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Altars, Altars Everywhere

Key References: Genesis 11:27–12:9; Patriarchs and Prophets, chap. 11, pp. 125-131; The Bible Story (1994), vol. 1, pp. 138-147; Our Beliefs, nos. 21, 17, 3.

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“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me” (John 12:26).

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We can serve God wherever He leads us.

Imagine that half your family is moving away. You can choose to go or to stay. How would you feel about leaving them—and your friends—to go somewhere you knew nothing about?

Lot faced an important decision. For someone so young, it seemed that changes were always coming his way. And they weren’t always happy changes. Sometimes they were pretty scary.

First, his father, Haran, had died at an early age. Lot went to live with his grandfather Terah. Then Terah moved the entire family out of the city of Ur, where Lot’s father was buried. Lot had to pack up and leave his birthplace, his friends, everything!

In the company of his grandfather and his two uncles, Nahor and Abram, Lot set out for the land of Canaan. The most direct way to Canaan would have been to go across the Arabian Desert, but that was impossible. No one would have survived that. Instead they set out on an indirect route up the great Euphrates River. Along the way, after traveling 600 miles, they settled in a city called Haran.

Life in their new home brought with it more changes in the family. In their homeland they had been faithful to God and had followed His leading. Regretfully, however, when they settled in the land of Haran some of them began to worship other gods. Little by little they adopted the practices of the surrounding people.

After Grandfather Terah died, God told Abram, Lot’s uncle, to go on to Canaan. This was where they had been headed in the first place. It was time, Abram said, to move again.

Everyone knew that Abram was faithful to God. If he said God had brought him a message, it was not something that could be ignored. Now he said that God had warned him of the dangers of staying where they were. But Canaan sounded so distant, so different from what the family was used to. Instead of living in solid, comfortable homes, with four walls and a roof, they might be spending the rest of their lives in flimsy tents. And the people who lived in that place were known to be even more wicked than the people of Haran. Why would this decision to go on to Canaan be a good idea? Lot’s uncle Nahor declared that he and his family were staying in Haran.

Abram and his wife, Sarai, and their family prepared to leave. As they packed their belongings, they urged Lot to come with them. “God has made us a promise,” Abram said. “He told me: ‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing’ [Genesis 12:2]. If we follow His leading, our people will become a great nation. God said this, and I believe Him.”

Lot was torn. Whom should he follow? Finally, when Abram was ready to leave, Lot decided to go with him. Throughout this great migration to Canaan, however, Abram never claimed to be a great leader. Wherever he went, Abram always acknowledged that God, his heavenly Father, was the leader of His people. When they reached a place called Shechem, they camped in a broad, grassy valley. It was a beautiful, fertile area, known for its grainfields and orchards. To show his thanks for God’s leading, Abram built an altar.

Canaan had long been the home of a people who worshipped idols. As Abram further explored Canaan, he came across many altars that were built to honor false gods. The Canaanites had actually offered human sacrifices on these altars. In these surroundings Abram boldly placed his own altars for the worship of the one true God.

Wherever Abram pitched his tent, he immediately set up an altar to God and called his people to worship. These were joyful celebrations. Abram felt responsible to give back to God a part of the substance with which the Lord had blessed him. Everyone in Abram’s camp came together to praise God for His leading.

Lot observed the influence that Abram began to have in Canaan. Abram and Sarai became known throughout the new land, as they had in Haran, for their service and love to all. Whenever Abram left one of his encampments, the altar remained as a witness to anyone who happened by. Lot learned from his uncle Abram’s example to serve God wherever he journeyed.