Abram’s call

The brawny shepherd 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, the old oral tradition rang in his ears.

Canaan will bow to Shem.

From Shem’s family line, the so-called Semites, that shepherd, Abram, had emerged from a Babylonian speck called Ur. He and his wife Sarai migrated north to Haran with his father’s tribe. As he stood overlooking the vast expanse of Haran, 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 begun, and the peoples of earth resumed their migration across the whole planet.

Inspiration: Genesis 9, 11