God calls Abram

Scripture: Genesis 11:27-12:9


Title: God calls Abram



  • Introduction
  • God’s creative call
  • Abram’s faith journey
  • Conclusion



X-men first class,

The Hobbit,

Monsters University,

Rise of the Planet of the Apes,

Batman begins,

Revenge of the Sith

The God Father, Part 2…


These are all examples of origin stories or prequels

–         An origin story or a prequel gives the back story on a character

–         It tells us how their story began – how they gained their powers and became a hero or a villain

–         We love origin stories


This morning we begin a new sermon series on the life of Abram in the book of Genesis

–         Genesis is essentially a collection of origin stories

–         The account of Abram is basically the origin story for the nation of Israel and the prequel for the Christian church – Abram is our father in the faith


From Genesis chapter 11, verse 27, we read Abram’s origin story…


27 This is the account of Terah’s family line. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. 28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. 29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah. 30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

32 Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.

12 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,     and I will bless you; I will make your name great,     and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,     and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth     will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and 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. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.


May the Spirit of Jesus help us to understand our spiritual roots


There’s a lot happening in this origins story – broadly speaking though it’s about God’s creative call and Abram’s faith journey

–         First let’s consider God’s creative call for this is where Abram’s story begins


God’s creative call:

Separation – it’s one of the key factors in any creative process

–         In Genesis 1, when God created the cosmos, he did so by separating light from darkness, land from sea and earth from sky

–         Cells reproduce by separating or dividing themselves

–         During the birthing process a child is separated from its mother’s womb

–         Then later in life the young person goes through the process of establishing their own identity by separating from their parents and eventually leaving home

–         We could go on but you get the point, separation is an essential, albeit sometimes painful, part of the creative process


While he was still living, in the city of Ur, the Lord God had said to Abram,

–         “Leave your country, your people and father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”


The Hebrew word which is translated as leave here means to determinedly dissociate one self, or literally to ‘leave by yourself’ [1]

–         God’s creative call to Abram is basically a call to separate himself from his homeland, his culture and his family’s way of life


This was a big call – a difficult thing

–         God was asking Abram to let go of his security, to say goodbye to everything he was familiar with and step out into the unknown

–         God didn’t tell Abram where the land was he was going to – just that he needed to leave and he would show Abram when he got there


It’s easy enough to understand why God required Abram to separate himself from his home land

–         For a ship to make a journey across the ocean it must leave the dock

–         For an aeroplane to fly to another country it must leave the runway


But why did God require Abram to leave his people and his father’s house – basically his close kin and his way of life or his culture?


Well, it was God’s plan to create a new nation (a redemptive community) through Abram which would be different from the other nations

–         A nation of priests who would show the rest of the world God’s ways


Abram’s father, Terah, was a pagan – an idol worshipper (we know this from Joshua 24, verse 2)

–         Terah most likely worshipped the moon god Sin


For an alcoholic to recover they must separate themselves from the booze (they must stay away from the pub and other drinkers in other words)

–         Likewise, for someone in an abusive relationship to survive they must separate themselves from the one abusing them

–         For God to create a new & redemptive community through Abram he needed to get Abram out of his old, destructive religion and that meant getting him out of his close knit pagan family

–         Basically Abram couldn’t become the father of a nation of Godly priests if he continued doing things the way his family had always done them

To give you an idea of just how close knit Abram’s family were here’s their family tree

–         Terah had at least three sons that we know of: Abram, Nahor & Haran

–         I’ve got a line through Haran’s name because he died, but not before fathering two daughters, Milkah & Iskar and a son called Lot

–         Nahor married his niece Milkah


By today’s standards we would say that Abram’s family were too close

–         But to be fair Abram lived about 4,000 years ago (give or take a century or two) at a time before marrying close family was outlawed or even frowned upon

–         The point is, in Abram’s case, a bit of separation from family and pagan culture was actually a good thing – a creative thing

–         You can’t make a Pavlova without first separating the egg whites from the yokes


Although God seems to ask a lot of Abram, the Lord does so with a series of really big promises…


“I will make you into a great nation,     and I will bless you; I will make your name great,     and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you,     and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth     will be blessed through you.”


We’ve been told that Abram’s wife, Sarai, was barren – she couldn’t have kids

–         So the Lord’s first promise is to give Abram so many descendants that he will become the father of a great nation

–         Again we hear echoes of the creation account in Genesis 1 where Yahweh tells the creatures he has made to be fruitful and multiply


God then promises to bless Abram

–         God’s blessing brings power for life, enhancement of life and the increase of life [2]  (God’s blessing makes life abundant – worth living)

–         God is promising Abram everything he could want – prosperity, fertility and victory.


