I had great aspirations when I began this project. I was going to rise at five and blog every day. I was going to finish the entire Biblical narrative by Christmas. I saw myself reading through massive chunks of the Bible at a time, being enlightened with dynamic and powerful insights every time I cracked the Word. No research would be necessary. I would just be able to open up the Scripture and POW! amazing revalations would drip from the pages like water drips from the leaky bathtub faucet in our upstairs bathroom – they would be relentless and unstoppable (no matter how hard you turn the off knob).
Sadly, none of that happened.
The truth is, I am part of two faith tribes (a phrase I recently picked up from a new friend), I have four kids (one of whom is a new and fairly cranky infant), and it is the holiday season. To top it off, the Holy Spirit was not exactly passing out insight like candy. I read through the Abraham saga once and felt Him say, “Read it again dufus. I’m no slot machine. You have to earn it.” So…yeah…this is going to be much more work than I initially thought.
But never fear. I am up for the challenge. And to be honest, this is something I desperately need to do. The Spirit’s been pushing me to jump into it for months and I’ve been ignoring Him.
Time to man up.
Abraham was the first. The covenant (or restored relationship) begins with him; so we will start with him as well.
A side note: This is how our crazy God rolls. He longs to restores right relationships within His creation. He wants them loving Him, one another, and the earth how they were created to. So what does he do? He grabs one guy from a dysfunctional family with a barren wife and builds a relationship with him. Would you or I have done it that way? No. Would our attempts have worked? Absolutely not. I can see myself saying something like, “Oh, I promised no rain after the flood…so here comes the fire BABY!!!” Okay, back to Abe.
When we ask, “How was Abraham suppose to represent God to the world?” several key passages spring up.
The first one is God’s voice coming to Abraham with seemingly no warning.
Now the Lord said to Abraham, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation. And I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
My favorite Old Testament theologian, Robert Alter, has said that in the Old Testament narrative the first words a character says are defining. They sum up his/her character in the story. I believe this opening conversation does that with God’s character in the Abraham narrative.
More on that in a minute. Let’s look at the other passages first.
The next comes after Abraham wins a huge war. God says,
“Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you. Your reward shall be great.” (Genesis 15:1)
Then Abraham and God have a conversation about the future and it ends with this statement:
Abraham believed (trusted) the Lord; and He (God) reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) The added words are mine.
Then in chapter 16 Abraham and Sarah take matters into their own hands and Ishmael is born. Fantastic story. Beautifully written. As my Old Testament professor Dr. Elizabeth Ngan once said, “In Genesis 16, every word matters.” Again, our crazy God sides with the slave girl in the conflict and lets her be the first person to name Him (which is a really big deal, but sadly not relevant to this discussion). After 16, years of silence pass and again God’s voice comes to Abraham from no where.
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty. Walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.”
There is more discussion and then:
“God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised.”
The story goes on, but you get the gist. When we look at these four passages together a common theme emerges. There are two parties in the restored relationships – God and Abraham.
God’s end of the deal – take care of everything. He is going to lead Abraham to a new land. He is going to bless Abraham along the way. He is going to be Abraham’s shield; and He is going to bless the world through His relationship with Abraham. He is the creator of the covenant, the restorer of the relationship, the responsible party.
What is Abraham’s job? Go on the journey and trust.
That is all.
Go and trust.
There are no laws. There are no rules. For a long time there are no rituals. Finally one ritual is added to demonstrate the Abraham’s holding up his end of the deal; but overall it is very simple. Journey, or live, with God, trust Him to be God; and He will take care of everything.
At one point Abraham is told to be blameless. I quickly want to jump on that and say, “Oh look. It was about following the rules. It’s not as easy as go and trust.” But there were no rules. In this narrative “blameless” can only refer to Abraham’s trust. Remember, the conversation comes right after Abraham takes things into his own hands. This is not some command to” never sin.” It is simply, “Don’t let me catch you not trusting me again. That is your end of the deal.”
The narrative ends with this beautifully disturbing test of trust. In chapter 22 God tells Abraham to do the unthinkable. Abraham trusts and God provides.
Conclusion: God restored this beautifully dynamic relationship with humanity by adopting one man – Abraham. Abraham’s job was to go where God led and trust God along the way. This is called “righteousness.” Through that simple relationship God would use Abraham to bless the world.
Representing God to the world simply was trusting God to be God – He took care of everything else.
Next comes Isaac and Jacob. We will see how/if the relationship changes.