Text: Gen 12:1-9
It was the adventure of a life-time. Sure, by modern standards, Abraham’s journey from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran and on to the land of Canaan was a fairly modest undertaking. Many of us will have travelled further distances in taking our summer holidays this year. But then we have all the benefits of mechanised travel, of reliable maps, and of bridges and made-up roads. For Abraham this was a journey into the unknown, and was to turn out to be one of the most important journeys ever undertaken by anyone. Abraham’s journey was to be a pivotal event in the unfolding drama of redemption, and is also a vivid picture of the spiritual journey that we take in our Christian lives.
1. The Lord’s irresistible call
“The Lord had said…”, v1. The story of redemption resounds, like that of creation, with the voice of God. And when God speaks, who can ignore him? When the Lord commands, who dare disobey? Whether God spoke to Abraham by means of a dream, or vision, or physical manifestation, we cannot tell. Stephen, in his dying speech, refers to Abraham’s call with words that suggest a glorious appearance: ‘The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham’, Acts 7:2.
In considering this irresistible call, I would like you to notice what Abraham was called from, as well as what he was called to:-
(a) What he was called from: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household”. Three different expressions are used, in order to underline all that Abraham was to leave behind. Those who would follow Christ need to reflect on what they must be prepared to give up, as well as what they can expect to receive. There is a call to count the cost, to be prepared to forsake everything, to deny oneself and follow Jesus which is spelt out forcefully in the Gospels. Lk 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” Can this be so? Are we expected to hate our nearest and dearest? Well, not in an absolute sense, of course, but in a relative sense: we must serve and love Jesus Christ best of all, and if any of these others come into competition with him, we must prefer his will and honour above everyone else.
(b) What Abraham was called to: “To the land I will show you”, v1. In sending Abraham off on his journey, the Lord did not write the destination on his ticket. As Heb 11:8 points out, ‘Abraham obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.’ This seems peculiar. And yet it is often so in our Christian lives. The Lord calls us; but he does not reveal everything about that call all at once. He asks us to show faith and obedience in taking the first step, and then reveals what the next step will be. And there may be many unexpected twists and turns before our final destination comes into view. And so we learn, like Abraham, to walk by faith, not by sight. Like him, we know that there is a final destination, but we are told only a little about it. We know that we are pilgrims who are on a journey to a bright and better land, but we do not know when we shall reach it or exactly what we will find there. John writes about this tension between what we don’t know and what we do know about about this final destination: ‘Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is,’ I Jn 3:2.
2. The Lord’s unfailing promise
Abraham might well have thought himself betrayed by God, as he set out on the second stage of his journey that led from Haran to the land of Canaan. Consider the obstacles that were now stacked up against him: (a) Sarah was infertile; (b) his destination was uncertain; (c) his nearest and dearest had been forsaken; (d) his father was dead; (e) he found himself a stranger in a foreign land; (f) he was surrounded by idolatry. But over against all these adversities he could place God’s unfailing promise. This would be the experience of David, when in all kinds of danger himself, Psa 34:19, ‘A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all’.
Look with me at God’s unfailing promise to Abraham.
When God promised, “I will make you into a great nation”, that promise did not fail. The descendents of Abraham, the Jews, have indeed been a great nation. Great in their achievements under kings such as David and Solomon; great in their influence right around the world; great in their very survival in times of bitter persecution, exile and holocaust; great as being the originators of the Christian faith to which we belong.
When God promised, “I will make your name great”, that promise did not fail. Although not famous in artistic, scientific, civil or military affairs, Abraham has been revered by the Jews as founder of their nation, by Moslems as a great teacher and example, and by Christians as ‘the father of the faithful’.
When God promised, “All people on earth will be blessed through you”, that promise did not fail. Indeed, the outworking of this great promise is only glimpsed in the OT; but it became a glorious reality following our Lord’s ascension, for his disciples received power when the Holy Spirit came on them, and they became his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, Acts 1:8. Paul links the promise to Abraham with the worldwide success of the gospel: ‘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. And this promise to Abraham is still being fulfilled today, as men and women continue to obey Christ’s call to go, and make disciples of nations.
What blessing have millions received, because of God’s unfailing promise to Abraham and his descendents! ‘All the true blessedness the world is now, or ever shall be possessed of, is owing to Abram and his posterity. Through them we have a Bible, a Saviour, and a Gospel. They are the stock on which the Christian Church is grafted. Their very dispersions have proved the riches of the world.’ (Fuller)
Still, the fulfilment of these great promises lay in the distant future. Abraham didn’t live to see his descendents made into a great nation, or all the peoples on earth being blessed through him. And we need to realise that God’s promises to us frequently run counter to what we ourselves would ask for or wish. Take the Christian parents who long for their children to come to know Christ. They plead, “Lord, let him become a Christian before we die.” But for all they you know, God in his wisdom may have other plans. That child may indeed come to the Lord, but not until long after his faithful parents have passed on. Remember the seeds that you are sowing in your own lifetime may not germinate until long after you have gone.
It is good to let God fulfil his promises in his own way and in his own time. Isa 55:8: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes our from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
3. The Lord’s supporting presence
‘The Lord appeared to Abram’, v7. Although the fulfilment of God’s promises may lay in the distant future, Abram was not left destitute, but was strengthened and encouraged by the presence of the Lord.
An elderly man was out walking with his young grandson. “How far are we from home?” he asked the boy. “I don’t know, Grandad.” “Well, where are we?” “I don’t know, Grandad.” “Sounds to me as if you’re lost.” The boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “No, I can’t be lost. I’m with you.” Abraham was not lost, chiefly because the Lord was with him. Again, this matches David’s experience in Psa 23:4, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.’
You will see that Abraham commemorates God’s supporting presence by the building of an altar, v7. And again, in v8 we read, ‘He built an altar…and called on the name of the Lord’. Indeed, Abraham seems to have built an altar at each new location where he settled. Two things about this building of an altar.
(a) the altar reminds us that there is no entrance into the presence of God without the offering of a sacrifice. The animal sacrifice that Abraham would have offered on his altar was an anticipation of the one final and complete sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered when he died for our sins.
(b) the altar reminds us of the value of thanking God in a definite and observable way for his supporting presence. When was the last time you ‘raised an Ebenezer’? I Sam 7:12: ‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us.”‘ We can do this simply by telling others what God has done for us: ‘Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me,’ Psa 66:16. This is the ‘Andrew spirit’, isn’t it? Jn 1:40: ‘Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.’
We see in this story of Abraham’s journey the Lord’s irresistible call, his unfailing promise and his supporting presence. We are not all called to desert our home and country. But we are called to heed God’s call wherever it may lead us. There is an unfailing promise attached to the call, the details and timing of which may not known to us. But, like Abraham, we journey on in obedience to God’s call and in anticipation of the promise, receiving as we go along sure tokens of God’s grace and presence with us. Make up your mind today, that when you hear God’s call you won’t let comfort and security on the one hand, or fear and uncertainty on the other, make you miss out on the adventure of a lifetime.