1 Chronicles 1-2: The Never-ending List

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They say it’s important to begin a story in media res, start with a bang, start with something that will grip your audience and leave them salivating for more.

The Chronicler took this advice and decided to do the precise opposite. And so we begin 1 Chronicles with what is little more than an incredibly tedious list of names. This isn’t even like Genesis, where at least “the begats” were interspersed with narrative. No, not here. Our very first paragraph is composed of thirteen names and one conjunction. It certainly does set a tone!

There are, of course, many theories as to why the Chronicler should choose to begin this way. My study Bible argues that the genealogies are provided to “make it clear that he [the Chronicler] was dealing with the true Chosen People.” Personally, I liked James Pate’s thought that:

I Chronicles may have genealogies as a way to affirm a societal structure in post-exilic Israel and to connect it with pre-exilic Israel, to tell Israel who she is, and to convey that God is preserving God’s people, notwithstanding the exile.  There were a lot of people-groups that became lost once they went into exile, but I Chronicles may be trying to demonstrate that Israel did not.

In the beginning…

To being our journey, the Chronicler condenses all of Genesis 5 into these names: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4).

Here, Brant Clements notes that this is first mention of Adam that we’ve seen since Genesis 5:5, and that he will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. “Adam actually featured more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn’t put much emphasis on him at all.” It’s a very interesting observation, and clearly an indication of theological evolution. I hope that we get to find out some more about that when we finally reach the New Testament (in, oh, about five years).

Up until Noah, this is a list of generational patriarchs, a direct line from father to son to grandson, and so on. But abruptly, without any indication of change, it presents us with three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.

That’s because it’s with Noah’s sons that we see our first ethnic branching.

The sons of Japheth: According to my study Bible, the sons of Japheth represent Indo-European populations. The section is taken from Genesis 10, and the sons are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

In the next generation, the sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Diphath (who appears as Riphath in Gen. 10:3), and Togarmah. The sons of Javan are Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim (who appears as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4).

It’s worth noting that Javan (literally Ionia) represents the Greeks. According to James Pate, the discrepancy between Dodanim (Gen. 10:4) and Rodanim (1 Chron. 1:7) may be due simply to the fact that the “d” and “r” sounds are represented in Hebrew with letters that look similar and may have been confused at some point by some hapless copier. Pate goes on to propose another possibility:

Relying on Mefaresh’s interpretation, which is based on Genesis Rabbah 37:1, the Artscroll says that, when Israel sins, the people-group subjugates Israel and is called the Rodanim, from the Hebrew root r-d-h, which means ruling or oppressing.  If Israel controls the people-group, however, the people-group is called the Dodanim, for it is telling Israel that she is its friend, or dod.

Of course, this presents a number of problems, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition.

The sons of Ham: Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. In the next generation, the sons of Cush are Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama (here spelled without an ‘h’ at the end, though he has one later in the same verse, as well as in Gen. 10:7), and Sabteca. We are also told that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one in the earth” (1 Chron. 1:10). In the generation after that, we have the sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Back up the line to Egypt, his sons were Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (whom the Chronicler tells us fathered the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Next comes Canaan, for whom the pretence of personification is dropped. Rather than naming his sons, we are told instead that he was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.

The sons of Shem: The final son of Noah is the sire of the Semitic group, the population from which Abraham will emerge. The sons of Shem are Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech (who appears as Mash in Gen. 10:23). This is either an error or deviates quite a bit from the Genesis 10 version, in which Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash are the sons of Aram, and the grandsons of Shem.

In the next generation, Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who in turn was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons: Peleg and Joktan. Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Ebal (given as Obal in Gen. 10:28), Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

Father of sand, father of stars

We move next to Abraham, who is descended from Shem by way of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. This portion is lifted from Genesis 11:10-26. Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael.

The sons of Ishmael: This section is lifted from Gen. 25:12-16. I’ve always found it an interesting twist that Ishmael should be the first born, yet did not inherit divine attention. We see this motif a great deal in Genesis, of younger sons usurping their older brothers. It would be nice to have an explanation for this, though I suppose it could be as simple as inversion of expectation making for psychologically satisfying (and entertaining) stories. Ishmael, of course, sired the Arabic people.

Ishmael was the father of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

A painting of Abraham's departure, by József Molnár 1849

A painting of Abraham’s departure, by József Molnár 1849

The sons of Keturah: Though 1 Chron. 1:28 implied that Abraham only had Ishmael and Isaac, we know from Gen. 25:1-4 that Abraham remarried after his wife Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah. Here (1 Chron. 1:32), she is demoted to the status of concubine.

