Abram’s “Coming Out” Party (Lane)
Abram’s “Coming Out” Party
by Lonnie Lane
When God told Abram, later known as our father Abraham, to get out of Ur, his obedience served as the insemination of the kingdom of God into the earth. True, the gestation of this Kingdom was a long time in coming about 2,000 years till Yeshua, and true, we are still waiting for the complete maturation of this kingdom when the King will fully rule, but when God spoke to Abram and he responded in obedience, the world began to change that very day.
We are all pretty much familiar with the fact that Abram heard, he obeyed and he went. But have you ever given thought to what challenges and decisions he would have had to make? We may have a skimpy idea of what he might have had to go through: Who to tell…who would go with him…how to explain this to friends and relatives…choosing what would he take…how to divest himself of what wasn’t going with him after making those choices… letting go of things he’s worked for or treasured… what to take for food, and perhaps medical supplies… what currency would be needed or recognized where he was going? There’s sometimes lots to think about and many choices to make when obeying God, especially if it means changing your lifestyle or your friends or where you live, which some have had to do in order to follow the Lord. It’s not always just “hear and obey.” But even if it means there’s preparation and things to extricate one’s self from, once we hear His voice, we must go! That was not in question. We agree on that, right?
Abram lived in the city of Ur, a large Sumerian city that sat pretty much in the present location of the city of Mughayyar, in modern Iraq. It’s some time around 1900 B.C. Some scholars date Abram’s birth to 1948 BC, which aligns with the birth of Israel in 1948 CE. It’s a nice piece of trivia anyway. Ur was a big city and a complex society organized by a pervasive government that reached into many aspects of the society. It all provided a lifestyle in which his needs were most likely met and entertainment enjoyed. Health sciences were sophisticated and people came to Ur from far and wide for medical treatments and to be instructed by the best. Education was advanced, including a sophisticated understanding of mathematics, and the arts were extraordinarily executed. It was a beautiful city with elegant architecture, the crowning achievement being their giant temple or ziggurat. The religious system of Ur was paramount in the society, with the ziggurat dominating not only the landscape but in the lives of each citizen as their due worship.
The Sumerians, of which Ur was a part, believed that the world was created from an ancient sea out of which came the universe, the gods, and people. The universe was ruled by these gods, who were human-like in body and in personalities, and were seen as bringing about or protecting them from various natural phenomena. Each Sumerian city-state had its own patron deity to whom the citizens paid homage. The temples, or ziggurats, were often erected in the cities to honor and house each city’s god. The city of Ur constructed their huge ziggurat for Nanna, the god of the moon. Nanna was a somewhat lesser god to the major gods of the Sumerians which were Enki (god of water), Ki (god of earth), Enlil (god of air), and An (god of heaven).
These main gods were believed to have created the rules of Sumerian society to which all people were expected to adhere. This is not to be taken lightly. The rules of the gods were strictly recognized as mandatory, in their various aspects and capacities. These rules, though religious in nature, were enforced by the ruling government, which assured the adherence to these rules, creating a city-State domination over the people. Sumerians believed that the reason for their own existence was for the pleasure of the gods. The observance of extensive rules and rituals, including animal sacrifices, were considered necessary in order to satisfy these often capricious deities. Not only were the people required to pay homage to the gods, their efforts served the good of city-state itself since it was the government that looked out for the gods. As the government of Ur ensured that the religious requirements were carried out, the amalgamation of the two, religion and government, imposed upon the people a rather dictatorial relationship. Since life was to please the gods, and government was to insure that took place, obedience to the government was seen as an expression of one’s worship and all became the domain of the city-state with its preservation and advancement being the highest goal of life. In essence, the preservation and well-being of the city-state became the primary goal of the activity and industry of its citizens. Such is the ultimate way of big government, idols or no idols. It becomes an entity unto itself and instead of serving the people, the people wind up serving the government.
