Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.’”
When God told Abram to leave Haran and go “to the land that I will show you” (12:1), Abram went in obedience and faith (12:4). Finally, after a journey of about 400 miles, Abram and his entourage arrived at Shechem in the land of Canaan (12:6). When the Lord told Abram that he would give this land to Abram’s offspring, Abram “built there an altar to the LORD” (12:7).
Genesis does not tell us why Abram built an altar. Presumably, he did so in order to offer sacrifices to God, though this is not stated explicitly in the text. But, sacrifices or not, the altar itself is a visible, tangible acknowledgement of the Lord. It is a way for Abram to say in action, “Lord, we have arrived here because of you. We thank you and dedicate ourselves to you once again.” Moreover, the existence of this altar would be to Abram and his associates, whenever they were in Shechem, a reminder of the Lord. (In 12:8, Abram moves on to a new location and builds another altar.)
As I think about Abram’s act of altar building, I wonder what in my life is like an altar. I don’t build literal altars, of course, stacking up stones for literal sacrifices. But are there things in my life that serve as altars, things that say emphatically, “I acknowledge you, Lord,” things that remind me consistently of God’s sovereign grace?
Yes, I have many “altars” in this sense. In my office, for example, there are photographs that remind me of God’s grace in my life: a picture of me and my grandfather, my best friend and hero when I was young; a photo of me with Lloyd Ogilvie and Howard Butt, Jr., two men who, more than any others, mentored me and helped me discover God’s plans for my life; a photo of me shaking the hand of Billy Graham, whose preaching led me to Christ when I was a boy; a picture of me and my dad when I was a toddler. All of these photos remind me of God’s grace in my life. They inspire me to be like the extraordinary men who have motivated me, taught me, modeled faithfulness for me, and loved me. These photos are “altars” because they produce more than nostalgia in me. Rather, they point me to the Lord with gratitude and humility. When I put them up in my office, I am saying, “You have brought me here, Lord. I acknowledge you, thank you, and dedicate myself to you.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you have any “altars” in your life? What are the tangible objects that point your mind and heart to the Lord?
If you can’t think of any “altars,” what might you “build” in order to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and remember his grace?
Gracious God, sometimes when we arrive at our destination, whether literally or figuratively, we think we are there by our own efforts. But the example of Abram reminds us that we have accomplished everything in our lives because of your grace at work in and around us. Thus, like Abram, we need “altars” to turn our hearts toward you in gratitude and humility. Whether we build these or simply recognize them, may we see around us that which reminds us of you and refreshes our devotion to you. Amen.