Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
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:Genesis 12:1
Abraham was the father of the faithful, and we have here the first recorded test to which his faith was put. The first and one of the greatest.
I. The Substance of God's Call to Abraham.—
1. He was called from rest to pilgrimage.—From his country and kindred and father's house, to undertake lifelong journeying. He was at an age at which he would fain rest. His wanderings seemed to be begun at the wrong end of his life. But it was then God said, 'Get thee out'. It is as life advances that the idea of journeying, 'getting out,' comes home to men. The child rests in his home; but the outside world, with its responsibilities, self-direction and support, begins at last to open to him, and he must 'get out'. So with resting among old friends, etc. We must one day 'get out'. As years increase, all things seem in constant flow. Then at death. Above all, hear God's voice telling you to set out on the Christian pilgrimage.
2. He was called from the familiar to the untried.—The child's familiarity with his environment is never attained to in after years. 'New faces, other minds 'meet men's eyes and souls; and they know, however peaceful their lot may be, that they are not in the old, familiar home. But let us extend our idea of home. The lifelong invalid would feel from home in another room of the same house. Let God be our home, the great house in which we live and move about; then wherever He is, we shall feel at home. Most so when we leave the lower room altogether to be 'at home with the Lord' above.
3. He was called from sight to faith.—From the portion he had in his country and in his father's house, to wait at all times on the unseen God, and go to the land which He would show him. Let us willingly make this exchange. God is better than country, and kindred, and father's house.
II. The Characteristics of God's Call to Abraham. —
1. It laid clearly before him all that he was to surrender.—How full and attractive the picture is made to Abraham's last sight of it; 'thy country, kindred,' etc. So, when from duty and loyalty to Christ, we make sacrifices, etc., the possessions will often seem peculiarly fascinating, just when we are to part with them.
2. It was uncompromising.-—'Get thee out,' with no promise or prospect of ever returning. The gifts of God are never repeated in exactly the same form. The pleasures of sin must be left ungrudgingly and for ever.
3. It was urgent.—'Get thee out.' Now. 'Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken to him.' Let us give the same ready, instant obedience.
It was with these words that Johann Reuchlin summoned his grandnephew, Philip Melanchthon, to accept the Greek professorship at Wittenberg which was offered him, in the summer of 1518, by the Elector Frederick of Saxony. Melanchthon was at that time only twenty-one and had been studying and teaching for some years at the University of Tubingen. He wished for a change, and had written to Reuchlin that he was wasting his time in elementary work. He promised in a letter of 12 July to go wherever Reuchlin might send him and to work hard. Looking to the distant future, he hoped that the time would come when rest and literary leisure would be all the sweeter from the previous toil. On 24 July Reuchlin wrote the famous letter in which he quoted the passage from Genesis. 'I will not address you in poetry,' he said, 'but will use the true promise which God made to faithful Abraham: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee. 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" (see Genesis xii.). So does my mind predict your future, so do I hope for you, my Philip, my work and my consolation. Come therefore with joyous and cheerful mind.' After giving many practical directions for his grandnephew's packing, journey, and family farewells, Reuchlin bade him not linger, but hasten. Evidently the shrewd scholar and man of business feared that if the Elector quitted Augsburg without having met his new professor, the negotiations which he himself had so cleverly arranged might fall to the ground. Dr. Karl Sell, commenting on this letter (which will be found in full in the Corpus Reformatorum, vol. i. pp. 32, 33), says that Melanchthon had no idea when he accepted the call of the nature of the task that lay before him in Wittenberg. 'He set forth with no presentment of the future towards that great vocation which brought him so much suffering and which has given him his place in the world's history.' His longing for literary repose was never fulfilled, but Reuchlin's prediction was realized in a way of which the writer never dreamed.
The First Missionary
I. How strange that call must have seemed to Abraham. It was not like the call which sends forth missionaries now. It was a command to strike out into a new and untried path. It was very indefinite as to the immediate future. He was to go to Canaan and live there. But we are not told that he preached to the people, or endeavoured to convert them to his own faith. We can look back upon Abraham's work and its fruits, upon God's promise and fulfilment, and we can see how the call of Abraham was a great step in God's purpose to train a race of men who should be missionaries to humanity.
II. In the New Testament the missionary call is renewed, only it is made more sweeping. It is no longer to one country or nation but to all humanity. How far has this promise been fulfilled? It is one of the most encouraging signs of our own time that there is a real revival of missionary interest, a realization of our duty to preach the Gospel to the heathen and an attempt to fulfil it
—A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, p. 321.
God Calls Abram
The same voice, says F. B. Meyer, has often spoken since. It called Elijah from Thisbe, and Amos from Tekoa; Peter from his fishing nets, and Matthew from his toll-booth; Cromwell from his farm in Huntingdon, and Luther from his cloister at Erfurt. The same voice, we may add, called the Pilgrim Fathers when on 6 September, 1620, they set sail from Plymouth in the 'Mayflower,' bound for the banks of the Hudson.
Note the three marks of the pilgrims given by Bunyan: (1) their dress was strange, (2) few could understand what they said, (3) they set very light by the wares of Vanity Fair.
References.—XII.—S. Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 165. XII. 1-3.—J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (1st Series), p. 126. F. D. Maurice, Patriarchs and Law Givers of the Old Testament, p. 68. XII. 1-7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2523. XII. 1-9.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, p. 66.
Abraham the Cosmopolitan
Abraham is to dream of a land beyond the years. The most mature of all the Gospels declares that he anticipated the Christian Era.
