Summons From God
After an important genealogy to establish Abraham’s ancestry, Scripture begins the story of Abraham with a special call from heaven. This is the great pivotal experience in Abraham’s life which dramatically changed his life. But this Divine summons is not only extremely important for Abraham; it is also extremely important for all mankind; for it is a great landmark of the nation of Israel, of world history, and of the Gospel.
Regarding the nation of Israel, it is the beginning of that nation of all nations around which all the world is ordered (Deuteronomy 32:8).
Regarding world history, it is necessary to have a good knowledge of this summons if you are going to correctly interpret or understand the history of the world. Even in our day this summons is right in the middle of the most important events going on in our world.
Regarding the Gospel, the most significant thing about this summons given to Abraham is that it has to do with God’s plan of redemption for mankind. In fact, providing redemption for mankind was the primary purpose for the summons.
To further study Abraham’s Divine summons, we will consider the receiver of the summons (11:27–30), the review of the summons (12:1–3), and the response to the summons (12:4–9).
A. THE RECEIVER OF THE SUMMONS
The first thing we want to do in this study of Abraham’s summons is to take a look at the man who received this Divine summons. Though Scripture does not say a great deal about Abraham’s early days, it does, however, say enough about his early life so that we have considerable help in understanding and appreciating this summons and also the other events of his life as recorded in Scripture.
Concerning his early days, Scripture tells us about his relatives, his region, and his religion.
1. His Relatives
To learn about the relatives of Abraham who significantly affected his life, we will note his ancestor, his father, his brothers, his nephew, and his wife.
His ancestor. After the flood, the world was populated by the descendants of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Abraham came from the line of Shem. Genesis 11 gives us an invaluable genealogy which traces the line of Shem down to Abraham. From this genealogy we can discern that Abraham was born about 300 to 400 years after the flood and about 2000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. In the history of man, Abraham came on the scene about halfway between Adam and Christ.
Shem, along with Japheth, was of better character than Ham, the third son of Noah, who provoked the terrible curse by Noah (Genesis 9:24,25). When Noah pronounced the curse on the descendants of Ham, he pronounced blessings upon Shem and Japheth because of their better character (Genesis 9:26,27). Shem’s blessing was the superior blessing of the two, and the involvement of the Gospel in the summons given Abraham underscores that fact.
His father. Abraham’s father was named Terah (Genesis 11:27). Terah was an idolater (Joshua 24:2) and led his family to be the same. Abraham was very attached to his father; in fact, he was too attached. This is seen by the fact that until his father died, Abraham did not fully obey the Divine summons—which we will note more about later. Terah was a poor father in that he was a stumbling block for his son Abraham. He did not encourage Abraham to fully obey God’s commands, but he led him into disobedience. Unfortunately, many, many fathers are of the character of Terah. They do not encourage their sons to go all out for Jesus Christ; but rather they encourage compromise, worldliness, and disaffection for God. No thanks goes to Terah for Abraham’s noble life of faith.
His brothers. Abraham had two brothers: Nahor and Haran (Genesis 11:27). Both played a significant part in Abraham’s life.
The significant part Haran played in Abraham’s life had to do with Haran’s son Lot. Haran died prematurely in Ur before the brothers’ father Terah died (Genesis 11:28) and before the summons was given to Abraham. In death Haran left a son Lot who needed parental help. So Terah took Lot under his care (Genesis 11:31). When Terah died then Abraham took over the care of his brother’s son (Genesis 12:5). We will note more about Lot shortly and also in later chapters of this book.
The significant part which Nahor played in Abraham’s life had to do with brides. Nahor’s granddaughter Rebekah became the bride of Abraham’s son Isaac (Genesis 24), which event we will study in detail in a later chapter of this book. And Nahor’s great granddaughters Rachel and Leah became the wives of Abraham’s grandson Jacob (Genesis 29).
His nephew. As noted above, Abraham’s nephew Lot was very much involved in Abraham’s life as a result of Abraham taking Lot under his care (Genesis 12:5). And Lot became a great problem for Abraham. Lot did not have the spirituality that Abraham did. Though he went along with Abraham to Canaan, his heart interests were vastly different than Abraham’s; and this produced such a big problem for Abraham that it was finally necessary for him to separate from Lot—we will note more about this in an upcoming chapter of this book (for a more thorough study of Lot, see author’s book on Lot).
His wife. Abraham’s wife was Sarah (Genesis 11:29). She was a blood relative of Abraham, for she was a half sister to Abraham. She was the daughter of Abraham’s father but not the daughter of Abraham’s mother (Genesis 22:12). In those days marriage among near of kin was practiced and with God’s blessings, but later it was rightly forbidden. The early history of man necessitated marriage of near of kin from the standpoint of the smallness of population. Bible critics get noisy about such questions as where did Cain get his wife, but they raise noise in vain. Cain obviously married a sister or a niece—where else would he get a wife? And Abraham married his half sister, for Scripture plainly tells us so. That does not justify such practices today, for they are not needed now. But in those days they were.
