|Exploring Ancient History - The First 2500 Years
PART 3: ABRAHAM'S IMPACT ON HISTORY
God's Call of Abraham Abraham was not only persecuted by the Assyrians, he was also hated by the Chaldean priesthood. What did Abraham do to incur their wrath? The answer to this question provides more vital and fascinating insight into the life of the great patriarch before God sent him to Palestine.
To this point we have discovered the important part Abraham played in the history of ancient Austria. But before the real significance of God's call can be presented, another important episode in Abraham's early life must be recounted. It took place in Abraham's homeland in Mesopotamia, Ur of the Chaldees. The story involves nothing less important than the restoration of the truth in that day. The knowledge of God was at a low ebb in the world until Abraham began to publish the truth.
Abraham — Scientist! Josephus recorded that "Berosus mentions .... Abraham without naming him, when he says thus: 'In the tenth generation after the Flood, there was among the Chaldeans a man righteous and great, and skillful in the celestial science'" (Antiquities I, VII, 2). Abraham was well known in and around Ur of the Chaldees, He gained fame as a skilled astronomer and mathematician. Josephus also stated that Abraham analyzed the "phenomena that were visible both at land and sea, as well as those that happen to the sun and moon, and all the heavenly bodies . . " (I, VII, 1).
What did Abraham do with his scientific knowledge of astronomy? He used it to prove the existence of God the Creator! "He was a person of great sagacity, both for understanding all things and persuading his hearers, and not mistaken in his opinions ... And he determined to renew and to change the opinion all men happened then to have concerning God; FOR HE WAS THE FIRST THAT VENTURED TO PUBLISH THIS NOTION, THAT THERE WAS BUT ONE GOD, THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE ..." (I, VII, 1)!
Abraham began to teach the people of Mesopotamia the truth. He told them God had set physical laws in motion which regulated and controlled the universe. He dared to publish that "the creation is proof of a creator." He demonstrated to his countrymen that a creation which was subject to law has proof a Creator — a great Lawgiver — had made it so.
Abraham's proof of one Supreme-ruling Creator God attracted widespread attention. There was a definite reason for this. The Chaldean priests, who controlled the education in their day, had long been teaching the common people that the sun, moon, and planets were GODS. Abraham countered with this: "If the sun, the moon, and the planets were gods, they would regulate their own motion and not have to follow laws which had been set in motion by a ruling Creator God" (Antiquities I, VII, 1). Abraham. With scientific proof, showed that the planets were nothing more than bodies of inanimate matter which reacted according to the physical laws that God had set into motion.
Thy Chaldean priesthood knew Abraham was telling the truth. Publicly they taught the people that the planets and heavenly bodies were gods . But, privately, they knew how to predict for centuries in advance just when the eclipses of the moon would occur. They also knew how to calculate where the planets could be found in the sky at any given date in the future. They knew the heavenly bodies always followed a set and harmonious pattern.
You see. If the priests had people believing that the astral bodies were gods, and yet they could predict correctly where these "gods" would appear in the sky, this would prove they were a special class favored by the deities. This would show they had contact with the supernatural. Communication with the gods was proof of their exalted priestly status. It placed them above the average person. They were simply using their advanced knowledge to gain notoriety in the eyes of the people. It was all motivated by vanity! They hid the truth from people for the sake of personal gain.
Abraham's teaching of the truth was spreading. The educated priests had to decide if they were going to keep on promoting the same old lies or admit the truth, and publicly confess the existence of one true God. The result was the same old sad story. Human nature never changes. The priests decided their status in society was too much to surrender.
They had one other alternative left: get rid of Abraham. Josephus tells what happened. The hypocritical Chaldeans "raised a tumult against him" as a result of which he determined "to leave the country." The priests would have ultimately tried to kill Abraham for publishing the truth had not God intervened. But God did step in! Josephus continues, "and at the command and by the assistance of God, he came and lived in the land of Canaan."
Before discussing God's call of Abraham, it is necessary to answer this question: What was the real significance behind Abraham's wide-spread teaching of the existence and power of the true Creator God?
An Analogy with Church History Before Abraham came on the scene, the light of truth was almost extinguished from the world! Consider the situation that existed when Abraham was a young man. It was some four centuries after the Flood. Noah, the great patriarch, was dead. Shem, Heber, and a few others were striving to carry on his work but they were getting very old. The world as a whole was straying farther and farther from God. Even Abraham's father Terah, though a direct descendant of Shem, had drifted into a form of idolatry (Joshua 24:2). The Assyrians, as we saw. Were attempting to dominate the world and impose one false religion on everybody. in Abraham's homeland in Mesopotamia the Chaldean priesthood had the common people completely deceived about the true God and the nature of the universe which He had Created!
