Eternal contract

When Abram was nearly a hundred years old, God appeared and said, “I’m God Almighty. Walk before me and be perfect, and I’ll promise you a kingdom of abundance.”

Abram fell on his face.

God continued, “Here’s the promise: I’m making you the father of many nations. Your name is now changed to “Abraham,” Father Of Nations. Kings and priests will come from you. This promise is established forever through every generation. I’ll give you and your offspring this foreign land, all of Canaan forever, and I will be their God.”

Abraham remained flat on the ground with his forehead jammed into the dirt.

“As for you and your side of the promise,” God said, “you and every male among you, through every generation, will have their foreskin removed. This is the sign of our contract. When each boy is eight days old, including slaves born in your house or any other male purchased with money, they will be circumcised. Why? This is a formal contract, and for it to be irrevocable, it must cut into the most intimate part of the flesh. Anyone who has not had his foreskin cut off will himself be cut off from your people because he will have broken the promise.”

Abraham flinched uncomfortably as the reality of the command set in.

“As for Sarai,” God continued, “she is now Sarah, and she will give you a son. I will bless her, and nations and kings will issue from her womb.”

Abraham laughed and muttered, “We’re too old to have children.” Then he lifted his head toward heaven. “Bring Ishmael into the blessing. He’s my son.”

God answered, “Sarah will bear you a son next year, and you’ll call him Isaac. Through him, my eternal contract will be secured and fulfilled, not with Ishmael. As for Ismael, I will bless him for your sake and give him a large family. He will be a great nation, the father of twelve princes.”

Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the male slaves born or purchased in his house, and he cut off their foreskins. Then he had Eliezer cut off his master’s foreskin.

Ishmael was thirteen years old when his foreskin was removed.

Inspiration: Genesis 17

Cruel mistress

Sarai heard Abram often talk of fathering a great nation. She wanted to pave the way for God’s promise to be fulfilled for Abram, so she suggested Abram should sleep with her Egyptian slave, Hagar.

Abram tossed the idea around for about a decade, until Sarai pressed the issue, bringing Hagar personally into his tent. When Hagar got pregnant, she hurled insults at Sarai and adopted an air of superiority over her.

Sarai flew into a rage, and Abram took the brunt of her wrath. “I offered you my slave as a second wife,” she seethed, “and she became a monster. What are you going to do about it?”

“She’s your slave,” Abram shrugged half-heartedly, “and this was your idea. Take care of the situation however you wish.”

On that very day, Sarai’s treatment of Hagar became so unbearable that the slave fled into the wilderness.

An angel of God approached Hagar as she followed a brook toward Egypt. “Hagar, where’d you come from?” the angel asked. “And where are you going?”

The slippery rocks on the creek bottom made the way difficult, but she continued along the path undeterred. “I’m escaping the cold, cruel grip of my mistress.”

The angel stepped in front of Hagar, blocking her way. “Turn around,” the angel said. “Go back and submit to Sarai. In return, I’ll give you more descendants than a census can track.”

Hagar dropped to her knees and held her belly. “How can I go back to that abusive woman?” she sighed, rocking in place.

The angel of God knelt beside her and said, “Your son will be named Ishmael because God hears your cries of anguish. But you should know, Ishmael will make an ass of himself and will have enemies all around him, including his own family.”

“I’ll call you Elroi,” Hagar said, suddenly still, “because I’ve seen God and will live to tell about it.”

After the encounter, the well of the spring was called “Beerlahairoi,” Well of the Living Sight.

Hagar returned to her mistress, bore a son, and named him Ishmael. Abram turned eighty-six years old.

Inspiration: Genesis 16

God’s promise

After Abram’s conquest and victory over the king of Elam, he stirred sleeplessly in the night, fearing retaliation.

“Don’t be frightened, Abram.” God appeared in a vision one night. “I’m your protection, and great will be your reward.”

Abram remembered the promise God had made when he called him out of Haran, so he answered, “But what will you give me? I’m childless, and my legacy is my adopted son and servant Eliezer.”

God’s message was unmistakable. “Eliezer won’t be your heir. Your own flesh and blood will pave the way of my promise.”

God led Abram outside of his tent and said, “Count the stars if you can. Your sons and daughters will be as many.”

Abram mustered renewed faith in the promise, and for that, God considered him righteous.

