Abraham Week 1

Abraham  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  55:52
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How many of us like change? Especially when we have gotten into a routine, or have settled and comfortable? But that is exactly what God called Abraham to do. Leave everything behind, and follow God. We can look at Abraham, and see many parallels to our journey of faith today. Victories, failures, successes, shortcomings, we see a human struggle - just like us. In Abraham, we observe someone uniquely chosen to receive a grand promise: that he would become the father of a great nation and a channel of blessing to the world. Abraham embraced this promise, but it was 25 years before he saw it realized. As he waited on God, he battled fear, anxiety, and doubt. In Abraham, we see a reflection of ourselves, a story that isn’t that different from ours. It’s about responding to God’s call, journeying with Him through life, facing challenges, and growing as a result of them.

Stepping Out in Faith

Genesis 11:27–12:9 ESV
27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran. 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
What would you do if God came for you—if out of the blue, He said, “I need you to pick up and move. Get your stuff together. I’ll tell you where to go later.”
Can you imagine the reaction from your family and friends? Are you crazy? You’re leaving everything you know, all you have, and everything familiar to just pick up and go…somewhere? Even after trying to explain that it was God seeking you to move, how many would think you had actually talked to God, or would they think you had lost your marbles?
But this was exactly how God called Abram. Pick up your belongings and go where I tell you. Now, imagine doing this when you are 75 years old. Leaving behind home, family, belongings, etc., and moving away to an unknown destination. Now it would be different if we KNEW where we would be moving, but God did not reveal WHERE He would be taking Abram.
As the story unfolds, we find that God’s promised blessing sits at the heart of Abram’s story (whom God later renames Abraham). Abram responded to God’s call because of his hope in this future blessing. His expectation that God would fulfill His word underscored everything he did. In fact, Abram may have responded in faith because God promised him the one thing he still lacked: a son. In this way, Abram’s story becomes more than the account of the patriarch; it illustrates the OT expectation of the One who would one day restore God’s relationship with His people (Gal 4:4–5). Like Abram, we also respond in faith to God’s call—the one heard through the voice of His Son.
With Abram, God also narrowed His focus. Rather than deal with humanity in general, He began to work through a specifically chosen people. And yet, God’s promise to Abram would affect all of humanity. While He blessed Abram as an individual, the whole world would receive divine blessing through Abram (Gen 12:2–3).
We first encounter Abram in Gen 11, which introduces his family and provides the backstory to the events of Gen 12 (see Gen 11:27–32). Abram was part of a seminomadic clan led by his father, Terah. The clan included Abram’s brothers, Nahor and Haran; Abram’s nephew, Lot; Nahor’s wife, Milcah; and Abram’s wife, Sarai. This brief narrative introduces people and locations that will be important later in Genesis—especially when Abram’s descendants interacted with his extended family in northern Mesopotamia.
Genesis 11:27–32 introduces three key locations: Ur of the Chaldeans, Haran, and Canaan. Abram’s birthplace, “Ur of the Chaldeans,” refers either to a large ancient city in southern Mesopotamia or a smaller trading center in northwest Mesopotamia. Clues from elsewhere in Abram’s story suggest he viewed the region around Haran in northwest Mesopotamia as his homeland (Gen 24:4–7), but later biblical texts connect him to southern Mesopotamia because of the mention of “Chaldeans” in Gen 11:28. Most biblical references to Chaldeans use the name as a synonym for the Babylonians, the inhabitants of Babylon—a major city in south central Mesopotamia (Isa 13:19; 47:1). Given this, Abram’s migration from southern Mesopotamia to Canaan was later believed to foreshadow the experience of Jews returning from Babylonian exile.
Haran was a city on the upper Euphrates River in northwestern Mesopotamia. On the way from Ur to Canaan, Terah and the rest of the clan settled in Haran. The story provides no explanation as to why they interrupted their journey to Canaan in this way. Terah lived his final days in Haran (Gen 11:31–32).
Canaan was the promised land, the region that would one day become Israelite territory. In introducing Canaan here, Gen 11:27–32 indicates that Abram’s story is the story of Israel’s beginning. Three locations within Canaan are specifically mentioned throughout Abram’s story: Shechem, Bethel, and the Negev. Together, these locations represent the primary areas that Abram and his descendants later occupied in Genesis. They also represent the major strongholds of future Israelite control.
Shechem was located in the central hill country of Israel and appears to have served as a capital city at times in Israel’s history (Josh 24; 1 Kgs 12). Bethel was an ancient Canaanite sacred site in the hill country of Israel (south of Shechem but north of Jerusalem). After the kingdoms of Israel and Judah split (1 Kgs 12), Bethel sat just north of Judah at Israel’s southern border. The third territory—the Negev—was the southernmost region of Canaan; it later became the southern border region of Judah. In highlighting these three locations, Genesis highlights Abram’s ancient presence in the heart of what would become Israelite territory, and it illustrates the significance of God’s promise of land and a son to a wandering, barren couple.
Reading quickly over the short account of Gen 12:1–9 may cause us to miss the implications of the events. On the surface, the story is clear: God called, and Abram answered with obedience.
At this point in the story, the Bible hasn’t told us anything about Abram or about what kind of man he was. With Noah, the last person God singled out, the Bible at least indicates that he was “a righteous man” (Gen 6:9). We are not told exactly when Abram received the call. It may have occurred before he left Ur or after his father died in Haran—the passage is silent on this point.
