God Tells Abraham to Do What?

Some time later God tested Abraham.” This is how the most difficult story in the life of Abraham begins, the call of Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22. This story is one that fascinates us and infuriates us. Some are drawn to the picture of a faithful God pictured here, while others are turned off by the mere idea that God would ask for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It is a difficult and divisive text to be sure. This will not stop me from moving forward in giving my thoughts, but that I am doing so in humility. I could be wrong and disagreement is more than welcome as long as it is civil.

It is hard to know where to start with this passage, so let us start at the beginning. God tests Abraham by telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. It is at this point that we think we must be reading something wrong. God is calling on Abraham to sacrifice his son? This is messed up.

I agree with the sentiment. It does seem messed up, but in the day of Abraham that kind of sacrifice was not unheard of. I think that this is one barrier we have to understanding this text. We look on the idea of human sacrifice, and particularly child sacrifice, as evil. I believe we are right in doing so, but such a line was not so clear in the days of Abraham.

We have both the gift and curse of hindsight to help us today. However, who knows what practices we do today that will be looked at with disdain thousands of years from now. It should also be noted that we don’t quite know how old Isaac was at this point. He was old enough to carry a significant amount of firewood. This doesn’t change the repulsiveness of human sacrifice, but it may change our image of a helpless little child also.

Some even suggest that this story is evidence of God providing a different way. That God here is rejecting human sacrifice. Walter Brueggemann, disagrees saying, “It is of no value to find in this story an exchange of animal sacrifice for human sacrifice, as it addresses much more difficult issues.” Honestly, I think Brueggemann dismisses the idea a little too quickly. Can this passage not have that message even if it is not the primary message? It is laid clear in Leviticus and Deuteronomy later that child sacrifice is not acceptable, so this passage could serve as an example of God’s rejection of that practice.

With that said, I do agree with Brueggemann that this passage is dealing with much more difficult issues. This leads to the next reason why God’s instructions to Abraham are so messed up. Not only is the idea of human sacrifice evil, but isn’t this the very son that God provided to Abraham in the first place? Even if human sacrifice was accepted in this age, you’d have thought that Abraham would have brought this to God’s attention.

In fact, some consider the silence of Abraham here as an indicator that Abraham, at least partially, failed God’s test. To be honest, I’m of mixed opinion on this. I can certainly see why some would come to that conclusion. A few chapters ago we saw Abraham confronting God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Why would he not plead for his own son? Abraham has not had any problem bringing up doubts or difficulties trusting God in the past, why is it different here?

However, I could also see it as Abraham learning to trust God. Abraham had doubted God in the arrival of an heir, but God proved faithful. It certainly seems that Abraham is trusting again in the faithfulness of God. After all when Isaac brings up the fact that there is no animal for the offering, Abraham simply says, “God will provide the lamb for the offering, my son.”

Of course we don’t completely know what was going on in Abraham’s mind. The thoughts of Abraham here are strangely blocked off from us. All we have is that one statement. Usually we have at least some glimpse into Abraham’s doubts or fears, but here we have little insight.

We can easily imagine what is going through Abraham’s mind though. God, the same God who enabled Abraham and Sarah to have a son, is now calling for the sacrifice of that son. Not only is it hard as a parent, the very notion of sacrificing our sons or daughters is heartbreaking. With Abraham this takes on an even more confusing element. Didn’t God promise to make my descendants into a great nation through Isaac? How can that happen if he is sacrificed? It appears that Abraham’s answer was bound up in faith that God would provide a way.

Brueggemann says that the challenge of this passage is in how we view God. God is both the tester and the provider in this chapter. In many ways I would say that is the case of God throughout the whole of the Abraham story. God’s promises to Abraham could be considered a test, will Abraham have faith in God and God’s promise?

God’s promise goes against what seems naturally possible though. Sarah is barren, how can new life come from that? Abraham does have faith even so, but also struggles in keeping that faith, particularly as the years continues to pass without an heir. Yet in that framework, God also is the provider. God takes the barren womb of Sarah, and makes life out of death. Not only is Sarah barren in the first place, but also significantly older than child bearing age. Yet, God still manages to produce life.

