“ABRAM CALLED BY GOD”
COMMENTARY (THE UGP CURRICULUM)
Sunday, June 2, 2019
- Lesson: Genesis 11:31-12:9;
- Time of Action: 2100-2090 BC.;
- Place of Action: Ur; Haran; Canaan
Golden Text: “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 shew thee.” (Genesis 12:1).
I. INTRODUCTION. All believers are “called” (see Acts 2:37-39; I Corinthians 1:24-26), but some have received special assignments. This was the case with Moses, Isaiah, Jonah, and Paul. Genesis 1-11 sets the stage for the call of Abram, father of the Hebrew people. Abram’s descendants would become Israel, a people through whom God would work in a very special way. Before God called him, Abram (or Abraham) lived in the idolatrous city of Ur. The Bible doesn’t say anything about why God chose Abram to be the father of His special nation (see Deuteronomy 7:6). What is important was Abram’s response to God’s call. He displayed faith and obedience.
II. BACKGROUND FOR THE LESSON. Moses wrote Genesis to record Israel’s history. He began with the Creation (see Genesis chapters 1&2). Next he focused on mankind in general (see Genesis chapters 3-11:30), and then on the one family highlighted in this week’s lesson. In the verses prior to our lesson text, we learn that Terah, Abram’s father had three sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran, Lot’s father. Haran died while the family was still in Ur, the land of the Chaldees in southern Babylonia (see Genesis 11:26-28). We are then told that Abram and Nahor married Sarai and Milcah respectively, but Sarai was barren and had no children (see Genesis 11:29-30). This is where our lesson begins.
III. ABRAM’S FAMILY MIGRATION (Genesis 11:31-32)
A. The Journey from Ur to Haran (Genesis 11:31). Our first verse says “And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; 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.” Verse 30, which precedes our printed text, informs us that “Sarai was barren; she had no children.” Then the story abruptly changes to the journey taken by “Terah” and his family. We are told that “Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan.” Of course “Terah” was the father of “Abram,” Nahor and Haran (see Genesis 11:27). We are told that “Terah took Abram his son.” We don’t know why Nahor stayed behind, but we do know that “Haran” died sometime before they left “Ur” (see Genesis 11:28). Not only did “Terah” take “Abram his son,” he also took “Lot the son of Haran his son’s son.” This means that “Lot” was “Abram’s” nephew. He was the “son of Haran” who was Terah’s “son” and “Abram’s” brother. Also a part of this company was “Sarai” who was Terah’s “daughter in law” and “his son Abram’s wife.” It’s also interesting that “Terah” was not only “Abram’s” father, he was also “Sarai’s” father. “Abram,” which means “exalted father” and “Sarai” had the same father, but different mothers (see Genesis 20:1-3, 9-13). Note: In case anyone may think that “Abram” and “Sarai” broke some kind of law by getting married since they had the same father, we must remember, that Terah’s family were idol worshipers at this time (see Joshua 24:2). The moon god Nannar was worshipped in both “Ur of the Chaldees” and “Haran.” But more importantly, at this time since there was no Israel there was no law, and God was largely unknown to the pagan world. Whether this marriage was right or wrong, I have no idea, but I do know that God eventually blessed their union. God called “Abram” after the Gentiles had failed and turned away from the true and living God. That process of devolution is described in (see Romans 1:18-32). Although man originally knew the true God through His creation, he would not glorify Him or give thanks to Him for His gracious provision. Man substituted idols for the true and living God. Idolatry led to immorality and indecency; and before long, the Gentile world was so corrupt that God had to give it up (see Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Then He called “Abram,” who was technically the first Jew, and made a new beginning. “Abram” did not know the true God and had done nothing to deserve knowing Him, but God graciously called him. “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (see John 15:16). So, the named travelers “Terah,” “Abram,” “Sarai,” and “Lot” departed for “Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan.” There is no record that they knew where their final destination was, but according to Stephen, “the God of glory” appeared to Abraham and called him to go to “Canaan” (see Acts 7:2-4). “Abram” must have shared this amazing message with his family and told them that he and “Sarai” were leaving since others went with them. It appears that “Terah” also believed and took charge of the family and their travels. God undoubtedly led them to “Canaan” (ancient Israel) where “they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.” The city of “Haran” was an important trading center, and was about six hundred miles from “Ur of the Chaldees” which was in southern Babylonia in Mesopotamia. The moon god was worshipped in both “Ur” and “Haran.”
B. The death of Abram’s father (Genesis 11:32). This verse says “And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.” This caravan stopped in “Haran” and remained there until Abram’s father “Terah died.” He was “two hundred and five (205) years” old when he “died.”
