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.