Genesis 12:4-9 “Abraham’s Faithful Obedience”
Redeemer Church Sunday School
Genesis 12:4-9 “Abraham’s Faithful Obedience”
Sunday, May 10, 2009 Bryan E. Walker
Read Genesis 12:1-9
Introduction and Review: In looking at this passage today we need to keep in mind how absolutely foundational these 9 verses are to Israel and Judaism and for Christianity. God is here revealing himself to a particular man and making a covenant with him that will eventually result in the birth of Jesus, the Savior.
The outline of this text is 1) v.1-3 God’s Call of Abram; 2) v.4-5 Abram’s Obedience; 3) Abram going through the land and worshiping the LORD. The main point of the text today as we focus on vss. 4-9 is that Abram believed God and demonstrated his faith by obedience.
When did God call Abram? When he was in paganville, an idolater, childless, already old at 75. How did God call him? God’s Word- The Lord said to Abram… Why did God call? To demonstrate his grace and love for Abram, to save Abram, to bless the whole world, to begin redemptive history.
God’s command had two parts- 1) Go from your country, your kindred and your father’s house, and 2) go to the land I shall show you.
God’s promise had 7 parts- 1) I will make of you a great nation; 2) I will bless you; 3) and make your name great; 4) you will be a blessing; 5) I will bless those who bless you; 6) him who dishonors you I will curse; 7) in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Warren Wiersbe writes, p.14, “We are not saved by making promises to God; we are saved by believing God’s promises to us.”
I. Abram’s Faithful Obedience in vss. 4-5
A. Faith Starts Our Journey v.4-5
1. After Terah’s death in Haran in 11:32 Abram begins his journey in earnest. It may have been a half-hearted obedience, or a compromised obedience in leaving Ur with his father and family, but now Abram is leading and obeying. Half-heartedness, failure to follow through, ruins many a Christian and many a minister. We begin, but have others hanging on, dragging us down, causing us to halt our journey short of the goal. We all begin our journey as sinners and sin weighs us down. But we must constantly seek to cast off that which hinders us. Jesus tells us in Matt. 6:24 “No one can serve two masters” and James writes in 1:6 “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
2. So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…This is a similar phrasing that is used of Noah’s obedience in 6:22; 7:9, 16; and of Moses in Ex. 39:43; 40:16. It doesn’t say, So Abram went as he saw fit; or, So Abram went as Sarai told him; or, as Lot directed him. Abram at this point is obeying and trusting the Lord exclusively. Instant obedience is the way of faith; following the Lord’s word is the path of obedience.
The path toward blessing and to true worship of God always lies in following what the Lord tells us to do. We get that primarily from studying the Bible for the broad principles of how to live the Christian life. But what about our decisions for things like taking or leaving a job, dating and marrying someone? We wish the Lord would sometimes give us a direct word like he gave Abram, but that is not the case. How can we know the will of God?
When you are in the Word, and obeying what you already know from the word, when you are in a good church and are held accountable and are serving faithfully, then you are already in God’s will. There is a lot of freedom in God’s will. Sometimes he does give us very clear direction by open doors or closed, unique circumstances that guide us into these important decisions. And we trust that he is leading us. But sometimes there is no clear guidance and we just have to act prudently and even go with a subjective feeling. And sometimes we are wrong and we wonder where was God in the process. Trusting and obeying God, and making decisions does not guarantee a pain free existence. We can do everything in faith and it all makes sense and yet still fall apart.
3. …and Lot went with him. This nephew seems to be emphasized in this story more than seems reasonable. Lot is mentioned 4 times since 11:27. Why? Two reasons: a)Lot is the only grandson of Terah mentioned and, with Sarai barren, Lot may be the only heir of Terah. In other words, Lot may be a veiled threat to the promise of God to Abram in the view of the broader family. Also, b) the four mentions of Lot are a foreshadowing of future problems perhaps. There are 3 stories involving Lot and trouble- the division of the land, the war with the kings of the east and his capture, and the judgment upon Sodom. Bruce Waltke says that Lot goes with Abram voluntarily and this is not a violation of the command given to Abram. Most other commentators disagree.
