The Story of Abraham and Yahweh

I’m finally posting again, after a few months of school insanity and then recovery. I hope to get back to writing the blog more often with things I’ve learned in class. This is a short paper I wrote for Old Testament Theology on Abraham and Yahweh. I loved learning this and doing the research. The assignment was to take the story of Abraham (Genesis 11:27-25:11) and study the relationship between Abraham and Yahweh. We could not refer to any other part of the Old Testament or New Testament, but had to take the story as it stood on its own. It was a tremendously revealing experience, and I understand Abraham and Yahweh so much more deeply.

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While hindsight can reveal the past more clearly to people, sometimes it can limit the ability to understand what was happening during a given event. It is easy to take knowledge learned later on and examine the past. Many times this can be a fruitful study, but other times this knowledge can block insight into how the people within the events understood what was taking place. Such is the case with the story of Abraham1 in Genesis 11:27-25:11. It is a familiar story to many Christians. But what was going on for Abraham? Setting aside the revelations of the later Old and New Testaments is not easy, but doing so enables the reader to understand Abraham’s perspective. Reading the text on its own reveals the growing personal relationship between Yahweh and Abraham over a span of approximately 100 years. This essay will examine how that relationship grew from a general deity-human relationship into a deep, personal relationship of faith, trust and covenantal connection.

When Yahweh first speaks with Abraham, Yahweh gives a command and a promise to Abraham. Yahweh commands Abraham to leave his father’s household and go to another land, which Yahweh will show him. Yahweh also promises that Abraham will be made into a great nation (12:1-2). It is striking that Abraham does not seem surprised that God is speaking with him with commands and promises. Without any apparent hesitation, Abraham leaves. When he reaches Shechem in Canaan, Yahweh appears to Abraham and promises him that this land is meant for his descendants (12:6-7). Abraham builds an altar to Yahweh there and at each of the next few places he stays. This is likely an automatic ritual response to Yahweh’s words and appearance – he obeys Yahweh and builds an altar to worship him. The relationship is a distant deity to human relationship, which was common in the Ancient Near East culture. Yahweh speaks, and Abraham obeys, but never verbally responds to Yahweh.

The relationship between Yahweh and Abraham begins to deepen after Abraham has to rescue Lot from his kidnappers. On his victorious return, Abraham meets Melchizedek, the priest of El Eleyon, God Most High, and they break bread and take wine together. Abraham seems to learn from Melchizedek, who calls Yahweh Koneh shamayim va-arets, “acquirer” or “possessor” of heaven and earth (14:18-19). Abraham then uses this title when rejecting the king of Sodom’s offer of the spoils, saying he is sworn to Yahweh, Koneh shamayim va-arets, and will not be made rich by any man (14:22-23). This is the first time in the narrative that Abraham verbally declares his allegiance to Yahweh. With this statement, Abraham sets himself apart from the Canaanites as a follower and worshiper of Yahweh, instead of the Canaanite gods.

It is no coincidence that after this declaration comes the relationship’s most significant event – the covenant. The covenant is a crucial part of Ancient Near East culture, and Yahweh uses the covenant to deepen his relationship with Abraham. Even before the covenant is formally enacted, however, the relationship between Yahweh and Abraham has changed. Abraham is no longer a passively obedient worshipper of Yahweh, but is an active participant in the relationship, conversing with and asking questions of Yahweh, whom he calls Adonai (“Lord”) (15:2-3,8). Yahweh’s responds to Abraham’s questions with promises, commanding Abraham to look at the stars, saying his descendants will be that numerous. Despite all natural circumstances being against the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises, Abraham believes (15:4-6). When faced with the question of how Abraham will possess the land, Yahweh commands a specific kind of sacrifice from Abraham (a heifer, goat, ram, dove and pigeon) and then, in the symbols of a smoking firepot and blazing torch, passes between the halves of the sacrifice, cutting a covenant with Abraham to demonstrate his commitment to his promises (15:9, 17). The personal relationship between Yahweh and Abraham now includes the legal aspect of the covenant, when the sovereign power (Yahweh) cuts a covenant with the subordinate person (Abraham).

