Genesis 12.1-9 Why am I unsettled in this world?

 

I wonder what kind of reader you are – or what kind of watcher of TV programmes or Films.

 

Personally, I’m not generally the kind of person who wants to watch things more than once, or to read things more than once – I’d rather move on to the next thing.

 

But sometimes, sometimes, there are things I’d like to see again.

 

Perhaps because I haven’t seen them for a long time – old episodes of porridge or the good life, for example, where you can’t quite remember the plot, just the bit where Margo falls into the mud.

 

Or more recently I’ve developed a desire to savour things – I’ve watched all three Lord of the Rings films, but I’ve got two on DVD – extended versions of course – and I’m looking forward to devoting some evenings to watching them. 

 

And then my personal favourite – The West Wing – where I’m quite happy to watch episodes I’ve seen before – because when things are well written, knowing the end doesn’t spoil the story.  In fact, often you see more second time round.

 

Now tonight, as we come to Genesis 12, I wonder what kind of reader you are.  We are dealing with a familiar story – with Abraham, a well known figure.  And when we read of God’s blessing here, we know what is coming next. 

 

And yet it actually helps us to know what comes next.  Knowing the end doesn’t spoil the story.  Knowing the end helps us to understand the beginning.

 

And as we seek to understand our own situation from Genesis 12, to understand why we feel unsettled in this world, we will see that knowing the end is crucial for us as we seek to apply what we learn from Abram’s life tonight.

 

Turn with me if you would then to Genesis 12 – it’s on page 13 of the bibles in the chairs.

 

Why are we unsettled?

 

1. Abram was called to wander (v1-3)

 

Chapter 12 begins with a divine command –look at verse 1:

 

Genesis 12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.

 

We’ve read in chapter 11 of Abram’s family, and now Abram - whose name is later changed by God to Abraham – is to leave that family, and go to a land of God’s choosing.  Notice how Abram is to leave country, people and father’s household – he is to leave all his ties behind.

 

Abram was called to wander, to leave his land and follow God’s call.

 

But in Calling Abram, God did not just give him the instruction of verse 1 – he also gave him the promises of verses 2 and 3:

 

Genesis 12:2 "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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

 

Abram was called to wander – but Abram also received God’s promises.  

 

There are four very important promises here, and we can see what they were, and how God kept his promise to Abraham.

 

1. A great nation:  Abram leaves his people behind – and God promises to make a great nation out of him.  Abraham was the father of Isaac, the father of Jacob, and it was Jacob’s sons who formed the twelve tribes of Israel.  Exodus 1 tells us that 70 descendants of Jacob went to Egypt to escape famine:

 

Exodus 1:7 but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.

 

By the time of Moses, then, this promise was fulfilled.

 

2. I will bless you:  God materially blessed Abraham and made him prosper.   Even as early as chapter 13 God blessed Abram – he and Lot had to separate because their herds were so numerous.  And God continued to bless Abram, and his sons – his people Israel, throughout the Old Testament.

 

3. A Great Name:  This promise again looks to the future, and to a time when Abraham’s descendants, Israel would be a great nation having a great name.  Perhaps we might look forward to the time of David and Solomon, when Israel truly was a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. 

 

And notice here how it is God that makes Abram’s name great – not Abram himself – contrast this with the attempts of the people at Babel to make a name for themselves.  God is the one who makes a name great.

 

4. All peoples will be blessed through you:  Not only will Abram himself be blessed by God, but through him others will be blessed.  Again, we can see this happen in the narrative of Abraham’s life, as those who treat Abram well are blessed by God.  But that surely is only a partial fulfilment, because the promise is for all peoples.

 

When was this promise fulfilled?  There were times, the reign of Solomon for example, when people come to Israel and saw God at work.  But this promise was not fulfilled until Christ came.  Look at what Simeon says in Luke 2:

 

Luke 2: 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

 

Simeon recognised that Jesus came as saviour – and not just as saviour for Israel – but also for the Gentiles, the rest of the world, to.  Paul summarises this in Galatians for us:

 

Galatians 3:7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.  8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."  9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

 

Who are the children of Abraham?  Those who believe. 

