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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 33 - Isaac Gains a Wife

As we reach the halfway point of the book of Genesis, we begin to see a transition in the story from Abraham to Isaac.  Isaac's story is actually rather brief in the narrative, as it is often interwoven with either his father Abraham's story or with his son Jacob's.  The remainder of Genesis, as a matter of fact, will actually focus more on the stories of Jacob and Joseph than it does anything else.

As we begin chapter 24, Abraham begins to realize that Isaac has come of age and needs a wife, and he enlists the assistance of his faithful servant Eleazar to make sure this happens the right way.  If you recall from earlier studies, Eleazar was almost like a son to Abraham, and when Abraham was trying to figure out God's covenant to him before Isaac's birth, he was even considering naming Eleazar his heir.   Not much is said about Eleazar in the Genesis narrative, but apparently he had served Abraham for a long time, and perhaps came with him from Haran when Abraham first arrived in Canaan.  It is even quite possible that Eleazar could have been a second cousin, as he may have even been the son of one of Terah's brothers - again, this is speculating, as Scripture is silent as to the details of Eleazar's life because he only plays a peripheral role in the story.  However, given his status with Abraham, what can be certain is that there was a close bond between Abraham and Eleazar, so much that Abraham made him a sort of steward of his estate and trusted his judgment and counsel.  That is why it was Eleazar that Abraham charges with the particular task of finding Isaac a suitable mate.

It is at this point the story gets somewhat bizarre for our modern sensitivities, as Abraham demanded from Eleazar a special type of oath in the first ten verses.  The oath entailed a ceremony in which Eleazar had to actually lay his hand on Abraham's inner thigh and then swear to carry out what Abraham wanted him to do.  This practice, although weird to us in this day and age, was actually a standard oath, and there is much to discuss about this.  To begin, an oath like this was always in regard to a family issue.  Secondly, the thigh was considered a source of posterity, and in essence what this meant was that the taker of the oath had to swear literally on the testicles of the one he was swearing the oath to ( - accessed September 2, 2016).  There are two reasons for this type of oath in particular, and they are as follows:

1. Seed - Abraham was making his servant swear literally "on his seed" to find Isaac a wife.
2. Circumcision - This was also swearing on the covenant of circumcision as well.

The reason for this practice may be found in the etymology of the word testify itself, which shares the same root as the word testicle.  According to psychologist Dario Mastripieri, the Romans named this from observing baboons bonding in their journeys to northern Africa (  Accessed September 2, 2016)  However, upon further research, the word testis, which forms the root for so many terms such as testify, testament, and of course testicle, comes from a Latin cognate consisting of two terms involving the concept of "a third standing by," a legal supporter or witness.  It also translates as "two glands side by side," and has the same basic idea.  This being the case, the concept for testify in Scripture most likely came from St. Jerome's Vulgate translation of Scripture, and hence why it is used here in regard to swearing an oath - if you swear an oath, after all, you are testifying to your own word.  Catholic writer/teacher Taylor Marshall also notes in regard to this practice that the testicles of Abraham symbolize in a very real way his descendants ( - accessed September 2, 2016).  Rabbinic sources on this seem to bear this out, in that the phrase "hand under the thigh" was an idiom for the male genitalia, an due to the sign of the covenant (circumcision) happening there, its implication in this case would be invoking the power and presence of God as guarantor of the Covenant promises ( - accessed 9/29/2016).  So, there is a deeper truth here that is being conveyed by this ceremony - the assurance of Abraham's seed carrying out the fulfillment of the Covenant hinged very much on getting the right wife for Isaac, one of God's choosing.  Abraham wanted to make sure that Eleazar understood the implications of this, and swore him to faithfully execute the task.  

Painting of Abraham giving his servant Eleazar instruction

Eleazar, who is committed to his master Abraham, faithfully does carry out Abraham's order by departing the following day for the city of Nahor in upper Mesopotamia, where Abraham's brother (whose name the city is given) and his family lives.  One part of the oath Eleazar swore to Abraham as well was to assure that Isaac did not marry a Canaanite woman, and there are two possible reasons for this:

1.  A Canaanite woman would be outside the covenant, and thus would jeopardize it in at least two ways:
a.  Taints of immorality and idolatry.
b.  Possible recessive Nephilim genetics evident in Canaan's descendants would pollute the chosen bloodline.

2.  God's direction was important in all of this as well - the chosen bride would have to be one of God's choosing.

Also of note is that Isaac was not allowed to go with Eleazar to Nahor to pick his own wife.  The theory here is that at the time Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac on Moriah, it is possible that the resulting encounter with God bound Isaac to the land so he could not leave lest he risk being harmed or killed, thus disrupting God's plan. This would mean that as a condition of the covenant promises, Isaac was to be sheltered and protected at all costs.  

Eleazar begins his trek north with ten camels, and as one final instruction, Abraham tells Eleazar to await the "Angel of the Lord" (recall from earlier studies that this is not an angel in the normal sense, but rather is rendered in some translations as Word, and is substantiation for a possible pre-Incarnational appearance of Christ) for guidance. Also, the chosen girl was not to be forced to go, but would do so on her own free will.  In verse 14, the guidance is given, and essentially the instructions are to wait for a virgin who agrees to give water from the well to him and the camels - the woman who did this would be the chosen bride for Isaac. 

Rebekah watering the camels of Eleazar (Genesis 24:15-28)

Eleazar arrives at Nahor, and upon his arrival he sees a strikingly beautiful shepherdess at a well and asks her for a drink.  This shepherdess is in reality Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham's nephew Bethuel.  Rebekah, who is an undefiled virgin, gives Eleazar a drink, and then she offers to water the camels as well, and an inner voice of God affirms to Eleazar that this is who Isaac will marry.  So, having the assurance that she is the one, Eleazar gives her the gifts he brought once the camels finished their drink, and this consists of a large amount of gold baubles and other jewelry.  He then asks her if he can lodge at her father's house, and he is warmly welcomed.

