The first chapters of Genesis show us something that we should never forget; human nature is nothing to be proud of; quite the reverse – but also, it hasn’t changed much over the millennia. That’s why every bit of the Bible is relevant to us today.
God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees, an area where the inhabitants worshipped the moon god Nannar. Did Abram also worship Nannar? Quite possibley– we have not evidence to suggest he did or he didn’t.
Abram was 75 years old when God called him. This was a man mired in the worship of idols from an early age. It is interesting that God waited until Abram was 75. Why 75? He had been adult for a long time at this point – so why not earlier? Was God waiting for a level of maturity? Was God revealing knowledge to him prior to this, or was Abram ready to fall out of his tree when God made contact with him at the age of 75?
75 is a good age to retire – in fact most men today retire ten years earlier than this. So God went to Abram who was cracking open the pipe, slippers and the biscuit tin, and said ‘Tell you what old cocker, why don’t you give up your spiffy house with stairs and follow me, you can live in a tent!’
Strangely Abram said yes. And that’s the mark of a man of God, when a person will choose to do the opposite of the most prudent and sensible thing, just to get that little bit closer to God.
God asks people to do the unlikely, but he also chooses the most unlikely to follow him and to obey him. Look at Abram; who could be less qualified to be the Patriarch of a people set aside by God to be his nation, than a man married to a barren woman? Or look at Moses; who could be less qualified to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land than a man who is terrified of public speaking, has a speech impediment and an Egyptian fatwa against him?
God picks the unlikeliest people to do the unlikeliest things. It’s like picking the most short-sighted, slowest, uncoordinated people or the most waterphobic people to make up an Olympic synchronised swimming team. If it wasn’t God’s idea, it would be just plain nuts.
Not only did Abram get called to be the patriarch of the people who would produce the Redeemer, but he became the father of an entire nation, a nation dedicated to God. Not only were they to be holy, they were to be a nation of priests who would teach the nations about God (OK, it didn’t happen, but that was the plan – but Jesus came, and saved gentiles, and that prophecy was fulfilled through one man).
Abram followed God by faith. That doesn’t mean he had some vague notion of what he was supposed to do, or that he woke up one day with a weird idea. No; God appeared to him and left him in in no doubt that he was the one true God, and that idols including Nannar are just dead bits of junk.
God was asking a big thing and he gave Abram everything he needed to obey. There is nothing that is vague or puny about God. If you’re a bit vague about something it’s possible you haven’t heard from God. Having said that, God did tell Abram to leave behind his relatives, but he did take Lot with him, which wasn’t quite in the instructions.
In a way we are more blessed than Abram because we know more about God. If we look at the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, not a lot has been revealed about God:
- He’s the true God
- He’s alive and involved
- He’s the Creator
- He’s got a serious issue with sin
- He’s merciful
- He’s going to send a Redeemer because he is grace.
Abram knew the weeniest bit about God, but he was willing to follow. We know far more because far more has been revealed to us – so we have very little excuse. In fact the way Abram dealt with God is the way we should deal with him today – and that is in faith. Abram didn’t know where he was going, or why, or what would happen, but it was enough for him that God had told him what to do – and he did it (with a few diversions along the way).
When God called Abram this signalled the beginning of a marathon. Abram and Sarai were to follow. They knew enough about God to follow (because he had revealed enough to them) however, he spoke to Abram directly about seven times. That’s not many times considering the length of Abram’s life. So what happened in the in-between times? Abram and Sarai didn’t have warm fuzzy feelings all the time, in fact that was rare. Most of the time they had to grit their teeth and hold fast to what God had told them. And that is just like us today; we cannot always have mountaintop experiences, we have to hold on to what we’ve been told (the Bible) and stay fast. Read Ephesians 6 which tells us about the absolutely essential pieces of armour and weaponry that every believer needs. This is why it is essential that we read, study and meditate on our Bibles so that we don’t get led astray from God and what he wants for us. Perhaps what we know as Genesis 12:1-3 are what Abram meditated on.
All information provided by God was on a ‘need to know’ basis. Abram didn’t need to know ‘why’ he just needed to know what God was promising him, and that God was trustworthy.
God told Abram to leave his family and Ur of the Chaldees. One out of two ain’t bad – he left Ur but took his family with him. Lot was not a man of massive integrity so it is interesting to consider how much his actions and values affected Abram and Sarai. Perhaps things would have gone more smoothly for Abram and Sarai had they been absolutely obedient. One thing is for sure; when we disobey, we are not hurting God as much as we are hurting ourselves. Where God is concerned, compromise is never a good thing. Why? Because God is perfect; bringing his perfect will together with something that is not his will is sin. It is dragging his will through the mud. We can’t bargain with God.
As Abram reaches Canaan, God appears again to him to confirm what he has promised. God travels with us. Sometimes it is surprising where he pops up.