Sarah will play a very important part in the story of Abraham. In fact, no other relative will be so prominent in the story of Abraham as Sarah was. As we will note in later studies, she was a beautiful woman who, though demonstrating faith in the birth of Isaac (Hebrews 11:11) and being an example in her respect of her husband by calling Abraham "lord" (1 Peter 3:5,6), was too often a headache rather than a help for Abraham.
2. His Region
Abraham’s native land was "Ur of the Chaldees" (Genesis 11:28). This place was located where the Euphrates River emptied into the Persian Gulf. Scholars inform us that as a result of the silting of the gulf area over the centuries, the entrance of the Euphrates into the Persian Gulf is now extended a hundred miles or so south of where Ur was located. Ur lies today in the southeast corner of Iraq about seventy-five miles north of the Kuwait border. Thus Ur’s location was not far from the center of the Desert Storm War of 1991.
Ur was an important seaport for trade from India and Africa via the Persian Gulf. The region in Abraham’s day was also fit for the raising of flocks, and so it is not surprising that Abraham from his early days was involved in this occupation which he continued to do with much success in Canaan.
3. His Religion
When God called Abraham, he was an idolater. That is not surprising; for Ur was then an important center of paganism; and as we noted above, Terah, Abraham’s father, was an idolater who had led his family to also being idolaters. Scripture makes it clear that idolatry was practiced by the family of Terah (which included Abraham). "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [Euphrates River] in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor [Nahor]; and they served other gods" (Joshua 24:2).
Star and moon worship were prominent forms of idolatry then. "In that clear transparent atmosphere, the heavenly bodies blazed with extraordinary effulgence, beguiling the early Chaldeans into a system of Nature-worship, which speedily became identified with rites of gross indulgence and impurity, such as those into which humanity always falls, when it refuses to retain God in its knowledge, and gives itself up to the dictates of its own carnal lust" (F. B. Meyer). Though Abraham was separated from it by God’s summons to him, the idolatry clung to his brother Nahor and continued on down to Nahor’s grandson Laban and to Laban’s daughters (Jacob’s wives) as is attested by Genesis 31:30–34.
In emphasizing this unsavory religious background of Abraham, Isaiah speaks to Abraham’s descendants about the "hole of the pit whence ye are digged" (Isaiah 51:1). What a great change took place in Abraham because of God’s summons to him. His whole life was transformed. His character, attitudes, position, and eternal destiny were all gloriously changed because he did not reject God’s call to him. The same is true in the matter of soul salvation.
That Abraham was called out of idolatry underscores the fact that he received this Divine summons as a result of God’s grace. And how fitting that a summons which was so significantly involved with God’s plan of salvation should be given to one primarily because of grace. Some try to show that Abraham lived differently than those around him in Ur; and, therefore, that is why God chose him for the summons. But Scripture does not encourage that idea at all. What Scripture does encourage us to conclude, however, is that it was grace, God’s marvelous grace, that reached down and pulled Abraham out of the pit of idolatry and changed his life so wondrously. Abraham, like all redeemed souls, is a trophy of God’s grace.
B. THE REVIEW OF THE SUMMONS
The summons, though extremely significant, was quite short. But God has a habit of packing a tremendous amount of truth into a few words, and this summons given to Abraham is a good illustration of that fact.
The summons was composed of two parts: precepts and promises.
1. The Precepts
"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Genesis 12:1). The precepts were basically twofold. Abraham was to leave one place and go to another. To obey these precepts, four significant things were required of Abraham: separation, sacrifice, labor, and faith.
Separation. "Get thee out" is the command to separate. The call of Abraham was a call to separation. He was to separate from a place ("thy country") and a people ("thy kindred, and from thy father’s house"); and, as Scripture makes plain in the story of Abraham, it also included separation from the practices of evil. If one is to do the will of God and live for and serve Him acceptably, he will oftentimes have to separate from places, people, and practices which go counter to obeying God.
Separation is not popular. Man much prefers to mix, not separate. Thus, preachers, churches, and denominations who emphasize separation are scorned and called legalistic, backward, and unloving. Opposition to separation is so strong in our churches today that the separatist practices of godly fundamentalism of past years is quickly fading into oblivion and being replaced by the popular, but corrupting, mixing philosophies of modern evangelicals. Our churches and our Christian schools are ever giving more and more evidence of this unholy and destructive change. But without separation from the world, we lose our holy influence on the world. "It is impossible to move our times, so long as we live beneath their spell; but when once we have risen up, and gone, at the call of God, outside their pale, we are able to react on them with an irresistible power. Archimedes vaunted that he could lift the world, if only he could obtain, outside of it, a pivot on which to rest his lever. Do not be surprised then, if God calls you out to be a people to Himself, that by you He may react with blessed power on the great world of men" (F. B. Meyer).