In Comba's "History of the Wadenses," a Waldensian record dated 1404 is quoted which sums perfectly the situation that existed in Abraham's time. This is what a true Christian who lived late in the middle ages said: "We do not find anywhere IN THE WRITINGS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT that the light of truth and holiness was at any time completely extinguished. There have always been men who walked faithfully in the paths of righteousness. THEIR NUMBER HAS BEEN AT TIMES REDUCED TO A FEW: BUT HAS NEVER BEEN ALTOGETHER LOST ...." (pp. 10-11, emphasis added).
In this period four centuries after the Flood the truth was heading rapidly toward non-existence on the world scene. And Abraham came into the picture and forcefully showed that God is still very much alive and that He could intervene in the affairs of men.
Abraham's case is similar to that of many instances in the history of the true Church of God. In the early Middle Ages when the truth was very weak, God raised up Constantine of Mananali to preach the truth. In the later Middle Ages the key figure was Peter Waldo in Europe. In our day, when the end of the Sardis era found the remnant of the true Church hopelessly ineffective, God brought Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong to initiate the zealous Philadelphia era of His work.
In many ways, then, the story of Abraham is similar to these examples. God needed a faithful patriarch four centuries after the Flood to carry out His purpose for that time. Abraham was the man He chose!
As in every new era in the history of God's work, Abraham had to start from the beginning. The first thing he did was to scientifically prove the existence of God as Josephus' history records! As a skilled mathematician and astronomer he was extremely well-prepared to do this. God was working with Abraham years before the call recorded in Genesis 12. Once Abraham had his proof will organized he began to "publish" it. Yes, he had a publication comparable to "Does God Exist?"
Realize the pattern in Abraham's life. He "had to start from scratch" as were and GROW in the truth. He did not learn everything at once. He learned it one truth at a time, building one point upon another. He made mistakes. He was guilty of sins. He had to admit it when he was wrong, take correction from God, and repent. He had to learn by experience and grow in faith.
Just as in the case of Mr. Armstrong, Abraham was a successful and prosperous man who had his talents and energies channeled by God into the right directions. Abraham was a wealthy man — but he undoubtedly lost much in the Assyrian persecution when he had to flee to the Danube. He had a reputation as a scholar and astronomer in his home country but he had to give up his position to go to Canaan when the Chaldean priests organized persecution against him. He wanted to go to Europe and set up a kingdom, buts instead God sent him to unsavory Canaan with its cannibals instead.
Abraham wanted to be successful in this world but God was preparing him for the World Tomorrow!
God's Call of Abraham God's call was not a complete surprise to Abraham. Abraham was very familiar with who God really was by the time he was 75. God had put him through many serious experiences prior to the year 1941 B.C. Now it was time for the next step.
Undoubtedly God allowed the circumstance, of the tumult with the Chaldean priests in order to help set the stage for Abraham's journey to Canaan. Whether there was any connection between the Assyrian persecution and the problem of the priests we are not told. The Assyrian persecution of Count Sattan came to an end, at least temporarily, when the Count died, at which point Abraham returned to Mesopotamia. Probably the return of Abraham caused the wrath of the antagonized priests to reach the boiling point. Thus their plan to get rid of Abraham went hand in hand with God's call.
Notice the particulars of Abraham's move to Palestine recorded in the end of Geneses 11 and the beginning of Genesis 12. Gen. 11:31 tells of the beginning of the journey. Although the words God spoke to Abraham are not recorded in the Bible until chapter 12, he gave these instructions prior to Gen. 11:31. And on this important occasion the Eternal literally appeared to Abraham.
Read the words of Stephen in Acts 7:2-4: "The God of glory APPEARED unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into a land which I will shew thee.' Then came he out of the land of the Chaldean, and dwelt in Haran: and from thence, when his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein ye now dwell." It is possible that Christ again appeared to Abraham when he was in Haran and repeated his instructions. The last verse of chapter 11 tells of the death of Terah at the age of 205. Apparently Terah, who had practiced some kind of idolatry (Joshua 24:2), did not really begin to obey God until very late in his life. But the fact that he did begin the trip to Canaan along with Abraham in obedience to God's instructions shows that he was now willing to follow God's way.
