Genesis 16 – Sarai and Hagar

Protecting the patriarchy and male supremacy.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 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.”

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Volumes have been written on these two women. Volumes.  This older US News article provides a good summary of some of the major themes and subjects that continue to attract us to this story, some of which include the similarities between Hagar’s story and the female African-American experience during slavery, and the origin of Islamic and Judeo-Christian tensions.

Coming at it from a decidedly feminist-revisionist standpoint (yes, I can totally admit that bias), the most interesting theory I’ve read while researching this chapter is that the writer was just as concerned with propping up male superiority and the patriarchal system as he was with illuminating the divine supremacy of God.  Again, according to the US News article, by illustrating that God, then considered male, has the ability to control female fertility, the author has established male superiority over the very female power of child-bearing.

I don’t want to come across as cynical, but I do wonder how much of this story was written to make Abram look good at the expense of Sarai and Hagar.  There are many examples of polygamy in the Old Testament, but it’s generally accepted that the belief was polygamy was not meant to be the moral ideal – remember Lamech lusting after both Adah and Zillah?  Sarai offering Hagar to Abram is reminiscent of Eve offering Adam the apple.  Here is something tempting (a young girl, a delicious fruit) that will bring about something desired (an heir, knowledge) that the weaker woman (Sarai, Eve) offers to the apparently blameless or at the very least coerced man (Abram, Adam).  As to this male inculpability, Abram is often depicted in art history with his hand extended palm up while Sarai brings him Hagar, a symbol of rejecting responsibility or designating innocence.  But he still sleeps with Hagar…so how is he innocent of impatience and faithlessness while Sarai is guilty of being so? I just have a hard time holding only Sarai responsible for deciding Abram better sleep with Hagar, especially if so many other parts of this story are written to reinforce male dominance.  I can’t imagine the anguish Sarai was going through experiencing infertility for so long, especially in a time when fertility was kind of your defining trait as a woman.  That just doesn’t seem like the mindset that would arrive at a decision of “oh, yes, let this other beautiful, fertile woman sleep with my husband instead.”  I don’t believe Sarai was blameless, because that would be reductive in the other direction, but I do think she’s been given too much of the blame.

Also, if Abram was (at least partially) more responsible for deciding to sleep with Hagar than the writing of this story would lead us to believe, it would help explain the animosity between these two women a little more, and why Sarai mistreated the pregnant Hagar (16:6) and why in a few chapters she is insistent upon Hagar and Ismael being sent into the desert.

Really, the more I write about it the sadder I become.  They both became mothers of nations, but how fraught both these women’s lives were.  Hagar literally needs an angel to lift her out of her despair in this chapter.  It sounds like Sarai has reached a breaking point, herself.  The only thing I can say is – Ladies, let it be a reminder that we need to work cooperatively.  Gentlemen (and everyone else!) you can totally get in on this, too.  Let us not be jealous of each other’s successes, or gloat over each other’s short-comings.  Let us work to uplift each other.  We have generations of embedded male superiority to overcome still, as was made abundantly clear by the recent Bret Kavanaugh/Christine Blasey Ford Senate hearings, MeToo movement, and other news stories of the past year.

So yes, maybe I am a little sad and a little cynical this morning.  But I’m going to channel that anger into productive change in Jesus’ name, and I hope you will, too.  A quick Google search of “how to empower women” or “how to promote gender equality” comes back with some great ideas.  Below, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite, and I hope you’ll be moved to participate in some of them:

