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After the Tower of Babel the people grouped according to their languages, moved away and each group settled in its own area. There they multiplied and became different nations.
Their languages were new, but at heart they were unchanged. They did not love God, but pursued their own desires and made themselves idols which they worshiped.
The unfaithfulness of mankind did not deter God from his intention to have people that would walk with Him, listen when He spoke and obey Him; that would be glad to have Him as their God and Father. Amidst all these unfaithful people, He found one such a man and decided to build himself a God-fearing nation from this man.
B. TERAH AND HIS DESCENDANTS (Please read Gen 11:26-32).
We read about a man named Terah who lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. He decided to move to Canaan and took some of his relatives with him, but got only as far as Haran, then settled down and died there. His son, called Abram, was one of those that had accompanied him and he got married to a lady called Sarai, but they had no children as she was barren.
Ur was in the same general area where the Tower of Babel had previously been built and from where mankind had dispersed. This was a heathen country where the residents worship idols.
For what reason had Terah decided to emigrate to Canaan? Had God spoken to him?
Canaan was a relative small country but of great significance in God’s planning. It is there where God would later settle His people, the nation of Israel, and where Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would be born, would minister, be crucified and be resurrected. Through all the ages, that portion of land played a very important role in world history and will continue to do so in future.
Terah never reached his goal, never realized his dream, but got only as far as Haran. Some people start off obeying God and have lofty ideals, but follow Him for only a short distance, loose their motivation, slow down, stop and settle down short of the winning post or turn right back to their starting line and never reach the heavenly Canaan; they do not even reach the wonderful goals which He had planned for them for this life.
C. THE CALLING OF ABRAM (Please read Gen 12:1-5).
God spoke to Abram when at the age of 75.
God gave him 3 instructions:
- To leave his land (country).
- To leave his family and his father’s home.
- To go to a country that He would show him.
The Lord gave him 7 promises namely that:
- He would make him to become a great nation.
- He would bless him.
- He would make him a great name.
- He would cause him to be a blessing to others.
- He would bless those who blessed him.
- He would curse those who cursed him.
- Through (in/by) him all the generations of the earth would be blessed.
God spoke to Abram.
Abram was an elected (chosen) man through whom God wanted to build a nation for Himself. After Terah’s death, God spoke to Abram. Whether He spoke to him only in an audible voice or whether He appeared and spoke to him, we are not told, but what is important, is that Abram knew that it was God that had spoken to him and he could understand what God had said to him.
We may find it amazing that the almighty God speaks to minute man but, did He not create us to be to Him like sons and daughters to whom He could speak on all matters relating to their lives and who would reply to Him as they would to one another? Therefore, He enjoys speaking to us and listening to what we have on our minds.
Some people do not hear when God speaks to them, because they do not want to hear. They fear that God may tell them to do something which they have no desire to do, or stop doing something in which they take much pleasure. In short, they see God as a spoil sport Who, if they would get into close contact with Him, would rob them of the things of life which they enjoy; therefore, they turn Him a deaf ear. They do not realise that the Lord wants to take them on an exciting journey to a new country and bless them exceeding abundantly. So, having spoken to them again and again, He eventually turns away, disappointed, and speaks to someone else.
(Just be quiet for a moment and think whether God has spoken to you at some time or other, what He said to you and what He required of you).
The question is often asked, “How can I hear God’s voice?” The answer is actually, quite simple: He first of all conveys His general thoughts that apply to one and all of us, in writing, by His Word. He can also do this by the preaching or testimonies of other children of God. There is a wealth of things He wishes to say to us by these means. These things are the principles of his kingdom that apply to all of us.
Then there are also personal things which He wants to convey to us; personal questions that He wishes to answer; questions like: “Lord, whom do You want me to marry: Mary, Joey or Jacqueline?” Or: “Which occupational direction am I to choose?” Those replies He imparts to us by His Holy Spirit Who puts strong impressions (convictions) into our hearts and confirms them by things He allows to happen in our lives to assist us to move in the right direction. In our example, Mary may emigrate, Joey may fall head over heels in love with another man and Jacqueline may gradually get to like you more and more – (or, if you are lucky, no one will be interested in you, allowing you to keep your income to yourself?). The Christian who listens attentively to what the lord wants to convey to him has an, “unfair advantage,” over those that depend solely on their own intellect for he has an all-wise, all-knowing Counselor.
