The Mathematics of the Hungry Dog
Spiritually and emotionally, we can all trace our roots back to Abram. We all come from someone who left his and/or her home and homeland looking for or being dragged to a new life in a new land. The reasons vary. On my father’s side, my great great grandfather fled England in shame after killing a fellow boxer in a bare knuckle boxing match. On my mother’s side, more than two centuries ago, my ancestors were forcibly moved from Scotland to Ireland, then they left poverty in Ireland seeking greater promise in the North American colonies.
No matter one’s race or ethnicity, everyone in this country can trace our origins back to someone who came here from somewhere else.
Scripture provides a small but important part of the reason why Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans for a new life in a new land. Archaeology and history fill in a bit more of the story of what Abram left and why.
Ur, located 140 miles south of Babylon, at the intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, was among the greatest cities in the world at the time of Abram. The city was dedicated to Nannar, the moon god, who was looked upon as the king and the landlord of the people. The farms and shops and wealth of the people of Ur were considered to be owned by Nannar. An entire quarter of the city of Ur was set apart for Nannar. One of the temples in Ur was called “The House of Great Plenty,” which housed Nannar’s sacred harem and was the site of temple prostitution. In some of the royal tombs in Ur, archaeologists found as many as 60 to 80 skeletal remains of escorts, guards, musicians and servants who were marched into the royal tombs with the deceased ruler so as to accompany the king or queen into the afterlife.
Though Ur was a center of commerce, culture and wealth, it was a city dedicated to a god who claimed ownership over everything the people had, where temple prostitution was a sacred part of worship, where human sacrifice was practiced, and where subjects of the king were expected to march into a tomb so as to be sealed in to their deaths as gifts to their monarch.
According to the “Law of Mathematics for a Hungry Dog,” if you see a dog with a rotten, poisonous bone in its mouth, and if you want to rescue that dog from the dangerous bone, the best thing to do is not to grab the bone and try to pull it away. That will only cause the dog to snarl and growl at you and bite into the toxic bone even tighter. If you are wise, you will throw a big, juice lamb chop to the dog. He will drop the poisonous bone immediately to grab the lamb chop. That’s where the mathematics comes in: To grab the lamb chop, he must let go of the deadly bone. To add the new, he must subtract the old.
In verses 2-3, God tells Abram the wonderful things He wants to add to Abram’s life: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” But the mathematics of faith are like the mathematics for a hungry dog. It would be impossible for Abram to take hold of the blessings God was promising him if he continued to hold onto the gods and the practices and the poisonous mindsets he had lived with in Ur of the Chaldeans for seventy five years. To receive the blessings of the God who called him, Abram needed to let go of the things that stood in the way. He had to turn away from a false god who claimed ownership over everything that would come to Abram. He had to turn away from temple prostitution as a means of trying to activate the attention of the goddess of fertility. He had to turn away from the custom of human sacrifice—even child sacrifice—as the ultimate way of proving one’s devotion to a god.
What is it that we need to let go of to be able to take hold of the good God would give to us?
A study of the ensuing chapters of Genesis will reveal that God’s promised blessings will not come to Abram according to the time table Abram hopes for. A famine will drive Abram to Egypt. It will take another two and a half decades before the birth of the child which he and Sarai long for. But in the midst of it all, Abram’s intimacy with the living and loving God grows, and he becomes a great nation, and in him all the families of the earth are blessed.
Can we be patient enough and trusting enough to get through the tough times while waiting for the good that God will bring?