INTRODUCTION. The call of the Israelites and ultimately our Christian journey began when the Voice of God challenged Abraham (then Abram) to pick up his family and complete the journey his father had begun a few years earlier, to walk away from what had always been in his seventy-five year old life—his country, his people, his father’s household—and go forth to a land unknown where God promised to make Abraham and his family into a great nation by blessing him. “So Abraham departed” (Genesis 12.4, KJV).
We must not take for granted the profound significance of these few words, for they signal a radical departure from virtually everything that had, up to that point, ever occurred in the far-reaching evolution of mankind and its culture.
ABRAHAM’S WORLD. In Abraham’s time, with few variations, the prehistoric worldview and attending religions held that the Earth was a flat circle covered by the rotating dome of Heaven. In between was the great mediator, Air, in which lived the astrological bodies projecting the cyclical drama of Heaven which in turn predicted, and often dictated, life on Earth. The Sea surrounded Earth on all sides, and just beneath the flat round disc was the realm of the dead—Hades or hell.
Many Gods. Each of the great elements was a god. We can easily imagine the overwhelming impression the sparkling skies had on prehistoric man. The far away stars were mysterious, unattainable, higher than man and readily understood as unparalleled and transcendent—self-evidently the abode of the “most high”—the divine. Despite being more proximate, the closer elements like the sun, moon, air, and sea were still sufficiently aloof, not well understood and dangerously powerful, and thus also assigned the status of gods. Hence, Heaven was father, Earth was mother. As the insightful “interpreter” between Heaven and Earth, Air was often a significant god. The all-powerful Sea and its fickle ways was a god not to be trifled with. The Sun and the Moon—gods.
Static Worldview. The harmonious counterbalance to the cosmic drama’s mystery and inaccessibility, however, was its eternal order and predictability. Man’s perception of this cyclical precision no doubt engendered some feelings of security—in a sense, a measure of correspondence both from and with the gods. What’s more, the cyclical motions of the heavenly bodies provided man with a recurring drama of corruptible life on earth—its births, seasons, deaths, and regenerations.
This pattern eventually grew to become the static worldview—the sky was a revolving picture of the gods, a wheel-like pattern that was ever predictive of life for us mortals on earth. The only exceptions were the calamitous acts of destruction which man mistook for aberrations of anger on the part of the gods.
The Great Wheel of Life & Death. This worldview’s corresponding religious paradigm was known as the Great Wheel of Life and Death. All of life unfolded within the confines of the Great Wheel, and like the stars traversing the skies, all of mankind was destined to walk the Great Wheel in more or less the same direction and manner.
This resulted in continuous suppression of the optimistic notion that each man is a separate identity, free to maneuver in space and time. Such sentiment succumbed to the constant, herding motion of the Great Wheel until each man was rendered indistinguishable from the next, like the Muslims trudging around the Kaaba stone at Mecca. Time was a circle endlessly turning on itself and all life, therefore, was a predictable pattern devoid of freedom and creativity. In other words, everything that had been simply came around again—each man’s fate was fixed by the rote, ritualistic dance of the gods in the stars.
JOURNEY OF FAITH. This was the world in which Abraham had breathed and lived the greater portion of his seventy-five years. The monotonous grind of that timeless Wheel must have felt like the pump of his heart pushing life-blood through his veins. Perhaps now—surely now—we can more fully appreciate the monumental leap of faith Abraham took when he heard the Voice inside his heart and, upon its command, departed from his home.
The Quiet Voice Inside. For Abraham no longer heard the gods speaking to him through steady rains or blinding thunderstorms, through abundant crops or drought and famine, through conquering military victories or devastating defeats. Here was a man who heard and trusted a God speaking to him in a singular, disembodied Voice found inside his heart. How on earth did this man of the Wheel hear the quiet, internal voice of God after seventy-five years of listening for Him in the external roar of thunder and earthquake?
Breaking Free From the Wheel. Not only did Abraham hear this quiet, singular Voice, he also heeded the call of it to break free from the Great Wheel. There is no way to exaggerate how difficult this would have been for Abraham to do. First of all, it was not just his seventy-five years of wheel-walking that Abraham defied, it was eons of the greater wisdom of humanity that he literally just … up and walked away from.
Also, Abraham was most likely scorned as a lunatic and admonished by his contemporaries not to journey, but to sit and meditate on the meaningless flow of time until time once again turned on itself, crumbling into the dusty bones that made up the spokes of the Great Wheel of Life and Death. But the true call of the LORD is wholly irresistible, and so Abraham departed.
Into the Great Unknown. Thus began Abraham’s journey of faith into the great unknown. In a vision, the Voice of God beckoned Abraham to “look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then God said to him, “So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15.5—6). Abraham believed God’s Promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. What happened between God and Abraham that day would forever change the world.
Infinite Points of Light. In a simple phrase contained within the Promise—“if indeed you can count them”—the Voice of God had ever so gently revealed to Abraham the profound truth that he could not in fact count the stars. This, of course, blew the roof off the “few thousand stars” contained within the rotating dome of the static worldview and the Great Wheel. The starry host was not a finite dome circling the flat earth in wheel-like fashion—at best implying eternal transcendence of the heavens. The Voice was telling Abraham the sparkling heavens were in fact eternally transcendent—infinite points of light that surround the rotating globe of earth.
Linear View of Time. God had called Abraham to a new paradigm that shattered the cyclical views of time and history that were governed by fixed gods of inevitable fate—forlorn and fruitless, stifling and sterile. The first great Promise of the Christian doctrine offered instead a linear view of time and history moving toward their consummation in the sovereign purposes of their Creator, in which the freedom to explore this earth—indeed, the universe—was given to creatures.
Free to Choose. Moreover, Abraham was learning the soul of man and the path he takes are neither confined nor coerced by the stars or the Great Wheel—man is free to choose his path under the heavens. In fact, man is blessed with infinite, inexhaustible possibilities of unique and creative discovery that ultimately lead us back home to the praise and glory of the Creator God. Abraham was the first man to catch a glimpse of this inspiring hope the Creator planned for us by way of the Promise (Hebrews 11.1).
CLOSING THOUGHTS. In closing, do not think for a second that modern man is immune from the confining and impotent paradigm of Abraham’s day. The corrupt paradigms of our day will be anything but obvious to us, insidiously hidden in the “wisdom” of our modern culture. Indeed, have we not, under the auspices of scientific progress, digressed into thinking that “if we cannot see it, it must not exist”? Like Abraham, we must first listen for and then in faith trust the still, small Voice inside our heart over and above that boisterous, vainglorious voice extolling the virtues of higher education and knowledge.
May we forever have the courage of Abraham to depart from the darker paradigms of our day and go where that still, small Voice prompts us—the glorious journey into the great unknown of the true light that brings hope to every man (1 John 1.5).