Genesis 11:27-12:9 “When God Calls”

Posted on April 4, 2009. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School

Genesis Class 04-05-2009

Genesis 11:27-12:9 “When God Calls”

Bryan Walker


Read Genesis 11:27-12:9; Mark 4:1-20


Intro and Review: Last week we began looking at this passage by examining the historical and literary background, asking the question- Was Abram a real, historical person? In answering this question affirmatively we looked at the nature of historical evidence and how after ch.11 we enter into the historical period, that is, there are written accounts that support and prove the general trustworthiness of the Genesis stories even though we have no direct evidence outside of Scripture that Abram lived. A lot of the cultural details that Moses includes in the stories are borne out by other records. The science of archeology has also supported our claims that Moses is accurate. Prior to Gen. 11 is the prehistoric period and we do not have much hard data and no written accounts, hence the name pre-historic.


The main idea from last week was that we not only believe there was a real Abram, and that the Genesis account tells us the truth about Abram, but that those who do not accept a real Abram do so more out of a priori reasons. They have a worldview that seeks to eliminate God and therefore they automatically discount anything the Bible says even though they treat other religious texts from the ancient period respectfully. Thus we see that Paul was correct in Romans 1:18 when he states, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”


We quickly studied the placement of the Abram stories in Genesis by Moses and saw that it is the 6th toledoth which means 5 before Abram and 5 after Abram, thus putting Abram at the center of the story of Genesis.


Finally, we looked at how three of the world’s major religions look back to Abraham. Certainly he is the father of the Jews. Christians look to him as an example of faith and an ancestor of Jesus. The muslims point to him as a model muslim who worshiped allah and was an ancestor of muhammad.


This week I want us to get more into the text itself and seek to understand what Moses wrote and what he meant to teach his people. Then we will seek to apply it to ourselves using the parable of the soils from Mark 4. THE MAIN IDEA: When God calls, we must obey and follow. God’s Calling is Sovereign, it is a Command, it is Gracious, it requires a Faith Response, and it is Rewarding.


I.                   Terah’s Family

A.     Ur of the Chaldeans

1.      Ur is traditionally identified as the home of Terah. This city, located in southern Iraq, has been excavated by C.L.Wooley in 1922-34 and was one of the principal cities of ancient Sumer, the cradle of civilization.  

2.      Resources on Ur, Sumer, Akkad, ancient Mesopotamia and the time of Abraham from my personal library (available to loan to members of Redeemer and Friends)-

(1)          Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization, Revised Edition, by A. Leo Oppenheim. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, ILL. 1964, 1977 (pp.445).

(2)          A History of the Ancient Near East ca. 3000-323 BC, 2nd ed. By Marc Van De Mieroop. Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, UK 2007 (pp.341).

(3)          Ancient Iraq by Georges Roux. Penguin Books: London, England, 1964 (pp.547).

(4)          Archeology and the Old Testment by Merrill F. Unger. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI. 1954 (pp.339).

(5)          Civilization Before Greece and Rome by HWF Saggs. Yale University Press: New Haven, CT. 1989 (pp.322).

(6)          History Begins at Sumer by Samuel Noah Kramer. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 1956 (pp.388).

(7)          Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City by Gwendolyn Leick. Penguin Books: London, England, 2007 (pp.356).

(8)          Readings from the Ancient Near East by Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI. 2002 (pp.240).

(9)          The Ancient Orient: An Introduction to the Study of the Ancient Near East by Wolfram von Soden. William B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI. 1985, 1994 English translation (pp.263).

(10)      The Babylonian Genesis by Alexander Heidel. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Ill. 1942 (pp.166).

(11)      The Cambridge Ancient History volume II Part 1 The Middle East and the Aegean Region c.1800-1380 B.C. edited by IES Edwards, CJ Gadd, NGL Hammond, and E. Sollberger. Cambridge University Press: London, England, 1973 (pp.868).

