************ Sermon on Genesis 12:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 22, 2012
"Stuck in Haran"
I was ploughing a field at the back of my dad's farm. I hit a wet patch of clay. The tractor started to sink. I should have stopped right then and there and gotten my brother to pull me out with the other tractor. But I thought if I raised the plough and rocked back and forth, I would be able to get out. Pretty soon the mud was up to and over the axles. Not only couldn't my brother pull me out, we had to get a tow truck to the back of the farm at great expense.
Have you ever been stuck? Maybe you feel stuck in a dead-end job. Maybe you feel stuck in a loveless marriage. Maybe you feel stuck in a home or business you don't want to own. Maybe you feel stuck living in Visalia and yearn for big-city life. Maybe you feel stuck with the wrong set of friends.
As we will find out, Abraham was stuck. Abraham was stuck in Haran. But more on that in a moment.
I need to admit I found our Scripture reading to be confusing. To get it straight in my mind I had to map it out. I discovered there are two Nahors: Nahor the father of Terah; and, Nahor the son of Terah. There are two Harans: Haran the son of Terah; and, Haran the city. To make it even more confusing, Nahor the son, married his niece, Milcah. And, Abraham married his half-sister. Got it all straight in your mind?!
I Abraham: Hero of Faith but Not an Idol
A Our text tells us that Abraham was called by God. He was called to leave country, people, and family.
(Gen 12:1) The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you."One commentator wrote that Abraham believed God when he did not know where (Heb 11:8), when he did not know how (Heb 11:11), and when he did not know why (Heb 11:17-19).
The New Testament tells us that Abraham is one of the heroes of faith:
(Heb 11:8-9) By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (9) By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.Isn't this amazing? Isn't this amazing what Abraham did by faith?
We have so much that Abraham did not have; we have the Word, the Spirit, the church as institution, the first coming of Christ, the fulfilment of God's promises. Yet, I believe most of us would say our faith is not half as strong as Abraham's.
B But now, let me give you a word of caution about Abraham. The Jews were tempted to turn Abraham into an idol. Their mantra, one they said over and over again, something they took solace in again and again: we are children of Abraham. Like the Jews, we must resist the temptation to idolize Abraham.
Moses, under the inspiration of the Spirit, guides us against turning Abraham into something he was not. He guides us in the opening words of our Scripture reading already. Do you remember how our reading for today started? It started with, "This is the account of Terah."
I have told you before that Genesis is divided into different accounts. So far in Genesis, we have seen the account of the heavens and the earth (Gen 2:4); the account of Adam (Gen 5:1); the account of Noah (Gen 6:9); the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen 10:1); the account of Shem (Gen 11:10); and, now the account of Terah (Gen 11:27).
"This is the account of Terah" (Gen 11:27). This is not what our human hearts and minds would expect here. We would expect this to be the account of Abraham, the great hero of faith – after all, everything that follows is about Abraham. But, no, this is the account of Terah. Telling us what? Meaning what? What is God's message here? God is telling us Abraham is not the key player here. God is telling us that Abraham is not the one in charge, the one who counts; rather, the one in charge, the one who counts, is God. "This is the account of Terah" (Gen 11:27).
C Verse 30 contains another note reminding us of the sovereignty of God. We are told "Sarai was barren; she had no children" (Gen 11:30). Do you remember, further on in the Bible, who else is barren? Also barren are Rebekah, Rachel, the wife of Manoah, and Elizabeth. God is showing His power and control of human history and genealogy. God, not man, is in charge. God, not man, is in control.
II God Calls But Abraham Does Not Listen
A Abraham was chosen and called by God. However, we must emphasize that God did not call Abraham because of his merits. Because Abraham had none. Abraham was chosen by grace and, as we will find out, he had feet of clay.
Abraham was a citizen of Ur of the Chaldees, one of the most progressive cities of the ancient world, but where idolatry was a way of life. Did you know Abraham was an idol-worshiper before his call by God?
