How Abraham’s Calling is Like Ours

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Why would God call Abraham while he was still practicing in paganism? God called Abraham in similar fashion to how He called us.

The Unconditional Covenant

The story of Abram in Genesis 12 and his calling by God contains particular genre characteristics that are unique in the Bible. The original context of his calling and obedience to leaven his country, his kindred, and his father’s house resulted in blessings that have implications to this day; even for us. This royal grant-type of covenant “is a golden thread stitching together the whole Scriptural fabric.” [1] This covenant is unconditional. [2] And we see this thread interwoven throughout the Old and New Testament (Gen. 12:1-3, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:15; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8). Scriptures just like “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38) promise. [3] By Abram leaving his own nation of Ur, which was one of the most powerful and wealthy nations in the known world (Gen. 15:7), and through whom all families (nations) of the world would be blessed, he showed he believed God. This “seed” is a clear reference to the Promised Seed, Jesus Christ. We can imply that when God said “all families of the earth shall be blessed,” that nations are simply families grown large (Gen 12:3).

The Grace of Election

Abraham was not perfect of course (Gen. 12:10-20). We see that when the “father of the faithful” lies (in a half-truths) about his wife being his sister when he goes to Egypt to protect his own life. This occurred shortly after God had already promised him, unconditionally, to make him into a father of a great nation (Gen. 12:2), so he must have known he was not going to die, but even so, Abraham fears an earthly king over the promises of the Omnipotent God. The theology is that God sovereignly calls Abram, which is a display of election by grace that is granted to him, yet Abram’s faith falters when faced by the perceived threat in the human realm. This happened despite the promise from the sovereign God.

Moses’ Authorship

Clearly, Moses was the author of Genesis and he was restating the promise to Abraham (Ex. 19:3-8) for the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt and this promise was repeated due to this covenantal promise’s importance. [4] The account of Abram’s call and subsequent obedience to that call is frequently repeated in the Pentateuch and for the nation of Israel’s benefit, however it is also written for the church that was founded on the Day of Pentecost and is still relevant for Christians today even though some biblical critiques do not believe that Abram even existed as a real person and in real time. That’s because “there are no contemporaneous nonbiblical sources corroborating either the individuals or the events described in Genesis” which makes some question whether there ever was an Abram(ham) . [5] This is a weak argument from silence from which we could also argue that Aristotle never existed because we have only 5 remaining manuscripts from his work, none of which are originals. [6] Author and Bible critic Michael David Coogan, who has been a vocal critic of the book of Genesis, and its associated historical accounts, including the characters, has been proven wrong today by archeological evidence to the contrary that Abram(ham) actually did exist. [7]

Forsaking it All

There is “…nothing [that] strengthens us so much as isolation and transplantation. Let a young man emigrate, or be put into a responsible position; let him be thrown on his own resources — and he will develop powers of which there would have been no trace, if he had always lived at home, dependent on others, and surrounded by luxury” (Meyer 2011). Truly, Abram faced a baptism of fire when God said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). The Lord basically told Abram to leave everything he knew, everything he was familiar with, and everyone he knew, to leave the comfort of your home and the stability of your work, and go to a place where you know no one, a place you know little or nothing about, a place where there is no comfort or stability that you know of, and to a place that you have never seen before. Interestingly, there is no indication that Abram’s wife Sarai complained or resisted this uprooting of her family and neither did Abram. When they had left Ur, a place that had wealth that was unmatched at the time and was one of the greatest cities in the world (Gardner 1998), they would arrive at basically nothing.

Leaving Paganism

When God called Abram at Haran to leave his country, kindred, and father’s house and go to Canaan, the irony is not lost that Abram first left Ur where the Sumerian moon god Nannar was known by the name of Sin. That God called Abram out of the pagan worship centers of the world to worship the only true God and calling him out of sin (as He has done for us). So God was calling Abram out of Sin and to travel over 400 miles to a land he knew next to nothing about, and where he was going, “there was no such extensive travel” to at Canaan (Archer 2007) at the time. It seems to “testify to [Abraham’s] religious orientation” (Merrill 2008) in paganism that Abram’s father’s name was Terah, which meant moon.

