The Story of a Greater God
The Exodus story begins over a thousand years before the Children of Israel crossed through the sea on dry land, and over a thousand miles away from the shores of the Red Sea. Abram, the son of Terah, knew very early on that worshipping the sun, moon, and stars was the epitome of ignorance. Jewish tradition teaches that by the age of three years old, he was already rejecting the worship of Nimrod. Abram knew the One True God.
While I won’t vouch for the credibility of the Talmud, there is a story in it about Abram that illustrates my point. Terah, Abram’s father, owned an idol shop dedicated to the worship of various gods, including Nimrod. Terah must not have been all that intelligent. Even though tradition teaches that Abram had already been preaching against the worship of idols made of stone and wood, Terah decided to put Abram in charge of the shop. Probably not the best idea.
A pagan from Ur came into the shop looking to purchase the perfect idol. With great disdain, Abram asked, “How old are you?” “Fifty years old,” the man replied. Abram shot back, “You are fifty years old, and you would worship a day old statue!” I know you’ll be as shocked as I was to learn that Abram didn’t make the sale.
Later that day, a woman came in, looking to worship and offer a sacrifice to the idols. Abram took her offering, and laid it before the largest idol. Then, he grabbed a large stick and smashed into pieces all of the other idols, and placed the stick in the hand of the largest one. Things were going from bad to worse.
At the end of the day, Terah returned and was horrified by what he saw. “What happened?” he shouted. “What is going on?” Abram calmly replied, “A woman came in today to make an offering to the idols. When she left, the idols began arguing over which idol should be first to eat the offering. Then, the largest idol grabbed that stick and destroyed all the other idols.”
Terah was livid. Wagging his finger in Abram’s face, he shouted, “The idols are only statues! They have no knowledge!” Abram finally had his father right where he wanted him. “You deny that the idols have any knowledge. And yet, you worship them?”
In a rage, Terah grabbed Abram and took him before Nimrod. The “mighty one” decided to try to reason with Abram.
“Abram, fire destroys all in its path. We must worship the fire.” Abram cunningly replied, “Ah yes. Fire is powerful. But water puts out fire.”
Nimrod tried again. “Yes! Water cannot be held in the hand! So, we must worship the water!” Abram said, “Water cannot be held in man’s hand. But the clouds can hold all water.”
Although his patience was being tested, Nimrod responded. “Then we must worship the clouds.” But Abram had an answer for this also. “The wind pushes the clouds.” “Then we should worship the wind!” said Nimrod. “But how can we worship the wind, if man can withstand it?”
Nimrod grew angry, and declared that Abram should be thrown into the fire. “If you’re correct – if there is a God greater than all of these – than your God will save you!”
Abram obviously survived.
We don’t know if this story is true. It could simply be a legend cooked up by a rabbi trying to prove a point or liven up a synagogue service. What we do know is that Abram was called out of Ur, the very seat of the worship of Nimrod, the pagan sun god, and into the worship of the One True God; the Almighty Creator of the Universe.
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 KJV
The Almighty is a God of covenant. When He makes a promise, He keeps it. And the promise to Abram – later called Abraham – was that he would bear a son that would change the world.
As Abraham learned more and more about the Almighty, the promise became more clear. And as Abraham honored the instructions of God, he was blessed. Eventually, the blessing proved to be too much. The servants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, began quarreling with Abraham’s servants. The decision was made the part ways. Lot chose the area around Sodom and Gomorrah, a land infamous for immorality and idolatry. Abraham went in the opposite direction.
And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee. Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the Lord. – Genesis 13:14-18 KJV
The prophecy of a seed that will bless and fill the earth was renewed. But man’s timing is not God’s timing. And waiting for God can build doubt. Years passed. And no son was born. Then God decided to take Abraham for a walk.
As the Creator of the universe, and a wandering shepherd from Ur, looked up into the night sky, God gave another instruction: “Count the stars, Abram.” Abram couldn’t count the stars. “No one can count that many stars, YHWH.” “So shall thy seed be,” God replied.
A covenant was then cut. Animals were sacrificed and blood was shed. In the moment that Abraham began to grasp the enormity of the situation, he became overwhelmed to the point of fainting. And the Almighty declared the future of this mighty throng of descendants:
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. – Genesis 15:13-16 KJV
Four hundred years is a long time to wander around. But that was the promise God gave Abraham. Slavery. Bondage. Oppression. Judgment. Restoration. Blessing. This is what awaited Abraham’s children.
And then God told Abraham:
In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates… – Genesis 15:18 KJV
Somehow, Abraham would bear a son. That son would bear children and those children would multiply into a mighty nation. And someday, that nation would inhabit a “promised land.”