Genesis 12-46: commentary on select verses.
Salvation history: the Patriarchs
Year 1, Week 12, Monday Glenroy 1975
“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. 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. 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.”Genesis 12:1-3
Salvation history begins with the promise made to Abraham. The Jews of today, buoyed up by the promise made to Abraham, wish to become ‘a great nation’, living ‘in the land promised to Abraham’s descendants’.
We, the new Israel, look for no ‘city here below’. A promise has indeed been made to us, not in terms of acreage or population. Our promise is in spiritual terms, in the realm of the Spirit which is far more real than any country or nation. A promise has been made to us. When was this promise made? When we received the gift of the Holy Spirit we were filled with power and longing and hope. We received the first fruits of the Spirit and we are charged with power from on high. We are a pilgrim people, leaving our earthly country, our family, our earthbound home and we seek a city that is to come. We are not looking for a few hectares of earth but the infinite reaches of the Spirit ‘who fills the whole world’. We are not looking for a great nation but for the communion of saints.
Let us then be filled with the power of the Spirit, the determination, the vigour, the impatience of God. Let us, with boldness, take possession of our kingdom. God is waiting, is delaying until we with full determination, the full ‘yes’ without admixture of ‘no’, take the kingdom of heaven by storm and establish it now in our time. Let us with the strength of God carve out a kingdom for ourselves and for him from the wide expanses of creation. Then will the promise be fulfilled and the vocation of Abraham be fulfilled in the eternal kingdom above.
“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. 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. 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.” Genesis 12:1-3
In ignorance of the full consequences of his action, but dimly aware of the greatness of his future, Abraham leaves all. He has strength to depart because of the promise. The promise can be fulfilled only if he leaves all. He is to obtain a land, an offspring, a nation. He is to be a blessing for the ends of the earth and a judgment on all mankind.
All this applies to Abraham. It applies to all of us. It applied to Christ. He left all. More than any man he left all in his death which separated him from earth, race and God. No man can leave more than he. No man could leave more than he because he had most to leave. He did this in hope of the promise made to him. And so, he became the kingdom of God; all men are his body; the nations of the earth are his; he is a blessing that confirms the whole universe; he is the final judge.
We leave, for what destination we know not, but the Spirit of God, the promise, guides us through strange paths. We leave what we know and are refashioned by what we do not know. We leave completely and become completely new, else. We become the future. Body, we become Body. Body we become Spirit. Man, we become the Future Man. Man, we become God. Earth, we become heavenly. Time, we become eternity. Constricted, we become infinite. Poor, the earth is ours. The Spirit of God draws us on, and we leave.
East Doncaster, 1989
Today we begin the long cycle of readings that stretch from the figure of Abraham to the person of David. It is the story of promise and its fulfilment in the person of David, the anointed one, the chosen of the Lord, the prefigurement of Jesus the Christ.
According to the Jewish mind, the son was already existing in the father. From the father’s body came all the subsequent heirs. In the body of Abraham, the person of David exists already, hidden yet real. Already in Abraham the chosen people exist. His character is their outline.
In the episodes which we read over the next two weeks, the character of Abraham is shown. Whatever about the historical accuracy of this portrait, it is expresses what the Jews thought of their ancestor. It represents the ideal man of God.
Today’s reading recounts the first words spoken in history to a human being. The first command is ‘leave’. Three times this command is made, in ever sharper focus: he must leave country, then family, and finally even his house. He is to leave for a land which is uncertain, known only in the future.
This command to Abraham is made constantly throughout his life. He must leave all he knows and listen only to what he is inspired to know.
The first characteristic, therefore, of the person who will be the source of all is to leave all. We are called to be completely free of all attachment, to be obedient only to the command of God, to the inner nature given to us. That total dedication alone is satisfying. It alone is the source of all fruitfulness.
From the person who, at the Transcendent One’s impetus leaves all in the prospect of what only the God knows, from him in time will come an immense fruitfulness. All blessing will spring from him, a whole people, even the world to come.
East Doncaster, 1995
“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. ” Genesis 12:1
To Abram Yahweh says: Leave all for a land I will show you.
To his disciples Jesus says: Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.
To all the Spirit says: Come to me and enjoy the wide expanse within.
Year 1, Week 12, Tuesday Glenroy 1977
“Is not the whole land open before you? Part company with me;
if you take the left, 1 will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.”