  1. Support New Moms – This can be anything from locally to globally.  The wonderful ladies at my church in Charlottesville set up a meal train for me when Betty was born, and I didn’t have to cook for a month.  It. Was. Amazing.  Reach out to moms of newborns, if they are in your community.  You can also support moms in developing countries through programs like the White Ribbon Alliance and the International Women’s Health Coalition, among others.
  2. Support Female Entrepreneurs – shop female-owned businesses, mentor female entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, or just provide encouragement and positivity to women and girls with an entrepreneurial spirit.
  3. Encourage young girls in school, particularly in STEM programs – girls are super smart, but we’re not always taught to value that.  Mentoring a girl you know, or one through a program like Big Brothers, Big Sisters goes a long way towards building a girl’s confidence to do well in school.  Additionally, you can support female education worldwide through organizations like the Campaign for Female Education.
  4. Speak up – speak up when you see sexism at work.  Speak up for the rights of other gender minorities (aka trans or non-binary peoples), because we are stronger together.  Speak with your vote and elect female candidates and candidates that are committed to furthering gender equality.
  5. Keep talking.  I’d love to hear some other ways you all have supported the women in your lives (or how someone has supported you) – whether it’s an anecdotal story of person-to-person support, or an organization you think is doing good work, or whatever!  I look forward to hearing them.

Proverbs 02 – A Quest for Wisdom

Chosing the right path from every good path.

I have a toddler who transitioned to a big girl bed last week and has decided napping is for the birds.  Also, she is sick but still refusing to nap, which means she needs to be constantly held and my productive time has dropped to practically zero.  There’s worse things than having to snuggle my baby all day, but I am taking longer to finish new blog posts.  Here’s one I was working on earlier for just this sort of situation.  I’ll be back to Genesis on Sunday-hopefully!!!

***

My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just
    and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,
    and understanding will guard you.
12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
    from men whose words are perverse,
13 who have left the straight paths
    to walk in dark ways,
14 who delight in doing wrong
    and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked
    and who are devious in their ways.
16 Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
    from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
17 who has left the partner of her youth
    and ignored the covenant she made before God.
18 Surely her house leads down to death
    and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
19 None who go to her return
    or attain the paths of life.
20 Thus you will walk in the ways of the good
    and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will live in the land,
    and the blameless will remain in it;
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

 

Oh, look!  Second chapter of Proverbs and one of the early verses says we are to search for wisdom as we look for silver and hidden treasure! There again, is Wisdom as a commodity (as referenced in my first Proverbs post).  But this chapter is really calling us on a quest, isn’t it?  We are to “search for [Wisdom] as for hidden treasure” (2:4), and from there on out it reads like the summary of an adventure movie.  We, the heroes of the story, will come across wicked men on crooked paths and temptresses, carrying the shield of the Lord, protected by Discretion- which, by the way, is a way cooler word when capitalized.

But you know what this implies? It implies that we will have to walk through dangerous places.  We will come to crossroads where we must chose the “paths of the righteous” (2:20) or the “dark ways” (2:13) and “paths to the spirits of the dead” (2:18).  It is at these dangerous crossroads that Wisdom will be able to exercise her power on our behalf.

Some of these choices, to be sure, are more obvious.  Taking a newly sober person to a bar is a terrible idea.  As Jesus says in Luke 17:2, “It would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

But some of these choices may not be as obvious.  Parenting is a great example of this.  Sometimes it seems like nothing you do is right – breastfeeding or bottle feeding?  Stopping breastfeeding at 6 months? 12 months? Four years? You’re going to get flak from somebody no matter what choice you make.  And you know what the right answer is? The one that is right for you (and in this case, your child).  This chapter doesn’t say there is only one good path, but references “every good path.” (2:9)  But sometimes, having so many options can make it harder.  These moments – when Google has fifteen conflicting answers based on which Reddit conversation you chose, when your mom tells you one thing but your best friend another, when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the possibilities – this is when  you need to be “turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding.” (2:2) Do it how you will and call it what you want: praying, meditating, maybe even just setting aside some time for list-making, but do it with intention and an open mind, and I believe God will recognize that intent.  Because, as this chapter tells us, if you “call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding,” (2:3) then you will “find the knowledge of God” (2:5).  We live in an age of unparalleled information, but God can still help us find wisdom.

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 08-The Raven and the Dove

Is the raven also a symbol of the Holy Spirit?

