Friday, 13 July 2012

I am your shield and your exceedingly great reward.

Let's try out the principles we identified in last week's Friday blog.

In the Bible revelation this is the first time that God introduced himself in this way. The words stand in the very first verse of Genesis 15. Almost certainly they should have been the very last verse of Genesis 14.

Let's start with the dramatis personae, the characters or a list of characters in a play or story, of this special revelation. It is a complex cast. We have 9 kings, three brothers, three alliances, Abraham and his nephew and a mysterious king-priest and all in one chapter! We also have a major set-piece battle and a night raid. We also have two 'deals' set before Abraham and a choice to be made and all this in just one chapter! It's the kind of chapter we need to read slowly and thoughtfully.

As the curtain opens Abraham's family tent is pitched on the land that belongs to one of those three brothers whose name was Mamre. They were Amorites and the three brothers were the leaders of a defensive alliance which included Abraham. We are told that they were 'the masters of a covenant' (baal-berith) with Abraham. It seems that one of the conditions of Abraham's tenancy of the land was the understanding that in the event of attack Abraham and his household warriors would stand with the Amorite brothers in defending the territory. Seen from the other perspective the Amorite brothers were Abraham's 'Desert Shield'.

There were two more alliances. Four city-state kings in the North exercised dominion over several city-state kingdoms in the South. Initially the Southern kingdoms paid tribute but then rebelled. Abraham's nephew Lot lived in one of the Southern cities. The Northern alliance marched South to punish the 5 Southern Alliance city-states and won a resounding victory. The battle was known as '4 kings against 5'. The Northern alliance plundered the cities of the South and took many hostage, including Lot.

Abraham led a night-sortie against the homeward bound Northern alliance. The end of the chapter makes it clear that the household warriors of the Amorite brothers were part of the rescue party. Abraham's attack was successful and the treasure and the hostages, including Lot, were rescued.

As he returned home Abraham has two encounters which will have great significance. The encounters are with two kings, the mysterious priest-king named Melchizedek and the king of Sodom; they each have an offer to put to Abraham. The king of Sodom offers unimaginable wealth to Abraham, the entire battle spoils on condition that Abraham restores the people of Sodom to their king. (It is interesting, in the light of later events, that Abraham was once 'the deliverer of Sodom' and its people.)

Abraham, however, had already made a choice that rendered the Sodom offer redundant. His meeting with Melchizedek had opened his eyes. The priest-king offered Abraham the symbols of fellowship in the service of God Most High, the Possessor of Heaven and Earth. In the lights of the day, this was a stirring revelation. The general belief was that 'gods' were territorial and ruled over designated areas. Melchizedek revealed to Abraham that this was not so and that God Most High was the Possessor of All. Abraham's response was dramatic. He raised his hand in a solemn oath that his only allegiance would be to Jehovah, God Most High. Abraham had built altars to Jehovah and had called upon the name of Jehovah, now he was beginning to see just who Jehovah really was. Such an allegiance ended Abraham's alliance with the Amorite brothers. He had given up his 'Desert Shield'. The oath included a refusal to join any kind of financial partnership with the his old allies. Abraham had given up his reward of battle plunder.

It was, as the record tells us, 'after these things' that God revealed himself to Abraham. Abraham's choice is the context in which God reveals himself to Abraham. "Do not be afraid. I am your shield and your exceedingly great reward". Who needs the Amorite brothers or the king of Sodom when God has promised to be all in all. As Jim Elliott was to say much later "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep and gains what he cannot lose."

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