The story of Abram marks the beginning of God’s specific plan of redemption. With the narrative of his life Genesis changes from a general history of the world to a specific account of one people. What God proclaimed in the garden more than 2000 years ago now starts to take shape as He calls Abram to be the father of the nation that will bring forth the Redeemer.
The genealogy listed in the first 26 verses of Chapter 11 ends with a man – Terah – and his three sons – Abram, Nahor, and Haran (this is the same format as the genealogy in Chapter 5). Just as in Chapter 5 with Lamech and his three sons we cannot know for sure if the listing here is in birth order. Abram may be listed first because he is the most notable and the subject of the upcoming story rather than because he is the oldest.
Similar to how Moses mentioned – seemingly out of the blue – in 9:18 that Ham was the father of Canaan, here he says that Haran is the father of Lot. This arbitrary introduction means that Lot must play a part in the story to come. His birth is also important because his father – Haran – dies at a relatively young age. Lot is left to carry on his father’s name.
Nothing is said about Lot’s wife (since she is not mentioned in vs 31 as one of the people who comes to Haran, perhaps Lot does not marry until he reaches Canaan), but the text tells us that Abram marries Sarai and Nahor marries Milcah. For some reason we are not told anything about Sarai’s lineage (for reasons that become clear later), but Milcah is actually the daughter of Haran, which means Nahor marries his niece who is also Lot’s sister. [See attached family tree of Terah]
The one thing we do find out about Sarai is that she is barren. This also seems like an arbitrary fact since nothing is said about Milcah’s children at all, but it clues us in that this will be significant going forward. Moses includes only what is important to the ongoing story, and apparently Sarai’s barrenness will play a part in the events to come.
The text does not say why (at least not here – it could be, however, that Abram’s call comes first in Ur – see discussion below), but Terah decides to move from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan. He and his family – including Abram and Sarai and Lot – travel from Ur to Haran (not to be confused with Terah’s dead son) where they settle. They apparently settle somewhat permanently as Terah actually dies there and Nahor’s family eventually lives there too (when Abram sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac in Chapter 24, the servant travels to Haran – the same is true when Jacob flees to Laban after betraying Esau in Chapter 29).
Terah dies at the age of 205. In 12:4 the text says that Abram leaves for Canaan when he is 75. This poses a little bit of a problem because when Stephen later tells the story of Abram in Acts 7 (in his testimony before the Sanhedrin) he says that Abram leaves Haran after Terah dies (which is also what Chapter 12 implies). If that is true and if Terah had his first son when he was 70 (11:26), then it means that either Abram is not the oldest son of Terah (because it is now 135 years after the birth of his first son and Abram is only 75) or that the age of Terah at his death is inaccurate or his age at the birth of his first son is inaccurate. If Abram is not Terah’s oldest son, however, it means that he was born when Terah was 135. This would be odd since the story to come will make a big deal out of Abram having a son when he is 100 – way past the age when men typically father a child (17:17). As to the age of Terah, the Samaritan Pentateuch lists his age at death as 145, which would fit with Abram being 75 when he leaves for Canaan. All in all, it is hard to know what the correct answer to this conundrum is.
We now reach one of the most important events in Scripture. This is the official kickoff of God’s specific plan of redemption. God first announced that He would redeem mankind in the garden immediately after Adam and Eve’s fall (amazingly, He announced how He would redeem man before He proclaimed how He would punish him – 3:15). He then kept the line of Seth pure for over 1600 years while the rest of the world devolved into utter corruption so bad that God wiped it out. Before He wiped it out, however, he saved Noah – of whom his father said, “This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed” (5:29) – as the new Adam appointed to begin mankind and creation again. Now 10+ generations later He calls Abram through whom He will make a nation specifically chosen to be the conduit for the redemption of the world.
The text does not say specifically, but it appears that God calls Abram out of Haran after his father’s death. However, Stephen again causes us some trouble here because he will say that God calls Abram while Abram is still in Ur (Acts 7:2). And Genesis 15:7 seems to imply the same thing (although it does not require the call to happen then). Some translations resolve this by saying in vs 1 that the Lord had said to Abram instead of the Lord said to Abram. Here again, it is difficult to know what is correct, but in the end the location and timing of the call are not overly important as they do not change the outcome or implications of the story.
