Abram's Background, Birth
Genesis Lesson #066
September 8, 2004
This section begins in Genesis 11:27 and goes down to verse 32. This looks genealogical but it really isn't, it is setting the stage, telling us who Abraham was, what his background was, where he began, and it gives us more information than what we might think initially. This is the toledot of Terah, i.e. this is what happened to the generations of Terah. "Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot." What we are told here is that in this pattern of writing the genealogies, just as there are other genealogies that end with three names of three people, so we have Noah gives birth to Shem, Ham and Japheth and here we have Terah giving birth to Abram, Nahor and Haran. But this isn't their birth order, it is probably the order of their significance. Abram is mentioned first because he is the most important and significant of the three sons.
Genesis 11:28, "And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees." Now we know where they lived. It was a large cosmopolitan city in what is now southern Iraq.
Genesis 11:29, "And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah." Apparently Haran died young. So Abram is going to marry a half-sister and Nahor is going to marry his niece, Milcah who is the sister of Lot. Remember that incest is not condemned at this point in history. The core issue in incest is genetics and the damage it does to the product of a sexual union between two people who are too closely related. But in the early history of the human race this wasn't a problem. Adam was created with all the genetic combinations and possibilities for the entire human race. He gave birth to various sons and daughters and they married each other. There were no problems. This continued generation after generation until the Mosaic law, the first place in the Bible where there is a prohibition against the marriage of those who are too closely related. The reason is very practical. By that time the genetic pool had become diluted enough to where it became a problem and would destroy the racial stock of the people. That is hard for us to understand because we live 4000 years later and this has been taboo for so long that we think of this as being something that is inherently wrong. But it wasn't inherently wrong or immoral initially, otherwise it wouldn't have been going on as long as it did.
Genesis 11:30, "But Sarai was barren; she had no child." This is the movement of the passage. This is why it is important to think in terms of what the author is trying to communicate. We have to look to see where the author is driving us. What is the point that he is making? The point is that there are all of these people getting married and having children but the line stops with Sarai. That sets the stage for the whole Abraham story, because the focal point of the Abraham story is that God promises him a seed. He promises him descendants as vast and innumerable as the sands of the seashore and stars of the sky. This is going to be the source of the savior, so this is the focal point; and there must be divine intervention before Sarai can have a child.
Genesis 11:31, "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there."
Genesis 11:32, "And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran."
- First of all we have to remember what has just taken place in recent history. That is the tower of Babel. Not only is it recent history but that is the episode that takes place in the first part of chapter eleven. It is there for a very important reason as we have seen. The tower of Babel reveals man's depravity, his rebellion against God, and the fact that he has united together and systematized his thoughts in terms of rebellion against God and establishing a culture, a city, a civilization that is going to write God out of its history, remove God from the pages of its books, and is going to create its own religious system in its place. Babel was the beginning of what is called in the New Testament the cosmic system. It is used that way throughout Scripture; it becomes the picture of worldliness. Everything that is evil is attributed to this autonomous civilization. Babel, and Babylon which is its successor, is viewed as the city of man and the kingdom of man and is juxtaposed to Jerusalem as the city of God. That struggle doesn't finalize, is not completed, until the end of the book of Revelation or the end of the Tribulation.
- The cosmic system is characterized by three major attributes and everything flows from these. First of all, arrogance. At the very core of this human idea is that man can assert himself over against God. This is a reflection of Satan's arrogance as exhibited in Isaiah chapter 14:13, 14 where Isaiah records the five "I wills" of Satan. This is arrogance: the creature asserting himself over against the creature, that the creature can be the ultimate reference point, that the creature can bring order and meaning to creation without the creator. That is arrogance; it is autonomy; it is the creature creating his own law, his own set of standards. It is the creature saying that he can define society, that he can define law and the nature of law. It is the creature saying that he is the one who is ultimately answerable to himself alone and can change his view of reality based on his own ideas. It is this assertion of independence from God. The second attribute that comes out of this is fear. At the very core of the human soul, cosmic thinking, which is nothing more than rationalization to justify the sin nature, is fear. This what happened when God came and walked in the garden—just the very presence of God generated fear in the heart of Adam and Eve; they ran and hid. This is what happens when someone takes a stand for the truth. Those who are in moral rebellion, those who are operating on the cosmic system, are afraid. And what goes along with that fear? What is its counterpart? Anger and resentment toward God. This leads to the third characteristic of the cosmic system: antagonism, animosity, hatred toward God, toward all things that are biblical, all things that represent God, and anything that advocates biblical absolutes or the person of Jesus Christ.
