It’s been fun revisiting Patriarch after a fourteen year break, in order to re-record the new audio version. I lived this story for five years- walking the road of faith with Abraham. It’s good to be back.
For five years I wrestled with questions like: who initiated the initial journey to Haran- Abram, his father Terah, or maybe both- albeit for very different reasons. I spent months trying to get beneath the skin of the two patriarchs, aided by research into the remarkable city of Ur and the context of the time. Of course, I can’t be at all sure I got the feelings or motivations of either men right, but the more time I spent with them those years ago, the more the Bible and this particular story came alive. And now that I’m back, I know I will go still further on and deeper in. Oh, how I love the Bible for that! I still open it with a sense of awe and wonder, fondly remembering what it has taught me before, and excitedly anticipating what new might be revealed.
The Bible tells the story of real people living real lives in real places. Dare I say it, essentially, people just like you and me. They wrestled with the same issues albeit contextually and culturally different. So, I’m pretty confident I haven’t transposed and imposed my feelings and thought processes onto them.
I see an old man, Abram, wrestling with legacy, and an even older one, Terah, wrestling with mortality. Both are unsettled by their quest, no longer able to acquiesce complacently in the superficiality and futility of what their society valued. One looked up, outside of his experience, in the quest of a higher being. The other looked back, to his past, to find the comfort of the familiar. I relate to both, but know only one- the revelation of God Himself, can provide eternal answers. Neither knew God, and my guess is only one found Him. And he was the one to find legacy, meaning and life as a consequence. 2000 years later Jesus was to tell some equally clueless men that God is the God of the living Abraham. This is the story of how Abram found eternal life, and how he paved the way for us to find life in Christ too. And it all began in the dust and dirt of a city called Ur, approximately 4000 years ago.
Having set the scene, it’s now time to introduce the other main male characters, and what fascinating lead players they are.
Terah and Abram we’ve met. Nahor is Abram’s older brother, and like Abram, he’s seeking to come to terms with being childless in a culture where identity and legacy are intrinsically linked. He’s just going about it in a very different way to Abram. Nahor does pop up from time to time in Genesis and comes across as cautious and predictable- a safe pair of hands. Perhaps because he’s trying to compensate for not producing grandchildren for Terah, he seems to perform the role as the dependable family man. I can’t see that he and Abram had much in common or in deed much to talk about. Then there’s Abram’s nephew, Lot. Whether or not Nahor was the practical one and Abram the thinker, you can be pretty sure Lot was neither. All that can be said about Lot’s decision making was that it tended to end in disaster. And yet there is obviously a greater bond between Abram and his nephew than Abram and his brother. You don’t sense in any way they are kindred spirits, and yet there is a bond. Lot may have been a pain in the neck to Abram but you never sense he tired of him. He may have won his way into Abram’s affections as the son he never had. But perhaps he stayed there, because of the life Abram never lived: seemingly carefree, but actually chaotic and crisis ridden! Who knows?
What we do know is that a prosperous family’s comfortable life was about to be turned utterly upside down, and I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when it happened! This is how I imagine it unravelled. Enjoy!
And now it’s the turn of the women to enter the story, most significantly Sarai.
I love the characters of Genesis and particularly the women. Despite the cultural context into which they were born, they were obviously strong personalities. My personal favourite is Rebecca, but Sarai is right up there too. Rarely are the women overwhelmed by their partners, but rather they complement and often seem to complete the men in their lives, as well as being very able to stand on their own two feet, when they needed to. Their relationships are complicated but true love is normally very evident. None more so than in the case of Abram and Sarai. If you’re not familiar with the story, you might need to take my word for it at this stage in the telling, but you’ll soon see what I mean.
The problem with characters in a story set millennia ago in a land, for most of us, far far away, is that we struggle to appreciate their humanity- their fears, hopes, dreams, and above all their loves. So stop reading the story through the stained glass window you saw in church, but rather through the bathroom mirror. Then even if your appreciation of the characters will still be flawed, it will still be significantly more real, down to earth and human.
Sarai was obviously a very beautiful older lady, but at the time that mattered little, while she was still childless. As with Abram, her value, purpose and identity was limited. She was a failure. Of course it might not have been her fault, but she was still to blame. The fertility test of the day was simple- get a second wife and see if it goes differently. And yet Abram didn’t do this. You can only believe his desire for his wife trumped his desire for a son. And that is extraordinary. It suggests a very very special bond between Abram and Sarai, albeit one that was to be sorely tested and probably broken. But that’s down the line, Right here right now, that bond was strong enough to compensate for what was glaringly missing.
