+JMJ+ Welcome to part 8 of the continuing series, the Story of Salvation. This week we’ll look at the story of Abram and his great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Shem. We won’t get all the way through with their story this week, but we’ll get as far as we can. Notes and links will be at the end of the post.
We saw in the last post how the two lines of peoples in the Bible came to be at war with each other. The Sethite line worshiped God and called upon His Name. The Cainite line worshiped—well, I’m not sure who but we already saw how they worshiped and I don’t think it’s God they were worshiping with their sexual immorality, their lust for power, and their hatred of their kinsmen, the Sethites. And if Cain really did have the mark of a covenant with Satan on him, then I suppose he worshiped Satan, and so did his descendants. But, remember, Satan is not just our ancient enemy, he is the ancient enemy of all mankind, so he’s the enemy of the ones who worship him, too. Talk about a bad ROI. Talk about making bad choices. That one takes the cake!
The people of the Cainite line remained devoted to their grand purpose of making a shem, a name, for themselves by building a city with a tower that would reach to the heavens. This is not all they were doing. They continued to live in debauchery, their rulers living as tyrants. Their city was not the City of God but an evil city of man. They worshiped their own ancient enemy—not the Sethites, as they imagined, but the one who hates us all. They lived in such a way as to destroy themselves, though they wanted to destroy others. And they thought they had no need of God and could out-do Him and His righteous ones by the power of their own minds and hands. Such hubris, as if they could really challenge God and as if building some silly tower could equal what the King of the Universe could do and had done and is always doing.
Now, God saw what they were doing, of course. And He remembered He had sworn a covenant oath not to destroy the wicked with a flood, so He confused their tongues, and chose to “reconquer the human race with love” through a man named Abram. (You can read more about this in Chapters Four and Five of A Father Who Keeps His Promises, or in Genesis 11.)
Wait, you may ask, what was so bad about wanting make a name for themselves or building their own cities or a big old tower? Was God being petty and cruel and envious like the gods of ancient Greece?
No, He wasn’t. He’s jealous, not envious. And He’s jealous because He made us for Himself, and He knows what’s good for us and what’s destructive, and how we seem all too often to desire what’s destructive instead of what’s good. And He reads the heart of man, He doesn’t depend on the outer appearances to hint at what is going on within. He knows very well what is happening within the hearts, minds, and souls of men. He knows them better than they know themselves.
So God knew that these men of the Cainite line were trying to become like gods. (Now, where have we heard that before?) And they were rejecting His own legitimate authority, attempting to usurp it and make it their own. They rejected the covenant He made with man and rejected “the covenant authority structure within the Father’s family.” But now it’s Shem, Noah’s first-born son whom he had blessed, who was the target of their hatred and rage.
So God confused the speech of the city- and tower-builders, not for building a city or a tower, but for rejecting Him and the covenant, for rejecting to live in the life-giving covenant Family of God. The descendants of Cain were scattered, the very thing they sought they to avoid. It stops them from going further, at least, with that particular sin.
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”Gen 11:4, RSV2CE.
Now the Lord said unto Abram,
“I will … make your name (shem) great, so that you will be a blessing.… and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”Gn 12:2–3, RSV2CE.
God’s plan is to use an old, and then childless, man to bless all the families on earth. Then the family of God will be made whole again, and even the sinful will be brought back to the Father. This is to reverse what happened at Babel. It’s not to get revenge on them, it’s to rid them of their sin and to bring them back to their senses. It’s for them, and us, not for Him.
Now God asked Abram to leave a great and prosperous city, the city of Ur, and go someplace He will show him. Someplace assuredly not a great and prosperous city, but someplace likely to be wild and uncivilized and likely dangerous. I can hear Abram now. “You want me to what? Um…Would you tell my wife, please?” And it’s only going to get more interesting, Abram, you have no idea.
“…the Father gave him [Abram] three unconditional promises: first, to make of him a great nation; second, to make his “name” great; and third, to bless “all the families of the earth” through him (see Gn 12:1–3).A Father Who Keeps His Promises, chapter 5, Verbum digital edition, p 94.
- The first promise: land and nationhood.
- The second promise, a great name: a dynasty, a kingdom.
- The third promise: the seed of Abram.
These were mysteries for a long, long time. Certainly it was mysterious to Abram. And these promises were not fulfilled until long after his body had returned to the dust in the ground.
Each of these blessings is raised to the level of covenant down the line.
- The first promise of land and nationhood, in Genesis 15.
- The second promise of great name, of a kingdom, in Genesis 17.
- The third promise of worldwide blessing, in Genesis 22.
All three will be fulfilled:
- The first, after the Exodus with the Mosaic covenant.
- The second, after the conquest (remember, it was meant to be their inheritance through Seth) with the Davidic covenant.
- The third, after the Incarnation–and Passion and Resurrection–of Christ with the New Covenant.
Next time: Abram steps out, on faith.
Thank you for visiting and reading. I hope you’ll join me again. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, stay safe and well, virtuous and holy, and, with faith in the Lord, stay focused on the Lenten spiritual practices of fasting, praying and the giving of alms, and become who you were meant to be: a saint! May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His Peace and His Mercy be always with you. +JMJ+
Notes and Links
- A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love In Scripture, by Scott Hahn. Paperback, Kindle. (Affiliate links, see Full Disclosure below.) Logos or Verbum format. (Requires Logos or Verbum software.)
- Our Father’s Plan, series by Jeff Cavins and Scott Hahn. Video series, from EWTN Religious Catalogue.
- The Bible Timeline Study, part of the Great Adventure series by Jeff Cavins. See this page with introduction and options.
Images: Tower of Babel, by Peter Bruegel the Elder, Wikimedia Commons, public domain. See a huge image of this painting (for the web, I think it’s huge). Confusion of Tongues (Tower of Babel), by Gustav Doré, Wikimedia Commons, public domain. Departure of Abraham for Canaan, by Jacopo Bassano, Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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