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Monday, July 10, 2006

Genesis Chs. 12-24: Abraham and Co.

As I'm reading it, this is where the Bible starts its fascinating storytelling prowess. With Abraham, we pass from the old stories into more precisely historical accounts. More to the point, we begin to experience God as a character, in the sense that we think of characters today. He has a personality, he makes himself available and manifest in more than just sporadic bursts--yes, he remains temperamental, but he's a richly textured character.

In Abraham, God does not choose a perfect person. In 12:11-20, he lies to the Egyptians about the identity of his wife, fearing that they'll kill him to have her (she was evidently quite a looker). The entirety of Ch. 20 chronicles the same trick pulled on King Abimelech of Gerar. In both of these instances, Abraham is clearly taking advantage of God's distinctly idiosyncratic sense of justice--God, hating adultery, threatens to make things seriously bad for Sarah's would-be suitors despite their rightfully professed innocence. Of course, God is simultaneously making use of Abraham's... shall we say, lack of qualms about little white lies... to keep him safe as he wanders around doing God's bidding.

Funny thing is, Abraham's son Isaac, who may or may not have heard these stories, pulls the exact same trick later on.

As I mentioned in the flood story, the OT God was given to changes of mind. Chapter 16 tells of Ishmael, born of Abraham by his wife's handmaid Hagar when it becomes clear Sarah herself can't conceive. Later on, at the beginning of Ch. 21, a seriously aged Sarah indeed conceives Isaac, which is to say God makes good on his covenant to make Abraham the father of a great nation twice.

The other nation, according to tradition, is Islam, and with the benefit of hindsight this change of God's mind becomes incredibly important. Upon Isaac's (father of the Jews) birth, Sarah becomes jealous of Ishmael (father of the Muslims), technically Abraham's firstborn, and everyone agrees that Ish and his mom should probably scram. 21:14-18 tell us how God consoles them by promising to make Ishmael a great nation as well, et voila--two nations predisposed to hate each other. Anyone who doesn't understand why the Muslims have a chip on their shoulder hasn't read closely enough.

Meanwhile, Abraham has also haggled with God in the leadup to Sodom and Gomorrah. He really doesn't want God to destroy the towns, where his nephew Lot lives, and manages to convince God to spare the cities if he can find ten righteous people. Fat lot of good it does them, of course--there aren't that many good people there. In fact, there may just be the one (Lot), as his wife can't follow a simple instruction (19:17 and 26), and even his daughters are evidently not above liquoring up their dad and conceiving children by him (19:30-38).

As for the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, it of course must be mentioned that it is evidence for the sinfulness of homosexuality. There isn't any other way to read it, really--although Lot's wife's fate makes a nice solution to the riddle of why there are big salt pillars out in the middle of nowhere. All we'll say for now is that the framers of the OT weren't big on the gay thing, a notion which will be repeated in the law books a bit down the road. When we get to NT evidence, we'll look at it, but feel free to discuss between now and then.

Of course, Abraham's coup de grace is the near-sacrifice of Isaac, his favorite son, in Ch. 22. Again, we find the father of two nations lying his ever-loving head off, making Isaac schlep his own bier while telling him "no, it's cool, there'll totally be a lamb when we get there" (22:6-8, paraphrased). Of course, at the last second God jumps in, Abe having proved his faithfulness, and spares Isaac, and they all lived happily ever after. Abe even remarried after Sarah died, having six (!) more kids, named in 25:2--which makes Ishmael's tragedy, and that of God's second-favorite nation (from a Jewish viewpoint), all the more poignant.

25:8 sees Abraham's death, and in the next entry, covering Isaac and Jacob's generations, we'll see why someone ought to be able to find his grave. Joseph will be in a separate post since his story, properly read, seems to be a prologue for the exodus more than anything else.

8 Comments:

Blogger MENBAH! said...

Quick thing I forgot to put in the post:

Does anyone find it odd that Abraham argues so passionately on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah when Noah, given the same forewarning, didn't say a thing to save the whole world? Noah was godly, evidently, but also spineless.

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

I'm not sure how historical the tales of Abraham are even intended to be, once again, but that's a digression. I like the idea of looking at the "character of God" in this account, especially the point that he chooses a very flawed person in Abraham. As for God changing his mind- Catholic philosophy/theology has tended to assume that this is a way of explaining the way that people perceive God's will to be changing-whereas God's own plans/will do not change, as He is beyond our concept of time and causality.

Technically, Ishmael is understood to be the forefather of the Arabs, not the "Muslims" (while it is mostly splitting hairs, there are a fair number of Christian- mostly Catholic and Orthodox- who are Arabs and who thus consider themselves descendants of Abraham through Ishmael). In the Muslim version, it is usually Ishmael who is almost sacrificed, of course, which reflects Islam's early self-definition as a religion for Arabs.

In Genesis, the great sin of Sodom is never explicitly stated. Some comentators argue that the crime is rape rather than what has been explictly labeled as "sodomy." Others, based on a similar story in Judges (Judges 19) argue that the sin of Sodom was actually inhospitality.

The almost sacrifice of Isaac is, of course, a huge one from a Christian perspective. From the Catholic perspective, it is the faith of Abraham completed by his works (James 2:20-26). It is also the third instance in Genesis of a covenantal sacrifice that ultimately foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ(the first being that of Abel's sacrifice of the best of his flock (4:4) and the second being Noah's excessive post-Deluvian sacrifice (8:20).

The amazing thing about the sacrifice of Isaac is the contrast: God sees that Abraham is willing to sacrifice his "only" son but does not make him do it. In contrast, God is willing to sacrifice his Only Beggoten Son... and does precisely that for us.