Abraham is a man of wealth, but first he is a man of peace. He allows Lot, his nephew, his junior, to have first choice. He accedes to Lot’s choice of the fertile portion and his own unfertile portion. Despite the risk involved and the seeming folly of such generosity, although he puts his own future at risk, he will not allow his ambition to take the place of the promise. If God is to give him a great future it will have to be within the context of peace.
Lot, in his cupidity, has made the wrong choice. He chose the plain and the encampment near Sodom. He will be driven from there by the destruction of Sodom and will take the even drier hills of Moab and Ammon as his pasture land. His cupidity redounds on his own head.
Abraham now hears a promise made to him. He, the man of generosity, the man of peace, willing to sacrifice his own future rather than go against what he knows is of God, is blessed: the dust of the arid hills now becomes a gauge of future blessing; the infertile land is a sign of his own fertility.
A promise is made to us. Folly if we follow our pre-conception of how this promise is to be fulfilled. Rather, we follow the guiding light of the Holy Spirit. At times it will seem madness to follow the Spirit. It will seem to jeopardise the very promise, even to fight against it. Yet we take the risk, because we follow the Spirit whose fruit is peace and harmony, generosity, readiness to sacrifice, who leads us, by masterly strokes, to the goal.
East Doncaster, 1989
“Is not the whole land open before you? Part company with me;
if you take the left, 1 will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.”
Abraham is a man of wealth. His ownership is not only in camels and servants. He is wealthy in his very self, in his self-concept, his self-assurance, his ability to cope. Above all he is wealthy in his generosity. He will let Lot decide their future. He knows that, whatever the situation, he will prosper and that he will be the source of blessing.
His detachment is thus the source of his magnanimity. He can be detached because God has spoken to him and he has obeyed completely, and has hearkened to the word entirely.
Lot sought the fertile fields and thus, by contrast, shows himself to be a poor man. His attachment has brought about his destruction. The fair fields of Jericho destroy him.
Abraham is free because he is bonded to the One who is beyond this world and who governs all. Thus, Abraham is the source of all.
So, for ourselves, the freedom we acquire by faith in Jesus who is beyond all in his resurrection – this freedom gives us a greatness of heart, a magnanimity which will allow us to be the source of blessing. We allow the events of life to shape us because we know that, being with the transcendent God, we are free in every circumstance and bring blessing to every moment. The circumstances may determine the different ways in which we are a blessing, but blessing we shall always be.
Year 1, Week 12, Wednesday Glenroy 1977
“Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.” Genesis 15:7-15
The promise is made to Abraham. Yet how improbable is its fulfilment. He has been promised a nation of descendants, a land for his domain: yet he is old, he is one household within a powerful nation.
The promise is made. Yet how doubtful its source. God has spoken, yet dreams speak. God has vowed, yet humans are prone to illusion.
What a man is Abraham. How strong, how convinced in his future. How sure, how determined. No weak promise; no weak Giver of promises, for Abraham is no weak man. He knows and he believes.
Hope against hope, this is our quality, we ‘sons’ of Abraham. A promise is the heart of a man, as much as any will or reason. A sense of promise is the beginning of a man. And this promise is that we should have the earth for our domain, and humankind for our body.
For at the heart of aIl existence lies a promise and One who promises – that is our God. And we are convinced, for we cannot be human unless convinced of it. A promise is made: this we know and we believe.
Yet Abraham is weak too: “How shall l know l am to possess it’. Therefore, God gives him a sign of fire and cloud, light and darkness, the extremes of reality, as a sign of the determination of Him who exceeds reality.
We are weak too. How shall we know? Therefore, God gives us the sign of the cross: the one who knows life and death, the extremes of our human reality, as a sign of the fidelity of Him who is beyond all human reality. Christ dead and risen: our hope of future glory.
East Doncaster, 1989
“Now as the sun was setting Abram fell into a deep sleep.” Genesis 15:12
Abraham has heard the word of God and has placed his faith in him who is beyond all things. He alone will bless Abraham.
This is expressed experientially in the act of Abraham falling asleep.
He sleeps to all that is not of God. He falls asleep in God who is to be the source of all his knowledge and his living. He is as dead. He has finished with this world and lives alone in God and the promise.
This is his sacrifice.
Therefore, it is from him that blessing will come. From his own body, already dead through age, an heir will come. To him all this land is given. By his union with God all fruitfulness comes from him.
For us too, in our prayer we die to all else. We are alive only in the One who is beyond all. Therefore, although we seem to sleep and to be unknowing, we are the ones from whom all fruitfulness comes. To us the whole world is given as our possession, our responsibility. We are in covenant with the One. United with him, he is the subject of all our being, and he blesses us. We do not seek blessing. We seek only to be in him. Yet to be in him who is all good, there cannot but be blessing.