At this point, it is also worth mentioning that a trusted servant like Eleazar had a lot of privilege he was allotted.  Essentially, he would be received and honored as if he were Abraham himself, as that is who he represents.  It is an important point to mention in that the "faithful servant" parables we hear later from Jesus convey that same context - the trusted servant of one's household is given great responsibility, and that the reward for obeying and carrying out the responsibility is great for a faithful servant.  The lesson for us is very Christological as well - if a mere servant is treated with such respect by a godly master, then how much so will we, who are actually adopted as sons in the Son, be loved by our heavenly Father?  That is just a side issue to ponder. 

Eleazar is first introduced to Laban in verses 29-47, who as eldest son was also more or less the one who ran the estate.   Laban would figure prominently later as well, as this is the same Laban whose daughters Rachel and Leah Isaac's son Jacob would marry later on.  Laban extends hospitality to Eleazar by having his feet washed and then offering bread.  However, Eleazar has little time to spare and gets to the point, which is that he is there to find a wife for Isaac.  After stating his case, Laban and his father Bethuel give their blessing to this proposal, as they know that God is ordering all this.  Eleazar then distributes the gifts he has brought, and then he eats, drinks, and spends the night.  He needs to rest up for the long journey back the next day!

Before starting back to Canaan, Rebekah's family tries to negotiate her waiting ten more days before leaving, but Eleazar reminds them that there is no time and he insists on the departure at that point.  As God had instructed, the question was then put to Rebekah as to what she wished, and she agrees to leave immediately as well.  So, they travel back, and upon getting close to home, Isaac from a distance spots Rebekah for the first time, and he is immediately smitten with her.  The narrative doesn't give a lot of detail, but only says that somehow a ceremony happens in Sarah's tent, and she became Isaac's wife.  Why Sarah's tent?  Two theories have been proposed in research I have come across, one being that perhaps this symbolized the end of Isaac's mourning over his mother's recent passing, and that the love he and Rebekah now have was to be his new focus.  The second theory is that now Rebekah has assumed the role of her deceased mother-in-law as the new matriarch of the family, and the symbolism of her being in Sarah's tent seals that role for her ( - accessed 9/29/2016).  I personally believe that both of these are involved, and may add another idea.   This is totally speculation, but given that Melchizedek was still around (being our thesis in these lessons is that he is synonymous with Shem) it is totally within possibility that he or another person endowed with priestly authority would have formalized the ceremony, and that Sarah's tent would have been the place for that to happen.  After a formalization of the ceremony, it is also possible that Sarah's tent served as a sort of "honeymoon suite" for the young couple to consummate their new lives together in the marriage covenant.  If this is the case, we see an early picture of sacramental grace happening.  This is also one reason why the sacred covenant of matrimony is also sacramental as well, being it was ordered by God Himself and blessed by His holy priest.  

Icon depicting Rebekah's returning with Eleazar to meet Isaac

At this juncture, we have a break in the narrative in which an interlude regarding Abraham's second wife is interjected at the beginning of Genesis 25.  As Sarah has passed away and Abraham was a widower, he chose to remarry, and the girl he remarries is named Keturah.  In the Book of Jasher Chapter 25, Keturah is said to be of Canaanite origin, which is odd considering that there was a prohibition of Isaac marrying a Canaanite, so why did Abraham do so?  My speculation here is that perhaps Abraham, after much soul-searching, got the blessing from God to marry this particular Canaanite girl because she may have been free of the taint of Nephilim DNA that plagued her family as a descendant of Ham's son Canaan.  Also, being that any offspring from this point would not have any bearing on the Covenant promises, maybe it just didn't matter and God allowed Abraham this woman.   Whatever the case, Abraham marries her when he is very old, and she bears him five sons - one of them, Midian, would become the father of the Midianite nation we hear about later, the same Midianites from whom Moses's future father-in-law, Jethro, would be descended.  Midian, along with his five brothers as well as Ishmael's clans, would also constitute what would later be the Arab peoples, and Midian's descendants in particular during the time just preceding the New Testament would establish a powerful desert empire called the Nabataean Kingdom which would prove a formidable trading power as well as providing resistance against Roman expansion later.   In other words, we will be hearing more about the descendants of Midian in ages to come!

Despite the fact Abraham now had at least six other sons by other women, Isaac is still the son of promise and it is Isaac that receives the full inheritance of Abraham along with the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.  This means that when they came of age, the other sons were sent eastward, which essentially means the Arabian Desert, and this is why their descendants today are known as "Arabs."  

In Genesis 25:7, Abraham passes away at the age of 175, and Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury him at the Cave of Machpeleh with Sarah.  It is now that the legacy of  Abraham is passed onto his descendants, and we begin to see an acceleration of the promises of the Covenant begin to happen.

Painting depicting the burial of Abraham by Isaac and Ishmael

At this point, a number of genealogies, both of Ishmael and Isaac, are documented.   Ishmael's is addressed by the passage first, as it notes that he has 12 sons by two wives.  The Book of Jasher in Chapter 15 verse 18, names one of the wives as Ribah, who is an Egyptian (possibly the same marriage his mother Hagar arranged for him) and the second is a Canaanitess by the name of Malchath.  The sons are called "Twelve Princes" and each son has a city named after him (v. 16).  
The passage then goes on to record Ishmael's death at the age of 137 (v. 17).  Effectively, this ends the specifics of Ishmael's family in Holy Scripture, although we do know that these 12 sons of his became a major base of the future Arab nation as well. 

