This is the eighth in a series of character studies in Genesis by Dr. James T. Naismith of Peterborough, Ontario. Copyright by Everyday Publicactions Inc.; used by permission.
The story of Abraham begins the second major section of the book of Genesis. Before Genesis 11:27, the record has concerned the world (ch. 1) and humanity in general (ch. 2 on), but beginning with “the generations of Terah” in 11:27, the spotlight focuses on a specific section of the human race — Abraham and his descendants — which was the object of God’s particular concern and favour. Abraham and his seed are, indeed, not only the main themes of the rest of Genesis, but the central subjects of the whole of the Bible. The Old Testament is devoted to God’s dealings with the physical seed of Abraham, Israel; the New Testament presents the spiritual seed of Abraham, Christ (Gal. 3:16) and believers (Gal. 3:7, 29; Rom. 4:11).
In our study of the earlier chapters of Genesis, we have considered the Fall of man and its consequence, man’s utter depravity, leading to the flood. Now God takes up a special representative man, Abraham, and a special representative portion of the human race, the descendants of Abraham, bestowing upon them remarkable privileges and blessings (see Rom. 9:4, 5). In spite of this, however, complete failure marked their course, leading to the coming of the Saviour, Himself born “the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1).
Abraham, therefore, occupies a very prominent position in Holy Writ. In addition, he was undoubtedly one of the greatest men of all time, revered by Jews and Arabs alike; even to this day, he is referred to by Arabs as “El Khalil” (“Friend of God”). He was one of the most illustrious personages in ancient history. Only Moses, of all the great names of the Old Testament, is referred to more often than Abraham in the New Testament. And, if we exclude those references to the “law” or “writings” of Moses, Abraham is the most frequently mentioned character.
Two important titles given to Abraham indicate his greatness:
1. Father - not only of the Jewish people (see John 8:39; Rom. 4:1, etc.) but “of all them that believe” (Rom. 4:11, 12, 16; Gal. 3:7, etc.). We who believe are the spiritual progeny, the “seed,” of Abraham, who thus is “the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16). This title, then, emphasizes his faith, which stands out as a shining example to us all (Rom. 4:12).
2. Friend. Three times over in the Scriptures (twice in the Old Testament, once in the New) Abraham is referred to as the friend of God: 2 Chron. 20:7: Abraham, Thy friend; Isa. 41:8: Abraham, My friend; James 2:23: he was called the friend of God. In this, Abraham was unique; no other character in the Bible is directly referred to as “the friend of God.” Why Abraham? This title emphasizes two outstanding features in his life: his faithfulness to God, and his fellowship with God. As we shall see in our study, he lived in very intimate relationship with his Creator, and the chapters recording his life are full of conversations between God and His friend.
Such an outstanding character deserves our careful study, and rich and deep practical lessons may be learned from the Scriptural record of his life and faith. It is noteworthy that, of the fifty chapters of Genesis, no fewer than fourteen (11:27 to 25:10) are occupied with the story of his life; and the writer to the Hebrews in the eleventh chapter devotes twelve verses (8 to 19) out of forty to his faith.
The Scriptures record for our instruction and guidance the circumstances and details of God’s call to many of His servants: e.g. Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the 12 apostles, Paul. There are many differences between these calls, but there are basic, underlying lessons that we can learn from all. He calls us, too, to some sphere of service, however humble, and our fruitfulness and the value of our lives depend on our response to His call. At least three passages of the Scriptures detail God’s call of Abraham: Gen. 12; Acts 7:1-4; Heb. 11:8. From these we can learn the following lessons:
A. God’s Call Demands Faith
Faith was an outstanding characteristic of Abraham’s life and was evident in several crises, this one being the first — his first “step of faith” (Rom. 4:12). It should also characterize every Christian, from conversion to glory. It is evidenced by:
(a) Believing God’s word. “The Lord had said unto Abraham” (Gen. 12:1). We do not know how God spoke to Abraham, but Abraham placed full confidence in His word and acted upon it regardless of the cost. We do know how He speaks to us—by His Word.
(b) Obeying God’s command. Gen. 12:4: “So Abraham departed.” Heb. 11:8: “By faith, Abraham…obeyed.” “The obedience of faith,” Rom. 16:26.
(c) Trusting God’s promises and provision. Gen. 12:2, 3. Abraham’s faith was symbolized by (i) An altar, Gen. 12:7, indicating his close contact with heaven. He was a priest, worshipping God.
(ii) A tent, Gen. 12:8, indicating his loose contact with earth. He was a pilgrim, walking amongst men.
B. God’s Call Demands Obedience
(Heb. 11:8; Gen. 12:4)
Without knowing the directions or implications, without stopping to ask why or where or what, Abraham obeyed God implicitly. Yet it would seem that his obedience was at first incomplete. Note Gen. 12:1: “The Lord had said”; and Acts 7:2, where Stephen indicates that God spoke first to Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, where we find him at the end of Genesis 11. In response to God’s call, Abraham moved from Ur to Haran, and only after his father died did he submit completely to God’s will.
There is no record of any fresh revelation from God or accomplishment for God in Haran. Not until after Abraham departed from there do we read of God again speaking to him. How many Christians linger at the halfway house, in partial obedience to God, clinging to earthly ties, in the place of compromise!
C. God’s Call Required Separation
(Gen. 12:1; Acts 7:3,4; Heb. 11:8)
“Get thee out”: “Then came he out.” “When he was called to go out …, he went out.” For Abraham, this meant:
1. Out of thy country: his homeland, which may signify to us the world —worldly possesions, attractions, fame, friendships.
2. From thy kindred: earthly relationships and friendships. From Joshua 24:2, we learn that his fathers “served other gods.” Abraham’s separation was to serve the true God, cf. 1 Thess. 1:9; 2 Cor. 6:14-18.
3. From thy father’s house: the closest earthly ties, the most intimate human relationships. So the Lord demands our first loyalty and allegiance — before earthly ties. See Luke 14:26.
D. God’s Call Requires Sacrifice
Archaeological excavations have revealed that Ur, the city of Abraham’s birth, was one of the largest, most progressive and important metropolises of the ancient world, situated on the east bank of the great Euphrates River, not very far from the Persian Gulf. It appears to have been a centre of education, culture, commerce, and religion. Fabulous treasures have been unearthed from its site. In obeying God’s call and leaving his home town, Abraham was evidently sacrificing comfort, luxury, prosperity and natural ambition — as well as the closeness of friends. He exchanged a luxurious home for a nomadic tent, settled security for a life of wandering and uncertainty, the friendship of men for fellowship with God. “The annals of adventure have few tales to match the courage and daring of the man who, at the call of God in the twentieth century B.C., left Mesopotamia and struck out across the desert with no compass but the stars and no guide but God.” He presents an example for us all, and many a missionary, called by God to a land unseen, has similarly “obeyed … not knowing where he went,” sacrificing home and comforts and future prosperity to do God’s will.
E. God’s Call Brings Blessing
(Gen. 12:1-3, 7)
The sacrifices involved in obeying God’s voice are more than compensated by the blessings resulting from that obedience. Of all the great men of Ur who stayed there when Abraham left, we know nothing. Abraham’s name alone stands out. Through his obedience, eternal blessings have come not only to him but to all “his seed.”