The basis of Abram’s call was land, protection and a great name (Genesis 12:1-3). Perhaps Abram understood his call from God as a call to greatness. He may have thought he and his descendents would become the greatest nation, perhaps the greatest empire the world would ever know. Certainly this would later be the Jewish understanding under their Messianic King. But, what was God’s understanding of Abram’s arrival in Canaan?
It seems evident from the history of Israel that their greatness, and ultimately Abraham’s greatness, lay not in their military might, but in something else. It had more to do with their relationship with God than anything we could point to in this world. So, what was God’s understanding of Abram’s arrival in Canaan? I believe he saw Abram as a man of great faith. I believe God was proud of his obedience in much the same way that we are proud of our children’s behavior and trust in us. Certainly Abram was not then the **great** man of faith to which Paul refers in Romans 4:13, 16 but God would continue to test Abram throughout his life and build that trust more and more into him, making faith in God a defining characteristic of his life.
Abram’s arrival in Canaan (Genesis 12:5) was the beginning of God’s work with him. His faith was real at this point; it may not have been considered great faith in our estimation, but if we are honest with ourselves, this is how it is for all of us at the beginning of our relationship with God. Both Abram and we make a lot of mistakes, but God isn’t unhappy with us, just as he wasn’t unhappy with Abram. Rather God was then and continues to be willing to work with his people, shaping us in our trials, maturing and nurturing us in order that our characters would be transformed into that which would be an authentic image of God. Great faith is the end result of a life lived with and appreciating God.
Nevertheless, the accountability for becoming an authentic image of God lay not with us, but with God. This is called grace. Just as it falls to us, the parents, to shape and nurture our children, so it is God’s responsibility to shape us and nurture us and mature our relationship with him. The responsibility of character development lay always upon the shoulders of the mature One, the Adult in the relationship, and we, no matter what our age at our call from God (Abram was 75 years old—see Genesis 12:4), are considered babes in the faith (Matthew 19:14; cp. 1Corinthians 3:1; 2Peter 2:2). Why would anyone want to find fault with a babe?
Abram was an altar builder (Genesis 12:6-8), showing he worshiped God. His first altar at Sichem was erected in thanksgiving to God for his call and bringing his safely into the land. The second was erected in Bethel. We don’t know the reason for the second, but apparently Abram inquired about something important. Perhaps it concerned the Canaanite who dwelt in the land (Genesis 12:6), to which the text specifically takes note. It may have been that Abram was afraid, just as Jacob was when he fled from his brother Esau and came to this very place where Abram erected his second altar (Genesis 28:10-20).
It was here that Jacob vowed to the Lord in response to the Lord’s promise to be his God. Perhaps this is similar to what Abram did as well. He may have recalled the specifics of God’s promise to him and rededicated his life to trusting him here at Bethel. It was like saying, “Yes, I am afraid, but God promised me this land, so I’ll trust him to do what he says despite the fear I have.” In essence this is what Jacob said, and I think this was probably on Abram’s mind as well.
In everyone’s life we come to realize that our own understanding of God’s call and what God has in mind for us is not quite the same. We may be in fear. We’ve made our move, but something seems awry. Things don’t appear to be what we had expected. What now? Do we give up and return to the life we once knew? It is at such a time as this that we call upon the Lord, and we are reminded of God’s word to us at the time of our call. It represents a time of rededication, or a time when we reassess God’s call and decide then, whether or not he is worthy of our trust. This is the moment of truth when we decide that it is okay for God to be in complete control of our lives, even when we don’t know where that will lead.