Note: the following commentaries will be moved to individual pages very soon.
Just like yesterday’s reading, the chapters for today continue to cover the shortcomings of God’s people. The promises given to Abraham are now given to his son Isaac. He is now to be the father of a great nation, but the mistakes of his children threatened to prevent that from happening. His firstborn, Esau, is presented as one who really could care less about God’s future plans. His brother Jacob is concerned about such things, but uses trickery in order to receive from his father the patriarchal blessing. His unwise plan creates a tremendous rift in the family and he must run for his life. But during his journey into exile, God reassures him through a dream that the same promise given to Abraham and Isaac has also been given to him. Even though it appeared like Esau was the one who was rightfully entitled to it, and even though Jacob acted so treacherously, he was still part of God’s great plan. Today we are all part of God’s ongoing plan for this world, and we can trust that even when we seem to totally mess things up, he can still use us. It seems like God must have a lot of faith in us even when we don’t seem to have much faith in him and in his plans.
I want to also mention one other thing that caught my eye during my reading. In Genesis 26:4-5, God tells Isaac that he has inherited the promise given to Abraham because his father obeyed him by keeping his laws and commands. So this makes it appear that the fulfillment of the promise depended on the recipient of such a promise fulfilling all of God’s requirements. But how faithful was Abraham? How many times did he do things that were not in accordance with God’s plans? But if you look at the course of his entire life, you see that he still clung to what God had promised. Even in his shortcomings, he was still loyal to God and kept trying to live up to what he knew was right. Despite those many instances of disobedience, God seems to overlook them later on. This tells me that faithfulness doesn’t equal perfection. God recognizes how often we will fail, but does not allow them to disqualify us.
Today’s reading was concerned with the many experiences of Abraham as he journeyed throughout the land of Canaan. Several times, God’s promise is repeated regarding the glorious future of Abraham’s descendents. So far, the story is all about this nation to be. We can surmise that God wants to accomplish something special through that nation. But the problem standing in the way of the fulfillment of God’s plan is the failure of Abraham and his wife Sarah to produce a male heir. How can this nation arise if Abraham does not have a son? God reassures Abraham that he will indeed have a child of his own. The future hinges on that child. Unfortunately we see Abraham and his wife make a great failure by utilizing Hagar to produce their heir. But God continues to work with them, reminding them that it is his plan and not their own, and that he will be responsible for the great future of their descendents. When the promised child finally arrived, God put forth another test to Abraham. He was told to sacrifice his son Isaac. While we may still struggle greatly to understand why God would command Abraham to do something so horrific, and then prevent him from carrying it out at the last moment, it does teach a powerful lesson. It reminds us that the future plans of God are to be fulfilled by God’s initiative. Even when it seems like he is destroying the only means of accomplishing his plans, we can trust that it will still go forward. Could Abraham trust that God’s promises would still take place even when he was certain that his promised child would be taken away? Without much comment, Abraham is presented as faithful. We don’t know what thoughts were going through his head, but it seems like after his many mistakes and lack of faith in the past, he finally trusted that God’s ways are sure. When that wonderful command was given by God to Abraham not to harm the son he was about to sacrifice, he now knew without a doubt that the first promise given to him was reliable. This chronicle of Abraham’s life demonstrates that in the midst of an uncertain environment in an unfaithful and rebellious world, God can still accomplish his goals. It also demonstrates that there are many detours and setbacks in God’s plan since he is attempting to accomplish it through human agencies. Every time a follower of God takes one step forward, they quite often take two steps backward. Yet God manages to get them back on track, and has a wonderful way of getting around these potential disasters.
In these readings for this year, I am really trying to understand the essence of what God is trying to convey through these events. I have to admit that today’s reading is somewhat challenging since it is such familiar territory. What profound things can be said about the creation, the fall of man, and the various events occurring afterwards? To answer that question, let me focus on the actions and words of God in these early chapters. What is quite obvious is that God has tremendous interest in the affairs of humanity. With no apparent reason given, God creates the human race. The God of the universe, with no needs of his own, takes time to create a race of intelligent beings, beings who are made in his likeness. He gave them every benefit in order to enjoy life on their newly created planet. When Adam and Eve ruined God’s perfect order by eating the forbidden fruit, God stripped away many of their wonderful privileges and they were forced to live a difficult and uncertain life, followed by an ignominious death. But the story continues nevertheless. God continues to be involved in human affairs. God still has additional plans. Every time humanity plunges further and further into rebellion, a divine response takes place. Whether it is Cain’s murder of his brother, the increasing lawlessness and depravity of the antediluvians, or the construction of the Tower of Babel, God responds. No matter how estranged from God the race became, He continued to pursue. Some of the actions seem rather harsh. For example, why would God think of destroying nearly the entire human race through a flood, and only preserve eight faithful people? Yet, no matter how terrible that action might seem to some people, the truth is God desired to intervene. Would it have been any more merciful to allow this depraved race to continue living until not a single follower of God remained? He had not given up. God still had special plans for his creatures which would be realized through the descendents of the survivors. My reading for today ended with God’s promises to Abraham that he would be a father of a great nation and that his descendents would be a blessing to the entire world. At this point, it is not clear exactly what God’s ultimate plans are for the human race. But so far, we see glimpses of God’s love, and his desire to give our race hope for the future even when we have ruined his original plans. I think this is evidence that we can trust him.