The Call of Abraham – Man of Faith and Friend of God

11:10 – 12:20

 

The first mention of Abram is found in Genesis 11:26. Abram, whose name was later changed by God to Abraham, is mentioned 312 times in 281 verses of the Bible (Abram – 61 times in 50 verses; Abraham – 251 times in 231 verses). The fact that Abram is mentioned so many times in the Bible tells us that he was a very important man to God. And any man that is important in God’s eyes should be important in our eyes as well. Someone has written, “The book of Genesis covers more than 2,000 years and more than 20 generations; yet, it spends almost a third of its text on the life of one man, Abram.” [1]

 

Abram was a great man of God not because he was a perfect or sinless man, (we will see that he was not a man without sin). Abram was a great man of God because he was the friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23).

 

Abram was a great man of God because he was a man of faith in God. So great was Abram’s faith that in the New Testament the apostle Paul referred to Abraham as a model of faith (Romans 4). It has been said, “If you despair, knowing you do not have Abram’s faith, take comfort in knowing you have Abram’s God. He can build in you the faith of Abram, because He built it in Abram himself.” [2]

 

Those two aspects of Abram should be our aim in life. We should seek to be a friend of God, to have a close personal relationship with God. And that friendship with God is based on faith in God. We should seek a friendship of faith in God. That is what we will learn about as we study this great man of God in the Bible.

 

From Shem (son of Noah) to Terah (Father of Abram)

 

Genesis 11:10-26

10 This is the genealogy of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood. 11 After he begot Arphaxad, Shem lived five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.

12 Arphaxad lived thirty-five years, and begot Salah. 13 After he begot Salah, Arphaxad lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.

14 Salah lived thirty years, and begot Eber. 15 After he begot Eber, Salah lived four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters.

16 Eber lived thirty-four years, and begot Peleg. 17 After he begot Peleg, Eber lived four hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters.

18 Peleg lived thirty years, and begot Reu. 19 After he begot Reu, Peleg lived two hundred and nine years, and begot sons and daughters.

20 Reu lived thirty-two years, and begot Serug. 21 After he begot Serug, Reu lived two hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters.

22 Serug lived thirty years, and begot Nahor. 23 After he begot Nahor, Serug lived two hundred years, and begot sons and daughters.

24 Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and begot Terah. 25 After he begot Terah, Nahor lived one hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters.

26 Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

 

Noah pronounced a prophetic blessing on his son Shem (9:26-27) and by tracing Abram’s lineage back to Shem it indicates the fulfillment of Shem’s blessing in Abram. And because God blessed Shem, Abram’s blessing was authenticated by his blood lineage to Shem. Genealogies such as this were also often used to authenticate a king or dynasty.

 

One commentator makes the following observation when comparing the pre-Flood genealogy in Genesis 5 with the post-Flood genealogy in Genesis 11 stating:

 

Unlike the genealogy in chapter 5, the list in 11:10-26 does not tally the total number of years of each person and does not close each section with the words “and he died.” Genesis 5:1-6:8 stresses death before the Flood; 11:10-26 stresses life and expansion even though longevity was declining. The mood of chapter 11 is different, then, from the earlier genealogy. This is because verses 10-26 trace the lineage of Abram—who was to be blessed by God—back to Shem, the son of Noah who was blessed by God (9:26). [3]

 

It’s only fitting that the genealogy of the father of faith, Abram (“Abram” means “father” and is first mentioned in verse 26), would emphasize life instead of death. As we study the scriptures we find that faith in God leads to abundant and eternal life.

 

What is interesting here is that while Abram’s name means father, he had no children. We learn in the next section that his wife Sarai was barren and had no children (11:29, 30). Some might look at that situation and comment, “How is it that one named “father” has not children? Maybe he just doesn’t have enough faith.” Such a comment is a superficial observation not uncommon in history and even up to our present day. Too often people are accused of having a lack of faith based on their circumstances. We should not be too quick to judge. As we will see with Abram, he had great faith in God and God was faithful to fulfill His promise to him.

 

Abram’s Background – Idolatry

 

Genesis 11:27-32

27 This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. 28 And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. 30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child.

31 And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. 32 So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

 

Here we learn that Abram was one of three brothers, Abram, Nahor and Haran. Lot, son of Haran is the nephew of Abram (11:27). Haran died and Lot his son was eventually taken under the wing of Abram (11:28). Abram’s brother Nahor married Milcah and Abram married Sarai (11:29). Sarai is described as being barren and without children (11:30).