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year,the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

I went down a research rabbit-hole during naptime yesterday!  I mean, I went deep into this one without meaning to, but I just got caught up. I’ll tell you all about it, but first let me just give a shout out to local libraries, which made yesterday’s research possible.  Getting a library card was one of the first things I did when we moved here.  Our little tiny local library is part of a larger group of libraries, so I have access to tons of books, plus they have a fun little children’s corner with toys and stuffed animals, lots of activities (including a play-time focused on sensory issues, which we will be attending in the future), and access to academic research tools, like JSTOR, right from my own computer, I just log in through the library website.  So, have you checked out your local library lately?

Okay, with that plug out of the way, let’s talk about what I found!  Actually, first, let’s talk about why I was searching.  I remembered Noah had sent out the dove twice, but I did not remember the raven at all.  So I wondered, “why the two birds?”  And apparently a lot of other people have wondered about it, too.  There are lots of writings out there, but the two I found most interesting and helpful were Miriam Gedwiser’s 2016 article on the website Lehrhaus, which explores diversity in Jewish thought.  The second I found on JSTOR, so I can’t link to it, but it’s “Why Did Noah Send Out a Raven?” by R.W.L. Moberly in the July 2000 issue of Vetus Testamentum, a scholarly journal for Old Testament studies. I’ve noted where I’ve paraphrased these two.

Some see it symbolically: That the raven represents carnal/sinful/sexual desires, and by sending the raven out first, Noah was symbolically purging the ark of sin. (Gedwiser) Others are less allegorical, and say that the raven is a common land sighting bird, meaning it will fly towards land even if it can’t see any, and was used in navigation before compasses. (Moberly)  Here the analysis diverge.  The first school of thought says that the raven was just too wild of a bird to bring Noah any good information.  But the dove is a gentle, people-friendly bird who would allow Noah to hold it in his hand to see not only the olive branch but examine it’s feet for evidence of clay or other solid ground. The second school of thought reminds us that ravens are carrion eaters, and therefore could live off any bloated corpses floating around on the receding flood. Some say the raven was a harbinger of death and not a good choice or good omen for leaving the ark, so Noah then sent out the dove, which is also a land-sighting bird but not a carrion eater, so would have to return if it didn’t find enough food (aka dry enough land with things growing).

There’s some interesting ideas, maybe even a little truth, in all of those, but I find all of them lacking a bit.  As for the raven being symbolic of sin, I have trouble swallowing that one.  The raven is revered in many cultures as a wise bird, if a little cunning-Native American and Norse mythology are just two examples that come to mind of the raven being “good.”  Also, in a contemporary flood legend, Gilgamesh had a helpful raven. And, as the Moberly article pointed out, Elijah is sustained by the bread and meat brought to him by the raven God sends him while hiding in the Kerith Ravine, later in the Old Testament (Kings chapter 17, if you’re interested).  So, if the raven is leaving the ark to purge sin, it seems to me like it is doing so out of helpfulness, almost like volunteering to take out the trash.

As for the raven being too wild to bring Noah any good information, I just wonder why Noah would have picked the raven if that were the case, considering the dove (and literally any other bird) was right there to chose from.  The added layer of information, that ravens are carrion eaters, helps a little bit.  Perhaps Noah sent out the raven, and then when it flew back and forth he realized that maybe there wasn’t enough dry land yet, but enough of whatever (mucky flotsam, dead bodies…) to keep a crow fed but not to nest.  So perhaps the raven was informative where the dove wouldn’t have been.  It’s almost a biblical “are we there yet/are we done yet?” kind of question.  Basically, the raven’s back and forth flights say to Noah,”Yes, the flood waters are receding, but it’s not safe for you yet.  Wait a bit.”  Whereas if the dove had been sent out, it’s answer would have been a flat “NO” with no added information.

Moberly ends their article suggesting that the raven might be an imitation on Noah’s part of God sending out the Holy Spirit to quell the flood.  Normally, the dove is used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit – remember Matthew 3:16 where “the Spirit of God descend[ed] like a dove and alight[ed] on” Jesus?  And that is good and true. But perhaps Moberly is onto something, and the raven is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit that we’ve just forgotten about.  Surely God instilled the Holy Spirit in the raven that fed Elijah.  I like the yin/yang completeness of having a dark and light bird both be symbols of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the “black” bird has just been falsely demonized by earlier generations intent on separating themselves from the “godless heathens” around them, denying any symbolism Christianity and other religions might share through the raven and focusing only on the dove.

