When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran. (ESV)
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Thursday of Advent 1
4 December 2014
God made shockingly weighty promises to the patriarchs. He granted to Abraham a whole land and descendants as far as the eye could see. God also promised him that from among those descendants would come the Seed who would redeem the world from the fall and its disastrous effects. So far, so good. The problem is that God forced Abraham and all his posterity to believe those promises. God stubbornly declined to give the fulfillment of His promises in easy, simple, or obvious ways. God promised Abraham a homeland of his own and asked him to leave Ur to go there. The only drawback was that Abraham wasn't sure where it was exactly, nor did God ever give Abraham the deed to this land which He promised to him. Indeed Abraham only possessed it by the promise and owned only a plot in which to be buried with His household at 'the cave of the field of Mach-pelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron)' (Gn 23:19). The best Abraham could do was burial insurance. Isn't that great?!
Imagine asking your wife to pull up stakes and leave her home and family like Abram did Sarai. The conversation would go something like this: 'Honey, let's live somewhere else.' 'Where are we going?' 'Oh, I don't really know.' 'What will our home look like?' 'Um, we haven't got one yet, but God has promised us burial insurance. How about that?' It is a wonder that Abraham lived as long as he did. But when God said "Go," he went with neither deed nor map, taking Sarai with him. God expected Abraham to believe not on the basis of his sight, feeling, deeds, burial insurance, or any other earthly prop. God had spoken His great promises to him. That was good enough for God, and therefore it was good enough for Abraham. God hid and revealed Himself at the same time in the Word of the promise. It was all there, because the mouth of the Lord had spoken it. The theology of the cross is the theology of the Word.
God promised a posterity to Abraham through Sarah. But she was an old woman. "Isn't it a little late for that, God?" God had permitted Abraham to dangle, to live in a darkness so impenetrable that in frustration Abraham and Sarah cooked up a scheme to gain an heir through Hagar. But God was not about to go back on His promise to Abraham. He forced Abraham to trust Him and only gave fruition to the promise when it was too late, too impossible, the human situation too hopeless. Abraham 'believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be"' (Rm 4:18). He was always confronted by the Word. He was told of the promise. To know God is to trust the Word of God without any evidence of fulfillment. This was preached to Isaac and Jacob by Abraham and by Isaac and Jacob to their own households. Joseph heard these sermons. The promise must have sustained Joseph in his deep trials. Since God never goes back on His promises, they are intended likewise as our support in trouble, because the Word of God abides forever (1Pt 1:25); no matter how impenetrably dark our path.
"Jacob would have had a right to be offended by this strange deed of the selling of Joseph, for God had promised Joseph and his brothers the propagation and preservation of their descendants forever. But what happens? His especially beloved son, who was born of his chief wife and in whom the whole hope of his posterity had been placed, is snatched away.
"Why does God act contrary to the promise that has been given? He promised that He would be the God of Jacob when He said above 'I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you' (Gn 35:11-12). But is it blessing and multiplying when He not only deserts the father but also hurls the son into slavery and into the bonds of impious and idolatrous men?
"Therefore what other feeling and emotion of the heart could there be than that God is angry and wants to revoke His promise? This indeed is how the flesh feels and speaks. But the spirit conquers and so concludes: 'I do not understand, nor do I desire to know, the reason for God's counsels. But I will bear the hand of the Lord and I say: You are my God. Your promise and Word remains forever. With this I will console myself against that horrible offense.'
"In this manner Joseph, too, was undoubtedly deeply disturbed according to the flesh because he was sold and because of the very grave dangers to his life and reputation. He had heard the promises and the sermons of his father Jacob, but what he experiences in such great and such varied disasters is absolutely different from them. And on account of his flesh he was not able to avoid trembling and complaining about the wretched desertion and the huge mass of disasters. But his spirit is buoyed up and sustained by the Word of God with great patience and hope."
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 45.5
When dark my road, O God, send me Your promises through the Word. Grant me Abraham's faith that I might believe, hoping against all hope. Show me that when my hope is in You it cannot be disappointed. Amen.
For the family and friends of Rachel Hunt, whom the Lord has taken to Himself, that they would confess their faith in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For those who are struggling with their vocation, that they might accept the gifts granted to them through their daily work
For Paul Lodholz, as he undergoes therapy, that the Lord would give him a full recovery
Art: Annunciation Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, Julius (1818)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014