The focus now shifts back to Isaac.  Scripture says Isaac was about 40 when he married Rebekah, who obviously was considerably younger.  It took about 20 years, when Isaac became 60, for Rebekah to conceive and have their first children, and she becomes pregnant with twins.  The pregnancy is of interest, because these twins are struggling inside her even while she carries them, and a prophecy of two nations surfaces regarding them - "the older shall serve the younger."  The first-born of the twins ("the older") is Esau, and he comes out red with a hairy body - he therefore is named accordingly.  However, the second-born of the twins, Jacob (whose name can mean "persuader," "deceiver," or "supplanter," depending on the context) takes hold of Esau's heal with his hand as they are birthed.  They ended up being radically different from each other, and the narrative of their birth changes gears to some years later at this point.  It is also worth noting that The Book of Jasher also inserts a detail to this narrative regarding Arphaxad, Shem's son, who reposed according to that account when Isaac was 48 years of age.

The story now shifts to some years later, when the boys were either in their late teens or early adulthood.  Esau, as he grows, is skilled at hunting, and is an outdoorsman.  Jacob, on the other hand, is agrarian and tends to flocks and crops.  You will notice something oddly parallel to the earlier story of Cain and Abel as well, and in this case the outcome will be different.  This difference is not lost on the parents either, as Isaac favors Esau yet Rebekah favors Jacob.  God was about to teach Isaac a lesson in His plans that will blow away Isaac's preconceptions, and oddly He uses a covert situation to do it.

One day, Jacob is making himself a lunch while out doing his farm work, and it is possibly a red lentil stew.   Esau soon appears, and is exhausted.  Although Esau is a hunter by profession, a normal stag hunt would not cause the type of exhaustion Esau displays here, and when we begin to look outside the narrative of Scripture, there may just be something that provides the missing link to the story.  Back again to the Book of Jasher in Chapter 27, there is an odd account of an encounter Esau had with the despotic Antichrist-like figure Nimrod.  Nimrod, if you recall from Genesis 10, was also this "mighty hunter," and may have also been a gigantic Nephilim as well.  In reading this story, you get the picture of a sort of rivalry going on between Nimrod and Esau, and for some reason Esau wants to "off" Nimrod.  So, upon seeing Nimrod's hunting posse approach, Esau hides in a clump of woods, and when Nimrod and two of his attendants get too close, Esau jumps out and decapitates Nimrod.  At this point in the Book of Jasher, Nimrod is said to have been 215 years of age. Nimrod's attendants also engage Esau, and he kills them as well.  When Nimrod's accompanying guard rush to see what is going on, Esau flees the scene and is reported to have taken the "sacred garments" (which were believed to be the first clothing of Adam and Eve, which Noah took with him, Ham then stole, and they passed onto Nimrod).  The Jasher account asserts that this is the reason for Esau's exhaustion when he encounters Jacob.  There is some logic in this too, for if Nimrod was a Nephilim, it would have been an epic battle for Esau to kill him, and Esau could have even sustained some injury from the encounter too.  

Any rate, Esau is wiped out, hungry, and Jacob sees this as an opportunity.  He tells Esau that he can have some of this lentil stew if he gives Jacob the birthright privilege.  Esau is sort of like "Whatever! just let me eat!" and therefore surrenders the birthright without conflict.  Jacob then makes Esau swear by it, thus securing the right for himself, and we see that story picking up in the next lesson in Genesis 27.

Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew

A post-script to all this entails us revisiting the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.  There is a marked contrast here between these two accounts, in that in the Genesis 4 account it is Cain, the older sibling, who prevails when God rejects his sacrifice in favor of Abel's.   Esau in reality was like Cain, but if we take the Jasher story as valid, he also did a tremendous service to civilization by committing tyrannicide which rid the world of an oppressive dictator named Nimrod.   Also, like Cain, Esau was not overly concerned about covenant or anything else - he was more concerned with self-preservation.  However, whereas Cain sinned grievously by slaying Abel, Esau gave up something that actually meant little to him with hardly a struggle, and God used that to fulfill His plan.  However, it would dawn on Esau later as to what he lost, and when that happens, it will create a conflict with Jacob that almost ends in disaster, until Esau is blessed in his own right and he and Jacob make up their differences later in the next lesson.  It is here we will continue next time. 

All references to the Book of Jasher come from Ken Johnson, Ed.  Ancient Book of Jasher.  Lexington, KY:  Biblefacts Ministries, 2008.  

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 32 - The Story of Abraham Part IV

As the story of Abraham's life continues, we are now up to Genesis 21, and in the three chapters (21-23) that this study will be discussing there is a lot going on.  We have the birth of Isaac happening to kick it off, and the death of Sarah book-ending the end.  We will now begin the study by starting in chapter 21.

Isaac is born and names in verse 3 of Chapter 21, and if you recall the earlier studies the reason he is named "Isaac" was due to the incredulous response of Sarah when she was told she would give birth to him - she laughed hysterically, as it was unthinkable at her age to give birth to a baby(note verse 6)!   But, God did as He promised, and Isaac was conceived, and also delivered as a healthy, normal baby boy.  Abraham, the proud dad, was 100 at the time of Isaac's birth, and Sarah would have been well into her 90's.   But, in these early days of human history, longevity and things like this were more common due to the fact that lifespans were not totally affected yet by the consequences of the Fall, although later they would be drastically shortened.  As people were living longer, it is of no real mystery that they were probably healthier too, which is why Sarah was able to carry a baby to term and give birth at such an advanced age.  In verse 4, Abraham as part of an earlier covenant has Isaac circumcised when he is eight days old, a ceremony that many religious Jews carry on today which is called a bris.  

