Abraham’s call

We are all familiar with the story in the Hebrew Bible of the calling of Abraham. We are taught as children that he packed up his family, his extended household, his animals and went to the land that God had set aside for him.

But what EXACTLY did God say to Abraham (called Abram at the time). In the Hebrew the command of Genesis 14:1 is very brief, “Lekh l’kha”. The two words, pronounced similarly, are written exactly the same in the Torah scroll:

lech lecha

The Hebrew phase can be interpreted as:
(i) “Go, go”: giving urgency to the command.
(ii) “Go for yourself”: showing that there are benefits to this, set out in the following verses: “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.
(iii) “Go to yourself”: that is, dwell on this and its implications before acting.
(iv) “Go by yourself”: Abram had to take his family with him, so this meaning can be discounted except in the sense of (iii).

camels with loads Nothing is recorded of any further conversation about directions, grid references or maps given out to the crowd that were packing up the camels, just a command, “Go”. God would show Abraham where to go to, but not in advance; he had to begin the journey first.

Abram went from Haran (in what is now Turkey) to Egypt and from Egypt to Bethel and Canaan. He was probably 75 years old when told “go”, told to leave his homeland and start his life again. Rabbinic tradition is that this was the first of ten tests he faced. Some he failed. It didn’t get easier – famine, threats, waiting for a child, the binding of Isaac, the command to circumcise himself when 99 years old.

However, in Genesis 14:13, after his travels, Abram is referred to as “the Hebrew”: Ha-Ibri, the first use of this word in the Bible. Ibri derives from the word ibar, which means to ‘cross over’ or any form of transition.*

Thus, the defining character of Abram and the Hebrew people is to be in transition as they obey the command to Lekh l’kha.

Interestingly, the Greek Brit Hadashah (New Testament) contains an instruction by Jesus to his followers to go: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This is evidently intended as a continuation of the command to Abram. Jesus wanted his Hebrew followers to be true Hebrews and, in this, to bless all the families of the earth.

The first and key test for Jew and Christian alike is to Lekh l’kha. And without a retirement date.

* Ibri, made up of the letters ayin-bet-reish-yod;
ibar, made up of the letters ayin-bet-reish

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