So, Abraham left and began his journey.
“…they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.” Over about four verses, he traveled about a thousand miles. *
But there was a famine, so he left and went to Egypt; and that’s when the story gets interesting. Very strange, but interesting. Over the next ten chapters, we are taught, through Abraham, what it means to be faithful and how not to treat strangers in our midst.
I had always read these stories as just biographies of dead people, really long ago, far away dead people that seemed strange and irrelevant. Important to the faith dead people, but are the takeaways really: don’t lie about who your wife is, homosexuality is bad and be willing to sacrifice your only son if God asks you to? Or is there something else going on here?
The challenge for us, is that we have generally been taught the Bible is about our personal piety, but the stories were told to a people who had lived as slaves in Egypt and refugees in Babylon. They might be more about communal responsibility: how to be church, rather than how to be individual, good Christians.
It wasn’t until I read Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible, that I began to read these old stories not as biographies of famous people, but as the most important stories of the patriarchs lives that needed to be passed down from generation to generation, especially to those who were suffering in exile awaiting their return to “normal.”
From them, we learn how to shape the new normal in a way that pleases God.
There are several, very strange, sexualized stories, about the treatment of strangers. In two of the stories, Abraham and his wife are the strangers and in the most notable one, God sends angels into a city to test how strangers are treated. It didn’t go well.
In one story, God asks Abraham to sacrifice, to kill, the promised one. That makes no sense on any level. But what happens when the things that God gives us become idols?
In another scene, God came to Abraham and in the course of their conversation, God asked him to step outside and look up at the stars. Count them. Your descendants will be greater than the stars.
Imagine the night sky in the desert at that time.
A few verses later, “…the sun was setting.”
Sometimes we are so blinded by the bright star in front of us, that we cannot see the billions that lie just beyond, but we know they’re there. For Abraham, it would have taken more faith.
Those distant stars, thousands of years away, were us. We are the children of that promise who are still called to create a new normal, a place where heaven and earth can coexist. Where God is pleased to dwell among his people.
What will that look like when we emerge to the other side? What does it mean to be faithful? What does it mean to offer ourselves as sacrifices? What does it look like to love our neighbor?