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Author:Rev. John van Popta
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Congregation:Fellowship Canadian Reformed Church
 Burlington, Ontario
Preached At:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Title:Walking in Abraham's Footsteps #2 God calls Abram and renews his promise of blessing all nations
Text:Genesis 12:1-9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faithfulness rewarded

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Walking in the Footsteps of Abraham #2

Text Genesis 12:1 – 9


Congregation of Lord Jesus Christ

Last time, we noted the setting for this opening story about Abram.

We are ten generations from Noah, and the people are idolaters.

Abram’s father, Terah, worships pagan gods.

Terah has three sons, one of whom dies.

Nahor, Haran, and Abram.

Nahor marries his niece Milkah, who was named after the moon God’s daughter.

Abram marries his half-sister Sarai (we can learn that in Gen 20:12).

Later in Moses' law, this kind of marriage is forbidden.

Sarai was named after the moon God’s wife.

Haran dies, leaving three orphans: Lot and his two sisters, Milcah and Iscah.

Moreover, Abram and Sarai are childless.

And then, into this darkness of idolatry, death, and childlessness, the light of God’s grace appears.

“Abram, leave your country, and your people, and your family, and go to a country I will show you,”

Abram left his country and his people… but not his family.

He obeyed… tentatively.

He follows, but only for a while.

With his father, he only gets to Harran, a city not far from Ur.

And he settles there

Why did God choose this person?

Pure grace.

There is a lesson here for us.

Why did God choose you, that he might bless you? Why me?

Not because we are good.

Not because we are better.

Not because we are obedient.

But because of God’s pure grace.


God had said, “Abram, leave your country and your people and go to a country I will show you.”

He must leave all that is familiar and safe, for a place he does not know.

He must leave the past behind out of a simple trust in God.

Our text ended last time with the death of Abram’s father, Terah.

This dark introduction to the story highlights God’s grace that will follow.


Will pick up the story under this theme:

 God calls Abram and renews his promise of blessing all nations.

1. Children

2. Land

3. Altars

Terah is steeped in pagan idolatry.

One of his sons dies.

An other son is married to an infertile wife.

And then he, Terah, the head of the family himself dies.

Abram and his family had settled in Harran, far short of the Lord’s plan for them.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go to the land I will show you.”


If you are familiar with the book of Genesis, you will know about the events after the great flood.

How God had promised to bless the earth and not to destroy it again.

How he had put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of that promise.

That after storm comes sunshine.

After darkness: light.

After trouble: blessing.

For God is gracious.

And he had told Noah to be fruitful and fill the earth.

Reiterating his plan as he had in the beginning to Adam and Eve,

But after Noah, the people again didn’t obey.

They didn’t want to be scattered on the face of the earth.

So, they built a high tower: The Tower of Babel.

They wanted to reach up into heaven…

But instead, God came down and scattered them by confusing the languages of the people.

And thus, the Lord ensured that the people would be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth.

But most of them abandon the worship of the true God.

As far as we can tell, God has been silent since he made his covenant with Noah, but now, God’s voice is heard again.

A word of blessing.


Father Terah dies.

And with God’s blessing upon him, Abram sets out again.

This time, leaving his people and his country behind.

God is intervening in the history of the world in a very dramatic way.

And the Lord said: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Go from your country!

The command to leave it all behind is a very strong command.

It means to determinedly disassociate yourself.

John Calvin (as he often does with a flourish), in his commentary, suggests this meaning: “I command you to leave with closed eyes… Until having renounced your country, you will have given yourself completely to me.”

This is a covenant renewal.

The Lord had entered into a covenant of grace with his fallen creatures when he went seeking them in the garden when they, trembling, fled from him.

He called out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” (Gen 4:9)

He renewed that covenant when he placed the rainbow in the sky and promised never to destroy the world with a flood again.

Abram sets out from Harran.

Blessed by God, he set out in faith to land he didn’t know, now fully obedient to the Lord.


What about that covenant blessing? Let’s look at it closely.

It has seven components. Seven is the number of completeness in the Scripture.

God said, “Obey me, and this is what I will do!”

