Walking Back to the Right Road: Remembering the First Altar

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We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
C. S. Lewis

I grew up in my home church learning a lot about Abraham, singing “Father Abraham had many sons” just like all the other VBS-ers out there. (Ok, acknowledge that you just sang the tune in your head as you read those words.) My church just finished a sermon series on Abraham, and I’ve been reminded of so many truths in his story.

Let’s do a quick recap. God calls Abram (pre name change) at the beginning of Genesis chapter 12, telling Abram to leave his homeland in search of the land God will show him. So Abram takes his family and travels to Moreh at Shechem (v. 6) where God shows Abram the land He will give to his offspring (v. 7). Then Abram pitches “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” (v. 8).

Then there was a famine in the land, so Abram sets off to Egypt. When he and his family arrive in Egypt, Abram tells Pharaoh that Sarai (pre name change) is his sister (which is only half true because she was his half sister), so she is “taken into his palace” (v. 15). God sends diseases to Pharaoh and his household, Pharaoh figures out the problem, and he orders Abram to leave: “they sent him on his way” (v. 20).

After this, Abram goes “to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 13:3-4). Sound familiar? Low and behold, Abram ends up right back where he started.

God took the initiative with Abram, just as God takes in initiative with us. But then Abram went his own way, as we are all so often prone to do as well. As has been pointed out per this sermon series, there’s no record of Abram and Sarai praying about the decision to go to Egypt, and there’s no text of God’s speaking to them to tell them to go to Egypt.

This is where we may be able to position ourselves with Abram’s story. Are we headed to our own Egypt, a place where we have not been called? Are we taking matters into our own hands by trying to force a plan that is not of God? Are we putting what we want before God’s will? We are so often tempted because of our lack of patience and selfish desires.

This wouldn’t be the last time Abram would take things into his own hands. Later, there’s a similar situation with longer-lasting effects (ch. 16). God made a promise to Abram that He would make Abram into a great nation and would make his name great (12:2), but Abram and Sarai grew impatient and decided to enact their own plan, just as they did when they went to Egypt. At the urging of Sarai, Abram has a child by Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant. Abram chose to do things his own way, and in doing so, caused much hardship on himself in the days to come. Yet even still, God did not turn His back on Abram; He called Abram back, though telling him this was not of His plan.

Abram should give us hope in that though we may go our own way, God gives the opportunity to return. Abram’s story is not to be used an excuse to wander, but that though if you find you have, it serves as hope in your return. Remember that after Abram wandered to Egypt, he returned to the place it all started, where he built his first altar.

Just like Abram, sometimes we need to return to our first altar.

Abraham believed the Lord, and he credited to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

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