Our time machine has brought us together with Anaiah, an educated Jew from the 500’s B.C. He has learned our language and something of our culture and understands that we want to find out what the Hebrew sacred writings say about God’s communications with human beings. Anaiah suggests that we begin with Abraham.
St. Barnabas Blog: Why begin with Abraham?
Anaiah: He is the patriarch of my people. Let me tell you something about him. His original name was Abram and he was born in the city of Ur sometime around (what you would call) 1900 B.C.
SBB: There is an ancient site in southern Iraq that archaeologists think may be Ur.
Anaiah: Sounds like it could be the right place. The Bible says that Abram and his father Terah left Ur heading for the land of Canaan (the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea). They got to Haran, where Terah settled down and ultimately died. (Genesis 11:27-32) [Note: the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible were invented long after Anaiah’s time].
SBB: Haran is an ancient site in southern Turkey. That’s a very roundabout route from Ur to Canaan.
Anaiah: Of course. The trade route follows the Euphrates River to the northwest, then turns south through Damascus. That way you avoid the desert. Anyway, now comes the critical part: Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3) How’s that for a communication from God?
SBB: Do you think this really happened, or is this some kind of legend?
Anaiah: Yours is a skeptical age. Think about Charlemagne, king of the Franks. He is as remote from your time as Abraham is from mine. Do you think that Charlemagne was a real person?
SBB: Of course.
Anaiah: But many colorful legends have grown up around Charlemagne, as they may have done around Abraham. We can discern a historical character despite the legends. But our focus here is really on God, not on Abraham. We can’t prove that God spoke to Abraham. We can look at the recorded communications and see whether they add up to a consistent character. Let us think about this initial communication to Abraham, that he should go to a new land and establish a nation there. The Hebrew people, living in the former land of Canaan, do think of themselves as descendants of Abraham.
SBB: So what does this (alleged) communication from God tell us about God’s character?
Anaiah: You might think that an all-powerful creator of the universe would have little interest in us, so the fact that God communicates at all is significant. His message is also significant. Abraham’s world is divided into tribes, each one worshipping a different god. However, while God promises to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, God reveals that his ultimate purpose is to bless “all the families of the earth.” It is not yet clear how this is going to work, of course.
SBB: That universal benevolence is indeed unusual.
Anaiah: There are two more things I would like you to know about God’s communications to Abraham today. First, notice that God does not propose to wave his hand and solve human problems all by himself. Instead, he sets a fallible human agent in motion (Abraham is certainly depicted as fallible). Why would God do this? I think that God’s decision to involve us in his plans reflects his love and care for us. For similar reasons, we involve our children in important family events.
A second aspect of God’s character comes out in Genesis chapter 17: 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.” This shows that God is morally pure. Those who would be in his presence must also seek moral purity. This gives us a valuable clue to God’s ultimate plan to bless all people. Our greatest blessing would be to live on intimate terms with the supremely pure and loving God forever. As we shall see, this is in fact God’s plan.
Next time, I’ll tell you about the time God asked Abraham to sacrifice his child.