The first words out of Abraham’s mouth that are recorded in the Bible are spoken to his wife, when he says, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’ and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please tell them that you are my sister that it may go well with me, and that I may live on account of you.”
And so begins a mini drama where Abraham’s wife is taken by force because of her beauty and offered to the harem of the highest leader in the land. It’s an amazing story, and I don’t want to give everything away, because I’ll be preaching on it this coming Sunday here. One thing worth pondering during the middle of the week, though, is our often shallow, thoughtless, and critical judgement of Abraham, as we gaze down on his fear based decision, convinced that, “we’d do better”. Maybe you don’t think that way, but I have in the past, and still do sometimes. But let’s look a little closer…
That he was in a tough spot is beyond a doubt. What I often hear though, is that Abraham was faithless, and that he ought to have trusted God to protect him. That’s (for some, perhaps) easy for us to say, 4000 years later, in the midst of seminaries, Bible teachers, stories of God’s faithfulness down through the ages, and the fact that it isn’t really our problem. It’s just that sort of dismissive self-righteousness, that sense of “I’d never do that”, which stunts our growth, often creating an arrogant and ugly misrepresentation of our faith. So let’s just pause for moment and consider that, of the many reasons Abraham might have doubted God, there’s at least one worth talking about precisely because we still doubt God for the same reason:
Remember that when Jehovah spoke to Abraham, the notion of a single God to “rule them all” so to speak, was unheard of. The prevailing world view was that gods were territorial, and that if you were the god of Canaan, you had power only in Canaan, like being the local sheriff in a small town. You had power, but only to the boundaries. After that, there were other gods, and the stories of nation indicated that the gods had learned to steer clear of each other.
When God called Abraham, there are only subtle hints that anything will change. God tells Abraham that in him (Abraham) all the families of the earth will be blessed, which is a cryptic way of saying something, but not clear enough for Abraham to divine that, while in Egypt this new God of his would be his protectorate there too.
Add to this the fact that Abraham traveled south to Egypt in defiance of God’s explicit command, and you realize that, even if he believed the new God would protect, the fact that Abe went out ‘on his own’ would create questions in his mind about whether God would get him out of the jam. The net result of this kind of thinking? Abe felt that, down there, in Egypt, he was on his own.
“Silly Abraham” we say, as we put down our devotional reading (if we even have such a thing on those “other days” – you know, during the busy M-F routine). Then we’re online, checking the market. Our bottom line of course, is ROI (return on investment). We don’t believe in social venture funds because they’re “fraught with complexities” and rarely do as well as standard investment. So our money’s distributed among the fortune 500 and the S&P index. It’s sad that some of these companies are outsourcing to places where labor practices and environmental standards aren’t so stringent, but that’s the market, and we need to be “good stewards”. God language? Yes… but most if it comes from a different god than Jehovah.
Later tonight we’ll go out on a date, fully believing that the notion of virginity is an archaic throwback to earlier days because Dan Savage, Sex at Dawn, Sex in the City, and car commercials remind us that sex is for pleasure. That’s it’s meaning. Period. The culture preaching this has a beautiful man, made mostly but not entirely, of straw, that they easily topple, as they point out how many people have been damaged by shame inducing, body demeaning preaching that demands chastity or hell as the only options. It’s convenient for the culture to have this mostly straw man, but creates a false dichotomy between the gods of pleasure and suffering in a shame filled hell for daring to enjoy your body as the only two option. The beauty, eroticism, and intense sexual pleasure found within the walls of covenant relationships isn’t really elevated as a realistic option. Ironically, that’s the very first thing God tried to teach Abraham. It seems we haven’t learned it yet.
That’s because we too often also believe that God’s are territorial – not geographically, but ideologically. There’s one God for the my spirit, another for my money, another for my sexuality, another for my patriotism. But when we move into the land of economics, or (historically at the least, if not today too) colonialism, violence, slavery, nationalism, environmental stewardship, or the primacy of the individual over the community, we’re sort of singing the song of Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is.” As a result, Indians were given blankest infected with smallpox by Christian settlers. Slavery was not just sanctioned – it was exalted as sound doctrine from the Bible. These things happened because people failed to let God’s reign bleed into those areas of their lives.
Please don’t miss the point because of the illustration. I’m not telling you which stock to buy, or not buy. I’m suggesting God reigns over economic matters, and sexual matters, eating choices, body care, and whether community is more important than individualism. We should try to let God be God all week long.
Like Abraham, we function “on our own” outside of the small private realm where Jesus talks about justification by faith. Maybe it’s time we recognized the reality of Ephesians 1:10-11, which is that Jesus wants the glory of God to saturate every atom of the universe. Only then will infinite joy and pleasure, perfect justice and peace, reign!
Let Jesus go beyond the boundaries of Sunday in 2014 and get ready for a grand adventure. Who’s in?