The Abrahamic narrative comprises the better part of 14 pages of Scripture (Genesis 11:27-25:18). Abraham walked across the pages of the Bible and human history and became one of the most legendary men who has ever lived. Today – three of the major religions of the world refer to him as “Father Abraham” (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
Abraham appears rather non-descript as “Abram” in Genesis 11:27. We have no information about his childhood or his father in the Genesis account. We only have one reference in the Old Testament that offers any insight at all into Abraham’s background and it is found in Joshua 24:2-3, “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.”
So – we know that Abraham came from a family that originally worshiped other gods – but God called Abraham out of that poly-theistic culture to follow him. Genesis 12 marks the beginning of the story of redemption as God responded to the sinfulness of mankind at Babel. Abraham moves to center stage in the grand story of redemption.
As we walk through Genesis 12-15, it would be hard to exaggerate the role that Abraham occupies in The Big Story. Granted, the story is about God – but Abraham is a crucial player in the cosmic drama being played out on planet earth. He is a real person who lived in real time and demonstrated real faith in the only real God!
I have divided this lengthy section of Biblical material into 4 major sections:
Genesis 12:1-9 – God’s Call and Discovering Purpose
The immediate context for Genesis 12:1-9 is the passage in the previous chapter. We read in Genesis 11:27-32 that Abraham (at this time, still Abram) was born to Terah in Ur of Chaldea’s. At some point, the family settled in Harran (today in Iraq). Why did Terah leave Ur? We don’t know for sure. The Bible certainly does not inform us. It may have been because the Elamites had encamped against it and leaving was the safe thing to do. The Elamites destroyed Ur in about 1950 B.C.
Barrenness – Notice 11:30 – Sarah was barren. In the context of the table of nations in Genesis 10 and the listing of genealogy in 11:10-26, this is a shocking reality. All of these folks had children. Some of the children were named in the text and then the repetitive refrain, “and he had other sons and daughters” used over and over.
Against the backdrop of all the “begetting” – Abraham and Sarah had no children. Wow. No promise of a future. No heirs. No family name beyond themselves. No hope.
Incompleteness – Notice 11:31 – Terah set out for Canaan, but only made it as far as Harran. Terah traveled from northern Mesopotamia to southern Mesopotamia – but never made it to Canaan. This seems to indicate an incomplete journey. They almost made it to Canaan (later the Promised Land!), but not quite.
Against the backdrop of barrenness and incompleteness, Genesis 12 opens with “The LORD had said” – the voice of God thunders across the page. Much like in Genesis 1, God’s voice interrupts the narrative and His creative power is on display again. He will address the barrenness of this couple and the incomplete nature of their journey. His promises fell like rain in the desert.
In three short verses of prose, God answered the dilemma of Abraham and Sarah. He also answered the dilemma of humanity! He responded to the barrenness and incompleteness of human answers to the problem of sin and judgment. He promised prosperity and blessing. The blessing would spread to all families (12:3). The great story of redemption was in motion on planet earth.
Notice all of the “I will’s” in these verses. God is the central actor in this story. This is His-story! Abraham has been invited to participate by faith. The call came from God. God does the calling – then and now. God beckoned Abraham and Sarah beyond where they had ever been before. He called on them to trust Him. He called on them to believe Him in spite of the lack of evidence. He invited them to join Him on an adventurous journey that would bring great blessing in their lives and beyond.
Abraham responded by obeying. He began the process of discovering his purpose through obedience to God’s call in his life. He chose to trust God and he obeyed. His attitude was one of humility and submission. God honored this in Abraham’s life.
Genesis 12 is the beginning of the story of redemption from a human perspective. God responded to the brokenness of His creation by singling out a man who would follow Him by faith. God answered the human dilemma of separation by selecting one family through whom He would offer salvation to all families. God’s call interrupted Abraham’s life. The trajectory of his life changed when God called. It was not time for status quo. God was calling. Life was about to change.
Genesis 12:10-13:18 – Tests and Provision
After a time of sojourn and travel across the Promised Land, a famine hit and Abraham must have feared for his life. Genesis 12:10 records that Abraham decided to leave Canaan and travel to Egypt to seek food and shelter.
Interpreters disagree as to whether this was a good idea or a bad idea. Some point out that Abraham did not consult God at this point. Others claim that he assumed the proximity of Egypt could have been interpreted as God’s provision for him and Sarah in the midst of a famine.
Brueggemann argues that this text reveals two tensions at play in the entire Abrahamic narrative: Will God keep His promises? Will Abraham and Sarah trust God? (Brueggemann, Genesis, pp. 125-126)
Regardless of how we view Abraham’s reason for fleeing to Egypt, he does appear to be in panic mode and he demonstrated a lack of faith by asking Sarah to lie about their relationship. Now we will learn later that Sarah actually is Abraham’s sister (Genesis 20:12), but they only tell part of the story to Pharaoh out of fear. The Egyptian king does invite Sarah into the palace to presumably become one of his many wives. Meanwhile, Abraham acquires great wealth in Egypt. However, God intervened and inflicted diseases on the king. I love Brueggemann’s comment at this point, “Both Abraham and Pharaoh are on notice: It is dangerous business to deal with Abraham” (Genesis, p. 129).
