The Life of Abraham: “Go Forth”
The life of Abraham is not only a very interesting adventure but it is a great encouragement to those of us who are children of God. Abraham was not a perfect man but he is a man we can admire for his faith and learn from his mistakes.
An important thing to keep in mind is before God changed his name to “Abraham,” he went by “Abram.” So, for the first few installments in this series on the life of Abraham, you will notice I use “Abram” to refer to Abraham.
This first story in the life of Abram is regarding God calling him out of the land of his fathers and promising to make him into a great nation. Abram had no preparation for this journey and no reason to trust that God would fulfill His promises, but Abram placed his faith in God and obeyed Him.
Now these are the records of the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran; and Haran became the father of Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives for themselves. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah and Iscah. Sarai was barren; she had no child.
There is some debate among scholars and archeologists as to where the exact location of Ur of the Chaldeans was located. However, it is most often to be accepted as a location in Mesopotamia, today in the area of Iraq. This is in the same general area of both the Garden of Eden and Babel.
This city and area was one of the largest in population and one of the most important cities in the ancient world. They were extraordinarily prosperous and successful.
The people of this area worshiped many gods but their chief god was the moon god, known as Nanna or, in another nearby area, Sin. As in the case with Babel, the city was known for it’s ziggurats. These were large, terraced buildings that were used for worship of idols and, sometimes, for civic administration. One of the most famous ziggurats ever discovered from the ancient world is known as the Great Ziggurat of Ur, excavated in the 1920’s & 1930’s. In the 1980’s Sadam Hussain had much of it, including the large staircase, restored1 .
Abram’s family were worshipers of “other gods,” not Yahweh. Joshua in Joshua 24:2, specifically mentions Terah as being a worshiper of many gods when he said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘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.’”
Leaving the religious teachings that you have been taught from birth is never easy. Families often see it as a criticism of how they raised you and take it as a personal attack. Many families have been torn apart after one of the members has converted to Christianity. This is one reason why Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”
If this is the case for you, if you have converted to Christianity and are now being persecuted or rejected from your family, take heart, you are in good company. This is something that those who follow the One True God have been enduring forever.
Milcah was her husband’s niece and Sarai was Abram’s half-sister. This sounds incestuous to our ears today. However, this was not unusual back then. Many of our genetic anomalies that result from incestuous relationships had not started appearing yet. Also, the command against incestuous relationships was not put into place until Leviticus, however, it is likely that it had already become taboo by that point.
Milcah, Iscah, and Lot’s father, Haran, had died before his father, Terah had died. It seems as though it may have been an early/untimely death. This may be why Nahor took Milcah as a wife, to protect her. Later we see that Terah appears to have adopted his grandson, Lot. Iscah is not mentioned again so it is likely she found a husband with another family. Some Jewish scholars have theorized that Iscah was just an alternate name for Sarai but, personally, I do not see the logic in this theory.
We see, in this passage, the first mention of Sarai being unable to conceive. We know that it is God who opens and closes the womb and we know from John 9:3 that this was not the result of her or her parents sin but would be a way for God to display His power, grace, mercy, and glory. This mentioning of her bareness is setting the scene for God to demonstrate who He is to Abram and reinforce his belief and trust in the promises He has to give him about the future of his family.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Abram’s family were idol worshipers. God was instructing him to forsake his family and their gods and follow Him alone. If Abram had stayed with his family, he would be influenced to continue to tolerate their idol worship and possibly fall back into that sin himself. He also would have left his family at risk of falling into sinful, idol worship.
“We have here the call by which Abram was removed out of the land of his nativity into the land of promise, which was designed both to try his faith and obedience and also to separate him and set him apart for God, and for special services and favours which were further designed.” ~ Matthew Henry3
While Abram was an idol worshiper and knew nothing about the One True God, God called him out of his sinful life and called him to worship Him alone. God does the same with us today.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-8)
There was no great worth in Abram. He was a wretched sinner, just like everyone of us, pursuing the “lusts of our flesh.” There was no innate good or good works coming from us that God thought, “I want them on My team.” If there had been, then there would have been reason for us to say, “See, God chose me because I am so great” or “I did this, and now God loves me.” Rather, God chooses sinful people to show how unbelievably merciful, gracious, and powerful He is.
If anyone is saved, it is because God has the ability to change a person and give them a new heart and soul. This process is called “regeneration.” We are made into a new creation. We are no longer idol worshipers, God-haters, and children of wrath. We are made new, we are adopted as children of God, we are God-worshipers.
We also see in this Genesis passage that God is making great promises to Abram. God brought Abram out of this land of idol worshipers not only to worship Him alone but to do great things. God has done the same for us. He has called us out of our sinful life but has also created us to do good works. Ephesians 2 continues in verse 10 to say, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
True repentance is not only turning from our previous sinful life but also turning to what is good and holy. We turn from our life of pursuing the “lusts of the flesh” and turn to a life pursuing Christ. Repentance is turning from evil and turning to good.
