The First Step
We must view Abrahams story in the Bible within the framework of the purpose of God to have a people for Himself. Abrahams faith has a beginning clearly indicated in Scripture: "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed" (Heb 11.8). This call is given a clear location by Stephen the martyr: "The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran" (Acts 7.2). This man from an idolatrous background came to be aware of the Creator, the living God. We should not overlook the expression, "the God of glory", for that explains the change effected in this man.
So began Abrahams life of faith. He was directed by God: "Walk before me, and be thou upright" (Gen 17.1, AV margin). We might say of him, as Scripture says of Enoch and Noah, "He walked with God" (Gen 5.22,24; 6.9). We shall see that this call was only a first step, marked by justifying faith: he obeyed the call and went out. The various phases of his life are characterised by the same faith: he trusted God and God was with him to guide, instruct, protect, and educate.
Into Canaan (Gen 12)
Genesis 12 marks a significant next step in Abrahams life: "into the land of Canaan they came" (v.5). He and his seed are to have this land, in Gods time; so ran the promise to him when "the Lord" appeared again to him at this point. We notice the covenant name, "the Lord". In the covenant relationship, into which Abraham was being drawn, he would learn that God is the covenant-keeping God. This awareness would have a deep impact on how he viewed property and possessions. Our vision of God colours how we value material things.
The land was important to Abraham because it was promised to him and his seed by the God of glory, now further known and worshipped as Jehovah, the Lord: "There he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord" (v.8). Obedience to the call was followed by the Lord appearing to him (v.7) and confirming the promises. God was with him.
Co-existence or strife? (Gen 13)
One factor which constantly affected Abrahams experience in these years was the presence with him of Lot, his nephew. Abraham had the call and the vision, and Lot followed Abraham, but lacked the vision. Genesis 13 describes the tension which arose when both Abraham and Lot prospered materially. Such huge flocks and herds required a great amount of pasture. They must part in order to prevent quarrelling among their herdsmen.
Abraham was senior to Lot. He was the obvious leader, with the rights of the older and stronger man. Will "the fittest" survive? The vision of the God of glory, and the promise of the covenant-keeping Lord - these dictate the response of Abraham in the crisis. One thought was uppermost in his mind: "we be brethren" - the word is used of course in its wider sense of "kinsmen". Cain denied the obligations of kinship when he slew Abel; hence the divine question, "Where is Abel thy brother?" (Gen 4.9). Psychologists may speak of "sibling rivalry". God speaks of "brotherly love". So Abraham let Lot choose to which area he would take his animals. Abraham would then go to another area. Lot, lacking spiritual vision (though he was a righteous man), "lifted up his eyes" and chose somewhere that reminded him of Egypt! Vision which lacks divine enlightenment does not lead to spiritual profit. Mere human eyesight missed the enormity of Sodoms depravity. Lots choice would lead to disastrous future consequences, not only for him but also for his family.
What of Abrahams choice? When Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abraham, "Lift up now thine eyes", and Abraham received the Lords promise: "all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever" (v.15). He had left the choice to God, and God could choose better than he could.
So Abraham walked with God in relation to the property with which God had blessed him. He began this episode with the principle, "we be brethren", and God looked after his material welfare. God can still do this. After he had given Lot first choice Abraham had renewed promises from God and responded with worship - he "built an altar unto the Lord" (v.18). The God who guided his steps from Ur to Canaan was able to look after his possessions.
The Rescue of Lot (Gen 14)
When Lot chose Sodom he had no idea of what the outcome of his choice would be. Strife between kingdoms, including Sodom, led to a punitive marauding expedition from the northern kings. Sodom was overrun and Lot was captured and carried away. So much for the prosperity and security of "the well watered plains".
News of this event was carried to Abraham. He might well have judged that Lot had merely got what he deserved. But at least two considerations moved Abraham to intervene. First, the raiders had encroached on land promised to Abraham and his seed; second, among the captives carried away was his "brother" Lot. Brotherly love required, not merely generosity in sharing Gods good gifts, but also courage in rescuing his brother from the results of his unwise choice. Abraham pursued the withdrawing armies, defeated them, and drove them from the land, even as far as Dan, in the extreme north. He freed Lot and the other captives and carried off rich spoils.
His return journey was eventful. No doubt weary from his efforts, he was met on his way home by a man called Melchizedek. This mysterious figure is described as "priest of the most high God". He was also king of Salem. He brought bread and wine to refresh the weary victor. "The God of glory", who had appeared to Abraham in Ur, was still able and faithful to give timely aid (compare Heb 4.16). The timeliness of the aid is emphasised in Genesis 14 by the fact that the narrative records that, just before Melchizedek appeared, the king of Sodom was on his way to meet Abraham. His arrival was too late to prevent Melchizedeks intervention. So God provided aid exactly when and how Abraham needed it. The king of Sodom was rebuffed by Abraham, in the strength supplied through Gods messenger, Melchizedek. God was to Abraham truly El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient One.
At this point the word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision: "Fear not I am thy shield" (15.1). The victory won by Abraham in chapter 14 was won with the help of God, his "shield". Abrahams faith in God guided his activities and God continued to communicate with him to encourage him for the way ahead.
The Covenant (Gen 15)
Not only was God Abrahams shield, but his reward was also great. God was about to make a solemn covenant with him, a covenant of promise, to give him courage for future testings. It is in this context that the record includes the key pronouncement: "He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (v.6). No doubt this was true when he left Ur, and again, when he offered up Isaac (ch.22), but God has placed it here.
The solemn covenant was sealed, as normal, by sacrifices. God manifested His commitment to the covenant with Abraham and his seed in the mysterious ceremony in this chapter. The covenant stood on the firm basis of Gods commitment, and only that. Abraham had one responsibility during the ceremony - to drive the birds of prey away. It seems that in chapter 14 he had been doing this in driving the marauders out of the land. To be continued.