(12)      The Story of Civilization, Part 1 Our Oriental Heritage by Will Durant. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1954 (pp.1047).

(13)      The Sumerians by C. Leonard Wooley. WW Norton & Co: New York, 1965 (pp.198).

(14)      The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character by Samuel Noah Kramer. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Ill. 1963 (pp.355).

(15)      The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas edited by EM Blaiklock. Zondervan Publishing: Grand Rapids, MI 1969 (pp.505).

3.      In 15:7 the LORD informs Abram that it was He who brought him out of Ur. Even though Abram was perhaps following his father, and his father was probably not a follower of the LORD, it was the LORD who directed their paths. Acts 7 informs us that the call of Abram in ch. 12 occurred while he still lived in Ur. The move could have been Abram’s idea, or maybe Terah’s. The Elamites destroyed Ur in 1950BC which is close enough to the time of Abram’s journey that it might be one of the causes of Terah wanting to leave as well.

4.      Chaldeans is an added update much later. They were not called Chaldeans until about the 9th century BC.

B.     Family relationships

1.      Marrying close family relations was practiced at this time. Endogamy is the technical term. Sarai was Abram’s half sister we find out in 20:12. Milcah married her uncle Nahor in 11:29. Sarai means princess and Micah is related to the word for queen. Milcah’s granddaughter is Rebekah, born to Milcah’s son, Bethuel, and she marries Abraham’s son Isaac. Milcah’s grandson, Laban, has two daughters, Leah and Rachel who marry Abram’s grandson, Jacob.

2.      Why is Sarai not featured here as Milcah? She is not given a beginning and she is mentioned as being childless. To the people of that day this would communicate meaninglessness, a person with no beginning and no future. Her barrenness is a constant part of the story until the birth of Isaac in her old age. Barrenness, however, as the patriarchal stories unfold, is a sign of God’s blessing, a sign of being of the elect. Look at Rebekah in 25:21; and Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob. This can even be seen as a metaphor of Israel who was spiritually barren, corrupted by legalism, occupied by Rome, but bore the Messiah, Jesus.


Application: When we are weak and “barren” we can have hope because our God uses the weak and barren in surprising ways. We must always respond in faith, even when we see others being “fruitful” while we seem to be “unfruitful”. Paul says in 2Cor.12:10 “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There is a theology of strength through weakness and humility that goes all throughout the Bible. Moses was a wanted man, an old man who had spent 40 years with sheep, who could not speak eloquently and who was meek. Yet God used him to lead his people out of Egypt and found a new nation. David was the youngest son, yet God chose him to be king. Jesus came in the weakness of human flesh to be abused, scorned and crucified to accomplish his great work of salvation. Never underestimate what God can do with a humble, seemingly barren old woman like Sarai…or with somebody like YOU!


Here is a great old hymn that speaks to this:


“Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely. He sees and knows all the way you have trod; never alone are the least of his children; have faith in God! Have faith in God


Have faith in God when your prayers are unanswered, your earnest plea he will never forget; wait on the Lord, trust his Word and be patient. Have faith in God, he’ll answer yet.


Have faith in God in your pain and your sorrow, His heart is touched by your grief and despair; Cast all your cares and your burdens upon him, and leave them there, oh, leave them there.


Have faith in God though all else fail about you; Have faith in God, He provides for his own. He cannot fail tho all kingdoms shall perish, he rules, he reigns upon his throne.



Have faith in God, He’s on his throne; Have faith in God he watches o’er his own. He cannot fail, he must prevail; have faith in God, have faith in God.


“Have Faith in God” B.B. McKinney 1934, Broadman Press, The Baptist Hymnal, 1991ed., Convention Press: Nashville, TN. #405.


