Sep 25, 2016
Genesis 11:27-12:9

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What makes a person famous… Not “flavor-of-the-month” or “firework” famous… Not a fame specific to one scene, trend, or group of people… I’m not talking about a Kanye West or Brangelina level of fame or notoriety nor am I referring to a fame uniquely specific to Americana (Micheal, Elvis, Monroe, or Gates)… I’m talking about a multigenerational, cross-cultural, global type of fame that spans language, location, and time?

If you were to Google “Top 10 Famous People of All Time in the World” you will notice two things about the search results… Aside from a couple of givens almost every list varies mainly because there isn’t a uniform metric used to evaluate fame. And yet, while that may be the case, there does seem to be a commonality shared by everyone included. 

You see to be truly famous you have to have done something transcendent to yourself. To be famous in this global sense you would have needed to accomplish something HUGE… Lead a political revolution like Alexander, Napoleon, Washington, or Mao… Make a literary contribution to the world like Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, or Poe… Foster movements within the arts like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Beethoven, or Mozart… Invent something important like Newton, Bell, Ford, Gates, Jobs, or Edison... Develop a ground-breaking scientific theory like Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, or Hawking… Contribute a philosophical idea like Aristotle, Socrates, Paul, Marx, Nietzsche, or Freud… Initiate radical social changes like Lincoln, Gandhi, Luther, Cromwell, Mandela, or MLK… Create a religious movement like Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, or Moses. Even doing something particularly infamous like Hitler or Stalin will still get you on this list.

My point is that generally speaking to achieve this type of fame you would have needed to lead, write, create, invent, or develop something so noteworthy and lasting that your name would be known by all - for all time. An aside… It should also be pointed out in order to make any of these lists you’d have to be so famous you could be known by only one name!

I bring all of this up to say there is one fascinating exception to the rule… There was a man who didn’t invent a thing, wasn’t scientific, left behind no philosophical contribution to the world, a man who never wrote or created a lasting work, who wasn’t a revolutionary or agent of social change, who didn’t start a religion or discover a new land, a man who isn’t infamous and instead is universally held in high regard by almost every major religion (and that’s saying something)… And yes… He’s also known by one name… Abraham!

It’s amazing to consider a man who lived 4500 years ago, who didn’t possess a country, who’s entire life was spent as a nomad, who was a shepherd by trade, who wrote absolutely nothing down, and had no intention of starting a religious movement is beloved by cultures across the globe. According to Abraham is the third most famous person of all time behind only Jesus and Muhammed and directly in front of Moses and Buddha. 

Because Abraham is revered by all three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) as well as being considered a prophet by Baha’i there are an astounding 2 million books written about Abraham as well as over 9.1 million Google searches using his name any given month. concludes, “Among well over 99% of the world’s cultures and societies, you will not have a problem when asking about the prophet called Abraham.”

As is pertains to the Old Testament Abraham is mentioned 215 times. Additionally, he’s mentioned again in the New Testament another 74 times. And while we don’t consider the Koran to be Scripture, just for reference, Abraham again surfaces another 188 times.

As far as his contribution to Christianity is concerned Abraham’s significance cannot be undermined. In James 2:23 he’s called “the friend of God” only for the Apostle Paul to later refer to him as “the father of all those who believe” and the “father of the faith” in Romans 4.

For our purposes this morning we must consider what made Abraham so significant (and the answer may surprise you)? Absolutely nothing! As a matter of fact the book of Genesis records more of Abraham’s failures than it does his triumphs.

As we’ve mentioned on a few previous occasions what Paul’s letters to the Romans and Galatians soundly communicate doctrinally, it’s Genesis that illustrates practically. Within every verse of this book, you will see “The Genesis of Grace!” Think about it so far… As an act of grace God fashioned man in His image and likeness. As an act of grace God created everything in the world for man’s enjoyment. As an act of grace God gave Adam a companion Eve - the woman. As an act of grace God placed them in a perfect Garden to be utterly satisfied by. As an act of grace God didn’t immediately kill them when they ate the forbidden fruit. As an act of grace God promised a Savior to remedy the consequences of their sin. As an act of grace God provided them effective coverings by offering the first sacrifice. As an act of grace God kicked them out of the Garden to remove access to the tree of life. As an act of grace God gave Adam and Eve Seth in place of Abel whom Cain killed. As an act of grace God preserved the family lineage of Seth in a wicked world. As an act of grace God called Enoch to warn this wicked world of a coming judgment. As an act of grace God saved Noah and his family from the global flood. As an act of grace God promised to never again destroy the earth as He had done. As an act of grace God set about the recreation of the very earth He had destroyed. As an act of grace God confused the languages so that the rebellious nations of the earth would scatter so that He could preserve His plan for salvation. *It’s hard to argue that the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis haven’t oozed the grace of God!