So it is no wonder that Bruggemann writes of Abraham’s faith like so, “Abraham knows beyond understanding that God will find a way to bring life even in this scenario of death. That is the faith of Abraham.” This is the faith we’re challenged to embrace. Do we believe in a God who can bring life out of death? Do we believe in a God who will test us and yet also provide for us?

If these are the questions we’re left with, it would mean that perhaps Abraham wasn’t the focus in this chapter. As Brueggemann in his final comments on this chapter says, “In the end, our narrative is perhaps not about Abraham being found faithful. It is about God being found faithful.”

I’m not sure all of this makes it easier. While I don’t think this story is something that we are ever going to be called to do, we are still dealing with the same God. A God who wants to see if we’ll trust Him even in the midst of testing and a God that provides even when the testing is of his own device and our faith in him falters.

God’s Faithfulness And Our Doubt Are Not Surprising

As we’ve been going through the Abraham story the promise of an heir for Abraham has been hanging over much of it. It has been the source of doubt for Abraham and Sarah. It has also caused them to develop their own plans for procuring a son. Yet here in Genesis 21:1-21 we finally have the birth of the promised son, Isaac.

For as much as the birth of Isaac has been anticipated, there is very little time spent on Isaac’s arrival. Just within this chapter there is more time spent on what happens regarding Ishmael than there is on Isaac’s arrival. Doesn’t that seem a bit backwards? It does at first, but I wonder if it is really all that backwards.

If you think about the fact that so much of the dialogue regarding the birth of Isaac has primarily been within two circumstances. The first is the announcement of a a promised son in the first place. This is the establishment of the promise of God and makes sense that this would be a place of discussion. The second circumstance seems to be in the context of doubts or struggles that Abraham is having. God shows up to reaffirm the promise and attempt to alleviate the doubts of Abraham.

At the birth of Isaac there is neither of these circumstances in play. We have been told of the promise already and there is no presence of doubt now that Isaac is actually here as God has promised. John H. Sailhamer puts it this way, “The plan not only came about, but more importantly, it happened as it was announced. Thus the narrative calls attention to God’s faithfulness to his word and to his careful attention to the details of his plan.” While I may disagree that God revealed his entire hand from the start regarding the details, the message that God’s promise was fulfilled is certainly true and may explain why this is such a short event.

Walter Brueggemann takes a similar track, as he focuses the importance of this passage on the connection between the word of God and the birth of Isaac. He goes on to say, “Indeed, the whole story depends on that coupling. It insists that one cannot separate the eternal purpose of God and the concrete biological reality.” Again the emphasis seems to be the faithfulness of God, but Brueggemann acknowledges that this was not just a spiritual achievement, but one that take form through the natural process of child birth.

So if the fact that Isaac has come just as God had promised is the reason for a short, but meaningful announcement of his birth, why then does Ishmael get a longer treatment? I think that this is because unlike Isaac, who is unmistakably the promised one, the problem is what to do with Ishmael. We should not be surprised by the arrival and future of Isaac at this point, but the fate of Ishmael is more uncertain.

Ishmael is introduced as mocking Isaac during the feast to celebrate Isaac’s weaning. Sarah is the one who spotted this and tells Abraham to send him and his mother packing. Abraham is uncertain of what to do. Abraham does not have the negative view of Ishmael that Sarah seems to hold. In fact God doesn’t seem to hold this negative view of Ishmael either. While God tells Abraham to do as Sarah wants, God also let’s Abraham know that Ishmael will be taken care of. He will become a great nation also even though he is not the son of promise.

Brueggeman puts it this way, “God cares for this outsider whom the tradition wants to abandon. There is no stigma attached to this “other” son. All are agreed on the preciousness of Ishmael–Yahweh, angel, Hagar, Abraham–all but Sarah.” We see that put on display by the actions of the angel of God in Genesis 21:17-19. God provides water for Hagar and Ishmael even though Hagar had thought they were going to die (or at very least that Ishmael was going to). Ishmael is taken care of by God, even if he is not the son of the promise.

