We have more reading and less commentary this week.
Verses 12:1 – 9 – God Covenants with Abram and Sari, Part One
Genesis tells of two beginnings: the beginning of the world and the beginning of a people. In calling Abram and Sari, God is doing a new thing: creating a people. Both are unlikely candidates for what God wants to do. They are both aged and barren. The only thing they have going for them is that God has decided to bless them. God’s promises have the power to define our reality.
In order to understand the significance of God’s call, it is important to recall the context: creation has gone off the rails, most recently with the failure of the city and civilization in Babel. Abram and Sari will found an alternative community that bears the possibility of God’s blessing for the world. When we, as followers of Christ, consider our own election (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-10), we should remember that we carry similar blessing for the world. That is, the blessing is not for us alone.
Notice that God’s people will exist for a long time (centuries) before the community takes political form (with the coronation of King Saul). Prior to this time, the chosen people exist as family and later as a tribal society. In a time when people fear the church is losing power, we do well to consider that God has plans and is able to work through a remnant (Isaiah 10:20). That God is even able to work through such an unpromising (from a human perspective) couple as Abram and Sari reminds us that our confidence is in God. This faith is why we remember them as blessed.
If you are into numbers, Noah was the 10th Generation after Adam, and Abraham is the 10th Generation after Noah.
Verses 12: 10 – 20 – Egyptian Troubles, Part One
It is hard to understand how Abram and Sari allow themselves to get in marital trouble in Egypt – and this is not the only time. Does this speak to the vulnerability of refugees? Are they learning (albeit slowly) about the meaning of family? Were the sicknesses passed around Pharaoh’s house connected with the couple’s inability to conceive (scarring of the fallopian tubes?). In this story, Abram and Sari act in a way that threatens the promise. Or are the plagues God’s attempt to rescue the couple and, hence, the promise?
Chapters 13 – 14 – Lot and Abram, Part One
Abram and his nephew, Lot, separate. In the words of Frederick Buechner: Lot got the fruitful Jordan Valley, and Abram got “Deadwood Gulch.” Lot’s prosperity is short-lived, as he is immediately caught up in a war between invading Babylonian kings against Canaanite Kings and captured. Upon hearing this Abram rescues him. One wonders if Lot had filled a spot in his heart that Isaac will eventually fill.
Abram refuses the spoils of war, trusting in God alone.
Notice Melchizedek – he becomes a type of priest, contrasted with the Aaronic Priesthood, who is compared to Jesus in the book of Hebrews. (See Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:6-10; 6:20; 7:1-21; and Hebrews 8:1.)
Chapter 15 – God Covenants with Abram and Sari, Part Three
This is God’s third promise to Abram and Sari (the second is in 13:14-17). Part of the Biblical wisdom about covenants is that, from time to time, they need to be renewed. Perhaps we forget the promise of the relationships. Perhaps we drift or are inattentive. One can see why continued barrenness would be a challenge to the people of promise. One also sees that Abram is courageous and honest to voice his doubt and say that he’s made arrangements in his will for Eliezer of Damascus. Also notice, though, in verse 15:6, that Abram believes. Paul takes up in Romans 4.
One lesson that we learn from Abram and Sari is that some promises can take a long time to come to fruition or realization. Even generations. This passage and the Bible itself never flinches from this truth.
The chief addition in this covenant is the additional promise of land. They will have a place in this world.
Chapter 16 – Abram and Sari take history into their own hands.
Is it doubt that causes Abram and Sari to find a surrogate mother? Is it any surprise that the surrogate is a servant, someone powerless? When you consider what happens to her, both in this passage and later in Genesis 21:8-21, it is heartbreaking. I think of friend of mine, a former church member, whose African American grandmother moved in with a wealthy white planter in Louisiana after his wife died. When the old man died, she and her young child (his father) were sent away without a thing. Yet, God makes promises to her. God does not write off anyone.
Chapter 17 – 18:15 – God Covenants with Abram and Sari, Part Four
This covenant is the most formal of them all. It looks like someone took a Bronze-age Legal Zoom document and adapted it to the divine human relationship. It identifies the parties, it recounts what God (the superior party) has done by making Abram a father, and it lists the promises and obligations of the covenant.
Abraham laughs. Does he laugh because of the good news or the absurdity of the promise? I am reminded where Paul tells the Corinthians the cross is “foolishness to the Greeks.”
Three visitors come, and this time Sarah will laugh, though she denies it. Fearful at having been caught, she denies laughing.
Chapter 18:16 – 19:38 – A Lot of Sketchy Things
The Lord informs Abraham what he’s going to do in Sodom, and Abraham pleads with him to spare the city. The attempted gang rape of the visiting angels illustrates the city’s wickedness. I confess that I do not understand Lot’s willingness to offer his daughters, and I do not understand what his daughters do after they escape. There are several passages in Genesis that are clearly not intended to get us to “go and do likewise.” Yet, in light of the confusion and violence of the world, this comes across as breathtakingly realistic.
March 4 – 11: Genesis 20 - 23
March 12 – 18: Genesis 24 - 28
March 19 – 25: Genesis 29 – 33
March 26 - April 1: Genesis 34 – 37
April 2 – 8: Genesis 38 – 41
April 9 – 15: Genesis 42 – 45
April 16 – 22: Genesis 46 – 47
April 23 – 29: Genesis 48 – 50