As noted in our first study in this series called “The Genesis of Grace” Moses (the author and complier of the first five books of the Torah) established Genesis as the first for a very specific reason. For a nation who had just been called by God, supernaturally delivered from Egypt, sustained in the wilderness, and led to a land of promise where they were to live as a shining light unto the world consistent with the Law God had just given them… It might have been easy for this group of people to adopt a sense of self-entitlement… That there was something special about them that had necessitated God’s incredible favor. And yet, the story of Genesis makes it clear that the children of Israel were God’s chosen people only because of His grace and their faith in His promised Savior! 

This reality is perfectly illustrated in the calling and life of Abraham. As we’re going to see this morning Abraham was a pagan idolater who was saved by God’s grace even when he had done nothing to earn or deserve it. God chose Abraham before he chose to follow God. And then (and this will become a constant theme as we look at his story), while Abraham’s life would be characterized more by failure to obey God than success, because he had placed his faith in the promised Savior God’s grace would never fail to sustain him.

The reality is that Abraham’s life teaches us two important truths… (1) God’s grace calls us, and (2) God’s grace sustains us - and both occur in spite of us. Abraham is the father of our faith because his life illustrates that regardless of our past mistakes or our present failures God’s grace always remains sure when our faith is placed in Jesus.

As we transition away from the events of Babel and God’s scattering of the nations as a result of their rebellion, the last few verses of Genesis 11 focus our attention back onto the genealogy of Shem… Which is important to the narrative of Genesis! If you recall, following the tragic events of chapter 9, Noah ends up making several prophetic pronouncements concerning two of his sons as well as his wicked grandson Canaan… Specifically, in Genesis 9:26 Noah says, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem.” 

Not only does this statement indicate Shem shared Noah’s heart for the true and living God, but in the macro sense it appears Shem’s family lineage (of the three) would include the coming Savior of mankind promised to Adam and Eve back in Genesis 3:15. These last few verses of Genesis 11 are important as they connect Shem with Abram - Abraham.

It should also be noted that while most people might naturally divide the Bible into two parts placing the break between Malachi and Matthew (the Old and New Testaments) the reality is that a better division would be here between Genesis 11 and Genesis 12. In his commentary on this passage Sandy Adams notes the significance of this important shift writing, “Beginning in Genesis 12… The rest of the Bible is the story of the plan of salvation that God works out through the Hebrews - the family of Abram.”

Genesis 11:27-32, “This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. So the days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.”

Though this passage seems rather straightforward please understand a lot is happening within these verses you might not see with just a cursory reading. To begin with what’s being described here is not a good dynamic… Notice these descendants of Shem (“genealogy of Terah”) choose to settle in an area known as “Ur of the Chaldeans.” 

What makes this significant is that while God had “scattered the people” from Babel the Godly lineage of Shem didn’t migrate very far away. As a matter of fact, the city of Ur was located in the same region as Babel (Mesopotamia) just a few miles south.

According to archaeologist, the ancient city of Ur was founded around 2100 BC and quickly grew to have a vibrant population of approximately 24,000 people. This city was not only wealthy because of it’s abundant natural resources and access to the Euphrates river, but boasted a prominent Ziggurat similar to what Nimrod had constructed in Babel.

Archaeological digs have shown that the city of Ur, during the time of Abraham, was not only an advanced society with a steady economy and emphasis on educational learning, but Ur was steeped in idolatry and the pagan worship of Nanna, the moon-god. Note: Nanna was known by the symbol of the crescent moon and was worshipped across Mesopotamia all the way up until the 7th century A.D. when Muhammed renamed the moon-god - Allah which was already an accepted name among pagan cultures. 

Regardless, Jewish legend claims “Terah” and his family had grown wealthy making and selling idols to Nanna in Ur. In actuality Joshua 24:2 paints a worse picture, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.’”

The reason this presents a tragic turn of events is that the family of Shem had seemingly abandoned the worship of the true God of their fathers and had diverged into idolatry. And yet, in spite of all this something happens (not explained in our text) that causes the patriarch Terah to uproot his family and migrate 600 miles northwest settling in the ancient city of “Haran” (located in Turkey and was a key crossroad between the east and west).

For a greater understanding of what happened to cause this abrupt move I want to turn your attention to a portion of a sermon given by Stephen in the book of Acts… Act 7:2-5, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.”

It appears what happened to motivate this move was that “God appeared to Abraham” while he was still in Ur specifically commanding him to leave his “country” and his “relatives” in order to “come to a land that God would show him.” Please consider what prompted this

Did God appear to Abram because he was seeking God? In no way does either passage imply this was the case. Did God call Abram because he was worthy? In contrast, Abram was a pagan gentile who was making money promoting the worship of false gods. Beyond that Scripture indicates Abram himself was an idolater while living in the land of Ur. 