Years pass before the narrative returns to the relationship between Yahweh and Abraham. There is no indication of whether Yahweh and Abraham have spoken since the covenant was cut. When Yahweh appears, saying that he is El Shaddai (“God Almighty”) and commands Abraham to walk before him and be blameless, Abraham falls facedown (17:1b-3a). Abraham’s reaction is intriguing, as he has never before fallen facedown when Yahweh has appeared to him (12:7). Why is he falling facedown now? Perhaps the covenant has changed the relationship, but the text is not clear why Abraham falls facedown here. At Yahweh’s appearance, he commands Abraham to circumcise all the males of his household as a symbol of their covenant (17:10). Circumcision was not widely practiced in Canaanite culture, and would likely set Abraham and his household apart from the Canaanites. Abraham obeys the command, but before doing so, questions Yahweh’s promise to give him a son through Sarah and begs Yahweh to give Ishmael his blessing (17:17-18). The reader is left wondering whether Yahweh and Abraham have continued to speak with one another, or if this is the first time in thirteen or more years that Yahweh has spoken with Abraham. Abraham’s request that Ishmael receive the blessing seems like an old argument between Yahweh and Abraham.

In the next part of the narrative, Yahweh arrives at Abraham’s tent in the guise of a man, accompanied by two other men. Abraham seems very aware that it is Yahweh who is visiting him, though it is not explained how. It simply describes Abraham’s low bow and hospitality (18:1-8). After the three men have eaten, Abraham walks with Yahweh and bargains for Lot’s life (18:16-33). Abraham is asking a favor of his God and sovereign, and he does so in a hesitant fashion. He never directly asks Yahweh to spare Lot. Abraham is close enough with Yahweh to walk and talk with him, yet he never forgets his reverence and respect for the one he calls Shophet, the one who judges (18:25).

As much reverence as Abraham has for Yahweh, he never loses his awareness that the Canaanites have no like reverence (20:11). Despite Yahweh declaring himself as Abraham’s shield (15:1), Abraham lies to protect himself. Ultimately Yahweh proves he is capable of protecting both Abraham and Sarah (20:3-7). Yahweh’s speech and actions to Abimelech and his household cause Abimelech to acknowledge and fear Yahweh, but he does not begin to serve and worship him. Instead, Abimelech makes a treaty with Abraham, so that Yahweh will have no reason to punish him (21:22-32). This emphasizes that, despite the appearance of Melchizedek, Yahweh is Abraham’s God, not a god of the Canaanites. His commands, promises and covenant deal with Abraham, and therefore Abraham’s household, alone.

The first promise of Yahweh is fulfilled when Sarah gives birth to Isaac when Abraham is a hundred years old (21:1-6), twenty-five years after Yahweh’s promise to make him into a great nation (12:1-2). After Isaac’s birth, Abraham never questions Yahweh again. Even when Yahweh commands Abraham to listen to Sarah and send away Ishmael, his son by Hagar, Abraham does not ask why or even bargain for Ishmael to stay (21:11-13). The birth of Isaac is a significant event in the life of Abraham, because it is the fulfillment of Yahweh’s covenantal promise to give Abraham an heir of his body by his wife. This is the first promise of Yahweh to come to complete fruition. It confirms the faith and trust that Abraham has in Yahweh.

While Abraham has questioned Yahweh, he has always followed Yahweh’s commands. After Isaac was born and Ishmael sent away, Yahweh commands Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering at Moriah (22:2). Abraham shows his faith in Yahweh through his obedient and unquestioning response. Yahweh responds to Abraham’s faith by commanding him to stop and gives him a ram to sacrifice instead. Why does Abraham not protest the sacrifice of his son? It is perhaps because the personal and covenantal relationship between Yahweh and Abraham has solidified into a deep, true and faithful understanding. Yahweh’s promises have been fulfilled. He has been a shield to Abraham and his household, and he has given Abraham a son through Sarah. Abraham trusts Yahweh so much he does not hesitate to sacrifice Isaac at Yahweh’s command.

