REDEEMED: WEEK ONE
ABRAHAM AND LOT
Dr. Sandra Richter, professor of Old Testament studies at Wheaton College, has written a great Bible study called Epic of Eden: Understanding the Old Testament. After the first two weeks, it has occurred to me that most of us probably lack a solid understanding of how the Old Testament fits with the New Testament. Dr. Richter rightly asserts that many Christians struggle to study and understand the Old Testament, to gain insights of what it meant to the original writers and readers, and to own it for ourselves. She believes it because of three main reasons for this:
We fail to see the Old Testament as our own story. The New Testament is the only part that matters and everything that comes before is somewhere between ancient history and an unfortunate preface to the part of the Bible that really counts.
Yet Galatians 3:29 makes this claim: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Israel’s story is OUR story! So we need to understand our story.
There is a GREAT BARRIER between all that happened such a long time ago in a place far away in a culture much different from our own. We will likely NOT discover our own cultural barrier until we confront other cultures and realize our differences…our biases.
Sandra offers what she believes is the greatest hindrance to understanding cultures unlike our own…something she calls canonizing culturesàthinking that ours is somehow more advanced and superior to other cultures.
i. We think that bureaucracies are better than tribal cultures; that democracies are altogether superior in every way to monarchies; that egalitarian cultures are “advanced” over ancient patriarchal ones. I’ll explain the patriarchal culture of the OT in a minute
ii. Here’s an example of canonizing culture: In the early 1800s missionaries from the New England states sold all they had and relocated to Hawaii to convert the heathens. But when they gave them Christ, they gave the island people steeped in their tribal customs a Western European Christianity, complete with stiff collars and petticoats and long dresses. Imagine trying to fish in that get up!
So, our cultural biases keep us from properly studying and understanding the OT saga in order to understand our own.
Thirdly, we tend to have what Sandra likes to call a dysfunctional closet syndrome. Over time we acquire a lot of knowledge about the Bible…through sermons, Sunday School growing up, through daily readings of the Bible…but these stories and facts tend to get jumbled up in a big mess, much like a closet can get messy over time. We need help in decluttering and organizing our closet of biblical knowledge so we can find everything.
While I don’t intend to re-teach everything that Dr. Richter is teaching us on Wednesday nights (and I encourage you to come out for that!), I do want to spend the next several weeks on one of the key subjects found in both the Old and New Testaments: REDEMPTION.
What do we think when we hear the word, “redemption” or “redeem”? “To redeem”, according to modern dictionaries, means a number of things: to buy or pay off; to buy back,
as after a tax sale or a mortgage foreclosure; to recover by payment or other satisfaction (to redeem a pawned watch); to exchange items for money or goods. to make up for/make
So, how does the Bible define redemption. If we just look at the NT to gain understanding of what it means to be redeemed without understanding what redemption means to the people of the OT…OUR people…then our understanding is incomplete. And if our understanding is incomplete, so then will our living out lives of redemption in the 21st century.
The OT testament characters defined redemption through the lives they lived in their own tribal, patriarchal cultures thousands of years ago in distant lands. There are many OT stories of redemption that can help us, but over the coming few weeks I want us to look at three of them: the stories of Abraham and Lot, Ruth and Boaz, and Hosea and Gomer.
Through their stories and through a deeper understanding of ancient near eastern culture, I hope for us to gain a deeper, more complete understanding of what it means to be redeemed by God today. Let’s dig in.
Before we get into the story of Abraham and his nephew Lot, let’s get three working definitions to help us understand the culture in which we will be exploring. Those words are PATRIARCHAL, PATRILINEAL, AND PATRILOCAL.
The people of the OT were Patriarchal. This means that the societal system and norms were shaped and governed by the patriarch, or the oldest living male in each clan. Society was structured like this : The father’s household (known as the bet ‘ab), the clan (made up of several households), the tribe (as in the 12 tribes of Israel), and the nation (as in Israel herself). Everything revolved around the bet ‘ab, the “father’s household,” of which the patriarch was fully responsible.
The future of every man, woman, and child, rested in the hands of the patriarch. He made the decisions that affected their local economy as well as social norms. Abraham was the patriarch of his household. A bet ‘ab could have as many as three generations and up to 30 people. How would YOU like to live with your extended family (cousins, uncles, etc.) of 30 folks!
