Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 6: Genesis, Chapter 18 - 20

Note: This continues from Part 5, or you can get the whole series from the beginning, here. All quotes are from the King James version of the Bible.

Chapter 18:
1 And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,

3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

4 Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:

5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said.

As I noted previously, God and his angels don't mess around with vague feelings in the ancient world. If they have something to say, they appear right before you (and even want a wash and a snack, too).

I must note that it wasn't exactly a Kosher meal ("butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed"), either!
10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Again, God was right there with them, so that Sarah even overheard their talk in the tent nearby. Why then is God so shy these days?

Furthermore, we already heard this in the last chapter. This is a slightly different story, but either God keeps repeating himself, or we're hearing the same thing told twice. It's pretty clear, in all of Genesis, that these are separate stories which were combined at some point into one, isn't it?

This wasn't originally written as one document, but is simply a bunch of tales combined into a more or less coherent narrative. Here, as we saw in the last chapter, God promises that Abraham and Sarah will have a son, even though they're both very old.

In the previous chapter, Abraham laughs about it. Here, Sarah does. After all, she's nearly 90 and long past menopause. Again, these aren't the same stories, though they're quite similar, of course.
20 And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous;

21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.

22 And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.

23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

I must say that Abraham has improved with age, hasn't he? He started out so cowardly - or so greedy - that he was willing to pimp out his wife to the Pharaoh. (Of course, this happens again, very soon.) But in Chapter 17, he bravely rescues his nephew from captivity, and if he rapes his wife's maidservant, at least he expresses concern for their son.

And here, he stands up to God, trying to convince him not to kill everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah, but to spare the righteous (but not the innocent, apparently - not the children). After all, if God destroys a city, that will affect everyone who lives there, not just the guilty.

(Note that God clearly isn't omniscient here. He says, "I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know." God has heard rumors of Sodom and Gomorrah, but he doesn't know if those rumors are true, so he's going to check them out.)

So, after some clever haggling, Abraham gets God to agree to spare Sodom - where Abraham's nephew, Lot, lives - if he can find just ten righteous people. (But, again, there's no concern for the innocents, for the children who live there. You know there had to be more than ten of them.)

Chapter 19:
1 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;

2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:

5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

OK, here's where things get weird! Two angels arrive in Sodom (those two who were with God in the previous chapter, presumably?), and Lot invites them inside so they can wash their feet, eat, and spend the night. In fact, he insists that they spend the night, when they indicate that they'll just stay "in the street all night."

Apparently, Lot knows his neighbors, because the men of the city surround his house, asking that the two strangers be brought outside, so that "we may know them." Um,... is that "knowing" in the biblical sense? Apparently, yes, because when Lot goes outside to argue with them, this is what he says:
6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,

7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Get that? Lot is a righteous man, so he offers to let the mob rape his two young daughters, instead.

Note that Lot is supposed to be the good guy in this story! Lot is the only righteous man in Sodom, the only one worth saving. Nice, huh? But women are only possessions in this culture - and not particularly valued possessions, at that.

The mob refuses, so I've really got to wonder which side is actually "righteous" here. I rather doubt if they meant to rape the two strange men in town, but they were certainly suspicious of strangers, so who knows what they had in mind? Still, these are angels, after all, so they just blind all the men in Sodom.

But even that's not enough punishment, so they tell Lot that they're going to destroy the city:
13 For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.

14 And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.

15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city.

16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.

Isn't God merciful, though? :)

God sent the angels to destroy the city. That wasn't punishment for anything the men of the city had done or had threatened to do, and frankly, they were right to be suspicious, weren't they? Those two angels had arrived in the town specifically to destroy everything.

In addition to those two young daughters he was willing to give to the mob, Lot has other daughters, married daughters, but his sons-in-law don't believe him (they thought he was joking), so he leaves those daughters to die, too - along with all of the children in town. It's just Lot and his unnamed wife and his two virgin daughters who escape the city.
17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord:

19 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die:

20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.

Now, the angels tell Lot to flee into the mountains, but Lot knows better. Angels might not need anything to sustain life, but human beings do. Lot will just die in the mountains. (Presumably, his wife and children will die, too - if he cares about that.)

You see, that's the thing about angels. It's OK for them to destroy an entire city, but Lot lived there. Lot's house, his possessions, his livestock - everything he owned - were also being destroyed. So how was he supposed to survive?

