THE CALLING OF ABRAM (Genesis 11:1-12:9)

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Genesis 11:1-12:9
Key verse: 12:2

“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.”

Today’s passage is about God’s calling of Abram. Abram was a 75 years old man who lived in Ur in Mesopotamia. He had no children at that time. But God called him to be a father of a great nation and a blessing for the whole world. I pray that we may accept God’s promises and vision for us and follow him like Abram did.

Chapter 11 records one incident as the human population increased and people moved eastward. At that time the world had only one language. They had no language problem. As they migrated they found a plain in Shinar which was Babylonia. The plain was vast and fertile located between two rivers: the Tigris and Euphrates. They wanted to settle there by building a city and a tower. They said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” Their plan to settle down in the fertile land by building a city instead of moving around seemed good. But it was against God’s will who had commanded them to fill the earth by dispersing. Besides they wanted to build a huge tower that could reach the sky to make a name for themselves. They wanted to be great and famous seeking their own glory. God saw a danger that they could be proud and ungodly. So, God frustrated their plan by confusing their language. Suddenly the people couldn’t communicate with each other and misunderstandings and fighting broke out. According to a Jewish legend a man asked another man to give him some mud. But the other man gave him a brick. The man who asked mud said “Do you think I am an idiot?” Then a fist fight broke out and they killed each other. The construction work stopped and all of them were scattered. That is why it was called Babel—because God confused the language of the whole world.

Look at verse 1. “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” God appeared to Abram and commanded him to leave his country. What was Abram’s country? Abram lived in the city called ‘Ur’ of the Chaldeans. It was a city of ancient Sumer in southern Mesopotamia on a site in present-day southeast Iraq. It was one of the oldest cities in Mesopotamia and an important center of Sumerian culture after 3000 BC. Located near the Persian Gulf it was a major port and controlled much of the trade into the region. It was an economically well developed and culturally advanced city. In regards to religion, Chaldeans worshipped seven gods. Some of them were the god of heaven, the god of land, the god of water, the god of sun and the god of moon. The people who lived in Ur worshipped the god of moon called Nanaa. They built a temple called Ziggurat to worship the moon god. Abram’s father Terah also worshipped other gods. Abram was born and lived in this city for 75 years. Because of this idol worshipping environment God commanded him to leave his country, his people and his father’s family.

What would be involved in his leaving? He has to leave everything that is important to him. He has to leave his hometown, his parents, his brother, all his friends and relatives and everyone he knows. If he has a job he has to quit. It won’t be easy for him to leave all these things behind and go to an unknown place. When people live in a certain place for a while they establish their comfort zone. Once they build their comfort zone it is hard for them to get out of it. No one wants to step out of their comfort zone and risk their lives by going to an unknown place. Besides God didn’t tell him exactly where to go. His destination was unclear. Even if he knew where to go once he got there he had to start his life from scratch. Abram was an old man who was seventy-five. No one wants to take a risk in that old age by leaving everything behind and going to an unknown place. People want to relax and enjoy the last part of their life. But God told him to leave.

Why did God command him to leave? I can think of two reasons. First, as I mentioned earlier, Abram had to leave his idol worshipping environment in order to start a new life. Like Abram we need to leave our sins and bad habits to live a new life, a life that pleases God. Another possible reason was for him to depend on God alone. In his hometown he could have lived comfortably being surrounded by his parents, siblings, relatives and friends who could help him any time he needed. But in the new land he had no one to depend on but God. Abram had many challenges and difficulties in his life in the new land. He had to trust in God and his promises and overcame. Then he experienced God’s help and protection and provision personally. He experienced God’s faithfulness and almighty power by having a son at the age of 100. Through these experiences Abram’s faith and trust in God grew. He became a man who feared God and loved him. Johanna came to the U.S. when she was 21. She left her country, her parents, siblings and all her friends and came to Maryland. At first it was not easy for her to live here by herself. She was homesick. Though her parents supported her financially she had to manage on her own. She met some challenges and difficulties in her life in the U.S. But she depended on God in prayer and overcame. Through these experiences her faith grew. By faith she accepted Joshua’s proposal and they are waiting for the wedding in June. A lot of us left our country, parents, siblings, friends and relatives and came to this country. Some had to quit their high paying jobs and others gave up their promising careers. When we arrived here we started from scratch, from the bottom of society. We had to learn a new language and culture. We had to depend on God crying out to him in our difficulties and God helped us to experience his mercy, help and power in our job, family and mission life. God has trained us in this new land so that we can grow in faith and serve his mission.

