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Volume 17, Issue 2: Recipio


Ben Merkle

"In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (Ephesians 1:4).

Ur was the capital of Sumer and one of the earliest great powers recognized by pagan historians. A great ziggurat has been discovered at the site and seems to have been a center of pagan worship. The last hurrah of Ur, known as the Ur III period, ended when the Elamites, Subarites and other tribal forces invaded and destroyed the great city-state around 2000 b.c. Mourning this terrible destruction was a famous Sumerian text (at least famous as far as Sumerian texts go), the Lament of Ur. The text opens with a catalogue of gods and goddesses that have abandoned the city of Ur: Enlil and his wife Ninlil, Ninisinna, Sin, Enki and others. The Sumerian deities have all abandoned the city and their sheepfold has been delivered to the wind. The author then entreats the god Enlil to preserve Ur, but Enlil responds with "It is good, so be it." According to the Lament, the capitol of Sumer was abandoned by her gods because her fickle deities just didn't feel like protecting her anymore.
A little work with the chronologies supplied by Scripture puts Abraham and Terah moving from Ur to Haran in close vicinity to the time of this destruction. A comment in the book of Joshua tells us that Terah and Abraham were fairly familiar with some of these pagan deities: "And Joshua said to all the people, `Thus says the Lord God of Israel: `Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac'" (Joshua 24:2-3).
The passage tells us that Terah worshipped these other gods, but doesn't make this statement about Abraham. However, whether Abraham was a part of this worship or not, he was certainly familiar with these pagan gods. It is likely that when Terah led his family away from Ur, as described in Gen. 11:27-32, this pilgrimage was prompted by the destruction chronicled in the Lament of Ur. Abraham knew the fickle nature of the Sumerian gods. These gods stood by their people one moment and then walked away the next, because it pleased them to do so.
Then, while he was in Haran, Abraham received a call from a different sort of God, who began making all sorts of promises to Abraham about a land, a nation, and countless descendants. Eventually, this God demonstrated his uniqueness in a startling ceremony. In Genesis 15 Abraham boldly asks for proof for all the promises offered by this God. "How shall I know?" Abraham asks. God responds by sending a smoking pot, His Spirit, between a row of animals that had been divided in half. Abraham knew what the ceremony represented. This was a self-maledictory oath, common in the Ancient Near East, which in effect said, "If I break My word, may what has been done to these animals be done to Me." Yaweh sent His Spirit to guarantee the fulfillment of His promise. The author of Hebrews sheds a little more light on this:
For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, `surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.' And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us (Hebrews 6:13-18).
The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of promise. In Him God has promised something to His people. The fact that the Triune God is a God who makes promises is a fact that should not be skimmed over lightly. His promises are guarantees, which have been given to us that we might have "strong consolation." Yaweh does not intend for His people to be people of doubt, blown about by our misgivings concerning what God has in store for us. In fact, Yaweh has gone so far as to send His Spirit with the purpose of giving us confidence in the promises that God has for us. This confidence is something that can only be offered by the Triune creator God. It flows from His nature and it is a mark of His people.

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