Formations 02.05.2017: Moving Day

Genesis 12:1-9

Nicolaes Moeyaert, Abraham leaves with his family to go from Haran to Canaan, 1628 (detail)

The first time I moved away from home was fairly easy. Then again, I only moved about forty-five minutes away in order to attend college. I was back again for the summer, and for numerous weekends throughout the academic year.

My second move was harder: about six hours away to attend seminary. My third, now with a wife in tow, was to a little church in Indiana and my first “real” ministry job.

We’ve moved a few times since then. Some moves have been hard—like the one that followed a health issue that forced me to resign from a church I had grown to love. Most, even the positive ones, have involved their share of anxiety, logistical headaches, and the grief of saying goodbye to people I and my family had come to know and love.

Mobility is a fact of life in our world. Every day, I work alongside people whose hometowns are spread across Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In one way or another, we all know what it’s like to live hundreds of miles from home. But try to imagine what that sense of separation would be like for someone like Abram, from a world where one’s security and sense of belonging—one’s entire world—was rooted within the confines a single Bronze Age village.

In today’s Scripture lesson, God’s dealings with the human race move from all of humanity to a single family ordained to carry divine blessing to “all the families of the earth” (Gen 12:3). But this transition comes with some pretty heavy demands. In obedience to God’s call, Abram leaves his homeland for parts unknown. Though God promises to give this new land to his descendants, for his part, Abram and his family live as nomads, building altars and pitching tents wherever they find themselves.

How are we to identify with Abram, who left behind practically everything in order to follow God’s vague directions to the promised land?


• When have you felt separated from home and family? Was this separation something you chose or something thrust upon you?
• Separation need not involve geography. When have you felt separated emotionally, spiritually, or in some other way from people and things you once found familiar and comforting?
• What might Abram’s kind of faith look like in our modern world?
• What “altars” might we build in the places where God sends us—and to what purpose?

Reference Shelf

Abraham’s Quest for Fulfillment of God’s Covenant Promises

Abraham was offered land and posterity in his initial election and call (12:1-3). Later, the same promise is confirmed three times in covenant ceremonies that included animal sacrifice and a vision (15:7-17), a name change and the covenant sign of male circumcision (17), and a theophany (with a play on “laughter”) under the terebinths at Mamre (18:1-19).

The quest for the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises functions as the major unifying theme in the patriarchal narratives. Tension and movement are provided by the complications that arise. Abraham’s seed is to become a great nation (12:2). Sarah, however, is barren (11:30). The land of Canaan is promised to Abraham and his descendants (12:1, 7), but the Canaanites possess it (12:6). Abraham is to be a blessing (12:2f.), but his lapse in Egypt (12:10-20) and again at Gerar (20:1-18) bring plague and the threat of death to innocent people. Even at the death of Abraham, the reader is gently driven on through the rest of the patriarchal stories to seek a resolution. The complete fulfillment is not apparent until Israel occupies the land (cf. Exod 6:2-9).

The text does not offer a white-washed portrayal of Abraham’s thoughts and actions. In fact, Abraham’s limitations and flaws dramatically contribute to the narrative’s realism. He is afraid that Sarah’s beauty will cost him his life on two occasions (12:11-13; 20:2-11). Even though Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister (20:12), the charade of passing Sarah off only as his sister reflected a lack of trust in God’s promises in all situations.

Stephen J. Andrews, “Abraham,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 6.

The Call to Leave Family and Homeland

Abraham’s call specified three things he must leave behind, and they seem to have been deliberately placed in ascending order. The three were his country, his relatives, and finally his immediate family. Each phase in the separation became more personal and, therefore, more painful. The impression we get of Abraham here and throughout the Genesis account is of someone who was always being called on to give up something he treasured, whether the security of familiar surroundings, country, kinsmen and family, or, as in the supreme test of his faith, his son Isaac (chap. 22).

In our highly mobile society we are more or less accustomed to being uprooted and separated from home and loved ones. In Abraham’s day, however, the only real security people knew was that provided by family ties. Peace, security, blessing, and well-being had their source in one’s tribe, clan, or family. When people left this safe zone, they were exposed to all kinds of danger. Gerhard von Rad wrote that “to leave home and to break ancestral bonds was to expect of ancient men [and women] almost the impossible.”

…Abraham passed the first test of his faith in a commendable way. His example reminds me of something said by a professor of political science at the college where one of our daughters was studying. He told his students that a true philosopher was someone who was always open to new truth, never too attached to material things, and never too dependent on familiar things. We wouldn’t be too far afield to apply these same qualifications to Abraham.

Page H. Kelley, Journey to the Land of Promise: Genesis–Deuteronomy, All the Bible (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1997), 35–36.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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