Elon, North Carolina
We come this morning to a brand new section of the Book of Genesis. I want to review where we have been up to this point. The first part of the book dealt with four events. We looked at creation in Genesis 1-2 and saw how God spoke the universe into existence and created the world supernaturally in six literal days. We looked at the temptation and fall of man in Genesis 3 by the serpent.
We looked at the Flood in Genesis 6-9, the greatest catastrophe in history, which wiped out the entire human race with the exception of one family. We then looked at the origin of nations in Genesis 10-11. It began with a united global conspiracy to rebel against God at Tower of Babel. That resulted in the creation of new languages which led to dispersion and ultimately the creation of nations. Genesis 10 mentions 70 nations.
The first part of the book deals with four big events – creation, fall, the flood and the nations. This new section of the book does not deal with four events. It deals with four people – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. The remaining thirty-nine chapters of the book deal with these four men. Most of the chapters in the book are devoted to two of those men – Abraham and Joseph.
The next fourteen chapters of the book deal with Abraham. Genesis 12-25 all deal with the life of Abraham. They give us a biography of Abraham. I want to spend some time looking at the life of Abraham. He is one of the most important people in the entire Bible. Abraham is a giant in Scripture. It doesn’t mean he was perfect. Abraham, like Noah, had his problems and weaknesses but was a spiritual giant. He is one the greatest characters in the Bible.
Abraham is called “a friend of God,” not in one but in three books of the Bible (Isaiah 41:8; II Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23). He wasn’t a friend of the world. He was a friend of God. Abraham and God were close. God said, “Shall I hide anything from Abraham?” (Genesis 18:17). He did not do anything big without telling Abraham first.
Abraham was the first patriarch of Israel. He is the father of the Jewish nation. The whole nation descends from Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. Abraham is not just important for Jews. He is important for Christians. He is mentioned over 70 times in the NT. In fact, he is mentioned in the very first verse of the NT.
Matthew begins his Gospel with these words “This is the genealogy of Yeshua the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1). The NT says that Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:16). Abraham was a physical father of the Jews and a spiritual father of all who believe. Those who have faith are called the sons and daughters of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).
This morning will be an introduction to Abraham. We want to look at who this man was, where he came from, what God asked him to do and what his response was. Next week, we will look at the very important covenant that God made with him.
I want to start with some background information. What do we know about Abraham? The story begins in Genesis 11. That is the first time we see his name in the Bible. We learn something about his family in Genesis 11:27-32.
What do we learn about Abraham here? He lived 4000 years ago. His original name was Abram, not Abraham. His father’s name was Terah. We are not told his mother’s name. Terah had four kids. He had three sons and one daughter. His sons were named Abram, Nahor and Haran. His daughter was named Sarai. Abraham married Sarai (his half sister).
She was the daughter of Terah from a second wife (20:12). His first wife might have died. She was ten years younger than Abram. Abram had two brothers. They lived in Ur. That was Abram’s hometown. The NT tells us that this is where God called Abram.
Stephen says that Abraham was called in Ur BEFORE he went to Harran. Acts 7:2-3 says, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’”
Genesis 12:1 even uses the perfect tense. “The Lord HAD SAID to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (NIV). God called Abraham once. He called him in Ur. When he obeyed the call, his father (Terah) and his nephew (Lot) came with him. Terah probably said, “You can go but I want to come with you.”
One of Abraham’s brothers stay behind in Ur (Nahor) and one had already died there (Haran). Why did he take his nephew Lot with him? We don’t know but it might be because they had something in common. Lot was fatherless. Abram was childless. He may have adopted Lot or felt responsible for him, so Lot went with uncle Abe. He eventually ends up in Sodom and Gomorrah but he was a believer. The Bible calls him “righteous Lot.”
Once they left Ur, they stopped in Harran and Terah decided not to go the rest of the way. He might not have wanted to travel. He was older, so Abram left him in Harran. If you work out the chronology, Abraham left him about sixty years before he died, because Abram was born when he was 70 (11:26) and he left Harran when he was 75 (12:4), which adds up to 145 but Terah lived to be 205 (11:32). We could summarize Abraham’s family this way.
The Family of Abraham
Harran is located in Turkey today. You can visit it. The real question is, Where is Ur? Ur of the Chaldees is mentioned five times in the Bible. Where is it located? It is somewhere in Mesopotamia but we do not know for sure. Some say that it is in the north and some say that it is in the south.
The Location of Ur
The standard view among most Jewish and Christian scholars is that Ur is in Southern Mesopotamia close to the Persian Gulf area and that it is located in modern day Iraq close to the Persian Gulf. It is near modern Nasiriyah (pronounced Naz-ah-re’ah), Iraq. It would have been on the outskirts of the city.
If this is the case, it would mean that Abraham came from the city, rather than the county. He didn’t come from a small village in the country. Ur was a big urban area. It was a metropolis. It was no dump. It had a population of 34,000 in the inner district and as much as a quarter of a million in the outlying districts.
