Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Promise to Abram

The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

Promise to Abram
Read Genesis 12-13

This post is about the kind of travel that involves a new beginning. When my family and I move to another community with new jobs, we try to start strong in that place and explore opportunities for service. It isn’t always easy: new employment, a new role, may have pitfalls that you didn’t initially see. Some opportunities have to be pursued with diligence and competition. In life’s journey, many of us deal with new beginnings and the accompanying challenges.

When I’ve tried to read the Bible from the beginning, Genesis 10-11 is an easy place to get bogged down: all those names and places, as the generations following Noah fan out and occupy the Ancient Near East. Only the Tower of Babel provides a bit of excitement.

But within these chapters is a process of focusing. The genealogies move us from the generations and geographies toward a seemingly insignificant family of Ur: that of Terah, the father of Abram. Abram’s brother Nahor dies, the family takes up the care of Nahor's son Lot, and they all settle in Haran in Asia Minor until Terah dies (Gen. 11:24-32).

Something monumental happens next: God calls Abram and his family to set out toward the land of Canaan, and God would make from their descendants a great nation. This is curious, for Abram and Sarai are old and have no children. But Abram responds affirmatively—-and this is the real beginning of the Bible’s story. You might subtitle the Bible, “how God worked through the faith of Abram to change the world.”

As you read Genesis 12 and 13, you follow Abram and his family from Haran into Canaan, with a side trip to Egypt and back. I’ve heard sermons about Abraham (as he is eventually renamed), to the effect that we should be ready to go if God calls us to go. But don’t forget that Abraham was a nomad; he had no fixed home to start with, and his life was closely tied to the availability of land for his sizable holdings in livestock. His sojourn in Egypt, where he is caught in a well-intentioned lie, seems to have been a time when his holdings were built up.

As the story continues, contention builds between Abram’s people and Lot’s. Some arrangement of land usage needs to be worked out, and Abram allows his nephew the first choice. Lot chooses the area of Sodom. If this were a movie, we might hear ominous, foreshadowing music at this point, but the region of Sodom seemed to Lot a positive choice.

If you had been in a similar situation, would you have relinquished the ability to make the first choice? Perhaps you remember a time you were in competition for a choice job, or a good home. Maybe you had to be aggressive and seize the opportunity when it presented itself.

Abram certainly displayed that kind of initiative in Genesis 14, when he was called upon to rescue Lot during a time of tribal warfare. But it’s also true that his peaceful and generous nature is frequently praised in Scripture. Abram reflects a quality of God’s own character, for God is a God of peace.

At this point, God speaks again to Abram. God had not previously told Abram what land he would be given; now, God tells him to look all around. This land of the Canaanites would be the land of Abram’s descendants. In a pattern we also find elsewhere in Scripture, God reiterates his promises as a pledge of God's trustworthiness.

I don’t want to minimize Abraham by making him simply an example of faithful living. He is THE example of faith, the first who answered God in fully faithful obedience, revered as such by three major religions (appropriately called the Abrahamic religions). But looking at the life of Abraham, we can take his example for our own, far smaller struggles. In our own journeys, how do we adjudicate the sometimes difficult choices that we have to make, in our business decisions, our need to relocate, our concern for faithfulness to God’s guidance?

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