Glimpses in Genesis: The Call of Abraham, Genesis 11:31-12:20.

It’s been a while since we visited Glimpses in Genesis.  Other subjects keep popping up, even in Genesis!  (Not a bad thing!  There’s always lots in the Bible treasury!)

Our study begins with Seth: one of the three sons of Noah.  From these three have come all the nations of the world.  These three, with Noah, had experienced the Flood and its aftermath.  They knew the God of heaven, at least in this way.  Scripture doesn’t give us any real indication of their spiritual condition.

As we’ve indicated elsewhere, we believe there was a general knowledge of God long before the giving of the Law at Sinai.  Even though man continually and repeatedly rebelled against his Creator, there are indications of this general knowledge and revelation throughout Genesis.  It is here we begin, with

The background of the call, Romans 1:18-32

We believe Paul starts with a description of early man and his rebellion against God.  Even though they knew Him, not just as some sort of “doctrine,” but in reality, they didn’t want to acknowledge Him, and they weren’t thankful for His continued patience with them.  But it isn’t just about them.  Note the change between vs. 28 and 29 (ESV):  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness….  They are full of envy, murder, strife…(emphasis added).  This isn’t just about “them” – early man; it’s about “us” – man today.

In the space of a few verses, Paul wrote three times that God gave them up or over, vs.24, 26, 28.  This doesn’t mean He gave up; He gave them up.  It means He gave them what they wanted:  He let them go.  He turned them over to the desires of their fallen natures.

From this polluted river of mankind, God drew a slender rivulet, through which He will eventually purify the whole.

Abraham.

The beginning of the call, Genesis 12:1; Acts 7:2, 3.

Stephen gives us the additional detail that the God of glory appeared to Abraham before he left his native land.

There’s an interesting Jewish tradition about Abraham.  According to this tradition, Abraham’s father Terah had a shop that sold idols.  One day, Terah came into the shop after leaving his son in charge and found all the idols except the largest lying shattered in pieces on the floor.  Terah immediately wanted to know what happened.  Abraham replied, “Well, a worshiper came in with an offering for the gods and they began to fight over it.  This one” – pointing to the survivor – “won.”  “That’s ridiculous,” scoffed Terah.  “These idols can’t do anything!”  Abraham’s quiet response:  “Why then do we worship them?”

It’s unlikely that is what happened when the true God introduced Himself to Abraham.

In Genesis 11:27-32 (NKJV), the conclusion of Shem’s genealogy beginning in v. 10, indicates that Terah took his family, including Abraham and Sarai, as far as Haran, which was more or less on the northern border of Canaan.  We have no idea why, though there is conjecture.  Regardless, it wasn’t what God told Abraham to do.

God told Abraham to leave his family, his father’s house and his native country.  Taking Terah and Lot along wasn’t supposed to be part of it.  Terah caused a delay, perhaps of several years, till he died, and Abraham finally entered the land.  The delay was long enough for them to acquire “possessions,” and “people,” v. 5.  And Abraham allowed his nephew Lot to go with him, 12:3.  Perhaps he felt he couldn’t “abandon” his younger relative; perhaps he saw no harm in Lot’s tagging along.  Whatever the reason, these acts of partial obedience caused him trouble later on, and the inclusion of Lot plagued Israel centuries later.

The provisions of the call, Genesis 12:1-3.

1.  God would show him a land, v.1.  Cf. Hebrews 11:8, he went out, not knowing where he was going.

Have you ever thought about that?  Abraham comes home one day and says to his wife, “Sarai, start packing.  We’re moving.”

“Oh?  Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.”

He might not have known, but he knew that God knew, and that was enough.  Note also that there’s nothing said at this time about him ever owning the land.  God just said He would show it to him.

2.  God would make of him a great nation, v. 2.

By this time, Abraham and Sarah had been married long enough for it to become evident that Sarah was barren, Genesis 11:30.  This comes into play, both happily and unhappily, later on.

3.  God would make his name great, v. 2.

There was nothing special about Abraham to induce God to appear to him and give him all these promises.  As a Kentucky preacher friend used to say, “It’s all amazing grace.”  Abraham’s name is revered by three of the “world’s religions:” Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Only two of these have a legitimate claim.  The third rejects Abraham’s son Isaac in favor of Ishmael, whom God rejected.

4.  God would make him a blessing – to all the families of the earth, vs. 2, 3.

How God would do that isn’t fully revealed until the completion of the NT.  Abraham left his own family and his native country, but will gain an entirely new and much larger “family,” out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, Revelation 5:9.  Paul wrote that he would be heir of the world, Romans 4:13.  And Hebrews 11:10 says that he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  Ur of the Chaldees, though a great city in its time, was built on a marsh.  Abraham was looking for something sure and stable.  This doesn’t mean, as some make it, that he wasn’t also expecting God to do something in this life.

Our Lord put it like this:  “…there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or sisters or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life,” Luke 18:29, 30 (emphasis added).