 

We know that Terah, the father of Abram, was an idolater (Joshua 24:2). Abram was born and raised in a place called “Ur of the Chaldeans” (11:28, 31). It’s not hard to see why Terah was an idolator when we understand that Ur of the Chaldeans was in the heart of Babylon! (cf. Acts 7:2, 4). Babylon traces its roots to the Tower of Babel where false relgion was birthed. The word “Chaldeans” is used in the Bible as a synonym for referring to Babylon and its inhabitatns (Isaiah 13:19; 47:1, 5; 48:14, 20; Ezekiel 23:23). Belshazzer, king of Babylon, was referred to as the “king of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 5:30; cf. also Daniel 1:4; 3:8; 9:1).

 

Later in Biblical history priests from Babylon were referred to as Chaldeans. One commentator states:

 

The prominence of the classes of priests who, at Babylon and other centres, maintained the ancient traditions of astrology and philosophy in the classical Babylonian languages led to the designation ‘Chaldean’ being applied alike to priests (Dn. 3:8), astrologers and educated persons (Dn. 2:10; 4:7; 5:7, 11).[4]

 

It’s interesting to see that God was already at work maneuvering Abram out of the land of idoaltry toward the Promised Land. Terah was moved to take  Abram, Lot and Sarai and relocate toward Canaan (11:31). Terah would not make it to Canaan but would die after making the 600 mile trip from Ur to Haran (11:32).

 

The Call of Abraham

 

Genesis 12:1-8

Now the Lord had said to Abram:

     “Get out of your country,

     From your family

     And from your father’s house,

     To a land that I will show you.

2     I will make you a great nation;

     I will bless you

     And make your name great;

     And you shall be a blessing.

3     I will bless those who bless you,

     And I will curse him who curses you;

     And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4 So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. 6 Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land.

7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he 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.

 

Here we are given further information on the movement of Terah and his family out of Ur and toward Canaan. In the opening verse of chapter 12 we see that God called Abram to leave his country and his family (12:1). Abram was only partially obedient on both counts. He did not separate from his father Terah until he died and by going to Haran he remained still in the land of the Chaldeans. The name “Terah” means “delay.” Perhaps because Abram did not leave his father he became caught up in felt attachments to him and thereby delayed in following the Lord. There is a lesson to be learned here. The fulfillment of God’s plans in our lives is often delayed because we do not fully obey His instructions. When God instructs us in His word it is because He has a plan and He knows the best way to work that plan out.

 

When I was a young boy I used to build model cars. The model cars came in a kit that required you to follow instructions for assembly. A lot of times the models I built did not come out the way they should have. The reason for this is that I didn’t always follow the instructions. I would get so excited about getting to the final product that I would put the instructions aside. When I did that, inevitably I’d run into problems. I’d paint a part before I should and when the glue was applied to put the pieces together the glue would not stick on the paint and the parts would not stay together. Or I’d put on a decal before I should and then have to scrape it off. Since there was only one set of decals, my model would be permanently deficient because I had used it prematurely. The bottom is that when I didn’t follow the instructions, the model never came out like it should. When I tried to put the model together on my own, without the instructions, it was ruined. The same is true with God’s plans in our lives. When we set God’s instruction manual (the Bible) aside, and try to live in our own wisdom, God’s plans in our lives are often ruined. Fortunately for Abram, God’s plans for him were only delayed and not ruined. God is gracious and kind and longsuffering. But there are times when our neglect of the instructions of God’s word results in irreparable damage. That can be painful, frustrating, and sad.

 

God’s promise to Abram involved a land. People have been trying to steal that land away from Abram’s descendants throughout history. But God will make sure that the land goes to its proper stewards. I say stewards because in reality, the land belongs to God (Leviticus 25:23). Since God is the Owner of the Land, He can give it to whomever He wants to. God gave the land to Abram and his descendants (12:7). That was true then and that has always been the case even to our day.

 

God’s promise to Abram was that He would make him a great nation. No other nation in history has survived as many attempts to annihilate it as the nation of Israel. And no nation the size of Israel has demonstrated such power (e.g. The Six Day War and other wars of modern day Israel).

 

God promised to make Abram’s name great. Abram’s name is great among all three of the world’s great religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

 

God promised to make Abram and his descendants the basis for blessing and cursing. If you look in history at nations who at some point betray Israel, you find an almost immediate downfall that follows (e.g. The British Empire). On the other hand those nations which are loyal to Israel are blessed as long as they remain loyal to her (e.g. The United States).

 

And God promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abram. Jesus, the Savior of the world is descended through Abram. There is no greater blessing than the blessing of salvation that leads to eternal life through faith in Christ (cf. Galatians 3:8, 16; Revelation 5:9).

 

What does the call of Abram tell us about the people God uses?

