Sacramental Present Truths

This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 30 - The Story of Abraham Part II (Genesis 15-17)

As we enter into this part of the saga of Abraham, there are three things in this study that will be addressed:

1.  Frequent reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant by God Himself
2.  The issue of polygamy
3.  The subject of circumcision

Chapter 15 opens with the reaffirmation of God's covenant with Abraham, and one of the first things we notice is that a part of the covenant God wants to emphasize to Abraham is encouragement.  Waiting on God, even for us in this day and age, can be a frustrating experience.  We know what God promises us, yet we often forget that these things come to pass in His perfect timing, and not ours.  That is one reason why the important "gateway petition" of the Our Father, "Thy will be done," is so important.  God's will is perfect, and although we may get impatient and want all the perks now, God knows the right timing for everything and we just need to trust Him for it.  And, that leads me into a small tangent before the lesson continues.

Recently, one of my dear friends has been going through some issues with his marriage, and as I consider this guy almost like a brother, I wanted to be as supportive of him as possible.  However, he is also one of these guys who seems to think that the words of some TV preacher mean something, and in his desperation he was going off in some weird areas - he was going to "speak positive things" and also somehow got it in his head that if he just spoke in tongues more, his prayer might be more effective.  This is crap - excuse the blatant theological term! - that is often spouted by these TV hacks which also sets unrealistic expectations for those who take them seriously.  To begin, tongues and the gift that utilizes it are in no way associated with effective results in prayers, and you don't even read that from Scripture - a separate study is warranted on spiritual gifts at some point in the future, but suffice to say when tongues is mentioned in Scripture, it is a gift utilized for two purposes - one is for evangelism, and the other is for edification of the Church.  It is never some sort of merit system for having your prayers answered quicker, etc.  To use tongues in that manner, as well as the so-called "positive confession" nonsense, is actually tantamount to heresy, in it reduces faith and devotion to some sort of manipulative magic show.  This is why, when going through something like this and learning to "wait upon the Lord," it is important to first seek out God's will.   If we do that, God will order things in His perfect timing, and it fosters growth and trust within us.  This lesson though is a relevant one to all ages, and in Genesis 15 we see Abraham's own impatience attempting to "help God out" in the plan, and there are two mistakes Abraham makes in this lesson.

First, given Abraham's advanced age (not to mention Sarah's!) Abraham was of the mistaken notion that one of his beloved servants, Eliezar of Damascus, was to be his heir.  In verse 2, we see Abraham's impatience getting the best of him when he says, "Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezar of Damascus?"  But, in verse 4, God responds to this by saying, "This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir."  In other words, Abraham would have a biological son.  In verse 6, Abraham is finally put to ease about this and accepts God's word for it.  That being readied, God now wants to seal the covenant with a ceremonial demonstration.

"Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.  So shall your descendants be." Genesis 15:5

Liturgical worship is intrinsic to religious life, and it is sort of hot-wired into our being despite how some try to ignore or deny it.  We are meant to participate in our worship of God in a way that involves symbolism and ceremony, as it brings to life the reality of the faith we profess.  God did this with His people throughout the Old Testament, and He continues it in the Church today.  After God tells Abraham again that his descendants shall be as numerous as the stars (this symbolizing spiritual descendants, namely the Church). God also promises Abraham a substantial land grant, and then He seals the deal by directing Abraham to do what is a "covenant sacrifice."  In the passage beginning with verse 9 and going through verse 18, this sacrifice is described in detail, and I will attempt to summarize it now.

In verse 9, God instructs Abraham to get the following animals:

1. A three-year-old heifer
2. A three-year-old goat
3. A three-year-old ram
4. a turtledove
5. a pigeon

There is a significance in the choice of these animals, as each carried its own symbolism, and together they provided a symbolic detail of the covenant God was about to finalize with Abraham.  In  verse 10, Abraham brings these animals to a certain place, and each of the bigger animals is cut down the middle except the two birds.   The larger halves of the carcasses were placed opposite each other, and a trench was dug between them to catch the draining blood and direct it back into the earth.  This was a covenant sacrifice, and when something was done like this, it served a contractual purpose in that both parties had obligations and benefits of the covenant contract.  If this were done between two men sealing a contract, both parties would be required to walk a path in between these carcass halves, and then a portion of them would be consumed together in a meal.   In this case though, the covenant was between Abraham and God, and although again Abraham had to wait upon God's arrival to the ceremony, which he did by chasing away the buzzards that wanted a go with the carcasses, eventually God does show up.  Before that happens though, night falls, and Abraham falls into a deep sleep, and apparently something pretty significant is happening as in verse 10 it says that "horror and great darkness" fell upon Abraham.  At this point, God speaks and in verses 13-16, there is an interlude to the story as God prophesies a coming bondage of Abraham's descendants in a foreign land for 400 years (this is a foreshadow of the Exodus later) but would return with great wealth.  Abraham is told that he would die peacefully and be buried in the land.  We also notice something interesting in verse 16 - God tells Abraham that the "iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete," and there are two things about this as well which are worth noting.  The Amorites were believed to be giants descended from Noah's son Ham who also had Nephilim DNA that carried over somehow from the antediluvian world.  Some centuries later, the Israelites (Abraham's descendants) would have many battles with them before finally defeating them, and this alludes as well to Genesis 3:15.  God's telling of this to Abraham sort of acts as a prelude to the covenant ceremony, which happens in verse 17 when God appears as a "pillar of fire" (another imagery we see later) and consumes the carcasses by passing between them.  At some point, Abraham had possibly already done his "passing through," and thus not much else is mentioned.   This action seals the Abrahamic covenant, and God again promises the grant of land that would take over the realms of many of Canaan's wicked descendants.  It is really a powerful image when seen in its true form, and it demonstrates that God wants us to enter covenant with Him as not mere servants, but as family - God in essence was performing an act with Abraham that would prefigure the baptismal covenant later.

The second part of this lesson entails Genesis 16, and we are introduced to the character of Hagar here.  If you will remember back in Genesis 12, Abraham and Sarah went to Egypt for a season to escape a bad drought, and while there they obviously had acquired servants, and Hagar was one of those.  Hagar appears to have been the maidservant of Sarah personally, and much like Abraham's dumb mistake of trying to name Eliazar as his heir, Sarah too thought she could "help God out" a little by first of all acknowledging that having a baby herself was naturally out of the question.  So, to try to "figure out" the plan, Sarah instituted a plan of her own - she instructed Abraham to have a son with her maidservant Hagar, and as we can see, this would cause many problems for generations to come.  

It is at this point I want to address the subject of polygamy a little.   Over the past several months, I have gotten into watching a series on A & E Network called Escaping Polygamy, in which a group of young ladies who themselves have escaped a particular Mormon Fundamentalist cult called the Kingston Clan (or "The Order") several years earlier have made an important mission of helping other abused people get out of this and other such cults.   One lady that is not on the program but is often consulted due to her own experience with the Kingston Clan is a devoutly Christian radio/TV program host by the name of Doris Hanson, who heads a ministry called Shield and Refuge in the Salt Lake Valley that reaches out to victims of polygamous cults with the love of the true Jesus, and she has also done commendable work.  Doris also wrote a brief but excellent guide on this subject called Is Polygamy Biblical (Brigham City, UT:  Living Hope Ministries, 2007) that I would highly recommend for any Bible study or even basic apologetics regarding a refutation of such practices.  The one thing Doris notes - and is very correct about - in this book is that although God tolerated polygamous situations in the earliest days of human history, it was never His ideal for man to have plural wives.  And, although God tolerated even righteous men having occasional polygamous households in the Old Testament, it is also evident that often a polygamous arrangement ended in disaster or some other problems, and this story of Hagar here is one of those.  As Doris points out on page 12 of her text, God's ideal for marriage has always been one man and one woman - no more, no less.   Marriage is of course both sacramental and covenantal as well, and that is why only a man and a woman in a monogamous union can be considered to be ordained by God.  Again though, often flawed human reasoning can cause issues, and we see that in this situation in particular with Sarah.  Sarah and Abraham both tend to be impatient regarding the fulfillment of God's plans, and as a result they both tended to take things into their own hands in order to speed up the process.   The lesson which is very relevant to us today in this is that when we fail to wait on God and start scheming and acting on our own (even if it is God's plan), it never ends well.   Therefore, God cannot take blame or credit for what Abraham is about to do with Sarah's maidservant Hagar, as it was Sarah, not God, who initiated that action.   It is also worth noting that God never acknowledges Hagar as a legitimate wife to Abraham, as only Sarah is Abraham's wife.   The only other time Abraham takes a wife is much later in the story after Sarah dies and he marries Keturah, and through her he fathers the Midianite nation.  

