There is a popular opinion present in the Church today that too much knowledge of God, too much emphasis on theology, or too much love for doctrine will chill the soul once on fire for Christ. Of course, it’s never put as blatant as that, it usually sounds more like, ‘The gospel is enough, I just want Jesus, we shouldn’t be so nitpicky about theology.’ While there is a true danger in only having a theological faith, there’s an equal danger in only having an anti-theological faith. So where’s the middle ground between these two postures? One author put it like this, “It would be a strange God who could be loved better by being known less. Love of God is not the same thing as knowledge of God; love of God is immeasurably more important than knowledge of God; but if a man loves God knowing a little about Him, he should love God more from knowing more about Him: for every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him.”
I begin with this thought because in our passage today we learn something about God, that if embraced, will become for you another reason among all the reasons for why we should love God. So, what is it? What is this thing in the passage today that could fan into flame our love for the Lord? It’s simple yet stunning. In Genesis 12 we learn that God is a God who makes promises. Is that staggering to you? It ought to be. Think of what we’ve seen so far in Genesis 1-11. After God made the world and all in it, man responds again and again with rebellion, defiance, and arrogance. Taking the fruit in the Garden, murdering a brother, proud boasting, industrious creativity without reference to God at all, drunkenness, dishonoring parents, and city building to make yourself famous. This is what man has done in these early chapters. And yet after all of that, God, who has every right to bring judgment onto man, responds by making a promise to a single man. A promise that is so astounding the world itself would never be the same.
Well, with that all said, let’s look to our passage now.
v1-3 to begin, “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Right away we see here the greatness of these promises. Five times in these three verses God says “I will”, highlighting God’s own work He’ll do for Abram. The word bless or blessing occurs five times in these three verses, which matters a great deal because the word blessing has only occurred five total times in all of Genesis 1-11 so far. And in v2-3 there are seven total phrases used to communicate God’s promises to Abram, the middle of which is that Abram would be a blessing, which summarizes the great work God is doing in Abram.
But think, do these great promises come to Abram because Abram is such a great guy? We might be prone to think that, because after all, God only helps those who help themselves right? Wrong. We don’t know much about Abram yet, but what we do know from Gen. 11:27-32 and Josh. 24:2 (what we saw last week) is that he was a pagan living in a pagan land, worshiping his moon gods, happily and contentedly. In this sense he was like any other man at that time living in Ur or in Haran. So Abram is not a great guy, nor is he a godly guy. Why then does God make such great promises to him? Or why did God choose Abram over someone else? Melchizedek, who we’ll meet in chapter 14, was alive at this time, why didn’t God choose him? Many believe Job was alive during this time also, and we know from Job 1 that no one in all the land was as upright or righteous as Job. So, if Job was alive, why didn’t God choose him? Honestly, there are only two conclusions regarding why God chose Abram. First, it certainly wasn’t because of anything in Abram. And second, it was God’s sovereign pleasure to do so.
Notice before all the promises begin in v2-3, there is a command in v1 that contains an increasing level of sacrifice.“Go” is the first word, but Abram is to go 1) from his country, 2) from his kindred or clan, and 3) from his father’s house. God’s call begins very broad and narrows down very personally for Abram. The severity of the sacrifice being called for here is great in a society that values family so highly. This is why Abraham is known as the man of faith. Not only must he leave all he’s ever known, but notice God doesn’t tell him where he is going. No Zillow, no pictures, no examining the neighborhood, he’s just told Haran is not where he must stay and that he must go. Indeed, he must take God at His word as he exchanges the known for the unknown. John Calvin has a well-known comment on this command. Calvin says, “For it is better with closed eyes to follow God as our guide than by relying on our own providence to wander through those circuitous paths which it devises for us.” Or in other words, it’s “…better to go with your eyes closed, holding the Lord’s hand, than to go with your eyes open in your own strength.”
And as Abram goes, he has great encouragement in God’s promise. Let me read v2-3 again, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God makes three great promises here: a people, a place, and a blessing. We’ve seen this kind of language before in Genesis. In the beginning, God’s people (Adam and Eve) had a place (the garden) and were blessed by God (Gen. 1:28). After the flood God’s people (Noah and his family) had a place (new world) and were blessed by God (Gen. 9:1). Now here before us in 12:1-3 we see the same. God’s people (who will be brought into existence through Abram) will have a place (the land God is calling Abram to) and will be blessed and will be a blessing to the whole earth. Not universally without exception but conditionally, meaning only those who bless Abram will come into this blessing. Those who curse him will be cursed by God. God began this pattern with Adam, Noah was then another kind of Adam, and in a true sense Abram is now seen as another kind of Noah. The pattern of people, place, and blessing continues on. In all of this God will make Abram’s name great. Not like the Babelites who sought a great name from their own achievement, no. Abram’s great name will be a gift of God.
