1, 2. How had the world changed since Noah’s day, and how was Abram affected?
ABRAM looked up, his gaze drawn to the ziggurat that loomed over his home city of Ur.* There was a clamor up there, and smoke was rising. The priests of the moon god were offering sacrifices again. Picture Abram turning away and shaking his head, a frown creasing his brow. As he made his way homeward through the throngs on the streets, he likely thought about the idolatry that pervaded Ur. How the stain of that corrupt worship had spread in the world since Noah’s day!
2 Noah died just two years before Abram was born. When Noah and his family emerged from the ark after the great Deluge, that patriarch offered up a sacrifice to Jehovah God, who, in turn, made a rainbow appear. (Gen. 8:20; 9:12-14) At that time, the only worship in the world was pure worship. But now, as the tenth generation from Noah was spreading abroad in the earth, pure worship was becoming a rarity. People everywhere were worshipping pagan gods. Even Abram’s father, Terah, was involved in idolatry, perhaps making idols.—Josh. 24:2.
How did Abram become such an outstanding example of faith?
3. As Abram’s life went on, what quality stood out in him, and what can we learn from that?
3 Abram was different. As his life went on, he stood out more and more because of his faith. In fact, the apostle Paul was later inspired to call him “the father of all those having faith”! (Read Romans 4:11.) Let us see how Abram began his journey to become such a man. We ourselves can thereby learn much about how to grow in faith.
Serving Jehovah in the Post-Flood World
4, 5. From whom might Abram have learned about Jehovah, and why may we conclude that this is a possibility?
4 How did Abram come to learn about Jehovah God? We know that Jehovah had faithful servants on earth in those days. Shem was such a man. Though not the eldest of Noah’s three sons, he is often mentioned first. That was evidently because Shem was a man of outstanding faith.* Some time after the Flood, Noah referred to Jehovah as “Shem’s God.” (Gen. 9:26) Shem showed respect for Jehovah and for pure worship.
5 Did Abram know Shem? It is possible that he did. Imagine Abram as a boy. How fascinated he would have been to learn that he had a living ancestor whose ancient, wise eyes had witnessed over four centuries of human history! Shem had seen the evils of the pre-Flood world, the great Deluge that cleansed the earth, the founding of the first nations as mankind multiplied in the earth, and the dark days of Nimrod’s rebellion at the Tower of Babel. Faithful Shem stayed clear of that rebellion, so when Jehovah confused the language of the tower-builders, Shem and his family continued to speak man’s original language, the tongue of Noah. That family included Abram. Surely, then, Abram grew up with a high regard for Shem. What is more, Shem remained alive through most of Abram’s long life. So Abram may have learned about Jehovah from Shem.
6. (a) How did Abram show that he had taken to heart the great lesson of the Deluge? (b) What kind of life did Abram and Sarai have together?
6 In any event, Abram took to heart the great lesson of the Deluge. He endeavored to walk with God as Noah had walked with Him. That is why Abram rejected idolatry and stood out as different in Ur, perhaps even in his immediate family. However, he came to find a wonderful ally in life. He married Sarai, a woman who was exceptional not only for her beauty but also for her great faith in Jehovah.* Though childless, that couple no doubt found much joy in serving Jehovah together. They also adopted Abram’s orphaned nephew, Lot.
7. How do followers of Jesus need to imitate Abram?
7 Abram never left Jehovah for the idolatry of Ur. He and Sarai were willing to stand out as different from that idolatrous community. If we are to develop genuine faith, we need a similar spirit. We too must be willing to be different. Jesus said that his followers would be “no part of the world” and that the world would hate them as a result. (Read John 15:19.) If you ever feel the pain of rejection by members of your family or your community because of your decision to serve Jehovah, remember that you are not alone. You are in good company, walking with God as did Abram and Sarai before you.
“Go Out From Your Land”
8, 9. (a) Abram had what unforgettable experience? (b) What was Jehovah’s message to Abram?