There is a fast-forward on the story to maybe a couple of years later in verse 8 - Isaac is now a toddler, and Sarah has weaned him from nursing, which of course means a proud dad like Abraham has to throw a party - this is the promised son, so life events are occasions for celebration.  At some point around the same time one day, Ishmael (who is called in this passage "the son of Hagar the Egyptian") is observed by Sarah "playing" with Isaac (v. 9) and she becomes very upset by it.  Now, as we read this, we would ask the question as to why Sarah would be so upset with the boys playing normally?   However, a little more research revealed some theories on the source of her concern.  One thing that is mentioned by an Orthodox Jewish source I looked at ( - accessed 8/31/2016) suggests that Ishmael, because of his own Egyptian mother Hagar's inclinations, was inclined to idolatry and that Sarah didn't want Ishmael to corrupt Isaac and jeopardize the Covenant.  Other Bible translations also reveal something as well.   For instance, the NIV translates the word "playing" as "mocking," and David Stern's Complete Jewish Bible renders it as "making fun of."  The ancient text of the Book of Jasher, in 21:13-15, reveals something even more serious - it suggests that Ishmael was trying to actually kill Isaac with a bow as a cruel sport (Ken Johnson, Ancient Book of Jasher - Biblefacts Annotated Edition.  Lexington, KY:  Biblefacts, 2008.  p. 44).   Likewise, the later Book of Jubilees 17:4 notes that Sarah's concern was based on the fact that Abraham still cared a lot for Ishmael (Ishmael was his son too, after all!) and she was jealous because she feared Isaac would lose out (George H. Schodde, trans.  The Book of Jubilees - From the Ethiopic.  Oberlin, OH:  E.J. Goodrich, 1888.  p. 45).  It is my theory personally that all of this simultaneously was true at the same time, and that each source and translation just took the same situation from a different angle.   Therefore, the synthesis I would propose based on these observations is this - up until this point Ishmael was the older son, and perhaps in Abraham's mind (despite the fact he knew better) he was grooming Ishmael as his heir, but Sarah saw God work and wanted to protect Isaac.  Although perhaps Ishmael was innocently playing with the infant Isaac at this point, it is also possible he may have gotten a little rough in his play with the baby, and that sort of stirred Sarah up too.  Whatever the case, this was the motivation for what happened next in the story.

Classic painting of Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away

Sarah, as we saw, was incensed for some reason concerning Ishmael's interaction with Isaac, and she gets on the warpath and orders Abraham to throw Hagar and Ishmael out.  Sarah didn't want Ishmael stealing what was rightfully Isaac's, and she was simply being a good mother although God was also orchestrating all of this for His purposes too.   Abraham is distraught over having to do this, but he listens and dutifully listens to his wife.   God reassures him in verse 12 that all is well, and that Abraham should listen to Sarah on this one for a reason. However, God also promises that although Isaac is the chosen heir, He was not going to forget Ishmael either, and that Ishmael would father a great nation as well.  So, the next morning, Abraham prepares provisions for Hagar and Ishmael, and sends them away.  After some time in the "wilderness" (desert), Hagar and her son end up near what would later (in Jacob's time) be called Beersheba (meaning "Well of the Oath") and at this point she is out of water and Ishmael is growing more faint by the minute.  So, she places him under a bush to shade him, and she is very upset because she fears the worst, that Ishmael is going to die out there. But, God hears her, and has mercy on Hagar, and an "Angel of God" calls to her.

As mentioned in other studies, in Genesis when this phrase "Angel of the Lord" pops up, it isn't necessarily referring to just your typical winged cherub.  The word "Angel" is sometimes also translated as Logos which of course is a Septuagint terminology meaning "an authoritative Word spoken," and it is the same word we see in the Gospels and elsewhere in reference to Christ.  The Church has always maintained that what was written in the Old Covenant is revealed in the New, and part of that is a Christocentric emphasis as far as Genesis and other books are concerned - a lot of typological imagery points to New Testament realities, and this is one such instance.  The Church, via this Christocentric interpretation of Genesis, has always viewed these references of "Angel of the Lord" as being Jesus Himself, and it points to the fact that the Son is a co-eternal part of the Godhead which means He also pre-existed the Incarnation.   We do profess in the Creed that Jesus was "begotten not made," and that means that although He came in human form to us to fully reveal the plan of salvation within Himself, He was never created and was always God.  This therefore is one of the primary evidences for the doctrine of the deity of Christ, and it establishes that He was involved in the story of redemption before His actual Incarnation.  Throughout Genesis as a matter of fact, we see it all over the place, as this enigmatic "Angel of the Lord" shows up a lot!  That being expounded, let us now get back to the story at hand. 

Hagar in the desert being encouraged

The "Angel of the Lord" (which we establish is an early Christophony) appears to Hagar, and He asks her what is wrong (as if He didn't know!) and then He reassures her that she doesn't need to fear because "God has heard" the boy (remember, this is also the meaning of Ishmael's name as well).  He then instructs Hagar to hold Ishmael, and promises her that Ishmael will be made a great nation. At that, a well suddenly appears that God has provided, and it re-hydrates them both with much-needed water. 

As this part of the story concludes, we see Ishmael growing up out in the desert, and when he comes of age some years later Hagar arranges for him to marry, and it is an Egyptian girl that she chooses for him.  He grows up out in what is called the Wilderness of Paran, which is east of where Abraham's home is, and he also becomes a skilled archer.  This is a trait his later descendants - the Arab Bedouin tribes - would still master to this day. 

