So the days of Terah were two hundred and five years, and Terah died in Haran. (Genesis 11:32, N.K.J.V.)
The Bible doesn’t tell us how long Abram, Sarai, Terah, and Lot lived in the city of Haran. It does, however, provide us with several clues that indicate that the stay was substantial. First, Genesis 11:31 in the K.J.V and the N.K.J.V. says they “dwelt” there, and many other translations use the word “settled” rather than “dwelt.” Second, Genesis 12:5 lets us know that the group lived there long enough to acquire servants. Third, the stay was long enough for Terah, who was healthy enough to make the six-hundred-mile journey from Ur to Haran, to die in Haran.
This is a part of Abram’s story that rarely gets mentioned. We’re talking about months, perhaps years, that he spent out of the will of God in Haran. Call it stopping short. Call it partial obedience. Call it something else. But the bottom line is that God wanted Abram in Canaan, and he settled down to a comfortable life in Haran.
In the Biblical account, it is only after we read the words “Terah died in Haran” that we read the words:
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: 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: 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. (Genesis 12:1-3, K.,J.V.)
Pay special attention to those words: “Now the Lord had said…” That wording proves that God had spoken to Abram when Abram was living in Ur. God’s command is only revisited in Genesis 12:1-3 because it serves as a transitional segue to explain why Abram left Haran and headed out for Canaan. By the way, if we need any more scriptural evidence that God spoke to Abram in Ur rather than in Haran, we find it in Acts 7:2-4, which says of Stephen appearing before the Sanhedrin Council:
And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell.” (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)
Just as Abram’s settling in Haran rarely gets mentioned in overviews of his life, I’ve never heard one preacher bring up the fact that we don’t even know how old Abram was when God first spoke to him there in Ur. Time and time again I’ve heard preachers reference Genesis 12:4, which says that Abram was 75 years old when he departed from Haran, as being the age at which God promised to give him a son (a promise implied by the words “I will make you a great nation”). These preachers then point out that Abram was 100 years old when baby Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5) and say, “Abram (Abraham) waited 25 years for God to make good on His promise.” Well, actually, the wait was longer than 25 years, longer by how much time it took for Abram to leave Ur, travel to Haran, and live in Haran until Terah died.
Whatever the amount of time was that Abram spent in Haran, it is safe to say that it would have been longer if Terah hadn’t died when he did. The way the story reads, Terah’s death was the event that prompted Abram to get back to doing what God had told him to do. I find here a very human element to the story. How many times does the death of a domineering father or mother kickstart a man or a woman to chart a new course in life? In Abram’s case, the death of his elderly father didn’t require him to chart a new course but instead finish one that he had previously begun.
So, as Abram, Sarai, and their servants uprooted from Haran and headed out for Canaan, were Abram’s days of stopping short finally behind him? No, they weren’t. Remember that Abram had initially allowed two extra people to accompany him when had left Ur. His dad Terah was one of them, and Terah was now dead. But what about Lot, Abrams nephew? Dare I say that Abram now had a second chance to sever ties with him and get more in line with God’s original vision for the journey? All Abram had to do was either leave Lot in Haran or send him back to Ur. As we know, however, he did neither. Genesis 12:5 says:
Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. (N.K.J.V., emphasis mine)
You say, “But Russell, maybe God wanted Lot to live in Canaan.” My reply to that is, “Have you read about Lot’s life in Canaan?” He started off badly by falling in love with the lush plain where the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located and pitching his tent at Sodom (Genesis 13:1-13). Then he officially moved into Sodom and temporarily became a prisoner of war when a coalition army from the East plundered the city of its goods (Genesis 14:1-12). Only when Abram put together a personal army and defeated that coalition army was Lot rescued from that predicament (Genesis 14:13-24). Next, he moved right back into Sodom and had to be basically drug out of there, along with his wife and two daughters, by two angels before God could destroy that city (Genesis 19:1-22). Even in the escape, his wife looked back longingly toward Sodom and was immediately turned into a pillar of salt. Then, finally, the last time Genesis mentions him, he produces the two ungodly races called the Moabites and the Ammonites by getting drunk during successive nights and having incestual sex with his two virgin daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). I’m telling you, if God wanted Lot to live out his life in Canaan, I’d hate to know what all would have happened to that guy if he had been supposed to spend his days in Ur or Haran!
So, by piecing everything together about Abram making the move from Ur to Canaan, we learn that in three ways he stopped short of doing God’s will. #1: He stopped short of separating from his idol-worshiping family completely by allowing Terah and Lot to accompany him on the trip. #2: He stopped short of pressing on for Canaan by settling down for a time in Haran. And #3: He stopped short of making good on a second chance to separate from Lot when Lot could have either been left in Haran or told to go back to Ur.
What all this indicates is that Abram was something of a spiritual mess when he started out with God. Even though he had great potential for service, he had a lot of rough edges that would have to be smoothed out over the decades that followed. As we know from the Bible’s record of his life, those rough edges were smoothed out, and the Abram (by then known as Abraham) who minded God perfectly by agreeing to offer up Isaac as a burnt offering was a man of shockingly ideal obedience (Genesis 22:1-19). Basically, the longer Abram lived, the more obedient to God he became. The fellow who stopped short of doing God’s perfect will in three ways even before he arrived in Canaan kept on plugging until he finally realized his full spiritual potential. That’s the closing epitaph to Abram’s life, and may it be the closing epitaph to my life and to your life as well.