Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Genesis 15-17

We've already seen God promise the land of Canaan to Abram. In chapters 15-17, we see the establishment of a formal covenant between God and Abram, whom he renames Abraham.

Chapter 15 begins with the Lord appearing to Abram in a vision and telling him that a great nation will be established of his descendants. Abram points out that he doesn't actually have any children and God assures him that he will. God instructs him to perform a sacrifice, and they establish a covenant.

Chapter 16 has Sarai, barren to this point, offering her maid Hagar to Abram as a vessel for producing an heir. But after Hagar is impregnated, she begins "to despise" Sarai. Sarai mistreats her and Hagar flees, only to have an angel of the Lord appear to her and send her back with news that the Lord would "so increase [her] descendants that they will be too numerous to count." So she returned and "bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne."

Then in chapter 17, the Lord confirms his covenant with Abram. He renames him Abraham ("for I have made you a father of many nations") and gives him "the whole land of Canaan." He also renames Sarai to Sarah. He sets circumcision as the sign of the covenant. He tells Abraham that Sarah will bear him a son and they are to call him Isaac. And then Abraham, and all of the men of his house, "that very day" were circumcised.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • Earlier, Abram spoke with God, or God spoke to Abram, and there really wasn't any detail about the communication. It sounded as if God were corporeal and they were sitting and chatting. Here, God is portrayed as appearing to Abram "in a vision."
  • There are a lot of verses in these passages that can be read in multiple ways because of so many pronouns. Or rather, so few. 15:6, for example - "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." This may be clear in the Hebrew, as they may decline their pronouns, but in English, that could be "he [Abram] credited it to him [God] as righteousness" or "he [God] attributed it to him [Abram] as righteousness." I assume that the latter is the correct reading, but it's not clear from the English version.
  • God tells Abram about the captivity in, and exodus from, Egypt. Given that these stories, however they were handed down, weren't necessarily written until the time of the exodus, this is the kind of thing that leads people to believe that they are myths.
  • I'm not sure that I understand what the word "despise" means in the Old Testament. The contexts in which it is used seems to carry a connotation other than "hate," which is what I always thought it meant. Maybe that's close enough, but it doesn't feel right. There seems to be a sense of contempt, which I've never considered to be an aspect of despite. I'm probably wrong, but the usage here, for Hagar's feelings toward Sarah, just doesn't feel like "despise" to me, so I guess I'm not quite understanding it.
  • It's not clear to me why the Angel's message - "He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers" - made Hagar think going back was a good idea. Or did she do it in order to cause torment, difficulty, problems for Sarah?
  • The covenant is only one-sided until chapter 17. God has told Abram/Abraham a couple of times that he will the father of many nations, that his descendants would be a chosen people, but it isn't until chapter 17 that any requirements are laid on them. It's all one-sided - this is what the LORD God will do - until then.
  • Abram didn't have to spend much time with the book of baby names.

Proverbs 6

Chapter 6 of Proverbs1 contains exhortations to wisdom, pleas for the listener to hear and follow the lessons, and suggestions that the seductress or adultress is to be avoided. It is not the same as chapter 5, but, as I've already noted, the message tends to get repetitive. I'm sure that this is intended to emphasize and reinforce the message, but it's hard to take much from it in big chunks.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • There is a particularly memorable section in this chapter, though. The narrator lists seven things that the LORD hates, including "a heart that devises wicked schemes." That one is interesting because most admonitions in Proverbs, and elsewhere in the code of laws, are against behaviors. Here, we find that, even if we do not put these wicked schemes into action, just "devising" them is known and hated by God. It's indicative of the approach and attitude to the inner life that Jesus will later echo in the sermon on the mount.
  • The section against adultery in this chapter does seem to be an actual "avoid adultery" message, rather than the "remain faithful to God" metaphor that I felt in the last one.
  • I believe that this passage pre-dates Aesop's The Ant And The Grasshopper, but it carries the same message. The ant is used as an examplar of a kind of wisdom - it "has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest."

1 -
Proverbs 6
Warnings Against Folly

My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor's hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler. Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. A scoundrel and villain, who goes about with a corrupt mouth, who winks with his eye, signals with his feet and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart— he always stirs up dissension. Therefore disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:
  • haughty eyes,
  • a lying tongue,
  • hands that shed innocent blood,
  • a heart that devises wicked schemes,
  • feet that are quick to rush into evil,
  • a false witness who pours out lies
  • and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life, keeping you from the immoral woman, from the smooth tongue of the wayward wife.

Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life. Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man's wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.

But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot, and his shame will never be wiped away; for jealousy arouses a husband's fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge. He will not accept any compensation; he will refuse the bribe, however great it is.

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