So what kind of impact does this story have on us today? I find it to be a somewhat difficult question to answer. As I’ve mentioned on earlier chapters we often do not have the direct promises like Abraham had with Isaac, so the idea of God’s fulfillment of promise can be a bit more nebulous than it appears in this passage. That’s not to say that God doesn’t promise us anything, but that often they aren’t as concrete as I will give you a son.

Again the biggest take away seems to be the faithfulness of God. Both the birth of Isaac and the care of Ishmael show God being faithful to his word. What is interesting is how understated this faithfulness really is, particularly in the case of Isaac. While it is worded in a way to get the point across very little space is taken to acknowledge God’s faithfulness. One could almost call the presentation matter of fact. As if there was never any doubt God would do as he promised so why make too big a deal out of it.

Another aspect to think about looking at the larger story is that God spent much more time with Abraham working through his doubts and worries. When we come to the resolution of the promise God is obviously the cause of it, but is absent in any kind of role in the story. We see Abraham and Sarah celebrating, but God isn’t an active player.

Compare this to the story of Ishmael and we see something very different. In the uncertainty of what to do with Ishmael, God is there. He is there with Abraham letting him know that God will take care of his son. The angel of God is there to help Hagar and Ishmael in the desert. The longest engagements with God in the Abraham story seem to be about doubt and struggle.

While I don’t want to draw any formulaic expression from this tendency, it does give us hope that the God we often doubt, even as we believe, engages that doubt and the struggles of faith. This challenges the idea that we must never doubt or at least never show doubt in our faith. We see God dealing with the doubt of Abraham a number of times in this story, but still keep his word to Abraham. It’s strange that we see God most silent at the fulfillment of his promise. What we have a God that doesn’t find his faithfulness strange, but also doesn’t seem to find our human tendency to doubt, worry, and struggle to believe strange either.

When Our Plans Make More Problems Than Solutions

I feel like it’s been awhile since we’ve taken a look at Genesis. We were last looking at Genesis 15 where God made a covenant with Abraham formalizing the promises of land and of an heir for the land. Now with a context like that you might expect to see Abraham trusting in that reiterated promise and formal ritual to solidify the promise even more. However, what we see in Genesis 16 is not just blind trust, but a very human reaction to a promised unfulfilled and the human desire to make that promise come to fruition ourselves.

Looking at Genesis 16:1-6 we see that Sarah (Sarai) is still without children. God may have reiterated and formalized the promise to Abraham, but the promise is still unfulfilled. Even with the faith Abraham showed in the last chapter, it has not changed the situation all that much. Sarah is still childless, there is no heir, and without an heir land will not really be an issue.

One can only imagine the desperation that is in what happens next. Sarah comes up with a plan. Since Sarah has been unable to bear any children and Abraham was told that the promised son would come from his body, perhaps what is needed is another woman to bear his child. There is this parallel track that seems rather contradictory. God is promising an heir, but Sarah is still unable to become pregnant. Abraham has been given reassurance, so perhaps Sarah is the problem.

With this line of thought in place she offers Abraham her maidservant Hagar to him to see if he can have a child through her. He consents and the plan is a success of sorts and Hagar becomes pregnant. However, the plan in its success also backfires on Sarah. Hagar is now pregnant, pregnant with the child believed to be the promised heir from God (assuming Hagar knew of it and there is no reason to believe she didn’t).

The new reality for Hagar causes her to look down on and despise Sarah. This, of course, makes Sarah irate and blames Abraham for this situation. Abraham then tells Sarah she can do as she feels is right to Hagar. So Sarah mistreats Hagar and she runs away.

This new plan, while effective in producing a pregnancy, was also very effective in producing a fairly large mess. It certainly doesn’t seem like it was the best way to handle the situation, but to me it is a very human way of going about things. So before we “Tsk, tsk,” Sarah for coming up with the plan and Abraham going along with it I think we have to realize a few things.

