When Genesis chapter eleven ends, Abraham’s father is dead, he is childless, and his wife is barren. Here we enter an arena where barrenness is reality. When chapter twelve begins, God is speaking. Here we enter an arena where promise is reality. Genesis begins with God speaking. In the beginning God creates with words. Now we are twelve chapters in and God continues to speak. The same God who created the heavens and the earth is still busy creating.
Let us imagine Abraham at the local diner for breakfast. We might find him to be a big shot, part of the good ole boy network. People might gather to hear him tell jokes or talk about goats. People may think he is clever. He might be asked for insider tips on camel races or a recipe for spiced goat. People may offer to buy him breakfast. But this may get interrupted by someone bursting in and handing out cigars. This man and his wife are expecting a child. While others might start gushing about the baby, Abraham stares at the wall. But there he might notice a photo. One where the owner at the diner is posing with his father (who opened this diner years ago) and his oldest son (who will inherit the diner in the future). A three generation picture. Abraham might get up to leave at this point, having lost his appetite. After all, his own father is dead, he himself has no children, and Sarah his wife is barren.
Chapter 11 leaves Abraham in an undesirable situation. Barrenness is both reality and metaphor. A metaphor for hopelessness. There is no foreseeable future. There is nowhere to go. Time seems to have run out on Abraham and his family tree. The family that survived the flood is about to disappear. But then, God intervenes – with a promise. Genesis wants us to know that barrenness is an arena that God enters. God speaks into the most hopeless of situations. “Now the Lord said to Abram”
God’s first words to Abraham begin with an imperative “Go.” Where he is now is not where he is to remain. He cannot be a blessing if he stays where he is. When God speaks to him in chapter 12, he does as he is told. In this passage, the narrator speaks, God speaks, but Abraham does not, he just goes. He is presented simply as obedient. Genesis eliminates all the questions and excuses and attachment to memories and reputation and relatives and just says, “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him.”
Abraham is not chasing God. He has grown up thinking that he had a number of gods to choose from. Instead, God seems to have chased Abraham. And an amazing thing happens. Abraham recognizes that the voice of this God is different. This is a God to listen to. And God says “Go.”
God is a God on the move. Not stationary. Not stagnant. He is not interested in staying in any particular place. Instead He is interested in being with His people. If Abraham responds to God’s “Go” obediently, he will be blessed. If he stays, he will not. To stay is to refuse the offer of this God.
There is a text from Joshua that sheds some light on our Genesis text; Joshua 24.2, “Your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.” This is of interest to us for an obvious reason. Abraham may have been introduced to multiple gods while growing up.
There is another text that influences our reading of this text. Hebrews 11.8, “by faith Abraham when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
Our text is caught between these two texts. One an OT text, tells us that Abraham was raised worshipping other gods. The other, reminds us that Abraham obeyed one God above the others even when he did not know where he was going. The Genesis text stands alone, but becomes tangled with these others. This creates an interesting look at our text and the way we respond to it. Abraham is raised on other gods yet follows Yahweh into the unknown. In a land where pagans dwell and pagan gods rule God speaks.
If Abraham responds to God’s “Go”, the rest is up to God. Yahweh has his back. Just in case we doubt whether God has an interest here we look in 12.1-3 and find God saying “I will show you… I will make you… I will bless you… I will bless those who bless you… I will curse.” I think we can safely say that God has his back.
Abraham does not argue with God in this text. We want to ask why. We get hung up on a point like that because we don’t understand it. It doesn’t happen so easily for us. We fight whenever we are asked to do something we hadn’t planned on. We don’t like to be inconvenienced. We like what we know. We feel safe there. We like the familiar. We are suspicious of the unknown. And we tell ourselves that we are glad that God is asking Abraham and not us.
What are we to do with this God who continues to have such an interest in humankind that He will not stop talking to us? Doesn’t the creator of the universe have other things to do? Perhaps we find comfort in the idea that God is still speaking. Perhaps it has us on edge. What will he say next? What will He be telling us to do?