Year 1, Week 12, Thursday East Doncaster, 1989
“The angel of Yahweh said to her, ‘I will make your descendants too numerous to be counted.’” Genesis 16:10
Three times the promise has been made to Abraham that he would be blessed with land and offspring. It is clear what the land is to be. It is not clear who is the heir.
Yesterday’s reading proposed that one of Abraham’s servants should be his heir. Such a possibility is rejected by God. In today’s reading, we hear of Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, born through the slave-girl, Hagar, becoming heir. Sarah rejects this possibility. The problem of the rightful son still remains a problem.
Ishmael, nevertheless, is to be blessed. Though he is a ‘wild-ass’ of a man, he will be numerous too, for all the offspring of Abraham, in whatever way conceived, will be blessed precisely because they are of Abraham.
The Christian is a child of Abraham, conceived and given birth by the Holy Spirit through faith.
Year 1, Week 12, Friday East Doncaster, 1989
“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.
God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.” Genesis 17:5, 9-10
The promise is made once again to Abraham that he will have a child. This will be fulfilled, however, only after two other events have occurred: Abraham’s change of name and his circumcision.
Once he has acquired his new name, that is his vocation, and once he has received the public mark of the covenant, only then is he able to have the son who represents immortality, blessing and fruitfulness.
For Saint Paul, vocation and covenant are given by the reception of Spirit.
This involves interior transformation, above all, yet it is perceived in the manifest quality of the Christian. Thus, the interior transformation is made evident in the body. These two are not opposed but form one whole.
The body is the revelation of Spirit coming from above. The transformation of the body shows the power of the One from whom all proceeds. The body is the image of God himself.
At the outset the Word came to Abraham that he should leave his father’s house and his country for an unknown land and there to be the father of a nation. On the strength of this Word, Abraham leaves all and sees the land he has received.
But how will he be the father of a nation? Will he accept some man of his household to be his heir? No! God tells him; his heir will be of his own flesh and blood. Will it be the son born to him by his wife’s servant girl, Hagar? No! God tells him; his heir will be born to him by his wife Sarah. The Word has come personally to Abraham and the blessing will come from Abraham himself. He himself will be the source of his own salvation. His own flesh will provide the fullness of happiness. This produces a reaction in Abraham. He laughs. It is the reaction of mingled belief and disbelief. Can such happiness really come his way? Abraham calls his son ‘Isaac’ which means ‘laughter’.
To the Christian also the Word has come, in God’s own time and his choosing. The Word contains within itself every blessing and the Word works itself out in the life of the Church. When Christians at last understand how their life has been fruitful, their reaction is amazement. “In our mouths there was laughter, on our lips there was song.” Christians see that their salvation springs from their own self, that they are their own salvation and they stand amazed that such a thing is possible, and their face is covered in smiles. Laughter, not mockery or derision, but the laughter of delight is the natural condition of the Christian, the sign of salvation. Sadness and gloom, the downcast and solemn look do not suit those who are seated at the banquet of life.
Year 1, Week 12, Saturday East Doncaster, 1989
“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him.”
The mysteriousness of this episode is well known. It is the first manifestation of the Trinity in the life of Abraham. It is directly connected with the fulfilment of the promise, namely the birth of Isaac. The three ‘men’ who speak as one, who at times appear as one and yet are three: this has classically been taken to represent in an obscure way the revelation of the Trinity which is fully revealed in Christ.
Our knowledge of the Trinity and our deepening relationship with them in their diversity is the cause of all our fruitfulness. They, of their own free choice, come to visit us and their visit is always productive. Without them there is no fruitfulness.
Our task, therefore, is to allow them to come to us and to welcome them, placing all our wealth at their disposal. Then, in the impossibility of our mortality, we shall produce all the blessings imaginable.
Year 1, Week 13, Monday Glenroy 1975
All of scripture, all the great books of religion are trying to describe that final state to which all are called, the state of Man.
In the present text we have the presentation of the effect of the Man upon humans. For humans, by their condition of temporality, of ignorance, are trapped in limitation, and are even more trapped when they give vent to the untamed or even the perverted in them. Being in a state of sin, they are liable to destruction, for their condition is purely time-bound.
The Man, on the other hand, is beyond time, in the sphere of the eternal, confidently conversing with God. And yet his roots are with other humans, for their nature is one. In virtue of their solidarity, the Man, who is eternal, penetrates with eternality the world of time and so saves it from destruction. His justice, his conformity with the eternal, casts a light over the gloom of the temporal, and so sinners are saved by the just
This the individual who seeks holiness seeks conformity with the Man is not engaged on a selfish quest but on the most fruitful quest possible: that of saving sinners.
