Genesis 20 – Just a Few Thoughts

Sarah as a cougar, Biblically acceptable incest, and Mamre.

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”

Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.”10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”

11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”

14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him.15 And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”

16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18 for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

I’m not contemplating any greater truths today, rather just addressing some things I find interesting and didn’t want to let go unmentioned.

This chapter is all about Sarah being taken-for the second time-as a wife by a king who coveted her.  Sometimes Bible timelines drift back and forth and aren’t exactly linear.  But it seems pretty clear that this happened after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, which was after God’s revelation that Sarah, now in her nineties, will bear Abraham a child.  Sarah was said to be beautiful, apparently still beautiful enough in her nineties to make her a prized addition to a royal harem. The Bible also said she was well past her child-bearing years (which makes sense for a nonagenarian), but people were still living rather long lifespans – Sarah lives to be 127, Abraham was 175 when he died.  Being a super nerd, let’s say she’s exactly 90 here, which means she’s lived 70% of her life.  Apply that to today’s average life span of 80 years, and she’s the equivalent of around 57, which, yes, could reasonably be called “well after childbearing years.”  So is Sarah some super-foxy cougar? Like a Biblical Halle Berry or Michelle Pfeiffer?  I kind of get a kick out of that thought.

Second, let’s talk about incest.  It happens a lot in the Old Testament.  I was reading an article about it some time ago – I think something I stumbled upon when researching Chapter 10 or 11 of Genesis with all their long genealogies – that was explaining Deuteronomic or Levitical law and it’s views on marriage.  I’m sorry I can’t remember which article to source it.  But basically it said intergenerational incest was OK as long as it was through different sexed siblings.  AKA, it is alright for a man to marry his niece birthed by his sister, but not his niece birthed by his brother. This was all about reinforcing family lines and establishing alliances.  A woman was under her father’s rule until she married, then she was then under her husband’s rule.  If that woman’s brother marries her daughter, there is now a double-matrimonial link between the two families.  It makes for some pretty complex family webs.

So, is Sarah Abraham’s sister or not?  Some, including my NIV text notes, say it was a little bending of the truth when Abraham says so to Abimelek.  Many scholars identify Sarah with Iscah, mentioned in chapter 11.  I’m still not really sure why, since Sarah is mentioned separately in the same passage, but I’ll defer to their more in-depth studies.  If Sarah and Iscah are the same person, then Sarah would be Abraham’s neice – through his brother, yes, but this is before both Deuteronomic and Levitical law, so I guess that’s still OK, by Genesis standards.  Since grandfathers and even great-grandfathers were referred to as “father” (again, see all those genealogy passages we went through earlier), then technically Sarah could be called Abraham’s sister, because they share common ancestors. Even if Sarah is not Iscah, and her relation to Abraham is matrilineal, she is almost assuredly related. This would reinforce the idea of Abraham and his offspring coming from a people chosen by God, able to trace their lineage not only through their father but also their mother back to Noah, even back to Adam, through all the important patriarchs like Eber and Enoch who preceded Abraham.

Finally, I wonder if Abraham and Sarah were sad to leave Mamre.  I’m assuming they had been living there for some time before Ishmael was born, and Abraham is said to be eighty-six when that happened.  He was 100 when God and the two angels came to visit him, so I’m guessing they all lived in Mamre for at least twenty years, plenty of time to get attached to a place.  The “sacred trees of Mamre” aren’t mentioned here, but are specifically mentioned twice, in chapter 13 and chapter 18. I love that the author felt the need to mention not just the site name but also the trees, and I’ve kind of built it up in my mind as a really lovely spot: Shady and peaceful, a micro-climate of flora and fauna not found in the surrounding desert, almost a mini-Eden.  I’d be sad to leave it.

Those are just my asides for today.  I’d love to hear little observations you’ve come across if you’ve been reading any of these chapters, too!

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 03 – The Fall of Man

It’s a more compassionate story than you might remember.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

No doubt this is a sad story of betrayal and consequences, and perhaps it is because I am reading the Bible actively looking for examples of radical love, but even this story of the fall of all mankind, the original sin, is a far more compassionate one than I remember.  It also raises a lot of questions that I didn’t have before, so let’s go through it section by section and examine it.