 

Abraham was promised a physical land, physical descendants, material blessing.  All these things God promised and delivered.  But in the New Testament we come to understand, that Abraham also has spiritual descendants – all those who have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. 

 

And, Hebrews tells us, Abraham also looked beyond the land as his physical inheritance:

 

Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

 

Abraham received the promise of a physical land, but also looked forward to the city without foundations – the New Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem.

 

God’s promises to Abram tell us about God’s relationship with Abram – with Israel, and also with us.

 

So tonight, as we understand more of what God promised to Abram, and how God fulfilled his promise, we should understand more about God’s promises to us, and how God has fulfilled his promises, and will fulfil his promises.

 

God called Abraham to a wonderful calling – as he calls us in Jesus Christ to a wonderful calling, to live by faith in the one who died on the cross for us.  To trust in the one who brought salvation by dying and being raised again.

 

Abraham was promised descendants as numerous as the stars – we are promised that we will spend eternity with the one who made those stars.  God’s call to follow Christ is a wonderful calling.

 

But it is also an unsettling calling.  Abraham had to leave his family behind, and travel to a distant land.  And we too as followers of Christ are called to make unsettling choices.

 

Following Christ can affect our family relationships.  A brother, a sister, a parent, a child, a spouse might not take kindly to our trusting in Christ as Lord and Saviour.  As some of you will know, this can open wounds that do not easily heal, and uncomfortable situations – not least at Christmas.  Of course, as followers of Christ we should strive for harmony and family unity – but not at the cost of denying Christ as Lord of our Lives. 

 

In a similar way, following Christ can affect our relationships with friends – frankly, we might loose some – or with others the relationship changes.  Some people won’t talk about ‘Christian things’ at all – others will take every opportunity to poke fun at us – to see if they can get us to laugh at a dirty joke and so on.  When we make a stand – perhaps on something like gossip – people will make a point of letting us know that they are still gossiping – but there just not going to tell us all the interesting information they know.

 

And it is not just relationships that are affected.  As we understand more of the promises that God makes, and what he requires of us, we will increasingly feel out of step with our world – going in the wrong direction.

 

You see I don’t believe Euthanasia is wrong because it gives doctors too much power, or because of the difficulty of deciding whether someone is able to make that kind of decision, or because you can see how families might misuse it, although all those things might be true.  I believe Euthanasia is wrong because it is against God’s Word.   Just as I believe Abortion is wrong, because the killing of unborn children is not permitted by God’s Word.  But many people in our world would not even begin to accept the validity of my arguments.

 

Following Christ means we are out of step with the world – and that can be deeply unsettling.  As we live as followers of Christ we need to recognise this, and accept it.  And the sooner we accept it, the sooner we accept that we like Abram have left things behind, the sooner we will be able to move forward in faith. 

 

2. Abram followed God’s Call (v4-9)

 

Abram knew he was a wanderer.  And Abram followed God’s call. 

 

a. Abram Trusted in God’s Guidance v4-5

 

Look at verses 4-5:

 

4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.  5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

 

God called – and Abram went.  As verse 5 tells us – they set out for Canaan, and they arrived there – unlike Terah, who only got as far as Haran.

 

Now Abraham did not know why God had chosen Canaan – he did not know why God had chosen him.  But he trusted in God’s promises, and when God called, he responded.  He went.

 

And we are called to follow Abram’s example.  We may not be called to move ourselves lock, stock and barrel to somewhere new – but we are called to here God’s call and to obey.

 

Now we might think Abram has an advantage over us here.  After all, God spoke directly to Abram, and that is not something that we experience today.  However, whilst God does not speak directly to us in the way he spoke to Abram, God does speak to us.  God speaks to us through his word.  As we seek to understand God’s word, as we prayerfully come before God’s word, God will help us understand it through his Holy Spirit.  We can talk of the Holy Spirit illuminating God’s word for us – it’s there, but we need God’s spirit to work in us, to light the page up so we can understand.

