preaching study: genesis 11:31-12:9, pt 2

In “preaching study” posts, I share study & reflection as I prepare the Sunday message . I welcome interaction in this process, so feel free to share your thoughts. All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted. Thanks!
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Part one here. NRSV text here.

In reading the text again, it’s clear that we should really begin a few verses earlier in verse 27, the beginning of Terah’s line, or at least one verse earlier in verse 30, where we find the following comment: “Now Sarai was childless because she was unable to conceive.” That pretty well sets up the absurdity of God’s calling and promise to Abram in the verses immediately following in chapter 12, and in the upcoming chapters in which the promise is repeated.

That said, here’s a simple outline for this text, followed by some initial observations and reflections.

11:31-32 – Terah’s family and journey
12:1-3 – God calls Abram
12:4-5 – Abram follows
12:6-8 – God’s promise, Abram’s devotion
12:9 – Abram journeys on

11:31-32 – Terah’s family and journey
There is nothing in the text that suggests Terah’s travels were in response to the calling of God, though later God will talk with Abraham about having “brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it” (Gen. 15:7). Just the same, we notice that Terah’s journey fell short of its goal. He took Abram, Lot, and Sarai, and left Ur “to go into the land of Canaan.” Then: “but when they came to Haran, they settled there” (v31).

12:1-3 – God calls Abram
This is remarkably simple, and yet it begins the canonical narrative of God’s grand, creation-wide redeeming purpose via the messy peculiarities of earthy people. Reading in light of the end of chapter 11, we hear the promise, “I will make of you a great nation,” with hesitance since Sarai is barren and Abram is an old man. The rhetoric simply doesn’t seem to match the reality of the situation. The simple command, “Go,” and the promise that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” is reminiscent canonically of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Perhaps the Matthew text is best read with Genesis 12:1-3 in mind. The promise of God’s blessing and provision are key in these verses.

12:4-5 – Abram follows
Again, simplicity: “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.” Abram completes the journey begun by his father Terah to the land of Canaan. God calls and promises, Abram responds in faith.

12:6-8 – God’s promise, Abram’s devotion
Upon his arrival at the northern edge of Canaan, God appears to Abram and offers a promise: “To your offspring I will give this land” (v7). But the promise is based on an assumption that, once again, seems to be poorly grounded–that there will be offspring of Abram and Sarai. Nevertheless, Abram’s response is again one of faith displayed by a practice of devotion, the building of an altar (v7). Then, again in v8.

12:9 – Abram journeys on
Interesting note in the text that Abram journeyed on “by stages” toward the Negeb (into the southern part of the land, presumably through the heart of it).

So there is a dance going on in the text as far as God and Abram are concerned. God calls, blesses, and promises. Abram responds in faith. Walter Brueggemann (in his commentary in the Interpretation series) lifts up the theme of promise and faith in the Abraham and Sarah story. He discusses God’s promise in terms of creating a new future by his power and will and in terms of God’s “resolve to form a new community wrought only by miracle and reliant only on God’s faithfulness.” Then, this on Abram’s response of faith:

Faith as response is the capacity to embrace that announced future with such passion that the present can be relinquished for the sake of that future.”

Thoughts?

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