The Chief End of Man (3)
Abraham’s Call and Response
12 1Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
We must not underestimate the magnitude of the demand that the LORD was making on Abram. He was being commanded to leave all familial love and security, all friendships, all future plans, all that was familiar to strike out into a dark, forbidding unknown.
The patriarch will begin his life and this journey with the name Abram, which means “the (my) father is exalted.” God will change Abram’s name to Abraham in Genesis 17:5 as a sign associated with the establishment of the covenant.
2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”
If we consider the history of the primitive peoples and their gods, we could possibly read the first six lines of this poem without too much surprise. Abram is being promised that he will be the father of a great nation. His name will be greatly honored down through the generations and all who oppose his nation will come to ruin. Is this not the promise of a new but similar nation to those that have and do exist?
But then the final lines hit us as if by a meteor: “and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” This statement makes no sense in the zero-sum world of power and plunder in which the nations existed (and too often continue to exist today).
Once again, we have been brought face to face with the radical otherness of this God as compared to the gods who were imagined to be in competition with Him. Whereas the other gods are useful tools by which to justify humankind’s most selfish and destructive desires, this God will use humankind as an instrument by which to bring blessing on all peoples of the earth.
The difference is truly stunning when considered within the context of the time and environment when these words were written. Are we not on the firmest of ground to see in this the very Hand of God at work behind such an astonishing departure from the human heart? My answer is “Yes,” and upon it I make my stand.
We must take care, though, to not make the mistake of focusing exclusively on the blessing. Yes, God will bless; but He will also curse. As we travel through the Scriptures this issue of cursing will be transformed from theoretical to terribly tangible. We must never loose sight of the fact that the same God who blesses also curses. That is, within the same God of love, mercy and forgiveness there is jealousy, justice and retribution. They exist in perfect harmony. It is only our frail, selfish, ignorance that imagines them to be in opposition.
4So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5And Abram took Sar’ai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan,
Note that Abram’s wife also begins with a different name (Sarai which will become Sarah at Genesis 17:15, both mean “princess” or “mistress”). Abram took with him all of his possessions, which included people. Why Lot accompanied Abram is a mystery, but he will play an important part in the developing story.
Thus far all that we have seen of Abram is an aged and mute follower of the LORD’s commands. Based on the previous Genesis stories we would expect perhaps a few brief narratives that provide rough insights into his character. What we actually get are a series of intimate, detailed, illuminating accounts that lay bare his, Sarai’s and their companion’s souls.
6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
Our protagonist begins to build visible signs of the invisible faith that dwells within.
8Thence he removed 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 on the name of the LORD. 9And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Although the words are not recorded, Abram is now actively seeking out God by calling on the name of the LORD. The relationship is now complete, with the beginning of a two-way conversation.