 

So we have the advantage over Abram – because we have the whole bible, the whole counsel of God to read – we’re not missing any bits.  The first step towards obedience, towards following Abram’s example, is to understand what God wants us to do. 

 

And there is no magical process here.  We don’t need to read God’s word facing in a certain direction, at certain times of the day, with candles lit in a darkened room.  We don’t need to repeat words over and over again until they start to make sense.  No.  What we should do is to come before God’s word prayerfully asking God to show us his will.  And then, as we read God’s word regularly and faithfully, he will show us how his word applies to our lives.

 

And then knowing where to go, we can, like Abram, go.  We can follow God’s call – unsettling though it may be, knowing that we are following God’s call.

 

b. Abram Trusted in God’s Timing (v6-9)

 

Abram’s wandering did not stop when he got to Canaan.  Look at verses 6 and 7.

 

Genesis 12: 6 Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

 

These verses tell us that Abram went deep into the land.

 

But they also tell us that Abram had to face a number of problem – that there were obstacles in the way of God’s plans.

 

The first we see in verse 6 – At that time the Canaanites were in the Land.  God promised the land to Abram – but the land already had occupants.  And as Abram wandered through the land, as he saw all the Canaanites, wit their towns an cities, he must have wandered how God was going to give this land to his descendants.

 

And the second problem we see in verse 7 – a bigger problem.  The LORD appeared to Abram and promised him offspring – and yet remember what chapter 11 verse 30 has told us:

 

Genesis 11:30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

 

The Lord promised Abram blessing, and a land, and a great name – and yet Abram had no sons or daughters.  He had no offspring for God to give the land to!

 

Abram must have wandered, as he wandered – how God was going to achieve his plans, with both Abraham and Sarah being comparatively old. 

What does Abram do – he continues his journey:

 

Genesis 12:8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and 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.  9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

 

He heads to Bethel – and stays there for a time.  He build an altar, and calls on the name of the LORD.  This seems to represent a regular act – whilst he was in Bethel, Abraham called on the Lord.  He prayed to God – he talked to God – he sought to know what God wanted him to do.

 

And he continued his travels, right down to the Negev, the southernmost part of the land.

 

Abraham travelled through the land – symbolically possessing it, although he did not have it.

 

He travelled pondering God’s promises of a great name and offspring – and trusting God’s promises, and trusting God’s timing, even though he did not understand fully what God was doing or going to do.

 

Now Abraham wasn’t perfect – you can see that from Genesis 12 to 25 – but here he is an example to us of living with God’s timing.  Look how Hebrews 11 describes Abraham again:

 

Hebrews 11:11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age-- and Sarah herself was barren-- was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. 13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

 

Abram trusted God – and did have offspring.  But Abram did not receive the promises God made to him – they were fulfilled later.  But Abram trusted God, and trusted God’s timing.

 

How are we when it comes to trusting God’s timing?  How are we at trusting God for what he does, when?

 

Are we ready for a lifetime of discipleship – a lifetime of following God faithfully, of not always knowing what God has in store for us – of not always understanding what God is doing or has done in our lives?  Are we ready?

 

Are we ready to follow Abram’s example?  Are we ready not to fix our eyes on the present, but to fix our eyes on the future, to look not at the twists and turns the journey is taking, but at the end point, the destination?

 

Are we ready to live unsettled lives?  Are we ready to trust in the great promises that we have from God, to look to the future when we’re only, as it were, half way through the main feature?  Are we ready to admit that this world is not our home, that as followers of Christ we will always be unsettled here.  Ready to say that we are aliens and strangers on this earth?

 

Hebrews 12:14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  16 Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

 

We are unsettled because we are a pilgrim people.  We should gather ourselves for our journey, resting on God’s word and trusting in his promises, as he leads us by his Word and through his Spirit towards the place he has prepared for us, enabling us to achieve all that he wants us to achieve on the way.

 

James Hughes

5th December 2004