“I will make your name great”

–         This means more than simply being famous

–         In the Ancient Near East a person’s name revealed their inner character so to have a great name meant to have a great character

–         God is promising to improve Abram’s character from the inside out – theologians might call this sanctification


God’s promise to make Abram a better person is instructive

–         We tend to have an idealised picture of Abram, because he is one of the heroes of the faith

–         We often think of him as a paragon of virtue from the beginning and while he did some good things at times there were other occasions when his behaviour was pretty average from a moral/ethical point of view

–         There were other people, who lived around the same time as Abram, who were more righteous or deserving of God’s favour than Abram

–         People like the high priest Melchizedek and Job – yet the Lord didn’t call them or make a great nation out of them as he did with Abram


It appears God chose Abram out of pure grace

–         As the apostle Paul says, God’s grace is made perfect in our weakness

–         And Abram had weakness in spades – he had heaps of it

–         From a pagan idol worshipping family, with a wife who couldn’t have children – Abram clearly wasn’t the best option available to God


The other thing to mention about God’s promises to Abram here is that they are not all about Abram

–         God plans to bless all people’s on earth through Abram

–         So Abram is blessed to be a blessing – he is to become a channel or a means of blessing for others


Also, God’s promise of blessing is inter-generational

–         The Lord’s blessing doesn’t end with Abram – it is passed on from one generation to the next

–         In fact, Abram won’t get to realise all of God’s blessings and promises in his own life time


In a way we are like Abram – Abram’s story is our origins story

–         Through our faith in Christ we inherit the promise of God’s kingdom

–         We might not get to realise God’s kingdom in our life time but we pass on the promise to the next generation

–         Likewise, through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord is making our names great – not in the modern sense of being famous but in the ancient sense of making our inner character better, sanctifying us

–         And like Abram we are not blessed just for our own sake but for the sake of others – we are blessed to be a blessing to the world God loves

–         That’s the mission statement for our church really – to glorify God and be a blessing to his world


Okay – so that’s God’s creative call to Abram – it’s a call that separates him out from his people and his family

–         It’s a call to bless Abram and others through him

–         And it’s a call made out of pure grace, not because of anything Abram has done nor because of any potential in Abram


How then does Abram respond?

–         Well, it would be fair to say Abram’s response is a gradual journey of faith


Abram’s faith journey:

You are no doubt aware of the fable of the hare and the tortoise

–         How the tortoise won in the end, despite being slower than the hare

–         The hare, who had far more natural ability than the tortoise, was over confident and took the race for granted

–         The tortoise on the other hand knew the odds were against him but never gave up believing he could get there in the end

–         Slow and steady wins the race


Abram was the tortoise – he wasn’t all that fast out of the blocks and he had a few set-backs along the way but he never gave up his belief in God’s promises

–         He kept plodding on in faith and hope that God would get him and his descendants over the line in time


In Genesis 12 it sounds to us like God spoke to Abram while he was in Harran and then Abram left for Canaan immediately


But in his speech to the Jewish leaders (in Acts 7) Steven says…

–         The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’

–         So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father [Terah], God sent Abraham to this land where you are now living…

On the wall here is a map of what most people today imagine Abram’s journey looked like 4000 years ago


–         Although the exact location of Ur is disputed the archaeological evidence available to us suggests it is in modern day southern Iraq

–         The red line traces Abram’s journey from Ur in the south west, following the Euphrates river to Harran

–         Harran is thought to be close to the present day border between Syria and Turkey


God’s instruction to Abram was leave your country, your people and your father’s household

–         It appears Abram didn’t do this all at once – he did it in stages

–         First he left his country – but not his father’s household

–         He took his father’s household (or some of it at least) with him part of the way to the Promised Land – as far as Harran

–         Steven tells us it wasn’t until after Terah had died that Abram completed the journey from Harran to Canaan


That’s often how it is with us as well

–         Faith is a journey – our trust & obedience of God grows in stages

–         I say trust & obedience because the two go hand in hand – trust & obedience are the two main factors of faith in God

–         The degree to which we obey God reveals the degree to which we actually trust Him

–         Abram obeyed some of what God asked him to do straight away but not all of it

–         He trusted God enough at first to leave his country but it took him a bit more time to trust God enough to leave his extended family


To become a Christian is to start a journey of learning to trust & obey Jesus

–         It’s a journey of learning to make Jesus Christ ‘Lord’ of our whole life

–         To call Jesus ‘Lord’ is to say, “Jesus – you are the boss of my life. What you say is what I will do”


While the end goal is to give all of our life to Jesus – what we often do in reality is give Jesus parts of our life, in stages

–         If we are honest with ourselves we say, “Okay Jesus, you’re in charge of this part of my life and I’m in charge of the rest”

–         “You can have Sunday mornings and 10 minutes each day, while I do my devotions, but the rest of the time I don’t want to be interrupted.”

–         Or we say, “You can change these parts of my life Jesus – you can take away my grief, my pain, my anger, my sickness and my guilt but I don’t want you to change my bad habits or my bad attitudes. There are some sins I still quite enjoy and want to hold on to”

–         Or we say, “Jesus, I know you said ‘Pick up your cross and follow me’ but that would ruin my reputation and I’m not quite ready to sacrifice my reputation just yet.”

