Sunday, July 18, 2010

Genesis 12:4-9’s Miscellany between Call and Egypt

A few small things to start in Genesis 12:4-5. The two verses are bracketed by 4a’s “he left” and 5b’s “they arrived”—an example of God’s provision and their participation. Abraham is in Canaan for 100 years (approx. 2091-1991 BC) and is called at a relatively old age. The “people…acquired in Haran” implies that he grew wealthy there. Interestingly, the term for “people” is lit. “souls”, implying these are servants &/or proselytes; if the latter, we may see an early example of Abram’s spiritual influence.

Finally, Lot “went” with Abram (12:4)—or from another angle, Abram “took” Lot with him (12:5; 11:31). The former underlines Lot’s voluntary response to follow Abram, but the latter is required too. One wonders how old Lot was? If Haran died when Lot was young, then this may be equivalent to adoption with Abram raising him as a son. One also wonders if Abram disobeyed God by bringing Lot? After all, he was supposed to leave family! Was the command to be “spirit of the law”—and this should be seen as the first sign of Abram’s greatness and mercy, in bringing the orphan Lot along? Perhaps Lot is “heir insurance”, especially if he raised/saw him like a son. Anyway, Lot caused him "lots" of trouble!

More small things in Gen 12:6-9. “Moreh” means teaching—a place where the Canaanites probably sought wisdom. Would Abram try to consult God through this mechanism? In any case, God meets him there. Shechem and Ai (Josh 7-8) have modest roles in the rest of the OT; Bethel is a major player. The reference to the Negev tells us that Abram & Co. are moving south—toward Egypt (12:10ff). Abram is a man on the move. In faith, this is a certain—but not a short/straight—journey (see: Gen 20:13’s “wander”).

A larger but obvious thing: there are Canaanites in the land. God had promised him this land, but Canaanites were there; He had promised him a great nation, but his wife was barren. Interestingly, from a godly perspective, Abram owned but did not possess—while the Canaanites possessed but did not own; both were sojourners of a different sort! Finally—and this is worth a smile: who else but the Canaanites would be in Canaan?! Well, to begin with…Abram!

Kass quotes Yuval Levin here to make a profound and applicable point: “God must put a non-Canaanite into the land of Canaan, to get away from the simple natural way of things. To be a Canaanite in Canaan requires no effort, no action, no thought. To be a Hebrew in Canaan will require attention and exertion…God’s new way would not succeed among a people who simply let things be as they are; it demands a people willing to become what they have not always been.”

The religious activity in this passage is also noteworthy: the Lord appears to Him (apparently not in all His glory) at the great tree. The appearance is a step beyond 12:1-3’s voice. God promises land to his descendants, not to him—and there’s no sign of them yet! (It’s interesting to wonder the extent to which Abram is expecting God to grow his nation through Lot (that culturally acceptable option falls apart later; more later) or evangelism!

And Abram constructs two altars—as memorials and meeting places for the worship of God; as a sign of submission, faith, and gratitude. He does this at pagan worship sites—making a public statement, planting God’s flag in a sense. There is no (literal) sacrifice here (vs. Cain and Noah!), but a greater (figurative) sacrifice of pride, independence, etc. (a la Rom 12:1). Ironically, this is the only permanent thing for Abraham (vs. 8’s tents and no cities).

What’s different between the two? At 7’s Shechem, he builds in response to God’s presence and promises. At 8’s Bethel, the altar and call do not get an answer. He’s probably disappointed—experientially (why not?) or even theologically (is God only local?). On the experiential, this points to the universal themes of thinking God will respond to our formulaic approaches—and our desire/demand that God would (always) respond—in particular, how and when we see fit (us controlling God?!). On the theological: especially in a time when people thought gods were local, this may leave Abram with the sense that God is not everywhere, always able or wanting to watch.

Abram “called on the name of the Lord”. As Borgman notes in a segue to the next passage: “God has promised Abram a great name, and now Abram invokes the name of the Lord…[this is] surely an important first step in relinquishing the effort to establish one’s own [name]…But immediately we read of the fiasco in Egypt. When it comes to everyday challenges, Abram’s initiative to preserve and promote himself, even at his wife’s expense, proves disastrous.”


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