- The altar by the oak tree at Moreh near Shechem
Genesis 12:6-7, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring, I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
The story of Abraham begins not in Genesis 12, but in Acts 7. Verses 2-5 said, and Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran, and said to him, Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.
According to Joshua, Terah, Abraham’s father, was an idolater. Joshua 24:2-3, and Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.
So God Himself who came to Abram (Abraham) first by appearing to him, not the other way around. Abram originally came from a pagan family, as Joshua mentioned above. It is not clear whether he was an active idolater or not. Terah was, and he was from the city of Ur, the main city that worshipped the moon-god. The name Terah itself is very close to the Hebrew word for the moon, yare’ah. When he moved to Haran, Haran was also a city that worshipped the moon-god. The distance between Ur and Haran is around 950 km.
Notice here that God’s call came to Abram only and not to Terah. But who brought Abram out of Ur the first time was his father and they stopped at Haran, they did not continue to Canaan until Terah himself died. Then only Abram came out of there. Terah’s destination was not the promised land, most likely he was looking only for a better place. That’s why when they found Haran, they settled there. It is not clear when the first time God appeared to Abram in Acts 7:2. It is not clear either when Terah left Ur and moved to Haran, or when he died. But only after he died, then Abram’s call was restarted again in Genesis 12:1, by then Abram was elderly already. He was 75 years old now, Genesis 12:4.
Menarik untuk diperhatikan, tidak banyak dalam Alkitab manusia dipanggil Tuhan ketika mereka sudah sangat berumur. Kebanyakan masih muda, bahkan masih anak-anak. Samuel, Daud, Samson, dan masih banyak lainnya lagi. Tapi Abram berumur 75 tahun, Kejadian 12:4, ketika ia meresponi panggilan Tuhan. Bukan ketika ia pertama kali dipanggil. Kisah 7:2 menunjukkan bahwa Tuhan telah menampakkan diri jauh sebelumnya kepada Abram ketika ia masih di Ur. Tapi Abram sama sekali tidak menjawab panggilan tersebut. Ada banyak tahun berlalu, sampai Terah membawa mereka semua pindah ke Haran.
Interesting to note, there are not many people in the Bible called by God when they were old already. Most were young, even still as children. Samuel, David, Samson, and many others. But Abram was 75 years old already in Genesis 12:4 when he responded to God’s call. Not when he was called the first time. Acts 7:2 shows that God had appeared to Abram long before, even while he was still in Ur. But Abram didn’t answer that call at all. Many years passed by first until Terah took them all to Haran. Perhaps they did head to Canaan, as Genesis 11:31 mentions. And probably Abram also told his father about God’s appearance to him. But since Terah was the one who led them out of Ur, then it was also easily decided by him to stop and settle in Haran. People who do not receive God’s call will easily divert their focus to something else, especially when they discover a good thing according to their own eyes. Unfortunately, Abraham followed Terah here. Then some more years passed by again, not until Terah died then God appeared to Abraham again. Maybe that’s also why he then had to wait a long time, 25 years, for Isaac’s promise to be fulfilled in him. Do you think God should immediately keep His promises to you when you linger, procrastinate, to answer His calls in your life? Those who continue to linger in answering God’s call shown a heart that does not trust the One who called them.
When Abram finally reached Canaan (from Haran, it is about 650 km), Genesis 12:5-6, Abram continued through the land to a place near Shechem, which was at the oak tree of Moreh. More or Moreh here is often understood as the owner of the land and the big tree, the tarbantin or oak tree. Moreh here means teacher or oracle. It seems that the nearby Shechem in Abram’s day was the center and the busiest area of that neighborhood, the center of commerce, the place of people coming and going. This town area later became the place for Simeon and Levi to rage their anger when their sister Dinah was raped by the ruler, Genesis 34. Also in this area, Jacob planted into the ground all the foreign gods that belonged to his party and the earrings that were in the ears under the big tree near Shechem. Genesis 35:4, most likely it was the same tree in Genesis 12:6.
God then appeared to Abram there, Genesis 12:7. Gave His promise again, I will give this land to your descendants. Abram built an altar to the LORD there. This was Abram’s first altar, erected for God who appeared to him.