It doesn't take long either for the fruit of this mistake to manifest itself, as Sarah becomes quite jealous of Hagar's union with Abraham that produces a child. Hagar then begins to despise and mock Sarah's barrenness, and this makes Sarah even more ticked off!   So, on Sarah's orders, Hagar is kicked out of the house and is forced to flee.   She flees to the desert, and while out there we see a beautiful demonstration of God's loving mercy extended to her as she is resting - the "Angel of the Lord" (which many Church Fathers saw as Jesus Himself) appears to her, and they have a conversation.  First, the "Angel" (Christ) asks her where she is going in verse 8, and Hagar replies in verse 9 that she is fleeing from Sarah.  The "Angel" tells Hagar that she has to return, and Hagar is encouraged when the "Angel" promises that Hagar's son will be a great nation as well.   And, that discussion leads to Hagar receiving a prophecy herself.

First, the name Hagar simply means "immigrant," and this defines her status in Sarah's house.  The nation promised to her through her son has several details, and they include the following:

1.  The nation's people cannot be counted.
2.  Hagar is to call her son Ishmael, meaning "God hears."
a.  Ishmael will be a "rustic man," meaning he will be outdoorsy and rugged.
b.  In verse 12, he is to be a "wild man," whose "hand shall be against every man and every man's hand against him."  This means that he will father a warlike nation that will thrive on conflict.
c.  He will also dwell in the presence of all his brethren - this comes to pass in history as well, as many of Ishmael's descendants today are actually Arab Bedouin tribesmen who lead a nomadic existence. 
3.   Please keep in mind as well that this is by no means a curse on Ishmael at all, but rather just a revelation to Hagar of what her son's personality would be like, for good or for bad.

At the conclusion of all this, Hagar names the place where this revelation is given her a name that translates as "You are the God who sees me," which this passage records as being located between the communities of Kadesh and Bared.  Hagar then returns, bears her son Ishmael, and at the time of Ishmael's birth Abraham is 86 years old.  

There is a typological lesson in this story that St. Paul the Apostle picks up on in Galatians 4:24-31.  This passage, remember, is talking about the contrast between the bondwoman and the freewoman, and the lesson is that the bondwoman gives birth through the flesh, but the freewoman through promise.   This ties into other typologies in Scripture, such as the Sinai Covenant of Moses that gave birth to the Law, which the New Testament says imposes bondage - that symbolism is also seen in the Creation narrative in the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil (Mt. Zion, the Temple, etc.).  By contrast, Jerusalem (Mt. Calvary) gives birth as a freewoman to liberty, and that symbolism is seen in the Tree of Life.  The vital lesson here is that when we try to birth things of our own endeavor, it often causes a bondage in our lives that bears repercussions for generations, but when we trust God, He controls the outcome and it is good for us.  And, oddly, this then leads into the rite of Circumcision we see in Genesis 17.

Circumcision is not a pleasant subject, especially for the man.  However, it is a natural act of faith that sealed a supernatural covenant, and Abraham is one of the first God commands to do this.  In verses 1-8 of Chapter 17, there is first a name change - Abram ("exalted father") becomes Abraham ("father of many nations").   God again promises Abraham that his seed will be multiplied exceedingly, and that he would be a father of nations from whom kings would descend.  This covenant though is not just with Abraham, but also with his seed, and is an everlasting covenant.  As the foreskin of the man's genitalia is a symbol of a man's ability to procreate, the removal of it is significant in that it symbolizes a cleansing and freeing of the seed to come forth and multiply without hindrance.  And, that is why God chose initially to do it this way.   As we will see momentarily however, this rite was also a prefigurement of the baptismal covenant instituted later.  In addition to multiplying Abraham's seed and changing his name to reflect the same, the land is then given to Abraham and his descendants.  

God has now given the promise, and what Abraham needs to do now is to perform the circumcision on all male descendants and those who are of his household 8 days after birth, a ceremony called today a bris in current Jewish practice.  Anyone who fails to be circumcised is in danger of breaking the covenant.  In addition at this point to changing Abraham's name, he also changes Sarah's - she is no longer to be called Sarai, which means "quarrelsome," but rather Sarah, meaning "princess."  God then again promises Abraham a biological son, but in his own limited faith and due to Sarah's advanced age he laughs.   Therefore, Abraham attempts again to make Ishmael the heir, but God rejects the idea quickly.   God specifically told Abraham that Sarah is to bear the heir, and now the heir has a name, Isaac ("laughter") and it will be with Isaac that this covenant will be established.  God is not going to forget Ishmael however, and Ishmael is to be blessed with being the father of his own great nation.  After all of this is established, Abraham obeys God's command and circumcises his entire household - at this point, Abraham is 97 years of age, and Ishmael is only 13. 

In concluding this lesson, the typology of circumcision will be discussed briefly.  As mentioned, circumcision prefigures baptism, and this is fulfilled by Christ Himself in Luke 2:21, and it also means that the physical circumcision rite doesn't apply to Gentile believers, per the decision of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, as well as in Romans 4:9-7.   In the early days of the Church, there was a dispute among converts of Jewish heritage and those of Gentile heritage in that the Jewish Christians wanted to incorporate Mosaic law into the teaching of the Church. Some of these people (later called Judaizers) even went as far as to say circumcision is a condition of salvation, which the Church clearly has never taught and neither did Jesus.  Jesus, as a matter of fact, pointed toward a "greater circumcision" of the heart (Romans 2:29) and stressed the priority of inner conversion over outward piety.  The symbol of the "greater circumcision" was seen in the sacrament of Baptism, and as an outward sign, baptism points to an inward grace and thus has no merit by itself.  Circumcision likewise prefigured baptism in a similar (and much more painful!) way, but the "greater circumcision" of the heart that Jesus and the Apostles taught of is a "circumcision made without hands" (Colossians 2:11).  Therefore, again, it is the same Covenant but fulfilled in the Incarnation and Atonement of Christ.

While circumcision no longer has much soteriological value, there are still valuable health benefits to the practice, and I myself can testify to that as the procedure saved me from worse problems in my early adulthood.  However, anything God commands is beneficial, even if not in a salvific sense.   The story of Abraham picks up from there next time in Chapter 18.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 29 - the Story of Abraham Part 1 (Genesis 12-14)

Up until this point, the story of Genesis recorded early human history in general relative to God's plan of salvation.  However, as Chapter 12 of Genesis begins, we begin to see a narrowing in focus of God's plan to one tribe in particular, and at its head is Abram.   The story of Abraham will pretty much cover the central section of Genesis, and Abraham dominates a large portion of the book from this point in that it is through him that God establishes a covenant people to relay His plan of salvation to the human race, and indeed, it is through Abraham's descendants that salvation will be manifest fully, as the culmination of Abraham's physical seed is in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God Himself come in the flesh.

Abram's story begins at Ur, where he was born about 45 years before the Tower of Babel incident recorded in Genesis 11.   Abram is a descendant of Shem's son Arphaxad, whose lineage we studied in Genesis 11 as well.  One thing to note here too is although I am using the name Abraham, at this point he is still called Abram, which means "exalted father."   As Genesis 12 opens, we have Abram leaving from the city of Haran, which is in northern Mesopotamia at the age of 75.   Abram and his family had left the city of his birth, Ur, sometime after Babel, as we read in Genesis 11:31.  He had stayed there with Terah his father for some time until Terah dies at the age of 205, and it is not long after that when God tells Abram to move on then.   We'll pick up that story in a moment, as extrabiblical writings give us a clue as to why Abram may have moved from Ur in the first place.  However, this time it is God who tells Abram to move to the land of Canaan to the southwest, and in doing so God made five very specific promises to Abram that are as follows:

1.  "I will make you a great nation." (verse 2)
2.  "I will bless you and make your name great." (verse 2)
3.  "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you."  (verse 3)
4.  "In you all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed."  (verse 3)
5.  "To your seed I will give this land."  (verse 7)

The map above illustrates the possible route Abram took to the Promised Land, and as mentioned, it was God who directed him where to go.  There are a couple of possible reasons for Abram's migration, and I want to briefly discuss those now.

