Many people have wondered and asked about the name of this blog. Few are that well-versed in the OT to know what the Tree of Mamre was, and most people have never heard a sermon or teaching on the topic. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I can tell you why I chose this name for the blog, and what the Tree of Mamre means to me.
The Tree of Mamre was the place where Abraham pitched his tent. After God called Abraham out of Haran to go to the place God had chosen for him, Abraham first pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai. Bethel and Ai were sister cities no more than a few miles apart. They had close relations with each other. Abraham’s tent had to have been on the road between the two towns, so everyday he saw the people of the two towns walking to-and-fro. This must have given him some sense of connection with the people around him, yet also must have caused him a great deal of frustration. As an outsider he could never be a part of those communities or have true fellowship with them–he could only watch them as they had fellowship with each other. Perhaps out of this frustration, he decided to pitch his tent in the wilderness of the Negev, where no one lived at all. It is indeed easier sometimes to be alone by oneself, than to be alone in the midst of others. Then, since there was a famine in the land, he went to Egypt, then back to the Negev, then back to Bethel and Ai.
The image is of a man wandering, looking for something, but never quite being satisfied with where he was. Finally, he moved his tent to the great Tree of Mamre (NIV says “trees”), where he stayed for many years. At that time, he did not own the land he was living on–a local landowner let him stay there. Though Abraham later moved away from the Tree of Mamre, it must have been the closest place to a home to him. Indeed, when Sarah died, he bought a plot of land near there as a burial place for her, and Abraham himself was later buried there. Though God promised Abraham that he would own all of the land around him, during his lifetime, this plot of land was the only land in Israel that Abraham ever owned.
The meaning of the word “mamre” is the subject of some speculation. It could be related to a word meaning “bitterness”. Others have suggested that it relates to a fattened calf used for sacrifice. Both of these meanings seem apt.
We think of Abraham in terms of strength. This is true. Yet, our understanding of faith, and what it means to have strong faith, is often faulty. Most Christians today view faith as a feeling, a confession, or a mental assent to a proposition. These things are not faith. Rather, faith is a trust in God, and a fidelity to His Word, no matter what the cost. Abraham showed his faith not by what he felt, said, or assented to, but by how he acted. He burned his bridges, went into the land God promised him, and never looked back. This is faith. Emotions, confessions, and thoughts had nothing to do with it. He obeyed and inherited what was promised. He stayed faithful to God’s word, even when it looked like it would turn up void.
Yet, he did not see this promise fulfilled in his own lifetime. Abraham must have had many dark nights and times of doubt. There must have been times when he felt forsaken (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”) and quite bitter at God for the turn of events. This did not negate his faith–the only thing that could have negated his faith was to give up and go back to Haran. Rather, that he would have times of doubt, where his mind and emotions raged against him, yet still stay the course proved his faith.
In a real sense, his faith also made his life an acceptable sacrifice to God. He was the fatted calf. He thought he was going into the land to inherit–and he would inherit it–yet in the process everything he had was stripped away from him. He lost everything to gain eternity.
Ironically, the present-day tree most associated with the Tree of Mamre is called “Abraham’s Tree” or “the Tree of Rest”. Indeed, though he must have often felt bitter and alone, under this tree, he did find rest. The tree was not a complete answer to the striving and hunger he felt inside, but it must have provided some solace.
My own life has been much like that of Abraham’s. I have been wandering for nearly all of my days, and now live in a country that I will never be able to call home. My own coming to the country I am currently living in was very much against my will and contrary to my own plans. If I had my way, I would be living in the countryside of Japan in a farmhouse. Yet, that is not to be. I have lived in all kinds of places trying to find a place where I could feel comfortable–even living in the remote desert for two years–but I still chafe. Though I have never felt at home in the country of my birth, I tried to return there for a high-powered job earlier this year, and came within a phone call of getting on a plane for New York. Then the economy crashed and the job opportunity evaporated. My back gave out shortly thereafter, and now it is unlikely that I will be physically able to ride on a plane for such a long trip for at least another year. So, I lie in my bed, wondering what God has in store for me next. I know that I do not have a place to call home, and that I will likely never find one. What I am looking for is my own Tree of Mamre–just a place to sit and find rest for my soul.
I wonder how many other people feel the same way. From what I can tell, there are legions of Christians who have given up everything, and are now quite alone in the world, with no place to call home. Some have never left their home country. Some are overseas. All feel like foreigners and strangers, who do not and cannot fit in. If you are such a person, then welcome to my tent. I do not promise that I have all the answers or that I can even give you much help. However, what cool water, bread, and shade that I have are all yours to share.
(First posted, June 2009)
(2014 update: I have just moved to an old Japanese farmhouse. God is good.)