Monday, March 14, 2011

The Lord Abram went

The call of Abram is recorded in Genesis 12 but in order to understand the context of that call we must take note of the final verses of Genesis 11.  We hear in these final verses of Genesis 11 that Abram is one of three sons of Terah who lived in Ur of the Chaldeans (southern modern day Iraq).  One of Abram's brothers, Haran, died while the family still lived in Ur.  Abram's other brother, Nahor, was married to Milcah, Haran's daughter (so his own niece).  Abram was married to Sarai who we are told was barren and had no children.  In a culture where family and maintaining one's lineage was tremendously important, this is not a promising situation for Terah's family line.  One son is dead, another's wife is barren, and another is married to his dead brother's daughter with no mention of any children of their own.  Terah took this family of his and intended to move them to the land of Canaan but he never made it.  Instead, they settled in Haran (north of Iraq in eastern Turkey, interestingly bearing the same name as the son who has died) and Terah died there.

"Now the Lord said..." begins Genesis 12:1.  Into this bleak and unpromising situation, God speaks.  This is the God whose words create and give life.  This is the God who only a few chapters earlier was speaking all of creation into existence.  And his word will bring life into this situation as well.  God tells Abram to leave his country, his kindred, and his father's house to go to the land that God will show him.  God promises that if Abram will follow that command then this will not be the end of the family line but, in fact, just the opposite.  God promises to make Abram into a great nation and to bless him and all the families of the earth through him.

But as powerful as God's word is, as much creative and life giving force as it has, it does not work apart from Abram.  Here God does not speak and it become immediately so as in the creation story.  Instead, these words take the form of a promise to be fulfilled, a promise that Abram must continually choose to live by.  "So Abram went, as the Lord had told him..." says v. 4.  "The Lord said.... so Abram went."  If there is any arguing, any complaining, any hedging of bets on Abram's part, we are not made privy to them.  God commands and Abram goes.

At 75 years of age, with only his wife, his nephew, and his possessions, Abram went.  Some commentators point out that Abram's family had always lived a nomadic existence so this move would not have been an unusual one for him.  Still, the simplicity of the text is striking; "the Lord said Abram went."  There must have been some substantial temptations to stay.  Abram's family was weak and vulnerable, its future in question.  Perhaps if they could stay near some relatives they could work together to ensure their family's future.  Whatever the temptations to stay, God speaks and Abram goes.

The payoff is not immediate either.  God will bless Abram throughout his life and God will give Abram a son but he will never see the promise of land and "a great nation" fulfilled.  This will not occur until many generations after Abram's death.  Still, God's promise became the defining quality of Abram's life.

Haran is an easy place for us to get stuck.  After all, its not Ur.   Its not the starting point or the place of our loss.  We can look back over the path from Ur to Haran and say "Look, how far we've come" and pat ourselves on the back because we trusted God to come this far.  But its also not Cannan, its not the unknown, its not living by faith.  It is familiar and comfortable.  In a world where we feel threatened, where our future is in doubt, Haran seems like a safe place.

But the good news is that God still speaks...even in Haran.  And wherever God speaks, God's words can still create and bring new life.  But we must hear and obey the word that God speaks; "Go!".  Go away from what is familiar and easy and enter unknown territory and trust that I, God, will bless you and guide your steps.  We must go understanding that we may never see the promise fulfilled.  The real blessing may come generations after we are long gone but we go because it is the God who speaks life into existence who has called us to go.

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