Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Patriarchs and Matriarchs

Genesis 12-30

Starting with Genesis 12, the bible narrows its focus to a specific family. As we have been reading the early chapters of Genesis, you can notice that they cover a lot of ground, they are mythic and epic in their proportions. Now the rest of Genesis is basically going to relate the family history of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. So get ready, it’s an incredibly dramatic family saga, with lots of twists and turns and surprises, a lot of sin and sex and betrayals, but also a lot of faithfulness, love, and forgiveness.

Early in the story, keep in mind the three promises that God makes to Abraham and Sarah. They are going to be the parents of many descendants. Second, they will be given a land to live in. And third, God will bless their family, going with them and continuing to claim them as God’s people. This is the chosen race, the community who today call themselves the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

James Chatham writes, “Descendants, land, blessing: God’s promises. These promises form God’s covenant with Abram.”

The story of Abraham and Sarah runs chapter 12-24. Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac is the patriarch next, and his story is Genesis 25-26. Jacob’s story runs Genesis 27-36. The story of Joseph (made famous in the musical about his colorful coat) runs from 36-50.

There is so much going on in this book that it is difficult to hone in on the most important elements, but let me lift up at least a few surprises or interesting twists. First of all, pay attention to all the times that Abraham lies. Abraham is not perfect. He is the father of a great nation not because he was perfect but because God called him, and he went. He was faithful to God’s call, and his role as patriarch comes about because of what God did first, not what he did or was.

Second, notice all the reversals of fortune. Some of these stories continue to make for dramatic tension yet today. For example, some Muslims claim Ishmael as their ancestor, and indeed, God blesses Ishmael and his descendants just as God blesses Isaac’s. What to make of that?

Spend some time thinking about the covenant of circumcision. How shall we think about that today? As you read about it, think about our own practice of infant baptism. Are there connections? What is different?

Finally, just relish in the story. There are dramatic love stories here. There is the destruction of a sinful city. The incredible family tensions between Hagar and Sarah. If you pay attention, this book is just as dramatic and interesting as the newspaper, maybe even more so, because the author reminds us that God is in working in the midst of it all. If God can work in and through a family like this, don’t you think it is possible that God is working in your family, in our family, as well?

Or, another way to ask it, “What if God is asking you, ‘Leave your country, and go to a land that I will show you’”? Where is God calling you? What is God calling you to leave behind?

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