Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 7: Genesis, Chapter 21 - 23

Note: This post continues from Part 6. All quotes are from the King James Bible, and the entire series can be found here.

Chapter 21:
1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.

2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.

After that weird little interlude that was Chapter 20 - and, before that, the Jerry Springer Show of Lot's experiences in Sodom - we're back to Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their son, Isaac. Sarah finally has a son - at age 90 - but is she happy?
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.

10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.

11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.

12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

Abraham casts out this poor slave girl, and his own 14-year-old son, because his wife is jealous (and because God encourages him to do so).
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.

16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.

Hagar and Ishmael wander around in the wilderness until they run out of water. Then, rather than watch her child die of thirst, she puts him in the shade of a shrub and sits down to die, herself.

But God doesn't let them die. Why not? Does he feel sympathy for these two innocents? Of course not! After all, he killed every child on Earth not long ago, and children die in agony every minute, without him lifting a finger. No, it's because Ishmael is Abraham's "seed."

Abraham, that guy who twice pimped out his wife - once to the Pharaoh of Egypt and then to King Abimelech - that guy who raped his wife's slave, that guy who cast her, and her child, out into the wilderness to die,... that's God's new BFF. So God will "make a nation" of the child, just for Abraham's sake.

Of course, keep in mind what else the angel of the Lord had promised Hagar, previously, about her son: "And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him..." And God specifically refuses, in Chapter 17, to "make a covenant" with Ishmael, but only with Abraham's second son, Isaac.

The rest of this chapter is just Abraham making a deal with King Abimelech of the Philistines - yes, that same King Abimelech who had the hots for Abraham's 90-year-old wife - about water wells and fair dealing.

You know, it's kind of funny how all this magical stuff is interspersed with rather mundane tribal concerns - and simple genealogies, too - don't you think? It's not so hard to imagine how such stories developed as they were retold by storytellers over the years.

Chapter 22:
1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

IMHO, this is one of the craziest parts of the Bible (and that's saying a lot, huh?). For one thing, this is God tempting Abraham. That's exactly what it says: "God did tempt Abraham." But isn't it supposed to be Satan who's the tempter?

OK, there's been no mention of Satan in the Bible, not yet. It was a serpent which tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden (and so God cursed snakes to crawl on their bellies afterwards, in this early 'just-so' story). But still, isn't this crazy, that God is tempting his worshipers?

But even crazier is Abraham's reaction. Tell me, what would you do if a god told you to kill your own son and roast him as a burnt offering?
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

This asshole doesn't even object! And when Isaac wonders why they haven't brought a lamb with them for the burnt offering, Abraham lies to his son - until they get to the place of sacrifice. Then Abraham takes young Isaac, ties him up and puts him on the wooden altar, then takes the knife "to slay his son."

But God was just joking. At the last minute, an angel stops Abraham.

You know, God acts kind of like Homer Simpson here, doesn't he? Remember when Homer surrounded the Flanders' house with police tape, and then laughed at Ned Flanders' reaction? "Hahahaha, hahahahaha. Fooled ya, Flanders! Made you think your family was dead! Hahhahahaha. You thought they were dead, didn't you? Hahahaha! Do you get it? They're not, though. But you thought they were. That's why it was so funny!"

If anything, this is even worse. What would you do if a god told you to kill and burn your own son, for a blood sacrifice? And how would you feel afterwards - whatever decision you'd made - to find out that it was just a test? God was just tempting you - or, perhaps, just having his little joke. How would you feel about that?

But Abraham passes with flying colors. He's such an obedient little slave that he's even willing to kill his own kid, if he thinks that's what God wants. How disgusting!

Or is he willing? Maybe he's just afraid of that big bully in the sky?
12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

Now they know that he fears God, that he fears God so much that he'll even kill his own son when ordered to do so. I've mentioned this previously. What God values in human beings - the only thing he values - is obedience. Yeah, it's fine if Abraham obeys out of fear,... as long as he obeys. Nothing else really seems to matter, not to God. That's made abundantly clear, in all of Genesis.

(Also, note that, despite what the angel says - two or three times - Isaac is not Abraham's "only son." After all, Ishmael is also Abraham's son, and although Abraham cast him out into the wilderness, he still lives.)
17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

God is real happy about Abraham's willingness to kill even his own son and again makes extravagant promises about multiplying Abraham's "seed." But note that none of those promises were actually kept. The Jews have remained a small minority pretty much everywhere.

The rest of the chapter briefly mentions the children of Abraham's brother, Nahor. Yeah, it's another 'traditional marriage' as defined in the Bible, as Nahor has children by his wife and by his concubine. (Of course, God has no problem with that whatsoever.)

Chapter 23:
1 And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.

2 And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.

3 And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying,

4 I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a buryingplace with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.

This entire chapter is just Abraham negotiating for a burial site for his wife. Abraham himself lives nearly 40 more years and has another six kids (all from another concubine, apparently). But none of those people are considered important, so the story switches to Isaac, mostly, after this.

But I'll get to that in the next episode.

Note: Again, links to this entire series are here.


Chimeradave said...

The idea of Satan, as we think of him, didn't come about until the New Testament. In the Old Testament he's always called the deceiver or the adversary. In the book of Job it seems like the Devil (called the prosecutor) works for God.

WCG said...

Of course, many beliefs changed over the years, but I'll be interested to see how this develops, John.

So far, it's been pretty clear that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was an actual talking snake (a 'just-so' story like those of Rudyard Kiplling). Certainly, God blames snakes for it: "Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life."

That would make no sense at all if the 'serpent' had really been Satan - or even Satan in the form of a snake, pretending to be a snake. I'm not sure it would make much sense anyway, not by modern standards, but as a primitive 'just-so' story to explain why snakes have no limbs, it fits right in.