Through her, Abraham was the father of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. In the next generation, Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan (the same two sons given to Raamah in 1 Chron. 1:9). Jokshan’s brother, Midian, fathered Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

The sons of Isaac: We next move over to Abraham’s son by his first wife, Sarah. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Israel. Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites. Israel was born with the name of Jacob, but received the name Israel after an encounter with the Divine. While Genesis used the two names inconsistently, he is here referred to only as Israel.

Esau’s sons were: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. In the next generation, Eliphaz fathered Teman, Omar, Zephi (appears as Zepho in Gen. 36:11), Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek. Reuel fathered Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are taken from Genesis 36:10-14, where Timna appears as a concubine of Eliphaz, not as his son, and she is the mother of Amalek.

The sons of Seir: We run into a difficulty here, since this is the first mention of a Seir. So where is he meant to fit? My study Bible notes that Seir is “another name for Edom”, referencing Gen. 36:8, and in Gen. 36:20, we learn of a Seir the Horite who lived in Edom. Yet none of this helps to explain how Seir is meant to fit into this genealogy.

In any case, Mystery Seir’s sons are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. He also had a daughter, named as a full sister of Lotan, by the name of Timna.

In the next generation, Lotan fathered Hori and Homam (appearing as Hemam in Gen. 36:22). Shobal fathered Alian (appearing as Alvan in Gen. 36:23), Manahath, Ebal, Shephi (appearing as Shepho in Gen. 36:23), and Onam. Zibeon fathered Aiah and Anah (he either fathered a daughter by the same name, or there is some confusion – in Gen. 36:2, Zibeon had a daughter named Anah, who married Esau). Anah (Seir’s son, not Zibeon’s) fathered Dishon. And Dishon (again, Seir’s son) fathered Hamran (appearing as Hemdan in Gen. 36:26), Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. Ezer fathered Bilhan, Zaavan, and Jaakan (appearing as Akan in Gen. 36:27). Dishan fathered Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom: Before Israel had a king of its own, Edom had plenty. This record may be compared to Gen. 36:31-43. They begin with Bela son of Beor, who ruled from Dinhabah. When he did, Jobab son of Zerah, of Bozrah, took over. After him came Husham, of the lands of the Temanites. Then Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian and ruled from Avith. Then came Samlah of Masrekah. Then Shaul of Rehoboth. Then Baalhanan son of Achbor. Then another Hadad (appearing as Hadar in Gen. 36:39), whose city was Pai (which appears as Pau in Gen. 36:39) and whose wife was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

The chiefs of Edom were Timna, Aliah (appearing as Alvah in Gen. 36:40), Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram.

The sons of Israel: These are, of course, our twelve tribes. Israel fathered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. This is, of course, parallel to Genesis 35:22-26.

Focus on Judah

The next few chapters cover will cover each individual tribe in excruciating detail. But we begin with Judah, who fathered Er, Onan, and Shelah, via Bathshua the Canaanite.

God killed Er for wickedness (and Onan, but not mentioned here), which leads to Judah impregnating Er’s wife, Tamar, himself. This produced two more sons: Perez and Zerah. This rather sordid story can be found in Genesis 38.

In the next generation, Perez fathered Hezron and Hamul (this corresponds to Gen. 46:12). His brother, Zerah, fathered Zimri (appearing as Zabdi in Jos. 7:1), Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara. If several of these names seem familiar, it might be because they appear in 1 Kings 4:31, as the men of great wisdom to which Solomon is favourably compared. Except, of course, that the version in Kings describes them as the sons of Mahol, not Zerah.

We then skip to a Carmi, who fathers Achar. Achar is described as “the troubler of Israel” (1 Chron. 2:7). Carmi’s link to the rest of the genealogy is omitted, and the description of Achar as “the troubler of Israel” suggests a story with which the reader ought to be familiar. One possibility is that Achar is the Achan from Joshua 7, who cursed the Hebrew army by keeping some of the spoils of war. He is identified in Jos. 7:1 as “the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah.” This would explain his inclusion here. Except, of course, that it completely screws up the timeline of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt.

In very next verse, we return to the explicit relations with Ethan, who fathered Azariah.

