Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 1 (KJV)
The Call of Abram
Devotional Reading: Hebrews 11:8–19
Background Scripture: Genesis 12:1–7; 15:1–7
Genesis 12:1–5, 7
1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
The LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. —Genesis 12:7
God’s Exceptional Choice
Unit 1: God Calls Abraham’s Family
After participating in this less, each learner will be able to:
1. List key features of Abraham’s call and subsequent covenant vision.
2. Explain the relationship between that call and vision.
3. Identify one or more ways that Abraham’s obedience will serve as a model to his or her obedience under the new covenant.
How to Say It
- Answering the Call
“When ‘the Mouse’ offers you a job, you say yes,” an executive chef on a Disney cruise declared. Prior to his work with Disney, the chef had worked in an executive capacity at several successful restaurants. He enjoyed the line of work but had not considered doing so on the seas.
However, his name was suggested to the cruise line for a position. Eventually someone from the company called him, conducted an interview, and made an offer. The chef accepted, and for over a decade he has served in several upscale restaurants at sea. The chef answered the call, and the decision changed his life forever.
How much more so with God! When He calls, He expects a faith-filled response. His call may feel rather demanding, even overwhelming. In today’s lesson, God called someone to a new context so that God’s promises could be fulfilled.
- Lesson Context
The first 11 chapters of Genesis look at humanity broadly—from their creation and fall (Genesis 1–3), to their acts of violence (4:2–12) and wickedness (6:5–6, 11–12), to their judgment and rescue (6:7–9:17). Despite all this, people still made vain attempts to focus attention on themselves (11:1–9).
As Genesis is the first book of the Old Testament, such a broad focus is understandable. This prepares readers of all eras to hear how God worked through humanity generally and specifically through one family.
After the flood narrative (Genesis 6–10), the text lists the descendants of Noah’s son Shem (11:10–25). This genealogy culminated with Terah, the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran (11:26).
Terah outlived Haran, the father of Lot (Genesis 11:27–28). Terah’s other sons, Abram and Nahor, were both married. However, Abram and his wife Sarai were unable to conceive (11:29–30).
The family lived in Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31). This ancient Mesopotamian city was located on the banks of the Euphrates River. Modern archaeological discoveries have provided insight into the city’s wealth, culture, and pagan religious practices. The family’s connections to the city likely ran deep, and at one time they took part in the city’s pagan religious practices (see Joshua 24:2).
However, the family did not stay in Ur. Terah led Abram, Sarai, and Lot toward Canaan, a land bordering the western edges of the Mediterranean Sea (see Genesis 10:19). But Terah did not complete the journey. He settled and died in Haran (11:31b–32), an important city on a major trade route between Mesopotamia and Canaan.
Today’s Scripture text continues narrowing the focus as it highlights the family of Abram. (Note that Abram is the same man who later had his name changed to Abraham; see Genesis 17:5.)
- The Call Announced
(Genesis 12:1–5, 7)
A. God’s Declaration, Part 1 (vv. 1–3)
- Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.
As the Lord addressed Abram, the focus of the text turns to the life of this man. The text gives no clues regarding the way through which God spoke. All that is noted is that God called to Abram.
That God told Abram to get thee out emphasized that God expected His imperative to be followed. Toward the end of Abram’s narrative, God would show similar urgency by telling Abram to “get thee” to a certain place to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22:2).
If Abram had stayed in Haran, the livelihood of his kindred could have been jeopardized. In a culture of polytheism (meaning “many gods”), the act of worshipping the one true God could have required Abram to detach from the larger community. This may be part of the reason that God ordered Abram to leave everything behind and proceed to a new land.
In the ancient world, a person’s identity and social standing were attached to family and ancestry. For this reason, genealogies and ancestral records were of great importance (examples: Genesis 5; 11:10–32; Nehemiah 7:6–64). Additionally, inheritance claims and family responsibilities were tied to a person’s family lineage.
By calling Abram to leave his father’s house, God called him to a new identity. As he followed God’s imperative, Abram would demonstrate trust, even if uncertainties remained (see Hebrews 11:8).
