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Posts Tagged ‘Abram’

Despite the fact the Ishmael means “God hears” or “God listens,” the name has become symbolic for being cast out or cast aside. And, isn’t it fascinating that Abraham, the father/patriarch of nations, was also the father of the Arab nations as well as Israelites? If you think the Adam and Eve story caused havoc in Human, what about this one?

Genesis 16:11-12
The angel of the Lord also said to her [Hagar]: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone  and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility towardall his brothers.”

So here are the traits of a donkey [originally wild ass]: hard working (have been used for work over 5000 years); used as pack animals and able to carry large weight for long distances; associated with the idea of people living at or below subsistence levels [the animal of the poor]; they can live anywhere from 10 years to 50 years, depending on their lifestyle and owners; adaptable; solitary; a male donkey’s [jack] bray can be heard over long distances — as much as 3 kilometers; hear well; fight defensively and persistently; they can interbreed which accounts for mules [bred with a horse]; and above all, stubbornness.

The stubbornness of a donkey is based on self-preservation. If a donkey believes circumstances are dangerous, it will resist. Otherwise, donkeys are also known for being friendly, intelligent, playful, and willing to learn.

So, is this such a terrible comparison, to be called a donkey of a man? It wouldn’t have to be except that the dominance of stubbornness seems to prevail over all of the other things. And stubbornness in anyone is a recipe for disaster. In a way, both Abram and Sarai were also stubborn. For Abram, it was called faithfulness, his conviction that God would follow through on His promises.

For Sarai, her stubbornness came into play by taking circumstances into her own hands. She may have believed God as well, but she appears to have been a practical woman. She waited ten years for her “miracle” child and decided that was long enough. Abram did not exactly try to dissuade her either. Abram, like Adam, passed over any responsibility to his spouse. Even when things went awry and Hagar, elevated from mere handmaid to surrogate, began testing the waters of her authority; Abram cast the solution back on Sarai.

I have always aligned myself with Sarai. I have her tendencies. I have her stubbornness. Once I believe I have the the answer or the solution and the track has been laid, I walk it with a vengeance.

I remember standing at the end of the aisle (at 18) waiting to walk toward my first marriage. In that moment, I knew I was making a terrible mistake. But of course, the path had been laid, and so I walked it. We lasted five years, but in the end, I was too immature to handle it and unfortunately, another dream became my obsession and I pursued that one (to move to New York and acting school) with the same singleness of purpose.

Most of the time, I believe we [Human] err because of our sense of time.

Even today, my husband (of 30 years by the way), bemoaned a familiar truth: “everything I start to do always takes longer than I think it will, whether it’s editing a video or fixing a faucet.” So true. It is “time” itself that we try to manipulate. But “time” will not bend to our will. “Time” is God’s domain and His alone to metamorphose.

Here’s the short of it. I accept my stubbornness and realize there are occasions when that is useful (when it’s called persistence) and instances when it gets in the way. Now I want to know and practice the difference,  to remember that I cannot control the outcomes of every situation: to trust God’s time.

Mary Karr, in her memoir Lit, tells of a fellow AA goofball she asked about “God’s will.” How to know when to act. And his answer is so apropos, we wait and stay the course until God tells us to do something else.

Most of us bemoan not knowing or hearing God’s voice because we act before the time. Simple.

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Although Abram could believe that God would provide him with descendants as numerous as the stars, he questioned God’s ability to give him the land. Perhaps there were enough loopholes in the promise to make a baby, but land was solid; land was imperishable; land was enduring. And in this case, the land was occupied.

Genesis 15:7-8; 18a
He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” . . . On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land . . .

Whereas the baby was a promise, the land became the end result of a contract, a covenant. It was formal and branded with the blood of animals. When blood is spilled over a promise, then it is unbreakable.

In some ways, this sign is still with us today; we hear of it in other cultures like blood oaths and blood rituals. These are done with the same intent, a promise, a loyalty, a trust, are exchanged.

There are a number of blood covenants in scripture and of course, the most important one to believers and Jesus followers, is the blood of the Christ, the Messiah, spilled once for all.

The Israelites gained and lost the land through poor judgment and sin. All through the history, kings fought over the land and by the time of Solomon, it had been taken back and restored to the people of the promise, the people of the covenant. And yet, in not so many generations later, the land was lost again. Today’s Israel is still fighting, for good or not, I do not know, but it is in their DNA to pursue the land that was lost.

The Christ, the very Son of a Holy God, spilled blood as a substitute for our own blood in place of those conscripted animals who annually paid the price in times long past for the sins and bad choices of Human. But just as the Israelites lost their land, despite the promise, Human is loosing everlasting life through distraction, unbelief, division, and tunnel vision.

Too many times, we, Human, we act as though the covenant is failing or no longer powerful. But I know that is not so. I know this deep in my soul.

And so, forgive me Father, when I look elsewhere for the “solutions” to my problems, when I look elsewhere for direction, when I don’t look at all. Forgive me Covenant maker.

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Photo by Bertrand Celce

Most historians are pretty sure that the great trees of Hebron were terebinths or oak trees. Those are no more. And yet, the area still sports many ancient olive trees. It is a place of growth and growing things. It is a place of life in the face of adversarial conditions.

Genesis 13:18
So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

Mamre, before Abram’s arrival, was a place of Canaanite worship. It was a central location and many caravans and travelers moved through the area. There were regular fairs and markets for trade. And apparently, there was ample water from a five meter wide well, later called Abraham’s well. This is the place where Abram built an altar, in the very midst of a pagan stronghold.

At this point in the story, there is no indication that Abram was anything but a man of peace. He did not fight or destroy anything there upon his arrival. He did not try to conquer the peoples or tear down their altars. He merely arrived and planted his household there.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes to transform a place. Just be there.