How long Abraham was in Haran the Bible does not tell us. However there is an indication in Gen. 12:5 that it might have been several months. Notice the phrase "and the souls that they had gotten in Haran." This could imply servants Abraham employed to work for him, persons he converted to a knowledge of the true God, or both. Whatever the case, Abraham's group was not tiny. As we shall see shortly, when Abraham took all his servants and property with him it was no small company
With Abraham were Sarah and Lot. Lot, remember, was the son of the slain Haran. After Haran's death Abraham took the responsibility of caring for Lot, also remember that at this time Susanna and Achaim were still with Abraham. They did not depart from Abram until 27 years later in 1914.
When God called Abraham he said, "get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great ..." (Gen. 17:1-2). In other words, God instructed Abraham to forsake his kindred, his country — EVERYTHING! Abraham had to give up all his former plans and begin a whole new life. What had been in Abraham's mind before God rescheduled his career?
The Significance of God's Call To answer this question we must again review Abraham's ancestral background. Noah was the patriarch of THE WHOLE HUMAN family following the Flood. His patriarchal government and authority passed on to Shem who, because of superior leadership qualifications, superseded his brother Japheth. In each succeeding generation the hereditary right of the firstborn was passed on from father to son. Thus, if the inheritance had been drawn up as a legal document, it would have said, "Shem, when he dies, wills his inheritance to Arphaxad, Arphaxad wills it to Salah, Salah, to Heber" and on down through Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, and Haran (Gen. 11:11-26).
It did not work out this way, something very unusual happened. As it turned out his great patriarchal inheritance had to be revised over and over again because all the people listed in Genesis 11, including Terah and Haran, died while Shem was still alive. All these first-born sons passed from the scene while Shem, who lived 600 years down to 1867, was still active! Haran was the oldest son of Terah. But he died in the persecution. Thus, the next oldest became eligible — Abraham. Consequently, the inheritance simply passed from Shem to Heber to Abraham.
Abraham became heir to the great patriarchal dominion of Noah and Shem! This meant that Abraham, before God's call, WAS DESTINED TO BE THE CHIEF PATRIARCHAL RULER OVER ALL THE SEMITIC PEOPLE WHEREVER THEY LIVED IN THE WORLD!! And the descendants of Shem were migrating to the Danubian region. The children of Shem through Heber and Joktan had settled in Southeastern Europe. The children of Asshur also migrated there. Thus Abraham would have been the ruler over a vast portion of the human family — ruler of the people intended to dominate the world. And since these Semitic people were mainly in Europe, Abraham had intended to make Austria the headquarters of his realm. In a sense, he would have ruled Europe from the Danube basin. Europe was a very attractive part of the world, a most desirable area to settle and rule in that early time.
But God said to Abraham, "I want you to give up this great inheritance and go live in Canaan. A land full of pagan religion and cannibalism." It was a great trial and test. Abraham had to be willing to give up a great realm and rule. This was a great sacrifice. Tremendous things were involved.
An Important Transition in God's Program This can be made even clearer. When God called Abraham out of the world this, in effect, is what he was really saying: "Look, Abraham I don't want you to take over the world in the place of Shem. It was the duty of Noah and Shem to start it out right after the Flood. But humanity has rebelled — and I'm going to permit it. I'm finished with trying to police the world through my servants! You are no longer expected to be a great patriarch to try to straighten out the world. That phase of my plan is ended."
With this in mind we can realize that God's call of Abraham marked a significant change in the direction of God's tactics in dealing with the world. God's program first called for the jurisdiction of patriarchs. Later, God used the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, to be an example to mankind of His way. But again, as we know, human beings could not measure up to the test. God again and again, through history, used different ways to deal with humanity — patriarchs, judges, prophets, His own Son, the true Church — but all have been ignored by the majority.
Man has been permitted to learn by experience. Only in the World Tomorrow, when God uses FORCE, WILL MANKIND GO THE RIGHT WAY. Until that time obedience to God remains voluntary. Only a few, like Abraham, have volunteered. When all this is considered, we see that the call of Abraham marked an important transition in God's great overall program.
God was also telling Abraham "Don't worry, I haven't gone back on my word. I will give you the world. You're the rightful heir, but now is not the time. For the present we'll let the disobedient do with it what they want. In the resurrection, however, it will be a different story. Meanwhile I want you to go to that land of Canaan where all those wretched cannibals are. You walk up and down in it. In doing that you'll learn to have faith in me and you'll build the character needed when you finally do inherit the earth" (Rom. 4:13).
This, then, is what was actually behind God's call of Abraham in Genesis 12! Much more was involved than most usually realize. Abraham made no small sacrifice. But he was willing to obey God in anticipation of the rewards of the World Tomorrow (Heb. 11:8-10). God, therefore, called Abraham out of the world and he went to Canaan or Palestine, the "Promised Land." A type of the kingdom of God. And the story of Abraham does not end there. Much more as still to come.