Expository-textual Sermon on Exodus and Genesis
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 8/15/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch

(To watch today’s entire worship service, click the link just below. The sermon begins at the 47:40 mark.)

Please open your Bible to Genesis 12.

For the last several weeks I’ve been preaching a sermon series called “Exiles.” Each Sabbath morning as these YouTube broadcasts begin, the camera is in wide angle mode, and you see these empty pews we are exiled from.
Upstairs is the deserted fellowship hall. There are no bewitching food aromas, no crumbs to vacuum up from off the floor after the meal, no buzz of conversation.

A little over a mile northwest of this church is the Evergreen Court Retirement Center, which is another place we first-Sabbath-of-the-month gospel sing-along singers are exiled from.

And within the last few days we got word from the Walla Walla Marine Station near Anacortes that our annual and much-anticipated Rosario church retreat has been cancelled.

Let’s face it – we are exiles. We are also human beings, and therefore we are resilient, and therefore we will get through it somehow. People have been through much worse. Some of our own ancestors have had it much harder than this. But that doesn’t make our exile any less bearable.

So I decided to turn to the Bible and find out how some of the Bible exiles handled their challenges. This morning we’re looking at just a few verses in the life of probably the most famous Bible exile of all – Abraham.

However, in Genesis 12, his name is still Abram. “Abram” means “exalted father.” God later changed his name to “Abraham,” which means “father of a multitude.” So as I go along this morning, I’ll try fervently to remember to say “Abram” rather than “Abraham,” but I’m not promising I’ll be perfect at it!

So why might Abram’s exile be important enough for us to take a few minutes this morning to look at? It’s because of something Paul said in Galatians 3:26 – 29. Remember, he’s talking to Gentiles as well as to Jewish folk who have become Christian:

Galatians 3:26 – 29 [NKJV] For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

So if you and I are in some way Abram-slash-Abraham’s offspring, and his heirs, inheriting what he was promised, that could make his exile story—during which God makes promises to him—very relevant to us, in a spiritual way.

Abram’s exile was a bit different than most Bible exiles. Abram’s exile was one God called him to—and there are actually three exiles. Abram wasn’t driven out by an enemy. Abram didn’t leave town because he could make better money somewhere else.

No, it was God who called Abram into exile. We’re going to watch that happen. But first we need to dip back into the last part of Genesis 11, to get the backstory that leads up to God’s call.

Genesis 11:27 – 32 [NKJV]: This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Then Abram and Nahor took 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. But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran.

So as this story goes along, we find Abram and his relatives living first of all in a city called Ur of the Chaldeans. It’s roughly 150 miles southeast of Baghdad. Back in Abram’s time it was right on the coast of the Persian Gulf, but over the centuries, the Gulf has silted in so completely that Ur and the Gulf are now separated by about 100 miles of land.

Back then, Ur was a major center for the worship of the moon god. Many years later, in Joshua 24:2, Joshua gave a speech to the Hebrew people, and he made this startling comment:

Joshua 24:2: And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.
Do you know what this says to me? It says, “Don’t count anyone out as a future believer in God.” Abram was raised in a household of idol-worshippers. But the good news is that God looks down into all cultures, all beliefs, all hearts, and sees the hearts which are honest, though they may not yet know the full details about their Creator. And God doesn’t leave them where they are—He calls them. And He most often calls other people to do the calling.

But God Himself calls Abram. And here’s where we need to slow ‘way down, in order to discover Abram’s three exiles, and see how they might apply to us.

Genesis 12:1: Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.

Did you spot Abram’s three exiles? “Get out of your country, get out from your family (you might call this “kindred” or “relatives,”) and from your father’s house.”

So that pretty much is the definition of full exile, isn’t it? So if we are descendants of Abram, do those three exiles apply to us? These exiles are dramatic, and can be traumatic, and they are exiles God called Abram to. Now, as far as I know, none of us is going to go out and engender a great nation the way Abram did. But I am going to suggest that the call that God gives to us is actually quite similar.

So let’s start with the first exile. Let’s read it again.

Verse 1: Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country . . . .

Let me lay down Sermon Point One right here, and then we’ll talk about it. I’m going to express each of these points as though God is calling us to these three exiles two.

So here’s Sermon Point One:

God calls me away from what might hinder me in my country.

