Genesis 12

This introduces Genesis 12 on wholly new ground. It is evident that here we are entering a sensibly different atmosphere. It is no longer man as such, but a man separated of God to Himself, and this by a promise given to one chosen and called – a new root and stock. These are principles which God never has abandoned since, and never will. Let me repeat that it is no longer mankind as before, nor nations only, but we have the call of God to Himself – the only saving means where ruin has entered before judgment vindicates God’s nature and will by His power.
For we know from elsewhere that idolatry was now prevalent among men even among the descendants of Shem, when a man was called out by and to the true God on a principle which did not change nor judge (save morally) the newly-formed associations of the world, but separated him who obeyed to divine promises with better hopes. Abram, it need hardly be said, was the object of His choice.
I am not denying that God had chosen before; but now it became a publicly affirmed principle. It was not only a call known secretly to him who was its object, but there was one separated to God by His calling him out as the depositary of His promise, the witness of it being before the eyes of all, and in consequence blessed, and a channel of blessing. For what might seem to man’s narrow mind an austere severing from his fellows was in point of fact for the express purpose of securing divine and eternal blessing, and not to himself and his seed alone, but an ever-flowing stream of blessing which would not fail to all the families of the earth.
God will yet show this. For the present it has come to naught, as everything else does in the hands of man; but God will yet prove in the face of this world how truly – and divinely, and in the interests of man himself, as well as of His own glory, He wrought in His call of Abram.
Abram comes forth therefore at God’s bidding; he departs from his country; but first of all we find a measure of infirmity which hindered. There was one who hung upon the called out man, whose presence was ever a clog: the company of one not in the calling always must be so. Terah was not the object of the call; and yet it was difficult to refuse his company; but the effect was grave, for as long as Terah was there, Abram, in point of fact, did not reach Canaan.
Terah dies (for the Lord graciously controls things in favor of those whose hearts are simple, even in the midst of weakness); and now “Abram set forth to go into the land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan he came.” The Canaanite, it is added, was then in the land. “And Jehovah appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto Jehovah, who appeared unto him.”
Here we find for the first time the principle so dear to our hearts – the worship of God founded on a distinct appearing of Himself (it always must be so). Man cannot reason out that which is a ground of worship. It flows from, and is presented to us as flowing from, the appearing of Jehovah. It is not merely the call now, but Jehovah “appeared” unto him.
True worship must spring from the Lord, known in that which at any rate is a figure of personal knowledge of Himself. It is not only thus a blessing conferred, but in Himself known. Of course no one means to deny the fact that until He was known in the revelation of His own Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, there could not be that which we understand now as “worship in spirit and in truth”; but at least this sets forth the principle.
There is another thing also to be observed here: it was only in Canaan that this was or could be. There was no worship in Mesopotamia; no altar, which was the symbol of it, was seen there. Neither was there an altar in Haran. It is in Canaan we see one first. Canaan is the clear type of that heavenly ground where we know Christ now is. Thus we see first Jehovah personally revealing Himself; and this next in connection with the type of the heavenly places. These are clearly the two roots of worship, as brought before us in this instructive passage.
Further, Abram moves about in the land; he pitches his tent elsewhere. This was of great importance. He was a pilgrim, not a settler in the land. He was as much a pilgrim in the land as before he came there. It was evident that he was a pilgrim when he left all dear to him, whether country, or kindred, or father’s house; but when in the land he did not settle down. He still pitches his tent, but he also builds his altar. Who could hesitate to say that in the land Abram acquired a more truly heavenly intelligence? The promise of the land from God brought him out of his own land – out of that which is the figure of the earth; but when in Canaan God raised his eyes to heaven, instead of permitting them to rest on the world. And this is precisely what the Epistle to the Hebrews shows us, – not alone the faith which brought him into the land, but the faith which kept him a stranger when there. This is precious indeed, and exactly the faith of Abram.
His worship then we have in connection with his sustained pilgrim character in the land of promise. Then we have another thing – not mere infirmity but alas! failure – open and serious failure. He who had come out to God’s call, the stranger in the land that was given him of God, fearing the pressure of circumstances, goes down into the granary of the earth, the land which boasts of exhaustless resources. Abram went there of his own motion, without God or His word. Not only is no altar there, but he is without the guidance and guard of divine power morally.
Abram fails miserably. Say not that this is to disparage the blessed man of God; it is rather to feel and to confess what we are, which is as much a part (however low) of our Christian duty as to adore what God is in His own excellency to our own souls. Flesh is no better in an Abram than in any other. It is the same ruinous quagmire wherever trusted, in every person and in any circumstances. And there it is that Abram (who had already failed in the unbelief which induced him to seek Egypt, away from the land into which God had called him) denies his wife, exposing her to the most imminent danger of defilement, and bringing not a blessing on the families of the earth, but a plague from Jehovah on Pharaoh and his house. Thus Abram proves the utter hopelessness either of blessing to others or preservation even for ourselves when straying from the place into which God calls us.