The theme in Genesis Chapters 1-11 is man’s alienation from God. Although God created the world perfectly, man’s rebellion leads him further and further away from God, climaxing in the building of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. But beginning in Genesis 12, we see the plan for God’s reconciliation with man. And it all began with a man named Abraham.
There is no way to overestimate the importance of Abraham. Although only 11 chapters of Genesis are devoted to the origins of the world, 14 chapters are devoted to the life of this one man, Abraham.
Abraham is also significant in the New Testament. Matthew devotes the first chapter of his gospel to tracing the genealogy of Jesus back to Abraham. The Apostle Paul devotes an entire chapter in Romans detailing God’s dealings with Abraham to support the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. But WHY is he so significant?
Certainly, one reason is his role in God’s redemptive plan for the world. Abraham was the beginning of the nation of Israel. And it was through Abraham that the Savior of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ, would come. Simply put, without Abraham, there would have been no Savior. Had there been no Savior, you and I would have suffered the consequences of our sins.
God made an unconditional promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 of land, a nation, and a blessing. And the rest of the Bible from Genesis-Revelation is the story of fulfilling that promise. You can never make sense of the Bible or history until you understand God’s promise to Abraham.
But there is another reason Abraham’s life is deserving of our attention. Three times in the Bible—2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, and James 2:23—-Abraham is called the “friend of God.” God calls Abraham “my friend,” a term not used to describe anyone else in the Bible because of his remarkable faith.
Most of us realize that we will never become great lawgivers like Moses, great generals like Joshua, or great kings like David. But any one of us can be what Abraham was—a person who heard God, believed God could do what he said he would do, and based his entire life on that conviction.
- The Setting
The setting for the story of Abraham is the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. In Abraham’s time, Ur was one of the most important cities in the world. It was a busy, commercial city bordered by the Euphrates River on the Persian Gulf. The city covered about four square miles and had a population of over 300,000 people. Ur was not far from what is thought to have been the site of the Garden of Eden. Its land was rich, irrigated by two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.
The most significant characteristic of Ur was its emphasis on idolatry. The descendants of Ham had settled in this city and brought with them gross idolatry that began to infect the godly line of Shem as well. Abraham’s father, Terah, and even Abraham himself worshipped idols according to Joshua 24:2-3, 14.
- The Command
Have you ever spent an extended period in a country where you knew no one, had no roots or had little understanding of the culture or the language?
That was the command that came to Abraham. Not only was he to leave the comfort of his country, but also he was to leave his relatives, brothers, uncles, and cousins, were to be left behind. But then God gets even more specific and says, “I want you to separate yourself from your father’s house—from Terah, your father.”
Why? Although there was evidence that Terah was a loving father and a good provider for his family, he was a detriment to his son Abraham’s spiritual growth. If God were ever to use Abraham significantly, He would have to separate Abraham from his idolatrous family.
2. God’s Covenant With Abraham (Genesis 12:1-9)
- God’s Promises Genesis 12:2-3
These two verses are what we call the Abrahamic Covenant. They are probably the most significant words in the Old Testament, for they outline God’s plan for Abraham, his descendants, and the entire world. This chapter stands in stark contrast to Chapter 11, the story of the City of Babel.
- A land
God promised Abraham and his descendants a land whose borders are delineated, described in Genesis 15:18-21. This is land that I will give you. A land that Israel also never totally possessed.
Do you want solidarity? One will give that to you as well. I will give you …
- A nation
God explains this promise more in Chapter 15. Whoever is a friend of Abraham’s descendants will be blessed by God, and God will forsake those who betray Israel. We have seen that promise fulfilled throughout history.
- A blessing
Galatians 3:8 references the Messiah—the Lord Jesus Christ. Through one of Abraham’s descendants, the entire world would be offered redemption. That was the promise God made to Abraham: a land, a nation, a blessing. And the most important thing to note about this promise was that it was an unconditional promise. As we will see in Genesis 15.
- Abraham’s Response
How did Abraham respond to this call when it came to Ur? Like so many of us, he responded with…
- Initial Enthusiasm (Genesis 11:31; Hebrews 11:8)
- Prolonged Disobedience (Genesis 11:31)
- Ultimate Obedience (Genesis 12:4-9)
3. Two Symbols of Obedience
- A Tent
Abraham never built a permanent residence in the promised land. Between the ages of 75 and 175, he lived in nothing more than a flimsy tent and never owned a piece of property until he bought a piece of land to bury his wife, Sara. Even though Abraham lived in this world, he was not of this world. He was looking for a better country with a better reward, and this world had little allure to him.
- An Altar
During the 15 years that Abraham spent in Haran, there is no evidence that he ever built an altar, attempted to worship, or communicated with God. There is something about living in disobedience that causes us to shrink away rather than draw near to God.
But once God broke Abraham and decided to obey God fully, he knew that maintaining vital contact with God was essential. And that is why Abraham built an altar to his God right in the middle of that pagan country. The altar was the place where Abraham met God regularly.
I believe Abraham maintained that other-world focus, even though he was a wealthy man and lived in a culture’s cesspool because he regularly met with God. He kept his altar in good shape and used it regularly.
If the story of Abraham tells us anything, it is this: no matter how old you are, no matter how long the period of disobedience, it is not too late to meet God at the altar, hear His voice and obey His command. That kind of faith will make you a friend of God.
Full Passage: Genesis 11:27-12:9