Genesis 12: 1 - 9
Starting today we’re going to take a look at the life of one of the greatest men in all the Bible. His name is Abraham and his story is told in Genesis 12 - 25. When I say that he is one of the greatest men in the Bible, I am not exaggerating. Outside of the Lord Jesus Christ, you could make a pretty good argument that he is most important person in the Bible.
Amazing Facts About An Amazing Man
1. He is revered by the followers of three world religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
2. He is the founder of the nation of Israel.
3. He is mentioned by name 308 times in the Old and New Testaments.
4. He is the pre-eminent man of faith in the Bible.
5. He is a man whose life changed the course of world history.
Abraham is the most important person in the OT, while Jesus Christ is the most important person in the NT. How does the NT begin? “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” When Matthew wants to impress upon us the significance of who Jesus Christ really is, he links him with the greatest king—David—and with the founder of Israel—Abraham.
Why Abraham? Why now? When the writer of Hebrews 11 wanted to explain what the life of faith looks like, he gave more space to Abraham than to anyone else. Jesus spoke of Abraham’s faith, and so did the Apostle Paul. Over and over again the NT repeats a simple phrase: “Abraham believed God.” That’s what faith is. It’s believing God and then acting upon that belief. So I hope that by studying his life, we may all be challenged to believe God, to take him at his Word, and then to step out in faith.
If we are expecting and praying for a great visitation from the Lord, then we need to know what it really means to live by faith on a daily basis.
1. God’s Call
In order to understand Abraham’s life we have to go back 40 centuries, back to a time long ago and far away, back to a place called Ur of the Chaldees, which was a large city on the banks of the Euphrates River. That river still exists. It flows through Iraq and empties into the Persian Gulf not far from Kuwait.
Ur was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. In Abraham’s day perhaps 250 000 people lived there. There was an ancient university there and a large library. Ur was known as a centre for mathematics, astronomy and international commerce. It was like New York or London.
It was also a centre of pagan worship. Archeologists have unearthed evidence that most of the people or Ur worshipped the Moon Goddess. We know from other places in the OT that Abraham’s family were idol-worshipers, which means that he no doubt was an idolater himself.
A. How God Found Abraham v. 1 - 3
Abraham is about 75 years old when we meet him, which in those days would be considered middle-aged. He’s a prosperous businessman who is no doubt well-known to many people. He is married to his wife Sarah and they have no children. As far as we know, Abraham is not looking for God at all. But God was looking for him. Above everything else, that’s the important point of our text. Abraham’s life changed when God found him and spoke to him.
It would be an understatement to call this a pivotal passage. Everything else that follows Genesis 12— all the way through the OT, the coming of Christ, the establishment of the church and the promise of Christ’s return in the book Revelation—all of it flows from this great promise to Abraham.
Please focus on this one thought - God found Abraham while he was still an idolater living in a pagan culture. There is not even the slightest hint that Abraham was looking for God. But God was looking for him. Sometimes you hear people say, “I found the Lord.” True, but he found you first. Salvation begins with God, not man! He always makes the first move. That why the Bible says that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. It’s not like humanity formed a committee and asked God for help. No, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
B. Jesus in Genesis
Did you see Christ in those 3 verses? Look again. He’s there, even though you won’t see his name. Look at the very last phrase—“All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Now that’s a pretty amazing promise if you think about it. How would one man like Abraham who lived 4000 years ago bring a blessing to all the peoples of the earth?
Abraham himself is not the blessing, but all the world will be blessed through his descendent who would be born in Bethlehem 2000 years later. God is telling Abraham, “I’m going to give you some land, I’m going to make you the father of a great nation and I’m going to bless the whole world through you.” Now Abraham didn’t know how all of this was going to work out, but he didn’t have to. All he had to do was believe it.
We get the benefit of looking back across history and seeing just how amazing this promise of God really is. We know more about Abraham’s call than he ever did because we know about Jesus.
2. Abraham’s Obedience v. 4, 5
I just said that Abraham didn’t understand the full implications of what God had just said to him. That’s a slight understatement. It would be more correct to say that he didn’t have a clue. Go back to v. 1 for a moment and see what God asked him to do:
• Leave your country
• Leave your people
• Leave your father’s household
• Go to the land I will show you
Abraham was being asked to forsake everything in order to follow God’s call. What would you do? You’re in the prime of life, you’ve got a good job, a nice nest egg, a home you like, friends you admire, neighbours who respect you. You’re an upstanding, valuable part of the community. You’ve got a good future ahead of you. The last thing you want to do is move.
And now God—whom you’ve just met—wants you to leave everything. Your family … your friends … your country … your home … your business … your security.