They were also Patrilineal, meaning one’s ancestral genealogy is traced back through the male bloodline. That’s why it is so astounding that, in the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew 1, four women are counted in the bloodline. God is showing us the inclusive nature of God’s family…his bet ‘ab.
Finally, they were Patrilocal, meaning the living space of the family unit is built around the oldest living male. It was more of a compound than a house. Nuclear families lived in separate quarters but connected to and surrounding the patriarch. The patriarch was aware of all that occurred within the compound.
This patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal society is much different from our individualistic, democratic, and bureaucratic society we call “home.” But we must be careful NOT to read our culture into their story and, more importantly, appreciate their culture and their story as part of our story…because it is.
In the time I have left, I want us to look at the story of Abraham and his nephew Lot, whic can be found in chapters 13 and 14, and ends in chapter 19. I encourage you to read the entire story at home. Let me set the stage for you. After his father, Terah, had died, Abraham became the patriarch of his bet ‘ab. Lot, whose father, Haran, had died was now in his bet ‘ab.
God had called Abraham (then known as Abram—“exalted father”) to leave his country and his father’s household, and go to a land God would show him. So by faith Abram took his household and migrated south toward what we now call the Promised Land.
In time Abram and Lot’s household had gotten too big for the land to support it, so the patrilocal structure split as it often does. Abram gives Lot the choice of the Plain of Jordan (well-watered and fertile) or the hill country (less so) and Lot chose the good land. Both flourished. But Lot settled near the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were wicked and sinning greatly against the Lord.
Now we come to the story of redemption found in chapter 14. It seems that a group of kings in the region teamed up and went to war against the valley kings, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah. In all the scuffle, the valley kings ran off, leaving the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah defenseless. So Kedorloamer and the other kings raided the cities, took all the good stuff, and captured its citizens, including Lot and his household.
Lot, who was once well off and secure, now found himself in a tight spot. He and Abram had parted ways years earlier and had no contact with him. They didn’t do Christmas or Thanksgiving together. That’s just the way it was. So what was Lot to do. There was nothing he “could” do. His bet ‘ab, of which he was responsible, would perish along with himself. Life as he knew it was now over.
But here’s where the story gets good. It seems that one man escaped Sodom and found Abram the Hebrew. He knew that Lot and Abram were kinsmen, of the same clan. He knew what we will soon understand…that even though Abram and Lot are now two households, Abram is still responsible for his nephew, Lot.
Listen to what he did. [READ GENESIS 14:14-16] Notice how big his bet ‘ab had gotten. He called up 318 trained men born in his household. These are not just shepherds and farmers. These are like his little army of Special Forces. And they kick some tail against four armies! He won back his relative Lot and his possessions as well as the other people. He redeemed his nephew. Why? Because, no matter what Lot may have gotten himself into by aligning himself with the wrong kind of people, he was still family. He was still worth saving.
That’s REDEMPTION. No matter our past, the choices we have made, or are currently making, God our Father loves us so much that he wants to REDEEM us…rescue us from the wicked enemy of sinful behavior and thinking. How? By sending his only Son to pay the price for our sin on the cross. The Father desires us to be in his “bet ‘ab.” Jesus tells his disciples, “In my Father’s household, there are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3 NIV)
What does God need to rescue you from? Have you allowed the enemy a foothold in your life? Maybe it’s a sinful habit that God needs to rescue you from. Maybe you’re in bondage to bitterness and unforgiveness toward a family member or friend and you need to be redeemed from it. Or maybe you’re still struggling to surrender your life altogether over to the lordship of Jesus Christ. You have built your own spiritual household and it’s tumbling like a house of cards. You’re tired of feeling isolated and alone from God and others. Today, Jesus wants to redeem us from any and all places of bondage and bring us safely into the Father’s household.
It’s always been about being in God’s family. That’s what Jesus was talking about when he offered his disciples the bread and wine at the table that night he gave himself up for us. He took these common elements of every meal and gave them new meaning. He said of the bread, “This is my body,” and of the cup, “this is my blood” of the New Covenant. I no longer call you servants, but friends. We are told that as members of God the Father’s family, we are joint heirs with Christ. We are the King’s kids!
So when we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, we are welcomed into the household of God. And we celebrate the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup to signify we are His and He is ours! Thanks be to God. Let’s pray.