1. I will make you into a great nation

2. I will bless you

3. I will make your name great

4. You will be a blessing

5. I will bless those who bless you

6. Whoever curses you, I will curse

and then the climax

7.  All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.


As we hear in the (CanRC) baptism form, every covenant has two parts: a promise and an obligation.

And here God’s covenant obligation for Abram is….



A dramatic departure.

A separation.

Leave that pagan city behind.

Leave the City of Man behind.

The covenant promise is a blessing.

I will make you into a great nation.

Leave your nation.

I will make you into a great nation.

Great: both in number and significance.


Just try to imagine what this must have sounded like to Abram and Sarai.

They had no children.

What would it sound like to hear these words?  “I will make you into a great nation!”

This tests Abram’s faith to the limit.

As Paul would say to the Ephesians, he has to believe that “God can do more than we ask! or even imagine!

He is our example.

When centuries later, Israel was in Exile, back in Babylon, and all hope in God’s promises seemed futile, the Prophet Isaiah (51:2) said,

   Look to Abram, your father,
    and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him, he was only one man,
    and I blessed him and made him many.
The Lord will surely comfort Zion
    and will look with compassion on all her ruins.

Israel in exile was given a sign of hope.

God had kept his promise of blessing to Abram: from one man came many; a multitude!

Reflect on God’s faithfulness to Abram.

He kept a seemingly impossible promise; so also, he will keep his promises to you!

We, too, can look to Abraham.

Walk in the footsteps of his faith.

When it seems that God’s promise of blessing in this life is missing, look to Abram, your father.

Look to Sarah, whose spiritual children we are.

God will bless you in this life and the next.


Five times in our text, we read that God will bless.

Interestingly, before this, in Genesis chapters 1-11, we read five times that God blessed the things he had made.

In Gen 1:22, we read: “God blessed (the sea creatures and the birds) and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”

In chapter 1:28, we read again, “God blessed Adam and Eve and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Gen 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Chapter 5:2 He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Man” when they were created.

Again, at 9:1 Then, God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.

Now God, will begin anew in Abram, what he promised to Adam and to Noah.

  1. Abram, will become a great nation.
  2. Numberless, like the stars of the heavens.
  3. Numberless, like the sand of the seashore.
  4. The childless one will have innumerable offspring.

And the Lord will make his name great.

He will be great,  not only in number, but also in character.

In reputation.

He will become a man of superior character.

One to whom we look to follow.

In the gospel of Luke we read of John, the baptizer

Following in the footsteps of his faith.


And he will be a blessing to those who follow.

He will be a blessing-bearer.

Those who follow in his footsteps will be blessed.

So first, Abram will be blessed, when he is separated from his land and his people and his family.

In that circle, he will be blessed.

But he also will become a great nation.

A wider circle of blessing.

And then the Lord will bless those who bless Abram and Abram’s people.

A wider circle.

In fact, all peoples of the earth will be blessed in and through Abram.

It is worth noting that in the original Hebrew, we can distinguish the difference in the application between God’s blessing and his curse in vs 3.

When God says, “I will bless,” it emphasizes his intentionality.

I shall bless all those who bless you.

I shall most certainly bless.

This is the divine, sovereign, gracious, intentional promise.

But I will curse- a simple statement of fact – the one who curses you.

I shall certainly and intentionally bless all those (plural) who bless you – a beautiful, gracious and hope-filled promise.

But the one (singular) who curses you, I will curse — a statement of fact.


And then we can reach ahead in the story of Abram.

And think of Melchizedek, who blesses Abram.

The king of Salem—the City of Peace—whose name means King of Righteousness.

There, the one who prefigures the Messiah blesses Abram, the one in whom all the promises of the blessings of God are bound up.


And now, this promised blessing reaches down through the ages.

Down to his faithful descendants.

To those who walk in his footsteps, the footsteps of his faith.

To those who are the children of Abraham by faith.

To you and me.


Because ultimately, this blessing is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

It is in him in whom all blessing is to be found.

He is the blessed one.

The son of David.

Of Judah.

Of Jacob,

Of Isaac.

Of Abram.


It is in him that all nations will find blessing.

A multitude of children, all part of the blessing and sharing in the blessing.