Some may argue here that Abraham left one idolatrous civilization (Ur) to dwell in another (Canaan). But when Abraham came to Canaan, he did not fraternize with the Canaanites! Yes, there were the necessary covenants (Genesis 14:13, Genesis 21:32) and business transactions (Genesis 23) with those who dwelt in land of Canaan. But aside from these necessary contacts, he remained a stranger and a pilgrim to the people of the land. In Canaan, Abraham was in the world, but not of the world.
Note that the separation commanded here of Abraham was twofold. He was to come out that he might go in. He was to leave one place that he might go to another place. Separation is to always be this way. We do not just leave something and stop. No, we leave something that we might go elsewhere. We do not separate from unholy places, people, and practices and then stop. No, we separate from these things so we can be qualified for and better give ourselves to God’s service. We have some who would not go near a den of iniquity or be with unholy people but who seldom serve the Lord. They sit like mummies in church pews filled with pride because they don’t do this and don’t do that and they don’t go to this place or that place of evil. But they are only in the "don’t" category, for they never "do" anything. They have missed the important dual aspect of separation. They have missed the fact that "don’t" is to help us "do."
Sacrifice. In order to obey the Divine summons, Abraham had to do much sacrificing. He had to give up the land of his nativity, his friends, and relatives; all of which would be very dear to him. "The summons of God will ever involve a wrench from much that nature holds dear. We must be prepared to take up our cross daily if we would follow where He points the way. Each step of real advance in the divine life will involve an altar on which some dear fragment of the self-life has been offered; or a cairn [pile of stones making a tomb] beneath which some cherished idol has been buried" (F. B. Meyer).
Failure to sacrifice is one of the greatest hindrances to Christian service. Many folk have greatly limited their service or even missed God’s calling altogether because they were unwilling to sacrifice much of anything for God. They will not sacrifice position, possessions, family, friends, wealth, time, or comforts. But Abraham would never have gotten to Canaan and become the great patriarch of the Jews if he had not sacrificed. And there would be no way of salvation if God had not sacrificed His Son—the greatest sacrifice ever made. So think it over—is your service limited and God’s work suffering because you are not doing well in the area of sacrifice?
Labor. To obey God’s precepts required much labor for Abraham. He had to drive his large flocks, move tents, furnishings, and family members hundreds of miles (it was some 600 miles just from Ur to Haran) to get to Canaan. This was anything but an easy task, but it was necessary to do if he was to obey the Divine summons.
Anyone who sets out to obey the Lord will find that labor will be a very prominent feature of obedience. Much toil and sweat will be involved to fully obey the precepts of God. Therefore, lazy folk will never do well in obeying the Lord. They will never serve much at all. On the other hand, one of the reasons Apostle Paul served so well was that he was not afraid of work. In his epistles he speaks much about labor and says in one place, "I labored more abundantly than they all" (1 Corinthians 15:10). When Christ chose His twelve disciples, He chose good workers. A number of the disciples were fishermen, and one of the early notations made of them in Scriptures is that they "toiled all the night" (Luke 5:5) in their fishing business. These men were not lazy men. They were not afraid of work. And, therefore, with the exception of Judas, these men all made good disciples; for to be a good disciple, one has to be a good worker.
Faith. That faith is very much involved in these precepts is seen in "unto a land that I will show thee." God ordered Abraham to go to a place that He did not reveal to Abraham at the time He gave Abraham the summons. The writer of the book of Hebrews emphasizes this faith aspect of the precepts when he says that Abraham "went out [from Ur], not knowing whither he went" (Hebrews 11:8). Hence, Abraham must by faith walk step by step and day by day trusting that God would reveal the directions to him as necessary. God did not tell Abraham everything at once. It was piece by piece.
To obey under this situation is scorned by natural man. He wants everything revealed at once. He wants the destination, route, and purpose all revealed before he takes one step towards the destination. However, that is not faith; and the precepts require faith if we are going to obey them. We must have the faith that God will show us what we need to know when we need to know it. We must have faith in God’s wisdom and way. Without such faith we cannot honor God well and will not serve God well.
It is important that we distinguish between true and false faith here in the application of "I will show thee." A number of professing believers excuse their indecision and inactivity on the fact that God has not yet shown them His will. They talk much about the will of God and that someday God will show it to them. But they claim He has not yet revealed His will to them—so they sit. You will note, however, that Abraham did not sit just because "I will show thee" had not come to pass; for there was much Abraham could and should do without the "I will show thee" being fulfilled. And when we do those things which we already know to do, then someday we will indeed find out what the "I will show thee" is all about. Christians who sit in idleness in regards to the Lord’s service or who seem to forever sit in a state of indecision cannot excuse their attitude and conduct by "I will show thee." Furthermore, if they sit in idleness, they will never see much fulfillment of the "I will show thee" promise.