IV. ABRAM’S CALL FROM GOD (Genesis 12:1-3)
A. The call to separation (Genesis 12:1). This verse says “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 shew thee.” God had appeared to “Abram” earlier as “the God of glory,” when He spoke to him and called him (see Acts 7:2-3). That appearance of God to “Abram” left him no room to doubt the divine authority of this call. Now, in this verse, God reaffirmed His call with more details. The phrase “the Lord had said unto Abram” refers to the time God first called “Abram” while he was in Ur of the Chaldees (see Acts 7:2-4). At that time, God commanded “Abram” to separate himself by doing three things. First, He said “Get thee out of thy country.” In other words, “Abram” was to separate himself geographically from “thy (his) country” or land where he was from, Mesopotamia where both Ur of the Chaldees and Haran were located. Second, he was to separate himself from “thy (his) kindred.” Although this could refer to “Abram’s” immediate family, it more likely refers to all the people he was ethnically linked to. Third, “Abram” was to separate himself from “thy (his) father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.” God’s call had a higher claim on “Abram” than his blood relatives did. Jesus taught the same principle when He said “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (see Matthew 10:37). God said that “Abram” was to step out on faith and go “unto a land that I (God) will shew thee” still not knowing the exact location of his inheritance (see Hebrews 11:8). Knowing nothing about God’s full intentions, “Abram” believed God and left all behind. Faith is obedience even in the face of the unknown. In “Abram” we learn much about biblical faith—it involves both separation and sacrifice. Note: “Abram” could have served the true God in Ur and Haran and maybe could have been a missionary to his idolatrous neighbors. But God had other plans for him. The Lord’s will for “Abram” was for him to completely separate himself from his former life (see II Corinthians 6:14-18). Some Christians think that they can serve the Lord without making a clean break with their former lives. God obviously does not expect all of us to move away as “Abram” did. However, He does expect us to abandon practices and relationships that interfere with our relationship with Him.
B. The promise of blessings (Genesis 12:2-3).
1. (vs. 2). This verse says “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing…” When God calls us to do something, He blesses our obedience. In Abram’s case, God made a covenant with him. Note: Biblical covenants are agreements made by God between Him and a person or nation. There are two types of biblical covenants; unconditional and conditional. An unconditional covenant is one where God simply says “I will…” Its fulfillment depends totally on God, not on man’s obedience, faith or faithfulness. A conditional covenant is one where God says “I will…if you will.” Its fulfillment depends on man’s obedience, faith and faithfulness. If man does not keep his end, God does not have to keep His end. The Mosaic Covenant is a conditional covenant (see Exodus 19:5-6). In this covenant with Abram, the Lord said “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing…” First, God promised to “make” Abram “a great nation.” This refers to Israel. The Jews in Jesus’ day recognized that they were descendants of Abram (see Luke 3:8; 16:24, 30; John 8:39, 53) and Jesus Himself agreed (see John 8:56). Another fifteen years passed before Abram and Sarai learned how God would keep His promise to make of Abram “a great nation.” Isaac’s miraculous birth occurred when Abram was one hundred and Sarai was ninety (see Genesis 17:17; 21:5). Although Israel achieved greatness during the reigns of David and Solomon (see I Kings 10:23), biblical prophecy indicates that Israel will be even greater during Christ’s millennial reign (see Isaiah 4:2-6; 26:1-4, 12-15; 60:1-15). Second, God said “I will bless thee.” This was directed to Abram as a person. God blessed him both materially (see Genesis 13:2) and spiritually (see Genesis 15:6). Third, God said I will “make thy name great.” Today, millions of people in Christendom, the Arab world, and Judaism remember Abraham’s name. Abraham’s name is revered because God said “I will…make thy name great.” Fourth, God promised Abram that “thou shalt be a blessing…” In other words, Abram would be an avenue through whom God’s blessing would go forth to others. Note: Abram and Sarai (see Genesis 20:12), were childless; yet God used them to found a great nation! “I called him (Abraham) alone, and blessed him, and increased him” (see Isaiah 51:2). But why would God call such an unlikely couple for such an important task? Paul gives us the answer in I Corinthians 1:26-31. Man originally knew the true God, but he would not glorify Him or give thanks to Him for His gracious provision of creation. Man substituted idols for the true and living God. Idolatry led to immorality and indecency; and before long, the Gentile world was so corrupt that God had to give it up (see I Corinthians 1:24, 26, 28). Then He called Abram, the first Jew, and made a new beginning. But notice the contrast between Genesis 11:1-9 and Genesis 12: 2. At Babel, men said, “Let us!” but to Abram, God said, “I will.” At Babel, men wanted to make a name for themselves, but it was God who made Abram’s “name great.” At Babel, the workers tried to unite men, only to divide them; but through Abram, a whole world has been blessed.