In the Book of Jasher 8:11-36, the story goes that Nimrod for some reason was threatened by Abram's birth and sought to kill him.  However, Terah took Abram and hid him in a cave where he was also under the care of his ancestors Noah and Shem.   Although this is from an extrabiblical source, the Christological imagery here is very vivid, in that like Christ many generations later (Matthew 2:7-17), Abram was a promised covenant child who incurred the wrath of a wicked king who sought to kill him, but he was sent away into exile for his own protection.  This also is repeated later in Exodus in the story of Moses too.  According to Jasher 11:13, Abram stayed in exile until he was around 50 years of age, but upon learning of Abram's return, Nimrod attempts to imprison and then kill him, and that is why he eventually ends up in Haran, as this persecution may have also corresponded with the Babel dispersion in Genesis 11.  Jasher is by no means Scripture, and doesn't carry the same inspiration at all, but it does correlate with the record of Scripture and possibly explains some gaps in the Scriptural record which were deliberately omitted because they don't figure too prominently into the legacy of salvation that Scripture is focused upon.  Abram is also persecuted by Nimrod for worshipping the true God, something we read both in Genesis 10 specifically but also foretold in Genesis 3:15 as being part of this whole conflict we see "between the seeds."  Nimrod, remember, was the first Antichrist figure we read about in Scripture, and Nimrod's story sheds light on what the future Beast in Revelation is going to be like, as it possesses the same spirit - it is a spirit that hates the worshippers of the true God, and seeks to destroy them in order to elevate itself to godhood.  And, as we continue this narrative, Nimrod continues to be a recurring issue for Abram and his family.

When Abram leaves Haran for Canaan, he takes with him his wife Sarai (whose name means "quarrelsome") and his nephew Lot ("a covering"), the son of his deceased brother Haran.  Scripture doesn't allude to how Lot became part of Abram's family, but my theory is that at Haran's death, Lot may have still been quite young and perhaps Abram agreed to take him and raise him as a son.  At some point, reading on in verses 5-6, Abram and his tribe settle in Canaan.  Note too the very first thing he does when he arrives at a place called Bethel (meaning "house of God," and historically thought to be connected again to the Temple Mount) is to build an altar to God and offer worship, possibly in thanksgiving to God for bringing him safely to this "land of promise."  However, Abram doesn't stay in Bethel, as it says he ventured further south but doesn't say where.

Beginning in verse 10, a sojourn in Egypt is recorded.  This is the first of three major journeys to Egypt that Scripture records, the second being Joseph's relocation of his family there toward the end of Genesis, and the third being Mary and St. Joseph taking the baby Jesus there to protect Him from Herod's wrath.  The relationship of the people of God with Egypt in Scripture is a rather odd one, for it is almost a love/hate thing throughout most of the Old Testament.  For one thing, Egypt was for some reason a special place of refuge, whether from famine (in the cases of both Abram and his great-grandson Joseph) or from persecution (as we read in Jeremiah, and also in the instance of the infant Jesus in the Gospels).  The Egyptians are obviously far from perfect, but for some reason God has given Egypt a special and unique dispensation of mercy over the centuries.  For instance, when we see Isaiah 19:23-25, God calls Egypt blessed, and also denotes them as "His people."  In relation to that, one of the oldest Churches in Christendom, the Coptic Church, was established in Egypt due to the evangelization of St. Mark the Evangelist - with over 10 million members today in the Middle East alone, the Copts are still a vibrant Christian community, although they have faced much persecution over the centuries.  And, in relation to that, once the Church was established, Alexandria in Egypt was one of the five original Patriarchates of the Church.  Alexandria was also the home of a vibrant Diaspora community of Jews dating from the time of Alexander the Great (after whom the city was named) and also the place where one of the oldest translations of Scripture, the Septuagint, was created.   It is also worth mentioning that during the time of Jeremiah, when the Assyrians and Babylonians were beseiging Jerusalem and many of the priests and nobles of Judah were going into exile, many of them went into Egypt, and a couple of things of note are worth mentioning here.  In the reign of Josiah at around that time, the Ark of the Covenant was not in Jerusalem, but during the earlier reign of the wicked king Manassah, a group of Levites had removed the Ark and tradition records them taking it to a replica temple on Elephantine Island in central Egypt said to have been constructed around the year 650 B.C.  Bob Cornuke, a Christian archaeologist and  explorer, notes in his book In Search of the Lost Ark of the Covenant (Nashville:  Broadman and Holman, 2002) on pages 101 and 102 that the ruins are still there today.    In II Chronicles 35:20, Josiah provokes a battle from Pharaoh Neco, who in verse 21 scolds and warns Josiah, saying that he needs to refrain from meddling with God, "who is with me, lest he destroy you."   The insinuation in this passage is that God is literally with the Pharaoh, and Cornuke and others believe this to be an allusion to the Ark being in Egypt (Cornuke, p. 107).  This would also connect the Ark's association with Ethiopia, as many believe (including myself) that this is where it eventually ended up.  Although the ancient Ethiopian Kebra Negast (meaning "Glory of Kings") records the affair of Solomon with the Queen of Sheba producing an heir named Menelik, the Ark would therefore have arrived much later in Ethiopia to protect it from invaders, and perhaps too the Levites it talked about in II Chronicles were headed there, as they knew a descendant of Solomon sat upon the throne of Axum, and would protect the holy object.  Any rate, Egypt still figures prominently in the story, and as we read Scripture, we see many interactions of Abram's descendants with Egypt, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.  And, it started more or less with Abram's first trip to escape a famine in Canaan.

When Abram arrives in Egypt, we see a part of his humanity and concupiscence surface, proving that even the most righteous are prone to mistakes.  Fearing for his own life, he concocts a scheme to save his own skin at his wife Sarai's expense.  Sarai is described here as being an exceedingly beautiful woman, even at her advanced age.  Abram feared that the Egyptians would somehow covet and force her away from him, and maybe even kill him to take her, so he proposed that Sarai was to pass herself off as his "sister."  Abraham's mistake here is essentially the same one that caused Adam to fall back in Genesis 3 - Abram, in a weak moment, feared physical death more than he feared offending God by sin.  Abram's fear, much like Adam's, was as Dr. Hahn calls it a failure of faith, in that it kept him from his duty to guard the covenant God gave him.  It also kept him from trusting in God's care, and he was even willing to throw his own wife - as Adam also did - "under the bus." (Scott Hahn, First Comes Love.  New York:  Doubleday, 2002.  pp. 69-70).  It was unfortunate that Abram chose this solution, but unlike what happened to Adam and Eve at the Fall, God had a very bizarre way of preserving His covenant.  God sends a plague on Pharaoh for taking Sarai, in that He wanted to protect Sarai's virtue in order for His covenant to be fulfilled.  Although the Pharaoh rewarded Abram handsomely for "giving" him his wife (vv. 14-16), the plague also revealed to Pharaoh Abram's deception, and as you can guess, he was not happy (v. 20)!  Pharaoh though was surprisingly lenient on Abram, and the only punishment he exacted on Abram was deportation, as he ordered Abram and his family out of Egypt.   God, in essence then, was protecting Sarai from a stupid move on the part of Abram.

At this point, some time after the stay in Egypt, Abram is back in Canaan and as we bridge Genesis 13 and 14, we turn now to Abram and his nephew Lot.  A lot will be mentioned about Lot (pardon the pun!) in the coming chapters of Genesis, but as mentioned, Abram sort of "adopted" his nephew as a son.  As Abram became prosperous in herds and other wealth, Lot likewise benefitted, as Abram more than likely gave Lot a share of his own.  Lot too was to prosper, but in time a lack of designated grazing area caused their herdsmen to fight among each other.  Abram didn't want "bad blood" with his nephew, so he decided to allow Lot a portion of his own land to graze his herds, and he gives Lot the choice of what he wants.  Lot was enamoured of the lands to the east in the lower Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea, and chose to possess that land.  This would later come back to haunt him in a couple of different ways, as his close proximity to a wicked but wealthy city called Sodom would prove to be problematic for Lot later on.

In verses 14-18, a brief interlude in the story is documented, as God blesses Abram with all the land he can see, and also promises him again descendants (verse 16).  Abram's descendants, God promised, will be as the "dust of the earth" (extremely numerous) and indeed later his physical descendants (which the "dust" signifies) would be many (primarily today's Arabs and Jews).  Having been blessed by God with what is now his, Abram establishes a base of operations and a home at Hebron, and also builds another altar in dedication to God (verse 18).

As we come into Genesis 14, a major war breaks out.  Although the nations were dispersed at Babel some decades earlier, Nimrod's influence is still evident as a major regional power.  A group of cities in what is called the Valley of Siddim near the Dead Sea region rebels against one of Nimrod's satellite kings, an enigmatic ruler by the name of Chedorlaomer (meaning "he that dwells in a sheath").  The five cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar and their rulers wage a "war of independence" against Chedorlaomer, who is also the king of Edom in what is now southern Iran.  Chedorlaomer has an alliance of his own of four kings, all of whom were no doubt either satellites of the empire of Nimrod or allies, and one (Amraphel of Shinar) may have actually been Nimrod himself.   The sixteenth chapter of The Book of Jasher seems to affirm this connection, as does the Socino Babylonian Talmud, which records the following:

And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel.   Rab and Samuel are at variance.  One holds that his name was Nimrod and why was he called Amraphel?  Because he ordered our father Abraham to be cast into a burning furnace...Because in his reign he led all the world in rebellion against himself. 
( - accessed 8/6/2016)

This is also noted in the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel (J.W. Etheridge trans., 1902 -  Accessed 8/6/2016) in which is recorded the following:

And it was in the days of Amraphel -- he is Nimrod, who commanded Abram to be cast into the furnace; he was then king of Pontos.  Ariok, so called because he was tall among giants....