You see, Abraham’s country was first of all the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. That’s where he and his relatives lived as prosperous farmers. But there were two problems with the town of Ur. The first was that Ur wasn’t particularly well-located to found an entirely new nation.

A better place was the natural land-bridge between the Mediterranean sea and the Arabian desert, the land-bridge crisscrossed by merchants and other travelers from north and the south. That was the land-bridge God was calling Abraham to live on, and to set up a civilization who believed in God and who followed His agenda, so that others could be influenced by it. Bujt Ur was too out-of-the-way for this to happen.

And the second problem with Ur was that the people there worshiped the moon god. As I mentioned, Joshua’s comments to the Hebrew people later show that it was common knowledge that even Abram’s family worshiped idols.

So when God called Abram from his country, He was calling this faithful farmer to where he could better cooperate with God’s plans. And He was also calling Abram away from idolatry.

So how could this apply to us today? In our hyper-partisan culture, it almost seems as though looking critically at your country is heresy. There’s definitely a drum-beat of “my country first of all” these days. “My country, right or wrong.”

But think of it. Must we buy into every idea our particular party might champion, or do we need to carefully evaluate which ideas we are putting our faith in?

To anyone who’s my age, all the protests we’ve been having recently bring back sort of a nostalgic feeling. When I was in college, the Vietnam War was raging, and gradually the nation was getting fed up with it. And it was the young people, joined by many older people, who took to the streets and inserted the stems of flowers into the barrels of National Guard M-16 rifles.

And then there was the occasional flagburning. A lot of people didn’t like that, thinking it was almost sacrilegious. But the young protesters shouted fervently that American freedom even extended to the freedom to burn America’s flag in protest, in order to make a powerful point about how wrong we were about the war or any other serious issue.

There’s nothing wrong with patriotism, of course. Both Peter and Paul, and even Jesus, said to respect the government authorities. But Acts 5:29 makes it very clear that, to quote Peter and the other apostles, “We must obey God rather than men.” In other words, if our country’s authorities try to coerce us to disobey God, God has our final loyalty. We hear a lot about loyalty these days, but guess what: God deserves our ultimate loyalty.

So what hindrances could God be calling us away from here in our country? God is very clear in the Bible that He despises racial oppression. He despises corruption. He despises money-worship, and celebrity-worship.

He despises “talebearing.” A modern version of talebearing could be forwarding on incendiary social-media items that you don’t bother to check out for veracity.

God despises the mindless “outrage culture” we often see today. How do I know that? The very first verse of the very first Psalm says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” (Psalm 1:1)

That was the very first song in Israel’s hymnbook. The very first song in the Seventh-day Adventist hymnal is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!” The very first song in the Israelites’ hymnal was “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.”

I would say that if bless-ed are the people who don’t sit in the seat of the scornful, then curs-ed are the trolls. Don’t you think so? It makes me sick to my stomach to hear about people making online death threats to those they disagree with, even to families with kids.

Another thing I think God calls us just as fervently away from is allowing someone else to do our thinking for us. Remember how Paul praised the Christian believers in the town of Berea? In Acts 17:11, he said that the people in Berea were more noble than the people in Thessalonica, because the people in Berea didn’t simply listen to Paul and nod their heads, or shake their heads. Instead, they went to the Bible and carefully checked out everything Paul had said.

That’s good. That’s what you and I need to do with any piece of information we take in. A piece of information comes in, we look at it, and if we can’t verify it, we should not forward it on.

We dare not sell our souls for love of country. America is a great land, but only thinking, principled people who are willing to speak truth to power will keep it great. Otherwise, the American Revolution itself would never have happened.

Now let’s move on to the second exile God called Abram to.

Genesis 12:1: Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family . . . .

William Holladay’s A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (which is a dictionary of Hebrew and Aramaic words and what they mean), specifically mentions Genesis 12:1, the very verse we’re looking at. He says that the Hebrew word for “family” in this verse means “relations.” In other words, your relatives.

So God is calling Abram into exile not only because of what might hinder his spiritual growth in his country, but would also do that among his relatives.

In fact, let’s lay that down as sermon point two.

God calls me away from what might hinder me in my country, and what might hinder me among my relatives.