Understand (and this is a core concept that is of critical importance), Stephen’s larger point in his sermon before the Jewish leaders was that there was nothing inherent to Abram or his character that precipitated God’s appearing or His calling. It was only as an act of His grace and His grace alone that God chose, appeared, and called Abram out of Ur!

Once again, while our text here in Genesis doesn’t tell us this specifically, the authors of the New Testament provide more context as to what was happening. In addition to appearing to Abraham (which is incredible for this is the first time since the Garden we read of God appearing to man), it seems God’s command to leave Ur and his family so that he could go to a land of promise possessed a much larger revelation of God’s plan.

In both Romans 4:3 and James 2:23 we’re told by both the Apostle Paul and James the brother of Jesus that “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And yet, the question begs… What “belief” was of such significance that it would make Abraham “righteous” before God even before he left Ur? 

In writing about Abraham in Galatians 3 Paul adds an interesting detail that demands our attention and in many ways answers this question… He writes, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

Did you catch that? God “preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand!” While a pagan idolater living in Ur God appeared to Abram and not only called him to go to a land of promise, but revealed to him that this move would be necessary so that He could provide a Savior through his family lineage! The reason they leave Ur was because Abram believed God and had placed his faith in “the gospel” message… God’s promise of a Savior! And it was in this very moment that Abram was made righteous before God!

Now here’s the sad part of the story… While on account of God’s grace Abram did believe and placed his faith in this promise, he still failed to be fully obedient. Though Stephen is clear God had commanded Abram while he was in Ur to “get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you” Genesis 11 tells us that “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, and Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan.” 

Though they start off with the correct destination in mind (“the land of Canaan”) we’re told they “came to Haran” and decided to “dwell there” instead. What is interesting about all of this is that we really don’t know what caused Terah to leave Ur as well. As a matter of fact in Isaiah 51:2 we’re told that “God called Abraham alone.” 

It would appear this family connection was something Abram couldn’t let go of. Even after Terah dies Abram still allows his nephew Lot to travel with him - which it didn’t end well. Note: Aside from Ur the city of Haran was also a central location for the worship of the moon-god.

Regardless, this is what we can say for sure… Abram was called to “go to the land of Canaan,” but because he failed to be fully obedient to God’s command to “get out from your relatives” he ended up settling in “Haran” until his father “Terah” finally died. 

It’s interesting that the name “Terah” means “delay” and “Haran” means “parched or barren.” Because of Abram’s failure to be obedient these years in Haran were wasted… They were unfruitful and completely unproductive to God’s plan. Understand… Though in Haran Abram was still righteous before God because he’d placed his faith in the Savior, practically God’s plan for his life was limited because he failed to act consistently with God’s Word.

Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. 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.’”

I love this! God called Abram in Ur, but because he failed to be obedient he spent countless, fruitless years in Haran until Terah died. Then, upon his father’s death, what happens… “Now the Lord had said…” Keep in mind this phrase implies that God continued to say. In a profound way while Abram may have taken a detour because of his failure to obey God’s Word, God’s grace remained sure and his calling secure. In actuality the case can be made that this calling of God continued the entire time Abram was in Haran!

Notice God reiterates three very specific promises to Abram (we’ll discuss them in more details in the weeks to come)… (1) “I will make you a great nation.” (2) “I will bless you and make your name great.” (3) “You shall be a blessing… To all the families of the earth.” David Guzik writes in his commentary on this passage, “These are God’s promises; notice how often God says ‘I will’ in these verses. Genesis chapter 11 is all about the plans of man. Genesis chapter 12 is all about the plans of God.”

Genesis 12:4-9, “So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.”

While we’ll discuss this more next Sunday, in closing I want to turn your attention to how God evaluated this season of Abram’s life… Hebrews 11:8-10, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…"  

Did you notice what was missing? This entire detour in Haran is not recorded at all! Why? Because Abram was already righteous before God on account of God’s grace and his faith in a coming Savior! And yet, while this season of life was not something God even recognized, don’t overlook the fact that God’s plans for Abram were on hold!

In conclusion there are 3 important things we should take away from this passage…

1. God’s grace finds you even when you aren’t looking for it! God appeared and chose Abram even though he was stepped in idolatry and had done nothing to deserve it.

2. Upon God’s appearing Abram believed and placed his faith in a coming Savior. He was made righteous not on account of anything he did, but by his simple faith in Jesus.

3. Failure to obey God’s Word doesn’t separate you from God’s grace (He still speaks and His grace is still sufficient); and yet, never forget… Disobedience to God’s Word will limit all of the things He has planned for your life. Yes! It is amazing these season are not remembered by God… but they aren’t remembered by God! How tragic it is when we waist time because of our failure to act according to the grace we’ve been shown!