To him, faith was truly the ‘evidence of things not seen’.


Many of Abraham’s experiences were similar to those in which the followers of Jesus during the present age have an opportunity to demonstrate their faith. From the time God first spoke to the patriarch while he was living in Ur of the Chaldees, we can note these similarities. And, even as with Abraham, our faith takes hold of the promises of God, enabling us, by comparison, to prize most highly the things which cannot be seen by the natural eye, nor understood by the human intellect.

First, let us note the fact that God spoke to Abraham and revealed to him the great theme song of his purpose toward the children of men. David inquired, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4) And well might Abraham have asked, “Who am I, that God should speak to me, and to me make known his purpose to bless all the families of the earth?” But this was exactly what God did, and Abraham had the necessary faith to believe what God told him—to believe it so thoroughly that he gladly staked his life upon it. Surely Abraham was honored, and he demonstrated his worthiness of that honor by believing that which he could not understand.

Evidently, Abraham believed in the existence of God even before the divine plan was made known to him. Many throughout all the ages have been blessed with a faith of this kind. But only those to whom God has spoken, and to whom he has revealed some measure of his plan, have had an opportunity to demonstrate their faith by obedience to the knowledge received.

In this respect, faith is based upon knowledge. It is not ‘blind’ in the sense of having no assurance of the unseen blessings to come. By faith, Abraham started out for the Promised Land ‘not knowing whither’ he was going, but he did know that God had promised him the land; and he knew also that God had promised him a seed. What Abraham did not know was the exact manner in which God would fulfill his promises, and just what the land would be like when he reached it. These points of knowledge were not essential to Abraham’s faith. All he needed to know was that God had promised. On these promises his faith rested.


A Christian who is enlightened with the truth of the divine plan knows that God has spoken to him, even as he spoke to Abraham. This is a fact of positive knowledge to those who have been blessed with the “witness” of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:16) It is not a matter of basing their faith on an uncertainty. One of the main reasons they know that God has spoken to them is that they have heard the same joyful theme song of the divine plan that delighted the heart of Abraham—they have heard that glad message concerning the divine purpose to bless all the families of the earth.

And as it was in the case of Abraham, accompanying this message is the ‘call’. We might well wonder why God has singled us out for such favor; why we should be honored with the privilege of hearing his voice. But it is not long until we learn that such marvelous grace is not bestowed upon us without a purpose. It is a wonderful thing, indeed, to hear the voice of God, but it is costly. To Abraham God said, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.” (Gen. 12:1) This meant the forsaking of much that he held dear, but Abraham obeyed.

And when we hear the voice of God there is in the message not only the hope of restitution blessings for the world, but we hear, as well, God saying to us, “Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house.” (Ps. 45:10) While this invitation does not have the same literal meaning as did the divine call to Abraham, it is no less exacting in terms of sacrifice. We are not asked, necessarily, to move away a great distance from our relatives; but we are asked to forget them, in the sense that God and his will should henceforth come first in all our plans. Jesus said that those who love father or mother, sister or brother, husband or wife, more than they love him, are not worthy of him.—Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26

Leaving our ‘father’s house’ is a far more drastic requirement for the Christian than it was for Abraham. In our case, it is father Adam’s house. When God speaks to us we are given a vision of Paradise restored. We learn that it is the divine purpose to restore the human race to life upon the earth. We speak of this as the hope of restitution. (Acts 3:19-21) We are glad to learn that all mankind will have an opportunity to live everlastingly upon an earth made perfect. Truly, we think, our father Adam’s house is to be one of joy and peace, health and life; and we look forward to the time when all mankind can ‘return home’.

But to us as Christians, the divine call is to ‘forget thine own people and thy father’s house’. What does this mean? It means we have an opportunity to forego restitution blessings and to embark upon a long and difficult journey to a heavenly Canaan. Yes, God has promised us a ‘land’, not on earth, but in heaven, for we are partakers of a “heavenly calling.” “Unto us,” writes Peter, “are given exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”—II Pet. 1:4


And so, by our appreciation of the message that has come down to us from the past, we know God has spoken to us. We know that the ‘exceeding great and precious promises’ belong to us. We know that we have passed from death unto life. We know that no good thing will be withheld from us if we walk uprightly in the narrow way of sacrifice. We know that all things will work together for our good because we love God and have been called according to his purpose. We know that we are now the sons of God, having received the Holy Spirit of sonship. These, and other precious points of knowledge, are the foundation of our faith; and our faith in the promises of God relating thereto is the evidence of things unseen.

