Monday, August 2, 2010

Abram hits the jackpot

At the end of Genesis 11 we are introduced to a new character who will become very prominent by the name of Abram. In Genesis 12 Abram hits the jackpot. For reasons that are not apparent, God reaches out and picks Abram out of the crowd to give his blessing - and oh boy, what a blessing it is!

“I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Wow! One day you are a nobody, and the next you are the founder of a great nation. What did Abram do to merit this great honor? Or did merit have anything to do with it?
Of course, to receive this blessing, Abram had to leave his country, his family and give up his inheritance and go to a country that God will show him later. So I suppose that Abram’s willingness to trust God and obey these directives had something to do with the blessing, but that is not made clear.
And Abram did not go alone. He took his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, as well as all of his possessions including the “people he had acquired”, (ie. slaves) to go along on the journey.
As one who does not know Biblical geography very well, the description of Abram’s journey in Genesis 12 is confusing. First, it says they set out for the land of Canaan and traveled there. They then traveled through Canaan until they came to the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem where God appeared to Abram and told him once again that he is giving this land to his offspring (of which Abram currently has none since Sarai is described as being barren.)
Abram builds an alter on the site where God appeared, but does not stop there. Instead he travels on “toward the hills east of Bethel” where he pitched his tent somewhere between Bethel and Ai and builds another alter and “calls on the name of the Lord.” But God doesn’t appear this time and so Abram packs up the next day and continues on to Negev. But before getting there, Abram takes a detour into Egypt because there was a severe famine going on.
What happens next, based on modern sensibilities, does not reflect all that well on the founder of a great nation. It seems that Abram, fearing for his life, decides to offer his wife to the Egyptians in return for them showing him good favor. He does this by pretending that Sarai is not his wife, but rather his sister. The scheme works and because Sarai is said to be especially beautiful she is immediately given over to the pharoah to be one of his wives. In return, Abram is treated well and is given sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and, more slaves.
So things are going well as far as Abram is concerned. We don’t know what Sarai thought of the situation. But God apparently is not happy. And his response is not to punish Abram for his cowardice or his deception, but to punish the Egyptians by sending plagues on their people. Once the pharoah figures out what is going on he summons Abram and asks him “Why have you done this to me?” We get no answer from Abram before he is sent packing with all his possessions and his wife in tow.
So Abram and his entourage continued their journey to Negev. And then somehow after arriving in Negev they ended up back in the place between Bethel and Ai where he had built the first alter. (I told you it was confusing. What? Are they going in circles??).
By the time they get there, both Abram and Lot have become very wealthy with lots of livestock, gold and silver and slaves. Their herds were so large, in fact, that the land could not support them both. So Abram and Lot decide to separate on good terms. Lot goes east toward the fertile plains of Jordan and settles near Sodom, where we are told in a moment of heavy foreshadowing that the people are wicked and are sinning against God.
Meanwhile, Abram has another chat with God about how all the land he sees will belong to his offspring forever and then he picks up and goes back to the to the tree of Moreh where he built the second alter.

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