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.
Questions:

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.

10 comments:

Jeremiah said...

Good Lord, you've been busy. I'm really tired, but tomorrow, I'm going to go over this with fresh eyes. I always find it fascinating when someone can find a pattern in people's behavior in the bible. It usually brings NT references to them to life.

Justin said...

loving all your insights so far babe.

rob said...

Ambitious project. I'll have to investigate when I've time.

Zoe said...

It's not nearly as ambitious as the first time I read through the Bible, which I did in little over a month and had to read over 40 pages a day to accomplish. I don't have a deadline for myself this time. Though actually reading the text to learn something from it does add to the challenge.

Quietheart said...

Zoe, this is really good! I love all the covenental stuff in the Old Testament. I'm at work right now (teaching muscle systems off cadavers...not my favorite!), so I can't really comment at depth, but I will try to remember to come back when I have a bit more time!

prayinmommy said...

Really great insights, Zoe. The great thing about when Abram left his home is that at the time he still didn't know God! He came from a land where they worshiped tons of gods, too. So he was following a God he didn't know to a place he'd never been to do something (start a nation) that sounded impossible, since his wife had never borne him any children! Incredible.

About Abram letting his wife push him around, I had to laugh all the way through Genesis because ALL of the 'big three', Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were push overs. They all let the women in their lives push them around.

Zoe said...

^That's a point I'm going to mention once we get to Isaac and eventually Jacob. Our actions have consequences in our children's lives; or, stated another way, the way our parents act affects the way we will act. If you set an example of lying or of not fulfilling your role in the family for your children, they are likely to follow in your footsteps. Kind of a sobering thought.

Jeremiah said...

Tow points really stood out at me: 1. the comparison of Christ to a halved animal and 2. the note that Hagar would have been worshipping numerous gods, none of which would respond to her. Amazing.

lewis said...

Yes I like the point about Hagar following other Gods.Good insight.

Michelle said...

I am in the middle of reading the story of Abraham right now and I came to your blog so that I can read your thoughts. I guess that means that you are now offically one of my research resourses (I will site your blog in my blog). I loved the point about pegans using only strong and beautiful people in their stories but God uses "normal" people with faults. I am glad you posted something on Melchizedek. I still don't know what to think about him. At first I thought he was an agngel but then there is the whole story about him in Hebrews....then I figured that I have been looking into the story far too much (I have a habit of over anyalizing) and that maybe he was just an orphan. What ever the case, I am researching it and you have given me some persepective.

Oh! and thanks for mentioning the tithing, I totaly missed that aspect because I was so thrown off by Melchizedek