Messing with Abimelech

The latter part of the chapter deals with Abraham's relationship with his old pal Abimelech, called the "King of Gerar" and later identified as a king of the early Phillistines.  Despite Abraham trying to "pimp out" Sarah earlier to this poor guy, he and Abimelech remained friends for many years, and they even establish a covenant between themselves (verse 23).  Although Abimelech is a long suffering guy and has proven to be a loyal friend to Abraham, he nonetheless understandably (based on past experiences!) makes Abraham swear a covenant to him not to deal falsely, as he himself has been up-front in his dealings with Abraham.  But, notice verse 24 and what happens not long after that - there is a dispute over a well, as apparently some of Abimelech's servants seize it from Abraham's without Abimelech even being aware of it until Abraham addresses it with him later. This is where Abraham and his friend Abimelech make a formal blood covenant then to resolve the well issue, and they do so with a sacrifice of sheep and oxen.  The way this worked, in verse 30, was that Abraham set aside seven female sheep (ewes) as a witness he dug the well, and it is at this point that the name Beersheba is given to the place ("Well of the Oath").  In addition to the well, Abraham also plants a field, and apparently the dispute is resolved.  But, as we will see later, Abimelech is part of the story at another point (this time it will be Isaac and not Abraham though). 

Genesis 22 begins with what is probably one of the most well-known yet enigmatic accounts in the whole Old Testament - the attempted sacrifice of Isaac.  In verses 1-2, God Himself commands Abraham to do this, and he is to go to Moriah (which is the location of the future Temple Mount in Jerusalem) to do so.  This must have been very troubling to Abraham, and we can only imagine what must have been going through his head at this point - why is God telling me all these promises, making covenants, and now I have to sacrifice the very thing God promised me?  In spite of the understandable questioning in his own mind (which Scripture doesn't elaborate), Abraham knows that obedience to God is the priority, so the next morning he prepares and sets off with Isaac to obey the command. It takes about 3 days travel from where Abraham lives near Hebron to get to the present-day location of Jerusalem where he is to go on foot, and of course he takes Isaac with him.  Isaac is older now - probably early teens or even a young adult - and is understandably curious about some things - for instance, he is curious about where the sacrificial offering was (verse 7), but Abraham diplomatically answers that God will provide it for them in the following verse.  However, by the time they arrive, many who read this get the impression that Isaac has figured it out and for some reason resigns himself to his apparent fate.  After 3 days travel, they arrive then at the designated site.

Abraham constructs the altar on the Mount, and then proceeds to bind Isaac and place him on it.   In verse 10, Abraham (who must have been very conflicted at this point) raises the knife to offer up his only son, and God all of a sudden yells at him to stop.  Abraham has passed a very critical test, one his ancestor Adam failed - he put obedience and fear of God above his own fears, and this displayed the level of faithfulness he had.  God, true to His promise, does provide a sacrifice though, as a ram caught in a thicket nearby happens to catch Abraham's attention.  So, Isaac is loosed, and they worship at the altar with that offering, after which Abraham names the place "the Lord Has Appeared." 

There are many observations to be made about this story, as there are a lot of Christological typologies in it.  It was God Himself who tested Abraham, and through it God is teaching the readers of this passage that one day He will give His own Son for our atonement, and He was probably revealing this to Abraham as a sort of intense pedagogy.  After all, Jesus like Isaac was a faithful father's only beloved Son (John 3:16).  Secondly, like Isaac, Jesus would later carry the wood of His own sacrifice (the Cross) up a hill very close by where Abraham and Isaac were. Likewise, in the appearance of the ram, we see God's provision of Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our atonement.  (Scott Hahn, The Lamb's Supper.  New York:  Doubleday, 2001.  pp. 18-19).   Isaac's submission (willingly) therefore also foreshadows Christ in that like Jesus, Isaac freely yielded himself to be the sacrifice - note also here the words "only" and "beloved" are also used in both cases.  The final part of the imagery suggests that Abraham and Isaac ascending the mountain alone to sacrifice is a foreshadowing of Gethsemane, and some traditions even note that this was possibly the same location for both events (Henry Morris III, Genesis, the Book of Beginnings Vol. 3.  Dallas:  ICR, 2014.  pp. 86-89).  This story therefore, although an actual, literal event, is orchestrated by God to show us His plan of redemption, which is really what the whole of Scripture points to to begin with. 

In verses 20-24, there is a brief insertion of a genealogy, and this one is of Abraham's brother Nahor.  The reason for that is that it sort of sets the stage for Isaac's story, as this genealogy was the family tree of Rebekah, Isaac's future wife, as well as that of Rachel and Leah, who were the great-grandchildren of Nahor and would be wives of Isaac's son Jacob later.  That genealogy is very important both for Moses and for the later Gospel writers, as it gives a fairly detailed and well-documented pedigree of the coming Messiah.  

Chapter 23 centers then around the death of Sarah, who it says died at the age of 120.  She dies in Hebron, and Abraham mourns for her there on a nearby mountaintop.  After a mourning period, Abraham goes to these "sons of Heth" that live in the area to bargain for a place to put Sarah to rest, and they gladly negotiate the sale of a location called the Cave of Machpeleh near Hebron.  The owner of the cave is one Ephron the Hittite, and for a very fair price he sells Abraham both the cave and the adjacent field.  The purchase price for it was about 400 silver drachmas (this is obviously a rendering from the Septuagint translation, as a drachma is a currency of Greek origin that would not exist for centuries later - the translators probably wanted to include a recognizable point of reference that would communicate to their readers).  As to this Ephron the Hittite and his people, there are several things of note about that.  The accepted tradition is that they are actual Hittites that settled the region.  However, this creates a problem, as Heth, who they are said to be descended from, is a descendant himself of Ham, whereas the classical Hittites we read of in the history books are Indo-European and are believed by some theologians and scholars to be a different people - one of them, theologian Max Muller, argues that the Anatolian Hittites of antiquity were in reality descendants of a grandson of Japheth named Chittim or Kittim, who was a son of Japheth's son Javan (the historic progenitor of the Greek nation).  It is believed that this is where they got the name from.   The other "Hittites" mentioned in this passage were a different group altogether, and some postulate that they should correctly be called Hethites instead and have no connection to the Hittite Empire, which quite frankly would not have existed at this point.  Following that hypothesis (which has great merit) we would conclude then that the Hethites who dealt with Abraham in this passage were in reality a tribe of Canaanites ( - accessed 9/2/2016).  

