I was particularly blessed recently to spend some time in Genesis 12 recently to prepare for some teaching I was doing. It is a chapter that I have always loved and so the opportunity to go deeper was much appreciated. The chapter is about God’s call on Abram and Sarai to leave behind all that was familiar and take a journey into the unknown. There is a lot of resonance with a storyline from the Lord of the Rings when Frodo Baggins is told that he must leave his cosy home in the Shire and travel far away. After the initial shock Frodo says:
Of course, I have sometimes thought of going away, but I imagined that as a kind of holiday, a series of adventures like Bilbo’s or better, ending in peace. But this would mean exile, a flight from danger into danger … As for where I am going, it would be difficult to give that away, for I have no clear idea myself, yet….I feel very small, and very uprooted, and well-desperate.The Fellowship of the Ring, J R Tolkien
Just imagine a world without our modern-day connectivity – no mobile phones, TV or WIFI. Packing up and going on a long journey towards an unknown destination is and was a really big deal! I don’t know about you but the thought of such a journey brings to the surface all kinds of feelings and emotions for me?
In this encounter we will see, (1) how God called Abram, (2) the promises He gave to him and (3) how Abram responded. As ever there is a huge amount for us to learn from all of this and the great news is that we are part of its ongoing fulfilment!
1. God’s Call (11:27-12:1):
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”Genesis 12:1
Abram’s family lived in Ur of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia (present day Iraq). This city was described as the cradle of civilisation as people first gathered in cities and established societies here. The city contained a 21meter high ‘ziggurat’ (see photo) on top of which was a temple and shrine to the moon god Sin. Abram’s name means “the father is exalted” which was likely a reference to some deity his family worshipped.
…Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor…worshiped other gods.Joshua 24:2
Abram’s family was caught up in all this idolatry and God’s call was partly about leaving all of this behind. God took the initiative here and there is nothing to suggest that Abram had any concept of God at this stage. Each of us, if we know and love Jesus have a story of how God called us to turn from idolatry. God’s call on our lives today remains to turn to back to God and do away with whatever takes God’s rightful place in our lives.
In 11:31 we read that Terah took Abram, Sarai & Lot and set out from Ur of the Chaldeans. At first sight, it seems like the call of God comes to Abram later, but in 12:1 we’re told that God had said to Abram (see also Acts 7:2-4). Just imagine the conversations he must have had as Abram prepared to head out into the unknown. People must have thought they were totally bonkers!
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.Hebrews 11:8
Nevertheless, they travelled 600miles northwards along the river Euphrates and it seems that Canaan was their intended destination (v31). However, when they got to Haran they decided to stop there (see map below) until after Terah finally died. Interestingly, Haran, along with Ur of the Chaldeans, was also a centre for this idolatry for the moon god Sin. It seems likely that Abram had got side-tracked and caught up in all of this idolatry again.
God asked Abram to go from his country, his people and his father’s household. But here he was travelling with his Father, and his nephew (the latter would bring a fair bit of grief over the years to come). There is no hint that God reiterated His call to Abram while he was there in Haran – no recorded dream, vision or voice from God – Abram knew full well what God had asked of him, and after the death of his Father he continued his journey. Perhaps in your own lives God has asked you to do something and for whatever reason you have got distracted in other things. These can also be very barren times for our faith until we get back on the road that God has called us on.
2. God’s Promises (12:2-3):
2 “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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”Genesis 12:2-3
Just as God was asking Abram to leave some things behind, there were other things that God was calling Him to! When God called Abram, He gave him three great promises which are so incredibly important to the whole story of the Bible.
- A people and nation (v2): Though Sarai was barren and unable to conceive (11:30), God promised to make Abram into a great nation! Through Abram & Sarai would come a family line and enough children and grandchildren that one day they would become the nation of Israel.
- Blessed to be a blessing (v2-3): Blessing is about being under God’s protection and His favour. God promised to bless Abram and make his name great. Abram would one day become one of the most famous people in all history. God says that he would be blessed in order to be a blessing to others. Indeed, all nations on earth would be blessed through him.
- A land (v7): God also promised a land for this nation to live in. Remember that they had been headed for Canaan and although Abram doesn’t stop here for long on his way through, this was the Promised land.
Great promises but still Sarai was barren and so humanly speaking it was impossible. Hebrews 11:11-12 says that Sarai was beyond childbearing age and Abram is said to be “as good as dead”! Furthermore because the name Abram means exalted father, it must have been really embarrassing for Abram to explain his lack of children. Still, this was going to play an important role in God’s plan to bless the world. In the New Testament Paul speaks in various places about these promises – here is one:
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.Galatians 3:7-9, 29
Looking closely, Paul says that those who have faith, are children of Abraham and we are blessed along with him. Abram didn’t see the complete fulfilment of these promises in his lifetime. No, these promises are still being worked out in and through us. If we know Jesus then we too are part of the fulfilment of this promise. Paul says that the gospel was proclaimed in advance! Through Abram, or more specifically through Jesus, all nations were going to be blessed. We too are blessed in order to be a blessing to others. The gospel is not supposed to stop with us but overflow into the lives of the people around us.
3. Abram’s Response (12:4-9):
4 So 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. 5 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, and they arrived there. 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.Genesis 12:4-9
Abram’s response to God’s call on his life was to go. Yes, he got delayed at Haran, but following the death of his father, he was back the road to Canaan. Abram (75) and Sarai (65) brought with them all of the possessions & people they had accumulated in Harran: it seems they had been there a while! Having been promised the land, Abram’s response was to worship. He built an altar to the Lord in Shechem (v7b) and again towards the hills east of Bethel. These altars expressed Abram’s devotion to the LORD – they were his way of saying that he would believe, trust and serve God. In order to continue this journey of faith he needed God’s help every step of the way. The right response to both the call of God on our life and His great promises is to worship.
Notice finally that Abram only ever pitched his tent in the land of Canaan – he was a stranger there and it was never his true home.
9 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. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.Hebrews 11:9-10
Like Abram, we also live somewhere that’s not our true home. I was chatting recently to an older friend whose wife has recently been moved into a nursing home. He told me that he was reminding both her, and indeed himself, that neither the nursing home, nor their home of forty years, were their real home. Their real home was with Jesus!
Challenges to consider
From the moment God appeared to him and called Abram to go, things never quite looked the same. He let go of the familiar to venture out into the unfamiliar. I don’t know what you are like with handling transition and change, but it is not something I have ever found particularly easy. The call of God on our lives is to put away the familiar, and live lives of faith that may lead in a very different direction. Are you willing to step out in faith? I also wonder how confident you feel regarding the promises of God. The image above shows some of the hundreds of promises contained in the Bible’s. Paul comments on God’s promises:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.2 Corinthians 1:20
These same promises also apply to us because we are children of Abraham and they are all Yes in ‘Christ’. God is blessing us to be a blessing to others, He is continuing to take that blessing to all nations of the world. What a privilege to be blessed to be a blessing!