Like a light shining into darkness, God’s call has been placed on Abram’s life. The promise, echoing down in human history from Genesis 3:15, is still alive. Abram obeys. He leaves family, culture, traditions, and friends to travel to wherever God sends him. God leads him to Canaan. But there are problems. God has promised Land and Seed (Genesis 12:2). But Abram has no children and his wife is unable to naturally conceive. And when Abram enters the land, there are pagans there. Not just pagans, but twisted and perverse men who have nothing to do with Yahweh. But, Abram is in the land- the place where God will forever attach His promises to Abram’s descendants. How does Abram respond to all of this?
- First, God appears and confirms Him promise (7a). Abram has walked the land, and he has seen the beauty of it. But he’s also seen the challenges- the Canaanites. He’s seen the “Oak of Moreh,” often believed to be a place of divination and oracles among the pagans. And in that moment God does what only He can do. He appears and confirms His divine promise and presence to His servant. Abram owns none of the land (Acts 7:5). He has to live his life completely trusting God’s promise and walking by faith. God’s appearance serves two distinct purposes: First, it sustains Abram in the land of the Canaanites. If I could make a New Testament parallel, Abram didn’t have the completed Word of God. As believers, we also dwell in the midst of a pagan and perverse culture. But when life seems dark and evil seems to be winning, I can look to the Psalms and cry out to my God, or go to Paul and read his overwhelming confidence in the power of the Risen Lord. Abram has none of this. Second, God’s appearance serves to confirm God’s promises to Abram. We could probably have a healthy debate over what the ministry of the Holy Spirit looked like in the OT, but I don’t think this is the time or place. I believe something changed when Christ ascended and He sent the “Divine Comforter.” I know God’s promises will come true because He has given me a deposit, and that what began with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (among other things) will be brought to completion (Phil. 1:6)
- Second, Abram responds to the promises of God with a faith that manifests itself in worship (7b-9). At this point, Abram doesn’t question- the doubts will come later. In this moment, his faith has been reinforced, and his natural inclination is to build an altar. He doesn’t build a city or a tower, like his ancestors had done (Genesis chapter 11:1-9), but an altar to the One in Whom his entire life was now invested. He then travels east of Bethel and builds another altar (v. 8). There, Abram “called upon the name of the LORD.” This is a public event with a public proclamation. We too often have this picture of Abram on a mountainside all by himself, building this little altar and saying a prayer (probably with his hands raised!). But this is even more significant. This would have involved Abram’s entire clan (probably well over a hundred people at this point). He exalts the LORD, and in the midst of a dark place he makes the name of the LORD famous! Every time I read this, I am challenged about my own sinful tendency to try to blend in as much as possible with the world around me instead of being a scripture-infused, Holy Spirit indwelt man of God who lives in a dark place while publicly proclaiming faith in Yahweh.
I doubt Abram had any idea how the promises of God to him would be fulfilled in the long-term. He probably couldn’t dream that one of his sons would have the greatest name ever given (Phil. 2:9-10), and how one day people from every nation on earth would be blessed through him (Psalm 117). And yet, he took the steps of faith that God asked of him. Move, settle, believe, worship. A few reminders to New Testament believers from this text:
- We are pilgrims- this was Abram’s relationship to the promised land (Heb. 11:9-10), and it is our relationship to this world. We are looking to a better country- don’t get too attached to the things of this world.
- We are public proclaimers who proclaim a message that is counter-cultural. We stand in contrast to the world’s philosophy. Instead of self-preservation, we are called to self-sacrifice. Instead of comfort, we are called to ministry to others. Instead of security, we are called to faith.
- We are those who are elect- and that election requires a response of faith. When true faith is present, it is life-changing and brings about obedience and worship. Let’s make sure we get that order right!
Finally, hold on to this world loosely. Christ does not call everyone to leave everything, but He does call everyone to let go of everything.