Monday, March 27, 2017

Genesis 11:27 - 12:9 "The Call of Abram"

A year ago, we ended our studies in the first 11 Chapters of   Genesis.  We shall now consider the next section in Genesis 12 - 25, under the general heading, ‘Lessons from the  life of Abraham’. Today  we want to simply  focus on the  call of Abraham, who was originally called Abram[1].

The story of Abraham begins actually in Chapter 11:27: “Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot…”. At the head of the families in this section is Terah, not Abram. We would have expected Abraham to lead this new section, since after all, he shall be the father of the Hebrew nation as well as the father of the greater family of faith which will include the gentiles.[2] But Terah is mentioned as the first patriarch. The reason for this is that Terah was not only the father of Abram, but he was also the grandfather of Lot (the son of Haran, one of Abram’s two brothers. He was also the great grandfather of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, and the great-great grandfather of Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob. The roots of the nation of Israel revolve around what Terah produced.[3]  But Abram is undoubtedly the main character of these chapters. 

He was born approximately 2000 years before Christ, and 4000 years from where we find ourselves today in history. He was born in Ur of the Chaldeans (11:28), also known sometimes as the Land of Sumer and Mesopotamia, the land between two rivers, the Euphrates and the Tigris. Ur was once a port city on the river Euphrates and was situated near the Persian Gulf. Ur was located in today’s modern Iraq. The whole region has silted up since then. Ur has a very old history. Archaeologists have discovered the evidence of an early occupation at Ur (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC).  “These early levels were sealed off with a sterile deposit of soil that was interpreted by excavators of the 1920s as evidence for the Great Flood of the Book of Genesis”. [4]  One of the famous structures, dating back to the time of Abraham is the Ziggurat at Ur, a huge structure like the pyramids of Egypt.  The evidences point to a series of advanced civilizations. But the structures did not serve to glorify Yahweh, the living God.  The Ziggurat was built in honour of the moon god. Joshua makes mention of the fact that Abram’s family worshipping other gods [Josh. 24:2,15].
Before we get to the 12th chapter it is important to note that Terah and his family had set out for Canaan (11:31), but on the way there they settled in Haran, about 900 kilometres northwest of Ur. Haran was also a strategic trading centre, also noted for its worship of the moon god. Stephen,   the martyr tells us in Acts 7:2 that Abram’s call had come to him in Mesopotamia, in Ur before he had come to Haran.   Haran was not to be the place for Abraham and his offspring. God’s original purpose was for him to settle in Canaan.  Many set out on a journey and never arrive  at their destination, the promised land. Many a person has begun  a Christian  pilgrimage only to get stuck in a place or position  where they never get further in their walk with Jesus. But Abram does not get stuck in Haran. He leaves his father Terah and his extended family behind, and accompanied by his wife, Sarai  and servants  and his  nephew Lot,  he heads for the  land of promise. And so Genesis 12 becomes an important,   pivotal passage in Genesis.  All that follows from here will have a huge effect upon the world.  
This section then begins with a divine calling. God called a man named Abram, a pagan man living in a pagan culture, a man who wasn’t looking for YAHWEH, the true God of the Universe.  But God was looking for Abram, and  He calls him, and this becomes the pattern of God’s dealings with His chosen people. All God’s children are sought out by God, chosen by God, and born of God. [John 1:12,13]  No one decides to be born. No one gives birth to themselves. And so it is with the spiritual birth. God always initiates the process. He calls His people with an irresistible call, and they respond. This was true of   all the famous leaders of the Bible ….Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. It was true of the apostles whom Jesus called one by one and by name. It was true of Paul the apostle, called on the road to Damascus, not very far from   the ancient city of Haran.  This call is also true of every believer in history. It is true for you and me who have saved by the Lord Jesus and believed in the Lord Jesus.  God calls us in many ways. 

  • The North African church father Augustine (354- 430 AD) hearing children reading words from a book in a garden, was led to read the Scriptures which convicted him of sin and which led him to confess the Name of Jesus.  
  • Martin Luther first called upon God in a thunderstorm.  This  produced a series of events   which led to his conversion.
  • John Newton, in 1748 aboard a slave ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Donegal, Ireland and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and, as the ship filled with water, he called out to God. The cargo shifted and stopped up the hole, and the ship drifted to safety. Newton marked this experience as the beginning of his conversion to Christ. 
  • Your own testimony may not be as dramatic in its beginnings. The call of God may have come to you at an early age through the faithful testimony and prayer of your parents or grandparents.  But it always begins with that particular call from God. This is the mystery of the doctrine of election- a theme  that is found through the entire Bible!    
Abraham was 75 years old when God called him and his wife Sarai to leave Haran to go to the land of Canaan.  And so we read:  “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him” (12:4).  He did three things: He left his country, his kindred, and his father’s household.  (12:1).

