THE SAGA OF A HEROIC EARTHLING;
SIMILAR TO OURS
The seed of Abraham in the natural sense goes through the whole Old Testament; in the spiritual sense it pervades the New Testament (cf. Gen. 15; Rom. 4). Abraham, a living monument manifesting the all-around aspects of divine-human relationships was assuaged by YAHWEH, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be great” (Gen. 15:1). The person who showed us how to trust in the Almighty experienced moments of fear: When he took his departure from the land of Canaan and went to Egypt (Gen. 12: 11-13; cf. 20:11). When he could not quite submit to YAHWEH’s irrevocable assurances and resorted to a primitive expedience (Gen. 15:2,3; 16:1-4). When he hesitated to send Hagar and Ishmael away (Gen. 21:11,12).
But as Abram matured fear gave way to fortitude. This is evident in that climactic altar-building on Mount Moriah (YAH Provides; Gen. 22:9). By this time perfect love to his LORD had rid him of all fear (I John 4:18). Deliverance from this tormenting master is a delightful awareness. God’s goal for the person submitted to his all-satisfying will is to liberate him from fear’s agony. Moving on with the Almighty and at the same time entertaining that chilling intruder that trepidates the whole being is a contradiction in terms. Aborting fear from the mind must be the Christian’s prime aim. Its intransigent torture surpasses that of all other emotions. Its unnecessary distress can only be cured supernaturally. Abraham wrestled with it until he could say “Here am I!” (Gen. 22:1).
This is Abraham at the apex of his spiritual pilgrimage, the patriarch we can readily emulate. Abraham’s journey is an education and exhortation to everyone starting his pilgrimage with the mighty Savior. Abraham is a mobile believer with purpose and a definite destination. Essentially, life is a journey. We need to examine Abraham’s life tenure in his relationship to God. Four geographic locations can be observed in his sojourn. Pertinent specifics accrue from these for the design of our own pilgrimage.
I. THE HAMSTRUNG LIFE IN UR
(Gen. 11:27,28; Acts 7:2,3)
The family of Terah constituted a renowned community of relatives in Ur, a well developed center of commerce and culture in Mesopotamia. According to some authorities it was in the land of Shinar  (Gen. 10:10). In 2000 B.C. (c.) we meet them in Ur, concentrated in heightened business ventures. According to a Middle Eastern tradition, they were involved in manufacturing and selling idols — a ludicrous trade in the ancient world. They had no concept of the living YAHWEH (cf. Joshua 24: 2). This had to come through special revelation.
Originally God’s revelation of Himself and His summons came to Abram, through whom it was extended to the whole family (11:31; Acts 7:2,3). Terah, Abram’s father, led them as patriarch of the family. Haran died in Ur; however Lot his son joined the clan who received YAHWEH’s call to a new land and a new life. Their God-appointed destination: Canaan, the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey. What a striking resemblance to God’s summons for sinners—both men and women—to abandon the life of transgression and ignorance, and move out from a meaningless, directionless existence to a life of definite purpose and goal.
Abram and his family lived separated from the Creator-Redeemer God in idolatrous Ur. So does the natural person who has no room for spiritual dimension in his life (cf. Is. 59:2). To the redeemed He says, “I am YAHWEH who brought you from Ur…” (Gen. 15:7).The Savior, who rescues the sinner out of slavery to sin, intends to steer that person to the Promised Land. Abram and his family were to take a geographical journey. The person, who through the conviction of the Holy Spirit turns his back on sin, is set by grace on a spiritual journey to Canaan. He is to live the life of sanctification and full appreciation of God, continuously conscious of His sovereign guidance.
Canaan is not heaven as certain songs in our hymnody erroneously have it! No, Canaan is the fulfilled life for every believer who abandons idolatrous Ur for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the New Testament it is described as the domain of the spiritual person (pneumatikòς άnqrwpoς), over against the person described as natural — unspiritual or soulish — (yuciκòςάnqrwpoς, cf. I Cor. 2:14,15). The journey of faith is an onward march from the natural to the spiritual. It may be termed as the valor of faith, which removes the sinner from Ur and takes him to Canaan.
