************ Sermon on Genesis 12:1-9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 29, 2012
"God's Call of Abraham"
How do you think our Bible reading spoke to the original audience – the children of Israel delivered by God from Egypt and traveling through the wilderness to the promised land?
Certain things would spring out at them. We are told that "the Canaanites were in the land" (Gen 12:6). In other words, the Promised Land was a land full of pagans who would not respond warmly to Israel and Israel's God. And, this further means the pagans would have to be conquered and removed before the Israelites can move in.
But not everything is negative. Notice where Abraham goes: he goes to the "great tree of Moreh at Shechem" (Gen 12:6). The name "Moreh" suggests a place of divine instruction, a place where God meets with man. So, the Israelites can expect the same thing in the Promised Land that they experienced at Sinai and in the wilderness: they can expect revelation from the Lord, a meeting with the Lord, and the presence of the Lord.
And, notice God's promise: "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen 12:7). This tells the Israelites that the country they were about to conquer was promised long before the Exodus. This was not something new and something unexpected.
Furthermore, notice what Abraham does in response to the promise of God: he traveled from Shechem towards the hills east of Bethel (Gen 12:8). This means that Abraham traveled through the length of the land as if it were already his. He is like a property owner looking over his new possession.
Finally, note what Abraham does: he builds an altar at Shechem and Bethel (Gen 12:7,8). Not an altar to a heathen god. But an altar dedicated to the service of the one only true God. In this act, Abraham anticipates the day when the worship of God would fill the land and replace the worship of Baal.
The children of Israel listened as Moses told them the story of Abraham. In their mind, would they emphasize the negative or the positive? Would they press boldly forward or retreat in dismay? It all depends on whether or not they would respond the way Abraham did.
I God's Sovereign Activity
A Now, as I mentioned last week, the danger exists that when we look at the stories of Abraham – or any other Biblical figure – that we turn them into heroes, that we put our focus on them. The intent of our passage is not to describe Abraham; rather, it is to describe the sovereign activity of God.
From the beginning of time – from eternity, in fact – it was the intent of God to bring forth the Redeemer, the Savior, from a special people. This people was to be different from all the other nations of the earth. This nation would be granted the privilege and responsibility of God's Word (Rom 3:2). To this nation God would send the prophets. To this nation God would give the land of Canaan. And, from this nation, God would bring forth the Messiah.
The birth of this new nation began with the call of Abraham.
B Why did God call Abraham? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Did God choose Abraham because Abraham was a righteous man, blameless and pure, a child of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation (cf Gen 6:9; 7:1; Phil 2:15)? No such thing is said of Abraham. In fact, as I said last week, when we turn to the last chapter of the book of Joshua, we see that Abraham, and his family, served pagan gods (Josh 24:2,14-15). Abraham grew up as a pagan in a pagan household. He grew up worshiping pagan gods.
When it came to calling Abraham, did God have no choice? Was there no one to call who served and feared God? We can't say that either. A little further on in Genesis we meet Melchizedek. Scripture identifies him as king of Salem and priest of God Most High (Gen 14:18). Melchizedek not only knew God and worshiped God but also served God in all of life. Surely, Melchizedek would have been a better choice than Abraham. Yet, God picked Abraham.
So why did God choose Abraham? There is one answer and only one answer. God chose Abraham out of sovereign grace. Abraham was not picked because he was better than all other men. Abraham wasn't picked because he was a believer while all others were unbelievers. There wasn't anything special about Abraham which led God to pick him. God picked Abraham solely out of grace, out of His sovereign good pleasure. God picked Abraham just because He wanted to.
We can ask about ourselves the same question we asked about Abraham: Why does God choose us as His people today? God chooses us solely out of sovereign grace. There isn't anything about us which leads God to pick us. God picks us just because He wants to.
C It was God's redemption plan to start a new nation through Abraham and Sarai. "I will make you into a great nation," promised God, "and I will bless you" (Gen 12:2). And from this nation God would bring forth the Redeemer, the Savior: "All people on earth will be blessed through you," said God (Gen 12:3b). Yet, we are also told, as I mentioned last week, that "Sarai was barren; she had no children" (Gen 11:30).
Sarai's barrenness on the one hand, and God's promises of a great nation and a blessing to all people on the other hand, underscore the sovereign activity of God. It takes a great, big, mighty God to bring an entire nation from a barren woman. It takes a great, big, mighty God to bring the Redeemer from an empty womb. It takes a sovereign God to do this.
But, then, our sovereign God can do anything, anything He wants to do. As God said to Sarai a couple of years later, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). Or, as the angel said to Mary some 2000 years later, "For nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37). Think of the hardest thing possible to do. God can do it. He can make Niagara Falls run backwards. He can make the Sequoia trees dance. He can make frogs and horses talk. He is sovereign. He is almighty. He is in control. He is in charge. No barren womb, no virgin woman, no sinful heart, is able to stand in His way to keep Him from accomplishing His redemptive purposes. No Pharaoh drowning the Hebrew baby boys in the River Nile, no Haman with his plan to kill and annihilate all the Jews in captivity in Persia, no Herod killing the baby boys of Bethlehem, is able to stand in God's way to keep Him from accomplishing His redemptive purposes.
We see here that the origin of the nation of Israel is nothing short of miraculous. By His sovereign power God brought Israel into existence in order that in due time the Redeemer might be born. I think here of what the prophet Zechariah says:
(Zech 4:6) "Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit," says the LORD Almighty.It was God's sovereign activity – and not human might or power – that brought forth the nation of Israel and gave her the Promised Land (cf Ps 44:1-8).