(Josh 24:2) Joshua said to all the people, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods.'"Did you hear that? Terah and his family were idol-worshipers.
Had God not chosen and called and revealed Himself to Abraham, Abraham would have died an unbeliever. From a human point-of-view, God's choice of Abraham and Sarah was a foolish one. But ultimately it brought great glory to God.
God graciously chose Abraham. But this does not mean God had forgotten the rest of the world. God chose Abraham in order to bless the rest of the world. Remember what God said to Abraham:
(Gen 12:3) all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Cf Gen 22:18)
B Abraham may be a hero of faith but, I say again, he also has feet of clay. That much is obvious from our Scripture reading. As our text informs us, Abraham was told to "Get out." "Leave."
(Gen 12:1) Leave your country, your people and your father's household ...Abraham was called to give up the land he knew best, the culture he was acquainted with, the familiar sights and sounds, family and friends. Abraham was called to leave his comfort zone.
Now, our English Bible uses the past tense: "The LORD had said to Abram."
In the Hebrew language there are only two tenses: the perfect tense which expresses completed action; and, the imperfect tense which expresses uncompleted action. It makes no difference when something was done – whether it is yesterday or today. What is most important is whether or not something was done. In front of us this morning is an imperfect verb – in other words, the action has not been completed. Telling us what? Telling us that Abraham has not yet done what God told him to do.
Chapter 11 makes clear that Abraham did not fully obey. He left his country. He left his people. But he did not leave his father's household – he took along his father, Terah, and he took along his nephew, Lot.
Abraham shows us and reminds us that whatever you bring with you from the old life into the new life is likely to create problems. Terah, Abraham's father, kept Abraham from fully obeying the Lord. As for Lot, he created serious problems for Abraham even after they agreed to separate. Furthermore, Abraham and Sarah took their past relationship with them and it got them into trouble twice (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18).
The life of faith demands total separation from what is evil and total devotion to what is holy (2 Cor 6:14-7:1). As we study the life of Abraham, we will discover that he was often tempted to make compromises; and, occasionally he yielded. This reminds us, God allows us to be tested in order to build our faith and bring out the best in us; the devil, however, tempts us in order to destroy our faith and bring out the worst in us.
When you walk by faith, you lean on God alone: His Word, His character, His will, and His power. Your family no longer is your first love or your first obligation (Lk 14:25-27). Your love for God is so strong that it makes your love for your family look like nothing in comparison! When God calls us we must not allow anything to compromise that call.
C There is more to God's call than leaving. Not only was Abraham called to leave but he was also called to go: "go to the land I will show you" (Gen 12:1). Abraham was called to wander as a nomad, carrying with him whatever he would keep.
So what happened? Abraham, and family, packed up and left. They packed all their belongings. They collected all their flocks and herds. They left Ur of the Chaldees. They traveled up the Euphrates River Valley. With flocks and herds and camels and men-servants and maid-servants they must have been a large group and slow moving group. This was by foot. No cattle trailers. No train service. No leisurely trip on a series of barges.
Some of you might think it is an easy thing to obey a direct command from God. But let's remember that Abraham is 75 years old, retirement age, when he packs up like one of our parents moving to Sierra Village. The last phrase of Genesis 12:1 shows what made obedience especially difficult. God said, "go to the land that I will show you." Abraham was told to go without a map!
Abraham obeyed even though he did not know where he was going. He had no map. No Triple A brochure. No lineup of motel reservations. His caravan simply headed up the Euphrates River Valley.
We would struggle with this, wouldn't we? Usually we want a plan, a clear destination. But Abraham didn't have a clue. If you met up with his caravan, the conversation might go something like this:
Abraham, where are you going?Abraham did not know. Yet, he stepped out in faith.
I don't know.
How will you know when you get there?
I don't know that either. God said He will show me.
How long will the trip take?
We like to control the map of our life and know everything in advance. But faith has confidence in God and His promises.