But it is also true of us, even as of Abraham, that by faith we enter the narrow way ‘not knowing whither’ we are going. The Apostle John wrote, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2) ‘We know’ that he shall appear; and we know that when he appears we shall be ‘like him’. We know this because God has promised it, and our faith lays hold upon the promises; and, like Abraham, we heed the call, ‘not knowing’ its full meaning, for ‘it doth not yet appear what we shall be’.

An interesting fact in connection with Abraham’s faith is that it grew stronger with the passing years. When God first spoke to Abraham, his faith enabled him to ‘obey’ the call to leave his own people, although not as fully as he might have done, for he took some of them along with him. In this, too, there is somewhat of a parallel to our own experiences: we do not always obey the call as fully as we should.

When we make a consecration to the Lord, we tell him that it is our intention to leave all things earthly behind. We promise, if need be, to break every tender tie which binds us to a world like this, yet how often we fail to live up wholly to this promise. With one hand, as it were, we lay hold upon the heavenly promises, while with the other we cling to earthly things. We hear the admonition to set our “affection on things above” (Col. 3:2), and we try to do it. But how often our affection comes tumbling down to earth and entwines around the temporal joys and advantages which we promised God we would give up in order to make the more rapid progress toward the heavenly Canaan.

Of course, our consecration was sincere. It had to be or else it would not have been acceptable to God. But our earthly minds and hearts will not bend heavenward all at once. It requires training and struggle over a period of years for the terms of our consecration to be carried out as we would like. And it is here that our faith becomes so essential. Faith, the apostle tells us, is the victory that overcometh the world. (I John 5:4) And we can understand how this is. If our faith in the heavenly promises of God is weak, those promises are sure to be proportionately unimportant to us, while at the same time, the temporal blessings and pleasures of the world will look up as being of great importance. If our faith in the promises is strong—an overcoming faith—the unseen things of God will become real and vital while the ‘world and her pursuits’ which ‘perish’, as the old hymn tells us, will fade into positions of relative unimportance.

Abraham’s faith was put to the test, and each triumph enabled it to grow stronger. We should pray, “Lord, increase our faith,” and when we pray this, we should expect God to permit experiences to come into our lives which will test our faith; that is, give us an opportunity to lay hold upon the divine promises with a firmer grip because of the experience through which we are permitted to pass.

One of God’s methods of testing the faith of his people is in connection with the element of time. A thousand years are but as yesterday in the sight of God, but we measure nearly everything by the short rod of our own lifetime. Ten years to us, therefore, is a long time, and if perchance God permits us to wait that long for the fulfillment of one or more of his promises, our faith is put to a severe test. It was so with Abraham. In addition to the land of Canaan, God promised Abraham that he would have a son, and that Sarah would bear this son to him. But when years passed and no son was born to Sarah, Abraham’s faith was tested.

Finally, Abraham, through lack of faith, arranged with Sarah’s bondmaid, Hagar, to mother a child for him. Some time after Hagar’s son was born, the Lord spoke to Abraham again, and told him that Sarah was to give birth to a son, and that the name of the child would be Isaac. When he heard this, Abraham fell on his face and laughed. (Gen. 17:15-19) Then he said to the Lord, “O that Ishmael [Hagar’s son] might live before thee!” Here is evidenced a lack of faith. Abraham was suggesting that Ishmael could just as well be the seed of promise, and that if God would accept this arrangement, there would be no more difficulty about the promised seed.

Abraham’s laughter on this occasion would seem to denote that he doubted that Sarah would ever bear a son. Sarah was barren even as a young woman, and at the time God first made the promise of a seed. At that time Abraham’s faith was strong enough to believe that God would overcome Sarah’s barrenness. But years had passed, and this had not been done. Now she was not only still barren, but past the normal age for child-bearing as well. Why should God keep talking about what seemingly was daily becoming more unlikely? His faith could not reach up to the occasion, and he laughed at the idea.

Abraham did not know how God would fulfill his promise, and his faith was not strong enough to believe what he could not know. Had he understood the manner in which God proposed to fulfill the promise, Abraham would have been walking by sight. All that he needed to know was that God had promised. This should have been sufficient foundation for his faith. In the final analysis it was, because when God assured him that Sarah would bear a son, Abraham “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, … and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.”—Rom. 4:20,21


God also tests our faith by permitting us to wait for the fulfillment of his promises. This principle of God’s dealings with his people is referred to by the prophet where he says, “Though it [the vision] tarry [be long], wait for it.” (Hab. 2:3) Jesus illustrated it by the parable of the ten virgins. And surely the Lord’s people in this end of the age have had their faith severely tested by the seemingly long wait for the fruition of their hopes.

