Biblical Portraits: Abraham (1)

My readers would already know that I love series. And what could be better time for a new series than these summer months, when the Spring Biblical Festivals are over, and the High Holidays are not yet upon us? Therefore, today we will begin to draw a new biblical portrait of a very old biblical hero—Abraham.

God’s Navigator

Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”[1]

    Have you ever tried to locate an object on GPS or any other navigation device? You see a flashing red dot on the little screen. Usually, you’re interested in the “street view,” but you can also zoom out from the street view to the city view, to the state view, to the national view, and finally, to the world view. You will still see the same flashing red dot, but now it is situated on the map of a city, a country, or on the map of the whole world. Something similar is happening here. As we read the first three verses of this chapter, we can watch God zooming  out from the house where one particular family lives. As he zooms out, we see the descendants of this one family become a great nation, and then we see the whole world view, where this family has reached all the families of the earth.

    Verse one starts with one man and one family: It’s as though we can see this particular man, Abraham, standing on one particular street of Haran, next to one particular house—his father’s house. Abraham has lived here for many years, but is now commanded to leave: Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”

    Against the background of this different, completely unknown land, the next verse zooms out to the national level. All of a sudden, we see the family of Abraham transformed into “a great nation” with a “great name.” God’s blessing is promised to this nation, and the nation itself is promised to be a blessing. This is the second step in God’s plan of salvation: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great.”

    And then, finally, God’s zoom moves to a world view and we see the same red dot, now flashing against a map of the whole world. The same man we saw in the “street view” standing on the narrow streets of Haran, and then in the “national view” as the father of a great nation, now we see in the “world view,” as Abraham becomes the Father of many nations.

I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

    We are all familiar with these words, and we know that everything God promised that day to Abraham, He has literally fulfilled. He did make Abraham into a great nation and this nation has indeed become a blessing to all the families of the earth. However, try to imagine these same words as Abraham heard them 3,000 years ago, when none of that had happened yet: Who would have believed these magnificent promises? I often wonder where this man got his faith—that absolutely unique faith that made him trust the Lord and follow His commands, even when they seemed extremely complicated, painful, or illogical. How long had he been a true believer before he heard God say “lech-lecha” (go out) and then did what he was told? And was he actually the first one to hear those words?

The father and the son

The famous chapter 12 of the book of Genesis—where the story of Abraham starts and Scripture becomes a chronicle of one family—opens with God’s famous words to Abraham that we just read: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” Generations of rabbis, preachers, and regular students of the Scriptures have been impressed, encouraged, and inspired by these words. Endless Jewish projects and organizations have been named after these famous words lech-lecha,” the Hebrew words that open this chapter. For me personally, however, it is not these words that depict the most impressive part of this chapter, or that provide us with a glimpse into the remarkable personality of the one whom God called his friend; it isn’t God’s words that make this story so special – it is how Abraham responded to them.

    Let me explain what I mean. In verse 5 we read: Then Abram took Sarah his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן So they came to the land of Canaan.[2]  Thus, in response to God’s call, Abraham went forth to go to the land of Canaan. Then, after a while, he indeed reached the land of Canaan. Nothing, it seems, could be more obvious and self-apparent than this simple sentence. Doesn’t it go without saying that when people start a journey, they intend to finish this journey and arrive at the place they were heading for? However, just a few verses earlier, at the end of the previous chapter, we read:

And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarah, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.[3]

    וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן

Not in every translation is it so strikingly obvious as it is in Hebrew: the beginning of this passage is the same in both cases:       וַיֵּצְאוּ לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, they both left in order to go to the land of Canaan—however, it ends in a completely different way! Abraham’s father, Terah, also set off to go to the land of Canaan—but he never completed the journey. He never arrived!

    Why did Terah begin the journey to Canaan in the first place? I personally believe that before God spoke to Abraham, He had spoken to his father; otherwise, why would Terah leave Ur and start going to Canaan? We know that Terah did not worship the one true God. We know this, not only from rabbinical writings, but also from Scripture itself: This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods.”[4] In no way does this mean, however, that Terah had never heard about the true God, or that he had never heard from the true God. Perhaps the very first lech-lecha – go out! – was actually spoken to Terah; perhaps it was Terah who was supposed to have become the father of nations. However, even though we all long to hear His voice, we all desire to have a Divine encounter, make no mistake, it’s not the Divine encounter that defines our destiny, but what we do after this encounter. It’s not what He says to us that defines us, it’s how we respond to what He says! It’s not enough to be called; one must remain faithful to this calling. It is likely that Terah had been called first, before his son, and he probably responded to this call by heading for Canaan. However, he never got there. He stopped in Haran, because dwelling in Haran was much more comfortable and safe than living in tents in Canaan – and thus, Terah never became what he could and should have become.

    In this sense, the short verse regarding Abraham—they departed to go to the land of Canaan… They came to the land of Canaanis much more than merely a technical comment. The biblical description of Abraham’s great faith begins here, at Genesis 12:5; not only did he set out to do what he was called and commanded to do—but he completed it. If Terah was called by God, and I believe he was, he responded to God’s call by starting to do what he was called to do, but he never finished it. Abraham was called by God—we know he was—and he responded to God’s call, not by only starting, but actually completing and accomplishing everything he was called to do. This is what faith is all about, and it’s no wonder that Abraham and his father ended up so differently. Abraham became the father of a people and of peoples, while the Scripture tells us virtually nothing about Terah, except the fact that he was a descendant of Shem and father of Abraham. This is a spiritual law that we should all be aware of: We choose our destiny by the way we respond to God’s call.



[1] Genesis 12:1-3

[2] Genesis 12:5

[3] Genesis 11:31

[4] Joshua 24:2

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About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. k.soysa

    Interesting to note that the Lord (may have) spoken to Terah first!!

  2. Dagnaldo

    Thank you so much for this post. Deep an inspiring it blessed my day very much.
    Dagnaldo from Brazil

  3. Curt

    Hi Julia,

    So glad I found your blog. It is the first one I read and look forward to reading more.

    I enjoyed the in-depth review you have done here. We do not know that Terah was called because it is not specifically stated. As in David and Solomon, David thought in his own desire to please the Lord that he would build a temple. However God had other plans: Solomon. So I believe first we need to make sure He is calling us to do something first. If he has truly called us He knows we will fulfill it.

    Again I really enjoyed this and look forward to reading more from you.

    1. Julia Blum

      THank you so much for your kind words Curt! I am so glad you enjoyed this first article, and I really hope you will find the next ones interesting as well. As you can see, I just started this “Abraham’s portrait” series, so for a while i will be writing about Abraham; but if you look at the the previous articles and check out the archives of the blog, you will see that the posts here cover many different topics. In particular, I would recommend you to have a look at “Unlocking the New Testament” series (January-February 2019 ). Blessings!

  4. Dolores Perrot

    Haran died. No explanation whatsoever. He just died. Previously, when someone died, an explanation was given, but here, he just…died. Is it not an interesting coincidence that Terah stops and stays in a land that has the same name as his son who died? Perhaps it was his grief that kept him from moving on.

  5. David Duarte

    Exceletne Julia, una gran bendicion tus escritos, te sigo todas las semanas . desde ARGENTINA UN GRAN SALUDO

    1. Tobias

      thank you much that their lifestyles and details touched us Goyim so much that we cannot bear it. as we read chapter after charters of the Torah i always teared due to the most High barukh to his chosen.
      thanks you much for your loved and cared for the Patriarchs family.