Alfred Place Baptist Church

Abraham: The early years

Genesis 11:27 – 12:1 “This is the account of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot. While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth. Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no children. 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. 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 want to rekindle your interest in Abraham for a number of reasons. It is not because this patriarch was a great thinker, or that he was a great conqueror, or a great organizer. He was none of those things.

1. THE GREATNESS OF ABRAHAM

i] Abraham was the father of monotheism, in other words Abraham came to the realization that there is only one God, and that knowledge structured everything he did. All around him people believed in many gods, and for the first 75 years of his life he believed there was a god for everything. There was a god of war, a god of healing, a god of childbirth, a god of harvests, a god for journeys, a god of the sea, a god of the sky, a god for the wind, and a god for the rain. Flocks and herds had their gods as did mountains and rivers. Every tribe and nation had a particular god that watched over it like Hinduism today with tens of thousands of titles for its gods. Forty years ago Professor Donald J. Wiseman gave a lecture at Westminster Chapel entitled The Word of God for Abraham and Today. He said, “Religion in Babylonia at this time was polytheism of the grossest type. The texts mention the names of at least three thousand Sumerian gods, many, of course, titles of one deity. This shows, however, that more than three hundred distinct gods were worshipped.” That was the world of Abraham’s day, and Abraham, if he thought much about gods, held such beliefs for half his life.

However, Abraham wasn’t a genius to discover the truth that there is one only living and true God, like Alexander Fleming made his discovery of penicillin. It was the living and true God who introduced himself to Abraham; he made himself known to the patriarch. That’s the way Abraham learned that God was one. He didn’t enter this truth by logical deduction and philosophical reasoning. God met with him; God Almighty; God Everlasting; God the life-giver who quickens the dead and makes many out of one. Abraham never spoke of God as the God of his fathers, because his fathers for generations had been polytheists, but for ever afterwards men speak of God, and God speaks of himself, as the God of Abraham. So in everything that happened to him, journeyings, flocks and herds, battles, a childless marriage, dealing with other nations and their kings, Abraham always addressed one God, Jehovah, the Lord. He gave himself to this God alone.

ii] Abraham was also great because he was a believer; “Abraham believed God.” He was a typical man of faith, of tested faith, of triumphant faith. In Abraham we see faith budding, faith flowering, faith in fruit, faith in assured confidence. We see faith on pilgrimage, faith homesick for heaven, and longing for a city that has foundations because its builder and maker is God.

iii] The greatness of Abraham lay also in this, that he became not only the father of the Hebrew nation, but the father of a multitude of nations. However, what you’ll find more important than that is that Abraham is also your own father if you are a Christian. Most of us, I fear, don’t appreciate how important Abraham is and how we are joined to him as to our father. I am suggesting that we’re not showing enough respect to our father. The Bible tells us to honour our fathers and mothers, and we are failing in this duty towards Abraham. Some of you haven’t been aware before this moment that he is in fact your father, but I am simply reminding you of what Paul told the Gentile Christians in Galatia, that all “those who believe are the children of Abraham” (Gals. 3:7). It is believers in God and his word, and in Christ and his saving work, who are Abraham’s true descendants, and who enjoy the fulfillment of that promise of blessing which God gave to Abraham. When they believe in Christ they receive those two gifts of the righteousness of God and the indwelling Spirit. We Christians have become this vast holy nation whose father is Abraham.

I had some letters from two sisters earlier this year asking me about their father whom they never knew. He was a fellow student who lived next door to me for a year in Philadelphia. “Tell us everything you know about our father,” they pleaded because he had died when they were very little girls. So now I want to tell you everything about your father, Abraham, because he is the father of the faithful, of those who trust God whatever he asks from them, who go when he says “Go,” who sacrifice when he says, “Sacrifice,” and who never stop doing God’s will. We learn what true saving faith is from the example of Abraham.

