Monthly Archives: July 2012

7-31-12 Genesis 16 (16)

The story today is about the way in which Abram and Sarai took into their own hands God’s promise that their descendents would be countless. Sarai suggested to Abram that he take her servent/slave Hagar and have intercourse with her and try to create a son which then Sarai could claim as her own. However, after Abram got Hagar pregnant, Harar started to lord it over Sarai that she, Hagar, was going to be the one who would fulfill God’s promise for Abram not Sarai. Sarai was very distressed with this and went to Abram and said “What should I do?” Abram in a very man type of response said, “She is your servent, take care of her the way you want.” So Sarai made life miserable for Hagar and Hagar ran away. She went into the desert and there God’s angel came to her and said, “You have to go back to Sarai and Abram.” and as an incentive, the angel said that Hagar’s descendents would be innumerable. (This is somewhat of an empty promise because it would be easy to say this because most people have chidren and although a family may die out, it could be continued just as likely. However, it is unlikely that such a family would be around for centuries as is Judaism, Islam, and Christianity which all claim Abram as the father of their peoples.)The angel also told Hagar that her son would be a wild jackass of a man. Just think of how thatwould make a young woman feel. Maybe she thought that he would avenge Sarai’s treatment of her.  So Hagar went back and had a son who was named Ishmael. Ishmael had 12 sons and they are thought to be the people that we think of as Arabians today. It is also thought by Muslims that Ibraham (Abram) took Ishmael to Mecca and established the holy place for all Islam there.

Genesis is a peptalk to the Jewish people who were in captivity in Egypt and the writers wanted to show the people that they needed to remain faithful to God because of God’s promises to Abraham. This would counter the pressure that the people faced to worship the gods of the Pharohs in Egypt.  This then becomes a way to instill hope among the people that they would get away from Egypt and get back to the promised land which was promised to Abraham and in which Abraham lived most of his life.

We also discussed the scholarship about the source of the stories about Abram. A scholar by the name of Blankinsopp from the University of Notre Dame suggests that Abraham is not clearly and unambiguously attested to in the Bible earlier than the Babylonian exile and that in the Persion period, a model for those who would return from Babylon to Judah. This is interesting because the original story of Abram’s origin had him coming from Ur which is not far from Babylon to Canaan which is where the people in captivity in Babylon wanted to return. It is also thought by a number of people that this narrative originated in the 5th or 6th centure BCE. Many scholars thought that the Abraham story served a theological purpose following the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Davidic kingship despite the loss of these things. It described Jahweh’s dealings with the ancesters provided a historical foundation on which the hope for the future could be built. Here is a link to this info. It is also likely that a lot of the Abraham story was made up which in Bill’s view doesn’t make it not true.

Paul in Galations 4:22-23 states that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave women, and one by a free women. The son of the slave was born according to the flesh but the son of the free woman was born through promise. Then he says that this can be interpreted allegorically namely that Hagar corresponds to present Jerusalem which is in slavery with her children whild the Jerusalem above is free, and the chidren of this tradition are free and have the promise of God for their future.

It is interesting to discuss how men and women interact in their relationships. A lot can be learned about these relationships by reading this chapter. There is jealousy and lording it over another and it illustrates how these feelings get in the way of a relationship with God. It also suggests the difficulty of having multiple wives because of the natural jealousies that can be generated. It also suggests the reasons for trusting and depending on God for our future.

When did monogamy become part of our teachings? was it the Ten Commandments?  An article in the Jewish Encyclopedia suggests that monogamy was a desired relationship all the way from the time of Adam and Eve as well as Noah and his wife. But polygamy was never outlawed until probably the 14th century AD or so. Much of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament extols the benefits of monogamy.

There is an interesting discussion of Ishmael in Wikipedia and here is te link to it:  Here is a reference to Ishmael in the Jewish Encyclopedia:  Here is a link from the Jewish Encyclopedia which also contains the Arabian or Muslim references to Ibraham, Ishmael and Hagar:

7-24-12 Genesis 15 (17)

This is the story of how God came to Abram in a vision and told him that he was to be the beginning of a long line of people that would be his descendants and this people would be the specal people of God. Abram had a vision of God telling him that he was establishing a covenant with Abram and promising that his descendants would be a special people and would follow God. This is the important part for us is the living covenant that continues between God through Jesus and us to this day.

