Be An Altar Builder | Genesis 12

November 28, 2021

Book: Genesis


Genesis 12:4-7 4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. 6Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring, I will give this land.” So, he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

In Genesis 12, Abram left his father’s household following God’s call in his life. Finally, when he reached Canaan, the Lord appeared to him and he made an altar to the Lord.

Purpose of this sermon

Today we are going to look at Abram’s altar, thereafter, and see how this passage applies to us in the 21st Century. This will, in turn, show us the very purpose of our lives.

What is the ultimate purpose of our lives? Why do you think God has given you a particular profession, placed you at a workplace, giving a community around you, and placed into a particular family? What is the purpose behind all this?

God called Abram and he just obeyed, left Harran and reached Canaan.

The Stress on the Land

Most importantly, see the stress the real translation gives on the Promised Land, Canaan.

Genesis 12:5-6

NRSV 5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.

The Canaanites Were In The Land

So, when Abram reached there, there was another group of people living there.


It is as if you have bought a new car and someone else is driving it. Or it is as if you have bought a new house and when you pack your belongings and reach your home, someone else is living there.

Now there is a competition to own the land. There was opposition Abram faced in the Promised Land. It would take 400-plus years in the time of Joshua when they finally possess the land. Do you know that many of Abraham’s promises were not fulfilled in his lifetime?

Every opposition is a blessing in disguise

Now Abram has had competition and opposition. This opposition would turn out to be a blessing later as they would take over the city that the Canaanites built, eat from the vineyards the Canaanites planted, and they would even get the alphabet from the Canaanites. This would make Israel literate and able to read their scripture. So, the opposition was a blessing in disguise.

Have you seen that God sometimes calls us, promises us his blessings but yet we face opposition sometimes? If you are walking according to God’s will, and yet facing difficulties, don’t worry. All things work out for our good.

An inspirational sermon on Jehoshaphat.

Coming back, the Canaanites were in the land. There was also someone else in the land.

The Lord Was In The Land

Genesis 12:7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” When you look at the opposition the gospel faces in our land, we wonder what is going to happen. Let me tell you, the Lord is in our land too.

Psalm 24:1-2 1The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.

The LORD appearing in the OT is a very rare site. This is the first of any mention of the Lord appearing in the Bible. By the way, the Lord appeared to Abram only thrice.


The word LORD in Hebrew is translated YAHWEH or Jehovah which in Hebrew means HE IS. He is the God who is. Every other god is just a product of someone’s imagination. He is a God who makes a self-revelation to his people.

Do you remember Moses in the book of Exodus went to Pharaoh in Egypt during the time of oppression of the Hebrews? He asked Pharaoh to let the people go and worship YAHWEH. Exodus 5:2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”

God said: Exodus 7:4-5 4Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment. I will bring out my divisions, my people, the Israelites. 5And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.

Do you see that God reveals himself to Abram in a very graceful way, on the other hand, God revealed himself to the Egyptians with the hand of judgement? When God sends the plagues on Egypt, you can tell that you are dealing with a God who really exists and not just someone’s creation.

God’s revelation through Jesus Christ

Hebrews 1:1-4 1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

We get a better revelation of God through Christ than Abram or the OT saints could have had in the foreshadowing experience of God, in the occasional theophany or in the appearances of God.

The real God of heaven and earth appears to Abram. See what God said to Abram. Genesis 12:7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

Listen, God promised him the land and finally, when God brought him to the land there are Canaanites there. The Canaanites would say it is their land. Their names are on the title deeds. But here God is saying, “This is my land and I am giving it to you?” How is it possible?


In 2001 we purchased a piece of land from HBR Layout where we currently live. Before registration of the land, I went through all the title deeds dating back all the way to the 1960s. The land belonged to a lot of people. A lot of people had changed ownership to farm land. Then the BDA took over and BDA allotted it to someone. And now we have purchased the land from him. All these people thought that they were the owners of the land but they were really not. They were only stewards for a short time until someone else owns it. Every blessing and every land that God gives is the Lord’s, we are only stewards of God’s blessings.

Finally, when God gave the Israelites the land, God said you cannot sell the land, you can only lease it.

Leviticus 25:23 The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.

Everything we have is not really ours, but God’s wealth given to us for a time period.


Nowadays we hardly go to banks. We have everything online including online banking. But sometimes I visit the bank for my personal work. One day I wanted some money and I went to the bank teller. She had lots of money in her cabin. Every day crores of rupees pass through her hand. That does not mean that it is all hers. It is there for a moment and then it is gone. At the end of the day, she has to give an account of how she used the money.