Abraham’s Faith

Moses wrote Genesis so that the young nation Israel, who had also come out of a nation that was steeped in pagan worship, and were told to travel to a place unseen and about which little was known about, might be bolstered by Abraham’s example. In Jesus’ day, Abram’s faith was held up to as an example, proving that if Abram could leave everything familiar and go to an unfamiliar place and be blessed by God, then the ancient Israelites could make it to the Promised Land. They saw that God had fulfilled His promise to Abram to make of him the father of nations, meaning God was fully trustworthy. All that God required for Israel was to trust Him, and since Israel’s very existence as a nation was proof of this promise being fulfilled, they could certainly trust God to keep His word as they left Egypt. When Abram’s name was later changed to Abraham, his name because synonymous to both Jews and Gentiles, as the father of the faithful and a father of many nations, and is known today as the father of the Jews and Arabs. Abraham’s faith is related to the faith Christians have (Rom 2:29; Gal 3:29). Despite the nearly universal recognition of Abraham’s existence, some so-called biblical historical “experts” go so far as to suggest that Abraham may not have even existed (Coogan 2008).

Abram Believed God

The importance of Abram’s story was critical to the new nation of Israel and is prescriptive for believers today. His faith is more descriptive of what faith really is. Abram’s leaving at God’s call is faith in action and proves his faith was genuine. This type of faith is a verb…it is action-oriented…and it gives believers a practical application of what happens when they step out in faith into the unknown. By believing in God’s promises, a believer can take steps of faith, even when they don’t know where these steps will take them. As long as there is obedience, the Christian can walk by faith and not by sight. Christians are not the only recipients of the promise to Abraham because “all families of the earth shall be blessed” since it is through Abraham’s seed that the promised seed would come (Gen 12:3). The latter word for blessing mentioned in Genesis 12:3 is “to bless” and is the imperative form of the verb. Unlike a noun which can be either a person, place, or thing, the imperative form of “to bless” in Genesis 12:3, is the same type of imperative form of the verb Jesus used in giving the great commission to the disciples (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). With this assurance from God that He will indeed bless those who trust in Him, and that we cannot possibly please God without faith (Heb 11:6), we can look to Abraham’s example to know that God’s promises are more sure than the sunrise tomorrow.

Conclusion

Genesis chapter 12 marks the beginning of the Patriarchal portion of Genesis with God’s calling Abram around 2167 B.C. This was the starting point of the origin of the nation Israel (Merrill 2008). Abraham’s example has been used for over, 2,000 years as the watershed of true faith (Heb 11:8-9). By going to an unknown and unseen land, leaving all that he was familiar with behind, he proved that he believed God. Today, he is still known as the father of the faithful…the supreme example of what faith really is. We know that faith is a verb…it’s what you do.

Here is some related reading for you: Story of Abraham From the Bible: Life and Lessons

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1. Andreas J. and Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson. Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), 180.

2. Ibid., p. 181.

3. Ibid., p. 251.

4. Gleason L. Archer. A Survey of Old Testament: Introduction. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 142, 208.

5. Michael David Coogan. The Old Testament: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 112
2008), 115. Accessed January 23, 2014. EBSCO Host Library.

6. “Jesus Christ: An Historical Fact,” Jesus, the Topic of the Most Historians in All of Human History, last modified May 4, 2009, accessed January 23, 2014, http://voices.yahoo.com/jesus-christ-historical-fact-3216545.html?cat=34

7. Ibid., 99.

Gardner, Joseph L. Ed. Atlas of the Bible. New York: Readers Digest Association, 1985, 50.

Merrill, Eugene H., Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel: 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Publishing Group, 2008. 43, 41.

Meyer, F.B., Abraham or the Obedience of the Faith. Edited by Clyde C. Price, Jr.

Atlanta: Bottom of the Hill Publishing, The Christian Digital Library Foundation, Inc. 2011. (Accessed
January 8, 2014). http://www.bibleteacher.org/Dmmain.htm.





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