The name Amraphel translates as being "one who speaks of dark things," and gives the reader the impression that this was a man who worshipped demons and possibly channeled them as "gods."  Also note something else - in this passage of Genesis, particularly 14:5, we also see Chedorlaomer defeating several tribes of giants in this valley of Siddim battle - many of the Canaanite tribes did exhibit Nephilim DNA, and this second race of Nephilim were to give the Chosen People problems for generations to come.  Now, the Talmudic passages as well as Jasher also record Amraphel (Nimrod) and at least two of his allies as being giants too, and one theory of Nimrod's description in Genesis 10 is that he is both a giant himself as well as a "mighty hunter" of men (to subjugate and enslave) and giants as well.  At any rate, the alliance led by Chedorlaomer of Elam utterly defeats the cities of the Plain, and as it does, it also takes captives, among whom is Lot, Abram's nephew.

A messenger who escapes the onslaught makes his way to Abram's camp, and advised of Lot's capture.  Abram assembles a militia of his own and goes to rescue Lot in alliance with the new king of Sodom (his predecessor, as documented in verses 6-10, perishes when the routing armies drove him and the king of neighboring Gomorrah into a tar pit near the Dead Sea shore). In verses 13-16, Abram's mission is successful, and he not only rescues Lot but also several other captives.  We now note something of further interest beginning in verse 14.

In verses 14-17, we see the appearance of an enigmatic priest/king called Melchizedek, and he is reported later to be the "King of Salem" (ancient Jerusalem).  The name Melchizedek is a cognate of two Hebrew words - malka meaning "king" and tzedekah meaning "righteous."   The name "Salem" is a name later Anglicized in recent Bible translations from the Hebrew word shalom, which of course means "peace."   It is believed that Melchizedek was a title rather than a proper name, and in other literature such as Jasher, the name is interchangeable with Adonizedek, which translates as "righteous lord."  Jasher 16:11 also maintains that Melchizedek was in reality Shem, the son of Noah and ancestor of Abram too.  In the name Melchizedek we see a Christological typology as well, and the Church has always maintained that Melchizedek prefigures Christ, even if in reality he was Shem.  His title, "Righteous King of Peace," mirrors the Messianic prophecies we see in Isaiah 9:6.  Looking also at verse 18, it is worth noting that Melchizedek comes out to meat Abram with offerings of bread and wine, which is seen also by the Church as a typology of the Eucharist as well.   This ceremonial (and sacramental) act of Melchizedek is a mark of the priestly "order of Melchizedek" that Christ institutes as foretold in Psalm 109:4 and affirmed in Hebrews 5:6 - the means of salvation is proclaimed through a superior priesthood, in other words.  We also note in verses 19-20 the blessing that Melchizedek bestows upon Abram by saying "Blessed be Abram of God most High, possessor of heaven and earth; And, blessed be God most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand."  Verse 20 concludes with Abram giving to Melchizedek a "tithe" upon receiving this blessing, and this is one of the first references to tithes and firstfruits in Scripture.

Melchizedek blesses Abram, from a medieval painting.

In the closing verses of Chapter 14, the battle has been won, the enemy routed, and those needing rescued (including Lot) have been liberated.  So, at this point, after Melchizedek's ceremony the king of Sodom and Abram meet to settle up on the spoils obtained in the battle.  The king of Sodom offers Abram the cavalry as a spoil of war, while keeping the prisoners of war for himself.  However, Abram doesn't really want any spoils, and suggests to the king of Sodom instead to divvy up his share among three valiant associates of his - Aner, Echkol, and Mamre - as they have need of it more than he does.  It is not mentioned specifically if the king was agreeable to the arrangement, but it can possibly be speculated that the negotiations were a success and Abram's three younger cohorts were rewarded for their service.  Abraham was more interested in serving God rather than acquiring wealth for himself, as he really had no need of it anyway.  And, in this, a virtue of Abram is reflected that we recite at every Mass in our Anglo-Catholic tradition in what is called the "Summary of the Law."  This Summary, also recorded in Matthew 22:38-39, and it summarizes the law of God well with two things it entails:

1.  Loving the Lord God with all one's heart, soul, and mind (the ancient Shm'a)
2.  Loving one's neighbor as one's self.

In reading it, we see that this is exactly the basic moral law of God given to us also in the Ten Commandments, and with Abram's example we see that it was as relevant in his time as it is for us today, as God's moral law is eternal.  As we pick up the story of Abram, we begin to see a growing in holiness in him, as God's supernatural grace continues to elevate, perfect, and heal Abram's finite nature.  But, it isn't without flaws - as we will see, Abram makes some dumb choices, but God works even with Abram's mistakes too.  

References used:

Cornwall, Judson, and Smith, Stelman.  The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names.  Metuchen, NJ:  Bridge-Logos, 1998.

Johnson, Ken, The Ancient Book of Jasher.  Olathe, KS:  Biblefacts, 2008.

Morris, Henry III.  The Book of Beginnings Vol. 3 - The Patriarchs, Promised Nation, and the Dawning of the Second Age.  Dallas:  ICR, 2014.

The Orthodox Study Bible - NKJV.  Nashville:  Thomas  Nelson, 2008.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 28 - The Genealogy of Abraham (11:10-32)

This lesson brings us to a new threshold in the study of Genesis, as a lot is about to happen to narrow the focus of the story to one family, that of a man named Abram.   There are a lot of things going on in this time frame, as the Flood has happened, the nations are scattered from Babel, and the earth has also drastically changed physically as well, as the continental plates were forced to shift by seismic activity during the Flood, and the climate is changing.  We begin to also see something else happen.

In the genealogy that dominates the remainder of Genesis 11, we begin to notice that people are not living quite as long now.  As a personal theory based on my own research, I would propose that the Flood - in particular the loss of the firmament - altered the environment in such a way that the lifespans of people were affected.  Of course, this takes place over a period of roughly 700 years after the Flood, and we see a gradual decline in longevity to the point that by the end of Genesis, the longest-lived person is about 120 years old as opposed to the 900-year lifespans we saw before the Flood.  That being said, we now want to take a look at the generations following the Flood.

(Courtesy of Creation Science Evangelism, Pensacola, FL)

The above chart was designed by Dr. Kent Hovind, who is a leading Creationist speaker from the Fundamentalist Baptist tradition.  It is a good chart to use, and I have a full-size one I use as a teaching tool in Sunday School classes.  The focal point of our chart is the generations from Shem onward, or the bottom half of the chart, in this passage.  Note in particular Shem's lineage, which extends all the way to when Jacob would have been around 80 years old, so Shem actually lived to within 500 years of the Exodus.  The reality of this suggests then that even if Genesis were to have been drawn primarily from oral tradition, as some argued, the memory of these earlier generations would have been relatively fresh at the time of Genesis being committed to writing.  However, I want to give you my own theory about the writing of Genesis at this point, as it does bear significance on the lessons presented.

It is generally accepted by conservative Bible scholars of all traditions (Protestant and Catholic) that Genesis is a product of divine revelation, as is all of Scripture.  It is generally (and correctly I believe) assumed that Moses received that revelation during his long sojourn on the Mount with God, and what I believe happened there is this - Moses had questions about the stories his mother Jochebed had told him, which were probably passed down over several generations, and as Moses was raised in the Pharaoh's household up until young adulthood, his adopted guardian, the Pharaoh's daughter, would have also probably made sure he had some exposure to his people and his heritage.  This would mean that Moses would have crossed paths with people who may have either been very young with Joseph passed away, or they were of such advanced age that they heard it from their own grandparents.  As Moses and God were having the conversations on the mountain that resulted later in the Book of Genesis, I would propose Moses was asking for clarification on these stories, and God would have given him that directly.  And, since God doesn't lie, this means two things.  First, any embellishments that may have crept into the stories Moses heard from the older generations would have been clarified by God, as God doesn't lie.  Secondly, since God was calling Moses to be a deliverer of His people, God was giving Moses the historical premise for heralding this deliverance, as it would preserve the very lineage through which God would bring redemption to all mankind, so this would have been something not to take lightly.  Therefore, if we trust in God for our salvation as Christians, then we need to take Him at His word and not try to rationalize it to fit our own limitations. 

