Monday, April 3, 2017

READ IT! - Introduction to Genesis 15-21

Readings for this week

Monday: Genesis 15
Tuesday: Genesis 16
Wednesday: Genesis 17
Thursday: Genesis 18
Friday: Genesis 19
Saturday: Genesis 20
Sunday: Genesis 21

Introduction to Genesis 15-21

Genesis 15

God appears to Abram again and he tells him his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. God also promises to give Abram a land to live in.

But God’s promised this kind of stuff before, and Abram wants proof, so God proposes a covenant between the two of them.

Abram then goes to prepare the ritual ceremony for the covenant between them. He kills some animals and cuts the larger ones in half ...and the blood forms a pool between the pieces.

Wait…what? …Yep, you heard right.

This was a very common practice in the desert communities of the Middle East, especially in marriage covenants, and is even still practiced today in a number of locations.

It’s also where we get the term "cutting a covenant" or "cutting a deal."

Now when two parties would come together to make a covenant, they would kill these animals and let the blood ooze out between the pieces. This pool of blood is known as a blood-path.

The two parties must both walk through the blood path to symbolize the solemn agreement they have made. The greater party goes first, followed by the lesser, and they both say to each other, “May what was done to these animals be done to me if I do not keep this covenant.”

So Abram waits for God, the greater party, to act, and the text then reads that a thick and dreadful darkness fell, and smoke appeared and passed between the animal pieces. This smoke is understood to represent the presence of God.

So as the greater party, God defines the terms of the deal he’s making with Abram. God’s end of the deal is this: “I will give you land and descendants, one of whom will be the Messiah.” And Abram’s end of the deal is this: “You and your descendants must walk before me and be perfect.”

Really? Perfect? God wants Abram to be perfect?

Neither Abram nor his descendants were by any means perfect. I mean, we’ve already seen that whole wife-sister scheme Abram tried to pull in Egypt. He wasn’t even trying to be perfect.

But it’s Abram’s turn to walk through the blood… but if he does, he’ll be condemning himself and his descendants to death.

But God stops Abram and walks through a second time in Abram's place in the form of fire, implying, “If either one of us break this covenant, then I’ll die for both of us.”

God sentences Himself to die in the place of Abram and his descendants if they ever sin... which if you’re familiar with the Jesus story at all, you already know is exactly what happens later.

God damns himself… for us.

Genesis 16

But Later, Abram and Sarai decided that they would take matters into their own hands.

Sarai was getting older, and she didn’t believe that she would ever be able to have children. So she told Abram to go get her servant Hagar pregnant and have a child through her instead.

But After this, Hagar and Sarai began to hate each other. So Hagar runs away. But the angel of the LORD appears to her and tells her to go back to Sarai, because God is going to take care of her and her son. Hagar called God “El Roi,” which means “The God Who Sees,” because He had seen her in her misery and had looked out for her. So Hagar returned and had her son whom she named “Ishmael.”

Genesis 17

Over 10 years later, when Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him again and reaffirmed the covenant they had made. God commanded Abram to walk before him and be perfect.

God then changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah, and said that they would be the parents of many nations and kings.

God gives them new identities - He makes new people out of them. Abram means "exalted father." And Abraham means "father of multitudes."

Abram (whom we must now call Abraham) laughed at God and told Him to just bless Ishmael because Sarai was just too old.

And God is like:

“I will make Ishmael into a great nation as well, but I will still give Sarah a son…and you will name him ‘Isaac,’ because you laughed at my promise.”

“Isaac” means “laughter.”

God, however, got the last laugh here when he commanded Abraham to go circumcise himself as well as all of the men and boys in his care, so that every time they attempted to, well… make descendants for themselves… they would look at what they had done to themselves, and they would remember God’s promise.

Genesis 18-19

One day, three strange men approach Abraham as he’s sitting beneath an ancient tree. He prepares a meal for them, then they ask about Sarah by name, and promise Abraham that she will give birth to a son in one year’s time. Sarah was eavesdropping and laughed to herself.

