1.2 The Call Of Abram
1-2-1 Terah and Abram
Reading through the record of the call of Abram, a number of questions
present themselves. The answer to these provides powerful practical
1. Terah, his son Abram and the rest of the family left Ur to
travel to Canaan. How was Abram fulfilling the command that he
was given in Ur (Gen.12:1; Acts 7:2) to " get thee out of
thy country and from thy kindred and from thy father's house"
? Surely they went with him?
2. Why did Abram stop for a while in Haran, instead of going
straight from Ur to Canaan? Why did not Abram immediately
fulfil the command to leave his kindred and " father's house"
3. Why is it recorded that " Terah took Abram (not
the other way round)...and they went forth with (their wives)
from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan" (Gen.11:31)?
Were the promises made to Terah too?
Close study of the narrative is necessary to piece together the
likely scenario. First, we must define the difference between leaving
" thy kindred" and leaving " thy father's house"
. The word " house" is often used in Scripture, and particularly
in Genesis, to describe a household including servants, and can
also refer to ones descendants. The Hebrew for " Kindred"
comes from a stem meaning 'to be born', leading Strong to define
it as referring to those born in one's own fatherland. Acts 7:3
says that when Abram was in Ur, he was told " Get thee out
of thy country, and from thy kindred" - pointedly omitting
mention of " thy father's house" . Gen.12:1 records that
the Lord had told Abram to leave his country, kindred and
his father's house, but goes on to say that " So Abram departed"
from Haran " as the Lord had spoken unto him"
(Gen.12:4). The implication is that the command which he was given
in Ur, was repeated to him in Haran, with the additional information
that he must now also leave " thy father's house" . Again
we ask, Why?
There can be no doubt that Abram was a man of great faith. Yet
as with those who would fain follow his example, that faith was
developed by God through the providentially arranged circumstances
of his life. The fact has to be faced that Abram was called to leave
his country and kindred (his fellow countrymen), but when he left
Ur his countrymen came with him. And additionally, " Terah
took Abram...to go into the land of Canaan" (Gen.11:31).
Abram did not respond immediately and completely
to God's command. The call of Abram is an essay in partial response.
Yet we know he had faith. Terah was an idolater (Josh.24:2); the
command to leave was given to Abram, not Terah. Because God was
going to promise Abram a massive new family stemming from him,
he therefore had to come out from his own natural family. He was
going to be promised many descendants- therefore he had to separate
himself from his " father's house" or posterity. He was
to be promised a land for eternal inheritance- therefore he had
to leave his own native land. And in this life, Abram's seed must
separate themselves from their present, worldly inheritance if they
are to receive the promised blessings. It was therefore imperative
that to receive the promises, Abram must separate from his natural
family and land inheritance. There seems little doubt, in the light
of this, that it was God's intention for Abram to leave Ur and
his natural family, just taking his wife and their children with
them. Yet Abram did not do this. And yet he had faith!
The suggested explanation is that Abram was in the spiritual dilemma
faced by so many of God's servants. He had faith, but not quite
enough to motivate him to the fullness of action which he so dearly
wished to achieve (cp. Rom. 7:18,19). " I believe; help thou
mine unbelief" . " Lord increase (add to) our faith"
(which the disciples already had). God recognized Abram's faith,
and for some reason Terah took Abram and the whole family,
announcing that they were to emigrate to Canaan. For some unrevealed
reason, the workings of providence made Terah take this decision.
Because 'Canaan' would have been relatively unheard of (Abram "
went out, not knowing whither he went" , Heb. 11:8) and uncivilized
compared to Ur, it is possible to speculate that Abram had told
Terah about the promise he had received. Terah then may have decided
that such a promise ought to involve him as Abram's father,
and decided to go with Abram. Terah must have had a very high level
of motivation to leave cosmopolitan Ur for uncivilized Canaan. "
Terah took Abram" certainly implies that some unrecorded
circumstances took the decision out of Abram's hands; he had to
leave his own country, because his father had ordered a mass emigration
of the family. How hard it must have been for Abram to make sense
of all this! He had been told to leave his family and country, and
travel to a land God would show him. At that point in time, he was
unaware that that country would be Canaan. How God would lead him
But he believed God, and " when he was called to go out into
a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed"
(Heb. 11:8). Therefore when his father announced that they were
emigrating to Canaan, Abram would have realized that this was the
call from God to get up and leave. Unlike the rest of Terah's unrecorded
family, who would have mocked such a crazy plan, Abram willingly
submitted. But how was he to leave his kindred and father's house?
For they were coming with him! Indeed, Terah " took Abram"
. Thus Abram had faith in God's promise, yet may have balked at
the command to leave his country and family. Providentially arranged
circumstances then resulted in his aging father taking him, implying
some degree of compulsion, and leading him out of his native country.
