1. An Unknown

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 1. An Unknown

Gen 11:26,29,30  After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran….The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai…..Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.

When you pass people in the street, do you ever wonder where they come from, what their background is and what they’ve been through?  We live in a world where celebrities, courtesy of the media, feature highly. If you were asked to list off fifty well-known names, you’d probably not have a problem.  However, the truth is that the vast majority of us are unknowns. If we are ‘anybody’ it’s probably because of our family. Families count for a lot. Some of us may have made our way through our education or through business or professional achievement, but for most, families do play a big part. It’s all right, actually, to come from humble beginnings and be a ‘nobody’ as far as the world is concerned. If we measure ourselves according to our family background and upbringing, we may truly be a ‘nobody’. If we measure ourselves on the basis of how much we have impacted the world, what we’ve achieved, we may, indeed, rate ourselves very lowly, but there is another means of measuring our value, and it is God!

Here is Abram, and he probably knows very little of God; in fact few people do at this time in history! It’s early days. Around the world the revelation of God is very limited. It is said that the Chinese had an early understanding of the God who is the Creator.  Most other peoples had a more superstitious, fact-absent set of beliefs. There was, in many, a sense that the world was more than just a material, senses-perceived existence, there was something more. Spirits? Demons? Things that needed to be appeased, things that needed bribing? It was early days as far as spiritual revelation was concerned. And Abram is a nobody who doesn’t know much, if anything, about God.

Well actually he is the eldest son of Terah, but that really doesn’t say much. When we first come across him in Genesis 11, there is no indication whatsoever that this is a man of destiny, a man whose name would become a household name to many. He’s got two brothers and he gets a wife called Sarai. His youngest brother has a son,Lot, and so far Sarai doesn’t have any children.  They live inUr, in the southern part of what we sometimes callMesopotamia, one of the so-called ‘cradles of civilization’.  Life just goes on year by year with nothing eventful happening. Time passes, and still Abram and Sarai don’t have any children. Eventually it is assumed she is simply childless.

This is all rather ironic because when Terah had had his first child, he named him ‘Abram’ which means ‘exalted father’. The implication is that Terah expected this son to carry on the family name, perhaps to be like him and have at least three sons of his own, a family at least, who would carry on the family name. But Abram doesn’t have any children because ‘Sarai was barren’. It’s the youngest of the three sons,Haran, who has a son,Lot, and thenHarandies. One way and another, this is probably not a very happy family.  So here we have this man who is a ‘nobody’, part of an unhappy family blighted by childlessness and a premature death. Not a very good scenario.

Perhaps, when you look back over your family life and background, you feel that it is similar to that which we’ve been describing. For many people when the stories are told, they realise their parents were not wonderfully happy, and indeed in many cases they actually weren’t wanted. In the nine months of being carried in the womb, all they had conveyed to them was worry, anxiety and fear. When they were born, it wasn’t a lot better. For many people childhood wasn’t a wonderful time of life. Teenage years were even more turbulent and a decidedly rickety launch into adulthood. And then the ups and downs of life hit. For some it is childlessness, for others divorce, for others unemployment, and the list could go on and on. Life is bumpy! Things go wrong! We live in a Fallen World when prevailing sin means our lives ‘break-down’.

And what are we left with?  Very often it is low self-esteem. Very often it is a feeling of being locked into circumstances, locked into my personal history, locked in to the sense of failure. In reality many of us feel we are a ‘nobody’. In reality our knowledge of God is strictly limited. In reality we feel we have no future worth mentioning. We just live.

This is where the story of Abram and Sarai brings hope. This is a story of a man who didn’t know God, who has an encounter with God, and has his life changed for ever. This story is about an embryonic relationship that forms with God, the ups and the downs of the life of this ‘nobody’ that makes him a ‘somebody’. This is all about the life transformation that can take place, because God turns up. Are you ready for God to turn up for you as you read through these incidents in Abram’s life, because that’s what this is all about?

Over the years my understanding of the story of Abram grew in stages. The more you think about it the more comes out. In the early meditations in this series I am going to write as if that understanding grows and develops. Join me with our exploration into this man’s growing experience of God.

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2. To Abram

“God turned up” Meditations: 2 :  To Abram

Gen 12:1,2 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. 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 wonder how many people God speaks to but they don’t realise they are being spoken to. Adam and Eve, we saw in the previous meditation, were very much aware of the Lord’s presence and of Him speaking to them. No longer do we see the Lord and thus we only ‘hear’ him in our spirit unless, on very rare occasions, He should speak out loud into our world. But Abram heard him.

Abram’s family lived in Ur which is believed to be in the south east of Mesopotamia, where modern Iraq is. Now all the Biblical account tells is that, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.” (Gen 11:31.32) Haran is in the far north west of Mesopotamia.  So what we are told is that Terah, Abram’s father, had led them from their home in Ur up the trade route towards Canaan but when they had got to Haran they settled there and there they remained until Terah died, after which Abram and his family set off again for Canaan.

Yet in Acts we read, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” (Acts 7:2) In other words it was before they left Ur that this word we find at the beginning of chapter 12 came to Abram and when we later read, “So Abram left, as the LORD had told him,” (Gen 12:4) that actually refers to leaving Ur. What is intriguing about all this is that the chapter 11 account has Terah leading the way although it was Abram who receive the prodding from the Lord.

Now culture experts will tell us that in that culture the father was the one who led the family and they did what he said, but it still means that Abram must have gone to his father and convinced him that he had heard from God. Now that in itself is intriguing when you think about it, because one wonders what Abram knew of God because the revelation of God, apart from the early accounts at the beginning, was very spasmodic to say the least. Moreover just how did the Lord speak to Abram?  This is a key question because we are not told he had an angelic visitation or that he heard a voice out loud, which rather supposes that it was simply in his mind he was getting this ‘message’.

