When we find Abraham (Abram), the thing he wants most is not a God who is personally interested in him. He doesn’t know he needs this, nor is the idea a part of his world. His world is the world of his father Terah — a world overpopulated by regional gods who advertise their favor and blessings in exchange for the proper sacrifices and attention. This celestial marketplace is all that Abraham and Sarah know, and it’s what has kept them in the orbit of Mesopotamian epicenters like Ur and Harran which proudly worshiped the moon god Nanna — venerated for his power over life and fertility.
But the ancient fertility clinic that was Nanna worship failed Abraham and Sarah at exactly their point of need. Nanna failed to give their family stability and hope and a future in the form of an heir. Genesis 11.30 gives us the breadcrumb: “Now Sarai [Sarah] was childless because she was not able to conceive.”
It should come as no surprise to us, then, that Abraham and Sarah can’t comprehend a personal, imminent, loving God. All they know of the heavens is that they are filled with all-powerful beings (like Nanna) for whom humans are at best occasional entertainment and at worst the fragile and cowering play-things of the gods.
And so it can only be described as a special brand of brilliance that God (i.e. Yahweh) not only offers Abraham and Sarah precisely what the other gods were unable to deliver (land and an heir) but that he does so while still enfolding them in the larger drama of his mission and purposes for the whole world.
Were I in Abraham’s sandals the connection between the two would almost certainly be lost on me. Sure, the prose of God’s promise is ambitious and exhilarating enough: “...and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you… (12.3)” But this isn’t an add-milk-and-stir kind of blessing. What this looks like in Abraham’s tribally charged, zero-sum reality of warring families and ideologies is far from clear. How exactly will everyone on earth be blessed through me?
And if I’m being honest, my own prayers reflect this skepticism sometimes. I find myself afraid that God is finally going to choose between caring for me, meeting my needs, and giving me good gifts out of his abundance, and establishing his kingdom in the world. I talk myself into believing that my wellbeing is the approximate equivalent of a divine hobby or side project — something God tinkers
But the promise to Abraham and Sarah gives me hope: hope in a God that is so powerful he can simultaneously bless the whole world and bless a single family all at the same time; hope that my own success can be linked to the success of God’s mission if only I will, like Abraham, exercise humility