Abraham bargains with God
It is strange how I can be with another person for hours enjoying fellowship but only at the time of close and departure do the things that really need to be said suddenly come out.
Destruction is once again coming to the earth. Evil will be purged. A city reprobate will be suddenly destroyed.
But why doesn’t Abraham just say, “Will You please save my nephew Lot from this coming destruction? That’s how I’d pray it.
Abraham is the father of faith.
I still don’t get it.
Abraham shows hospitality to three visitors.
The thing is, they stood there. They weren’t walking by. They stood nearby. Not approaching. Not departing. Not, for the moment, passing by. And when Abraham spotted them, he immediately ran to meet them.
In Abraham is utter hospitality.
In God is respectful yet unmediated proximity.
Where these two things meet is intimacy and creativity.
A promise, a child and laughter.
Ever the enigma, Abraham is willing to remove his own foreskin as a ninety nine year old man and preside over the removal of the foreskins of all the men in his household – based on the word of God which he heard commanding him to do it. No doubt. No circumventing. Just circumcision.
But when God affirms a promise that He has already made to Abraham in the past – laughter. Isaac, of course, is the Hebrew word for laughter.
Not laughter of joy, but of incredulity: “shall a son be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Or can Sarah give birth at ninety?” Already, he calls her Sarah, honoring God’s new name for her, but still laughs at God for affirming his promise.
Ishmael. Abraham has loved Ishmael. And God is already challenging this fixation.
This is hard to hear. This morning I know of another Ishmael. The cutting away is not far off. Will I be willing when it’s time to get to work?
Did I really chose to follow Jesus? Have I really been born again? They say there is a circumcision of the heart, an undeniable and irreversible manifestation of the change.
But as a sign and seal of a covenant relationship, this circumcision seems invisible. Abraham could see his circumcision. It was a constant reminder. It was always a part of his experience. He used it every day. He handled it every day. His sign and seal was undeniable.
Abraham inherited the land – and his faithful descendants with him. For them, the sign of covenant was more than a testimony. It was a claim to the benefits of the covenant – to the land.
So I think this circumcision of the heart is intended to be likewise. I can enter into the promise of a kingdom that never leaves me. I can dwell there. I can use it every day.
It’s a choice I make, or not.
Sarai knows the vision, the promise. She wants to agree. She orders her environment. All that she’s been given moved with the goal to achieve, to enter into the promise, as best she sees it possible. Hagar has little power. Then things change. She also recognizes, values, and orders that which she has been given.
No one is adequate to the circumstances. Everyone feels wronged in some way.
An angel comes.
Drama followed by what must happen anyway. Still this power is undeniable and must be exercised, must be discharged. Why? How?
Yesterday someone asked me why I bother with the scriptures. “Knowing these things”, it was said, “can make no difference in the way life is lived.”
In this moment I simultaneously feel as confused as Hagar and as vexed as Sarai – and then an angel shows up. Just for the moment.
Breathe out. Like Hagar, Sarai and Abram – I go on. No wiser, but no less determined. Still, I have to admit, something has changed.
A covenant was made by God with Abram. Then overwhelming darkness and an urge to work things out. Abram took Hagar to be a concubine.
We are, it seems, like water when we have a vision. There is no manner of effort we will not put forth in response to the primordial urge to be satisfied in the realization of our dreams.
Sometimes a damned up river will find flow in circuitous and counter-intuitive rivulets. An otherwise imperceptible lowness is made manifest under this pressure. Often, it’s not very becoming, even if it is inevitable.
If I had thought about things more carefully, I’d probably have built a sluice. Oh, but I wasn’t supposed to be talking about myself.
It is interesting Abram’s response to the king of Sodom, “Lest you should say, ‘I made Abram rich'” Abram did not want the reputation.
Even though he proved himself a man of valor and might -celebrated and blessed by Melchizedek, Abram was looking to the promise of God alone.
His wealth was already great. He doesn’t seem to care about power over men. He just wanted to enter into the promise of God. He feared that he had misunderstood, misinterpreted what he had heard back in Ur. There wasn’t any more that he could do.
Affirmation. It’s still coming. I believe. This is righteousness.
I try to imagine this. There are two men who come out to meet the victorious assembly returning with the hostages and the booty. The king of Sodom, who saved himself in battle. He failed in his social contract to lead and protect his people. He is looking for something.
Then there is Melchizedek. The king of Salem – the king of a kingdom called “Peace”. He also is looking for something.
One will offer to take back the people of his city in exchange for the booty. The other will offer bread, wine and a blessing and ask for nothing.
Abram took nothing from the one and returned everything. To the other he gave a tenth of his possessions.
Abram was a man who himself conversed with God, who built alters, who offered sacrifice.
Bread, wine and blessing. He gave a tenth. What was the value exchanged?
There is something not obvious here.
“Chedorlaomer and the kings allied with him…” Though not the first mention of kingdoms, it is the first mention of alliances and tribute.
There is this very common trajectory of consolidation of power, first over a subject population and then leveraging one kind of power to consolidate more power through additional subjugation. Taxes and tribute, force and rebellion and war.
This is apparently how it works in the well-watered plain. The strange counterpoint to all this is Abram, living with his riches in the hills, apparently unafraid of marauding armies. Although he is a man not above anxiety, neither is he without courage. Yet, whatever he was feeling during these years, he is strangely untouched by these troubles.
For now, he rests in the peace and promise of his relationship with the God of Creation. May we all find such peace this morning.
“I know well how beautiful a woman you are…”
So Abram was afraid because of beauty. This is a strange but ancient theme. I remember reading earlier in Genesis how, “the Sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful and they married…”. In the ancient world, this theme is not even unique to scripture.
So I’m wondering what’s wrapped up in this pursuit of beauty – the idea that it (beauty) can be caught and collected like so many dried flowers – or even more fundamentally; that beauty can be owned. Abram knew that Pharaoh would claim ownership of the beauty. He knew he was helpless to stop it.
On a certain level, in the cool of this morning, the whole thing seems preposterous. That so much energy and resources would be devoted to capturing beauty. But I look around and behold – I am a man that seeks beauty living amongst a people who seek beauty. And what’s more, together we seek it in ever more intense doses.
Let’s face it, these days even authentic beauty needs to be photo-shopped. I put hot sauce on my 3 alarm chili because the experience is still not intense enough. What is it that I am looking for???
Earlier, in a moment of personal lucidity, I saw that the outflow of my self-regard is manifest in my actions. OK, as I write that it sounds obvious. Yet, how troubling and yet hopeful it strikes me today. I have done such evil wanting to own beauty yet, in renewed essence, I realize everything I ever really wanted was within me waiting to be revealed as it is shared with others.
It is written, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them who bring good news”. Come Lord Jesus.