iv] The greatness of Abraham is also seen in the honour accorded him in the Bible. Let me ask you this curious question (I don’t think anyone in the world has ever asked this question before now!), what are the sixteenth and seventeenth words of the New Testament? Have a look . . . yes, they are, “Abraham. Abraham.” It is the same in the Greek original, except there they are the eighth and ninth words, “Abraham, Abraham.” But you’ve never noticed that before even though some of you have read the Bible hundreds of times. We often come across references to Abraham without the fact registering. Our eyes glaze over because he is often referred to by name in the Scriptures, 308 times in total. Let me give you some examples of how he is referred to; there is a great prayer of the Levites in the ninth chapter of Nehemiah. They begin by worshipping God as the mighty Creator, but then what is the next reason for their adoration of the Holy One? Listen; “You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. [Then] You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous” (Neh. 9:6-8). Right up there in importance next to the fact of God being the Lord of creation is the fact that he is the God of revelation, that this Creator of the Milky Way chose one man, Abram, revealed himself to him, making a covenant with Abram and his descendants after him. That is the stuff of worship. When Moses pleads with God for mercy to his sinning people he says to him, “Remember your servant Abraham t
o whom you swore by your own self
.” He is arguing with God and pleading him to remember what he had promised Abraham. So your father Abraham, I say, must be a very important man.

Again consider how the great prophet Isaiah addressed the captive people of God in exile in Babylon. How did he cheer their spirits and encourage them? Where were they to look? There were idols and temples on every street corner in Babylon. What Isaiah did was to remind them of their father, Abraham. He said, “Look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many” (Isa. 51:2). Look to the one who lived over a thousand years ago! Couldn’t God do that again for his covenant people when they were surrounded by Babylonian pagans and their gods? Couldn’t he also bless them and make them many, even there and then? Couldn’t he do the same for us – the mighty God of Abraham? Can’t God make us many? We are far more than one solitary man who believed in God.

Or when the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was encouraging the wilting converts from Judaism to keep trusting in the Lord he told them, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebs. 11:8). The future was getting very uncertain for these persecuted Jewish converts. Could they stay on in Jerusalem and Israel or should they flee for their lives? But where could they go? The author of this letter was telling them, “It was just as uncertain and confusing for your father Abraham, but what did he do? He kept obeying God and off he went.” So the apostle thought it was wise pastoring to be reminding these worried Jewish believers of the example of Abraham. Abraham is given more place in the gallery of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 than anyone else.

Or again, think of how often Abraham is mentioned in the New Testament. Consider again its opening verse, “Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Who is Jesus Christ your God and Saviour? He is Abraham’s son, and yet he is also Abraham’s God. The Lord said, “Before Abraham was I am” Christ was claiming pre-existence, but more than that, Christ told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (Jn. 8:56). Abraham’s faith was in the coming Messiah, the one who was promised in Eden who would arrive and bruise the serpent’s head. In faith Abraham saw Jesus’ day. Our Lord even told men and women what happens when we die, that believers go to the side of Abraham; in other words, heaven is to share the same destination attained by Abraham (Lk. 16:22). There are not two heavens, one for Old Testament saints and one for those in the New Testament. Again Jesus calls the God who is his Father the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. How can you justify being anti-Jewish or anti-Arab? The Christian God is the God of Abraham.

v] Again Abraham is called God’s ‘friend’ by the prophet Isaiah (Is. 41:8) in the Old Testament and by James in the New Testament; “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend” (James 2:23). There are some men and I am privileged to call them my friends, but can you think of a greater honour than this, for God to be acknowledging to the angels in heaven, for example, just before Abraham died, “Abraham, who’ll soon be joining us here, is my friend”? Well done, good and faithful friend. Can you think of a greater blessing than to become a person whom God calls his friend? How can I become a friend of God? I want more than anything else in all the world to be God’s friend. We can learn how by discovering how Abraham became God’s friend.

  1. THE STATE OF THE WORLD AT THE CALL OF ABRAHAM.

For a moment let’s start where the Bible starts, with Adam, and let’s move down the generations; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Where have we arrived? Who is this man building this huge box-like ark far from the sea? It is Noah, ten generations after Adam, and his three sons are helping him, Shem, Ham and Japheth. The moral and religious situation in the world is unspeakable. This is the only family in the whole world to believe in God – no one else at all. One of these three boys is going to be in the godly line through whom the one promised will one day come, the child of the woman, the one who would crush the serpent. Through which of the three would the Seed come? God has chosen the line of Shem.