He talks the angels into letting him go to a nearby town - after all, it's just a little one - instead. Unfortunately, his wife turns to look behind them:
24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

26 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

You know, we never even learn her name. Women simply aren't important in the Bible - certainly not unless they're being blamed for something.

But this poor woman had just seen her husband offer her young daughters to the mob. Her older daughters - and perhaps her grandchildren - had been killed by God in a rain of fire and brimstone, which also destroyed her home and everything in it.

But when she looks back - in regret, in worry, in dismay (all very appropriate emotions at a time like this) - God turns her into a pillar of salt. What a dick, huh?
30 And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.

Even Lot is terrified by such lunacy. After convincing the angels to let him move to the little town of Zoar, instead of the mountains, Lot changes his mind. After seeing what God did to Sodom - to his town, his daughters, even his wife - he's apparently too scared to live in a town again.

So he takes his two young daughters and goes to live in a cave in the mountains.
31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:

32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.

33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.

34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.

35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.

36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

These are the two young girls, both virgins, whom Lot had offered to the mob. But now that his wife is dead, and they're living together in a cave, he gets them both pregnant. His own daughters!

Now, sure, the story tells how they got him drunk first. (They made him drink wine!) But come on! Would you really buy that if it happened today? If your neighbor had sex with his young daughters and got them both pregnant, would you really buy his excuse that, "well, they got me drunk first"?

Lot's a man. If he was so drunk that he didn't realize he was having sex with his daughter, he'd be too drunk to accomplish anything. You might be able to get a woman drunk enough to have sex with her without her consent, but good luck trying that with a man! Certainly, none of us would buy that as an excuse these days.

Again, this was the one righteous man in Sodom? This guy who offered his virgin daughters up for gang rape,... and then later raped them himself? This was the guy God thought worth saving? Yeah, I guess we really do need the Bible to teach us morality, huh? LOL

Chapter 20:
1 And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.

2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.

3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.

I said that things were getting weird, didn't I? Well, this is basically the same story we read in Chapter 12. Just the details are different.

This time, it's the King of Gerar who takes Abraham's wife, not the Pharaoh of Egypt. And this time, the king doesn't actually have sex with her, so God doesn't cause plagues throughout the kingdom. (Instead, he "closed up all the wombs" of the women in the king's house.) But it's the same basic story.

Note that God punishes the Pharaoh for having sex with Abraham's wife, and he punishes the Kingdom of Gerar, too, before he realizes that they didn't actually have sex. (And note that neither the Pharaoh nor the king knew that Sarah was his wife, because both Abraham and Sarah had lied to them.) But Abraham could have sex with another woman - Hagar - and that was just fine with God. When it comes to bigamy, it's a clear double-standard, isn't it?

Of course, this is not meant to be the same story. But how in the world could you read this chapter and chapter 12 and not realize that something got screwed up when they were making Genesis out of ancient tribal stories? It's the same thing, right down to Abraham becoming wealthy from the deal:
14 And Abimelech took sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and womenservants, and gave them unto Abraham, and restored him Sarah his wife.

15 And Abimelech said, Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee.

16 And unto Sarah he said, Behold, I have given thy brother a thousand pieces of silver...

But there are two things which are really funny about this version. First, it turns out that Sarah really is his sister - his half-sister, at least - as well as his wife. Well, nothing like a little incest - as long as you keep it in the family, right?
11 And Abraham said, Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake.

12 And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.

But the other funny thing? Sarah is more than 90 years old in this story! (We can tell that not just because of its placement in Genesis, but because they are Abraham and Sarah now, not Abram and Sarai.)

Yeah, Abraham is worried that he'll be killed because his 90-year-old wife is too hot to resist! Heh, heh. Funny, isn't it? How blind with faith would you have to be to ignore these things - especially when the other version of the story was just a few chapters earlier in Genesis?

This is a good place to stop, I think, although the next few chapters continue with Abraham and Sarah (and are almost as weird).

Note: Again, this entire series can be found here.


Chimeradave said...

Wow, catching up on these has been neat. I really don't know what to add. I honestly can't believe the actions of these early "heroes" of the Bible. Pimping their wives and sleeping with their daughters. Sounds like a reality show only worse. Keep it up!

WCG said...

Thanks, John. I'm glad you're enjoying these. It's been fun writing them,... although at this rate, it will be a lifetime project, huh?