Abraham moved from Shechem and pitched his tent somewhere between Bethel and Ai. We know that “Bethel” is Hebrew for “House of God.” Beth = House and El is of course God. But what about Ai? What does the name Ai mean? Well, for what it’s worth Ai means “ruins.” Abraham is now situated somewhere between the House of God and a place of ruin. So, it’s kind of like a picture of where Abraham is at on his pilgrimage. He’s somewhere in between the place of death and destruction and the place of life and edification. Anyway, “There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD” Genesis 12:8b.
If the first altar Abraham built was one of gratitude then the second is one of attitude! And I mean “attitude” in the good sense of the word, i.e., Abraham has a proper “attitude.” Abraham called on the name of the LORD – “Jehovah” – which is the covenant name of the covenant-keeping God. The first altar Abram built, then, was an altar of commemoration. On this altar Abram offered up a “thanks offering.” He made an offering in thankful remembrance of the LORD who had just appeared to him again repeating promises of a blessed offspring. Abram in this offering was also thanking the LORD for rescuing him from his spiritual bondage in Ur of the idolatrous Chaldeans.
We shouldn’t miss the significance of the first altar. It helps us to understand the significance of the second altar. The significance of the first altar is found in the words of the LORD, Abram’s Redeemer. Genesis 12:7 “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’” We need to see then that Abram built the first altar as an expression of his faith in the LORD. He built it believing that, 1. The LORD would give him descendants, and 2. The LORD would give them this land. Therefore he built the altar to acknowledge that he accepted his responsibilities as head of his family, i.e., his (promised) family to come.
Think about it, Abram’s father Terah had just died, Abram was no longer part of his father’s house. He was now head of the house – the new house wherein he was its father. By building the altar he was therefore showing his gratitude to the LORD who appeared to Him with promises. However, this second altar, though also built out of gratitude, illustrates to us Abram’s attitude. For this second altar, unlike the first, which was for commemoration, is an altar of consecration! For we see that Abram at this altar is consecrating, i.e., dedicating, his life to the service of God.
Abram “called on the name of the LORD.” That’s what it means to call on the name of the LORD. It is to sacrifice yourself on His altar, which is to offer up your life in service to Him and everything He is. It is to set yourself apart, sanctify yourself, in His service. For Abram it was to say, “I’m done with Ur of the Chaldees and all its idolatrous ways! It is forever behind me. I go forward in faith!” Fitting here are the words of St Patrick who said,
“I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.”
“Abram called on the name of the LORD.” What Abraham is saying here is what the psalmist says, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness” Psalm 84:10.
I remember my dad asking me, “Son, what are you going to do when you leave school?” I didn’t give any smart answer like, “I’m going to be a doorkeeper in the house of my God.” I didn’t know God then. I had the wrong kind of attitude toward God – then! I thought you could just ignore God. I thought you could just pull out God as a deep conversation piece, a philosophical discussion, you know, like young non-Christians who get a head full of the Theory of Evolution from the State school? There comes a time when a young man or woman starts asking the big questions. And, if you’ve been taught to ignore God all your life then you have developed a bad attitude. However, we should all have an attitude of gratitude towards God even just for being our Creator!
Let’s begin working toward a contemporary application. We should be building altars to God everywhere we go. And I don’t mean altars in order upon which to sacrifice animals. That disappeared when the One whom the sacrifices pictured appeared! So, in a sense, the animals received a blessing of sorts too when Christ was sacrificed. Since Christ poured out His blood, the animals are no longer needed for sacrifice. They have been liberated! But, more importantly, so have we! So, no more building altars for animal sacrifices to God. “It is finished!” said the living sacrifice Jesus Christ as He offered Himself up to God for us.
The altars we build today are not literal but of the figurative type. We don’t look around for a few choice stones upon which to offer up sacrifices. No, we look for quiet places to erect our altars, quiet places where we, like Abraham, can call on the name of the LORD.
We are the Family of Abraham. We’ve been engrafted into his family tree through faith. Therefore, like our father Abraham we should be building altars to keep up the family tradition.
Fathers, the altar is the place where you should go every day to pray for your family. Pray every day for the forgiveness of your family. Pray every day that the blood that was drained from Christ will cover the sins of your family.
Mothers, the altar is the place where you should go to pray for your husband and your children. It’s that quiet little haven where you meet with God. It’s the place where you ask the LORD to help you look after your little ones. It’s the place where you pray for your husband and your children’s future.
Children, the altar is the place you find it so hard to go! You’d rather watch the telly, phone a friend, read a book. You’d rather do just about anything than call on the name of the LORD in prayer! Well, the altar is the place where you learn the proper attitude towards God. Don’t ignore Him, for that’s what non-Christians do. “Draw near to Him...” and He gives you His Word, His promise that “He will draw near to you.”
The altar is the place where we meet as a family. It’s the place where dad reads the Bible out loud to his wife and his children. And of course the altar is where Christians meet every Lord’s Day all over the world. Beloved! Followers, disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ, have you been neglecting the Family Altar? Is the sum total of redemption just to you the fact that you are saved? Is that it? “Oh I’m saved. I’ll just sit on my hands till the LORD comes for me.” Is that it for you? I suspect that that’s it is for a lot of Christians today!
Look back at what we looked at what we’ve looked before. Look at the second half of what the LORD promised in Abraham in Genesis 12:4, “And in you [Abraham] all the FAMILIES of the earth shall be blessed.” We know that this word “families” becomes “nations” in the New Testament. But nations are made up of many families, are they not? So how then do you expect your family or nation to get the full blessing if you won’t build a metaphorical altar and call on the LORD to receive it?
There’s much more to the blessing than salvation as great a blessing as that is. There’s a blessing to be spread to all the families of the earth. By the way, the LORD won’t meet you at the altar with a 4x2 plank in His hand! He wants you to meet with Him so that He can bless you, not clobber you! He’s not going to say, “Where’ve you been?” THUMP! He wants to bless His people, but He also wants you to ask Him. If you call on Him then you’ll know the blessing is coming from Him, and then you’ll give Him the glory, just like Abraham when he built his altars
ConclusionLet each family be a living sacrifice on God’s altar for the sake of Jesus Christ. Abraham built an altar and called on the name of the LORD. He consecrated his life into serving Him with thankful remembrance. Let Christians follow the example of our father Abraham that the LORD may bless us along with him. May we all glorify God and enjoy Him forever!