We know this man by the name Abraham, but he was born Abram. God changed his name at a critical point in the narrative, but for the first 99 of his 175 years, he answered to Abram.
He lived around the end of the Early Bronze Age (circa 2000 BC) in a thriving, bustling, cultured city known as “Ur of the Chaldeans” (Genesis 11:28). The land of the Chaldeans—also known as Mesopotamia—was located in present-day Iraq, which archaeologists and historians call the cradle of civilization because this is where ancient people first gathered into cities and established societies. “Few periods from ancient history are as well documented by artifacts and inscriptions as is the time of Abraham.” Consequently, we know a lot about this man’s culture, religion, beliefs, and everyday life.
Abram was an ordinary member of his society, no different from his neighbors. Upon his birth, he received a name that means “the father is exalted”—most likely a reference to the deity worshiped by his family. People in ancient Mesopotamia worshiped a pantheon of mythical gods, ruled by the moon god, Sin, whom they regarded as “the lord of heaven” and “the divine creator.” Like his relatives and neighbors, Abram worshiped idols and accepted mythology as truth (see Joshua 24:2). Even so, God appeared specifically to Abram and gave him personalized instructions: “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
It is important to note that God didn’t appear to a group of people and then offer a general invitation to follow. We should also observe that Abram didn’t seek out God for a relationship; God approached him. It’s doubtful Abram had even heard of the one true Creator God before that point. By an act of pure grace, God dipped His hand into that idolatrous hole to select Abram out of all people.
The Lord chose Abram for reasons known only in heaven. Abram did nothing to earn or deserve God’s favor.
Why this particular man? Did Abram turn from the idols of his ancestors and seek God? Did he make himself worthy of divine mercy? Far from it! The Lord chose Abram for reasons known only in heaven. We can say for certain that Abram did nothing to earn or deserve God’s favor. Nevertheless, the Lord appeared to this ignorant, sinful, superstitious idol worshiper and said, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:1-3).
God’s call of Abram began with an imperative—a clear command. God told him to leave his country for a land that He would show him . . . sometime later. To receive the promised blessings, Abram had to leave behind everything he relied on for safety and provision—homeland and relatives—and trust that God would honor His commitment. A New Testament writer reflected on his ancestor, stating, “It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).
Stop and think about that for a moment. Put yourself in Abram’s place. You’re roughly seventy-five years old, with a wife in her midsixties. You’ve lived in one place your whole life. You have an established homestead in a familiar city with family and a community you’ve known since birth. Suddenly, the Lord appears to you in a physical manifestation—whether visual or auditory—you cannot deny as authentically supernatural, and He tells you to pack up and hit the road for an undisclosed destination. Can you imagine Abram’s conversations with friends and neighbors?
“Oh, I see you’re packing up, Abram.”
“Really? You’re leaving town?”
“Yes, we leave in a few days.”
“You know, you’re not getting any younger. Are you ready to start all over somewhere?”
“Yep, Sarai and I are moving.”
“Really? So, where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re packing up everything you have, leaving everything familiar, and you have no idea where you’re headed? Have you lost your mind?”
Everything within us recoils from making big changes without thorough planning. Most of us need to see where we’re jumping before committing to a leap. But God called Abram to obey this call without complete information. Abram didn’t know where he was going, so he couldn’t trust in a well-thought-out, long-range plan. Nevertheless, the Lord gave Abram sufficient information to make a reasonable decision.
When Abram encountered the Lord, he knew that God was real. The awesome splendor of God’s presence left him no room for doubt. Moreover, the Lord gave him three specific promises that made obedience worth his trouble. While his neighbors thought he had lost his mind, Abram had good reason to trust in God, even without knowing every detail of the plan.
Charles R. Swindoll, Abraham: One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014).
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