Should I leave or should I go? …because they’re different

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 – New Revised Standard Version

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 – New International Version

What exactly was God’s call to Abraham? Was it to “Leave” or to “Go?”

I’m not trying to be silly here, those words are profoundly different. If you leave then you’re a refugee. You’re fleeing something, escaping a dangerous or unhealthy situation. It almost doesn’t matter where you are going, just so long as you aren’t where you were. If you leave your focus is on where you were and why you no longer want to be there.

But if you Go then you’re a pioneer, a visionary, an explorer. You are heading towards something, you have a calling, an idea, an inspiration. It almost doesn’t matter what you are leaving, just so long as you head in the direction you are supposed to go. If you Go your focus is on the destination, the goal and why you need to journey to that place.

So which is it for Abram and why are those two Bible versions different? Well, it’s all in the translation. Originally written in Hebrew Genesis 12:1 looks like this (Hebrew reads right to left):

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃

It’s the blue word that’s the issue. Its root is a challenge to pronounce, It starts with a “ha” sound, moves to an L and then a really soft Hebrew K, but this is not Hebrew class so let’s move on. The thing with this word is… it means both. Both “Go” and “Leave”. It has the sense of one getting up and walking away. And that’s what Abram was called to do… both.

Abram had to leave the Chaldeans… had to leave Haran… because there’s no room there to build a relationship with God. There are too many things to mislead, too many distractions. The people he lives with, their culture is deep in ancient idolatry. In particular, they are really into the sun, moon, and stars… especially the moon.

In his book Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg records a tale of the babe Abram whisked off into a cave. He sees the stars and proclaims them gods… until they disappear, then he says “these are no gods”. He does the same with the sun… until it sets. With the moon… until it is obscured. Finally, the little Abram recognizes that the real God must set all of these things in motion, and after that he is visited by the angel Gabriel.

Now, a western Christian reader will ask “Is that true?” To which I would politely point you to the title where the word Legends is capitalized. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, it shows that even in the preserved oral tradition of the children of Abram they too understood that he had to leave. The real God was beyond the idols that his people worshipped.

But that’s not the real magic of the story. It happens later, in Genesis 15 and further on, after Abram has had a chance to see that God is real, and worth following in faith. At some point in the story for Abram, Leave turns into Go. That’s when we begin to see Abram become what the bible calls a Patriarch or a father/parent of the faith. You could have a great coffee conversation about when exactly in the story that shift takes place (there are several good moments for candidates). When all is said and done however, Abram will even have a new name, Abraham and an enviable closeness with the one true God.

I think it’s pretty important to note that the ‘legendary material’ isn’t included in the Bible. It’s likely not in the Bible because it wasn’t there in the first place because it was composed later. Even if that’s not the case, its absence would mean that the Holy Spirit guiding a skilled and called author chose to leave it out… This makes sense to me, because even though Abram had to leave, his story is far more about where he is Going.

In times of transition. When you have to both leave and go. Abram’s story reminds me not to be stuck in the leaving. Are there things I will miss? People I care about? Will there be hardship in the transition? A solid yes to all of those. But if God has called you to לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ in any way… to make an Abram style change, to both leave and go, then we should be ready for our ‘magic moment’ when leave becomes go. When we too realize that God was with us, is with us, and if we’re willing… will lead us to the new creation that he has called us to inhabit, to become.

If you find yourself in one of those moments, Abram is a good story to read (it starts in Genesis 12), and may it inspire you to find that moment where your gaze moves from what you left and begins to look more at where you are going.

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