Our current church culture fights against us appreciating the Bible as a complex story. Our devotionals and small group studies focus on squeezing from the text drops of practical application. Our texts are divided by artificial paragraph headings and tiny numbers that encourage us to break the book into tiny pieces; and we’ve become accustom to using those sections as tools to enforce our entrenched perspectives. We box the narrative it into small digestible fables we then use to hammer into the minds of listeners memorable action items. Thus we miss much of the beauty of the characters and the depth of the drama. We miss the twists and turns of the plot. We miss the nuances and humor.
All of this is sad, because the stories of the Bible are fantastic.
Take Genesis 12 as an example.
THE CALLING OF ABRAHAM WE KNOW AND LOVE
When I was a pastor, I loved the story of the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-4.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will less you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and 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 will be blessed.” So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him.
It was a perfect passage to preach from. In four short verses there were examples of:
- God calling an individual to “go” on a mission for him,
- God promising to prepare the way for the individual who was called.
- God promising to be a blessing,
- God stating that through Abraham all the nations would be blessed, which allowed me to point to Jesus and a believer’s connection to the story of Abraham
Best of all, it ended with Abraham following the call of God. He went to a land he didn’t know, all alone, with nothing but God for support. I often coupled the passage with the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and cried, “We too are called to go and make disciples! Like Abraham, we must not be afraid. We must trust God to prepare our way.”
Four verses of awesomeness. Perfect for a sermon. And a perfect stopping place. In many Bible’s there is even a bold paragraph heading telling you the section is closed. At the end of the vignette we are left with a heroic figure to emulate – Father Abraham, the man who answered when God called.
WHAT EVER YOU DO, DON’T READ WHAT COMES NEXT
It’s dangerous to read what comes next. Stuff starts to break down.
At first everything is cool. Abraham arrives in the Promise Land. He builds an alter. It’s all good. But then trouble comes. Verse 10 starts with the simple statement:
Never fear. This is the heroic Abraham who answered the call of God. Famine? Pssssh. No problem. It’s miracle time now. Abe is going to pray or build another alter. God is going to provide. Ravens are going to bring him food. Or maybe bread is going to materialize on the ground in the morning. It’s all good. Great man of faith who answered God’s call is going to be alright. Right?
The story continues.
Well, maybe God told him to do that and we just missed the conversation? Maybe God said, “Yo Abe, I know I said I had your back, but the food is gone. Plan B. Get out and go to Egypt. I put your lunch there. We’ll come back here later.” Maybe that’s what’s happening.
The story continues.
It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you and that I may live on account of you.”
Now it is clear. This is not “God’s Plan B.” Rather, the guy I applauded as a man of faith in verse four, the hero who answered God’s call, is running away. He’s running to another land and telling his wife to lie for him to save his skin.
THE REST OF THE STORY
When we read on we find two great plot developments. First, Abraham’s plan is a total failure. While the Egyptians don’t kill him, they do see how hot his wife is and the Pharaoh tries to marry her. Cast Seth Rogen as Abraham and James Franco as Pharaoh and you’ve got the foundation for a fantastic romantic comedy. Allow hilarity to ensue as the self-preserving, yet lovable Rogen tries to convince the charming and powerful Franco not to date his sister who is really his wife.
Second, and more importantly, God holds up his end of the deal. Abraham’s only job was to go and trust. God said he would take care of everything else. Abraham does not go and trust, but God still shows up. Not only does God get Abraham out of the jam Abe has created, Abraham leaves richer than when he came.
Abraham’s narrative will continue in Genesis for another twenty-one chapters. It is a dynamic and powerful life-long conversation between a normal, fearful, weak, but fascinating man and the Living God. The Abraham in Egypt pattern will repeat over and over. Trouble comes. Abraham takes matters into his own hands, bumbles, and creates chaos. God holds up his end of the deal. It is this moment in Egypt, this story we don’t read or often preach from, that sets the tone for the rest of story.
And it is in this story that I find myself. Rarely am I the man who charges courageously for God into the unknown. More often I am implementing my own solutions, causing unnecessary complications for myself.
But it’s okay that I’m a mess. It’s okay because the lesson of Abraham in Egypt is that God will be God regardless of who I am. His character is not determined by mine.
It’s okay that I’m a mess because the lesson of Abraham’s narrative is that God is patient with me. He will walk me through decades of failure until I finally come close to success.
The entirety of Genesis 12 maybe to long for a sermon or a Bible study, but we must not pass over it; because in it we will find ourselves and a clearer picture of God.