The question always comes up as to why doesn’t God speak to us today as clearly as he spoke to Abram. Bill commented about how his dreams can usually be interpreted in terms of recent events rather than what will happen in the future. Maybe we need a few gypsies to explain how our dreams might be the future. But do we not get visions. For example, Mark’s experience coming back from a Zion interview with the thought that this was the place he would continue his ministry. We have the word with all that it contains as a guide to our future and what God expects of us and this all merges into our intuition as well as the way we proceed into the future trying to carry out the directions in which God wants us to go. We ask God to help us as we develop ways to further the mission of God and it is formulated sometimes in the strategic plans we prepare. In other times, it may be the vision of a skilled leader. Abram must have been just such a charismatic leader because the people followed where he led them. After all, why would you sacrifice a grown cow, goat, and ram as well as a turtle dove and a young pigeon to be burned. What an interesting sight it must have been to see the fire consuming them. But this story of the giving of the covenant sustained the people through the whole sojourn in Egypt say nothing about the captivity in Babylon later on.

Al raised a question about why the animals were split in half for the sacrifice. That is all animals were split in half but not the birds. The Lutheran study bible has a note that says that the animals were split in half because the recipient of a promise or covenant was reminded by this of what would happen to him if he welshed on his promise. In this God through the flame pot walked between the halves and thus assumed the guarantee of the covenant. This can be seen as a precursor of Jesus coming to continue the covenant and dying to save us from our sins. Thus God again became the guarantee of the promise or covenant to us.

Why were the people in Canaan so evil? I read a source saying that this whole description of Abram was part of the break with the tradition of having multiple gods to having one true god, the whole concept of monotheism. When Abram started from Ur, at the command of God, he probably believed in multiple gods, but then as he moved north to Haran and then south to Canaan, he developed or through communications with God developed the concept of One God who had created the universe and was the Most High God. This was a remarkable turn of events. Although Adam, and then Noah were also part of this tradition of one god, not many. But it seems to have been cemented in the story of Abram. I think that God always said that the people of Canaan were so evil because they continued to worship many gods as opposed to the one true god. I think it was this aspect, because there seem to be many times in the Bible where God strikes out against the worship of multiple idols and gods, and the people keep wanting to do it. We certainly see it in the time of Moses. The indigenous people in Canaan all believed in multiple gods and the descendents of Abram I am sure thought they should cover all the bases and pray to any god that could help, rather than trust in the God of Abram.

This covenant was a long term commitment of God to the people of Abram and it even foretold the long sojourn of Abram’s descendants in the land of Egypt where they went during the time of Joseph. The other aspect of this long term commitment is that David and then Jesus are both continuations of this covenant made way back in the time of Abram. It is quite amazing that this word and covenant were part of the tradition that stayed with the descendants of Abram for all these years even to today.

There is a complicated description of why Eliezar from Damascus was the heir to Abram’s kingship. In Genesis, Abram is not really called a king, but was one. Eliezar was the firstborn of Masek, one of Abraham’s concubines, and was Abram’s only heir at the time. The fact that he was listed as being from Damascus may or may not mean much. It could have been that Abram sired him while he was in Haran or on his way down to Canaan and hence he might have chosen to settle in the Damascus area which is nearer to Haran than to the area that Abram settled in Canaan. Here is a reference to this whole complicated discussion about what determined the heirs to a King. It included both wives as well as possibly concubines. It seems similar to the discussion of an heir to Lord Grantham in the Masterpiece Theatre series Downton Abbey where the heir is a third cousin once removed. Here is the link: Look at the comments made by Alice Lindsey at the end of the article.

Eldon read a note from the Lutheran Study Bible in which the reference to Malchizadek in Genesis 14 was priest of a higher God than the God of Abram. Possibly the god El-Elyon who through Malchizadek blessed YWVH the god of Abram. There is some reference to this in a Wikipedia reference to the interaction between Abram and Melchizadek.

Questions were asked about the Islam teachings about Abram. Note that the Muslims call him Ibraham. There is a piece in Wikipedia about this. Here is link:

and here is an excerpt.