First, Abraham and Sarah may have trusted in God, but time can increase doubt. When we’re promised something that never materializes for years upon years, it is not unusual to start questioning. Sometimes that may result in questioning the one who gives that promise as Abraham did in Genesis 15. Other times we start to question ourselves wondering if we’re doing something wrong and if there is another way to solve the problem. I think you can kind of see that mentality in this chapter.

In some ways this whole situation feels somewhat removed from me because I’ve never really had God promise me anything directly. I think it is easy for me to say if I had a promise directly from God’s mouth then I’d be sure to trust in it. The reality is if I had to wait years and years to have a promise be fulfilled (we’re somewhere around 11 years of waiting at this point) I might be trying to fulfill that promise in creative ways too.

Second, simply saying that Sarah and Abraham are wrong for trying to do anything without relying on God seems like too simple of a conclusion to come to. Do I think their actions were really in line with faithfulness to God? No, but the reality is that they probably made a lot of decisions in their day to day lives that were not centered around God telling them what to do or not to do. To be honest God isn’t recorded talking to Abraham that many times considering the amount of time between interactions.

This is the same with us today, perhaps even more than with Abraham. I think that the majority of us go through our daily lives without specific promises from God involved. Do we still have to decide and do things everyday without this direct miraculous intervention from God? I sure do. Does that mean that God is not on my mind during the decisions, yes for some of them anyhow. However, reducing the lesson of this passage to the need to wait on God instead of making our own plans is partially there, but just doesn’t really cover the passage and the surrounding context well enough in my mind.

Lastly, this incident with Abraham and Sarah seems more like a warning against cutting corners and trying to do things our way thinking will be more effective. Maybe they aren’t illegal, because many commentators point out the practice that Abraham and Sarah used was not unheard of. However it seems to go against the waiting and trusting in God that Abraham was presented with the chapter before.

Today it may not look like this for many of us. Unlike Abraham we may not have a promise of an heir. However, I think things like this can still happen. When we focus on the results of pastors and leaders in the church rather than focusing on their character and how they achieve their success. When we begin to focus more on tradition or preferences than showing the love and grace of God. These things aren’t necessarily morally wrong in and of themselves, but they’re our own devised shortcuts that we think God will rubber stamp for us.

We’ll look at how much a church has grown over the last how ever many years, but ignore the shallow teaching or the major character flaws in the leadership that should be addressed. We lift up tradition and the way it has been as the way to succeed in following God. Or we try to figure out our own way to accomplish the promise that God has given us like Sarah and Abraham.

There is simply this desire to focus on human success and human solutions. Sometimes it is the right thing to do. We sometimes have ideas and they’re fine. Maybe we pray about them and seek God’s wisdom, but we may not hear anything directly. We have to make that decision.

There are other times though, that I think we try to accomplish what we think God wants but don’t really care how we get there. It’s about the end and not the means. I often think that this doesn’t really work out the best. It can create a mess just like Sarah’s plan did. People can get jealous, hurt, or angry when plans like this fall apart. Perhaps the most pertinent example of the would be the whole drama with Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll over the last year.

Within the whole Abraham story is the idea that faith has a way of being a slow method in the world. There are plenty of quick fixes we can turn to, but God doesn’t seem to always work in the way of quick fixes. In fact more often God’s movement appears very slow to us. Our desire for speed and results can sometimes hurt us, especially when we start to put the results above the path we use to get them. Then we often wind up with more problems than we did at the beginning.

Faith That Is Easier To Know Than Live

When one goes to school to study theology and the Bible it is easy to begin to make Bible reading and study about getting the right things from the chapter or verses that you’re reading. Of course this isn’t limited to seminary graduates or any kind of Bible major. All it takes is a good amount of time in any church or studying the Bible, and it is easier to focus on being right than it is to actually live based on that knowledge.

I’ve been faced with this lately. As I’ve been blogging through the book of Genesis I’ve been hitting a lot of chapters and passages that seem to be about God’s faithfulness drawn out of Abraham’s story. The idea that God is faithful, is not original in the least nor is it all that controversial of a thought. Despite this, I’ve been struggling with these passages or at least the conclusions regarding God’s faithfulness and our need for trust in him even during struggles in our lives.

