Sunday, March 10, 2019

Genesis 15.1-18: Promises, Hope, and Vultures

Abram was asleep - in a deep sleep - when the covenant was actually sealed. The covenant where Abram was promised that his descendants would inherit and inhabit land. God was the only one who ratified the covenant, passing between the animal pieces as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch. Abram never walked between the pieces. God's promise to be faithful was a one-sided promise.

Before Abram's sleep, though, he had followed to the letter God's directions in gathering animals and slaughtering them as part of the covenant ritual. He placed the animal pieces as directed, presumably out in the open. Sensing blood and death, birds of prey (in some places translated vultures) swooped in. When they did, Abram shooed them away, keeping them from preying on the elements that spoke to his relationship with God.

God's faithfulness. Human insufficiency. Raptors.
Kevin Carter. Starving Child and Vulture. 1993.
The story of this photo and the photographer who took it is not straightforward. The photo raised questions from the moment it was published. Why would the photographer sit and wait for a photo rather than helping the child and/or shooing away the vulture? What happened to the child? How could God allow something like the famine and poverty in Sudan? Some of the questions have been answered. But the questions raised in light of scripture and image together may be especially pertinent during Lent. There are any number of questions brought about by the juxtaposition. These are some.

  • Abram was careful not to let the birds of prey disturb the sacrificed animals for the covenant ceremony. How do you hear that in light of this photo?
  • God's covenant with Abram required the sacrifice of animals. Ultimately even God's son was sacrificed like one of those animals. How can we talk about that in light of this photo?
  • God's honor is at stake in the making of the covenant. The implication of moving through the sacrificed animals is something like, "If I don't keep the covenant I am making, may I be like these animals." Is God's honor at stake in the photo?
  • Abram placed his trust in God's promise. He had hope for his future - for descendants - because of his trust in God. How do we talk about hope in God's promises in light of this photo?
  • Lent is a season of penitence. What does this photo call us to repent? 
  • In light of this photo how do we talk about giving something up as a Lenten sacrifice?

This week on Art&Faith Matters on Facebook, a Bible illustration of Genesis 15:1-18. More or less.

For thoughts on Luke 13:31-35, click here.

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