After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision,
Following (‘achar) the excitement of last chapter, God’s word (dabar) comes via a vision (machazeh) for what appears to be the first time. Actually, both terms — “the word of the Lord” and “vision” — are introduced here in Genesis. Which may be significant, but if so the how escapes me. Moving on, I see three statements:
saying, Fear not, Abram: I [am] thy shield, [and] thy exceeding great reward.
God says (a) Don’t fear (yare’), exalted father (‘Abram) (b) I’m your defense (magen ), and c) your exceedingly great payoff (m@`od rabah sakar ). Perhaps that’s four, since Abram’s name is itself a strong statement. Which is the one he reacts to:
And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house [is] this Eliezer of Damascus?
Abram is understandably distraught. We know he values family — and wealth only in service to his family — so material wealth childlessly (`ariyriy) is a mockery, the only beneficiary being a foreign holder (mesheq). In case we miss the hint, he repeats himself:
And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
Interestingly, God does not chastise him for his lack of faith, but instead corrects and comforts him with an explicit (even graphic) promise of an heir (yarash):
And, behold, the word of the LORD [came] unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
And Abram believes (‘aman):
And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
I know Paul goes to town on this later, but for now let’s just consider this in context. Abram was despairing, despite all that God had done. He voices that despair to God’s face, more or less, and God responds with a promise. Abram trusts (‘aman) Yahweh (Y@hovah). And God counts (chashab) that as righteous (ts@daqah).
Amazing. Having just had ts@daqah beaten to death over in Job, it seems perverse that Abram should attain it so readily. Of course, he didn’t exactly attain it — it was given to him. Why? And what does that mean, anyway?
Well, from a transformational perspective righteousness (or what I call being ‘radically centered’) means to be in right relation to yourself (Character), society (Community), the world (Reality) and God (Humility). In this context, that would mean that God takes Abram’s belief in His promise of an heir as the token of Abram’s ability and willingness to live in such a right relationship. Hmm.
God follows up with a reminder, and the second part of the promise:
And he said unto him, I [am] the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.
If God is going to give this land (‘erets) to Abram’s children, he needs (a) children, and (b) the land. Abram again expresses skepticism, or perhaps just fear:
And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?
God responds by establishing an elaborate sacrifice — interestingly, the first time we see Abram actually killing animals rather than building an altar. Then things really get interesting:
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land [that is] not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
This kinda puts a damper on the whole “you will have a seed (zera`)” thing, but let’s keep going:
And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
Well, at least they will have a happy ending, as will Abram:
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.
But, this seems to be the kicker:
But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites [is] not yet full.
This is an extraordinary verse, and not just for prophesying several centuries ahead. Here, if anywhere, is the justification for God giving the land to Abram: the iniquity of the Amorites (`avon ‘Emoriy).
This actually makes a lot of sense to me given (a) their shared heritage, and (b) the presence of priests like Melchizedek. From that perspective, the Amorites in Genesis are rather like the Israelites in Habakkuk* a decaying kingdom that has forsaken God, and increases in wickedness until He brings someone to wipe them out. Harsh, yes, but nonetheless fair — since He judges everyone by the same standard.
Its also sobering to realize that all civilizations inevitably decay, often quickly; frankly, the Amorites are doing pretty good to have a four-century decay curve. I wonder if we’ll hold out that long…
Dear Lord, Grant me faith like Abraham. Help me to believe your promises, and enter into right relationship with you. Save me from iniquity and your judgment. Grant that I and my family may live in peace all our days, and be a blessing to those we encounter. And bright righteousness to our society, that we not fall afoul of your justice. In Jesus name, Amen.
I know that invoking biblical passages like this can inflame passions on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there’s nothing here that particularly favors one side over the other, and I believe a fuller understanding of the scriptures would actually promote sharing rather than dominance. But that’s hundreds of chapters ahead for me, and likely even further away for the combatants…