Teaching series from Genesis

God's Promise to Abram

Genesis 11:27-13:4

Teaching t13909


If you’ve been with us in our study of the book of Genesis, you know that we’ve covered a lot of ground so far. We’ve seen the origins of the world, the origins of the human race, and, sadly, the origin of evil and death. Last time we saw humans banding together to create their own religion and their own empire to oppress others and keep themselves safe and to make a name for themselves. But God intervened to slow the spread of evil, scattering humanity into many different languages and nations, which finally caused them to spread out over the face of the globe.

But in the face of the spread of evil God has a plan, and he’s been making promises. In Genesis 3 he promised that one day he will send the Promised One – a man who will do something to put a stop to this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. And Genesis has been tracing the lineage of this Promised One down through the generations, sprinkling in genealogies.

And tonight we pick up with another genealogy. The year is approximately 2,166 BC, and Moses writes:

Genesis 11

27 This is the account of Terah’s family line.

Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. And Haran became the father of Lot.

28 While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth.

What we do we know about Terah? Well, we know that he lived in Ur of the Chaldeans (show map). This ancient city was excavated in 1922 by Sir Leonard Wooley, and what he found there was impressive (show archaeological dig and reconstructed model).

NBD:1 The ruins of the temple tower (ziggurat) built by Ur-Nammu, the founder of the prosperous 3rd Dynasty (c. 2150–2050 BC) still dominate the site. The history and economy of the city is well known from thousands of inscribed tablets and the many buildings found at the site. The principal deity was Nannar [the moon god] … who was also worshipped at Harran.

So, not only was Ur a wealthy city but it was a major center of moon god worship. What was Terah doing in Ur? Was he a faithful follower of Yahweh? A preacher of righteousness? Nope. He and his whole family were wealthy idol worshippers. Joshua’s later commentary on this says:

Josh 24:2 – Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River, and they worshiped other gods.

In fact, check out this family tree (show family tree). Terah’s name means “moon.” He named his son Haran, which was another city well known for moon god worship. His daughter Sarai was named after the moon god’s wife. And his granddaughter Milcah was named after the moon god’s daughter. So the family that God picks is named Moon, moon god city, moon god-ette and moon good-ette jr. This family is all we’re going to talk about for the rest of Genesis.

29 Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milkah and Iskah.

Ew. Yeah. This was back before the Law of Moses where this sort of thing was forbidden.

30 Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.

That’s an important detail that we’ll come back to later.

And then one day Terah does something strange. He decides to pack up his family and move to a place called Canaan.

31 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.

(show map)

Why did he decide to move? The text doesn’t tell us yet. But it does tell us that after a 700-mile journey they stopped short of their destination.

31b But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

Harran, which was another major center of moon god worship!

32 Terah lived 205 [or 145] years, and he died in Harran.

So what happened to Terah that got him to move his whole family to the other end of the Euphrates? Well, it wasn’t what happened to Terah but what happened to Abram. And now, in Genesis 12:1, we find out what really happened.

Genesis 12

1 Yahweh had said to Abram,

“had said” – By the way, the chronology is a bit unclear, but I’m assuming this is a flashback to their time in Ur, explaining why the family moved in the first place. It’s not the only way to read this, but I think it’s the best way to fit the pieces together.

“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation…

God came to Abram the moon god worshipper back in the city of Ur and made him a promise. This promise is one of the most important promises in the whole Bible. It will be repeated and expanded and clarified again and again and again.

This was a covenant, which means that God says there’s something that you need to do, and if you do that, here’s what I’m going to do.

Abram’s part of the deal was simply this: Leave home and go to the land that God will show him.

God’s part is pretty impressive (read v. 2-3)

2 And I will make you into a great nation.

That seems difficult since he and his wife are old and they can’t have kids!

And I will bless you

and make you famous,

Remember how the Babel builders were trying to make a name for themselves? God says, “Abraham, by the time I get done with you, you’re going to be famous. Not because of the great empire you built. No, you’ll be known as my friend.”

and you will be a blessing to others.

“It’s not just for you Abe. You won’t believe the impact you’re going to have on others.”

3 And I will bless those who bless you

and curse those who treat you with contempt.

“So many people are trying to protect themselves and keep themselves safe. But I’m going to personally protect you.”

And all the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

God says: “Remember all the nations that I made back at Babel? What I’ll do through you is going to bring the greatest blessings imaginable upon all the families of the earth.”

What a promise for a moon-worshipper in Ur who was never seeking God out in the first place! What would that have been like?

God: “Abram”

Abram: “Yes? Moon god is that you?”

God: “No. There is no moon god. And, deep down, don’t you already know that Abram?”

