“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Gen. 12:1).
One definition of the term watershed is “a crucial dividing point, line, or factor: a turning point.”1 We have a watershed moment in Genesis 12. It is a crucial dividing line in how God dealt with mankind. There is great dispensational significance in the call of Abraham.
During the time of the first 11 chapters of Genesis, God dealt primarily with the earth and mankind as a whole. This can be observed by reading the accounts of the creation, the family and generations of Adam, the flood of Noah’s day, and the tower of Babel. These 11 chapters also demonstrate that, after sin entered the world, mankind spiraled down and was bent toward corruption, wickedness, and destruction.
Beginning in Genesis 12, however, God launched a brilliant plan to provide salvation for mankind. With this passage, the focus of Genesis narrows from the wider history of humanity to that of one family. And the story of that family continues in and through much of the rest of the Bible. Abraham was called to be the founder of that one family, the family that would become the nation of Israel.
Get Thee Out
“And 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… Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Gen. 11:31; 12:1).
Abraham lived in the city of Ur in the land of the Chaldees with his father, Terah; his wife, Sarah; and his nephew, Lot. Ur of the Chaldeans was in southern Mesopotamia. It was a significant and prosperous city in that day, situated on the banks of the Euphrates River close to the Persian Gulf and near Basra in modern day Iraq. Ur was also a place of pagan idolatry. In the Book of Joshua, we read this:
“And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [the River Euphrates] in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods” (Josh. 24:2).
Abraham’s father, Terah, was not a believer who brought up his son, Abram, to believe in the one true God. Instead, Joshua reminded Israel that their forefathers came from Ur, where Abraham’s father and family worshipped false gods.
The reason that Abraham (who was called Abram at that time), with his family, left Ur in the land of the Chaldees was, as Genesis 12:1 tells us, “Now the Lord HAD said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country….” A couple of verses before Genesis 12:1, we see that Abraham and his family had already left Ur and were in Haran at the end of chapter 11. The past tense, “had” in Genesis 12:1, means that this verse is a flashback to when Abraham was still living in Ur. There, God had appeared to Abraham and spoke to him. This is confirmed in Stephen’s discourse before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7.
“…The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran [Haran], And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee” (Acts 7:2-3).
Abraham’s life changed forever when the God of glory unexpectedly appeared to him and spoke to him in Ur. When God appeared to Abraham, God called him to leave his “country…kindred, and…father’s house” (Gen. 12:1). These are three levels of increasing demand, which go from broad to narrow. Abraham’s “country” was the region of his dwelling, his “kindred” were his relatives, kinfolk, and broader family, and his “father’s house” was his immediate family and home.
God’s call to Abraham was further a calling to separate himself from the corruption and idolatry around him and in his family in Ur, and to separate himself to the living God (2 Cor. 6:17-18).
God called Abraham to leave his homeland and to move to a different country, “unto a land that I will shew thee” (Gen. 12:1). God told Abraham to leave Ur but, at first, God didn’t tell him where he was going! Hebrews 11:8 confirms this: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place…he went out, not knowing whither he went.” God required faith from Abraham, and God desired that Abraham uproot his whole life and just follow God’s leading by faith. Later, He would show Abraham the place he was to go.
It’s been well said of this call that “Abraham was being asked to forsake everything in order to follow God’s call. What would you do? You’re in the prime of life, you’ve got a good job, a nice nest egg, a home you like, friends you admire, neighbors who respect you. You’re an upstanding, valuable part of the community. You’ve got a good future ahead of you. The last thing you want to do is move. And now God—whom you’ve just met—wants you to leave everything. Your family… your friends…your country… your home…your business…your security.”2
What would you do? Is God calling you to the ministry to be a pastor? Or perhaps is He calling you to the mission field? Maybe He’s calling you to go to Bible school. Or do you feel a desire from God to serve as a teacher at your local church, to lead a Bible study, or to become an elder or deacon? If your first thought is “I can’t” or “I’m not qualified,” that’s a great first step! Because then you have to rely on the Lord by faith to go forward.
There were legitimate objections Abraham could have raised and real obstacles to overcome when God called. Staying in Ur, where he was comfortable, was the easiest thing to do for Abraham. But he looked beyond the objections, obstacles, and comfort, and he responded to God’s call and went forward by faith and, as a result, he was blessed, and he became a blessing to others—just like we can in our lives when we serve the Lord!
God’s Promised Blessings
“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” (Gen. 12:2-3).
God made three promises of blessing when He called Abraham to leave Ur. First, God said, “I will make of thee a great nation”; second, “I will…make thy name great”; and third, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
When Abraham was in Ur, Genesis 11:30 states that “Sarai was barren; she had no child,” so Abraham was childless. Thus, when God promised that He would make Abraham a father of many nations, it took great faith to believe God, for Abraham to believe that he would have children and grandchildren and that his multiplied seed would become a great nation (Rom. 4:17-21).
God also promised to make Abraham’s name great. The promise of a great name reminds us of the Tower of Babel in this context, that they said, “and let us make us a name” (Gen. 11:4). Babel was about the plans of man and three times saying, “Let us” (11:3-4). The call of Abraham, however, was about the plans of God, and God three times saying, “I will” (12:2-3).
Those at Babel sought blessing through their own labors apart from God, selfishly wanting to make a name for themselves, but they failed utterly. God promised Abraham a great name as a result of leaving Ur and trusting Him, and when Abraham obeyed, God did for Abraham what those at Babel tried so foolishly to do for themselves: God blessed Abraham and made his name great.
Protection also was promised to Abraham, God saying that He would bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who curse him. This promise was made specifically to Abraham, but it also applied in a broader sense to his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. We find examples of this in Scripture, such as when Potiphar’s house and all of Egypt were blessed because of Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph. Later though, Egypt was cursed because they cursed the descendants of Abraham when they were in bondage.
