1 ¶ 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: 2 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: 3 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.
What had been brought about in the land of Babel, Babylon, was a religion counterfeit to the true worship of God. It was not long after men and women left the ark of Noah. What I said in my comments on 4:16 bears repeating a little at this point.
From Cain’s time the ancient city had become religious entity, a type of church, started all at once with invited families who would share in the same worship and the same gods, although the individual family would have its own singular worship and gods which represented their lars familiaris or familiar spirits (see Leviticus 20:27), the guiding divinities of ancestors dead. (38) It is likely that Cain’s false religion was carried on through his city and it is possible and likely that Shem, Ham, and Japheth would be worshipped as venerable ancestors in different names under the confusion of languages long after their death.
In addition, each home in the ancient world was to have a sacred flame which was the religious center of the home and must not be permitted to go out. (39) This eternal flame, like the lamp in the tabernacle in Exodus 27:20, must never go out. This was a counterfeit city in the ancient world, a city of man’s creation, man’s poor attempt to replace what God intended. Cain’s false religion, which infected the rest of human history after the Flood, began to be expressed by his brethren in his city, Enoch, and the eventual religion of the city-states of Canaan, Greece, and the worship of Rome and India would have begun there, reinforced by Babylon after the Flood.
The king of an ancient city was also the high priest, who offered up sacrifices, and was the highest religious authority. This is evident in a number of ancient writers such as Aristotle, Euripides, and Demosthenes. (40) This is the world that Abram moved and lived in, a world awash in everyday religious ritual, a world that had no problem believing in a distant God the Creator but also a whole pantheon of gods that were much closer to him and had more of a role in his daily home life. Every man or group of men desired to have a personal god, it would seem, to make up for the lost relationship with their Creator, which their ancestors had willfully eliminated in disobedience. Perhaps also this worship of gods represented the power the sons of God who had come to earth, mated with women, and produced giants, the mighty men of renown worshipped in deities whose presence on earth had been remembered and spoken of by Noah and his three sons and their wives.
Some things to note about the ancient world include that from this earliest time human relationships, such as a family, were a religion symbolized by the meal they would take together. Also, in their minds all authority must have some connection with this religion. Law was just another part of religion. In addition, it should be noted that two cities were religious associations that did not share the same gods. When war was made it would be made, not only against the soldiers, men, women, and children of a city but against its crops, its slaves, its gods.
Abram is commanded to do something very brave, to leave the protective confines of the gods of the hearth, of the family, where the dead were worshipped, where the eldest son had no choice but to inherit his father’s property, and his gods, and the father and the son were joint owners of what the father possessed.
Here, now, God calls Abram to come away, not only from a city, but from an entire worldview, to renew the relationship with the one who created him, something lost to mankind as the darkness spread to every corner where men and women had been scattered. He is called to obey God, to leave this world while living in it.
He promises to make of Abram a great people and that he will be a blessing to the entire world. Those who curse him God will curse and those that bless him God will bless. Now begins a process of God turning mankind back to Himself. He will use Abram as the conduit through which this blessing will pass.
(38) Numa Denis Fustel De Coulanges, The Ancient City: A Study of the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome (1864, repr. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2006), 134.
(39) Ibid., 25.
(40) Ibid., 173.