The sacrifice is the last direct encounter Yahweh and Abraham have within the text. Although Abraham speaks of God as “Yahweh, God of heaven and God of earth” to his servant, and the servant prays to Yahweh, his master’s God, while seeking a wife for Isaac, Yahweh does not again appear in the text. Abraham continues to worship and trust Yahweh, and Yahweh continues to bless Abraham (24:1-3).

Throughout the story of Abraham, the relationship with Yahweh has grown and changed. This was not an instantaneous transformation but took many years to develop. By the end, Abraham does not need an explicit promise from Yahweh to know that Yahweh will help his servant find a non-Canaanite wife for Isaac (24:7). Abraham’s faith in Yahweh is complete. What began as a traditional relationship between god and man, filled with the rituals of Abraham’s culture, was transformed into a deep personal and covenantal relationship between Yahweh, Sovereign Lord and Eternal God, and Abraham, faithful and righteous man.

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Luke 11:5-13

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

In the previous verses (11:1-4), Jesus was asked by his disciples to teach them to pray. He gives them The Lord’s Prayer, then tells them a parable about the late-night host (11:5-13). These two sections seem to go together, as the previous section is about Mary and Martha and the following section is about Jesus casting out demons.

Hospitality was a vital obligation for a homeowner in that time; if a traveler came to someone’s house and they weren’t able to offer the guest a fresh, unbroken loaf of bread (even if they came at midnight), great shame would come on that household (IVP Bible Background Dictionary). The frantic host in the parable goes to a friend whom he knows will probably have the loaf he needs. In his commentary on Luke, William Barclay says that in that time in Israel, a home’s door would be open all day, with people coming in and out and very little privacy, but if the door was shut, especially at night, it was a clear sign that the householder did not want to be disturbed. The IVP Bible Background Dictionary points out a reason for the friend’s hesitation to unbolt and open the door; if his children are in bed (which is usually on the first floor near the front door), then the disturbance of unbolting the door would wake the children. But since the frantic host would likely wake the children anyway beating on the door and calling out to his friend, the friend decides he might as well get up and give the host the bread he needed.

Jesus continues teaching the disciples about boldness in prayer in the next few verses, telling the disciples that whatever they ask for, they will receive. He also points out that God their Father cares for them even more than a father loves his children, and wants to give them the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Barclay says, “If a churlish and unwilling householder can in the end be coerced by a friend’s shameless persistence into giving him what he needs, how much more will God who is a loving Father supply all his children’s needs?” However, this does not release the Christian from fervency in prayer, as evidenced by Jesus’ words in 11:9-10. Bede says, “He bears witness that the kingdom of heaven is not given to, found by and opened to those who are idle and unoccupied but to those who ask for it, seek after it and knock at its gates. The gate of the kingdom must be asked for by prayer. It must be sought after by living properly. It must be knocked at by persevering.” (Homilies on the Gospels) But we do not have a God who is unwilling to give gifts to us. He gives to us, His children, the Holy Spirit – but we must ask.

In his commentary on Luke, Matthew Henry points out that the parable is an example of something that is vital (bread for a hungry traveler) and that 11:11-12 speaks of food and bread, which symbolizes that which is needful. Jesus has promised that God will provide the Holy Spirit, the best of all possible gifts, and he will give the Spirit with generosity. In asking, seeking and knocking, “we are not wringing gifts from an unwilling god, but going to one who knows our needs better than we know them ourselves and whose heart towards us is the heart of generous love.” (Barclay) Some would argue that they have prayed many times and not received what they ask for. Barclay counters this, saying, “If we do not receive what we pray for, it is not because God grudgingly refuses to give it but because he has some better thing for us. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer.” I do think too often if we don’t get the answer we want or expect, that it can be discouraging. This passage directs us to be bold in prayer, knowing that we will receive, find, and have the door be opened to us. God desires to answer our prayer, and if we seek Him with boldness and persistence, He is faithful – even joyful – in responding.

The passage of last week (Luke 18:1-8) and this seem to come together. We are not only to be persistent in prayer, but also bold, knowing that God will answer, that we will find what we need, and that doors will be opened to us. It’s easy for me to forget this, that God has the best for me – I want to go my own way, I want my own desires answered. But God knows what is best, and if I truly ask for His will, seek His face, and knock on His door, I will always receive what I need – Him.

