The Basis for Confidence
God’s call to Abram marks an important shift in the biblical narrative. Genesis 1–11 presents seemingly false starts to God’s salvation plan. The story of Adam and Eve ends in sin. The new lineage from Seth to Noah ends in such great sin that God brings the flood. Chapter 11 tells of humanity’s attempt through the building of the tower of Babel. With the call of Abraham, God foreshadows His plan which culminates in Jesus.
Though the story is a specific call to Abram, it includes all who follow the same Lord that Abram did. It also serves as a template for a response as the Lord calls each of His followers to action.
God calls us to follow Him. (1–3)
God offers Abram a fivefold blessing. God will direct Abram to a new land. God will make Abram into a great nation. God will give Abram a great name. God will protect Abram from the contempt of others. God will bless others through Abram. God offers a similar blessing to Jacob (Gen. 27:29) and all Israel through the mouth of Balaam (Num. 24:9), but only here does God use the first person. “I will” appears six times in this section. This is God’s plan and His covenant with Abram and his descendants and ultimately for all people.
We respond to God’s call with obedience. (4–6)
It might seem like it was so easy for Abram. The passage simply says that “Abram went.” Yet, look at the cost of Abram’s obedience. He had to leave his homeland, his extended family and his father. Abram’s father, Terah, was 145 years old when Abram left for Canaan. Terah lived another 60 years after Abram left. Abram gave up 60 years with his father.
Abram already knew that his wife was unlikely to have children, so his father’s house would have been his only connection to an extended family. Still, Abram obeyed God’s call and left, taking only his wife and nephew from all his family members. He lived the next 25 years without connection to an ancestor or a descendent, making it difficult to trust God’s promise of becoming a great nation.
Abram could make this costly act of obedience because of his complete trust in God. Trust enables obedience. Obedience exemplifies trust. Trust without obedience is not really trust. Obedience without trust is coercion or foolishness. Trust and obedience together, in response to God’s call, are a blessing.
A relationship of trust leads us to worship. (7–8)
Abram visited two specific places: Shechem and Bethel. They were already important places of worship for the Canaanites. Abram’s descendants continued to use these sites for worship by Jacob (Gen. 24–25) and by Joshua in the conquest of Canaan (Josh. 10–15).
At Shechem, God fulfilled the first part of His promise to Abram, that He would show him a new land. God said that this is the land that Abram’s descendants would receive. Abram responds with an act of worship by building an altar.
One need not be concerned that Abram used worship sites that were also used by worshippers of other gods. This was very early in God’s plan to set apart a special people. The same geographical features that made these sites appealing to other worshippers also made them great sites for the worship of the Lord.
Next, Abram settled for a time at Bethel and again built an altar to the Lord and actively worshipped Him there.
By Daryl Watts
Watts is a church consultant in Fresno, California.