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Here, we continue our study in Genesis, beginning a study of Abraham's life.
10This is the account of Shem.
Two years after the flood, when Shem was 100 years old, he became the father of Arphaxad. 11And after he became the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters.
12When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah. 13And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.
14When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber. 15And after he became the father of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.
16When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg. 17And after he became the father of Peleg, Eber lived 430 years and had other sons and daughters.
18When Peleg had lived 30 years, he became the father of Reu. 19And after he became the father of Reu, Peleg lived 209 years and had other sons and daughters.
20When Reu had lived 32 years, he became the father of Serug. 21And after he became the father of Serug, Reu lived 207 years and had other sons and daughters.
22When Serug had lived 30 years, he became the father of Nahor. 23And after he became the father of Nahor, Serug lived 200 years and had other sons and daughters.
24When Nahor had lived 29 years, he became the father of Terah. 25And after he became the father of Terah, Nahor lived 119 years and had other sons and daughters.
26After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.
27This is the account of Terah.
Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. 30Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.
In these verses, we come to yet another genealogy, the last one for a long time (the next genealogy is in chapter 36). While the genealogies are not exactly exciting reading, they do provide valuable information. This genealogy is important in a historical sense, providing a link from the time of the flood to the call of Abram. This is Moses' purpose in including this genealogy. Moses begins with Noah's son Shem, and gives the names of his descendants that make up Abram's line of ancestors.
A by-product of the inclusion of this genealogy is to show the shortening of life spans after the flood. The length of the lives in this genealogy were, on average, less than half as long as those in earlier genealogies. Presumably, environmental changes caused by the flood slowly caused the shortening of lives down to our current lifespan of about 80 years. Some speculate that there was a cloud cover over the earth before the flood, protecting humans from harmful rays.
Unlike the genealogy in the previous chapter, this one is highly selective, identifying only those in the line leading to Abram. The family tree is pruned to focus on the chosen people of God. From here on, the Old Testament will concentrate on those supernaturally chosen by God to be His people, to build His nation. This pruning will continue until the birth of Christ, when the pruning process will be reversed and the people of God will be expanded to include those from all nations who choose, through Christ, to be reconciled to God.
God's great wisdom is demonstrated in His plan for His chosen people. The events previous to this chapter have shown that man, without God intervening in their lives, universally turns from God and goes his own way. In Genesis, the book of "beginnings", we have seen two beginnings: the beginning of the human race through Adam, and the new beginning after the flood through Noah. After both beginnings, all men, except for a very few, turned from God. In the first beginning, only the line of Seth to Noah remained faithful, so that at the time of Noah, only he was found to be "blameless among the people of his time" (Gen. 6:9). So God sent a flood because the world had become a vile and depraved place, "for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways" (Gen. 6:12). After the flood, man had a chance at a new beginning, but very soon after, man again universally turned from God. Under the guidance of Nimrod, they united in defiance of God to build a tower to the heavens and make a name for themselves. Then, at the time of Abram, we know of only two godly people in existence: Job and Melchizedek. Even Abram and his family had turned to idolatry, for the Lord tells us through Joshua: "Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods" (Josh. 24:2). Again, all this goes to show that, without God's intervention, men will universally turn from Him. Had God not called Abram supernaturally, there would be none who know God today; had God not supernaturally built a nation for Himself, there would be none who walk in His ways today.
Ironically, by choosing one nation (Israel), and letting all other nations "go their own way" (Acts 14:16), God has made His salvation available to all men. It was not God's intention, by choosing the nation of Israel, to turn His back on other nations, for God does not desire that any should perish (cf. Matt. 18:14; II Pet. 3:9). But God, in His wisdom, devised a plan, so that through the choosing and supernatural preservation of one nation, salvation would come to all men. Through this plan, we see that our salvation is entirely God's work. Man has done nothing, nor can do anything to deserve this "great salvation" (Heb. 2:3). It has taken a supernatural work of God for any man to be saved.
And so, Moses, by introducing the call of Abram with the genealogy, provided a link from the world which turned from God, to the nation chosen by God. In verse 27, we are introduced to the families that will dominate the rest of the narrative in Genesis: "Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran." Abram, of course, will receive the call of God. Nahor was a forefather of Rebekah (see Gen. 22:20-23), whom Abram's son Isaac would marry. Haran was the father of Lot (who journeyed with Abram to the promised land), and also (presumably) the father of Sarai (if we assume that the word "she" in verse 29 refers to Sarai).
We are told of Sarai that she "was barren". Only God would and could choose a man with a barren wife to become the father of a nation. With this simple fact, we see that God not only intervened spiritually (through the call of Abram) to build His nation, but also physically (by enabling a barren woman to bare a son). The credit for building His nation can only be given to God; He alone made it possible.
11:31Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran. 12:1The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.
2I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
4So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
8From there he went on towards the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. 9Then Abram set out and continued towards the Negev.