God gave Abram a three-fold instruction.
God gave Abraham a threefold instruction which was formulated in such a way that he could see that the Lord knew exactly what it would cost him to obey. What He said to him was, that he was to leave his country, his family and his father’s home and was to relocate to a country which God would show him.
To leave his friends and family circle was necessary, because he was embedded in a heathen society which, of course, was having a strong impact on him and his family. In that new, distant, country the Lord would become his best Friend and he would become a friend of God (James 2:23).
But what he did not know was that the Lord would, through him, also set out to reclaim the land of Canaan from the Canaanites so that He could give it to his people, Israel, that He was going to raise up. Abraham’s crisscrossing through that land would be an act of taking possession of it by faith which act would be recorded in the heavens, and would, 400 years later, take effect on earth. Abram would be performing a legal action on God’s behalf. God had great plans in mind of which Abram knew very little, as a servant knows little of what his Master is planning.
God gave Abram a seven-fold promise.
God’s instruction to Abram was accompanied by a seven-fold promise, all wrapped up in one packet, namely that He would cause a great nation to proceed from him, that He would bless him (cause him to prosper and be joyful), make a great name for him (that he would be highly esteemed), that he would be a blessing to others, that God would bless those that blessed him and curse those that cursed him and that the blessing that would come upon him, would be so great that he would be a blessing to all the generations on the earth (through all the ages). Awesome, but Abraham would not have known that from his seed Christ would be born, and that by Him, eternal life would be offered to all the nations of the earth.
The truth of getting blessed by God and then becoming a blessing to others, is also very important to you and me. We first need to be blessed by God, before we can really be a blessing to other people. We come into this world without a scrap of clothes on our bodies, nor a hat on our heads nor shoes on our feet, and we first need to receive something before we can give out something. A child has to go through, let’s say 21 years of training and receiving from his parents and teachers before he will have something to give back to the community by way of entering into some or other kind of employment. This is even more so applicable to the spiritual realm where we need to receive a spiritual blessing from God before we can be a spiritual blessing to others.
The reverse is also true: God wants us not to hoard the blessings we receive from Him, but to use them to bless others. This applies to material as well as to spiritual blessings; receive with the one hand and give with the other hand. Like a small stone cast into a dam that causes ripples all around it, reaching wide and far, we will be amazed to see how far our influence can go if only we would be willing to be cast by God’s hand into the dam of his choice, in order to disturb the complacency of a godless community and make ripples for God.
Lastly, there is also a warning contained in God’s promise to Abram: it is scary to note that those causing grief to children of God, will experience that the Lord will cause their malicious deeds to return to them.
D. ABRAM MOVES AWAY OBEDIENTLY (Please read Gen 12:4-8).
Before Abram could act, he had to clear three things for himself.
First, he had to decide whether he had heard correctly from God.
Of course we must be sure that we are not embarking on a wild goose chase, but we also need to have faith in our ability to hear from Him and in His faithfulness to keep us from doing a foolish thing. Sometimes we miss what God wants to give to us, because we are afraid that we had heard incorrectly what He had said; so, we rather remain quietly in our safe and comfortable little corner, than daring to step out in faith. Obedience to God, calls for an ever-increasing measure of boldness.
(But how can I be certain that I heard correctly from Him? By declaring emphatically to the Lord that I want to do his will, nothing more, nothing less and then waiting patiently on Him until his peace fills my heart when I am contemplating what I heard from Him.)
Secondly Abram had to believe that God could give him what He had promised. His promises were breath taking, but how great was God really? Did God know that Sarai was barren; how would God raise up a mighty nation through her? Would He be able to carry out what He had promised? All of us, at some time or other, were terribly embarrassed when people who had promised things to us, were unable to fulfil their promises because they themselves had landed up in some or other predicament. Would God not come up against unforeseen barriers and have to abandon his great plan?
