Leaving Haran

March 2, 2006

by Darin Brink

Leaving Haran: Reflections on the Call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-4

(all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, except as noted)

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
(Genesis 12:1-4)

As we read this passage we see a pattern that is found throughout Scripture, namely, God initiates in His dealings with humanity, and God promises a blessing that extends to all of the families of the earth. But first we should read a few other passages from Scripture that give further insight into the call of Abraham.

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.
(Acts 7:1-5)

Abraham is told to leave the fertile land of Mesopotamia, which is his homeland, and to travel to another land. Yet of this inheritance, the book of Acts tells us that he received not a “foot’s length.” Furthermore, he was told that the blessing would be passed on to his offspring, yet he was childless! After a lifetime of infertility, Sarah and Abraham had the additional difficulty of being beyond the age of childbearing – Sarah was post-menopausal. In his commentary on Genesis, Luther says:

“You should consider that what the Lord promises Abraham here is altogether impossible, unbelievable, and untrue if you follow reason, because it cannot be seen. If the Lord has something like this in mind for Abraham, why does He not let him remain in his land and with his kindred, where Abraham undoubtedly had some influence or reputation? Is the way to success easier among strange people, where one does not even have a place to set one’s foot, than at home, where one’s fields, friends, and neighbors, and relatives are, where one’s household has been well established? He was seventy-five years old, do these facts agree with this promise: ‘I will make of you a large nation’? This means that his descendants would be a large and numerous people. But where are the descendants to come from, since Abraham’s marriage is childless? These huge masses of unbelief and these high mountains, which could suppress his faith completely, the holy patriarch overcomes and crosses by faith He simply clings to this one thought: Behold, God is promising this. He will not deceive you, even though you do not see the way, the manner, or even the time of the fulfillment of this promise.”

Now let us look at the book of Hebrews to see how Abraham could leave everything behind to follow the call of God.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
(Hebrews 11:8-16)

So we see that Abraham, and his immediate descendants, set out because they were seeking a city with foundations. None of the villages, or towns, or walled cities of the earth would do for them, for none of these had foundations. Ultimately, they were lead by faith to see that only a city whose builder was God would do; they desired a better country. Compared to the best that this world had to offer, the city of God excels. Those who have tasted and known the treasures of that country do not ultimately desire the fleeting pleasures of this world. They have opportunities to return to the land from which they have gone out, but the heavenly country has become their home, and that is where they want to store up treasure.

There are three lessons in today’s look at the call of Abraham.

#1. God promises.

We read in 2 Corinthians 1:20, that:

all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

Everything begins with God’s promises – it is He who brings salvation and the kingdom of heaven down to us, for we could never have reached it. Everything ends with God’s promises, for it is His desire to glorify His name (and to make our joy complete) that ensures that He will do whatever He promises.

The Kingdom of God is in our midst. Through the breaking of bread, through baptism, through the reading of the Word, through prayer we are in contact with the supernatural. That same power that brought Jesus to life from the grave — evidence of the Kingdom of God– is at work in the lives of His saints causing us to walk in newness of life.

It is true that we do not currently see all of God’s promises being fulfilled, for some things will not be until the fullness of time, and we lack the proper perspective and the eyes of faith to see everything as it truly is. However, as we read in Hebrews 2:8-9, “We currently do not see everything in subjection to Him, but we do see Jesus.” I may not see all of God’s Kingdom come, but I do see Jesus, by grace, through faith, and this is enough. In fact, it is more than enough, for knowing Jesus and being found in Jesus is of more surpassing greatness than all that the world has to offer (see Philippians 3:7-11 and Ephesians 3:17-19).

Our first lesson is that God makes and keeps promises. Our second lesson is:

#2 Grace saves.

This is not so clear if we read only the first four verses of Genesis 12, but it is clearer when we read other relevant passages. For example, we read in Joshua 24:2:

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.

Once again Luther’s comments are helpful at this point. He writes:

“God is not moved to make His promises by our worthiness, merits, or good woks; but he promises purely on the basis of His inexhaustible and eternal goodness and mercy. God does not say to Abraham, “Because you have observed the Law, all the nations will be blessed in you.” But to one (Abraham) who was uncircumcised, who did not have the Law, and who was still an idolater, as it is written in Joshua 24:2, (Joshua 24:2, 3, 14) He (God) says: “Go from your country, I will be your Protector”, and again, “In your offspring, etc.” (Genesis 22:8 ). These are completely absolute promises that God promises to Abraham freely, without any condition or any consideration of works or merits, whether preceding or subsequent.”

Behold God’s grace. God does not look into Mesopotamia and find a perfect person or even a God-fearing person. He finds an uncircumcised, lawless, idolater, and He saves him. This is what God does throughout the Bible. He takes Moses, who has a speech impediment, and makes him God’s spokesman. He takes David, the youngest son of a shepherd, and makes him Israel’s greatest king. He takes Amos, who was neither a prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but a shepherd and a dresser of fig trees, and He makes of him a mighty prophet. He takes Simon the rash, impulsive fisherman, and makes him Peter, the rock. He takes John, “the son of thunder”, and makes him the “beloved disciple.” He takes Saul the zealous Jew and persecutor of the church, and makes of him Paul, the persecuted apostle to the gentiles. Behold grace. As we read in 1 Corinthians 1:26-30:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.

God finds us, like Abraham, uncircumcised of heart, and lawless of mind, and idolatrous in our affection. It is in that condition that God makes alive those who are dead, and calls into existence those who do not exist (see Romans 4:17). He justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). This is grace. And this is all of God. God promises. Grace saves.

Our third lesson is that:

#3. Faith moves.

Notice Genesis 12:4. The first three words are crucial. It says, “So Abram went.” If Abraham had received the promise, and the call, and the grace, and then stayed put in Ur, or in Haran, that would not be true faith. Faith moves. We are not all called to leave everything behind, but we are all called to set everything apart in our affections and in our priorities. Paul explains this attitude in 1 Corinthians 7:29-30 (NIV):

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep.

We do not look to our goods, or jobs, or even our families, as our greatest source of strength, of peace, of joy – rather we look to Jesus Christ, and we lay aside anything that would weigh us down or hamper us in our walk with Him. As it says in Hebrews chapter twelve:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

Even if we are suffering in body, or in mind, we are not discouraged. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ).

So, we rejoice in the call of Abraham, for we see that God promises, grace saves, and faith moves. My prayer for all us is that we would trust in God’s promises – which are yes in Jesus, to rejoice exceedingly in the Lord’s salvation which is by grace alone, and have a faith that moves wherever Christ leads.

In the name of Jesus Christ,

Amen.

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