Today we start a series of devotions looking at the stories connected with Abraham.
Genesis 11.31 – 12.7
Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canan; but when they came to Harran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Harran.
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.
So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Harran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Harran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land”. So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
These verses are crucially important. They look back to the beginning of creation and they look forward to the fulfilment of God’s promises. We are introduced first of all to Terah, Abram’s father, and his nomadic wanderings with his family. No reason is given; they are probably in search of new pastures. Nothing unusual about that for the time. Although they had been heading for Canaan, they decide to stop in Harran. Now Terah is to settle down there for the rest of his days; why should Abram not do the same? Up till now the initiative has been entirely human. But suddenly that changes. The emphasis shifts to God. God intervenes. He addresses Abram directly and commands him to go, to leave behind the security of home, country and family and head for an undisclosed “land”. God’s command is terse but it is far outweighed by the rich promises that follow. Abram will be blessed not once but four times. First through the land, then the nation, then the covenant, and finally all nations of the world will be blessed through him. And Abram responds. He goes. With his household, he leaves Harran for Canaan and once there, he sets out on a tour of the land. No sooner has he reached Shechem when God appears to him – the first time this happens in Scripture – and reaffirms his promise: he will give the land to Abram’s descendants. And Abram responds by claiming the land for God; he builds an altar.
God’s solemn pledges are revolutionary. In blessing Abram there are broader issues, cosmic issues. Quite simply, through Abram, he is restoring the blessings of creation to a lost world. In Genesis 1-11 we saw how God had blessed the world he created and how bad human choices had turned the blessings into curses. Now we see how God’s people Israel are to be the “answer” to human disobedience. But God alone can guarantee the outcome. The path to fulfilment is still full of obstacles: Abram takes Lot with him and Lot spells trouble in store; the Canaanites are still in the land and the curse is a continuing threat. But God’s original intentions for human beings are being affirmed and consolidated. The focus is on blessing. This is grace in action. The story which begins with Abram and Sarai and continues with Israel ends conclusively with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The emphasis is on God’s grace rather than human obedience – God certainly desires obedience but will work in spite of it when that is necessary.
Blessed are you, Lord our God,
Ruler of all creation.
We praise you for the abundance of your blessings.
Help us to trust in your eternal love,
That we may serve you in the power of the Holy Spirit,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston is a retired minister and member of Macclesfield & Bollington URC.