Matthew Henry, in his commentary3 , points out that God told Abram to go to a land He would show him. Not a land that He would give him but just show him. He told him nothing of this land or the people in it. Abram had to trust God fully.
We are getting ready to go out of town for only a couple of days. We are making packing lists, checking the weather, thinking about the clothes we need to bring, maybe a few snacks for the plane, etc. We know who we will be staying with, we know what kind of plane we will be flying in, what kind of rental car we will be picking up, exactly how long (God-willing) we will be staying there, relatively what the weather will be like, and what we will mainly be doing while there.
Abram, had no real preparation. All he knew was God said for him to leave the only home he had ever known and to go somewhere He would show him. He had no idea how far the journey would be, what the weather would be like, what kind of people would be there, what the water and food situation might be like. Talk about putting your trust in God.
“Those that will deal with God must deal upon trust; we must quit the things that are seen for things that are not seen, and submit to the sufferings of this present time in hopes of a glory that is yet to be revealed (Rom. 8:18); for it doth not yet appear what we shall be (1 John 3:2), any more than it did to Abram, when God called him to a land he would show him, so teaching him to live in a continual dependence upon his direction, and with his eye ever towards him.” ~ Matthew Henry3
God was going to show Abram the land of which he is promising to give to Abram’s descendants. At this time, Abram still had no children and no prospect of having any in the future. But, God was promising to bring an entire nation from him.
In this passage, God is hinting at the coming of the Seed of Eve. God chose to bring the Savior through the line of a family of idol worshipers. There is no one beyond the reach of God. There is no one that is so sinful that God cannot use him for His glory.
“It is a great honour to be related to Christ; this made Abram’s name great, that the Messiah was to descend from his loins, much more than that he should be the father of many nations. It was Abram’s honour to be his father by nature; it will be ours to be his brethren by grace, Matt. 12:50.” ~ Matthew Henry
God is promising to protect Abram and his future family. Abram was about to embark on a journey into a land he had no preparation for and no knowledge of. However, in this passage, God reassures him that He will protect them and the whole world would be blessed through him and those who did not treat them well would be cursed.
So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. (Genesis 12:4-9)
Abram took all his possessions with him and all the people who came with him. He left nothing in the land of his family that would tie him to that land. Nothing that would cause him to possibly return one day. He had completely forsaken this place.
However, now, in Canaan, a land controlled by a shrewd and somewhat hostile people, a place that he cannot call his “home,” a land he is not welcome in, a place he feels out of place, a country in which he is the foreigner, he builds an altar, a monument, an anchor to this land. He did this not because he felt “at home” here or some sentimental tie, but because he had faith in God’s promise, he fully trusted God.
“As soon as Abram had got to Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent God had an altar, and that an altar sanctified by prayer. For he not only minded the ceremonial part of religion, the offering of sacrifice, but made conscience of the natural duty of seeking to his God, and calling on his name, that spiritual sacrifice with which God is well pleased. He preached concerning the name of the Lord, that is, he instructed his family and neighbours in the knowledge of the true God and his holy religion. The souls he had gotten in Haran, being discipled, must be further taught. Note, Those that would approve themselves the children of faithful Abram, and would inherit the blessing of Abram, must make conscience of keeping up the solemn worship of God, particularly in their families, according to the example of Abram. The way of family worship is a good old way, is no novel invention, but the ancient usage of all the saints. Abram was very rich and had a numerous family, was now unsettled and in the midst of enemies, and yet, wherever he pitched his tent, he built an altar. Wherever we go, let us not fail to take our religion along with us.” ~ Matthew Henry3
God’s promise was for future domination of the land, not immediate. He promised Abram that his decedents (nonexistent at the time) would one day possess the land. Not that he would ever own any portion of it or that even his children or grandchildren would. This promise was for future decedents. Abram had no reason to believe he would ever see this promise come to fruition, yet he placed his faith in God anyway.
“An active believer can heartily bless God for a promise the performance of which he does not yet see, and build an altar to the honour of God who appears to him, though he does not yet appear for him.” ~ Matthew Henry3
Hebrews 11:8 describes Abraham as a man of faith: “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.”
I cannot imagine the strength of Abram’s faith to pack up all his belongings, forsake his family and the land he had always known as “home,” trade a life of ease and prosperity for the life of a nomad, to venture out into a land unknown, a people unknown, and a promise that seemed virtually impossible.
Praise God for His regenerating and sanctifying work. God gave Abram the faith to obey and we are blessed even today, thousands of years later, for the obedience of Abram.
2. Henry, Matthew. 2017. “Chapter 11 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway”. Biblegateway.Com. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.11.1-Gen.11.32.
3. Henry, Matthew. 2017. “Chapter 12 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway”. Biblegateway.Com. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.12.1-Gen.12.20.