John Calvin describes God's word to Abraham in this way: "I command you to go forth with closed eyes, and forbid you to inquire where I am about to lead you; until, having renounced your country, you have given yourself wholly to me."
That is hard! Calvin goes on to apply this to us: "This is the true proof of our obedience, when we are not wise in our own eyes, but commit ourselves entirely unto the Lord."
Our lives and our church would be turned upside down if we followed God with closed eyes. God does not want us to answer every challenge by saying, "We've never done it that way" or, "We like our way of doing things." Instead, God wants us to answer every challenge by saying, "Here I am, Lord. I will go where You want me to go. I will do what You want me to do."
We don't know how long Abraham and family traveled. But did you notice what we are told? We are told they quit the journey part way through. "But," says Scripture, "when they came to Haran, they settled there" (Gen 11:31).
Go back to what I said earlier. Moses used the imperfect tense implying incomplete action, uncompleted action. Abraham did not finish what God told him to do.
Why did Abraham stop? Was Terah old and sick? Were they tired of the trip – after all, they had traveled some 600 miles on foot by the time they got to Haran? Maybe Abraham got to a point where he was content and felt that pressing on towards Canaan just wasn't worth the trouble. Maybe he thought that Haran would do because he was out of Ur and all its idol worship. Maybe he thought going half-way was good enough. Or maybe he thought, "You know what? I'm too old for all this stuff. I'll just settle here in Haran. I've done enough and gone far enough."
We aren't told why they stopped. How long did they stop? We aren't told that either. But this we do know: Abraham's half-way obedience was costly. Abraham lost the time he could have spent walking with God.
God said "go" but Abraham was stuck in Haran.
D Abraham was called to leave and Abraham was called to go. Abraham was called to leave country and people and family. Abraham was called to go to the Promised Land. Why? This was all part of God's plan. This was the next step in God's plan to make for Himself a people of His very own. This was the next step in God's plan to make for Himself a people from whom the promised seed of the woman would come. This was the next step in God's plan of salvation.
Do you see what sinful, self-centered, disobedient Abraham was doing? Abraham was putting himself in conflict with the plan of God. Abraham was raising obstacles to God's plan for our salvation. Abraham put his own agenda before God's agenda. And, as we will see in the stories of Abraham's life, this proved costly.
E God directed Abraham to do two things: to leave and to go. People who walk by faith often hear God's voice telling them something similar, "You need to leave now. And, you need to go."
Sometimes, God's plan has to do with geography. God calls us to go to a new location.
At other times, God directs His people to leave particular situations. Maybe He is calling you to leave your work, or your relationships, or to make other difficult changes. When you walk by faith, God never lets you stagnate in your old place and old ways. When you are tempted to settle down and relax, God comes and says, "Leave ... Go." This was the story of Abraham. In fact, he was never allowed to settle down permanently as long as he lived.
What do you do when God calls? Do you run away, like Jonah? Do you doubt? Do you rebel? Do you obey? Or, do you obey but only partially? What do you do when God calls? Are you, like Abraham, stuck in Haran?
When God calls you to do something – do it! When He calls you to go somewhere – go! When He calls you to be something – strive for it with all your might! Don't get stuck in Haran!
I want you to know that Jesus says the same thing to you and me that God said to Abraham. Jesus says, "Leave." And, Jesus says, "Go."
(Mt 10:37-38) Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; (38) and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Do you hear the words of Jesus? Jesus tells us to leave father and mother or anything else that ties us to our sinful past. And, Jesus tells us to follow Him.
When we look at the entire chapter of Genesis 11 what we're seeing is all of man's religious history. In the story of the Tower of Babel we see man's wicked efforts to glorify himself without God – it is a works-based religion. But when we look at Abraham we see God's grace. It is God's grace that brings Abraham to Canaan.
So, congregation, by grace and through faith, listen to God's call. The same call He gave to Abraham. Listen, and don't get stuck in Haran.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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