–         Or we say, “Jesus, I know you said, ‘Love God, love your neighbour and love your enemies’, and I can do some of that. I can love those people who make me feel good, but the rest of humanity I can’t stand.”


What I’m trying to say here is that most of us don’t give our whole life to Jesus all at once – we tend to give it to him in stages or bits and pieces

–         Christian faith is a journey – we don’t start at the destination

–         We don’t start with 100% trust & obedience in Christ, we might only start with 2% or ½ a percent – that’s okay, God can work with ½ a percent, nothing is impossible for him


One of the areas of my life that I have yet to surrender to Jesus is sleep

–         I love sleep – I get a bit grumpy without it

–         I work hard during the day and so I expect as my reward to be able to rest well at night and most nights I do sleep well

–         But there are times when I don’t

–         Sometimes that’s my own fault because I’ve eaten too much desert before going to bed

–         Other times though it feels like God is keeping me up to spend some time with Him, to pray, and when that happens I’m usually not very happy


You see, sleep is a part of my life that I’m still learning to trust Jesus with

–         If I don’t sleep well I get anxious that I’m not going to perform well the next day – which indicates that I’m trusting more in my own ability than I am in the grace of God

–         For Jesus, prayer was more valuable than sleep – as we see in the Garden of Gethsemane for example

–         But for me, at this stage in my journey of faith, sleep is usually more important than prayer – I’m not proud of it, I’m just being honest

–         I know (in my head) that the night belongs to God as much as the day, so I am without excuse

–         If Jesus wants to keep me up in the middle of the night to say something to me or to have me pray for someone then he can, because he is Lord, and no part of my life should be off limits to him


Now let me be clear – sleep is good, we need our sleep

–         And it is good and right and necessary for us to have boundaries in our relationships with other people

–         But in our relationship with Jesus the aim is to have no boundaries – to put up no walls or obstacles

–         The goal is to let him be in charge of every area of our lives – to trust him with our work, our sleep, our family, our finances, our future, our reputation, everything


There’s a café in Porirua called ‘Kaizen’ (they do a fantastic Rueben sandwich)

–         Kaizen is a Japanese word which simply means improvement

–         Faith is a journey of improvement where we learn to trust God more and more each day, where we give more of the territory of our heart to Jesus

–         If our faith in Jesus is like a tree, then it takes time for the tree to grow and develop the fruit of loving our enemies

–         It takes time to trust Jesus with our reputation

–         It takes time to value prayer over sleep


Abram’s faith & obedience grew in stages

–         It wasn’t there perfectly all at once, from the beginning

–         Fortunately the Lord is patient & understanding with Abram and with us

–         He waits for Abram and gives him time just as he gives us time

–         Of course, we never know when the time is going to run out


As I mentioned before, when Abram set out he didn’t know that Canaan was the destination

–         God didn’t tell Abram where he was supposed to be going

–         He simply said, leave and I’ll tell you when you get there

–         Abram only knew he had arrived when God appeared to him at Shechem

–         Shechem is pretty much in the centre of the Promised Land


When Abram finally arrived in Canaan he found it was already occupied – so he couldn’t take possession of the land straight away, he had to wait

–         In fact he couldn’t take possession of it during his lifetime – it would be Abram’s descendants who would enjoy the land

–         Now this could have been a bit of a disappointment to Abram

–         He had left his country and travelled all this way only to be told, ‘you can look but you can’t take hold’

–         Abram’s response is not disappointment though – his response is worship

–         He builds an altar in that place

–         Building an altar is sort of like planting a flag – it’s a way of saying this land belongs to the Lord

–         Building an altar is also an act of faith – it’s a very practical way of Abram saying, “I believe you Lord”

–         The altar would stand as a reminder to Abram of God’s promise



The song that Matt chose to conclude our service this morning is Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son

–         The songs we sing in church are sort like mini altars

–         They provide a focal point for worshipping God

–         They are like a flag we plant in the ground by which we proclaim our faith in the Lord and they remind us of God’s promises to us in Christ


This particular song, Thine be the glory, reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection and also of God’s promise of resurrection for all those who have heard God’s call to leave their old way of life behind and embark on a journey of faith with Jesus

–         Let’s stand and sing…


Reflection / discussion questions:


1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?


2.)    What is your origins story?

–         In what ways can you identify with Abram’s back story?


3.)    What new creation is God bringing about in calling Abram?

–         Why does Abram need to leave (separate from) his country, his people and his father’s house?


4.)    What does the Lord promise to do for Abram?


5.)    Why did God choose (or elect) Abram?


6.)    Abram obeyed / trusted God in stages and that’s often how it is with us as well

–         Are there parts of your life that are off limits to Jesus? (That is: parts you still want to be in control of)


7.)    What was significant about Abram building an altar at Shechem?

–         In what sense are the songs we sing in church a bit like mini altars?

–         You might want to take some time to worship God in song, perhaps by singing along to a Christian worship CD (either as a group or on your own at home)





[1] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, page 205.

[2] Horst quoted in Waltke’s Genesis, page 205