The Complicated Life of A Patriarch

The Lord had said to Abram

Ever notice the PAST TENSE of Abraham’s call in 12:1? Apparently, in the drive of the narrative, the death of Terah (11:32) brings Abraham to a fresh consideration of the original call. The impact is to drive the reader backwards into chapter 11 and the account of Terah.

When we make that move we are immediately catapulted into the complexity of family life (11:27-30) which is so often in tension with our desire to follow God. In just a few verses, there is family tragedy (the death of Haran, and possibly, by implication since she is not mentioned, the death of Terah’s wife and Abram’s mother). There are new relationships, kids and grand kids and the heartache of childlessness. In all of this, the complications of a normal life, Abram must make sense of the call of God.

And he makes his decision. He doesn’t obey, at least until Terah makes the decision for him. If we didn’t have 12:1 we could be forgiven for believing the original call to leave comes to Terah, not Abram. Did Abram need his father to push him? Did Abram baulk at leaving his elderly, widowed father? A perfectly understandable and forgivable decision if you ask me. How much easier it would it be if the call of God came to us when we were free of all commitments and ties?

In the real world there can often be a conflict between the commandment to honor father and mother, and the comment of Jesus that his followers must be willing to leave parents and family in order to follow. There is no rule to be applied, grace must be wrestled out of the mess of life.

Whatever the family politics behind this event, it reminds me that there is a wisdom that comes with age that we should not despise. Abram gets the call, but it is his aging dad who has the courage to leave.

Notice they settle in Haran, which is where Terah dies. I wonder did they stop in Haran because Terah simply wasn’t strong enough for the rigors of the journey. How many of us have been in that position, passionate to follow the way of God, to take risks for the kingdom, but family ties for young children or aging parents mean things are more complicated than that. Abram settles in Haran, to take care of his frail father.

On the other hand, I can’t help but imagine that there is a deliberate connection here between settling and death.

Having finally been uprooted, albeit by his father, and hearing the call again, Abraham is on the move again following the death of his father. But even with this second chance at obedience he cannot drop the responsibilities of family. Lot comes with him – well he could hardly leave him, his orphaned nephew, in a strange place!

Though the instruction given by God is to leave country, people and father’s family, Abram just can’t seem to ever get into a position where this is possible. And who among us would cast the first stone of judgment?

What gives me courage I think is the fact that God calls again. God hasn’t given up on the faltering Patriarch. Despite repeated failure and loss of courage, God still calls and repeats the promise, and affirms the man (12:7).

I prefer this picture of Abraham than the hero narrative we’re often presented with. You know the one. Abraham, the great hero of faith who heard the call and strides out heroically to alien territory. The one we are urged to be like, and the standard we feel judged by because the conditions of real life rarely permit such unadulterated obedience – or maybe it’s just me!

This is Abram burdened by all sorts of weakness and competing responsibilities – business life, family, children and aging parents and just oscillating levels of passion and weariness. More like me in other words. Perhaps it is the case for the mass of us, excepting those extraordinary individuals, that it is impossible to do the will of God perfectly in a fallen world because we will never feel free of the burdens of life. And maybe it is also the case that a caring, gracious God understands this.

So I prefer this picture of God, who understands the competing calls in my life and chooses to work with me where I am and not where the preacher thinks I should be.

with thanks to my friends round the breakfast table who all carry their own burdens of life along with a passion for God.

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