Thirdly he had to decide whether he could trust God to keep to His word and not to change His plans the next day or the day after, and leave him in the lurch, stranded there in the foreign land. Is He not an unseen God; where would Abram find Him to remind Him of His promises and to insist that He carry out His word?
So, it was first of all a victory of faith that he had to gain over his human weakness of unbelief.
Faith in action.
But then he had to get into action. To get what God had promised, he had to run the race. He had to conquer his fear of the unknown country and it’s people. He had to overcome the mocking and reproaches of family and friends. Many of them probably made out his calling as foolishness and spoke their minds quite openly: “Just use your common-sense; use the brain God gave you!” they might have shouted at him. For the unsaved world, the ways of a man lead by the Holy Spirit, is foolishness and incomprehensible because he often acts contrary to the accepted principles of life. Abraham’s faith and obedience affected his family and everybody around him. His faith compelled them to think about God and to decide whether they had real faith in Him like Abram had.
(When, at the age of 65 I, (including of course my dear wife) resigned from a mission society where we had a house, monthly salary and other benefits and used our meager savings to establish a new work of God in a foreign country amongst a nation of which we could not speak the language, many eyebrows were raised and well intended questions asked. It was only after some five years of toiling and fumbling, that it was clear that we had heard correctly and that the Lord was indeed with us. Faith chases unseen goals.)
Back to Abraham. Then, on a certain day, everything was packed, everybody greeted, the camels loaded sky high and Abram moved away, following his unseen God into an unknown future to settle in a land of which he had only heard. He had no intention of ever returning and took his wife, slaves and possessions with him. He was then 75 years old. He also took his cousin, Lot with him. God had not commanded him to do so and this would cause him many headaches.
A leap of faith rewarded.
He trekked deep into Canaan, up to Shechem, not that far from where the capital city, Jerusalem would one day be built. At the oak tree of Moreh he pitched camp. The first step of faith had been taken and God rewarded him and strengthened his faith by appearing and speaking to him. The Lord said to him that He would give this land to his descendants.
On our way to heaven, the Lord will reveal Himself to us in our spirits, and at times we will be deeply conscious of His presence. There is nothing that can strengthen our faith as His speaking to us, either by His written Word or by His Spirit.
Abram builds an altar.
Abram’s heart was deeply touched by God’s visitation and he desired to show his love to Him in an explicit way, so he built an altar on which he could bring offerings to Him from time to time. This would also serve as a public confession of his faith and an action in which his family, including his slaves, could take part.
When we experience the glorious presence of God, we will bring sacrifices of praise to Him by means of songs of adoration as well as financial offerings to promote his Kingdom. (A person who never experiences an upsurge of joy erupting in songs of praise when worshiping the Lord in church, must be suffering from some severe spiritual disorder. I say this because I have been in congregations where some of the members stare fixedly and emotionless into their song books as if it were an income tax assessment received at the door.)
As time went by, Abram further explored the land of promise. In so doing, he acted by faith as if the land already belonged to him. Again, he built an altar there where he settled.
For a father to call together his family for a family altar meeting for the first time, is not always an easy matter, but once it is done, the ice is broken and from then on it will be easier to repeat. The family altar is a joint point of contact with God and a barrier against the enemy of souls.
(After I got born again, our first family altar was our double bed in our bedroom and the meeting normally took place at night after the light had been switched off. I would be smoking my last pipe for the day and Martie would use the opportunity to ask me question upon question regarding my change in behaviour. The darkness and lack of eye contact seemed to give her more boldness to ask these sensitive questions and the same with me; I was newly converted and not yet as free to speak on my experiences as I was later on. Nevertheless, precious thoughts were exchanged and, I am sure that there was a sweet aroma ascending from our little altar up to the throne of God, notwithstanding that it was somewhat polluted by the smoke from my pipe (or was it?). Well the effect was that within a short time, Martie also came to the Lord. Sorry for interrupting the Bible study, but after some 46 years, those moments are still so fresh in my mind and so precious to my soul.)