4. Abram was seventy-five years old– from time to time Moses records Abram’s age, usually at key points in his life. Here at 12:4 as he begins his journey, then at 16:16 we see he was 86 when Hagar bore him Ishmael. Next at 17:1 when he was 99 God promises him a son through Sarah who was 90. In 17:24 he was 99 when he was circumcised. In 21:5 he was 100 when Isaac was born. Finally in 25:7 he died at 175 yrs. Moses does the same to a lesser extent for Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
But in this particular place, the age being stated is not just because this is a key point, but the age is also an obstacle. Previous obstacles include leaving with his whole family and being led by Terah, having a childless, barren wife and a tag along nephew who causes trouble. There will be one more obstacle later. He is beginning his great calling, his journey of faith at 75. Well praise god that he calls older people too! How old was Moses when God called him to his great task? 80! How old was Jesus when he started his ministry? About 30.
5. vs5 And Abram took…and they set out…they came to Canaan. Notice how similar this is to the passage in 11:31?
Terah took Abram Abram took Sarai
They went forth-to go into Canaan they set out to go to Canaan
They came to Haran-settled they came to Canaan
Moses is here contrasting and comparing the original start of this journey led by Terah that ended prematurely in Haran with the journey of faith led by God that finally ended in Canaan. This journey has been transformed now from a migration to a pilgrimage of faith.
Faithfulness to God’s Word is the difference. God can tell you to do something that many others are doing and you can obey accidentally, just going along without faith, without a desire to obey God and glorify him. I don’t think accidental obedience counts for anything. Paul says that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” in Rom. 14:23. If Abram was merely going along with a migration that his father was leading, it was not faith. If he was exercising faith in the midst of large migration that his father was leading, then it was pleasing to God.
How often do we obey by accident instead of on purpose by faith, out of love for Christ? I’m not against habitual obedience, but we miss a blessing if we don’t deliberately obey for God’s glory.
6. and all their possessions that they had gathered- apparently business had been very good in Haran for this is an indication of some wealth. As nomads, to acquire wealth and then to take it with you would imply enough pack animals to haul it all. Already then, God is blessing Abram. While certain Health & Wealth preachers can latch onto this and say that wealth is therefore promised to all the children of Abraham, I would say the text does not teach that. It does indicate that being faithful and wealthy can occur but we must also be careful to understand that the love of money is the root of much evil and that covetousness is a sin. Nonetheless, it is not a bad thing, and can be a blessing of God, to be successful in business and acquire much wealth.
7. and the people that they had acquired in Haran- Allan Ross, p.265, says this does not include the word for slaves, so it may mean proselytes. It could be hired men as well, or, because we do see in 14:14 that Abram had 318 trained men, born in his house, that Abram was leading a larger migration than just his tiny family. He is already then, a powerful sheik.
B. Faith Gets Us To the Goal v.5b-9
1. they came to the land of Canaan- this time they actually reached the objective.
2. Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.- the geographic landmarks and the route show up time and again in the story. Abram goes from Shechem to Bethel and Ai then south to the Negev and in the next story to Egypt as well. Jacob travels to the same places and Israel, under Joshua, conquers Canaan and the same places are mentioned yet again. His actions of traversing the land are themselves prophetic as he is claiming the land that Joshua and Israel will indeed claim, hundreds of years later.
The oak of Moreh– the Canaanites worshiped under the large oak trees. Notable oaks on a prominent hill became famous gathering places.
3. the Canaanites were in the land- here is the last main impediment to Abram’s journey. The land of promise was occupied by the Canaanites who worshiped false gods in a very depraved manner. This is an insert by a later editor because it would be redundant for Moses to include this in his day.
Folks, there are Canaanites in our land. The worldly people around us are opposed to our faith and our way of life and it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. The culture war that is raging around us is devastating. In recent weeks the legislatures or courts of Iowa, Maine and New Hampshire have legalized homosexual marriage. The US House of Representatives has passed a Hate Crimes bill HR 1913 that could open the door to persecuting those of us who say that homosexual behavior is a sin.
