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?