E. ABRAM AND SARAI TREK TO EGYPT AND LIE ABOUT THEIR RELATIONSHIP (Please read Gen 12:8-20).
Up to this point Abram’s conduct had continually been without reproach, but every child of God has feet of clay and when reading this portion of scripture, we stand shocked and dismayed, watching our hero of faith stumbling in their walk with God.
When tested by a crisis, Abram made his own plan.
Famine came to the land Canaan and Abraham decided to go to Egypt where the Nile river assured good crops even during bad years and where his people and animals would find food. The question that is of the essence, is whether the Lord had lead him to do so, or whether it was his own idea to solve a very pressing problem? Judging by other occurrences when his faith also failed (later in his life), the second option would seem to have been more probable; he did not trust the Lord to provide for him in the promised land and so he sought a temporary alternative, meaning to return to Canaan as soon as the drought was broken.
Such a deviation from God’s way, means that you are moving out from under God’s protection and that you will have to make your own plans again and again to get yourself out of the pits you fall into along this way of your own choosing.
Abram’s plan lands him in a greater crisis.
The famine was now resolved, but a second crisis threatened: Abram had rightly feared that the Pharaoh would murder him for his beautiful wife, Sarai. So, before reaching Egypt, they had to contrive a plan to prevent this to happen – they were possibly 90% certain that this would never happen for God would protect them, but, just in case …. . Plan B. There was only one possible solution, humanly speaking: Sarai had to tell a lie, saying that she was Abram’s sister. The result would be that Pharaoh would take her into his harem, but Abraham would at least not be killed. Was this not the least of two evils? And was she not indeed his half-sister? A rational answer to the problem.
And this was exactly how it happened. The Pharaoh took Sarai as his wife and richly compensated him with animals and slaves, but this could not cover Sarai’s disgrace – a disgrace to which she was an accomplice by the lie she had told to protect her trembling husband. But this misstep had wider implications than only for the two of them. They had not kept in mind that God also had an interest in Sarai. He wanted to use her as a mother for His nation Israel, but now she was in the hands and in the harem of a heathen king who was going to use her to bear children for hís kingdom – a conflict of interests: “King against king”. One feels somewhat sorry for the smaller king because he was not at fault.
Yes, children of God that move out of His will, land everyone around them in predicaments (think of Jonah).
God intervened and delivered Abram and Sarai from their dilemma.
To free Sarai, the Lord intervened and punished Pharaoh with severe plagues. Somehow, he realised that these disasters related to the fact that he had taken Sarai as one of his wives. There and then he called Abram to justice because he had lied to him and in so doing caused him to sin. (What an embarrassment for a man of God to be reprimanded by a heathen king for a moral transgression.) He summarily deported him and his people back to Canaan under escort.
Although Abram and Sarai had been unfaithful to God, He remained true to them and delivered them from their predicament. (How Abraham sorted out this matter with his wife, is another question!)
In summary: The lesson we need to learn is that we are to trust God completely, although circumstances seem to be all against us. Unbelief leads to lies. Lies land us deeper in trouble. Learn from your mistakes and do not repeat them, for then you will be tempting God. The good news: Even if you have sinned, you have not lost your promised land, your heavenly Canaan. God is long suffering, patient and full of mercy. Call on Him and He will deliver you from the pit you and set your feet on a rock.
F. ABRAM AND LOT SEPARATE FROM EACH OTHER (Please read Gen 13:1-18).
Back home, another crisis surfaced. A dispute arose between the shepherds of Abram and Lot as regards grazing rights for their masters’ flocks. When Abram moved away from Ur of the Chaldeans, he thought it a good idea to take his cousin, Lot away with him to Canaan. One can think of several good reasons why he had done so, for instance fellowship, security, etc. but God had not instructed him to do so and now it backfired on him.
What an embarrassment: only two believers together in a foreign land and they were unable to get along with one another. Abram took the initiative to end this unpleasant dispute (disagreement) and suggested that the two families separate from one another and conduct their farming some distance apart. He then afforded Lot the opportunity to have the first choice as to where he wished to settle. Lot looked in all directions, noted that the Jordan valley had plenty of water and chose to settle there, in the vicinity of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Abram’s humility and generosity.
