Gleanings In Genesis
17. The Call of Abraham
We have now reached a section of this book which is of surpassing interest and one that is full of important lessons for those who are members of the household of faith. The passage for our present consideration introduces us to the third great section of Genesis. As its name intimates, Genesis is the book of Beginnings. Its literary structure is true to its title for the whole of its contents center around three beginnings. First there is the beginning of the human race in Adam; Second, there is the new beginning on the post-diluvian earth in Noah and his sons; Third, there is the beginning of the Chosen Nation in Abram. Thus in Genesis we have three great "beginnings," and therefore as three is the number of the Godhead, we see how in this first book of the Divine Library, the very autograph of Deity is stamped on the opening pages of Holy Writ as though anticipating and rebuking the modern assaults on this book by the Evolutionists and Higher Critics.
The relative importance (we do not say "value") of the three main divisions of Genesis is indicated by their respective dimensions. The first two divisions cover a period of not less than two thousand years, yet, but eleven chapters are devoted to this section of human history; whereas the third division, covering scarcely four hundred years, contains no less than thirty-nine chapters. More than three-fourths of the book is occupied with narrating the lives of Abram and the first three generations of his descendants.
While it is true that the first two divisions of the book are embraced by the first eleven chapters in Genesis, yet, from a literary viewpoint, it would really be more correct to regard these chapters as a preface, not only to the remaining twenty-nine chapters of Genesis, but also to the entire Old Testament, and, we may add, of the Bible as a whole. This Divine "preface" is given to explain that which is made known in all that follows. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are really the foundation on which rests the remainder of the Old Testament. They trace in rapid review the line of descent from Adam to Abram. It has been well said concerning the book of Genesis that "as the root to the stem so are chapters 1-11 to 12-50, and as the stem to the tree so is Genesis to the rest of the Bible." One of the main purposes of Genesis is to reveal to us the origin and beginnings of the Nation of Israel, and in the first eleven chapters we are shown the different steps by which Israel became a separate and Divinely chosen nation. In Genesis 10 and 11 the entire human race is before us, but from Genesis 12 onwards attention is directed to one man and his descendants.
Genesis 12 brings before us Abramó"the father of all them that believe." Abram whose name was subsequently changed to Abraham the most illustrious personage in ancient history. Abraham! venerated by Jews, Christians and Mohammedans. Abraham! the progenitor of the nation of Israel. Abraham! termed "the friend of God." Abraham! from whom, according to the flesh, our Lord came. Surely we shall be richly repaid if we devote our most diligent attention to the prayerful study of the life of such a man. The present article will serve to introduce a short series of papers which will be given to the consideration of the history of one who, in several respects, was the most eminent of all the patriarchs.
"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred, and from thy fatherís house, unto a land that I will show thee" (Gen. 12:1). The tense of the verb here looks back to an incident which was referred to by Stephen and which is recorded in Acts 7:2, 3ó"The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred and come into the land which I shall show thee." Three things here call for a brief comment; first, the Divine title used in this connection; second, the fact of the Lordís "appearing," and third, His communication to Abram.
The Divine title which is used here is found in only one other scripture, namely, Psalm 29, which is one of the Millennial Psalms "The voice of the Lord is upon the waters, the God of Glory thundereth" (v. 3). That this is a Millennial Psalm is clear from verse 10ó"The Lord sitteth upon the flood yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever." Closely connected with the above Divine title is the one by which the Lord Jesus is designated in Psalm 24 (another Millennial Psalm)ó"Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in" (v. 7). Thus we see that this title is peculiarly a Kingdom title, and therefore, when Jehovah appeared to the father of the Kingdom people, it was as "The God of Glory." The appropriateness of this title is further evident from the religious state of Abram and his fathers at the time that God appeared to him, namely, a state of Idolatry. The "God of Glory" was in vivid contrast from the "other gods" mentioned in Joshua 24:2.
"The God of Glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia." This is the first recorded "appearing" of God after the banishment of our parents from Eden. It was probably the earliest of all the theophanic manifestations that we read of in the Old Testament and which anticipated the Incarnation as well as marked the successive revelations of God to men. We do not hear of God appearing to Abel or Noah. Great then was the privilege thus conferred upon the one who afterwards was termed the "friend of God." We turn now to consider the terms of the Divine communication received by Abram.
