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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).