2. The Promises
After telling Abraham what he was to do, God gave Abraham some promises to encourage and inspire him to obey the precepts. God said, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:2,3). Note it was promises and not reasons that God gave to encourage service. This is generally the practice of God. F. B. Meyer explains this practice of God about as well as anyone when he says, "God’s commands are not always accompanied by reasons, but always by promises, expressed or understood. To give reasons would excite discussion; but to give a promise shows that the reason, though hidden, is all-sufficient. We can understand the promise, though the reason might baffle and confuse us. The reason is intellectual, metaphysical, spiritual; but a promise is practical, positive, literal."
We will look at six things concerning these promises: the future of the promises, the number of the promises, the location of the promises, the opposition to the promises, the fulfillment of the promises, and the Gospel in the promises.
The future of the promises. Considerable time must go by for the fulfillment of all the promises given to Abraham. In fact, many hundreds of years must go by before some of the promises are fulfilled. This will definitely not appeal to the flesh, but it will give faith an opportunity to thrive. The flesh wants everything now and has little patience for waiting God’s time. Therefore, the flesh is seldom excited by the promises of God though they are great blessings indeed. Abraham was a different story, however. His faith was great, and so he valued the promises.
The number of the promises. There are at least seven promises in the summons. They are (1) "I will make of thee a great nation," (2) "I will bless thee," (3) "I will . . . make thy name great," (4) "thou shalt be a blessing," (5) "I will bless them that bless thee," (6) "I . . . will curse them that curseth thee," and (7) "in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
When we compare the number of precepts with the number of promises, we readily observe that what God will do for Abraham is much more than what Abraham is asked to do for God. Many complain that God’s commandments are restrictive, kill-joy, and burdensome. But you can never complain of God’s commandments like that when you consider His promises. God’s promises more than compensate for any effort you must give, for any cost you must pay, and for any distasteful thing you must do to obey His precepts. No one ever loses who honors God’s precepts—God’s promises will see to that!
The location of the promises. God usually gives the precepts before He gives the promises, so in Scripture you will generally find the promises located after the precepts. Such is the case in this summons. First come the precepts and then come the promises. God first tells what Abraham is to do; then God tells what He will do. God first impresses upon us our duties; then He speaks of our wages.
This is a healthy order and one that men need to practice a lot more than they are practicing. Men seem to be only interested in their pay—they evidence little interest in their duties. They are more concerned about their privileges than responsibilities. All of this is a selfish attitude, and such an attitude is one that does not perform one’s duties well. It is the foundation of the "rights" emphasis; an emphasis which is more concerned about privileges than obligations and which says I am more concerned about how you treat me than how I treat you.
Abraham will realize all the promises of the summons if he gives due attention and respect to the precepts. The same holds true for anyone. Those who can think of nothing else but their rights, their privileges, and their pay will generally come up short in these areas because they do not give proper emphasis to responsibilities, duties, and obligations which bring about the rights, privileges, and pay. Much of the complaint by minorities about not getting their rights unfortunately lies right here. While we do not deny that minorities have been unfairly treated, yet their failure to enjoy the "rights" they talk so much about is too often because they do not give much attention to duty. Most of the minorities who have done very well in the privilege, pay, and promotion area are those who do not spend much time complaining about lack of rights but concentrate on their duty. The same goes for Christians who complain of lack of blessing from God. Emphasizing precepts first is, of course, not a popular emphasis; but it is an emphasis we verily need to practice and proclaim much more today!
The opposition to the promises. Circumstances oppose just about every promise God ever made. Every promise is, therefore, a test of our faith—do we give greater weight to the circumstances or to the promises? Faith will vote in favor of the promises; unbelief will vote in favor of the circumstances.
Abraham’s circumstances seemed to be against the promises in this great summons. God promised that Abraham would be a great nation, but circumstances laughed at that promise, for Abraham had no seed, and he and Sarah were too old to have a child. God’s promises said He would bless Abraham; but circumstances predicted loss, not gain. Two of God’s promises said that Abraham would be a great benefactor to the world, but circumstances said that Abraham was only causing hardship to those around him in leaving Ur and making the arduous trip to Canaan. God’s promises said He would make Abraham’s name great, but circumstances made Abraham look like a fool—not a great man—in leaving his native land and his family to go into a strange country. God’s promises (especially the "curse them that curseth thee") said Abraham would be safe, but circumstances said that obeying God’s precepts would put Abraham right in the midst of unfriendly people.