“The Qur’an makes it clear that the people of Abraham were idolaters. When Abraham had become older, he decided to finally teach his community a lesson. He told his people that he had a plan for their idols, whilst they would be gone away.[17] The Qur’an goes on to narrate that Abraham subsequently broke the idols, all except the largest, which he kept intact.[18] When the people returned, they began questioning each other over the wreckage, until some of the people remembered that the youth, Abraham, had spoken of the idols earlier.[19] When Abraham arrived, the people immediately began to question him, asking him whether he had anything to do with the broken idols. Abraham then, in a clever taunt, asked the people as to why they don’t ask the largest of the idols, which, they believed, could indeed hear and speak.[20] The people of Abraham were then confounded with shame, and admitted that the idols were incapable of anything.[21] Although Abraham’s people admitted their fault, they are said to have ignored Abraham’s warning and instead retaliated by throwing him into a fire and exclaiming “protect your gods”.[22] Although the natural nature of fire is one of intense heat, God commanded the flame to be cool and peaceful for Abraham.[23] Abraham, as a result, remained unhurt both physically and spiritually, having survived the fire of persecution. The people continued to taunt and persecute him, but to no result, as the Qur’an says that it was they “that lost most”.[24]”

“After the idol wrecking incident, Abraham had an argument with an unjust ruler, who claimed lordship for himself.[25] Abraham, guided by God, showed the King the falsehood of his argument, but he continued to disbelieve and refused to accept Abraham’s message. Abraham then left his people for good, with his believing nephew Lot and his wife, and all were directed towards the blessed land.[26] As Sarah was barren, Abraham had a second wife, Hagar, as a result, bore Ishmael, who was Abraham’s first son. Lot had also subsequently been made a prophet by God, but he was ordered to leave Abraham’s household and was sent to the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, to preach against the sins of the people there.”


7-17-12 Genesis 14 (17)

We start this chapter, as Bill says with one bunch of kings conquering another bunch of kings. Four kings of cities in Mesopotamia came to battle 5 kings of cities south of the Dead Sea in the fertile area of the Jordan River including the cities of Sodaom and Gomorrah. They conquered these cites and king Chedorlaomer of Elam stayed to rule them and or course collect tribute from them. He ruled them for 12 years and then in the 13th year, the king of Sodom rebelled. Then in the 14th year, the four kings from Mesopotamia returned and conquered the whole area again and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah tried to flee, they fell into the tar pits at the south end of the dead sea. The 4 kings took all of the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah and ll their provisions, and also took Lot and his possessions. Abram was told about this turn of events and he mustered a force of 318 men along with men from 3 allies of Abrem to go after Lot. They attacked by night to surprise the 4 kings and defeated them and Abram pursued them almost to Damscus. Then he brought back his nephew Lot along with his possessions including the women and children that had been taken and also took back all the possissions of the people who the three kings had conquered. There are a number of interesting questions that are raised here. Why did Abram take this risky actoin against some very powerful kings? Did God tell him to do this? Did God promise to support Abram in this venture? How did he manage to defeat the 4 kings with all the possessions they had with his 318 men and his three allies and their men? Even attacking in stealth by night it would be difficult to do, but God must have promised him God’s help. Then one asks about this God that Abram believed in, how did he have all this power?

[There is a very interesting article that discusses this whole event and shows maps of the area in which it took place. The link to the article is of Chederlaomer’s Alliance This site has a number of interesting maps and commentary about the early travels of Abraham and his descendents.]

Then when Abram got back home, he left Lot in the area of Sodom and Gomorrah and the King of Sodom said that if Abram gave the people he had taken back to him, Abram could have all the possessions and provisions. Abram said no, I did this to the glory of most high God and I don’t want it said that you made me rich. Even in those days of many gods, Abram apparntly believed in the concept of one god, the most high. He did say that his allies could take their share of the spoils of the battle. We had several comments about God and what is his form and how he would have communicated with Abram. This lead to a little discussion about the extent of the universe and what it means to have something that seemingly has no boundaries.Is God infinite like it appears his creation is? Or what does it mean that man was created in God’s image? Does man look like God? Does man have the same characteristics that God has in terms of how we live? It is interesting to see how Abram’s concept of God was so very advanced compared to almost any other people at that time. As a matter of fact, the concept of one god appers to come from Noah who supposedly lived a couple thousand years before that.