“I’m God. I took your father from Ur and took you from Haran to give you everything as far as the eye can see.”

Abram stammered. “Help me believe.”

“We’ll make a pact,” was God’s reply. “Bring me a heifer, a female goat, and a ram, all of them three years old. Also bring a turtledove and a pigeon.”

Abram did as he was told, cut them in half, and stacked each piece onto the other. The birds he left whole. Abram guarded the sign of God’s promise against the birds of prey circling overhead, shooing them from the pyre until, around sunset, he dozed off.

Abram descended into a terrifying nightmare. The circling vultures turned into the captors of his future offspring, and he saw them being carried off to a strange land for four hundred years.

“Your descendants will be slaves, poorly treated and beaten down,” God said in the dream, “but I will punish the nation responsible. In the end, they will know my might, and they will inherit great riches.” Then He said, “As for you, you’ll die at a ripe old age and will be buried in peace.”

Abram’s night terrors subsided, and his breathing calmed. God appeared once more and said, “Your offspring will come back here and take the land in the fourth generation, for at that time the Amorites will have come to ruin because of their evil practices.”

The sky went black, and a smoking firepot and a lighted torch passed between the carcasses. God said, “I give this land to your blood relations, from the Nile all the way to the Euphrates.” The pyre, the sign of God’s promise, was ignited, the animal flesh burned up in the holy fire.

As dawn approached, the presence of God lingered, and the fire’s embers smoldered into fine dust.

Inspiration: Genesis 15

Salem’s visit

So Lot and his family settled at Sodom, where King Bera, along with the kings of Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela, was growing tired of paying tribute to Chedorlaomer, King of Elam.

Chedorlaomer and his band of loyal kings went down to the Valley of Siddim to quell the rebellion and to force tribute, if only by the tip of the sword.

The valley was peppered with tar pits. As Bera and the other rebel kings fled the imposing wrath of Elam, some fell prey to these holes while the rest found safety in the hills. Chedorlaomer went and claimed the spoils of Sodom and Gomorrah, including Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions.

One of the Sodomite rebels who escaped by the skin of his teeth fled to Mamre Oaks for help. When Abram learned of his nephew’s capture, he rallied all his blood relations together, those who had been trained in the art of war and the fledgling Hebron religion. They totaled 318 Hebrews, an impressive mob but a paltry turnout for a menacing army.

So Abram called on his allies, Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner, and together they pursued the armies of Chedorlaomer as far as Dan. There they hung back and regrouped. At nightfall, Abram ordered the men to divide their ranks and attack Elam at Hobah.

This strategy brought Chedorlaomer and his mighty armies to their knees. Abram rescued Lot and all his possessions. Although he was under no obligation, he liberated the Sodomite captives along with their goods as well.

Abram and his men were camped down at King’s Valley when the king of Sodom came out to meet him. Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High, also came and presented refreshments of bread and wine to Abram and his men.

Melchizedek blessed Abram, saying, “God Most High, maker of all things, blesses you, Abram. May God Most High be blessed for delivering your enemies to you.”

As a token of his gratitude, Abram gave King Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils of war.

King Bera of Sodom pulled Abram aside and said, “As long as you’re divvying up the spoils, give me the people, and you can have the goods.”

Abram grimaced. In a sharp tone, he answered, “I swore to my Lord, God Most High, maker of all things, that I’d not take a single thread or shoe. I’ll not have it said by anyone, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”

The king slumped, and Abram left him in a blank stare.

Abram concluded the kings’ conference. “I’ll take nothing except what my men have eaten. Let my allies, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.”

When they had finished dividing everything, the men disbursed.

Inspiration: Genesis 14

Parting ways

Abram now had an uncounted inventory of gold, silver, and livestock. He and Sarai, along with his nephew Lot resumed their circuit of travel, making their way back around to Shechem, where God first promised Abram he’d bring forth blessed nations from his family. The first altar he had built remained unblemished, so he conversed with God there in the evenings.

Lot was also getting wealthy, and soon the land couldn’t support both estates. The shepherds of both clans bickered more frequently, but when Lot’s herders started a turf war against the other, Abram intervened.

He met with his nephew by a creek one day. The smell of sun-soaked soil and rock was pleasant, and the water trickling over the pebbles altered their otherwise collectively foul mood. “Look,” Abram said, his jaw set,  “I’m not going to fight with you, and I’m certainly not going to allow our herders to go to blows. We’re all family here.”