Grieving and Going
As the child of a military service member, I learned to relocate every few years. This constant churn is one reason why moving to a new country sounded appealing. I didn’t have a strong attachment to any particular “home”—or so I thought.
Recently, I found myself weeping at my parents’ house. My wife and I were staying with my parents before leaving to become missionaries abroad. I was emotional because I realized that my nuclear family—regardless of their location—had always been my “home.” They were a stabilizing force during every move. As I prepared to move abroad, I felt the significance of not living near my family.
Perhaps Abram experienced similar grief as he left his family to follow God’s call. He might have never seen them again. When God calls you to follow Him, will you go no matter the cost? —N. G.
- And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.
Blessing would result if Abram obeyed God: the childless Abram would become a great nation. Nothing from this promise indicated human power. Abram’s descendants would become great only because of the Lord’s steadfast love and promises (Deuteronomy 7:7–8).
His descendants were not to be like other nations. Instead, they were to be a “holy people … above all the nations” (Deuteronomy 14:2; see Leviticus 20:26). Their unique establishment would cause God’s name to be glorified and made great among the peoples of the earth (see Isaiah 29:23; 60:21–22; Ezekiel 36:23).
Abram and his descendants were tasked with living among other nations in a manner that would result in the blessing of both groups. In a way, Abram’s descendants were to serve as a “kingdom of priests” for the whole world (Exodus 19:5–6).
- And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Abram would not have to face trials alone—God would give protection as He would curse all people that curseth Abram. As a result, blessing would continue for generations (compare Exodus 23:22).
God’s choice was not to the exclusion and rejection of other people. The apostle Paul interpreted God’s promise of blessing to apply also to people who expressed faith in Jesus Christ (see Romans 4; Galatians 3:7–9, 14). Further, this blessing included making salvation available to all people, regardless of ancestry, through Abram’s seed (see 3:26–29).
As Abram followed God, he would be a witness of God’s grace and mercy to the peoples of the world. As all families of the earth saw how Abram’s descendants obeyed God and saw the blessings that resulted, they would want to follow the same God and be blessed themselves (Acts 3:25).
What Do You Think?
In what ways has God provided blessings for you?
How might believers live in a way that blesses their unbelieving family and friends?
B. Abram’s Response (vv. 4–5)
- So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
One might expect Abram to have discussed the issue with God or provided pushback. (Compare Abraham’s discussion with God regarding Sodom’s pending judgment, Genesis 18:16–33.) But there is no record that Abram did so. He obeyed and departed out of Haran. Abram showed faith trusted that God would not renounce His promises.
By allowing Lot to go with him, Abram acted honorably (see Genesis 11:27–28). Given this act, combined with Abram’s advanced age (seventy and five years old) and his childless reality (11:30), one might expect the promised blessing to come through Lot. However, that was not the case (see 17:19). Lot would cause great difficulty and heartache for Abram (see 13:2–13; 14:1–16).
What Do You Think?
How can believers ensure their obedience to God’s commands?
What is the connection, if any, between obedience to God and resulting blessing from Him?
- And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.
While God called Abram specifically, the call apparently included more than him alone. Thus we see him taking his wealth (Genesis 13:2) and extended household on the trip.
Abram’s journey into the land of Canaan brought the travelers to Moreh of Sichem (Genesis 12:6, not in our printed text). This region would become a significant place for Abram’s descendants (see 35:4; Joshua 24:25). Its importance among Abram’s descendants resulted from his obedience.
- God’s Declaration, Part 2 (v. 7)
7a. And the LORD appeared unto Abram.
Abram’s obedience brought him to a new land and to a new interaction with the Lord. Several other times he experienced God’s self-disclosure (see Genesis 17:1; 18:1). Other patriarchs had similar experiences (see 26:2; 35:1; 46:2; 48:3). The means by which God appeared is not the most important aspect. Instead, most important is His desire to reveal and the content of His words.
