Each morning, it seems my eyes and mind are drawn to the underlying story of Genesis, which backdrops the more typical Christian interpretation of the sons of Abraham. The saga intensifying, just after the Noahic Covenant with Shem, Ham and Japheth, as Abram was ushered out of Ur of the Chaldeans by his father Terah.
Somehow in my Sunday School memories, my sense was that God was trying to protect Abram from sinful places, giving him opportunity to start all over again, given the failure to date of God’s creation? Yet, my recent, more deep and less biased read, indicates that God took Abraham right back into the very country which Noah had earlier cursed, Canaan!
Earlier in time, it seems that this trio of sons of Noah, had discovered their drunken father and were simply attempting to clothe him, having been told by Ham of his naked state. Noah apparently was found somewhat out of sorts after imbibing the harvest of one of the first post diluvial vineyards. The other two brothers apparently then backed themselves into the area where Noah was sleeping and out of respect, covered him in an honorable fashion.
We are not told whether Ham dishonored his father as he shared his discovery with the brothers, but Noah apparently felt so, and in Genesis 9:24 we read his words, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will be his brothers.”
This seems to have been sufficient cause for my more fundamentalist teachers to believe that those who would later descend from Canaanite origin, the regions of Ham, Esau and Ishmael, would never again know the blessings of the Lord? By the way, the first Islamic school in my hometown is now held in those same classrooms where I attended church as a lad.
Continuing from my last blog entry, we pick up with Hagar and Ishmael, whose name by the way means, “God hears”. This lesser son of a hand-maiden, is now twice banished from the tribe of Abraham, as Sarah gave birth to the promised Isaac. Hagar had selected an Egyptian wife for her son, a country we are all now watching live as a majority, “tweet” and struggle their way to freedom and transformation in this digital age; meanwhile, vulnerable to the more radical elements of Islam, crouched for the seizing of these victims of history.
Still attempting the elusive brevity, I cut to the life of Jacob and Esau: Jacob the blessed and Esau the insulted. Marrying a Canaanite, just to spite his father (Gen. 28:6-9), Esau selects his wife from the family of none other than Ishmael, and Hagar is back in the story.
The only thing good that seems to come out of Jacob’s attempts at family is the young child Joseph. Even he would later be sold by his brothers, and yes, to a traveling band of descendants of none other than Ishmael, and where would they take him, Egypt!
Then from Israel’s seed, emerges Judah, a lesser son, who later father’s three sons, none of whom have offspring to survive. Even the near-kinsman tradition fails, and in the frustration of the moment, a similar strain of DNA to that of Leah and Rachael is activated, as Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar lures him into bed, disguising herself as a prostitute on the street. The Bible does not lack drama, nor does the Lord, in His great redemption narrative, duck around sin among His selected leaders.
Judah’s daughter-in-law then bears twins, the more aggressive sticking his hand out first to receive what traditionally would have demanded a birthright similar to his great-great-uncle Esau. A scarlet cord, by custom, was tied to the first hand appearing at birth, however, in this case God again overrules and the second place winner, the lesser, carries the lineage of Israel forward.
Yes, the Christ was delivered through the unlikly lineage Judah’s illegitimate offspring. Though it was Judah, unknowingly perhaps, that his father Jacob prophesied (Gen 49:9-12) would produce a lawgiver from his loins, one who would maintain the ruler’s staff until “he comes to whom it belongs.” This Messianic prophecy, provides glimpses of the compassionate colt riding savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as well as the bloodshed at Calvary, and lends as much credence to the sovereignty and existence of God, as the heavens themselves. Judah, unlike the phenomenally righteous Joseph, carries forward the legacy of Israel to Matthew 1:3 culminating in the birth of Jesus, the Great God of the underdog!
Does God do things the way one would suspect, hardly? First the struggle of the children of Abraham, then with His-story firmly planted in the annals of time, God turns to the lesser gentiles and the religion we know as Christianity emerges. Now, could it be that He amidst in this Middle East conflict, with riots in historic streets of Egypt, is stirring a new thing to eventually redeem the hearts and liberate the people of Ishmael?
Will we as Christians awaken to this moment and offer mercy toward this seed of Ishmael, twice rejected by man, but blessed by God? Worse yet, will we like the elder brother in the narrative of the prodigal, seek only to provide for our own necessities and our security as others suffer?
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!