For those who have read Abram’s story many times over the years, it is easy to miss the significance of the Lord’s demand for the patriarch to leave his kindred (Gen. 12:1). In contrast to our transient society, the extended family in the ancient world provided a person’s identity and protection. When told to leave his relatives, Abram was being called to trust God alone for shelter (see Ps. 91).
Abram does not hesitate; he goes forth to a land not yet known to him as today’s passage indicates (Gen. 12:1, 4; Heb. 11:8). He takes Lot and Sarai with him (Gen. 12:4–5), indicating that the call to leave his relatives was provisional, based on their faith. Non-believers like Terah must be left behind (11:31–32), but all who would profess faith in the God of Abram were welcomed along. This point is confirmed in 12:5 where we read that the people whom Abram had acquired went with him. “People” translates the normal Hebrew word for “souls” and many commentators believe the reference here is to converts, not slaves. From the start, Abram was a blessing to the nations.
Abram eventually comes to Shechem, regarded as the midpoint of the Canaanite territory, to “the oak of Moreh” (v. 6). The location was likely a cultic center where the peoples who were present in the land gathered to hear oracles from the gods. The presence of the Canaanites warns the reader ahead of time that the possession of this land will not be without difficulty. If Abram’s offspring are to inherit God’s promise, these pagans will need to be displaced.
Aside from telling the Israelites newly liberated from Egypt that the country they were about to conquer was promised long before the exodus, Abram’s construction of the altar near Moreh anticipates the day when worship of Yahweh would replace service to Baal (v. 7). In dedicating his family and life to the Lord, who at Moreh appears directly to man for the first time since the fall, Abram affirms his confidence in God’s promise. He also shows us, as Matthew Henry comments, that “the way of family worship is a good old way, is no novel invention, but the ancient custom of all the saints.” May we also be quick to confirm our trust in the Father through our worship.
John Calvin comments: “By the example of Abram, entire self-renunciation is enjoined, that we may live and die to God alone.” Leaving the only source of his security behind was indeed difficult for Abram. That which we must renounce may be different, but we must love Jesus above all else if we are to be His disciples (Luke 14:26). Evaluate any material goods you may have that do not reflect God’s glory, and seek to worship God with your whole heart.