In chapter 12, the story of the Jews really begins, as God calls Abram.
I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
It is not the first time that God has chosen one man over others. He chose Abel's sacrifice over Cain's, and he chose Noah and his family over the rest of humanity. But it is the first time that he chooses one man to establish a line through which he will enlighten and bless humanity, as opposed to just not punishing one. So Abram, with his family and his brother Lot, moves through the Holy Land (which becomes the Holy Land in verse seven: "unto thy seed will I give this land") but continued south to Egypt because there was a famine in the land. Some unseemly, at least to our modern eyes, behavior benefits Abram before he heads north into the promised land once more.
In chapter 13, Abram and Lot, along with all of their possessions, arive back in Bethel. But they've accumulated so much wealth, in the form of cattle and sheep and camels, that the land will not support both of them and their possessions. Abram suggests to Lot that he (Lot) go one way (choose one) and he (Abram) will go the other. Lot chose "the whole plain of the Jordan." Abram moved to Hebron.
Chapter 14 tells the story of Abram's rescue of Lot. The backdrop was the war between the kings of many of the small kingdoms of the ancient near-east. Many of them were rebelling against Chedorlaomer (Kedorlaomer), having been subject to him for 12 years. Two of the kings were the kings of Sodom () and Gomorrah (). Lot was swept up or captured or kidnapped during this war, and carried away to the north. Abram went after them, and with "the 318 trained men born in his household," he defeated Kedorlaomer and brought back Lot and his possessions. The king of Sodom encouraged him to return the people and keep the possessions, but Abram refused to keep anything other than what his men had eaten, claiming that he had made an oath to God.
- Odds & ends
- The passage in Egypt is, as so many of the Old Testament passages are, jarring to our modern sensibilities. Which may actually be an understatement. It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which a man would fear for his life because of his wife and possessions, but the idea that he would have her pretend to be his sister and then just acquiesce to whatever happens is ... well, it's not one that is comfortable to us.
- If God punished Pharaoh because Abram lied to him, and Pharaoh found out, why did he send Abram off with valuable parting gifts?
- There are two mentions of a story yet to come. When Lot looks over the plain of the Jordan, the narrator informs us that "God had not yet destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah." When he pitched his tents near Sodom, we are told that "the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD."
- There are other anachronistic terms indicating a late telling of the story.
- In Gen 14:13, we Abram referred to as "Abram the Hebrew." This is the first appearance of the term "Hebrew"1 in scripture.
- In verse 14, we are told that Abram chased them as far as Dan.
- Melchizedek king of Salem (Jerusalem) is referred to as "a priest of God most high." It is difficult to know exactly what that would mean in the time before the birth of Israel.
- There are some who believe that these stories, indeed all of the stories of the patriarchs, are later inventions, just myth-making. There is significant evidence to the contrary, from the relative frequency of name forms to the price of slaves to the forms of covenants to placing action in cities that were unoccupied and unknown at the time of the alleged invention.
- I am not positive, but I believe that Chedorlaomer is one of the historical figures for whom there is extra-biblical evidence. UPDATE: A google search suggests the existence of Babylonian texts where the name appears, but significantly later than the time of the patriarchs.
Four chapters in, we come to what appears to be a specific topic. Chapter 52 deals with avoiding the "strange woman" (KJV) or "adulteress" (NIV). The admonitions are to avoid this woman, to cherish "the wife of your youth," to "drink from your own cistern," etc. In other words, to be faithful.
The question is, faithful to what? On the surface, this is a chapter about sexual morality, about maintaining faithfulness to one's spouse and avoiding the sin of adultery. But I'm not convinced that that's actually the message. Keep in mind that we've already seen wisdom referred to as "she" and been warned about the "strange woman." Also, we know that this sort of imagery will be used by Isaiah and Jeremiah in warning the people to be faithful to God, to avoid the "whore of Babylon." The advice here obviously works on a surface level, as adultery is a sin, faithfulness is a virtue, and the brief physical pleasures that might come from straying cannot compensate for the loss of fidelity. But I think it not only works on a "Israel needs to be faithful to God" level, I suspect that that was the original intent.
I have nothing, by the way, to back that up. That's my perception of the message.
1 - Some sources indicate "sojourner" or "wanderer" or "one who crosses over," from the root "br" which means "to cross over a boundary." I don't know, and while I know someone who certainly does, if I went to him with every question that arises in this process a) I'd be pestering him constantly and b) it would cease to be mine.
2 - Chapter 5 in paragraph form
My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil; but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave. She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not.
Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say. Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house. At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, "How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly."
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths. The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.