So Abraham’s circumstances did nothing to encourage the fulfillment of the promises made to him in this summons. But as Scripture teaches repeatedly, circumstances are no match to God’s promises. Every promise made to Abraham was victorious over the opposing circumstances. How that ought to lift our spirits and cause us to not let circumstances get us down when they seem so against the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.
The fulfillment of the promises. We want to note some of the obvious ways in which these promises have been fulfilled. We will of necessity be brief here compared to the abundance of the fulfillments. But a few notations about the fulfillment of these promises will help remind us of God’s great faithfulness in fulfilling His promises and help show us how wonderfully His promises are fulfilled even though circumstances seem to legislate against their fulfillment.
The fulfillment of the first promise (Abraham’s seed would become a great nation) is a matter of history and is going to be realized in an even greater way in the future. The greatness of Israel under the leadership of David and Solomon show the fulfillment in the past of Israel being a great nation. When Christ comes back to sit on the throne of Israel in the millennium, the greatest fulfillment of this particular promise will occur.
To see the fulfillment of the second promise (God would bless Abraham), one has to read only a few chapters further on in Genesis. In those chapters one will see Abraham coming into great material prosperity; and, even more importantly, one will see the great spiritual blessings which came to Abraham. God truly fulfilled His promise about blessing Abraham.
The fulfillment of the third promise (Abraham’s name to be great) is uncontestable. For some four thousand years, the name of Abraham has stood above most names in terms of fame. Not only is his name revered by the Jewish people, but he is also revered by many other people of the earth—from the followers of Mohammed to the followers of Christ.
The fourth promise (Abraham would be a blessing to others) like that of the second promise, begins to manifest fulfillment quickly in Scripture. Abraham’s rescue of the inhabitants of Sodom is an excellent example of the fulfillment of that promise and is reported in Genesis 14 just two chapters further on from our text. An important lesson we learn from this promise and fulfillment is that when God blesses us it is so we can bless others. God’s blessings are not to be enjoyed selfishly, but they are to be used to bless others. "I will bless thee" is to be followed by "thou shalt be a blessing."
The fifth and sixth promises (bless them that bless thee and curse them that curse thee) are two interrelated promises which mankind must not ignore, or they will miss great blessing and suffer great judgment. On the judgment side of the promise, Egypt, Babylon, Rome, and Germany are some of the well known nations who were at one time great world powers but because of their mistreatment of the Jews were destroyed or became second class nations. On the blessing side of this promise, the United States has been greatly benefited by its benevolent attitude to the Jews—an attitude, however, which is waning alarmingly fast in our country. Our benevolent attitude towards the Jews in World War II, as an example, resulted in a great influx of brain power when Jewish scientists fled Nazi Germany and came to the United States. Being the first nation of the world to recognize Israel’s independence in 1948 has surely been a result of much mercy from God for our country.
The seventh promise (all the families of the earth to be blessed through Abraham) has many fulfillments. The most important fulfillment is the Gospel which we will deal with next in a separate section. Here we will note some of the other significant fulfillments of this promise. We start off by noting that one of the greatest fulfillments of this promise is the Bible. It is primarily a Jewish book. The Word of God was written by Jews with the exception of Luke (and some believe Luke was a Jew). A prominent Jewish scholar, Dr. S. Schechter, said, "Our great claim to the gratitude of mankind is that we gave the world the Word of God, the Bible"; and he is right. Another fulfillment of this promise is found in the existence of our country. The man who came to the rescue of our country during the Revolutionary War by providing the funds necessary to continue the war and, hence, bring freedom to our land, was a Jew, Haym Salomon.
We note more fulfillments of this promise which continue to bring additional blessing to mankind. The first to invent the means of producing, transmitting and detecting of wireless waves was Hermon Hertz, a Jew. The pioneer of aviation who was the first to fly heavier than air machines (gliders) was Otto Lilienthal, a Jew. He inspired the Wright brothers to their daring experiments which they acknowledged. The original inventor of dirigibles was David Schwartz, a Jew. The first automobile to run on liquid fuel was built by a Jew, Siefried Marcus. The great scientist Albert Einstein, who contributed much to the world in his work, was a Jew. The three element radio tube which did so much for the radio was invented by Robert Von Lieben, a Jew. Transmission of photos by wireless is credited to Arthur Korn, a Jew. Invention of the spider wheel which made the bicycle possible was done by a Jew, Nahun Salomon. The discovery of petroleum was by Abraham Schreiner, a Jew. Discovery of the process of color photography was by Gabriel Lippmann, a Jew. Founder of stainless steel was a Jew, Benno Strauss. Co-discoverer of insulin for diabetes was by a Jew, Minkowsky. The mother of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, was a Jew. The American Red Cross was established at the home of a Jew, Adolphus Solomon. On and on we could go; but for lack of space we stop so we can go on to the next section which is about the greatest of all fulfillments of this promise, namely, the Gospel.
