Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “I am going to give this land to your offspring.” And Abram built an altar there to commemorate the Lord’s visit. — Genesis 12:7

In the days of the California gold rush, the miners rushed to stake claims to land that they believed held their fortune. Before them, in the days of the colonizers, the explorers arrived at foreign shores and, in front of the curious glances of the indigenous people, they planted the flag of their sovereigns.

In more recent times, after great battles the victorious troops raised their standard over hard-won territory—for instance, the U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima, an event captured in the famous photograph (and subsequent statue) which was taken the day after the actual event took place!

Millennia earlier, Abram received instructions from the Lord that he was to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees and head toward a destination that would be shown to him en route. In a remarkable display of obedience and faith, he did so. The enterprise stalled in Haran until Abram’s father died.

The Lord then gave His instructions directly to Abram: “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). So he did. When he eventually arrived at Shechem, the place to which he had been traveling unknowingly, the Lord visited him and confirmed that it was the place of His choice, telling Abram, “I am going to give this land to your offspring” (12:7).

Abram had no flag, and there was no office to which he could rush to stake a claim—but he left his mark at the place. He “built an altar there to commemorate the Lord’s visit” (12:7). Then he traveled on to Bethel and “there he built an altar and worshiped the Lord” (12:8).

When the colonial explorers planted their flags and staked their claims to vast territories, they had little to go on to justify their claims but their own arrogance and gunpowder. In Abram’s case, the Canaanites were in possession of the land when he arrived, but it was because the Lord (whose land it was in the first place) had ceded it to Abram’s heirs that Abram took his action in trust and obedience.

When we look at the promises that God gave Abram, it is remarkable that not one of them could be substantiated with any degree of certainty. Becoming the “father of a great nation” (12:2) seemed highly unlikely, being blessed and becoming famous and becoming a “blessing to others” were far removed from anything that he was experiencing at that time (12:3). There was nothing tangible except altars, bearing silent witness to Abram’s faith and obedience.

Everybody believes something. Along the path of our lives, we have each erected silent witnesses to what we hold dear—a business, a building, a boat, or a book.

Sit down sometime, and look back and see the things you’ve left along the way. They’ll speak volumes about the journey you’ve taken and the place where you’ve arrived.

For further study: Genesis 11:27-12-8

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.