Luke 18:1-8

Brief: Luke 18:1-8

1 And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; 3 and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

This parable is the first of two parables told by Jesus to his disciples as they are traveling up to Jerusalem. This section is part of the chapters leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection; the parables and instructions Jesus is teaching them seem as though they are among the last lessons Jesus is giving them.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary points out that in the Old Testament, judges were supposed to fear God (since one day He would judge them) and defend the oppressed. Barclay disagrees with this point of view, stating that the judge can’t be viewed under Old Testament law because it is clear that the judge was not a Jewish judge (therefore wouldn’t necessarily be driven by fear of God or Old Testament law); under Jewish law, disputes were taken before the elders. Jewish law also required that three judges arbitrate the dispute, not just one. So it is likely that this judge was a paid magistrate appointed by Herod or the Romans; these magistrates were notorious for needing to be bribed in order to make a determination one way or another (The Gospel of Luke, Barclay). This fits in well with why the widow needed to be so persistent in her claim. A widow often barely had the means to live, much less bribe a judge. She was a prime example of someone who was oppressed, therefore Jewish judges should have been on her side against an opponent trying to take advantage of her (IVP Bible Background Commentary). In this parable, the widow stands in for all who are poor and defenseless, and she wields the only weapon she has – persistence (Barclay).

It is pointed out that this is a standard Jewish parable of the qal vahomer argument (how much more); if the judge will vindicate the widow due to her persistence, how much more will God do for his elect? This is a familiar theme from the Old Testament (IVP Bible Background Dictionary), which Jesus uses to encourage his disciples that “they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (18:1). Barclay also points out that this judge is contrasted with how God is; God cares for his people so much more than this judge, therefore how much more will he do for them? Augustine agrees with this assessment, saying “By no means does that unjust judge furnish an allegorical representation of God. The example is of an unjust man who, although he yields for the mere sake of avoiding annoyance, nevertheless cannot disregard those who bother him with continual pleadings. By this the Lord wishes us to infer how much care God bestows on those who beseech him, for God is both just and good” (Sermon on the Mount 15).

If one message comes out of this parable, it is, ‘Do not give up’. The widow kept going to the judge, and he kept rejecting her. But in the end, he gave in because of her persistence. God, who loves us much more than the judge cared for the widow (which was not at all), will vindicate us. In his Commentary on Luke, Cyril of Alexandria says, “The present parable assures us God will bend his ear to those who offer him their prayers, not carelessly or negligently but with earnestness and constancy.” In the last verse in this section, Jesus encourages the disciples not to give up, even if, after their persistence, it doesn’t seem as though an answer is coming. Jesus is saying that people, if their prayers aren’t answered after a time, will lose faith and give up. This is his encouragement to not lose faith, to keep asking and asking until God vindicates. Jesus confirms here that God will vindicate one day, and His people should not give up.

How easy it is to give up when it seems as though God is not answering your prayer? This parable confirms that yes, God hears and He cares. Through our trials and testings, we should not lose faith that God will vindicate us. It may not be in the timing that we want; it may not be immediately that we receive a response. But God has promised that if we persist in faith, He will answer. When hope and faith are struggling, these words of Jesus are there to cling to – that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (1:1b).

Yeah, so I may need to blog more…

I always have great intentions of posting regularly on my blog, but somehow they seem to fall through. Oh well. Life seems to be varying between “busy” and “nearly insane”, but we’re making it through. I hope. This week is a rough one, with a tough NT test – my study guide is 28 pages long. Yeah, that’s fun.

There are some fun things about this semester, though they too add to the busyness. First, I’m helping Shannon coach soccer. And by “help” I mean make sure the kids keep track of their water bottles, jackets and other things, and give them the hairy eyeball when they don’t pay attention. We’re having fun, though. And by “fun”, I mean that the kids run around the field forgetting everything the coach has taught them while losing spectacularly while we stand at the sidelines. But at least it gets us outside on Wednesday nights (practice) and Saturdays (games). 🙂 And the kids love how muddy it has been, even if my sneakers don’t.