Here we have details concerning the call of Abram (or "Abraham", as he is later called). Abraham's name is synonymous with faith. Nevertheless, what we will see in this episode, as well as other episodes in Abraham's life, is that Abraham was a man just like us and often stumbled in his faith. This can be reassuring to us. When we consider the obedience of the great men and women of the Bible, we think that such faith is unattainable to us. However, as we study their lives, we see that they, like us, often failed God as mightily as they served God. From this, we can conclude that, if God can use them so powerfully in their frailty, He can also use us in a mighty way.
We are told first that "Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot..., and his daughter-in-law Sarai, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there" (11:31). Then we are told: "The Lord had said to Abram, `Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.'" (12:1). This call of Abram took place before the family's journey to Haran, for Stephen tells us in the book of Acts: "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. `Leave your country and your people,' God said, `and go to the land I will show you'" (Acts 7:2-3). Also, Nehemiah said, when praying to God: "You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans" (Neh. 9:7). The Lord Himself reminded Abraham later, when he was in Canaan: "I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it" (Gen. 15:7). So, given this, the chronology of the events surrounding Abram's call is, it seems, as follows: first, while in Ur, God called Abram to leave his country and his family; then, Abram left with his family and settled in Haran; some time later (see v. 4), Abram left Haran to go to Canaan.
With this unraveled, we see that Abram was not entirely obedient to God's call. God had told Abram to leave his father's household, yet Abram left Ur with his father. The narrative states that Abram did not even lead the way out of Ur, but that Terah, in fact, "took his son." One could imagine a conversation between Abram and his father after Abram received the call of God. Abram might have said, "Father, God has told me to leave Ur and go to a land that he will show me." Terah might have replied, "Fine son, let us all go. I'm sick of this place anyway." "But father," Abraham says, "God told me also to leave your household and..." Terah interrupts, "Nonsense, nonsense, my son. I will take you to this land, whereever it is..."
This is speculation, of course. In any case, we do know that Abram did not leave his father's household (as God commanded), but went with his father out of Ur towards Canaan. Why did God command Abram to leave his father's household, anyway? There are at least two reasons. First, his father was an idolater. Later in Canaan, Joshua would tell the Israelites: "Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods" (Josh. 24:2). God saw that Abram would have a difficult time obeying Him and worshipping Him as the one True God while under the influence of an idolatrous father. A second reason God wanted Abram to leave his father's household is illustrated in what happened on the way to Canaan: "But when they came to Haran, they settled there" (11:31). Rather than following the call of God, Abram allowed Terah to be in charge of the journey. Terah, it seems, chose to settle in Haran, still a long four hundred miles from the land God promised to Abram. From a worldly point of view, this was a wise decision, for Haran was the last outpost for the caravans on their way to Canaan before they had to strike out across the desert. Because they settled in Haran, Terah and his family became wealthy. We know this because we are told that, when Abram finally did obey God's call and set out for Canaan, he took "all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran" (12:5). Abram's material success in Haran may well also have been a contributing factor in his staying there and not obeying the call of God.
We do not know for sure how long Abraham stayed in Haran, but it must have been a long time, for "Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran" (12:5). Abram here is typical of all of us who tarry in obeying God. It seems like obedience to God's call to serve comes only as a last resort, only when all obstacles are clear and we have no more excuses not to obey. We make thousands of weightier decisions on a whim, but we agonize, dawdle, meditate, vacillate, hesitate, and procrastinate when called to serve the Creator of the universe, our loving Father.
The reasons for Abram's tarrying reflect ours. Just as Abram stopped at the last outpost before the wilderness, so also we tarry when it seems that the going will get tough. We rationalize our tarrying by saying that if we were meant to serve God in such and such a way, He would have cleared the way and made it easy. This line of reasoning is unbiblical, however. Not one of the saints in the Bible ever had it easy in serving the Lord. Also, just as Abram stayed in Haran until his father died, so also we tarry to please friends or family. Abraham's tarrying is evocative of the man who, when called by Jesus to follow Him, replied: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him: "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:59-60). The call of God is more important and takes precedence over the desires of family members. Abram chose to "bury his father" and was a very old man when he started serving the Lord. His tarrying made even more difficult the fulfillment of the promise of God that he would be the father of a great nation, since he was 75 years old he finally obeyed God's call. Moreover, just as Abram (presumably) stayed in Haran because of his prosperity there, so also we tarry in obeying God's call to service in order that we may pursue worldly success. We are avid in such pursuits, and they often prevent us from serving God. The weight of worldly possessions often makes it impossible for us to carry the light burden of the Lord. This happens even though the rewards of serving the Lord are far greater and longer lasting than any worldly ones that we could attain. As God later tells Abram: "I am...your very great reward" (Gen. 15:1).
God, being the Creator of the universe, deserves unquestioned, unrecompensed obedience from all men, but in His grace, God chooses to reward our obedience greatly. God made marvelous promises to Abram for obeying His call. Significantly, God promised to return to Abram everything He called him to leave. God said, "Leave your country, your people", but He also said, "I will make you into a great nation." God said, "Leave...your father's household", but He also said, "I will make your name great." God commanded Abram to leave his own land, his "comfort zone" (as we would call it today), but God also said, "I will bless you", and then "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse."
