God Calls Abram
Key Verses: 12:1-2
“ The LORD said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 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.’”
In chapter 3 we learned how sin entered the world and the results of that sin; God cursed the snake, woman and man. God’s curse meant that man has to live in a fallen world suffering and toiling until we die. But along with God’s curse came His promise to crush Satan’s head through the offspring of the woman. In chapters 4-6 we learned that sin spread throughout the world until “Every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil all the time.” This grieved God so much that He decided to wipe mankind and every living creature off the face of the earth. But one man, Noah, found favor in the eyes of the LORD. Through Noah’s absolute obedience to the command of God, God was able to save a remnant through the flood and start over. It was a new beginning for mankind, but man’s sin problem had not been solved. The earth was still under God’s curse because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and Satan was still roaming the earth like a roaring lion looking for men to devour. God knew the situation man was in and He had not forgotten the promise He included with the curse. Being a faithful God, He had to find a way to fulfill this promise.
Our passage today is often considered the starting point for the fulfillment of that promise; the beginning of God’s world salvation plan. The plan begins with the calling of one old man named Abram. Today’s passage describes God’s calling for Abram, Abram’s response and his first stumble in his life of faith. As we study Abram’s life, we will see that he was an ordinary man in many ways, but his life of faith was extraordinary. May God bless our study of Abram’s life and open our hearts and spiritual eyes to not only learn these lessons but to put them into practice in our lives today.
First, God tells Abram to leave (1-3). Let’s read verse 1 together. “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’” Some time before, Terah, Abram’s father, had moved to Haran with Abram, his wife Sarai, and Abram’s nephew, Lot. We don’t know how long Abram lived in Haran with his father, but from verse 5 we can see that it was long enough to acquire people and possessions. This means that Abram’s family must have been living a successful and comfortable life in Haran (only rich people acquired other people). Yet God told him to leave this all behind. So the first thing we notice about the LORD’s calling for Abram was that it was not going to be easy to obey. What made it even more difficult to obey was the fact that God didn’t tell Abram where he would be going. God just told him to leave his country, his people and his father’s household and go to “the land I will show you.”
How could Abram leave a comfortable life, friends and familiar surroundings to go to an unknown place? Look at verses 2 and 3. “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. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God followed His difficult command with a great promise; a promise to raise a great nation through him, to make his name great and make him a blessing to all peoples on the face of the earth. With a promise like this we might think it would be easy for Abram to obey God’s command to leave, but if we think about it for a minute we will see that this is not the case. According to verse four, Abram was already 75 years when he set out from Haran. Abram was also married to a barren woman. How could he possibly believe such a great promise? Could an old man make a name for himself in a foreign land where he didn’t know the language? Could an old man even make it to that land? And how could he become a great nation when he had no heirs and his wife was barren? This promise was simply too great for Abram to believe. Humanly it made no sense and was absolutely impossible. Yet this was all God offered Abram for his obedience.
When we think about this we might think that God was asking too much of Abram, but His command to leave what we know behind to go to a land He will show us with only an impossible promise is what God offers everyone of His children. When Jesus called his disciples they had to choose to either stay where they were with their jobs, families and secure life or to leave everything to follow a poor, homeless country carpenter to places they couldn’t possibly have known. They were promised a messiah - but Jesus didn’t look anything like a messiah. The disciples made the right choice and they left everything behind to follow Jesus. James and John left their father in the boat to follow Jesus, Peter left his wife behind to follow Jesus and Matthew left his tax collectors booth the minute Jesus said follow me. We also are commanded to leave our lives of sin, the lives which are secure and familiar to us, to go where ever God sends us. In return, God offers us an impossible promise; the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life together with Him in paradise. In reality, we are in the same position Abram was in when God called him, so let’s see how Abram responded.
Second, So Abram left (4-9) Look at verse 4. “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.” Abram left his father, his friends and the comfortable life that he had grown use to, to travel to an unknown land at the age of seventy-five. “He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.” Abram had worldly possessions, but there was no guarantee that he would arrive at his destination with them. Anything could happen along the way. He could be robbed by bandits, wild animals might attack or all of his possessions might be swept away while trying to cross a river. He had nothing to hold onto except God’s impossible promise. So Abram held onto this and left. Verse 4 tells us that Abram did make it to Canaan. When Abram held on to God’s promise God held onto him. God guided him to Canaan and enable him to arrive safely.
Abram traveled through the land as far as the city of Shechem. The Bible tells us that the Canaanites were already in the land at that time. Abram found himself in the land that God led him to surrounded by strange people who were already settled in the land. They had built cities and had established societies. Abram was a stranger in the land and didn’t speak the language. He didn’t know the culture or where, or if, he would be allowed to settle down. As he looked around and saw these cities and the established civilization he must have felt scared and all alone. We can imagine Abram asking himself why he had ever decided to leave Haran. God saw Abram’s situation and knew Abram’s heart, so God visited Abram and offered him some encouragement. Look at verse 7a. “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’” Once again God’s words would have been impossible for Abram to believe. Abram was an old man and his wife was barren so what offspring was God talking about? However, Abram didn’t think like this. Look at verse 7b. “So he built an alter there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” Abram’s actions show that he accepted the LORD’s words. He simply trusted that God would somehow give him offspring and that he would then give this land full of Canaanites to his descendants. Abram simply believed God no matter how impossible his promises seemed.