An altar is an act of someone making a sacrifice. A slaughtered and burned offering to A Divine is a sign of submission to that Divine authority. Today, this is idolatry. But in ancient times, in the age of the Old Testament (OT), this was an act of faith of the Israelites in Yahweh, God. Especially, faith in His promise of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. So in Jesus, this altar of sacrifice has its fulfillment because He was the one-time sin offering for all who believe in Him. Hebrews 10:14, John 3:16. That is why now, an altar is no longer erected to offer a sacrifice, even considered as an act of idolatry.
An altar indicates a close relationship, a personal relationship between the one who erects it and the one who received the act. So in today’s modern era, an altar is an act of worship, a prayer that rises from a believer to God.
For Abram, this first altar represented a worship given to the One who had appeared to Him, He who called him and He who gave His promise. His altar became his thanksgiving, his response to His call to him. A relationship which now started officially. And this is His promise to Abraham, Genesis 12:1-3.
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
- And I will make of you a great nation,
- and I will bless you
- and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
- I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse,
- and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
2. The Altar at Bethel
Genesis 12:8, from there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
The word move in verse 8 here has an interesting meaning in its original language. The word move means when Abram retired … when he retired, in his old age he moved to the mountains east of Bethel. Beth-el or Bethel means the house of God. But the place did not get its name until Jacob, Abraham’s grandson spending the night there and had a dream of seeing the stairs to Heaven where angels were descending and ascending, Genesis 28:19. Ai itself means a pile of rubble. The city was later destroyed by Joshua in Joshua 7-8. This place is about 30 km from the area of Shechem.
He pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. This sounds like.., Abram built his life with the House of God on one side and his past on the other. The word east, Ai to the east, in the original Hebrew, has a meaning of origin, past, ancient times. Interestingly, he built an altar there and called on the name of God. Yes, we all need our altar to keep burning in this life we have, leaving the past, going to the House of God into eternity. Abram’s altar here shows much dependence on God even until he becomes old to guide him all along the path of his life.
Unfortunately, in the next verse 9, Abraham kept on walking to the south (Negeb). Verse 10 then states that famine arose in Canaan and instead of Abram turning to Bethel, he headed for Egypt directly. He should have turned to the altar he was building between Bethel and Ai, not to Egypt. When a similar famine occurred in Isaac’s generation, Isaac did not go to Egypt but remained in that area, an area later controlled by the Philistines. Genesis 26. Because Abram went to Egypt, it was there Pharaoh gave him Hagar as a gift, along with male and female slaves and much other livestock. As a gift in exchange for Pharaoh taking Sarai, Abram’s wife. Genesis 12:16.
If Abram would have returned to Bethel, not to Egypt, maybe Hagar and Ishmael would never have been there at the beginning. Maybe our cousins would have never existed either.
3. The Altar at Bethel again, after back from Egypt
Genesis 13:4, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD.
When Abram returned from Egypt, he then returned to where he was. Genesis 12:8. There again he called the name of God. This shows Abram once again restoring his altar, making sacrifices to God, and calling on His name. From Bethel to Egypt, Abram traveled some 350 km, vice versa.
Here then we see how God separated Lot from Abram. Lot grabbed the best part of the promised land, Genesis 13:10. And caused Abram to move out of there, Genesis 13:18. He moved to Mamre near Hebron, nearly 60 km from Bethel.
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It seems like what was going on in Genesis 13 was a very bad situation for Abram. God had promised the land of Canaan for him. But he lost it to his own nephew whom Abram should not have brought along in the first place. Didn’t God tell him to leave his kindred behind? Genesis 12:1. Yes, disobedience often caused problems. Apparently, God used this situation to remove Abram from the area of Sodom and Gomorrah much earlier before the disaster happened. Romans 8:28. Imagine if, like Lot, Abram had to leave immediately in less than a day. How many losses might he suffer because of it?
4. The altar by the oaks of Mamre close to Hebron
Genesis 13:18, So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD.
This altar was also built by Abram because God spoke to him in Genesis 13:14-17. An altar which erected to reconfirm God’s promise which was lost to Lot for the peace in Abram’s house. Undeniably, just like when we all experience a situation like Abram’s, we will then walk with a head down. Angry and disappointed, resentment overtakes us. Genesis 13:14, God said, lift up your eyes! God wants us to lift our eyes of faith to look beyond our sorrows and lamentations from the present situation. Because He is the God who never fails.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:2
Thus the altar was erected by Abram in Mamre, a place that has a meaning of fat, fatness, and prosperity. A turning point. Genesis 14, tells us of a war between the king of Chedorlaomer and the kings of Sodom. For Abram this was proof of God’s favor upon him, he managed to retaliate over the defeated Sodom, took back Lot, his nephew who had wronged him. Later Abram decided not to take the treasure of Sodom, Genesis 14:22-24. A different character Abram has from most of us after winning a battle.