 

First, God uses attentive people (12:1). Abram was attentive and open to God. He heard and responded to God’s voice above all the distractions of the false idols around him. Availability is often more important to God than mere ability. God looks for a person who is willing to listen to Him. (Cf. Psalm 34:11; 81:13; Proverbs 8; Nehemiah 8:3)

 

Second, God uses imperfect people (12:1 compared with 11:31; 12:4). Abram compromised and did not fully obey God’s commend to leave his people. Abram journeyed with his family and even brought his nephew Lot with him (12:4). Abram’s partial obedience will not be the last time he falls short in his venture in faith with God. God’s power is perfected in our weaknesses at times (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

 

Third, God uses people willing to give Him there all (12:1). Abraham was willing to leave the comfort of his native land to go where God called him to go. This truth should not be taken and manipulated in a way that justifies escaping an uncomfortable situation. If God had called Abram to remain where he was, Abram would have remained where he was by faith. Abram believed God no matter what (15:6; cf. also Jeremiah 29:13-14; Romans 12:1-2).

 

Fourth, God uses people who put His word in their heart (12:2-4). God made a promise to Abram and Abram put it in his heart as fact. God promised to make Abram into a great nation, to bless him, make his name great, and make him the basis of blessings and curses for others. Abram’s attitude of faith was God said it; that settles it. (Cf. Psalm 40:8; 119:11; Proverbs 23:26)

 

Fifth, God uses people who act in faith (12:5-6). Abram didn’t just pay lip-service to God; he acted on his faith (cf. James 2). Faith without action is dead. Abram didn’t merely acknowledge what God said; he acted in accordance with what God said. (Cf. Proverbs 3:5-7).

 

It should also be noted here that Gods call on Abram’s life did not involve God laying out an entire life road map to him. God leads one step at a time. He does this to build our faith as we take a series of steps in faith in a lifelong venture in faith. You have to take step one in faith before you can take step two of faith. With each step of trusting faith in God we learn and experience more of God’s faithfulness. With each step of faith we become more assured and confident in God.

 

God leads in this way to keep us current in our relationship with Him. If He were to lay out before us all that He would do and our final destination, we might be tempted to relax and slack off in our walk with Him. But the need to seek His will and counsel at every step makes us more consistent and close to Him. That is good for us. And that is something God enjoys as well.

 

In the New Testament Philip was in the midst of a revival (Acts 8:14-25). But in the middle of this revival God called Philip to go to the desert region of Gaza (Acts 8:26-40). This probably didn’t seem reasonable to Philip. Why would God have him leave a revival to go into a desert? God’s plans are made from a higher perspective than what we know. Philip must have known this and because of his obedience to God’s call he met a man from Ethiopia in the desert. This Ethiopian just happened to be reading the scriptures. And the portion of the scriptures he just happened to be reading was Isaiah 53 where a clear reference to Messiah Jesus is mentioned. The Spirit moved Philip to go up to this man. When Philip obeyed he found an opportunity to share the gospel and win a soul for Christ. That Ethiopian then was used by God to spread the gospel to another continent! God knew what He was doing and thank goodness Philip trusted God’s calling. We walk by faith and not by mere human sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). When we do that, great things happen.

 

Sixth. God uses people who worship Him (12:7). Once Abram obediently reached God’s prescribed destination God appeared to him to confirm he was where God wanted him to be. The first thing Abram did then was build an altar and worship God. Abram didn’t turn to God and proudly say, “See what I did for you? Now what are you going to do for me?” No, Abram was thankful for his relationship with God. Abram never owned any of the land God called him to live in. Abram never built a house; he always lived in a tent. The only land Abram ever bought for himself was the land he would use for family burials (Genesis 23:14-20). Abram was glad to obey God and serve Him. Abram found his reward in worshipping God. (Cf. Acts 13). He was a pilgrim on this earth who was just passing through. We should have the same mindset (1 Peter 2:11). A pilgrim is not a drifter with no direction. A pilgrim is on a journey with a destination. The bible says that destination is heaven (Hebrews 11:8-10, 14-16).

 

Seventh, God uses people who pray (12:8). Once Abram worshipped God he then sought direction from God by calling on the Lord in prayer. Prayer is where we declare our dependence upon God. Prayer is where God speaks to us and directs us in His word. Without prayer we are in a fog. When God calls, we need to confirm His call in prayer (e.g. Jeremiah 29:12).

 

These verses contain critically important promises from God to Abram and his descendants that will be referred to time and again throughout the Bible. One commentator expresses this by saying:

 

For Israel the call of their great patriarch demonstrated that their promises were from God, promises of a great nation, a land, divine blessing, and sovereign protection. Yahweh’s appearance and confirmation (v. 7) proved that Canaan was their destiny. But God demanded a response by faith if this generation were to share in those promised blessings. Faith takes God at His word and obeys Him. [5]

 

Obedience is not an easy aspect of faith as we will see in Abram’s life and in the life of his descendants.

 

An Imperfect Man of Faith

 

Genesis 12:9-20

9 So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to dwell there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. 12 Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”

14 So it was, when Abram came into Egypt, that the Egyptians saw the woman, that she was very beautiful. 15 The princes of Pharaoh also saw her and commended her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken to Pharaoh’s house. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake. He had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, and camels.

