This morning we are beginning a new series of sermons in Genesis, starting with chapter 12 and continuing through the end of the book. Over the next several months, we will carefully study the lives and adventures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and many others. I am calling this series “The Chosen Church: Getting to Know the Patriarchs”. These were the people through whom the nation of Israel was established. The events that take place during this series cover a period of about 360 years, from roughly 2160 BC to 1800 BC.
I have named this series “The Chosen Church” as a deliberate attempt to show similarity and continuity between the people of God in the Old Testament and those in the New Testament. While Israel and the church are clearly different from one another as evidenced in a number of ways, both serve (or served) as God’s representative people during their respective era. Both were tasked with similar responsibilities and missions. As such, there are many lessons that the modern church can learn from the successes and failures of ancient Israel.
From the time of creation until the calling of Abram, there was no distinct people group that represented God. Those who believed in Him and worshipped Him as LORD did so on an individual or familial basis. There was no formal or expansive community of God’s people. However, this arrangement dramatically changed during the age of the patriarchs. In His time, God providentially chose a particular people from among those living on the earth to be His own. It all began with a man from Mesopotamia named Abram (Genesis 11:26-32).
Abram was the son of Terah. He and his family lived in Ur, a prominent city of ancient Chaldea, which was located along the Euphrates River about 150 miles northwest of the Persian Gulf. Today, the ruins of this site have been found in southern Iraq. Abram married a woman named Sarai, but she was barren and they had no children. Sensing the LORD’s direction, Abram and his wife, father, and a nephew named Lot moved northward along the Euphrates to the city of Haran in the region of Paddan-Aram. This is in modern-day Turkey, near the Syrian border. After living there for a few years, Terah died at the age of 205. This is where our story begins...
I. ABRAM IS CHOSEN (v1-3)
After his father’s death, the LORD spoke to Abram while he was still living in Haran. His message consisted of 3 parts. The first of these was a calling to go. God instructed Abram to leave his homeland, the place where he’d grown up and where his extended family still dwelt, and to instead journey to an unknown land. God promised to direct Abram to this place and reveal it to him when he arrived.
The second part of God’s message to Abram was a personal promise. The LORD had chosen Abram to be the patriarch of His own special people. God promised to make of Abram’s descendants into a great nation. Abram’s name would become great, well-known and highly honored. In addition, the LORD would richly bless Abram and cause him to proper. Abram would be a blessing to others.
The third part of God’s message was a general principle relating to Abram and his family in the generations to come. The LORD would bless those who blessed Abram’s children, and would curse those who cursed them. Through Abram and the nation that would rise from his lineage all of the peoples of earth would be blessed.
It is highly likely that, prior to his calling, Abram and his family did not know or worship God. There is no indication that Abram was a man of faith at this point, or that he’d done anything to merit the LORD’s favor. Yet, based solely upon His own sovereign will, God uniquely chose Abram and called him to abandon his idolatrous roots. Today Christians might equate this to divine conviction falling upon a lost sinner and calling him to repentance.
II. ABRAM TRAVELS THROUGH CANAAN (v4-9)
Having heard the calling of God, Abram responded in obedience and faith. Now 75 years old, Abram and his wife Sarai, along with their nephew Lot, gathered all of their possessions and left Haran. Sensing the LORD’s direction, they ventured southward and soon crossed into the land of Canaan. After travelling through it for some time, they made camp near the ancient city of Shechem. While they were settled there, the LORD again appeared to Abram at the oak of Moreh. He promised to one day give this country - the land of Canaan - to Abram’s descendants. In gratitude, Abram built an altar there and worshipped God.
From there, Abram and his family continued southward surveying the territory that would someday belong to his posterity. They came to a mountain situated between the cities of Bethel and Ai. It was an ideal place to stop, so Abram set up camp there. He built another altar and again called upon the name of the LORD. Abram almost certainly praised God for the undeserved blessings that had been lavished upon him. Afterwards, they continued southward through the region of Canaan headed toward the Negev desert. Thus, they crossed over the entire region.
III. ABRAM JOURNEYS TO EGYPT (v10-20)
God had specifically led Abram to the land of Canaan. This was the place where he’d been called to go. Yet, not long after his arrival, a severe famine arose. Fearing starvation, Abram made the fateful decision to journey on to Egypt. There is no indication that he sought God’s direction before choosing to move. Instead, it seems that Abram considered his circumstances without respect to God’s counsel, and acted on his own initiative.
As they neared Egypt, Abram instructed Sarai to pretend that they were brother and sister rather than husband and wife. He was afraid that the Egyptians would be awed by her beauty, would kill him, and take her for themselves. Sure enough, when they arrived the Egyptian Pharaoh was taken by Sarai’s good looks, brought her into the palace, and treated Abram well on account of his “sister”. Pharaoh even gave Abram many sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and male and female servants.
At some point, Pharaoh unknowingly took Sarai as his own wife. Then the LORD began to strike his household with great plagues. Somehow Pharaoh discovered that Sarai was, in fact, Abram’s wife. He was infuriated that they’d lied to him and brought about this terrible calamity. Immediately Pharaoh sent them away, going so far as to have them escorted by his servants out of the country to ensure they’d left.
There are several lessons we can learn from this passage, and as we close today I’d like to highlight a couple of them. Take notice that it was God who called out to Abram. The LORD initiated it. He did so not because of Abram’s worthiness, but rather in keeping with His own perfect and arbitrary will. Like Abram, we cannot approach God or serve Him unless and until He first calls us to Himself. Even then, our only obligation is to answer in faithful obedience. Therefore, all of our worship, love, and devotion is merely a response to God’s unmeasured goodness, mercy, and grace.
Also, it is easy to misstep when following the LORD. Abram had rightly listened to God’s voice when traveling to Canaan. He even built a few altars there as tangible evidence of his faithfulness. But in the face of difficulty, Abram momentarily took his eyes off of God. This led him to Egypt, where he and his wife lived under false pretenses in the presence of Pharaoh. Things ended very badly, and the effects of this decision are still being felt today. We will discuss this more thoroughly later in this series. Nevertheless, it is important that we make choices based on God’s guidance rather than our own.
Do you sense God’s calling in your life? If so, say “yes” to Him right now. He can and will take you to amazing places! And if you’ve wandered down the wrong path, chasing after your own will, repent. It’s not too late to turn around and come back to God.