Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Our lesson begins with this familiar phrase, “After these things.” A glance at the previous chapter reveals that Abram has not been through a battle. An alliance of four Mesopotamian kings raided Canaan. Lot, Abram’s nephew, was taken captive. The war is a reminder that the world is not a safe place. In Genesis 12, Abram leaves his hometown for a meaningful life, and three chapters later, he finds himself in a foreign land empty. He has no offspring. He has no land. The only thing he has is faith. He only wanted to follow where the Lord led him, and he found how terrible a place the world could be.
At such a moment, the Lord came to Abraham in a vision. The Lord said to Abram. “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, and your reward shall be very great.” Abram is running empty, but his future will be great. He will have more descendants than the stars in heaven. He will have a spacious land.
Now what about the part where God says, “I am your shield”? We recognize this is a metaphor. There is no word in a human language that can describe God completely. We have only metaphors.
In 1980, George Lakeoff, a linguistic, and Mark Johnson, a philosopher, came out with a book titled Metaphors We Live By. They find some metaphors determine how we behave. One example is the metaphor that we use about an argument: We talk about it as if it were a war. We identity a strategy and demolish our enemy. The two professors ask an interesting question. What if we had not used the metaphor of a war for arguments? What if our primary image of an argument was a dance?
The shield as a metaphor reminds us of a war, too, but in biblical times, the metaphor of the shield was also used in the treaty document between two nations. The high king would say to a lower king, a vassal, “I am your shield.” In this compact, when the vassal is in trouble, the high king will come to his rescue, for that is the covenant.
The world can be a dangerous place. Every day life is ambushed by disappointments and pains and suffering and sorrow and grief. What will keep us going? When such a thought comes over us, God comes to us and says, “I am your shield.”