Did the message come once, or twice, or was it an ongoing nagging thought that just wouldn’t go away. Whatever it was, it was sufficient to go to his father and convince him. Had his father been hearing from the Lord as well? It is a grey area and we just don’t know. What it does tell us, however, was that from the outset Abram was someone who believed in the divine and also that he could be ‘spoken to’. Centuries had passed since Enoch or Noah had lived, the most recent men who appeared to have some relationship with the Lord, and so although information had no doubt been passed down the family line, it would have been very sketchy.

So there is Abram, living with his family, married but childless, in Ur, and he starts hearing God. God turns up on his radar. We really don’t know if he had had any prior contact or knowledge of the Lord but now suddenly God starts speaking in such a way that Abram hears it. Bit it isn’t a quiet general word – leave your land – it is much more comprehensive than that.

There are really six bits to it. First, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household.” The only problem about that is that it included leaving his father which culturally was not on. So he shares it with his father, who concludes they all need to go and it is not until they settle in Haran and his father eventually dies, that he is able to fulfil this command. Second, and go to the land I will show you.” Although the chapter 11 account speaks of Canaan it is not clear that they knew that this was the destination when they set out. Third, I will make you into a great nation.” Now that was amazing for he was childless. That flew directly opposite to his experience. Fourth, and I will bless you.” That was very reassuring, “I will do good to you.” Fifth, I will make your name great.” He’s going to become famous! Sixth, and you will be a blessing.” In other words you will do good to other people.

This is an amazingly comprehensive message for this dweller in Ur to receive. He heard it, understood it and took it in and conveyed it. It is pure prophecy. Abram appears from no where; he is a nowhere man, a nobody, just the son of another nobody – and then God turns up and nothing is ever the same again.

There is something important to consider before we finish. All this might have been wonderful but it would just have remained a series of thoughts in the mind of a nobody, if he hadn’t then gone and done something about it. He tells his father in such a manner his father is moved into action. The working out of the “go to the land I will show you” took time and included delays, yet eventually we find, they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.” (Gen 12:5) and the rest, as they say, is history – but it needed him to respond to the voice of God – as it does us.

Running Away

WALKING WITH GOD. No.4

Gen 16:7.8 The angel of the Lord found Hagar… “where have you come from and where are you going?”… “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai.”

I know this is supposed to be a meditation about ‘walking’ but as I pondered Scripture, this passage stood out to me as important – fast walking, urgent walking, if you like! I’ve always felt negative about this passage of Scripture; it’s not Abram and Sarai’s finest moment! The Lord has promised them children but the years have passed. To be precise, the Lord had promised Abram children and that may be why Sarai makes the suggestion she does. She sees herself as the stumbling block to Abram’s family name being continued and so she suggests that Abram continues it through her maid, Hagar. Casually this looks like a crisis of faith, but perhaps it was more a crisis of understanding. That is the difficult thing about prophecy. The Lord speaks but often He only gives a small amount of information and we have to rest with that. Sarai became fed up with waiting and perhaps wondered if there was some other way that the prophetic word is to be fulfilled. Hence, Hagar.

Hagar is just a servant-slave, and so Abram has intercourse with her and she conceives, so it was Sarai who was infertile; she had been right! But once she is pregnant, Hagar can’t help looking down on Sarai for her inability to conceive. It was a big thing both then and now, this ability to conceive, and many today still know the heartache of the inability to have a child. Hagar somehow conveys what she feels and Sarai is upset, so much so that she ill-treats her. So bad was this ill-treatment that Hagar flees, but the only place she can go is the desert. It is there that she is confronted by the Lord in the form of an angel and there she confesses, “I am running away.” God’s word comes, go back and I’ll bless you with more descendants than you can count. This she does and Ishmael is born, the father of the Arab nations, who so often have been a thorn in the side of Israel.

But consider Hagar, as if you knew nothing of the rest of the story. She is a servant girl to a wealthy merchant and his wife. She particularly serves the mistress of the house. She is aware of the undercurrents of the household, but is powerless to do anything about it when she is drawn right into them. She is powerless to resist when Abram says he wants her to bear his child. Perhaps she feels honoured, but this course of action results in life getting even harder and harder. Eventually she finds herself in the desert with no future.

The circumstances of life seem to have conspired against her so now she is running away – walking at a pace with urgency, if you like. She doesn’t know where she is going and what will happen, until God turns up. She has revelation of God and names Him, ‘the God who sees me.’ In the place of crisis she has come to a place of major understanding – God is there, He sees and He knows all about us; I’m not alone. In the place of crisis, running away, she receives revelation of destiny, she will be a mother of many, the mother of many nations we now know.

This is a picture of life in this Fallen World. It is ‘fallen’ because Adam and Eve fell into sin and sin entered the world, so that every one of us has been tainted with it since. Thus we live in a world where people – other people as well as us – make poor decisions and we are affected. Their sins, their shortcomings, can sometimes affect us, so much so that we try to flee those circumstances and find ourselves in a desert with no apparent hope and no future. “What did I do to deserve this?”, we wonder. Nothing! We just happen to be in a Fallen World! But this desert is not the end, it is a place of isolation and opportunity where God can come and speak and reveal what is going on and what He plans to happen, through these disastrous things.

On the run? Get ready to meet God. Get ready to listen to Him and get ready to go back in faith like Hagar did, and pick up your life and your destiny.