IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




The Call of Abram

Date: Mar. 25, 2018

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 11:10-12:9

Key Verse: Genesis 12:2

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.

Our passage today begins two years after the flood about 1658 years after the creation of Adam and it gives us a list of family lines that goes for ten generations. Out of all these generations, the author gives a simple account of two specific families, Shem’s and Terah’s family lines. Shem is important because he is the direct descendant of Noah and the first post flood generation. And Terah is important because his line will produce an unassuming but very important person, Abram through whom the whole world will change.

Why is Abram such a big deal? Good question. Three of the world’s great religions hold Abram in the highest regard. He is considered by the Jews as their founding father, in Islam he is regarded as a mighty prophet, and in Christianity he is honored as our spiritual father. That means, in the world today (As of 2010, a bit outdated), 3.8 out of 6.9 billion people cite Abram as the father of their religion. That’s 55% of the world’s population consider Abram essential to their faith.

As we go through chapter 11 we see a transition, we are breaking away from the story of Noah and are being connected to the story of Abram. In verses 10-26, we are transported from Noah’s son Shem, to his grandson Arphaxad then on to Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, and Nahor. And then in verse 27 we come to Nahor’s son Terah, and finally we stop at Abram. I believe the author does this to give us a sense of continuity and connection down through the generations, in which we can trace the ancestral line from Adam to Noah, to Abram, to Moses, to David and eventually to Jesus. I find it interesting that from Adam to Noah is ten generations and from Shem to Abram is another ten generations.

As we get into the story of Abram he is about 75 years old. It’s hard for us not to think of him as an old man because by our standards he is old when our life expectancy is around 85 years. But Abram would go on to live to 175 years old, so he would be around 36 in our years. He is living in a transitional period where life expectancy is decreasing. Noah lived to about 950 and then there is a shift and his son Shem only lives to 500. The next three generations live to around ~400 and then there is another shift where the next five generations live to around ~200 and then with Abram it shifts again and drops to ~175.

Abram appears to be a prosperous businessman. He is married to his wife Sarai but in verse 30 we find out something that makes Abram different than all the others in his family line. It says, “Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.” Abram and Sarai are not able to have children. This would mean that his family line would stop at him. (not exactly but…) Abram’s brother Haran died, leaving a son named Lot, whom Abram kind of adopts as his own. When we first meet Abram, he is living with his father Terah in Ur which was a large city on the south bank of the Euphrates river in modern day Iraq. Historians tell us that Ur was one of the most important cities of the ancient world with a population of ~ 250,000. They had a university and a large library and was known as a center for mathematics, astronomy, and international commerce. Archaeological evidence show that it was also a center of pagan worship, worshipping the Moon Goddess called Nanna. Now Abram’s brother dies in Ur, which may, or may not, have been the cause for them to leave that city but in any case, Abram’s father uproots the family and they head out to Canaan. But along the way, they make a pit stop in Harran, where they find a similar pagan culture, they feel comfortable and they settle down there.

As far as we know, at this point Abram is not looking for God, but interestingly God was looking for him. Abram’s life changed forever when God found him and speaks to him. Take a look at verses 1-3. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 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.”” Tradition tells us that Abram’s father was in the business of making idols. So, I assume that Abram was most likely going to take over the family business from his father at some point. Then suddenly out of the blue, Abram hears God’s voice talking to him and God gives him this AMAZING promise but in order to receive this great promise, he would have to take a great risk. This is one of those huge crossroads in a person’s life. What is Abram going to do? This is the classic high risk, high reward situation. On one hand, Abram has a very comfortable life, but he has this childless problem, on the other hand is the solution to that life problem, but he has to abandon everything he has ever known to get it.

First off, if anyone makes you a promise, you have to consider who is making that promise. Are they trust worthy? Do you have a relationship with them? And secondly, what does that promise consist of, can you believe it. And here was Abram, as far as we know, he didn’t have any relationship with God at all, and he was just given the biggest promise of his life. The Bible says that God spoke to him, now we’re not exactly sure if it was audible or not, but there is evidence that this does happen as with the case of Samuel. And when you think about it, what would get Abram to consider leaving the safety and comfort of his home and family? It would have to be something significant, because there wasn’t a connection between God and Abram before this. When Abram looked at the idols he made, he saw a lifeless body without a voice, but when he encountered God, he heard a voice without a body.

Spiritually speaking, what’s mind blowing about this incident is God was about to establish his people in a person that didn’t even know him. God found Abraham while he was worshipping other gods, Abram was an idolater immersed in a poly theistic multi-god pagan culture. God was about to teach him that there is only one true god, the Creator God. There isn’t the slightest hint that Abraham was interested in God and yet God called him. The Bible puts it this way: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro 5:8) This is classic God and he does it throughout history. In a period of history, where it seems no one was interested in God, God was interested in them. And we see God is separating out a people for himself and will establish Abram as the head of that family.

