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by Dan Bergman
Travel back with me over four thousand years to the desert plains of a place called Ur (modern-day southern Iraq). It is in this ancient place that our story begins. It is a journey full of trials, promises, and blessings. It is a story that tells the origin of a nation who came from a barren womb – the people from whom the Messiah would come. It contains the deed of ownership to the most contested piece of real estate on the planet. It is the story of how God, through a single man, would bless the whole world. It is the story of Abraham.
After the death of Haran his brother, Abram married Sarai. His father took him, Sarai, and the son of his deceased brother from Ur on the long journey to Haran (modern day Turkey), where they settled for some time. It was while they were in Haran, that something amazing happened! The Creator spoke to him! But, our awe is short-circuited. Perhaps we know this story too well.
For a moment, try to put yourself in Abram’s sandals. You are 75. You have a barren wife who seems beyond all hope of ever having children. Your brother died, and your father is taking you on a pilgrimage far from your home. You finally arrive, and then – a voice! Imagine the fear, the awe, and the immensity of hearing the voice of the Creator of the universe! What is He going to tell you?!
Lech-l’cha was the first words that Abram ever heard the Creator speak.
The phrase carries with it an intensity of purpose that could literally be translated as “Get up and go!” or “Arise, and get out of here!”
We must sense the enormity and difficulty of this command, and its ramifications.
Within the same sentence, the LORD proclaimed that He would give Abram a land, make of him a great nation, and bless the whole world through him.
In the New Testament, Galatians 3:6-9 tells us that this world-wide blessing is the gospel! It was preached unto Abraham roughly 2,000 years before Jesus was born!
“I will make of thee a great nation…”1 the booming indescribably majestic voice of the Creator proclaimed.
Abraham’s father would stay in Haran for 60 more years after Abraham left, and he would die there.
How would you have responded – would you have left?
How amazing it must have been for God to tell him that He would make him a blessing – to the whole earth! Imagine his astonishment at the Creator’s promise to bless those that bless him and curse those that curse him!2
As Abram, Sarai, and Lot (their nephew) journeyed southward to Canaan, the LORD spoke to him again, but this time He actually appeared unto him! God tells him that He will give this land to Abraham’s descendants! Abraham was so moved by the greatness of the Creator, that he built an altar right there – in the plain of Moreh.3 Moreh is in the modern-day West Bank, biblical Judea and Samaria. Try to wrap your mind around the reality of that Biblical truth! After continuing southward, he was once again stirred by the wonder of the Lord. He built another altar in a place called Beth-el. It would be in this place that he would call upon the personal name of the Creator – Yahweh or Jehovah.
In Beth-el there was not enough land to sustain all of the flocks. So Lot went to the plains of Jordan, and pitched his tent toward Sodom. Abram traveled toward Hebron. While there, the LORD spoke to him again, reaffirming His promise “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth.”4
Abraham goes to Hebron, and there builds another altar. He is consumed with God’s worthiness of worship.
After traversing a great portion of the Promised Land to rescue Lot from hostile armies, God speaks to Abram in a vision.
Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. …he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. …Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.5
Once again, Galatians sheds light on the life of Abraham, and tells us that this proclamation shows us that the only way to be justified is by faith.6 Peter’s statement in Acts chapter 3:25 – 26 provides insight. He speaks of Jesus as the Prophet that Moses spoke of, and then identifies how God’s age-old promise to Abraham regarding his seed bringing blessing to the whole world, would be fulfilled. Forgiveness, redemption, and salvation through Jesus the Messiah is exactly how the entire world would be blessed through Abraham! Romans 4 also expounds upon these amazing truths. The One who would bear the iniquities of the children of Abraham would be born to a virgin some 2,000 years later, as the Seed of Abraham to bring blessing to the whole world!
At some point after God speaks this incredible prophecy to Abram, and the unconditional covenant is made, Sarai tells him to take her hand-maid, Hagar as his wife, and that she may give Abram a child. Abram follows Sarai’s advice, and Hagar becomes pregnant.
As a response to this, Hagar despises Sarai and Sarai treats Hagar harshly. Things are a mess. After fleeing, Hagar is encouraged and blessed by the angel of the LORD. She then returns to Sarai, placing herself under her hands. Her son, Ishmael is born. Abram is 86. God would not speak to him again for 13 years.
Thirteen years pass and then the LORD appears unto Abram. He falls on his face. God reaffirms once again that He would make Abram a father of many nations. He changes his name from “High father” to “Father of a multitude.” Abram is now Abraham. God reiterates His previous promises and explains the physical sign of the covenant – circumcision.
There are those today, as there were in the first century, who believe their outward conformity to a standard, or their biological heritage merit some sort of righteousness. They might find it interesting to know when Abraham received the sign of God’s covenant (circumcision), it came after he was already pronounced “righteous” as a result of his faith. Romans 4:11 and 12 expound upon this.
God then tells Abraham something that he was apparently not expecting. Sarai (whose name will now be Sarah) would have a son, and that all of these promises within the covenant would be fulfilled through his lineage!
This was hard to swallow. Abraham was 99, and Sarah was 90! Abraham laughs in disbelief. He even begs God to recognize Ishmael. Although He does bless Ishmael, God reassures him of Sarah’s seed to be the child of the covenant, and proclaims the boy’s name – taken from the Hebrew verb “to laugh”, Isaac.
The LORD would appear once more to Abraham to reaffirm this promise. This time He is in a physical form, in the door of Abraham’s tent in the heat of the day, Genesis 18. This is none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of the Messiah, Jesus. When He speaks of the promise again, Sarah laughs within herself, finding the thought of bearing a child at this age impossible.
Isaac is born (just as God had said)!! Years follow. What is possibly the most difficult test of faith Abraham would ever face, would come from the voice of God – the voice he had learned to trust.
He tells Abraham to take Isaac “and offer him… for a burnt offering”7 Let that sink in.
Abraham rose up, took Isaac, two of his servants, and some wood on the three day journey up to Mount Moriah. He did not waver. We are in fact told in the book of Hebrews that Abraham believed so strongly in God’s promise that he thought that if he actually went through with sacrificing Isaac, God would raise Isaac from the dead!8
Isaac innocently asks Abraham where the lamb was for the offering, and he responds by telling his son that “God will provide Himself a lamb.”9 Isaac is willingly bound and placed on the altar with the wood. Just as Abraham’s knife was at the ready to take his son’s life, the angel of the LORD stops him! Abraham passed the test of fearing the Lord! A ram is then eyed by Abraham struggling in a thicket. It is offered in the stead of his son. He names the place Jehovah Jireh – Jehovah will provide. This is the same Hebrew word used by Abraham in verse 8 when Abraham says “God will provide.”
This is looking toward the future. The ram was not the fulfillment. After the ram is sacrificed and Abraham names the mountain, we are told that even at the time of the writing of Genesis, it was commonly said that in that very mountain it would yet be seen, or provided!
Some 2,000 years later, the perfect sinless Lamb of God, born of the seed of Abraham, God in human flesh, would hang on a tree on this same mountain. God truly provided Himself – the lamb.
The story of Abraham culminates in the coming of Messiah and blessing to the entire world, Genesis 12:3. You can be blessed, when, like Abraham, you believe God and accept His Son as your Redeemer.
1 Genesis 12:2