The Gospel in the promises. We have no doubt about the Gospel being in the promises God gave Abraham in this great summons. The Apostle Paul makes that clear when he says, "And the scripture . . . preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8). There it is—the greatest of blessings for mankind wrapped up in one of the promises of the summons given Abraham. Through the seed of Abraham came Jesus Christ to be the Redeemer of mankind which is what the Gospel is all about.
This truth about the Gospel being in one of the promises of the summons makes it clear that the primary purpose of the Divine summons given to Abraham here was redemptive. Therefore, we can say that Abraham’s obedience to it was just like obeying the Great Commission; for the results are the same. Both commissions, summons, calls, or orders or whatever you want to call them are part and parcel of the same thing, namely, the redemption of mankind.
C. THE RESPONSE TO THE SUMMONS
After a poor start, Abraham’s response to the summons was that of obedience. We will note the delay in his obedience, the dedication in his obedience, the difficulties for his obedience, the dividends of his obedience, and the devotion in his obedience.
1. The Delay in His Obedience
Abraham did not fully obey the summons when it first came to him. He delayed his full obedience until after his father Terah died. It was not a good start for Abraham; and had it not been for God’s grace, Abraham would have been another casualty in the service of the Lord.
To further examine this delay in his obedience, we will note the confirmation of the delay, the cause of the delay, the compromise in the delay, and the correcting of the delay.
The confirmation of the delay. Some do not think there was any delinquency in Abraham’s response to the summons. They feel that Abraham’s summons (as recorded here in Genesis 12:1) came in Haran. However, Acts 7:2,3 makes it very clear that Abraham did indeed receive a call when he was in his native home of Ur. This text is part of Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin. Stephen said, "Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran [Haran], And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee." Receiving the call in Ur meant Abraham’s stay at Haran was an unauthorized delay in his obeying the summons from God (the fact that his kinfolks were with him also demonstrated delinquency in his obedience which we will see later). The recording of the call given here in Genesis 12:1 was either a second giving of the summons to Abraham in order to get him moving out of Haran, or it was review of the first summons in order to explain the action of Abraham departing from Haran to go to Canaan. Whatever the case (and that depends largely on whether "had" in Genesis 12:1 is justified by the Hebrew or not—scholars disagree), Abraham was delinquent in obeying his summons.
The cause of the delay. The delay in Abraham’s full obedience was caused by his failure to do all that the summons told him to do. The summons told him to "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house" (Genesis 12:1). He obeyed the part of the summons about getting out of his country, but he did not obey the part about leaving his relatives. Some defend Abraham here by insisting the call was originally given to Terah which is why the Scripture reports that "Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai, his daughter in law . . . and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there" (Genesis 11:31). But the Acts 7:2 text, which we noted above, refutes the idea Terah received the call in Ur; for it says Abraham was the one who received the call in Ur. Also Isaiah 51:2 says God "called him [Abraham] alone." God did not call his father or brothers or nephew. Just Abraham was called (this of course included his wife, for a wife is to follow her husband). But Abraham allowed some of his relatives to go; and, furthermore, he even gave up the authority of the venture to his father—which is why Scripture reports Terah as being the leader. Terah had no business being the leader; that was Abraham’s calling, not Terah’s. Both Abraham and Terah are at fault here. Terah presumed and Abraham neglected. This presume/neglect problem is seen throughout society today. It is seen in the home (the wife presumes, the husband neglects), in the school (the counsellors presume, the parents neglect), and in the church (the dissidents presume, the good people neglect). It is behind ERA, NOW, and other unsavory movements in our land. It is simply plain opposition to God’s order for mankind.
Abraham’s failure to completely obey by not separating from all those whom God told him to separate from is a pungent lesson regarding whom we keep company with and whom we include in our ventures. F. B. Meyer says, "It becomes us to be very careful as to whom we take with us in our pilgrimage. We may make a fair start from our Ur; but if we take Terah with us, we shall not go far. Take care, young pilgrim to eternity, to whom you mate yourself in the marriage bond. Beware, man of business, lest you find your Terah in the man with whom you are entering into partnership."
The compromise in the delay. At first Abraham may have consoled himself in allowing some of his relatives to travel with him, for after all they were willing to leave Ur, and they gave the impression they would go to Canaan (Genesis 11:31). But upon reaching Haran the troop stopped. That was far enough. Going to Canaan was too much.
How often compromise plays this tune. Full obedience is unacceptable to the carnal. They greet full obedience with a warning not to go too far. Extremism, impractical, unnecessary, and other like words are used by the carnal to describe full obedience to the Lord. But it is never extreme to fully follow the Lord. It is never impractical to obey God in every detail. It is never unnecessary to go all the way with God.
