Of the 3,000 approximately people named in the Bible, only one man is associated with the enviable title, friend of God. That man’s story began over four millennia ago. His name first appears in the genealogical record of Shem’s descendants in Genesis 11 following the dispersion at the Tower of Babel.
The background material found in the two concluding paragraphs of Genesis 11 sets the stage for the enduring friendship between the One-true God of creation and a man known only by the given name—Abram.
Startling details about Abram can be discovered using the creation of the world—an event that scholars call Anno Mundi (AM)—as a starting point for the chronology of events. Noah was born in the year 1056 after creation and lived for 950 years until 2006 according to traditional dating used by Jewish scholars. Noah’s great-grandson Abram was born in 1948 and lived contemporaneously with his great-grandfather for 58 years. The fact that the State of Israel was reborn in AD 1948 is something we’ll save for another discussion.
Both Noah and Abram were alive during Nimrod’s failed construction project of the Tower of Babel in 1996 some 300 years after the Great Flood and would have experienced the consequent dispersion of the nations. (1)
GOD CALLED ABRAM
The biblical account documents that it was God who initiated a relationship with Abram. Residing in Ur of the Chaldeans, now modern day Iraq, Abram (later Abraham) was called to leave the comfort of his hometown for what God simply described as a land that I will show you:
“Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1).
Abram’s relationship with God was not a modification or evolution of contemporaneous worship, but distinct from everything else around him. When Abram obeyed God’s call, he not only walked away from a sophisticated cosmopolitan city, he also turned his back on the prevailing worldview.
Archeologists, unearthing bricks inscribed with the word Hur, connect Abram’s hometown with the god Hurki identifying the ziggurat of Ur as a major center of moon-worship in the ancient world. (1) Every city had a ziggurat that was as important to the religious landscape in Mesopotamia as was the cathedral in Europe prior to postmodernism (2)
The predominant Sumerian civilization of Abram’s day venerated four principle gods corresponding to sky, air, water and earth. (3) In addition to the lesser gods associated with the sun, moon and fertility, they worshipped more than 3,000 local deities.
Life was a confusing, chaotic and superstitious existence with city-states constantly at war defending the honor of their regional gods. Failure to appease the gods they knew and the possibility of offending those they didn’t fostered societal desperation as illustrated in the epitaph on a Sumerian grave.
“The god whom I know or do not know has oppressed me;
The goddess whom I know or do not know has placed suffering upon me.
Although I am constantly looking for help, no one takes me by the hand;
When I weep they do not come to my side.” (4)
Amidst this hopeless milieu, the God of Abram revealed His plan for blessing the whole world. Although the Bible records that men like Job and Melchizedek were monotheists who worshipped the One-true God, they were islands in the sea of idolatry that threatened to drown out what little knowledge of God remained. (5)
Because of God’s relationship with Abram, monotheism would be recognized as uniquely distinct from the cultural norm.
Abram traveled from Ur as far as Haran on the border of modern day Syria and Iraq bringing his wife, father, nephew and household with him. While the Bible is silent concerning their layover in Haran, we are told that when Abram’s father Terah died there, God reiterated His call reaffirming a unique relationship with the patriarch of Israel.
Leaving the polytheistic culture of Mesopotamia behind, Abram chose to follow the One-true God embarking on the ultimate trek. Abandoning the refinements of city life in Ur and Haran to travel with tents and all the accoutrements necessary for daily life may have seemed like a step-down for Abram and Sarai (later Sarah).
What lay before Abram and Sarai was no road trip to the Grand Canyon with intermittent stops at KOA. They embraced a nomadic lifestyle and would be doing it for the rest of their lives. Abram willingly exchanged everything of his former life for the incomprehensible blessings inherent in God’s call.
GOD’S REVEALED HIS PLAN FOR ABRAM
Abram severed all but the closest of kindred ties. He left his country, his home and his family. In return however, God offered ownership of a new land with an astounding set of promises.
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3).
God promised that Abram’s descendants would be a great nation
In addition to the promise of receiving a beautiful new land, God promised progeny that would grow to become a great a nation. Although average lifespans are documented to have been somewhat longer in the postdiluvian world, this was none-the-less an amazing statement considering Abram’s age of 75 years at the time and no children. Sarai who was 10 years younger was barren and also considered past childbearing age. Only a miracle could bring God’s promise to fulfillment.
God promised Abram prosperity
God continued, “I will bless you” (Gen 12:2). The term “bless” (Heb. barak) typically refers either to abundant offspring or material wealth, often both. Since God had already promised an innumerable progeny, God’s promise to bless Abram no doubt referred to material wealth or prosperity generally in the form of livestock, gold and silver.
God Promised Abram Fame
Not only did God assure wealth, but also a name of renown. God’s pledge guaranteed Abram widespread influence beyond the scope of his immediate family that would span national boundaries and successive generations to the present day.