- The cosmic system really is an alternate religion. It develops an alternate religion because religion at its very core is the structure of whatever people worship, whatever they glorify, whatever they honor, whatever they put as the focus of ultimate reality; whether it is abstract ideals of the mind, or whether it is a more overt idolatry, whether it is atheism. Atheism is a religion. If you are an atheist you are just as religious as any devout Islamic terrorist, it is just that your religion denies that there is a God. The statement that there is no God is just as religious as the statement there is a God. And there is no such thing a spiritual or religious neutrality. So atheism is a religion, secularism is a religion; ritual mysticism is the other extreme. It can be the deification of the state, deification of leaders, which is the idea in the ancient states like Egypt and Rome where the leader was deified. Philosophical systems are religious substitutes. Religion is one of the worst evils in history, and in terms of our present civilization religion got its start at the tower of Babel, because the tower of Babel was a religious act and the gods were housed in the ziggurats up in the roof. Remember that Christianity is not a religion. Religion emphasizes man and his work, whereas Christianity is a relationship with God based on what Christ did. Religion and Christianity are opposed to each other. Religion is man's attempt to gain the approbation of God through his own works. Christianity is a relationship based on the completed, sufficient work of Christ on the cross. Religion is produced by the sin nature as human good.
- Abram was born and was reared in the midst of this toxic religious environment of southern Mesopotamia in Ur. Nevertheless there was still a remnant of understanding of who God was. He was El Elyon, the most high God. Apparently, once Abram reached God-consciousness he was positive and worshipped El Elyon. His family was involved in a mix of religious worship. Joshua 24:2, "And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods." Even though they may have worshipped El Elyon they also worshipped the other gods. They do what a lot of people do today. They just try to assimilate God and Jesus and the Bible into their pagan, evolutionary, secular mindset, and feel very happy and comfortable because they go to church on a Sunday. They think that they are acting Christian. It is not Christian because they have many other gods and Jesus is just one of them. Joshua 24:3, "And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac"—a summary of the life of Abram and God's grace in Abram's life.
- Even in this context of tremendous idolatry, paganism, and hostility toward God, God is still dealing with man on the basis of grace. God is not turning His back on man. The interesting thing that we will see is that Abraham is the tenth generation from Noah. Noah was the tenth generation from Adam. That isn't coincidental. The writer is showing and history is showing that by that tenth generation the world was just as corrupt ten generations after Noah as it was ten generations after Adam. This time God was going to deal with the world on the same basis as before, the basis of grace, and call out Abram.
What was the world into which Abram was born like?
1) He was the tenth generation from Noah, and that is including Noah. Abram is born in 2166 and Noah is still alive. Shem is going to live well into Abram's adulthood, as is Arphaxad, Salah and Eber.Abram was born 400 years after the flood.
2) The flood took place in 2566 BC. Abram is 75 years old when Terah dies in Haran, and that means that Terah must have been 130 years old because Terah dies at 205. So Abram is clearly born late in life. Think about this. At 130 years of age Abram's father gives birth to him, but when Abram is 80 he is incapable of procreation. This is showing the rapid deterioration of the human race from generation to generation.
