bible blog 1633


...a journey towards justice?

…a journey towards justice?


YHWH said to Avram:


from your land,

from your kindred

from your father’s house

to the land that I will let you see.

I will make a great nation of you,

and I will give you blessing

and will make your name great:
Be a blessing!

I will bless those who bless you

and  will curse those who curse you

and all the clans of the soil  will find blessing through you.

Avram went as YHWH had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.

And Avram was five and seventy years old when he went out of Harran.

Avram took Sarah his wife and Lot, his brother’s son, all their property that they had gained, and the people they had made-their-own in Harran,

and went out to go totheland of Canaan.

When the came to the land of Canaan

Avram passed through the land, as far as the place of Shekhem, as far as the oak of Moreh.

Now the Canaanite was in the land.

YHWH was seen by Avram and said:

I give this land to your seed.

He built a slaughter site there to YHWH who had been seen by him.

He moved on through the mountain country east of Beth-El, and spread his tent, Beth-El to the east and Ai toward the Sea. There he built a slaughter site to YHWH

and called out the name of YHWH.

Then Avram journeyed on, continually journeying toward the Negev.

This begins a new section of the book of Genesis: the story of the beginnings of humanity in general is complete and the story of Israel begins. Of course, the author has planned this from the start. He wants to say that God’s solution to the problem of his out-of-control creature, humanity, is to persuade some of humanity to learn his goodness and to represent it in the world. We should wonder at this strange tactic. Why can God not control what he has made? The answer is evident in the story of Noah: he could wipe out humanity but he cannot force a creature made in his image to obey him; so unless he wants to start all over again he has to find another tactic. He has to persuade humanity of its own free will to go his way. So we have to see his work with Avram and his descendants as an expression of his faithfulness to his creation and to his human creatures especially.

Persuasion, even divine persuasion, starts with one person, in this case Avram, a descendant of Shem, whose father Terah has moved from Ur of the Chaldees, more accurately in Sumer, to Harran in the territory of the Mitanni, on the border of modern Syria and Turkey. The accompanying map shows the extent of the migration. ancient sources record a variety of nomadic peoples whose journeys took them across the borders of great empires like Sumer and Egypt. Avram’s family is identified as already nomadic, since his father has migrated from Ur to Harran. The command of the Lord, therefore is not utterly foreign to Avram, but it is presented as decisive. There is no preliminary explanation given by the author, just a command: Go-you-forth. It is not an aimless journey, however because a destination is declared: “the land that I will give you”, which is identified within a few verses as Canaan. Both the author and his original audience know that this is the land of Israel, the land promised.

map-of-abrahams-journeyThe command of God points to a future in which Avram and his descendants will enjoy God’s blessing but will also be carriers of God’s blessing to the human family. This is God’s solution to the problem of humanity. Avram is to BE a blessing to others. God  cannot simply bless his creatures! The blessing has to come through creatures who have been persuaded of God’s goodness and will in turn persuade others. This is a very strange concept of deity. As the passage tells it, God needs Avram more than Avram needs God.

Avram’s ready response is made clear; he moves out of Harran with his wife and his own complete household. Other members of his family remain but his nephew goes with him, along with the “people they had made-their-own”, that is, workers and slaves. Avram is not exploring, he is moving house. 

Ancient landmarks such as Shekhem, Moreh and Beth-El are noted in connection with Avram’s places of sacrifice to YHWH, but the crucial detail is that Avram “sees” YHWH, that is, he has a vision of him. In the story of Avram and subsequently in Genesis, God no longer talks person to person as he does to Noah, but is a little more distant; perhaps there is a vision or a sign, or a messenger, or several messengers, but the communication is a little less direct than in chapters 1-11. Some have suggested that the author wants to depict Avram as the first of the “seers” or prophets of Israel. In any case the verb “to see” will play an important part in his story.

The narrative makes God’s promise crystal clear: “I will give this land to your seed”; and shows Abraham’s acceptance of it by his establishing of sacrifice sites and his journeying through the land. The reader is left in no doubt that this passage records a new, distinctive vision of God. Some of what has seemed contradictory and inexplicable in chapters 1-11, now becomes comprehensible as the long-term strategy of God is made clear.


7 And he calls the twelve; and he began to send them out two and two, and gave to them power over the unclean spirits;

8 and he commanded them that they should take nothing for the way, save a staff only; no bag, no bread, no money in their belt;

9 but be shod with sandals, and not put on two body-coats.

10 And he said to them, Wherever you shall enter into a house, there remain till you shall go from there.

11 And whatsoever place shall not receive you nor hear you, departing from there, shake off the dust which is under your feet for a testimony to them.

12 And they went forth and preached that people should change their lives;

13 and they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many infirm, and healed them.

If we think of Mark’s gospel as the story of the “available goodness of God”, this episode marks a new stage of availability. Up to this point, God’s goodness has come to needy people through Jesus, indeed specifically through his bodily presence. Now that same gift is made available through his disciples.

They are commanded to the strictest focus on their mission, which is to carry on the battle against evil. They are to have no surplus clothing or possessions but are to be completely dependent on those who welcome them. Nor are they to tout for hospitality but to accept what they are offered. Their whole manner of working is to express the urgency of their tasks, which are modelled on Jesus’ ministry of preaching, exorcism and healing. 

Given that this is the first mention of missionary activity in a gospel that was intended for a community established by missionary activity, we may guess that Mark is outlining what the mission of a Christian community should be, namely the urgent extension of God’s goodness into areas menaced by the power of evil. This outward extension of “the kingdom”, even within Israel, also raises the question of Jesus’ relationship to the civil powers-a question that Mark answers in the next section of his gospel.  

making God's goodness available-Ebola Team

making God’s goodness available-Ebola Team

It’s worth noting that in Jesus’ plan for mission, there is no blueprint, no publicity, no full- salvation promise, no creed, no dogma, no spirituality, no ritual, only a change of life in commitment to God’s goodness, made evident in word and healing. Nor is there much effort to persuade. Those who reject the initiative are to be treated as heathens (when Israelites came back from heathen territory they shook the foreign dust from their feet). All of this ought to be of interest to the churches today.

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