In remembrance of the promises of God, Abram finally did leave Haran when he was 75 years old; however, "Lot went with him" (12:4). This again is in disobedience to God's command. God told Abram to leave his people (see 12:1). As we shall see later in Abram's history, Lot causes all sorts of problems for Abram in the promised land, so God's wisdom is proven. Later, Lot's herders quarrel with Abram's, so they must split up (Gen. 13); Lot is abducted by marauding kings, so Abram must go rescue him (Gen. 14); Lot settles in Sodom, so Abram must intercede for him (Gen. 18).
To Abram's credit, the fact that he did finally journey to Canaan demonstrated his faith in the promises of God. Faith in these promises was not trivial. The promises were, from a human point of view, impossible. As we have been told, "Sarai was barren" (11:30). She was barren throughout their marriage, and now, in Canaan, she was old as well. The basis of the promises of God was that through Abram, a great nation would be built. It took real faith for Abram to believe that he would father a great nation, having a barren wife. The improbability of the promises defined the extent of his faith. If the promises were a "done deal", where would be the faith? We should remember this when those around us scoff at the impossibility of God coming to earth in human form as Christ, or the impossibility of the resurrection of Christ, or the impossibility of Christ's return. Yes, from a worldly point of view, these things are impossible, but therein lies our faith.
Abram's faith did not go unrewarded. Due to obedience to God's call, Abram's life and posterity were radically changed. He was transformed from an obscure, childless, idolatrous Babylonian shepherd to one of history's great religious leaders and the root of a nation that still exists today. This is the work of God. God emphasized His own role in the blessings of Abram. In the promises He gave to Abram, He says: "I will make...I will bless...I will make...I will bless".
We have seen the fulfillment of all of God's promises to Abram. God said: "I will make you into a great nation". Abram's descendants became the nation of Israel, a nation and a peoples that have survived to the present day. God said, "I will bless you". Abram was blessed financially (by the grace of God) while he was still in Haran (see v. 5). God said, "I will make your name great". Abram is known throughout the world and is a primary figure in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. God said, "...and you will be a blessing". Abram's example of faith has been a great blessing through the ages. God said, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." Throughout the history of Israel, God has blessed the nations that have blessed Israel and cursed the nations that were enemies of Israel. This is seen in Israel's history as recounted in the Bible, as well as in modern history. Finally, and most significantly for us, God said, "All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you." Abram was not only blessed, but also a medium for blessing the whole world. This promise of God was a prophecy of the salvation that has come to mankind through Christ. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: `All nations will be blessed through you.'" (Gal. 3:8-9). God's choosing of Abraham to build the nation of Israel was not to exclude the people of other nations, but through Israel, to provide a way of salvation to people from all nations and, in this way, to "bless all nations".
So, Abram finally arrived in Canaan and stopped at Shechem, amidst the Canaanites (12:6). He must have thought it strange to be called out of one idolatrous land into another; but such are the ways of God: usually beyond our reasonings. When Abram arrived in Canaan, the Lord again appeared to him. It is interesting, and appropriate, that God did not appear to Abram until he took a major step in obeying the call of God and journeyed to Canaan. God often follows this pattern in our lives: first, He calls us to service; next, we must obey His call; finally, He blesses us and reveals Himself further to us. God's further revelation to us depends on our obedience to His previous commands. God chooses to lead us step-by-step, not revealing further guidance until, by faith, we step out in obedience to previously issued commands.
God promised Abram at Shechem: "To your offspring I will give this land." This promise was fulfilled, of course, and Abram's descendants still live in the land God promised them. Interestingly, when Joshua first conquered the land, he led a ceremony of dedication at Shechem, the very place that God made this promise.
Finally, in verse 7, Abram responded to the appearance of God by building an altar to the Lord and worshiping Him there. Our response to the blessings and the promises of God should be worship. True faith is always accompanied by worship; true faith cannot remain silent in the presence of God. In verse 8, we see that Abram went on to settle near what would later be called Bethel (see Gen. 28:19). Abram "pitched his tent" in Bethel, and also built another altar to the Lord there. That's the way it should be. Abram dwelt in tents, but built altars to God. We should all have such an attitude: living as pilgrims in the world, while building what lasts for God.
Yes, Lord, may we too build what lasts for You and Your Kingdom on this earth, and be less concerned with building our own kingdoms. Give us, by Your Spirit, faith in Your promises, faith to step out at Your call, without tarrying. Also, we thank You and praise You for Your plan of salvation that You conceived before building that nation of Israel. We thank You that You carried out Your plan by choosing a people for Yourself and we thank You that, through Christ, we too can be numbered as people of God. In His name we pray these things, Amen.
(In the next issue, we will continue with our study of Abraham's life)
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