By Ron Bailey
Abraham, My Friend
The Making of a Praying Man
Chapter Three: Entering the land
Calling upon the Name
So Abraham, ever moving on, pitches his tent in between Bethel and Ai and builds an altar to Jehovah, and called upon the name of Jehovah. [Genesis 12:8] Let's not try to fit this into an evangelical scenario but simply read what we find. We are watching God's preparation of a Praying Man and we shall see one of the most elemental lessons here. This is Abraham's first recorded prayer; he called upon the name of Jehovah. God has already initiated three meetings and we have seen Abraham's faith in his responses; by faith he obeyed, by faith he wandered, but now without any apparent revelation of God he builds his altar and lifts his voice in prayer. Man without prayer is an atheist, irrespective of his theology. Abraham has received revelations and promises but there has been no reference to his prayer. What instinct caused him to ‘call upon the Name of Jehovah' at this point in his pilgrimage?
This Bible phrase is important. After all, the Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved. [Rom 10:12,13] Is this then the point of Abraham's ‘salvation'? How we evangelicals love to put things into little boxes. It saves time of course; 'what denomination do you belong to?' When I have your answer to this question I can put you into one of my little boxes without having to think about you; think of all the time that saves! 'What experiences have you had?' Now, I can measure your progress. God forgive us, we have created ‘assembly-line' Christianity. God deals with hand-crafted masterpieces not mass-produced replicas. I sometimes think we want people to agree to our scenarios for our peace of mind rather than theirs. God's ‘three steps to salvation' may turn out to be ten and in quite a different order to what the evangelist told us to expect.
What is Abraham's experience thus far? Abraham has become God-conscious. He is captured and offers up his life in the symbol of burnt offerings. He has received guidance and promises. Now he comes to a recognition of his vulnerability. He has pitched his tent between Beth-el and Ai; between the ‘House of God' and the ‘Heap of Ruins'. These are the meanings of the words. At some point in our lives, for some sooner, for some later, we all pitch our tent here and the possibility of two quite different destinies occurs to us. Will I offend your theological position if I tell you even when you have become God-conscious, captured, guided and the holder of great promises, there are still two possible destinies before you? Where shall I spend my future? In the House of God or on the heap of ruins? This realisation will bring fear and it is intended to do so.
Let's take a look at a couple of examples of ‘calling upon the Name of the Lord'. Let's try that rule of ‘first mention' again. Does the first Bible reference give us some clues to how this theme will develop? And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD. [Genesis 4:26] Adam and Eve begat sons and daughters [Genesis 5:7] but we only have the history of those who were significant in the unfolding of the story of redemption; Cain, Abel, Seth. It must have been strange for Seth as he grew. Adam was 130 years old and would live for another 800; Abel was buried, Cain banished. Eden was only a memory; he had never seen it. The world in which he lived showed increasing signs of the curse under which Adam had brought it; Sin had entered and Death had followed. When Seth was 105 he held his own son in his arms. What thoughts tumbled through his mind? It is one of the most profound experiences to hold your own flesh and blood in your arms; thrilling, awesome, frightening. 'Frightening?' Yes, what kind of a world have I brought this vulnerable child into? A world filled with wonder and danger. What kind of future awaits my child? The safety of God's House or the ignominy of the Rubbish Heap? In any normal man there will rise the intention to protect at all cost, and the simultaneous realisation that so much is outside our mortal control; Enos means ‘mortality'. If this child's welfare is beyond my power to whom can I turn for help? And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD. The signs of the Ruin increasingly fill Seth's world; he lifts his heart to invoke the help of power beyond his own. It is hard to be an atheist with your baby in your arms.
Sometimes it's not the revelation of God or the promise that drives a man to prayer but the realisation of things as they really are. Prayer at its most basic is the mortal reaching out to the Divine; the finite reaching out to the Infinite. It is, at the same time, the most eloquent expression of our mortal vulnerability and our utter conviction that if we are to be safe we shall need the help of Another. This is what has happened to Abraham; he no longer feels ‘safe' and he ‘calls upon the Name of Jehovah'.
