Chapter One: Beginnings
When he was called
The story of the steps of the faith of our father Abraham is not only to be found in the book of Genesis. Again and again the scriptures return to this man, often adding unique information to the original story. So the story continually builds of the man who, a thousand years after his death, God still called, “Abraham, My Friend.” [Isaiah 41:8]
Abraham and his clan
I’m wondering how many people actually left Ur at this time. At the head of the group was Terah, whose name links him with the worship of the moon-god. He was head of the clan and the scripture says he took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law. [Gen 11:31] He set out with the intention of travelling to the land of Canaan, although he never arrived. From later evidence we deduce that Nahor and his family were also part of the caravan. I wonder too how many servants and members of the household were part of this migration. It seems from the evidence that the ‘clan’ prospered in Haran and on the second leg of the journey to Canaan they took with them all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran. [Gen 12] By the time we get to Genesis 14 Abraham is a minor chieftain with a personal army of over 300 men. If we give each of those men a wife and 2 children, we can estimate that by this time Abraham’s own ‘clan’ was more than 1200 souls. As an answer to our original question, my personal estimate of the size of that original group which migrated from Ur is more than 2000 souls. Time to revise those Sunday School pictures of Abraham in his solitary tent in an empty desert?
We cannot be sure of the motivations for their journey. Perhaps they were migrants or refugees from troubled areas. Perhaps Lot just followed his grandfather. Perhaps the servants had no choice. But for one man out of the thousands his motivation is clear; Abraham had seen God.
And he (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, Acts 7:2
We can see again the insistence on God’s initiation. Abraham did not find God, God appeared to Abraham. In the midst of his muddled theology Zophar the Naamathite asked Job a very pertinent question; Canst thou by searching find out God? [Job 11:7] The answer, by implication, is ‘No’. It is not possible for the finite to discover the infinite. We could know nothing at all about God if God had not chosen to reveal Himself, but we are not left in the dark; the God of glory has appeared. The God of glory, The King of Glory, the Lord of Glory seem to be titles of the Son. Is this partly what the Lord was referring to when He said Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad [John 8:56]? We shall look at some other possibilities later. According to the scripture, God’s appearances to Abraham were very few but Abraham’s response to those revelations changed the history of the world.
There is something very wonderful about this first event. It did not happen in a lonely desert or at a ‘convention’. It happened “when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran”. In the city dedicated to the moon-god, in a family which served the moon-god, “the God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham”. In the ordinary course of his everyday life God broke in and the God of glory appeared. God still breaks in to the everyday patterns of our lives. Later we look back at His providential preparations and see His hand in a thousand touches upon our lives, but for the man or woman who will be God’s Friend there must be a conscious encounter. We may not see a form or hear a voice but we will have absolutely no doubt that we have met Him. It may be that He will appear in the Scripture as we read, but if so it will not be logical deductions drawn from proof texts, as Tozer described it, but a vital encounter with God Himself. It is this encounter with God that begins the process of separation from the herd. Many may appear to be heading in the same general direction, thousands even, and for a while their paths may be side by side, but ultimately Abraham’s footsteps of faith will lead him in unique ways. Abraham’s real journey begins with a personal revelation of the God of Glory. So does ours.
We are not told if He fell at His feet as dead, as did John in the Revelation, but like John he heard a voice;
Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 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: 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.
We shall need to return to this word to Abraham, but for the time being please take careful note of the personal pronouns, I and thee; ‘thou’ is singular. This is an ‘I-Thee’ encounter initiated by God. In the midst of his family, and in the midst of a city wholly given to idolatry, the voice of God singled out Abraham; “Get thee out of thy country…and I will make of thee a great nation”.
There is promise of great personal blessing here and the promise of being a channel for even greater blessing but its implied condition is obedience. God says ‘Abraham, you do this, and I will do this’. The moment is captured wonderfully in a single verse;
by faith, Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. [Hebrews 11:8]
If we compress the verse we may see its impact more clearly; “Abraham, when he was called… obeyed”. It is a simple life if we would but live it simply. Faith is response to revelation; faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. We cannot kick-start faith, God must speak. We must not berate ourselves that others have achieved more and gone further; we cannot ‘obey’ until He ‘calls’. To go earlier would be presumption, to delay would be disobedience. But when God speaks, His word has creative power in the lives of those who receive it, and we must never say “I can’t”. For, as Gabriel said to Mary, “no word from God is powerless”. When God speaks you can walk on water and you can stretch out withered hands. But not until He speaks.
This word to Abraham is a little short on explanation. It is simply a command; “Get thee out”. It was addressed to Abraham and no other. It was the beginning of a pilgrimage in which God would strip Abraham of all dependence upon any other resource than God Himself. He would not be able, as a contingency, to ‘fall back’ on his family or culture; this is all the eggs in one basket. And the simple wonder of it all is that “when he was called.. he obeyed”, and he went out, “not knowing whither he went”. Many would obey God if He would only explain to them why or where He was leading them, but Abraham’s greatness lies in that “not knowing whither”. He can have had no idea where his simple obedience would lead him… nor can we.
Here then are our final questions; when He calls ‘will I obey or will I demand an explanation?’ ‘will I demand a vision for the future or will my vision of God Himself suffice?’ ‘will I demand a route map with all the answers written in or am I ready to move out now not knowing?’ The God of glory stands ready to be ‘all in all’ to the man or woman who, when He calls, by faith, will obey.