Whilst not fully understanding how he could leave his father's household
whilst they looked set to be accompanying him on this journey to
a strange land, he went ahead in faith. It is emphasized that God
" brought out" (s.w. to lead, pluck or pull out) Abram
from Ur (Neh.9:7; Gen.15:6,7). The calling came through Abram's
hearing of the word of promise, and providentially arranged circumstances
encouraging his faithful response to it.
Abraham's attachment to his father and father's house is even indicated in his name, Ab-ram- meaning "my father is exalted" (1). In that family, Abram's father named his son like this because he wanted his son to exalt him- not break away from him, as God required of Abram. Abraham's connection with his father is shown in the various possible meanings of the name Abram. If 'Abram' were used as a Western Semitic word, it would mean "he is exalted through his relationship to his father"; 'Abram' in Akkadian would mean "he loved the father" (2). Yet Abraham gave up all this for the sake of God's promises to him; he lost it all in order to gain the new family which God offered him in return, just as all his seed must do. And later Scripture seems to refer to these meanings of the word 'Abram'- for Is. 41:8 and 2 Chron. 20:7 speak of him as "the friend [lover] of God". He had once 'loved' his father's house, but in response to the promises he left them, and loved God; and thus God loved him, and Abram became Abraham, the 'exalted father'.
It was equally radical for Abraham to be told that God would impute righteousness to him. For in those times, righteousness was a concept associated with a person remaining within their existing communal relationships. Von Rad quotes contemporary documentation to this effect: "A man is called righteous who conducts himself properly with reference to an existing communal relationship... just [justified] is the man who stands with his community" (3). The whole message to Abraham of justification by faith and imputed righteousness must be seen against this backdrop. The same radical call to break away from our surrounding society and its worldviews and concepts of righteousness is required by all who have received the same promises made to Abraham.
A Radical Call
In the near East, each family had their own gods. When a man became head of the family, he had the right to choose his own god; there was no requirement that he maintained the same god as the previous head of the family. The choice of a god was confirmed by a covenant; the Amorites and Arameans therefore called their family god "The Lord of the house", and the sons of the family often were named with "theophoric names", reflecting the name of the family's god (4). Against this background, therefore, it was a radical thing for Yahweh to appear to Abraham and order him to do something as radical as break from his family (Gen. 12:1). It was God who chose Abraham, not Abraham who chose Yahweh, contrary to the accepted norm of the man chosing a family god when his father or previous head of the family died. The surrounding nations or tribes were comprised of various families each with their own god; nations had no one fixed god. When we repeatedly read of how Yahweh was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that Yahweh is the God of all the families and tribes of Israel, we are therefore encountering a new paradigm. There were to be no other gods in Israel apart from Yahweh. He was to be the sole national God; the unity of Yahweh, and His being the sole national God of Israel, was therefore a new concept in the near East. And we can better understand the way that both the Lord Jesus and Paul saw in the unity of God a call to unity amongst His people; for this had been the intention from the start. The unity of God isn't so much a numerical statement as a call to profound unity. But it could only become real for Abraham, as it can for us today, if we leave, come out from, the culture and worldviews which surround us.
Yahweh's call of Abraham to be His, taking the initiative which Divine grace does when calling someone, was therefore radical. The Biblical record states simply that Yahweh spoke and Abraham believed with no proof or prior relationship. The rabbinic midrash and the Koran embelish upon this silence with various tales of Yahweh's prior relationship with Abraham- perhaps psychologically motivated in the desire to make Abraham's faith and obedience the more understandable and normal. Whether or not there was any previous encounter between Yahweh and Abraham is beside the point- the Biblical record invites us to see God as taking the initiative, and Abraham faithfully responding. This is characteristic of God's call; Saul out looking for lost cattle, the disciples mending their nets- are suddenly called, and some respond well and others like Saul for ever try to slip out of it.
It has been pointed out that Abram or Abiram was one of the most common names in the near East- it was common in Babylon as Abirami, and in Egypt as Abu-reheni or Abram (5). Into this very common name- as normal and common as the names we bear in our societies- was added the Name of Yahweh. Abram became Abraham. The central letter of Yahweh's Name became the central letter of Abraham's. But Abram means 'my father is exalted', or more strictly as W.F. Albright suggests 'I am exalted with regard to / because of my father'. To jettison this name was to trash all Abraham and his culture held so dear- definition in terms of their father, where they came from. The call of the Lord Jesus in our age is in essence no different- to reject father and mother and instead follow Him, to be His. Not in the sense of hating them, but in being new persons, carved out as a totally new family. The 'h' in the middle of Yahweh's Name was now inserted into the middle of Abraham's name; Abram became Abraham, father of a multitude, a new family. Some miserable philological critics have claimed that 'h' was an unknown sound in the near East of Abraham's time (6). And maybe they're right, in which case 'h' would've been a new sound. It would be rather like importing the single Russian letter pronounced 'shch' into the English alphabet. The answer to the question 'What's your name?' would've been arresting and challenging to Abraham's contemporaries: 'Abraham' would've sounded strange and new to them. There will be something equally challenging and arresting to the world surrounding Abraham's seed as people come to know our name, to perceive who we really are.