For peace within his house, he let Lot took the best part of the land. Genesis 13. But when he had the opportunity to avenge this, he would still decide not to take anything away for himself from what now supposedly his 2 times as much. He kept on letting go, Genesis 14. He knew the treasures and riches of Sodom were causing the destruction of the land, it caused his nephews to betray him earlier. He understood this treasure contained a curse, not God’s blessing.
Genesis 15 begins with these words, fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be great. Here we see how Abraham’s faith became the righteousness for him, Genesis 15:6. Then Abram believed in the LORD, so the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. A faith which was born not just by a statement of I believe in You (verse 6b), but also because of his action to trust God who blesses him (Genesis 14:23). Yes, many times our behavior shows the state of our hearts which never lie than our mouths. Romans 4:9-12, that to Abraham faith was counted as righteousness. We need to learn like Abram to have our actions to match our words of faith. To have an act of faith in accordance with what been declared. So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead, James 2:17.
But it was also in Mamre the story of Hagar and Ishmael took place. Genesis 16. A mistake Abram did in his efforts with Sarai to have a child. Actions that God considered an insult of trying to help Him fulfilling His promise. At the end of the day, God did not speak to Abraham for the next 13 years. Compare verse 16 Genesis 16 and verse 1 Genesis 17.
When God repeated His promise of a child to Abram in Genesis 17, it was at this altar in Mamre that God came to Abraham once again. This is where his name was changed to Abraham, Genesis 17:5. Sarai to Sarah, Genesis 17:15. Circumcision was a prerequisite for this promise to Abraham and all of his descendants, Genesis 17:10-11. And in Genesis 18, God Himself came to Abraham accompanied by His 2 angels. Abraham sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. The promise of Isaac was mentioned here, Genesis 18:14. Later, he was born in Genesis 21:1-3.
This altar in Mamre was a journey of Abram to know the Lord who is with him, a knowing which finally changed his name, changed his life’s destiny and purpose. From a glorified father (the meaning of the name, Abram) to the father of all nations (the meaning of the name, Abraham). In Genesis 18:23-33, we can see how Abraham now interceded for the city of Sodom. A prayer of a father of all nations.
5. The Altar to sacrifice Isaac
Genesis 22:9, when they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
Genesis 22 tells of the sacrifice of Isaac on the altar. This was Abraham’s last altar. The altar where Abraham’s faith was tested, and He passed! In the Hollywood movie, verses 2-3 are told with Abraham’s cry when God asked Isaac from him. But in the Bible, verse 3 said the next morning Abraham got up early. Abraham did not show any regret or disappointment nor any screams in return to the Word of God he received in verse 2. Moreover in verse 4, the Bible showed us he walked 3 days to Mount Moriah without any change of minds. He continued on.
This last altar was the highest worship Abraham would give to God. On this altar he laid his own son, Isaac, ready to be slaughtered and sacrificed as a burnt offering to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Leviticus 8:28, Numbers 29: 2, 6. On this altar also lies Abraham’s faith which believed that God DEFINITELY will provide! Genesis 22:8, Romans 4:17 (& 18-21). And because he believed, he dared to let go of his own son for the One who had promised him, I will make you a great nation. Genesis 12: 1, Romans 4:18.
The altar is worship but it wouldn’t be called as one if nothing would be sacrificed on it. Much of our thanksgiving, praise, and worship comes only from our mouth, not a real act of faith that was born from a sincere heart that believes. We would never really want to give, to offer a sacrifice, or to let go, and give in, to forgive, and not retaliate. However, if we dare to put everything on the altar, to let go, to choose Him more than anything else, to make him number one and even as everything in our life, then God who tests the heart (Jeremiah 17:10, Proverbs 21:2) will find us like Abraham (2 Chronicles 16:9). And He will not only promise, but swear! Genesis 22:16.
The altars of Abraham (and ours) are not just about answering His calling (1), enjoying His care (2) and receiving His guidance (3), or His promises (4) but rather as a place where we would lay all our life (5), to be burned as a sacrifice. An offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Leviticus 1:17.
June 8, 2020
translated on November 7, 2020