The story of God meeting a pregnant runaway slave dying in the desert and speaking faith, hope and love into her life is more remarkable than we can ever truly comprehend. As I narrate my meagre attempts to describe it, I’m reminded again just how inadequate my words are. We so take the incarnation of God in Christ for granted, that His love and grace have lost their mystery and wonder. Stories like God meeting Hagar at Beer Lahai Roi help re-affirm the glorious truth that God knows and loves us just as we are, and wants to save and transform us into who He purposed us to be. There is no mess or failing too big for the power of His love. By the way I love the fact that it is the servant girl who isthe first person He meets with after the fallout from Hagar’s pregnancy by Abram. He will meet with the Patriarch and Matriarch too, but He starts with the most insignificant and vulnerable. He doesn’t mince His words, and there are consequences to the chaos we create, but that is down the road. Right here and now, this is a story of revelation and love by the the Lord of Heaven to the lowliest maidservant.
This is the story of how sex and power can destroy relationships, how failure, hurt and humiliation ferment guilt, bitterness and pride, and of the brokenness and chaos that results. Desire once unleashed is hard to tame, weakness once exposed is hard to cover up, power once discovered is hard to control. Humanity may have advanced in so many ways, and modern culture may have increased expectations and aspirations; but when we put our heads on our pillows at the end of the day, the thoughts that race through our minds are probably not so very different from those of Abram, Sarai and Hagar. Their questions are very similar to ours, and the answers lie in the same place too, the one to whom the story of Abraham ultimately points: Christ, and Christ alone.
Our poor decisions tend not to just happen. Even the spur of the moment ones often have their origins in mindsets and habits of behavior formed over a lengthy period. Sarai and Abram’s decision, (and yes both must take ownership, because Abram really can’t say: The woman made me do it!) was probably formulated over time, justification fermenting the brew until it was ready. The impact on the three principle players must have been marked. However we may seek to explain things, we tend to know when we’re making a poor decision. It is just we make another poor decision to ignore what we really know. Then we have to deal with the consequences, most of which impact all those around us, and often impact those who come after us too. In Abraham’s case, it would impact all of history. Listen and reflect: what deicsions am I seeking to justify today and why. I pray it saves you and many others from deep pain.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” As much as we may crave to experience God, I doubt any of us have the slightest idea what we’re asking for. The holiness and love of God are intrinsically linked so coming into His presence is both glorious and fearful. This is certainly Abraham’s experience here, as God makes the most formal of contracts with him. But even this was only a precursor of Christ’s covenant with us who believe. I wrote this section with a sense of holy awe and wonder, that honestly has never left me. Experiencing God would leave Jacob walking with limp. It is at the same time cripplingly intense and yet also gloriously liberating. A true encounter with Him leaves us marked and yet whole. Perfectly balanced- neither weirdly intense or flippantly superficial. Thoroughly in the world but not of it. More approachable and relatable but irrefutably different. The true woman or man God intended us to be. Life in all its fulness.
The story of Abraham is a thumbing good read, on pretty much any level. But the more you reflect upon it, the richer it becomes. And nowhere is this more so than when Abraham met Melchizedek. This mysterious man came from nowhere, interacts briefly and disappears again. But the rest of scripture from the Psalms to the Gospels to the letter to the Hebrews acknowledges something profound happened in those few moments. Talk about making an impact! For Abraham, I think there was just relief to find someone who understood his journey. For the rest of humanity, including you and me, there is the extraordinary assurance that history isn’t haphazard, but there is a driver behind it all, a God who knows all things, is all powerful and ultimately is…. love! Perhaps a thousand years before the first passover, two thousand years before the last supper and four thousand years before our regular taking of Holy Communion, Melchizedek offers up bread and wine. A king, a priest, a fellow pilgrim. For Abraham, came the encouragement of physical fellowship, for you and me, the encouragement of historical rootedness and belonging. Who we are and what we do has a mystery and a continuity, which suggests a destiny ordained in heaven from the outset and worked out in heaven at the end of time. It’s glorious. Only bread and only wine, and yet…
It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. It’s even more amazing what you can do when you put God’s mind to it. I’m glad I became a Christian when young. I’ve had a lifetime to discover what it means to have Christ in me, the hope of glory. I look back humbled, thankful and in awe at what God has done in and through a very flawed human being. it’s all too easy to lose the magnitude of a few verses of scripture like this little episode. Abram, a shepherd, who’d never been to war, saw off four previously unconquerable Kings. In sporting terms this is like San Marino beating Brazil at football, or the Cook Islands beating the All Blacks at rugby. But… what if supernaturally a world beating gifting comes upon the players of the San Marino or Cook Island teams, then the odds change somewhat. Enjoy this episode and reflect upon how it’s amazing what God can do, when you put His mind to it. (By the way the website tells some stories of what God is doing through some wonderful young leaders across the globe: www.biblenovels.com)
Honestly, I had meant to cut this episode from the revision of Patriarch. But then as i came to it, I realised again that it is intrinsic and vital to the understanding of the story. And isn’t that the deal about life! We get bored with the mundane. We don’t see the point. Yet it is in the mundane that foundations are laid, and imperceptibly attitudes forged, passions lost, and directions set. When Abram and Lot separated they set out on paths which took them to very different places not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too. The Bible tells us not to despise the day of small things. In fact one of the wonders of the Christian faith is that there is no such thing as the mundane… at least as long as Christ is in it. Every moment, every day, has purpose and potential. We can redeem it and take it with us into eternity. Or waste it, miss it, and worse still let it distract us. In Christ every moment is a holy one.
Splits happen and are normally very painful. Most of us carry the scars of broken families, friendships and churches. Some of them we caused, whilst in others we might justifiably claim to have been the innocent victim. Mostly though it is rather more complicated than that. I’m beginning to sound like a broken down record but just because Abraham lived 4000 years ago doesn’t make his split from Lot any less painful or problematic. What I love from this part of the story is how Abraham handles the conflict and split so openhandedly. We’re now truly beginning to see the fruit of faith in his life. It doesn’t shield us from conflict, pain or hurt, but does something even more glorious- it carries us through with dignity, grace and love. Somehow it even manages to use the conflict, pain and hurt to enrich us, so we can eventually say: I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It builds faith so we can go on, and love again where ordinarily breach of trust should leave us stuck in bitterness and regret and unwilling ever to be vulnerable again. Listen in to Abraham’s story.