7b. And said, Unto thy seed will I give this land.
The content of God’s declaration reveals a new aspect of the previously given promises. The manner through which Abram would become “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2, above) would be through his descendants (his seed) and this land of Canaan. These two are often mentioned in discussion of God’s promises to His Old Testament people (see Genesis 13:15; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7; 48:4; Exodus 32:13; 33:1; etc.).
7c. And there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.
Abram’s act of building an altar in response to God’s words was of significance. Other cultures built altars to their pagan gods (see Deuteronomy 12:2–3). But Abram did not reuse a pagan altar.
Instead, Abram built a new altar to the Lord. By doing so, Abram announced the focus of his worship to the one true God. This altar served as a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness and presence (compare Genesis 8:18–20; 13:14–18; 35:7; Exodus 17:15; 24:3–4; etc.).
What Do You Think?
How can believers tangibly remember and celebrate God’s work?
How might Exodus 20:8–11; 31:12–18; Joshua 4; and 1 Corinthians 11:23–25 provide believers with examples of tangible remembrance?
- The Call Affirmed
A. Protection Pledged (v. 1)
1. After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
Abram’s first interactions in the land were challenging. For a time, Abram and Lot lived separately (Genesis 13:10–18). Eventually, the two were reunited when Abram saved Lot from captivity (14:11–16). Additionally, Abram met with a mysterious king and offered him a tithe (14:18–20; Hebrews 7:1–10). It was after these things that God appeared again to Abram.
The underlying Hebrew translated here as vision occurs only three other times in the Old Testament. The word’s stress is not necessarily on the revelation’s visual component, but that a specific utterance from God had arrived (see Numbers 24:4, 16).
It was the vision’s content that was most important for Abram. That God promised to be Abram’s shield is indicative of His care and protection for His people (see Deuteronomy 33:29; 2 Samuel 22:3, 31; Psalms 3:3; 28:7; 84:11; 115:9–11). In a dangerous new land, Abram could take comfort in God’s protection.
During an encounter with the king of Sodom, Abram refused riches and financial gain from the king (Genesis 14:22–24). Abram did not want to depend on the wealth of others. Instead, he trusted that the Lord himself would be an exceeding great reward.
“But Jesus Is with You!”
“Come see this really cool thing!” I heard my 8-year-old implore his 4-year-old brother. The older son is frequently afraid to go upstairs by himself. He often comes up with creative ruses to entice his younger brother to accompany him up the stairs. Most of the time the ruses work, and the younger brother happily complies.
However, if my older son revealed his fear, the younger son would answer, “But Jesus is with you!” The 4-year-old is unwavering on this point. He explains he isn’t afraid because “Jesus is with me!”
Our youngest seems to grasp the truth of God’s exhortation to Abram: “Fear not” (Genesis 15:1). What are you most afraid of right now? Can you say with confidence “Jesus is with me”—and let Him be your shield? —N. G.
B. Challenge Offered (vv. 2–3)
2. And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
For the first time, we have a record of Abram responding directly to the Lord God. The response was filled with concern. God’s promises would not come to fruition unless Abram had a child of his own. His words reflected an awareness of the Lord’s promise to make of him “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). Yet at this point Abram remained childless, and his wife was past the age of childbearing (see 12:4; 17:17). How could God truly be Abram’s “exceeding great reward” (15:1) under these circumstances?
The steward … Eliezer may have joined the journey during travel from Haran to Canaan (Genesis 12:4–5) since Damascus is situated between the two locations.
The act of transferring the heir’s rights to the steward of Abram’s house would have been a last resort to ensure Abram’s legacy. The transference of an heir’s blessing from a firstborn to another person was not unusual in the narrative of Abram’s descendants (see Genesis 25:31–33; 48:13–14; 49:3–4).
3. And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
Ancient adoption practices allowed for a childless couple to adopt another man as household servant or steward. This person would then care for the couple in their old age and provide a proper burial when they died. As a result, this person would then inherit the family property. This allowed for an heir and continuation of the family line.
