Missio on Gen. 13: Brown and Barren

He was already old, carrying the promise, his staff, some wealth – that was true – and what? A dream? What was it the LORD had said? “Go? Leave? And I will bless you?” Was that it? It had seemed enough then. He had been younger, heaven help him. Hopefully not naïve, although by anyone’s count, seventy-five was hardly “born yesterday. The promise of children and nations sounded good. Land sounded good. And God had talked. That counted. He had believed, packed up his aged father, all his worldly goods, his nephew and all of his possessions, and left. Just like that. Years ago.

“So much has happened, Abram thought, as he watched his shadow lengthen out into the valley. The late afternoon sun was setting behind him and it was still hot. He wiped his forehead and billowed out his tunic to let in air. It refused, sticking to his belly. So much,” he mused, “and look where we have gotten. Brown mountains and rocky hillside everywhere. Almost everywhere. Mount Ebal on the northern horizon, the valley stretching east.

The where and the how were getting hard to recall amid a haze of months, miles, shimmering desert and rising heat. Some of it though, he could remember in vivid detail: Ur, his brother, his beautiful wife, the famine, an awkward visit to Egypt. Prosperity. He could remember faithful prosperity. When had that turned sour? Wasn’t this supposed to be blessing? How had it come to this?

“Shepherds were a half-buried answer. Euphemism, maybe. The shepherds had been fighting over pasture and water, and name-calling roughened into jostling, which had boiled into one broken shepherd’s staff, and a mouthful of broken teeth. So one way of saying it was “a few hot-head servants who couldn’t watch their mouth – they’re the reason. Sort of. Another answer though, involved him and his nephew. Yes, there were flocks to feed. No, there wasn’t enough pasture, especially in these crowded hills. And yes, servants are an extension of their master, so it was like a metaphor: shepherds and their quarrel simply bruited about the distance that had been growing between Abram and Lot.

There never seemed to be enough for Lot. “He was always such a restless young man,” Abram considered. “And homeless. His nephew had come with them this far because… Because why? It had gotten complicated the day Haran died. One minute, the picture of health, Haran tucking his chin into his chest, laughing hard, hugging himself the way he would, wiping away tears. The next minute, he was gone.

Abram’s father, Terah, who watched the whole thing happen, had never recovered. He had been swallowed whole in the grief of burying a son, frozen in the moment Haran fell. And so for Terah, there had never really been a question about bringing Lot with them. That old man’s jaw had clenched. He would not leave his grandson behind and would not take no for an answer. Terah had made it as far into their journey as he could, remarkable at his age and in his grief that he could keep moving at all. At another nondescript village, he simply stopped, set out his tent and carpets, named the place in honor of his dead son, and died.

Leaving Lot. Leaving Lot a world from home: Fatherless Lot. Rootless Lot. Cocksure and, truth be told, Slightly Hairbrained Lot. He may have looked like Haran, but he was surely his own man, scrambling, scrabbling, still hungry for approval. And he had a taste for the good life. Less so this desert wandering, Egypt retreating, still-waiting-for-an-answer existence.

So when his shepherds started squabbling with his uncle’s shepherds, yes, the outer words were about land rights, watering schedules, and usable pasture; but underneath the thrum of their anger, it was Lot’s percussive restlessness that kept the time. How many flocks does a man need, Nephew, to answer a father’s missing love, or to slack his hunger for home and comfort?” Abram sighed. The answer always looks to be More.

He stood silent with these thoughts as he watched his own shadow stretching out toward Lot, his family and his flocks as they descended the slope into the valley, receding into smaller and smaller figures in the distance. “What more can a man do? I offered, he picked; and of course he chose the valley. Look at it. It’s half of Eden itself. It makes sense. But…”

It nagged at Abram. So many questions, so much he just couldn’t see. So much promise still waiting out there, eventually. And now he had been unable to mend relationship with his wandering nephew. “I don’t know. Was there something more I should have done?” His own shadow seemed to accuse him as it continued to lengthen, reaching out toward his relative.

Abram’s feet hurt from standing so long, but he did not want to leave. Did not want to watch Lot go. Did not want this helpless nausea. Did not want to turn around and survey the brown lands which were the portion left to him by his nephew. “Of course he picked the green. It’s only sensible…He interlaced his fingers around the top of his staff and leaned into it, shifting his gaze to the deepening golden blue sky. Would there be a green valley for him somewhere, someday? Had he just pawned off the promise of God in order to keep the family peace? “The Creator alone knows,” he breathed out loud.

He turned to leave and head back toward Sarah and his tents. “And now? Now what? Where do we go? Is there something we should be doing? How much longer do we wait? Brown and barren: is this what the Creator intended? He alone knows.”

 

Dave Saville is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. He writes out of Tampa, FL.

 

Image: freeimages/Kobus du Plesssis

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