Then the end of the chapter becomes a very interesting interaction between Abram and God as God must have sent King Melchizedek from Salem to deliver a blessing to Abram. It says that Melchizedek was King of Salem which many take to be Jerusalem. It is thought that Melchizedek was a descendent of Shem and it appears that this was the beginning of Jerusalem as the holy city for the people of Noah. Melchizedek was not only king of Salem, but also priest of God most high. Melchizedek blessed Abram and brought him bread and wine. This can be seen as a precursor of Jesus giving his disciples bread and wine to commemorate his life and also the communion we use to celebrate Jesus life and works. Abram gave him a tithe of a tenth of everything. It was after this that the king of Sodom offered Abram all the rest of the spoils and Abram declined saying that he, Abram, had lifted his hand to the Lord, God most high, possessor of heaven and earth and therefore was beholden to him not to any earthly king. This act by Melchizedek is the theme that is carried down through Issac and Jacob and on through David to Jesus where Jesus is seen as a high priest in the line of Melchizedek to all of the people not just the people of Noah.We read about this in Hebrews 6:20-7:19 where this this type of priest-king was a type of the eternal and universal priesthood of Jesus Christ.

it is interesting that we have such great detail here including the names of the kings and their cities as well as the size of the force that Abram mustered to fight the kings when this happened over 4000 years ago. Also think of the fact that this whole story of Abram was not really an oral tradition, but was thought to be created by literary circles who put this history and ideas together to give the people heart when they were carried away to Babylon and saw their magnificent temple destroyed.

7-10-12 Genesis 13 (12)

[Last week, someone had asked how far it was from Ur of Chaldes, which is thought to be near present day Tell el-Muqayyar in Iraq‘s Dhi Qar Governorate, to Haran on the border of present day Syria and Turkey. I looked it up and it is approximately 730 miles. Not a huge distance but if you had to take flocks and herds along with you it could take considerable time. They probably camped along the way and stayed at a place until the sheep had eaten everything and they had to move on. I reported this incorrectly this morning. Here is a web site that provides info on Ur ]

This morning we read about Abram’s return from Egypt where he spent time during the drought in Canaan.  There are several themes that can be seen in this chapter. One is the emphasis on the wealth that Abram and Lot held in terms of flocks, cattle, as well as people and gold and silver. They were wealthy men and a recurrent theme in the Bible is how we should deal with wealth. Then we have the conflicts between their herdsmen. Abram offers a deal to Lot that allows them to split the land in front of them. The question can be raised as to what the Canaanites, who were there when Abram came there, thought of this deal. Then there is the issue of Lot and his actions. Was he evil or just kind of rude as he pushed forward to take the better land for his own? Did he know about the evil people who lived in Sodom and Gomorrah or was he just anxious to have all they fun living them that they appeared to be having? We had lots to discuss.

We spent a lot of time talking about the wealth issue and whether people should have equal opportunity for wealth or whether wealth should be redistributed to all. There were comments made about h0w in the best example of wealth distributions, namely the communists, that the leaders made sure that they got more of everything and there was a lot of corruption in government as each tier of officials made sure they got more. Then others suggested that maybe we don’t have equal opportunities for wealth but should have equal opportunities for applying our selves in the world as we make our way. Jesus said a lot about how difficult it was to be wealthy and still enter the kingdom. Yet God at this time was rewarding people and seemed to be saying if you are wealthy that is evidence that you are in a good place with God.

Tom raised a very interesting question about which was the most surprising of the commandments. Mark suggested that the idea of one god was most surprising in a world where at that time you believed in the god that appeared to be helping most. It was pointed out that the Japanese were willing to believe or to try different religions just in the hope that it could help them. Others pointed out that certain commandments were no brainers when it came to insuring order within a society. For example, murder and robbery. But was it a surprise that it is even a sin to envy someone’s possessions or spouse? Why did the sin of adultery become so important? Since we are so involved with the homosexual issue today and there are some who think that this was the sin against the Lord that the people of Sodom committed, why was this not in the 10 commandments? It was also pointed out that except for the commandments to love and worship the lord and to honor one’s parents, the commandments restrict us from doing things. It waited until Jesus to talk about the things that we should do in life like work for peace or to help those less fortunate among us. One discussion that Steve suggested was that education was a way that people could have equal opportunity. However, the question was raised as to whether or not those with wealth who could send their children to private schools and universities were not better prepared and able to have things that are not available to the poorer people among us who may just struggle to complete high school and would really have a struggle to go to even a community college.

We always want to delve deeper into the issues that are told in these stories and we have to be reminded that things that are being described here have been pieced together in order to get what we have and this isn’t a video tape of what happened. We see so much detail of everything that happens in our every day lives and we would like to have an investigative reporter who would question Lot and Abram and see who knew what and when they knew it. Lot seemed to jump at the chance his uncle proposed to him of taking what appeared to be the best land with the most water available to him and his flocks, herds and the people that worked for him. How many of us wouldn’t jump to this same conclusion. We could say that his uncle expected this to happen. Anyway, he could say that Abram was an old man and Lot was young and was the future of the people. If Lot knew about the iniquity of the people of the region he was moving into, did he just think that he could continue in the ways that he had learned as a child at the feet of his father and what he had learned from his long association with Abram, or was he gleefully looking forward to some of the fun he and his wife could have with the people of Sodom? I am sure that if he was thinking of the fun with the Sodomites, he was sure he could maintain his own integrity. But many times that is a slippery slope and the best of intentions fails us because of the circumstances that happen to us.