The soulishbeing is a dweller of Ur. There is neither spirit, nor any spiritual discernment in this individual. The person may have a form of religion or be totally secular; but he is void of any touch with the supernatural God who commands the sinner to believe in the Savior and by His grace become a pilgrim in the march of faith. Unless the sinner repents of his former life, allowing Jesus Christ to save and put him on the fascinating road of deliverance, he will carry on a natural existence. With only his soul being active, he will perish in Ur.
Abram and his family honored the summons of the Almighty. They were led by His sovereign will and purpose (cf. Joshua 24:2,3). The valor of faith was theirs. The Savior of humankind stressed the necessity of the new birth, both for the religious and irreligious. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Saul of Tarsus, rescued from a life of spite, hatred and malignity, puts this divine execution in poignant language:
“And you he made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7).
When Abram and his family departed from Ur, people did not approve or appreciate their motives. Undoubtedly they asked the questions, ”why, what, where, when, how?” But the person directed to new life is under inescapable compunction to proceed. There could be no stopping or turning back. The journey of faith starts from Ur. But there are hurdles, snares and seductions all the way on the path of the committed pilgrim.
Abram and his family had to travel along what was known as the Fertile Crescent. From Ur to Canaan there is a short, but prohibitive route across the desert. Following the circuitous but reliable course was the norm. This one went north, along the bank of the Euphrates, then swerved westward, later the loop swung south to the land of Canaan.
The road of the pilgrim is long, but resolute and radiant. It must be negotiated with patience and perseverance if one is to reach God’s Promised Land—His awaited place of rest. After leaving Ur, the journey along the bank of the fertile Euphrates was pleasant and enchanting. The company of pilgrims must have had a relatively easygoing progression. However, a most serious hurdle was awaiting them ahead. So it is with the initial advance of any new believer: letdown of his first love. Watch out! Obstacles are strewn on the way.
II. THE HAMPERED LIFE IN HARAN
(Gen. 11:31b; Acts 7:4)
“…but when they came to Haran, they settled there…and lived in Haran”. The Apostle Paul puts it in more succinct language:“But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men (and women) of the flesh, as babes in Christ” (I Cor. 3:1). Here is the unpropitious picture of the carnal person (saρκικòςάnqrwpoς)
The city of repose and supply of provision altered their divinely-appointed agenda. This is the distraction of faltering in the pilgrimage of faith. As far as we can deduce from the narration, Terah had left Ur, but Ur had not left him. The family found Haran an immensely attractive, inviting metropolis on the plateau of Padan-Aram, which stretched into prosperity at every direction. Why not settle here? We abandoned the idols back in Ur. Our life has changed anyway! But, on the other hand their life-style was not affected very much. They were still chasing the lure of tangible objectives, being entrapped by them. Haran was too great a temptation to say ‘No!’ for this renowned family skilled and seasoned in business enterprises.
Haran (Assyrian, Harranu ‘main road’). A very important juncture in the Fertile Crescent, this ancient city has appeared in the annals of history since the third millennium B.C. Built around Belik (Balik) which is a tributary of Euphrates on the east, Haran was on the trade route joining Nineveh to Carchemish and Damascus.
As one of the centers of Sin (moon god) worship (cf. II Kings 19:21; Isaiah 37:12), it always received high recognition. Ezekiel refers to the merchants of Haran trading with Tyre (Ez. 27:23). Its ruins, on the Syrian border in the south of Turkey, speak of past grandeur.
In such a renowned city the pilgrim family settled down. It could have been Abram’s undoing. But he was to be interrupted by the God who called him, and not be obstructed forever: “In hope he believed against hope” (Rom. 4:18).
While it was God’s plan for them to continue, they stayed in Haran. They named it ‘City of Nahor’, after Abram’s brother whose heart was set on it, (Gen. 24:10). After all, the city bore the same name as Lot’s father Haran who had died in Ur (Gen. 11:28). They became sentimentally attached to the place. They did not hesitate to leave their family imprint there. But Abram could not build a single altar to YAHWEH. That exercise waited to be fulfilled in the land of his calling.
Many people make some sort of commitment to the Savior and depart from Ur. But at some crucial point they are stymied in the Haran of this world. They settle for a self-tailored life, contrary to God’s incontrovertible original design. This is a sad diversion in the Christian pilgrimage where sin in one form or another manifests its ugly head. At the same time insensitivity to sin takes on alarming dimensions. The verdict of the Scripture is, “…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23c).
