2. Wrong Settling

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 2. Settling in the wrong place

Gen 11:31,32  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.

There are mysteries in life, things we’ll never know this side of heaven. It’s like that in the Bible as well. There are times when the Bible seems frustratingly sketchy and we want to ask lots of questions. Why did Terah leave Ur? Why did he settle in Haran? We simply aren’t told, so this tends to be a little speculative. All we can do is look at what we are told and speculate in the light of what we know about life.

There are two areas where the Bible gives us information about Terah. The first is about his family. As we noted yesterday, when his first son came along, he seems to have high hopes of the family name being carried on through this son for he names him ‘exalted father’. Yet as the years pass that doesn’t happen. Obviously it would be a number of years before Abram grew up and took a wife, and then some more years before they concluded she was barren. In the meantime Haran is married and has a son, Lot, but then some unspecified time later, dies.

Now it may just be possible that Terah takes the family and leaves Ur because he wants to escape the unhappy memory of losing Haran. That is one possibility. It may also be possible that, being a superstitious man, he wonders if Ur is an ‘unlucky’ place and further wonders that if they go somewhere else, Sarai may be able to conceive and have a child to carry the family name through the eldest son. There is a faint possibility that Terah heard from God because their departure was with the express intent of ending up in Canaan, which is where, we find, the Lord told Abram to go. The truth is we just don’t know, but life decisions are so often made through a combination of such things. There is a further probability that we’ll consider later.

Now there is a second area of information about Terah that we only get later in the Bible. Presumably the story of Terah was handed down by word of mouth and that in more detail than we find recorded in Genesis 11. We have to wait to some way through Joshua that we find this prophetic word coming from the Lord through Joshua:Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River (Euphrates) and worshipped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants (Josh 24:2,3). Ah, Terah worshipped idols!  It is said that the moon-god was worshiped at both Ur and Haran so it is likely that Terah worshipped the moon at least. Now there is an interesting thing about people who worship the elements or idols; they indicate a need to reverence some other Being or force.

They recognize a spiritual existence but may be completely misled in their understanding of it, for understanding of reality can only come from God. But their hearts are inclined more in His direction than in no direction, such as the atheist would claim.  So Terah sets out from Ur and intends to go to Canaan. As we’ve said previously, we are not told why he left and even more we’re not told (here) why he was aiming for Canaan. As we wondered previously, is it coincidence that Abram ends up in Canaan? (Yes, as we read on we’ll get answers but in these early verses these are legitimate questions). However he’s got his leading, and we said it may be through a variety of feelings or circumstances, he’s had this sense that he wants to take his family to Canaan. When we consider all that subsequently took place in Abram’s life, we can only conclude that that initial sense was a good one. So he sets out from the place of hurt towards a place of hope. (We will come to more definite conclusions later in the series).

On the way he passes through Haran, which in the Hebrew, I’m told, is spelt differently from his son’s name, but was it sufficient to trigger the memories all over again of the son he has lost?  We read,when they came to Haran, they settled there.” To settle means to stop moving on. If Canaan was Terah’s destiny, he stopped short of it, he stopped moving towards it and never arrived. We read that he died there in Haran.

Terah is the picture of a man who caught a sense of something new but stopped along the way and settled, so that he never reached it.  How many of us mirror in our lives what happened to Terah? We started off well, clear about where we were going with our lives, but somehow, somewhere along the way, we settled. Is it too late to get under way again? No, but we’ll probably need the Lord’s help to get out of our rut. When you settle, it’s difficult to get under way again, but not impossible.

Did you give up going to church some way along the path? Did you stop reading your Bible, stop praying, stop attending the mid-week meeting, stop giving, stop whatever it was that became your ‘stopping off point’?  If you stay in Haran you’ll die there. It’s not the place of your destiny. There’s a land out there for you to reach, a land filled with milk and honey, a place of plenty of goodness, a place of God’s calling. Please don’t settle, don’t remain at Haran, don’t accept second best. A lot of people are. There are a lot of people who are Christians who stopped along the way and settled. Your calling is to be a man or woman of God, a person of faith. The first step is to get under way again. If you remain in Haran it will kill you. Move on!

27. My Strength

God in the Psalms No.27    

Psa 18:1    I love you, O LORD, my strength.

Such a simple description: my strength. In a world that sees so many people stressed, this must surely be a most important meditation. What is stress? It is the inability to cope with the pressures of life or work or family difficulties. The presence of stress means that we have run out of personal resources that would enable us to cope well. Stress means that we are being pushes further than our physical resources can cope with. Stress means we are being pushed beyond what our mental resources can cope with, and stress means we are being pushed beyond what our emotional resources can cope with. Oh yes, we mustn’t forget one other area, stress is being pushed beyond what our spiritual resources can cope with. But actually our lives are one and all these interact within us – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  If we get ourselves into circumstances that are beyond our God-designed resources, we are into stress.