2. (vs. 3). This verse says “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.” Here God gave three more ways in which He would “bless” Abram. First, God said “I will bless them that bless thee.” Those nations who sowed kindness to “Abram,” but especially to Israel would reap kindness. While the Jews have often suffered persecution, history has verified that God blesses those who befriend His elect people (see Deuteronomy 7:6), the Jews. The Gibeonites are a good illustration of this principle that God established and is still in effect today. When the Gibeonites made a peace treaty with Israel, they were miraculously protected after a fierce Amorite confederacy of kings threatened to destroy them (see Joshua 10:1-14). Second, God said I will “curse him that curseth thee.” On the other hand, anyone who mistreated Abram would also be mistreated. This also applied to the treatment of Israel. Again, history has confirmed that persecutors of the Jews ultimately suffer severe consequences. The Roman Empire seemed strong enough to dominate the civilized world indefinitely when it destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; yet the Roman Empire ceased to exist within a few hundred years later. In addition, Hitler’s Germany murdered six million Jews, but just like Rome, God caused harsh judgment to fall on the Nazi persecutors. Third, God gave Abram the greatest promise when He said “and in thee shall all families (or nations) of the earth be blessed.” This refers partly to the blessing of the Messiah’s birth. But the ultimate fulfillment of this promise is found in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:16-29), who descended from “Abram,” and in His future millennial reign of peace. Note: Economic prosperity will prevail during Jesus’ thousand year reign (see Jeremiah 31:10-12; Ezekiel 34:22-27), and all nations will come to Palestine (Israel) to be taught God’s Word (see Isaiah 2:2-4). It must have seemed incredible to Abram and Sarai that God would “bless” the whole world through an elderly childless couple, but that’s just what He did. From them came the nation of Israel, and from Israel came the Bible and the Savior. God reaffirmed this covenant with Isaac (see Genesis 26:4) and Jacob (see Genesis 28:14), and fulfilled it in Jesus Christ (see Acts 3:25-26). In later years, God amplified the various elements of this covenant, but He gave Abram and Sarai sufficient truth for them to believe Him and set out by faith.
V. ABRAM’S OBEDIENCE (Genesis 12:4-9)
A. Abram’s departure from Haran (Genesis 12:4-5).
1. (vs. 4). This verse says “So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.” Responding to God’s call in faith, “Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him.” In the context, “departed” means that “Abram” began his journey from “Haran.” Travelling in a southeasterly direction from “Haran,” this caravan headed toward and through Canaan, the Promised Land. “Abram” traveled “as the Lord had spoken unto him” meaning as the Lord directed him. Although Sarai was with “Abram,” the writer took time to point out “Lot” especially. This may be because “Lot” was influenced by Abram’s good example, who was now his guardian after the death of Lot’s father. We are then told that “Abram” was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.” Note: The willingness of “Abram” to serve God despite his age reminds us that God can and does work mightily through older people’s lives. Moses’ major ministry began when he was 80 and he continued to serve God until his death at the age of 120 (see Deuteronomy 34:7; Acts 7:23. 30, 36). The secular world retires people in their sixties, but God sees this period of life and beyond as a time to do spiritual labor. The person who yields to God’s will can serve Him at any age. The Bible says of the righteous, “They shall still bring forth fruit in old age, they shall be fat and flourishing” (see Psalms 92:14).
2. (vs. 5). This verse says “And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls 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.” Although he had stated the same facts earlier, the writer said “And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son.” In addition, they carried “all their substance that they had gathered.” This probably refers to “Abram’s” large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. It is also quite likely that “Abram” multiplied his personal wealth in “Haran” by taking advantage of the commercial opportunities of the city which was on the busy caravan road that connected Nineveh, Asshur and Babylon in Mesopotamia, and with Damascus, Tyre and Egyptian cities in the west and south of “Haran.” Abram’s caravan also included “the souls that they had gotten in Haran.” This phrase refers to servants that “Abram” had acquired in “Haran.” He may also have influenced others to follow the God who had first called him in Ur of the Chaldees. This large caravan left “Haran” and headed to the “land of Canaan” until they reached it. The text does not give many details of “Abram’s” entrance into the Promise Land of Canaan. It simply records that “into the land of Canaan they came.”