Settling in Haran appears as an imminent hazard in every believer’s journey of faith following the voluntary abandonment of his or her idolatrous Ur. So it became in the ongoing progress of this illustrious family who had an unmistakable call. Veering off the chosen path caused them to falter.
The sovereign God is the LORD who calls. Jesus Christ opened His ministry with a compelling invitation (Mark 1:15). The Good News basically articulates a calling. This summons must be pursued to its foreordained glorious goal.
The journey of faith is strewn with casualties of those who failed to carry it to its destined end: “For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (II Tim. 4:10). The same writer has this reminder for the benefit of all: “If any man’s (or woman’s) work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (I Cor. 3:15). Another reminder: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us” (I John 2:19).
Work, aspirations, pursuances, identical to situations in Haran stand as predilections to be burned. Full salvation through the Savior Jesus Christ is an ever-forward advance. Unless overcome, snares and lures at every turn will impede the pilgrim’s ultimate aim.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:7-10).
A disturbing observation to some (but cheering to others) is apropos in this connection. The verb kτάοmai (to acquire, to procure a thing for one’s self) or kektήsomai (to possess) is not once used commendably in the New Testament. There are two complimentary references to this (once by our Lord, once by Paul) where the word is employed in terms of procuring values not to be measured by physical assets.
But first the uncomplimentary references;
“I give tithes of all that I procure” (from the prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee, Luke 18:12).
“Now this man procured a field with the reward of his wickedness” (i.e. Judas Iscariot, Acts 1:18).
“Procure no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts…” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 10:9).
Then the two complimentary usages:
“By your endurance you will procure your lives” (Luke 21:19).
“Each one of you must learn to gain mastery over (procure) his body to hallow and honour it” (NEB, I Thess 4:4).
Commentators mention the opposite of this concept, referring to another statement by our Lord, ζημιόω. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matt. 16:26 cf. Mark 8:36: Luke 9:25: I Cor. 3:15; II Cor. 7:9; Phil. 3:8).
Therefore the question to ask is, will my endeavors here below ultimately bring the forfeiture of the highest value that I possess? Too many people consume themselves with concerns which unwittingly betray their having been sidetracked, for example (and there are many more!):
· How can I lose weight?
· How can I drive the best car?
· Which are the best restaurants?
· How can I be the best-dressed person in my circle?
· What is the most exotic and exciting vacation spot for my next trip?
When Abram and his kin took the geographical detour, the spiritual journey halted halfway. Everyone called by the name of Jesus Christ should ask himself, “How am I progressing in the journey of faith?” or, “Could it be that I am one of those who halted halfway?”
It does not seem that Terah was daunted by the stymied journey. Why should he be? All was going well in Haran. Business, profit, house, comfort, success, everything was in perfect order. At the completion of two hundred and five years he died. Abram was seventy-five at the time. Several commentators remark that Abram was the youngest of Terah’s sons. How many years did they spend in Haran? This is one of those relevant questions.
It might have elucidated our story in depth if we knew. While not told, we can conjecture that these were not a few brief years. Years in the believer’s life not invested in God’s kingdom, but for self. Someone has fancied in a C. S. Lewis style conversation going on between departed believers; “What was the cause of your death?” There are various replies worth mentioning: “Martyrdom, torture, hunger, imprisonment, enduring psychiatric ward for deserting Islam, sickness, travel accident, old age and …over-eating.”
Years with no progress, growth, deepening in the faith. No altar-building or witnessing to the saving mercy of God. Years squandered in self-interests with insensitivity to sin. The props of modernity never lead to eternity.
Terah had to die for Abram to comply with God’s irrevocable call. Many hindrances in the believer’s life ought to die, or more accurately, he or she must die to these in order to move on. ‘Terahs’ in the believer’s life must succumb to total surrender to God’s infinite will.
At the outset of the journey Nahor, the brother, was with them. Now he has become so deeply involved in Haran, that he and his family have lost all interest to move on. All desire has faded away. Prospering more and more, he became one of the foremost entrepreneurs in the city named after him
(Gen. 24;10). He could no longer tune in to the divine call; rather he was tuned in to the marketplace.
Nahor became the grandfather of Laban and Rebekah. Laban, for all practical purposes had given up YAHWEH worship (cf. Gen. 29:4,5; 31:19, 30,34). Can it be deduced from this story that when the believer settles in Haran, his or her offspring soon forget all about the God who called the parents?