A word of caution. Sensitive Christians, wanting to be obedient to the Lord sometimes struggle with a text such as this. How do we apply this text to ourselves?  Does this mean that you must be like Abram, when you become a Christian?  Does this mean that you have to leave your home, friends and country and move somewhere else? I hope to offer you some helpful counsel. In the first place understand that you are not Abram. His calling was a unique calling. God had a unique work for Abram.  He was going to become the father of a new nation called Israel. But more than that, he was going to become the father of all true believers through the ages.   

But there are some principles that do apply to us:

1.   We all have to leave, what John Bunyan in his Pilgrims Progress called, the ‘City of Destruction’.  When we are converted we are called to walk away from our former way of life and set our hearts on pilgrimage. We set our eyes on the road that leads us to the heavenly city, the city prepared by God for those called by Him. Hebrews  11:8-10 shows how this was true  of Abraham. Now understand this. The land of Canaan is symbolic and typical  of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city that has foundations, who’s Designer and Builder is God. Having received the call from God, we must respond with repentance, by which we turn our backs on our old life, the life in the city of Destruction, and follow the way that the Lord Jesus calls us to follow. In this we become the children of Abraham, the father of faith. This does not mean that we must leave Windhoek. It means that we must leave our sinful ways. The next point will make this clearer.

2.      We leave our former friends in the city of destruction and we find our new friends in a new fellowship called the Christian church.  Here we are called to find our closest friends. They are called our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are people like us, who have heard the call of God to leave their life of sin, and to follow the Lord Jesus in the fellowship of His body, the church. These people are God’s people, and therefore they are our people. You leave behind your drinking and drug buddies, the gossips and slanderers,   and all those who are described in Galatians 5:19-21. You join the people committed to the lifestyle encouraged in Galatians 5:22,23.  We shall see a little later in our studies that when Sodom and Gomorrah were to be destroyed by God, because of their wickedness, Lot’s wife could not leave the city of destruction. Her heart longed for her former companions, and she kept looking back, and therefore she too was destroyed. This brings us to the next  point.

3.      We leave our  father’s household. Notice that Terah had actually intended to go to Canaan with his family, but they never got there because they settled in Haran (11:31). Terah never got to where God wanted the family to be. And so Abraham, who heard the clear call of God, had to move on. When we become Christians we are called to love God more than our family. That is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 10:34-39.   Although we honour our father and mother as never before when we become Christians, we can never replace that love with a greater love than we have for God. Although our families are to be loved and cherished as a gift from God, families often have  sin patterns and reluctances  to  fully serve God. The  Christian family member often feels the pain  of having to separate  from them to serve the purposes of God.


“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and  will make your name great, so that  you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” [12:2,3].

The God who came to Abram, comes to him with an amazing offer of such magnitude that we can scarcely comprehend it.  Let me put it to you in simple language.
(i)                 God promises to make the family of Abram into a great nation.
(ii)         He will be uniquely blessed by God in this sinful world. Those who turn against him will experience God’s wrath on them.   God loves and protects His people.
(iii)              Abram’s influence will be seen and felt in all the families of the world. Everywhere there will be men and women of faith in every part of the world and among all nations, at all times, until the Lord Jesus comes again! Men and women of  the kind of faith that Abraham possessed  are being born again  right now in Africa, China, India, South America, etc. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (v.3).

We pass over a few details and we come to v.6.   Abram meets the Canaanites.  There will be huge battles between his grandchildren and theirs in time to come. This land was the region settled by the descendants of a man called Canaan. We have met him before in Genesis 9:25. He was the cursed son of Ham. Canaan’s offspring became a most evil civilization, steeped in idol worship and cruelty and depravity.   This was the land that YAHWEH called Abram to possess.   He did that by building altars in key places. He did it in Shechem (v.7). He did it near Bethel (v.8). These altars were like stakes in the ground or beacons   in the whole land, saying that this land belonged to YAHWEH and his called out people. 
God honoured Abram’s faith. Almost a thousand years later the descendants of Abram were living in the land. They had been led into it and had conquered it under Joshua. He made his final speech to them just before he died, and where did he make it? Under the great oak tree still standing there in Moreh. (Josh. 24:25-28).  
YAHWEH triumphs over the pagans!  Abram had left his mark on this land. But Abram would not become the ruler of this land. His offspring would. And that is a story that waits to be told at another time.

REVIEW AND SUMMARY : The Call of Abraham

From our text we have learned  concerning

1.      the irresistible  call to belong to God
2.      the call to be obedient to God
3.   the call to trust God  with his future dealings in the world. God’s promises are certain and faithful. Do not be intimidated by the times that you are living in.  Ur  and Sodom  are symbolic of all the evil civilizations that  now lie buried in the   sands of time.

Amen !

[1] Abram : Not a spelling mistake!  Abram means  “exalted father”.  In Chapter 17:5  we shall see that God renames him Abraham, “ father of a multitude”
[2] See Romans 4
[3] Philip Eveson: The Book of Origins ,p.244
[4] ;  UR: The first Phases  – Sir Leonard Wooley, p.13 ( King Penguin Books, 1946)

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