And God said unto him "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee." This command from God came to Abram in Mesopotamia, in the city of Ur of the Chaldees, which was situated near to the Persian Gulf. The time of Abramís call is significant. It occurred shortly after the destruction of Babel and dispersion of the nations. As we endeavored to show in our last paper, even in that early day, men had added to their other offenses against God, the sin of idolatry. A scripture which throws considerable light upon the religious conditions that prevailed throughout the earth in the days immediately preceding the Call of Abram is to be found in Romans 1ó"When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever" (vv. 21-25, and read to end of Gen. 5:28). Three times over in this solemn passage we read "God gave them up," that is, He turned away from those who had first turned from Him. We believe the historical reference here is to Genesis 11. It was at that time God abandoned the nations, suffering them all to "walk in their own ways" (Acts 14:16, and compare Amos 3:3). The family from which Abram sprang was no exception to the general rule, his progenitors were idolaters too as we learn from Joshua 24:2ó"Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time even Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nachor and they served other gods."
Here then is the setting of the incident now before us. Having abandoned (temporarily) the nations, God now singles out a man from whom the Chosen Nation was to spring. Having dealt in judgment (at Babel) God now deals in grace. This has been, and will ever be, true of all Godís dealings. According to His infinite wisdom, judgment (which is His "strange" work) only serves to prepare the way for greater manifestations of His redeeming love. Godís judgment upon Israel resulted in the enriching of the Gentiles. The outpouring of Divine wrath in the Tribulation period will be but the precursor of Millennial blessedness. And, we may add, the judgment of the great white throne will be followed by the new heaven and new earth wherein righteousness shall "dwell" and upon which the tabernacle of God shall be with men. Thus it was of old. The overthrow of Babel and the scattering of the nations was followed by the call of Abraham to be the father of a divinely governed nation which was to be a witness for God, the depository of His revelation, and ultimately, the channel through which His blessing should flow to all the families of the earth.
The lesson to be learned here is a deeply important one. The connection between Genesis eleven and twelve is highly significant. The Lord God determined to have a people of His own by the calling of grace, but it was not until all the claims of the natural man had been repudiated by his own wickedness that Divine clemency was free to flow forth. In other words, it was not until the utter depravity of man had been fully demonstrated by the antediluvians, and again at Babel, that God dealt with Abram in sovereign grace. That it was grace and grace alone, sovereign grace, which called Abram is seen in his natural state when God first appeared to him. There was nothing whatever in the object of His choice which commended him to God. There was nothing whatever in Abram which merited Godís esteem. The cause of election must always be traced to Godís will. Election itself is "of grace" (Rom. 11:5), therefore it depends in no wise upon any worthiness in the objectóeither actual or foreseen. If it did, it would not be "of grace." That it was not a question of worthiness in Abram is clear from the language of Isaiah 51:1, 2ó"Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look Unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you." While Godís dealings are never arbitrary, yet their raison díetre must ever be found in His own sovereign pleasure.
"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy fatherís house unto a land that I will show thee" (Gen. 12:1). As we have seen from Acts 7:3 this call from God came to Abram at his home in Mesopotamia. It was a call which demanded absolute confidence in and obedience to the word of Jehovah. It was a call of separation from the ties of the natural man. This is a marked advance upon that which we studied in connection with our previous patriarch. The connection between the histories and experiences of Noah and Abraham is most instructive. Noah passing through the judgment of the old world and coming forth upon a new earth, represents the acceptance of the believer in Christ, with a new standing ground before God. Abram called upon to separate himself from his home and kindred and bidden to go out into a place which afterwards God would give him for an inheritance, typifies the one whose citizenship is in heaven but who is still in the world, and in consequence, called upon to walk by faith and live as a stranger and pilgrim on the earth. In a word, Abram illustrates the heavenly calling of those who are members of the body of Christ.
In Abram we have exhibited the life of faith which is just what we shall expect, seeing that he is termed "the father of all them that believe." The call of Abram shows us the starting-point of the life of faith. The first requirement is separation from the world and from our place in it by nature. Abram was called upon to leave his "kindred" as well as his "country." Terah was an idolater, whereas Abram had become a believer in the living God, therefore it was expedient that Terah should be left behind for "how can two walk together except they be agreed." Even the closest ties of human affection cannot unite souls which are sundered by opposite motives, the one possessing treasure in heaven and the other having nought save that which moth and rust doth corrupt and which thieves may steal.
