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Nobodies of the Bible: Abram

Nobody? Abram became Abraham, one of the biggest somebodies in the Bible. But he didn't start out that way. He started out as nothing but a name in the last line of Shem's genealogy: Shem. Arphaxad. Shelah. Eber. Peleg. Reu. Serug. Nahor. Terah, who became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran (Genesis 11:26). Yawn --the end of the last of a bunch of boring names of nobodies. Because Abram eventually became somebody, Genesis goes on to say a few words about his father Terah. 

Terah had three sons and lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. One of the sons, Haran, had a son named Lot and died in Ur. The other two married in Ur. Abram, at least, did not have children. Later in Genesis, we find a list of Nahor's children. Perhaps he had started his family in Ur, because the next thing we learn is that Terah, his orphaned grandson Lot and his childless son Abram decided to move from Ur to Canaan, but stopped in Haran.

At first, I thought they moved to the middle of nowhere and named their settlement for the deceased son/father/brother, but reference works say that Ur and Haran were both major trade centers. Haran was a logical stop on the way from Ur to Canaan.

Not only that, but the whole region was home to an amazingly sophisticated and intellectual society. These ancient Mesopotamians became the first people to learn to measure the motions of the sun, moon, and stars. They invented the science of astronomy. That discovery led to practical applications like the calendar. 

Unfortunately, they also began a process that has continued unabated ever since. They turned their scientific discovery not only to good uses, but evil. They wanted to use their knowledge to control what happened here on earth and in the process began to worship the heavenly bodies, and especially the moon. Like the majority of the world's population both before and since, they preferred to worship anything except the living God. 

So Ur and Haran were centers not only of trade and science, but also a system of paganism that ultimately led to a small class of incredibly rich and powerful people who exploited large numbers of poor people. The whole concept of law came from Mesopotamia, but so did tyranny. We see that as one of the root inspirations of the Tower of Babel.

Was Abram listed first among Terah's sons because he was the firstborn? Or because he became the most important? It doesn't say. How long had he lived in Ur and how long did he stay in Haran? It doesn't say. Were Terah and Abram moon worshipers, or did they leave Ur because they didn't like the spiritual atmosphere there? There are lots of things we'd be interested to know, but the Bible doesn't say.

God calls Abram

God's call of Abram marks the first major turning point in the Bible. Before, the book of Genesis largely consists of genealogies punctuated by disasters (the fall, the first murder, a growing wickedness that resulted in the flood, the repopulation of the earth by more more people who turned out to be wicked and godless, culminating in the tower of Babel). Now we begin to read about the first fully formed personality in Scripture and the beginning of God's plan of redemption.

God told Abram to leave his homeland, his people, and in particular, his father's household and go. . . . Well, God didn't exactly say anything more than, "I'll tell you when you get there." According to Acts 7:4, God spoke these words when Abram still lived in Ur, not after he moved to Haran. Stopping in Haran looks like a mistake. Or maybe it was a delay that left Abram chomping at the bit in frustration and tested his faith until he was able to go. Again, the Bible doesn't say.

Abram had no children in Ur, yet God promised to make a great nation of him. That promise comprises six statements beginning "I will" and one beginning "you will." God only knows how old he was at the time, but Abram was 75 when he left Haran. He still had no children. [Continues]

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