Ur of the Chaldeans
Genesis 11:31-32 states, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haram’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years and died in Haran.” So, where was this place called Ur and why was it significant?
Where Was Ur?
Chaldea was a region located in the central and southeastern regions of Mesopotamia, generally between the southeast portions of Tigress and Euphrates Rivers. Today this area is part of Iraq; it is close to the Iranian border and extends southeastward into the land just north of the Persian Gulf. Ur was a part of this region. It would later be ruled by the Babylonians and then the Persians who played a major role in the Babylonian Exile and the return of the Jews to Palestine.
Ur was home to a highly developed civilization. Despite the city’s apparent comforts, however, it was from Ur that Terah and his family, including Abram and Sarai, set out for Canaan. They traveled as far as Haran, where they “settled” (Gen. 11:31). Following a direct line in a northwesterly direction, the distance between Ur and Haran is not quite 600 miles—a considerable distance. Canaan, of course, was even farther away. For Abram, leaving Ur meant being uprooted from home. This was no small matter.
When Did God Call Abraham?
We do not know why Terah (Abram’s father) decided to stay in Haran, but the family settled there. While on first reading, the Genesis account seems to indicate God called Abram while he was in Haran, Stephen’s testimony before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7 places the divine call to Abram while he was in Ur: “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he settled in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and away from your relatives, and come to the land that I will show you.’ Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran” (Acts 7:2-4).
The Genesis account does not contradict Stephen’s testimony, but it does report the journey to Haran before it reports God’s initial call. Nehemiah 9:7 also seems to indicate that God called Abram while he was still living in Ur. It’s possible that Terah also sensed God’s call to the “land of Canaan,” or perhaps he was influenced by Abraham’s call. It’s hard to say. We can be certain, however, that Abraham was ultimately obedient to God’s call and continued the journey to Canaan. The name Ur means “fire oven.”