Post Series on Genesis 12:1-9:
- The Missionary Calling of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3)
- The Missionary Obedience of Abraham (Genesis 12:4-6)
- The Missionary Witness of Abraham (Genesis 12:7-9)
In Genesis 12, YHWH called Abraham to leave his father’s land (and his father’s idolatry!) and to go where YHWH would show him, in order that YHWH might bless Abraham, and in order that Abraham might be a blessing. Abraham was the first to receive a missionary calling from YHWH.
But of course, Abraham must believe YHWH and obey the call that YHWH gives to him. And in fact, this is precisely what happens:
4So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. (Gen. 12:4-6)
From this passage, we see three core aspects of the missionary obedience of Abraham:
- Abraham actually obeys, going as the LORD had told him.
- Abraham takes others along with him to serve and worship the true God.
- Abraham willingly settles in a dangerous place.
The Missionary Obedience of Abraham to Go
Don’t overlook the fact that Abraham had to leave a pretty great life. Clearly, he was a wealthy who left for Canaan with a sizable number of possessions (v. 5), so that Abraham was definitely not leaving to seek a better life from a financial point of view.
Moreover, the great upheaval and inconvenience of moving his own family, Lot’s family, and many other people to an unknown place without modern conveniences of moving trucks or amenities along the way (hotels, restaurants, convenience stores) would have been extraordinary.
But Abraham believes that this YHWH is the true, living God, and so he does exactly what YHWH tells him to do: “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…” It is critical to see that faith is what moves Abraham to obedience. He does not obey in order to earn God’s favor; he obeys because he believes God. Faith alone saves Abraham, but Abraham’s saving faith is never alone–his faith produces obedience.
The author of Hebrews puts it this way: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was calld to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8).
The Missionary Obedience of Abraham to Bring Others
Abram does not leave with only his wife Sarai, but also with Lot and with “the people that they had acquired in Haran.” Who are these people? My former seminary professor Allen Ross writes this:
The text says that he brought “the souls he made in Haran.” The expression is very unusual. It cannot refer to slaves, and certainly not children–they didn’t have any. The Jewish commentators all confirm that the expression refers to making disciples, proselytes. Apparently Abram had proclaimed his faith in Haran, had spoken of Yahweh, the one true God. And people came with him. Not only had he left; he was being a blessing. (“The Evidence of Saving Faith“)
The word used for “people” here is nephesh, the Hebrew word for soul. It would be a bit over the top to say that Abram had acquired souls, which is why it probably doesn’t refer to slaves that Abram had purchased.
But in this, we see Abram not leaving begrudgingly, but we see the proverbial zeal of a convert as we catch a glimpse into the back-story. Before he left, Abram apparently had built a core group to travel with him to plant this church in Canaan by preaching the good news of the one God, YHWH. As he proclaimed the new opportunity to worship this true God, people voluntarily chose to leave their own homes to go with Abram!
Before Abram had even arrived at his ministry, he was already looking for opportunities to bless other people with the good news of the living God.
The Missionary Obedience of Abraham to Live Among Canaanites
Rather ominously, we read in v. 6 that “At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” For more insight into the demographics study of Canaan as a church plant site, here is Allen Ross again:
The text says he came down into the land as far as Shechem, to the “Oaks of Moreh.” “Moreh” means “the teacher”; and we know that Canaanite shrines were usually in clumps of trees, places of fertility. This was a Canaanite shrine; may I suggest, a Canaanite seminary? The next line tells us, “Now the Canaanite was at that time dwelling in the land.” So God calls Abram to be a blessing in the midst of the most wicked religious society on earth. It is a little like God’s planting a Church in Corinth; the question then would be, Who will influence whom? Abram did better than the Corinthian believers. (“The Evidence of Saving Faith“)
The missionary obedience of Abraham is extraordinary. He leaves his entire life, he vigorously proselytizes so that he is able to bring along a core group, and he willingly settles in the middle of a different pagan, idol-worshiping people. But this time, he doesn’t have friends or connections of any kind.
He (and those with him) would depend on YHWH alone to defend them in this new life.
So Why Go?
When we look at all that Abram had to sacrifice, we might ask ourselves why on earth he would choose such a mission! What could possibly motivate him to leave everything behind in order to follow a vague promise from a God whom no one else was worshiping?
But in fact, Abram was choosing the good portion. He willingly obeyed YHWH for the opportunity to worship and serve a living God rather than the false gods of stone, wood, and metal.
The choice was calculating and precise: when Abram found the Pearl of Great Price in a field in Canaan, he gave up everything in order to purchase that single Pearl.