And at this point, the narrator of this story suddenly reveals to the reader that the stranger speaking is actually God. And he tells Abraham that He’s on His way to investigate Sodom to see if it’s as bad as He’s heard, and to decide whether or not He should destroy it.

But Abraham questions God’s judgment, and God and Abraham go back and forth until eventually Abraham is satisfied when God tells him that even if there are only 10 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah he will not destroy the cities.

Now this chapter, Genesis 18, is a very ancient section of the Bible. It's so ancient, in fact, that different versions of this story pop up all around the ancient world, including in different Arab and Bedouin cultures, but even the ancient Greeks even have their own version of these events which dates from around 1500 B.C.

When we hear “Sodom” we tend to think “sodomy,” which is where we get that word. However, even though the men of Sodom are said to attempt to rape the angels who visit the city, the prophet Ezekiel doesn’t even mention this event later on when he talks about the sin of Sodom. With Ezekiel, it is ironic that the main sin of the Sodomites was not sodomy, but rather that they had no concern for the needy and looked out for only themselves… and ultimately that is what led to their destruction.

We also learn here that Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family are now living within the city of Sodom. This is probably why Abraham was especially concerned about the fate of the Sodomites.

When the angels arrive, Lot tries to protect them from being abused by the wicked men of the city… he even goes so far as to offer his own daughters in exchange for their safety. …sounds like a real great dad, right?

The mob tries to push their way into the house, but the angels pull Lot back inside and then strike the mob with blindness. They tell Lot and his family to leave the city right away because they’re about to destroy it.

But Lot stalls and makes excuses again and again…

Until, finally, the angels grab Lot, his wife, and his two daughters and drag them out of the city, with Lot bargaining with the angels the whole way.

As they are fleeing, Lot’s wife turns back towards Sodom and turns into a pillar of salt. She apparently just couldn't give up her life in Sodom even though she knew that a life in Sodom would end in death.

Later, Lot and his daughters traveled to the mountains and lived in a cave.

After awhile, Lot’s daughters realized that they would never get married, so they schemed together to get their dad drunk and have sex with him, so they could have kids and carry on the family name.

The two sons that were born to them were named “Moab” and “Ben-Ammi.” “Moab” sound like the Hebrew word for “from father.” “Ben-Ammi” means “son of my father’s people.”

This is the disturbing origin story that the Israelites told about their distant (and not very well-liked) cousins, the Ammonites and Moabites.

Genesis 20

But going back to Abraham’s story, sometime later, another “my wife is my sister” story takes place, with Abraham claiming Sarah is his sister, and Abimelek, the king of Gerar, taking Sarah to be his concubine.

But God doesn’t like this and he lets the King in on the secret. So Abimelek returns Sarah and gives many gifts to Abraham as an apology, and also scolds him for lying in the first place.

But here, Abraham's dirty little secret comes out and he confesses that Sarah really is his half-sister, saying to Abimelek that he only told a half-lie.

Genesis 21

A year after Abraham’s visit with the three strangers, Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to her son Isaac at the age of 90. And so finally, after 25 years, God gives Abraham the son he’d promised him.

After Isaac was born, the family held a celebration in his honor. But we can’t forget that Abraham already had a son – Ishmael – the son of his wife’s slave-girl Hagar. And Hagar and Ishmael weren’t too happy about this new addition to the family, so they mocked Isaac.

So Sarah told Abraham to “get rid of that slave woman and her son.” … and so he sent them away into the desert.

They wandered around until they ran out of water, and they sat down and prepared to die. But an angel shows up and tells Hagar that God will not abandon them. God then provides them with water.

Ishmael then grows up in the desert, and according to tradition, he became the father of the Arab peoples.

Later in Abraham’s story, Abimelek, the king he had previously tricked, shows up again. Abimelek’s servants had a dispute with Abraham over who owned a certain well. So the two men make a deal that they will do no harm to each other.

Read Genesis 15

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

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