That is how we are to view our riches. We are stewards of all that God has given to us. How are you going to view your stewardship? Better hold it with an open hand, because neither you nor I will have it permanently in our hands. It all belongs to the Lord.

Be good stewards of God’s blessings.

See the response of Abram: Genesis 12:6b So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Nevertheless, it was a real appearance of God and as a matter of fact, the response to the appearance of God is worship. That is what Abram does. Abram responds in worship by building an altar. Altars served as the meeting place between God and man.

The great reality is that it all belongs to God and if God says I am going to give it, even if the Canaanites are there and they have the title deed of it, it is God’s and God has perfect authority over the land.

Now when we think about altars, we think it is for sacrifice. But actually, when you look in the OT for altars there are different kinds of altars: Open altars and altars in the temple or tabernacle.

Altars of the Old Testament

1. Altar of Sacrifice

You build an altar, then you put an animal on it and you offer it to God. For Israel there was primarily one altar of sacrifice. There was one altar outside the tabernacle and then outside the temple. This is a symbol of how you need to have a sacrifice to qualify to go to the presence of God. It is because of the sin and you had to sacrifice and God would provide atonement. A blood-cleansing experience that allows us to get into God’s presence.

In the NT Christ is our sacrifice and Christ is our altar. Christ is our high priest. We are also a royal priesthood who are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 13:10; Romans 12:1

2. Altar of Incense

This is also called the golden altar. This altar has nothing to do with sacrifice. This altar is inside the tabernacle in the holy place. Every day at the temple, in the morning and in the evening, a chosen priest would burn incense offering to God where smoke would rise up. It symbolizes the way our prayers ascend like the smoke, which is a sweet-smelling fragrance to God. So, our prayers ascend and get to God.

3. Altar of Stones

This kind of altar was not used for sacrifices. No incense burned on it either. It has just been built, that is it. It was built for two reasons:

The Significance of an Altar of Stone in the OT

1. Altar Reminds Us of the Reality of God

Firstly, the altars are monuments or memorials for the reality of God. When people have the experience or revelation of God, an altar is raised.

Altar in Joshua 4

In Joshua 4, when Israel crossed Jordan and comes to the Promised Land. God parted the Jordan. Joshua asks them to take 12 stones from the river to make an altar, to erect a monument. Later when the people, “Ask how did the stones get here?” Tell them, “This is a living proof of a living God. The God who brought his people out and dried up the Jordan to let them enter the Promised Land.”

Altar in 1 Samuel 7

Likewise in 1 Samuel 7. Samuel is leading God’s people on a glorious worship service on Mizpah. The Philistines realize that the Israelites are holed up on the mountain and they come for war. Well-equipped and armed philistines against Israelites. The Israelites were anxious and asked Samuel to pray and the Lord answered and delivered his people and he caused the philistines to go into panic. A supernatural victory was won. The Israelites chased after them to pick up the booty. When the philistines left the territory of Israel, never again to return. Samuel said, “Let’s raise a stone memorial.” 1 Samuel 7:12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” Ebenezer means stone of help.

Here was a monument for the reality of God that God defends them from their enemies.

Raise an Altar today

Thank God for His saving grace. You and I have the privilege every day to experience the reality of God. You and I have the privilege Sunday after Sunday to raise our Ebenezer, not a literal pile of stones but a spiritual monument, looking back at our lives and thanking God for his grace, and his saving grace upon our lives. So, I come to you with thanksgiving.

God revealed himself to Abram. He responds in worship by building an altar. Worship to a God who is real and who can actually reveal himself to man.

2. Monument for God’s Ownership of the Land

Secondly, altars erected as a monument for god’s ownership of the land.

Ownership of the Promised Land

In Joshua 22, the eastern tribes of Ruben and Gad and half tribe of Manasseh take the eastern part of the Promised Land before Jordan. They join the other tribes for the conquest of the Promised Land. After the battle the 2-1/2 tribes return back home. Their home is in the east of the Jordan river. They know this is the God’s land. God gave them when they defeated the Amorites. And they built an altar on their side of the land to be a witness to their grandchildren that this land belongs to God too. They did not want their grandchildren to have a misunderstanding that this is not the Promised Land.

Joshua was concerned about the altar and see what they said: Joshua 22:25-26 25 The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord. 26“That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’

Altar Marked Ownership

In ancient times the kings held their territory by keeping their monuments, their names, and their royal symbols in the land. It is putting a national flag of today.

When God called Abram, the Canaanites were in the land. They had their stones to show it was theirs. Then the Lord appearing to Abram said, to your offspring I will give this land. Now, this is God’s land. It will be another 400-plus years before they conquer the land in Joshua. So, Abram is taking possession of his promise and holding a worship service to say that this is the land of the Lord and I take it by faith. So, Abram was worshipping them in the land and claiming the territory and saying, “This belongs to the Lord.” Abram built altars only in the place where God said he is giving a particular land. He is placing flags everywhere.

