Sunday, January 16, 2011

Abraham and God's Promises

I have the blessing of being a children's church teacher for our congregation.  We have a little lesson in our children's chapel during the sermon, and we return in time for Communion. 

Now I'm presenting a series of stories leading up to the first Passover, with travel to and from Egypt being a common theme throughout Scripture.  At Epiphany, I taught the children about how God sent the Holy Family to Egypt to avoid the infant Jesus' death at the hand of Herod's soldiers.  Travel to Egypt occurs a number of times in Scripture, and it always marks a significant event.  My theologian husband says it was especially important to the gospel writers to present Jesus as a fulfillment of the law and the work of Moses, a connection that I can see clearly in my preparation for class. 

These lessons will lead to the story of Joseph, who was part of Abraham's family's return to Egypt during another famine.  There they became numerous, just as God had promised, and their presence became a threat, so the Egyptians made them into slaves.  It took Moses to lead them back to the land that God had given them.  We will study the plagues and passover so that the children understand what Jesus is observing when He institutes the Eucharist just prior to His crucifixion and His resurrection!

Abram (Abraham) was born in Ur but moved to the trading city of Harran.  Life would've been comfortable for a wealthy man in a trade-heavy community.  In Harran, God presented Himself to Abram as the One True God, a novel concept in Abram's culture.  He promised Abram a land of his own and innumerable descendants.  Abram believed God, even though he had a comfortable life in Harran and his wife was too old to bear children. 

He went to the land of Canaan that God had promised to him.  He built and altar to God at Bethel.  Later, a famine came, and Abraham moved to Egypt, where food was plentiful at the time.  Rather than risk his life as the husband of a beautiful woman, Abraham told a half-truth and claimed that Sarah was his sister (they were half-siblings).  Pharaoh took her into his harem and gave Abraham wealth.  However, God punished Pharaoh for having Abraham's wife in his home.  Pharaoh got Abraham to admit his lie and sent him away.  I told the children that Abraham's lie lost him a friend in Pharaoh and was disobedience to God.  It showed a lack of faith in God's promises to bless him. 

Abraham and Sarah returned to Canaan with their ill-gotten wealth.  Still no children.  Sarah gave her slave Hagar to Abraham to have a child with her.  They rushed God's blessing and did it in their own understanding.  There would be serious consequences.  This arrangement caused trouble between the women and resulted in Hagar and her son Ishmael being sent away. 

In Canaan, Abraham saw that visitors were approaching, and he sent Sarah to prepare food for them.  God Himself was their visitor, although they did not know it.  He promised that they would have a son, and Sarah laughed to herself inside the tent because she was too old.  God reproached her for her lack of faith, but He still blessed her with a son, and she named him Isaac, or "laughter".  God still blessed them with Isaac, even after their lack of faith in having Ishmael and in Sarah laughing at God's promise.  However, God's blessings were divided between Isaac and Ishmael. 

Abraham and Sarah doubted God's promises in the face of impossible odds, which is easy to do!  They would be tested again, even to the point of sacrificing their son Isaac.  The lesson?  I think Jeremiah 29:11 applies here: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future!'"  Abraham still received blessings when he doubted God because God still kept His promises.  However, Abraham's blessings were diminished because he tried to make God's will come to pass under his own power.

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