In actuality, Abram (Abraham) of the Old Testament might be designated as the first Zionist. He was a wealthy man in the village of Haran. Christian Zionist Walter Clay Lowdermilk wrote: “The movement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine [began four thousand years earlier] when Abraham, prompted by Divine inspiration, left the plains of Mesopotamia to establish a new people on the land of Canaan.”
Abram was the son of Terah, a seller of idols, but from early childhood questioned his father’s dedication to gods fashioned of stone and wood. Abram began to seek the truth and came to believe that his surroundings, the earth and sky, were the work of one Creator. He began to share this concept with others. I envision Abram sitting on a bench outside the front flap of his tent. Sarai, his wife, is likely overseeing the servants as they go about their daily tasks—winnowing grain, hauling water for the animals, spinning cloth, or roasting a goat or camel.
Perhaps God had appointed others who failed to answer His call, but obviously, the Creator sees a trait in Abram that prompted Him to say, “That’s My man! He’s the one with whom I’ll make a covenant.” So suddenly, Abram found himself in an encounter with Jehovah God. He was stunned to hear the voice of the Lord calling to him: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”
Abram responded with great faith. Imagine the conversation he must have had later that day with Sarai: “Wife, we’re leaving first thing in the morning. God told me to go. Have the servants take down the tents, gather the flocks, pack everything, and load the camels.” “Abram, what do you mean we’re leaving? We can’t leave. Where are we going?” “I don’t know yet,” Abram responded. “God will tell me when we get there!”
Along with Lot, Abram’s nephew, they packed up “all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan” (Genesis 12:5). Abram’s complete trust in God and his obedience are unique in Scripture, although he did bring Lot and his father even after God had instructed him not to bring any relatives (Genesis 12:1). His father died on the journey, but by the time Abram had reached the Land, he and Lot had acquired so much cattle and livestock that they had to separate (Genesis 13).
Following Lot’s departure and the later destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God again spoke to Abram: “Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you” (Genesis 13:14-17).
After this land grant was bestowed upon him, Abram’s name was changed to Abraham, for God had declared that his servant would be “a father of many nations.” At the same time, He changed Sarai’s name to Sarah (princess) and announced that she and Abraham would have a son, Isaac. The news must have come as a great shock for both, as they were already well past their childbearing years. But Isaac was born just as God promised. The covenant between God and Abraham would pass to Isaac, and through him to Jacob and to future descendants.