In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
By way of quick review, remember that we talked about how we can understand the story of the Bible being divided into several parts.
- Beginnings – Creation and Sin
- The primordial history
- Israel – Abraham through Exile
- Genesis 12 through the rest of OT
- Jesus – God’s Salvation
- The Church – New Israel
- Acts and Epistles
- Endings – Or new beginnings
We wrapped up the primordial history a couple of weeks ago with the story of Noah. You’ll notice, however, that we’ve skipped over the Tower of Babel story, which I encourage you to read through. So, a few of the key ideas that we’ve covered through the primordial history:
- Creation – all things are created by the divine will of a sovereign God,
- Sin – we see that, unlike the worldview of Israel’s neighbours, the fallenness and brokenness of creation, including ourselves, is due to our insistence on living outside of the plan of God, choosing to follow our own wisdom,
- Judgment – through the stories of early humanity, we see that sin has consequences, that if we pursue a world without God, then what we inevitably get is a world without God,
In the primordial history, this judgment is seen ultimately in the story of Noah and the flood. And yet, even in spite of God’s judgment, what we see is that humankind inevitably continues to fall further into sin, as we see in the story of the tower of Babel .
Where we are today is the beginnings of part 2 of our story – the story of Israel. This obviously is the largest part of the bible in terms of number of pages, so there’s an awful lot going on. But the main part of what we are doing is trying to make sense of God’s story (and then locating ourselves within that story). So, though there is a lot to dig into, what we will pay attention to in the story of Israel is:
- God’s intention to save a people for Himself
- God’s continuing grace in the midst of an unfaithful people.
So let’s take a look at our passage today. In terms of plot, what’s going on it’s pretty straightforward:
- God calls Abram to leave his homeland and go to Canaan
- Abram goes.
In terms of the significance of this part of the story – what does it mean; what are the themes – there are a few things that we should pay attention to.
As we mentioned, a significant theme in this part of the story is God’s creation of a people for himself. It has been argued that this, creating a people, is in fact the key theme of the Old Testament. We cannot understand the O.T. story without understanding this and what it entails. Now in this culture, the Ancient Near East, a people (or a kingdom) requires several things:
- A common land
- A common people
- A common constitution
- A political leader
As we read the history of the nation of Israel, we will see these things come into play as Israel establishes itself. However, though Israel has some things in common with its neighbours, unlike its neighbours, it is intended to be a theocratic nation/kingdom. Specifically, Israel is the people of Yahweh. Therefore, though we see commonalities, we have to pay attention to the differences.
As we consider our story today, the genesis or birth of this people/kingdom/nation, it’s significant that Abram and Sarai are introduced as not being able to have children.
30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.
Right from the beginning, we are informed that this people is supernaturally formed – by the will of God and not by humankind.
Now all of this is introduction – things that we need to have in our back pockets as we look at the stories. These considerations – God creating a people and all of what this means – informs and gives structure and meaning to the individual stories we read. So with these things in mind, let’s consider our story today. How does Abram participate in God’s purposes for Israel? Or how does Abram get in on God’s work?
So the first thing we can notice is that God’s call to Abram is to go. This is significant because God’s call is not to “take a trip.” He’s not asking Abram to go on vacation but to leave, permanently, his homeland. In our modern globalized community, leaving your homeland doesn’t have quite the shock value that it might in the Ancient Near East. God is asking Abram to leave everything he knows, leave everything that probably informed his sense of self-identity, and to into an entirely new, unknown, possibly hostile land.
When God calls us to follow Him, He is not asking us to simply add on something new to our already full lives. It’s not as if, before God, we are husbands and wives, and mothers and fathers and children, and accountants and engineers, teachers and nurses, hunters and farmers and etc. – and following God is simply one more thing we add to our long list of accomplishments, roles, and responsibilities.
When Abram decides to obey the call of God, he is making a decision to leave behind his old life to pursue the new. So which way are we going?
Therefore, this going is intentional. Abram’s going is not something that just happens to him. He doesn’t go, simply by hanging around others who happen to be going. We don’t fall or stumble into salvation. Rather, it’s personal.
What I mean by this is this: Going God’s way is not just about being a good person, hanging around church, or even “doing ministry.” Neither do I mean that we have to, necessarily, get it right – I don’t believe anyone has (perfectly). But it does mean, that we personally choose God’s way, we are intentional about salvation, inasmuch as we seek God, and seek to live according to God, as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
Now the going is a going – it’s not instantaneous, it’s a process.
Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham, by which we mostly know him) is considered the father of Israel, the true Israel of which we are a part. But as we go through the story of Abram and his descendants, we may be struck by the fact that he was a pretty messed up dude. He was chosen by God but he certainly didn’t seem to trust God a whole lot. Hebrews ch. 11, in the famous passage on faith, says this about Abraham:
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
And while this is an honest and true account of Abraham, what we will see is that Abram/Abraham was frequently faithless, fearful, and deceitful.
But the thing about it is that he kept going. He kept going after God (imperfectly, but still…). We read in vs. 5 that, responding to God’s call, Abram and his family left for Canaan and arrived. But that didn’t mean he was done. He kept seeking for and listening to God’s direction in his life. He kept pursuing God.
So What Now…?
So, my encouragement for us is simply this: Let us keep going. Let us, as a people of God, representing the people of God, who in turn represent and proclaim God, keep seeking Him. There’s a lot of people who make a lot of money telling people how to build and grow a church. Some of it is useful, much of it is not. What we are doing at Grace is not about growing in numbers; it is not about building better programs; it is not even about feeding the hungry or clothing the poor (at least inasmuch as we think that is the end in itself – i.e. if we do that, we are “doing church.”) What we are doing is seeking after God (each of us and all of us), in the way that God sets out for us. So let us keep going.