Not only was Abraham promised personal blessing, but God also promised to make him a blessing, even to the point where all the families of the earth would be blessed in Abraham and through his seed (Gen. 18:18).
God’s Plan for Abraham’s Family
Genesis 12:2-3 is God’s stated purpose for the nation of Israel: for Israel to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. This was God’s plan all the way through early Acts, and it will pick up again after the Rapture of the Church: that one nation would be a light to all the other nations, that one family would be a blessing to all the other families of the earth. God has always loved the whole world, and this plan was for the purpose of reaching and leading the nations to the one true God and the proper worship of Him.
The call of Abraham helps us to understand our Bibles when we understand this plan of God and the importance of His purpose for the nation of Israel.
Moses ministered under this plan. The law was given to Israel that she might be a blessing to the nations by being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:6) who lived, worshiped, and ministered according to God’s law (Deut. 28:1-14).
The kings of Israel reigned under this plan. The glory of Israel in the days of King David and King Solomon made Israel the blessing that God intended them to be to the families of the earth (1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chron. 9:22-27).
The prophets ministered under this plan. God sent the prophets to Israel to call her back to God and to His law that, through repentance, faith, and obedience, she might be blessed by God and be that blessing to the nations (Jer. 7:25-28; 25:4-5).
The Lord Jesus Christ ministered under this plan. Christ came to make Israel a blessing and a light for the nations. That’s why He taught His disciples that He was “not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24) and told Israel, “Ye are the light of the world” (5:14). Matthew 1:1 reminds us that Jesus Christ is “the son of Abraham.” Ultimately, all the nations of the earth will be blessed by Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham, through the worldwide kingdom of peace He will establish on the earth. One day, the Messiah will make Israel all that God intended her to be in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12.
Peter and the apostles ministered under this plan. After healing the lame man, Peter preached to those in Jerusalem, telling them, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:25-26).
Those in the Tribulation and the Millennium will minister under this plan. After the Rapture, Genesis 12:2-3 will be the plan for the Tribulation period and the Millennial Kingdom. In that day, Israel will be called to be a blessing to lead the nations to Jesus Christ, the true God, and to find salvation and life in His name (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6).
The Body of Christ does NOT minister under this plan. After Israel fell in her unbelief of Jesus Christ and her rejection of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, God temporarily set her aside until the Rapture. Genesis 12:2-3 is not God’s plan today. Instead, God’s plan is for the Church, the Body of Christ, made up of believing Gentiles and Jews, to be His light and ambassadors for Christ. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21). We are called by God to go out to the world with the gospel of grace, to make the good news known that Christ died for our sins and rose again, and that anyone can be saved from all their sins by faith ALONE in Christ.
Faith and Obedience
“So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came. And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, Who appeared unto him” (Gen. 12:4-7).
God called and Abraham obeyed in faith. After God appeared to Abraham in Ur, he and his family traveled out of Ur in Mesopotamia over 600 miles northwest to Haran. The patriarch of the family, Terah, Abraham’s father, stopped short of Canaan, instead settling down and dwelling in Haran (11:31). Haran was another prosperous city that was located on an important trade route in what is modern-day Turkey, near its border with Syria. It was a city, like Ur, that was known for its idol worship.
Abraham and his family stayed in Haran until his father, Terah, died (Gen. 11:32). After Terah’s death, Abraham acted in faith and continued the journey to the land as God led him (Acts 7:4). Abraham departed Haran with his wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot. They, with their servants, all set out for Canaan, which was another long journey of around 400-500 miles to the southwest.
As Abraham entered Canaan, he stopped for a time at Sichem (or Shechem), near the center of the land. Here “the Lord appeared unto Abram” and blessed him, telling him, “Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen. 12:7). Abraham was then about 75 years old (v. 4) and his wife was still barren, yet the Lord told him that his “seed” would be given this land. It took faith to believe this promise.
Verse 6 points out that “the Canaanite was then in the land,” meaning they were the possessors of the land at that time, but verse 7 states that the Lord appeared to Abraham to promise and assure him that this land would belong not to the Canaanites, but to Abraham’s posterity. God’s promise to Abraham was of future possession of the land by his descendants (Acts 7:5). Abraham was promised both a great nation and the land for his seed, but he had no outward proof of either. He could only trust God for the fulfillment of these things.
Abraham was called to this land of Canaan, but he was not told until after he arrived there that his seed would be given the land. It wasn’t the promise of the land that brought Abraham to Canaan, but just his faith in God. After he arrived in the land, then God blessed him and promised the land to his seed, the land which is often referred to as “The Promised Land.”
It’s important to remember, too, that Moses wrote the Book of Genesis. And the ones who first read this book, the children of Israel in Moses’s day, were about to take possession of the land which God promised to Abraham’s seed. The account of the strong faith of their father Abraham would’ve been a great encouragement for them to act in faith to go forward and take possession of it.
After the Lord’s appearance and promise to him, Abraham built an altar to the Lord. When we first read of him, Abraham lived in Ur with all of its idol worship. As we conclude this particular account, we find Abraham worshipping the true God in Canaan. God called, Abraham obeyed, and stepped out in faith. When Abraham arrived, God blessed him, and Abraham worshipped God.
Abraham is a powerful and great example, if not the greatest example, of a man of faith in Scripture, and he challenges us to grow in our faith in the Lord. It’s been said well that “If you ever carved the Mt. Rushmore of faith, you would have to start with Abraham.”3
1. “Watershed,” definition no. 2, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/watershed.
2. Ray Pritchard, https://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/the-incredible-adventure-begins/.
3. Ibid., quoting Ray Stedman.