I remember a young couple who decided they wanted to serve in the poorest areas of Boston. And although it was dangerous to do so, they decided they would commit to this venture by living in the neighborhood itself. Many people cautioned them against it because of the dangerous elements to the street, drug traffic, poverty, and violence. And yet, they felt compelled to take a stand there. And although there were trials and losses, there was respect and acceptance. For the ten years that they lived there, many lives were changed.

In my mind, this is the most authentic way to serve the poor. What is it to serve the poor and then return to one’s middle class home? Now, this is not to say that I have done this. I’m a wimp. I fear poverty, having grown up in it. And yet, I sense a pulling, a drawing toward something radical.

Of course, not every challenge means impoverished circumstances. There are needs in paradise too, people who have lost sight of the things of God, enveloped by the lush trees of comfort. How do we impact this world? It’s very hard for we are much more easily entranced by the life of leisure than a life of poverty. How do we plant ourselves in the world without becoming part of the world? So far, few have succeeded.

For me, Jesus is the prime example of being in the world and yet not of it. He traveled freely between the poor and the wealthy. He ate with sinners and saints. He could do these things because he was totally centered in the truth of Himself and God. He was his own Light. He was not dependent on the reflection of others. He did not waiver. He was able to love and listen and yet, speak and teach without judgment.

Today, it is our cities that are the great trees of Mamre.

 

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Sarai would have been the loser in either one of the Abram/Pharoah scenarios. Either she is pulled into Pharaoh’s household as the widow of Abram (if they confess she is his wife) or she lies and says she is Abram’s sister and goes into Pharaoh’s palace with no loss of life. Undoubtedly, as the sister of a wealthy herdsman/patriarch (Abram), she would be included with some respect.

Genesis 12:12-13
 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me [Abram] but will let you [Sarai] live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

And yet, the woman in me recoils at either plan.

I know, I know. Like Esther, she was highly regarded for her beauty. She was given servants and she was dressed in elegant clothing (or lack thereof, as I’m pretty sure the Egyptian dress of that period for the wealthy was exotic and revealing). She was introduced to and encouraged to participate in their customs. In essence, she became part of the Pharaoh’s harem.

Now, living in a harem was not a bad life in many ways. A harem is really the place where women lived within the palace that was off limits to men (except eunuchs). These women were really the earliest “sister-wives” (to use a term from popular television about a man with multiple wives who live in separate houses). In my experience, any time you have more than ten women in a single space (like my work), there will be the potential for deep friendships as well as deep resentments. I am sure there were ranks among these women, seniority, let’s say. This is often illustrated in the story of Esther (in the book of Esther).

How long did Abram plan to stay in Egypt? Just through the time of the famine? But how, then, would he extricate Sarai from the harem? By then, she would have become a fixture, a working part of the life there. Undoubtedly, she would have had sexual relations with the Pharaoh as well.

We are not told how Pharaoh found out that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife and not his sister, but I would guess, “someone told.” Maybe it was one of the other women. Maybe, as in the time of Moses, it was the plight of the children that brought out the truth. In any case, Sarai was actually released (tossed) from the household.

But what application is there for me in this story? Only one really.

If I believe that God’s hand is on the big picture of my life, even my mistakes are covered and will be transformed into another path that leads to the end God has for me (my true destiny). But I have to submit to the sovereignty of God for this to work out. Abram and Sarai had a habit of trying to help God along in bringing their destinies closer and faster. They trusted God. They loved God. They worshiped God. And yet, God didn’t seem to be working out those promises the way they expected.

We’ll never know, but perhaps God’s original plan had been for Abram’s household to stay in Canaan during the famine and to trust God to feed them. I don’t really know. But going to Egypt during the famine was clearly a “human” solution to their problem. And, as a result, a number of unintended consequences resulted. And yet, God worked WITH their bad choices in conjunction with His will.

There is still hope for me.

And so I say, dear God of my life, take my bad choices and my mistakes and put them back on the potter’s wheel. Reinvent them. As You will.

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It all started with Noah’s sons, this leaving business. After the ark, they spread out and started creating their own civilizations and communities. They were nomadic at first, searching for a fertile place to settle. Generations passed and eventually, Shem’s great, great, great (who knows) grandson, Terah, also had three significant sons: Abram, Nahor, and Hanan.

Genesis 11:31
Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

But after Terah lost his one son (and even then, fathers assumed their children would outlive them), he left the land of his development and headed toward Canaan with his other son, Abram (his wife, Sarai), and grandson, Lot. But they didn’t get far, finding some peace in the neighboring community that Haran had built.

So, perhaps Abram had already been primed for leaving, perhaps he was ready to hear the call to travel.

There are many reasons people leave home. As a teenager, I married young predominately to escape my home life. I was fleeing home. Others leave because they have overstayed their welcome. Sometimes people go far to distance themselves from family while others stay close. Some choose job over family or adventure.

Abram left home for a promise. Many times we are reminded that Abram left because God called him to come out and make a new community, a great nation. And that is true. But this was not the only reason. In 12:2-3, is a list of the reasons and although greatness is one of the carrots dangled before him, there is something even more precious: blessings.

There is nothing more powerful than the promise of blessings, both to receive them and to give them. A blessing is a gift, like grace, it does not need to be particularly merited. And one of the key elements of a blessing is that it brings happiness. That is its very nature. It’s a kindness.

And so God promised to bless Abram and even more, to make Abram a blessing to others. Wouldn’t you go too?

Oh Lord, bless me this day but even more, may I bless others because of the presence of the You within me.

I have struggled for years wondering what do I really want! From gurus to motivational speakers to “blab it and grab it” preachers, you have to know what you want before you can go after it.

And today, I see it in sharp relief: to bless others and to be blessed. To live in the cycle of blessings.

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