I. He is born too soon. The father of a vast multitude, he is himself a lonely figure—about his surroundings, unappreciated by his age. He has conceived an idea to which his age is a stranger, an idea the working out of which itself involves sacrifice.
II. Abraham is not the man of a village seeking a metropolis, he is the man of a metropolis seeking to extend a village. The dream which burst upon the soul of Abraham was the hope of being a secular missionary, a colonist of waste places.
III. This portrait of Abraham is the earliest attempt to represent a cosmopolitan man—a man seeking to make the world a recipient of his own blessing. He is the forerunner of that great missionary band which, whether in the sphere of religion or of culture, have been the pioneers of a new era to lands that were outside the pale. But for that very reason it was a curtailment of his sphere among contemporaries. It exposed him to social ostracism. It separated him from his age. The path selected by Abraham was a path which the world of his day did not deem heroic.
IV. The life of Abraham begins with an experience which, in germ, is identical with that of Jesus. On the threshold of his ministry there is an analogy between the first three trials of Abraham and the three temptations of Jesus.
(a) He is first assailed by famine; the bodily nature is made on the very threshold to protest against the enterprise.
(b) Then comes the temptation, not to abandon, but to accelerate it by an exercise of physical power. Nor does Abraham come forth scatheless from the trial.
(c) But the third temptation is destined to redeem him. There comes the call to an act of choice between worldly possessions, in which he selects the apparently barren one.
V. Abraham is a cosmopolitan at the beginning, and an individual at the end. The man who at the opening of the day has only an eye for multitudes, subsides at evening into the family circle. The starry dome is exchanged for the precincts of the tent. The sacrificial character remains, but its sphere is altered; it ceases to be a sacrifice for the nations, it becomes a surrender to the hearth.
—G. Matheson, The Representative Men of the Bible, p. 110.
References.—XII. 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2523. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, p. 293. J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. x. p. 113. XII. 5.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 77. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Common Life Religion, p. 134. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 843; ibid. vol. xxxiv. No. 2011.
Up to the chapter out of which this text is taken, the history of the Bible is rather taken up with the history of the human race in its more general and more universal aspect. It seems to stop at this particular chapter and to look upon the human race less in its larger and universal aspect than in the national aspect of the children of God. The character of the history of the people of God is manifested in the character of the person who founded that history, and with whom the national history begins. I need not remind you that nations catch and are infected with the spirit of their founder. The history of the Israelitish people is rather the history of saintliness, than what we understand by a secular or profane history, and it had its root and foundation in him who was called the Father of the Faithful.
I. Abraham's Career.—A most remarkable career was that of Abraham. He was trained by what? By a process of separation; the giving up this, and the foregoing that. That was the keynote of Abraham's life; one time called to do this, another time called to forego that; the sign early laid upon him of the Cross. He leaves his home without a moment of delay, no hesitation about it, not even knowing where he was going. And there was vouchsafed to him for his encouragement a special manifestation, he was promised a land, a seed, and a blessing as his reward; great inheritance, abounding posterity, and a remarkable influence. He sets out on this journey toward the promised land, which he never regarded as his real resting-place or home. It is rather typical, not of heaven, but of the visible Church, and of the life of individual Christians in the world; and his experience was that his life must be more or less migratory and wandering till he reached his home. The Canaanite—it is an expressive passage—was still in the land, therefore it was not heaven. He pitched his tent as we might pitch a tent or marquee in our fields, as you see gipsies pitch them when-even they find a night's lodging or resting-place; plain, homely, but enough for the purpose.
II. The Altar Built.—And side by side with this simple dwelling-place, easily removed, ever reminding him that the call might come to take it up and go somewhere else, he built an altar, rude, rough in its way, and there it was that he called upon the Lord. He built it as a spontaneous act of gratitude that should tell the passers-by of mercies countless that he had received. It was rough and rude, and, simple as it was, it was not divorced violently from homely, common-day life. Now what lies at the bottom of this simple act of the Father of the Faithful? It was the expression of what, I believe, is a profound and unquenchable spiritual instinct that seeks after God. The instinct of man has led him to localize God, sometimes in a shrine, sometimes in a dark grave. But you know that impressions pass very quickly away from us, and feelings very soon evaporate. Religion—it is not superstition, but religion as we call it, a comprehensive term—is kept in mind and made more real to us by buildings like this church, which you never mistake for anything else; and by certain rites and ceremonies and forms, which are the channels approved by generations of men, in which devotion flows. I do not say that churchgoing is religion, but I think that religion would die out without our churches. The very architecture tells the passer-by that it is something dedicated to God and to His glory. And we still believe that the strength of this great nation really lies, not in her armaments and not in her standing armies, but in her godliness, in her national piety, in her righteousness, in her reverence for God's holy day, in her devout regard for churches, and in that godliness which fetches its inspiration from all that we learn and hear and receive in these earthly temples.
References.—XII. 6, 7.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 82. XII. 8.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 84. XII.—J. Parker, Adam, Noah, and Abraham, p. 91. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 33. R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. i. p. 181. S. Leathes, Studies in Genesis, p. 96. XIII. 1.—J. Parker, Adam, Noah, and Abraham, p. 91. XIII. 1-13.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 85.
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.
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.
And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD.
And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.
And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land.
And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon:
Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive.
Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee.
And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.
The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.
And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.
And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife.
And Pharaoh called Abram, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?
Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.
And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.