There is a very popular children’s song which speaks about a man some might call the “Father of Faith”. You know the one I’m talking about- Father Abraham! He was born in the great Mesopotamian city of Ur over 4100 years ago. Archaeology has proven Ur to be a bustling city full of all the benefits of urban living- schools, libraries, commerce, crafts and the Arts. Abraham and his father Terah were affluent and well-established. It appears by the Hebrew grammar in Gen. 11:31 that Terah is actually the first one God calls to leave Ur and head out towards Haran. Father and son pack up their earthly goods and the people under their care and head along the Euphrates. A long established trade route that provided ample water and food supply, following the river took them over 577 miles north and lasted about a month. They came to Haran and took a well-deserved respite. But something changed while they were in Haran. It may have been that Terah decided he was too old to now turn west into a harsher environment to complete the journey or it could have been that Haran was just too nice to leave. Whatever the case, Terah remains in Haran and the call to “go forth” is issued to Abraham who responds and heads out for Canaan (Gen. 12:1-5).
Bruce Feiler in his book Abraham writes, “Despite their plainness, many things about these words stun: first what they ask of Abraham; even more what they promise in return”. It truly is a surprising request. Like Terah Abraham is not young! He and Sarah have no children and he doesn’t even know where he’s going. The God he has chosen to serve is just as extraordinary as His call. Unlike the polytheistic culture Abraham has come from where gods are represented by earthly objects, are as numerous as the stars in the sky and have characteristics quite like their earthly counterparts, this God is singular, has no visible physical attributes, and cannot be explained in human terms. Yet His voice is crystal clear and Abraham is compelled to finish the journey. He packs up and heads out toward Canaan.
Genesis 1-11 records God’s initial dealings with humankind. The Fall has tainted God’s Creation and its effects are evident in human behavior and relations. But God has made a promise. There will be a “Seed” who will set things right (Gen. 3:15). With each event a figure emerges but is He the Seed? The same question arises when Abraham enters the picture. Genesis 25:7-8 certainly answers the question with a solid “no”. However, the New Testament gladly shows us that the covenant God made with Abraham (particularly that all the people of the earth will be blessed by Abraham; Rom. 4:13-17; Gal. 3:6-7) is the conduit by which the Seed would come. That promised Seed is Abraham’s descendant (Mt. 1: 1-16, Lk. 3:23-38). But what if Abraham had not gone? What if he’d followed in his father’s footsteps and stayed in Haran? In an extraordinary act of faith Abraham leaves his father, leaves his country and goes to the place God has promised to lead him. For Abraham it was, “Like father, NOT like son”!
If we were to base our respect for Abraham on this passage alone, we might place Abraham on the highest of faith pedestals. But we would be wrong to do that. Reading Abraham’s entire story (Gen. 11:26-25:11) reveals that Abraham struggles with his faith just like you and I do. However, when God first speaks to him, he listens and takes action. Perhaps your faith journey has brought you to Haran. You’ve heard God’s call and you’ve gone “from your country” but have stopped along the way. A professor of mine wisely said, “Many a believer begins the spiritual life following righteousness and somewhere along the route, they grow distracted, and begin following the wrong things”. The church in Ephesus faced this too (Rev. 2:1-4). If you’re in Haran right now, what will you do? Will you remain there like Terah? Or will you listen to God’s call and respond like Abraham did? One thing is for certain, Abraham’s faith was rewarded far beyond what he expected. The same will be true for you if you do the same (Is. 51:1-2; Eph. 4:20-21; Heb. 11:1-3, 8-12, 17-19).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 1/15/2017