With Sarah's passing, the subsequent chapters will begin to see a transition from Abraham's story to Isaac's which is rather brief.  The next lesson will actually wrap up Abraham's legacy as it overlaps with Isaac, and the story will pick up with Isaac's coming of age and getting married. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Genesis the Book of Beginnings Part 31 - The Story of Abraham Part III

As Abraham's story continues in the book of Genesis, it pretty much takes up the whole central portion of the book.  At this point, we have Abraham already fighting in a war to rescue his nephew Lot, who is sort of stranded in Sodom, and we now are going to be revisiting Sodom in this study, as there are some important issues to discuss.

As a point of order first, you may have noticed in many lessons of this study that many of those whom the Lord called to be holy men were not exactly perfect, and Abraham is no exception - he messes around with a servant girl and has a baby with her (per his wife's request) and he also has a bad habit as we shall see of "pimping out" Sarah to different kings as his "sister."  The flaws and imperfections of the Biblical Patriarchs are there for a reason - the focus of the story is not on them, but on God's economy.  Throughout the rest of Scripture, we see similar shortcomings in others as well, such as King David, but God's grace shows stronger despite their flaws.  The late evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman was fond of saying something that has profound relevance to this, and what she said was this - God does not ask for gold vessels, and God doesn't ask for silver vessels.  What God asks for is yielded vessels.   Many of these people we read about in the Old Testament are fallible human beings who are susceptible to sin and screwups, and often do sin and screw up, but God uses them because ultimately they are yielded to Him.  If you recall our earlier study on the Lord's Prayer, you will remember that the great Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini proposed that the "gateway petition" to the whole prayer entailed four simple words - Thy will be done.  God wants His people to fully trust in Him and follow Him, and if we do that, even our faults will glorify Him because it reminds others that in and of ourselves we do fail, but Christ within us is everything.  This is something to keep in mind as we study Abraham's saga here.

As we are at Genesis 18 now, the opening verses contain a narrative involving a visit one day Abraham has from three enigmatic strangers.  In verse 3, Abraham recognizes that these are not just typical desert nomads stopping to ask for a drink of water, but there is something more to them.  In looking at the footnotes in my Orthodox Study Bible I use to prepare these studies, there is a note that states that the Church historically understands that at least one of these people is a typology - a prefigurement of Christ, if not literally Christ Himself.  If you read this passage, it also makes sense of parts of the Gospel we read such as the Transfiguration narrative, in which Enoch and Elijah recognized Christ when the apparition happens.  It also establishes that Jesus is co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and it is a clear affirmation of His deity.  We confess in the Creed every Sunday at Mass that Jesus is "begotten not made," and we also read in passages such as John 1:1 that Jesus existed from the beginning with God and indeed was God.   Therefore, narratives such as this establish that a type of salvation may have been given to the Old Testament saints that pre-dates Calvary, and if so, it establishes something.   Throughout the remainder of Genesis as a matter of fact, we will see frequent visits of an enigmatic "Angel of the Lord" to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and this is not your typical Angel - some earlier translations use the Greek word  instead of the common word  to refer to this person, and therefore when you read it, the passage would really be saying "The WORD of the Lord..." and it is an authoritative reference.  Also, when you see passages like that in Scripture, the person it refers to is speaking with an authority that no angelic being would have, and this is why the Church has affirmed that this is an early manifestation of Christ appearing to the Patriarchs.  In doing so, this also makes the Old Testament point to Christ, as it should be read anyway.  That being established, we continue the narrative.

In verse 5, the three enigmatic strangers accept Abraham's hospitality, and when we get to verse 9, they specifically ask for Sarah.  When Sarah rejoins the group for the meal, one of the strangers (the "Angel of the Lord," an early manifestation of Jesus) tells her again that she is going to have a son.   Being Sarah is an old lady at this point, this whole thing seems a little ridiculous to her, and in verse 12 it documents that she laughs for that very reason.  When she is confronted about the laughter in verse 13 however, she flatly denies it (v. 15) but the figure now called "the One" (Jesus) knows.  The lesson here is another thing we see in Scripture - God uses weird, foolish, and even downright ridiculous things to make His will happen, as I Corinthians 1:25 reminds us that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."   In verse 18 of that same chapter, we are also reminded that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  Similarly in verse 20, we are asked the following question:  "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"  And, the fact that God uses such means to accomplish His purposes are stated in verse 21 - "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."  Jesus must have had His past encounter with Sarah in mind when He inspired St. Paul to write these words many centuries after the fact, and they convey a message to us today - God is not offended necessarily when we find His word to be ridiculous, because He understands how the human brain thinks sometimes.  And, He similarly was not offended by Sarah laughing at what He told her, because His plan was perfect despite the fact at this point Sarah (and probably even Abraham) could not see it in its entirety, so a bit of skepticism was only natural.  It also shows a great measure of God's mercy too, even in the Old Testament, because God did tolerate a lot from those He loved, and despite their weakness He was glorified.  And, that is the point of redemption as well - we don't glorify ourselves, but are via supernatural grace elevated, healed, and perfected in the salvation He provides us.  This process had already started with Sarah and Abraham too, when God Himself changed their names as part of His covenant promise to them.  

