Ur was Abram’s native city in the country of Babylon, far southern Babylon, near where the two rivers become one before they enter the sea. Abram was told to go to Canaan. When Abram left Ur he went north, following the rivers toward their source. Haran, the city where his dad first set up a permanent campsite, was almost at the top of the Fertile Crescent. “Of the Chaldees” may have been a scribal gloss, according to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, to better show readers of God’s Word exactly from where Abram came. The first readers/hearers of God’s Word did not know about Babylon in its glory days but rather after it had become Chaldean—as it is today.
In Acts 7:2, Stephen, as recorded by Luke, explains clearly that the Eternal spoke to Abram in Mesopotamia before he left for Canaan. The details of that meeting are not recorded, but the details of the message given him are: “Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you” (Acts 7:3). This command meant Abram would be asked to leave the country he knew well. It also meant that he would eventually leave his extended family. And down the road it would mean much more.
Archaeology tells or shows us that Ur was a great and prosperous city. I believe that Terah, Abram’s father, may have been successful as well. But perhaps his business took a turn for the worse. Perhaps he was heading for “greener pastures.” When Terah leaves Ur, his son Abram is about seventy years old. Even if, as some speculate, life expectancies were significantly different back then, Abram was no kid. Abram, Abram’s nephew, Lot, and their two wives accompanied Terah. Why? We know why Abram left, but why did Terah or Lot really leave? We may have to wait to find out all those details.
Continuing my thought that Terah had some sort of business, he moves north to Haran and finds enough success there to settle down. But Abram has been given a further goal—Canaan—and that semi-final objective never really leaves his mind. Leaving Ur to go to Haran with his father actually makes it easier for Abram to leave Haran later. Did God control Terah’s life so that Abram could more easily accept his destiny? Probably. You must begin a journey before you can continue it.
Another possible explanation is that when Abram was first called he didn’t yet have the faith to say no or goodbye to a strong-willed father. Abram did not immediately fully obey God’s command to, “Get out of your country and from your relatives…” (emphasis added). Genesis 11:31 does not say that Abram took Terah with him. It says, “Terah took his son Abram…”—it seems that Terah was still in charge. So it seems that Abram may have had an overly subservient attitude toward his father and got sidetracked for a few years from going all the way to the destination that God had commanded.
In Genesis 12:1, it says, “The LORD had said to Abram…” This may mean even though Terah may have been the initiator of the move out of Ur, Abram willingly went because of his earlier communication with the Eternal. In Genesis 11:31, it appears Terah had planned to go all the way to Canaan. But death (God?) stopped him.
The Eternal’s directive
We must ponder the explicit directive from the Eternal to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Canaan was known by Abram, at least as much as we know that a name on a map represents a country that exists, but when the Eternal states He will show Abram a country, make him “a great nation,” bless him, and make his name great it means much more. When the Eternal had told Abram to leave his family and his father’s house, He meant it. What have we had to leave on our personal journeys?
Moving from Genesis 12 to Hebrews 11, we learn that Abram may not have known much about Canaan (Hebrews 11:8), but it didn’t matter because he was already on a journey beyond the physical. Hebrews 11:10 indicates Abram would never be totally satisfied with the physical, although physical rewards were part of the Eternal’s promises to him (and to us as well).
To put an even finer point on this issue, Hebrews 11:9 further insinuates Abram might have become a more settled landowner but didn’t because of his overriding hope that eventually a particular building/city with foundations (Ephesians 2:19 and 20) would be built. Abram, the one who journeyed with a purpose, always and continually intended to be ready for that building/city to appear, even though he was approximately 2000 years in advance of its major construction (1 Corinthians 3:16 and 17 and 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Revelation 11:1). I wouldn’t call him the architect, but he may have been the surveyor (in type) of that city. And with a bit more speculation, fueled by Hebrews 11:10, I think he knew that the city/building would be worth the wait!
Living by faith, not by sight
Hebrews 11:13 is therefore very encouraging! “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (New International Version).
How can death be encouraging? In this way, we who are also heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14) can expect no more and no less than the heroes of faith expected, foresaw, or received. None of them or us has received the reward yet. But we who are still alive must continue faithfully to our end.
What more will God ask of us?
What more did he ask of Abram? Much more, and there is much more of this story to be told.