A Post-Genesis 13 Pause for Thought – Further Notes on God’s Promise to Abram

My family in Christ, shalom.

Welcome, and thanks for joining me on my journey through the Bible. Having finished Genesis chapter 13 I think I should share some further thoughts on God’s unfolding promises to Abram. It seems that polytheism was just one of the things which entered into humanity as a result of the Fall (ch. 3). That is, in not knowing and unwittingly rejecting the one true God the unelect [1] assigned different areas of life to different (supposed) divine beings. Even before Terah (Abram’s father) and his family left Ur (11:31), the family was living in a polytheistic culture. Their intended destination was Canaan where polytheism also reigned. Looking back to the previous chapter we find a list of the descendants of Canaan, the cursed son of Ham:

“Canaan begot Sidon, his first-born, and Heth; and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites spread out

(10:15-18 JPS).

The regions to which the Canaanites, the Zidonians (i.e. the inhabitants the city of Sidon), the (biblical) Hittites (i.e. the descendants of Heth), the Jebusites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites and the Hamathites spread to are today part of Palestine, Israel, Lebanon and Syria. As the following map shows, Canaan was also built up of the Perrizites, the Amalekites, the Kenites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites and the Philistines:

land-of-canaan

These social and cultural groups formed their own separate kingdoms in the land. Whatever else may have united these groups, there was nothing more repugnant to the LORD than their polytheistic beliefs and practices.

Now for what I believe the LORD foreordained Abram’s role to be. There is still debate in certain circles as to whether or not God foresaw that Adam and Eve would disobey Him and eat the forbidden fruit. I think that He did, and that unfortunately disobedience is often one of the results of freewill. [2] Well, Paradise was good while it lasted! But I do feel that the LORD, knowing that it would be lost, put in place a plan to one day recreate it.

We as Christians can rejoice in the belief that the heavenly paradise described in Revelation 21-22 will one day become reality for those whose hopes have not been dashed by this world. But was this in the minds of those who first heard the account of Abraham (as he would later be called)? I don’t know, but I can picture them being left with the impression that God is in control. His creatures may mess up time and time again, but there is always a divinely-willed master plan unfolding in the background which will make all things right at some pont. That is, even though the first couple sinned and stained not only their own lives but those of every generation to come, the God Who not only contemplated destroying all life on Earth in a global flood but also provided a way for a faithful remnant to survive, has the powerpatience and will to again make something akin to an earthly paradise in the midst of a chaotic world.

The Flood may indeed have been chaotic, but I believe that, with its aftermath also taken into account, these can be seen as a great and miraculous set of events in human history (chs. 6-9). Sin had to be swept away from the face of the earth, and then human societies could be rebuilt so that their peoples could live holier lives. But our humanity requires that our freewill not be taken away, and thus sin reentered the world through us once again (9:22-23). However, God was still in control, and although sin wasn’t snatched away, God’s holy vine would be growing up in the midst of it all. God planted a seed called Noah, and through the unsullied branch of his son Shem salvific history was developing. Though Nimrod’s empire (10:8-12) and the universality of polytheism raged against it, God in His mercy kept the vine safe.

Through polytheism humanity was (willingly?) forgetting its one true Maker, dividing His unique greatness and attributing the slices to pieces of carved wood and stone. In essence, the one timeless great God was now said to be equal to things that His creatures had created! Ancient Hebrew texts ascribe Terah, a descendant of Shem, to have been one of these idol makers. Whether this view is right or wrong, or even if it is right for us to hypothesize Shem’s branch to have been polluted in such a way, is another unfortunate result of our freewill. At the risk of offending my LORD I will run with this view because I think it would help us to more easily see what happens next to be part of a divinely predetermined plan.

We are not told Terah’s reasoning, but one day he decided to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldeans and go to Canaan. Maybe this was for business reasons as polytheism reigned there too. However, going from Ur to Canaan by a direct route would have necessiated him and his family to travel through the Arabian Desert, and possibly in an effort to avoid this the caravan travelled first to Haran. Here Terah died.

Ur2Canaan

So now one chapter ends and a new one starts (excuse the pun)! And this new chapter begins in a theophany:

“The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

I will make you into a great nation,

and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you'”

(12:1-3 NIV).

As God had foreseen, humanity’s freewill had led them into polytheism. Whatever their differences may have been Ur, Babylon, Haran, Damascus, Canaan and Egypt were all polytheistic, and Abram’s call now seemed to suggest that one God was claiming to control both the present and the future. As we know, and as we will see in the forthcoming chapters, this God would require the denial of all other gods, and that YHWH would also claim that He also had been the sole controller of the past. Exactly how Abram had been prepared for this encounter we do not know, but I like to think that just as before the apostle Paul’s conversion (Acts 9) he had leant how to identify Christians and their beliefs, Israel’s first Patriarch had in some way(s) questioned polytheism during his first 70 years. [3]

Whatever his training may have consisted of, by the end of chapter 13 we see the LORD’s predetermined plan developing into a wonderful relationship between Himself and Abram:

  • the LORD confirms that Abram’s doubts about polytheism are genuine (stay tuned for more posts on this subject in the coming months);
  • the LORD assures Abram that although both he and Sarai had been childless throughout their wedded life, they will have a son in their old age;
  • God leads Abram up to the top of one of Shechem’s (northern Canaan’s) mounts and tells him that all the land which he sees will one day belong to his descendants;
  • Abram constructs three altars (thus far) to the LORD in Canaan;
  • Abram’s wealth is increased at the psychological and financial expense of Pharaoh in Egypt;
  • Lot departs (to unfriendly climates) in order to give Abram, Sarai and their entire retinue room to live, eat and drink, and breathe, and
  • there is a further theophany in which the LORD expands on His promise of land.

I hope these thoughts have been of some use to you, and that they haven’t in any way hindered your faith. I have been trying to write this for about two weeks, and praise be to God today it has unexpectedly all come together! I hope you enjoyed reading it and will join me again next time.

Shalom and God bless you.

Endnotes

[1] Predestination and election is a doctrine which I have only recently started to ponder on a serious level. I recently shared a blog which I believe explains this belief in a clearer way than I’ve ever encountered before. I feel that predestination / election may be appropriate here, and in a sense this post is an exercise to see if the the doctrine can apply here and what its implications would be. Please comment and tell me what you think.

[2] Check out the Bible Blogger’s comment to this post.

[3] There is much debate on the origin of Yahwistic, some arguing that He is in some way similar to El the leader of the Canaanite pantheon. For those who find such discussions to be distasteful I will not go any further than offering a link to a relvant Wikipedia article.

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