But despite the fact that we are opposed by the Canaanites at every turn, they are not the enemy! We must love them and share the gospel with them. They have eternal souls that will go to hell if they are not repenting and trusting in Jesus.
4. Then the LORD appeared to him and said… Three times the LORD appears to Abram- here, 17:1 when Isaac is promised and in 18:1 when the LORD tells him about the destruction of Sodom. Ch. 15 is a stated as a vision. He appears twice to Isaac and once to Jacob.
Growing up in Oklahoma near Tulsa, I well remember Oral Roberts claiming to have seen an 800 foot tall Jesus telling him to build the City of Faith Hospital and Medical Center. Millions of Christians around the world contributed tens of millions of dollars to build what has turned out to be a debacle. I do not know if the Lord makes personal appearances anymore, but I am very cautious of those who claim to have had these kinds of visits. Always compare what is claimed with the Word of God for God will never contradict his own Word.
5. To your offspring I will give this land- there is that twin promise of offspring and land again that will be throughout the Scriptures. Notice also that it was to “your offspring” not Lot’s offspring; so if there was any doubt about who would pass on the lineage of Terah it is settled now.
6. he built there an altar- Abram did not just use what the Canaanites had, he rejected their altars and worship forms. He built his own altar, thus claiming the land for the LORD and defiling the place of Canaanite worship. In the pagan worldview of the time, the land and deity are inseparable, so Abram’s act claims the land for the Lord. Notice that those people back in ch. 11 at Babel built a tower, but Abram, the man of faith, builds an altar. This verse also hearkens back to Noah coming off the Ark, the first thing he did was to build an altar and sacrifice to the LORD in 8:20.
7. vs 8 Bethel and Ai- Bethel means house of God and Ai means ruin. As long as Abraham continues walking by faith he will not come to ruin but he will dwell with God. So too for us, the Christian life is fraught with many perils, we are constantly between the house of God and the ruins of sin. This is humbling. We cannot ever seem to maintain the balance we need, we stray into pride, sloth, anger, lust, greed etc. so easily. We can stray into legalism or antinomianism. Our hearts can grow cold or our enthusiasm can lead us astray. As long as we are in this flesh we must walk by faith not by sight and trust Jesus to hold on to us for we shall surely not always hold on to him.
8. and pitched his tent- though God had promised him this land, it was for his descendants. He was to remain a nomad, a Bedouin, a wandering sojourner, a pilgrim. The only land he would buy was a grave for his beloved Sarah. The tent acts as a sign of separation between Abram, the man of faith, and the Canaanites. Though the land has been promised to him, he is not a citizen of their country. His home is the City of God.
The Christian life is to be a life of separation from the ways of the world. We are to be in the world, as salt and light, but we are not to be of the world. The tent of Abram demonstrates that he was not putting down roots in the culture which was pagan, vile, and sensual. Folks, one of the hazards of having been the dominant culture for hundreds of years is that when the culture begins to change, we can become so complacent that we change along with the culture. We have inadvertently established roots in what is now a Canaanite culture. The Barbarians are not at the gates, they are running the White House, Congress, Courts, Universities, Media, schools, etc.
Our culture is changing before our very eyes! With the aggressive homosexual movement, with the breakdown of the family, with the wild sexualization of our everyday lives in the media, with rampant greed so that men will run their companies into the ground so that they can keep their bonuses, with government leader after leader caught failing to pay their taxes even as they seek to raise the taxes on the rest of us. This world is not our home. We can expect it to get worse. Meanwhile, we are to walk by faith, minister to hurting people, share the gospel faithfully-without compromise-worship the Lord faithfully, live an obedient life and build up the body of Christ, and be salt and light. We are but poor wayfaring strangers travelin’ this world of woe.
9. And there he built an altar to the LORD- the tent and the altar go together. One is the symbol of sacrifice the other of consecration and separation. Worship and discipleship, faith and obedience, they must always go together. Our way of worship will be so contrary to the ways of the world that it will disgust them. In our world good has become evil and evil has become good.