In order to learn what response Abram made to Godís call it is necessary to revert again to the previous chapteró"And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his sonís son and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abramís wife, and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan and they came unto Haran and dwelt there" (Gen. 11:31). From these words we discover a two-fold failure on Abramís part. Three things were commanded him by God; he was to leave his own country, he was to separate himself from his kindred, and he was to go forth unto a land which Jehovah had promised to show him. In respect to the first requirement Abram obeyed, but with reference to the last two he failed. He left Chaldea, but instead of separating himself from his kindred, Terah his father and Lot his nephew accompanied him. Terah means "delay," and thus it proved. Terahís accompanying Abram resulted in a delay of at least five years in Haran, which word means "parched"! Abramís response to Godís call then, was partial and slow, for observe that in Isaiah 51:2 we are expressly told that God called Abram "alone," yet in the end he "obeyed." How beautiful it is to note that when we come to the New Testament Abramís failure is not mentionedó"By faith Abram, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed, and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8), his obedience in leaving Ur is thus singled out, but no notice is here taken by the Holy Spirit of his disobedience in taking his "kindred" with himóthat sin, with all of his others, had been "blotted out"!
"Get thee out" was Jehovahís command, and His commands are not grievous. The Lordís commands are rarely accompanied with reasons but they are always accompanied with promises, either exprest or understood. So it was in Abramís case. Said the Lord: "And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing"(Gen. 12:2). In the first place it is to be observed, however, that this promise was couched in very general terms and in a manner calculated to test Abramís faith. "Get thee out. . . . . unto a land," not unto "a land flowing with milk and honey." And again, "unto a land that I will show thee" as yet there was no assurance that God was going to give it to him and his seed. In the second place it is to be noted that the promise corresponds closely with the command. The command included a threefold requirement and the promise embraced a threefold blessing." "And I will make of thee a great nation," this was compensation for the loss of country. The nation from which he sprang had fallen into gross idolatry and ultimately perished beneath Godís judgments; but from Abram God would make a great nation." "And I will bless thee," the blessing of Jehovah would more than make up for any loss of carnal joys he would lose by leaving his "kindred." "And make thy name great." He was to leave his fatherís house, but God would make of him the head of a new house, even the house of Israel, on account of which he would be known and venerated the world over. In the third place, it should be pointed out that this promise included within its scope the call and blessing of the Gentiles. Abramís response to Godís demand was to be the first link in a series of Divine interpositions by which Godís mercy might be extended to the whole earth. "And thou shalt be a blessing." Abraham was not merely the subject of Divine blessing, but a medium of blessing to others. "And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee." Here we see Jehovah identifying the cause of Abram with His own. "And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." This part of the promise received a partial fulfillment in the birth of Him who was according to the flesh, "the son of Abraham" (Matthew 1:1), but its complete and ultimate fulfillment looks forward to the Millennium, for then it will be that all families of the earth shall receive blessing through Abram and his seed.
"So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran" (Gen. 12:4). As we have seen, instead of journeying unto Canaan, Abram tarried at Haran. It was not until after Terahís death that Abram left Haran and came into Canaan. It was death which broke the link which bound Abram to Haranó"Then came he out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran (Greek for "Haran") and from thence, when his father was dead he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell" (Acts 7:4). So it is with all his spiritual children. It is death which separates the believer from that which by nature unites him with the old creationó"But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14).
"And they went forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, and unto the place (oak) of Moreh" (Gen. 12:5, 6). Abram did not enter into occupation of Canaan, he merely" passed through the land." As we read in Acts 7:5ó"the (God) gave him none inheritance in it, not so much as to set his foot on: Yet He promised that He would give it to him for a possession and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child." Abram first halted at Sichem (Shecham) which signifies "shoulder"óthe place of strength, unto the oak of Moreh which means "instruction." How significant! What a lesson for us! It is only as we separate ourselves from the world and walk in the path marked out for us by God that we reach the place where strength is to be found, and, it is only thus that we can enter into fellowship with and learn from Him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. "And the Canaanite was then in the land" (v. 6)óto challenge and contest the occupation of it, just as the hosts of wickedness are in present occupancy of the heavenlies to wrestle with those who are partakers of the heavenly calling.
