Abraham's Call

Cabe Matthews

This week I’m thinking about Abraham’s calling in Genesis 12. There’s a lot going on here, but the basics are pretty simple. God shows up to Abram (this was before he received that extra “ah” in his name) and asked him to do something extreme: leave.

God told Abram to leave in three different ways:

  1. “Go from your country,
  2. your people,
  3. and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1b, NIV, numerification added)

In a manner of speaking, Abram is being asked to leave behind his political identity, his cultural identity, and his familial identity - all of which would have had economic implications for his ability to continue to eek out a living and survive while providing for Sarai his wife, his nephew Lot, and all the people he employs. At this point there doesn’t seem to be much clarity about where it is he is to go - he’s just supposed to leave. And in a world before the Internet, before telephones, and before even a functioning postal service, Abram leaving means Abram will likely not ever communicate with - much less see - any of these people he’s linked to in his country, his people, or his family ever again. This is no small ask God is making.

Of coarse God doesn’t leave him empty-handed. God tells him to get up and go to an as yet undisclosed location, but God also gives Abram a seven part promise to go with his three part departure:

  • “I will make you into a great nation,
    • and I will bless you;
      • I will make your name great,
        • and you will be a blessing.
      • I will bless those who bless you,
    • and whoever curses you I will curse;
  • and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3, NIV, bulletification added)

Abram is told to leave everything behind, and God will make him into a great nation through which all other nations will be blessed. Not a bad deal.

But there’s one small detail that I’ve left out so far. This promise is impossible.

Because Abram and Sarai are unique in one, and really only one special way: they are the first couple in the history of humankind to have trouble having a kid. How is non-father Abram going to become a great nation? How will his name be made great, since his lack of children basically ensures that no one will remember his name?

On top of all that, in a cruel pang of irony, his name literally means “exalted father.” God promises to exalt him and his name, but such exaltation is not possible without fatherhood for Abram. And this is one thing he and Sarai are not able to pull off. And at seventy five years old, we might imagine his best fathering years are probably behind him.

But Abram goes. Hoping against hope, he leaves. Everything. In response to the promise of a God he might have known little about. He had no way of knowing it would pan out. He had no way of knowing that his descendants would eventually become a nation, much less a great one. He had no way of knowing he would even have descendants at all.

This is obviously foolish. This is obviously faith.

It seems we know a lot more than Abram. We know a lot more about science and history than Abram did. And we know more about God too. But do we trust as much? We cling to our identities, political, cultural, and familial. Christians know this God of Abram who came to us in the flesh - as one of Abram’s own descendants - to reveal this God to us. And yet we trust less.

This is obviously foolish. This is obviously not faith.

But we are also the sign that God’s promise to Abram came true. By faith in this same blessing, we are the people of the earth who are being blessed by the blessing of Abraham.

But I can’t shake the thought that all our blessings have been taken for granted. That we can be a blessing, but won’t. Maybe because of our failure to leave. Because of our failure to place ourselves in God’s hands, in God’s trust. Because of our enmeshment in other identities, other values: the political, the cultural, the economic.

This, too, is foolish.