It is hard for us to fully grasp the ancient world’s understanding and belief toward deities, but a capricious boss may come close. It was understood and believed that the gods had made people because they were tired of taking care of themselves. People were created so that the gods could kick back and live a life of ease and luxury. In return the gods generally took care of the people, except for when they were displeased with what the people brought in worship. This co-dependent existence was the basis of every temple built, every ritual performed and every religious obligation thereafter in the ancient world.
While most of us believe that myths are equal to fairy tales, the ancients took them as a guideline to know which deity was most important and which was the least. It was difficult though to know exactly what the gods expected from people (other than to be pampered) and when something went wrong, it was assumed that a god must be offended, so extra care needed to be exercised in order to right the wrong. Hard work did not produce “things” you owned, it produced things which belonged to the god for his/her pleasure. The goods, the land, the buildings and every creature existed to appease and please the gods and one never knew exactly where they stood with them.
But that was not the case with Adonai who is first addressed as such by Abraham in Gen. 15:2. Although Abraham’s interaction with Adonai (usually printed as Lord in our English translations) is typical of the way a person would interact with a god, Adonai’s interaction with Abraham is not typical of the way a god was expected to interact with a man. Their most notable interaction involves the Lord’s promise of a child, specifically a son, to be born of Abraham and his wife Sarah at a time when neither was physically able to produce an heir. However when the Lord appears to Abraham in Gen. 15 to announce that promise, Abraham would rather register a complaint. Our English versions make it sound as if Abraham respectfully doubts the Lord’s ability to follow through with this promise, but in the Hebrew, Abraham sharply declares his disappointment! He points out to God that since there is no blood heir, he and Sarah will have to adopt their servant so that someone will carry on the family name and watch out for the couple as they grow older. Abraham is basically saying, “Adonai, You are an unfair boss! I did everything You told me to, and You have not given me a child.”
Adonai’s response is to bring Abraham outside of his tent and partake in a little star gazing. “Go ahead Abe, count the stars,” Adonai admonishes, “That’s how many children I’m going to give you.” It finally dawns on Abraham that his God is far different from any other he has known. He is unlike the self-serving, capricious gods of his former residence, Chaldea. Abraham recognizes Adonai’s ownership and supreme authority over the created world. It is His, and all it contains, and He alone has the power to operate it as He sees fit. A son will come; Adonai will make sure of it.
Abraham is not the only person in the Bible to address God this way. The Lord is acknowledged as Adonai by Moses (Ex. 4:10), Joshua (Jos. 5:14), David (2 Sam. 7:18-20), Isaiah (Is. 6:1), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:6), and Daniel (17 times in chapter 9 alone!). While not as personal as the other name we designate as LORD (Yahweh), Adonai is no less revealing. In each of the previous passages Adonai is recognized as having authority over people with the right to assign roles to them (as in the case of Moses or Isaiah) or as One who keeps His promises and enables people to accomplish great things (as with David, Joshua and Daniel). Adonai is the Supreme Boss who makes His will known to humankind and humankind is to obey it.
I believe most of us do not perceive the Lord to have this kind of role in our lives. We generally believe the good things we have in life are a product of our hard work and/or talent. And we are more likely to treat the Lord as our BFF than the One who has authority over and ownership of our lives. We focus on God’s love (Jn. 3:16) but fail to remember He will also come back to judge (Jn. 5:21-22; Ac. 10:42; 17:31-32; Rom. 2:15-16; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8). What will you have to show the Boss when He returns and how will He measure your job performance (Mt. 24:42-51; 25:14-30, 31-46; Lk. 12:35-48)?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/30/2016