Thursday, January 7, 2010


Genesis 18-20

Chapter 18 tells of another meeting between Abraham and the LORD. It starts with Abraham seeing three men standing nearby. He encourages Sarah to bake bread, and he has a servant prepare a calf, and he feeds the men. At some point, it becomes obvious that the men either are manifestations of, or represent, the LORD. The LORD tells Abraham that he will return in a year and Sarah will have a son. Sarah, overhearing, laughs at the impossibility of having a son at her age, but denies it when challenged.

As the three are/the LORD is leaving, they/he look(s) toward Sodom, and the LORD informs Abraham of his intent to examine Sodom, discover if it is as bad as he's been led to believe, and destroy it if true. Abraham negotiates and wins the sparing of the city if it contains 10 righteous men.

Chapter 19 chronicles
  • the Angels' visit to Sodom
  • the attempt by the mob to rape them
  • the rescue of Lot and his family from Sodom
  • the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
  • the turning of Lot's wife into a "pillar of salt"
It ends with the disturbing story of Lot's daughters being impregnated by their father.

In chapter 20, Abraham and Sarah travel to Gerar and deal with the king, Abimelech. As in Egypt, Abraham presents Sarah as his sister. As in Egypt, the king takes Sarah. As in Egypt, God punishes the king for taking another man's wife. And, as in Egypt, Abraham leaves richer than he came.

    Thoughts, questions, issues
  • To say that there is much in this section that I don't understand would be an understatement. (Although that statement would seem to indicate that there are sections that don't have much that I don't understand, and that's probably not accurate either...)
  • Does the first half of chapter 18 contain an early reference to the Trinity? The story alternates between "three men" and "the LORD" as the entity or entities with which Abraham is speaking. Are they Angels? Manifestations of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Is the hospitality due to Abraham's recognition of them as holy messengers, or is that a cultural behavior?
  • An omniscient God does not need to examine a city [Sodom, Gomorrah] to know what is going on, how bad the situation is, how many good men there are or anything else. This passage is strange, not only because of the limits implied, but because Abraham is seen not only debating with God, but leading him in argument, essentially teaching him.
  • God's vision is not ours, God's motives are not ours, and the story, if true, may be true for good reasons that I'm incapable of, or possibly just lack context for, understanding.
  • Why, on the other hand, would someone invent, at a late date, a story that makes the almighty God that they worship look so limited?
  • I called the story of Lot's daughters disturbing, and it is. But there's almost nothing in chapter 19 that is not disturbing.
  • The depth of depravity indicated by mobs pounding on Lot's door and demanding that the visitors be sent out to be ravished is, obviously, significant. To my modern eyes and sensibilities, it's not obvious that Lot's answer - here, take my virgin daughters - is any less depraved.
  • There is some debate about whether the sin of Sodom was the homosexuality or the licentiousness. I have heard it argued, and it was compelling at the time, that that it was the former. I do not remember the details of the argument. It seems as if there was plenty of sin to go around, whichever position you hold.
  • There is some similarity between the story of Lot's wife and the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Is this coincidence or cultural cross-contamination?
  • The story of Lot's daughters getting him drunk and getting impregnated is disturbing. It also is the kind of story that makes all kinds of sense as a late invention.

    The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
    The books of Moses were recorded at the time of the Exodus and the conquest. If you're going into land that is currently occupied, you are going to be more motivated, as a people, if you believe that the land is yours by divine right, and if the people currently living there are illegitimate descendants of drunken incest.
  • The story of Abraham and Abimelech in chapter 20 is exactly the same story that we read about Abram and Pharoah back in chapter 12. There are no substantive differences, only trappings - place and persons. The behavior is identical. Is this one story that got told a couple of different ways and ended up recorded as two different stories?
  • If they aren't the same story, if it did happen twice, and Abraham, having profited the first time, did it again with another ruler, isn't he, well, a pimp?
  • Abraham tells Abimelech that Sarah is his half-sister, claiming that the "she's my sister" was not a lie. This is the first mention of their relationship being incestuous. As I've said before, and will have occasion to again, the story is set before the law was handed down. It is unclear to me when, exactly, humanity would have developed practical strictures against said behavior. It is not clear to me, then, that this is viewed as improper in context, no matter how we look at it now.

Proverbs 7

So this is sex day, I guess. Proverbs 71 starts with the now-familiar exhortation to "keep my words and store up my commands within you." And then continues to warn against "the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words." We get the (certainly allegorical) story of "a youth who lacked judgment" and was seduced by a woman of "crafty intent." "She led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life."

It is not surprising that Genesis would contain stories of a sexual nature, nor that Proverbs would devote significant time to sexual morality. The sexual urge is a fundamental and powerful aspect of human life. And it is easily corruptible. Behavior which is desirable and appropriate in one setting becomes inappropriate or troublesome if the circumstances are slightly different. Which is a compelling reason to devote significant effort to educating and warning about the effects of corrupted behavior.

1 - Proverbs 7 in paragraph form:
My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call understanding your kinsman; they will keep you from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words.
At the window of my house I looked out through the lattice. I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men, a youth who lacked judgment. He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in. Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. (She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home; now in the street, now in the squares, at every corner she lurks.)
She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said: "I have fellowship offerings at home; today I fulfilled my vows. So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you! I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love! My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon."
With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.
Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.

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