The Call of Abram
12:1 Now the LORD said1 to Abram, “Go from your country2 and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”3
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak4 of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Abram and Sarai in Egypt
10 Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. 16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.
17 But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” 20 And Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.
God’s promise to bless the world through Abraham’s descendant is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God the Father was pleased to send His Son into the world, where He carried our sins on the cross and laid down His life as a sacrifice, so that His righteousness might be credited to all who come to Him in faith.
From the beginning, the Bible is a story of hope. When sin entered the world, God promised that it would not stand. God would send a deliverer, an offspring of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent.
The story of how God will fulfill His promise begins in Genesis 12. Abram, who is later renamed Abraham (17:5) was born around 2,000 BC. He grew up east of the Euphrates River where he and his family worshipped idols (Joshua 24:2). Abraham didn’t know the first thing about God. He had replaced God with gods of his own making.
One day, God appeared to Abraham, just as He had appeared to Adam and Eve in the garden (Acts 7:2). And God said, “I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing… In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:2, 3). So the promise to Abraham is a promise for us. This is why, from Genesis 12 on, the Bible story follows the line and family of Abraham.
God’s Promise is a Gift of Grace
There are two specifics in God’s promise of blessing to Abraham. First, a blessed people:
“And I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2). Second, a blessed place: “The LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (12:1). Abraham went to this place, and when he arrived there God said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7)
That’s the Bible story in a nutshell. Its all about how God steps into this fallen world, to gather a blessed people and bring them to a blessed place. That’s why at the end of the story we see the joy of a great company of people from every tribe and nation, and they are in the presence of God (Revelation 7:9).
But there was a problem. God promised to make Abraham into a great nation, but Abraham had no children. He was 75 years old, and Sarah was just 10 years behind him, so both of them were eligible for social security and well past the hope of having children. And there was another problem: Abraham set out for the Promised Land, but when he arrived, he found that it was already occupied. “The Canaanites were in the land” (12:6). Only God could bring the promise about. The promised blessing comes from God and it depends on God. It is a gift of grace.
God’s Promise is Received by Faith
Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (15:6). This is one of the most important verses in the Old Testament because it tells us how we can come into a right relationship with God.
If you read through the story, you will see that Abraham was far from being a righteous man. He lied, and he deceived. He exposed his wife to danger and failed to protect her. At best, Abraham’s obedience to God was partial, so how could God count him righteous?
The whole Bible is one story, given to us by God Himself. What is hard to understand in one place is often explained in another. We interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture.
Roll the Bible story forward to the time of Jesus, and you find our Lord in a conversation about Abraham: “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
2,000 years before Jesus was born, Abraham was given a glimpse of Christ. He understood that God would give him a descendant through whom God’s promise to bless the world would be fulfilled. This descendent is Jesus, the Son of God, who came into the world through Mary, the offspring of Abraham.
The first book of the Bible tells us how we can be right with God and it tells us that it is by faith. Abraham was saved in the same we are, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw the day of Christ from a distance, and he believed.
Though he did not know the name of Jesus or the details of the cross, Abraham looked forward to what Christ would accomplish, just as we look back in faith. It is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ that we are made right with God.
The key question is not: “Do you have faith?” but “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?” Do you believe as Abraham did?
How Does Believing Put Us Right With God?
Suppose you have a bank account that is in deficit, and a friend decides to help you. He asks you how much you owe. “Its $10,000,” you say.
Your friend asks you to give him your bank account number so he can wire you the money. He is as good as his word, and when the transfer is made, your debt is paid. Your gain is his loss. What is counted to you is counted against him. That’s the language here. “Abraham believed the Lord and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).
If Christ is to credit righteousness to every believer, He must assume a massive debt, and He did this at the cross. The cumulative cost of our debt was loaded on Christ. He who knew no sin became sin for us that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
God’s Promise Comes at Unimaginable Cost
“After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (Genesis 22:1-2). You read these verses and you wonder, What in the world is this all about? Why would God ask Abraham to do this?
God had promised that His blessing would come to the world through Abraham’s offspring, but there was no offspring. Then in a miracle of grace, God gave the offspring. And now God says that the blessed offspring must be given up!
It was through Isaac, and his line of descendants that the Messiah would come into the world, so Isaac had to live, he had to marry and have children. How can the promise possibly be fulfilled if Isaac is sacrificed?
Abraham Did Not Question the Need for a Sacrifice
“God says, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you’” (Genesis 12:2).
When God told Abraham about the judgment on Sodom, Abraham stood before the Lord and pleaded for the city to be spared (18:22-23). But when God says that there must be a sacrifice, Abraham raises no objection.
Abraham seems to understand that if God’s blessing is to flow to the world, a sacrifice must be made. Maybe his conscience told him that. God had said, “walk before me and be blameless” (17:1). This was the man who, at one point, lied about his wife and at another had laughed at God’s promise.
Abraham is obedient in part. He cannot hold up his head and say, “I have done what God told me to do.” He is not blameless, and neither are we.
So how can God’s promise of blessing to the world be fulfilled if Abraham has not fulfilled its conditions? That is the great question. How can God’s blessing flow into the life of a man who has not been fully obedient? There must be a sacrifice.
This story tells us that God’ promise of blessing to a fallen world can only come by way of a sacrifice. But it tells us more than that: God Himself provides the sacrifice.
God Provides the Sacrifice
As Abraham climbs the mountain with his son, there is this poignant moment: “Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son’” (Genesis 22:7, 8).
When they arrive at the top of the mountain, it appears that Isaac will be the sacrifice. He was bound and laid on the altar. Isaac would have been a young man at the time, so he must have been willing to lay down his own life. What you have here is a father willing to give up his son, and a son willing to lay down his life.
Then at the critical moment, the angel of the Lord calls out from heaven: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him” (12:12).
Then God provides the sacrifice. “Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son” (12:13).
It must have been clear to Abraham that God was accepting this lesser sacrifice for the time being, and that one day the real price of human sin would have to be paid.
That must have left Abraham wondering, What will it cost for the promise to be fulfilled and for God’s blessing to come to the world? What sacrifice could be greater than the sacrifice of MY Son?
God never intended that Abraham should sacrifice Isaac. But the harrowing story of a father being ready to give up his son, and a son being ready to lay down his own life shows us what it would cost for the promise of God to be fulfilled and His blessing to come for all people.
God’s promise comes to us at unimaginable cost, and that cost was to the Father as well as the Son. God did what Abraham and Isaac could only illustrate. God the Father would give up His Son. God the Son would give Himself for us.
Which is harder, to lay down your own life or to give up the one you love? God experienced both agonies at the same time. The Father did not spare his own Son but freely gave Him up for us all (Romans 8:32). The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). God’s promised blessing came at an unimaginable cost that God Himself bore for us.
- Why does the Bible follow the story of Abraham and his line?
- Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). What does this verse tell us?
- Do you believe like Abraham did? How is your faith similar? How is it different?
- How does faith “work”? How does it make a person right with God?
- React to the statement: “God has provided the sacrifice for your sins.”