It is one thing to know this and to present it as what a passage is about, it is another thing to live it out. To know that faith is hard in the midst of struggles. I say, and believe, that God is faithful on one hand, but struggle with that reality as I watch a loved one struggle with health issue after health issue.

To see God’s faithfulness in the midst of life’s struggles. That is one of the hardest aspects of faith. I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with that. I mean even in the chapters that I’ve been going through in Genesis, Abraham sure seems to have a hard time trusting in God, keeping his own fear under control, and believing that this God he has decided to follow is ultimately going to do what was promised.

When life gets hard it is so easy to wonder where God is in all of this. How is this struggle a sign of God’s faithfulness? How does cancer and illness and seemingly senseless death jive with a faithful God? I don’t feel I have a satisfactory answer to that question.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m somehow losing faith. I still believe in God, but I don’t feel I have the answers as to why bad things happen. I guess my point in all this is that sometimes when we talk about faith in God or Jesus or about stories in the Bible it is easy to disconnect it from the everyday experiences that we have.

I’m not simply talking about failing to provide some type of practical application from a passage. What I’m talking about is saying something like “God is faithful,” but failing to understand that for some people God’s faithfulness seems to be lacking in their lives or the lives of one of their loved ones. It can too easily sound like God will never let anything bad happen, and clearly that’s not what it’s about.

I believe that God is good and that God is faithful. I also struggle to know what that exactly means and how to process that truth when life produces sorrow. I feel like Abraham telling God, “what good thing can you give to me,” because it certainly doesn’t seem like you’re giving too much good right now.

I simply say all of this because I do believe that our faith needs to express the doubt and struggles we face. I’m not being truthful with God or anyone else for that matter by pretending that the struggles of life don’t make me question what God is up to. I’ll probably never know for certain what God is up to in the circumstances that lead to sorrow, but I still have faith. I believe that God is faithful even when I don’t know exactly what that will look like.

 

 

Abraham and Victory in the Midst of the Struggle

Last week I looked at the separation of Abraham and Lot and how they went their separate ways. My thought was that this separation stemmed from the fact that Lot wasn’t supposed to be on this trip in the first place. Part of the reason I gave was due to the various trouble that Lot gets into later on. Genesis 14 is one of these places where we find Lot in a troublesome situation.

At first this chapter doesn’t really seem to fit in the Abraham narrative. We start off talking about kings that populate the area surrounding Abraham and how a coalition of five kings rebelled against another king who they had been subject under. This rebellion is routed and in the wake of this defeat, the victorious armies plunder Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is at this point that we see any kind of connection with Abraham, because who is taken away as part of the plunder? Abraham’s own nephew Lot and his household. Abraham gets word of this and he rounds up the men of his household, chases down the victorious kings, defeats them, and takes everything back including Lot and his household.

When Abraham gets back from doing this, he winds up meeting two different kings. The king of Sodom and the king of Salem, Melchizedek. Melchizedek is not only introduced as the king of Salem, but also a priest of God Most High. However, we’re left with a very strange situation here. Who exactly is this Melchizedek and the god he serves? Is it the God who Abraham is following? Walter Brueggemann posits that Melchizedek is actually a Canaanite priest and therefore not referencing the God of Abraham, although the title God Most High does become used for the God of Israel.

I guess I just don’t know what to make of the spiritual origins of Melchizedek. I do think that he is presented here as a positive figure. He rightly blesses Abraham and attributes his victory to this God Most High, which even if this is another God, Abraham seems to give these attributes to the God he follows only a few verses later in 14:22. Also in response to this utterance by Melchizedek, Abraham gave him ten percent of everything. Whatever the reason for this tithe, it would be hard to construe this as a negative thing.

Abraham responds very differently to the king of Sodom. The narrative has already indicated to us that Sodom and its people are wicked and it seems like Abraham is well aware of this within the story. The king of Sodom offers that Abraham can keep the goods and return the people that he retrieved. Here though Abraham says that he made a vow to “Yahweh, God Most High, creator of heaven and earth,” saying that he would not accept anything from the king of Sodom.

