I want to tie my reflection from this weeks hangout into this weeks blog post. We’re going to look at trust and which ancestral stories relate to trust of divine promises and how that trust looks in these stories and changes over time.
As it was the focus of the hangout reflection we will begin with Abram and Sarai. At the very beginning of their story together Abram is called by God to leave his homeland and settle in Canaan. Abram obeys God’s call, putting his trust that they will survive. However, due to a famine they end up traveling down to Egypt where Abram tells everybody that Sarai is his sister and not his wife. Here, Abram, who had initially trusted God, stops believing that God will take care of him. He believes that the Egyptians will kill him to marry his wife, so he lies to them and they marry her anyway. Once they learn what he did they kick Abram and Sarai out of Egypt for what they did in calling each other siblings so that in the end his life wasn’t in jeopardy at all. (Gen. 12) This movement from trust in God’s promises to disbelief will be continued throughout their story.
Later, God makes a covenant with Abram to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. (Gen. 15) Immediately after God makes this covenant Sarai tells Abram to sleep with Hagar so that she may have a child for him since Sarai was barren. (Gen 16) This is often attributed to her lack of faith in God’s promise but God’s covenant did not say that Abram would have children with Sarai, just that his descendants would be numerous. With this considered it is possible that it is because of Sarai’s faith in God that she tries to help God’s plan along by having Hagar bear Abram’s children.
Once God renames Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah three men appear and tell Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son. Unlike last time when Sarai was willing to believe and do what she thought she should to help this take place, this time, Sarah laughs in disbelief. (Gen. 18)
The next story with Abraham and Sarah involves them traveling to Gerar where Abraham’s faith fails once again. Despite Sarah’s last failure of trusting in God Abraham’s faith is no better. The fact that Sarah has not yet had a child means that Abraham will remain safe until that time unless God has lied. Yet, while in Gerar, Abraham once again tells people that Sarah is his sister because he’s worried once again that people will kill him for her. (Gen 20) His lack of trust in God is almost certainly at the lowest it will ever be. In the last two stories both Abraham and Sarah have failed to trust God’s word and yet, after Abraham learns of his failing, God fulfills the promise to them and Sarah gives birth to Isaac. (Gen 21:1-7)
Finally, God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham, having so recently in the story failed to trust in God’s promise of having descendants, takes his son, in whom that promise was borne out, and prepares to sacrifice him. (Gen 22:1-19) Abraham’s faith reaches a level which it had never been at before. He fully trusts in God despite that it looks like God is going back on God’s promise. This is the highest point of Abraham’s faith. The back and forth between trusting in God and lacking faith ends with Abraham showing that he trusts God fully, so close in the narrative after he failed so horribly. You can see in this story how the people Israel will trust in God. They will be like Abraham and their faith will not remain strong and steadfast. It will rise and fall over time but God’s faithfulness to them will not fail just as it did not fail for Abraham.
This is a pattern we see with the ancestors of Israel. Isaac mirrors his father’s faith. When he goes down to Gerar, just like Abraham did, he, just like Abraham, tells them that his wife, Rebekah, is his sister. As Abraham’s failing in Gerar was his lowest point, Isaac’s failing is even worse. Isaac fails immediately after God reinforces the covenant to Isaac that was made with Abraham. Isaac’s story is fairly short, and mostly revolves around his children, Esau and Jacob, but after Isaac leaves Gerar he is successful and is once approached by the king, his advisor, and the commander of the army. Instead of fearing for his life, Isaac greets them, hears them out, and has a feast prepared for them. (Gen 26) It’s not a revolutionary of a change as Abraham, but his faith, in the end, returned.
The ancestral stories reflect this struggle with trusting God’s promise despite the overwhelming evidence that God is faithful. If the ancestors struggle as much as they do, then surely the people Israel will struggle in their faith. In fact, when Jacob is renamed Israel it is for this very purpose. They are to be the people who struggle with God. However, God’s faithfulness endures through their doubts and failings and their faith and trust always returns in the end.