Aside from Jesus, which biblical character do you think of when you hear the word ‘obedient’?
Plenty of names probably come to mind, but I’m fairly certain that near the top of this list for most people is an Old Testament father figure named Abraham.
Near the end of his story, Abraham demonstrated unimaginable obedience, when he was prepared to sacrifice his favorite son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah – just because God told him to. But rewind back to the very start of his story, and the decision by Abram (as he was known at that time) to leave everything he knew and travel to a yet-to-be-identified location on God’s instruction shows a similar level of unconditional obedience.
Or does it?
The Lectionary recently gave us the start of that story, with the passage Genesis 12:1-4a, which begins with the sentence, ‘The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’ and ends with the sentence, ‘So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.’
Lot went with him.
As Bible scholar Daniel Kirk noted in that week’s LectioCast, there’s room to wonder if Lot’s presence on the journey represents a speck of disobedience in Abraham’s actions.
After all, the instruction here is to ‘go from your people and your father’s household‘, not ‘most of your people and your father’s household’.
Really, Baldy? Seems like a stretch.
Yeah, it kinda does – from one angle.
After all, Abram clearly wasn’t expected to make the trip by himself. He was allowed to take his wife Sarai, their livestock and servants, etc. Perhaps, in good faith, Abram saw Lot as an extended member of his household, and it didn’t occur to him that his favorite nephew needed to stay behind as well.
And there’s no denying that Lot’s presence on the journey stirred up a lot of trouble.
In Genesis 14, Abram has to rescue Lot, after he’s captured by the four kings. In Genesis 19, Lot’s presence in Sodom decidedly complicates and makes for significant tension in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There’s that tragic business about Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt after she turned to see what was happening behind her, as well.
And Lot’s willingness to offer his own two daughters to a rape gang in order to spare two strangers who were guests in his home has to be one of the top 10 ugliest scenes in the whole Bible.
All this could have been avoided, had Abraham not let Lot tag along on his journey to Canaan. How sad.
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Moses strikes the rock to provide water to the Israelites, instead of just speaking to it. Saul defeats, but doesn’t destroy, the Amalekites. King Jehoash strikes the ground as he’s commanded, but only three times.
And so on.
Because of partial obedience, Moses isn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. Saul loses his throne. Jehoash defeats the Arameans, but isn’t able to destroy them.
The consequences of Abraham’s partial obedience don’t seem as dire as these examples – not for Abraham, anyway – but fast forward a few generations, and his descendants probably would’ve preferred he left Lot back in Mesopotamia.
You see, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, there’s the sordid story in Genesis 19:30-38 of when Lot holes up in a cave with his two daughters – the same daughters he offered to the Sodomites earlier in the chapter. With their marriage prospects dimming due to their family’s reversal of fortune, the girls decide to get their dad drunk and seduce him so they can have children.
The text says those children were the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites – two people groups that caused enormous problems for the Israelites in generations to come.
A Lot of trouble indeed.
I wonder how the story of Israel would’ve been different if Abram had left all of his people and his father’s household back in Harran.
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Now, you can’t really blame Abraham for the existence of Moab and Ammon – there’s obviously no way he could have known that letting Lot tag along on his epic journey to an unknown destination would spawn two of Israel’s most contentious enemies.
But maybe that’s precisely the point.
We don’t know what will happen when we stray from God’s plan for us – but God does, and that’s why we need to do what She says. Because God is the boss of us, yes. But also because God knows what’s best for us – far better than we do.
It’s not God’s job to talk us into doing things His way by filling in all of the details of what will happen if we don’t fully obey – that’s not authority in action, it’s persuasion.
As many a Bible commentator has noted, partial obedience is an oxymoron – like somewhat pregnant or alternative facts. Partial obedience is disobedience. Any thoughts to the contrary are delusions.
And in light of what I noted earlier about it arguably never having occurred to Abram that Lot’s presence wasn’t part of God’s plan, it seems all the more vital that we pay close attention to the marching orders we’re given, and make sure we don’t inadvertently – or advertently – exceed them.
Peace be with you.