8 One day, Abram had an unforgettable experience. He received a communication from Jehovah God! The Bible provides little in the way of specifics, but it does say that “the God of glory” appeared to that faithful man. (Read Acts 7:2, 3.) Perhaps by means of an angelic representative, Abram received a glimpse of the overwhelming glory of the Sovereign of the universe. We can only imagine how thrilled Abram was to see the contrast between the living God and the lifeless idols worshipped among his contemporaries.
9 What was Jehovah’s message to Abram? “Go out from your land and from your relatives and come on into the land I shall show you.” Jehovah did not say which land he had in mind—only that he would show it to Abram. First, though, Abram would have to leave behind his homeland and his relatives. In the cultures of the ancient Middle East, family meant a great deal. For a man to leave his relatives and move far away was often considered a terrible fate; to some, worse than death itself!
10. Why might it have been a sacrifice for Abram and Sarai to leave their home in Ur?
10 Leaving his land involved sacrifice. Ur was evidently a bustling, wealthy city. (See the box “The City That Abram and Sarai Left Behind.”) Excavations have revealed that very comfortable homes existed in ancient Ur; some had a dozen or more rooms for family and servants, all arranged around a paved inner courtyard. Common amenities included water fountains, lavatories, and waste disposal. Remember, too, that Abram and Sarai were far from young; he was likely in his 70’s, she in her 60’s. He surely wanted Sarai to be reasonably comfortable and well cared for—what any good husband wants for his wife. Imagine their conversations about this assignment, the questions and concerns that might have arisen in their hearts. Abram must have been so pleased when Sarai rose to this challenge! Like him, she was willing to leave all the comforts of home behind.
11, 12. (a) What preparations and decisions needed to be made prior to leaving Ur? (b) How might we picture the morning of departure?
11 With the decision made, Abram and Sarai had much to do. A great deal of packing and organizing lay ahead of them. What would they take on this journey into the unknown, and what would they leave behind? More important, though, were the people in their lives. What would they do about aged Terah? They decided to take him and care for him along the way. He may have consented heartily, for the account credits him, as patriarch, with taking his family out of Ur. No doubt he had given up idolatry. Abram’s nephew Lot would also accompany the sojourners.—Gen. 11:31.
12 Finally, the morning of departure was upon them. Picture the caravan assembling outside the city walls and moat of Ur. The camels and donkeys were laden, the flocks were assembled, the family and servants were settled into their places, and a sense of expectation was in the air.* Perhaps all eyes turned to Abram, waiting for him to give the signal to go. Finally, the moment arrived, and they set off, leaving Ur behind forever.
13. How do many servants of Jehovah today show a spirit similar to that of Abram and Sarai?
13 Today, many servants of Jehovah decide to move to where there is a need for more Kingdom preachers. Others decide to learn a new language in order to expand their ministry. Or they decide to try some form of service that is outside their comfort zone. Such decisions generally require sacrifice—a willingness to forgo some measure of material comfort. How commendable that spirit is, and how like the spirit of Abram and Sarai! If we show such faith, we may be assured that Jehovah will always give us far more than we give him. He never fails to reward faith. (Heb. 6:10; 11:6) Did he do so for Abram?
Crossing the Euphrates
14, 15. What was the journey from Ur to Haran like, and why might Abram have decided to settle in Haran for a time?
14 The caravan gradually settled into the routine of travel. We might imagine Abram and Sarai alternating between riding and walking, their conversation mingling with the tinkling of bells hanging from the animals’ harnesses. Gradually, even the less experienced travelers became more adept at making and breaking camp and helping aged Terah to get comfortably situated atop a camel or a donkey. They made their way northwest, following the great arc of the Euphrates River. Days stretched into weeks, and the landscape slid slowly by.
15 Finally, after some 600 miles (960 km) on the road, they reached the beehive-shaped huts of Haran, a prosperous city on a crossroads of the East-West trade routes. There the family stopped, and there they settled for a time. Perhaps Terah was too frail to travel any farther.