Thanks to the painstaking records of a man named Dumuzi-gamil of Ur who lived about Abram’s time, we have a fairly good idea of what finances were like. This man both borrowed and lent money to others, usually for long-term entrepreneurial business-growing purposes. Short-term loans were for emergency purposes only. Having borrowed a large amount for capital expansion of his bakery business in which he sold grain to the temple as well as to individuals, Dumuzi-gamil turned that borrowed money around and provided loans to those who seemed in dire need of immediate funds to pay their temple “rent.” Whatever that was, the people were obviously required to pay it even under duress. During one of these short-term loans of 1-3 months, he could make a 20% profit, a usurious rate, but one the farmers and fisherman had to pay. Dumuzi-gamil’s extensive records present us with a picture of an economic system in which debt was prevalent and financial crises abounded, despite the supposed well-to-do-for-all philosophy espoused by the city-state.
It was from such a system that God removed Abram. Whether he threw a big party to say goodbye to the life and folks he had known or slipped quietly out of town without much notice or fanfare, he would have had to leave all that behind to travel though dangerous and unsure places, without the security of all that the society had provided, trusting only in a God he had yet to really get to know well. What comforts he would have had in his home in Ur, he now exchanged for what could be taken along to live far more simply in a tent. Lots of decisions had to be made, but the first decision was made immediately upon hearing God’s voice he would go as God bid him.
God’s calling to Abram was to “come out from among them,” specifically, to “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house…” (Gen 12:1). Well, we know that when Abe left, he had a “party” of relatives with him that consisted of his wife, his father and his nephew Lot. Now aside from his father and nephew, Abram really came out from among the people he had known. He made the break. As a consequence, God made him the father of our faith and it all comes from that inseminating moment in which the kingdom was planted in the earth. Later, Isaiah would cry out to Israel, “Depart, depart, go out from there, touch nothing unclean; go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves….” (52:11). There has been a theme throughout God’s history with mankind: Come out, go out, depart, remain separate from the worldliness and sin around you. It is the same call to the followers of Yeshua today, the church.
However, the word “church” is not actually in the original texts and is not used the way we use the word. Our definition of church is a congregation of people, or even a building in which Christians meet, but the term God used was ekklesia, the called out ones. Every time reference is made to “the church” what the writers of the New Covenant referred to the sanctified saints, those who were called out as separated unto God from the secular society around them. To be “sanctified” means to be set apart for God. As Israel was and still is set apart for God, so the followers of Yeshua are accordingly set apart for God.
We may remain in the world, as we must live “in” it, for we are to be a light shining in the darkness to let people know of the Lord and His kingdom, but we are not to be “of” the world or its ways. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “We are the temple of the living God, just as God said, I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean, and I will welcome you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:17). He doesn’t invoke that name “Lord Almighty” too often. I guess He really means what He’s saying here. We’d better listen up. In his revelation, John tells us, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues” (Rev 18:4).
There are only two times when Yeshua uses the term ekklesia: The first time was to say, “Upon this rock (of the revelation of who He is) I will build (the community of) My called out ones and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt 16:18 my paraphrase). It would appear then to the extent that we heed the Lord’s “call” to come “out” from the values and ways of the world system, the gates (gates is always a symbol for authority) of the devil will not overpower us! Some of us may be praying for God to get us free from what He’s already “called” us out of. If we’re still in what we‘ve been called out of, that may be why we’re “overpowered.” Thank God He is always ready to forgive us and to help us to get free and to walk in the peace of His kingdom ways. What a good God we have, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and forgiving.
The second time Yeshua uses the term, is regarding congregational discipline of someone who is in sin and has been approached by leadership but is not repentant: “If He refuses to listen to them, tell it to the ekklesia (church); and if he refuses to listen even to the ekklesia (church), let him be to you as a Gentile (unbeliever) and a tax-gatherer” (Matthew 18:17). In this, the man in trouble is one who is involved obviously in the ways of the world that are in violation of Torah (All sin is defined as violation of Torah; even New Testament “sins” are Torah-based.) Yeshua says he is to be corrected and disciplined by the ekklesia, by those who have come fully out of those worldly ways. Otherwise, how are they to discipline him justly? Yeshua’s concept of “church” is of those who have been called by God to come out of the world’s system into the government of the Kingdom of God. It is upon that government of faith, mercy and justice that His kingdom is built.