What was step one? Step one was God committing to Abram and Sarai and promising them things. What was step two? Step two is Abram and Sarai responding with faith. It’s the same with us. Jesus has promised us salvation, eternal life, a changed character and restored relationship with God. How will we respond?
What’s the C word? It’s commitment. And it’s seriously untrendy. God is not hip (at least not in this). God asks for commitment. In fact if we’re ever going to amount to anything eternally significant we need to commit to him. Otherwise we’ll cut a pathetic figure, running from one thrill to another, failing to grow, failing to mature, failing to achieve. We’ll be bonsai believers. More on that another time. If God’s house is built with believers being the stones and foundations, what happens if there’s no cement?
Abram shows us that our spiritual life should be a journey; it doesn’t have to be geographical but it does have to mean progress. So in our journey where are we? Are we pulling out of the drive, are we going through beautiful countryside or are we locking the doors because we’re going through a dodgy area? Or perhaps we’re staying a little too long in that motorway greasy spoon. We need to always be aware of where we should be heading and be committed to getting there.
Abram built an altar wherever he pitched his tent. There’s no need to get overly religious about stuff – but it is important that God is our first and most significant consideration.
Just when you’re getting the hang of following God, even then it’s weird. Just when you’re starting to be just the teeniest bit pleased with yourself, Bam! It happens, that something you never bargained on. And you feel a bit miffed because all you were doing was obeying God, and well, if this is the reward you get you might as well work out if it’s worthwhile doing something else instead. That’s what Abram and Sarai were going through when they arrived in Canaan, really chuffed with themselves, and then God sent a famine. Bear in mind that famines weren’t all that commonplace; and there’s no evidence to suggest that Abram and Sarai had ever had to cope with a famine before. And the fact is, had they ignored God, probably they’d be tucked up cosily in Ur in a house with stairs and not starving in a tent in a place where the locals burned babies.
But that’s what God does sometimes; although he knows us perfectly, he tests us so that we know what we’re made of. We aren’t to expect an easy ride when we follow God because we certainly won’t get one. Quite the reverse, in fact – God uses all sorts of events – and people – to develop our character. God wasn’t going to starve Abram and Sarai, but he was going to use a famine to test their faith in him, as well as to build that faith.
Trees need wind. As well as water and nutrients, trees need wind. Why? Because in order to develop a strong healthy root system, trees need the stress of being blown about by the wind in order to develop their roots.
Did Abram and Sari pass the test? No. they went to Egypt. I wonder whose idea that was. Had they sat tight and waited on God something amazing would more than likely have happened. Instead, they sought their own solution to the problem.
In situations like this (not that you might find yourself in a tent made of animal skin, feeling peckish anythime soon) it always pays to sit tight and wait. Wait for God. God is a little bit (not a lot) like a driving examiner. When you’re on your test the examiner will give you directions only when you need to turn. You just keep driving in a straight line until the examiner tells you to do something else. If Abram and Sarai had waited, who knows what may have happened? If might be that God wanted them to go to Egypt but we will never know. And Abram and Sarai will never have obedience credited to them at that point because they pre-empted God.
Unfortunately going your own way brings new trials. Abram and Sarai got to Egypt, and news of Sarai’s beauty quickly spread – even to the palace. Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s harem, but not until Abram and Sarai had hatched a plot – they agreed to spread word that Sarai was Abram’s sister so that Abram wouldn’t be killed. Strictly speaking, Abram wasn’t lying when he said Sarai was his sister – if you remember, she was his half-sister. But spreading this sort of half-truth is as bad as lying, or perhaps it’s worse, if Abram might have justified himself by saying he wasn’t telling lies as much as not telling the whole truth. This shows a tremendous lack of faith in God. God told him what his purpose for Abram was – and it didn’t include getting murdered in Egypt. This sort of behaviour is deceptive; not only is it devious and aiming to mislead people, but also Abram deceived himself that he hadn’t done anything wrong, wasn’t lying, and was only protecting himself.
Just by going to Egypt, Abram went from a man with an altar in everywhere he called a backyard, to a man who was willing to hand his wife over to a tyrannical ruler who killed husbands so he could steal their wives. What went wrong? Lack of faith, that’s what.
A man is called to care for his wife and protect her, not hand her over to a bully in order to get protection. So many times things could have gone horribly wrong as a result of Abram and Sarai’s lack of faith and their plotting to prepare for God’s failures. All they needed was more faith. But God forgave them, and they became the head of God’s people, the Jews. We’re always going to slip-up, it’s inevitable, but that’s not to say we should permit it. We should fight against doing the wrong thing, we are to fight against pride and lack of faith. We can do this by focusing on God, the more we focus on him, the less pride we have and the more we have faith in him and what he can do.