16 September 2006

Abram the Unremarkable (Continued from Below)

In my prior post, I tried to establish the true location of Abram's call in Haran among the Patriarchs. The Biblical chronology indicates that Shem was alive at the time Abram lived in Haran. Even if a reader doesn't take these dates literally, the purpose of the figures was to tie Abram directly to the era of legendary men like Noah.

We often think of Abraham as a sort of Patriarch of Patriarchs. It is ironic to think of him in Haran, a minor figure among even greater patriarchs like Shem, Arphaxad, Shelah and Eber (whose children would be known as a tribe called "Hebrews").

Genesis12.4 shows that Abram left Haran at the age of 75 with a retinue which included his barren wife, Sarai, his nephew, and all of their possessions from Haran. His journey would take him down the western arm of the Fertile Crescent to the place where it ends apruptly at the edge of the Negev Desert and the Dead Sea.

What happens on this journey? Prior to his circumcision in Genesis 17, nothing much. Abram travels to Egypt to avoide famine, but he gives Sarai over to the Pharaoh as a wife, bringing plague to Pharaoh's house (Gn 12.10-20). He settles Lot near Sodom--and appears willing to live there himself if Lot chooses another place (Gn 13.8-10). He even accepts Sarai's council and takes Hagar as a concubine, betraying God's direct promise and bringing upon his house much discord (Gn 15 & 16).

His only remarkable achievement is the rescue of Lot and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah in Chapter 14. There is no sign that God sanctions this action. In fact, God may have brought military defeat on those cities, for only a few years later He destroys them in a more direct fashion.

What does this tell us about this man? First, I find that patriarchs come from real men who blunder in the ways described above. Abram made huge mistakes--the ancestors of Isaac and Ishmael are bitter enemies to this day, for example. He placed his wife in an adulterous situation, and he became an adulterer himself after he and Sarai had given up on God's promise of a son.

Second, I am reminded of the fact that all of these mistakes happened in Caanan, not Haran. Abram blundered, yes, but he trusted God. He left his home among his own patriarchs and went to the very edge of the desert. He followed God's leading, and that was "credited to him as righteousness."

It is here that I consider the places I have left behind--the people in whom I have placed trust, and my trust in God as well. In many ways my journey as a husband, a father, a son, a believer, has itself been unremarkable. I can point to many blunders along the way and self-inflicted disasters. I can think of many more times when my trust in those close to me has been tested--times when I have felt like I was wandering in a desert of my own.

I guess that is where the great lesson of Abram shines through. Thanks be to God, we are judged not on whether we have been right or wrong, but on whether we have trusted or not. As Paul would show later, the perfect righteousness given to us by God is a covenant of trust that purposefully overlooks imperfections as galling as those of Abram.

Trust, then, is not what happens when we attempt to present a Blank Slate to God and say, "I have done everything correctly as you have directed. It is when we say to God, our spouse, our family, or our closest friends, "I have come this far because I believe in you; I have no other hope than in continuing along this path together."

1 comment:

Norman McNulty said...

Hey JD, I just posted a new post on my blog, and then realized you had posted a comment on my last post two days ago, so my post wasn't really a reply to that, but at least you have an update now.

I love studying about Abraham. Romans 4 and Genesis 15 go well together and I love reading those chapters. If you want to hear a good sermon about the faith of Abraham, go to www.audioverse.org Then go to the link for speakers, click on Peter Gregory and he has a sermon entitled "The Faith of Abraham". I think you'll enjoy it. It's straight Bible preaching and teaching, with nothing else mixed in.

Anyway, hope all is well with you.