In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Right now it is Christmas time. Young baby Jesus was just born three days ago. Joseph and Mary are by now super sleep deprived. It was not too long ago that I was that sleep deprived, actually it has quite let up yet, so I can still easily recall how Mary and Joseph are feeling right now. And during that time, there is plenty of time to reflect on: how you got to this point, your thoughts and hopes for the new baby, or think about new beginnings in general, and wonder about who your baby will be—what type of person your baby will be when he or she grows up.
I can imagine one of his sleep deprived dreams being about Abram.
Prior to Abram’s arrival on the scene, humanity has tried again to become fully corrupt. God washed it all away with the flood and started over with Noah and his family, only to have the drama play itself out in a similar way. As the quote attributed to Mark Twain goes: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” And as the world headed into total corruption with the sons of God marrying the daughters of man earlier, so here the whole world rebels against God by seeking to establish a name for themselves apart from God.
To do this they seek to build a city and a tower to the heavens. God then puts down this literal uprising by separating the people—confusing their language and dispersing them over the entire world (which is why you had to take a foreign language in high school). This is another act of God’s mercy, because he does not squash humanity like a bug and go start somewhere else, rather he seeks to give them what they desire, but through the proper channel. Humanity sought to make a name for itself, and it is important to note that the next thing that comes after the tower of Babel is the genealogy of Shem, whose name means “name.” God is now showing us that he wants us to be known by his name, and so through the line of Shem, we meet Abram.
Before we can fully meet Abram, we are given a small cast of characters. Abram’s father is a man named Terah. Terah has three sons, Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and Haran has a boy named Lot. Abram is married to a woman named Sarai, and Nahor has a wife named Milcah, who was the daughter of Haran. (We will see that in Genesis, the family tree could easily be at home in Alabama or Arkansas, or some other state where the family trees look a little strange. But this is all sorted out later in Exodus, so for now just enjoy the ride.) Haran dies. This is probably why Nahor married Milcah, because Abram and Sarai take Lot into their house and then Haran’s kids are taken care of.
Terah, maybe to escape the memory of his deceased son Haran, leaves Nahor in charge of the land in Ur (modern-day Iraq) and takes Abram and his lot to the land of Canaan, but stops in Haran, where Terah dies and Abram takes over the family, when Abram was 75 years old. When Abram is in charge, God comes to him and makes him a promise. This promise is God announcing the beginning of his plan of salvation so it is very important. God tells Abram that he is going to send him to a land that he will give him. God is also going to make a great nation of Abram and he will make his name (Shem) great so that he will be a blessing. And through this, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Let’s back up for a second. Terah, was a straight-running pagan at this point. There was nothing special about him other than he was in the lineage of Shem, but that didn’t mean he was a God worshipper, he just had the blood lines. It is very similar to the fact that the Stubbs name comes from England, my grandmother traced it down, and I even have the coat of arms on some glassware at home. Pretty cool, but I have never been to England. I am not English other than the fact that I can trace my bloodlines back to the first Stubbs (who apparently got crossways with the queen and got his hand chopped off—hence stub). Same thing for Terah and his family, they are pagan, but God sees something in them.
So there is no good reason for God to choose Abram and make these promises with him, but he does anyway (a point that St. Paul really drives home in Romans). But God does make these promises and notice that Abram can do nothing to undo them. They are not conditional statements: if Abram is a good boy and says his prayers at night, then God will bless him; these are everlasting, unconditional promises. It is God foreshadowing what will happen in Jesus Christ. We must always remember where the story leads since it is all one story.
So God tells Abram and his family to finish the journey to Canaan, and God will give Abram that land. Abram had never been there, but God tells him to go, so he went. (I wish they gave us that encounter like the do with Moses—alas have to wait to ask him in heaven.) And when Abram, Sarai, and Lot reach Canaan, they find it deep in the clutches of a severe famine. Oops. Abram decides that God must have brought them here too early (this is all new to Abram after all), so Abram takes his family to Egypt, a land where the Nile floods every year causing it to be almost famine-proof.