After Abram had worshipped God for appearing to him and giving him such a great promise he moved on and stopped between Bethel and Ai. Once again Abram could see on either side of him that this land was already occupied by people much more numerous and powerful than himself. He could have turned around in fear and despair and returned Haran, but Abram did not. Instead, he built an alter right there between Bethel and Ai and called on the name of the LORD. When his situation looked hopeless Abram did not despair. He remembered God and called on him.
Abram left everything he knew and obeyed God’s command based on an unbelievable promise. Then, when he got to the land that God led him to, he found it already occupied by a people who were numerous enough to build several cities. He didn’t speak the language and he didn’t even know if he would be welcomed by these people. But he didn’t despair and turn around. Instead, He remembered God and God’s promises to him and he called on God’s name. As I mentioned before, our life of faith today is really just like Abram’s. God has called us to leave the life we know and love to go wherever he wants to send us and He gives us a wonderful, yet impossible promise. All of us here have already chosen to believe this promise and have left our old life behind to follow God or we are praying and thinking about doing so. We might think that once we have made the decision to believe God and give up our life to follow Him the hard part is over, but this is not the case. God will lead us to the land he wants to go to, but once we get there and look around we will see all types of obstacles that must be overcome. We will find that the land is already occupied and probably occupied by people who don’t look so friendly to us. We will find ourselves with language difficulties and we may find ourselves feeling all alone and vulnerable. These things might make us want to despair and simply give up and go back home, but we must not do that. We must stay in the land God brings us to and overcome our fears and insecurities by calling on the name of the LORD and remembering His great and wonderful promises for us. We need to learn Abram’s alter building faith in order to stay in God’s promised land.
Third, Abram forgets to build an alter (10-20) After calling on the name of the LORD between Ai and Bethel, Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. The Negev is a desert and semi-desert area in southern Israel. It is likely that Abram went to this place because it was very sparsely populated and he might have felt more comfortable settling there. For whatever reason he went there, once he got there a famine came upon the land. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse for Abram. Not only was he a stranger in a foreign land now he had no food to feed his family and livestock. Instead of building another alter and calling on the name of the LORD, Abram decided the best thing to do was to go down to Egypt. Instead of seeking God’s direction in this situation Abram followed his own thinking. Humanly speaking, going to Egypt was probably the most logical thing for Abram to do. It was close and it was probably the most culturally diverse society of the time. They would probably have food there and would be much more likely to share it with, or sell it to Abram than the Canaanites.
As Abram approached Egypt he was overcome by fear. His fear was that the Egyptians would kill him because of his beautiful wife Sarai, so he told her to tell them that she was his sister. Abram’s thinking seems a little crazy and a proud. Did he really think that his wife was so beautiful that people would kill for her? We don’t know if they would kill for her, but when the Egyptians saw her they did find her to be a very beautiful woman; so beautiful that they told Pharaoh about her. Pharaoh, thinking that she was Abram’s sister, took her into his palace and made sure that Abram was treated well for her sake. While Sarai suffered through life in the harem of Pharaoh, Abram got rich acquiring sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels. Abram’s human thinking was paying off materially, but at what cost? He had lost his wife and only hope for an heir to Pharaoh. He was prospering, but his beloved wife was living in a harem like an unpaid prostitute.
Even though Abram had forgot God and left him out of his decisions to go to Egypt and to have Sarai say that she was his sister, God did not forget Abram. God inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household to protect Sarai. Eventually, Pharaoh found out why the diseases were attacking him so he summoned Abram and rebuked him. Pharaoh could have had Abram killed with one word, but God protected Abram by placing the fear of the LORD in Pharaoh. Pharaoh gave Sarai back to Abram, gave orders that Abram and his household were not to be harmed and sent Abram on his way.
Using his own human thinking to try and resolve a problem, Abram almost lost everything. If God had not intervened, Abram would have lost his wife and maybe even his life. But God did intervene because God is always faithful. God had commanded Abram to leave his country, his people and father’s household and promised Abram that if he obeyed God would bless him, make him into a great nation, make his name great, and make him a blessing for all peoples on the face of the earth. Abram obeyed and left as God had told him, so God kept his promise. It would take God 25 years to train Abram, but God would not give up and He would not fail.
Like Abram, our human thinking can only get us into trouble. Instead of trying resolve problems that come up in our lives just by doing what seems logical, we should take these problems to God in prayer. God’s answer may not seem to be the most logical solution to our problems, but we must know that God is faithful and He always works for the good of those who love Him. If we trust Him, He will get us to the promised land. But if we trust in ourselves, we will find ourselves in one mess after another. God will still remain faithful, but we will needlessly endanger ourselves and those we love. Trust in God and bring everything to Him in prayer before acting.
In today’s passage we learned how Abram began his life of faith. He obeyed God and left everything he knew based on an impossible promise. Then, when he got to the promised land and found it already occupied by a strong, well established people, he turned to God in prayer. However, when he faced his first real trial through a famine, Abram relied on his own human thinking. This left him in a terrible situation with his beloved wife in Pharaoh’s harem and his hope for an heir gone. Finally, we learned that God is a faithful God who will find a way to work out even the worst situations so that He can keep His promises. May God help us to learn the lessons of a life of faith through the study of our father of faith. May God help us to put these lessons to work in our daily lives so that we can live as His blessings in this generation.