The Call of Abraham

Genesis 12:1-9
This chapter occupies a place of great importance, being the first public call by which the saint is separated from the world. The book of Genesis brings out the great principles of God's dealings with those taught of the Spirit to know His mind. He acts as the God of Abram, as later of Isaac and of Jacob; not here as the God of the whole world, though this is true, but specially of His elect. He is pleased to identify Himself with them, and is not ashamed to be called their God (Heb. 11), as they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly. We are partakers of heavenly calling, not of earthly like Israel. The time is soon coming when God will bind Satan and take the world as a whole for His kingdom (Rev. 11:1515And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)); as He anticipatively proclaimed Himself “Lord of all the earth” when Joshua in His name led Israel across the Jordan on dry ground. Till then He is the God of those called out to Himself.
Within the chosen family, Abram is the depositary of promise, the root of the olive-tree of testimony; Isaac figures the son in resurrection and heavenly places, after the sacrifice; as Jacob sets forth Israel's history, an outcast from the land, but brought back again. In Joseph we see the beloved of his father, handed over by his brethren to the Gentiles, but out of the depth of humiliation exalted to the right hand of the throne, whence in famine he ministers to both Jew and Gentile. But further we see him who was separated from his brethren, and then glorified in another and a larger sphere, making himself known to his brethren in sovereign grace and earthly blessing, when they are brought down, in the person of Judah, to own their sin against their guileless brother and their loving father. So rich are the germs of truth in Genesis—the wonderful introduction to the Bible.
In Noah another principle had been brought out: government for the restraint of evil; and then the whole order of the earth, in not only the families of men, but their tongues, countries, and nations. For corruption had come in, man set up in responsible rule having failed (as we see in Gen. 9, and more and more in Gen. 10, 11). It was not only violent self-exaltation in Nimrod, nor the rebellious unity of men in the confederacy of Babel; but another evil entered (Josh. 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2)), Satan elevating himself as head of power and object of divine worship. For “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God” (1 Cor. 10:2020But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20)). Thus came in the destructive delusion of the heathen—ascribing those things which God did to Satan, and setting Satan in God's place; which seduced even the forefathers of Abram, not the sons of Ham or Japheth merely but the line of Shem too. “They served other gods.” Separation therefore became imperative: God's witness must be called and come out thence. For what communion has light with darkness? and what agreement has God's worshipper with an idolater? Abram is therefore called of God to get out of his country, and from his kindred, and from his father's house.
The chapter divides itself into two parts: ver. 1-9, and ver. 10-20. The first tells us what Abram was, blessed in connection with God; the second, what he became in failure through his own thoughts and ways. On the latter we do not enlarge at this time.
In the first part (ver. 1-9) two things appear, God calls Abram out to a land which he is to show him. Abram is thereon a pilgrim and stranger. But again Abram worships when in the land. He pitches his tent here and there in Canaan, and in Canaan he builds an altar here and there (ver. 7,8).
The special blessing of the believer then as now cannot be without separation from all God's natural order of things, where Satan had succeeded in setting himself up. God did not say, Leave the worship of Satan (or of other gods), but “Get thee out” (ver. 1). So in the days of our Lord the Jewish system, or God's natural order regulated by His law, had fallen so completely under Satan as to be the main power in crucifying the Son of God. Therefore He called His sheep outside, as He tells us in John 10, “He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him for they know His voice.” God's ties before were by natural order, by family blessings and inheritances. But out of all these, as well as the idolatrous evil, Abram was called. The link of false worship must be thoroughly broken. Correction of one's ways in the old country is not enough. “Get thee out,” is the word, “into a land that I will show thee.”
Then Abram, “chosen” and “called,” has the “promise” of blessing—not Adam, but Abram. “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great: and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (ver. 2, 3). We do not hear, of “thy seed” till ver. 7. Abram is made to be a head and center of blessing, with a curse on him that cursed Abram; for it is not heaven but earth as yet, “a land that I will show thee.” The “one” seed is in ch. 22:18, where nothing is said of the stars or the sand. Compare Gal. 3:1616Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Galatians 3:16).
The same principle applied even to Israel when defiled by idolatry (Ex. 32): only that here judgment was at once executed on the guilty leaders. The people mourned and no man put on him his ornaments (Ex. 33). “And Moses took the tabernacle and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp” (ver. 7). Compare Heb. 13:1313Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. (Hebrews 13:13).
So there is nothing for us now to rest on but God's word. What God calls us to is to believe His word. By His word all things were made and subsist; by His word heavens of old, and an earth having its subsistence out of water and in water, the then world, perished under a deluge. To the believer His word is a necessary authority, he being governed by the obedience of faith; as here we see that all turned on “Jehovah had said” (ver. 1).
But a believer may be hindered when right in the main. Abram departed, but did not for years get into Canaan; he could not because of Terah his father. “Terah took Abram and they came unto Haran and dwelt there” (Gen. 11:3131And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. (Genesis 11:31)). When Terah died there, “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came” (ch. 12:5). The call of God had been only partially obeyed. Abram got out of his country, but not from his father's house; and nature, thwarted the results of faith. He went with Terah to go into Canaan, but not in the simplicity of faith, and therefore did not get there; for they came to Haran and abode there. Now Haran was not Canaan. Nature cannot break from nature; but faith can. Here it was failure from natural order in the flesh resisting faith. It was not faith really, though Abram was a believer. Nothing can set aside the immediate and personal responsibility of obedience to God's word; nothing can rightly be between the soul and God but His word. The error in Christendom at all times springs from putting something between. All the instrumentality of the Lord is by the word and Spirit to bring the soul to God; as He suffered once for sins to accomplish it. This principle God never gives up—the immediate claim of obedience to His word.
Abram blessed in Canaan answers to the Christian united to Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 1, 2); and as now our conflict is with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, so for Abram “the Canaanite was then in the land” (ver. 6). Thus is here presented to us our actual position by union with Christ, which faith has to make good against the wiles of the devil. Our bodies are here on earth; but we are seated in heavenly places in Christ and have to resist the enemy there, who would make us forget and act inconsistently with our calling and position as one with Christ.
Hence our walk is to be preeminently by faith, not only our justification and salvation, but our walk and our worship. It will not be so unless founded like Abram's on the divine revelation of Himself in Canaan. “And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land; and there builded he an altar unto the Loan who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east; and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD” (ver. 7, 8). Faith acts on the word, receives God's testimony, and finds itself not of the world—yea, of heaven, as Christ is, and in virtue of Christ. Such is the true and proper worship of the Christian, heavenly, and (we may add) of the Father, His Father and our Father, His God and our God, founded on His full revelation of Himself. And the true and proper walk of the Christian, as a stranger and pilgrim here below, goes with it. It supposes peace with God known and enjoyed, and Christ Himself our peace in heaven, blotting out all legal distinction of Jew and Gentile, which kept up distance from God and between men. Now that we have redemption in Christ through His blood, and draw near in spirit where He is—into the holiest, the old reserve and all that appertained to it are gone forever; and in this as in other ways we are called, as God's assembly, to make known (not to the world, but) to the principalities and powers in heavenly places the all-various wisdom of God.
On the latter half of the chapter, the history of Abram's failure in faith, we do not now speak: what we have seen is the call, worship, and walk of faith.
J. N. D.