What are the roles and meaning of blessings to the Ancestral Story?
First, we must define the Ancestral Story. The Ancestral Story is a collection of three sagas which follow the stories of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph and combined are the story which shares the history of establishing Israel. (Bandstra, pg. 78) Also known as the Ancestral Narrative the stories link the people to the land and are found in Genesis. (Stanley, pg. 82)
How is covenant important to blessing?
In the Ancient Near East, the cultures made agreements with one another which contained obligations in the form of rules binding both parties together. These contracts might be between city-states or nation-states and even person to person. Another important thing to understand about these contracts is that they acquaint us with the idea of covenant. Covenant described as the contract or treaty God has with the people of Israel. (Wells)
There are two types of covenant conditional and eternal. Conditional can be broken when the people fail to do God’s will, but can always be restored if the offenders repent. Eternal covenant is made with Abraham as the relationship God will have with the people of Israel. God promises to serve as the people’s God, to make them a great nation, and to provide them with the land of Israel. Abraham promises to worship God as the one and only God by following God’s rules. The eternal covenant is then passed on to the next generations of Isaac and Jacob. (Sweeney)
In his lecture, Dr. Brook Lester shares how Walther Eichrodt determined that covenant was the most important theme of the Hebrew Bible. There have been many other scholars since who have different views on the most important theme, but Eichrodt’s theory is strongly supported by biblical text. He further discusses how there is a cycle the chosen people follow of committing sin, repenting, and then asking for God’s forgiveness which all happen with God’s underlying grace.
The cycle happens because it is the fulfillment of the covenant. Yahweh promises the covenant he made with Abraham will last forever and extends to the people of Israel as long as they follow the laws God gave to Moses. If they do this then they will continue to receive Yahweh’s blessings and protection. (Stanley, pg. 16)
Was Abraham a positive or negative model of how to respond to blessing?
Abraham is the first monotheist or follower of only one god. Genesis shares the story of how Abraham came from Mesopotamia where his ancestors were polytheists and worshiped several gods. Abraham broke from his family tradition to enter into covenant with God. (Hendel)
There comes a point when God tests Abraham’s faith in the covenant/blessing they share. Long before this happens Abraham’s story starts with God calling him to leave his homeland in Genesis 12. God creates the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 in which Abraham will have a son and many descendants. The covenant is restated with a condition in Genesis 17 the condition is that all of Abraham’s male descendants must be circumcised.
Throughout Genesis, Abraham chooses to do things which go against what God has told him to do. The first deceitful action is to tell the Pharaoh that Sarah is his sister to save himself from harm. (Genesis 12:10-20) Abraham and Sarah grow impatient waiting for Sarah to get pregnant. Sarah has her maidservant, Hagar, become a surrogate mother in her place. (Genesis 16:1-16) Another example of how Abraham did not wait for God to fulfill God’s promise.
Abraham continues to display his lack of faith this time in God’s protection from Abimelech when he was staying in a place called Gerar. It is the same scenario as with the Pharaoh he tells Sarah to lie and say she is his sister to protect him from harm. (Genesis 20:1-18)
Each of these choices demonstrates how he chose to protect himself and how each lacked trust that God would uphold God’s end of the covenant. So God chooses to test Abraham. The story is found in Genesis 22:1-18 and tells of when Abraham takes his son Isaac up the hill to sacrifice him as God asks him to do. Isaac is the son Sarah gave birth to which was when God completed the blessing to both Abraham and Sarah of a request for an heir.
Isn’t God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son who is his blessing a bit harsh?
Scholar Ellen Davis suggests that God’s actions are not too harsh if God doesn’t really know what Abraham will do making this a true test of faith. She believes that Genesis doesn’t support the theological notion that God is all knowing. Secondly, God must demand everything from Abrahams so that Abraham learns who is in control of the covenanted relationship. Another interesting point Davis makes is that the correct title for the story is the binding of Isaac as he is never really sacrificed because his father complies with God’s request and in return sends a ram to be actually sacrificed.
The foundations for healthy relationships depend on how we bless, encourage, and support one another and when we practice these characteristics with each other it enables us to develop strong self-image and positive attitudes.
I have too many people to list by name that have been and continue to be my encouragers and those who bless me. It is because they positively affirm me that I am able to keep working on this goal towards ordination as a deacon and completion of my Master’s degree.
Bandstra, Barry http://barrybandstra.com/rtot4/rtot4-05-ch2.html
Hendel, Ronald http://bibleodyssey.org/people/main-articles/abraham.aspx
Stanley, Christopher “The Hebrew Bible: A Comparative Approach”