1 Kings 6:1, "And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in the month Zif, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD." This gives us a firm date that everybody can agree on. That is, Solomon started constructing the temple in 966 BC. If we simply add 480 to 966 we come to 1446 BC as the date of the Exodus. That is a solid date. We know that the temple was dedicated in 966 BC. When we get into secular history we can't date anything with certainty, we don't have God giving us that benchmark date. Liberal theology comes along and says it doesn't accept that date. They say it isn't literal and just take it as a representative number, it represents X-number of generations, and they come up with a date of 1260. They stick the Exodus in the middle of the 13th century and then look around for a Pharaoh and say that the Pharaoh had to have been on the throne for a long time because Moses was out of the country for a while. So they end up posing Rameses II as the pharaoh of Egypt. Another passages that confirms this is Judges 11:15-27. Jephthah is in conflict with the Ammonites who were oppressing Israel. He argues that Israel has had possession of the Trans-Jordan area for three hundred years. All would agree that it was somewhere around 1100 BC when Jephthah defeated the Ammonites. Well, if that was in 1100 and we add 300 to it, that is 1400. So that would mean the conquest took place about 1400 BC. If the Exodus takes place in 1446 BC, they spend a year at Sinai, that's 1445 BC, and forty years in the wilderness, that's 1405, it is pretty close. So that is another confirmation in the text that we are dealing with the period in the mid-fifteenth century. Furthermore, God said to Abram as a prophecy in Genesis 15:13, "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years." On top of that, Moses in Exodus 12:40-41 says that it was 430 years between the time that Jacob entered Egypt and the Exodus. That puts the birth of Jacob at about 1876. This date is another thing that is contested. The liberals come along and say it was really only 215 years, and they base that on a verse in the New Testament, in Galatians 3:17 where it sounds like there is only 430 years from Abraham to the Exodus. "And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later …" Later than what? Notice what verse 16 says, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made." God made the same promise about the land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, the last time that God reiterates the promise to Jacob is in Genesis 45, just before they leave Canaan to go down into Egypt. So if we date from that last promise to the law it is 430 years, as stated in Galatians 3:17.
Another evidence that there must be at least 400 years is to just add up the key people. Levi is 44 years old when he enters Egypt. He was 137 when he died, and that means he has 93 years in Egypt. His son Kohath lived for 133 years. Obviously there is a little bit of overlap but not a lot. Amram lives to be 137, and Moses leaves the land when he is 80. If we add all these numbers up we come up with the number 443. Obviously there is some overlap, so even if we take 100 years out for overlap we still have to have a minimum of 350 years between the time Jacob goes into the land and the giving of the Law. So this doesn't support a short time in Egypt but a long time in Egypt. That means that if the Exodus was in 1446 BC and 430 years is added to that, then Jacob with about 70 with him entered into Egypt in 1876 BC. We know that Isaac was born in 2066 BC. He was 60 years old when Jacob was born. Genesis 25:6. Since Abram was 100 years old when Isaac was born, then that means Abram was born in 2166 BC.
Going back to look at our passage, we know that it is in Ur, they are surrounded by idolatry, there is the worship of the moon, the worship of the stars, the development of astrology; all of this is going on. But the point of this introduction is that the line has a dead end. It ends with Sarah. Her name means princess. Abram means exalted father—not referring to him, it is referring to Terah. This tells us that Terah was part of the nobility at the time in Ur. He was part of the aristocracy under Nimrod. Nimrod would still have been very much alive. It is clear just from the name of Abram and what we see of them that the wealth of Abram was incredible. But Sarah is barren, and there is a doctrine in Scripture, the doctrine of the barren woman. There are only a few women mentioned who are barren, and it is not just because they can't have children but that God is doing something.
The doctrine of the barren woman
1) The significance of barrenness is not some sin on the part of the woman. With the barren women in Scripture that are mentioned the barrenness is related to something significant that God is going to do in their life.
2) Sarah, Genesis 11:30; Rebekah, Genesis 25:21; Rachel, Genesis 29:31; the mother of Samson, Judges 13; Hannah, the mother of Samuel, 1 Samuel 1; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. The seventh woman whose womb gets introduced into Scripture is Mary. The empty dead womb or the barren women is all a type of then fact that God will bring a special life into the womb of Mary. With these barren women their wombs are incapable of producing a child, and of even carrying a child in the case of Sarah. It was just not physically possible. God is going to perform a miracle in bringing life where there is death.
3) There was a spiritual significance to this. The absence of barren women was to indicate Israel's spirituality and God's blessing on them. The presence of barren women was to indicate that God was judging the nation. Exodus 23:26, "There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil." If they obeyed the law there wouldn't be any miscarriages and there wouldn't be any barren women. It was a sign. God would sovereignly control this situation depending on the spiritual status of the nation.
4) Thus, the barren womb in these pictures portrays the emptiness and the lifelessness of spiritually dead mankind. The barren womb is a picture of man in spiritual death.
5) In each of these cases God miraculously brings forth life where there is death. It is a picture of regeneration. Only God can solve the problem of spiritual death.
6) Ultimately this is a picture of the virgin womb of Mary, that there a unique life would begin in the womb of Mary who would solve the problem of everyone's spiritual death, and He would bring life where there was death and be the source of regeneration.