Roland J Flowerdew
Genesis 11: 27; 12: 1-20; 13: 4, 18
I seek help in speaking about this man, Abraham - or Abram as he was called here - in the beginning of his pathway in response to the call, the call of God. The glad tidings comes as a call. We sang in our hymn (No 439) about the call, and how it might be refused; and how often we refuse the call of God in the glad tidings! But I desire to speak about Abraham as a man who answered to the call. I have in mind to encourage each of us to lay hold of the great invitation that God puts before us in the gospel, and the desire that God has that we might move in response to confessing the Lord Jesus as Saviour if we have not already done so - not in movement physically, but spiritually in our souls towards the place of blessing.
I would like to put before you something of the scope of the glad tidings, and the blessings that God has in His desires toward you. We often speak about the necessity of having to do with God in regard to sin and sins. Each of us, before God, is a sinner. I was going to say we are regarded by God as sinners, but it is deeper than that: it is not a question of regard but of state. Before God, we are sinners; and it is essential, if we are to have to do with God, that we come by the way of which He speaks, the way that He has appointed. There is only one way, and that is to accept Jesus, because Jesus is the One who has done everything for God. He has met the question of sin; He met it by taking that full load, that full burden of sin upon Himself. In the reading today we touched some of the depths to which He went in order to answer that question of sin. He was “made sin” (2 Cor 5: 21); communion between God and the Lord Jesus was interrupted. Now, you might ask why that communion was interrupted, and one of the answers we come to as appreciating the glad tidings, is that it was on our account: on your account and on my account.
I began reading this section of Scripture about the generations of Terah, the father of Abram. Terah had three sons, one of whom was Abram. I do not want to draw on all the detail in the verses I have read, although the instruction in them is very rich. What we see is that Terah began to move; Terah, his son Abram, his grandson Lot and his daughter-in-law Sarai “went forth together out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to go into the land of Canaan”. It says that they “came as far as Haran and dwelt there”. So it seems that there was the beginning of a move, something happening in Terah’s life, a move in response to a call that was made. Interestingly, it would seem from the way that chapter 12 begins - we do not know for sure - that Terah moved because of the faith that Abram had. God says to Abram, “Go out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, to the land that I will show thee”.
I liken this to an initial call in the gospel. The call proclaimed - not just here but everywhere that the glad tidings goes out - is a call to all men and women and children. God is not restricted in the scope of His thoughts. It is not as if He has blessing in mind for just one or two, or a handful, or even hundreds; God has blessing in mind for all. And it is essential to see that the work of Christ is sufficient to cover all. In one scripture it speaks of giving “His life a ransom for many” (Matt 20: 28); and in another it says, He “gave himself a ransom for all”, 1 Tim 2: 6. So the invitation is very broad, and the question is whether we respond to that call. It appears that there was some movement with Terah, but in his life he only gets a certain distance. They moved out of Ur of the Chaldeans; it says they “came as far as Haran, and dwelt there”. We were touching earlier today on the teaching from the geography of Scripture, but another interesting detail that comes out in these early chapters of the Bible is the meaning of the place names. They were called out of this city of Ur of the Chaldeans. Ur means ‘light’, and one of the things we find as the call of the glad tidings comes to us is that there is that which is attractive that holds us in this scene. That is a bit like the ‘light’ of Ur of the Chaldeans, and the question when that call comes - and that call is being addressed to you this afternoon in the outgoing of the glad tidings – is whether that call is more attractive to you than the lights, the attractions, of this world. You might say to me that I am middle-aged, and can put behind all that kind of thing, but I can say to those who are a little bit younger than me that the attractiveness of the lights of the world does not diminish. Some things lessen in their attraction, and I am sure we could all argue about what those things might be; but the question is whether the beauty and greatness of Christ, and the One who has done everything for God, and the One who has given Himself for me, and has given Himself for you, is something that is more attractive than the lights of this world. Terah, Abram and Lot might all have continued on this journey; they would have come to the land that would be shown to Abram.
