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. 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. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV
Abram, as I see it, has kind of a sudden prominence in the Genesis story. There’s not much lead up to God’s amazing promise in this text. With Adam, we knew he was God’s first created human. With Noah, we knew that he stood out among all the people of his generation. With Abram? All we know about him is that he is the son of Terah. Terah gathered up his family in Ur of the Chaldeans and headed to Canaan. But he never got there. He stopped off in Haran and settled in there. Terah died without ever moving to Canaan. He left behind two sons (one had died) and their families. Abram was one of those sons. And he had a message from God to uproot from Haran and make his way to an undisclosed location. It’s not only undisclosed to us, it was undisclosed to Abram.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8
I suppose when one hears the voice of God there is some motivation to do whatever that voice says. Noah built an ark, indicating there was no doubt in his mind about what God wanted him to do. On one hand, we might say Abram had no choice in the matter. On the other hand, it seems to me that Abram’s choice was to obey this message from God – a God one wouldn’t think Abram knew.
As I read it, Abram kept getting messages from God with affirmations of amazing promises. In response, Abram kept on responding in the belief that God would do what He said he would do.
Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” – Roman s 4:18
And that promise (spoiler alert) was fulfilled, but it took a long time. In the meantime, Abram tried to make it come about by figuring out how to help God keep his promise. It was, after all, in his best interest for those promises to come true. When the promised son became a reality, the truth was demonstrated once again that our timing and God’s timing aren’t often in sync. But that’s another text. So much of the story of Abram depends on his answer to this call. Abram’s decision. I know the matter of ‘choice’ has vast theological turbulence among Christian thinkers. But I don’t only think Abram decided to follow God in this instance, but over and over throughout his life. Abram’s choice to follow God …
Cost him everything.
Gave him everything.
Complicated his life.
Simplified his life.
Challenged his thinking.
Enabled his faith.
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. – Romans 4:20-21
There’s a reason Abram is the father of the faithful. It’s not because he was perfect, flawless, without failures. It’s not because he was a charismatic leader. It’s not because he figured out how to give God what he wanted.
He believed God. He believed God above the idols of his youth. He believed God when he took the first steps in a direction toward an unknown destination. He believed God before he ever received one of the promised blessings. He believed God when his body was dead but a promised son was still on the horizon. He believed God when he took Isaac to the mountain in Moriah.
Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. – James 2:23
To have that kind of faith, to just believe God, in this age of skepticism is an amazement. How many ‘friends of God’ are there today? What decision do you need to make so that you can demonstrate that you believe God? What choices are in front of you? Where will that lead you?
The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting. It is not a question of sanctification; but of something infinitely further on than sanctification, of faith that has been tried and proved and has stood the test. Abraham is not a type of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith, a tried faith built on a real God. “Abraham believed God.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
One more thought. By the end of our text, Abram pitches his tent. He chooses a spot between Ai and Bethel. Ai means “heap of ruins” and Bethel means “House of God”. So we leave our hero someplace between ruin and riches, defeat and victory. I think this is where we all live. But where we go next is a choice.
What thoughts do you have as you read Genesis 12:1-9?
Narrative Lectionary for this week is Genesis 12:1-9. Gospel Reading is Matthew 28:19-20.