(The Hebrew word moledeth can be used to refer to someone’s homeland (Ruth 2:11; Jer 22:10), birthplace (Jer 46:16; Ezek 16:3), relatives (Gen 43:7; Num 10:30), or children (Gen 48:6). Aside from its use in Gen 12:1, the word occurs eight more times in Genesis. Unfortunately, “birthplace” and “relatives” work equally well in many of the contexts where moledeth occurs. However, in Genesis 12:1 “birthplace” makes more sense than “relatives” since “father’s house” at the end of the list clearly indicates Abram’s extended family. Abram was called to leave behind his current home, his birthplace, and his family to go where God might lead.)
But what’s ultimately important is that God commanded Abram to leave his “land,” his moledeth, and his “father’s house” (Gen 12:1 ESV). Whether the Hebrew word moledeth refers to Abram’s relatives or to his birthplace (it could refer to either), God clearly called Abram from the familiar to the unknown.
The lack of detail in God’s instruction for Abram to go “to the land that I will show you” indicates Abram’s faith: He packed up and left in response to the call, blindly trusting God to lead him. Abram did not verbally respond to God’s address. He never asked where he should go or how he would know when he got there.
However, God’s words would have struck Abram as odd—leave your homeland and family, you will become a great nation—especially His final statement, “all families of the earth will be blessed in you” (Gen 12:3). How could all families on earth be blessed through one man? Abram didn’t know the details of how these events would unfold, but he believed the promise and obeyed. God promised to lead him to a new land and provide him with children, to bless his journey and provide for his well-being. Abram believed, prepared his family and possessions, and got on the road to Canaan. Abram must have been leading a sizable caravan. The story tells us that he took his wife, Sarai, his nephew, Lot, all their possessions, “and all the persons they had acquired in Haran” (Gen 12:5).
Once in Canaan, Abram traveled to Shechem, one of three main areas where he stopped to build an altar to worship God (compare Gen 35:4; Josh 24:26). God expanded on His promise to Abram at the oak near Shechem. While in His first announcement, God told Abram to go, promising to bless him (Gen 12:1–3), in this second announcement, He confirmed that Abram was in the right place by promising to give this very land to his descendants (Gen 12:7). Once again, Abram responded with actions, not speech. He built an altar, worshiped God, and continued to explore the land, building another altar near Bethel and moving still farther south “toward the Negev” (Gen 12:9).
While the absence of any spoken response to God is remarkable, Abram’s actions provided greater evidence of his strong faith than words ever could. His acts of obedience not only marked a new beginning for Abram, they marked a new beginning for God’s relationship with humanity. Through Abram’s faithful response, God’s care and concern for the entire world became intimately linked to His care and concern for Abram and his descendants. And yet, at this point in the story, much of this remains to be seen. Sarai was barren, and Abram, advanced in age, still had many lessons to learn about God’s plan, provision, and purpose.
Abram’s faithful response to God influenced the efforts of later biblical writers as they, too, struggled to balance faithful obedience to God with fear of the unknown. When NT writers reflected on the faith of their ancestors, Abram’s obedience to God’s call was a constant source of reassurance. Jesus Himself brought together Abram’s story and the story of the world’s salvation in saying “Abraham your father rejoiced that he would see my day, and he saw it and was glad”
John 8:56 ESV
56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Traditions in the NT (and beyond) show how some Jews from ancient times substituted Abram’s model of living faith with a system of rules. This led them to impose their understanding of righteousness and merit onto Abram’s life. It also led them to trust in their genealogical relationship to Abram more than their relationship to God (Matt 3:9; John 8:39–40). Jesus’ words help remind us that the “heroes of faith” should always lead us toward the ultimate fulfillment of God’s words, which is Christ.
Sometimes the hardest step of faith is the very first one. Every day leads us to a crossroads at which we must choose between faith in God’s promises and fear of the unknown. In Genesis 12:1–9, Abram leaned fully on his faith, trusting in God and His promise that he would be blessed and play a role in the blessing of the whole world. While Abram did not know, at this point, how God would bring about this plan, his later attempts to ensure the success of God’s promise suggest he may have understood that worldwide blessing was in some way dependent on his survival. As one writer put it, “Abraham was the strong beam carrying the burden of the generations that existed before him and that came after him.”6
In retrospect, we can see that Abram had nothing to fear; God ensured the fulfillment of His promise. But Abram’s fears and doubts help us reflect on our own relationship to God’s call and promise in our lives. When we get caught up in what we think we need to do for God in order to be worthy of Him, we may lose sight of the only things we truly need to do: trust in His promise, accept His call, and surrender our doubts, fears, and insecurities.
Just like our own walks, Abram’s journey of faith was not perfect. Yet even though Abram continued to be nagged by doubt and fear, he kept looking ahead to where God was leading him. The Apostle Paul used Abram’s life to draw out the same truth: A true child of Abram lives by faith in the promised Son, who brings blessing to the entire world (Gal 3:6–9). The message of Abram’s life points to this essential truth of the gospel: We must live by faith in God, no matter what.
Grigoni, M. R., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Abraham: Following God’s Promise (Ge 11:27–12:9). Lexham Press.
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