Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A little leaven…

Preserving even a tiny number of innocent humans is more important to God’s eyes than bringing deserved judgment on the guilty. Thus, this account underlines the biblical teaching that God’s will to save clearly dominates over His will to punish. This insight into the divine nature foreshadows the proportion of keeping steadfast love to the 1000th generation but visiting in judgment the guilty up to the fourth generation (Exod 34:6–7). Abraham’s prayer assures us that even a minority of righteous people suffice to avert God’s just punishment. This is not only a clear demonstration of YHWH’s grace and mercy but also an indication that in God’s economy a faithful minority can make a significant difference. This has of course important implications for the people of God today, who live in a primarily secular society. They have the capacity to function as agents of salvation and renewal.—Standing in the Breach, page 54

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How about your prayers?

Abraham mediates between God and the pagan cities thereby foreshadowing also Israel’s priestly function among the nations (cf. Exod 19:6). According to Genesis 18, Abraham blesses Sodom by interceding for the city. Even though Sodom and Gomorrah had sinned themselves beyond the possibility of blessing, it is amazing that Abraham was pleading for them to be spared from the divine judgment. Abraham intercedes for the corrupt pagans whom he did not even know. Wright compares Abraham’s response to YHWH’s judgment over Sodom with that of Jonah’s and remarks that many Christians’ attitude toward the wickedness of the world resembles more that of Jonah than that of Abraham [Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2006) 362]. Prayers are frequently made for people we approve of, or for projects that we endorse. The community of faith, however, does not often pray for the Sodoms and Gomorrahs of this world. Jeremiah encourages exiled Israel to pray for the welfare of their captors (Jer 29:7). Also Jesus endorses Abraham’s prayer by the hard dictum: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44–47).—Standing in the Breach, page 53

<idle musing>
Ouch! I suspect he is far too correct in that assessment. May God grant us mercy and may we embrace the way of Abraham!
</idle musing>

Monday, June 26, 2017

Prayer as theology

From Abraham’s dialogue with God we learn not only that prayer has its origin in the movement of God toward humans but also that the divine response to prayers should lead to a fuller and deeper understanding of God and His ways with the world. With regard to the former, we noticed that the enabling initiative for this great intercession came from God (“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do”; Gen 18:17). After YHWH’s invitation to pray, God waited for Abraham’s response (Gen 18:22). With regard to the latter, we noticed that God, not Abraham, emerges as the theological teacher from this prayer. I shall argue at some length in the context of our treatment of Exodus 32–34 that prayer and theology are intrinsically linked. Possibly the greatest of all the features of Abraham’s prayer is precisely the way in which it calls on us, when we pray, to develop a theology. Clements observes: “Prayer and the act of praying involve us in theology—the thinking out of the true nature and character of the supreme Ruler of the Universe.” Not only must we think about who God is and how He relates to the world but also we must learn to listen to God. Abraham’s “theology” was taught by God Himself in a prayer. As Abraham wrestles with the divine will, which was not fully manifest at the outset of the prayer, he penetrates deeper into God’s character and will.—Standing in the Breach, page 52

Friday, June 23, 2017

The school of intercession

God is teaching Abraham about His attributes, about grace and righteousness. We have noted in our exegesis that God is seeking to impart His grace and justice to Israel’s first intercessor, something that YHWH does in an even clearer way to Moses (cf. Exod 33:17–34:7). … [I]t is about a gracious accommodation of Abraham’s audacious explorations. It is in Abraham’s exploration of YHWH’s character and His ways that Israel’s patriarch grows in his understanding of his God.—Standing in the Breach, page 51

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Boring?

Charles Halton has a delightful read on the first known poet over at LitHub. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
Have you met a professor of Mesopotamian studies? There are only a couple dozen or so of us scattered around the world, but we are very strange individuals. Meet one of us in person, and you may discover that we can hardly string together a coherent sentence. We stare at our hands and speak a German-English patois that neither the Germans nor the English can decipher. Our social problems must have begun in grad school; holing up by ourselves in small, windowless library carrels for hours on end reading the teeny tiny wedges the Mesopotamians etched into clay does something to our brains. In any case, we have an almost divine-like ability to take ultra-fascinating ideas and make them slightly less exciting than a traffic ticket. This is not the skill you need when trying to present the results of your research to a Netflix-addled public.
<idle musing>
I love it! And the worst of it is that he's correct!
</idle musing>

That pinch of salt

Does Abraham, by stopping at 10, implicitly admit that YHWH’s judgment is justified? Perhaps Abraham is now assured that God would act justly indeed and that he could leave the fate of the few righteous in God’s care. This does, however, not necessarily indicate that Abraham thought that the few righteous inhabitants may now “fare as the wicked” (Gen 18:25). Gen 19:29 seems to suggest that God, for the sake of Abraham’s intercessory prayer, dealt with Lot and his family separately. Thus, the bottom line seems to be that Abraham arrived at a point at which he was absolutely convinced that God is a righteous judge. It became evident that God does not want to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah merely on a whim. The patriarch learns that even a small minority of righteous people have the capacity to save an entire city that is dominated by wicked people.—Standing in the Breach, page 45

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Boldly humble

Given Abraham’s humility, it is amazing that his courage seems to grow during his conversation with God. God, in His grace, seems to encourage Abraham in his prayer by allowing him to stretch the capacity of divine grace and righteousness (cf. Exod 33:12–19). Thus, we clearly recognize here at the outset of Israel’s history, embodied in the patriarch, an important element which will come to characterize Israel’s spirituality: a bold and yet humble “I-Thou” relationship with God. The characteristic mix of boldness and humility anticipates the audacious intercessory prayers of a Moses and Jeremiah.—Standing in the Breach, pages 44–45

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Maybe Abraham should have tried one more time?

It is important to note that it is Abraham and not God who decides to conclude the discussion at 10. “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more.” Abraham seems aware that he might be stretching the limit of God’s grace. He is cautious and apologetic in his final request. God, however, is as neutral and determined to forgive/to endure (נסא [ns’]) the wicked city for the sake of 10 as He was for the sake of 50 at the outset of their dialogue (v. 32).—Standing in the Breach, page 43