Frustrations and Fulfillments
There are three attributes that characterize this nation: They are
merciful, modest, and charitable… “Charitable,” as it is writ-
ten, “in order that [Abraham] may instruct his children and his
posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and
right.” Anyone who has these three attributes is fit to become at-
tached to this nation.
ONE OF THE MOST extraordinary aspects of the story of Abraham in Genesis is the long, circuitous, and difficult route that lies between the LORD’s initial promises to him and their fulfillment in the emergence of a great nation descended from him and in possession of the land of Canaan. Indeed, though aspects of those promises are fulfilled in Abraham’s own lifetime—in most cases, only after enormously discouraging and painful delays—the promise in its fullness is not realized until long after his life has come to an end and, even more, after the Torah story itself comes to an end in the book of Joshua, when Israel finally conquers the land.
Already in the first narrative after it is given, the promise seems to be derailed. Under the pressure of an intense famine, Abram and Sarai (as they are called until Genesis 17) leave Canaan for Egypt. Worried that the Egyptians, reputed elsewhere in the Bible to be sexually deviant, will put the husband of such a beautiful woman to death, Abram asks his wife to do him the favor of claiming she is actually his sister. As he feared, the natives notice Sarai’s beauty, and soon she is taken to Pharaoh’s palace. The result for Abram, though, is highly positive: he not only escapes murder but “because of her, it went well with Abram; he acquired sheep, oxen, asses, male and female slaves, she-asses, and camels” (Gen 12:16).