Genesis now spends a long time studying Abram and Sarai. I never thought about the fact that these are the first two people whose lives are looked at in great detail and this is a sign of their extreme importance. We get to see God interacting with them and especially Abram in a way that has not been shown before. Therefore, not only do we learn more about these people but, through them, about God.
Life Application Study Bible tells us a bit about Abram's background.
Abram grew up in Ur of the Chaldeans, an important city in the ancient world. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a flourishing civilization there in Abram's day. The city carried on an extensive trade with its neighbors and had a vast library. Growing up in Ur, Abram was probably well educated.So when Abram followed God's call to the wilderness he was leaving a lot behind, a pattern we see over and over right up into our own lives.
I also never noticed before that everywhere Abram goes he is busy building altars. I like the fact that Abram's altars are a connection we still have with us today in the Catholic church.
It is worth taking note of the use of altars in man's relationship with God. Noah built an altar to the Lord and pleased Him with the sacrifice he made on it. Men after Noah everywhere built altars to deities. Through ignorance and perversion, many men worshipped false gods. Yet there was among men a common understanding that an altar is appropriate when men approach the Divine. Why? It is because men know instinctively that they owe God something. The altar represents man's desire to give something to God. In false religion, the offering is made to a deity out of fear or a desire for manipulation. When men worship from the heart, the altar is associated with praise and thanksgiving. In the life of Israel, the altar would take on a central significance in the relationship between God and His people. It would be a visible expression of atonement for sin and of thanksgiving to God. In the life of the Church, the altar continues to be a central, visible expression of the atonement that Christ won for us on Calvary, as well as the place where our offerings of thanks ("eucharist" means "thanks") are joined to His perfect offering as we renew our intention to be His covenant-keeping people.
|Abraham's Counsel to Sarai (watercolor c. 1896–1902 by James Tissot)|
One thing I never really understood in previous readings was the whole "Sarai is my sister" ploy that Abram trotted out ... she really must have been a looker which is something else I never considered. Still, God uses Abram's human weakness to lead him back on the right path. I like the point that is made here about how God shows Abram that He is everywhere.
It seems that God did what was necessary to convince Abram to live righteously. He shows great patience with Abram's weakness. He understood the fear that prompted the sin and so sets Abram back on the path to restoration. In addition, for Abram to see God at work in Egypt, following him wherever he went, would have taught him a profoundly new lesson. This God is not like pagan deities, who were associated with specific locations. This God is everywhere. God did not want to start over with someone more reliable; He wanted to make Abram into a more reliable man. Will Abram cooperate with God? This is the question God had put to Cain: "If you do well, will you not be accepted?" (Gen. 4:7). It is the question He asks each one of us. He shows Himself willing to work with us in our weakness; it is rebellion and turning away from Him that will exclude Him from our lives.
This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.