It is essential to understand this solidarity. It is not just a likeness: it is a real identity. Yet, identity does not eliminate difference. Individuality and identity are not opposed.
This helps to elucidate the most refined mystery of the human race and the Church who are the counterpart of the mystery of the Trinity. For humans come to identity while retaining their individuality. It is by his identity with sinners that the just man saves them.
“Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Noah prevented the extermination of the human race. The ten just men could have prevented the destruction of the cities. Moses’ prayer for his people withheld the Lord’s wrath. Jesus, the one Just Man, redeems all mankind.
The just man does not live in isolation. Nor does the unjust sin alone. Every person is inextricably linked up with every other person so that to pull up the ‘tares’ is to uproot the ‘wheat’.
This fact lies at the heart of Abraham’s argument: The Lord cannot destroy the guilty without destroying the innocent.
Now, God cannot destroy the innocent. He who is Just cannot but love the just. He can no more harm the innocent than hate himself. Therefore, God’s hand is forced: he is caught in the trap of his own nature. He is ‘forced’ to spare the guilty because they live with the innocent.
This is true of Christ and the human race. God cannot bring the human race to nought because Christ is human. No matter how great the sin of mankind – as long as it remains human – God cannot destroy it, because of Christ. Thus, Christ is the Just Man, the saviour. Whoever is with Christ is saved from the devouring fire.
What does all this mean in terms unaffected by ancient stories. It is the just person who makes humanity worthwhile. If the masterpiece of art gives credibility to artistic activity; if the discoveries of science warrant public expenditure on research; if success in a match gives spirit to a team at all matches; if some good moments keep a marriage together: if we understand this then we understand how the just can make the human race viable. Without them we would fall apart, lose heart, consistency and value.
In the face of the fragile reality, it is the just who preserve it.
“Approaching him he said: ‘Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner?’ ” Genesis 18:23
Abraham intercedes for the city of Sodom. His appeal on behalf of the just is also an appeal for the sinner. Abraham pleads with typical oriental circumlocution, but he also shows a familiarity and a boldness that belongs to the friend of Yahweh. He does so, even though he is not one of the men of Sodom. He pleads for them but is not with them.
Abraham is mediator and to an extent he is distinct from both parties, since the perfection of intercession comes when the intercessor does not take sides, and at the same time is not separate either from the one to whom he pleads and the ones for whom he pleads.
Abraham is the father of the people of God, but Christ is the Lord. Jesus, the perfectly incarnate, is both the just man and the sinner. He bears in himself both the sin and the justice of the world.
Jesus pleads for the world, but he also does what he asks for. He does not cease to ask, for he is Son. He acts because he is God. His asking and his initiative, his dependence and his authority are one because he is God from God. His intercession also involves the transformation of the self. He is what he asks for. He brings about changes in himself. It is his own body that he changes because he is man among men. He is the forgiveness of God.
Year, 1, Week 13, Tuesday Glenroy 1977
“‘Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there—is it not a little one?—and my life will be saved!’” Genesis 19:20
Our existence is precarious, the complexity of our body is fragile. Our world, our society are
so remarkable, so defiant of what seems the universal law of nature.
Is it a wonder that any attack on this fragility should open the flood gates and allow the sweep of the universal law to blot us out? Our defiance of these laws makes them more ready to reduce us to their pattern. And this reduction is the work of the One who made the laws. Our conscience tells us that the reduction is punishment.
All who are bound to that society perish with the fools who open the flood gates.
Yet, in today’s reading, some escape. Those who follow the angels are saved. Even more, those who follow the Man and leave the follies of mankind are saved. They lose their possessions even as they lose their outward form, but they escape to another city and acquire another fortune. They are saved from the destruction that falls on Sodom and Gomorrah.
For with the Just Man we find our other self, our second self, our truer self, our self beyond ourselves, intimated by the present but not contained by it. He saves us. We live in another city, with the Just Man, with another self, our self beyond ourselves, our spirit.
“I grant you this favour too, and will not destroy the town you speak of.”
The contrast between Abraham and Lot is clearly made. Abraham has pleaded for the great cities of the plain although he is not their citizen. He has secured the promise of God not to destroy them because of the ten just men that might live there. Lot, on the other hand is pleading for the little town of Zoar. He pleads for it because he has not the energy, so he says, to go into the abode of Abraham in the hills. He shows concern only for his lack of concern.
