Genesis 15 – Billionaires and Felons

Everyone is deserving of God’s love.

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half.11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God has made promises to some interesting people just 15 chapters into Genesis.  He set a mark upon Cain, a murderer, to keep people from killing him, and promised vengeance seven times over should anyone do so (Gen. 4:15); he swore to Noah, who was really kind of a social oddball, to never destroy the Earth through flood again and gave his descendants dominion over everything (Gen. chapter 9); and now he’s promising an already extremely rich guy-not exactly our typical prototype of hero-even more blessings.  Also, while not exactly a promise, he did set up Adam and Eve – the first people to explicitly disobey him – for life outside the Garden of Eden when he clothed them in skins (Gen 3:21).

So, I see rebellious children, a murderer, a misfit who later becomes the first drunkard, and the Biblical equivalent of a lonely billionaire here.  That’s just one way, and admittedly a rather pessimistic way, of looking at it.  But I list them like that to illustrate a point:  Even those blessed with direct promises from God are not “perfect Christians.”  To be fair, they wouldn’t be Christians at all back then, they wouldn’t even be Jewish yet – since these stories pre-date either religion.  But my point is this:  God cares about all of us.  And belittling others or excluding others from our Faith because they are not “good” enough is so far removed from what God wants.

I feel I’m quickly turning into an apologetic for Prosperity Theology, but even at that risk I do want to make a point of saying that acceptance goes all ways:  Do not scorn a person who has achieved success who wants to connect with Christianity.  I see individuals eyeing successful people with suspicion.  I have been blessed to meet many successful entrepreneurs in my life, and they have enriched my life in many ways.  It’s scary to reach out to someone seemingly “above” you – there is always that risk of being rejected.  I’ve definitely been snubbed myself.  But don’t scorn somebody first to keep them from scorning you.  Extend that hand of friendship.  Blessings of all kinds might be exchanged, as between Abram and Melchizedek.  If not, and they scorn you, then it’s fully on them.

Alright, enough of the “poor, misunderstood rich people” admonishments.  I just felt I had to acknowledge it.  You know who else we need to acknowledge? Everyone. Even the most abhorrent.  Even Cain, the first murderer, received protection from God.  Now, I’m not arguing for no corrective actions, as a parent I can tell you the mayhem that would ensue if there were no time-outs or toys taken away from time to time.  But again, as a parent, particularly a parent of an Autistic child, I can tell you that solely punitive actions have no lasting effect for creating good behavior.  This is why I applaud those reaching to out inmates and recently released peoples, those advocating for prison reform, and defense attorneys working on behalf of not only those in the wrong place at the wrong time but also those who have committed truly horrible deeds.  Again, God saw fit to protect Cain, even after Cain murdered his brother, so shouldn’t we also be respectful of our own brothers and sisters, no matter how misled they are?

It looks like I just wrote several hundred words defending rich people and felons…which isn’t really what I meant to do when I started this blog post, but I’m standing by it.  Because the main point, once more, is this: We don’t need to be perfect to receive God’s love.  Even Abram, the “father of all believers” wasn’t perfect – he denied his wife twice calling her “his sister” (once we’ve seen, the other time is coming up) to save his own skin.  The first time I guess I can understand…but after God sends a plague on Pharaoh’s household because of it, you’re really going to try that again? Come on.  But I digress. One last time, because it always bears saying again: No one is perfect, but that doesn’t make us any less deserving of God’s love.


Genesis 14 – Wait, was that Jesus?

Who is this Melchizedek guy?

At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram.14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus.16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

So, who is this random priest-king who blesses Abram on his way back from rescuing his nephew Lot?  Melchizedek, a Canaanite, is thrown seemingly out of left field into this little vignette.  He is only mentioned three times in the Bible (twice in the Old Testament, once in the New), but he seems to have captured people’s imaginations.  He certainly caught my attention.  Some say he is a foreshadowing of Christ, or even a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Christ.  Most of the arguments for this line of belief come from the other two mentions of Melchizedek (Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7) but I’ll outline them here.  First, his name and title.  “Melchizedek” means “my king is righteousness” and the name of his kingdom is Salem, which means “peace.” So, he’s the representative of righteousness in a kingdom of peace on earth – much like Jesus.  Second, he brings out bread and wine for Abram, similar to the Last Supper offering made by Christ that we reenact with the Eucharist today.  Third, Abram paid tithes to him instead of the other way around, implying that Melchizedek was even closer to God than Abram was.  There is some debate over who paid tithes to whom if you get into original translations – apparently there’s just a whole lot of masculine pronouns flying around – but most believe it was Abram who paid tithes to Melchizedek. Finally, and this point is made more clear in Hebrews 7, Melchizedek is without mother or father or any genealogy, like Christ.  The fact that he reigns “as a priest forever” (Psalm 110) also implies his eternal nature, again, like Christ.