The main focus of this passage however is not so much about how long these great men lived (although that does figure into it) but rather how we begin to see God narrowing the focus of His plan of redemption down to one family.   As the Genesis narrative continues from this point, that narrowing will trickle from Shem, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and eventually to one of Jacob's twelve sons (Judah), from which later one family - that of King David's - will be chosen for the royal lineage of the Messiah.  We will also continue to note the names of these ancient Patriarchs, as again the meanings of several of them carry significance. 

In verses 10-11, Shem's son Arphaxad (name means "a jar pouring forth") is born when Shem is 100 years of age. After Arphaxad's birth, Shem lives another 500 years, dying at age 600.  When Arphaxad is only 35, we read in verses 12-13 that Arphaxad's son Salah (meaning "Sprout") is born, and afterward Arphaxad lives another 403 years, dying at age 438.  In verses 14-15, we note that Salah's son Eber (meaning "he who passed over") is born when Salah is 30.  Eber is important in that it is his name that the Chosen People receive later - Hebrews - and ironically it is a "passing over" that liberates them from bondage under the leadership of Moses.  Salah then lives another 403 years after Eber's birth, passing away at age 433.  In verses 16-17, Eber's son Peleg (along with his twin brother Joktan we read about in Genesis 10) is born when Eber is 34 years old.  If you remember what we discussed, Peleg (meaning "division") is the guy in whose lifetime the nations were dispersed at Babel, and the implication here is that his name is prophetic in that regard.  After Peleg is born, Eber lives another 430 years before dying at age 464.  In verses 18-19, we have the birth of Reu, Peleg's son, when the latter was 30 years of age.  After Reu's birth, Peleg lives another 209 years, dying very young (at least compared to his ancestors!) at the age of 239.  In verses 20-21, Reu's son Serug (meaning "branch") is born when Reu is 32 years of age.  After Serug's birth, Reu lives another 207 years before dying at the same age his father Peleg does at 239.  At this point, I want us to note something here.  Note those names which mean "sprout" or "branch" coming from the names of these ancient ones.  If you remember at the beginning of this series of lessons, one thing we wanted to do was to see a Christocentric imagery in the Old Testament, and here is one.  In taking Salah's and Serug's names, we now want to look at something in Isaiah 11:1:

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

Look now at verse 10 in the same chapter:

And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious

Let us now go to the New Testament, and look at how Jesus describes Himself in John 15:5:

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in Him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

We can also go back to Genesis 2, where the Tree of Life in the Garden is a typology of Calvary and the Cross, as through the Cross we receive eternal life.  It is therefore no accident that these people had the names they were given, in that even in three generations we see a picture of the Church - Peleg symbolizes division, which is bridged by Reu ("friendship") through a "branch" (Serug) - God restores, in His son, our full communion with Him.  We will see more of this sort of thing later too, but the implications here is that sometimes even in the "boring begats" of Scripture, a rich truth can be revealed.

Back to the genealogy, we are at Serug, and in verses 22-25 his son Nahor (meaning "labored breathing") is born when Serug is 30.  Serug then lives an additional 200 years after Nahor's birth, dying at age 230.  In verses 24-25, Nahor's son Terah (meaning "you may breathe") is born when Nahor is 29, and Nahor only lives abot 119 years after, dying at a really early age of 148.  With the genealogy thus far, the story now shifts more to a focus on Terah from verse 26 onward.

Terah, at the age of 70, witnesses the birth of three sons - Abram, Nahor, and Haran.  In verse 27, Haran comes of age and gives birth to a son named Lot, whose story we will discuss later in Genesis, and he apparently dies very early on in verse 28.  In verse 29, Abram and Nahor take their wives, with Abram marrying Sarai, and Nahor marrying Milcah, the daughter of another Haran.  In verse 30, we are told Sarai (whose name means "quarrelsome") is barren, which is something of significance as it sets the stage for what God is to do later on.  One other detail is that all of these people were born in or around the city of Ur at this time in southern Mesopotamia, which is a city in Nimrod's kingdom.  As we discussed in the last lesson though, Terah takes his family from Ur and leaves, probably at about the time the nations were dispersed at Babel, and there may be another reason too as we read in Jasher.  In Jasher, the story is that for some reason Nimrod wants to kill Abram, and Terah, being a good father, wants to protect his son so they flee. They settle for a time in upper Mesopotamia in a place called Haran, which is believed to be named after Abram's brother who later passes away.   Haran still exists as a city interesting enough today, and in the early centuries of the Church, the region was a vibrant center of Syriac Christianity, as it was close to the ancient cities of Edessa and Nusaybin, both of which were ancient centers of Eastern Christianity. 

The ruins of the ancient city of Haran today in northern Syria - note the beehive-style roofs, which are an architectural style dating to Abraham's time.

In time, Abram would journey further southwest, coming to the region we know today as Israel, which would be the home of his descendants.  Terah would unfortunately not make that journey, as he would die in Haran at the age of 205, as Genesis 11:32 tells us as the chapter concludes.

The location of Haran

As Genesis 11 closes, so too does the first segment of the story.  From this point, and over the next few lessons, the focus now will be on Abraham and his story, as it is given almost 12 chapters in Genesis of its own.

The etymology of names in this lesson is courtesy of Judson Cornwall and Stelman Smith, The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names (Plainfield, NJ:  Bridge-Logos, 1997).  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 27 - The Tower of Babel: an Occultic Portal? (11:1-9)

As we have discovered in the last lesson, after the Flood the population began to increase again, as God gave Noah and his sons the mandate to "be fruitful and multiply" in much the same way He did Adam.   At this point in history, everyone spoke the same language, and due to the close proximity to the ark's resting-place on Ararat, most people lived in close proximity, with a population center being on the Plain of Shinar in central Mesopotamia.  However, although the earth was renewed, human nature was not, and in time man's inherent concupiscence began to manifest itself again in sinful behavior, but this time in a way totally different.   In Genesis 10, we introduced an enigmatic character who was a great-grandson of Noah by the name of Nimrod, and as we also examined, Nimrod was a person who more than likely inherited corrupted recessive genes probably through his grandmother, Ham's wife.   Other than the fact that he founded Babel and eventually lived there and ruled from it, not much specifically is mentioned of Nimrod in Genesis 11 except to say that traditionally the events that happened at Babel are thought to be an instigation of Nimrod.  We are now going to examine some extrabiblical texts regarding Nimrod's life, and this will shed light on the events we see in Genesis 11, in particular this section.

Artistic rendering of Nimrod

The connection of Nimrod to the events of the first few verses of Genesis 11 are an inference based on Genesis 10:10 which states that Nimrod was king over Babel.  Nimrod is also historically thought to be a prototype of the future Antichrist, one of many we see in history (others being Nero, Napoleon, and Hitler).  The ancient Book of Jasher has quite a bit to say about Nimrod, so we will take up his story from Jasher as it also connects the story of Nimrod to the Tower of Babel incident. 

The version of the Book of Jasher we will utilize for this particular study is Dr. Ken Johnson's Ancient Book of Jasher (Olathe, KS: Biblefacts, 2008).  Johnson is a minister in the Calvary Chapel denomination, and although on some things he has some Fundamentalist Protestant bias in his writing, he does have a very handy translation of these ancient books, and it is a good ready reference if you are interested in getting something like that without spending a lot of cash.  In the first reference, we go to Jasher 11, where it is recorded that Nimrod built four cities (which we also see in Genesis 10) and they are named Babel ("confusion"), Eched ("dispersion"), Calmah ("consumption") and Echad ("conflict") (Johnson, p. 23-24).  In Jasher 11:6, it states that Nimrod dwelt in Babel, which can be inferred to be his administrative capital.  In Jasher 7, Nimrod's birth is recorded as the year 1908 AM, and in 7:29 it records that Nimrod inherited (dishonestly, as we see later) the garments of Adam (Johnson, p. 17).   In Jasher 8, we see an interesting story of Nimrod's interaction with Abraham, which was actually a very hostile one - Nimrod for some reason sought to kill Abraham at his birth (Genesis 3:15 coming to life, maybe?) but his father Terah hid him in a cave. As he grew, he was taught the ways of God by his own ancestor Shem, who was still alive at this point (Jasher 9:6), and at the time Nimrod began construction on the Tower of Babel, Abraham is reported in this text as being age 45.   Abraham is eventually arrested as an adult by Nimrod as Abraham had refused to follow Nimrod's false religion, but he is able to flee when Nimrod tries to kill him (Jasher 12) (Johnson, pp. 26-28).  Nimrod's death is also reported in Jasher 27, and it ironically corresponds with Genesis 25:28-33, as it is of all people Esau, Abraham's grandson, who kills him! As that story goes, Nimrod and Esau had a rivalry, as both were "mighty hunters," and on one occasion Esau seizes the opportunity to decapitate Nimrod in a field, and also absconds with the garments of Adam.  Given the effort and the struggle such a battle must have entailed, this would also correspond with why Esau was so tired and hungry when he gives up his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup in Genesis 25.  At this point, Nimrod would have been close to 300 at his death then.