In verse 16, there is a shifting of gears here as the scene changes to Sodom again.  Sodom and its judgment are actually the second reason for the visit, and the head One of the three first reaffirms to Abraham the promise that He would make Abraham's descendants into a great nation which will bless all the other nations of the earth simply through its own existence (v. 18).  Then the main One of the strangers gets down to business about Sodom in verses 20-21.  It is important to note from the outset that at this point there is no talk of destroying Sodom yet, as it seemed like God was wanting to gauge the severity of Sodom's sins before acting on judgment.  But, Abraham knows his nephew Lot lives there, and he is genuinely concerned that Lot will perish.  Therefore, Abraham strikes up a negotiation to preserve Sodom so that Lot might be protected, and starting at 50 righteous people as a condition, Abraham eventually gets the strangers to agree to saving it for the sake of 10 people by the time we get to verse 32.  That being done, the next part of the passage has the three taking off for Sodom and their arrival. 

In Genesis 19:1-3, the strangers have arrived in Sodom, and Lot sees them out in the main part of town but is concerned - he knows how these Sodomite men act, and is concerned for the safety of the strangers.  So, he invites them into his house to spend the night, which they refuse to do at first as they wanted to sleep in the streets.  However, Lot persists, as he knows that would be a bad idea.  The reason is that Sodom is rife with homosexual predators who are consumed with a demonic spirit that feeds their own lusts for perversion, and later that evening this becomes evident when the men of Sodom come banging on Lot's door, wanting to claim the strangers and molest them.  It is at this point we need to address an "elephant in the room" that may prove risky, but God's truth needs to be upheld.

One of the main reasons God is punishing Sodom is because of the sin of homosexuality, and although it is "politically incorrect" these days to speak out against this behavior, as our own society as capitulated to the demands of similar "Sodomites" by forcing the "gay agenda" down America's throats, it doesn't change what God has established.  The Church has always taught that homosexual behavior is wrong, and despite what society feels, it is a sin that needs the blood of Jesus to cleanse just like so many other sins.  This is substantiated by verses in the New Testament such as Jude 7, Romans 1:18-32, and I Corinthians 6:9-11.  It is something that the late Pope St. John Paul II addressed in his 1992 encyclical Veritas Splendor, in particular Chapter III, where he notes that a secularist mentality is what often sets freedom in opposition to truth, although God endowed man with both.  Perfect freedom, the late Pontiff notes, is acquired in love, and this love is ultimately bound in the person of Jesus Christ, who is, as John 14:6 reminds us, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life, only through Whom we can come to the Father."  Worship of God must be "in spirit and in truth," (John 4:23), and as St. John Paul II notes, "Worship of God and a relationship with truth are revealed in Jesus Christ as the greatest foundation of freedom."  (Pope St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor.  Sherbrooke, QC:  Editions Paulines, 1993.  p. 132).  When worship is nullified, and God is only acknowledged and not worshipped, truth is rejected and the mentality of secularism, which was defined by the late Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann as being "a negation of worship," will reject truth because it rejects the source.  When that happens, freedom then becomes corrupted because supernatural grace is absent and unable to refine it.  This is what we see in the case of Sodom in this passage as well.  God would destroy Sodom later in this passage precisely because of the level of gross perversion and the severity of iniquity (some sources even suggest that child rape, child sacrifice, and other abominations were occurring as well).   However, despite the perversion and severity we see in Sodom, all sin in reality is an offense against God, but He also extends mercy to the sincerely contrite and the penitent who are so in sincerity will always find forgiveness.

Back to the story of Sodom, Lot attempts to offset the riot outside his door by offering his virgin daughters in verse 8.  However, due to the level of perversity in these men (which was probably also demonically-driven as well) they were not exactly interested in virgin girls, and they up their demands in their frenzy for Lot to hand over his guests, or they would molest him!  Another thing we note here is that Lot is offering his virgin daughters, who ironically are also married!  We'll get back to that momentarily, but first we see the perverted masses outside trying to break down Lot's door, but the strangers pull him inside, at which point the crazed mob is struck with blindness and they disperse in confusion as a result.  This is sort of the last straw - the strangers wanted to be in Sodom to gauge the severity of the offense and what judgment would be fitting, and at this point there is no other alternative but to destroy the city.  So, the strangers tell Lot to gather his family, pack up, and be ready to leave as Sodom is about to be incinerated.  At this point, Lot tries to persuade his sons-in-law, who are natives of the city, to go with him, but they laugh him off.  There are a lot of things packed into this small detail, so we will attempt to unpack some of them now

What is believed to be the ruins of where Sodom once was.

The two guys who are Lot's sons-in-law are married to his daughters, yet in a previous verse it states Lot's daughters were virgins.  There are several things of note here.  First, the sons-in-law are themselves natives of Sodom, and by not consummating their marriages perhaps they too were involved to some degree with the vice and perversion of the city, and only wanted Lot's daughters for procreative purposes.  While that is speculation, it is also highly likely given the situation.  Also, Lot and his family were under the Abrahamic covenant to an extent, and they had an untainted bloodline, and in a strange way maybe God was protecting Lot's daughters from bearing corrupted seed with these Sodomite men. Whatever the case, the sons-in-law flatly refuse to go.  We see in this also a similar situation that Noah faced - Noah too tried to warn those around him about impending disaster, and like Lot he was laughed off.  So, as painful as it must have been for Lot, he could not violate their free will to stay there, so he made preparations to leave without them.