Whenever it happens, God calls Abram and His call breaks down into three parts. He tells him to go. He tells him where to go. And He tells him what will happen as a result of his going.
The first thing God says is to go. He tells Abram to go forth from your country, from your relatives, and from your father’s house. He starts out general and becomes more specific. Leave your country, leave your relatives, leave your family. God effectively tells him to leave anything that gives him a sense of security or belonging. Leave everything and everyone you depend on. Leave everything you are familiar with. Break every bond with anyone outside of your immediate family. Break with your native land and native people. God wants to completely set him apart so he can become a totally separate people. He also wants Abram completely dependent on Him. His call is total and complete – leave everything and trust only Me.
It is interesting to consider God’s call in light of what Joshua will later say about Abram. When Joshua recounts the history of Israel to the people right before his death, he says of Abram, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods” (Josh 24:2). This implies either that Abram himself served other gods before his call or at least that his family did. It makes the call of Abram and his response to it even more remarkable if in fact he was called out of a pagan family and culture.
The second part of the call is where to go. He tells Abram, “To the land which I will show you.” Not exactly informative. Abram is to leave everything and almost everyone he knows, leave his home country and native people, and go to…“I’ll let you know when you get there.” Think about the faith God is asking him to have. Think about the trust in God that God requires. “Leave everything that gives you security and place ALL of your security in Me. Do not hold on to anything – give it all up and follow Me and do not worry about where I am taking you – just go and trust.”
This is, in all actuality, the way God calls all of His children. When Jesus calls His disciples He simply says, “Follow Me,” and, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62). When God calls us He means for us to completely trust Him and depend on Him. Nothing and no one else is to be our security. We are to follow wherever He takes us through whatever circumstances He provides. The trials God sends oftentimes are meant to take away the very things we look to for security apart from Him. God suffers no rivals. And God accepts no follower who insists on coming to God with his own security. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:7-8).
The third part of the call is what will happen once Abram obeys and goes. God tells him six things:
- I will make of you a great nation.
- I will bless you.
- I will make your name great.
- You shall be a blessing.
- I will bless those who bless you, and curse the one who curses you.
- In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
The first promise is that Abram will be the father of a great nation. God tells him this when he is 75 years old with a barren wife. He has no sons and no prospect for sons, but he is about to start a great nation. The text does not say how Abram reacts but we will find out that as time passes this becomes more and more difficult for him to believe.
God secondly says simply that He will bless Abram. That He includes this along with the other promises – all blessings – probably means that this refers to material blessing. God is calling him away from his native land and relatives and their associated economic security, so God assures him that He will more than replace what Abram leaves. God will prosper Abram as he obeys. The story will certainly bear this out.
God will also make Abram’s name great. This probably has a twofold meaning. It first is a reference back to Babel where the people desired to make a name for themselves by building the city with the great tower. God effectively says here that He is the one to make names great – not man. In Babel He specifically intervened to show that no one has a great name apart from Him. This also is likely a reference to the name Abram will eventually have – Abraham. God will give him a great name as the father of a great nation.
Not only will God bless Abram, He will make Abram a blessing to others. God’s provision for Abram will provide for those under his influence. Abram will afford safety and security to others in his care. The promises are not limited to Abram himself – others will benefit from his obedience.
Perhaps as an outworking of the prior statement, God tells Abram that He will bless those who bless Abram and curse the one who curses him. The ones who treat Abram well will benefit and those who cross him will suffer. Abram is the first representative of God’s chosen people, and God will care for His people. This will be seen throughout Abram’s life and throughout Israel’s pre-redemptive history. Abram will prevail in his confrontations with others. And countries from Egypt to Ammon will find that poor treatment of Israel results in harsh treatment by God.
The last statement is the most important and has the widest impact. In Abram all the families of the earth shall be blessed. This is the reference to the Messiah. Abram is about to become the father of the nation that will bring about the Redeemer. It is through Abram’s seed that God will fulfill what He told Satan and Adam and Eve in the garden. The One who will crush the head of the serpent will come from Abram. In Abram – through him as the representative of God’s chosen people – the world will be blessed with a Redeemer who will take away its sin. Abram’s descendants will be set apart from the world, but the blessing will not be limited to them. ALL the families of the earth will be blessed. Redemption is through Abram’s seed but not limited to it.