Second, God’s promises. Let’s read verses 2 and 3. “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 people on earth will be blessed through you.” After God commanded him to leave he gave Abram several promises. What are the promises that God gave Abram?
First, I will make you into a great nation. What does this mean? It means that God will start a new nation through Abram. What kind of a nation will this be? It will be a God believing nation. It will be a nation that fears God and obeys him. According to Exodus 19:6 it will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. It will be a nation that prays for all nations and teaches the way of the Lord. This promise implies that Abram will have numerous descendants.

It wasn’t easy for Abram to accept this promise because of his human condition. At that time Abram was 75 years old and his wife 65. They had no children because his wife Sarai was not able to conceive. They tried to have children for many years but failed. As they were getting older their chance of having a child was getting slimmer and at one point they gave up hope. Abram might have thought “How can I become a great nation when I don’t have even one son?” God’s promise seemed too good to be true. But God promised Abram that HE would make him into a great nation. It wouldn’t be Abram who would make himself into a great nation. It would be God who would make him into a great nation. It would be God’s doing. God emphasizes this point by saying “I will” four times in these two verses. If God determines to do something no one can stop him. God helped Abram to put his faith in God almighty and not on himself. God will make Abram into a great nation; all Abram has to do is to put his faith in God and his promise and obey him.

If we look at our situations sometimes we get discouraged. God promised us that he would make us into a great nation. But some of us have struggled to raise one disciple for many years. There seems to be a big gap between God’s promise and our reality. We wonder how long we should do this and how long we should wait? As we get older the chance of God’s promise to be fulfilled is getting slimmer. When we look at our human situations it is hard to accept God’s promise that we will be a great nation. But God says, “I will make you into a great nation.” It is not something that we will or can do but it is what God will do. God wants us to put our faith in him and trust in his promise and follow him to the end. When we look up at God almighty and put our faith in him we can have a hope that he will accomplish what he promised us. And that is what Abram and Sarah did to receive what God had promised them. Romans 4:18 through 20 read. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” Do you see what Abraham did to be a father of a great nation? All he did was to believe in God’s promise. Of course, he obeyed also. Bu the main thing he did was that he believed.

The meaning of Abram’s name is ’a noble father’. His hope was to have a son and enjoy him and become a good father. But God had a bigger hope and vision for him that he would be a father of many nations. God’s hope and vision for Abram is far bigger and greater than that of Abram. Do you have this vision of God for you? Some of you might have it. But it could be shrinking when God’s promise doesn’t seem to be fulfilled. God wants us to renew his vision for our lives by putting our faith and trust in him. It is very important to keep this vision of God in our life. If we don’t have this vision of God fully alive we will lose our direction and focus and drift away.

Second, “I will make your name great.” What does this mean? This means God will make Abram great. The people who were building the city and the tower in Shinar wanted to make their name great. But God confused their language and they failed to be great. But in Abram’s case God will make him great. As God promised God made Abram great. He became God’s prophet and God’s friend. He became the father of many nations. All Jews, Christians and even Muslims respect him. Abram became the ancestor of the Messiah along with David and his name is recorded in Jesus’ genealogy. God honored him and he became very great in human history. All of us want to be great and be remembered even after we are long gone. How can we be great? We can be great when we put our faith and trust in God and follow him.

Third, “You will be a blessing.” This promise is closely related to another part of God’s promise that says, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” How can he be a blessing? He will be a blessing through his influence of faith and trust and obedience to God. But this promise looks forward to one of his descendants to come, Jesus. Apostle Paul interpreted this part of God’s promise in the book of Galatians chapter 3:8. It reads “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” Verse 14 also reads “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” These two verses teach us several important points related to the promises God gave Abram.