The correcting of the delay. "Terah died in Haran" (Genesis 11:32), and a New Testament text confirms that his death resulted in Abraham finally getting back on the right track. The text is from Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin. In that sermon Stephen said that Abraham "came . . . out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran [Haran]; and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him [Abraham] into this land [Canaan]" (Acts 7:4). It was only "when his father was dead" that Abraham got moving again. There are two important warnings in this death of Terah. The warning about delay in obedience and the warning about dissuading others from obedience
First, delay in obedience invites pain. How often God has to take something from us in order to get us back into His service. Abraham was obviously attached to his father. In fact, he was more attached to his father at this point than he was to God. That does not go over well with God—and justifiably so—and the day came when God took away Terah from Abraham. Again we quote from F. B. Meyer who says regarding the death of Terah, "Here we may get a solution for mysteries in God’s dealings with us, which have long puzzled us; and understand why our hopes have withered, our schemes have miscarried, our income has dwindled, our children have turned against us. All these things were hindering our true development; and, out of mercy to our best interests, God has been compelled to take the knife in hand, and set us at liberty."
Second, dissuading others from obedience invites judgment. Terah was a hindrance to Abraham so finally God removed him. True, Terah was up in years; and it could be said that he simply died of old age. But his death, even though it may have been simply because of old age, is still too ominous in regards to Abraham’s moving to miss the mention of this lesson. Sometimes ornery church members, who are obstructionists in the work of the church, are removed by God in order for the work to progress. Most churches have some in the congregation who, if they were removed, the work of the Lord could advance much more quickly and effectively. Beware that you are not one of these obstructionists. God may move up the date of your funeral or in some other painful way cut you off from the church so it can function as it ought. What a sad commentary it was about Terah that his death resulted in an obstacle being removed so the work of God could go forward as it ought. Let us all pray that our lives will be a great help to the Lord and that our removal will not be a removal of an obstacle in the Lord’s work.
2. The Dedication in His Obedience
When Abraham, at the age of seventy-five (Genesis 12:4), finally left Haran for Canaan, his dedication to obeying the call was so much better than it was when he left Ur and headed for Haran. We note here two things about his conduct in going to Canaan from Haran which demonstrated his great dedication to obeying the summons. They are his submission and his stamina.
Submission. "Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him . . . And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls [servants] that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came" (Genesis 12:4,5). "As the Lord had spoken unto him" sums up Abraham’s great submission to the Lord as he left Haran for Canaan. He obeyed God’s Word fully. We note it particularly in three areas.
First, he did not take his relatives with him which would hinder his full obedience to the Lord (he did take Lot, of course; for Lot was part of Abraham’s household in the same way an adopted son would be—but Lot did cause problems later which we will study in another chapter).
Second, he went where God told him to go ("went forth into the land of Canaan") and did not stop short of the goal as he had previously done.
Third, everything in Abraham’s household (his family, his substance, and his servants) was made subservient to the will of God. Full dedication means just that—everything in our life yields to the priority of God’s service. Few believers know much about this kind of dedication, however. They come to church when it’s convenient, they give with reservation, and they leave their enthusiasm and emotions at the ball game which means they come to church listless and uninterested.
Stamina. Dedication will manifest itself in stamina. Quitters—those who are deficient in dedication—lack stamina. Abraham certainly was not a quitter in his performance as recorded in our text. He kept at his task until it was accomplished. He "departed" (Genesis 12:4), "went forth" (Genesis 12:5), "passed through" (Genesis 12:6), "removed" (Genesis 12:8), and "journeyed, going on still" (Genesis 12:9). "Going on still" says it best regarding his great stamina to do the will of God. He was determined to do the job as superbly as he could. He did not enter Canaan and then stop at the northernmost border just as he crossed the border (he came from the north). No, Abraham passed through all the land. He would see it all.
"Going on still" reminds us of the dedication of Gideon’s band of three hundred men. Scripture says that when they were pursuing the enemy, they were "faint, yet pursuing" (Judges 8:4). They, like Abraham, had stamina in the Lord’s work.
A lot of believers need help in the stamina area. They lack the stamina aspect of dedication to do the work of God right. They go only as far as necessary but not one inch farther. Their goal is the bare minimum. They have no interest in excellence. The lowest passing grade satisfies them. "Going on still" does not appeal to them at all. They quickly lose interest in serving the Lord, and then they foolishly wonder why their spiritual lives and service are so unsatisfying.
3. The Difficulties for His Obedience
"And the Canaanite was then in the land" (Genesis 12:6). The Canaanites were the people who inhabited the land of Canaan where Abraham was sent by God. They were not a godly group. They represented hostility, danger, and other problems for Abraham. It would not be easy for Abraham to live in a land where these people lived. It would require much courage, patience, labor, and wisdom to live victoriously in Canaan.
