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.