Saturday, February 24, 2007

Genesis 23: The Death of Sarah

I found this chapter interesting so I thought I'd devote a whole blog post to it. So this will be a little shorter than usual (yay!).

So chapter 23 is about Sarah dying, but really it's about Abraham buying a place to bury her. Seriously, the part about her death is maybe two sentences.

Now, I'm not totally sure what to make of Sarah. See, not very many women are mentioned in ancient literature, particularly ancient historical literature. So the fact that Sarah got mentioned as much as she was, I think, is fairly significant. She was a pretty important lady.

On the other hand, what do we know about Sarah as a person? We know that she was barren (at first), pretty, that she talked her husband into doing stupid things, that she didn't believe God's word to her, and that she apparently really had it out for Hagar. Every time the Bible mentions Sarah, the person you see is not exactly the model wife of Proverbs 31, or even the inwardly beautiful woman Peter talks about.

So by the time we get to Sarah's death, all the author can say about his nation's mother is how old she was and how much Abraham spent to bury her.

I guess it just makes me kind of sad.

I'm trying to ask every time, what can we learn about God through this? Well, first off, God seems stuck on using people who aren't very good. That's a comfort to me personally because sometimes I think I'm like Sarah in all the wrong ways. God can work with your raw material, I guess you could say.

That's actually all I can come up with. What do you think we can learn about God from Sarah?

I'm kind of challenged by this chapter, actually. I don't really get the impression that the author meant it as such, but I can't help thinking that we can take a warning from Sarah's life. When you die, what will people have to say about you? If your life is only remembered for the few most significant things you did, what would those be, and what would they say about you?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Genesis 18-22: Sodom and Isaac

Those are the two main stories being told in this segment.


chapter 18: three men (somehow the three of them are a theophany: a manifestation of God in human form) visit Abraham and his wife and promise that they'll have a son within the year. Sarah goes "yeah right" but the guy hears her and says "you better believe it." Then two of the guys leave, but the third one tells Abraham that he's going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because they're full of wickedness. Abraham asks God to spare the cities if there are righteous people in it, and eventually barters God down to ten righteous people in the city.

chapter 19: Well, apparently there aren't ten righteous people in the city, because the two men from earlier show up in Sodom, get Lot (remember him?) and his family and tell them to leave. So they do, and they settle in the mountains, and Lot's daughters commit incest with their dad (this is gross) so they can't have kids, because apparently they don't think they can go down the hill to the village, just because their father's too chicken to do so.

chapter 20: Anyway, then Abraham goes to visit a king and does the whole "she's my sister" thing with his wife like before, gets caught like before, and comes out with more possessions as a result, like before.

chapter 21: Then Isaac is born. Then Ishmael (Hagar's kid - he's a teenager now) starts picking on him, so Sarah gets fed up and makes Hagar and Ishmael leave. God visits Hagar again. Then we jump back to Abraham, who makes a covenant with Abimelech (the king he scammed in the previous chapter)

chapter 22: Everybody knows this chapter. It's the part where God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and just when he's about to do so, God intervenes and tells him not to kill Isaac after all.

I didn't really have any questions this time, but here are some things that either I thought of or somebody told me and I wanted to tell you too:

  • Abraham's bargaining with God is really interesting, because you could almost get the idea that God is wishy washy and you can talk Him out of things. I don't think He is though, because He says that his mind is made up about the matter. However, I think He really wanted Abraham to know that this wasn't a rash decision and that He wasn't going to be killing innocent people along with the guilty.

  • Abraham talks God down from finding fifty righteous people to only finding ten, and God says that if there are ten righteous people, he won't destroy the city. I wonder if Abraham could've talked God down even lower, and I think maybe he coudl have. During this whole thing God seems very accomodating of Abraham's request.

  • Genesis is about beginnings, and one of those beginnings is the beginning of redemptive history, or God's relationship with man. As one of my commentors noted, Abraham most likely didn't have a clue who YHWH was when he left Ur; God progressively revealed Himself to Abraham as he went (the idea of progressive revelation is seen throughout scripture: a truth is slowly revealed in increments until they reach a pinnacle in Christ, or something like that). This story sets a precedent for how we are to understand God. Keep this incident in mind when we get into later stories about God killing people: God isn't acting out against the people, but against their sin. If there are righteous people undeserving of punishment, God seems to really want to spare them.

  • I'm not sure how big Sodom and Gomorrah were, but isn't it sad that there weren't even 10 righteous people in it? Lot and his family (that's four people) alone made it out alive (his sons-in-law would have too if they'd taken Lot seriously). And really, I'm not sure that even Lot was all that righteous. The Bible usually notes right away when there's a righteous person amongst wicked people, and nobody does that for Lot until Hebrews.