10. and called upon the name of the name of the LORD- worship included at least building an altar upon which we presume he made a sacrifice, and invoking the name of the LORD- prayer. Can you picture the scene? Abraham and all those people he had already acquired, Lot and his wife, Sarai, all gathered around the altar as he makes the sacrifice and cries out to the God who has called him, appeared to him, led him, blessed him and made promises to him. He is proclaiming the attributes and actions of the LORD. Ross writes, p.267, “he ‘made proclamation of the LORD by name’ [wayyiqra besem YHWH]. This expression, first used in Genesis 4:26, refers to the public proclamation of faith in the LORD. The expression is used in the Bible for prayer or for praise, but in the Mosaic material it seems to be broader.”
Notice that the LORD had promised to make Abram’s name great, yet here we find Abram proclaiming, calling upon the name of the LORD, making the LORD’s name great. Any greatness that we have is derived from the Lord’s work in us. If we aspire to greatness, make much of God, draw close to Christ, stick in His Word and allow the Holy Spirit to fill you, lead you and search your heart. He is the Sun, we are but the moon, we have no light in ourselves, we reflect his light.
To call on the name of the LORD is to pray, to seek him, to proclaim your loyalty to him in the face of the Canaanites. It is to intercede for those you are responsible for as well as for those who oppose you. It is to invoke blessings on you and yours, and curses on those who persist in opposing you. It is claiming the promises in a formal way of worship.
I must give a lengthy quote from Luther at this point: Luther’s Works, Vol. 2, Lectures on Genesis Chapters 6-14, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, translated by George V. Schick, Concordia Publishing: St. Louis, 1960 (pp.286-287) “Here you should note the godliness of the holy patriarch. Even though the people who lived at Moreh were beginning to hate him chiefly on account of his religion, yet this does not cause Abraham to give up his devotion to his religion. On the contrary, he erects an altar on this mountain, which is midway between Bethel and Ai, in order to perform his duty as bishop; that is, he instructs his church concerning the will of God, admonishes them to lead a holy life, strengthens them in their faith, fortifies their hope of future blessing, and prays with them. The Hebrew verb includes all these things.”
“…in this passage Moses is speaking of the entire ministry, just as ‘calling upon God’ itself includes the entire ministry. ‘How are men to call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe it there is no preacher?’ (Rom. 10:14). Hence the meaning is: He cried in the name of the Lord; that is, he instructed his people about the name of the Lord, that they might learn that God is merciful and benevolent toward the human race, since he promises a Seed by whom his wrath is to be removed and the eternal blessing that was lost in Paradise through sin is to be restored. And upon this acknowledgment of God there follows the exhortation that in all dangers we should look to this merciful God, pray for his help, and call upon Him. Now go ask our popes and bishops: ‘Who anointed Abraham to fill this priestly office among his people?’”
I would suggest that America is on the brink of a very dark time and we need, more than ever, to be calling on the name of the LORD. Are you able, as was Abram, to be your family’s priest should the need arise? Are you able to proclaim the name of the Lord?
11. Abram journeyed on toward the Negeb- Abram moves from north to south throughout the entire land, claiming it according to the promises of God. The Negeb in the furthest south area is very dry, only fit for the barest of pastoral grazing. It is also the gateway to Egypt which is where the next story will take us.
Conclusion: the main idea is that when God called, Abraham obeyed. His faith is demonstrated not by a long speech or reasoned argument, but in how he lived his life. He did leave Haran behind and his extended family. His faith is demonstrated by Moses in the key word in vs. 4 wayyelek he went, got out, departed. Its correspondence with the same word used the original call, Go from…makes it the main idea. God said and Go and Abram went. The word is used again in vs. 5 and again later in vs.9 “journeyed” to the Negeb.
Have you the faith of Abram? He had a pagan background and upbringing, had very little revelation it would seem, compared to what we have with the whole Bible and 2000 years of Christian history and prior to that 2000 years of Israel’s history. Would we be able to face the obstacles Abram faced and still be able to build an altar and call on the name of the Lord?