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A Separated Pilgrim

In days of an increasing emphasis on ecumenism the consideration of one who is separated is hardly likely to prove a popular subject. But the principle of separation is one that is seen from the very earliest verses of Scripture when we read that God separated the light from the darkness. Without that separation there could have been no life on the earth at all and a life for God of necessity means one that is separated from darkness. But, as with white and black and the varying shades of grey in between, so it is with light and darkness: an area of half4ight appears in which it is possible to feel quite at home and to believe that one is dwelling in the light. It is from this state of half-light that God calls His people, and has given them His Word as their complete guide to all His will

Paul makes it clear in 2 Timothy 3:16 that the God-breathed Scriptures are all that we need for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. The following of these guidelines will inevitably lead to separation, sometimes from those who are very actively engaged in gospel witness but God's emphasis is always on the One we are separated to rather than on what we are separated from.

God's dealings with Abraham are the subject of our thoughts for this month and His call to Abraham is found not only in Genesis 12:1 but is enlarged upon in Acts 7:2 and referred to in Joshua 24:2,3 and Nehemiah 9:7. It is important that we look at all the Scriptures in order to get the full Picture. The Scriptures are not contradictory as some would aver, but they are complementary one to the other. In Genesis 11:31 it would appear from the reading that it was to Terah, Abraham's father, that the call came to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Stephen, however, makes it quite clear that it was to Abraham that the call came and that he took his father and brother with him together with their families and separated himself from his country. It is noticeable that the call came to him to leave his country, his people and his father's household. His country was, according to Sir Leonard Woolley who has excavated the ruins of Ur, one of the most advanced commercial areas of its day. Other records suggest that Abraham himself was a prosperous merchant in that prosperous city but at the call of God he separated himself from his country. Joshua 24:2 tells us that it was in this city that he and his family worshipped false gods, and Woolley has confirmed that Ur was the centre of Moon-worship in Abraham's day. It is amazing to us when we recall that this was within living memory of the Great Flood that had destroyed all mankind save for the few who were in the Ark. The chronology of Genesis 11 indicates that Shem, one of the survivors of those terrible days, was still alive when Abraham was in Ur. Yet the world had turned its back upon the God who had so punished mankind and was now, in the lifetime of at least one of the Flood's survivors, worshipping false gods.

The fact that it was in Ur that God first appeared to Abraham would, to some, be evidence that he should stay in that place. Surely, they would argue, if God appears to one in a place, one ought to stay there for it is clear that God is working there and one's witness will be to the salvation of many others. There are many similar evidences of God speaking to men in the Scriptures and of His working His sovereign will in places other than in His house (see the story of Jonah for example) but this is no proof that God wishes His people to stay in the place where they were called. In His sovereign grace, He works according to His will but He still has a place to which He is calling those who would be His people. So it was with Abraham. He left his country at God's command but he could not yet leave his father's household. His aged father had already lost one son, Haran, through death and Abraham doubtless felt that he could not bring upon his father the loss of another son, so the first move was out of the country to the town of Haran. Whether the place was already so named or whether it was named after Abraham's dead brother we cannot tell. Psalm 49:11 tells of men who name their lands after themselves and the earliest reference to such a naming is by the ungodly Cain in Genesis 4:17. One can only assume that if it was named after the dead son it must have been the work of Terah or of Abraham's other brother Nahor. It is noticeable that the next reference to it speaks of it being the town of Nahor.

It is only after the death of Terah (Gen. 11:32) at the advanced age of 205 that Abraham is able to complete his separation and to move away from his father's household and from his people. Whereas the move from Ur was at God's call, Stephen speaks of God "removing him" from Haran. How many years Abraham spent in Haran it is not possible to say but, long or short as the stay may have been, they were wasted years. Abraham is 75 when he leaves Haran (Gen. 12:4) and at last moves on to the land that God has promised him. The original call was to God so that he could be blessed and that he himself could be a blessing. The extent of the blessing was not to be seen by Abraham even though he lived another 100 years. "The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: All nations will be blessed through you" (Gal. 3:8). The separation from Haran had to be complete before any blessing could be realized.

Abraham was now a separated pilgrim living in tents as Hebrews 11:9 reminds us. Here was no town that he could dwell in or any place that he could name after himself, but he looked for the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. In this land of promise he built his altar and pitched his tent. His home was a movable one but not so his altar. He built his altar in the place where God appeared to him (Gen. 12:7). God had appeared to him in Ur but there was no altar there, nor was one found in Haran. He worshipped the God who had appeared to him so far away, but anyone following his steps would not find them by tracing the place of his tents but the place of his altars.

But even with a separated man there are still troubles to be faced, and with Abraham it was the famine that struck the land to which God had called him. Sadly there is no record of his looking to God for guidance but, believing that good was to be found elsewhere, he made his way to Egypt. Food for the flesh may be found there but food for the spirit and an altar at which God could be worshipped were not. His stay in Egypt was one of subterfuge and eventual disgrace and his separation from Egypt was one of force in that he was deported from the land. But he brought with him from Egypt all the sources of his future problems. It was in Egypt that he and Lot became very wealthy in livestock (Gen. 12:l6 and 13:2) and this was to be the prime cause of the strife between them. And it may well have been in Egypt that Sarah got a handmaid in Hagar who was to be the cause of such bitterness in his family. He may have gained in prosperity but his unseparated path only brought with it bitterness and strife. The first problem was the quarrel with Lot and Lot's selfish choice of the well-watered plain of Jordan. Here it was separation from Abraham but it was not a separation to God. Lot moved his tent - yes he still lived in a tent at first (Gen. 13:12)

- near Sodom but it was not long before he was living in the town itself. God spoke to him very sharply in his forcible removal from Sodom (Gen. 14:12), a plight from which he was rescued by the man who was separated to God. Here again Abraham is confronted with the wealth of the world when the king of Sodom says, "Keep the goods for yourself" (Gen. 14:21). But Abraham has learnt the lesson of his failure in Egypt. No longer will any man be able to say, "I made Abraham rich", but his dependence is henceforth going to be solely upon the God who had said He would bless him.

But as to Lot, on his return he was found once again in Sodom from whose fate he was only rescued by angels of God. Whilst Lot was doing his best as a judge, sitting in the gate of the city, the man who was doing the most for Sodom was the one who, in his separated tent, was pleading with God that the city should be spared if only a few righteous could be found in it.

Although Abraham was still to have his problems with Hagar and Ishmael, the first glimmerings of the blessing that was to flow from him to the nations was seen in the birth of Isaac. But there was first another fall to be experienced. By his own choice, he left the land to which God had called him and made his way to Gerar where again he resorted to subterfuge in calling Sarah his sister (Gen. 20:5). He even tried to justify his action by telling Abimelech that she was indeed his sister albeit only a half-sister - but she was something more closely related than that. Abraham told the truth but he did not tell the whole truth and had Abimelech's caustic comment (Gen. 20:16) ringing in his ears before he went on his way back to the place to which God had called him and the place where he could build his altar.

Today God is still calling for separated men and women. The immediate impact for the pilgrim will be one of sorrow, just as Abraham must have felt sorrow on leaving Ur and subsequently leaving his brother still in Haran. Peter, similarly affected, could say, "We have left everything to follow You". But, just as Abraham was to be blessed and to become a blessing, so the Lord says "No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life" (Mark 10:28-30).

(Quotations are from NKJV).