This is interesting because Abraham reiterates the names used in Melchizedek’s blessing only in seeming antagonism to the king of Sodom. Abraham wants little to do with him and only asks that his men are allotted what they have eaten, and the allies he brought with him get their share. He doesn’t want to have the king of Sodom believe that he made Abraham rich.

The trouble with a passage like this is that it doesn’t seem like it holds a whole lot of direct application. I have become more questioning of our attempts to try to extract some moral tale or practical application out of every nook and cranny of the Bible. Sometimes you just don’t get that or if you do it is more nuanced than we often like to teach about.

What you can see here is the continued effects of God’s relationship with Abraham. He is successful in retrieving the goods that the coalition of kings lost in the first place and Abraham’s focus in going to battle was retrieving Lot. Abraham is victorious not because of his battle prowess, but because God gave him the victory as we hear through Melchizedek.

Now you could apply the idea of God being the one fighting our battles to us today, but I also think we need to be careful with such a thing. There are a lot of people who follow God and feel like they’re losing the battles they’re involved in. Does following God always mean victory in every endeavor? I don’t think it does. If it did¬† the early church would not have been persecuted in their following of Jesus, the Corinthians wouldn’t have had such a mess going on in their churches, and we’d never ever sin at all.

So while I do believe that God does give us victory, the ultimate expression of this being the victory found in Jesus Christ over sin and death, I just think the application of such an idea has to be carefully presented. Even with Abraham, he is able to retrieve Lot’s household and the goods raided from Sodom. At the same time Abraham is still in the midst of a struggle that God hasn’t given him victory over, the arrival of an heir. Sarah is still barren, and even though God provides a victory here, Abraham is still in the midst of a struggle and has to trust in the promise of God.

Is this not more like real life? We may have times where things go our way. We may be given certain victories in life, but at the same time a different struggle may be in progress. So while God is faithful and God does provide victory there is no promise that life will not be a struggle and that things will always go our way if we’re following God. It is that in the midst of this struggle we can trust in God no matter where the struggle leaves us. It is not necessarily easy, but I find that it is a lot more real than simply leaving it at God gives us victory and act like that applies to everything.

 

Split Opinions on Splitting the Land

It can be difficult at times to tell whether the actions of Biblical characters are to be viewed as positive or negative. This is because a number of times we see no moral judgment on the actions presented. Sometimes, as in the case of Genesis 12:10-20 that we looked at last time, we see good results for Abraham when his actions seemed morally questionable.

This week we look at Genesis 13 and we run into the problem of trying to figure out what this passage is about. Is the story positive, negative, or simply a bridge to what is yet to happen? This becomes a complicated matter as my two commentaries have diverging opinions about this story.

Before we get to the interpretation of the passage, what’s going on here? Abraham leaves Egypt a wealthy man and sets back off to the altar that he made before heading to Egypt. Once there though, disagreements began to take place between the Abraham’s herders and Lot’s herders. They both had too much wealth and there was not enough space for them both at this location.

Abraham wants to part company with Lot on amiable terms and decides to give Lot a choice, he can take the land to the east of where they are or to the west. Lot decides to move to the east and sets out. However, we’ve given the ominous foreshadowing that Lot has chosen to live close to Sodom and how wicked that city was.

After Lot leaves, God comes to Abraham and reconfirms the promise. He tells Abraham that all that he can see will become the land of his descendants. God also says that those descendants of Abraham will be so numerous that they won’t be able to be counted. After this exchange Abraham goes to Hebron and builds another altar to the Lord.

Now Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis believes that this story demonstrates the faithfulness of Abraham, in contrast to his act of faithlessness in Egypt. Brueggemann puts it this way, “In [Genesis 12], Abraham is self-seeking and self-serving. He trusts in no resource beyond his own shrewdness. He is willing to sacrifice others for his survival. In chapter 13, Abraham is very different. He takes no thought for himself or for tomorrow.”