I would welcome your additional comments about things I missed in my commentary or your additional thoughts about some of the other themes of this chapter that we didn’t really discuss this morning.

07-03-12 Genesis 12 (13)

This morning we started with a short presentation about Abraham, his timeline, where he lived and traveled, and some information about his life. We looked at maps of the area in which he lived in the time between 2000-1700 BCE. Then we read the chapter about his early interaction with God. Questions were raised about why he tried to pass off Sarai as his sister to the Pharaoh, didn’t he trust God to make sure he wasn’t killed. After all, God said that he would bless Abram and him who dishonors you I will curse. Didn’t Abraham believe God. But yet, Abraham went on this long journey from Ur to Shechem and Bethel in Canaan because God told him to go. Questions were also raised about how Pharaoh surmised that the sickness of all his people was because of Sarai and Abram. Did God talk to Pharaoh, or how did the information get to Pharaoh? Did he just presume that since everyone got sick when he took Sarai as his wife that there must be a problem and he was very willing to add the influence of another god if he could heal his people.

We talked about the purpose of this story, because a lot of historians don’t think that this story was part of the Jews oral history, but rather seems to have been made a part of the history in order to help people get through the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. [Note: Archaeological evidence suggests that that the first settlement was established around 4500-3500 BCE and archeological evidence suggests that by the 17th century BCE, the Canaanites had built massive walls on the eastern side of Jerusalem to protect their ancient water system. According to Henry Cattan, The Palestine Question, pp. 247-250, Jerusalem was founded by the Canaanites. Cattan suggests that Melchisedek, the righteous king first build a temple in Jerusalem, formerly called Salem. The temple was built approximately in the time of Abraham, which would place it about 1800 BCE. It was populated by the Jebusites, a Canaanite subgroup, until David captured the city in about 1000 BCE.]

We discussed the continuing question of why God interacted on such a personal basis with Abram, but then at the same time, why didn’t he reassure Abram when he was passing Sarai off as his sister and tell him that Abram didn’t need to worry because God would take care of him. Maybe it was a plot by God to get Pharaoh to give Abram all of the flocks, herds and servants that he gave to him and to urge Abram to get back to Canaan.

It was good to have Tom back with us after his long sojourn in Australia.

Abraham’s Background

Here is some information that may give you a little more understanding about Abraham, where he lived, his travels, and when he lived.

Abram is credited with being the father of the Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abram was a descendent of Noah’s son, Shem, his father was supposedly Terah, tenth in descent from Noah.  Terah also fathered Nahor and Haran, and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in his native Ur of the Chaldees and Abram married Sarai. Terah, Abram and Sarai, and Lot departed for Canaan, but settled in a place called Haran. According to the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an, Abraham through his sons Ishmael and Isaac is the forefather of many tribes including the Ismalites, Israelites, Midianites, and the Edomites. Christians believe that Jesus was a descendent of Abraham through Isaac and Muslims believe that Muhammad was a descendent through Ishmael. When God made the covenant with Abram, his name was changed to Abraham.

There have been many attempts to match the biblical chronology to dates in history, with two of the more influential being the traditional Jewish dates that Abraham lived from 1812 to 1637 BCE and another historian dates him from 1976 to 1801 BCE.

Some Scholars believe that the Genesis story of Abraham was not transmitted by oral traditions, but originated from literary circles of the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. It was used to assure the Israelites in exile that despite the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the Davidic kingship, Yahweh’s dealings with their ancestors provided a historical foundation on which hope for the future could be built. Abraham’s association with Mamre and Hebron, in the south, in the territory of Jerusalem and Judah, suggests that this region was the original home of his cult.

God appeared to Abram and told him to depart. After settling in Haran, where his father Terah died, God then told Abram to leave his country and his father’s house for a land that He would show him, promising to make of him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who blessed him, and curse those who cursed him. (Genesis 12:1–3) Following God’s command, at age 75, Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the wealth and persons that they had acquired, and traveled to Shechem in Canaan.

Link to a Map of Abraham’s Travels: