131 Abram returned from Egypt with his wife and all that was with him, including Lot, to the Negeb. 2 He was loaded with livestock, and silver and gold. 3 Camp by camp, Abram journeyed from the Negeb to Bethel 4 where he had previously built an altar. It was there Abram called out the name of YHWH.
We return to where we have been, but more experienced. We can appreciate the soil of our being a bit more clearly. Now there is a confirmation or assurance we missed the first time around. We can see it again, for a first time.
A call. A decision. A journey. A detour. A return. To be continued.
Abram, Sarai, and Lot left Haran with their possessions and household servants to head from the center of culture and commerce to a cursed land (at least to the land of a cursed people). After some time they come to Shechem and build an altar (like Cain initiating a sacrifice-off). Abram acts as though he affirms that this is the land previously promised.
Coming from Haran, more was expected. This is no place to end a story with, “And they lived happily ever after.”
The travelers slide right past Shechem to a space east of Bethel (meaning, House of G*D). Perhaps even worse? Pulling up their tent stakes yet again, they journeyed and journeyed to the Negeb wilderness. Could anything be worse? Yes; famine. Relief was available in Egypt and worth the wife/sister ploy just told.
Abram, Sarai, and Lot had left Haran with goods and servants. Famine meant a loss of such resources. Egypt has left them re-equipped with more than they ever had.
From Egypt, this household returns to the Negeb and, successively, back to Bethel—back to an altar east of Bethel. It is easy to lose track that they are between cities. Cities begun by Cain, before the Flood, and Babel, afterward, are avoided. Abram had been called out from the cities of Mesopotamia—from Ur, from Haran. His father, Terah, had already begun a trek toward Canaan from Ur, but got stuck in Haran. Abram continued Terah’s impulse. The focus is put on soil, land.
Abram continued past Shechem, a marker of the goal, Canaan, and Bethel, a marker of G*D’s house distinctively desired beyond Shechem’s Oak Grove. Abram kept going to the wilderness of Negeb, and, worse, back to culture and commerce—Egpyt, a place of danger.Confirmed through this rebound from Egypt—the space east of Bethel is to be Abram’s East-of-Eden. Now the story can proceed into next tests and quests of what this story of space might mean with a living G*D not to be routinized by rhythms of the city and a people so easily tempted by national power, being honored as G*D’s pet, and building the reverse of a Tower of Babel, assaulting heavens from a city—building a tabernacle and temple around which to build a city.