bible blog 1260

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

SYRIAN PEACE CONFERENCE: PEOPLE IN SUITS DEBATE FUTURE OF PEOPLE WITHOUT FOOD OR SAFETY syria conference

Genesis 11:27-12:8

Good News Translation (GNT)

The Descendants of Terah

27 These are the descendants of Terah, who was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran was the father of Lot, 28 and Haran died in his hometown of Ur in Babylonia, while his father was still living. 29 Abram married Sarai, and Nahor married Milcah, the daughter of Haran, who was also the father of Iscah. 30 Sarai was not able to have children.

31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, who was the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, Abram’s wife, and with them he left the city of Ur in Babylonia to go to the land of Canaan. They went as far as Haran and settled there. 32 Terah died there at the age of 205.

bedouin zGod’s Call to Abram

12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you. I will give you many descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will bless you and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
But I will curse those who curse you.
And through you I will bless all the nations.”[a]

When Abram was seventy-five years old, he started out from Haran, as the Lord had told him to do; and Lot went with him. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the wealth and all the slaves they had acquired in Haran, and they started out for the land of Canaan.

When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land until he came to the sacred tree of Moreh, the holy place at Shechem. (At that time the Canaanites were still living in the land.) The Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “This is the country that I am going to give to your descendants.” Then Abram built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. After that, he moved on south to the hill country east of the city of Bethel and set up his camp between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There also he built an altar and worshipped the Lord.

To the casual reader this may seem just another story, but in my view it is where the author has been heading from the start of Genesis. Many nations have believed that their land and people were specially blessed by God. You can even find some remnant of this in the annual last night of the Proms in London when people sing, “And did those feet” which is viewed wrongly as a patriotic paean. The Aenead of Virgil is an epic poem expressing the conviction that divine wisdom has led the people of Rome to a particular place so that they may fulfil a special destiny. But the Jewish people are distinguished by the depth and passion of their faith that God has given them “Eretz Yisrael” and blessed them with his Torah; so that only when they are in possession of this land can they fulfil their destiny under God. 

modern area of Shechem

modern area of Shechem

The author of Genesis takes this faith and gives it an extraordinary twist by placing it in the context of his story in which a creator God finds that his human creatures are continually inventing new forms of evil, which he cannot conquer without destroying his creation. Indeed he has almost destroyed it, but has promised never to do so again. Now that Noah and his descendants are behaving no better than previous human beings, what can God do to restore his blessing to all creation? The author’s answer is astonishing. He can begin working with a human family and persuade them to represent his goodness in the world. This will involve God getting down and dirty in the world, involving himself in the rough and tumble of human life in a way he has not done before. His cause, the restoration of creation’s lost blessing, will be in human hands.

Only for this purpose, he says, has God blessed the children of Abraham with the Torah and the land.

Whether this remarkable piece of theology is the invention of the Genesis author(s) or, as is more likely, the product of many generations is less important than its boldness. This divine/human partnership is not one-sided: God is not using his people as an instrument. If they are to represent his goodness, it can only be by their goodness. The people must obey God but they must do so freely, with their own human virtues.

This is evident here at the start of this new phase of God’s creation. God announces to an elderly nomad that he and his family have been chosen to carry his blessing to all nations. And Abraham, whose family has already moved from Ur to Haran, moves on again but now in partnership with the travelling God who has bound his fortunes to this family, promising them new territory. When the family arrives in Canaan, the Lord “appears” to Abraham. This is the first use of this expression in the bible. God is no longer walking and talking with mythical human beings like Noah; Abraham is part of “our” history, an identifiable person. God’s disclosure of himself shows God’s trust in this person which results, as we shall see in the Abraham stories, in a kind of working equality between the creator and his human creature. “This will be the land of your descendants,” the Lord tells Abraham who reacts by setting up two altars not to claim ownership of land, but to worship the God who has disclosed his presence to him. This will not be a land to exploit but a land where people can worship God.

The author’s story of the creator has now moved into a new chapter in which God steps on to the stage of history in pursuit of his desire to bless the world. It is a great and astonishing piece of theology. But it could only have been fashioned amongst a people who had imagined this God and come to believe that He had already imagined and formed them.

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