YAHWEH’s renewed call with promises attached, reached Abram (Gen. 12:1-3; Acts 7:4). By now Haran was his country. God rescued him and a few others in his company at this dangerous juncture. “The gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).
The protomartyr Stephen, in his moving speech to the Jewish religious establishment, gives us supplementary information making the point very clear: “And after his father died God removed (metoikίzw) him from there” (Acts 7:4). To get a clearer view of the weight of ‘remove’, confer with v.43 in the same chapter: “I will remove you beyond Babylon”. Stephen is reminding his audience of an involuntary move, with similar usage of the word.
God, who had originally called Abram to the land of His promise, intervened at a certain point. He disturbed the self-gratifying life-style, the comfortable and prosperous mooring, the lush dwelling of the patriarch. He had higher intentions for him. There are too many believers in need of similar disturbing by the Savior who rescued them at the outset. He wants to guide them to higher ground of the noble pilgrimage. Abram who celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday in safety in a comfortable home in Haran, with no concern about anything, was now being moved to the unknown to dwell in tents—a different, but delightful life-style. He was now a free pilgrim, under God’s shelter, “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings catching them, bearing them on its pinions” (Deut. 32:11).
The indomitable A. W. Tozer offers a striking actuality regarding the dazzling eagle whose conquering presence is best displayed high in the sky. “The eagle,” he says, does not relinquish its splendorous appearance in favour of the low habit of the house hen, scratching the soil and resting in the coop.”
God’s intent is to stir the nest of every traveler, to open the way to a higher plane. There is no escape from divine intervention. Abram, a man who strayed like all mortals was also an obedient, submissive person, ready to be guided. Any resistance would have hindered the progress of that amazing journey of faith.
YAHWEH’s renewed call reached Abram with a threefold charge:
· Go from your country
· Go from your kindred.
· Go from your father’s house.
This can be called total abandonment of all binding forces, justifiable or unjustifiable. It is a summons which leaves no room for any reconsideration. To the person who honors such a call there is a threefold promise:
· I will make you a blessing.
· I will bless those who bless you.
· By you all families of the earth shall bless themselves (Gen. 12:1-3). The call is for the Christian to be a blessing to the families of the earth. Those who have not only abandoned Ur, but moved on leaving Haran behind.
III. THE HALLOWED LIFE IN CANAAN
(Gen. 12:4-9; Acts 7:5)
It is not misleading if we say Abram’s actual journey of faith started from Haran. He was now approaching the life of fullness in Canaan. A long, arduous journey lay before him, with no city to call his home, “For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). The journey to Canaan brought new joy, fresh commitment and the reality of sanctification. The basic instincts of life, such as living in a comfortable home in Haran were laid aside. Abram and Sarah started living in tents, but were constantly erecting altars to YAHWEH’s testimony (cf. Gen. 12:7,8; 13:4, 18; 21:33; 22:9).
The idolatrous Canaanites inquired about this newcomer to their land who continuously engaged in altar building. All they could learn was that he worshipped the One YAHWEH who had brought him from Ur and then from Haran. Abram’s real pilgrimage, now having reached its pinnacle, was fascinating and his testimony convincing.
We are informed of a number of cheering developments in the patriarch’s journey at this stage. He moves as far south as Beer-Sheba (Well of Oath). There he calls on the name of EL-OLAM (the Everlasting EL) — one of the beautiful names of our mighty God. He plants a tamarisk tree, ‘eshel’ (grove). In common usage, it is also called ‘salt cedar’: a small wild cedar of 7-10 meters (approx. 20-30 ft.) tall. This evergreen grew quite favorably in the desert where other vegetation could not flourish. When travellers saw one in the desert, they knew there was life around. It symbolised hospitality. In certain parts of the world it is considered a weed, and there are plans to eradicate it. With its evergreen foliage, it is an emblem of YAHWEH’s eternity. Behind this act we see the life-giving God of the Covenant. Abram’s hope about his seed shall remain fresh and green until the most distant future, notwithstanding the many onslaughts to destroy it. The Lord Jesus Christ said to Abram’s natural progeny, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
It must have been at this point that Abram’s heart was filled with great joy by seeing the day of Christ. YAHWEH reassured him concerning his descendants at this place (Gen. 15:5). “And he believed YAHWEH; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).