Let's take another example; The Name of the Jehovah is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe. The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit. [Prov 18:10,11] Solomon, the wisest of all men recognised that the greater the personal resource the greater the temptation to rely on it. Men seek for the safety of a good protective wall between them and the world's threats; the rich man thinks he has found it. He uses his wealth to insulate him from the threat of danger and ‘ruin'. This ‘wealth' may not be in dollars or pounds or yen; it may be his intelligence, his strength of character, his nationhood, his muscle, his family. Whatever the personal resource in which we place our confidence, it may seem as impenetrable as a ‘high wall' but it is a ‘conceit'. And a deadly conceit at that. There is only one safe place; the Name of the Lord is a strong tower. The ‘safe/saved' man is the man who has learned to run into it; to call upon the Name of the Lord. The ‘safe/saved' man is the man who is no longer building his own defences but who instinctively runneth into the provision made by Another.
The Hebrew word for ‘safe' in Proverbs 18:10 means ‘lifted up'. When my children were very small and their vocabularies were equally small they instinctively found a means of ‘salvation'. If they found themselves vulnerable in the presence of a boisterous dog or unfamiliar surroundings they would pull on my trouser leg and say 'Up, Daddy, Up'. Is this vulnerability why we have to become children to enter the kingdom? Let me suggest a new, comprehensive, title for that passage of scripture we call the Beatitudes. How about ‘Blessed are the Vulnerable for they shall be lifted to Safety'?
My children are grown up now; they call me ‘Dad'. (I have to tell you I miss being called ‘Daddy'; it was nice to be the hero for a while.) Names are important. Suppose you were to meet me and say ‘Hi Ron' and I said ‘Mr Bailey to you, only my friends call me Ron'. Could there be a more cruel put-down? You can feel the distance that would open up at such a response. Human beings have always known that personal names give a closer approach to someone. Pagans have long believed that you can manipulate ‘god' if you can only find the right ‘name'. (some ‘Christian pagans' work on similar principles. If we can just find the right words/techniques we can manipulate God!) Abraham was learning to draw near and to address his friend by Name. The people of Israel were hesitant to use the name of Jehovah, lest over-familiarity led them into blasphemy. When they read the scriptures aloud they would substitute the name ‘Jehovah/Yahweh' with the title Lord. The idea was carried into our old KJV so that when, in the OT, you find LORD spelled out it uppercase it is telling you that the proper name ‘Jehovah' is being used. So even though the name ‘Jehovah' is used over 7000 times in the Old Testament most readers of the KJV have hardly ever seen it.
It was not to all people that God revealed Himself as ‘Jehovah', but particularly to Abraham and his descendents. Thomas Newberry said that the name has the significance of 'He that always was, that always is, and that ever is to come' God's names are not labels; they are revelations of His character. Abraham called upon the God who had revealed Himself to Abraham; we cannot call upon the Name of the Lord without the Lord having revealed Himself to us. Beware then of the ‘sinners' prayer'. God has not promised to ‘save' the one who prays the sinners' prayer, or the one who responds to an altar call, or the one who makes his decision, or the one who gives himself to the Lord... He has, however, promised to save those who call upon the Name of the Lord. God revealed Himself under this Name and those who called upon this revealed God would be saved. Faith, as we have seen before, is response to revelation.
There is now another Name; a Name under which God has revealed Himself in even greater fullness than to Abraham and the saints of old. This is the Name above all Names; Jesus. It signifies all that ‘Jehovah' meant but adds the word Saviour; Jesus means ‘Jehovah's Salvation'. ...And now I can make you wiser even than Solomon... it is not only the ‘righteous' than can run into this Name and be lifted to safety; the unrighteous can come too. If you have ‘seen' who Jesus is and are aware of the ‘mortal' danger in which you live, call, run...
Today is God's accepted time, today is the day of your salvation.