Whatever the explanation, I identify with the raven.  The poor raven gets no credit.  I completely forgot he was part of the story – did you?  In the raven, I see every menial task, every thankless job that I have to do.  The Holy Spirit is not only with us in times of great spiritual revelation, such as the baptism of Jesus, but with us always, like when we’re changing diapers and doing our taxes.  The dove might bring us a message of hope from above, but the raven is in the weeds here with us, keeping our spirits up.

Genesis 06 – Noah, the Ordinary Man

Kings could have build God a fleet of ships, had he so chosen.

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

There are two parts of to this chapter: Verses 1-7 describe the way the world was around the time of Noah: man’s lifespan getting shorter (their days shall number 120 years, verse 3), Nephilim roaming the earth (we’ll get to them in a moment), and general wickedness.  The second part of this chapter is the beginning of the flood story, where Noah is identified as “a righteous man” (6:9) and given instructions for the ark.

I think verses 1-7 almost sounds like a prologue out of Lord of the Rings.  I wonder how much of a Bible reader Tolkien was.  The language sounds like something the Elves would say. “For man is mortal” (6:3) and “his heart was deeply troubled” (6:6) are both lines also said in one of the movies, I’m pretty sure.  Also, this prologue has an epic cast of characters, even if they are only alluded to: the sons of God, beautiful daughters of Man, heroes of old, men of renown, Nephilim.  And who are these Nephilim?  There are two schools of thought: One is that they were fully human, and it was a way to describe kings, who often achieved demi-god status in the eyes of men at this time.  Second, is that they are fallen angels (or the offspring of fallen angels) who intermarried with mankind.  Either way, they were seen as big, strong, important beings.  Some even translate the word to mean “giants.”  Was there a race of giants roaming the Earth during Genesis? Perhaps there were a few: the Anakites mentioned later are also described as giants.  Whether this means they were actually “giants” or just unusually big, strong people we may never know, but clearly the author sees them as exceptional.

But the question here is, what does this have to do with Noah, and why, out of all the details that could be shared in a prologue, are these the ones being shared with us?  The “wickedness of the human race” (6:5) is shown in contrast to Noah’s righteousness.  That makes sense.  But I think these Nephilim and the other epic characters mentioned are to contrast Noah’s ordinariness. Yes, he was the grandson of Enoch, who walked with God, but other than that, Noah was just an everyday Joe.  He was not a giant, he was not a king.  He was just a man.

I’m going to jump ahead here because there’s a New Testament quote I love. Luke 6-7 reads: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  God sees us, God loves us, and through Him we are made special, just like Noah.  God selected Noah, out of all the people that could have been picked to build the ark.  Surely these strong Nephilim could have built it bigger and faster.  Kings could have built God a fleet of ships, had He so chosen.  But Noah, just a sparrow of a man compared to these others, was the one righteous enough to save.

It’s comforting and sobering at the same time.  The comfort of it is: we matter. Every single one of us matters.  It doesn’t make a difference how unimportant we seem in the grand scheme of things: social status, wealth – none of that makes us more or less precious to God.  The sobering part is: we are all equally responsible for our actions.  Again, kings could have changed whole policies that would have made society less wicked.  Government worked a little different back then, but decrees outlawing whatever the wickedness was at that time (I’m guessing prostitution, greed that led widows and orphans to abject poverty, murder) would have been an effective start, as would a task force of dedicated Nephilim enforcing said decrees.  But even if that had happened, that doesn’t get the little guys, like you and me and Noah, off the hook.  Regardless of the law of the land, we still have a responsibility to God to be “righteous.”

I actually hate that word.  It sounds elitist and judge-y. Which is too bad, because that’s not really what it means, or what it should mean.  If we are righteous, we are decent and virtuous, which still sounds a little puritanical, but better.  What it boils down to is that we just need to be good people.  That is hard sometimes. But more than that, it’s scary sometimes.  It means going against the grain of society.  Noah and his family were the only “righteous” ones left around, according to this story.  You don’t think it got them a few sideways looks? It also means doing things that go against good sense.  Noah built an ark in the desert.  Tithing when I worry about money every month doesn’t make sense either, but it works (as an aside, I found the exact tithing amount needed for this month when doing a deep clean of our bedroom last week).

