Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 12, 2016
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ 2But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’*3And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ 4But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ 5He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6And he believed the Lord; and the Lord * reckoned it to him as righteousness.
In past writings, I have introduced the idea that the first five books of the Bible, (aka Pentateuch) were oral tradition for hundreds of years, before they were written down. Different clans living in different parts of Israel know different versions of the creation story, the flood story, the stories of Abraham and Sarah, slavery in Egypt and escape into the wilderness, etc. Scholars think those stories weren’t brought together until the Israelites were defeated by Babylonia and all the educated class were held captive in Babylon. Whether then, or at another time, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures were made by splicing all of these different oral traditions into one narrative. This theory (aka JEPD) explains why there are two different creation stories, Genesis 1 – 2:4 and Genesis 2:4-6:8. This also explains the confusion in the above passage regarding Abram.
In Genesis 12, God promises to give Abram land, an heir, and the honor of being a blessing to all people. Then in Genesis 13:14 and following, God grants to Abram all the land his eyes can see, and promises that Abram will have progeny outnumbering the grains of dust on the earth. Yet, here it is as if Abram has no knowledge or recollection of God’s promise. If, indeed, this story of Abraham and Sarah is a splicing of several versions, then discrepancies make sense.
Continuing last week’s theme of material possessions having no eternal value, Abram questions what kind of reward God might give since Abram has no son who would inherit God’s gift. The answer is one of many incarnations of God’s promise of an actual heir out of Abram and Sarah together. What makes this version of the story different is “and he believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” “Righteousness” means “in right relationship with God”, what Catholics would call the “state of Grace.” All was right between God and Abram, despite Abram’s earlier seeming doubt of God’s promises, because Abram now trusted God and God let that trust be enough. While this phrase certainly has meaning for Jews, through the interpretations of certain writings of St. Paul and the book of Hebrews, this verse is believed by some Christians to be the loophole through which Jews are saved in heaven. More on this below.
Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
13 The Lord looks down from heaven;
he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches
all the inhabitants of the earth—
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all,
and observes all their deeds.
16 A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.
18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
The first verse of this passage sums up well the understanding that the offspring of Abraham have of their relationship with God. God’s reward to Abraham was offspring through whom God would bless all the peoples of the world.
Verses 13 through 15 convey a mythological understand of God, sitting like Zeus or Apollo, observing all the antics of the little humans below on earth, much more Santa Claus like than the way Jesus describes God, especially in John 14-17.
“Those who fear him” – For Jews and Christians alike, to be in relationship with God is to love and trust a being that is so far beyond humanity that humans truly cannot understand or comprehend God. The fear aspect of this relationship is akin to standing at the very edge of the Grand Canyon. Beauty, grandeur, wonder, combined with the catastrophe of going over the edge.
Soul – Greek pseuche which means life force and breath, Hebrew nefesh which means everything that you are. Combine the two for the English meaning of soul: every breath you take, every moment of your life, every memory, every aspiration and hope, every grief, everything that is YOU.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith* our ancestors received approval.3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.*
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised.* 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
The writer of Hebrews is making the point that faith in God is what makes us right with God. The writer makes it clear that faith in God does not mean that God’s promises will come to pass in our lifetime, but instead that the faithful believe in God and in God’s promises regardless of when they come to pass.
Some Christians understand this passage, combined with the passage from Genesis above, to mean that Jews had faith in the promise God made to Abram/Abraham and therefore had faith in Jesus and are therefore going to heaven because they believed in Jesus by trusting in God’s promise. St. Paul believed that God saves the Jews because God promised God would many throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament), and not because of what the Jews believe or don’t believe about the messiah.
However God grants eternal life to Jews, or anyone is God’s prerogative. As Christians, we believe that salvation comes by Grace through faith, completely separate from good, God pleasing, things we do or neglect to do. Christians believe that being saved is only accomplished by having faith in Jesus as the savior. We also believe that faith is freely given by the Holy Spirit, as gift. The challenge for us, as Christians, is to have faith, trust, in God in all things. That is also part the fear of God, like standing on the very edge of the Grand Canyon. Will this cliff’s edge stay firm, even when life feels like an earthquake?
‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 ‘But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he* would not have let his house be broken into. 40You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’
After last week’s parable about the “Rich Fool” who amasses lots and lots and lots of crops to feed himself for the rest of his life and then dies the day his new, bigger silos are complete, Jesus goes on to teach about where your faith should lie.
“It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” – Jesus declares that we are heirs to the Kingdom of God, so we don’t need to worry. Our collections of nicknacks, items with sentimental value, and investments cannot be our focal points. Rather, we are to invest in the Kingdom of God, through love, service, acts of forgiveness and peace.
Jesus goes on to talk about being ready to inherit the Kingdom. The image Jesus creates in this passage is that being in the Kingdom of God is like being a faithful slave. We are prepared, doing the tasks given to us whether God is looking over our shoulder or not. In this way, we are always “alert when he comes.” The amazing part of Jesus’ analogy is that if the slaves are prepared for the master’s return, “he [the
master] will fasten his belt and have them [the slaves] sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them”!!!!! God will serve us! In fact, that is exactly what Jesus does over and over and over, even after Easter, making breakfast on the beach for the disciples.