But not all is easy for Abram in hearing these promises. We heard back in 11:30 that Sarai was barren and had no children. This would have been a painful reality to endure for a season, but add to that their age. v4 says Abram was 75 years old, so he and his wife are not only older, they would’ve born the burden of barrenness together for many years. This alone would’ve made God’s promise of making of him a great nation hard to believe. But then we can add to that what we learn in v6, once he got to Canaan he saw the Canaanites were there. We know these people. They came from Noah’s grandson Canaan, who was cursed by Noah after the drunken naked episode in chapter 9. I think that these Canaanites were a cursed people means we ought to read this as the Canaanites being grouped in the seed of the serpent. Remember this theme? Ever since the promise of Genesis 3:15 all humanity is seen in two groups: the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The seed of the woman lives under the blessing God while the seed of the serpent lives under the curse of God. Now, that Abram is called to go into this land means God was calling the seed of the woman to live in the midst of the seed of the serpent. Hint hint, look at v7. God promises to give them this land! This means, Genesis 3:15 is still playing out, and even in the midst of the seed of the serpent, God promises to care for the seed of the woman.
Lesson? For Abram and his family, following God would’ve been lived out in the midst of a people who opposed his faith continually. Faith in God, in the face of obstacles and opposition was required.
How would Abram respond to this? Would God keep these promises and show Himself strong for Abram and his family? Let’s see in the rest of our passage today to find out.
v4-9, “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.”
God has called, now we see Abram go. He’s 75 years old when he leaves Haran. He takes Sarai, Lot, and all their possessions and people they had acquired and left for Canaan. When he arrives Abram goes to Shechem, God appears to him there, and makes another promise. That God would give this land to His offspring. And Abram worships the Lord. Shechem is important. This is where Israel would gather to here Moses lengthy sermon we know as the book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 11:29). This is where Joshua would give his last charge (Josh. 24). And this is where Solomon’s kingdom would be split in half (1 Kgs. 12). But long before all of those moments, here Abram the sojourner becomes Abram the builder. But again, he’s not building a city or a tower, he’s building an altar for the purpose of worship.
There are many ways we could bring this sermon to a close. Perhaps a smattering of all them would be good for the soul.
We could speak of God calling us out of the known to go out into the unknown. Some of you need to hear this, that God does things like this, and he might just do it with you.
We could speak of having faith like Abram, regardless of the evidence against us in our present circumstances. No doubt some of you need to hear that today. That our faith isn’t based on the circumstances we’ve come from or the circumstances we’re currently in. That our faith looks beyond all that is seen to the God we cannot see yet believe in and love. And that we need not fear if our faith feels weak, for the God we have faith in is never weak, always strong, and always enough for us His people.
We could speak of God’s blessing Abram in order that he would be a blessing to others, and how God has blessed us in so richly Christ, which leads to our duty to be a blessing to others. Some of you need to hear that, and be encouraged to be active with all God has given you in order to be a blessing.
We could speak on obedience, how Abram obeyed when God called and the great sacrifice it was for him to obey God. Some of you need to hear this today, that obedience is a good thing and not a bad religious word. That faith in God moves us to obey God. And that sacrificial obedience like Abram’s isn’t exceptional but normal for God’s people. Jesus calls us to make a similar sacrifice. Mark 8:35, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Indeed, our whole life is to be a long obedience in the same direction because Christ is so precious to us.
And we could speak of worship, how twice Abram stopped throughout his journey to build an altar and worship God for how good God was to him. Don’t we all need to hear that today? That worship is the end and goal of our whole life with God. Think of it. It seems here that faithful Abram worshiped wherever he went. That his whole journey was filled with worship, the evidence of which is seen in all these altars scattered around that he built to the Lord.
Indeed all of these things are great to point out and we ought to heed them all. But standing over and above all of this is what we began with today: the God of promise. Who is in this moment doing far more than meets the eye. Through blessing Abram, God will truly bless all the earth. How does God do this? Through Abram’s Descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul affirms this later on in Galatians 3 saying, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say “And to offsprings” referring to many, but referring to one “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” So “…those who are of faith (who believe in Christ) are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Church, in Christ, in the gospel we come into the promises made to Abraham and joy upon joy receive what they received: a people (the Church), a place (the Kingdom of God, the new heavens, new earth), and a blessing (Christ Himself!).
All of this is what is known as the Abrahamic covenant, and it begins here in this passage. But this is just a beginning. This covenant begun here is also established in chapter 15 with another great promise, it’s made visible in chapter 17 with the sign of circumcision, and it’s confirmed in chapter 22 with the testing of Abraham and the near death of his son Isaac. And carries forward throughout the OT until the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. From this, may worship flow forth from us in our lives, as it did from Abram in his.
 Frank Sheed, quoted in R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 615.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 205.
 Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990), 371.
 Waltke, Genesis, 203.
 Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 370.
 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2008), 125.
 John Calvin, accessed via Accordance Bible software, 3/3/22.
 Kevin DeYoung, A Great Nation, A Great Name, A Great God (Christ Covenant Church, 2/7/21) accessed 3/2/22.
 Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 372.
 John D. Currid, Genesis 1:1-25:18, EP Study Commentary (Holywell, UK: Evangelical Press, 2015), 257–258. This is simply beautiful.
 Hughes, Genesis, 186.
 Kidner, Genesis, 125–126.
 Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 377.
 Hughes, Genesis, 188.