A. How It Might Have Been
“Abraham, this is God speaking. I want you to leave everything and go to the land I will show you.” “Where’s that?” “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” “Try me.” “It’s 2400kms from here in a place called Canaan.” “Never heard of it.” “I know, and guess what else?” “What?” “I’m going to make you the father of a great nation.” “That’s impossible. I don’t have any children.” “Don’t worry.” “What do you mean, don’t worry?” “Just trust me.” “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You want me to leave everything, travel across the desert to someplace I’ve never heard of, and become the father of a great nation.” “Right.” “Is this some kind of joke?” “No.” “What am I supposed to tell my wife?” “That’s your problem.”
Hebrews 11: 8 “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” That’s always how it is in the life of faith. Many times you will be called to step out for God and you will be precisely where Abraham was—believing God but not knowing what the future holds.
B. But He Went
A central truth about the life of faith - you rarely see the big picture in advance. Even if you think you see it, you don’t. When God calls, he doesn’t always explain himself. He always tells you just enough to get you moving in the right direction. The rest is up to him.
It is precisely at this point that Abraham’s greatness may be clearly seen. God called and he obeyed. Hebrews 11: 8 says he “obeyed and went.” He may have doubted, but he went. He may have argued, but he went. He may have wondered, but he went. When God calls, the only proper response is to obey and go.
There is one final truth contained in our text. It has to do with what happened once Abraham finally reached the Promised Land.
3. Abraham’s Worship v. 6 - 9
His journey from Ur of the Chaldees took him about 1100kms north to Haran and then another 1300kms to Canaan. He traveled the ancient trade routes along the Fertile Crescent—that arc of good land rimming the desert wasteland that stood between Ur on the east and Canaan on the west.
But eventually he arrived at a place called Shechem, which is in central Israel in an area that we today call the West Bank. The Bible adds an ominous phrase at this point: “The Canaanites were in the land.” Think about that. The Canaanites were pagan idolaters who were the sworn enemies of Israel. When Abraham arrives in the Promised Land, the first people he meets are pagan idol-worshippers. It’s a reminder that living by faith is never easy—not for Abraham, for you or me.
But precisely at that point the Lord appeared to him again and reaffirmed his promise to give this land to Abraham’s descendants. So he built an altar and worshipped God there. Then he moved south and built another altar between Bethel and Ai and the Bible says that “he called on the name of the Lord.” Then Abraham is on the move again, traveling south toward the Negev Desert. He’ll eventually make his home in a city called Beersheba.
Abraham’s first act in the Promised Land was to build an altar and worship God. That’s most significant because it tells that faith leads to action but it also leads to worship. That’s an important lesson we need to learn, isn’t it? If given a choice, many of us would rather get busy and do something than stop and worship God.
As with so many other areas of life, the problem is within us. We’re too busy to hear God’s voice. We’re running so hard and so fast that God would have to shout to get our attention. Sometimes that’s what he does. He shouts through pain or opposition or sickness or disappointment and suddenly, we begin to hear his voice. It doesn’t have to be that way. God always speaks loud enough for a listening ear to hear.
With that we bring our first study in the life of Abraham to a close. When we met him, he was worshipping idols in Ur. As we leave him, he is worshipping God in Canaan. God called, he obeyed and stepped out in faith, not knowing where he was going. When he arrived, he worshipped God.
This is the pattern for the life of faith: God calls, we respond, we move out, we arrive and we worship God when we get there.
Sometimes our children sing a little chorus that goes like this: “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham, and I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s just praise the Lord!” There’s a lot of good theology in those simple words. He is the father of those who live by faith. You and I are the sons of Abraham if we step out in faith and follow God’s call as he did.
God’s first call is always the same to every person. He calls you to turn from your sin and trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Have you ever responded to God’s call? He’s calling you to leave your old life and come to Jesus just as you are. The new life you seek begins the moment you say yes to Jesus Christ. The greatest adventure you’ll ever know begins the moment you say yes to God’s call on your life.
D. L. Moody “Some say faith is the gift of God. So is the air, but you have to breathe it; so is bread, but you have to eat it; so is water, but you have to drink it.” Faith means taking God at his Word and then leaving Ur for the Promised Land. The greatest adventure you’ll ever know begins the moment you say yes to God’s call on your life.
God asks of us nothing more than he asked of Abraham: That we believe His Word and act upon it. You may say, “But my faith is weak.” I’m sure it is, but God is strong. If you will put your tiny life into God’s mighty hand, he will guide you step by step. If you say, “I can’t see where I’m going,” fear not. The All-seeing God has charted your course and he will lead you to the Promised Land. God is calling you. Will you say yes?
Heavenly Father, teach us what it means to listen to your voice. Do whatever it takes, Lord, to slow us down so that we can hear you once again. Give us the grace to trust and obey. We doubt your presence and so we fear to follow where you lead. Remind us once again that the safest place to be is in the centre of your will. Strip away our trust in the things of the world so that our security will be in you alone. We ask these things in name of Jesus our Lord, Amen.