Let’s go on a few more generations; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten further generations from Noah and here is a man called Terah, and he was Abraham’s father. What a name – as it sounds in our English-speaking ears – for any father to have! When he was a little boy Abraham’s friends might have told each other the names of their fathers, “My father’s name is Terah” said Abraham. Wouldn’t children’s eyes pop out today to hear that name? It won’t catch on . . . Of course it has nothing to do with our English word ‘terror’. It was simply the name of a place. I am emphasizing this name (that happens to sound like the striking English word) simply in order that you won’t forget it. We are in a new section of Genesis named after him. Terah was Abraham’s father. Terah was also Sarai’s father by another wife. The husband and the wife shared the same father. Terah was Lot’s grandfather. Terah was the great-grandfather of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife. Terah was the great-great grandfather of Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob. All the roots of the nation of Israel go down into Terah. Little wonder that this is a new section in Genesis with the heading, “This is the account of Terah” (Gen. 11:27). So in ten more generations after Noah we’ve reached Terah.

Now he also had three sons. One of these boys alone is going to be the godly line through whom that one promised in Eden would eventually come, the child of the women, the one who would crush the head of the serpent. Through which son of Terah would the Seed come? It would be through Abraham. We have reached the time in human history when baby Abraham breathed his first breath, and that was twenty generations from Adam according to the Bible.

So what were the conditions in the world at the time of Abraham’s birth? The effects of the fall and the curse are really beginning to bite. The very day our first parents ate the forbidden fruit death came into the world, and it was gaining momentum, people were dying younger and younger. Shem had died at 600 years of age, and when Noah got into the ark and he could look forward to another 350 years, but Shem seems incredibly old compared to his descendants. Terah’s father’s lifespan was much less, 148 years, and we begin to meet unnatural accounts of parents outliving their children; fathers are burying their sons. While Terah was still alive Haran his son died (Gen. 11:28). When Joseph lived in Egypt his lifespan had declined to 110 years, and soon the span of the lives of men and women is the same as the length of our own lives, threescore years and ten.

We all know, I hope, how speedily a lifetime flies by; we mustn’t get that wro
ng. Please, don’t be foolish and live for yourself. Pray, “teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Let’s be sure we know the answers to the great questions. Who is God? I must know him. I must serve him. He must be reconciled to me. I must become his friend. Let me find out. I must find out as the years fly by. What must I do to be saved? Believe on the one whom God sent. What is the good life? Doing the will of your Father in heaven and following the Messiah. The span of life for Terah and his boys was shrinking. Were they asking the big questions? Alas, no. Were they serious about them? No. When would the Seed come? Was anyone interested? Nobody. What if he comes and there is no one ready to receive him? Mankind is lost. When will the curse be reversed? When will there be a new creation, new heavens and new earth? Was there anyone at all interested? No one whatsoever at the time of Terah. So, we ask, are the ungodly going to win everywhere? Will they continue to rule the world as they did ten generations earlier at the time of Noah? It seems that they are, and this time there is not a single person like Noah who walks with God. We are looking at the Bible’s darkest ages. There are no preachers, no prophets, no congregations of the righteous, not a single Old Testament Christian family anywhere in the world. Who in the world knows God in the middle east let alone in Europe, Asia, or Africa? No one is speaking a word for God. The problem is not that men cannot get back to Paradise, but that they don’t want to. The invisible cherubim with their flaming swords are still mighty and active, guarding the tree of life. “Back off, sinner,” they say, “or you’ll die.” Men cannot go back if they chose to, but no one is choosing to. Who is going forward with God? Nobody. Backward is death; forward is death; to stay as you are is death. What a dilemma the world was in.

You hear Christians say, “If there were a great calamity, a world war, the nations plunged into economic collapse, a terrible plague wiping out millions, then people would turn back to God.” I don’t believe it. It is a naturalistic explanation for faith. Calamities can harden as much as sober a giddy nation. Calamity can make men robbers and violent men. It takes more than contact with death to bring people in faith and repentance to God. All the passengers on the plane that crashed-landed on the Hudson river in New York realized how near to dying they were, but the nearest to change they got was that they said they were ‘asking question about their priorities.’ None said that they had made peace with God through Jesus Christ. It takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit for that to occur. Noah had been one righteous man in the world, but ten generations later there was none to be found. Terah may be the best man in the world, and he is also in the line of Shem, but he doesn’t know the Lord, and he doesn’t raise his three boys to fear the Lord, unlike Noah. Noah lived as a pilgrim; his home was not in this world. Soon he’d move into an ark and sail away. Terah was not like that; he put his roots down in city life and got comfortable.