The blessing of the eternal, wonderful, creator, covenant-keeping God.


And then we must also remember that God will and does curse and bring his wrath on those who curse his people: who reject the chosen one.

For this, too, finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

He will come to judge the living and the dead.

It is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.


2. And the Lord promised land. (second point)

Children and land.

“Abram, leave!


“Leave your land, your people, your family!”

“I will give you family.”

‘A new family.”

‘The new family of God.”

“And I will give you a new land.”

And so Abram left.

And Lot, with him.

Abram apparently adopted his nephew, whose father had died before they left Ur.

Lot went on the journey with Abram.


“Abram, Leave!” – the divine command.

Abram left—the faithful, obedient response.


He left as the Lord told him.

“Migration” becomes “pilgrimage.”

The “migrant” becomes a “pilgrim.”

This is faith’s pilgrimage of Heb 12: which we read of last time.

The pilgrim who is looking for the heavenly city, leaving the city of man behind.


The initial journey ended in failure.

Gen 11:31 Terah and his clan set out for the promised land.

But when they arrived in Haran, they settled down there.

But now, under God’s blessing, success.

Again, they set out – the same word as in 11:31, when they set out from Ur

And again, they arrived – the same word is in 11:31. they arrived in Harran– there translated: when they came …

The first – a failure.

The second – a success.

The migration under Terah’s leadership: failure.

The pilgrimage under God’s leadership: success.


There is a lesson here for us, I think.

Too often, we live by human plans.

We’ll do this or that.

“Let’s plan this or that”.

But as James teaches us to say, “If it is God’s will, we will have success, doing this or that.”

That means we must engage in the walk of faith our whole life long.

On a0urpilgrimage to a better city.


When Abram set out, he was 75 years old, but his life's story will yet go on for another century.

He will die 100 years later!

He enters the land and he comes to Shechem.

He comes to the sacred site of the great tree of Moreh.

If you read through Genesis, you will discover that the ancients often worshiped near giant trees.

Many years later, in the time of the Kings, you can read that people worshiped pagan gods on high hills and under green trees.

It seems that this had already begun in Abram’s time.

Here at Shechem, Abram is in the heart of the land of Canaan.

And Moses, the author of Genesis, comments that the Canaanites were in the land.


Two things stand in the way of God’s promises.

1. The lack of children.

But there is a promise,

I will make you a great nation.

And another promise

I will bring you to the land I will give you.

2. But the Canaanites live there.

 No children--And the land was occupied by other people!

He must’ve been discouraged.

Where was the evidence of God’s blessing?

What was God’s meaning for his life?

No children.

No land.



But, At that very moment, God appears to him.

God had said that he would show him the land, and now he appears to Abram.

We call this theophany.

The appearing of God.

The story doesn’t tell us too much, but we learn at other times that Abram is met by God in human form, who walks and talks with him.

Even as God did with Adam.

And with Enoch.

God appeared to Abram, reiterating his promise, “To your offspring, I will give this land.”

Both promises are wrapped up in one sentence.  “You will have children.”

And “they will inherit this land.”


What did Abram do? He built an altar. He doesn’t worship with the pagans.

But he worships the one true God.

Who had brought him to this place. 

Who now appeared to him.

We read, “He built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him.”


And then, with his great entourage, he moved to the east, to the high country between Bethel and the Jordan River, and again he built an altar and worshipped the Lord there.

As he moves from place to place, he marks out the land as holy.

When the European explorers sailed around the world in the 1400s and 1500s, they would plant a flag of their king and kingdom and claim the land for their sovereign.

That’s what Abram does, but not with a flag.

But he does that by building altars and worshiping the Lord who had appeared to him.

And who had made these wonderful promises.

“This land I will give to your descendants.”


Abram’s altar building is a double act of faith.

Not just that he worships the one true God.

But he believes the promise that the land is his.

And he’s staking it out with altars, claiming it for God and for his children.

But he is 75 years old.

It is long past the time for having children.

There is tension in the story.


Our text today, we might say, is the thematic focal point of the five books of Moses.

The call of Abram to go to the promised land.

The promise of God-- of descendants.

