ALIVE: Chapter 31 Abram's Dilemma

Abram and Sarai and their slaves and their animals and their nephew, Lot, step by step, exited Egypt leaving a plague-worn palace in their wake. Their caravan had more than doubled in size since their arrival. The co-conspirators left in shame, but with full bellies and pockets. It was Egypt that was worse off. It was Egypt that suffered for their deceit.

Abram's exodus foreshadowed the Great Exodus when his grandson, Jacob, also fled to Egypt for the same reason, famine in the land. Jacob stayed long enough to plant deep roots and grew big, so big that the tribes formed by His twelve sons threatened Pharaoh who enslaved the whole lot of them for generations. Could slavery have been Egypt's revenge for Abram and Sarai's lie? Again, generations later, God used plagues to answer prayers for release from Egypt's grip on Sarai, then on her enslaved children. Pharaoh held on tight to the twelve tribes, until his firstborn son was found dead. The pain of that loss was so severe that writhing Pharaoh loosened his grip on Abram's nation of a family, losing all of his valuable human resources. His loss was overwhelming and Pharaoh had nothing to gain by their departure. His dead son could never return to Pharaoh's loving embrace. This first time Pharaoh, seeking relief from punishment, expelled them promptly and whole heartedly to satisfy the natural law that says a man's wife belongs to him alone.

Abram and Sarai walked away from Egypt without a word to rejoin them. They were not ready to tell each other of their experiences. Sarai relished her weeks in the palace and felt as if she was walking away from a dream. She was guilty of adultery, but hadn't Abram given her away? She had no choice but to give and to enjoy. The baths of milk and perfume long worn off, her lavender scent was replaced by her own sweaty stench. Sarai stayed silent for days, sometimes moping, sometimes weeping.

Nevertheless Abram was content to have her back. To empathize with her, he tried to imagine the contrast between palace life and the dusty road. The loud din of hundreds of shuffling footsteps of man and beast could not mask the sound of children laughing and fighting as they tried to keep up with the procession. Other people's children.

Suddenly Abram spotted the old altar he had built to the Lord when God first told him that his offspring would own the land.

"Sarai, look!" Called Abram breaking the silence. "Over there! Isn't that pile of rocks the same altar I built to the Lord when He gave us this land?! Let's go see!"

Glad for the interruption of her pouty thoughts Sarai trotted over to Abram as he approached the pile of stones. Looking at the altar brought back a flood of memories of the days before they ever met Pharaoh.

"Yes! This is the altar we built Abram. But we don't own even a cupful of land yet. See, we are still wandering as we did when your father made us leave Ur."

"Sarai, my dear" said Abram affectionately, "there is still time. I believe the Lord. Let's stay here, there is plenty of room." And to his nephew Lot he shouted, "Lot, come here. Tell them to set up their tents. Let's talk to the owner. Here is where I want to stay." With a stick and earth Abram mapped out his plan for a village. Food animals here, work animals there. Married slaves and their children here, and single slaves, men, and women separately quartered over there.

Closest to the altar facing east Abram and his wife Sarai pitched their own tent.

There, between Bethel and Ai where God first spoke to Abram, they rested and they prospered more and more, to the point that Abram's animals and Lot's animals could not coexist due to insufficient grazing land.

Lot moved his estate eastward to Jordan where the land was well watered like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt.

[There] "The Lord said to Abram, after Lot moved away, "Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I will give you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can also be counted. Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you." So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, (the Amorite brother of his allies Eschcol and Aner) which are at Hebron; and there he built [another] altar to the Lord." There Abram came to be known as a Hebrew, because he lived in Hebron.

There the people Abram owned continued to multiply exponentially as did his animals. He was surrounded by fertility while his wife remained barren. Often Abram looked around at all the children playing and shouting, and wondered where his countless offspring would come from. But never did he doubt what he heard. God's words rang true and sure in Abram's heart; there could be no doubt of their divine origin. Abram and God knew each other as much as any person can know another.

One day, when he least expected it, Abram experienced another vision from the Lord who read his heartfelt desire for a son. God said, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "Oh Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus." And Abram said, you have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the Lord came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." The he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness."

Then He said to him, "I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess. But he said, "Oh Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it." He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." Abram brought the Lord all these things and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other, but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the birds of prey came down on the carcasses he drove them away. Sarai did not question this strange collection of dead animals. She never heard the Lord speak, and she never spoke to Him.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, "know this for certain, that your offspring shall live in a land that is not theirs, and shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace, you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadomites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Jebusites."

Abram awoke clearheaded from that deep and eventful sleep which he remembered as real as day. Promises promises. Abram had been given quite a lot to think about. This time he heard that it wasn't during his lifetime that he would possess the land. And the news that his multitudinous offspring would be slaves was certainly very disappointing. Abram wasn't sure how much he should tell Sarai. Here he was a wealthy, childless old man, a squatter, to whom God said that would own the land, and then said it was through subsequent generations, over four hundred years to be exact, that this land would be his. One thing Abram knew for sure though was that this vision was from none other than God. He could have never made up such bad news.

Abram was the one moping all that day, and he slept restlessly that night, tossing and turning in his bed on the ground. He came to regard his life as a story that God was writing. He was merely the character. In his wakefulness Abram thought back on the story from his great grandfathers about the tree in the garden that God forbade the first man to eat. The tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. He decided that whether the events of his life were pleasing and joyful or whether they were painful and difficult, he should remain steadfast, even keeled, neither elated nor forlorn, but simply wait and glorify God in his heart. He must be patient, and let the events play out in the way that God dictated. Perhaps then he could please God and maintain his own sanity.