I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Genesis 11:27 – 12:4a
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A for 1st Sunday in Lent
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1. Why does Abram have to leave? Is the salvation in the land?
3. Blessings are very easy to give yet have wonderful possibilities, in being blessed by God and blessing others through the blessing we receive from God.
4. Abram followed his father’s pattern of living.
5. Abraham took everything and everyone with him.
6. Strangers will be in the land that we seek to occupy.
7. The gift comes first. Then worship in response to that gift.
8. Abram worshiped God wherever he went.
9. Abram continued on his journey.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Preceded by Terah, Abram’s father, settling in Haran, and, after 250 years, Terah died. Terah was headed from Ur to Canaan but stopped at Haran, a trip that Abram completes.
- Followed by Abram going to Egypt due to the famine in the land.
II. Literary Study.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- /BRC/ — to bless or to kneel. Used for God blessing people, for people blessing God, and for people blessing other people. D. C. Davis (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1976, v. 1, p. 624) stresses that a blessing was not a magical act having independent force, but remains under God’s control.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- This is an itinerary, annotated with the LORD telling Abram why to leave and where to go.
III. Question the text.
A. Observe the passage from the perspective of its characters.
The LORD sends Abram thither and yon and Abram goes building altars wherever he stays. Sarai and Lot come along for the ride.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
Haran to Canaan: Shechem, Moreh, Bethel, Ai, Negeb. Is this a deliberate path or ambling?
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- This passage recounts the reason Abram traveled in Canaan and provides divine authority for Abram’s heirs to occupy the land.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- Absence of conflict is noteworthy. The LORD tells Abram to go and he goes without any stated resistance.
E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?
- Why did Terah stop in Haran?The absence of a reason allows us to write in our own reasons for not fully answering God’s call.
- How did Abram validate that the call he received was from the LORD? What discussions happened in his household regarding leaving his country, his kin, and his father’s house?The absence of resistance to God’s call emphasizes Abram’s faith.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Abram’s departure is presented absent drama or conflict. God made a promise of a great future and Abram walked into that future.
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
William L. Holladay (Christian Century, May 22, 1996, p. 596 “A New Beginning: Abram”) muses about Abram’s reasons for leaving Ur and his father’s home: Warmer weather, family pressure, exploration, … Did God motivate Abram with words or entice him with a better future? Like Abram, God calls us into the future without telling us what lies ahead. [c.f. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair; we experience the future like riding a train facing the caboose. We can clearly see what lies behind us, but the future is visible only in the corner of our eyes. We can guess at the future by recognizing patterns from the past.]
W. Eugene March (The Presbyterian Outlook, June 7, 1999, p. 16, “God’s Call to Abram”) notes the ambiguity in God’s call to Abram: God’s instruction is to leave without a destination; the land is already occupied and Abram only gets a burial plot during his lifetime; God promises to make him a great nation, but Abram’s life ends with only one heir. Abram made altars to stake God’s claim upon the world much the way our worship and breaking bread establishes Christ’s claim upon the world.
Richard J. Clifford (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, “Genesis” para. 20) notes that Abram’s trek foreshadows the path used by Jacob and the conquest by Joshua. Thus Abram’s trek marks a symbolic conquest later fulfilled by Joshua.
Walter Brueggemann (Interpretation: Genesis, pp. 105 – 125) incorporates the exegesis of this text in Hebrews 11: The promise of land is made to a landless people; The promise of a great nation is made to a barren couple. He notes a theological shift between 11:32 and 12:1 from the history of humanity to the history of Israel, from the history of a doubting people [Terah stopped in Haran.] to the history of a faithful people.
Terrence Fretheim (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “The Book of Genesis”) begins the pericope at 11:27 to show that Abram’s call is not a “bolt out of the blue,” but a continuation of a journey started by his family.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
The call of Abram follows the pattern of creation seen in at the beginning of the world, in Noah’s passage through the flood, and prefigures the creation when Israel passes through the wilderness.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
Abram demonstrates a careful and deliberate response to the LORD’s command to leave the past behind and to step boldly and faithfully into an unknown future.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
This passage should inspire the hearer to attempt the impossible.