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A Journey of Faith

The story of Abram and Sarai is one filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, examples of faithfulness and demonstrations of fear. But through it all abides the deep certainty of God’s covenantal promise to care for the very good creation formed from the dust.


If you follow the story chronologically, we have moved from the Garden (Genesis 1-3), to the flood (Genesis 6-9), to the genealogy of Noah—whose descendants become nations featured through much of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10-11), to the deceptively unremarkable calling of Abram (Genesis 12) [1]. But, in the journey to the call of Abram, we encounter the brief and important story of Terah, the father of Abram. The note about Terah is brief, most of us may be struggling to remember if we have ever heard his name before. But this brief story is the seed that gives birth to the nation of Israel.


The story of the people of Israel, which many understand to begin in Genesis 12, is not one that is disconnected from the verses and chapters that precede it. Once humanity is expelled from the Garden (Genesis 3), each generation that is removed from the bliss of creation seems to move further and further away from God. However, in the tenth generation of humanity, Noah is called forth to bring comfort and salvation to a suffering cosmos (Genesis 5:29; 6-8). In the tenth generation following Noah, once again, another is called to extend God’s blessings to the whole of creation, Abram.


Modern readers of the scriptures can forget that the division of chapter and verse is an addition to the original text. However, when we observe the naturally occurring breaks in the story, we can notice additional contexts that help us better understand the flow of the story. Genealogies in Genesis tend to introduce new stories. If you observe Genesis 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, and 37:2, you will notice these sections introduce Adam, Noah, the sons of Noah, Terah, Isaac, Ishmael, Esau, and Jacob. Abram is notably absent. This is not a mistake on my part, but it is the text calling our attention to a reality that is hidden in plain sight: Terah is singled out as the father of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel.


As the Book of Joshua reminds us (24:2-4), Terah and his father Nahor worshiped other gods in the land of Ur. We are not told why Terah chose to leave his native land. But some speculate that the uprooting of his family from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan (Genesis 11:31-32) signifies a shift in his spiritual life. Terah and his family never arrive at their destination, they settle in Haran, a city whose name means “highway” or “crossroad.” [2]


All three of Terah’s sons are named as his descendants Abram, Nahor, and Haran. This distinction is meaningful, for though Abraham is named the father of the patriarchs of Israel, his brothers Nahor and Haran are the “fathers” of the matriarchs. The relational patterns among the patriarchs of Israel point to a consistent tendency for wives to be sought among one’s own family. Early in the text, we see that Nahor, Abram’s brother, marries Milcah, Haran’s daughter (Genesis 11:29). Isaac marries Rebecca—Nahor’s granddaughter (Genesis 24). Jacob marries Leah and Rachel—Nahor’s great-granddaughters (Genesis 29). Abram married Sarai—who he calls his sister due to her being a daughter of his father (Genesis 20:11-13). Thus, Terah becomes the common ancestor for the people of Israel.


As the Book of Joshua reminds us (24:2-4), Terah and his father Nahor worshiped other gods in the land of Ur. We are not told why Terah chose to leave his native land. But some speculate that the uprooting of his family from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan (Genesis 11:31-32) signifies a shift in his spiritual life. Terah and his family never arrive at their destination, they settle in Haran, a city whose name means “highway” or “crossroad.” [2]


All three of Terah’s sons are named as his descendants Abram, Nahor, and Haran. This distinction is meaningful, for though Abraham is named the father of the patriarchs of Israel, his brothers Nahor and Haran are the “fathers” of the matriarchs. The relational patterns among the patriarchs of Israel point to a consistent tendency for wives to be sought among one’s own family. Early in the text, we see that Nahor, Abram’s brother, marries Milcah, Haran’s daughter (Genesis 11:29). Isaac marries Rebecca—Nahor’s granddaughter (Genesis 24). Jacob marries Leah and Rachel—Nahor’s great-granddaughters (Genesis 29). Abram married Sarai—who he calls his sister due to her being a daughter of his father (Genesis 20:11-13). Thus, Terah becomes the common ancestor for the people of Israel.


Terah and his family lived in Haran long enough for Abram to consider it his home. Home, in this sense, is more than a physical dwelling—it refers to a spiritual, emotional, and physical connection to a land. One could argue that connection to land should be a primary concern for people created from dust. And in many ways, this is so. The commandment to be “fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) is carried out by humanity, and land becomes both a necessity and a commodity. The role of nations enumerated in Genesis 10 and the numerous genealogies throughout the book speaks of the centrality of procreation.


Fertility as the fulfillment of God’s commandment is demonstrated with each genealogy. Abram and his wife Sarai stand out by breaking the dominant social pattern for those who occupy the earth. The Scriptures widely acknowledged Sarai's struggle to conceive a child. It is important to note that through the years, many have read into the Scriptures that a lack of fertility means a lack of divine blessings. This is an erroneous and harmful way of thinking. God’s love for us is not based on our bodily abilities. Any theology that excludes and harms those created in God’s image is inconsistent with the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The ministry of Jesus, as witnessed in the Gospels, shows us that he seeks to bring healing, wholeness, and new life to all people. Jesus’ compassion for all is well demonstrated through his self-giving ministry, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. God desires to be in a relationship with this “very good” creation (Genesis 1).


Therefore a call goes out—an invitation to a new type of relationship. This time to Abram and Sarai, who receive the call to come and follow. They respond to God by accepting the call to leave the certainty and security of their household for a place God would show them. The desire for blessings, descendants, and land is one that is not strange for many of us in the Western world. Whether your descendants crossed the seas by choice, were persecuted and forced out of their ancestral land, were stolen and enslaved, or unjustly driven out of their homes, land matters. It is a means through which one can provide the basic necessities for one’s family. Land is a source of security and wealth. Land can be a window into political influence and power. Through descendants extend our existence beyond ourselves. It is the continuation of one’s name. For many individuals born outside the United States, full names tell the story of generations past—in Brazil, it is not uncommon for individuals to have three or more “middle names” as a composite of their parental lineage.


A core component of God’s promise to Abram, who had no children, was to make him a great nation. Despite the promise, the reality of the challenge before Abram is real. As Rabbi Gunther Plaut notes, “It is difficult to leave one's land and to be an unprotected wanderer abroad; it is even more difficult to abjure all that is most dear in one's accustomed house; it is most difficult of all to reject one's parental values and standards. The passage makes it clear that God's demand represents a severe trial of faith for Abram, the first of several fundamental choices that he will have to make in his life.” [3]


In the face of these challenges, Abram and Sarai's journey is marked by a profound trust in God's covenantal promise. Their faith is tested as they leave behind the familiarity of their homeland, their ancestral traditions, and the security of their household. Yet, they respond to God's call with faith and obedience, venturing into the unknown in search of God’s best for their lives. Their story serves as a reminder that the path of faith is often filled with uncertainties, but even through times of trial, God’s love and care abide with us.


______ Footnotes

  1. You may notice that Genesis uses genealogies to mark transitions into new stories.

  2. W. Gunther Plaut, “Genesis” in The Torah: A Modern Commentary: Revised Edition (p. 89). CCAR Press. Kindle Edition.

  3. The Torah: A Modern Commentary, (p. 104).

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