Sarah’s burial

At a hundred and twenty-seven years old, Sarah died at Hebron. Abraham sat by her bedside and mourned. Then he went to the Hittites and said, “I know I’m a stranger here, but sell me a plot so I can bury my wife on my own land.”

A Hittite representative said, “Master, you’re a great prince. We wouldn’t withhold even the best of our burial grounds.”

Abraham bowed and said, “If you’re willing, let me talk to Ephron, Zohar’s son. I’d like to buy the cave of Machpelah at the end of his field. With you as a witness, I’ll pay full price.”

Ephron was present among those with Abraham, and he said, “No, master, listen to me. The field is yours along with its cave. As my people are my witnesses, it’s yours. Go, bury your wife.”

Abraham bowed again before the Hittites and, looking squarely at Ephron, said, “I’m paying full price, and that’s final.”

Ephron answered, “Okay, master. What’s four hundred pieces of silver among friends? Pay me and go bury your wife.”

Abraham agreed to the price, paid the man according to the current exchange rate, and took possession of the field, along with all its vegetation, which was located east of Mamre. He buried Sarah in the cave facing Hebron in the land of Canaan.

Inspiration: Genesis 23

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

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

Abram’s call

The brawny shepherd hoisted himself onto the peak of 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.

From Shem’s family line had come the so-called Semites, and one such shepherd, Abram, considered the Babylonian city of Ur his first home.

He and his wife Sarai had migrated north to the sprawling metropolis of Haran with his father’s tribe.

As Abram stood overlooking the vast expanse of Haran, the ancient Semitic legend rang in his ears.

Canaan will bow to Shem.

Then God suddenly spoke.

“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

Trumped tower

Noah’s family flourished after the flood and lived as farmers and shepherds, and every enterprise was blessed and profitable. The family vineyard, for example, put out a jug of wine that’d make Bacchus blush.

One day the patriarch got so drunk, he passed out stark naked in his tent. Noah’s youngest son Ham stumbled upon his father’s undignified condition and burst out laughing.

He told his brothers about it, but instead of laughing, Shem and Japheth took a robe into their father’s tent, and, walking backward with their heads turned away, they covered the unconscious man.

Later, when Noah found out how Ham had behaved, he cursed his entire family tree throughout eternity. “Your son Canaan will bow to Shem forever,” he vowed.

Here’s how it began: Ham’s grandson, the mighty warrior Nimrod, was the chief architect of a new real estate project in Babylonia. In the middle of that city, a mud-bricked tower of record-breaking heights would dwarf all other known human-made structures.

This project was an insult to God’s desire for humankind to be unbounded and to multiply over the whole earth. When God said to Noah “the whole earth,” he meant across its furthest breadths and depths. But everyone seemed dead set on populating a high-rise on a tiny plot of ground.

God saw the people were determined, tech-savvy, and unified in their endeavor. Every engineer and worker on the project spoke the same language, so they’d likely accomplish their immediate goal of ingenuity, autonomy, and power, as well as anything else under the sun.

So God personally descended, stirred up vernacular chaos, and the tower’s construction was ultimately abandoned. The place was named Babel, for their speech baffled each other’s ears, and brick eventually fell from brick.

Thus Ham’s curse had spread like a contagion amidst the development of the first civilization, so the peoples of earth resumed their migration across the whole planet.

Inspiration: Genesis 9, 11