First, Christ redeemed us from the curses of the law and made us a blessing. In verses 2 and 3 the words ‘bless’ or ‘blessing’ are repeated 5 times. Why so? We studied in Genesis chapter 3 that when Adam and his wife sinned against God the whole world was cursed. We lived a cursed life because of Adam’s sin and our sins. But Christ redeemed us from all these curses and changed our lives into a blessing. God has given us blessing after blessing because of what Christ did for us. God has beautifully changed our lives to share the blessing with others by praying for them and serving them and sharing the gospel with them. When I think about how we lived before we met Christ and how we live now I can see a big difference even though we are still sinners. I can see how much God has blessed our lives.

Second, God’s promises and blessings for Abram are ours through faith in Jesus Christ. These two verses in the book of Galatians say that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. These two verses teach us that it is not just Abram who receives God’s promises and blessings but us also through our faith in Jesus Christ. Through our faith in Jesus we received the same promises and blessings Abram received. As a result, God has made us blessings. Not only that, he has given us the promise that he would make us a father and a mother of many nations. God has a great hope and vision for our lives. All these blessings have been possible because of our Lord Jesus Christ. And God doesn’t want to hold these blessings to us. He wants us to share God’s blessings with all people on earth so that they too may be blessed through us.

Fourth, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse.” This means that Abram will be the standard of God’s blessings and curses. If someone blesses Abram that person will be blessed by God. But if someone curses, attacks and tries to harm him God will punish the person. This part of promise means that God will be on Abram’s side. God will protect and guide and lead Abram when he follows God. Abram needs this assurance of God’s protection and guidance and leading to follow him confidently.

Genesis chapter 12 verses 2 and 3 are my life key verse. I accepted these promises when I was a junior in college. At that time, I was sick and lay on bed. While lying on the bed I read a message on Genesis. Then I accepted God’s promise that says “I will make you into a great nation.” When I accepted the promise I saw God’s vision that through me numerous spiritual descendants would come. The room I was in became bright with a golden color. In my senior year my class mates studied hard in the library but I went around the campus to invite students to Bible study. Then I got worried that I would stay behind them and become a loser. But the promise that God would protect, guide and lead my life gave me confidence and assurance in following him. Through the promise God gave me a world mission vision and I began to pray to be sent out to preach the gospel. I wanted to go to China and preach the gospel working at a factory. Instead God called me here through marriage. The vision that God gave me helped me to serve campus mission and endure all difficulties. It was 33 years ago that I accepted God’s promise. But as time went on and God’s promise doesn’t seem to be fulfilled in my life the vision that God gave me was diminishing. As I get older the vision seems to shrink. As I struggled with this message it was difficult to accept this promise. God’s hope for me looked too great and it seemed almost impossible for the hope to be true. But as I meditated on God’s promises I realized again that it is not me who will make myself into a great nation but God. I learn that all I have to do is to put my faith and trust in him and his promise and follow him to the end.

How did Abram respond to God’s calling? Look at verse 4. “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” Abram believed God’s promises and obeyed him. This is one of the greatest aspects of Abram. When God spoke Abram simply believed and trusted God and followed God’s direction. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. Abram 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. Abram didn’t leave anything behind. This shows that he obeyed God fully.

The original departure point was Ur which was his hometown. He travelled westward following the Euphrates river. The distance from Ur to Canaan was 955 miles. I googled to find out what city is close to 955 miles from Washington DC. It is Minneapolis in Minnesota which takes about 920 miles. Abram left Haran and travelled through the land of Canaan. When he arrived he found that the Canaanites were living there. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” God gave him an additional promise that he would give the land to his offspring. So, he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Abram’s building an altar shows that he accepted God’s promise regarding the land. It was his expression of thanks to God who led him safely. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent. There he built another altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. Through the altars Abram worshipped God and prayed to him.

Through today’s passage we learned about God’s promises for Abram. God has given us the same promise he gave Abram. God has a great hope and vision for us: he will make us into a great nation. I pray that we may put our faith and trust in him and follow him.

Let’s read the key verse 2.

“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.”