Summary: The Significance of the Personal Alter (ii)
Abraham, a man of Challenge, Faith, Promise
The Significance of the Personal Alter (ii)
Reading: Genesis12:7+8; 13:1-4 + 14-18
The places that Abram built alters are places of encounter, encounter with God and encounter with self. They were places where there was the coming to terms with things that if they were to be perpetuated, would frustrate the will and intention of God. This might seem to be a strange thing to say, that man can by an act of his will, frustrate the plan and purpose of the Almighty all Knowing and Everlasting Sovereign God. Yet as man is central to the plan and purpose of God in the redemption of creation, the will of man becomes a factor in the outworking of that plan. A simple illustration is that the will of God is that none should perish, but all should come to eternal life, but there are many who refuse the workings of God in salvation, the result being that many go to a lost eternity.
We examined the alter at Shechem, a place where there is the taking of the burdens that are God given, which are easy and light, and the leaving of burdens that are not of Him. They had entered the land of "HUMILATION"; they had come to the place of burden bearing, which if they were not from God would become a snare. It was at this place that Abram hears the voice of God once again. "Abram, to your descendants I will give this land." Abram take this word form God, he takes this as a burning passion and lives in expectation of the fulfillment of this promise, even though he was of great age along with his wife Sarai, who was barren. They move from Shechem to east of Bethel and west of Ai.
It is at Bethel that we are told that Abram calls on the LORD. At this stage we have no record of God speaking to Abram here. Yet he builds an alter, an alter is a "place of Sacrifice." They were places where offerings of thanksgiving, offerings of tribute and offerings for atonement were made. The sites were usually selected because they were places where an encounter with God took place, and the name Bethel means "House of God". The name breaks down into two constituent parts. Beth or Bah-Yith, which means a house and in particular a family home, be it a court, palace or humble dwelling. What is important is that it is a place where one is at home. The second part is the name El, God our Strength, Might, God the Almighty. Placed together there is the full meaning of the place where one is at home with the Almighty. A place where one knows that they are to encounter God, and Abram builds an alter and seeks God.
We have no record of God speaking to Abram at this moment in time; there is though a famine in the land. So there then follows the trip to Egypt and the use of world methods to secure ones self. The results are that judgment falls on the house of Pharaoh; this results in Abram and his family being ejected form the land and their return to Bethel. There is a simple principle that we need to learn and hold to. "No matter what the situation and circumstances, you only move from the place that God has called you, according to His direct command." It took the judgment of God on the household of Pharaoh to get Abram back to Bethel in the land of Humiliation. Again at Bethel Abram starts to seek God, he calls on the LORD, he enquires of the Almighty. An issue has to be resolved; the issue is over land and grazing rights. The net result of this is that Lot moves into the richer pastures in the region of Sodom.
Once Lot had departed (there was an obstacle in the camp to the hearing from God,) God then speaks to Abram. Abram had learned something about himself and God because he noticed something about the lush pastures. He had possibly noticed them in Egypt; he noticed the city of Sodom. He had also learned that God was able to provide, he had learned something of God being Jehovah-Jirah. God now speaks to Abram at the alter site of Bethel. God had up until now promised to make of his decedents a great nation, a blessed nation. God had also promised the give the land to him and his decedents, now the LORD gets very specific. (READ 13:14-17) "Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you." In Hebrews 11, Abraham is listed in the role call of faith, "By faith Abram obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he sojourned 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."