Bodie Hodge, in his book Tower of Babel (Green Forest, AR:  Master Books, 2012) notes also the title of Nimrod as "the mighty hunter," and as he notes on page 90, the speculation is not someone who hunts deer or wild boar, but rather one who hunts men to enslave them.   Again too, we come back to the question we asked in Genesis 10 - was Nimrod a giant?  The thesis I have here remains the same, in that the Hebrew word Gibborim when used in this context infers a super-human person who in some ways surpasses the average man, and the reason for this is Nimrod possessed the same recessive gene his uncle Canaan did, which resulted in him becoming a Gibborim.  If this be the case, then we do have an event that reflects the playing out of Genesis 3:15, in that Nimrod then was the "serpent's seed" whereas his adversity with both Abraham and Esau as recorded in Jasher reflected the "enmity between the seeds," which is probably why he sought to kill Abraham.  And, when the languages are scrambled and the population disperses at Babel later on, many legends arise which feature demigods with many similar traits to Nimrod, which is why many writers believe that all these names in different cultures (Gilgamesh, Heracles, Osiris, etc.) all refer to the same person, and that is Nimrod.  Below is a chart showing some of the names associated by some with the personage of Nimrod, and when their myths are read in context with the way Genesis describes Nimrod, the uncanny similarities actually do jump out:

At this point now, we go to the Tower itself in verse 3.

There are some things about the tower itself we will now discuss, and they are as follows:

1.  How it was constructed
2.  Why was it built?

In verse 3, Genesis tells us that the Tower was built out of bricks plastered with "slime," and in looking up that word, some translations render this as asphalt.  It you recall when Noah was constructing the ark, he used a material called pitch to waterproof it, and as we discussed, this pitch came from naturally-occurring petroleum tar pits in the region (in southern Iraq, oil is an abundant commodity, as much of the world's supply does come from this region).  The names "pitch" and "slime" are talking about the same thing used two different ways - one was for waterproofing, and the other acted as a sort of mortar or cement in building.  As we see below, this is still a practice used by peoples in that region even today:

As for the construction itself, the Tower was probably a ziggurat, which was common to the region, and more than likely it looked more like the illustration below rather than the conical thing we see in classical artwork:

Keeping this in mind, the next question then is why did they build this thing?  In verse 4, the Tower is described as "a tower whose top will reach heaven," and this also leaves questions.  As the tower was probably a ziggurat, it was also imposing, given the flat plains of Shinar where Babel was located.  However, I have come to believe that size is not the real problem with the Tower, but rather something else.  After all, if God were against tall skyscrapers, he would have flattened New York long before 9/11 happened!  Therefore, be assured that God is not against tall buildings, but the purpose of the structure rather than its physical attributes are why God had concern.

It also said in the same verse that this tower was built by the people (possibly under Nimrod's mandate) to "make a name for ourselves."  Nimrod was the absolute ruler of most of the population of the earth at this time, and it is one possibility that this structure was built to consolidate his rule in the region.  In doing so, the people would be drawn toward it, and the consolidation of the majority of people on the earth into one area would have made it easier for Nimrod to rule them.   However, I am about to propose another purpose that is much more mysterious for this structure, and it is now being talked about more in some circles. 

Many reading this I am sure are familiar with a science fiction TV series called Stargate SG-1.  That series is one of my wife Barb's favorite shows, and it is a very good program.  The premise of the program was that some US military people unearth an ancient inter-dimensional portal, and it becomes a top-secret project of the government to travel to other galaxies and even alternate universes.  It comes into play here because if size was not an issue in the construction of Babel, then what was?  Also, was it just merely a symbol of the pride of man, or was there more to it?  Many rulers, and even some not-so-powerful, have symbols of their pride displayed all the time;  statuary, monuments' plaques, etc.  For the most part, they just preserve the legacy of the one whose likeness is reflected by it, and God really doesn't seem to be too worried about mere monuments to leaders or civilizations.  Therefore, an "I love me" display in the central square is not really the issue, and the Tower of Babel was not necessarily built for that purpose either.   However, what if I were to speculate that Babel may have been a portal of some sort?   Opening "portals" to supposed "other dimensions" has been done before, as occultists are constantly playing around with that stuff in order to initiate contact with "higher consciousness," which they fail to realize are actually demonic spirits.  One such example of this happened in 1918 with notorious occultist Aleister Crowley, and I want to discuss that now.

Occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) in his "tinfoil pyramid hat"

Crowley is perhaps the most notorious occultist of all time, and despite being brought up in a strict home with devout Plymouth Brethren parents, he was actually an evil and perverted soul who many believe inspired much of the modern "Satanic Church" movement.  In 1918 Crowley attempted a ritual that was supposed to bridge the visible and invisible dimensions which he called the Alamantrah Working, and when he opened this rift he was attempting, a weird being called a "lam" named Aiwass came through it (Thomas Horn, Nephilim Stargates.  Crane, MO:  Anomalos Publishing, 2007.  p. 94).  Crowley sketched this entity, and what he drew looked like this:

Doesn't that look familiar??   Today, we would associate this thing with the "little green Martian men" we see in sci-fi movies, but in reality what it really is actually is a demon.  Some researchers would also call this thing an "alien gray," and keep in mind when Crowley conjured this thing, it was a good 28 years before the UFO sightings began, and another similar coincidence relates to that too.

Two other occultists, one being an otherwise brilliant rocket scientist named Jack Parsons and the other being the founder of the Church of Scientology,  L. Ron Hubbard, attempted a similar experiment in the year 1946 called the Babylon Working (begin to put all this together, and you will see where we're going in case you are wondering why we are even discussing this in a study about the Tower of Babel), and a big part of that was what was called ritual sex magick (called the "Great Rite" in Wiccan traditions - George Mather and Larry Nichols, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions, and the Occult.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1993. p. 317).  While Parsons was performing this sexual act with a prostitute (representing the Whore of Babylon) in order to call down the spirit child into a human womb (sounds like a Genesis 6 attempt, doesn't it?) thus embodying the supernatural forces of "Babylon," Hubbard acted as a scribe recording it all (Daniel V. Boudillion, "Aleister Crowley's Lam and Little Gray Men," published August 2003 at Accessed July 8, 2016).   Two interesting facts emerge about this.  First, Parsons and Hubbard were attempting to harness the "spirit of Babel," which no doubt has a connection to Genesis 11 (a fact not lost either in Peter and Paul LaLonde's 1997 Christian thriller Tribulation) and thus has some relevance to what I will say momentarily.   Secondly, this "Babalon Working" (the spelling Parsons used) corresponded so closely with Roswell a year later, when the UFO hysteria began officially.   Oddly about that, whereas Crowley had mastered closing the portal some 30 years earlier, somehow Parsons and Hubbard were unable to do so, and that may have something to do with all these UFO sightings.  That could all be a study in itself honestly.  Bottom line, with a limited tangent here, people who see these UFO's are seeing something, but it isn't what they think - what they are seeing are not aliens from other galaxies, but rather demons who appear as friendly little extraterrestrials.  Now, to connect this with Babel.

Rocket scientist and occultist Jack Parsons (1914-1952)

The question here to ask then is this - was the Tower of Babel a similar portal?   Remember what we talked about when we studied Genesis 10, about Nimrod wanting to "seek vengeance" on God for killing off his possible Nephilim ancestors before the Flood happened?  It is possible that Nimrod was trying to summon the "spirits" of his ancestors to become part of him so that he would be able to "vanquish God."   And, this is a reason why Nimrod is the first Antichrist figure we see in the Old Testament, for when we look at the description of the future Antichrist in Revelation 13:4-6 (NKJV):

So they worshipped the dragon who gave authority to the Beast, and they worshipped the Beast, saying, "Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?"  
And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue forty-two months.
Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.

