People show their love in all sorts of ways – some, especially at the beginning of a relationship, will declare their love constantly, at every opportunity, no matter the bed-head hair, the morning bags under the eyes, even the stomach flu. Others, throughout long years together, will basically say, “I told you I loved you 50 years ago; if it changes, I’ll let you know.”
God and Abram (he’s still Abram, not Abraham yet) enter into a new relationship in this week’s parasha, Lech l’cha. Abram needs lots of reassurance from God at this point. After all, if someone asked you to pick up and leave, not knowing the destination, based only on a lot of promises…you’d like to hear repeated assurances, too! God’s promises are specific: land, many offspring, and eternal blessings from God. Sounding good.
Four times in this parasha, Abram gets a blessing speech from God. Four times, God promises that it’s all going to work out. God must know that Abram needs a lot of support and reassurance at this point in the relationship.
The first blessing is at the beginning of the whole section, in Gen. 12:1, when God tells Abram to get up and go: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing” Abram was a pretty wealthy guy at that point, and had a big household. His wife’s on board, the cattle are all healthy, all good so far. But we don’t usually think about our support system when things are going well.
Then comes a rift in the family. Abram and his nephew Lot have gotten so prosperous that the land can’t support them both, and the herdsmen from each group start arguing. Abram suggests they split up, and lets Lot choose his lands first. It seems like Lot picked out the best land for himself, and perhaps Abram is worried what this split will mean for the future, but God immediately reassures him. Don’t worry, buddy, you’ll still get the land I promised, you’ll still have lots of offspring, and I’ll still be around for you. In fact, if you’re wondering about Lot, even though he’s family, the future is through you, not him.
Ok, the support system is still intact, and hearing more details helps.
Then, in Chapter 15, Abram doubts this whole endeavor. Flowers and candy (so to speak) are all fine and good, but now it’s more like, “Tell me the truth already, I’m not that gullible”. Abram worries aloud how exactly he’s going to be the father of this great, populous nation if he can’t even have one baby with his wife, Sarai, who is so old by now there’s no way she could get pregnant? You can hear the desperation in Abram’s voice: “..what can You give me , seeing that I shall die childless, and the one in charge of my household…since I have no heir, will be my servant?” And once again, God tells Abram not to worry – his servant won’t be his heir, he’ll have a real live heir of his own, and once again turns Abram’s face to the skies to try and count the stars: “So shall your offspring be”
Dramatic, but…I need more to go on at this point.
Finally, after hearing that Sarai will bear a son, and after having a son with Hagar, Sarah’s maid, Abram throws himself on the ground. Enough, he’s thinking, I’ve had enough…show me something real I can hold on to, God. No more sweet talk and promises, show me! So, God does. God repeats the promises of land, offspring and blessing, but this time, God goes a step further and changes Abram and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah. This is for keeps. Finally, it seems, God’s willing to go through a ceremony of sorts to prove that the promises aren’t just talk. And so, finally, Abraham can enter into a ceremony of his own, at God’s instruction, circumcising himself and his son Ishmael, acknowledging the level of commitment God and Abraham have entered into.
Again, very dramatic, but at least Abraham got God to step up, as it were, and act.
I am more of a fan of “keep telling you love me” as opposed to “if it changes I’ll let you know. Abraham and God start their journey together by building up trust, and it’s a good way for us to do the same thing with those who encourage us to make our own journeys. Declare your love, but put something behind your words to make the doubts go away and make the traveling easier.