What do you think this said to Israel as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land? "This is us who is being described, our beginnings. We are the result of God's sovereign activity."
What a great and marvelous God!
II Abraham's Faith, Obedience, Separation
A The Lord had said to Abraham, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you." How did Abraham respond to God's call? Last week I mentioned Abraham's disobedience, his half-hearted obedience. He left his country and people but he didn't leave his father's household. He started off on the journey but he stopped half-way.
But the sovereign God, not Abraham, was in control. So, in God's plan, Abraham's father died (Gen 11:32); and, in God's plan, Abraham parted ways with Lot (Gen 13).
In this light I want you to consider what we are told in verse 4 of our Scripture reading: "Abraham left, as the Lord had told him" (Gen 12:4). This was not Abraham's doing. Because, as we already saw, Abraham was not fully obedient. Rather, this was the work of the Spirit in Abraham's heart.
Isn't our almighty God so wonderful? He takes those who are unwilling and unable and half-hearted and He molds them and shapes them into His servants. What an awesome God we serve!
B "Abraham left, as the Lord had told him" (Gen 12:4).
By God's grace we see Abraham doing three things. First of all, we see that Abraham – by grace – believed God. God called and Abraham, by grace, eventually responded in faith.
The Bible tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Abraham responded to God's sovereign activity by believing the Lord, and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; cf Heb 11:8).
When God calls, the only possible response is faith. Only by faith could Abraham claim for himself the wonderful promises of God about becoming a great nation and a blessing to all peoples on earth. Only by faith can we claim for ourselves God's gracious promises about blessing and salvation and life everlasting in Christ.
Do you have this faith?
C "Abraham left, as the Lord had told him" (Gen 12:4).
The second thing that we see is that Abraham, by grace, responded in obedience.
This shows us that Abraham's faith was not a cheap "I believe." It was a costly faith. It was a faith that found expression in obedience. Abraham's journey from Ur to Canaan made me think of a book my parents gave me about the Dutch immigrant experience to Canada. Inside this book I came across the story of Aritha Van Herk and her family:
Facts. My mother was seasick, more than seasick, sick to her soul. Until she saw land. My brothers and sister were curious, but stilled, wide-eyed. The train was a plunged and endless journey through nowhere, five days and nights ... They had no money. Although they didn't show it, they were afraid. The only English word they knew was "potato." My grandfather had said they were going to hell and would never come back. And he cried, with his face buried in his arm against the stable wall. Before they left, they had a photograph taken, a solemn, unblinking photograph that confronted the camera in the same way they confronted [the new land].
... They lived in a granary. They worked. They made $60 a month. They worked. They were homesick. They worked. They were tired. They worked. They say they were determined, but it was more than that, they were obsessed. They worked. Hand over hand, ever so slowly, they moved forward ...
Abraham and Sarai and their family must have experienced some of this. I am sure they were homesick. I am sure they questioned their reasons for leaving the comfort and culture and prosperity of Ur. I suspect that friends and family they left behind questioned their sanity and maybe even cursed them into hell. Imagine leaving your country, your people, and your father's household in obedience to the Lord. That's what Abraham did. He put his faith into action. His faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did (James 2:22). The fact of the matter is "If you don't live it, you don't believe it."
D "Abraham left, as the Lord had told him" (Gen 12:4).
The third thing we see is that Abraham, by grace, finally separated himself: he separated himself from country, people, and household.
It was God's redemption plan to start a new nation through Abraham and Sarai. "I will make you into a great nation," promised God, "and I will bless you" (Gen 12:2). And from this nation God would bring forth the Redeemer, the Savior: "All people on earth will be blessed through you," said God (Gen 12:3b).
For this plan and these promises to be accomplished, God required a new people, a new nation, a new beginning. The Redeemer's nation would have to be different from all the other nations and peoples of the earth, who all lived in utter disobedience. Beginning with Abraham and Sarai already, God called His new nation out of the world to be separate and different from the world.
For Abraham and Sarai, citizens of the Ancient World around 2000 B.C., this separation took on a dimension that sounds totally foreign to us. In those days and in that culture a family was made up of both its living and dead members. Indeed, the dead were often buried under the floor of the family home back in Ur of the Chaldeans. It was hard enough for Terah's whole family when God brought them from Ur to Haran (cf Gen 15:7). The difficulty of leaving became even worse, however, when Abraham and Sarai where told by the Lord to leave Haran for there Terah had died and there he was buried. So in following God out of faith and obedience, they were leaving their last roots, their last connection, their last ties, with the past.
What God required of Abraham and Sarai He also requires of us today. Those who live out their faith in Christ are called, like Abraham and Sarai, to be separate and different. We are called to separate ourselves from the sinful world we find ourselves in. We are called to separate ourselves from sin and unrighteousness. We are called to separate ourselves from anything and anyone which would stand between us and the Lord.
E By God's grace we see Abraham doing three things. Abraham believed. Abraham obeyed. Abraham separated.
In doing this, Abraham is a type of Christ. Abraham foreshadows Christ. First, from eternity, Christ believed and trusted in the Father and the covenant of redemption. Second, Christ not only was obedient, but He was also obedient to death, even death on the cross. And, third, Christ separated: He separated Himself from heaven and heaven's throne; He separated Himself from the Father; He separated Himself from the comfort and safety of what was familiar and entered a world full of hateful enemies.
As I already said, the intent of our passage is not to describe Abraham; rather, it is to describe the sovereign activity of God.
God is sovereign. He reigns supreme. He calls and chooses and elects and beckons. But now, like Abraham, we – by grace – must respond: in faith, in obedience, in separation.
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