Early that next morning, Lot and his family escape, with added and urgent encouragement of their guests.  So, they flee to the nearby city of Zoar which, although part of the same confederation as Sodom and Gomorrah, is somehow spared from their fate.  On the way out of Sodom, they are given strict orders not to look back, and after they are moved away a safe distance, "fire and brimstone" rained from God on the cities, destroying everything in them.  Lot's wife, however, cannot resist the urge to look back, and as she does so, she is turned into a "pillar of salt."  Lot's salvation from Sodom constitutes an honoring and remembrance of God's promise to his uncle Abraham.

Lot's wife, it was mentioned, was turned into a pillar of salt, so what does that mean?   This is a passage which has been debated for many years, and the question is asked first as to if this was literal or an allegory?  I would argue that this is something that literally happened as a result of God's judgment for not listening to Him, but how did it happen?  Did God turn her supernaturally into a salt pile, or was there a natural phenomenon that God caused which did it?   The area around the Dead Sea where Sodom was believed to be located was a seismically-active area characterized by earthquakes and volcanoes.  It sets on the upper end of a tectonic plate edge called the Rift Valley, which extends from Kenya to northern Syria, and seismic activity was common as evidenced by all the tar pits and the salinity of the region.  It is not known if an active volcano was in that region at the time, but if this is the case it could provide a viable explanation as to what happened to Lot's wife.  Excavations at Pompeii and elsewhere reveal that many bodies who were inundated with ash or a pyroclastic surge from an erupting volcano are preserved and even petrified over time to where they look like salt carvings.  A combination of natural phenomena and supernatural timing could have caused this to happen to Lot's wife too while sparing Lot and his daughters as God had promised He would do.  Even today though, a tourist attraction in the Dead Sea region called "Lot's Wife" is a natural phenomenon which is actually a salt mound shaped like a person, and although it's debated as to whether or not this is actually Lot's wife, it's still interesting that such a natural occurrence is found in that very region.  Time and further wisdom from God Himself will determine its authenticity. 

What is called "Lot's Wife" near the Dead Sea today

As Lot's story continues in verse 30-37, he and his daughters settle near Zoar, and the daughters start worrying about their own situation.  I want to briefly address something before continuing the story, as it is important to understanding the text.

Incest is something that we find a lot of in the earlier chapters of Genesis, and for a time it was probably necessary to propagate the human race.  Therefore, God probably did provide a temporary exemption from its effects and the taboo we see it as today in order to allow the population to increase after the Creation and after the Flood.  However, by the time we get to Lot's situation, there is little need for it anymore, and messing around with one's immediate family was becoming something that was to be rightly discouraged.  Therefore, this passage in Genesis 19 in no way condones what Lot or his daughters do, so that is to be established from the outset.

Lot's daughters are concerned because they don't have husbands and need to propagate the family tree, and unfortunately flawed human reasoning leads them to make a bad mistake.   They get Lot drunk and then they essentially seduce him to copulate with each of them, and they each end up pregnant.  The elder daughter bears a son she names Moab (meaning "He is from my father") who will later be the progenitor of a nation of people who will end up having a love-hate relationship with Isaac's descendants.  However, ironically, a female descendant of Moab, Ruth, will also become an ancestor to the Messiah, and this proves again that God can make a bad situation work to His good. The younger daughter then bears her son, Ben-Ammi (meaning "the son of my family"), and he will become the progenitor of another ancient nation called the Ammonites - the modern Jordanian capital of Amman is named after him even today.  Although both of these nations by New Testament times had been absorbed by the Arabian tribes to the East, they unfortunately create a lot of conflict and challenge for the emerging Israelite nation later, as seen in the Judges in particular.  

Lot being seduced by his daughters

The final part of the chapter entails Abraham's dealings with a local king named Abimelech, who is said in verse 20 to rule over a city called Gerar.  Abraham acts stupidly in his dealings with this king, and in reading the story one sort of feels an empathy with Abimelech.  Like the Pharaoh earlier who actually chased Abraham out of Egypt for trying to "pimp out" Sarah as "his sister," Abraham tries this same ploy again with Abimelech for a similar reason - in his humanity, Abraham is allowing fear of his mortality to take precedence over his fear of God, and this creates a big problem.  But, God knows what is going on, and in a dream he warns Abimelech about Abraham's ruse.   Abimelech had not had any relations with Sarah, and God instructs Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham, which he dutifully does.  Understandably, Abimelech is a little upset at Abraham for what he done, and demands some sort of explanation for it.  Abraham explains himself, and as Abimelech is a very long-suffering and forgiving guy, he is merciful to Abraham and despite the stupidity on Abraham's part Abimelech still gives him permission to dwell in the region he rules, but he also makes Abraham promise to be honest in dealing with him too.   God had told Abimelech in the dream that if he returned Sarah, not only would he be healed of what essentially was a case of erectile dysfunction, but Abraham would be the one who would pray for that healing.  Abraham of course does, and the sexual disorder of Abimelech's house (he was afflicted with what appears to be ED, while his harem is afflicted with barrenness over his taking Sarah into the house) is healed and all is restored.  It would not be the last time though that Abraham would have dealings with Abimelech, but ironically although Abraham could be a real jerk to this guy, Abimelech remained a friend to him for many years to come. Abimelech in some respects is a picture of God's mercy to us - despite how much we mess up and act stupid, God still forgives and loves, and His faithfulness to us is never ending.  Of interest too is the meaning of Abimelech's name - "My father is king."  In Abimelech's story too, we see that although the beloved chosen abuse and deal crookedly with the Savior, Jesus still loved His people.  In the story of Abimelech, we also see how the "Son of the King" is longsuffering, and that gives a Christological dimension to this whole account as well.

Abraham messing with Abimelech the king.

The location of Abimelech's city of Gerar

In the next lesson, we will pick up with the fourth part of Abraham's story, as there is still a lot to cover regarding him.