Remember the description of Nimrod in Genesis 10 - "a mighty hunter before the Lord" - which means something very different from what many reading this may think?   St. Augustine acknowledges that Nimrod founded Babylon, and in his City of God he refers to Nimrod as a "giant." Although some Fathers - such as St. Chrysostom in his Homilies on Genesis - take on a view that Aquinas would formulate later that even Lucifer in his being was good, as was Nimrod because God initially created him.  But, as even St. Chrysostom acknowledges, Nimrod has a weird change in his being, and the phrase "before the Lord" then means standing defiantly in the face of God - what I would propose happened here is that Nimrod's pride got the best of him, and he became transformed into something evil, even super-human, as this pride animated the possible recessive Nephilim gene within him.  Perhaps also he was indwelt by the spirits of the Nephilim themselves, hence giving him a delusion of godhood that those he ruled over bought into as well.  The similarities between the descriptions of Nimrod and the Antichrist in Revelation are striking, and it is believed to be the same spirit animating them.  Perhaps then, the Tower was a portal of some sort to channel that demonic power to focus on Nimrod, and thus he had the delusion of thinking he could take on God.   But, God has other plans, as the passage continues.

In verses 7-8, God stops this whole scheme before it gets out of hand by confusing the languages, and hence this is why the "Table of Nations" precedes the story of Babel.  Genesis 10 documents 70 original nations, and these may not even be all of them, but the ones mentioned have significance in the narrative of salvation we read throughout Scripture it seems.  When the nations are scattered, work on the Tower stops, and Nimrod is thwarted in any possible plan to get revenge on God and overthrow Him.   But, Nimrod retains his kingdom, and becomes still mightier as the nations scatter and begin to embody his legend in their own mythologies.  In time though, the Tower does fall into ruins, and although Babylon in various incarnations would continue to be a great power for many generations to come, nothing of this magnitude was ever attempted there again, although it is taught by some that the Antichrist will, with the image of the Beast we read about in Revelation 13, seek to resurrect the very plan Nimrod started.  The confusion of languages is why Babel has its name, which means "confusion" (and also the source of the English word babble, which means to speak incoherently about absolutely nothing, confusing the listener).  In God's plan though, He desires us to be one family, but on His terms, and that is where Acts 2 comes in - God sent His Holy Spirit to the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost, and people of different nationalities were able to glorify God together.  Although I grew up myself in a Pentecostal denomination and understand all about speaking in tongues (which I believe to be known languages and a real gift of the Holy Spirit), the miracle of Pentecost has another dimension for us as Catholic Christians I have never noticed before now - if you go into one of our Anglican Catholic parishes anywhere in the world, we may speak in different languages but we know what is going on and can worship Jesus together as one Church, because as Ephesians 4:5 reminds us, we the Church have "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism."  When Jesus Christ is at the center, true unity exists, but where man tries to dominate others and imposes unity upon people by force (as Nimrod did here), it leads to something intrinsically evil. That is the lesson for the Church in the Babel story.

As we noted in our look at Jasher, Nimrod wanted to kill Abraham, so when the confusion of languages happens at Babel, Abraham and his family are able to escape Nimrod's wrath, although it says Nimrod did try to pursue.  Another interesting fact here is the descendant of Shem named Peleg, whose name we recall means "scattering" or "division."  Again, this indicates that the confusion of languages at Babel happened in Peleg's lifetime, and Peleg's father Eber named him that prophetically.  In other words, it has nothing to do with geologic plate shifts, as that would have occurred during the Flood. 

In the aftermath of Babel, we have a scattering of nations, and many begin to move away from knowledge and worship of the true God, and a series of myths and legends develop within each culture.  Many of those legends no doubt deify Nimrod under other names as a "hero," and in some cases he personifies the dominant deities of those cultures, such as Osiris in Egypt or Apollo among the ancient Greeks.  As Fr. Warkulwicz notes as well in his book The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11 (Caryville, TN:  The John Paul II Institute of Christian Spirituality, 2007) on pages 395-397, Nimrod became a hunter "before the Lord," meaning "against the Lord," and was thus corrupted by his own power and began to manifest traits of latent recessive DNA that lay dormant in other members of his family.  Therefore, God dispersed the nations for their own good, and this too is another sign of His mercy, as He could have destroyed them all there with one move of His hand, yet His love for mankind restrains Him from doing so.  As St. Jerome observes regarding Babel also, "where sinners dwell together, the worse they are," in contrast to what the Psalms say about the people of God:  "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Psalm 133:1, NKJV).  It is Pentecost vs. Babel, and the challenge for us today is which we will be part of?  

In the next study, we begin the first of several centering on the life of Abraham, as the narrative of salvation begins to narrow down to one family, and in time one Man, Jesus Christ.  The first part of this will be the genealogy leading up to Abraham.  

References to the Church Fathers are taken from Andrew Louth and Thomas Oden, ed.  The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Old Testament Vol. 1:  Genesis 1-11.  Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity, 2001.  pp. 166-170.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 26 - The Table of Nations (Chapter 10)

Now that we have examined the story of Noah in-depth, what we begin to see as we launch into Genesis 10 is that the population begins to increase and recover, and in a few short generations Noah's family repopulates the earth.  From this repopulation now comes the first nations, something that was not seen prior to the Flood as their appeared to be no national boundaries then, even between the descendants of Cain and Seth.  Genesis 10 also sets up the stage for what we see in the first few verses of Genesis 11 in the next lesson, because as in many Scriptures, these two chapters are not exactly linear in sequence, but rather occur simultaneously. We need Genesis 10, in other words, to see what happens in Genesis 11.  The general structure of Genesis 10 is sort of like a family tree, but it goes in a specific order that also sets the stage for the rest of the Genesis narrative as it unfolds.  The first genealogy dealt with is Japeth in verses 1-5, whose descendants really don't come into their own yet until sometime later.  Secondly, it is Ham's genealogy - Ham's descendants are significant at this point as many of them were responsible for the first major civilizations that were on the earth following the Flood, but they also harbored a resurrection of the evil Nephilim seed as well.  From verse 21 until the end of the chapter, the focus is then on Shem's lineage, as it will be from this point onward.  It is through the lineage of Shem that God will begin to narrow and focus in on a specific plan of salvation of mankind which eventually culminates in the person of Jesus Christ, and that is why Shem's lineage is given more emphasis.  In the middle of the chapter, there is also considerable attention devoted to a grandson of Ham's named Nimrod, as we'll see in verses 8-13.  Nimrod is dealt with due to his role that is played out in Genesis 11.   That is a basic overview of the chapter.

The "Table of Nations" of Josephus

The genealogy of Japeth is discussed first in the chapter, and here is a chart I found that maps it out more clearly to follow:

As we can see, Japeth has seven sons, but only four of them are addressed in the Table of Nations, those being Gomer (meaning "Complete"), Magog (meaning "Expansion"), Madai (meaning "Extended of the Lord"), and Javan (meaning "He that deceives).  Gomer, who is believed by some to be the progenitor of the Germanic peoples, is listed in this chapter as having three sons:  Ashkenaz (meaning "The Fire that Spreads"), Riphath (meaning "Crusher of enemies"), and Togarmah (meaning "Breaking bones" or "rugged").  The name Ashkenaz is still associated with Germany by Jewish sources today, as Yiddish-speaking Jews from central Europe are still called Ashkenazim.  Magog, the next son of Japeth, is not mentioned a whole lot in this chapter, but his descendants come into play later on, as they are the prophetic end-times invaders of Israel according to Ezekiel 38-39.  For many years, many Protestant ministers who address Bible prophecy have associated Magog with Russia, largely due in part to a Cold War mentality that we heard a lot of from about the 1950's onward.  However, the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990's has sort of made that whole hypothesis look stupid at best, and many are rightly re-thinking the idea that Magog is Russia and are noting that it may signify something else, which I tend to agree.   The descendants of Magog occupy what is called the region of Transoxiana  in central Asia, and this region is the historic home of various nomadic tribes such as the Tatars, Mongols, and Turks.  A number of ancient sources, including the Armenian writer Agat'on, as well as more recent scholars and writers such as Apostolos Makrakis (Makrakis and A.G.Alexander, trans, Interpretation of the Book of Revelation.  Chicago:  The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1972.  pp. 252-270).  A more in-depth discussion of this would be more appropriate in a study series on Bible prophecy, but reading this in lieu of Ezekiel 38-39 does give some perspective on where Magog's origins are. Very little is said in this chapter about the next son, Madai, either, except that in my research Madai is often identified as the ancestor of the Medes and Persians.  A little more is mentioned about Javan, who had four sons - Elisha, Tarshish, Kittim, Dodanin - that are said in verse 5 to be the ancestors of the "coastland peoples of the Gentiles," namely the ancient Greeks.    At any rate, these particular nations are mentioned in that they would play a big role in the rest of the Scriptural narrative later on.