His three sons were, Abram, Nahor and Haran. Haran died in Ur of the Chaldees. We are told that it was the “the land of his birth” (Gen. 11:28), his native land or literally, “the land of his kindred,” – his relatives. Nahor, another son, was named after Terah’s own father. This suggests a close, united family, united geographically and in grief, but still a polygamous family. Terah himself lived in Ur for many years, with Abram and the extended family. Ur is in modern day southern Iraq. It is south-east of Bagdad, in the far east of the country. More important, it is far from the presence of God. Remember how Adam and Eve went out east from the Garden. Then Cain went away from God and he was driven east of Eden, and so the centre of man’s life moves steadily away from where the beautiful Garden of Eden had been located. In fact, men and women were moving into another lifestyle. They settled in the east in Babylon and there they built the tower of Babel. They planned to reach heaven by their own achievement, but that whole enterprise was destroyed. Ur is even further east, but that is the fashionable direction. If you wanted to prosper in the world then the slogan was, “Go east young man, go east.” Everybody who was anybody was going east. It was a sign that you weren’t bothered about the Lord. You were going to make your own choices and build your own life.

Cain the son of Adam had built a city; the Babylonians built a city and in that move from tents they were confessing that this world really was their home. They had no hope in the promised One who would crush the serpent’s head. For them it was an ancient story and nothing more. Ur simply means ‘city’ and the place had a tangible reality about it – compared to some kind of old legend that one day the seed of the woman would come and crush the serpent’s head. Who believed that stuff if you lived in ‘City’? We have known since the time of the most famous of all archaeologists, Sir Leonard Woolley, that Ur possessed supermarkets, schools with exercise tablets and lessons for the children, a university, a library and fine civic buildings. It was a city which contained between a quarter of a million and a half a million inhabitants. Most significantly of all, Ur was the centre of the religion of moon worship; its chief deity was a god called Nanna, the Sumerian moon-god. You could see the moon; you could see the temple to Nanna and Nin-gal, another god. The top temple was in the form of a great tower dominating the skyline of Ur. Nanna seemed utterly real to them. The activities of the temple pervaded all of Ur life. Mankind couldn’t stop the itch to build towers that would reach to the sky. What they had failed to do in Babel they would do in Ur. The god of such a civilization had to have a vast building in keeping with the city’s status. Ur was the most important of the cities of the world at this time; no metropolis like it existed anywhere else. The city got a name for itself. You were somebody if you lived in Ur, but there was no one in the world worshipping the living and true God. How far these descendants of Shem had fallen away from Jehovah, the Lord of hosts.

So we are told that in the city of Ur Terah and his family lived; there he established his home, in the shadowlands of Nanna the moon god, the god of fertility. Its influence pervaded the whole place. You might want to put Terah in the most favourable light and say that he was in the city but not of the city, but I am afraid Scripture does not allow us to come to that judgment. Hear Joshua telling the people who finally entered Canaan 700 years later about Abraham and his family: “Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. 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 and worshipped other gods”’” (Josh. 24:1&2). Even Abraham was implicated. When we first meet him he is living in pagan, moon-worshipping Ur, indistinguishable in his beliefs from anyone around him. Abraham is a ‘moonie’. The situation is desperate. There is no Noah around; no family like Noah’s exists anywhere. The world does not seem to have had a single believer in the Lord. The world is again as it was at the time of the Flood, but this time without Noah. The only element preventing another deluge swallowing them up was God&
rsquo;s covenant promise to Noah.

We are told that at that time there developed a half-hearted decision in the life of Terah’s family to get out of Ur and move away to the land of Canaan; they would exchange urban living for a rural way of life. “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 Chaldees to go to Canaan” (Gen. 11:31).But the enterprise was short-lived. “When they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran” (Gen. 11:31). Haran was a twin city of Ur, another centre of moon-god worship. It was easier from them to get out of Ur than to get Ur out of them. On the journey they were soon drawn back to what was familiar to them and they found it in another city made by men where again Nanna the god of fertility was being worshipped.