Abram goes as a result of the call. The text says nothing about how difficult this is or whether or not he struggles with the decision. God calls and he goes. He takes Sarai and others who have become part of his household in Haran. They take all their possessions too. And they also take Lot, as his father is dead and his sister is married. Lot at this point may be considered Abram’s heir.
God leads Abram to Canaan. He comes to Shechem, toward the middle of the land. Their God appears to him at the oak of Moreh and promises to give the land to Abram’s descendants (which presumably do not include Lot). It is interesting that God appears to him here. Perhaps God wants to reassure him now that he has made the leap and is completely on his own in a foreign land. God’s promise here goes along with His promise to make of Abram a great nation. Abram currently has no descendants and no inheritance in a foreign land full of pagan people. Yet God assures him both are coming – and makes it sound as if it is a done deal.
Abram builds an altar where God appears to him. He then proceeds south to a mountain in between Bethel and Ai. He builds another altar and calls upon God. He leaves there and continues south. In these travels it could be that Abram moves to provide pastures for his livestock. As he moves south, however, he gets closer and closer to Egypt.
Something to consider as we study this text. This takes place over 2000 years after the fall of man. It has taken that long for God to officially start the ball rolling on fulfilling His promise to Adam and Eve. And the way He starts it is to call one man with a barren wife and tell them He is about to make a great nation out of them that will make Canaan its home. And the way He is going to do that is to wait another 25 years before they have even one son. And that one son is going to have two sons. But only one of those sons will be considered part of the promise. And the one son who is part of the promise will spend a good part of his life outside Canaan. By the time Abram dies – 75 years after Isaac is born (100 years after the events in this chapter) – he will see exactly three men (if he includes himself) toward the great nation, and the land of Canaan will still be filled with Canaanites.
This is why the author of Hebrews cites Abram as an example of one who died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance (Heb 11:13). He never sees the promises fulfilled but has faith that they will be. And though he has times of doubt and sin, he never despairs enough to give up and he stays faithful to the end knowing that God is true and will fulfill His covenants.
But as we read this story we cannot help but notice how differently from us God works. He is achingly slow in many respects. It is virtually impossible for the people in this chapter to see how He is working out His plan of salvation. If you were alive at this time and knew about the promise of the woman’s seed who will crush the serpent’s head, you would be hard pressed to understand how God is bringing this about. Between the baby steps of progress and the hard-to-believe promises to Abram the overall plan would be a complete mystery.
And yet – what does God ask of Abram? He does not ask him to figure out how to bring the Messiah into the world. He does not ask him to further the plan of redemption. He does not ask him to conquer Canaan or gather people to his cause. He asks him to trust and obey. He tells him to go. That is the only responsibility placed on Abram. Everything else is on God. Abram has to trust God enough to obey and follow without knowing why or where. And if he does that God will take care of the rest. And what Abram cannot know is that by stepping out he starts the ball rolling toward what will someday be a nation of millions and a Messiah who will bless all the families on earth. It just so happens that this will take another 2000 years. SO – when we cannot figure out what God is doing or how His plan is working, the one thing we definitely know we can do is obey.
How does Abram do this? How does he step out in faith and believe what he will never actually see? The author of Hebrews tells us. By faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. …having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb 11:8-10, 13c). Even in the Old Testament, 2000 years before Christ, Abram lives for another world. It is not as hard to leave your home and family if you do not consider it your true home to begin with. Abram lives with different sight.
Terah Family Tree
- Abram marries his half-sister, Sarai (Terah’s daughter by a different woman)
- Nahor marries his niece, Milcah (Haran’s daughter)
- Abram fathers Ishmael by Sarai’s maid, Hagar
- Lot’s grandsons – Moab & Ammon – are also his sons by his daughters
- Esau marries either one or two of his first cousins (Ishmael’s daughters)
- Isaac marries his first cousin once removed, Rebekah (first cousin Bethuel’s daughter)
- Jacob marries his second cousins once removed OR his first cousins, Leah & Rachel (Laban – father of Leah and Rachel – is Jacob’s uncle and second cousin)