17 But the Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” 20 So Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they sent him away, with his wife and all that he had.

 

This is an interesting account to record right after God’s call and promise to Abram. It involves deceit on the part of Abram and Sarai. Abram refers to Sarai as his sister which is not a complete lie, but it is a half truth. Sarai was the daughter Terah but did not have the same mother as Abram (Genesis 20:12). This would not be the last time such deceit was used by Abram (e.g. 13; 20:2; 26:7). Indeed Abram later states that this way of deceit was something they practiced in various places (20:13). Why would God inspire Moses to include this in scripture?

 

It is likely that God chose to include this in scripture as an honest account of the human condition. The Bible does not edit out those things which might be embarrassing to its characters. The Bible is perfectly truthful and because of that it is perfectly reliable. But more importantly God chose to include Abram’s deceit in scripture to show that God’s promises are not contingent on perfect people, but are based primarily on Him.  This will be even more evident when the gospel of grace is revealed in the New Testament (e.g. Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 3:4-7).   

 

Abram’s faith in God was not strong enough to sustain him during a famine (12:9-10). Perhaps Abram became impatient waiting on God to supply for he and his family. Abram was not wrong in having a concern for his family. He was wrong because he did not believe enough in God to know that God would provide for he and his family.

 

There are times when we start well but get off track. In the New Testament Paul cautioned believers about getting sidetracked in their walk with God in the Spirit (Galatians 3:1-3). We need to grow in our faith (e.g. Colossians 2:6-7). This is what we see happening in Abram’s life; he’s sidetracked from his faith dependence upon God and one wrong steps leads to another as is often the case.

                             

There are consequences to lapse in faith. Abram’s lapse in faith resulted in him leaving the land promised to him by God and looking for help in the pagan country of Egypt (12:10). This initial step in his own strength (i.e. his flesh) was followed by another step in his flesh, a deceitful plan designed to secure protection (12:11-13). Abram allowed his fears to quench his faith and this led to concocting a lie about Sarai being his sister. He feared that men in this pagan land would kill him so they could get at the beautiful Sarai.

 

When Abram’s plan was put in place it led to the threatening of his relationship with Sarai as she was taken to Pharaoh’s house (12:14-15). Sin separates. This sinful deceit of Abram and Sarai led to her being taken from him and it also was a sign that they were at a distance from God. Don’t miss how serious a situation this really was. Abram and Sarai would be used by God to produce the lineage of Messiah. Therefore God would not want the womb of Sarai polluted by a Gentile King. In light of this danger God would eventually intervene.

 

Abram was initially treated well because of Pharaoh’s desire for Sarai (12:16). That’s always the case. There is pleasure from sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25). But that season passes fast. Abram must have felt terrible as he saw his beloved wife removed from him and ogled by the Egyptians.

 

While man’s faith lapses, God’s oversight never does. God brought a plague upon the Egyptians because of their interaction with Sarai. It wasn’t long before Pharaoh put two and two together and called Abram to him and asked him, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister’? I might have taken her as my wife. Now therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.” (12:18-19). Abram was exposed. His integrity and witness was compromised and the nonor of his wife was nearly breached. Ultimately Abram was sent away by Pharoah (12:20). He lost his opportunity to be used by God with the lost because he had allowed his fears to overcome his faith in God. Whenever you do that, you find yourself in a compromised position; a position of spiritual weakness and vulnerability. That is not a good place to be.

 

Abram was a man of faith, but he was not a perfect man. That is sad on one hand because we should seek to be right and live right before our God who has given us such great and precious promises. But on the other hand it is encouraging because it shows us that God’s workings with Abram are real and true to life. It’s encourgaing because if God used an imperfect man like Abram and called him His friend and described him as a man of faith, he can do the same with me even though I’m imperfect. That is the truth we can take from this initial consideration of the calling of God on Abram.

 

Are you listening for the Lord’s calling? Are you surrendered and available to what He calls you to? You may look at God’s call on your life with fear. But if you allow your fear to overcome your faith, you’ll find yourself in compromising situations and separated from God and His best for you. Let’s make a decision right now to seek the Lord in faith and commit to growing in that faith. Let’s seek to have God do His perfect work in us. Let’s trust Him even if we have fears. Let’s bring our fears to Him and ask Him to replace our fears with faith in Him. Let’s seek to follow Abram’s example and be people of faith who have a deep abiding friendhsip with God.

 



[1] David Gudzik, The Enduring Word commentary Series: Genesis (Semi Valley, CA: Enduring Word Media, 1998) page 87.

[2] David Gudzik, Ibid. page 87

[3]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (1:46). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4]Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (180). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

 

[5]Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1983-c1985). The Bible knowledge commentary : An exposition of the scriptures (1:47). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.