Abram: “But my half-sister/wife is named after your wife.”

God: “I don’t have a wife. I am God and there is no other. And I’m asking you to trust me…”

So, how does Abraham respond to this promise from God? God asked him to “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family.” And at first, he does one of the four. He doesn’t leave his relatives or his father’s family or go to the land, but he does leave his native country. And, you know, even that would be a tough sell.

Abram: “Hey guys, the true God appeared to me and said I need to trust him enough to leave everything and go to the land he’s going to show me.”

Others: “Really? And where is this land we’re going to?”

Abram: “I don’t know, but he said it’s that way.”

And his family is just staring at him like he’s crazy.

Application: I think some of us might be able to relate to Abram here. God says, “Follow me,” and your family says “What?! You’re crazy! That’s not how we do things in this family!”

But somehow, he gets them moving.

(show map)

And they head north up the Euphrates, intending to go to the land of Canaan. But then they come to a fork in the river that says, “Turn left to go to Canaan” or “Turn right to go to Haran, famous city of moon god worship.” And they go right… right back to the same moon-worship where they came from.

Abram had such a good start, but his faith wavered and he stopped short.

Maybe there are some people here who can relate to Abram? After what looked like a good start, the pressure started to build, and the months went by, and you came to a fork in the river, and you lost heart and stopped short.

How long were they in Haran? We don’t know. If Terah died at age 145, it means Abram stayed there until his father died before returning to the promise God had made to him all those years ago. If Terah died at age 205, then it means there came a point where Abram said, “Dad, I can’t wait around for your approval before I start trusting the one true God.”

And so, one day, he did the second thing God asked him to do: left his father’s family in Haran…

4 So Abram departed as Yahweh had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his wealth—his livestock and all the people he had taken into his household at Haran—and headed for the land of Canaan.

Not a small entourage here. He’s like a nomadic chieftain. There would have been lots of tents, lots of shepherds, lots of livestock. There could be dozens of people in his clan at this point. Still no kids, and still one key relative clinging on – his nephew Lot.

5b When they arrived in Canaan, 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as Shechem. There he set up camp beside the oak of Moreh. At that time, the area was inhabited by Canaanites.

Well, this is some Promised Land. He gets there and there’s already people living in it. It’s like God saying, “I’ve got this land for you. I call it ‘New York City.’” And you’re like, “God, that’s nice, but a lot of people already live there.” And he’s like, “Don’t worry about them. Just find a place to set up your tents for now.”

But check this out…

7 Then Yahweh appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.”

This is pretty cool. God appeared to him back in Ur. And then we’ve got no record of any word from God during the whole journey to Haran, or during their time living in Haran. But now he gets to the Promised Land, and he gets another visit from God, affirming Abram’s decision. It’s like God was just waiting there for him. And then Abe shows up and God’s like, “Hey! You’re finally here! What took you so long?!” God often won’t give us affirmation until after we take the step of faith.

7b And Abram built an altar there and dedicated it to Yahweh, who had appeared to him. 8 After that, Abram traveled south and set up camp in the hill country, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built another altar and dedicated it to Yahweh, and he worshiped Yahweh. 9 Then Abram continued traveling south by stages toward the Negev.

10 At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan,

Well, this isn’t too good. Abram’s people are like, “Whoa. Some Promised Land.”

10b so Abram went down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner. 11 As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman.

Sarai: “Oh Abram you just say the sweetest things. I love being married to you.”

Abram: “Um… you should wait until I’m done before you start saying things like that.”

12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’

In the ancient world, adultery was worse than murder. So you didn’t just have an affair with another guy’s wife. You did the honorable thing and killed the guy first. And then, well, she’s back on the market.

13 So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.”

14 And sure enough, when Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone noticed Sarai’s beauty. 15 When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace. 16 Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But Yahweh sent terrible plagues upon Pharaoh and his household because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram and accused him sharply. “What have you done to me?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ and allow me to take her as my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and get out of here!” 20 Pharaoh ordered some of his men to escort them, and he sent Abram out of the country, along with his wife and all his possessions.

Genesis 13

So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned. 2 (Abram was very rich in livestock, silver, and gold.) 3 From the Negev, they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel, and they pitched their tents between Bethel and Ai, where they had camped before. 4 This was the same place where Abram had built the altar, and there he worshiped Yahweh again.

Abraham is back in the promised land. And he has left the land of his fathers.


  1. Sometimes God leads you into a famine

  2. Biblical faith means fully trusting God

  3. Material blessing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re where God wants you

  4. God makes and keeps his promises

1 D. J. Wiseman, “Ur of the Chaldees,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1219.