I walked in on my daughter when she was about eight years old, sitting cross-legged on her bed and seriously gazing at several rocks lined up in front of her. (Was this “new age” philosophy creeping in?) Cautiously I asked her about the little ceremony I felt I’d interrupted. “Oh, every time I learn a lesson that I want to remember, I assign it to a rock and add it in this little bag. Then sometimes I take them all out and think about them.”
Genesis 11:27-22:19 records eight life-altering moments, spanning forty years in the life of Abraham. In response to each of these moments, Abram built an altar. In 12:1-7, he built an altar to commemorate the time when God’s words became very personal to him. This coincides with the next altar (12:8-9), as he realized that communication with his God was personal and intimate.
We continue the story of Abram in Genesis 12:10-20. There was a famine in the land. Abram succumbed to his old ways of managing his own circumstances. He diverted from God’s intended path and provision, and he journeyed to Egypt for survival. When encountering Pharaoh, he reacted in fear and with duplicity. God intervened, and Abram and Sarai, his wife, escaped disaster. They then returned to Bethel, where Abram had previously experienced fellowship with God. He did not build another altar, but he visited the last one he had built (13:1-4).
When we trust in our natural reasoning and resources at the times our survival is at risk, we sacrifice the guidance of God and His will. The antidote to wandering about in fear and confusion is to return to the place where we were distracted from our pursuit of God.
Note that during this time, Abram prospered physically. His prosperity was a result of God’s mercy and not a sign of His pleasure. God often chooses to meet our needs in spite of our disobedience.