C.     Setting Out for Canaan

1.      Vs. 28 Haran died- Haran died young in the presence of his father. It is always a horribly sad and difficult time for a parent to bury a child. Prior to our day and time, burying small children was a matter of course, high infant mortality rates were the norm in pre-antibiotic society. But generally speaking if a child makes it to his/her 10th birthday they had a good chance of living a long life if they were not a slave. Backbreaking, relentless labor in harsh conditions would shorten your life. So for an adult with children like Haran to die was not the norm. Haran’s two children that are listed include Lot, adopted by Abram, and Milcah, given in marriage to Nahor, her uncle.


2.      Vs.31 Terah took …Abram…and Lot…and Sarai (but not Nahor) Why did Nahor not go with the rest of the family? Nahor was the one who stayed. Perhaps he had no faith for the journey. He stayed in the land of idolatry. In looking at Mk.4 perhaps we can say that he is like the soil on the beaten down path that is hard and the birds flew in and ate the seed scattered there. We know that Scripture mentions in Josh. 24:14 that Abram’s family were idolatrous and that later, when Jacob leaves Laban, Rachel stole the household gods. The call of God upon Abram was to “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house”. Perhaps, then, Nahor wanted to stay in idolatrous Ur. He was not interested in the least with Abram’s call.


Later in Gen. 24 we see Abraham’s servant going back to their old homeland to find a wife for Isaac. He goes to “the city of Nahor” in 24:10. We are not sure if it is a city founded by and named after Nahor, if it refers to simply the place Nahor lived. The implication then is that Nahor did eventually leave Ur and settle in another place.


3.      Vs. 31 shows that Terah set out for Canaan, but stopped in Haran, which was way out of the path to Canaan. When it says that “Terah took Abram his son…” there is an implication of authority, in that Abram was still under the authority of his father. The word is also used in the marriage relationship in vs. 29. Was Terah part of the call to Abram to go to Canaan? If so, why did he get sidetracked? Keep in mind that Abram’s family and background was idolatrous (Josh.24:14). When it says that Terah “settled there” in Haran, the meaning is negative, it casts doubt on his decision to stop in Haran. This sets up a negative contrast with the positive obedience of Abram in 12:4. The last time the words “settled there” were used were back in 11:2 where people settled there in the plain of Shinar and built the Tower of Babel. Abraham was to be a sojourner, he would not come to settle in any one place, nor would he own any other land other than his tomb. Terah was the man who stopped. Was Terah a believer or a pretender? Was he like the seed that was scattered on the rocky soil and sprouted up quickly, growing quickly, but then withering in the heat from lack of depth in its roots. Abram’s call in 12:1-9 tells him to leave his family. Was this a failure on Abram’s part or Terah’s?

4.      Vs.31 and Lot…his grandson…Lot is Terah’s grandson, but perhaps adopted by Abraham, or, at least watched after by Abram. And Lot needed a lot of watching after apparently.Lot would be the one who chose to settle by Sodom, then he moves into Sodom, then he is sitting in the gates of the city as a leader in that wicked city, finally he is dragged out of Sodom by two angels before it is destroyed. Lot is the one who strayed. In Mk.12 he would be the one who grew up but the thorns and weeds choked the fruit out of his life. Though he associated with a man of great faith, his is a borrowed faith that eventually fails and he ends in sin and disgrace. There is some hope for his soul because of 2Peter2:7-8.

5.      Vs12:4 So Abram went as the LORD had told him… Abram is the one who obeyed.

6.       Application: There are those who reject the call and stay in their sinful condition, like Nahor. There are those who may seem to be called, like Terah, but get sidetracked easily and choose to settle in Haran instead of continuing the journey to the Promised Land. There are those who follow for a long time but do not finish well and end up straying into gross sin, like Lot. We must fix our eyes on Jesus and never lose sight of the goal of holiness, Christ-likeness and, ultimately, heaven. That would be like Abraham.

7.      And Terah died in Haran. For those whose home is this life and this world, death awaits. For those whose sights are set on the land of promise, they shall be rewarded with seeing God. All those who deny God and suppress the truth, they shall not even find consolation in death.

