Abraham was a rancher. I used to think of him as a shepherd of sheep, but he also had oxen because Abimelech gave him some. Maybe he had camels and donkeys because Job had them. He used his team of herdsmen instead of barbed wire fences, because back then they had the room. It must have been an impressive sight. Still, it wouldn’t have been the occupation that I would have chosen. Why not something else? What else could he have been?
According to the archeologist Leonard Woolley, Abraham came from Ur in lower Mesopotamia, which rose to the level of an empire in earlier days. Mesopotamian cities built irrigation canals and developed farming techniques. Commerce and trade abounded, so Abraham could have been anything he wanted. From here, Sargon the Great had conquered the world all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The great kings who kidnapped Abram’s nephew Lot also came from here. For twelve years before Abram’s intervention, they had held the cities of Canaan under tribute from afar. At its worst, this was a system of tyranny, immorality, oppression, and taxation. Egypt was another prosperous country of empire and dynasties. These were not where Abram chose to live.
Some people believe that Ur was in Turkey or Assyria, closer to Haran. We’re not sure. Haran and Mari were two famous city-states back then, located in present-day Syria. Most cities of the time were less than 2000 inhabitants, but key cities grew larger through trade. They were ruled by kings, who were not all that powerful alone. Cities made alliances with other cities for trade and protection, like the European Middle Ages. Abram settled in Haran for a time. City life was not as controlled as life in the Babylonian empire, but this was still not his final choice. Haran could probably offer more comforts, but it couldn’t offer as much independence as Canaan.
Abram chose Canaan in response to God’s command. God moved Abram far away from the empires of Mesopotamia and Egypt. He did not have the reliable water of the Euphrates or the Nile, so he had to rely on God for rain. Cities were smaller and farther between, so he couldn’t buy as much. But in Canaan, Abram was truly free to be everything that God intended him to be. He could prosper in peace. Under the stars, he could meet with God and receive the promise. Abraham chose to be a rancher and live in tents because he was headed for a city built by God, not men. (Hebrews 11:10)