Scariest of all, being righteous, being a good person, means we are open to hearing God’s call, and sometimes it can mean taking on something greater than we ever thought we’d have to do.  I doubt God will call upon you to build an ark, but even people who feel called to do something can testify to how difficult it is sometimes.  The pastor of the current church I go to said he wrestled with the decision to become a minister for years before finally doing it.  I felt called to start this farm.  Most of the time I feel great, but there are definitely moments where I look around and think, “what the flying fuck was I thinking?!”

So, it can be scary to be a good person.  But lest I scare you completely off, know that God is there, and He sees you, down to the very hairs of your head.  Knowing that you are cherished so can make it a little easier in those hard and scary times to carry on.  So please, if you only take one thing from this, know that you are loved. To God, you are not only more precious than many sparrows, but more precious than the heroes of old, the men of renown, even the giant Nephilim.  You, no matter ordinary, are loved above all.

Genesis 05-Cain, Seth, Lamech, and Enoch

An allegory of good and evil offspring.

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.

When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father[b] of Enosh.After he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died.

When Enosh had lived 90 years, he became the father of Kenan.10 After he became the father of Kenan, Enosh lived 815 years and had other sons and daughters. 11 Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died.

12 When Kenan had lived 70 years, he became the father of Mahalalel.13 After he became the father of Mahalalel, Kenan lived 840 years and had other sons and daughters. 14 Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died.

15 When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he became the father of Jared.16 After he became the father of Jared, Mahalalel lived 830 years and had other sons and daughters. 17 Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died.

18 When Jared had lived 162 years, he became the father of Enoch.19 After he became the father of Enoch, Jared lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. 20 Altogether, Jared lived a total of 962 years, and then he died.

21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.22 After he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. 24 Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

25 When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he became the father of Lamech. 26 After he became the father of Lamech, Methuselah lived 782 years and had other sons and daughters. 27 Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died.

28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. 29 He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” 30 After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters.31 Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died.

32 After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham and Japheth.

Adam and Eve and Noah were Bible stories I learned early on, but Lamech and Enoch I didn’t know about until later, and I’m kind of surprised.  Perhaps it’s just that there isn’t a lot of story, mostly names. Maybe it used to be more well known. It seems like the kind of allegorical contrast between righteous and wicked that would have been popular in the earlier centuries of a country founded on Protestant ideals.

Thanks to my NIV study notes, I know that Lamech is the seventh generation removed (seven being the number of “completeness”) from Adam through his fallen son, Cain.  In chapter 4, we see how “evil” he is -in his greed and lust he marries not one but two women, then he kills a man and haughtily declares his immunity.  Even though he is also the father of the arts (remember, his sons introduced music, animal husbandry, and metal smithing) he’s made out to be a pretty unlikeable dude.

Seth was granted to Adam and Eve to replace the slain Abel, and stands in contrast to his fallen brother Cain.  Verse 5:1 reminds us “When God created man, He made them in the likeness of God.” Then, in verse 5:3, we are told Adam “had a son in his own likeness, in his own image, and he named him Seth.” This repetition reinforces Seth’s own godliness, again, as a foible to wicked Cain.  And from this “good” son, a line of good men is brought forth. The seventh son removed from Adam, Enoch, was so good he “walked with God 300 years” (5:27) before being taken away by God.  The generally accepted interpretation of this is that Enoch did not have to suffer death, but was taken into Heaven alive.The more famous Noah, Enoch’s grandson, almost seems like icing on the genealogical cake at this point-it’s hard to top walking with God.

