Read the text below, preferably aloud. As you hear the word, “listen with the ear of your heart” for a word or short phrase that God has for you this day.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’
In the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, one can see in the Jewish ancestors a people discovering and exploring their relationship with their God. It is a story of hurt, separation, reconciliation, and forgiveness. And many times, as in the case of Abraham, it is a story of hope and trust based upon the experience of this relationship.
For in the end, it is precisely that: a relationship. I see this element very clearly in this passage. It is not simply the promise of a reward that motivates Abraham. In fact, when God offers a reward, Abraham questions what reward could possibly match the promise of descendents — in essence, the promise that the God’s relationship with him and his people would continue. God does make this promise, and makes explicit the fact that it will be fulfilled through no one other than Sarah. He offers as assurance their past relationship: God brought him from Ur to this land, and God will continue to be present even beyond Abraham’s death. All of the created universe, even the stars above, are a part of this promise.
The Old Testament writings are sometimes critiqued for being theologically shallow, the implication being that the people only followed God out of fear or desire for a reward. Passages such as these show me that behind these things is a real desire for a life lived in relationship with God.
© Abraham and Sarah, Donald Jackson, 2003. The Saint John’s Bible, Order of Saint Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota. Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition, © 1993, 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.