  • Some people are really concerned about the fact that Lot offered his daughters to the mob at his door in order to preserve the two men in his house. I would first of all like to say that this would have been seen by that culture as a perfectly moral action; hostpitality was one of the most important virtues, if you will, from ancient times up until fairly recently (as students of Macbeth should know). Secondly, I would like to say that the text doesn't tell us whether Lot did right or wrong in this action, like it doesn't tell us whether he was that righteous of a person or not. This is an important distinction: just because the Bible says something happened, doesn't mean it's saying that's what should have happened. My old pastor said once that the people in the Bible are not ideal people; they are real people.

  • Why does Abraham do the same lie in the same situation? Doesn't he remember how it turned out last time? Is he completely nuts? Or is he just like us? Do you have any patterns of behavior that are so ingrained in your life that even if you know they're wrong, you can't help doing them? Ouch. I think I just hit myself on the head.

  • I love that the angel of the LORD appears to Hagar again. Justin said the other day, when we were discussing this, that you get the idea that Hagar's relationship with God continued after that initial meeting. I think this little passage here supports that idea. God shows Hagar that He doesn't just show up once and then disappear; He continues in His faithfulness toward her. That's pretty cool to me.

  • The almost-sacrifice of Isaac is another weird story. I mentioned progressive revelation earlier; it comes into play here. Being of a pagan background, Abraham probably is familiar with human sacrifice, and we haven't seen God tell him not to do it yet. On the other hand, Abraham knows that God promised his descendents would come through Isaac. Plus, God emphasizes the fact that Abraham loves his son. That makes for a really sticky situation. See, Abraham has a pattern of distrusting God's word. God promised him lots of descendents, so Abraham made one of his servants his heir. God promised an heir from his own body, and we got Ishmael. So now Abraham finally has Isaac . . . what does he do? Is he going to take matters into his own hands like usual, or wait to see God deliver on His promise? Look what he says to the young men attending him: "We will worship and return to you" - meaning, we will worship, and we will return. Abraham thinks Isaac is going to be okay (I think he thinks that). The author of the Hebrews thought Abraham was counting on God to raise him to life again after he'd killed him. So basically, what we have here is a HUGE stepping-stone for Abraham, from distrust to trust in God and His ability to provide and make good His promises.

  • I'm almost done, I promise. Isaac, by now, is a big boy. I don't know exactly how old he was, but I've heard he was an adolescent. Abraham is a very very old man. Isaac figures out (unless he's really stupid) what's happening as far as the sacrifice goes, and he could probably take his dad out. But he doesn't. What is almost more amazing to me than Abraham's faith is Isaac's. How many of us in a similar situation would just sit there and let what happened, happen?
That's really all I have to say. Thank you so much for all your comments, everyone. Even though I don't reply to every one of them, I do read them all and I enjoy them greatly. I need to go to bed now.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Genesis 12-17: Abraham's Calling

Today I got a lot of reading done, which was pretty cool. I'm actually in the middle of chapter 18, but I figured it was more appropriate to do 12-17 together so I could do 18-19 together (Sodom and Gomorrah stuff).

In a nutshell: God tells a guy named Abram to leave home and go to a place he doesn't know about but that God will show him when he gets there. Abram goes. On the way he stops by Egypt, tells the pharaoh that his wife is his sister and gets in trouble, then goes back to his journey. Then he separates from his nephew because they're both too rich to live together, saves his nephew from being a POW, meets a guy named Melchizedek, talks to God a few times and enters into a covenant with Him that keeps getting more specific and complex. He gets his wife's slave pregnant, and she runs away, but then comes back and has the baby. Finally, God reveals a sign of the covenant for Abram and changes his and his wife's names.

1. At the end of Genesis 11 it talks about Abram's father Terah, who takes his family to Canaan but then stops and settles in Haran, where Terah dies. Then chapter 12 starts with God calling Abram to leave his father's house and go to Canaan. Now, a lot of people say that part is sort of a flashback, that what really happened is God told Abram to leave Ur by himself, and he took his whole family to Haran, then stayed there, then left again to go to Canaan. I'm not sure if this is true, because once again, I think that would be reading into the text a little more than is there. I can see how it would make sense since Terah was on his way to Canaan, but I don't know for sure. Thoughts? Grammar insights?

2. Who is Melchizedek? His name means "king of righteousness," and it also says he is "king of peace: (Salem/Shalom) and a priest of God Most High (El Elyon). Abram tithes to him, the first tithe we see in Scripture. Hebrews says that Melchizedek is without genealogy, beginning of days, or end of life (7:3), "made like the Son of God." Does that mean he's like Jesus pre-incarnation, or an angel, or something else? What do you think?

