Summary: How Terah's partial obedience cost him dearly
There is a popular saying that goes “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive”. We often hear it quoted in various circumstances. But is it true? Is it sometimes better to arrive than to travel hopefully?
Terah lived in the great city of Ur. This was a large, important and wealthy city at the mouth of the river Euphrates in what is now Iraq, but was then called Sumeria. It might even have been the largest city in the world at the time. It was dominated by a huge temple to the moon god, Nannar. The temple was the centre of the life of the city, around it was a market, a school and a big library. According to tradition, although not recorded in the Bible, Terah was heavily involved in all this, making statues and idols of gods and selling them. He was probably quite a wealth and important citizen. But for some reason he suddenly upped and went, leaving the security and wealth of Ur and set out, with his family, for the Land of Canaan. A land he could only have heard of in stories and travellers tales. It was a much less important or influential place than Ur. So why did he do it? Why did he decide to leave behind all that he knew and head out into the unknown?
Surprisingly a clue can be found in the book of Acts, in Stephen's speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:3-4). We read of Terah and family leaving Ur at the end of Genesis 11, then in the next chapter we read of God's great promise to Terah's son, Abram. In many English translations it looks as if the promise was made after they had left Ur, but Stephen's speech, as well as the tense of the verb in some of the more literal translations suggests that the promise was made while they were still in Ur. God came to Abram while they were in Ur, telling him to leave Ur, and to move to Canaan, a land that he would give to him and his descendants. The one true God promised Abram that he would be his, that he would use him to bless the whole world, and that his home would be in Canaan.
As was the custom in the culture, Abram would have told his father, and his father, in obedience to the call, command and promise of God left Ur and set off for Canaan. What faith Terah showed! He was willing to leave everything on the basis of a promise of God, to abandon his idols, to move to a far distant land, all on the basis of a promise. A promise from God he probably didn't even worship to start off with, and a promise that was made to his son, and not to him!
Terah's journey of obedience started so well. He set out for Canaan, exactly as the Lord had commanded. He set out for Canaan, full of obedience and hope. He travelled hopefully, but he never arrived. He reached Haran, a place that was similar in many ways to Ur. A city where there was also a temple to the Ninnar, not as big as in Ur, but still similar. The city was smaller, and not as wealthy or important as Ur, but to someone from Ur, it would have all been very familiar, and probably felt like home. The customs and culture were similar in so many ways.
Originally they probably just camped outside Haran. Just a stopping place on their journey. Probably intended just a short stay. But Terah got side-tracked by the familiar. He stayed in Haran. He stopped being a visitor, and became a settler. He set out for Canaan, but only got as far as Haran.
I wonder why he stayed in Haran. Part of it was probably the familiarity of the place, the security of the known. He was probably nervous about going off into the unknown. He knew that there was a long, hard journey still ahead of him. He was probably nervous about what he would find when he got there. We are told in Chapter 12 that Canaanites were living in the land, people who would probably not take to kindly to this family suddenly appearing and from a long way away and taking possession of their land. Perhaps he lost faith in the ability of God to deliver on his promise. Perhaps he always intended to leave Haran, and finish the journey to Canaan, just never got around to it, kept putting it off. For whatever reason, he never got to Canaan, but died in Haran. Terah started off by obeying God, showing faith in his promise to his son Abram, but then his obedience and his faith fizzled out. His journeying with God came to an end. He missed all the promises of God, never seeing all that God had in store for him.