II.                God’s Call

A.     God’s Call Is Sovereign, it is a command

1.      Gen.12:1 “Now the LORD said to Abram, Go…” This is a command, not a suggestion. The LORD is revealing himself to Abram at this point. There is no indication that Abram knew of the LORD prior to this experience, and, as mentioned earlier, the family was steeped in idolatry. The LORD displays his sovereign authority in choosing Abram to reveal himself and in commanding him to leave his land and family.

2.      Similarly, in Mark 1 we see the Lord Jesus issuing a call to the 4 fishermen to leave their profession and families to follow him. Even though from John’s Gospel we can get the idea that the fishermen had some contact with John the Baptist and had heard Jesus preach before, nonetheless, when Jesus called it required an instantaneous obedience, like Abram’s call.

3.      When the Lord calls us it is again, not a suggestion, it is an authoritative call, a command. Unfortunately, American Christians get the idea of volunteerism from our culture and transport it into the Church. We think that we choose God and his salvation as totally free agents, when we are in reality just like Abram, steeped in idolatry and needing God to reveal himself to us sovereignly.

B.     God’s Call is Gracious

1.      When God called Abram is there any indication that Abram was searching for God, working to find God or deserved God’s call in any way? No, he was an idolater! The Call comes unbidden, unsought for, undeserved. The Call is all of Grace from first to last.

2.      When Moses was called of God to lead his people out of Egypt, the call comes not when Moses is earnestly seeking God, but when he is in the wilderness herding sheep. When God sends Samuel to anoint David, he graciously calls the youngest son. It was unexpected, undeserved, all of grace.

3.      God’s call to you for salvation and discipleship is all of grace. You and I are both sinners, enemies of God, as Paul says in Romans 3, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Jesus says in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. And Paul writes in Eph.2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing ; it is the gift of God.”

C.     God’s Call Requires a Faith Response

1.      When God commands he expects an obedient response out of faith. Gen. 12:4 “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Later in 15:6 we see that Abram “believed the LORD , and he counted it to him as righteousness.” As Noah trusted in the LORD and built the Ark so Abram trusted in God and left his home in Ur and eventually his family in Haran. Along with obeying the LORD we never see Abram worshiping idols. He served the Lord exclusively

2.      Time and again, in Israel’s history we see the people or the kings not obeying, not having faith. In Exodus 20 the Law is given to Israel but very soon they grow tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain and they go back to idolatry.

3.      When Jesus calls us, he calls us to take up our cross daily and follow him in Lk. 9:27. We are called in John 3:16 to believe. Our obedience to Christ is not in an effort to win our salvation, to earn our place with God; we are obeying out of gratitude to God for what he has done for us in Christ. Our faith response is rooted in love for the Savior.

D.    Answering God’s Call is Rewarding

1.      God promised Abram land, family and blessing in 12:1-3. The promise of land ties in with the creation account and the Garden of Eden. The promise of family is linked also to the blessing of fruitfulness in 1:28 and 9:7. The blessing will be for all the families in the earth, which relates to the coming Messiah, Jesus.

2.      Though Abram was childless and never owned any land except his own tomb, he still believed God. Heb.11:8-12. Abram accumulated wealth in this world, and did eventually have a son, two sons, (and even more through Keturah and his other concubines). But the real fruit was in his descendants and the nation of Israel.

3.      In Christ, the descendant of Abraham, we have the riches of God’s grace lavished upon us (Eph.1:7-8).



The New American Commentary Series, Genesis11:27-50:26, Vol.1B by Kenneth A. Matthews. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN. 2005 (pp.24-37, 83-104).

Be Basic-Genesis 1-11 Believing the Simple Truth of God’s Word by Warren W. Wiersbe. Chariot Victor Publishing: Colorado Springs, 1998 (p.141).

Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Genesis, by Derek Kidner. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill. 1967 (pp.111-112).

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2, “Genesis” by John H. Sailhamer. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1990 (pp.108-111).




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