Guests: Alden Thompson and Jody Washburn
Relevant Verses: Genesis 10-11
Theme: God and Abraham
Leading Question: What is Faith?
The journey of Abraham with God begins with two words, Lech Lecha, “God said to Abraham, ‘Go forth [Lech Lecha] from your land, your birthplace and your father’s house to a land I will show you’” (Gen 12:1). The Bible does not tell us about his childhood, his youth, his relationships with his family, how he married Sarah, or anything about his character. Why would God call Abraham to become the one whom we credit with monotheism and the father of faith of the three monotheistic religions in the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The story of God’s people begins with a call to journey into the unknown. And then, God makes three foundational promises. (1) He promises a seed, “I will make you a great nation” – childless Abram will become a father of a great family, and indeed a multitude of nations. (2) He promises land, “the land that I will show you.” (3) He promises blessing; this most significant point of God’s promise has two aspects. First, divine protection: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” Second, blessings to all nations: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Question: What gives Abraham the strength and courage to go forth?
God made it clear that the first step is that Abraham had to be willing to leave—it’s only later, with God’s help, that he’ll figure out the destination. The medieval commentator Rashi tells us that this leave-taking is for Abraham’s “own good,” that his growth depends on leaving the safe confines of everything he knows and takes for granted. It depends on taking a risk.
The call, Lech Lecha, is a multilayerd expression. First, “Go from” and leave behind everything that you know and love, your customs and your upbringing, and all that is familiar. This interpretation certainly resonates with me as I recognize myself as a ‘world citizen’ because I left my parent’s home and worked and lived on several continents and in different countries. Such transitions have the potential to challenge long-held assumptions and make one be open for different views on life.
A second way of reading the Hebrew expression, Lech Lecha, is “Go to yourself.” What if the call to “Go forth from your land, from the place that you were born, and from your father’s house” does not necessitate a turning away from a place but a turning toward, a deep searching into our inner self. Amidst the external confusion and chaos around we also need to pay attention to the voice of the Spririt speaking to us in silence and meditation. How will this journey of the unknown be? What assumptions and ways of being do I need to let go, and what do I need to make new?
God’s call to go, Lech Lecha, may even mean to be on a lonely journey, “Go by yourself.” To be a child of Abraham is to have the courage to be different, to challenge the idols of the age, any age. It means recognizing that one’s life is not dependent on the whims of a multitude of gods but meaningful in relation to the Creator who celebrates his created works. In slavery, it means refusing to accept the status quo in the name of God, but instead challenging it in the name of God. When power is worshipped, it means striving to construct a society that cares for the powerless, the widow, orphan, stranger, refugee, and immigrant. When war is the test of manhood, it means striving for peace. When individualism is confused with freedom, it means knowing that we are not what we own but what we share; not what we buy but what we give; that there is something greater than ourselves and our own desire. The call that came to Abraham summons us to be and to make a contribution to the world.
Question: What is the Faith? How does it fit into the journey of Abraham’s life?
Note how Genesis 12–22 structures the life story of Abraham:
A Abram’s Call: Promise of Seed (11:31-12:3) B Sojourn in Canaan (12:4-9) C1 Sojourn in Egypt; Denial of Sarai (12:10-20) C2 Separation of Lot; Manifestation of the Lord (13:1-18) D War on Sodom; Rescue of Lot by Abram (14:1-24) E Covenant Made: Land (15:1-21) F Sarai’s Effort (16:1-16) X Covenant Made: Abraham & Covenant Sign (17:1-14) F’ Sarah’s Blessing (17:15-27) E’ Covenant Made: Seed (18:1-15) D’ Destruction of Sodom; Rescue of Lot by Angels (18:16-19:38) C1’ Sojourn in Gerar; Denial of Sarah (20:1-18) C2’ Manifestation of Seed; Separation of Ishmael (21:1-21) B’ Sojourn in Gerar (21:22-34) A’ Abraham’s Test: Blessing of Seed (22:1-19)
The parallelisms in this chiasm show that Abraham’s life did not follow a perfect upward trajectory. Quite the opposite, he made the same mistakes all over and failed even when he became older.
Question: When is Faith’s best moment? When does Abraham become the “father of faith”?
The story of Abraham’s faith is startling. It is centered in a place and context when we would least expect it. It reads, “he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). It became Sola fide, the central doctrine of the Reformation, “by which the church stands or falls.” Over the past five hundred years theologians have debated the doctrine of faith on the basis of Paul’s expositions about Abraham in Romans 4. However, the roots of faith are in the story of Genesis 15, a story were salvation is not the ultimate concern, but life’s journey built on trust in God’s promises.
Questions: What is the result of Faith?
The man to whom God promised as many children as the stars of the sky has one child to continue the covenant. The man who received the promise of the land “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates” [15:18] had acquired one field and a tomb. But that is enough. The journey has begun. Abraham knows that it is not for him to complete the task. And so, he can die content.