I am away from our meetings for two weeks, so will rely on comments to describe the discussion that took place. In chapter 29, Abraham decided to move to Gerar which is controlled by King Abimelech. Abraham was afraid, so said that Sarah was his sister, and just like in Egypt, God went to the king and said that the king would be killed as well as his people of he took Sarah as his wife. The king said spare me and gave Abraham lots of cattle and sheep and land. So again God saved Abraham and Abraham added to his wealth. It seems this is a good gambit on the part of Moses and Sarah.
Our reading this morning was the story of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed. These were the two angels that had visited Abraham and who along with God had earlier visited Abraham when Abraham had bargained with God about not destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot met them at the city gate and then took them to his home. Some men from Sodom came and wanted to have carnal relations with these men, and Lot said no, but offered his virgin daughters to them. They refused the offer. Then the angels told Lot he had to leave the city before it was destroyed. He tried to get his sons-in-law to go with him but they thought he was joking. He was told to go into the mountains, but said he only wanted to go a nearby village of Zoar. He and his family were told not to look back, but Lot’s wife did and was turned into a pillar of salt. Abraham again rescues Lot and Lot was afraid of the people left in Sodom and hid in a cave in the mountains. His daughters then felt he should have a male heir, so they got their father drunk and had intercourse with him and became pregnant. They both had sons and one became the father of the Moabites and the other the Ammonites. It is interesting to note that Ruth who is in the line of Jesus was a Moabite.
Rabbi Portman visited our group today and gave us some insights about the Jewish thoughts about what we read in Genesis. His view of the covenant is that God will do his part and the people need to do their part in order to improve the world in which we live. His comments about circumcision is that there is no controversy among the Jewish people, Sons are circumcised. The reason he gave for the sign of the covenant being circumcision is that it was to be something very intimate to an individual. I guess that makes it a personal covenant being God and the individual because only the individual knows for sure that he is part of the covenant. It is interesting that there is no physical sign that women are part of the covenant, but a person is by blood a Jew if the mother is a Jew. Rabbi Portman also said that there is no distinction between those who are born Jewish and those who convert. But he did say that once you are a Jew, there is no turning back, you are always a Jew. One of the issues raised about the middle eastern hospitality that Rabbi Portman raised was how much a family should be put at risk in order to offer hospitality. He said it was clear that Lot’s offering his daughters to have sex to keep the people away from his guests was too much. Rabbi Portman closed our session this morning with a prayer.
- Some of the lines of discussion that we followed were as follows: Lot demonstrated the hospitality that the inhabitants of the middle east are known for. Even offering his virgin daughters to the crowd to get them not to take advantage of his visitors. Offering your daughters to appease a crowd request may be going a little too far.
- A second theme that is carried out is that of the presence of laughter, with Lot’s sons-in-law thinking Lot was joking when he said they had to leave Sodom because it was going to be destroyed.
- We also discussed the concept of how the stories in the Bible are to be used by us as an inspiration or as a guide in our spiritual life. Rabbi Portman said that we need to look at the Bible as a guide to how we can make the world a better place.
- People who see the Bible as a proof for their views and who cherry pick the verses that support their viewpoint. It was pointed out that there is a statement in Leviticus that condemns homosexuality and that a number of young people who believe in that have tattooed themselves, but there is also a statement in Leviticus against tattooing oneself as well.
- We briefly mentioned the evil of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and whether it was more than adultery and homosexuality, but we didn’t really discuss that much other than to point out the futility of cherry picking Bible texts to support one’s views.
I had questions about the descendents of Ishmael and the claims from the Muslims that they are the descendents of Abraham through Ishmael and that because of that, they share the covenant that God made with Abraham. There are several web sites that disagree with that and raise all sorts of issues with that perspective. One of the most strident is the following: http://www.faithdefenders.com/articles/worldreligions/are_the_Arabs_the_descendants.html This article tries to debunk the claim by Muslims that they are descendents of Abraham through Ishmael and that the covenant God made with Abraham was extended to them through Ishmael not to the Jews through Isaac. Here is another site that discusses this more in a sermon format. http://gracethrufaith.com/ikvot-hamashiach/isaac-and-ishmael-then-and-now/ It presents an interesting perspective about the peoples who are part of both Jewish faith and Muslim faith that very few can claim to descend from Abraham. The Islamic view of Abraham is presented in this article about Ishmael and about how the origin of the Muslim faith was attributed to Abraham and the people who descended from Ishmael. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_view_of_Ishmael
In this chapter 3 angels including God appeared to Abraham to discuss the covenant with him. They repeated the promise that Sarah would bear a son who would carry on God’s promise to Abraham of many descendents. Sarah chuckled about this promise, saying both she and Abraham were too old to have a child. God said to Abraham that by the time they returned in the next year, Sarah would have a child. Mark suggested that he would be a little suspicious at such a promise! Abraham directed that the visitors be fed with cakes and a calf, the bedowin courtesy to visitors. Then they started discussing what would be done with Sodom and the 5 other cities there as well. Recall that Abraham had saved these cities from the northern kings a few years ago. Abraham negotiated with God over the number of righteous people it would take to save the city. He got the number down from 50 to 10.