There’s also been wedding stuff – showers, mostly. Shannon came up a few weeks ago and my work threw us a little shower, which was fun. And then my small group girls threw me another one this last weekend. Lots of fun – and I get to do it again this weekend in West Virginia with his family! After that, there’s (I think) not much wedding stuff until we get to the actual wedding, which is in 38 days. Hard to believe, but I’m very excited about it. And definitely looking forward to this summer when we can relax!

And the first week is over…

Well, the first week of classes is over. You can usually tell how good, bad or busy a semester is going to be by the end of the first week, and I think mine is going to be pretty busy. Hebrew, as always, takes quite a bit of study. Vocation of Ministry has some weekly reading and weekly assignments, plus we have a group project to do. Steady work, but not bad. New Testament, on the other hand, is going to be tough. Lots of reading (we’re reading dictionary articles, no less), papers, tests, weekly quizzes… it’s going to be fun. At least I’m only taking 3 classes this semester, rather than four.

Still, we’ve taken time for a break. Friday night, Shannon and I went to Outback and then to see George Jones. The pre-show was the Conway Twitty musical, which we were both rather terrified of, but it ended up being more a retrospective on his songs and career rather than a song and dance jazzed up routine. Thank goodness. It was pretty good, actually, and I enjoyed the music. George Jones, legendary old-school country singer, came on next. While I enjoyed his part of the show, he did have some technical difficulties that made him almost impossible to hear on some songs. Plus, well… he’s not young anymore. I could tell at the end of the show that he was really tired. But I’m still glad that we got to see him live in concert.

Saturday we rented a couple movies: Wall-E and The Bucket List. Wall-E was cute, despite the extreme environmental message, and The Bucket List was very good. The latter is a movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman; both men have terminal cancer with less than a year to live. They make what they call a “bucket list” – things they want to do before they kick the bucket. It’s funny and sweet and moving… definitely recommended.

Sunday, we did homework. Well, you’ve got to do homework sometime…

A little, tiny break…

Well, we survived the snow and ice, and class is over. Phew. Of course, this week doesn’t seem to slow down too much – there’s work, plus wedding stuff to do, and I’m taking my Greek exam. So this week off between J-term and the spring semester isn’t feeling much like a week off! I have been able to do a few things for fun, though… I finished a scarf I’d been working on for a friend (just the fringe left), and have read a bit for pleasure rather than school.

Though I really wouldn’t recommend what I did the other day – read about decaying human cadavers (the book Stiff by Mary Roach) while eating breakfast. Not really the best idea I’ve ever had.

I’ve also started studying for my Greek Competency Exam, which is on Thursday. I’m a little surprised to see how much I’ve retained from college – a clear example of how things in long-term memory just need a little encouragement to come out again.

I hope.

And more than two months later…

Here I am. Whoops. So much for keeping up with the blog. In my defense, a lot has been going on. 🙂 Finals, then the holidays and all the travel, then J-term class (which is almost over – hooray!). I’ve learned a lot in the class – it’s a lot of work, and I’m not sure I like how fast we’ve had to move through the book, but at this point (i.e. nearly done) I don’t regret taking the class. I do feel like I have new insight into the book of Hebrews now. The only bad thing at this point is that we only have a week’s break before the spring semester starts.

Speaking of the spring semester, I’m taking Vocation of Ministry (at 8am on Wednesdays – ugh), Hebrew II (Wed/Fri at 1pm), and New Testament (Tues/Thurs at 4pm). Lots of reading, lots of projects. Fortunately, I only have to take nine hours because I took the J-term class. Which is good, because I’m planning to get married on May 30th. Even though there’s not as much to do as with a traditional wedding (we’re doing a planned elopement), there’s still quite a bit. Right now I’m having three showers and a reception this spring/summer. Plus all the planning for going down to Gatlinburg and all that. Crazy! By the way, here’s me and Shannon.

The top one is in West Virginia over Thanksgiving, and the second one is at Chincoteague over Christmas. 🙂