As I start my third journey through Scripture from beginning to end in as many years, I am picking up on things I didn’t see the first two times through. In this series of articles I am tracing some stories in the great theme of God’s redemption of mankind through the descendants of Abraham.
Scripture is multi-layered contains many themes large and small. I expect a person can study Scripture for a lifetime and always be seeing new things. Today I am seeing something in the line of Abraham that I kind of knew already, but I am digging into it in more detail.
The intricate tapestry that is the 60-some writings of the Bible authored by 40 some different people over 1500 or so years always amazes me. That tapestry is often veiled to us, as if we were seeing it from the wrong side. Unless we see it from the side from which it was meant to be viewed, the picture won’t be clear to us.
When we read the stories of ancient people, they feel foreign to us today. For instance, Sarai (later known as Sarah) is the wife of Abram (later known as Abraham), and she is also his half-sister. (Gen. 20:12) They shared the same father, but they had different mothers.
We shudder at the thought today of a person marrying a close blood relative like that – a sister to boot! (Such close relations were later explicitly banned in Leviticus 18:9.) It was common a couple of thousand years before Christ, though. Perhaps this was due to limited spousal options and the greater distances people lived from each other.
We also need to understand that large segments of the Bible read like a narrative of things that simply happened, often without commentary. A recitation of the facts does not necessarily mean an “endorsement” of them. They simply are what they are, and we are often left to draw our own conclusions.
What we see throughout Scripture is that all people are deeply flawed, even the people with whom God found an audience. Ethical shortcomings have existed throughout every era of recorded human history. The Bible is nothing if not candid about the human condition.
I am setting the stage, here, for the point I eventually want to make about God’s plan to redeem all of mankind that weaves through the tapestry of the biblical narrative. I will have to lay this out over a number of articles.
In this article, I want to focus on Sarai and Abram and their origins. In Abram, who God renamed Abraham, God found a willing ear, and so God made His covenant with Abraham and gave Abraham a promise to bless not only Abraham and his descendants, but all the nations.
This covenant and promise becomes the central story of all Scripture and needs to be recognized to make sense of it. It is one of the biggest themes in the biblical narrative tapestry.
Digging deeper into it, we see that the lineage of Shem, one of the sons of Noah, included Arpachshad and Nahor, the father of Terah. Terah was the father of Nahor (II), Haran, Abram and Sarai. The family lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, near modern Basrah in southeastern Iraq, about 50 miles southeast of ancient Babylon (and about 120 miles northwest of the Persian Gulf).
Terah’s son, Haran (the father of Lot), died in Ur. Terah and his children, Nahor, Abraham and Sarah, and his nephew, Lot, left Ur and traveled a distance of about 600 miles west and north generally along the Euphrates River.
They ended their journey in an area of what is now southeastern Turkey about 140 miles from Aleppo, Syria. They called the place where they arrived Haran. Terah likely named the location after his son, Haran.
Jewish tradition has it that Abraham was born in this area of what is southern Turkey. Perhaps, that is why God told Abraham while he was in Haran, “Go forth from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen. 12:1)
Thus, Abraham left behind his father and brother in Haran at God’s direction and journeyed on to a land God would show him with his sister/wife, Sarah, and his nephew, Lot. They traveled about 400 miles from Haran to Shechem in Canaan, now Nablus in West Bank of Israel, but Abraham didn’t settle there.
Abraham and Sarah kept going. They traveled down to Egypt because of famine in Canaan, and then they traveled back again to Canaan.
To make a long story short, Sarah eventually conceived and gave birth to Isaac in Beersheba, in southern Canaan (about 44 miles south of Jerusalem and 26 miles due west of the Gaza Strip today). Isaac, of course, was the offspring God promised through whom God would populate the earth with Abraham’s descendants.
Isaac was the offspring through whom God promised to bless all the nations of the earth. This is what the family tree descending from Terah, the patriarch of Abraham’s family, looks like before they have Isaac:
In the next segment, we will see how Isaac joins together all the lines of Terah who is the funnel through which God would work out His redemption in human history. We may recoil from the incestuous nature of the inter-relationships. The Mosaic Law would later condemn those incestuous inter-relationships.
Maybe God is saying something here. Not that incestuous relationships are ok – maybe this is God’s way of showing us that He can redeem the ugliest and the worst of human nature.
Abram becomes the architype of a man of faith – the person who trusts God and whose faith is counted to him as righteousness. Not that Abram earned any favor from God by his ethical example – Abraham is not a good example of moral living for us to follow!
Abram simply listened to God and trusted him. This is the necessary beginning place for us all. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6)
In the articles that follow, I will continue to unfold this theme of redemption by which God works through one man who had faith to redeem him, his descendants and all mankind. First, we will take a closer look at the messiness of Abraham’s responses to God’s promises.