Friday, October 18, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 5: Genesis, Chapter 14 - 17

Note: This follows directly from Pt. 4, or you can read the whole series here. All quotes are taken from the King James Bible.

In Chapter 13, we saw that Abram and his nephew, Lot, had separated, with Lot choosing to settle in the well-watered "plain of Jordan." Unfortunately, there came a war between the kings of all the little tribes there, and Lot's side lost:
10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits [I guess it really was "well-watered," huh?]; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.

11 And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way.

12 And they took Lot, Abram's brother's son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.

The winners took all the goods they could carry, and the people, too, for slaves. Luckily, one of them escaped and told Abram, who armed his servants (318 of them), pursued the raiders, and "smote" them. (Obviously, these weren't large armies, but more like tribal raiding parties.)
16 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.

The king of Sodom meets with Abram afterwards and tells him to keep the loot, excepting only the people he's captured (both sides are eager for slaves), but Abram refuses. "I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich." (After all, Abram was already rich - apparently from pimping his wife to the Egyptian Pharaoh.)

But the men who went with him, sure, they can take their share.

Chapter 15:
1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

Remember, the very first thing we heard about Abram's wife, Sarai, is that she was barren. (In the Bible, it's always the women who can't have children, never the fault of the men.) So Abram is unhappy that his heir isn't of his blood.

But God promises him that he will have a son. After all, Abram's descendants are supposed to inherit all of this land. But Abram seems to have doubts:
7 And he [God] said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

8 And he [Abram] said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

11 And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away.

12 And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.

13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

God requests a blood sacrifice, which results in Abram having a dream - or, rather, a nightmare, a "horror of great darkness." Yes, Abram will have descendants, but they'll be enslaved elsewhere for 400 years (or just four generations? - both are mentioned).

Still, they'll come out of that "with great substance," and God vows that Abram's seed will be given all of the land from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers - and all of the people already living there.

Chapter 16:
1 Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

3 And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee.

6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.

Again, Abram's wife, Sarai, is barren, so she gives Abram permission to have sex with her slave, Hagar. Abram "hearkened to the voice of Sarai." Yeah, I'll bet he did!

(OK, Sarai gives the woman to Abram "to be his wife" - in the English translation, at least. I really question that "wife" bit, don't you? But in any case, Hagar is a slave, and there's no indication she had anything to say about it. If she really is going to be his wife - which seems highly unlikely given the later developments here - this makes Abram a bigamist. Another example of "traditional marriage," huh? Well, bigamist or rapist - or both - take your pick.)

But when Hagar gets pregnant, Sarai has second thoughts. Hey, no problem, Abram says. She's still your slave. Do whatever you want to her. Sarai "dealt hardly with her," and Hagar runs away.
9 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.

10 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.

11 And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction.

12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

Note that God and his angels are just everywhere in those days, aren't they? You don't just "feel God in your heart." No, they actually stop by to visit.

In this case, the angel tells Hagar to return to Sarai and "submit thyself under her hands" like a good little slave. (Here, she's clearly just a slave, and not Abram's 'wife.') The bright side is that she'll have lots and lots of descendants, starting from that son she's supposed to call Ishmael.

The downside, besides returning to an owner who hates her? Her son "will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him." Lovely, huh? What a thing to tell a pregnant woman! (And so much for 'free will,' apparently. Ishmael hasn't even been born, yet his life has been set.)

Abram is 86 years old when Ishmael is born.

Chapter 17:
1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

2 And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.

Thirteen years later, God makes a covenant with Abram. (Again, by appearing right in front of him and inviting Abram on a walk. None of this invisible god stuff back then!) Note that God had already made a covenant with Abram in Chapter 15, giving him and his descendants all of the land between the Nile and the Euphrates Rivers (which God had pledged to him in Chapter 13, too).

Now, God repeats that, giving Abram "all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession." (I guess he wanted to be certain there'd be no chance of compromise in Middle Eastern conflicts, huh?)

But for some reason, God also changes their names - from Abram to Abraham and from Sarai to Sarah. Yes, as you've no doubt suspected (or known), this is the Abraham of the "Abrahamic" religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike. Adam and Eve might have started it all, but Abraham is the first Jewish patriarch.

And as a token of that covenant, all God wants is a little bit of penis flesh:
11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.

Note that it's not just Abraham's people (the men, of course) who are required to be circumcised, but their slaves as well.

All this is fine with Abraham, but he laughs at the idea that he and his wife will finally have a son when he's 100 years old and she's 90. To his credit, he also worries about his existing son, the 13-year-old Ishmael, Hagar's child. But God insists that everything's set:
19 And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him.

20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.

21 But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.

God has blessed Ishmael, will give him lots of descendants, and "make him a great nation." But there will be no covenant with him, only with Isaac, Sarah's future son. Why not? Well, as we've seen, God really has his favorites, doesn't he?

Again, this is God appearing in person to Abraham. He even sends an angel to talk with the slave girl - not a vision, not a dream, not a feeling, but an actual angel! For the last two thousand years or so, God and his angels have gotten very shy, apparently, but not in these primitive times.

As I said at the beginning of this series, these are so obviously just tribal myths that it's hard to imagine how anyone can take them seriously in this day and age. But somehow, people do. Well, at least God isn't acting like a complete dick in these chapters (although sending a slave girl back to her abusive owner is kind of dickish, I guess).

Anyway, God leaves, and Abraham goes about the mass circumcision of himself (age 99), Ishamael (age 13), and every other man of the household, including all of the slaves. I suppose they had a weenie roast, so to speak, later that night, huh? :)

Note: The rest of this series can be found here.


Chimeradave said...

I didnt realize you were doing these. I'm sorry that I haven't been keeping up with your blog lately, but I want to read these. I've never been able to read much of the Bible either. :)

WCG said...

Don't worry, John. I'm know that fatherhood takes up a lot of your time - as it should. Besides, who can keep up with everything, anyway? Certainly not me.

However, if you do read these, I'd be interested in your comments. I'm not writing them as any kind of bible scholar (which I'm not), and I'm deliberately not using an annotated bible, so my comments are entirely my own impression from the words on the page.

So I could be way off base. Indeed, I completely missed something in part 4, so I went back and added an edit to point that out.

I tried to read the Bible several times when I was younger, but found it very boring. However, it seems to be a lot more interesting when I'm blogging about it. (I'm enjoying Skyrim more that way, too. Heh, heh.)