Tuesday, February 14

Abraham: A Mighty Prince Among Us

Here's another slightly long post in the vein of spiritual direction: Reflections on the Life of Abraham.

What an absolute giant Abraham was, in terms of faith. For most of us faith means trusting God to work in ways that we have seen or heard of before, or perhaps a little beyond that. Abraham’s life is marked, not by perfect faith or lack of doubting, but by a striking number of spectacular faith-acts. In Genesis 23, Abraham makes a request of the Hittites, calling himself a “stranger and sojourner” among them. They reply, “My lord, you are a mighty prince among us” and grant what he wants.

The first giant faith act recorded is one of leaving, of “detachment.” God calls him to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” No clear directions are given, other than 2 promises—to make him a great nation through which all nations bless themselves, and to show him the land to settle in (12:1-3). Abram goes.

Actually, his faith journey seems to start earlier as recorded for us, with a foundation built upon the faith of his forebears. His line has been traced from Noah’s son Shem as a line of faith in Yahweh (11:10ff). Abraham’s father, Terah, actually leaves his home, taking Abram and his wife Sarai (already married) and other kin, with him on a journey to Canaan. For some reason Terah quits along the way. Did he leave his home in response to a call from Yahweh? We don’t know. But Abram is (1) following his father’s example, yet (2) persevering where his father gave up. And he is already seventy-five years old when he does this! (12:4).

Abram’s spiritual transformation seems to come at high cost to himself, through interactions with God that require traumatic choices and painful actions of cutting himself off from various natural attachments. He leaves home (12: ), cuts off his foreskin—in this case literally a traumatic, painful cutting himself off from a natural attachment (17:23-27), and goes to sacrifice his own son, the only child of promise (22:1-10).

These acts shape him deeply. Obeying God’s call to leave his home and security seems to make Abram the kind of man that can give Lot his pick of the land (13:8-11), to give generously to a priest of God Most High (14:18-20), and not to keep the spoils of victory (14:22-24).

God also forms Abram through what seem absurdly grandiose promises, such as, “I will make you a great nation” (12:2, 13:16), and “All the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever” (13:14). Abram is childless and a nomad. Yet after each of these promises he acts based upon the promise. He doesn’t just give verbal assent or try to “believe in his heart” that God will do these things; he takes physical action like packing up and walking, or cutting animals in half and waiting for God to consume them with fire (15:10-17)!

Lest we think we always need to get it right, Abram’s spiritual formation also appears to advance in fits and starts! After the gargantuan faith-act of leaving Ur and the comfortable familiarity of home, Abram lies to Pharoah about his wife to protect his own skin (12:10-20). God saves him, but instead of learning his lesson he does the identical non-faith-act with Abimelech (20:1-13). God saves him again, seemingly without reproach—in fact, Abraham is blessed with great wealth by these two rulers (12:16, 20:14-18)! He also chooses to take Hagar as a concubine, which creates great conflict and tension within his house—lasting to this very day (16:1-6)!

Perhaps the most striking is his perseverance. Abraham is transformed in great part because God speaks clearly and dramatically to him. But these epiphanies seem few and separated by lots of time. He receives his first call at age 75 (12:4), and the fourth promise and vision at age 99 (17:1), with a couple in between (13:14-17, 15:1-21). At age 100, the Lord shows up in person and Abraham has an extended and intense personal interaction with him (18:1-33). That’s on average once every five years, and it’s always on God’s own initiative. Do I have the patience to wait until I’m seventy-five?

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