Try doing a word search for “church” or “ekklesia” and read through the references and see if it doesn’t give you a new appreciation of how “called out” by God we are to be from the ways of the world. It will also give you a sense of how we who belong to Yeshua are to be an alternative society to the one around us. We are not to blend in so it is hard or impossible to distinguish His followers from those who are not. How “called out” would that be? Abraham is the father of our faith. The foundation of all that he did and believed God for was founded on his being “called out” from among those who worked and worshipped, including how they handled their finances, in a way that was dictated by the worldly system.
So I ask you, as I have had to ask myself, how “out” of this world system are you? For instance, are you greatly affected by this present economic crisis? You may have lost money, but I’m talking about faith and trust in God. There may be losses in the stock market but there are no losses in the kingdom of God or His ability to bring provision to us. Faith is our currency to “purchase” from God what we need. Or have we come to think we “need” far more than is necessary? Have we indulged ourselves in a luxury society whose religion is consumerism so that we have now obligated ourselves to satisfy the interest rate of the dictates of Visa? Is Yeshua master of our lives, or is MasterCard? Interesting name, isn’t it? Am I being mastered by plastic promises of fleshly indulgences that I can experience now and not have to think about the consequences or cost till later when I can then give the government of this god of pleasure just enough to appease it but which will keep me beholden to it forever? Has Citi-Bank become as a city-state to me, providing immediate gratification for my addiction to consumerism but at a high interest rate? This will not apply to all of us, of course. Praise the Lord if you’re free. But if not, God will provide a way when you throw yourself a “coming out party” and cut up your credit cards or do whatever He leads you to do to exchange the world’s ways for His ways.
I have no idea what will come about in the future. Societies do change. Ur eventually did. So might ours. It’s unlikely that it will continue as we have known it. In that case, how much light are we who are Yeshua’s providing for those who are in the dark of debt and depleted funds or provisions? First, we must “come out” ourselves. We may look upon Ur as a city-state that is far from what our lives in America or Europe are like, but if we’re working to pay for pleasures we’re no longer enjoying today, and for the betterment of a company that we have nothing personally to do with, it’s a form of worship or dictatorship. Or both. OK, those are strong words, but give it some thought.
The Lord called Abram “out” of all that the city-state of Ur was about in order to walk in the promise of God. He promised him a kingdom in which he would be free and in which we are to walk free as well. Debt is a terrible thing. I’ve been in debt and I’ve been free of debt. I recommend the latter unreservedly. “The rich rules over the poor and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Prov 22:7). An old proverb states, “The heart of the borrower is in the hand of the lender.” Having one’s heart in the hand of your creditor is enough to give you palpitations in a squeezed economy. How about we learn to trust God for our needs instead of flipping out a credit card to meet our needs. It may be easier at first to use credit cards, but not in the long run. In view of a possible significant change in our national financial stability we might do well to learn how to believe God for our needs. As an old Jewish adage says, “If not now, when?”
If you are in debt, a moratorium on extra spending is probably a good idea. But most importantly is to come to God and respond to the call of God to “come out” from the ways of the world and return to His ways. I don’t know what it means for you, but I do know there’s a sense from the Lord in this day a shofar, if you will, that’s being blown to alert God’s people to “come out” and be the “called out ones” of God, the ekklesia. And not just in financial ways. He will show you if you come to Him and make this commitment.
Our father of faith had to leave behind many comforts and pleasures, as well as obligations and opportunities to participate in what was valued in that society. We’ve talked a lot about finances above because that’s a major concern in the world right now. But “coming out” is also about morality, and integrity. These are big issues. It may require the equivalent of leaving town as Abram did in order for you to heed the call to morality or honesty. Perhaps for some of us, maybe even many of us, a time for a decision is upon us. We have just come through an election season. Taxes are a huge issue. I hear how the taxes are a greater concern than, say, whether an unborn fetus can be ripped from it’s mother’s womb. I’m not making a political statement, but I am making a moral one. There are worldly values and Kingdom values. “Choose you this day whom you will serve… whether the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell…” Amorites means strength, pride and control. Do we value those qualities more than humility, kindness, generosity, compassion or forgiveness? Rather than just be a reactor to situations when they arise, we should be people who have already parted with the world and who have made the decision: “… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).