I have a busy day and the demands upon me may be many. I am at a time of life when my physical strength and stamina is not what it was when I was thirty years younger. Therefore I have to be wiser in conserving what I have and the way I use it, but if I believe my circumstances are God-given and God-guided, then like the apostle Paul, I must trust that the Lord will provide my physical strength: I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13). But the key here, is checking that all the things I allow to come and make a call on my life are things I believe are God sent. Sometimes I may have to reject some things. I also need to ensure I have a healthy lifestyle – healthy food, reasonable exercise and no late nights and early mornings!

Then there are difficulties to be overcome, problems to be solved, things that challenge my mind, and I need mental strength to be able to work at these without worry creeping in.  Are these problems my responsibility? Are they things the Lord wants me to deal with?  They appear to be things that require knowledge, wisdom, understanding and possibly insight, things which God said Jesus would have (Isa 11:2) and now because Jesus lives in me, must be resources available to me. All I have to do is commit it to him: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7). Ah, look what is in there in the midst of that, a promise of peace, i.e. emotional strength!   How did that come about? It came by turning to God, by seeking Him, and by pouring out my heart to Him. Therein is spiritual strength. Yes, He does live within us, but spiritual strength and stamina come by conscious awareness of His presence, by seeking Him and finding Him and knowing Him and finding that His glory is reflected in us (2 Cor 3:18).

Later on in this Psalm 18 David says, It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” (v.32-34) There he links strength with the way ahead being made perfect. When we are weak, we may stumble and fall, but with God’s strength we can walk or run steadily and surely (like the deer), and we find a new strength there that enables us to fight the battles that confront us. You can’t explain his strength really, you just ask for it, and then suddenly you realize you have it and step out to do His will for your life and find you can do it; the strength is there physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and you achieve His purposes!

God’s Training

Lk 1:19-20   The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” 
   
Any church leader will tell you that they wish that every one of their congregation were on fire for God with their lives well and truly sorted out – but people are people and unbelief in various forms is often the most human characteristic observable. If only we could wave a magic wand over people and all their spiritual ills would disappear! If only people would respond instantly to God’s word. We even pray for better responses because the hard truth is that most of the time the Lord moves very gently in dealing with people. 
    
This good man, this law-keeper, Zechariah, finds it so hard to believe that he and his wife could have a child, in their old age, even when he is being told by an angel from God. When we look at what now happens it seems as if God feels He has to do something a bit more dramatic to urge him along the path to blessing. The Lord knows that if only He can get Zechariah to respond, the outcome will be the blessing of producing the man who will prepare the people to receive Jesus, a son who will bring joy to this aging couple. God is planning blessing for this couple and for the nation in about thirty years.
   
It all hinges on this. If God can’t get this man to respond there will be no John the Baptist, and if there is no John then the people will not be prepared to receive their Saviour. Could God not have used another family and there been a different ‘John’? Obviously He thinks not! The Lord sees the potential of what this child could be and no one else will achieve what John will achieve.  Perhaps we don’t realise that we have potential and it is the potential to do what no one else can do.  We have a unique place in this world, with a unique bunch of contacts and no one else will ‘fit’ my place in this world.
    
So the Lord has determined to deal with this situation so that there is a good outcome. The angel could have berated Zechariah, flashed bolts of lightening around and him and generally scared him some more, but that isn’t God’s way. That could have turned Zechariah off, it could have made him completely give up, and so no, the angel doesn’t do that. He is operating with God’s wisdom as well as God’s power and authority and so he does something that will stay with Zechariah until this child is established. This has got to be something that will encourage Zechariah to be obedient right through to the naming of the child, not just conceiving him.  This isn’t about punishing Zechariah but motivating him into a place of blessing.
    
So the angel speaks a word and Zechariah is dumb for the next nine months. He doesn’t know when it will end; he just knows he is dumb. It is something that is constantly with him. Time and again he feels the frustration of not being able to speak out and get someone’s attention, or speak out and give an answer. He has to learn to communicate through sign language, and he realises that he’s not too old to learn new things!
   
Does God move like this today? Yes, I’m convinced He does, maybe not so dramatically but He certainly does stuff to motivate us. I am convinced there are things that happen that are the simple, straight forward discipline of God – and remember that discipline in the Bible is not about punishing, it’s about training. I suspect that much of the time we don’t realise what is happening, but nevertheless these things that come as trials will test us and change us, even if we’re not aware of it at the time.
   
When difficulties come into our lives and we complain about them, what we are unable to see is the good outcome that God is working towards for us. We can’t see the future and very often we can’t even see the whole picture of what is happening in the present, and so we don’t realise where this is going and don’t realise that it is working to change us and perhaps change other people, so that at the end of it, blessing will be there that couldn’t have been otherwise.
    
Zechariah no doubt struggled with being dumb right up until the naming of John. At that point, when he confirmed the boy’s name in line with God’s wishes, his tongue was released and not just to talk, but now to prophesy. We need to see the big picture and we need to see the end outcome, and until we can, we need to have and open heart, that says, “Lord, what do you want of me?” and be willing to do what God says in answer. Do you and I have that sort of heart?