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Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 15:1–6
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O 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, 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.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. (NRSV)
The Apostle Paul made famous use of Genesis 15:6 in his letter to the Romans. “What does the scripture say?” he asks, driving at a point about justification by faith. He’s quick with the answer: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” It’s part of Paul’s rhetorical and theological strategy to show that descendance from Abraham is a matter of belief, not birth. Gentile Christians are Abraham’s heirs just as much as Jewish ones.
Two questions present themselves. First, what is this righteousness? Prior to this reference, the word has been attributed in Genesis to Noah (chapter 6), whom God saw was “a righteous man.” But nothing is said about what Noah’s righteousness amounts to. For that Abraham is the more complete picture: welcoming, hospitable, advocate for the wicked and the righteous alike, and, above all, trusting in God.
Which points to the second question: what did Abraham believe God about? That Abraham would have numerous descendants, as many as the stars of the sky. God promised Abraham in Genesis 12 that God would make of him “a great nation . . . so that you will be a blessing.” And Abraham paid attention. But since that time his lived experience has suggested he hallucinated that promise. So God sends him some reassurance, and Abraham—to his great credit—honestly expresses his doubts to God. And God responds by doubling down (tripling down?) on that promise with a vivid illustration.
And Abraham believes it. Which God calls righteousness.
It reminds me of my favorite line in the W. H. Auden poem “For the Time Being,” the one where the angel Gabriel tells Joseph, “To choose what is difficult all one’s days / As if it were easy, that is faith.”
God, help us to choose belief where it feels so difficult, that others may borrow from our faith and so be strengthened in their journeys. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry and Worship
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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