In the previous incident, we saw a bad flaw in Abram’s character but here we look at him from another angle and unexpectedly come upon two precious gems namely humility and generosity. Though God had promised the land of Canaan to him, he did not cling to it but humbled himself, allowing Lot the opportunity to choose the best grazing pastures for himself.
When some Christians see that there is an opportunity to either make money, or danger to lose it, they totally forget to put God first and fight like cat and dog for their Rand and cents. Just see what sometimes happens between heirs immediately after a burial service. Abram was not only a man of faith, but also a humble man; faith and humility are close friends. Jesus became a servant of mankind and was crucified like a thief, after which His father exalted Him and gave Him a Name above all other names. If we are willing to be the least amongst men, God will lift us up and appoint us in a position above others. Do not grab at the things of this world; wait on God to put them into your hand.
Abram’s willingness to allow Lot the first choice, reflected his trust in God and this pleased the Lord so much that He visited him once more and confirmed His promises to him.
Abram then continued moving around in the land. He was enjoying God’s gift.
He again built an altar on which he could offer to God. This is now the third altar of which we read and God considered it so important that He kept record of them and caused it to be written in His Book. The altars he built, indicate that he not only enjoyed God’s gifts, but enjoyed God above all.
G. ABRAM RESCUES LOT AND HIS MEETING WITH MELCHIZEDECK (Please read Gen 14:1-22)
Lot shares the fate of the heathen.
Sodom and Gomorrah were two ungodly cities that were not under God’s protection, with the result that they were conquered by their enemies in war. Lot and his household, who were living in these cities, were carried away by the enemy as slaves, together with the other residents.
When a person chooses to dabble in sin, he runs the risk of becoming a slave of it. This is what happened to Lot. When leaving Abram, Lot had probably pitched his tents in the green pasture of the Jordan valley, keeping well clear of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but gradually moved closer and closer, “bought their groceries there,” and after some time decided that they could just as well settle in one of the beautiful stone houses rather than continue to face the hazards of living in a tent. But – now they had become one with that community, sharing not only in their wealth and comfort but also in the judgment that was upon them.
Abram to the rescue.
At this stage, Abram, had become a very rich man, having many slaves and staff, because God had blessed him as He had promised to do. He was able to put together an army of 318 men. He also was a courageous man and had trained his people to defend themselves. What is more, He still had a heart for Lot and held no grudges against him, because he had chosen the best pastures. He did not say to him, “That’s it, you were the one who chose to live in the green pastures, now see what it has come to, you are now reaping what you have sown.” No, by risking his life and the lives of his people to deliver Lot and his household, he demonstrated that he was still caring for him.
This is also how we are to treat those that have wronged us. We must, where necessary, be willing to risk our lives to save those that have been captured and borne away by the devil – as Jesus did.
We also note that even in war, God was with Abram and gave him a complete victory.
Abram and Melchizedeck.
On his return, after rescuing his cousin and his people, Melchizedeck, the king of Salem and priest of God, took Abram some bread and wine and blessed him. God was pleased by what Abram had done and sent him food by His Priest. (Who Melchizedeck was, is difficult to say with any amount of certainty, but He could have been the incarnated Son of God Who had been dwelling amongst men for a period of time. See also Ps 110:4 and several chapters of the book of Hebrews).
Abram in turn, without requested to do so, gave Melchizedeck, the Servant of God, one tenth of the loot he had taken from the enemy.
This is the first indication in the Word of God that we are to honour Him by giving to Him at least the first tenth of our income to express our gratitude that He enabled us to have this income.
Abram refuses to be enriched by the heathen.
As regards the rest of the spoils, Abram wanted nothing of it for that could be seen as compensation from the heathen for delivering them from their enemies. He wanted God to receive all the honour for the riches with which He had blessed him.
We must not accept money that will disgrace the Name of the Lord such as money derived from lotteries or moneys which we suspect had been stolen.