There’s some confusion around when Abraham was actually called by God. If you read the narrative in Genesis 11 and 12, you can see why. He leaves Ur with his father Terah and his father’s household and makes for Harran. There, at the end of Genesis 11, they settle together in a strange land far away from home.
But then, at the beginning of Genesis 12, it seems God called Abraham from there, from Harran, and instructed him to leave his land and his people to go to an uncertain place. God promises blessing, and significantly too: the root word “bless” is used five times in two verses. But the place Abraham is going is left unspecified; there’s no clear direction for him, caught somewhere between God’s call and God’s promise.
He journeys on, south and west, until he comes to Shechem and stands in the shade of a great tree—the oak of Moreh, the oak of teacher, the oak of teaching. Has he come here to learn something? Is he here to be taught? God appears to him and makes another promise: “To your seed I will give this land.” Abraham, who is still Abram, will not experience this blessing for himself. But he stands in the shade of the great tree, and God promises to bless his seed. As he squints up toward the tree and stacks stone on stone, maybe it’s a picture, a small glimpse of what this promise holds.
There is more to go and more to come. Abram pulls up his tent stakes and sets them down again, this time in the hills between Bethel and Ai. Here again he builds an altar, but what is important about this place? He’s caught between Bethel and Ai, between the “house of God” (Bethel) and a “heap of ruins” (Ai). And here, for the first time in Abram’s story, he calls on the name of the Lord.
Imagine an ancient Jewish scribe hunched over a piece of papyrus. He makes each mark deliberately and intentionally because any mistake would mean a mistake in the word of God. That cannot happen. Imagine him carving each Hebrew figure into the papyrus and wondering why it’s there and what it means, and imagine that he’s entrenched in Genesis 12. No word goes unnoticed. Each place name packed with meaning. Every word tests his faith. He comes to this part of Abram’s story, where Abram pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai. These are not just place names to him—they have meaning, they signify something, they tell a story all their own. He knows that here, between the house of God and a heap of ruins, Abram calls on the name of the Lord.
Here, somewhere between the house of God, where God’s presence dwells, and a heap of ruins. Call on the name of the Lord.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.