On the other hand John H. Sailhamer presents Abraham’s actions very differently. To Sailhamer, “Abraham’s separation from Lot also carries on the theme of “promise in jeopardy. As the story reads Abraham is on the verge of giving the Promised Land to Lot.” While the story doesn’t go that way Sailhamer comments that “God’s promise was secure, in spite of Abraham’s passivity.”

To be honest I think Brueggemanns is reaching a bit far. He seems to hold a lot of weight on God’s blessing at the end of the chapter, but to be honest you could look at Abraham being blessed at the end of chapter 12 while he was in Egypt also. Does that mean what he did was faithful? It more falls on the idea that God is faithful even when we are not. I don’t see that God’s reiteration of the promise here is necessarily¬† a good job Abraham.

I’d say that I’m more in line with Sailhamer, but even then I’m not quite sure I’d put it in quite a panicked way. Is the promise really in jeopardy? I don’t think we need to go that far. In my mind, this incident with Lot and those that followed, add some credibility that Lot wasn’t really meant to be on this trip in the first place.

We’re never explicitly told this, but there are a number of possible pointers. First, we have the conflict here. While Lot isn’t the source of the conflict, his presence there creates two family groups that don’t appear to think of themselves as one coherent group. This causes some strife and they separate.

We also see Lot choose to go east. As I’ve said in previous posts, going east doesn’t have positive connotations in Genesis for whatever reason. Just in case we doubted that the whole going east was a negative, the story adds that Lot is traveling towards Sodom and how the people there are wicked.

So why did Abraham take him along? Admittedly, traveling away from the main family would not have been easy so having an extra family member wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but I think it goes a bit deeper than that. It is very possible that Lot is the first attempt of Abraham to have an heir just in case Sarah remains barren. What we see in this chapter is that idea coming to a close. Lot and Abraham are separating here and being considered two separate family units.

If this is the reality behind Lot’s traveling with Abraham, it is no wonder that God reiterates his promise to Abraham after Lot departs. Abraham’s back-up plan may no longer be viable, but God is promising to give all the land he can see (including the east interestingly enough) to his offspring and that his offspring will be numerous.

I also wonder if that’s why we have the offspring language here. Abraham thought that Lot could be the one to inherit the promise of God, but here we have God tightening up the promise to let Abraham know that it will be his own offspring, not simply an heir from a close relation.

At the end though, my thoughts are not clearly expressed in the stories, so they could very well be wrong. Regardless though, why does it matter? I mean does it really matter to us if Abraham was right or wrong in how he separated with Lot or if Lot was to go with him or not? In some ways no, but I also think that no matter what God’s faithfulness is on display here.

If Abraham did what was right we see a picture of God as blessing that right action, just like he blessed Abraham even when he was self-centered in Egypt. If Abraham didn’t do the right thing in this story, God was faithful to Abraham and reiterated the promises to him once again. If Lot was a back-up plan of Abraham’s God is still faithful. Sure the back-up plan may cause some difficulties on the way (like this argument between the workers), but God is still faithful.

Maybe that’s simply playing one note too much, but I think the faithfulness of God is a comfort. It doesn’t always mean there won’t be discord, it doesn’t always mean that our own attempts to fulfill God’s promise won’t singe us, but it does mean that God will remain faithful to us. Even those times where our faithfulness is not so stellar.

 

 

 

Abraham in Egypt

“Undoubtedly, Abraham is offered as a model for the faith of Israel (as Heb. 11 attests). But taken alone, the model is unconvincing. In that presentation, Abraham seems to be almost plastic. Faith is not that easy. Faith is always a struggle. Even father Abraham must struggle for faithfulness.”

This is how Walter Brueggemann speaks of Abraham entering into the story of Abraham traveling to Egypt found in Genesis 12:10-20. Abraham while a model of faithfulness and trusting in God, was also very human. I even mentioned in my last post that Abraham’s taking of Lot may have even been a result of a lack of faith. However, in Abraham’s trip to Egypt we see a clearer example of Abraham’s humanity and that even faith for him was not something that always came easy.