Dirk talked a bit about the issue of circumcision for both men and women in Senegal. The ages for doing this vary significantly, from 8 days for boys to 25-35 for both women and men in some societies to 3-7 years for girls which sort of coincides with the time that Muslim children are expected to begin praying. At one point in time, women were circumcised to show that they belonged to a man, and that they had to be faithful to him. This got into the issue of polygamy as well. There seemed to be no good reason why circumcision, a private kind of marking, should be chosen as a mark of covenant. There is a religious ceremony that accompanies circumcision of women that emphases faithfulness.
Tom said this must be a fake god that came to Abraham, because a real god would have known about the evil doing of the people of Sodom and would not have to go and check it out physically. It also appeared to be a god that could be challenged as witness the negotiating that Abraham did with him. But, on the other hand, this showed god to be have a personal relationship with Abraham. Mark said that this showed a god that is reasonable and one with whom Abraham could interact. An interesting point was made that We believe that God created the heavens and the earth and now Abraham and Sarah are questioning whether he can make Sarah have a baby at her advanced age.
An interesting point was made about the way that words are used in Genesis 17 and 18. In 17, after referring to God in the opening verse in the same way as Genesis 18 begins, all the rest of the references are to God, whereas in chapter 18, after the opening verse, all references are to Lord. Mark indicated that this could be because of the god sources, in other words the different god sources are translated in different ways, namely in this case God and Lord. We are reminded again that this part of Genesis was written somewhere in the range between 900 to 650 BCE and was written after the 10 commandments were available. Again, it was written to uplift and encourage the people at the time of the Babylonian captivity that theirs was a long history and that Abraham who was the patriarch of the people had received the promise of God and they were living in this covenant.
A comment was made as to how this could be uplifting in our daily life when there are so many contradictions and wierd things going on. I think that it can be uplifting because of the broad scope of the covenant and the continuing relationship between God and Abraham. Here was a man who for all his human foibles, such as lying about whether Sarai or Sarah was his wife did what God had asked of him, and he was the one chosen by God to be the vehicle for the continuation of being with God on earth. That covenant goes on today through the belief in God through Jesus as savior.
Today we read the continuation of God the almighty’s relationship or covenant with Abram. Here we spent time struggling with the sign of the covenant, namely circumcision. But in addition, there were the promises that were made about a people that would be descendents of Abram, so that God changed his name to Abraham which means the father of a multitude of people. He also made a promise to Sarai that she would be the mother of a dynasty, and God changed her name to Sarah which means Princess. Initially, we discussed circumcision and why this was chosen to be the sign of the covenant. Could this be the last test of purity of being part of the people as a woman would be able to see before intercourse if the man was truly one of the people of God? John talked about circumcision and how it had been used by a number of people as a visible sign of belonging previously. It appears that circumcision was begun for unknown reasons int north eastern Africa and the Arabian pennisula and theories suggest that it was a way of purifying individuals and society by reducing sexuality and sexual pleasure. http://www.cirp.org/library/history/ Lots of discussion about it. In Yiddish, discarded foreskin is called schmuck. Greeks and Romans forebade people from doing circumcision. This was not specifically directed at the Jews, but was another way in which Jews could be persecuted by the Romans in particular. Germany currently has a law barring circumcision. There seems to be a very German attitude against Jews. Certainly Hitler with his Aryan emphasis was extremely anti-Jewish. And obviously the holocaust followed. But John read a passage from a Martin Luther document of 1543 when Luther was 60 which was a diatribe against Jews. Calling them all sorts of bad names and including circumcision as one of the bad things they practiced. Hitler used some of Luther’s words in his campaign against the Jews and the modern Lutheran church has been trying to distance itself from these Luther writings.
It is interesting to think about circumcision from the perspective of when this story was written. Supposedly it was written centuries after the events described here happened. So there must have been a group of people whose men were circumcised that had some sort of common heritage that the writer(s) here have formed into a people led by God the Almighty.
The main focus of this chapter as well as this section of Genesis has to be, however, about the covenant that God established with this people. The promise of this covenant was that the people would be a great people and would last on the earth forever. It seems that the covenant is different from common real estate subdivision covenants which seem to be rules by which the affected homeowners have a common sense of how to govern the properties so that property values will be maintained and that questionable practices will not be allowed. In the case of God’s promises, the main request by God of Abraham was that he obey the commands of God. In exchange for that, God will see that Abraham is the Father of a great multitude of peoples who will likewise be expected to follow God. One part of this covenant was that Abraham would be given the land of Canaan. This must have been a problem for the people who currently occupied Canaan. It continues to this day in that most of the Palestinians are descendents of Ishmael, and are Muslim. The Israelites are decendents of Isaac and are the people to whom Canaan was supposedly given. But where were all the people that God promised to Ishmael supposed to live? In the desert? This was the beginning of the problem!!!
Bill raised a good point about how one of the great sticking points of religions is how man things that he has to decide what God wants to happen and then man has to make it happen. For example, Abraham suggested that God look with favor on Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar the servant girl. God said “No, I want the continue the covenant with your son with Sarai, who has come with you all the way from Ur and is also from the line of people coming from Noah and Adam.” God straightened out Abraham from deciding what is the best way, but today, too many of us are deciding what God really wants and then proceeding to do it in the way of man. We need to let God do the work of God and then carry out what He wants to do in the way He wants it done.
We will continue to read and discuss the covenant God made with Abraham and the promise contained in that covenant as we read more about it in future chapters.