“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:1 – 7)
At this time twenty-four years had passed since the Lord God had called Abram out of Haran. This simple fact gives rise to several questions – at least in my mind. What was Abram doing all that time? Just living from day to day, and encounter to encounter with the Divine? Did they count years the same way we do know? Why did people live longer and were more able then as compared to now? Why did the Divine make Abram wait so long for the things that were promised to come to pass? Who composed these stories, passing them down from generation to generation?
I could continue one with these questions. I could Google-search these questions and come up with a multitude of answers, none of which would be completely satisfactory. So rather than seeking answers that this passage raises, I want to turn to what this passage can teach us – especially for the Lenten journey. And that is persistence & consistency. For twenty-four years (or at least 24 of the cycles of time that passed) Abram and his household unit rose each morning and completed the tasks that were needed to sustain them, and then went to sleep to prepare for the next morning. That is pretty amazing.
You want to hear something that puts this into context – at least for me? It has been about twenty-four years since I started at seminary in earnest. I cannot imagine waiting twenty-four waiting for confirmation from the Divine that I was doing the correct thing in Christian life.
“God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Verses 15 – 16)
In the story before this passage, Sarai was pretty cruel to the slave who had given birth to Abraham’s only child – a son. Yet she was the one who pushed her slave onto Abraham. Under that moniker (Saria meaning princess or high ranking noble with the allusion to someone possessed with an attitude of self-importance), she may not have been the type of woman to give birth to a nation. Sarah on the other hand, meaning joy and delight, sounds more like a good life partner for rise to a people under the Lord God. Maybe the twenty-four years softened her somewhat, although as the story of Abraham & Sarah continues on, Sarah had one more vengeful act in her. Actually, as I remember the story line, Abraham also made a goof in his journey as well.
I had last week put forth the thought of why we need to have Lent over and over again. The answer (at least for this question) is plain enough. We need the practice.
May you, beloved reader, take the opportunity this Lent to review how you have been living. Commend yourselves for the good you have done, and recommit to living as the Holy Presence leads and teaches you. Shalom & Selah!