Familial love and care, while possible, were not the primary reason for many ancient adoptions. Instead, this relationship was more like a business contract between adults. Considering the likelihood of this result, Abram vented his frustrations to God. How could the God who promised so much also provide no seed to Abram?
What Do You Think?
What circumstances have left you feeling angry or frustrated with God?
How can you comfort another believer who may experience these feelings?
C. Promise Confirmed (vv. 4–5)
4. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
In response to Abram’s frustration, the Lord spoke to him with assurance. God’s promises would not be diverted—this man, Eliezer, would not become Abram’s heir. God declared that a child from Abram’s own bowels would instead be his heir. When God makes a promise, He will keep it, although its fulfillment may not align with earthly expectations. This heir would be the first of many “children of promise” (see Galatians 4:28).
5. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
God had previously compared the number of Abram’s descendants to “the dust of the earth” (Genesis 13:16). The numerous stars in the sky also served to illustrate God’s promise. The assertion that Abram’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars is one of the most prevalent promises in Scripture (see Genesis 22:17; 26:4; Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; 1 Chronicles 27:23; Nehemiah 9:23; Hebrews 11:12).
God did not dismiss Abram’s frustration, nor did He give an explanation. Instead, God merely reaffirmed His promises. If God had kept His promises thus far, Abram could trust that God would keep His promises in full.
D. Righteousness Reckoned (vv. 6–7)
6a. And he believed in the LORD.
That Abram believed did not simply mean he felt good about his relationship with God. Rather Abram demonstrated faith when he trusted that these promises would come to pass; he trusted in the guarantor of those promises. Abram knew what his descendants would someday find out: the Lord is faithful and keeps His promises (Deuteronomy 7:9).
6b. And he counted it to him for righteousness.
Abram’s belief did not go unnoticed—it would become the model for all others (see Hebrews 11:8–10, 12). His belief led to his being counted … for righteousness—being viewed in right standing with God.
Because God’s own nature is righteous and perfect (see Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 103:6, 17; Zephaniah 3:5; Zechariah 8:8; etc.), He desires that His people be righteous as well. They could live righteously and justly, with God and with others, as they did “that which is lawful and right” (Ezekiel 18:5).
The text utilizes an accounting metaphor: God counted Abram’s faith as the foundation for righteousness. The underlying Hebrew verb gets at the idea of regarding something or someone as having a certain characteristic, although that thing or person may not actually have that characteristic (compare Genesis 31:15; Numbers 18:27; Job 18:3; Proverbs 17:28; etc.). Abram’s faith was enough for God to consider Abram in right standing with Him.
For the apostle Paul, this verse provided background on the nature of salvation. As righteousness came to Abraham (Abram’s later name) through his faith, all people who follow his example and demonstrate faith will be counted as righteous (Romans 4:1–8, 13–15, 22). People who demonstrate faith in God are considered “children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7) regardless of their ancestry (3:8–9).
The apostle James furthers the narrative regarding the faith of Abram. Not only was he counted righteous, but he was also called “the Friend of God” (James 2:23). His words and deeds exhibited the presence of his faith.
What Do You Think?
What is the relationship between belief and right action (see James 2:14–24)?
How would you explain righteousness to a person unfamiliar with Scripture?
7. And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
The Lord brought Abram from his homeland in Ur to the land that He promised. Abram could be encouraged because the one who would declare himself “I am” (Exodus 3:14) was guiding him.
A. Abram Answered. Will You?
Abram had to answer a difficult call with boldness, courage, and faith. God had placed the call, and Abram answered by way of relocating his family. This decision would radically change his life and the lives of others for centuries.
There will be times in the life of a believer when the challenge is not to find God’s will but to follow God’s call. This call may lead to a different job, a new neighborhood, or even to an unknown land. Yet if we remain faithful to God and trust in His steadfast promises, He will bless us deeply.
God, throughout history You have shown yourself to be faithful. Give us faith to follow Your call and patience to trust You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
God calls us—we only need to follow His directions!