Whacking Away the Vultures
And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. – Genesis 15:11 (NRSV)
Chapter 15 of Genesis tells an odd story. It also tells the truth.
God comes to Abram in a vision and proclaims that he and his wife Sarah will have more children than all the stars in the heaven. Even though they’re on the other side of 80 with no children, Abram believes God’s promise. Genesis affirms God “reckons” Abram’s faith as sign of the old man’s righteousness.
To demonstrate his faith, Abram sacrifices a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon at God’s command. That’s a lot of livestock, which underscores the magnitude of both the covenant and Abram’s faith. He gathers the animals and birds, kills them for the altar, and then spends the rest of the day driving away the “birds of prey” that come down on the carcasses.
Perhaps the birds were hawks or eagles, but most likely they were the griffin vulture. Once common in the Middle East, they have wingspans up to 10 feet. Even a single bird would present a challenge, but no sooner did Abram drive one away then another would swoop down to tear at the carrion.
The image of the old man flailing away at the big birds is almost comical. It’s also honest. In my own attempts to be faithful to God and to trust God’s promises, I often find myself “whacking away the vultures.” Not real Griffin ones, but other things that eat away at faith and trust.
Perhaps you know such “vultures,” too. Doubts that swoop in on a regular basis. Old mistrusts that pick at new experiences. Fears that gnaw away courage. When our “vultures” begin to circle around us, may we remember old Abram, keeping those birds at bay, so he could keep his faith.
Grant us Abram’s tenacity, O God, and his trust in you. Amen.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Parts 1 and 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.