So is he Christ? I’ll admit, I kind of like the idea of Jesus popping up in the Old Testament.  Along this line of thinking, God walking with Adam and Eve could be seen as a pre-Christ Christ-figure, as in, He takes a human form to be with His creation.  Seeing Jesus in these passages is kind of like a Biblical “Where’s Waldo,” and I get a kick out of it.  So should you believe this or not?  I don’t think it makes a direct impact on my faith, kind of like debating what color sandals Jesus wore, but I do like it.

I think it may be more important to see Melchizedek as a foible to King Bera of Sodom, who also has an interaction with Abram, technically right before Melchizedek’s (see verse 14:17), but told more fully after Melchizedek’s interaction.  When Melchizedek meets Abram, he prepares a feast for him and blesses him, not asking for anything.  In return, Abram gives him a tenth of all he has.  When Bera meets Abram, no feast is prepared and he immediately starts haggling with him-“give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” (14:21) Some may see this as a generous offer, but Abram is under no obligation to give this defeated king anything.  Also, my NIV footnotes tell me Abram refuses because basically Bera is trying to buy Abram’s loyalty.  The footnote reads thus: “Abram refused to let himself become obligated to anyone but the Lord. Had he done so, this Canaanite king might later have claimed the right of kingship over him.” It seems even in the patriarchal period, Sodom was already synonymous with evil, and not anything you with which you would want attachment.

Melchizedek, even in his brief appearance, can be a role model for us still today.  Let us strive to give freely, both of our worldly goods and less tangible blessings.  By blessing others, you will be blessed in turn.

Genesis 13 – Prosperity Theology?

An exercise in acceptance.

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

What do you all think about Prosperity Theology?  You know, Joel Osteen and preachers like him that say God wants us to be prosperous, and we can do so through a faithful attitude, positive thinking and prayer, and donations to the church.  I ask because this chapter, and the chapter immediately preceding, are strong arguments for it.  We are told right at the beginning of the chapter “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and silver and gold.” (13:2) “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever,” God says to Abram in 13:15. And last chapter, God blesses Abram “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great.” (12:2)  That’s a three-fold blessing, people, that’s serious stuff.

I’m uncomfortably comfortable with much of Prosperity Theology, if that makes any sense.  Yes, I definitely think some of it is exploitative and asking those with very little to donate more, more, more when the preacher’s second house is worth almost three million bucks (that’s right, Joel Osteen’s second home is worth that much, his first home is worth over ten million). Also, I think it ignores or tries to gloss over a lot of the bad things that happen-not just in the Bible, but in everyday life.  No one needs to feel like cancer is a personal failure on their part, that they just weren’t faithful enough.  Sometimes cancer, or other shitty situations, just happen. Even to good and faithful people.

All that being said, I hate it when people go all sour grapes on what others have.  No doubt Joel Osteen got a leg up in life, but he’s devoted his life to his work, and built a brand up around himself through not only preaching but books and promotional deals. Also, he’s increased his church membership to 40,000 people.  From a purely business perspective, I have to respect that.

And I do agree with one of the core messages of Prosperity Theology: that God wants us to be happy.  Perhaps the major difference is how followers of Prosperity Theology and I define “happy.”  I do not want a yacht, or a mansion, or even a pool – I know how much upkeep those things take and that’s not how I want to spend my time or money.  But maybe someone else does want those things, and who am I to judge?

So where does that leave us? I’ve talked an awful lot in the first two months of this project about the importance of acceptance and understanding – mostly from a left-looking-right standpoint.  But acceptance is just that – accepting people my have viewpoints that are not in line with my own.  As long as they aren’t hurting anyone, then I can’t be overly critical, right? But what do we define as harmful?  I think the followers of Prosperity Theology are doing themselves a disservice by missing some of the wonderful subtleties of the Bible and trying to force God into a “magic genie” role that falls far short of what I believe God to be.  But, is that harmful? Should I try to dissuade them?

I wish I could wrap this up with a neat little answer, but I don’t think I can.  There are so many other problems that I think are larger than any issues I might have with Prosperity Theology, so until they do something truly exclusionary, I’ll table any misgivings.  I think that might be my larger takeaway from this reading: a reminder to pick which battles are worth fighting, and being able to live with decisions others might make that I don’t like, but that have no bearing on me. For now, the best course of action I can think of is to just keep living an example of what I think is the best way: Enjoy life, tread lightly upon the earth, and find joy in giving back.  Most days I fall far short of what I think my best should be.  Seriously, every disposable snack pack of pudding or applesauce I give the girls feels like a moral failing for this regenerative farmer, but sometimes it’s the only way to get calories in them.  But every day I try, and I hope I’m getting better as I get older.  And, I hope, that those little changes, and my own little examples are enough, with time, to spread the change I wish to see in the world.