 However, in another city with temples and shrines to the god of fertility, Sarai had no more help than she had back in Ur; she was still unable to have a baby; “Now Sarai was barren; she had no children” (Gen 11:30). In those powerful cities with their big populations and huge temples extolling the god of fertility, I wonder how many times had Sarai and Abraham gone and made sacrifices to the idol and paid through the nose its priests and priestesses? Yet they never received what they longed for. Abraham had lived in the cities of Ur and Haran virtually all his life, until he was 75 years of age, and not as a beggar in Ur, someone longing to get away, but as a well-to-do member of Ur society. You would think, “Well, that’s it. He is going to end his days there; he’ll have no children, his line will end and we must look elsewhere for the line of the seed of the woman. We must wait for another generation somewhere else before we will find faith on the earth.”

That is how we would respond, but in the way he changes the life of Abraham and all subsequent human history God is showing us how mighty he is to save. It was his decree; “I will direct Terah and his family to live in Ur. I will expose Abraham to life in that city for 75 years. I will surround him with man-made religion for decades. Abraham will experience what the world has to offer in the top civilization, the most populated city, the most learned university, and in the shade of the grandest temple with the most powerful god men have yet devised. Abraham will experience first hand and close-up for decades everything that this world has to offer, without its Creator and Redeemer, but there I will find him, save him, make him my friend, and the father of many nations.”

God was giving Abraham and Sarah exhaustion from men – man-fatigue – and preparing them for radical new life for the next years. I heard David Suchet the actor being interviewed in Desert Island Discs last week. He had fame and wealth and a happy marriage and children, but he had one thought that would not go away; “Surely there is more to life than all of this.” Then, he says, he read a letter. What letter was this? Had a fan written to him and explained the gospel? No, the letter he read was written by the apostle Paul, the letter to the Romans, and that changed his whole life so that now God is the most important reality of all. To prepare Abraham God set him down right in the midst of the nations, like Moses spending years in Egypt in Pharaoh’s palace, like Luke, studying as a medical student and doctor, like Saul of Tarsus being trained by Gamaliel. Not all God’s servants need such instruction, but some do. Dr J. Gresham Machen is set down in the heart of German modernism at some of their universities for a year or two. Again, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is set in the heart of applied science in London, training to become a doctor. In such places God’s call was to life and meaning and joy. God’s plan involved Abraham living until he was 75 years of age in Ur and Haran and Abraham prospering there. We have no idea why God tarried so long with Abraham before he called him. At 75 we consider a man’s life to be over, but with Abraham, a middle-aged businessman who worshipped the moon god, it had only just begun.

  1. HOW GRACE HOMED IN ON ABRAHAM.

We are told that somehow, one day, Jehovah spoke to Abraham. He did not speak to Tehrah his father, or to Nahor his brother, or to his nephew Lot, but his grace homed in on Abraham. What a privilege! What a glorious honour, of all the inhabitants of the earth, the Creator spoke to this one creature. Abraham was not seeking an audience with God. He did not deserve God to speak to him. He had been worshipping Nanna, the moon god. He was not permitted to command God to converse with him. This was a sovereign and gracious act of God and from that moment onwards his whole life was changed. There is no hint in our text that Abraham was looking for God, but God came seeking him, amongst all the hundreds of thousands of people living in Ur God came to this man alone and he spoke with him. That is what separated Abraham from all the citizens of Ur, the word of God. If God had not had dealings with him then all Abraham would have had was Nanna a moon god, and Sarai a barren wife and a business in Ur. What distinguished Abraham so that his name occurs twice in the first seventeen words in the New Testament is that God perforated his life. If God does not intervene and summon a person to start serving him then all he has are dead idols, dying people and some stuff. Sometimes you hear people say, “I found the light.” True, but the light shone on you first. In his light we see light. You might hear someone say, “I found the Lord,” but the Lord had found him first.

“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek him seeking me.

It was not I that found O Saviour true,

No, I was found of Thee.”