Most people in Ur were not farmers but businessmen and artisans. They had indoor plumbing in Ur four thousand years ago when Abram lived. They had huge houses two stories high with fourteen rooms. They had a big ziggurat there. They even had a library there. Abraham’s migration to Canaan would look like this.
I do not believe it anymore. I believe that the Ur where Abraham lived was not in the south but in the north. It is not in Iraq. It is in Turkey. Muslims believe this is Abraham’s real birthplace. Muslims consider it a holy site. If you go there today, there is a cave where he was supposedly born. Tourists visit the Cave of Abraham there. Some biblical archaeologists and scholars agree with them (Cyrus Gordon), although it is a minority viewpoint.
Why does Ur have to be in the north? The southern location is really far (1100 miles) and Harran is not even on the way. If you are going from Ur in southern Iraq to Canaan, you would never go through Harran. The Chaldees were not in southern Mesopotamia in Abram’s day. That city was not called “Ur of the Chaldees” in Abraham’s day.
Harran was in Turkey. There is a city right above it in Turkey today called Sanliurfa or just Urfa. It has Ur in it. If you wanted to go to Canaan from Urfa in Turkey, you would go through Harran. It is right on the way. This city is 29 miles north of Harran in northern Mesopotamia.
When Abraham sent a servant to his old homeland to look for a wife for his son Isaac, he did not send him to northern Mesopotamia. He sent him to northern Mesopotamia close to Harran (25:20). If Ur is in Turkey, Abraham’s migration would look like this.
“The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (12:1-3 NLT)
Let’s look at this call of Abraham. Several things stand out about this to me about this call.
Characteristics of the Call
1. This call was supernatural.
Abraham did not one day wake up and say “I think God wants to do something special with my life. I think God wants to use me.” He did not figure this out on his own. He received a special revelation from God. Stephen says that the God of glory appeared to Abraham (Acts 7:2). He didn’t just appear to Abraham (as great as that was), He spoke to him. Abraham heard voices.
2. This call was selective.
This is very significant. God did not appear to everybody. He only did this to Abraham. God didn’t make a covenant with everybody and give them special promises. Why would Abraham be the one to whom God would speak? God could have chosen anyone. Why didn’t God appear to someone else? God passed over all of the families of the earth and picked Abraham and his descendants as the recipient of his special covenant.
Now it is true that God did not bless Abraham for Abraham’s sake alone. His goal was for the whole world to be blessed through Abraham but the fact remains that Abraham was chosen by God to be the channel of this blessing. According to Genesis, Adam had many sons and daughters but it only mentions thee of his sons – Cain, Abel and Seth. The Messiah came through only one of those sons (Seth).
Noah had three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth but the Messiah only went through the line of Shem. Shem had five sons but the Messiah came through only one of them (Arphaxad). Terah also had three sons – Nahor, Haran and Abram. Haran and Nahor were not chosen. God made a covenant with Abram. He didn’t make one with Nahor or Haran.
3. This call was undeserved
This was completely unmerited. God says, “I will make of you a great nation.” I will make of you, not just a nation but a great nation. “I will bless you and make your name great”. “In you, ALL THE FAMILIES of the earth will be blessed” (not in some of them or most of them but all of them). Abraham didn’t do anything to deserve this. This was sheer grace on God’s part. It was an act of sovereign grace.
Abraham came from a family of idol worshipers. We know from archaeology that Ur and Haran where he lived were both centers of Moon worship. Abraham’s whole family as far as we can tell worshiped the Mood god. They were Moonies. In Sumerian, this god was called Nanna.
In Hebrew, it was called Sin. They worshiped the god Sin. You know if your god is named Sin that you are in trouble. You have a big problem when sin is you god and you start worshiping it. The Moon is still worshiped in various parts of the world by certain African and Native American groups.
Joshua says in Joshua 24:2-3, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.”
He came from a family of idolaters and polytheists. Jewish tradition says that his father Terah, not only worshiped idols, he was an idol maker. He manufactured them.
Abraham didn’t know God but God knew him and called him by name. Abraham was not out looking for God. God sought out Abraham and called him. Abraham did not seek out God. God was the one who started the process. He was the one who made the point of contact.
What is the lesson here? We don’t choose God. He chooses us. That is the myth of the American church. It is all about our decision. We are in charge. Jesus said, “You have not chosen me. I have chosen you” (John 15:16).
4. The call was challenging
It asked Abraham to do something. God gave Abraham a command. There was something that God wanted him to do. He told him GO. He wanted him to go somewhere. He told him to move. It was a call of MIGRATION. He told him to move to a different place. That migration changed the course of history.
What Abraham was NOT Called to do
Notice what God did not ask Abraham to do. God did NOT tell Abraham to build a big boat. His call did not involve some big construction project, like Noah’s call involved.
He did NOT tell him to write a book of Scripture. He never wrote a book called “The Prophecies of Abraham.” There are a few books with his name on it. There is a book called The Apocalypse of Abraham in the Pseudepigripha. There is another book called “The Book of Abraham” in the Mormon The Pearl of Great Price but neither one of these books were actually written by Abraham. God never called him to write a book.
