Walking Before God

 We have come to the end of the Abraham story in Genesis, having worked through it these past several weeks in Morning Prayer. Each time I read Genesis, I find new things I’ve never noticed before. 

    Robert Sacks (whose commentary, The Lion and the Ass, is simply amazing) showed me that in Genesis 17 there is something new. Most of the stories about Abraham have to do with his being educated by God in the ways of being a founder of the New Way. Abraham has to learn how to found a tradition, how to be a political leader, how to pass on a tradition to the next generation, and so on. Yet all that is not enough. Quite apart from his public role, he must be also, personally, a good character. This is what God calls for at the beginning of chapter 17: “Walk before me,” God says, “and be thou perfect.”

    This is a remarkable rearrangement of who stands where. I often think of God as being someone who has given me rules to follow or ideals I should seek after. Jesus says, for repeated instance, “Follow me.”

    But here it is the opposite. God wants to observe how Abraham himself walks. We’re speaking of strolling around, just ordinary walking: how does Abraham live his ordinary life? God wants Abraham to walk in his sight, to walk in his presence, and in that walking to be “perfect,” that is, to be a complete human being.

    What follows in chapter 17 is circumcision, but that is not my focus today (although it is interesting that to be complete requires a certain addition to what is given by nature). I’m pondering this notion of walking in God’s presence, walking before him (as opposed to following after him). Because for the first time last week I noticed these words on the mouth of Abraham’s servant, who has gone back to Abraham’s original homeland, back to the family of his left-behind brother, to get a wife for Isaac, Abraham’s son. This servant, explaining his mission, quotes what Abraham said to him. “The LORD,before whom I walk, will send his angel with thee, and prosper thy way; and thou shalt take a wife for my son of my kindred, and of my father’s house” (Gen. 24:40).

    This is the only time Abraham states that his life is a walking before God. By saying so Abraham here unites the personal and the public in at least two ways. First is by the name he uses for God. When God appeared to Abraham in chapter 17 he called himself “the Almighty God,” which is generally a more universal term. “LORD,” which he uses when commissioning his servant in chapter 24, is the special Name of God summoning Abraham to his role as founder. Secondly and more substantively, the mission of Abraham’s servant is critical to the public role of Abraham, that he successfully pass it on what God has started in him to the next generation. It is on the mission to find Isaac a wife that Abraham tells his servant that he walks before God.

    In short, Abraham cannot complete his public role of founding a new people without being personally a righteous man whose daily walk is ever in God’s sight.


    The short lesson for us is clear. We are fools to think our public and our private lives need not hang together (contemporary politics to the contrary notwithstanding). And the lesson was right there, waiting to be seen in Genesis 24.


    Out & About. Thus Sunday, February 11, the last after Epiphany, I am to preach at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas at the 9 and 11:15 a.m. Eucharists. 

    Later that same Sunday, namely at 5 p.m., the Good Books & Good Talk seminar will discuss The BFG by Roald Dahl. You are welcome to join us. We will meet at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, in the Great Hall as usual: the sidewalks have been poured and are now useable from the parking lot around the church entrance to the Great Hall.

    Lenten programs: I will be leading the first class on A Post-Covid Catechesis at St. Stephen’s Church in Sherman, Tex., on Tuesday, February 20. They are doing a five-session class on this little book; the first chapter is on the adventure that begins when we believe God is the creator of everything. Even things like the Covid virus? The class meets at 6 p.m.; everyone is welcome.

    And at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, I will be leading a similar five-session class, starting Wednesday, February 21, at 6 p.m. The schedule at the cathedral is Stations of the Cross at 6 p.m., lenten supper at 6:30, and my talk with Q&A at 7; all over by 8. So—Sherman or Dallas, you’re welcome at either!

The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: