It was 1975, a year that saw the end of the Vietnam War, a dramatic rise in the price of oil by OPEC, the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior, and the last naturally occurring case of smallpox in the world diagnosed and treated. It was also the year I graduated from the White’s Ferry Road School of Preaching in West Monroe, LA, and we embarked on a long drive to Moncton, New Brunswick, to preach the gospel and begin a new congregation in a city that had none. We were newlyweds, naïve, scared, and possessed little money. Our U-Haul trailer seized up and had to be replaced, the car had a flat, and we pulled into our new province in the middle of a January blizzard. Not a nice welcome.
Every missionary faces similar uncertainties, and most are more serious than the kinds of things we experienced. In fact, for all of us, life is much like a journey through a foreign land on our way to our ultimate home in heaven. We can find motivation and solace in the journey of Abraham and Sarah as they wandered from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran, then on to Canaan and a new life. For them, every step of the way must have seemed difficult after leaving the security of their hometown.
Ur of the Chaldees was a large, wealthy community in Abraham’s day. Archaeologists have been excavating the place for over 100 years. National Geographic describes the work of Leonard Wooley in the 1920’s excavating the southeastern Iraq site, and his fabulous discoveries that revealed a rich society. (You can Google the NG article for details). Due to war and unrest in that part of the Middle East, archaeologists have been kept out until last year, when work resumed. It seems ancient Ur during Abram’s time was a powerhouse of trade and manufacturing. The family of Abram’s father, Terah, was prosperous and cultured. Ur was the kind of place people desired to move to, not leave. There was security there. Yet when God told Him to leave, the family obeyed without objection. We’re not told how God contacted them, whether through a dream, vision, or audibly, but Abram was convinced the God of heaven needed to be obeyed.
Terah decided to go with them and brought Abram’s brother, Nahor, and his nephew, Lot. They delayed in Haran, which was situated in the northern section of the fertile crescent in the area where the Euphrates River emerges from the Taurus-Caucasian mountains. After Terah’s death, they moved on into the land of Canaan.
It must have been a large caravan, for the Genesis record says, “Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.” (12:5) There is a debate over Abram’s actions, whether he really left his relatives behind, and whether he should have stayed in Haran as long as he did.
Comments by Charles Pfeiffer are helpful: “Abraham was a man of ‘like passions’ with ourselves, however. He seems to have delayed in Haran when he should have moved on into Canaan (Gen.11:31-12:5)1.”
Hebrews 11:8 simply states, “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.”
What can we learn from Abraham’s journey from Ur to Canaan? Let me suggest three things to consider.
First, we are all pilgrims, not permanent residents. Hebrews says of Abraham, “By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land.” (11:9). Peter called Christians in Asia Minor “aliens and strangers” (1 Pet.2:11). Statements like these remind us that this world is not our permanent home, therefore we shouldn’t act like it is. Many of us put down roots in places we would never think of leaving. And it may not be the best thing for you to go somewhere else. But how are we to view ourselves in this world? I’ve met several Christians who told me, “I love it here and I could never live anywhere else.” Yet, how is the church to spread the gospel throughout the world if we are determined to remain at home? Pilgrims and aliens understand that their lives aren’t vested in this world alone, for we have turned our attention to “the city which has foundations whose architect and builder is God.”
Second, we can trust God for answers we don’t have yet. Without the full destination yet revealed, Abraham and his family must have wondered every day where they were going. Would they run out of supplies? Will the weather cooperate? Will foreign people interfere? What will become of us? Much later, the Israelites asked the same questions as they pulled up roots regularly and moved around the desert. Don’t we tend to ask the same questions, especially as costs keep rising and the world seems so uncertain? God looked after Abraham and Sarah as they proceeded on their journey. Their growing wealth is not mentioned until their stay in Haran, which may be an indication that Abraham was a skilled herdsman and businessman. God had promised to bless him and make his name great (Gen.12:2), and that would only increase as time passed. We are told many times in the New Testament not to worry and to put the kingdom first, for God will never desert or forsake us. He will answer our questions and eventually make our way clear (Matt.6:25-34; Heb.13:5-6). This is the outcome of faith as we journey through life.
Third, we are to focus on a heavenly home, not earthly riches. Western society seems fixated on accumulating wealth at all costs. The homes of the super-rich are displayed on the Internet – bragging like the kings of France over their palaces. One game-show host lives in a $16-million behemoth of a house. Many want luxurious properties and bulging bank accounts by the time they retire. By contrast, while God blessed Abraham with wealth and possessions, he lived in tents for the rest of his life, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb.11:10) Clearly, his focus was on a heavenly home in the future. This prevented greed, selfishness, and cruelty towards others. Paul warns us, “If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.” (Col.3:1-2)
It is said of people like Abraham and Sarah, “But as is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Heb.11:16) He foreshadowed the life of faith that God now wants us to practice.
Stephen, Paul and the Hebrew writer all point out that Abraham was a man of faith who trusted God to sustain and guide him on his great journey. May we do the same as we journey though ours.
1Charles Pfeiffer. “The Patriarchal Age”, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, Page 15. 1961.