Reading: Genesis 12: 1-10
The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing (or ‘be seen as blessed’). I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He 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.
Abram 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. The 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.
From 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. Then Abram set out and continued towards the Negev.
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.
Where does something start and end?
- A piece of string has a beginning and an end… you can see the start and the finish
- But what about a ball! Where does it begin and end?
- And how about God! Where does He begin and end?
Sometimes, the start of something is clear-cut…
- The foundation stone on a building gives a precise date for the beginning of the project
- Television producers have a ‘count-down’ prior to the start of a programme
- Advanced digital clocks can measure time to the micro-second
Sometimes, the start of something is not as clear-cut…
- A mighty river is fed by innumerable small streams, which seem insignificant but together create a torrent… So where exactly does the river begin!
- You hear people say: “I don’t know where the idea came from” or “I can’t give an exact time when I became a Christian”
- And the beginning of new life in the womb has caused intense debate… some say it’s at the moment of conception, others say after so many weeks of development, yet others say not until birth
IF THESE EXAMPLES ARE PERPLEXING, imagine the problem of specifying the time that a nation begins… one that has never existed before!
- Certainly, we hear about a country gaining independence… and after internal conflict, being divided into two parts, each with its own name and identity
- But to pinpoint where a completely new nation begins is challenging!
YET HERE IN GENESIS 12 we are given a unique insight into the way that the nation of Israel was conceived… though Israel did not exist at that moment in time!
- Many years later, a man called Jacob would be given the name Israel… but the roots of the nation of Israel are found in the will and purpose of God Himself!
God chose a man, Abram (later renamed Abraham by God) who lived between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates in modern day Iraq or possibly Iran, as the seed for this new nation of Israel.
- Note that Abram means ‘exalted father’ but Abraham means ‘father of many nations’
- It is ironic that Abram, the Father of the Jewish nation should come from an area that is currently controlled by religious fanatics intent on destroying modern Israel!
Abram grew up (and was probably born) in a town called Ur some 500 miles east of present-day Jerusalem
- There were four places called “Ur”… this one is referred to as ‘Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon)’ to distinguish it from the other three
- Ur was a place of idol worship of the worst kind
- Jewish tradition claims that Abram’s father, Terah, made idols for a living!
At some point, however, Terah moved his entire family, including Abram, and they stopped at Haran (north of Canaan)
Note that Canaan was a large area covering modern-day Israel and parts of Lebanon and Jordan as far south as northern Egypt…
- Haran was a hub of commerce and a relatively stable part of the world… How times have changed!
God’s call to Abram seemed to have stalled for a time… but eventually Abram set out from Haran for Canaan… and heads for the Negev!
- The Negev is a semi-desert region in modern southern Israel
On the way, Abram climbs the heights between Bethel and Ai and builds an altar to the Lord God Almighty… Abram has changed from an idol worshipper to a worshipper of the One True God!
In the second half of Genesis 12, we read of how Abram and his family went to Egypt for a time… but that’s another story!
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THESE EVENTS?
- God chooses whom He will … Not necessarily the obvious person… Abram was from a very unpromising background… steeped in idolatry, witness to human sacrifices, surrounded by mythology and godlessness of the worst kind
- God chose this Abram, who worshipped idols, to be the father of many nations and witness to the One True God
- He chose a young Israeli man, Joseph, to save Egypt and Israel
- He chose a murderer, Moses, to lead Israel out of Egypt
- He chose a ‘second class’ woman, Deborah, to be a judge of Israel
- He chose an under-confident farmer, Gideon, to be leader of the army
- He chose a tall, hesitant young man, Saul, to be the first king of Israel
- He chose a shepherd boy, David, to be the forerunner of ‘the line of David’ that led to Jesus himself
- He chose a timid young man, Jeremiah, to warn godless kings of Judah about impending doom and imminent conquest
- He chose a young peasant woman, Mary, to bear the Christ-child
- He chose a lowly carpenter, Joseph, to be the earthly father of Jesus Christ
- He chose a vicious persecutor of Christians, Saul (later called Paul) to be His chief apostle … There are many other examples.