Abraham is the father of a nation and father of all that have faith because he is the man of faith. Lot is the man of doubt, the man of little faith. Because there is a grandeur of conception in Abraham’s whole outlook he cannot but be ‘father’ the world’s monotheistic religions.
Prayer cannot be small. The work of intercession is a grand task. We pray, not for our own comforts but for the salvation of the world. Christ, the one just man, saves the world by his prayer. In our justice and faith, we too have great designs and with the faith that moves mountains we decide on them.
Year 1, Week 13, Wednesday Glenroy 1977
“But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you.’Genesis 21:12
God is endlessly fruitful. Of the billions of suns, he has chosen one to shine on an earth capable of supporting man. Of the millions of men, he had chosen Abraham to bear his promise. Of the sons of Abraham, God chose Isaac to succeed him.
Why Isaac? But if Ishmael, why? God must choose. There is a reason for the choice, but the reason is of little importance compared with the choice. There is some advantage in Sarah’s son – he is a freedman – but this advantage is slight and must be slight: for it is God’s freedom which makes the choice, not the advantage which forces the choice.
God must choose, for someone must bear the promise. There cannot be two bearers or the inheritance is divided and mankind is divided.
If he chooses Isaac it is only for the good of all, including Ishmael. To Isaac the glory, to Ishmael the blessing. To Isaac the inheritance, to us the usufruct. To Isaac the authority, to us the joy.
So too in all of God’s works: he chooses one or other to bear a role: but all benefit from it. His choice of one man is so that he be man for others.
And so, with Christ: if he has the role, all benefit from it; all are saved by his being raised. If he is chosen, we too are chosen. No gift is given which is not a public gift.
Thus, everybody is for everybody. Each body is “given up for you”. Each body is a fountain from which one drinks. And everybody achieves the perfection of the Body only when they have become one for all.
All other roles will vanish and one role will remain: to be a body for everybody. To give body to everyone. All roles are directed to that one role: to be a body.
Being body for all, one’s body will be transmuted into spirit as waters flow endlessly from one’s side. And as they flow, this other body from the body, this water from the side, this spirit taken out of flesh, will give substance to all bodies.
So that from one’s chosen body flow blessings for all, from all for all.
The body does not depart, for there is no other source. The water does not cease to flow for the supply is endless. The waters flow to others and they receive body from which other waters and the same waters flow.
“So, she sat at a distance; and the child wailed and wept~.
But God heard the boy wailing
and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven. ‘What is wrong, Hagar?’ he asked.
Do not be afraid, for God has heard the boy’s cry where he lies’.”
The boy lies under the bush and cries. His mother sits and awaits the end. The course of nature will put an end to the boy. The waterless land will claim another victim.
Although the child is not of the promise but of nature, not of grace but of necessity; although the child is dying because of the incapacity of nature, finally, to sustain him, God hears the cry. Nature, which proceeds from his hands, can draw down his compassion. The child expresses his distress, the child who lies and waits, and calls upon God unknowingly.
Where Abraham, the man of faith, can approach God and obtain his request; where Lot, the man of little faith, can plead with the angel and find security; the child who cries naturally, draws the pity of God. God comes to redeem the nature which he created good but not immortal.
So it is that those countless generations of children, beaten, exposed, aborted, who cry or cannot cry, who weep with their blood if not with their tears: they will draw down the mercy of God and the wrath of the Just One.
Year 1, Week 13, Thursday Glenroy 1977
“So, Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”” Genesis 22:14
God called to Abraham in the land of Haran to leave his father’s house for a land mysterious and uncertain. At long length the child is born to Abraham and all his hopes are pinned on that one boy.
And again, God calls to Abraham, this time to sacrifice his son: in other words, to place his future and all his hopes in jeopardy: for how could he become a great nation, how could he possess a land except through a son and heir.
God had called on Abraham to leave father and land for an unknown future; now he calls on Abraham to sacrifice son and all hope, with nothing ahead of him.
What greater test can be given a person? Only one more: one’s own death. Jesus sees the crumbling of all his plans. A monumental failure among his people, he sees even his teaching brought to nought, as his disciples abandon him. Rejected by all, with no future of any sort ahead of him, with no hope, feeling abandoned by God and man, and crushed in mind, body and spirit, he faces the ultimate darkness. He is truly brought low as hell. No one had gone so low before; no one can go lower. Nor can anyone go as low again: for in their abasedness they will find the companionship of the one who preceded them.