So, the seventh son of wicked Cain: wicked. The seventh son of righteous Seth: righteous. Wicked begets wicked, righteous begets righteous.  It just sounds like an 18th century saying to me. So, what can we learn from this story today? I don’t think anyone is cursed to repeat the same mistakes of their parents.  That’s not to discount trauma and just the general influence of upbringing, whether it’s good or bad or somewhere in between.  But we all have the chance, every day, to sow the seeds of righteousness.  Sometimes it’s large and noticeable, like the men who died protecting two women, one wearing a hijab, from a hateful attack in Portland two years ago.  Other times it can be as small as holding the elevator door open for the person who is still twenty paces behind you.  I guess what I’m saying is, we aren’t doomed by bad genetics and we don’t all have to be heroes.  What we do need to do is start paying it forward.  Start with an act of kindness today, and let’s see what it will inspire down the road-tomorrow, in a generation, and seven generations from now.

Genesis 04 – Women in the Bible

Adah and Zillah – warnings to be reviled, or mothers of the arts to be celebrated?

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear.14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

23 Lamech said to his wives,

“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
    wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
    then Lamech seventy-seven times.”

25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.

Chapters 4 and 5 can be seen as contrasting allegories of wicked and righteous living, so I’ll discuss them more next blog post, together.  What I find most interesting today is we have, after Eve, the next three women of the Bible mentioned.  The Bible is filled with male figures and written from a male perspective, so whenever a woman is mentioned, my interest is piqued.  What made her unique enough for the writers to take notice? In a time when women were often viewed as property, gaining name recognition in sacred text is a big deal, so let me share what I’ve found out about them. Poor Naamah is just a name, and I can’t find much on her, so I’ll focus on Adah and Zillah.

I promise this is related, so bear with me: One of my favorite podcasts is Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, where two Harvard divinity graduates use reading practices from different religions and apply it to each chapter of the books, along with a themed reading.  They’re not making Harry Potter sacred, but using it as a starting point for conversations about life’s challenges and truths.  It’s really great, even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan.  But I mention it because this podcast introduced me to Havruta, a Jewish practice of studying the Torah that is based in partnership and conversation.  To paraphrase, the truth is found more so in the discussion than in seeking an actual “answer.”  I loved that idea, and after reading several opinions on Adah and Zillah, I think that the truth of these women may be somewhere in the conversation, rather than any hard-and-fast answer.

First, we’ll start with their names.  Adah basically means adornment and Zillah basically means the tinkling of bells.  OT names often imply some sort of characteristic truth about the person.  If we’re to believe that (which, whether this is a historically factual story or just an allegory, we can either way), then these women were beautiful.

Adah and Zillah seemed to focus upon their beauty by adorning themselves.  Is this a good or bad thing, or just a thing?  It depends who you ask.  Some see it as the first story of female vanity – Adah and Zillah made themselves appealing so Lamech would be tempted into polygamy, where he then used their beauty against them to incur rival-wife jealousies.  Or, perhaps they were so beautiful that he just couldn’t help his attraction to both of them, and they both had genuine love for him.  Others see Adah and Zillah as a mirroring of the dual-female role in other mythologies, and indeed elsewhere in the Bible (such as Sarah and Hagar or Naomi and Ruth).  And there must have been something inspiring about them, beyond their looks: they are the mothers of the closest thing Christianity has to muses. Their sons, the ones they taught and raised, are responsible for music, animal husbandry, and metal-smithing.

So what is the “real” meaning of Adah and Zillah’s story? Are they warnings to be reviled, or are they they mothers of art to be celebrated?  They were human, just like you and me, and a little bit of both.  They loved the wrong man – tell me you haven’t heard that story a million times over.  Maybe they were a little vain – I certainly am.  But, they were good mothers who encouraged their boys to create things the world had never seen before, things that benefited all of mankind.

I think the moral of the story is this:  It is easy to pass people over.  These women are barely more than names, here.  It is also easy to reduce and compartmentalize people.  We need to remember that every person has a complete and complex soul, and there is good and bad in everyone.  It’s hard. It’s downright exhausting, to be honest. And, just like I mentioned last post, we’re going to fail in our compassion. I fail every day. But (trying to) remember that everyone deserves compassion when you come across someone who is mean, or different than you, or even just driving too slow, will help us make the world a better place, one interaction at a time.