He did NOT tell him to go to seminary or to start of church. He did NOT call him to a life of suffering or martyrdom. He did NOT call him to be a great king like David or a great theologian like Paul. He did NOT ask him to be a great evangelist and to preach to the world about the one true God. He did NOT call him to fight off the Canaanites who were living in the land of Canaan, like Joshua did.
What did God tell Abraham to do? He told him to make a new nation. God’s mission was not to build a boat but to build a nation. His program had changed. What he did before, He was not doing anymore. Up to that point, God had dealt with the human race as a whole. Now he is going to work through one nation. Many do not know what God is doing today or what His program is today. God was calling Abram to build a nation.
That is a little strange because this call comes to a man who has no kids and whose wife can’t have any kids. She is infertile. It seems ridiculous to talk about making a nation when you cannot even make a family. Abraham’s wife had two main problems.
She was past menopause (too old to have kids) and on top of that she was infertile. Abraham had a lot going for him. He was extremely wealthy (cf. 13:2)). He was married to a beautiful woman but she was infertile and in that day, this was a big deal.
Try to imagine the discussion that took place the night before Abraham left town. A stranger sees Abraham packing and asks him, what are you doing? “I am getting ready to leave Ur?” Is your whole family going? “No. My brother is staying in Ur.” Why are you going? “God told me to go.” Did He speak to anyone else? “No, just me. I am the only one who got this special message.” Well, where are you going? “I don’t know yet. God hasn’t told me exactly where I am going.
He has not revealed to me my final destination but says that He will show me where it is.” Well, what do you plan to do in this new land? “I plan to start a new nation.” Really? How old are you now? “I am 75 years old.” How many kids do you have right now? “I don’t have any kids and my wife is infertile.” If someone talked this way today, we would think they need to be placed in an insane asylum.
A Difficult Command
What God asked Abraham to do was not easy. It was a difficult command. Why?
1) It involved faith
How was this a step of faith for Abraham? God asked him to go somewhere he had never been before. He asked him to try something new and go to a new land without a map or a GPS. He asked him to believe the impossible.
He asked Abraham to believe that not only would he have kids, he would have so many descendants that they would make a nation. He asked him to trust him, even when he was not told what land he was going to or exactly where it was. Abraham had to walk by faith.
2) It was risky
This was a very long journey of hundreds of miles but it was no vacation. It was dangerous. Abraham and his wife were old. He left Haran at the age of 75. This was a little risky to give up everything and uproot your family hundreds of miles to a land you have never been to before but he did it because God told him to do it.
3) It was sacrificial
God asked Abraham to give some things up. It was also a call to SEPARATION. God’s word to Abram was “leave.” This is a powerful word of separation. God asked Abraham to separate (to make a complete break) from his friends, his family, his country and even his religion (the religion of Ur). Abraham became the first wandering Jew.
Even though this command was difficult, it was also very rewarding. God promises Abraham special blessings, which we will look at next time. Those blessings are part of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Lessons from Abraham’s Call
1) God still speaks to people today.
He may do it in a different way. He doesn’t always appear to us, like He did to Abraham but He still speaks to us today. He still calls us to do different things and reveals what He wants us to do. We are called to do something different than make a nation.
When God speaks we need to listen, even if He asks us to do things that seem impossible or hard to believe. We should not ignore God when He speaks to us. God rewards obedience. God did not reveal everything to Abraham right away and He does not reveal everything to us right away.
2) Following God involves sacrifice.
God’s call always involves separation. Separation is a biblical command (cf. II Corinthians 6:14). Following Christ is sacrificial. It involves giving some things up. It may involve leaving our comfort zone or doing something that we have never done before. It involves denying yourself.
Jesus said that if you want to follow him, you have to take up your cross daily (Luke 9:23). Sometimes you have to give some things up. God told Abraham to follow him and give up everything. Jesus told his disciples the same thing.
3) God uses people who are older.
God called Abraham around the age of 75. There are not too many people at the age of 75 who decide to suddenly become a preacher or missionary or begin some new ministry. The attitude today is that if you are 65 you are finished. You retire but God called Abraham at the age of 75. Moses was 80 when he began to lead the Jews out of Egypt. Joshua was in his 80s when he conquered the land of Canaan.
God doesn’t stop using people when they are older. Oswald Sanders gives two examples of this in his book Spiritual Manpower: Clifford Nash and Benjamin Ryrie. Nash was an Anglican pastor. He was born in the 1800s. He founded the Melbourne Bible Institute and trained thousands for Christian service.
He retired at the age of 70. At the age of 80, he had an assurance of the Lord that he has ten more years of ministry. He began teaching the Bible to a group of clergy and laymen. At the age of 90, he read six volumes of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History.
Benjamin Ryrie was a missionary with China Inland Mission. He retired at the age of 70. When he was 80, he decided to learn NT Greek and became proficient at it. At 90, he took a refresher course at Toronto Theological Seminary. At one hundred years of age he was still getting around on public transport, brushing up on his Greek on the bus.