Read: Genesis 11:27-15:21
After a long series of human disasters, God turns to Abram to help turn the tide. The early chapters of his life raise significant questions worth exploring:
Discussion Themes and Questions:
- Joshua 24:2: A man whose family serves other gods. Typically, devout believers are inclined to think in terms of “once true, always true” when it comes to God’s relationship to human beings. Following such a line of thinking would mean that Abraham should have known all the truths that God had communicated to Adam and down through the patriarchs to Noah and on to Abraham. But what indications are there in the story of Abraham that he lived in a world far removed from what we might consider God’s ideal? Ponder the implications of this quotation from Ellen White’s Patriarchs and Prophets:
Polygamy had become so wide-spread that it had ceased to be regarded as a sin, but it was no less a violation of the law of God, and was fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family relation. (PP 145)
If the effects of sin had removed even the best of men from full contact with God, how would the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ seek to reveal himself to Abraham? Would he immediately reveal to him all that had been lost and forgotten, or would he carefully accommodate his “revelations” to Abraham’s ability to understand? Ponder the implications of this Ellen White quotation, originally spoken in the context of Adventist health reform, but which describes a principle seen in all God’s dealings with humanity:
We must go no faster than we can take those with us whose consciences and intellects are convinced of the truths we advocate. We must meet the people where they are. Some of us have been many years in arriving at our present position in health reform. It is slow work to obtain a reform in diet. We have powerful appetites to meet; for the world is given to gluttony. If we should allow the people as much time as we have required to come up to the present advanced state in reform, we would be very patient with them, and allow them to advance  step by step, as we have done, until their feet are firmly established upon the health reform platform. But we should be very cautious not to advance too fast, lest we be obliged to retrace our steps. In reforms we would better come one step short of the mark than to go one step beyond it. And if there is error at all, let it be on the side next to the people. (Testimonies 3:20-21 )
For further discussion: See Appendix A, “Behold it was very good — and then it all turned sour,” chapter 2 in Alden Thompson, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?
- Abram and Sarai in Egypt: The patriarch who tells lies (Genesis 12:10-20). What does the story of Abraham, Sarai and Pharoah tell us about the nature of grace? Since when in the name of human justice does the victim get punished and still voluntarily give gifts to the one who duped him? Which is more unfair, sin or grace?
- Generous Abram, greedy Lot (Genesis 13). In a culture where elders are to be honored and respected, Abraham generously gave first choice of the land to his greedy nephew. Was that a right decision or a wrong one? Was it wise or foolish? To what extent would Abraham’s example be applicable in our day?
- Rescuing Lot and his Sodomite neighbors: Abraham as man of war (Genesis 14). In the Bible, Abraham’s military victory is described as a rather tidy affair. There is no report of bloodshed; but Abraham recovered all the people and all the spoil that had been taken by the four aggressor kings. When the king of Sodom offered all the spoil to Abraham, Abraham’s only goal was to make sure that his associates received their share. He took nothing extra for himself, only enough to cover what the men had eaten. To what extent is Abraham’s example a model for us today, both with reference to his willingness to go to war and with reference to his stance toward remuneration?
- Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). The biblical comments in Genesis about Melchizedek are brief and cryptic. In the three verses that speak directly of him, he is said only to be a priest of “God Most High” (El Elyon). But when Abraham referred to this “God Most High” in his negotiations with the king of Sodom, he identified “God Most High” as LORD (= Yahweh). All that suggests that the worship of Yahweh may have been more widespread in Abraham’s day than we have sometimes imagined. What does this experience say to our day and age about our call to reach out to others, but also to keep ourselves unspotted from the world?
- God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15). God’s promise to give Abraham’s descendants the land “from the River of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates” (Gen. 15:17) was one that was never literally fulfilled. Even in the glory years of David and Solomon, the fulfillment fell well short of the promise. What light does this passage shed on the nature of God’s promises? Can this passage be interpreted in the light of Ellen White’s famous comment about the delay of the advent:
The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional. — MS 4, 1883, 1SM 73 [Evangelism, 695]
The other intriguing question which the covenant raises is its form. In our day, we couldn’t dream that God would use slain animals as a means of confirming a divine promise. If we survey the full variety of methods which God has used throughout Scripture, does this help us understand which symbols may be permanent and which may be only temporary?