Abram/Abraham

[Note: All Bible versus are in NRSV because that is the edition the Middle School Sunday School Bibles at my church are in.]

So today we're starting our study of People of the Bible. To make this easier and give you guys context I thought we'd start close to the beginning and go from there. So today we're going to talk about Abraham.

What do you guys know about Abraham? [Let them answer, see what they say. Write it on the board.]

Hmmm okay. Let's see if the story of Abraham reflects any of this. You guys go get your Bibles, and I want you to turn to Genesis 12.

So some context before we dive right in. The story of Abraham starts a long long long time ago. Like a long time ago. We're talking around 4,000 years ago. We're talking about a society that is extremely tribal and a large "city" might be say a thousand or two thousand people, which is a fraction of the size of Albuquerque. They couldn't even imagine anything this big. But the average person didn't live in a city. And this was the bronze age, so people had bronze and metal tools but still a lot of stone tools.

So Abraham when we first meet him is known as "Abram." Abram is not some poor dude eking out a living on a farm. Abram was quite wealthy--wealth he would have inherited from his father and wealth he expanded during his life. This wealthy Abram was living in a land called Ur which is modern day Iraq. When you guys think of modern Iraq's climate and environment, what do you think of?

[Let them answer. Probably gonna say something like hot, desert, maybe also some inappropriate comments based on their understanding of current events.]

Well back then Iraq wasn't a desert. It was an area of the world that your history teachers may refer to as Mesopotamia or the Fertile Crescent. It was great for crops and planting and raising animals. Which is pretty much what Abram did.

Alright can someone read Genesis 12: 1 - 9 (NRSV).

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.

[NoteAt this point in my class someone asked who Lot was, and I put a family tree for Abram on the whiteboard starting with Abram's father Terah and only showing down to Abram and Sarai and then Haran to Lot. But no further because we're not talking about Ishmael and Isaac this week.]

So God says "Hey Abram, I need you to move." And Abram says "yeah okay." I want you to think about that for a moment. How would you feel if God told you to move to a strange land? And this wouldn't just be like moving across New Mexico or even the USA. For Abram this would almost feel as crazy as God asking him to move to Mars. So let's say God came to you and said "Hey move to Mars." How would you feel?

[Let them answer.] 

[Note: one student was really excited about the prospect of moving to Mars--because Mars is cool--but the rest were more hesitant.]

And it wasn't just Abram who moved. It was him, his wife, his nephew, and all the "persons they acquired." This could be anything from slaves to just servants and employees whose livelihoods were dependent on the wealthy Abram. So let's say your boss came to you and said like "I need to move our whole company to Mars." And your choice was to stay and find a new job, which you may or may not be able to do depending on your skill-set, or go. What do you do? How do you feel?

[Let them answer.]

Basically this is a crazy move of faith, not just on Abrams behalf but on everyone who is following him. In Ur Abram is wealthy and well respected, but who says he can maintain that in an unknown land? What happens when you follow your boss to Mars and discover Mars is inhospitable? That wealth doesn't do you much good on Mars, does it? And to these people that's what it would have felt like. This is a crazy move of faith. Abram and everyone who followed him had to have some faith to make this move. For Abram that's faith in God. For everyone else that's faith in Abram, faith that he's not crazy and really is hearing what God commanded him.

So they travel to Canaan. Who knows what Canaan is known as today?

[Let them answer]

Israel. And what does God say in verse 7, "to your descendants I will give this land."

You guys this is so incredibly important I can't even begin to stress it to you. This is not just important for everything that happens in the Bible but this is important for modern current events happening in Israel and the middle east right now. And we're going to see why as we go forward, but I want you to remember this. God gave Israel to Abram.

Alright we're going to skip ahead a bit. There is some interesting context in these intervening versus that involve a famine, a journey to Egypt, a trip back to Canaan, and a war between a bunch of kings which Abram and his nephew Lot get caught up in. But for our purposes we're going to skip to Genesis 15. Can someone read Genesis 15: 1-7 (NRSV).

15 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.” 2 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?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 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.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

7 Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”

So in this section God is promising Abram a son. Remember Abram is very old and he has no heir. He has a nephew Lot and he has men who work for him but he has no children. So if he dies his estate goes to someone sort of random. Sort of like...has anyone seen Downton Abbey? [If Yes]. It's like how the estate goes to Matthew a guy they didn't even know they were related to .{If No} well that's not important. (either way) What's important is, everything Abram owns would not go to his descendants because he has none.

But here God is promising he will have an child, and not only that but his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. That's...quite a lot when you think about it!

We're going to talk about next week the particulars of how that happens, who Abraham's children are and how everyone feels about it--when we talk about Abraham's wife, Sarah--but for now we're going to skip ahead a bit to Genesis 17: 1 -8. Can someone read these verses?

17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

Have any of you ever heard at Church a reference to the idea of the "Old Covenant?" [Let them answer] Does anyone know what it is? [Let them answer.]

This is it. This is the old covenant. God spoke to Abram and made an agreement or contract with him. That's basically what covenant means. An agreement or contract between two parties, in this case the parties are God and Abram. In this covenant what does God promise Abram?

[Let them answer.]

Basically that his descendants will be numerous and he will be the father of many generations. And that God gives him the land of now Israel. And most importantly that God will be their God.

When people refer to Jewish people as God's chosen people this is what they mean. God chose Abram--whose name here he changes to Abraham. Why did he chose him? We may never know. Probably because God knew him to be a faithful and righteous man who would obey the call to move across the world when asked. But the Bible doesn't expressly say. But God did choose him and make this covenant with him. To establish his line, his offspring, and be the God to his people. This is what makes Jewish people God's chosen people.

And Abraham didn't have to do much in return. Does anyone know the one thing God required of Abraham? [Let them answer.]

He required that Abraham and all his men be circumcised--a  medical procedure that we're not going to talk about. You can read your Bibles or ask your parents if you want to know what it is. But basically it was an outwards physical show of the covenant. God didn't require Abraham have perfect faith or even follow a bunch of rules. Just this one thing--which is a one and done thing.

But the reason the story of Abraham is so important is that it is the basis for everything else to come. Abraham and his faith is the reason why the people of Israel, the Jewish people, are set apart, and the reason why they claim Israel as their land. But as we'll see next week Abraham and his family, namely his wife Sarah and Abraham's own sometimes wishy-washy nature, are also the reason why everything didn't go exactly according to plan.

Abraham wasn't a perfect man. But he was a man who literally followed God. Something we can strive for in our own lives as well.