We have to keep in mind that “relatives” or “relations” back in those days meant something a bit different than nowadays. Nowadays your relatives might be spread out all over the country, and some of them in foreign countries. As a pastor I have unfortunately had to conduct many funerals, and the family has to schedule that service very carefully, because people from far away will be trying to arrange their work schedules, and making plane reservations.

But back in Abram’s day, people tended to stay in one place, and so as the years went along, you gained relatives. Your cousin would marry somebody and that person and his or her relatives would become part of your kindred, and you would all just grow up together. Family reunions would be very frequent.

There is good in that, of course, but depending on the culture of those multi-faceted families there could be some negative and even dangerous influences too.

And things can get really stressful when your relatives have political or religious differences. I’ve had relatives who firmly disagreed with my decision to become a Seventh-day Adventist. And they weren’t content to let it rest. They would try to tempt me into an argument every time I came back home to visit.

There can be religious differences, lifestyle differences, different ways we spend our time. I’ve always been someone who likes to keep the peace. I do not like conflict. After a while, though, I learned that no, you can’t just let people run over you. No, you can’t agree with everything they say.

But within the family culture, one obstinate, strong-willed person cannot only make things uncomfortable, but can also shape the attitudes of especially the younger and more impressionable relatives.

So I think that God calls us away from being captive to the strong and sometimes wrong-headed opinions of our relatives. Abram’s extended family probably were fervent worshipers of the moon God. The Bible doesn’t say how Abraham got acquainted with the true God, but tension must have flared up between him and his moon-worshipping kinfolk, until God called him into exile from that.

I think it’s a good idea to ask the Lord to give you wisdom as you look at attitudes and behaviors which your relations may have passed on to you—and of course the ones you yourself are passing on to others.

Let’s take a close look at that final exile God called Abram to.

Verse 1: The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.

I wonder if we can realize how much of a jolt this was to the mind and heart of someone of that era. In those days you stayed with the family. You cared for your parents until their death. You kept the farm going, increased the herds and flocks, made sure that you honored your father and mother by taking care of what they’d worked so hard to create.

My dad was just moving into his teen years during the worst years of the Great Depression in the mid 1930s. He was the oldest of two sons, and the rest of the siblings were sisters.

The time came when Dad was to go to high school in town, and he went there, and sat in the classes for a week, and suddenly decided to quit school and go back and help his father with the farm. Dad never went back to school. That was how strong his family-duty impulses were.

Well, Abram must have felt the same way. It’s only after his father dies that he actually leaves that household. Let’s watch what happens.

Verses 1 – 9: Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.

And one of those descendants Abram was promised was Jesus Himself. The Bible strongly indicates that before Jesus became a human being, He was the Lord of the Old Testament, Yahweh.

And Jesus Himself, as a 12-year-old boy, knew He needed to respond to His Father’s call to leave His earthly father’s household. He didn’t actually physically relocate until He was right about thirty years old, but there in the temple that day, this twelve-year-old gazed into His parents’ panicked eyes. Luke 2:48. 48: “ So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, ‘Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.’ And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

Jesus didn’t take His earthly father, or even His mother, into His “Messiah business.” He stepped out on His own. John 7, verse 5 says that at that time His own brothers didn’t believe in Him.

Here is Sermon Point Three:

God calls me away from what might hinder me in my country, and what might hinder me among my relatives. And God calls me away from what might hinder me in my family.

I know that I’ve mentioned this in the past, but years and years ago I met a young man who was about to marry his fiancée. He told me that he had made a list of several things his father had done while raising him—and he had resolved to do the exact opposite when he raised his own children!

I’ve done things differently than my father would have done. I used to do little magic tricks as a kid. Dad was uneasy with that, not because he thought I was getting into witchcraft, which I wasn’t, but because he thought it was a waste of time. He didn’t push me too hard—he didn’t command me to stop–but he thought I should be devoting myself to more serious things.
But one day one of our church members mentioned how much he had enjoyed watching a trick show I had performed for a church social event. When Dad heard that, he brightened up. Next time he saw me, he said, “Maylan, that’s really good that you’re doing those trick shows. People like them.” Dad knew all along that these little tricks were harmless jokes, and now he realized that they could lighten someone’s life a bit.

God knows, of course, what we should exile ourselves from regarding our country, our relatives, and the home we grew up in. And we can turn our eyes up to Him in faith that He knows what is best, and will get us through.

I’m going to resolve to continue to look into God’s heart and learn more about His love. Would you do that too?