The beginning of Genesis 12 is so much different from that of Genesis 11. Genesis 11 begins with the construction of a secular building. It shows a people going about their business without God as they try to make a name for themselves without God. Genesis 12, on the other hand, is about what God will do. In Genesis 11 we have man’s goals; in Genesis 12 we have God’s goals.
The contrast between these two passages is fascinating. Look at some of the differences:
The plans of man fell apart as God confused their language, but the plans of God are forever. Once more, God took the initiative in the continuing redemption plan. Listed in Genesis 12 are seven “I wills” or seven promises from God to Abram:
1. I will show you a land.
2. I will make you into a
3. I will bless you.
4. I will make your name great
and you will be a blessing.
5. I will bless those who
6. I will curse those who
7. I will give your offspring
The Tower of Babel illustrates very clearly that mankind, even with his best efforts, is unable to form a great nation. They became scattered throughout the earth, forgetting God’s promise in the process. God, however, did not forget. God did not forget the promise He had made to Adam and Eve. God did not forget the promise He made to Noah. And God did not forget the desire of man to be a great nation.
God had seen the sin of the human race. Instead of sending a flood to destroy them all again, as He had in the past, God saved one man and his family. To this man God came and gave wonderful promises, “I will make you a great nation. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”
These promises are indeed very astonishing promises! At the very beginning of this great nation we discover how little hope there is for Abram and Sarai actually to be the forerunners of a new race. The one whom God called to be the father of a great nation had a wife who was barren. The human race, at Babel, had said that they did not need God to be a great nation. Here God took the human race and said, “I don’t need you to help Me make a great nation.” He took a man and a woman without a future, a couple who had no hope, and made from them a great nation. If the Lord had wanted a great leader and a great nation, He could easily have chosen Nimrod the great warrior or the builders of Babel. Instead, God chooses the most unlikely candidate He could find and promised to make him into a great nation.
The call of Abram was an act of a sovereign God. In spite of all his handicaps, Abram was called by God out of an idolatrous country to become the father of a great nation through which God would fulfill His promise of the Messiah. God did not choose Abram because of any qualities He might have seen in him. Rather, it was what God was going to do for Abram, with Abram, and through Abram.
The Command to Leave
God came to Abram and commanded him to leave all his luxury behind to become a nomad. Abram was to leave everything that was familiar—country, people, and family—in order to go to an unknown land to serve a god unknown to him. Yet, the command to leave came with a promise—indeed, the seven promises listed above.
The first and final promises go together. What started off as a promise of land to be seen became a land to be possessed. God chose the land and then He enabled Abram’s descendants to possess the land.
God promises to make Abram’s name great. The people at Babel were unable to make a great name for themselves. They tried but they failed. Why is the name of Abram great while the people of Babel are forgotten? Because of God. Those whom God promises to make great become great, and those we often think are great are often soon forgotten. God kept His promise to Abram. God made Abram’s name great.
God promises to bless Abram. In the very next chapter (Genesis 13:2) we read: “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.”
Promises five and six go together. Through the years Abram and his descendants would come into contact with many people. Some would be friends, others would be enemies. God’s promise was that the friends would be blessed and the enemies would be cursed. History shows that God takes this promise very seriously. One example would be in Exodus 1 where Pharaoh instructed the Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys that were born. Many of the midwives befriended the Jews and would not kill the babies. Exodus 1:20, 21 says: “So God was kind to the midwives. . . . He gave them families of their own.”
As Christians, we should be most interested in this promise given to Abram. Paul, in Galatians 3:8, cites this promise as it applies to the Gentiles. Believing Gentiles have become the spiritual descendants of Abram and have the privilege of sharing in Abram’s faith and heritage. Those who believe in the promises given to Abram and fulfilled in Christ receive the same blessing Abram did.
None of the promises depended upon any action from Abram. They are unconditional, depending not upon the patriarch but upon the faithfulness of the God Abram followed.
Genesis 12:4 tells us, “So Abram left.” In spite of all the obstacles of leaving family and friends, Abram obeyed God’s call to leave. Abram did not understand how God would bless him, but he obeyed trusting that God would bless him.
