Week 2 of our Reading through the Bible begins with the incredibly stimulating list of nations (sorry for the sarcasm). While lists like this one aren’t fun to read or particularly insightful at first glance, they do offer a glimpse into world history for that time. This list ties back to chapter 5 as a “book of generations” that is laid out with political/family considerations as more important than ethnic ones (10:5, 20, 31) and it lays the foundation for the call of Abraham in chapter 12.
We meet Abram (“exalted father”) who will become Abraham (“father of many nations”) in Genesis 12. We read of his call by God to leave his homeland of Ur and journey to land God will show him. There, God will bless him so that he might be a blessing. So, Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and nephew, Lot, gather their belongings and set out to that land that God will show them. As is usual, the journey is never a direct route from one place to another. Abraham spent some time wandering throughout the land. Genesis 12 through 26 tells the story of Abraham’s journey to fulfill his call to God.
I spent a little time contemplating Genesis 12:11-20 — Abram and Sarai arriving in Egypt. To “protect” Abram, they lie about their relationship (husband/wife) and claim to be brother/sister. Abram and Sarai seem to get away with telling the lie, as no harm was caused to them. However, Pharaoh was afflicted with great plagues because of their dishonesty. How many times do we offer dishonest information that seeks to protect ourselves, yet ends up causing great harm to others! It amazes me that I fail to learn from such instances. I find that my self interests seem to almost always outweigh the common good. How contrary to God’s call upon my life is that? (Fast forward to Genesis 20 and see how Abraham and Sarah acted in a similar situation.)
Genesis 18 reminds us that denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. Sarah, blessed with great possessions and a wonderful husband, is promised a child. At 99, she laughed at the promise God offers. Upon being accused of laughing out loud, out of fear, she denies laughing. Why is fear such a strong motivator? Why do we fail to believe the great promises that God has continually and faithfully delivered? What might life look like if we pulled ourselves out of denial and basked in the grace of God?
The story of Abraham, Sarah, (with children Esau and Jacob beginning in Genesis 25 and following) and Lot is filled with a mixture of familiar passages of hope, judgment, struggle and promises. It also offers surprising stories of betrayal, wandering and forgiveness. The story of Hagar found in Genesis 21 often gets overlooked as an important part of our journey in relationships with others. Like many of you, I can recall hearing the joyous story of Sarah giving birth to Isaac in Sunday School. Yet, the story of Abraham casting Hagar out into the wilderness with her child did not seem to be part of that lesson! My friend and colleague Cara Gilger once wrote about this, “the story of Hagar’s draws attention to the theme of wilderness found in the Abraham story and casts it in a new light. Unlike Abraham who chose to wander through unknown land, Hagar’s wilderness was unexpected, forced upon her with little choice. How often have we found ourselves in strange and unexpected places in life, unsure of where to go or how to respond? As the author and theologian Delores Williams points out, many people in our own community are like Hagar, cast aside without a thought. Yet God’s light and hope is ever-present. How do we search for that light in our wilderness moments? Or how do we become a witness of that light to others in the wilderness?”
As I said in my sermon on Sunday, the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 shakes me to my core in what is says about God — demanding a human blood sacrifice as a show of obedience — and Abraham — being willing to cut off the only avenue God provided to fulfill the promise and blessing and seeing Isaac as means to an end and not a person. Yes, God tested Abraham, but maybe Abraham failed the test and provided the ram to redeem Abraham’s failure as God continually works to redeem our failings. I am thankful for God’s unwavering, unending, faithfulness because, like Abraham, I have been known to fail tests.