God-Soaked World Bible Guide – Day 1
March 6, 2017
Monday, March 6 – Genesis 11:27-12:9
27 Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. 28 Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. 29 Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
31 Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 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 shall be blessed.”
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Points of Interest:
- At the center of this passage is an experience a man named Abram is purported to have had some four thousand years ago. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all tell this story and take interest in this experience of Abram hearing God speak to him. But the experience isn’t reported in isolation. It’s described in the context of Abram’s family story and historical and cultural context.
- The exposition of Abram’s life draws us into a colorful and tragic family story. Abram’s brother Haran dies young, leaving Terah and the extended family to care for Haran’s family. Terah is a bold but grief-stricken man. He leaves his homeland of Ur with one of his surviving sons and a grandson and their families. He is headed to the land of Canaan, for reasons we don’t know, but perhaps due to age, perhaps due to grief, only makes it part way, where he settles and dies in the town of Haran. In Hebrew, this isn’t an identical name as his dead son’s, but is hauntingly (or maybe comfortingly) similar. Abram and Sarai are the one couple in the family unable to have children. In the ancient Near East barrenness was a tragedy. It meant no heir in times when generational inheritance was the closest thing people had to a sense of afterlife, or long-term significance. It also meant no help in one’s old age, in an agrarian culture with no cultural safety nets or means of retirement savings.
- In the midst of Abram’s disappointing middle age years, he senses God speaking to him. The Bible rarely describes the means by which people discern God speaking. Was this an audible voice? A dream? An internal voice experienced while praying to a moon god? (The ancient city of Haran had a temple to the Canaanite mood god, Sin.) A gut sense that came to him while herding sheep, or eating breakfast, or gazing into a fire? We have no idea. Any of these are possible.
- The content of Abram’s message from God is persevered, though. It’s a high risk, high reward message. This middle-aged man with no heirs and no help for his upcoming old age experiences God telling him to leave his community – to leave his family, and by extension, his inheritance. He’s to continue the journey his father began years ago, to a land he’s never been to. In exchange, God will give him protection, reputation, and somehow (without descendants at this point!) a long-term legacy that will impact world history for good. It’s an exchange of present security, identity, and land – everything he knew and that defined him – for much greater security, identity, and land that God promises, through at this point mysterious means.
- Abram trusts the voice and uproots his whole household to take a journey into the unknown. As a side note, I have no idea what to make of the ages in these early passages of Genesis. Some conservative readers think they refer to the unusual longevity of the spiritual forefathers of the faith, but there is no anthropological or scientific evidence that would suggest this. I tend to think the numbers were inflated over time in the oral tradition, and that they had numerological significance (largely lost to us) in their original context. Abram, though, was not a young man. This was at least a mid-life redirect.
- Once Abram reaches the land his father originally set out for, we read God appeared to him. Again, there’s lots of missing context. As with Abram’s first experience, we don’t know how this one occurred – a vision, a dream, an interior sense, some other means? We also don’t know which god Abram thought he was communicating with. Abram was not a mono-theist. Abram’s first spiritual experience happens near a temple to a Canaanite moon god, and this second one happens by a large Canaanite tree, which likely would have been a site of worship to fertility gods, connected with agriculture and offspring. The name used here – the Lord, in Hebrew “Yahweh” – was a name for God first known by Moses, hundreds of years later.
- Abram’s second spiritual experience builds upon the first. He senses a “where” and a “how” to God’s promise to him. Despite the odds, he’ll have offspring, and he’s found the land in which his descendants will become great. So he travels about building altars and making sacrifices to the god he sees as backing him. He’s using the spiritual practices of his time and culture to respond to his experience of God.
Spiritual Exercise: We don’t experience God in a vacuum, but in the context of our familial and cultural inheritance. Consider one of the following – an unfulfilled dream of your parents or any ancestor of yours, or a current challenge in your life story. Ask God if God has any promise for you in this context. Sit quietly for a few moments, and take note of whatever you experience.
Prayer: Ask that your six – whatever their spiritual context – would experience God speaking promise to them, whatever their experience of God has or hasn’t been to date.