Abraham and his family have to travel down to live in Egypt due to a famine that has hit the land. In order to protect himself Abraham tells his wife Sarah to act as she were his sister and not his wife. The reason being that she was so beautiful that Pharaoh would kill Abraham and take Sarah if he knew that she were his wife.

This whole scenario just seems very counter to the Abraham that we just left. That Abraham who traveled a great distance because of his faith in God’s promise and now we see very little of that trust here. Instead we see Abraham coming up with a way to avoid danger to his own life, even at the expense of Sarah.

Even stranger in this scenario is that it goes just like Abraham predicted. The Pharaoh does take notice of Sarah and she is taken into his palace. Abraham is granted many gifts because of Sarah. It is ultimately God who causes the end of the deception. He sends disease upon the house of Pharaoh and Pharaoh somehow figures out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife and that this is the cause of their malady.

This is not a tale that winds up with an easy moral lesson. Abraham lies about his relationship with Sarah and gets Sarah to as well, gains a good deal of material gain out of it, and God watches out for Sarah in the midst of it all. Abraham puts his trust in a deception instead of God, but God remains faithful despite Abraham’s apparent lack of faith.

I think that this is a significant take away from this story. It brings together two tests as Brueggemann calls them. It tests both the faithfulness of Abraham and Yahweh. Brueggemann gives this conclusion to these tests, “The graciousness of God is fully confirmed. The faithfulness of Israel, in its very first testing, is found wanting.” Abraham’s first recorded event after his calling is not his finest moment.

In fact it would be all too easy to pile on Abraham here, but the reality is that he was human just like we are today. He was not a plastic figure presented as being perfect in all he did, but like many of the people recorded in the Bible he was a figure of contradiction. He had great faith, but also had times where he tried to get by with his own schemes and plans.

Just like the choosing of Abraham and Sarah wasn’t based on their great ability to produce a nation, we see that God’s faithfulness to Abraham is not based on his faithfulness to and trust in God. Since we are all human and all lack when it comes to faithfulness to God, at least I know I do, this is good news even today. God is faithful even when we are not.

Now really this is what I feel the main thrust of this story is about. How Abraham is human and fails to trust in God, but that God remains faithful to Abraham regardless. Brueggemann, however adds another interesting point. Why does God punish Pharaoh when Abraham is clearly the one at fault? Brueggemann takes the idea of Abraham as being a blessing or a curse to the nations and applies it to this passage.

He says, “Both Abraham and Pharaoh are on notice: It is dangerous business to deal with Abraham. Something powerful is at work here, more powerful than the father [Abraham] or the empire [Egypt]. When Abraham acts faithlessly, as he has obviously done, curse is released in the world.” I’m honestly not sure what I think about this view. It seems odd for a God who is faithful regardless of Abraham’s faith, to put the blessings and curses at the whim of Abraham’s obedience and disobedience. It also seems odd that Abraham is not affected by this curse, but it instead blessed with material gain.

I am a bit wary of this view, not to say it couldn’t be possible, but it seems to be borne more out of trying to figure out why Pharaoh was punished due to Abraham’s lack of faith than anything else. If we are assuming a framework of God’s faithfulness to Abraham and Sarah then I think the events could fit into that framework. God is not only looking out for Abraham, but also after Sarah, even when Abraham doesn’t. The idea that Abraham brought curse seems to only work if the curse affected him also.

The idea of Abraham bringing curses could work if the curse is not simply because of unfaithfulness, but because Abraham’s unfaithfulness caused a situation that interfered with the promise that God had made. He in essence had to bail Abraham out. To do this he sent illness onto Pharaoh’s household in order to make them aware that something wasn’t quite right in taking Sarah. Which presents a reality that seems to be often missed, that Sarah is important to the promise God made and not just Abraham.

However, all that said I still think that the faithfulness of God is front and center here. God’s faithfulness endures even when we prove to be human and our faith is all too lacking. This is true for us today and is even true for someone often lauded as an example to our faith like Abraham. God’s faithfulness is much greater than our own and for that I am very thankful.