Meditations in the life of Abraham : 9. Expectancy & Encouragement
Gen 12:6,7 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. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
Abram has entered the land; he has done what he believed the Lord had told him to do, so now what? If in doubt, keep moving, so he travels on southwards through the land until he arrived at Shechem where there was a great oak (see 35:4). Now such a feature usually meant it was a shrine or some sort of special worship place. That may be why we are immediately told that this time in history was when the Canaanites were still in the land; it was a Canaanite sacred place of worship. Now they became known for their pagan and idolatrous practices and so it is quite possible that Shechem, and especially this great tree, was a recognized central pagan worship place at the time. Now for Abram, coming from an idol-worshipping culture, this would not have been that strange, but quite an ordinary place.
Now, in the light of what is about to happen, it takes us back to Abram first having heard the Lord, and we might wonder when that actually happened and even more, where it happened, for if we are right and this is a pagan place of worship, Abram is about to hear God there, and one wonders if the Lord spoke to him previously at some other pagan worship place? Now bear in mind that idols are just lumps of wood and, indeed, this oak tree is just an oak tree. It is only superstitious minds that are open to Satan’s deceptions at such places. But it may be that this was a place where Abram would expect to hear the Lord, and so it is rather like a modern computer user going to a cyber café to use the internet. If this is so, it would be quite natural that Abram, having entered the Land, would now be looking for further guidance as if to say, “What now, Lord?”
If this is so, and I believe it is, then it sets us thinking about the way people use things or places to raise their spiritual expectations. Now without doubt this does happen. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses icons to focus their worship. The Catholic Church uses the Stations of the Cross. Very often old church buildings convey a sense of the holy, possibly through years of prayer there. For us individually we may have places where we have had special encounters with the Lord and we may return there with high expectations of encountering Him similarly again. Thus it may be that it is no accident that the Lord waits until Abram reaches Shechem before He speaks to him, for the other half of speaking is hearing and in spiritual terms sometimes that depends on our expectancy.
Which raises a question: how does your expectancy of hearing the Lord vary? Is it limited to Sunday mornings, or do you have an expectation that in your ‘quiet time’ (if you have such a thing) you will hear Him? Or do you have the understanding that actually the Lord is everywhere and therefore it is possible for you to be open to Him anywhere? That is easy to suggest but needs some working on to become a reality. I confess I find it easier to hear Him in quiet if I am attentive. That is not to say I cannot hear Him in other circumstances or that He hasn’t spoken in such circumstances, for He has.
So, for whatever the reason, the Lord waits until Abram has well and truly entered the Land before He encourages him. The word He speaks is an extension of what He has said before. Previously all He has said is that Abram is to go to the land that the Lord will show, and that He will make Abram a great nation. There was not necessarily a direct link between the two. Now the link is spoken: “To your offspring I will give THIS land.” Yes, this is the place that will become yours.
Now again we may see the links between the Canaanites being in the Land and this word. Abram may have arrived and thought, “Well this can’t be where I am going to become a great nation, because it is full of people already.” “No,” says the Lord, “this land will be yours, or rather the land of your descendants.”
There is a simple lesson here: when the Lord speaks, listen carefully, for He hasn’t said that this will be Abram’s land but the land of his offspring, i.e. his descendants will have it and, as we will see later, that won’t be for some four hundred years yet, and that is all within the plan of God. But for the moment, this is sufficient encouragement for Abram: he had heard aright, and he was in the right place. A lot has to happen before this word is fulfilled but that is only partly down to Abram. When the Lord speaks about our future He doesn’t usually tell us how we will get there or what will have to happen first. He simply tells us the end, the goal He is aiming for with us, and that is to be enough! Rest in that. He knows what He is doing and what He will achieve in and through you.