And He chose you and me to share in His eternal glory if we bow the knee to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord
- When God promises something, He waits for our faith-driven response before revealing more…
- God doesn’t force us to respond… He invites us to do so
- He waits for us to believe what He says, pray in faith (without doubting) and walk forward in step with the Spirit
- He says: “Follow me” and goes ahead of us… We can stand still or walk along with Him and become fishers of men rather than spectators of men
It’s good to know what the Bible says, attend meetings, sing songs heartily and shake hands firmly… but God waits to see if our fine words lead to action before revealing the next step
- God promises to exceed our expectations and dreams… He told Abram: “I will make you a great nation… I will make your name great”
- The old film “South Pacific” contains a song with the words: “You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how are you going to have a dream come true?”
- Do you remember a time when you dreamed… before reality kicked in and life became rather routine and predictable!
- A time when you thought that anything was possible… in line with God’s will and purpose…
- Yet “Without vision, the people perish”… They ‘rot away and become brittle’ or slowly become passive… they expect little and receive precisely that!
It is tempting to accept mediocrity… To lose our high expectations of God… To excuse our lack of fervour, we say: “People are not interested in spiritual things any more” or “God will have His way with or without my help” or “We are in the end times, what can you expect!
- Abraham Lincoln once commented that it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.
- And God wants our years to be glorious for Him.
- God’s promises are not solely for our personal benefit! God told Abram: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”
- All peoples (families) on earth… not some but all
- Because through Abram and his descendants, the line of Judah was established that led to Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the Jews and the Saviour of the world.
- Abram did not benefit directly from God’s promises… but he knew that others would do so if he were obedient to God
- And our lives too have influence well beyond our immediate sphere… Like a pebble in the pond when the ripples spread in all directions, we touch many other lives
One day, your life will end but your legacy will remain. The things that you have said and done, the decisions that you have made and the path that you chose will provide an example and a foundation on which others can build their lives. Your life counts for much more than you might imagine.
- When God promises, He also safeguards… “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you, I will curse”
- It may sometimes seem that God is hiding away
- Things go from bad to worse… or perhaps situations are not resolved, even after much faith-driven prayer
- Yet God is ‘on the case’… Even Christians who are brutally treated and perhaps killed can still claim God’s promise to Abram … blessing to those who bless and curses to those who curse
It may seem that those who sneer and jeer at us are powerful… They seem to have the upper hand… We may feel powerless or intimidated… But such people are inviting a terrible fate… They will have to answer directly to God for their behaviour towards God’s people … a terrifying prospect for them! By contrast, Christians have eternal security.
- God waits for us to take a step of faith before revealing the ‘next step’… Abram arrived at Shechem in Canaan before God spoke to him again: ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’
- If Abram had remained in Haran, he would never have heard God’s reassuring word to him …
- In Genesis 24: 27, we read: “I, being in the way, the Lord led me” … Not “getting in the way” but “being in the way”
- We have to be in the right place, walking in step with the Spirit, before God will reveal the next step to us
So if you feel ‘stuck’ in your life, it may be that you need to take a step of faith to show God that you trust Him and are serious about obeying Him.
- God’s promises may not come to fulfilment in my lifetime …
- Abram didn’t live to see Israel established… He could only accept what God had said and believe that His promises are completely trustworthy.
And you and I will not see answers to every prayer… or each Spirit-inspired dream fulfilled… but God will respond in His own time, place and way… perhaps after we’ve died.
So… WHAT CAN WE LEARN ABOUT GOD and His purposes from this passage of Scripture?
- God chose to create and use Israel to bring about His eternal purposes on earth. He could have chosen another people.
- God had the salvation of the world in hand through members of the Jewish nation long before Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb.
- The beginning of a nation is paralleled by the new birth of a person…
- In this case, Abram needed to be re-born as a person before God began to fulfil His purposes through him… but the same principle applies to us, too…
- Being ‘born again’ did not begin or end when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus! Abram was ‘born again’ (transformed) by trusting in the one true God
- And if we want to know that God is ‘on our case’ and fulfilling His purposes through our lives, we must take that step of faith, too… Knowing that His promises never fail
TODAY can be YOUR DAY of salvation… and so to be used by God in achieving His eternal purposes…
I can’t think of a better way to spend your life, can you?