Finally, with regard to Abraham's discussion with God- Brock and I once came up with a "Conversation Between the Father and the Son," prior to the Incarnation, where the Son says "Okay... so if I can find Twelve people on all the earth who won't betray me, do I have to be crucifed?" And the Father replies, "Yes, if you can find Twelve people on all the earth who won't betray you, you don't have to be crucified." Just a little though experiment, but worth mentioning here,

1:22 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

Your point that the sin isn't explicitly stated is well taken, but the fact that Lot offers his virgin daughters to the throngs, who say "no, we want the hot guys," (19:5-8) sort of points me in that direction.

That said, it's worth pointing out that Lot's plea--the reason why he offers his daughters--indeed has to do with the fact that they're guests, rather than the fact that they're guys. Interesting stuff.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Mom R. said...

I am enjoying your blog, Christopher. I am just sorry that I am not being able to join in more. I do want to give you a couple of websites you may find very interesting. They both are organizations that go into scientific evidence for creation as stated in Genesis. I have had a chance to see Dr. Carl Baugh from Creation Evidence on TV several times, and it's very well done. One time he had a man who had seen and researched Noah's ark and had pieces of it in his hand. He was so excited to be able to share that he was grinning from ear to ear and was almost jumping up and down! Anyway, that website is www.creationevidence.org The other one is www.answersingenesis.org
They both give various subjects to go to and they are very well done. Should be interesting to you.

On this last blog, you stated that God changed His mind. I don't see that at all. Abraham and Sarai were the ones that didn't follow the Lord's plans. Sarai thought she had to "help" the Lord along and instead of waiting on Him to do what He intended, she hassled and pushed Abraham into fathering Ishmael by her handmaid. At the time she wanted a baby in her arms, no matter what the cost! Ishmael was not a son of faith like Isaac was, but Ishmael was by works of the flesh. God didn't change His mind, but even after they deviated from His plan, He still blessed - Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael, because He is a God of mercy and grace.

I think it is interesting that the Lord put a picture of salvation into the account of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. When Isaac asked "where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" Abraham said, "God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering". And that's what He did then and later. A ram was caught in a thicket where they could easily get him and offer him in worship - and God provided Himself through God the Son, as the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sin of the world.

About Sodom and Gomorrah, I think it is so sad that the Lord was willing to spare the cities for the sake of 10 righteous people, and they weren't to be found. I believe Lot's family would have probably made up the 10 with children and spouses (and especially close friends), but Lot was not enough of a spiritual influence in their lives to make a difference. His heart was not seeking God first, it was after the things of this world. He literally lost his family because of his lack of love and reverence for the Lord God. I think it also shows the difference in families because when the "men" came to Abraham, Abraham asked Sarah to make them a meal. When the "men" went to Lot, Lot didn't even ask his wife (where was she anyway?), he made the meal himself. That may give an indication of where the families were spiritually. Not that it was wrong of a man to cook, but in those days especially, the wife was a homemaker, and Lot's wife was absent from the scene.

Also, about Noah being spineless - He did what God told him to do. Everyone in his day was wicked and violent, yet Noah "walked with God". He had to stick out like a sore thumb to everyone around. It takes guts and conviction to be different from the rest. He surely endured criticism and probably harassment (since they were violent) from those around him, yet he lived true to his beliefs. Wonder how many people asked him what he was doing and since there had been no rain before, laughed him to scorn when he answered. Also, God had said that He wanted Noah and his family to be saved and it was to them that he said, "Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation" (7:1) No one else was on talking terms with the Lord.

For the record, I do believe that the Word of God is true - literally, word for word true. If I can't stand on the promise of God to preserve His word for all generations (Psalm 100:5), how can I trust Him as Savior? Especially in the sense that He is the Word incarnate (John 1:14) and Jesus stated that He is the Truth (John 14:6)

Keep reading and digging - thank you again for being willing to listen to us and different viewpoints.

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Dad S said...

How timely is this issue in light of the most recent crises between Israel and the Hezbollah???

More than anything,Kid, I'm impressed with how seriously and comprehensively you are approaching this study-- only good things can happen when those of radically differing opinions can voice them respectfully!

1:11 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

If, in fact, you believe that this sin of Sodom was inhospitality, I believe you have an obligation to attempt to "reclaim" the word as it should have been intended.
The next time you are visiting a friend, if you feel he or she is being a poor host, just say, "I don't appreciate you sodomizing me."
If enough people do it, we could turn the whole meaning around.

For what it's worth, I don't see an admonition against homosexuality in the story of Sodom. That isn't to say that there aren't others, a little later on, but I don't interpret it here. The Lord is going to smite Sodom because it is a land of wickedness (my bible says 'iniquity'); we see within the text men willing to rape, and commit violence against others to enact that rape. Plenty of Sodom's residents are demonstrably heterosexual (like Lot's daughters and their husbands). As to the possible gayness of that mob of men, well, I don't want to be crass, but if you were something of a sex fiend already, and you happened across and honest-to-God angel, wouldn't he move pretty high up on your 'want' list?
A devotion to one's basest desires at the expense of civility is the crime of Sodom.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I also have a funny story to tell about rereading the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The bible I'm reading from crossreferences Joshua 6.22 (the story of a harlot within Jericho; more sexual depravity in the heart of Armageddon). After the first listing (Joshua 6.22) in the margin, there is a second reference to the same passage several verses down. This reference should have just read 'Jos.,' but there is a misprint in my Bible, which now just reads "Joe."
I'm reading the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and my bible was nice enough to single me out.

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

More on Sodomy and Blogging the Bible

I just found these passages on a blog that I sometimes visit...

Ezekiel 16:49-50 Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

Jude 7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Also, a friend happened to refer me to another Bible Blog a few days ago, possibly worth checking out, if people have time. Unfortunately, I don't.

http://www.slate.com/id/2141050/

11:58 PM  

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