Terah only got so far along this journey: perhaps we hear the call of the glad tidings, and we begin to move a little way; then things crop up in our lives and we become a little distracted, and perhaps become occupied with things that would hold us and detain us. It is like what the Lord says in the parable of the Sower sowing the seed. Some falls into the rocky places, and it begins to sprout and shoot up for a time, and then because it has no root it begins to wither and fade away, Matt 13: 20, 21. There might be that initial attraction of response with you to the call of the gospel, but God desires that there might be with you what the Lord speaks about in the parable as the good ground, where it is possible to draw on the nutrients of the good ground, where the water can come and be held, and there are conditions which are propitious for full fruitfulness towards God. As the call of the glad tidings comes, it might be that we hear about Christ and we appreciate what He has done, the way that He has gone for us, the way His blood was shed on the cross for us, and we realise that something has been done that we do not fully understand. I do not think we will ever fully understand what Christ has accomplished at the cross. God understands it; God knows what was accomplished at the cross; not only did Christ die at the cross to meet and atone for our sins, but He established the conditions so that God could shine out in fulness, so that the richness of the glory of God could shine forth. That is like what we have here: “And Jehovah had said to Abram, Go out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, to the land that I will shew thee”. He goes on to say, “I will make of thee a great nation, and bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing”. What God holds out to us in the glad tidings is an invitation into the greatest of divine things. He does not spell out the details of that invitation; He just says it is very great. That is like what we have here; Jehovah speaks to Abram about “the land that I will shew thee”. There comes a day in our Christian experience when we prove that moving in response to the glad tidings is an entrance into something very great. But have you begun to make that move? Jehovah says to Abram here, “Go out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house”. We become used to our circumstances, and yet the glory of the glad tidings is intended to move us out of them. It may be a place with which we are familiar, the land perhaps speaks of that; it may be that we are held back by our relations and our friends, and that kind of thing. I wonder what So-and-so is going to think if I confess the Lord Jesus to be my Saviour. Confession is essential in the glad tidings. So it speaks about kindred, and then it says, “Go out … from thy father's house”. It may be there are things, possessions, which are dear to us and we do not really want to move from them. But the call comes, and God intends us to be set free from them. And that is what the invitation in the gospel is: Christ has accomplished that work so that we might be set free from all these things. You might say they are natural things, they are right things; and, yes, we need to take care of things that we have, our families. We need to earn our living; but the invitation in the glad tidings is intended to enable us to see that there is something far greater that God has in mind, and it is a very rich blessing. There is an interesting detail in verse 3 of chapter 12: God says, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” - you might say it is a small detail but there are more blessers than cursers: the blessers here are in the plural, but it says, “him that curseth thee”. There may be reproach in answering to the call in the glad tidings, and yet the blessing is so much greater. God has set these details here for us to take account of, and to appreciate; and as we realise the greatness of the blessing in what Christ has accomplished, and as we move as impelled by the glad tidings, then we come into an appreciation of these things.
And so what we have in verse 4 is that “Abram departed as Jehovah had said to him”. That brings about a question of our responsibility. Have we answered to that call? Have we been obedient to it; do we know what it is to answer to God’s call in the glad tidings? And so they move. I do not want to go through this verse by verse, but it is interesting to see that they gain possessions on the way. And it says, “they went out to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came”. Now, I like that detail of scripture, because in answering to the call of the glad tidings, God does not require us to go through a period of qualification: if you confess the Lord Jesus as Saviour, the conditions are set for the full riches of divine blessing to be made available to you. There is nothing that God would withhold from you. You might not understand it - who of us understands the fulness of the things of God? But it is all there, all available; that is what I bring out of this verse: “they went out to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came”. Everything is immediately available to you in answering to the call of the gospel.
Then we have, “And Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh”. One of the meanings of the name Moreh is ‘teacher’. As we begin on our Christian pathway, we realise that God intends us to be taught by Him. There are means provided for our teaching, and it is the second great gift that God has provided. The first is the gift of the Lord Jesus as the One who has accomplished everything; and the second is the gift of the Holy Spirit. God provides Him so that He may guide us, and lead us into all the truth; and that I associate in my thought with this oak of Moreh. It is a place of teaching and instruction. It says, “And the Canaanite was then in the land”: in the midst of what would oppose there is teaching and instruction.
And God goes on: “And Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land. And there he built an altar to Jehovah who had appeared to him”. It is very interesting in looking at the history of Abram to see that he is a great altar-builder. Given the fulness of the glad tidings, are we rich towards God? The altar represents a place where God is worshipped. It brings out in the illustration the fulness of God’s thought that He might be served; it brings out the service of the priest. The highest service of the priest is to God Himself. In the world around us, a priest is often thought about as somebody who serves man, perhaps religiously; but really the thought of what is priestly in Scripture is that which serves God. God in the fulness of His thoughts desires that we all might be priestly towards Him. As knowing the blessing of salvation, having called upon the name of the Lord Jesus, and energised by the power of the Holy Spirit, the desire of God is that we might answer, that we might serve Him. It says, “he built an altar to Jehovah who had appeared to him.” This is the first altar he is said to have built.
