Promise and Pilgrimage (Genesis 12:1-7)

The Lord said to Abram,

“Leave your land,
your relatives,
and your father’s home.
Go to the land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation,
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.
Through you every family on earth will be blessed.”

So Abram left, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram set out for Canaan. He took along his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the servants they had acquired in Haran.

They arrived in Canaan, and Abram traveled through the land to the oak tree belonging to Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I’m going to give this land to your descendants.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. (God’s Word Translation)

Abram (later having a name change to “Abraham”) knew quite a lot about new beginnings.

It isn’t every day that the Lord comes along and completely upends a person’s life. Abram had lived his entire life in the same city, Ur, in Chaldea (present day Iraq). By all accounts, Abram was completely fine living where he was living. He had neither the ambition nor need to leave his home city.

The Lord, however, had other plans for Abram. And they were radical plans. This was no rearranging of the furniture; it was a wholesale life-altering change. Ur was an important cosmopolitan city, a trade center, located at a pivotal point where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers run into the Persian Gulf. Thus, Ur was a wealthy city, the citizens enjoying a level of comfort unknown in other parts of Mesopotamia.

Actor Eddie Albert as the out of place city lawyer trying to make it in the country on “Green Acres” which aired on CBS from 1965-1971

So, Abram being called to move from the city and go to some unknown place in the west would be something like growing up in Manhattan, New York and being called by God to head for Brewster, Nebraska – which is pretty much in the middle of nothing. It makes “Green Acres” look like a night out at the opera.

The Lord’s First Promise to Abram

It wasn’t all unknown change; there was a promise attached to the call. Having every family on earth blessed through you is a really big promise. There was a lot riding on Abram’s response.

Perhaps there was some pushback on Abram’s end of things. But we don’t have any record of it if it even happened. Instead, we get a simple statement telling us that he left, just as the Lord told him to do.

Lest we think Abram had some incredible relationship with the Lord before this call came, we need to think again:

“This is what the Lord God of Israel says: Long ago your ancestors, Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor, lived on the other side of the Euphrates River and served other gods. But I took your ancestor Abraham from the other side of the Euphrates River. I led him through all of Canaan and gave him many descendants.” (Joshua 24:2-3, GW)

The One true God wasn’t even on Abram’s radar. He was merrily serving the pagan gods of Sumer, seemingly without a care in the world. It wasn’t as if Abram was bored watching old reruns of “Green Acres” and wishing for a change. And it sure wasn’t because he was attuned to knowing anything about Yahweh.

Whatever went down between Abram and the Lord was likely so compelling that Abram left willingly and without any pushback.

The Lord’s Second Promise to Abram

To travel from Ur of the Chaldees to the land of Canaan is an approximate distance of 800 miles. That’s slow going when you’re traveling in a caravan by donkey and camel. It took a while to get to the land that the Lord had in mind for Abram.

Once there, God gave Abram another promise: The land that he reached will be his home, the new land, the Promised Land. It would be yet another 500+ years before Abram’s descendants took full possession of that land and the promise realized.

Abram had a lot of time to consider and reflect on the Lord’s calling and promises. And that is precisely why pilgrimage is so very important. Yes, the destination is significant; yet it is the journey itself that really matters.

Pilgrimage

Those who put their strength in you are truly happy;
    pilgrimage is in their hearts. (Psalm 84:5, CEB)

Abram journeys into the unknown by Yoram Raanan

The way of pilgrimage is for all, like Abram, who walk in faith and patience, awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 

By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country… for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky — innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 

For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:8-16, NKJV)

Each day, we have the opportunity to be pilgrims, walking by faith, exercising patient hope, persevering in love for one’s fellow humanity.

Just because we live in a microwave society which values speed and customer service above all else, doesn’t mean our religion has to follow suit. The best things in life are slow in coming; they require a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears.

Go ahead and enjoy an episode or two of “Green Acres;” just remember to listen when the Lord calls and go to make disciples of all nations.

All-powerful God, you always show mercy toward those who you love, and you are never far away for those who seek you. Be with your servants on this pilgrimage and guide their way in accord with your will. Amen.

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