"And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land, and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him" (Gen. 12:7). There is no record of Abram receiving any further revelation from God until His call had been fully obeyed, but now that he had left Ur and Haran behind him and had actually arrived in the land, Jehovah appeared once more unto him. At the first appearing God called him to go unto a land that He would show him, and now He rewards Abramís faith and obedience by promising to give this land unto his seed. Thus does the Lord lead His children step by step. At the first appearing the God of Glory called upon Abram to separate himself from his place by nature; but at this second appearing He reveals Himself to Abram for communion, and the result is that Abram erects an altar. There was no "altar" for Abram in Ur or Haran. It is not until there is real separation from the world that fellowship with God is possible. First the obedience of faith and then communion and worship.
"And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hat on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord" (Gen. 12:8). How significant! Bethel means "the house of God" while Hat signifies "a heap of ruin," and it was between them that Abram pitched his tentótypical of the sphere of the believerís present path, with the old creation (a ruin) on the one side and the house of God (on high) on the other. Observe the two objects here: "tent" and the "altar"ósymbols of that which characterizes a walk in separation with God, the one speaking of the pilgrim life and the other of dependency upon and worship of God. Note, too, the order of mention: we must first be strangers and pilgrims on the earth before acceptable worship is possible.
And now we come to the second failure of Abram, namely, his leaving Canaan and going down into Egypt. Concerning this incident we can here say only a few words. First it is to be noted that, "Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south" (v. 9). This geographical reference is deeply significant: southward was Egyptward! When the "famine" overtook Abram his face was already toward Egypt.
"And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land" (v. 10). This is the first mention in Scripture of Egypt, and like all its subsequent references, so here, it stands for that which is a constant menace to the people of God symbolizing, as it does, alliance with the world and reliance upon the arm of fleshó"Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!" (Isa. 31:1).
The famine was sent as a trial of Abramís faith. A famine in the Land of Promise. What a test of faith! "God would see whether he had such confidence in His goodness that even famine could not shake it. Alas, Abram did as we are all prone to do, he sought relief from all his difficulties, rather than profit by the trial" (Ridout).
Observe that when this famine came there was no seeking counsel from the Lord. Abram was prompted by the wisdom of the flesh which ever suggests relief in means and human help, in fact, anything rather than in the living God. O, the inconsistencies of Godís children! Faith in God with regard to our eternal interest, but afraid to confide in Him for the supply of our temporal needs. Here was a man who had journeyed all the way from Chaldea to Canaan on the bare word of Jehovah and yet was now afraid to trust Him in the time of famine. Sad that it should be so, but how like us today!
One sin leads to another. Failure in our love to God always results in failure in our love to our neighbor. Down in Egypt Abram practices deception and denies that Sarai is his wife, thus endangering the honor of the one who was nearest and should have been dearest to him. Alas! What is man? But Jehovah would not allow His purposes to be frustratedó"If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself" (2 Tim. 2:13). So it was here. The Lord interposedó"And the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abramís wife" (v. 17). The sequel is found in the next chapter. "And Abram went up out of Egypt, he and his wife, and all that he had. . . . .and he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first, and there Abram called on the name of the Lord" (Gen. 13:1, 3, 4). He returned to the very place he had left. He repented and "did the first works." Abramís sojourn in Egypt was so much lost time.
We cannot close this paper without first seeking to gather up in a few words the practical and deeply important lessons here recorded for our learning. 1. The call which came to Abram comes to each one of his believing childrenóthe call for absolute confidence in God; the call to take Him at His word and step out in simple and unquestioning faith; the call to separate ourselves from the world to a life of pilgrimage in dependency upon Jehovah. 2. The trial of Abramís faith is also the lot of all his children. Profession must be tested and at times the meal in the barrel will run very low. The failure of Abram is a solemn warning against being occupied with circumstances instead of with God. Look not at the famine but unto Godís faithfulness. 3. Beware of going down to Egypt. The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Time spent in Egypt is wasted. Days lived out of communion with God produce nought but "wood, hay and stubble." 4. As you see in the failures of Abram the sad record of your own history, marvel anew at the long sufferance of God which deals in such infinite patience and grace with His erring and ungrateful children.
 Haran was the point at which caravans for Canaan left the Euphrates to strike across the desert.