13. Abraham, Called by God

Abraham was called by God. Here is a watercolor painting showing Abraham discussing God's call to Sarah.
Abraham’s Counsel to Sarah, by James Joseph Tissot. c. 1898

Abraham left Ur at about the same time that wandering tribes were entering what would eventually become Greece. For reference, this was about 1200 years before Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey.1 

According to Josephus and other sources, the Greeks were descended from Javan, who was the son of Japheth, who was one of Noah’s three sons. Japheth was the ancestor of the Europeans as Shem was the ancestor of Abraham and all of the peoples of the Middle East.2  

In Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, he said:

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your land and your relatives,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.'”

How did this divine revelation appear to Abraham? It could have been in a vision or it may have been what is called a theophany, a visible manifestation of God. 

Genesis 11: 31-32 says:

“Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred and five years.

Stephen said that the God of glory appeared to Abraham and commanded him to go, but Genesis states that it was Abraham’s father, Terah, who gathered up Abraham and his family and left for Canaan, the land that God directed them to. How can we reconcile this? 

Most likely, when Abraham communicated his experience with God, his father was convinced enough of Abraham’s account that he decided to move the entire family to Canaan. Since this was a patriarchal society, when Abraham received the command to leave Ur, he realized that it was important to convince his father also since his father was the head of the household. Abraham saw no discrepancy with obeying God and honoring his earthly father and submitting to his authority. It is the rule, rather than the exception, to obey the governing authorities as we seek to obey God (e.g., 1 Peter 2: 13-14). 

Of course, there are those times when obeying a governing authority would be disobedient to God. But in modern America, it seems that we are always looking for a reason to rebel against an established authority. 

Abraham Leaves Ur

So being the head of the family, Terah gathered his small clan together and headed north on the 1200-mile journey that would eventually end in the land of Canaan, modern day Israel.  Whether Terah also repented of his idolatry and had true faith in God, the text doesn’t say. I would like to be optimistic and think he did, but we just don’t know. 

This small, humble caravan starting out from Ur would end up being the beginning of a journey that would alter world history forever. This is one of the most momentous acts of faith ever taken. Abraham left what would be equivalent to a modern day Paris or Florence to settle in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where exactly he was going or what he would find there. 

As you can see from the map below, Abraham’s journey occurred in two phases: from Ur to Haran and then from Haran to Canaan. In the first part of the journey from Ur to Haran, they simply followed the Euphrates River. 

Here is a map showing God's call from Ur to Haran and eventually to the place near Bethel and Shechem.
courtesy of biblespace.org

Hebrews 11:8 states:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went, not knowing where he was  to go.” 

Like the verse above states, Abraham did not know where he was going for he went by faith. His faith was not irrational, though, but based in the reality of God as He revealed himself to Abraham. People came and went all the time in a city like Ur, but I am sure that Abraham caused a stir when he left. Why would a man of such means and success leave the greatest city-state in the region to go to an unknown land? 

Abraham was a man of many talents – he was an excellent merchant and businessman, skilled in techniques of bartering. He probably had military training – men were expected to have this at that time. His fighting skills would be necessary as bandits were a common hazard in travel. His agricultural skills would be useful to sustain his clan in Canaan. His bartering skills would come in very handy there as well. 

But apart from all of these skills and talents, at the core of his being was his ability to exercise faith and to be faithful – “by faith, Abraham obeyed.” Faith is not a feeling, but a commitment to obey God regardless of the consequences. This of course is not merely a human trait, but a supernatural one, for faith in God can only come as a gift from God Himself.

Like any gift, though, we are called to exercise it responsibly. Abraham’s faith was exemplary in the Old Testament, although not perfect. He made mistakes. His faith did not come prepackaged; he had to exercise it so that it grew over time to perfection. Like any gift or talent, we have to develop it in order to perfect it. In time, God would call on him to consummate his faith by demanding some pretty difficult things of him. 

The limiting factor in travel was usually the camel. A good camel fully loaded could go about 20 miles a day.3 At that pace, it should have taken them two months to reach their destination. Halfway through the journey, when they reached the city of Haran in what is today Turkey, Terah decided to stay. He was around 200 years old. Maybe he was too old to continue the journey. Regardless of the reason, it was Terah’s decision to make since he was the head of the family.

Abraham dutifully complied. For Abraham, duty to God did not contradict duty to his earthly father. Besides, if God wanted him to leave his father in Haran and go on to Canaan, He would have made that clear. In Stephen’s speech in Acts 7, when God appeared to Abraham in Ur, there was no mention of leaving his father’s household, just his relatives. 

Abraham Leaves Haran

The account in Acts 7 says that after Terah died, God “gave Abraham the land of Canaan.” In other words, after Terah died, Abraham’s obligation to his father was over and Abraham became the patriarch of the family. God repeated the call to him again (Genesis 12:1-3) that he had earlier given in Ur. This time, according to this passage, he was to leave his relatives and his father’s household. 

Acts 7:14 states:

“Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living.”

We can read another account in Genesis 12:1-5

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your relatives and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. And I will make 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 him who curses you I will curse; and by 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 Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. 

Now that Terah had died, it was Abraham who was in charge of the move from Haran to Canaan just as Terah was in charge of the move from Ur to Haran. In Ur, Abraham was not commanded to leave his father’s household, but in Haran, he was. It was God’s will for Abraham to stay with his father until he died in Haran before moving on to Canaan. Some commentators view the stay in Haran as an act of disobedience, but I don’t think the above texts support that conclusion. The strong patriarchal (positive, not negative connotation) structure of family relationships in ancient Mesopotamia lent itself to do exactly what Abraham did.4

Abraham was called from the nations for the sake of the nations. He was blessed in order to be a blessing. When we are blessed by God, it is not just for ourselves, but it is so we can be a blessing to those around us. Blessings come to us and through us on the condition of believing in God’s promises and obeying His commandments. Abraham’s blessing was conditioned on his obedience and so is ours.

Faith is always consummated in action. Abraham’s faith, in this instance, was consummated in him first leaving Ur and then eventually Haran. This act of faith resulted in blessings for the entire world. If we want to change things, a good place to start is by believing and obeying what God says. 

John 14:15 states:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

1 John 5:3 says:

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

Finally, consider the following question:

How much of our current problems relate to not submitting to legitimate authorities? Please leave your comments below. Thank you!

Footnotes:

  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Learn about Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Apr. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/summary/Homer-Greek-poet
  2. “Javan,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/javan
  3. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Caravan”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 May. 2018, https://www.britannica.com/topic/caravan-desert-transport.
  4. Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. “Patriarchal Family Relationships and Near Eastern Law.” The Biblical Archaeologist, vol. 44, no. 4, 1981, pp. 209–214. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3209666.

Bibliography and Sources:

Crawford, Harriet, author and Harrison, Thomas, series editor, Ur: The City of the Moon God, Archaeological History Series, Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2015

De Mieroop, Van, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC, 3rd Edition (Blackwell History of the Ancient World), Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J., 2015

Hahn, Ph.D., Scott, Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT., 2009

Kramer, Samuel Noah, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character Revised ed. Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Time-Life Books, editor, Sumer: Cities of Eden, Lost Civilization Series, Time Life Education, 1993

Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation, classic reprint hardcover, Forgotten Books Publishers, London, 2018

Zainab, Bahrani, Mesopotamia: Ancient Art and Architecture, Thomas Hudson publisher, High Holborn, U.K., 2017

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