When God Calls
27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.
1 Now 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. 2 And 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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 11:27-32 is more than a genealogy. It’s a status update on humanity. We’re at a dead end. Genesis 1-11 is the story of beginnings. It takes us from the creation of the world down to Abram’s family. As the Bible zeroes in on Abram, we find not a God-fearing family thriving in their land but a pagan family barely making it. It’s a hopeless scene. Even Sarai, Abram’s wife, is barren, and he’s an old man.
It shouldn’t have been this way. Go back far enough in Abram’s family line, and you’ll find faithful Noah. Keep going, and you’ll find Enosh, the son of Seth, who called upon the name of the Lord (Genesis 4:26). But by the time we find Abram, we see a family far from God. Joshua tells us, “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2). Somewhere along the way, Enosh’s kids stopped calling upon the name of the Lord.
The once-bright future is now a darkening present, and no one can do anything about it. Commentator Walter Brueggemann says, “The barrenness of Sarah is an effective metaphor for hopelessness. This text tells us there is no foreseeable future. There is no human power to invent a future. The human race and human history have just hit a dead end. It’s over. And then God speaks, and there’s hope again.”
Genesis 12:1 shows us what happens when God speaks to a man. Before God speaks, deadness and darkness; after God speaks, life abundant. Abram’s redemption—like every believer’s—began with God speaking. No one comes to saving faith apart from God’s effective call.
We see that call in verse 1. In the midst of darkness, God speaks to Abram and calls him into his marvelous light. But it isn’t easy. God’s call is to go, to leave, to follow God wherever he leads. It is a call to abandon his father’s gods and place his faith in him alone.
The Bible gives us the facts here, but we can imagine this wasn’t an easy decision for Abram. Terah, Abram’s father, took his family away from Ur to the land of Canaan. But they stopped in Haran and settled there. That was a problem. The land of Haran was not the land the Lord had for his people. They needed to go onward. It was time for Abram to leave his country, his family, his father’s house. It was time to follow God. Terah took him only so far. But God’s call on Abram’s life was to go further. He says simply, “Go.” The King James version says, “Get thee out.” The language is strong. God is saying to Abram, “Your father won’t go, so you go. Get yourself out of here. Now.”
The call wasn’t an easy one. God called him away from everything he knew without telling him where he would end up. As John Calvin says, the call was, “I command you to go forth with closed eyes, and forbid you to inquire where I am about to lead you, until, having renounced your country, you shall have given yourself wholly to me.” The call was void of specifics. It was a naked call. It was the kind of call that caused Abram to rely wholly upon God. And even in the face of hopelessness, that’s a scary thing. Sometimes the miserable life you know is better than the unknown life you fear.
Tim Keller helps us see the internal struggle Abram must have faced. His family descended from the faithful, and though his father never heard the word of God, Abram did. Nominal belief no longer worked.
Abram basically is having a conversation, and he’s saying, “Well you know, God, I’ve come halfway. This is as far as Dad and everybody else wants to go. You know, Nahor and all the guys … I just can’t get them … They like it here, and they don’t want to go any farther. I’ve come halfway.” So what is God saying? “Then come yourself.”
Keller goes on to apply this to us all.
[God] is saying, “It’s not good enough to be part of a Christian ethos.” It’s not good enough for you to say, “Well I’m in a Christian family, and I’ve always joined a church,” or “I’m from Scotland, and I feel at home in a Presbyterian church,” or “I’m Italian, and I feel at home in a Roman Catholic church,” or “I’m Mississippian, and I’m at home in a Southern Baptist church.” It’s not enough to be part of the ethos. It’s not enough just to be part of the environment.
“Yes, of course, I feel very good around Christians…” Have you met God yourself? Have you gotten out yourself? Have you encountered him yourself, in your own self? Has it penetrated you as an individual? Have you made the personal commitment? Do you see that? That’s the first thing. It’s personally radical. You can’t come in on anybody else’s coattails. It has to be your faith.
How does one’s faith become one’s own? By believing God’s word at the deepest personal level. When what God says stops becoming a theory and becomes a reality, when you stop thinking about obeying and begin to obey, when you forsake your plans for your life and accept God’s, you know you’ve stepped across the line from unfaith to faith. When you hear God’s word as a word for you, you step over the line of unbelief into belief. That’s what Abram does in Genesis 12:1-9. He steps over the line. Abram becomes a believer.
Of course, verses 2 and 3 show us God’s call isn’t only sacrificial; it is also promissory. It always is. The gospel is not merely a call away from sin; it’s a promise of righteousness. The gospel is a message of what God has done in Christ for his people. And though Abram didn’t hear the good news of what God did in Christ, he heard the news of what God would do for him. God calls Abram from three things, but he isn’t asking him to abandon those good things forever. He will restore them in himself with a three-fold promise. In leaving his country, he was leaving part of his identity. But God promised to make of Abram a great nation. In leaving his kindred, he was leaving his name behind. But God promised to give Abram a great name. In leaving his father’s house, he was leaving any blessing he could receive. But God promised Abram he would be a blessing. God called him away from the lesser to give him the greater. That is the normal way of God. Yes, he calls us away, but he gives abundance in himself.
The abundance of God comes in part in this life, but in fullness only later. When we step over the line from unbelief to belief, we’re stepping into a hope that extends beyond this world. We’re stepping into an eternal hope. Abram realized this. Though he trusted God’s promises, he didn’t live to see them come to pass entirely. Hebrews 11:39 says, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” Abram was made into a great nation, but he didn’t see it. He was given a great name, but he didn’t hear it. He was a blessing to the world, but he didn’t know it. Such is the life of faith—following God to the Promised Land when that land cannot be seen, trusting God for a great name when you’re despised, hoping for a home as aliens in the world.
Still, God’s call goes forth, and we all stand where Abram stood wondering if we should follow.