Then it goes on: “he removed thence towards the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent”. We could speak about these places but then it says a second time, “and there he built an altar to Jehovah, and called on the name of Jehovah”. Now that is another point in the glad tidings: do you call upon the name of the Lord Jesus? You receive Him and what He has done, you accept the great blessings of salvation, you have received the gift of the Holy Spirit into your heart; but to what effect? Have you “called on the name of Jehovah”? It indicates that there is not only an altar, something set up for service, but the yielding of praise: “called on the name of Jehovah”. It implies to me that there is something greater than the building of the altar; it implies that he was in communion. That is something that is opened out to the believer, that he might know not only the blessing of salvation, but what it is to be a worshipper of God, to be in communion with God. If you are in communion with God, the secrets of His mind are opened out to you. I can only speak about these things in a very limited way, but the illustrations of scripture help us to appreciate and begin to understand these things, and you can see how far the gospel extends: God desires not only that we should receive salvation, but that we should be found as worshippers of Himself, and in communion with Himself.
I did think that I might stop reading at that point, because we see in the next section that Abram starts to fail. The glad tidings comes not only to those who have not heeded the call of the gospel, but the call comes to those who have heeded the call. We have begun on the Christian pathway and, as often happens in our lives, there is that to which we answer – the light that we have reached in initial confession and turning towards the Lord Jesus (how great that is); and then we find that things come in in our lives and we begin to get dull. What this section shows is that God has an answer to that too. So, it says, “And Abram moved onward, going on still toward the south. And there was a famine in the land. And Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was grievous in the land.” We know at this point that he had many goods and possessions, so that a famine was something that was of great concern to him. If there was a limited food supply, and it had just been Abram and his wife, perhaps they would have managed as they were; but at this point we see that he is no longer moving under the call of God. That sometimes happens to us. So we see what happens as he goes down - he seeks to go in his own strength; and more than that, he starts to become a little devious. We can understand that naturally - but he is operating in his own thoughts and his own strength. However, God can use these things to turn us about and bring further blessing upon us. It was not Abram that extricated himself from this situation in Egypt. Egypt speaks to us of the attractiveness of the things of the world in a slightly different way, perhaps the sophistication of the world, the civilisation and culture - a place where there was food and nourishment, and where prosperity would come about. You can see from verse 16 what happened: Pharaoh “treated Abram well … and he had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and bondmen, and bondwomen, and she-asses, and camels”. There was a multitude of things there, and yet it was not a place of blessing. So Abram is sent away. How good God is toward us so that He operates in our lives so that we are sent away. I think it is the continuing effect of the glad tidings. You may say that you believe in the Lord Jesus; why do we need to come and hear the gospel again, and again, and again? The reason for hearing that call is that once again we see the greatness of Christ, and we are lifted up out of the circumstances which are perhaps beginning to entangle us; it brings before us once again the greatness of God in His thoughts.
So, you see in the beginning of chapter 13 that Abram went up out of Egypt, and it says once again that he is heading towards the south. You might think he is going to the same place but the difference this time is that he is going in the other direction. If we fail in our lives, we need to head back to where we were before. You can see that this is what is happening here: “And he went on his journeys from the south as far as Bethel; as far as the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai; to the place of the altar that he had made there at the first”. He goes back, but he does not go back just anywhere; he goes back to the altar. How essential it is that we go back to the realisation of what Christ has done for us, and that we are kept fresh in it. So, again it says, “And there Abram called on the name of Jehovah”. Are you one who calls on the name of Jehovah? Are you one who is responding to the greatness of the gospel message, and is found to be rich towards God? At the end of this chapter it says, “Then Abram moved his tents, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron”, v 18. This time it is not the oak of Moreh, but the oaks of Mamre, which I understand means ‘fatness’. What God has in mind for the believer is the full richness of divine blessing. It is a place where we find later in the book that God comes and speaks to Abram, where there is that which is opened out to him. It is a place of fatness and richness and, once again, it is a place where he builds an altar to Jehovah.
Well, these thoughts are simple but the typical teaching is very instructive. We can see what God has in mind in relation to Abram. He was one who moved in faith. God desires that you might move in faith; that you might answer in faith to the call of the glad tidings. If you do not have faith, ask God for it! He has given you a Saviour; He has given you everything from His side. You might say you find it difficult to believe: ask God for faith, ask God for help; because He has not only provided a Saviour but He has provided the Holy Spirit, and He would give you faith and give you understanding. And He will give what we have here - He desires to give you the fulness of the richness of divine things.
May each of us answer to the call of God in the glad tidings. The invitation is held out before us; God holds Christ out as an Object for our affections - not exactly as an Object of desire, but as an Object for our affections. God has given Him in love; He desires that we might answer and respond to Him in love: may each of us do so for His Name’s sake.
28th August 2014