In somewhat of a precursor to the Exodus, Abraham and Sarah leave Egypt by God’s power and with the bounty of Egypt! They return to Canaan with God’s blessing and reunite with Lot. Abraham was on a learning curve. He was learning to trust God and that God was in charge of blessing, not him.
Genesis 13 contains the story of Abraham and Lot coming to an agreement about how to exist together as wealthy men. God had amply provided for them and they needed more land between them. Abraham exercised wisdom and maturity as he let Lot choose where he wanted to live. In so doing, Abraham demonstrated his growing faith in God. He had learned that God was a God of provision. Thus, he was willing to “take the leftovers” after Lot chose his preferred geographical area for farming and grazing. Abraham trusted God to provide for his family. He had already seen God’s power of blessing in Egypt.
So, this section concludes with Abraham growing in both material possessions and spiritual maturity. His “non-faith” was met with God’s patience and grace in Egypt. His faith was on display in the conflict with Lot and God responded with a re-statement of the promise (Genesis 13:14-17).
Genesis 14 – Abraham: Protector and Parishioner
Abraham had not demonstrated any military skills prior to this chapter in Genesis. As this page of the Bible unfolds, we are told that Lot was taken prisoner during a battle between 9 local rulers who had coalesced into two sides. After the battle, an alliance of kings took Lot as a prisoner of war.
Abraham received word of this development and he acted to protect Lot. He led a challenge against these kings and secured Lot’s freedom. Abraham was a wealthy man and had lots of resources on hand. He routed the army of the kings’ alliance and rescued Lot and restored order to this part of Palestine.
In verse 18, the text takes an interesting turn. Abraham encounters Melchizedek, king of Salem. Abraham immediately recognized this man as a priest who served God. This priest will be mentioned centuries later in Hebrews 5-7 as a “type” of Christ, so to speak. He was a priest who appeared out of nowhere and blessed Abraham. David mentioned Melchizedek as being connected to the Messiah in Psalm 110:4.
The priest/king of Salem blessed Abraham, signifying his superiority to Abraham. Only a superior could bless an inferior. Abraham recognized him as a representative of the only true God when he gave a tithe of his plunder to the king.
It is a fascinating twist in the story, to say the least. A priest appeared and blessed Abraham. This priest was from Salem – later to be known as Jerusalem. This priest received a tithe from Abraham as an appropriate offering. This encounter encouraged Abraham in his faith. He received the words from the king of Salem as words from God. Words of blessing. Words of affirmation.
The faith of Abraham was strengthening and His trust in God was deepening. He needed affirmation. We all do. Living into God’s purpose and trusting God’s promise will not be the easy path!
Genesis 15 – Call, Promise and Covenant
Abraham continued to follow God and be faithful to God in his journey. He still held on to the promises of Genesis 12 – even though he had no offspring. His faith was affirmed by God’s blessing and God’s provision.
In Genesis 15, God re-iterated the call on Abraham’s life. He was to be God’s servant who took possession of the Promised Land. He would be the father of a great nation. He was to leave a lineage of faith to his offspring.
As hard as it was, Abraham believed God and God blessed his faith (15:6).
However, Abraham was human and he needed God to solidify His promises. God invited Abraham into a covenantal relationship. He led Abraham through an ancient ceremony as recorded in Genesis 15:9ff.
Animals were cut in half and placed across from one another forming a gauntlet or path. Normally, the two participants in the covenant would pass between the carcasses to symbolize the unity of the parties involved. The shedding of blood and the presence of death symbolized the somberness of the covenantal relationship. The journey through the carcasses represented the commitment of the parties to carry on regardless of the challenges faced.
This ceremony was sometimes referred to as “cutting” a covenant. The obvious reference was to the halving of the animals’ carcasses.
In this particular experience, God was the one who passed through the gauntlet. He appeared in the form of the firepot and blazing torch (15:17). His power was on display in a memorable expression for Abraham. Abraham was to receive the blessings of this covenant because of God’s grace and God’s power.
This section closes with the security of God’s promise now sealed into a covenantal relationship. Abraham was to have both land and offspring to live in it. There was now the hope of the future for his family. God would fulfill this promise, for sure. King David would rule Israel many years later and extend the borders to those mentioned here in Genesis 15:19-20. Israel would indeed be a great nation and Abraham’s name would be great. Through the promised Messiah, all the nations of the world can now participate in the blessing promised in Genesis 12.