Story 19: From Shem to Abram

Genesis 11:10-32

When we look at the time between Adam and Noah, there were ten generations of humans that multiplied on the earth.  They became so hardened and wicked that God had to wash the earth clean of their polluting sin.  God started the human race all over again through the sons of Noah.  Two years after the waters of the Flood went down, Shem, the son of God’s great blessing, and his wife had a child, and they named him Arphaxad.  When he grew up, he also had a son, and later that son had a son.  This carried on for ten generations.  Now the Bible points out someone who was born in the tenth generation after Noah.  His name was Abram.  In Scripture, the number ten is a symbol of perfection or completion.  By pointing out the generations broken into groups of ten descendants, the biblical author (who we believe to be Moses) was pointing out that just as with Noah, the time had come for God to move.  He was going to fulfill a new step in His perfect, sovereign plan to save the world.

But first, we have to ask, why did the world need saving?  Hadn’t Noah ushered in a whole new era for the human race?  Hadn’t everything changed?  Did the rebellion continue?  Throughout the those ten generations, had the people become just as wicked as they were right before the Flood?

We already know the answer, don’t we?  We learn a lot when we read the Table of Nations (see Story 16 and 17) and the story of the tower of Babel (see Story 18).  Humanity would utterly reject God once again.  They would choose violence, hatred, and corruption instead of the bright, beautiful goodness and purity of the Almighty Lord.  What was God going to do?

The Lord had already promised not to send another flood.  Now God was going to do a new thing.  He was going to raise up another man of righteous faith.  Only this man would be used by God in a very different way.  God had previously saved the human race from total extinction through Noah’s family. The earth had been cleansed of wickedness by the flood.  Now, God was going to create a nation that would be given a way to continually come to him for cleansing of their sin.  Their pursuit of their righteous Lord would create a purified place on earth so that God’s holy presence could rest among them in the Most Holy Place.  He would be their God, and they would be His people…and they would be a priestly nation that would serve the rest of humanity.

The generations of this nation would come from one man.  He would be the first step in God’s Great Solution to the problem of sin.  For you see, in God’s Great Solution, the problem of sin and death and the horrific curse would be taken care of completely and finally.  One day, humans would be given a new heart.  They would be able to love the Lord and walk in holiness just as they had in the Garden of Eden!

That is all very exciting, but we are rushing ahead of ourselves.  That is the end of the story, and the human race is not there yet.  Those amazing and wonderful things are still to come at the end of time. We await them with great joy!

God’s amazing plan, His Great Solution to the problem of sin, started in the tenth generation after Noah. God would raise up a man of great faith.  This man would be the beginning of a mighty new work.  His life is so important that the Bible stops telling the story of all humanity and the great nations and focuses close up onto this one man’s little world.  We are about to hear his story, and we have a lot to learn.  We can grow to love him, because this man is the great spiritual father of everyone that has faith in God.

The sons of the tenth generation from the line of Shem were brought into the world by a man named Terah.  He had three sons and their names were Abram, Nahor, and Haran.  After they had grown, a terrible tragedy came upon the family.  Haran died.  He had a son and a daughter who were left vulnerable.   In our time, this is a horrible thing.  In those days it was far worse.  The tribal living of the Ancient Near East was brutal and unforgiving.  It was dangerous for a woman to be alone.  What was the family going to do?   The best way to take care of Haran’s daughter was to find her a husband.  They decided that Haran’s daughter, Milcah, would marry Nahor.  He would be her husband and her protector.  Terah and Abram would raise Haran’s son, Lot, and watch over him.

Abram was married to a woman named Sarai, which meant “princess.”  Abram’s wife was very beautiful, and their love for each other was very great.  But over the years, they experienced a terrible grief.  Sarai was barren.  She could not have children.  What terrible pain it must have caused her that she couldn’t give her husband the great gift of a child.  How hard it must have been for Abram to see his wife go year after year without a baby in her arms.  Their future must have seemed dry and pale without the joy of new life.  Why had God withheld from them that beautiful blessing…the privilege of obedience to be fruitful and multiply?  They would each have to depend on God’s comfort and grace. They would have to depend on Him for hope.

Terah decided it was time to leave Ur, the grand city that was their home, and move to the land of the Canaanites.  His sons and their wives went with him.  But along the way, after a long journey, they stopped at a place called Haran and settled there, .  They had traveled five hundred and fifty miles, but they hadn’t made it to the land of Canaan.  They hadn’t reached their goal.  Then, after many years of living at the half-way point, Terah died.

What dark days those must have been for Abram.  There he was in Haran with his barren wife, grieving over his father, and caring for his brother’s son.  And he was still miles and miles from Canaan, the land of their destiny.

Yet Abram and Sarai continued on faithfully bearing the responsibility of caring for Lot, Abram’s orphaned nephew.

Then one day, something remarkable happened.  The LORD came to Abram.  What God said to him is one of the most significant things ever spoken in history:

 

“‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;

I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”

Genesis 12:1-3

 

Wow.  Read that again.  God told Abram to leave everything.  He was to abandon whatever life he had in Haran and go into a strange land.  But with that obedience would come with overwhelming blessings.  God would lead him to Canaan, the land of his destiny.  And for his faith and obedience, the LORD promised to make Abram’s descendants into a mighty nation.

This promise was called a covenant.   If Abram obeyed, God would bind Himself to Abram with a sacred promise that He would never break.  Now remember, when God speaks, things happen!  He created the whole universe by the words of His mouth.  God’s words would also cause things to happen in the future.  Abram could be as certain that God would keep His covenant as he was that the sun would rise every morning.  And what a blessing this covenant would be.

Abram would be like Shem!  He would father an entire people group!  God also promised to make his name great.  God would curse anyone that tried to hurt him. And somehow, God was going to use him to bless all the nations of the world.  What a bright and wonderful hope!  But Abram had to choose to believe it.

When God promised to protect Cain after he murdered his brother, Cain chose not to believe that promise.  He built a fortress city to protect himself instead.  He did it on his own.  When the children of Noah were wandering the earth, they were supposed to scatter to far off lands.  Instead, they stayed together.  They thought they could keep themselves safe apart from the help of God.  They tried to make a great name for themselves apart from God by building a temple.  They did it on their own.

Now Abram would have a chance to show where he put his hope.  He could follow in the ways of Cain and build a life on his own.  Or he could do it God’s way.  He would have to have faith to leave the land of safety and go out into dangerous regions of unknown people and their unknown ways.  He would have to trust God to protect him in ways his forefathers had refused.  Abram would have to have faith that God could create something out of absolutely nothing.  It was impossible for his wife to have children, let alone give birth to a nation.  He would be staking his whole life on a miracle.  

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