The promise of God-- of land.

From here on to the end of Deuteronomy, moses tells the story of how God fulfils theses promise and ultimately fulfils it in the person of Joshua who brings the people into the Promised Land.

And, of course, you know that Joshua’s name in the New Testament language is Jesus.


The call of God to Abram is the opening of the door to the rest of the Bible.

A blessing upon one man.

A blessing upon his descendants.

That, in time, becomes a blessing for all the nations of the world.


These promises made to Abram are reiterated to him when God changes his name to Abraham.

They are affirmed to Isaac.

Repeated to Jacob.

Given to Judah.

Affirmed by Joseph.

Preached by Peter to the Jews.

And preached by Paul to Gentiles.


The expansion of the promises of God; from one person, to one nation, to all the peoples of the world; this is the grand narrative of the Bible.

It highlights and underlines that the Bible is ultimately a missionary guide.

God in Christ is concerned with bringing salvation and blessing to all the peoples of the world.

Abram, the blessing-bearer, is the anticipation of the great blessing-bearer, the Lord Jesus Christ.


When Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, he did not go with his back turned to his disciples, but as he ascended to his Father and our Father, to his God and to our God, he raised his nails pierced hands:

Hands that had blessed infants,

hands that had healed the sick,

hands that had given sight to the blind,

hands that even raise the dead,

those hands he raised above his disciples,

above Jerusalem,

above the Promised Land,

above the earth and all its nations, and he BLESSED them.


We, like Abram, must live a life of faith and pilgrimage.

Are you prepared for this?

To set aside everything for God’s call of obedience!

Abram’s call demanded the abandonment of his past.

Abram had to leave the comfort of family and tradition far behind.

Leave his family.

Forsake his country.

Disown his father’s pagan worship.

Our pilgrimage is similar.

Our citizenship, Paul says, is in heaven.

We, too, must leave behind the city of Man.


But this our pilgrimage from the City of Man to the City of God is the pilgrimage to fulfilment, contentment, and blessing for you and me, even today.


Our experience is not that much different than Abram’s.

Although God appeared to him and spoke to him face-to-face with a call and a promise, we now are privileged to have God’s Word, the living and active word, sharper than a two-edged sword, which we can open and hear God speak.

That’s how the community of faith is built up.

By the lively preaching of the living and active word of God.


We know the story and how it is fulfilled.

For there is one who comes by a miraculous birth.

Isaac is born to a barren and elderly woman.

Sarah gives birth in her old age.

The child of the promise.

The child of divine intervention.

Pointing to the ultimate miraculous birth.

To Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.


Many generations after Abram, the Old Testament Jesus, Joshua, the son of Nun, brought the people into the Promised Land.

Pointing to Jesus, who will bring us into the final Promised Land.

One in whom and through whom and by whom all promise of blessing is fulfilled for Abram and his offspring and all who walk and follow in the footsteps of his faith.


The apostle to the Hebrews understands this clearly.

After he tells of all those who came before in Chapter 11,

those whose pilgrimage was by faith and not by sight,

who longed for a better city,

and saw it from afar,


Then the Apostle speaks to us and says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

He gives the same radical call.

Abandon the past.

Leave everything behind that entangles you and slows you down.

Don’t just think about it.

Hear the word of God and do it!


This text, this sermon this morning is not just to be heard as an interesting exposition on the life of Abram.


No, he is given as an example for us that we might do like he did.

Hear the call!

Obey the command!

Believe the promise!

Live by faith!

Worship God who speaks to us!

For all the promises of God, find their “Amen” in Jesus!

And the promise of blessing is this.

That He will grant his grace and Holy Spirit to each of you: the grace of forgiveness and the Spirit of renewal.

Trust that God will fulfil his promise to you and to me.


Will you commit to that today?

This morning?

This moment?

To continue your pilgrimage from the city of Man, to the City of God.


Will you commit not to stay settled in Haran, far short of the calling God has for you?

Will you commit to looking forward to the city whose architect and builder is God?

For here, we have no lasting city.


Yes, let us continue our pilgrimage to the city of God, which will come down from heaven, and where we will be with the Lord forever.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2023, Rev. John van Popta

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