First, let’s talk about the serpent.  Nowhere in this passage is the serpent called Satan, and I find that interesting.  According to other commentaries, it is made clear later in the Bible that the serpent is indeed an agent of Satan, so I’m going to reserve judgement on this omission until I’ve read more.  But it is interesting, and I wanted to point it out, in case it’s been a while since you have read this story, too, and maybe forgotten some of the details.

Next, in verses 1-6, Eve and the serpent talk, and she eats from the Tree of Knowledge.  Again, I’m going to pose a question that I do not have the answer to: Why will eating from the Tree of Knowledge cause death? Perhaps I’m succumbing to the same child-like curiosity Eve did in thinking, “if it looks pretty and smells nice why can’t I eat it?”  Basically that’s the same reasoning we are warned about as parents, and why I keep my bright purple bottle of Fantastik cleaning solution well out of the girls’ reach.  But the difference is I know Fantastik is poisonous and why, but I know nothing about the Tree of Knowledge and it’s fruit.  If anyone can provide any good insight into what makes the Tree of Knowledge so forbidden as to cause death, please do share!

Verse seven is where Adam and Eve realize their nakedness, and try feebly to cover it up.  Again, this reminds me of little kids.  Have you ever caught a child (or perhaps remember being a child) trying to fix a mistake beyond their abilities?  One time, mom had clean laundry in folded piles in the bathroom.  My sister and I were taking a bath and got splashy, as kids do.  I realized we had gotten some of the laundry wet and sudsy, so got out of the tub (all wet and sudsy myself) and tried to rearrange it to hide it.  Mom came in to check on us, and grab some of the laundry away at the same time.  Of course, she found the wet laundry right away and long story short, we got in trouble.  My husband remembers playing with matches when he was little and hearing his dad coming. Knowing he was in the wrong, he quickly blew it out and hid the matches.  His father, unbeknownst to a little and completely mystified Chris, smelled them, and Chris subsequently got in trouble for playing with matches.  Sewing the fig leaves together is so human, so identifiable in my own childhood and in my own children, that it kind of breaks my heart.

In verses 8-14 it just gets even more heartbreaking.  Look at the intimate communion we had with God: he would walk through the garden with us.  One of my favorite things to do when I visit my parents, still to this day, is to go on a garden walk with them.  They have a huge vegetable garden of 40 raised beds and every season it is a delight to see the little beet shoots coming up or peppers ripening, snap a fresh piece of asparagus off the stem or pick a handful of blueberries. I can just imagine walking through the garden with God in a similar manner, talking easily about the past day as the shadows begin to lengthen.

God calls, “where are you?” Like a human father of naughty children, he knows full well where Adam and Eve are, he’s giving them a chance to come repentantly to him.  And, like naughty children, both immediately shift the blame for their sin.  The woman made me do it.  The serpent told me to.  It just seems so pitiable, especially since God is walking through the garden on a nice evening to find his children, not running after them yelling in anger.  Is he disappointed? Of course! Mankind even gets a punishment in a few verses.  But does he still love us? Yes.

The rest of the chapter spells out our punishment.  All of it more or less makes sense to me except verse 16, where Eve is told “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”  I’ve read a few commentaries that suggest this means a woman’s willful disobedience to her husband, or trying to rule over her husband herself, are in direct conflict with God’s orders.  I don’t think a good marriage should have either party “ruling over” the other one in such a way, so I’m having trouble reconciling this one.  Especially since, at least according to this verse, Eve’s desire will be for her husband. Is it even part of the punishment, or is it part of the conciliatory statement?  Could this desire for her husband be matrimonial love, that maybe wasn’t originally part of the plan? I really don’t know.  Again, if anyone has found a good explanation they wish to share, I would love to read it!

Let me end with a little aside: Many will find this a very sympathetic, perhaps overly sympathetic, reading of the fall of mankind. Some may even see this whole project as me trying to excuse all our guilt, rendering sin an obsolete concern.  That’s not what I’m doing.  We have a lot to answer for, I just think it may be different than what we sometimes get hung up on. The more I read the Bible, pray, and talk to others, the more I think the main goal is to love as much as possible, and when we lapse in compassion, that is when we sin.  We’re going to mess up.  I raise my voice to my kids and roll my eyes at my husband basically every single day.  That is not loving behavior, and I ask God forgiveness.  But with His help, I’m trying to be more compassionate every day.  If people say that I’m too sympathetic….well, that’s better than a lot of other things they could say about me, so I’ll take it.