Here's some things I got out of what I read today:

  • there's a cycle of distrust in Abram's life. We first see it when he lies to Pharaoh, but we see it again in the way he treats God by not trusting Him to provide a son (15:1-3, 16:1-2). We'll see it again later, just to warn you in advance.

  • God takes Abram's faith and considers him righteous, even though in the very next chapter Abram distrusts God to the point that he sleeps with Hagar to get a child. Maybe that's what you call faith the size of a mustard seed

  • God cuts a covenant with Abram in chapter 15: the ancient practice was to cut animals in half and lay the pieces across from each other, then walk through or in between the pieces as if to say, "may what happened to these animals happen to me if I fail to keep the covenant." This is what Jesus was referring to when He said "no one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn. 14:6, emphasis mine). What's awesome is that the cultural practice was to have both parties of the covenant pass between the pieces, but in Genesis 15, only God does so, in a form that looks like something on fire. Abram doesn't have any terms to keep, which is completely contrary to the lord-vassal-type covenants made in this period.

  • There are random facts in Genesis that make it read more like a personal account: in this passage it's the sentence about the birds trying to eat the carcasses and Abram driving them away. I thought it was interesting that it was included. It may have a theological significance but I don't know.

  • This is just about the awesomest thing I found in this passage: when Hagar runs away from Sarai, the angel of the LORD (probably pre-incarnational Christ) appears to her. This is the first time we see "the angel of the LORD" in Scripture, and He's not talking to Abraham or Moses or anybody important, just an Egyptian maidservant who got pregnant by her boss and beaten by her mistress. The really great thing is that Hagar was an Egyptian who probably worshipped tons and tons of gods, one for every occasion, yet when she was in her moment of distress, none of them came to her aid. Despite all that her culture had chalked them up to be, none of them could help her because none of them could really see her. It was Abram's God, whom she probably didn't worship, who sought her out and comforted her, even prophesied about her son's future. In return Hagar calls Him El Roi ("god sees") and names the place where she met him "Beer-lahai-roi" in honor of the God who lives and sees her.

  • God seems determined to use the most insufficient, unable, and even incompetent people to accomplish His means. Noah was a drunk, Sarai was barren (and maybe had anger management problems), Abram was a liar and let his wife tell him what to do, and Hagar was a foreign slave who wasn't really part of the story at all until now. God doesn't use the people that pagan myths use: the heroic, strong, handsome, and brave. That tells me two things: 1) it doesn't matter what you can do, because God can do anything through you if you're only available; and 2) God is concerned about even the smallest, most insignificant people in the story. Nobody is unimportant to Him.

  • Right after Hagar names God "El Roi," God gives Himself a nickname to Abram: "El Shaddai." Most English Bibles that I know of translate this "God Almighty," which is actually incorrect. The Hebrew shad means a woman's breast, so God is telling Abram He is "God the breasted one," meaning God the nourisher, provider, sustainer. In case you're wondering, the Septuagint (Greek) translated shaddai to ikonos, meaning "all-sufficient," which was the closest word they could come up with. From there we got "almighty."

  • When God changes Abram's and Sarai's names, what He essentially does is insert an "ah" into them. Many people think this is a reference to His personal name Yahweh. So essentially God is giving Abraham and Sarah the identity of belonging to Him, being part of His family or something. Kay Arthur's inductive study "Covenant" has more information about this and other covenant stuff I've mentioned so far. It's a really good study.
That's about enough for now. Let me know what you think.

Gen. 4-11: Corruption and Judgment

I'm lumping several things together in this post, since right now I'm in the middle of chapter 18 and I don't want to get too far behind in my blogging. Note: This post has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit the purpose of this blog.

To sum up Genesis 4-11, it's all about people screwing up. First Cain gives the wrong offering, and then he kills his brother. Then everybody becomes wicked, so God sends a huge flood. Then Noah gets drunk and exposes himself. Then a bunch of people rally together to build a tower to heaven, so God mixes up their languages. Throw a few genealogies into the mix and that's what it is.

I'll start with questions.

1. Why didn't God like Cain's offering? I think, personally, that it was a kind of sin offering, and the only thing that can cover sins is blood. I'm sure Cain knew that, and while it was nice of him to offer his grain and stuff, it wasn't what was required. That's what I think, but I don't know. What do you think?

2. How on earth did Noah get all those animals to fit in his boat? Even if they were all babies, and even if he collected them by genus or family or "kind" or common ancestor or whatever, that's a lot of animals, especially the bugs.
***Note: I don't particularly think the Flood had to cover every inch of the earth, since people weren't that spread out. But there is archaeological evidence in many parts of the world for a deluge (in Eastern Washington it's called Dry Falls), and that makes me think that maybe it was that big. But what do you think?