In Egypt, Abram makes a bad choice. He looks at his beautiful wife and comes up with a plan. Remember at this point that Abram is 75 years old, his wife is ten years younger than him as we find out later. And at 65, Sarai is still so beautiful that Abram knows without a doubt that Pharaoh will want her as his wife and will think nothing of bumping off Abram to get her. So Abram tells Sarai, “Tell everyone that you are my sister.” Abram knows that as a husband to an extremely beautiful woman, he is a threat, but as a brother, he must be wooed. In Middle Eastern culture, it is not just two people that are married—two families are united—way more so than here. So when courting a woman, even the Pharaoh would spoil the brother in an attempt to marry the sister—a fact that Abram exploits, not only to not die, but to become very rich as well.
The problem is that this marriage places the promises of God in jeopardy. What if Sarai, even though barren, finds out that it was Abram who was actually barren (these things are blamed on women in the bible), and Sarai bears Pharaoh’s child. Where is the plan of salvation then? So God steps in and influences the situation by afflicting Pharaoh and his household with plagues (hello Exodus). So Pharaoh, figures out that he has offended God by trying to make Sarai his wife, so he confronts Abram, who comes clean. Pharaoh then kicks Abram and his family out of Egypt, but luckily for him, Abram got to keep the riches as a parting gift. So back to Canaan they go, only this time with a great company including much livestock as well as male and female slaves (Hagar—the eventual mother of Ishmael—probably being one of them).
They must have been greatly blessed indeed, because when they get back, Abram and Lot (who was also spoiled by Pharaoh apparently) find out if they were to stay together, the land would not support all their livestock, so they decide to split up. Abram sweeps his hand over the entire land and says to Lot, “Ok, you may choose. Where do you want to live, and I will take the other portion.” Lot looks and he sees the beautiful and well-watered Jordan Valley and chooses that, leaving Abram the dregs. It is as if Abram told Lot there was one cupcake left and they would split it, and Lot took the top half with all the frosting, leaving Abram with a handful of dry cupcake. But Abram honored the deal and took the leftover and settled at the oaks of Mamre which are at Hebron (which later became the capital of Israel until David moved it to Jerusalem), and Abram built an altar and worshipped God.
As it turns out, Lot settled in Sodom (that Sodom), which, because it was such prime real-estate, was actually very war-torn. This land was ruled by four warlords, the chief among them was
Ched-or-la-o-mer. He took over what was the King’s Highway, one of the two trade routes going through the area. And warlords have to constantly re-claim their territory, and so Chedorlamoer sweeps through the land and re-conquers, one of the areas is Sodom, where Lot lives, who becomes a POW, taking him back north.
Someone luckily flees and tells Abram of this, and Abram gathers his own mercenary army of 318 fighting men and heads up the other trade route—the Via Maris—which is much faster in pursuit of Lot’s captors. Both trade routes meet in Damascus, and Abram overtakes them just north of Damascus and routes them, taking back all they had stolen which he brings to the king of Sodom.
While Abram is bringing the spoils to the King of Sodom, the King of Salem (which means peace), Melchizedek, comes and brings bread and wine because he was also a priest of God Most High. From the Letter to the Hebrews we learn more about this mysterious king, who steps into the story without introduction, and then leaves the narrative forever; he is clearly greater than Abram, because Abram gives a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek the king of Salem. We learn from Hebrews that this is a prefiguring of the coming of Christ, who blesses Abram and what he has done.
The king of Sodom then tries to bless Abram as well with material wealth which Abram refuses, except what his men had already eaten, and what was due them from their part in the battle. This shows what type of man Abram is: he is not perfect, but he is loyal, and most importantly, he sticks to his promises, and he is not in it for person gain (necessarily). Abram is a good man, and a worthy man for God to use to bless the world.
Just then the baby Jesus cries in the night—he is hungry. Joseph goes to the crib and sees the infant there in his bed. Joseph scoops him up and hands him to his wife and says, “Merry Christmas.”
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.