Although the journey from Haran to Canaan is about five hundred miles, we are given no details about the excursion. The author is more interested in Abram’s obedience than Abram’s adventures along the way. Abram believed God and acted on that belief. This was not merely an abstract, intellectual belief. It was a faith that changed his entire life. At the age of seventy-five Abram packed up his family and his belongings and went to Canaan as the Lord had directed him.
Hebrews 11:8 records, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.” Faith is the most natural thing we have. For example, every time we sit down, we have faith that the chair in which we are about to sit will not collapse. We have faith in our car as we drive it down the road and faith in other drivers who zoom past us on the highway.
At the same time, faith is the most unnatural thing for a person to have. Abram was called upon to believe in God’s promises although everything pointed to them as being impossible. By faith, he left a life of comparative ease to live in a tent, wandering from one site to another. With every mile the terrain would become less familiar and less appealing. The people he encountered along the way were different in their language and their customs. The comfortable sights of Ur and Haran slowly vanished behind him. He was a foreigner, but he continued on, convinced that it was God’s will for him, confident that God would be true to His promises.
By faith he lived in a tent overlooking the land that would one day be his. Of all the people in Canaan, he seemed the least permanent. They lived in the cities, while he lived in a tent. Abram believed that God would one day give him the land, not by sword or battle, but by spiritual conquest. After all, the land was promised to him and to his offspring. Even so, he seems to be the one least attached to it. He was looking for a better city—one built by God.
Although Abram and his people lived in tents, they did a fair amount of building in the land their descendants would one day possess. Twice in the few verses we have before us Abram built an altar—one at Shechem and one near Bethel. As Abram traveled throughout the land promised him, he built altars to the Lord. His devotion was to the Lord who had brought him into the land and was a testimony of God’s claim upon that place. Abram built altars because he knew he was not to possess the land for himself but he was possessing it for the Lord. Eventually he would arrive at that heavenly city whose architect and builder is God, but the altars would remain behind. They would stand as a witness that a child of God had once knelt, prayed, recognized God’s grace, and believed His promises.
The promise of God came to Abram, and by faith Abram believed and did as God instructed him to do. The promise of God is for all who heed His call. The Son of God says, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Just as God came to Abram to show him a new land, so also God comes to His people today. He says, “Follow Me.” This is not only a command, it is a promise. You may not be called to some distant land, but you are called to take up your cross and follow Jesus. If you do so, the Lord will give you possessions you never dreamed possible, for God has promised:
1. “I will give you the forgiveness of your sins.”
2. “I will give you eternal life.”
3. “I will bless those who bless you.”
4. “I will curse those who curse you.”
God will do these things for those who acknowledge His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Savior and Lord. He is the great I Am That I Am, and He is able to keep His promises.
Three times Abram is called “a friend of God.” That truly is an amazing nickname! It was not given to Abram because his strong faith. Abram grew up in a home filled with idol worship. Throughout his life his faith faltered; at times he was strong, at other times weak. Even though called to go to Canaan, Abram settled in Haran, moving on only after his father died. One does not need to be a spiritual giant to follow God. All we have to do is begin to follow Him. The Lord will certainly lead us.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. Was there anything significant about Abram or Sarai that God should choose them? Is there anything significant about you that God should choose you?
2. God takes the initiative in calling Abram out of Ur. Can you find other places in the Bible where God took the initiative in His redemption plan?
3. How important is it to include God in your plans? Have there been times in your life where you excluded God from you plans? What were the results?
4. Contrast what God does at the Tower of Babel with what God does by calling Abram.
5. List seven hindrances that would have kept Abram from obeying God. How do the seven “I wills” from God answer the difficulties Abram may have felt?
6. Is it significant that God chose the land for Abram?
7. What made Abram an unlikely candidate for the founder of a new nation? Why would God choose Abram?
8. Abram’s faith in God made a dramatic change in his life. How has your faith in God changed your life?
9. Is it significant that Abram builds the altars in the Promised Land?