The initiative in salvation begins with the Lord. He always makes the first move. That is what John 3:16, the most well-known verse in the Bible says: “God so loved the world” – not that the world was pleading with God and explaining to him a plan for our redemption; not that there was The International Salvation Association of Religious Experts laying down the blueprint for God to act upon. No. “God loved and God gave his only begotten Son . . .” Jesus said to his disciples, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Paul says, “He loved me and gave himself for me.” The plan was God’s. The accomplishment was God’s alone. He begins to move in our hearts. He plants gnawing restlessness, a sense of emptiness, a longing to know God personally. He brings us to a Bible believing church. He introduces us to Christian friends. He opens our understanding so that we grasp the message of the Bible and we are given faith to believe in Jesus Christ. Salvation is all from God; He is moving in our hearts before we start moving towards him. So we can take no credit for our salvation; it all comes from him. Peter and John were mending their nets when a stranger called them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Saul of Tarsus was on his way to decimate the church in Damascus when the Lord met him on the road.

God had made Abraham out of the union of Terah and his wife, knitting hi
m together in her womb. Sometimes, though a family might be serving idols, God will take one member and use him to turn the family and a whole community around. He will save a village chief and so the chief will call his family together to hear the gospel, and then summon the village together and make them all listen to the story of the Lord Jesus and his love. Sometimes whole nations get changed in this way. The chief will say, “I could do nothing else. God’s choice of me made all the difference.” His change impacts on everyone under him. Jeremiah the prophet said that God had known him, and consecrated him, and appointed him to prophesy before he’d been formed in his mother’s womb. Paul says that God was pleased to reveal his Son in him. God always does this; it is the way he works; he saves us; we don’t save ourselves.

This is the way Abraham became the father of all who believe. In other words the pattern of saving faith is just like our father’s. What had we done for God, that he should set his love on us? Why should he choose to intervene in our lives? Why should he stop us in our tracks and then say to us, “I have something to say to you. Get out of the kingdom of men, right out from under the domination of men and women where you have been living your entire life, and come into the Kingdom where my dear Son saves and transforms”? Why should he speak with such authority that we were constrained to believe, and in believing we obeyed? We didn’t deserve the gospel; we weren’t seeking the gospel; we didn’t desire it. We even thought to ourselves, or even bragged, “I’ll be the last person to become religious.” Yet God met us, picked us up, loved us, called us and we couldn’t say no. He made us willing in the day of his power, so that we longed more than anything else to say yes.

The Lord spoke to Abraham, but more, he appeared to him (v.7). I am not saying that Abraham had a visible sight of God, because God is invisible, but that he revealed himself in Abraham. You know how it happened in Saul of Tarsus; he said it like this, “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me” (Gals.1:15&16). That is salvation; God taking the veil away and our souls are given a revelation of how great he is. At the time of the patriarchs the Lord had not appeared to men since he had come to judge the serpent, and the woman, and the man in the Garden. Of course, he had spoken with Cain, and with Noah. In fact he had spoken words of judgment with Cain, and about judging all mankind he spoke to Noah at the Flood. God had spoken and judged the builders of the tower of Babel, yet never had he appeared in their midst. Rather he had spoken from the throne of heaven. They knew what he was saying, but he’d been off camera.

Now, suddenly, he appeared to Abraham, the God who since the Fall of man seemed far off and only hostile to fallen mankind, now he drew near and not to curse but to bless a sinner. What the people who were the seed of the woman should have been longing for Abraham actually heard and saw, though he’d not been longing for it! Man had been driven out of the garden under the words of judgment, and had gone as far east from the presence of God he could go, but God came there, to pagan Ur and pagan Haran, and in the shadow of the temple to the moon god the Creator of the moon spoke to Abraham his great commands and promises.

I will tell you something unbelievable, but it is totally true. The same Lord who appeared to Abraham is here in our midst today, and he is talking to us just as he talked to the patriarch. That is the glory of his grace. Where two or three gather together in his name, there, he says, “am I in the midst.” He is here not to judge, but to bless. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. The one who came to Bethlehem, the promised Seed of the Woman, still comes in grace to seek and save that which was lost. The one who came seeking for Saul of Tarsus and found him on a road has come here again today. He tells us he lives, and he seeks for men and women, and he will take them through the wilderness of this world to their eternal home. You heed him, and respond to him, and start to follow him, the God of Abraham, now. Please begin to hear his voice. Hearing him is not hearing the actual physical voice of God, but hearing him unmistakably speak to the inner man, to our heart and soul. Coming to him is the response to hearing his words; it is the movement of our hearts and wills in obedience, and henceforth we will serve him as our God.

22 February 2009 GEOFF THOMAS