Let’s go back to God’s proposal to Abram. God asked Abram to do four things: (1) Leave your country: he would have to leave his land and go to a faraway foreign country where everything was unfamiliar. He wouldn’t speak the language, wouldn’t know where anything was at, he would be isolated. (2) Leave your people: He would no longer have the support of his community. He would leave his culture and be a stranger in a strange land with new food and customs. Would he make friends? (3) Leave your father’s house: Abram would no longer be able to depend upon his father, he would have to make his own way in the world all alone with no one to help him. (4) Go to the land I will show you: he didn’t know where he was going. For some of us, it’s unsettling to going somewhere when you do know how to get there. Today we have GPS’s built into our phones. We take that for granted now but it’s a rather new invention. It didn’t exist for the public 20 years ago. I remember having to have all kinds of maps in the car when I traveled for work. But Abram didn’t even have those, he didn’t even know where he was going. God said that he would show him, which meant that he wouldn’t know it until he saw it. Little did he know that God was leading him to the land of Canaan which is where his father was headed in the first place. So maybe God’s leading in our life is not so much about our destination but in our journey to that destination. Put yourself in Abram’s shoes. You’re in the prime of life, you’ve got a good job, you have a home you like, friends you admire, neighbors who respect you. You’re an upstanding, valuable part of the community. You’ve got a good future ahead of you. The last thing you want to do is drop it for complete uncertainty. Wow, that is not an easy move to make. Abraham was being asked to give up EVERYTHING in order to follow God’s call.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at what God was promising him if he did accept God’s calling. God would promise six things: (1) Make him into a great nation. This means that he would have many descendants, as numerous as sand on the sea shore. (2) Bless him. This is kind of vague but God would make him fruitful. (3) Make his name great. He would be famous, and influential. (4) Make him a blessing. Not only would Abram be blessed, he would be a blessing to other people. This means that it would be good to be Abram’s neighbor. (5) God would bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. This means God would protect him. (6) God would bless all people on earth through Abram. This was God’s promise of the Messiah.

So, what was Abram’s response? Take a look at verses 4-6. “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.” Abram obeyed God. I think that Abram’s obedience was his greatest quality. I heard a story about aguy that was living with a tribe of people, who was trying to translate the Bible into their language which had never been written down before. And one days, he was struggling to find an equivalent word for “obedience” in their native tongue. And as he returned to their village, he whistled for his dog and it came running to him at full speed. One of the natives, seeing this, said to the man in the native tongue, “Your dog is all ear.” Right then he knew that he’d found his word for obedience. Obedience is both listening and doing. We see that demonstrated in the life of Abram. After he heard God’s word, he acted upon it.

He put his faith into action. Abram packed up his family and set out for the land God would show him. Hebrews 11:8 gives a glimpse of Abram’s faith. “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. 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. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” (comment on the parts of the verses)

Faith is part of everyday living. For example, when you are sick, you go to a doctor whose name you may not be able to pronounce. (like Jimmy) They write you a prescription you do not understand. You take it to a pharmacist you may have never met. (not Viola) They give you medication you don’t know --- and yet, you take it." Now, that is living by Faith! Faith is part of supernatural living. As followers of Jesus we walk by faith and not by sight! There will be times when what we do does not make sense to other people, but if God has called us and asked us it makes perfect sense.

One important thing regarding the life of faith: You rarely see the big picture in advance. Even if you think you see it, you don’t. When God calls, he doesn’t always explain himself. He always tells you just enough to get you moving in the right direction. The rest is up to him. When God leads he takes you from A to B, then B to C, then C to D. He never takes you from A to Z. It is a walk of faith, one step at a time! God knew Abram had this great quality within his make-up. God called and he obeyed. Hebrews chapter 11 verse 8 says he “obeyed and went.” He may have doubted, but he went! He may have argued, but he went! He may have wondered, but he went! When God calls, the only proper response is to obey and go.

Take a look at verses 7-9. “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. 9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” Notice what happened to Abram when he finally reached the Promised Land. His journey from Ur of the Chaldees took him about 800 miles north to Haran and then another 700 miles to Canaan. Eventually he arrived at a place called Shechem, which is in central Israel in an area that we today call the West Bank. The Bible adds an ominous phrase at this point: “The Canaanites were in the land.” (Duh, Cananites in the land of Canaan) The Canaanites were the sworn enemies of Israel. When Abraham arrives in the Promised Land, the first people he meets become his enemy! It’s a reminder that living by faith is never an easy option. We are in a spiritual battle, so expect difficulties!

Abraham had to face them, and so will you and me. But notice that at precisely that point the Lord appeared to him again. Here the Lord reaffirmed his promise to give this land to Abraham’s descendants. In difficult times we need to hold on to the promises of God! Also notice that Abraham built an altar and worshipped God there. Then he moved south and built another altar between Bethel and Ai. And the Bible says that he “called on the name of the Lord.” At the start of the passage God called on Abram, but at the end Abram calls on God.

Abraham’s first act in the Promised Land was to build an altar and to worship God. That’s most significant because it tells that faith leads to action, but it also leads to worship. That’s an important lesson we need to learn, isn’t it?

We can connect God’s promise to Abram to us through the gospel. We are blessed through Abram’s descendant Jesus. He was the one who gave up his life so that through him we can have live. Just as Abram was called to go, we are called to believe. As Christians we are to call on the name of the Lord, to call on Jesus.

I would like to conclude with the lyrics to the song The Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns. It is really heart moving. It says:

Oh, what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes to climb out of this boat I'm in, onto the crashing waves. To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown where Jesus is, and He's holding out His hand. But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me. Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed. The waves they keep on telling me time and time again. "Boy, you'll never win!" "You'll never win!"

But the voice of truth tells me a different story. The voice of truth says, "Do not be afraid!"

The voice of truth says, "This is for My glory" Out of all the voices calling out to me I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

Oh, what I would do to have the kind of strength it takes to stand before a giant, with just a sling and a stone. Surrounded by the sound of a thousand warriors shaking in their armor, wishing they'd have had the strength to stand. But the giant's calling out my name and he laughs at me. Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed. The giant keeps on telling me time and time again. "Boy you'll never win!" "You'll never win!"

But the stone was just the right size to put the giant on the ground. And the waves they don't seem so high from on top of them lookin' down. I will soar with the wings of eagles when I stop and listen to the sound of Jesus singing over me. I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

The reason I bring this song up is, these days, so many things are calling out to us trying to get our attention, but we need to hear the voice of truth, the word of God, that draws up to our Creator, our Savior, Jesus.

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