Patriarch isn’t just a story of God’s revelation of His love for a man, but also a man’s love for his wife and her’s for him. It bumbles and stumbles along, as Abram and Sarai’s flaws are exposed but the soundtrack which constantly recurs in the background has a melodious depth and romantic rich refrain.
Patriarch Chapter 1 Part 4
But for me the really interesting journey is the spiritual one. The one upon which Abram was embarked. The complexity of selling up, moving on and settling down is a mere backdrop to something far more profound- one man’s quest for God, and God’s revelation of Himself to that man. Remember Abram had few signposts on his journey. It really was into the unknown. Paul in Romans tells how mankind is without excuse because God’s invisible qualities are clearly seen (that’s a fun concept!) in creation, and our consciences deep within tell of His nature. Christ invaded time and space to reveal in history what the world round about us and the convictions of our heart has told every generation of humanity everywhere is true. And this was pretty much all Abram had to go on. But go on he did. And God simply can’t resist someone who seeks Him. The quest might be a long one, because the journey is an important point of the discovery. However, the destination is assured. Seek and you will find. And what you find is richer, fuller, fairer than anything you can conceive or imagine.
Patriarch Chapter 1 Part 5
Revelation from God is pretty amazing, even when it is less dramatic than Abram’s! The only problem comes when you need to explain what God has revealed to those around you. It’s a recurring theme through scripture. When you get to heaven ask Mary! For Abram it was doubly difficult because his beloved Sarai not only hadn’t personally experienced the revelation but struggled to believe the message. It just rudely and crudely exposed her life- longfailing. It was a cruel joke that all God promised Abram would be dependent upon her delivering what everyone knew she was incapable of.
The spiritual chasm between the two at this point in their lives was bottomless. One hoped and believed. The other despaired and doubted. And yet somehow they soldiered on. Ultimately Sarai would need God to speak directly to her cynicism. However right now she just had to pack up and carry on. This is my take on the resilience of a remarkable lady.
I wanted to rewrite this episode for the second edition. I don’t like it! But at the end of the day, I couldn’t, because bluntly it is intrinsic to the rest of the story. It begins so wonderfully on the shores of Galilee. I often sit on our shoreline wondering about the Celtic missionaries who sailed past our croft those centuries ago. The stones are the same stones they would have scrambled up: true rocks of ages! Did Jesus reflect upon Abraham’s journey through his backyard in the same way? I imagine so. He was, after all, to fulfil the promise made to Abraham to bless all peoples on earth through him. But that was 2000 years hence! Right here right now, Abraham faced a barbarous land full of barbarous people, the extent of which is barely fathomable to us. And yet we need to understand something of it, if we’re to appreciate just why the God of the Old Testament seems so uncompromising towards the occupants of the land He was giving to Abraham. Otherwise the paradox of wiping out a people before Abraham so He can be a blessing to all peoples makes no sense. Even so, I’ve tried my best not to overstate the evil of the cultic worship. Ultimately Abraham was a fallible human being, just like you and me, but as he walked by faith, stumbling and falling along, God watched over him, picked him up, and shaped him into the patriarch of faith. That’s my story too, and perhaps yours. I’d love to hear your reflections at biblenovels.com or the Biblenovels facebook group.
Abraham had made it to the land where he would ultimately settle but that time was not yet! My personal pilgrimage story is that I so often seem to have to go round and round in circles until finally I’m ready for what God has for me. It’s so frustrating but always necessary. We don’t know just why Abraham headed off to the Negev and from there to Egypt to face huge personal challenges. It was probably a whole mix of things, including fear and uncertainty, as well as the need to deepen his walk with the God he was still getting to know. My hunch is the hostility and downright evil he experienced in Canaan probably exposed these frailties. Abraham was moving from agnosticism to a personal faith through revelation. He was on a journey, and the cultic worship he would have encountered in Canaan would have been a shock. It’s hard for us, particularly westerners like me, to comprehend this. Our exposure to spiritual things is limited at the best of times, and few in my culture talk about powers of evil and a spiritual battle. But it is real, and the battle in Canaan was hotting up. Abraham began to worship far more publicly and this must have illicited a response from the cultic priests of the day. Once again I’ve sought to downplay the details of what this confrontation could have involved. But we are in a battle between good and evil, far more hideous than any of us could ever imagine, and we need to be wise to the fact. Our walk with God isn’t through meadows with pastel skies. It’s trench warfare. I’d love to hear your reflections at biblenovels.com or the Biblenovels facebook group.