Beginning in verse 6, we have the genealogy of Ham, and specifically he had four sons.  Although Ham's name means "dark" and many scholars have Ham's physical descendants based in Africa (although some definitely were), in reality Ham's descendants were much more diverse.  In my research, the main attribute of Ham's descendants is their association with many of the first and oldest civilizations - Sumer, Egypt, the Minoans, and Mohenjo-Daro.  In other words, his family was quite scattered, and would be more so later.   Some writers I have come across have even proposed that Ham's descendants were the progenitors of the ancient American civilizations such as the Olmecs, and although possible, for the sake of both time and lack of source material we'll leave that one to personal opinion.  The chart of Ham's descendants is included below:

The first of Ham's four sons discussed is one who would play a major role in affairs to come later, and that is Cush.  Cush had six sons, but only one - Nimrod - is actually given any real attention in the narrative.  I will deal more with Nimrod in the next paragraph, as there is a lot to say.  The next son of Ham's was Mizraim, who is generally credited with being the progenitor of the nation of Egypt.  Mizraim had six sons as well, but one in particular stands out in this narrative, and that one is Clasluhim, who is also called in some translations Caphtorim.  The chart above actually has this wrong, in that it lists Caphtorim as as  separate son of Mizraim, but the Biblical record makes no such distinction.  The reason Caphtorim is mentioned specifically is for two reasons.  In the context of the Biblical record, it is because it is his lineage that produces the future Phillistines.  On a more historic and general level though, Caphtorim is the progenitor of the great Minoan civilization from which the Phillistines were said to also have their origins, and as such they are the first and most ancient of the Greek cultures.  Although later on Japheth's descendants - the sons of Javan - would ultimately overtake and assert their own culture on Caphtorim's descendants (reflected historically as well with the later Mycenaeans uprooting the Minoans), at this point Greece (in particular Crete) was an advanced Hamitic civilization.   The next son of Ham's, Canaan, is someone we already discussed in the last chapter in that he was dealt a blow when he transgressed his grandfather Noah.   Canaan's claim to fame is that his descendants were the various "ite" nations the Hebrews would have to contend with when Moses led them out of Egypt.   Many of these "ites" were also believed by many to be giants, and therefore would represent a new incursion of Nephilim seed upon the earth which would cause problems for the children of Israel well into the time of King David.  And, as Noah's prophecy mentions, Canaan became a slave to Shem, as in time the original Canaanites would be uprooted and would disappear from the land they were settled in, as Semitic peoples would later assume their identity and become the new rulers of that region.  The final son of Ham was one named Put, who settled the area in what is now called Libya and Tunisia.  Put's descendants are the modern-day Amazigh tribes (Berbers) of the region, and some of those people would play a very important role in the early spread of Christianity.  One of Put's descendants, Symeon of Cyrene, even helped Jesus bear the Cross to Calvary, and another, the famed St. Augustine of Hippo, would become the greatest Doctor of the Western Church.  

We now at this point want to backtrack a little and talk some about Nimrod, as he would be pivotal in the events we see in Genesis 11.  Nimrod was a son of Cush, and therefore a descendant of Ham, and his name translates as "We will rebel."  I would assert, as do others, that the name "Nimrod" is in reality a title rather than a proper name, and as the theory goes on this, the writer of Genesis (which we have established as Moses) probably knew Nimrod by another name - as we see later on, this enigmatic son of Cush has a lot of names!  The hypothesis here is that due to the contemporary nature of the story with the mythological Epic of Gilgamesh, it is highly possible that Nimrod and Gilgamesh were the same person.  The writer of Genesis uses the title "the Rebellious One" as a literary device therefore to prevent drawing attention to Nimrod and thus giving him undue honor, as Genesis was God's book and God was to be the focus of honor in it.  This view may have some merit, as it would make sense.  Nimrod is described in this passage as being "a mighty one," which translates from the Hebrew word Gibborim, but at this point there is an important distinction to be made.  When Genesis describes this person Nimrod as a "mighty hunter before the Lord" in this passage, it is not saying it to flatter or honor Nimrod, but rather it is saying something else.  Both Saints Augustine and Chrysostom interpreted this as saying that Nimrod "began to be a giant," or "giant hunter," and in Augustine's classic theological text City of God, he says this without any ambiguity.  This is a little unusual for St. Augustine to say, in that Augustine would have normally subscribed to a more Sethite view of Genesis 6 as proposed indirectly by Julius Africanus and others.  Yet, here is St. Augustine calling Nimrod in essence a giant!   The ancient Jewish writer Josephus also indirectly equates this personage Nimrod with Gilgamesh in his Antiquities of the Jews, and when compared with a similar passage from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the similarities are uncanny.  Josephus, for instance, writes this:

 So they followed Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, who set up a tyranny and began building a tower higher than any water could reach in case God ever wanted to flood the earth again.  (Paul A. Meier, trans. and ed. Josephus:  The Essential Writings.  Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1988.  p. 22).

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, we read this description at the time of Gilgamesh's death:

THE destiny was fulfilled which the father of the gods, Enlil of the mountain, had decreed for Gilgamesh: ‘In nether-earth the darkness will show him a light: of mankind, all that are known, none will leave a monument for generations to come to compare with his. The heroes, the wise men, like the new moon have their waxing and waning. Men will say, "Who has ever ruled with might and with power like him?" As in the dark month, the month of shadows, so without him there is no light. O Gilgamesh, this was the meaning of your dream. You were given the kingship, such was your destiny, everlasting life was not your destiny. Because of this do not be sad at heart, do not be grieved or oppressed; he has given you power to bind and to loose, to be the darkness and the light of mankind. He has given unexampled supremacy over the people, victory in battle from which no fugitive returns, in forays and assaults from which there is no going back.  (N.K. Sanders, trans.  The Epic of Gilgamesh.  New York:  Penguin Classics, 1960. p. 24).  

If this is talking about the same person, then one thing could be concluded - this was a powerful king who subdued and subjugated a vast population of people.  And, that leads to the next question.

Was Nimrod a Nephilim?   In the Sandars translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh is described as being "two-thirds god and one-third man," and this would correspond as well with what Augustine, Josephus, and others wrote about him being of giant stature.  As a tyrannical world ruler, he was the first to embody the spirit of Antichrist, and the fact he is described in Genesis as being "mighty before the Lord" suggests that he had a defiant, rebellious attitude against God, and he openly blasphemed God, vowing revenge for the death of his "forefathers" (the Nephilim destroyed before the Flood, not Noah, Ham or Cush).  As Josephus aptly described, Nimrod was a tyrannical ruler and a slave to his own ambition.  In verses 10-11, Nimrod's kingdom is described as being several cities he founded - Babel, Erech, Arkad, and Caineh in Shinar (southern Mesopotamia) and Nineveh, Rehobeth, Ir, Calah, and Resen in northern Mesopotamia (Assyria).   Resen in the north was his de-facto capital from which Genesis says he ruled, but Babel would become the center of his empire later.  More will be discussed about Nimrod in the next lesson as well.

The end of Genesis 10 now focuses on the descendants of Shem for an important reason, in that from Genesis 11:13 onward it will be Shem's lineage from which the story of salvation will generate.  Not all of Shem's sons are listed, although three - Elam, Aram, and Arphaxad- are.  The main focus of this passage is on Arphaxad's lineage.

The interesting thing though about this particular genealogy in the table of nations is that it ends with the twin sons of Arphaxad's grandson Eber,  Peleg and Joktan, and although it is Peleg's lineage from which the future Messiah would come, the nations that generated from his twin brother Joktan are listed here.  At this point, let us look at some names.  Arphaxad's name means "a jar pouring forth," and his son Salah's name means "sprout."   What is really interesting though is the meaning of Eber's name, which is "passing over," and this is significant because it is Eber's name from which the ancient Hebrews take theirs, and the very event that freed them from Egyptian bondage in Exodus, that faithful Jews still observe today, was the Passover.  It could be said then that the very definition of the word "Hebrew" is "one who passes over," and that carries with it significant prophetic significance.   But, as it relates to the current text, the name of Peleg is of significance, as it bridges the "Table of Nations" with what happens at Babel in Genesis 11.

The name Peleg is translated "the earth was divided," and a debate about this has come up among those who study this passage.  There are some that would contend that it was during Peleg's lifetime when the continents shifted, becoming what they are today.  However, the Flood had already taken care of that, as we saw in the last two lessons.   More likely, Peleg's name has significance when it comes to the events that occur at Babel in Genesis 11, in that the people of the earth were divided into different ethnolinguistic groups when God scatters them at Babel.   Looking at it in that context, it would make much more sense as well.  And, at this point this lesson will conclude, as we now have the groundwork laid for discussing Babel in Genesis 11 in the next lesson. 

References to the Church Fathers are taken from Andrew Louth and Thomas Oden, ed.  The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament Vol. 1 - Genesis 1-11.  Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity, 2001.  pp. 160-165.

The meanings and translations of Biblical names in this lesson are referenced from Judson Cornwall and Stelman Smith, The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Bridge-Logos, 1998.