And as Abraham, without a murmur, sets on his way, his one answer, his one reaction “the Lord will provide” is our only answer to evil. For he does not know the mysterious workings of God and his thoughts are not God’s thoughts. But one thing he knows is that his God is of good-will. He places no hope in anything else but that.
For this reason, Abraham, the man of faith, the man who knows that God is good and that all else is uncertain, is the first of every man of faith. All others are his children, his followers, his inheritors. And so, with Isaac’s effectual death, Abraham becomes the father of a multitude far in excess of all those whom Isaac could have engendered. All men of times past and future, of continents and planets unknown, who are of faith, are his heirs.
But more than that, of Christ, the utmost man of faith, all are heirs, co-heirs and even Abraham gives way to Christ, for before Abraham Jesus is.
And so, to all of us: men of faith solely in our God of good-will, leaving all else, we become infused with a Spirit beyond all else, the Spirit of promise, the one who makes us heirs of all, rulers of all: for if we have left all, we gain all.
“Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood.’”
Hagar sits a distance away, not wishing to see her son die, while Abraham prepares his son for sacrifice. Ishmael is the son of nature; Isaac is the son of the promise. The cries of the future bowman turn God’s heart to compassion. The silence of Isaac resounds from end to end.
While the cry of Ishmael is a prayer that wins his salvation, the silence of Isaac is the perfection of prayer. It is the silent acceptance of the unknown mysteries. It is the obedience of one who trusts completely. Isaac allows himself to be bound and placed on the altar. He makes no sound. He trusts in his father, Abraham, who trusts in God. Isaac, the child, shows the qualities that make the kingdom of heaven belong to him. Therefore, he cannot but be saved. If the cry of Ishmael wins the compassion of Gad, the silent assent of Isaac makes the renewal of the promise imperative.
The perfection of prayer is obedience, comprehending or uncomprehending.
Year 1, Week 13, Friday Burwood, 1983
“After this, Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave of the field of Machpelah, opposite Mamre in the country of Canaan.” Genesis 24:19
Abraham left his country because of the promise that he would inherit the land of Canaan. The moment that sees the beginnings of mortality – the death of his wife – is the moment which sees the beginnings of fulfilment. The purchase of the cave is the first step in the possession of the Promised Land. In the first portion of land is buried she who alone could provide the son of the promise. The last glimmer coincides with the first light of dawn.
This plot, like the child in the womb, will grow into a land. Isaac too, the child of the womb, will have grown into twelve tribes. The cave will have become a Temple. The land will be the holy centre of the earth. And on it will take place the great drama of salvation. David and the Son of David will walk it. Good and evil will be locked in struggle and from another cave, a tomb hewn in rock, from which the Son of Man will emerge.
Yet we do not have concern for cave or land, not even for the rock of the tomb. Our land is beyond land. Our earth is heavenly. Time has become non-time. What is flesh, taken from earth, is now spirit. The first purchase of land at Machpelah, opposite Mamre where the Three Angels appeared, has become the incarnate and risen Lord, seated at the right. There too for us is all land found.
The promise that germinates in the form of a cave-tomb is fulfilled in a land, but is complete in the Risen Body of the Lord. Land becomes Spirit. The promised is fulfilled; the transformation is complete.
Year 1, Week 14, Monday Glenroy 1975
“Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
So, Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. …Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.”
Genesis 28:10-12, 18, 20-22
We are surrounded by the presence and the activity of God.
This passage fills me with joy, always, as it teaches that, though we are unaware of the fact, the activity of God about us is continuous. It is an activity of blessing, of promise, of purpose: for God is blessing Jacob; it is supportive and encouraging: for God is protecting Jacob; it is powerful and eternal: for it is angels who ascend and descend; it is mysterious and marvellous.
Yet we do not know it. In our waking hours our minds are filled with the cares and interests of daily life. It is when we take leave of these things and allow the hidden awareness to flow into our consciousness, as in sleep, that the truth dawns on us. It is a privileged moment.
Once this truth has penetrated into our consciousness, then we marvel and are amazed; we have fear, not in the sense of the fear of evil, but in the sense of realizing our true position under God. We are amazed and delighted and we stand in wonder at this benevolent power which we can respect. We come to know the true dimensions of history and reality.
And so, we pledge ourselves; we take on and commit ourselves to this truth we have come to know, not by raising pillars of stone to God but by other acts which give expression to our new-found knowledge.
“And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; … Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” Genesis 28:13,16
The revelation of God is always accompanied by a promise, for God is dynamic and we know him as one who has a will in our regard. When we know him, we become like him and we have a new will, united with his – and we look forward to the promised land which we seek as he seeks to give it to us.
“Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.” Genesis 28:10
The future of a person is seen in his distant past. But only the future reveals the past. From the very beginning Jacob has been ambitious. He has come second from the womb but still grasping the foot of the brother that preceded him.
A person with determination sees every moment as an opportunity. Jacob’s whole character was in search of blessing, so that the fortuitous event of Esau’s hunger was seen by Jacob’s restless eye as an opportunity to advance: he buys the birth-right for a bowl of lentils.
The man of determination – like our determined God – changes, by every ruse, the purposes of others. Jacob deceived Esau and wrung from him the blessing meant for Esau.
Every person of single-mindedness brings persecution upon himself, as the rock creates waves, or the arrow causes turbulence. Jacob is determined upon the promised. His very determination brings him trouble: he must flee a bitter Esau.
Yet even as he flees, even in the moment of fatigue and perhaps of doubt, at the very moment when the elucubrations of ambition recede into the background then the true cause of Jacob’s determination appear clear to him: it is God who has promised him the inheritance. All his own plotting, from the womb onwards, has been due, in final analysis, to the fact God is promising him the inheritance. If he had not known, deeply, interiorly, that the inheritance was his, he could not have struggled so hard to obtain it. His basic character was determined by a future event.
But now God appears to him and reveals the promise. Jacob can now leave the Promised Land certain of his future.
And so, for all of us: our origin and basic character is decided by our future state. With determination we seek that future already present. While determination brings us trouble, it is at the depth of confusion that we see the essence of our character: God promising us.
So too, with Christ: his future resurrection describes even his conception in Mary; he seeks his future with determination, even bringing opposition upon himself. But as he hangs upon the cross, at the depth of his abandonment, God makes his promise in its highest pitch and keeps it: ‘You are Lord of all the earth’.
Year 1, Week 14, Tuesday Glenroy 1975
“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”
Like Jacob who has seen the promised land and who comes to take possession of it, we too have been gifted, in the Holy Spirit, with a knowledge of the truth. However obscurely, we have seen the hope God sets before us and our hearts reach out to it.
The kingdom of heaven will never come to us if we wait on the farther side of the stream. No, by a new movement of the Spirit we claim this kingdom. Empowered by the Spirit, as champions running our race, we let strength fill our muscles and steady our will. We claim it.
We fight with God. Not because God is unwilling but because we are determined. We anticipate the hour and demand it now. We spare no effort but claim it now in the vigour of our will.
Then God will grant our desire and will bless us. By this third outpouring of the Spirit we are new beings and receive a new name as Israel did. We merit the kingdom and make it ours: not because we have only desired it but because we have willed to have it. It is ours, ours.
All this has a mystical meaning.
The person who succeeds in entering the promised land must first fight. He must therefore be alone. There can be no one to help him. But if he separates himself from all who is dear to him, it is because he wins a land for them. They, without fighting, profit from his fight. He, alone, must fight with God. God will oppose him, but he is determined and will not let go. The fight is alone and lasts the long night, the dark night of the soul, in silence.
Finally, he succeeds. God gives him a blessing. He acquires a new name and becomes a new person, with a vastly new dimension and purpose. He acquires a people who will be named after him: not only his wife and children and possessions, but a whole nation will bear his name. He has wrested a blessing from God; he will win mankind and the universe too.
But not without a penalty. As Christ still bears the mark of the passion, so Jacob bears the mark of the wrestle – a permanent physical disability. The one who fights with God will suffer and retain, though glorified, the marks of that struggle.
Though he has wrestled closely with God and wrested the greatest blessing, God remains forever mysterious. No matter how close he may come, the human can never understand God. Indeed, he wants to know, just as he has wanted to struggle, but he can only obtain so much. God, finally, is beyond man’s comprehension. He sees God face to face, but in darkness, without understanding. He attains the greatest closeness possible. To go further would be to burst the limits of man’s nature and not to survive.
The struggle over, the blessing obtained, the sun rises, never to set again, a permanent day, the darkness gone – yet the struggle is preserved, for he limps.
“That same night he rose, and taking his two wives and his two slave girls and his eleven children he crossed the ford of the Jabbok.” Genesis 32:23
Jacob was a wealthy man, in cattle and in family. The cattle he has given to Esau. His family he now sends on ahead of him. They have moved on to the land of the promise. As the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds, so the wives and concubines and children of Jacob cross the Jabbok. They are safe because of his prevision. Jacob now has nothing.