All this would've made life difficult for Abraham, as it does for us. The Midrash at Bereshit Rabbah 38:13 tells tales of Terah accusing his son Abraham before the gods for having destroyed idols, and Abraham being thrown into a fiery furnace for rejection of his father and his father's gods.
The meaning of ‘holiness’ is both to be separated from and separated
unto. Separation isn’t only something negative; it’s more essentially
something positive. We are separated from this world because
we are separated unto the things of God’s Kingdom; the separation
from is a natural, unpretended outcome of our involvement in
the things of God’s Kingdom. It’s not part of a cross which the
believer must reluctantly, sacrificially bare. Like all spiritual growth,
it is unaffected; the number of hours spent watching t.v. goes down (to
zero?) naturally; the friendships with the world naturally
frizzle out, the way we dress, the things we hope for and talk about...
all these things will alter in their own time. Israel were brought out
from Egypt through the Red Sea (cp. baptism) that they might be brought
in to the land of promise (Dt. 6:23). The Nazarite was separated
from wine, because he was separated unto the Lord (Num.
6:2,3). Dt. 4:19 warns Israel not to worship the stars, because God has
shared them with “all the peoples under the whole heaven” (RV)- but He
Has shared Himself only with Israel. Because of this unique and awesome
entrance into their lives by God, they ought to have naturally separated
themselves from any other god. The positive separation unto naturally
resulted in the negative separation from.
Abraham was told “Get thee out...” of Ur; and obediently “they went
forth to go into the land of Canaan: and into the
land of Canaan they came” (Gen. 12:1,5). This must be the pattern of our
lives, until finally at the Lord’s return we are again called to
go out to meet the bridegroom; and we will go in with
Him to the marriage (Mt. 25:6,10). The New Testament preachers urged men
to turn “from darkness to light, and from the
power of satan to God” (Acts 26:18); from wickedness
to God, to the Lord (Acts 3:26; 15:19; 26:20; 9:35;
11:21). In Nehemiah’s time, the people “separated themselves from
the peoples of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their
sons, and their daughters…they clave to their brethren” (Neh.
10:28,29). Close fellowship with one’s brethren arises from having gone
out from the surrounding world, unto the things of God’s
word. That, at least, was the theory. In reality, those exiles who returned
found this separation very difficult. In fact, the account of Judah’s
separation from the surrounding peoples reads similar to that of the purges
from idolatory during the reign of the kings. They separated / purged,
and then, within a few years, we read of them doing so again. Initially,
the exiles separated from the peoples of the land (Ezra 6:21); by 9:1
they are in need of separating again; and by 10:11 likewise; then they
separate (10:16), only to need another call to separation by the time
of Neh. 9:2; 13:3. They obviously found it extremely difficult to be separated
from the surrounding world unto God’s law (Neh. 10:28).
This separation from the world unto the things of God is brought
out in the way Ps. 45:10.16 alludes to the Mosaic laws about a Gentile
woman forgetting her father’s house. Indeed the Psalm appears to have
relevance to Solomon’s marriage to a Gentile [and note the allusions to
Joseph’s marriage to a Gentile]: “Forget also thine own people, and thy
father’s house [this is the ‘separation from’ the world]…instead of thy
fathers shall be thy children, which thou mayest make princes in all the
earth [land- of Israel]”. The emotional pain of separation from her father’s
world would be offset by her bringing forth Godly children within the
hope of Israel. The whole process of separating from and yet also separating
unto seems to me to create a kind of synergy from the whole dialectic.
It's by separating from the world that we go back into this world
in service and witness and caring concern. And if we don't find ourselves
'separated unto' those things- have we actually separated from
this world in the way God intends?
(1) See Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (London: S.C.M., 1963) p. 152.
(2) Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary On The Book Of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1992) Vol. 2 p. 267.
(3) Gerhard von Rad, Genesis (London: S.C.M., 1963) p. 180.
(4) W.F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (New York: 1957), p. 246; Angel Gonzales, Abraham: Father of Believers (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967) p. 19.
(5) J.B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Oxford: O.U.P., 1950) p. 242, p. 329 note 9.
(6) See the discussion in Gonzales, op cit, p. 26.