The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
"I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you."
–Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)
The call of Abram in the book of Genesis has always fascinated me. Here was a man who was firmly established in his world, a gentleman rancher up in the north country, with no special attributes, who is suddenly and without warming yanked from his security into a different way of being. While it is certainly possible that Abram had already been a nomadic herder, the story that we have in scripture presents him as a settler, one of those who had given up being on the move to focus on the acquisition of property. And then, Yahweh comes along and says “Your blessing isn’t in being settled, but rather being on the move.
In spending some time in the Genesis stories (as well as the rest of the Hebrew Bible) recently, I am becoming more and more convinced that an underlying theme in the story is the tension between those who would settle and those who wander, with the scriptures often seeming to suggest that wandering is the proper way of life in God’s kingdom. It is a story that sometimes pits civilization against the wilderness, and the wilderness is the place where God is most often found.
The interesting part of Abram’s story is that he is told nothing about where he is being sent, or what the future has in store for him. In fact, God seems to take special pains to be as vague as possible, asking Abram to trust in God’s provision. It is this act of trust the willingness to follow God wherever that leads with little knowledge about what is to come that is the source of Abram’s blessing. And it is a good thing, for while God allows Abram to pass through Canaan and suggests that it is the ultimate land for Abram’s tribe, he instead is sent into the desert, the wilderness of the Negev, where much of the story takes place. It is almost as if God is suggesting that one has to spend time in the wilderness before blessing can be achieved.
I think that is exactly what God is saying. I read somewhere recently the suggesting that the 40 years in the wilderness of the Hebrew people was partially about helping the “civilized” Hebrews regain an appreciation and connection with the wilderness, learning to trust again not in the power of humanity but in the power of God. And of course we all know that Jesus spent time in the wilderness prior to the beginning of his active ministry as an act of preparation for what was to come.
In thinking about this for our lives, I find myself wondering if this latest economic crisis might not be a wilderness moment for us . . . if we will let it be, that is. We have spent far too many years living as “civilized” people, drunk on consumption and slaves to consumerism. We have bowed to the idols of materialism, comfort, security, and control, failing to truly trust in the provision of God. We in the church have often been just as guilty as any with our long range plans, mission statements, and our willingness to build temples to our success rather than tabernacles for the journey. We (at least in the country that I live in) are settled people who are finding ourselves being driven our of the city toward exile in Babylon, a form of wilderness living that tears at all we have built up over the years. The temples of our financial system are in ruins, and we wonder where we are headed.
Is it possible that people of faith are being called back into the wilderness, back into a way of life that is simple, where we pitch our tents and go from pasture to pasture as God leads without our demographic studies and action plans? Could it be that God wants us to experience the wilderness as a reminder that everything that we have comes from God, and that our attempts to “build wealth” apart from the bounty of creation are always doomed to fail? Do you think that it’s time for us to move away from civilization to sit around the campfire and listen for the voice of God in the gentle breeze and the crackling of the fire?
Abram had no idea where he was headed. If we are honest, neither do we.
It is in the ambiguity of God that blessings come, so that all the world might be blessed.