16, 17. (a) Abram was thrilled by what covenant? (b) How did Jehovah bless Abram during his stay in Haran?
16 In time, Terah died at the age of 205. (Gen. 11:32) Abram found great comfort during that time of loss, for Jehovah again communicated with him. He repeated the instructions that he had given back in Ur, and he enlarged on his promises. Abram was to become “a great nation,” and blessings would become available to all the families on earth because of him. (Read Genesis 12:2, 3.) Thrilled over this covenant between him and God, Abram knew that it was time to move on.
17 This time, though, there was even more to pack, for Jehovah had blessed Abram during his stay in Haran. The account mentions “all the goods that they had accumulated and the souls whom they had acquired in Haran.” (Gen. 12:5) To become a nation, Abram would need material resources and servants—a large household. Jehovah does not always make his servants rich, but he does give them whatever they need in order to accomplish his will. Thus fortified, Abram led his caravan into the unknown.
18. (a) When did Abram reach a milestone in the history of God’s dealings with His people? (b) What other important events transpired on Nisan 14 in later years? (See the box “A Vital Date in Bible History.”)
18 Several days’ journey from Haran lay Carchemish, where caravans commonly crossed the Euphrates. Perhaps it was at this spot that Abram reached a milestone in the history of God’s dealings with His people. It was evidently on the 14th day of the month later named Nisan, in 1943 B.C.E., that Abram led his caravan across the river. (Ex. 12:40-43) To the south stretched the land that Jehovah had promised to show Abram. On that day, God’s covenant with Abram went into effect.
19. Jehovah’s promise to Abram included a mention of what, and of what might that have reminded Abram?
19 Abram moved southward through the land, and the caravan stopped near the big trees of Moreh, near Shechem. There Abram once more received word from Jehovah. God’s promise this time mentioned Abram’s seed, or progeny, who would take possession of the land. Did Abram think back to the prophecy Jehovah had uttered in Eden, the one mentioning a “seed,” or offspring, who would one day rescue mankind? (Gen. 3:15; 12:7) Perhaps. He may have begun to see, however dimly, that he was part of a grand purpose that Jehovah had in mind.
20. How did Abram show appreciation for the privilege that Jehovah bestowed on him?
20 Abram deeply appreciated the privilege that Jehovah bestowed on him. As he moved through the land—no doubt cautiously, since it was still inhabited by the Canaanites—Abram stopped and built altars to Jehovah, first near the big trees of Moreh, then near Bethel. He called on the name of Jehovah, likely expressing his heartfelt thanks to his God as he contemplated the future of his progeny. He may also have preached to his Canaanite neighbors. (Read Genesis 12:7, 8.) Of course, great challenges to Abram’s faith lay ahead on his life’s journey. Wisely, Abram was not looking back to the home and comforts he had left behind in Ur. He was looking forward. Hebrews 11:10 says of Abram: “He was awaiting the city having real foundations, the builder and maker of which city is God.”
21. How does our knowledge of God’s Kingdom compare with that of Abram, and what are you motivated to do?
21 We who serve Jehovah today know a lot more about that figurative city—God’s Kingdom—than did Abram. We know that the Kingdom is reigning in heaven and will soon bring an end to this world system, and we know that Abram’s long-promised Seed, Jesus Christ, now rules that Kingdom. What a privilege it will be for us to see the time when Abraham lives again and at last grasps the divine purpose that he could formerly see only in hazy outline! Would you like to see Jehovah fulfill his every promise? By all means, then, continue to do what Abram did. Show a spirit of self-sacrifice, obedience, and prayerful appreciation for the privileges Jehovah extends to you. As you imitate Abram’s faith, “the father of all those having faith” will, in a sense, become your father too!
Years later, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning “Father of a Multitude.”—Gen. 17:5.
Similarly, Abram is often mentioned first among Terah’s sons, although he was far from being the eldest.
Later, God changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, meaning “Princess.”—Gen. 17:15.