The Call of Abram

Genesis 11:27-12:9

When we study biographies of people who left their footprints in history, we can often see their potential early on in their lives. This often gets augmented by experiences, knowledge and skills they gain. We can see the seeds of greatness to come.

When we think about great men of faith like Paul, we see a similar pattern. He had fervor for God and Israel, had a great theological education, studied under the best rabbi, and was considered one of the elite religious leaders. He was one of those cases where people would think that “He is one of the greatest enemies of Christianity but imagine what kind of champion of Christianity he would be if the Lord turned him around.”

There is another method that God can use to raise greatness in a person. The first real “hero” of the Bible didn’t show any potential greatness. In fact, his life was practically done as far as contribution to society and to history. Yet God in His greatness, made greatness out of nothing. This should give us hope for our own lives, as well as for those who come behind us.

It is said that the whole of the Bible is sort of in the shape of an hourglass with a long waist. Genesis 1-11 deals with universal things, then starting with Abram and Sarai, it narrows the focus to Israel, and then from Acts 2, the focus broadens back to the universal. In this narrative, we are introduced to Abram and Sarai (who will later be renamed Abraham and Sarah), whose descendants will become the nation of Israel, from which the savior of the world will be born.

We are told that Abram is seventy-five years old. We later learn that his wife, Sarai, is ten years younger, which would put her at sixty-five years old. We also learn that Sarai is barren, and they have no child, nor any hopes of one. They probably are resigned to living out their remaining days quietly with no children nor grandchildren and would start thinking about to whom they should leave their possessions once they are gone. Considering their time and culture, they probably would give anything to start over and have a family.

So, when the LORD tells Abram that if they are willing to leave their home and go where He directs, He would make Abram the ancestor of a great nation, Abram is ready to take a chance and move. So, Abram, along with Sarai and Lot, his nephew, and all their possessions, move to the land of Canaan.

In the second half of the chapter, they encounter their first dilemma – famine. Abram decides to leave the promised land and move to Egypt. Before they enter, Abram instructs Sarai to lie to the Egyptians and tell them that she was his sister. Sarai complies and is soon taken into the Pharaoh’s house and Abram is given servants and animals as payment. To protect Sarai, the LORD afflicts the land with a great plague. Pharaoh reprimands Abram for lying about Sarai but spares his life and orders them to leave Egypt with all their possessions.

On the surface, it seems that Abram, the chosen one, does not leave a good impression. Apparently without consultation or directions from God, he decides to move away from the promised land and move to Egypt to deal with the famine. He shows cowardice by being concerned only for his safety, putting Sarai at risk of not only angering the Egyptians but having their marriage violated. Also, instead of being a blessing to the Egyptians, he brings a plague upon them.

At the same time, we can see that God is protecting Abram and even increasing his possessions through this episode, to help with the nation building process.

If we were to imagine the sort of person who we would choose to be the ancestor of a great nation, we would probably choose a couple who were young and could bear many children. They would need to be courageous and wise and strong to meet all the challenges they would face. They would also need to be sensitive to God’s leading and faithful to follow where the LORD leads them.

So far, we are not impressed. They did move into the promised land, but when trouble hit, they left without consulting the LORD. Abram showed his non-heroic side by trying to ensure his own safety by putting his wife at risk by getting her to agree to lie to the Egyptians.

In defense of Abram’s actions, he does not yet have a long history of dealing with the LORD. Therefore, Abram does not know how the LORD operates, His infinite powers, nor how true to His promises He is. Abram will learn as he travels on this journey.

Most of us have had more experience with the LORD than Abram and Sarai at this stage of their lives. We also have the benefit of the Bible stories that teaches us about how the LORD operates in this world and with His people. So, in many ways, we should be making less mistakes in our walk of faith than Abram and Sarai at this point of their journey.

We often think that God chooses people for their potential, and certainly He can do so. However, in the case of Abram and Sarai, we see a situation where they were not chosen for their potential, since they had none. They were advanced in age and unable to have offspring – They were not qualified candidates. God does not need potential. He can make something out of nothing. He can make the impossible possible.

So, when God calls us to do what we know we cannot do, we need to be reminded that God can work with someone with no potential. We should also avoid thinking too well of ourselves in terms of skills, experience or potential to do the LORD’s work, since He doesn’t necessarily need those things to get His work accomplished through us. Abram and Sarai remind us that God can make a great nation out of an elderly, barren couple.

Through the recorded stories about the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, we will see them acting in great faith and with little faith. We will see them acting wisely and foolishly. We will see them acting bravely and cowardly. And we will see how God is there with them every step along the way – Just as He will be with us every step along the way in our journey of faith.

Due to the greatness of God, there is always a chance that great acts of faith can come, even through us.

(The above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during our worship on April 23, 2023.)