At this point we are given the first account of this cardinal truth of the Scriptures—justification by faith—springboard of the Christian teaching (cf. Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38; James 2:23). At what point exactly did Abram believe the LORD and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? If it happened in Ur, the joy of his justification remained dormant. In Haran he was not living with its full enjoyment.
The hampered life, faltering in the journey of faith, fails to produce fresh delight in God’s superlative act. The world and the things therein draw considerable satisfaction in the outer bearing of that person. This happens at the expense of the enriching delight of justification in his/her inner world. But proceeding to the God-destined land where He grants rest each day to the weary person, unfolds an unusual delight of grace in its fulfilment. It is the only place where the redemption story can become an unusual excitement and fascination. The psalmist’s plea is significant; “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12).
Also the name is changed here: “No longer shall your name be Abram (exalted father), but your name shall be Abraham (father of the multitude); for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:5). An evangelist addressing an English-speaking audience once put it in intrusive definition; “Of course, in the land of promise Abram discovered the sense of the holy, so an ‘h’ was conferred to his name!” There is no end to the victories and blessings in Canaan. This is described very succinctly in chapter fourteen: the remarkable victory against the four kings, the rescue of Lot and the other captives, the meeting with Melchizedek who brought bread and wine and blessed Abraham where we are introduced to the principle of tithing. All these experiences were enjoyed in Canaan.
Living by faith in the presence of enemies becomes a daily experience for the one who renounces the ‘now’. The believer advances in hope in the face of numerous trials (Rom. 4:18). This is the enjoyment of God’s promised rest to the weary sojourner (cf. Heb. 3:11,18; 4:3,8-11), who joyfully builds altars in the wilderness.
Another arresting development, here Abraham was called ‘the friend of God’ (cf. II Chron. 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23). As already mentioned, Canaan is not the final rest of the soul. Reaching the land of promise does not bring about relaxation. There are many battles to be fought and won on the road to the hallowed life in Canaan (cf. Eph. 6:10-18).
Satan targets the believer to deprive him from the God-granted rest where victories are beckoning. Along the way, tranquility is taken away and there will be some defeats. When the soul feels it is at its strongest, the person becomes most vulnerable to Satan’s vicious attacks and temptations. Indeed, a trial not outside of ordinary nature was on the way with disastrous consequences ahead.
“Now there was famine in the land…” (Gen. 12:10). Yes, there are periods of famine and distress even in the soundly sanctified soul. Resting in Him, relying on His continuous sustenance, renewing the most holy faith in unwavering faithfulness are the obvious ingredients to obtain divine support in any given circumstance. Abraham lived c.1500 years before Habakkuk who could joyfully sing the song of triumph in the midst of famine.
“Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
he makes me tread upon my high places”
(Habakkuk 3:17-20; cf. Isaiah 61:10,11).
What would the outcome have been had Abraham built another altar in the land and called on the name of the entirely sufficient EL-OLAM! He who had brought him to this land—Ebenezer—must have been able to provide for Abraham and his family, no matter how many they were! But the easy way out is the ever-present temptation even to the believer, who has been enjoying cheerful fellowship with his or her heavenly Father.
The Rabshakeh defied Hezekiah’s reliance on YAHWEH, inviting the alarmed Jews to Assyria’s rich resources (cf. Isaiah 36:13-17). The enemy’s tactic is severance of the trusting person from unwavering reliance in the mighty Benefactor. Then, misguide him to unbelief which will lead to resorting to obvious assistance from any natural source. Such a dangerous game will invariably constitute a hindrance to the ongoing enjoyment of God’s flowing benefits. The life of faith is to daily behold His ever-gratifying face and draw from His steady resources. The opposite will cut off the fountain of the supernatural supply.
IV. THE HUMBUG LIFE IN EGYPT
For the person enjoying God’s sanctifying countenance, running to Egypt for nourishment is a pathetic sequel to the divinely charted journey with its bright attainment and already multitude of benefits enjoyed. The consequences of such regression are always devastating and chaotic. The vault of failure is in sight. Examine the dismal regression of the patriarch’s life and mien —
1. The moment Abraham left Canaan, fear gripped him regarding his life (Gen. 12:11-13).
2. As agreed beforehand, Abram induced his wife Sarai — who actually was his half-sister (Gen. 20:12, 13) — to lie, by saying she was his sister. Sarai was his spouse.