Finally Isaac was born. God had performed a miracle! The woman who was barren and old had conceived and had given birth to the promised seed.

There were long years of waiting before he grew to manhood, and when he did, Abraham’s faith was further tested. God spoke to him again, and asked the patriarch to offer Isaac in sacrifice. This was truly a severe test of Abraham’s faith—a test that surely he could not have endured when God first spoke to him while he lived in Ur of the Chaldees.

But through the years, Abraham’s faith had grown strong. He had learned to know the voice of God. He knew that it was nothing short of the power of God that enabled Sarah to give birth to Isaac. Now he heard the voice of God again. There was no question about that, but how strange was the message. It seemed contrary to all that God had wrought in and through him during all the years. God had performed a miracle in order that Isaac might be born, hence why should he now be slain?

But again Abraham obeyed, ‘not knowing’. He obeyed because of his implicit faith in the wisdom and love and power of God. By now his faith was so strong that he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead if necessary, in order to fulfill his promises in connection with the ‘seed’. This was “full assurance of faith” indeed! (Heb. 10:22) It is comparatively easy to have faith in God and in his promises when all the circumstances of life are favorable for the exercise of such a faith. If all our temporal affairs are in good order—we have a comfortable home, a congenial family, a secure position, good health; and besides these temporal blessings, we enjoy privileges of fellowship with the brethren and service of the truth—we exclaim, “Surely the Lord is good!” Yes, we have a strong faith under such circumstances, but how strong is our faith when God speaks to us out of a cloud; and his providences are dark and foreboding? Do we then have faith? …

“A faith that will not shrink,
Tho’ press’d by ev’ry foe;
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe.”

God spoke to Abraham in terms of sacrifice and he speaks to us in the same manner. Is our faith, like Abraham’s, strong enough to obey, even though we may not know the reason for what we are asked to do? It was a great joy to Abraham when Isaac was born. There was no question about his faith then. There was too much evidence of God’s providences in connection with that birth to doubt its meaning. But now it was different. This dear boy, this miracle son, this ‘seed’ for which he had waited a lifetime was to be slain as a burnt offering—this was what the voice of God said, and Abraham obeyed.

How does our faith compare with that of Abraham’s in this connection? Oh yes, when we hear Jesus say, “My peace I leave with you,” we accept that with rejoicing, and the peace and joy of the Lord is accepted as a blessed portion. It should be! But how do we react when we hear those other words, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, … that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, your reasonable service”? (Rom. 12:1) Do we recognize this ‘call’ as also being the voice of God; and recognizing it, are we obeying it?


The place designated by God where Isaac was to be offered in sacrifice, was three days’ journey from Abraham’s home. During these three days Abraham did not divulge to Isaac just what was to occur. Isaac began to wonder, and as they began to ascend the mount (probably Moriah) he asked his father about the lamb for the sacrifice. Seemingly they had everything else they would need for offering a sacrifice except the lamb, and Isaac was puzzled.

But in simple faith Abraham replied that God would provide the lamb. Surely Abraham did have faith! Even here he did not know just what God would do, but he had faith to believe that, if necessary, he would raise Isaac from the dead. Strengthened by this faith, he took the step in the dark, knowing that God would meet him there and do for him what he could not do for himself.

Abraham said that God would provide the lamb, and he did. As the knife was raised to slay the boy, an angel of the Lord intervened to prevent the killing. Turning around, Abraham saw a ram in the thicket—the lamb which God provided. Abraham did not know why this test of faith was put upon him, but now we understand. We see in this sacrifice a picture of the sacrifice of Jesus, the antitypical “Lamb of God” which he provided to take away the sin of the world.

Abraham passed successfully this supreme test of his faith, and God said to him, “Now I know that thou fearest me. (Gen. 22:12) There is something very sweet about this. It indicates that God had reserved judgment concerning Abraham until he demonstrated fully that he truly believed and was willing to obey. It is even so with us! When we have finally reached the end of the way, and have been successful in demonstrating our faith by our works, we will hear that “Well don, thou good and faithful servant, … enter into the joy of thy Lord.”—Matt. 25:21

So may we continue on! Our God is a promise-keeping God. We may not know, in fact we will not know, the full implications of his promise, but we know that the promises belong to us, and that he is able to fulfill them. Let us then step out upon these promises, leaving behind all earthly things, and keep our sacrifice upon the altar until it is wholly consumed. Brother, hast thou a faith like this?

Dawn Bible Students Association
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