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean “abandon.”  Though Peter’s remark about “leaving all” in v. 28 brought about our Lord’s response, his house and his wife’s mother are mentioned in Luke 4:38, where, presumably, his wife also lived.  If it is objected that this was before Luke 18, Paul specifically refers to Peter’s wife in 1 Corinthians 9:5:  Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas [Peter)?  This was certainly years after Luke 4 and 18.

These verses simply mean that nothing, not even the closest human relationships, should be allowed to get in the way of our serving the Lord.

In the case of Abraham, God had told him to leave his family behind.  He wouldn’t be the loser for doing that.

5.  God would deal with others as they dealt with Abraham (and his descendants, natural and spiritual).

It may not be apparent, at least with believers, but God will eventually see to it that His children are blessed.  This blessing may not be what the world considers “blessing,” but God’s children will know it as that.  The same may be said of the “curse.”  It may not be in this life, which really is just the preparation for the next, but it will happen sooner or later.  Cf. Matthew 25:31-46.  (This, BTW, has nothing to do with caring for the homeless or feeding the hungry, as the social reformers teach, though that may be a part of it in some cases.  And certainly, we are commanded to take care of the poor and needy throughout Scripture.  James 1:27, Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  I found it telling that the word processing program I use to type these posts didn’t know “undefiled” or “unspotted.”  Such concepts are altogether foreign to this world’s thinking.)

The ones to whom our Lord refers in Matthew 25 are His brethren, vs. 40, 45.  Cf. Joel 3:2, where the LORD says, “I will …gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel….”  This valley is nowhere else named except in v. 12, where the LORD says, “There I will sit [cf. He will sit on the throne of His glory, Matthew 25:31] to judge all the surrounding nations,…”   This “judgment of the nations” will be part of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.

NOTE:  this judgment cannot be identified with the “White Throne Judgment” or “Final Judgment” though many do so.  This judgment occurs in a “valley;” that judgment occurs when heaven and the earth have disappeared, And there was found no place for them, Revelation 20:11b. 

Abraham’s imperfections and the call, 12:1-20.

The Bible never covers over the imperfections and sins of its “heroes.”  Never does it “glorify” them as better than they really are.  It just simply shows them, warts and all!

Regardless of what thoughts may have gone through Abraham’s mind as he approached Egypt, when he apparently was concerned that he might be killed by the Egyptians over his beautiful wife [who, by then, was in her late 60s], though he didn’t know it, he was endangering the very one through whom all the promised blessings would come.  When Abraham trusted God, he did well; when he looked at his “situation” or circumstances, he messed up, sometimes royally.  In this case, except for God’s intervention, Genesis 12:17, who knows what tragedy might have happened?

It’s not without reason that the Lord taught His disciples to pray, “Lead us not into temptation [that is, circumstances which test us and make us fail, or even sin], Matthew 6:13.  This does not mean that God tempts us to sin, James 1:13.  It means that there is no situation in life which the devil or our own inherent sinfulness cannot turn into a temptation to sin.  I wonder if we will ever know how the Lord has intervened to keep us from making tragic mistakes.  We mess up enough as it is.  What are we kept from?

The Bible emphasizes the faith of Abraham.  This wasn’t just some academic thing.  It wasn’t just about “religion” or “church.”  [Yes, we know.  He didn’t have “church.”]  His whole life was centered on obedience to God, expecting Him to fulfill what He had promised.  While he saw the beginnings of that fulfillment and experienced several miraculous things, he never received a complete fulfillment of what God promised.  Writing of him and his descendants, the writer to the Hebrews put it like this:  And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us, Hebrews 11:39, 40.

Part of the Abrahamic Covenant was that through him all nations of the earth would be blessed.  Though the Old Testament never specifically spells out how this would be accomplished, the New Testament gives additional details.  Part of this is the fact, as we just read, that the Old Testament saints will not “be made perfect apart from us.”  The word translated “perfect” refers to a goal, an objective.  God’s objective in all this is to have a pure, righteous world, cf. 2 Peter 3:13.  We’re going to be part of that.  When God made His promises to Abraham, He had us in mind as well.

It doesn’t mean, as some teach, that the NT church somehow replaces the nation of Israel as God’s covenant people and takes over her blessings.  The curses, of course, remain hers.  It means that we are a complement to her, that from these two entities the Lord Jesus will make one new man, Ephesians 2:15, having reconciled them both to God in one body through the cross, v. 16.  We are fellow-citizens with them and members of the household of God, not they with us.  We Gentiles have no claim on God, having been given up in the judgment of God because of our depravity, Romans 1.  It’s only by the grace of God through the Lord Jesus that we have the blessings of salvation.  But it all goes back to God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham.

I think Hebrews 11:13-16 might also speak of these “faith-worthies:”  These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had been mindful of that country from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

This imperfect, fallen world is not the final chapter in human history.  Though there might be, and are, multiplied blessings along the way, as the song goes, “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through.”

I’m homesick.  Are you?

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