Today’s passage strikes me as quite a challenge. In the back half of Genesis 11 we are told some of the family tree of Abram, and how he is a descendant of Shem, the son of Noah. This why the people who are descended from Abram are called Semites or Semitic people, and to be anti-Jewish is to be Anti-Semitic. Anyway, Abram is Sumerian, from Sumer, and he was born and grew up in Ur. His father was 70 years old when Abram was born, and he lived to be 205. Now that’s a remarkable age, so maybe when we get to Abram later in the story only beginning his journey at 75 we mustn’t be overly surprised at such an “old” man, but even so I’m impressed by Abram.
I’m impressed by Abram because he finishes the job. We are told that Terah, Abram’s father and Lot’s grandfather, had set out from Ur to go to live in Canaan, but that he’d stopped short at the city of Haran. We don’t know why he stopped, maybe it’s because even for someone who will live to 205 he felt old. Abram was 75 when he set out from Haran, at which point Terah would have been 145, and we don’t know how long the family had stayed in Haran, but I think we can allow Terah some sit down time in this instance. Anyway, so Terah doesn’t make it to Canaan, and he dies in Haran,
And so in Genesis 12:1 we find God speaking to Abram, and God commands Abram to finish the trek. Abram doesn’t know at this point that he’s going on to Canaan, but he would have known that that is where Terah was going before the family stopped. Remember that Terah is still alive at this point, he’s 145 years old and has 60 more years in him. Abram also has a brother, Nahor, who he leaves behind in Haran, but he takes his nephew Lot, the son of his dead brother who, confusingly, is named Haran. Maybe Terah he’d stopped at Haran because it bore the name of his dead son? Maybe he saw that as a sign from the gods, or maybe he was just grief-stricken. Anyway where Terah had stopped Abram and Lot continued on…at some point.
So here’s the challenging bit. Having said that it wasn’t out of character for reasonably old me to be quite active in this family, Terah is 70 when he has Abram, and then sets out on his own journey at a point when Lot is old enough to be present (Terah’s grandson) it’s perhaps not as big a deal that Abram at 75 decides to listen to God and walk out of home and follow God to a new place. The challenging bit is the voice itself: who is The LORD who commands Abram to walk? Remember that Abram is not Jewish, he’s the ancestor of Isaac and Jacob, he’s about 600 years ahead of Moses, all of that Chosen People stuff is in the future. How does Abram know who he is talking with?
I think this is why Abram is such a hero of the faith, Jewish and Christian. He hears a voice pretty much out of nowhere, religiously speaking, and he takes those promises of patronage and benefit at face value. This is obviously some sort of god speaking with him, and so Abram goes. Did he talk it over with Terah? Maybe. The fact that Lot goes with him means that there was probably some family discussion, maybe there is some vicarious pleasure in Terah that Abram will fill his destiny in going to Canaan, if that is where this god will lead his son. And for Abram, who takes his nephew with him because he has no sons of his own to take, maybe the promise of descendants to occupy the land as a nation is not too far a stretch for him, even with Sarai childless to this point.
No wonder he is a model of our faith. Amen