Trust. Which ancestral stories relate to the issue of trust in divine promises? List some specific episodes that stand out in your mind that have to do with issues of belief, trust, and faith. What developments can you trace in the growth and quality of the ancestors’ trust?
When discussing the issue of trust in the Book of Genesis, most Christians can immediately discuss Abraham, his call and his trust in God during its fulfillment. We are raised on such beliefs as Abraham’s faith and his judgment as righteous because of it. However, it is quite an undertaking to track the growth of Abraham’s trust in God over his journey to Canaan. But in looking closely at his responses and decisions in some of the lesser discussed stories of his life, it is pretty clear to see that the Abraham we admire and hope to emulate is a very “spiritually evolved” version of the man that started off on that initial journey.
Even though an old man when setting off, we can almost feel a youthful exuberance as Abram packs up his family and begins his trek west, with only the Lord as his guide. He did so without hesitation (Genesis 12:4.)
However, it did not take long for his trust in God to falter. Even though God has promised him much, Abram falls victim to fear of being killed by Pharaoh and passes his wife off as his sister in order to save his own life. Maybe his faith isn’t so strong after all (Bandstra, p. 82).
But I have to hand it to Abram. God’s promises were so slow in coming that it would have been understandable for him just to give up and head back to Haran. However, Abram didn’t run home. He stuck it out with God. For over twenty years Abram and Sarah wandered that foreign land waiting for God to act. And there are multiple examples of how his trust in God deepens and develops.
“In a fit of generosity and evidently also a show of faith, Abraham allowed Lot to choose where he wished to be. Lot chose the well-watered Jordan valley. In response, God reiterated to Abraham his promises of land and offspring (13:14–17), and Abraham moved to the Hebron area.” (Bandstra, p. 83.)
Consider it, here Abraham was, the elder, giving the choice of land (promised to him by God, we remember) to his young nephew. Israel, as I understand it, is a barren, desert place in most instances. Of course Lot chose the best land for himself. But Abraham graciously gave it to him without thought of how he would feed his own flocks and household. This exhibits a great amount of trust in the promises of God, in my opinion. Abraham has faith that God will protect and provide for him. Let Lot have the best of the land. Lot didn’t have Elohim watching out for him….
Another episode in the saga of Abraham that doesn’t get much attention is the subsequent command by God that all Abraham’s male family members be circumcised. I have never understood the required act of circumcision until now. In reading Bandstra’s explanation, I can see where even participating in the act itself was a great leap of faith for each Jewish father. Think of it, one slip of the hand, an infection from and unclean instrument and BAM! No more offspring. The promise of God is rendered null and void.
“Circumcision established itself within Judaism as a distinctive mark of covenant commitment. Sealing the covenant by circumcising the organ of procreation with a knife, with its implied threat of sterility, has the effect of symbolically handing over the possibility of offspring to the grace of God. By practicing the rite from generation to generation, the Israelites almost literally placed their future into the hands of the God of covenant.” (Bandstra, p. 88.)
This event also is evidence of a growing trust Abraham has with God. By accepting the circumcision covenant, their relationship moves from a type of charter covenant (in which God makes the promise, and Abraham is required to do nothing in return,) to an agreement more of equals (or a treaty covenant,) in which Abraham now has requirements and responsibilities in the relationship (Bandstra, p. 86.)
I believe it requires much more trust to agree to this type of arrangement (with the negative consequences of a broken promise,) than it does just to simply accept the gift God is offering. It is the kind of agreement one enters in to when the other entity is well known. This demonstrates the growth of the relationship between God and Abraham over the years.
The pinnacle of the Abraham Cycle, as well as the climax of the relationship between Abraham and the Lord is found in Genesis chapter 22. We see Abraham expressing a true and unwavering trust in God as he follows God’s instructions to offer Isaac as his sacrifice.
I have always struggled with the idea that a parent would willing sacrifice his own child. Regardless of my love for God, I believe that I would turn away from God before hurting my own child. Why? Because I love my children more than I can say.
So I was greatly intrigued by the following statement made by Ellen Davis:
“what is at stake is not obedience merely but total mutual trust. The point of the test is to see whether Abraham trusts God even to the point of relinquishing the child on whom the blessing, the covenant, and his own happiness depend. Abraham’s fear of God is a condition of complete vulnerability before God, “costing not less than everything” (T. S. Eliot);”
Ellen F. Davis; The Binding of Issac
According to Davis, Abraham was attached to Isaac, not only through parental love, but also because Isaac was the living embodiment of God’s promise. All Abraham’s hope and life’s striving was tied up in Isaac. And by sacrificing him, Abraham stood to lose more than a son. He would be losing everything he had ever trusted God for.
My only answer to this is that Abraham had to be trusting God for something greater. What other possibility was there? Whereas, I would look at the loss of Isaac as the end of my covenant with a God that doesn’t keep his promises, it occurs to me that Abraham had to look at the situation as the next step in his journey with a faithful and trustworthy God. Only after spending years of daily trust in God could he have made that decision. Only after years of seeing God at work and coming to understand his nature, could he make that walk up the mountain without question.
He had become a different man than the one that began the journey with God a lifetime ago in Haran. And by reading his story can we have the faith to trust in God and take our own journey into our promised future.