God never promised an easy road for the path of obedience. The lazy, timid, careless, cowards, and unenthusiastic will not last long on this path. The world likes to picture the Christian as sort of a Casper Milquetoast weakling who is too afraid, too weak, and too dumb to do anything else. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Obedience to God is not easy; for you must stand up to scorners, have courage to go into dangerous places when He orders it, labor incessantly (there are no union hours in God’s work), and fight with all your strength against the foes of your soul. Abraham was not on a vacation stroll coming from Ur to Haran to Canaan. Moving his flocks and family that distance was a great task. And then when he got to Canaan, the work was not over. Difficulties on every hand confronted him.
Do not mock the Christian life as a cop-out for those who do not want to face difficulties in life. It is just the opposite. It is a whole lot easier to live a godless life than to live a godly life. If you don’t think so, just try living godly in front of the wicked; and you will change your mind in a hurry.
4. The Dividends of His Obedience
After Abraham had gotten to Canaan, "the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him" (Genesis 12:7). Obedience to the Lord pays great dividends. As we noted earlier, obedience required much sacrifice. But no sacrifice will be made that is not eventually more than compensated for by the dividends God gives for obedience. Our text here mentions some choice blessings which Abraham received after he obeyed the summons by going all the way to Canaan. We note four of these blessings: fellowship, revelation, assurance, and inheritance.
Fellowship. "The Lord appeared unto Abram." Abraham had to give up friends and relatives to serve the Lord, but he still had the Lord with him. He could still fellowship with God. Never discount the blessing of having the presence of the Lord with you. It is a choice blessing, for "in thy presence is fulness of joy" (Psalm 16:11). The world is constantly seeking for happiness and having no success in finding true joy. Why? Because they leave out God. Abraham did not leave out God in his life. His life was concerned about doing God’s will. Therefore, he enjoyed the great blessing of continued fellowship with God. In fact, Scripture records some special and lengthy times of fellowship between God and Abraham, and the fellowship was so good that Abraham had the distinction of being called God’s friend (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, and James 2:23). This is a great blessing that comes only by obedience to God.
Revelation. When Abraham reached Canaan, he received further revelation from God. The Lord said, "Unto thy seed will I give this land." Obedience has much to do with our spiritual learning. When we obey, God opens our eyes to understand His Word, to learning more from Him and about Him. When we disobey, He closes our eyes; and we walk in spiritual ignorance. School is fine and has its place, but obedience is a more important key to knowing and understanding the Word of God.
Assurance. "Unto thy seed will I give this land" was a promise which told Abraham very plainly that he had done the will of God. He had gone to the right land. He was where God wanted him to be. Obedience is accompanied by assurance. When Abraham arrived in Canaan, God gave him assurance that he had indeed done the will of God. The will of God will always be vindicated sooner or later. God does not leave you in uncertainty as to whether or not you have done as He has instructed. By various ways and means, He gives you assurance. Obedience will discover that fact.
Inheritance. "Unto thy seed will I give this land." Obedience brought Abraham a great inheritance. It brought him the land of Canaan. This is the first time Abraham is told by God that the land of Canaan is his inheritance, that it will be given to his seed (which included him also, cp. Genesis 13:15,17 and Genesis 15:7). It is interesting to note that the word "give" in verse 7, which we quoted here, appears over one thousand times in the Bible. A good number of these appearances have to do with God giving the land of Palestine to His chosen people. Our text is the first place in Scripture where this promise is made. This promise will be made in nearly 150 passages in the Old Testament—from the time of the patriarchs to the time when a remnant returned from exile (Nehemiah 9:35,36). It even shows up in the giving of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:12).
As we go further in our study of Abraham, we will learn much more about this gift of land to Abraham’s seed. It was a very important part of the covenant God had with Abraham and his seed. This gift of land needs to be understood well, for there is so much fighting in the Middle East about the land today. The Scripture makes it clear that the land belongs to Israel, for God gave it to them. The claims of all others are not valid claims.
5. The Devotion in His Obedience
When Abraham reached the land where God had sent him, "there builded he an altar unto the Lord" (Genesis 12:7). How well this reveals his great devotion to the Lord. Why does this altar show great devotion on Abraham’s part to the Lord? Because he built it in heathen Canaan. He was not afraid to own his faith and to worship God before the heathen. He publicly and unashamedly professed his faith in God before those not sympathetic to his faith. It takes great devotion to God to do that.
We are overloaded with secret disciples today. They are careful to do nothing that would give their faith away. They mix with the world and live like the world, and no one would ever suspect they are a Christian. When the world tells dirty stories, they laugh right along with the ungodly. When they go out with the world to eat, they make no effort to thank the Lord before they eat—they claim it is too embarrassing to pray before the unsaved. But Abraham was not that way. Let the heathen mock, laugh, turn up their noses at this newcomer in their land—but Abraham will still worship God anyway. May we do likewise.