Summary: In beginning an interim pulpit ministry, God directed my attention to Abram/Abraham as a paradigm of faith. Some will object to the almost typological approach to these texts.
Famine in the Promised Land
Text: Genesis 12:1-20
Today, may or may not be the beginning of a journey together. But whether God allows me to stay with you over a long period of time or whether today is merely a temporary lesson for an eternal purpose, God has placed this message on my heart. Today, I want to tell you a story. Like most stories, it doesn’t begin with an individual. It begins in an environment. It begins in a family.
Now, I know most pastors jump right into the Abraham account in verse 1 of Chapter 12 of Genesis. I think we have to step back a few verses and see what happened. It seems in Genesis 11:26-32 that there were ten generations from Shem, the son of Noah whose name means “placed” or “appointed” to indicate that something special was to come through him, to Terah. The number 10, of course, is equal to the number of digits we have on our two hands and our two feet. So, symbolically, 10 became the number that represented sufficiency. If we have two hands full, we’ve got all we can handle, temporarily.
So, God began working in the Semite lineage and it must have reached a milestone in potential because we find ourselves reading about the tenth generation. Of course, where Shem’s name has the idea of being “placed” or “appointed” for a purpose, Terah’s name comes from the Akkadian for “ibex” or “wild goat.” Apparently, he was supposed to wander, but he “settles” for Haran instead of the land of promise while his son, Abram (“great father”) and Sarai (first “contentious” but later “princess”) become the lineage of promise. The irony, of course, is that the “Great Father” is married to a woman who, according to v. 30, is unable to have children.
Now, I have something positive and something negative to say about Terah. The positive is the fact that he inculcated a vision for the land of promise in his family. The negative is that he “settled” for something less. Either he became tired, he became ill, or he became comfortable with the fertile lands on the bank of the Euphrates and didn’t follow his dream to the conclusion. There is a Jewish midrash (not Scripture) that tells a funny story about Terah being a merchant who sold idols but had a son named Abram who wasn’t convinced about the validity of the gods because the real God had been speaking to him. Since it isn’t actually scripture, I’m going to do a very Hebrew thing and expand it a little.
One day, when Terah was taking his lunch break, Abram was left to mind the store. A customer came in looking for a new god because he wasn’t having much fortune in his life. So, he asked Abram for a recommendation and Abram decided to demonstrate that none of these idols had any power. He started systematically destroying the idols and throwing them down to the ground and scared the customer to death. The customer went out of the shop running and screaming lest he be struck down for the blasphemy Abram was committing. Terah sees the customer running out, takes in the destruction at the shop, and asks Abram who committed this blasphemy. Abram points to the largest idol because he doesn’t believe the idols can really do anything. This frightens Terah so that he decides to go to a land where they worship other gods in order to avoid repercussions from both the gods and the mob (a city isn’t going to take kindly to having its gods destroyed).
I love the story because it illustrates something about the way a person might become disillusioned with those things that everyone else accepts as gods, but I don’t accept the story because Genesis 11 seems to indicate that Terah was headed for the land of promise. I think this is more positive because I’ve seen lots of parents who instilled a dream in their children. In fact, Wailam’s (my wife’s) mother gave her the dream of studying in America. But her mother died before she could see that Wailam finished her education at the American School. As a result, Wailam had to go through a long, convoluted path before she could get to America. Of course, here she won the ultimate prize…me. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
The point is that parents need to pass along dreams, values, skills, knowledge, and insight to their children. But more importantly, we need to pass along our faith and our assurance of the salvation and sanctification that comes from God. And, I believe Terah did that, even if he didn’t get to experience the land of promise (or lost the conviction that he needed to experience the land of promise) with Abram.