Dr Clifford Denton.
Lech Lecha: Genesis 12:1-17:27.
28th October 2023/Cheshvan13.
Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left. Genesis 13:9
Picture by Helen McNeill
There is a direct family line from Adam through Noah to Abraham. We have clear details in our Bible including the number of years each one lived. Looking forward through the genealogy, one might think that the choice of Abraham was decided in advance before the history was written, that God’s choice of this family line was fixed, immoveable. Looking back through history, and considering our own experience of choosing, we know that human beings are given freedom. This implies that everyone of Abraham’s forebears made a clear response to God out of free will. Herein, is the root of tension that exists between branches of Christian theology – the dichotomy between God’s sovereignty and our free will. Our logical minds (trained in Greek philosophy) don’t easily cope with paradox. The truth is that it is “both and”. God chooses people who will learn to obey Him, and those people choose to respond in faith. God’s ability to win us is a wonderful truth.
God chose Abraham and Sarah and helped them to respond to His plan, both for their sakes and, consequently, all mankind who would also learn to trust Him. So began their walk with God, both physical and spiritual, out of the great city of Ur and onward from Haran to Canaan. Abraham was the first Hebrew, meaning that he crossed over from the organised life of the world, with its beguiling but empty attractions, to a life of faith – learning to trust in God for every step.
Abraham became the father of those who would likewise respond to God through faith. Abraham and Sarah made their mistakes, as in Egypt when Abraham feared Pharaoh, and when they did not know how to wait for the son of promise, when Ishmael was born. Learning the life of faith is not without mistakes, but this, though regrettable, is inevitable. God teaches us and matures us through the journey of life. Abraham became the model for us all, pleasing God not only for the faith he gradually learned, but for his willingness to learn.
Abraham became a rich man through God’s provision. He would have been known as such in the area where he lived, but he would have been quite obscure on the world scale of his day. He was a successful farmer and herdsman, but of no great prominence in the wider world. His story would have been lost had it not been God’s priority to make it known through the Bible. Yes, some truly supernatural events took place when God cut the Covenant with Abraham, but they were mainly between Abraham and God. God’s ways are often both powerful and quiet, contrasted with the noise of the world around, which goes its own way with superficial success. When God prepared Abraham, it was through personal interaction between them.
Though God did not forget Lot, it was necessary that Abraham and Lot went separate ways. Lot and his family show us one path through life, with examples of the kind of dangers involved. They came from Ur like Abraham and Sarah but settled in the worldly and evil city of Sodom with all the consequence that followed. What would have happened if Lot had chosen the other path and Abraham had gone towards Sodom to settle? We don’t know, but we do know that God had chosen Abraham for a particular purpose and that purpose would have been fulfilled through all forks in the road. Questionsof “how”, “why” and “what if” are so far above our human logic that we tremble inside to consider consequences. We too have choices and their resulting consequences. Much can be asked of God in prayer as we read these chapters of our Bible carefully, but the answers we will receive will not be any more humanly logical than in Abraham’s life. God will search our hearts and invite us to walk with Him through our own path of growing faith and service.
If we dip into next week’s Torah portion, we will find a passage relevant to our theme of family and God’s choice of Abraham, worth quoting here. It was said of Abraham, For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him. (Genesis 18:19)
The object of Abraham’s journey of faith was that Sarah would bear him a son through whom God’s covenant promise could be continued. Ultimately Abraham’s descendants were to be like their father, trusting God for all eternity. Abraham’s commission was that he would teach his son and his household according to the ways of God.
But what about us, called by God to live according to the faith of Abraham? Do we not have the same privilege, to value our family as highly as he did, and to bring up our children according to God’s ways? We, like Abraham, Sarah and Isaac are chosen to walk with God as they did. In a quiet unworldly way, our lives and the lives of our families are as important to God as Abraham’s. Are we willing to trust God to lead us through the circumstances of our own lives, learning as we go, together? Peter wrote about us, many hundreds of years after Abraham’s journey was complete:
You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9)