3. Why was the tower of Babel such a bad idea? What about its being built did God oppose? The only thing I can say for sure was that the people were defying God's command to spread out and fill the whole earth (I had another thought last night when I read it, but I forgot what it was. I've since begun taking notes so I don't lose anymore ideas).

So now I think the important part is to find out what we can learn about God from all this. It doesn't actually matter very much whether the Flood was a global phenomenon or how Noah got all the animals into the ark. What matters is what God reveals about Himself in the text.

So here's what I think.

1. God is involved with His creation, and He is concerned about us. He interacts with us.

2. God is a God of judgment, but even His judgment is merciful. He sends Cain out to wander in the world, but He doesn't kill him or allow him to be killed. He destroys the world with a flood, but only after 120 years of waiting. Plus, it's not like people all of a sudden got wicked and God started disliking them. It had to be a long process before people became so bad that every thought in their minds was continually wicked. And with the tower of Babel, all God does is stir things up, making people speak different languages so they have to spread out.

3. God is faithful. Genesis 8:1 says that God remembered Noah when he was in the ark - that doesn't mean He forgot about him and then suddenly went "oh yeah, I've got a guy in a boat to take care of." It means He never stopped remembering Noah. And then God promised that whenever He saw a rainbow, it would remind Him of His covenant not to destroy the earth with a flood again. If you think about it, I bet it's always raining somewhere in the world. So maybe God is always seeing a rainbow somewhere and always remembering His covenant. I think that's cool.

Questions, answers, comments, criticisms, concerns - all are welcome.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Genesis 1-2: Creation

So last night I read Genesis 1-3. Normally after reading something I'd like to say something that hopefully comes off as profound or at least insightful, but this time around the only thing I really got from my reading was questions.

I never really noticed it before, but Genesis 2 really does seem to show a different perspective of the creation story from Genesis 1. For me, since I take a more literary view of Genesis 1, this isn't a problem, but it is something that piques my curiosity.

We all know how chapter 1 goes, but chapter 2 is a little less familiar, so I'll start with that. The first thing that pops up in chapter 2 is this:

"4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens- 5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground [. . .] 7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."

At first I thought, "Wait a minute, it sounds like now God's making people before plants, when chapter one says He made plants first." But actually I think it's talking about cultivated vegetation, meaning farms and stuff. Nobody was around yet to work the ground, so all the plants and stuff were just growing naturally.

But the second one is a little harder for me to understand. The next thing that happens is God says it's not good for man to be alone, so it says he forms all the animals and then brings them to Adam to name them. Now, the NIV says, "the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air," meaning it has already happened, which is consitent with Genesis 1. But that only works if the Hebrew actually uses the past participle, right? NASB says "Out of the ground the LORD God formed," which sounds like he did it right then. Does anybody have access to a Hebrew text who can tell me what the tense of the verb is? Strong's isn't all that helpful for stuff like this.

The only other thing is that it seems that Adam named all the animals, fell asleep, and met Eve all in less than a day. Not really sure how that happened. Anybody have any ideas?

Once again, I don't see this as a problem because my view of Genesis 1 is more of a literary/poetic thing, but I'd like to know at least what Moses or whoever was thinking when he put this book together.

Another thing I'd like to say is that I like how both chapters 1 and 2 refer to the animals coming out of the ground. It reminds me of Narnia. ^_^

And finally, Genesis 2 gives us a beautiful image of the Almighty God who just made an entire universe simply by saying "Let it be," stooping down to the earth to form a man with His hands. That, in a sense, is the history of God's interaction with man all boiled down to one image: the God who stoops, who gets His hands dirty, who gets down low for the sake of His beloved.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that's the book for me

Welcome to my new blog. For those of you who stumbled upon it by chance and don't already know this, I am reading through the Bible and created this blog as a forum to discuss questions and insights I come up with during my readings (it also holds me accountable to finish the whole thing).

I've read the Bible all the way through before, but that was more to get through it than actually to learn something. This time I want to learn; more than that, I want to encounter God in the pages of this book. I used to read the Bible every day, but after a while that became more of a chore for me than a relationship thing, so I stopped doing that because I didn't want my relationship with God to be a chore. Now I feel like I've let the Bible become too low of a priority for me. Last Sunday my pastor really challenged both myself and my boyfriend Justin when he said that as Christians, we should always be in the process of reading the Bible, of memorizing a chapter, of meditating on a verse or passage. Justin and I decided to read through the whole Bible; he also made a blog to discuss his reading (you can find it here).

Please feel free to comment on this and future posts, as I will have several questions that I'll like feedback on.