Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Genesis Notes: God's Covenant with Abram

As familiar as I am with the part of Genesis where Sarai and Abram are promised children and then instantly go astray by bringing in their own methods, I didn't remember this chapter at all which involves God speaking to Abram and conducting matters in a very ceremonial way. Certainly I never realized that this is the first prayer recorded in the Bible.

The Vision of the Lord Directing Abram to Count the Stars, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
In this very first prayer recorded in the Bible, several characteristics are worth remembering:
  1. It is God drawing near to Abram that draws forth a prayer from him. As the Catechism says, "In prayer, the faithful God's initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama." (2567)
  2. Abram is honest with God. He pours out his anxieties and doubts. He is not afraid to say what he thinks.
  3. Abram not only speaks to God, but he also listens to Him as well. There is a word of truth from God that he must hear, even though he has many of his own thoughts and words. God does not add anything new to His promise. Abram will simply have to think about it in a new way.
  4. Abram spends some time in silence, looking at the stars and considering God's promise. The silent pondering of the stars may look like nothing is happening, yet it is the occasion of Abram's movement from doubt to faith.
  5. Abram performs an act of faith. He consciously sets aside his doubts and puts his trust in God, which makes him pleasing to God.
In this introduction to prayer, we see that it is a response to God's love. It is honest and intimate. It is a conversation, with speaking and listening. It includes silence, and it leads to a conscious act of faith.
When Abram falls asleep my interpretation is that he is having a very deep vision. It also serves to remind us of several other things.
Abram's deep sleep is reminiscent of Adam's sleep, when God solved the only problem he had in Eden, which was being alone. It perhaps represents man's ultimate inability to solve his own problems or ensure his own fate. It underscores dramatically how divine initiative and human helplessness come together to accomplish God's loving purposes (think of the sleeping apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, upon whom Christ intended to build His Church).
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. 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.

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