B. Abram’s first worship in Canaan (Genesis 12:6-7).
1. (vs. 6). This verse says “And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.” Continuing southward from Haran, “Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem” or Shechem (see Genesis 33:18-19; Psalms 60:6). After reaching “the land” of Canaan, they continued to pass through it until they came to “the place of Sichem” (or Shechem) which was the ancient Canaanite city of “Shechem,” located about forty miles north of Jerusalem. The journey from Haran to “Shechem” covered about four hundred miles. When they reached “Shechem,” they came to “the plain of Moreh” or literally “the oak of Moreh.” The name “Moreh” means teacher in Hebrew. This suggests that “Abram” stopped at an ancient Canaanite shrine—a teacher’s oak. A large oak (see Genesis 35:4) grew at that site, and was still there in the days of Joshua (see Joshua 24:26). The last part of this verse says “And the Canaanite was then in the land.” “Abram” found the land of Canaan already possessed by the “Canaanites” who were descendants of Ham, one of Noah’s three sons (see Genesis 9:18). At this point, we might wonder what was going through Abram’s mind knowing that another group of people occupied the land that God had led him to.
2. (vs. 7). This verse says “And 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.” Knowing that “Abram” needed some encouragement once he discovered that the land of Canaan was already occupied by Canaanites, “the Lord appeared unto Abram.” A theophany or visible manifestation of the Lord evidently took place. Previously in Ur, “the God of glory appeared” to “Abram.” Now when God “appeared unto him” He said “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” The Lord assured “Abram” that although he was now a sojourner or pilgrim in a land that others possessed, in a future day his descendants would dwell there. The Lord later clarified this promise adding that they would live in the land forever (see Genesis 13:15). God also gave the boundaries of the Promised Land (see Genesis 15:18-21). He also reaffirmed the covenant for emphasis (see Genesis 17:7-8), and made circumcision its visible sign (see Genesis 17:9-14). Undoubtedly “Abram” knew that the natives in Canaan would resist any attempt by his descendants to take their land. However, he believed God (see Genesis 15:6) and “there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him.” In other words, “Abram” responded to the Lord’s appearance by building an “altar” in preparation for worship there at the plain of Moreh. The “altar” itself was a testimony of Abram’s faith to the pagan Canaanites in the land.
C. Abram’s second worship in Canaan (Genesis 12:8-9).
1. (vs. 8). This verse says “And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord.” Now full of faith, Abram continued on his journey. We are told that “he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el.” Travelling another twenty miles or so toward the south, he came to “a mountain on the east of Beth-el.” Since this “mountain” is not named, this phrase probably refers to the hill country east of “Beth-el.” The name “Beth-el” which means “house of God” (see Genesis 28:18; 35:6; 48:3) was not in use when Abram journeyed through Canaan, but it was by the time Moses wrote Genesis. In Abram’s day, “Beth-el” was known by its Canaanite name “Luz.” Jacob, Abram’s grandson, gave the city of Luz the name “Beth-el” (see Genesis 28:18; 35:6; 48:3). There in the hill country of “Beth-el,” Abram “pitched his tent” indicating that he was a pilgrim there. Abram had God’s promise of an heir (see verse 7) but he was still childless in Canaan. He had no permanent home and no prospect for one as long as the Canaanites lived around him. So he was a sojourner (one with temporary residence) in the truest sense of the word. The only thing he could do now was to “wait on the Lord, and keep his way…” (see Psalms 37:34). The phrase “having Beth-el on the west” means that this city was on the same side as the Mediterranean Sea. The city of “Hai” or Ai (see Joshua 7:2), was about a mile and a half “east” of “Beth-el.” Both cities were a little over ten miles north of Jerusalem. Abram “pitched his tent” or made his camp between “Beth-el” and “Hai” or Ai. Here, Abram also “builded an altar unto the Lord” so he could worship Jehovah in an acceptable way. Wherever Abram went, he built “an altar” to God. Even though he was a rich man, Abram had a proper attitude regarding the importance of spiritual things (see I Corinthians 2:13-15). Then, in prayer, Abram “called upon the name of the Lord.” The importance of prayer is shown by the numerous references to it throughout the Bible (see Genesis 4:26).
2. (vs. 9). Our final verse says “And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.” Continuing on in faith, our last verse says that “Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.” The term “south” here is often called the “Negev.” This area is the dry parched region on the southern edge of Canaan. By traveling through the land from north to south, “Abram” was symbolically possessing the land that the Lord would give to him (see Joshua 1:2-4).
VI. Conclusion. Abram grew up in Ur of the Chaldees, an oasis of security in the ancient world. However, the Lord called him to leave the security of his homeland and his father’s house, and move toward a destination known only to God. Abram had to simply take God at His word. He responded to the Lord’s call and traveled first to Shechem and then to Beth-el. God still calls His people to leave their comfort zones to follow Him. The life of faith requires that we express our faith in obedience. True faith obeys God!
***The Sunday School Lesson, Union Gospel Press Curriculum; The Bible Expositor and Illuminator***