Abram put an arm around Lot and gave him a quarter turn from where he stood. “Elevate your gaze, man. All this land is ours,” he said, making a sweeping gesture across the vast horizon. “Let’s agree that if you go east, I’ll go west. If you go west, I’ll go east.”

Lot looked around, his eyes narrowed. To the east, he saw the lush plains of Jordan, with her natural irrigation systems and cascading rivers, reminiscent of the fables of Eden.

“I’ll go east,” Lot said, biting his lip.

“And so it will be,” Abram concluded.

Lot spread his estate among the cities of the plains. He purchased property within the city limits of Sodom, a town known for its pride, laziness, and sexual appetite.

Abram moved westward, bringing his people and possessions to the beating heart of Canaan.

“Look up from the spot you’re standing on,” God said. “Look north, south, east, and west. These wide, open spaces will be yours forever.” And he promised, “I’ll make your children as numerous as the stars.”

The more he heard the promise, the more God added to it, and the more real it seemed. Abram settled down in Hebron at a place called Mamre Oaks where he built another altar to await the fruition of all that God had promised him.

Inspiration: Genesis 13

Beauty tips

The land Abram came to conquer was harsh, arid and cracked, and the food was in short supply, so Abram decided to move his family into the fertile land of Egypt for a while. When they entered the city, he pulled his wife aside for a briefing.

“It’s no secret that you’re stunningly beautiful,” he said to Sarai. “And when the Egyptians see you, they’ll slit my throat in the night and steal you away from my bed.” Then Abram suggested, “Tell them I’m your brother. That should neutralize the threat.”

“It will be as you desire it, my lord,” Sarai said, laying her hand over his heart.

As Abram predicted, Sarai’s matchless beauty arrested the attention of the people wherever they went, and word of her fame soon spread to Pharaoh himself. Before long, Sarai stood in rare splendor before the very god of Egypt in his own court.

Sarai became the newest installment in the royal harem, and Pharaoh treated Abram like a brother, giving him sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and slaves. Pharaoh, on the other hand, acquired nothing but a God-given illness after a week or two. Pharaoh had spies everywhere, and putting two and two together, he became wise and confronted Abram on the matter.

“What’s going on?” Pharaoh asked. “Why’d you lie about Sarai being your wife? Thankfully, I never laid a hand on her. Get her out of here so your God will clear the air and restore our health!”

Pharaoh’s officers escorted Abram and Sarai out of Egypt along with their parting gifts.

Inspiration: Genesis 12

Abram’s call

Your son Canaan will bow to Shem.

From Shem’s family line, the so-called Semites, a man named Abram emerged from a Babylonian speck called Ur. He and his wife Sarai had lived with his father’s tribe north of Ur in Haran.

Abram hoisted himself upon the highest hill in Haran and surveyed the modern trading mecca. On the horizon, an imposing castle of great basaltic blocks overshadowed the temple of the moon-god. Here, God’s voice began to ring in his ears.

“Take your herds and head south. You’ll settle in a place I’ve designated for you, and for the fulfillment of a promise I’m making to save all humankind.”

Abram listened as God’s voice echoed in his dreams.

“You’ll become a nation of glory,” God told him, “blessed and renowned. Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed. Because of your dominion, Abram of Ur, every family in the world will have reason to celebrate.”

Abram took God at his word. When he was seventy-five years old, he straightened his spine, packed his bags, and loaded up his wife, his nephew Lot, their livestock, and all the servants they had acquired in Haran. Together they journeyed voluntarily into dust-swirled chaos.

Traveling through Canaan, they stopped at Moreh Grove in Shechem. God said, “This will be the land of your children.”

Abram had no children and knew his wife was barren, but he built an altar anyway, willing to stretch himself beyond his personal limits, believing that God’s word was His bond.

From Shechem, he and his entourage continued trekking south, living off the fruit and fat of the land. All along the route, Abram would order his surroundings by building one altar after another. His confidence was a magnificent stone castle in its own right, and his resolve to take possession of a new kingdom was fueled by a God who would show up indiscriminately to repeat his promise of wide, open spaces and endless descendants.

Inspiration: Genesis 10-12; I Chronicles 1