This week Kris and I had our first tomato from our garden — Heirloom, to be precise, and with it the wonders of the odd shapes in an Heirloom tomato. That tomato anticipates weeks of fresh, red, succulent and tasty tomatoes. (Unlike the nonsense pulpous stuff we buy at the grocery store.) Keep that tomato in mind.
Abraham was promised he’d inherit the Land — the Holy Land, the Land of Israel, The Land, Ha-Eretz. The same promise was given to Isaac and Jacob, and here are the texts:
Gen. 12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Gen. 12:6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
Gen. 13:15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.
Gen. 13:17 Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.”
Gen. 15:7 Then he said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.”
Gen. 17:8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
Gen. 26:3 Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham.
Gen. 28:13 And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…”
Now the question needs to be asked: Did God deliver on the promise? Well, for some there’s a lack of completion in the story of the patriarchs for it was not until the “conquest” under Joshua or even more particularly in the fullness of David that the Land promise is finally complete.
But my colleague at Northern Seminary, Claude Mariottini, proposes another reading of the Land promise for Abraham, one that has some biblical resonance, in his book full of suggestive readings of the Bible: Rereading the Biblical Text: Searching for Meaning and Understanding.
When Sarah died in Hebron, Abraham bought a parcel of land in Canaan (Genesis 23). Here is the account:
3 Abraham rose up from beside his dead, and said to the Hittites, 4 “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 5 The Hittites answered Abraham, 6 “Hear us, my lord; you are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places; none of us will withhold from you any burial ground for burying your dead.” 7 Abraham rose and bowed to the Hittites, the people of the land. 8 He said to them, “If you are willing that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and entreat for me Ephron son of Zohar, 9so that he may give me the cave of Machpelah, which he owns; it is at the end of his field. For the full price let him give it to me in your presence as a possession for a burying place.”
10 Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, 11 “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give you the cave that is in it; in the presence of my people I give it to you; bury your dead.” 12 Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. 13 He said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “If you only will listen to me! I will give the price of the field; accept it from me, so that I may bury my dead there.” 14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver—what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” 16 Abraham agreed with Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants.
Gen. 23:17 So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed 18 to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, in the presence of all who went in at the gate of his city. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it passed from the Hittites into Abraham’s possession as a burying place.
Here is where Brother Claude suggests biblical resonance. All Abraham got from the Land promise was a field with a cave, one he bought at that! Abraham therefore legally became part owner of the Land, the place where the patriarchs and their wives were buried (e.g., Gen 49:29-32). John Goldingay says they got a “foothold” or a “skeleton-hold” on the Land. There is today the “tomb of the patriarchs” (image above) at a traditional site memorializing the biblical story.
In the time of Abraham, within the span of his life (and death); in the time of the patriarchs, within the span of their lives (and deaths); and their wives — in their time they saw the first fruits — the first tomato — of a much richer harvest of Land to come. They experienced what Christians experience in the Holy Spirit, a down payment or the first fruit, of full redemption (2 Cor 1:22).