3. Instead of bringing the intended blessing to Egypt, Abram was a cause of great plagues (Gen. 12:17).
4. He was rebuked by the pagan Pharaoh (Gen. 12:18,19). It is a lamentable debasement when a believer is censored by an unbeliever for an offensive misdeed.
5. Abram could not build a single altar in Egypt. This is a frightening relapse in his vigorous pilgrimage.
6. Worst of all, the chosen couple acquired a slave girl by the name of Hagar in Egypt. The entrance of Hagar into the family of the Covenant is one of the most devastating episodes in the life of the patriarch. A disconsolate omen!
Hagar came into the illustrious family as an intruder and usurper, an abettor to the couple’s family. She would become a supplanter and conspirator against the vivid purposes and promises of the sovereign God. From the very outset Hagar was not foreseen in God’s noteworthy call. She and her progeny had no place in YAHWEH’s singular Covenant which He established with Abraham.
Hagar was pretty much a pagan girl. Her mind and disposition were set on how to misappropriate the prime position in God’s divine purpose.
When a believer is caught in the hour of weakness, the adversary will make the most of it for his detrimental design. The patriarch’s moment of feebleness in this astonishing pilgrimage of faith was caught by the enemy’s awareness to grasp the opportunity. The giant of faith was undergoing a crisis in his inner life. So was Sarah. She probably decided in her mind that Hagar would make a well-suited surrogate mother for the promised heir (cf. Gen. 16:3).
Running to Egypt was a colossal error committed by the patriarch, a tragedy from start to finish. Abraham’s altar-building ceased woefully in Egypt; troubles multiplied. “And the word of the LORD was rare in those days, there was no frequent vision” (I Sam. 3:1).
Many a conscientious believer in Jesus Christ can sadly recall those lamentable periods in his or her own pilgrimage of faith: self-pity, letting the prevailing winds of change carry him into uncertainty, allowing that first love to become cold.
When the word of the LORD becomes rare, visions cease, the prophetic voice is smothered, intercessory ministry subsides, holy standards erode, guidance by the principles of His divine instruction becomes a long-gone memory, building oneself up in the most holy faith lapses, and alas, no alarm is raised. This is the hour of lethargy. The memorable seasons of vitality are forgotten.
Pharaoh’s chasing Abraham out of Egypt where he had never belonged was the start of new blessing. He was to be re-initiated to a new activity of fervent altar-building—barring the altarless Gerar (ch.20)—that would ultimately take him to the building of the altar on Mount Moriah, prototype of Calvary, God’s majestic altar.
“And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord” (Gen.13:3,4).
The life of faith without altar-building is an impoverished existence. The only way out is to return to the God-appointed involvement and unflinching commitment. This was God’s blueprint for Abraham, and so it is for every committed believer, who for some reason finds himself/herself in affluent Egypt with all needs supplied, but in a quandary of how to follow God’s designed plan. His, and your, valid place is the land of promise and rest — the gateway to heaven.
After his return, Abraham built altar after altar, all the way to the one which he joyfully named YAHWEH-JIREH. Isaac arrived in keeping with the divine promise. Hagar and Ishmael were despatched away from the Covenant family. YAHWEH swore to Abraham a second time from His lofty throne, reiterating all His previous promises. Here is the victory of fidelity.
“Therefore, thus says the LORD, if you return then I will restore you — before me you will stand; and if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become my spokesman. They for their part may turn to you, but as for you, you must not turn to them” (Jer. 15:19, N.A.S.B.).
In this heroic figure of the Old and New Testament we see the making of the man of faith. His life is more-or-less parallel to ours. He is our father, he is our brother. He saw the day of Jesus Christ which made him glad. If Abraham is depicted as the ideal father of faith, the Almighty YAHWEH is our totally faithful Father.
It was YAHWEH who guided Abraham on his history-making pilgrimage all the way from Ur to its triumphant culmination. His brilliant design for anyone wishing to heed his bidding is the same. “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).
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Ur, from where Abram hailed, was a well developed Sumerian city. The term “Ur of the Chaldees” has reference not to the then situation, but to its later status. The Chaldeans arrived in this place in the eleventh century, B.C., whereas Abram’s call is c.2000 B.C. The Hebrew name for Sumer is Shinar according to certain authorities.