Different Altars in Genesis

Shechem: Genesis 12:7

Bethel: Genesis 12:8

Hebron: Genesis 13:18

Moriah: Genesis 22:9

Beersheba built by Isaac: Genesis 26:25

Shechem by Jacob and the list goes on.

Listen, the altars of stone in the Bible does not impress you with their architecture or appearance. The law of the altar in Exodus 20 you find that you can have a heap of mud and create an altar. If you want a more permanent one, you just take rocks and pile up stones, you cannot scratch or carve them either. You cannot beautify it. Just use the rocks the way God made them, place them together and you have an altar.

Exodus 20:25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. You cannot even scratch it, then it will have your signature on it. What Abram did is a picture of a real city whose builder and maker is God. The real land of promise of which this earthly Canaan is a symbol.

The Canaanites must have wondered what is going on, there were just piles of stones around. Whose signature is on the stones. It is the God’s name. The stones were found exactly the way God created them. Our worship is a response to the Lord’s self-revelation and accepting His lordship in the land and in our lives.

Genesis 12:8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Abram calls on the name of the Lord

Abram does not call on the Lord, he calls on the name of the Lord. What is the meaning of that?

This is not an invocation. The land belongs to the Lord.

Same parallel is in Genesis 26. Isaac came to Beersheba Genesis 26:24-25 24That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” 25Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord. God appeared to Isaac in a supernatural way and Isaac called on the name of the Lord. You see, calling on the name of the Lord is not invoking God.

So what does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? This means to solemnly claim or proclaim the name of the Lord. Just say the name of God out.

God Calls His Name

There are passages where God calls out his own name: Exodus 33:19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

God calls his own name in Exodus 34:5-7God just pronounced his own name in a tender time of self-revelation of God to Moses.

What does it mean to pronounce the name? It is self-disclosure. When you are telling someone your name, you are telling them about your character. God does on and elaborates and talks more about who he is as the Lord. He is a compassionate and gracious God. A name reveals your character in the OT. For example, Jacob, Isaac, Esau.

Therefore, when Abram calls on the name of the Lord he confesses:

3. My Blessings Belong to the Lord

Altar is the declaration that my blessings belong to the lord

Abram has just been told this land is going to be given to you; therefore, by faith and worship he is erecting an altar and telling the Canaanites. In fact, they do not own the land, it is the Lord’s. All my blessings belong to the Lord.

He does not only say that the land belongs to the Lord: he is saying: I belong to the Lord.

4. I Belong to the Lord

Altar is a declaration that I belong to the Lord. God’s name is written on my heart. The land belongs to God and I am his too. The Lord’s name is written in my heart. It confesses the Lord’s ownership of both the land and the person.

Isaiah 43:1-2 But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 44:5 Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; others will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel.

You belong to the Lord, as a result, the Lord belongs to you. Now you belong to the Lord. So, God will take care of you and nothing will happen to you without the Lord’s knowledge.

Abram said that I want to take time to worship the Lord. I want to be with the Lord and the Lord will take care of me.


In conclusion, the purpose of our life is worship. Abram came out of his father’s household, Ur of the Chaldeans and Haran to worship God. Abram was an altar builder.

Comparison with Exodus

Remarkably, this experience in Genesis 12 is a precursor to what Israel will go through in Exodus. In Genesis, Abram has a revelation, and Israel will also have an experience from God at Mt. Sinai at Exodus 24. What we see in Abram is seen in a bigger way in how the Israelites go to the wilderness and worship God. The purpose of the Exodus is to worship God. See what Moses says to Pharaoh 15 times: Exodus 8:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”

The purpose of Exodus is to worship God. Pharaoh said to let the adult men go but let the children stay back. Finally, Pharaoh’s advisers after the 10th plague get that and they ask Pharaoh to release Moses and his people to worship God.]’

Exodus 12:31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested.

Worship in the New Testament

The final revelation of this God has come in Jesus Christ so that true worshippers may worship God in spirit and in truth. God is the centre point of worship, not the pastor, not the worship leader, not the musicians or music. God is the centre point of worship.

No one can worship God unless God self-reveals himself to man. Are you being a true worshipper today?

Some Observations:

  • Firstly, the final fulfilment of our promises will be in eternity.
  • Secondly, every opposition is a blessing in disguise.
  • Thirdly, be good stewards of all that God has given to us.
  • Fourthly, we have a full revelation of God through Jesus Christ.
  • Lastly, Worship is the ultimate purpose of our life.