Abram had already travelled about 600 miles from UR to Haran where he lived until his farther died. Another 300 miles would have placed him at the border of Canaan. Another 100 miles and he would have reached Shechem, in the middle of the land in which the Canaanites dwelt. “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring[a] I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:7)
Genesis 12:4-9 provides us with a glimpse of Abraham’s life of faith. An interesting, often overlooked fact is that there is no record of God directly calling Abram when he was living in Ur of the Chaldeans, but He did. Nehemiah 9:7 states, “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.” In Genesis 15:7, God Himself says, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But in Genesis 11:31 we are told, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Harran.” This is the first reference to Abram going to Canaan, and it was definitely as a result of his father’s decision. Terah took Abraham. Abraham did not take Terah.
The recorded call by God to Abraham occurs in Genesis 12:1-4 – “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you…” The reference to “your country”, “your people” and “your father’s household” must have referred to Ur of the Chaldeans, and could not refer to Haran because when Abram left Haran, not only was he not leaving “your country” nor “your people”, but he was not leaving “your father’s household” behind. In fact, from the record, the only person he left behind was his father Terah. Genesis 12:5 states, “He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.”
On the other hand, when under his father’s leadership, Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans, he would have been leaving all his father’s close and distant family, and those of his mother also. For it was the same people who left Ur that left Haran, except for his father, and in addition to all the people that they had acquired in Haran.
Now, to complicate the narrative, and create what some critics site as a contradiction, we have the Acts 7:2-4 account of the doubtlessly inspired Stephen while preaching the sermon of his life that cost him his life, and just as Jesus was getting ready to stand up to welcome him home. “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’ “So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Harran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.”
The unlearned in the things of God are quick to shout “contradiction” at the first intellectual challenge presented by the Word of God. There are others who start off from the position that the Word of God is the Word of God, and whereas translation and even transcription errors are possible, basic fundamental, verifiable factual contradictions are not. In this case the alleged contradiction is that both Genesis 12 and Acts 7 indicate a previously unrecorded call by God to Abram when he was still in Ur of the Chaldeas, whereas Genesis 11 places the decision to leave Ur and go to Canaan squarely on the shoulders of Terah.
The conclusion is simple. God called Abram when he was in Ur. God also placed it in the heart of Terah to leave Ur and to take his son with him and go to Canaan. But God did not want Terah in Canaan. For so long as Terah was alive, the dutiful Abram was under the authority of the patriarch Terah. The sojourn in Haran was intended to be a transition place, a place of consolidation and acquisition, and most importantly a place of relatively painless separation from the ties of Terah that would have bound Abram to his past, regardless of his faith. Abram was aware of God’s call, but was obedient to his father Terah. When his father Terah announced that he was going to Canaan, Abram would have seen that as confirmation, but because of his relationship of submission to his father, it would have been inappropriate for Abram to even tell his father that he had heard from God directly. On the other hand, when Terah sojourned in Haran beyond the time that would have seemed like a reasonable time to rest, Abram would either have been directly consoled by God in an unrecorded message, or just as likely, he would have been restrained by his existing submission to his father. For after all, the major move of 600 miles would have been made away from Ur and away from his father’s household, people and country.
Additionally, God did not tell Abram where he was taking him to. In Genesis 12:1 God says, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you”. And in Hebrews 11:8 we read, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Is it possible that as far as Abram was concerned, Haran could have been the land that God would show him? And let us say that Terah told Abram that he was going to Canaan. When Terah settled in Haran, could Abram have thought that this was Canaan?
But here is the clincher. I see an amazingly close similarity between Abram’s relationship with his father Terah, and Isaac’s relationship with his father Abraham, less than 50 years later. We don’t know what God told Isaac about his impending sacrifice, but we know what God told Abraham. Just as Abram submitted himself to the authority of his father, so Isaac submitted himself to the authority of his father, Abraham. In the lives of all three men, God was allowed to play a leading role. Terah is among many whose names did not make it into the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Fame” of Faith. But could he still make it?
Abram’s journey of faith dictated that he erected several altars of thanksgiving and as reminders of his resignation to, and dependence on the will of God. He knew that he was in the most capable hands… and for that, even though his human frailty peaked through at times, he earned his right to be called the Father of the Faithful.
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