God promised Abram empowerment to bless the world
The previous three blessings culminate in God’s affirmation, “And you shall be a blessing” (v. 2). Bible scholars indicate that this statement is an imperative or command: Abram was obliged to benefit those around him. The previous promises of a nation and prosperity would enable Abram to be the blessing God intended.
Included in Abram’s obligation to bless the world, God affirmed, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (v. 3). These two affirmations are explicit outcomes regarding God’s response to individual’s and nation’s treatment of Abram and his covenantal descendants through Isaac and Jacob (i.e. the Jewish people).
The word “bless” in this context is the Hebrew word barak which literally means to kneel, but also describes the act of showing honor or beneficence toward another. The word that is translated “curse” is the Hebrew word qalal, which means to trifle with, belittle or ridicule. When God says He will curse those who trifle with or belittle Abram, the word is a stronger word (Hebrew: arar) which means to bitterly curse.
God promised Abram and his covenantal descendants that He would treat those interacting with Abram according to the way they treated him. Hence, blessing or cursing Abram was synonymous with blessing or cursing God. The message is straightforward and simple.
God not only commanded Abram to be a blessing, but also promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him. Although God swore to bless Abram and all of the nations of the earth through his promised seed, God holds men accountable for their attitude toward Abram and his covenantal heirs.
GOD’S PROMISES TO ABRAM HAVE RELEVANCE FOR CHRISTIANS
God had a specific plan in place to bring blessing to the whole world using Abram and his descendants. The most recognized blessing for Christians living in the 21st century is the fulfillment of the promised Messiah whose predicted sacrifice brings reconciliation between God and man and whose still future kingdom will bring peace and prosperity to the planet.
The descendants of Abram through Isaac and Jacob have been a source of blessing to the world up to the present day. All one need do is pause to examine the staggering contributions the Jewish people have made to the well-being of the planet in the last century alone. (6) Abram’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob have truly been and continue to be a blessing to the world in innumerable ways!
When Abram arrived in the land, he set tents near the terebinth (pistachio) tree of Moreh on a strategic plane between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim. Here, God appeared in a vision acknowledging Abram’s obedience while confirming the two foundational promises of a land and a nation saying, “To your descendants I will give this land” (v. 7).
Abram then built an altar to and worshipped the One-true God. Abram’s response to God’s call was more than an arbitrary action in the flow of human history.
Abram’s response to God’s call was more than an arbitrary action in the flow of human history. His obedience initiated a series of critical events captured in the remaining 38 chapters of the book of Genesis. These chapters not only trace the line of promise from a single man to the nation God set apart as the conduit through which He would bless the world, but also how God works through seemingly impossible circumstances to keep His promises.
Abram’s act of faith made a profound difference to the world that persists with astounding implications into the 21st century. Surrounded by the chaotic and hopeless environment of ancient Mesopotamia and Canaan, Abram introduced hope that is found only in the reality of the One-true God.
Imagine the world today if Abram had not taken that far-reaching step of faith. What if . . .
- The Jewish people as an identifiable ethnic group and subsequently the nation of Israel would not exist.
- The Bible narrative would end with Genesis 11:9.
- God’s promise found in Genesis 3:15 of a future seed that would crush the head of Satan would have been nullified.
- Western civilization undergirded by a Judeo-Christian worldview would be non-existent and the consequent confusion and hopelessness of the ancient world would pervade the globe.
- Humanity would suffer without the vast contributions of the Jewish people.
While Christians are prone to fixating on the imperfections of people who lived their lives as documented in the Old Testament, Abram is a worthy role model. His far-reaching step of faith was the catalyst for a series of events that not only changed his life, but also altered the course of history and the future of the planet in accordance with God’s plan and purpose.
The first stage of Abram’s adventure with God—an experience he would never have known without the first step of faith—was complete. Every adventure with God begins with a first step of faith—whether we enjoy the journey is up to us!
1) Alfred Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 53.
2) Chaim Potok, Wanderings: History of the Jews (New York: Alfred A. Knopt, Inc., 1978), 14.
3) Ibid., 10.
4) Abba Eban, Heritage: Civilization and the Jews (New York: Summit Books, 1984), 12.
5) Henry Morris, The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 293.
1) God’s Promises to Abram, circa 1896-1902, by James Tissot. (Photo credit: Wikimedia/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) The Caravan of Abraham, as in Genesis 12:6, circa. 1903, by James Tissot. (Photo credit: Wikimedia/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
3) Abram Shares God’s Promises with Sarai, circa. 1896-1902, by James Tissot. (Photo credit: Wikimedia/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
4) Terebinth tree (pistacia palaestina). (Photo credit: איתן פרמן [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, commentary only. Repost/Reprint with permission. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Rev. McCracken authentically communicates biblical truth making his presentations relevant for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church in Bible prophecy. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.