the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3, New Living Translation).
In chapter twelve of the book of Genesis the story of Abram is began in earnest. This is a fresh direction in the Genesis record. Yet this portion presupposes previous knowledge and so is not a “completely new narrative.” (Wenham, Genesis 1987, 274).
It is important to note that God is presented here by his covenant name of Yahweh. This is significant because it is in Genesis 12:1-3 that “Yahweh makes the covenant initiative offer to Abram” (Walton, Genesis 2001, 392). We may consider such an offer something one would obviously accept with eagerness. However, we must understand what Abram is being asked to do. God is calling Abram to do something virtually unheard of in that ancient Near Eastern culture; leave your family and clan and strike out on your own. Yahweh is asking Abram to trust him even though it defies the logic of Abram’s worldview.
Even more unusual are the promises Yahweh makes to Abram. He tells him he will make him a great nation. In other words, Yahweh insists that Abram believe he will receive a family in place of the family he is leaving. We have already been alerted to the fact that Sarai is barren (Genesis 11:30). If Abram were to have any hope for family, logic tells him he should remain with his clan where, if necessary, he might find another wife to carry on his line. In any case, “the initiative offers much, but its cost is significant. Abram must trust Yahweh to deliver what he has offered in order to give up so much that Abram already has to gain” (Walton, 392).
Yahweh goes on to enumerate a number of blessings that will come to Abram if he walks away from the security of hearth and home. Not only will he be a great nation but he will be blessed, famous – and blessing to others. In other words, Abram will be found in the middle of God’s favor and protection. Moreover, the favor of God will flow outward from the family of Abram to the entire earth. In essence “what Abram is promised was the hope of many an Oriental monarch” (Wenham, 275). Then, without further build up to the event, we are simply told that “Abram departed as the Lord had instructed” (Genesis 12:4).
Essentially, Yahweh expected Abram to take him at his word, for, “God does not ask Abram to give up anything he is not going to replace” (Walton, 399). God says he will give Abram a land of his own if he is willing to leave his native country. He says he will give Abram a new family, a “kinship group” and the protection and security provided by that familial relationship (Walton, 399). This was probably the most difficult transition for Abram. By leaving his father’s household he was also abandoning his duties to his parents and family clan. He was turning his back on the blessings of the family line (Walton, 399).
Another aspect of this may be the abandonment of his inheritance. This is not as clear. In Genesis 12:5 we are told that when Abram left Haran, “He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5). Thus, it is possible Abram left his father’s household with his portion of the inheritance.
We will return to this topic next week.