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.
What to make of Terah? He started but did not finish his planned journey to Canaan. He left stability and the safety of his home – Ur of the Chaldeans. No small thing. He went out but did not enter in.
I can relate. I have unfinished projects. But I sometimes wonder – did Terah receive the same promise that was subsequently extended to Abram, his son. Did he somehow hear God say, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…” Was Terah the intended “Father of Faith”, but he just wasn’t able to enter into his assignment? That’s disturbing.
What happened in Haran that got his attention and derailed his plan?
In America we have an unfortunate expression – “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas”. Perhaps it’s like that: “What happened in Haran will stay in Haran.”
One more reason to avoid sin city.
Life is getting shorter. A curious compression of the wave of generations has the long lived olders outlasting their multi-centenarian children.
Six hundred year old men caught in a cosmic doppler. What would life look like from that view? The questions I would have. Perhaps the answers I would have.
Things suddenly seem thicker, slower, and heavier. The flood was only yesterday, but the memory is so strange and distant I’m tempted to question whether it ever really happened – could it have only been a vision?
Lives marked only by their procreating and surviving. It doesn’t seem to do justice. What was going on? Where did they go? What did they do?
You scriptures – I want to come to terms with you but today you’re not helping. You’re showing yourself uninteresting. Life is more than this. Tell a better story.
I smile. I am so demanding. They lived. They loved. It is enough.
How often and easily I look back on this moment and self-righteously condemn. The citizens of Babel who longed to make a name for themselves – who wanted to shake their collective fist at God.
Who is it that has not wished to know more, to do more in the plane of activity?
I’d listened to a man the other day speak of the possibility that material existence is caught up in multi-verse from which it might prove impossible to learn the deepest fundamentals of physics and the origin of existence. So human beings might not be able to know everything. A strange but pragmatically progressive view. The harbingers of the end of knowledge are a little uncommon in our time.
Though he didn’t speak QED – Augustine recognized the problematic possibility of a multiverse instead of a universe. However, the anguish of a horizon of knowledge that is ending seems somehow harder to accept in this enlightened, post-modern morning.
It was never the knowledge, really. It was the pursuit of the knowledge. What a person might do with the knowledge. This is what gave meaning. No wonder boundaries on knowledge are problematic.
It’s a part of the chase. My life as a contribution to a greater story. The discover of everything. We are so easily and not unnaturally drawn to this. Perhaps, we were even made for something like this.
Still an alternative remains:
Being. Just being. No narrative. Nothing to see folks.
The greatest curiosity of Babel is that such a possibility is preserved through utter confusion.
Nimrod is the first person identified in the bible as a “king”. Until the time of Nimrod, people appear to have lived independently as a family unit or in some sort of tribal arrangement.
So Nimrod showing up as a king isn’t a small thing. It seems to represent the first expression of any group of people forming into a community for the purpose of furthering the “common good”, goods that can only be achieved in communities – little cities and villages.
Since Nimrod was a “mighty one on the earth”, it seems likely that his kingship offered to the people who followed his authority something that they couldn’t get without him. Perhaps these included the most basic of goods that a community offers, like ordered institutions and common defense.
Of course, the good of community in Nimrod’s kingdom might also have been about Nimrod as a person. Perhaps he was a charismatic leader who established a powerful vision for the community.
Whatever the case, he shows up here not in isolation. The emergence of Nimrod, and the beginning of social contract communities is offered in the context of human progress. But at the same time, there is an implicit question on whether or not a contract can be enough to actually achieve a common wealth worthy of human potential.
“Cursed be Canaan. The lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers”
So there it is. A drunken man, a moral failure, a cursed son, and the generations keep coming. The beat goes on.
Renewed, we have this essential capacity to agree with the Holy Spirit. To live wholly in Him. This is the ground of my being. As I visit this ground, and recognize my God in myself, and myself in my God, I want this essence everywhere to agree. Here, eternity is entirely available to all, but I encounter it only in the most fleeting moment.
I will – gently but determinedly to resist the temptation to return to the beat. Cursing the son for the sins of the father, for the sins of the father, for the sins of the father, for the sins of the father.
This, it seems, did not escape the waters of the flood. No despair. It’s just work to do.