Yet all of this is done because Jacob is to wrestle with God. Jacob provides for them and is free of them so that he can grapple with God and free them even more truly. He is free of them so that he can free them. He will cross the Jabbok because his future lies across it. But he will not cross it until he has struggled with the mysterious One.
So, it is with Christ who decides to wrestle with God. He separates himself from people, but it is for their sake that he does so. He cannot struggle unless he has already, in intention, won. Already he has achieved his purpose. Struggling with God he is victorious against men. His struggle is the entry into the truest holy land. His family are his prize: the wider family of the human race which becomes his by virtue of conquest. The greatest of battles occurs alone. Already, as he decides to do battle, he is victorious.
All is in the intent. How pure and strong is the intent?
Year 1, Week 14, Wednesday East Doncaster, 1989
Genesis 41:55-57, 42:5-7, 17-24
This episode given over two days foreshadows, most clearly among all the patriarchal narratives, the passion of the Christ.
Today’s reading condenses the lengthy story of Joseph who has been betrayed into the hands of the Egyptians out of jealousy. He has been sold, but by his wisdom he has risen to power.
The details are given now. Tomorrow the justification is provided. Joseph, the man of dreams, will explain the great puzzle: the meaning of his life and of his brothers’ actions.
So too, Jesus knows the mind of God, which is his own mind. His own life is a sign which must be explained. Jesus will explain it and will also reveal the meaning of our life and death.
Year 1, Week 14, Thursday Burwood 1981
“And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Genesis 45:5
It was an injustice for his brothers to sell Joseph into Egypt. Yet the power of God is greater than their sin. The sin was a sin, yet now it is redeemed. If it had not been a sin it would not need to be redeemed. Human act has contributed to evil; divine agency has drawn good out of it. As God drew creation out of nothing and we marvel at his power, so God draws good out of evil and demonstrates his graciousness.
This is not excuse for sin. While God draws good out of evil, to presume that he will redeem all actions would be to tempt him. Whereas their deed offends against their brother, presumption is against God. Where their action is an offense of man to man and therefore to God, presumption is blasphemy. God’s redeeming mercy is not an invitation to irresponsibility but is a call to a comparable generosity.
The proof of God’s redemptive power, far from being an excuse for sin, has made our future sins more blasphemous. Redemption increases our risk of condemnation.
East Doncaster, 1989
Joseph now reveals who he is and the whole purpose of the extraordinary tale. The sorry story of betrayal is God’s work. God has used the jealousy of the brothers to engineer the saving of the whole family. Although the brothers are indeed guilty of sin, they are not to reproach themselves. Good has been brought out of their action. Their sin is redeemed.
In a similar way good will be made of the hardness of pharaoh’s heart when the Israelites are brought out of slavery in Egypt.
Above all, good will be made of this world’s sin when the carpenter of Nazareth, the one who knows, is put to death at the hands of the Romans and is raised so that he might go before us to save our lives.
Thus, the episode points mysteriously to the hand of God at work in the turmoil of this world. At the extremities of good and evil, the One beyond good and evil is at work, making his presence known in that all is good.
Year 1, Week 14, Friday Burwood 1983
“Israel said to Joseph: ‘Now I can die, now that I have seen you again, and seen you still alive’.” Genesis 46:30
This is a touching scene when Israel, the old man, sees his favourite son, his son of the cloak of many colours, the long-lost son whom he thought killed. The old man cries out “Now I can die”. His heart has been filled. The pain of the past has been overcome by the splendour of his son’s destiny. Jacob will die happy because all things have turned out well, in the eyes of man and of God. Indeed, his death will not be death, for a happy death is an experience of immortality. Death cannot touch those without sin. Death has no meaning except in the context of disaster.
So too with Simeon. That old man, who sums up in himself the best of Israel, has longed for the coming of Israel’s favourite son. With equal surprise and unexpectedness, the child Jesus is brought to him in the Temple. The old man takes Jesus in his arms and reiterates what Jacob said: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace’. Simeon is happy to die because he has seen the saviour. Joseph saved his brothers who had condemned him. Jesus is a Joseph and more than Joseph because his saving is of the world and his condemnation was far graver. As Simeon takes the child in his arms he knows that all things will be well. One far more majestic than Joseph is here, more powerful than any chamberlain of Egypt. Death, therefore, is no more. It has become irrelevant in the context of the joy that is experienced. Sin is removed in the presence of the child so that death cannot touch the old man.
The aged Simeon fulfils the aged Israel because the new Joseph is here.