The sons of Perez: Back over to the line of Perez, we move down through his son, Hezron, who fathered Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. Much later, we learn that Hezron, at the age of sixty, married the daughter of Machir (the father of Gilead). Through her, he had a final son named Segub, who fathered Jair. Jair controlled 23 cities in Gilead until Geshur and Aram conquered a bunch of them.

In the next generation, Ram fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon (described here as the “prince of the sons of Judah” – 1 Chron. 2:10). Through Nahshon, we get Salma (who appears as Salmon in Ruth 4:18-22), through whom we get Boaz (the love interest of the book of Ruth), and through him Obed. Then, through Obed, we get Jesse.

The sons of Jesse: Jesse fathered Eliab, Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and David. Though only these seven sons are listed here, 1 Sam. 16:10-11 and 1 Sam. 17:12 both explicitly state that he had eight (of which David was the youngest).

He also had daughters: Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to some rather plot critical characters: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, who play a fairly important part in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Abigail married Jether the Ishmaelite (named Ithra the Israelite in 2 Sam. 17:25), and bore Amasa. It’s interesting that the children of David’s sisters should be worth mentioning, but not those of his brothers.

 

The sons of Jerahmeel: The narrative is jumping around quite a bit, making it difficult to follow. We now bounce back to Jerahmeel, Hezron’s eldest. Jerahmeel is a bit difficult, since he is listed specifically as being a member of the tribe of Judah here, yet 1 Sam. 27:10 and 1 Sam. 30:29 refer to the Jerahmeelites as if they were a separate, non-Israelite, group. To smooth this over, my New Bible Commentary argues that “it is much simpler to suppose that the descendants of Jerahmeel, who in any case were settled in the south of Judea, retained their nomadic habits longer, and so in the days of David were reckoned separately from the rest of Judah” (p.372).

Jerahmeel fathered Ram, Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. In the next generation, Ram fathered Maaz, Jamin, and Eker.

Jerahmeel also had a second wife, Atarah, who bore Onam. Onam fathered Shammai and Jada. Shammai fathered Nadab and Abishur. Abishur married a woman named Abihail, and they had Ahban and Molid. Nadab fathered Seled (who died childless) and Apparim, who fathered Ishi. Ishi fathered Sheshan, who fathered Ahlai.

Despite what I said just above, we are told that Sheshan had no sons (this isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Ahlai might either have died young or been born after the events I am about to relate). To continue his line, he married his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and they had Attai.

Brian Shwimmer (of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology) addresses this in the broader context of inheritance:

Inheritance by daughters imposed a particular difficulty, which is acknowledged in several biblical passages. After Moses first promulgates the rule (Numbers), he is confronted with a problem: if females inherit land from their fathers they will pass it on to their children and therefore into the patrimony of another tribe or lineage. His solution is to institute a parallel cousin marriage regulation. Thus a woman who inherits from her father is to marry her father’s brother’s son so that property will automatically be retained within the wider patriline. A second mechanism for maintaining the continuity of lineage holdings was to marry inheriting daughters to household slaves. Since these dependants had no partilineages of their own, their children were by default incorporated into their mothers’ lineages. The arrangement of marriages to slaves created a number of segments that originated with female rather than male founders (see I Chronicles 2:34-36 for an example.) This institution directly mirrors a solution to the reverse problem of a daughterless family among the Akan, a matrilineal people of West Africa.

The reference to Numbers, of course, relates to the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story can be found in Numbers 27 and Numbers 36.

Attai fathered Nathan, who fathered Zabad, who fathered Ephlal, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jehu, who fathered Azariah, who fathered Helez, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Sismai, who fathered Shallum, who fathered Jekamiah, who fathered Elishama.

After all that, we move back up the line to Onam’s second son, Jada, who fathered Jether (who died childless) and Jonathan. Jonathan fathered Peleth and Zaza.

A Tale of Two Calebs

I am moving the two sections about Calebs to the bottom for special treatment. The first originally began with 1 Chron. 2:18. The mention of a Caleb is rather odd. It appears to be yet another sui genesis dynasty. In looking for more information, I am finding that the consensus makes Caleb a variant spelling of Chelubai, making him the son of Hezron, grandson of Perez. Except that that Caleb will be mentioned later on, leaving this one still without explanation.

Whoever he is, this Caleb married a woman named Azubah. The verse (1 Chron. 2:18) is rather difficult to parse out, suggesting that Caleb had sons with both Azubah and Jerioth. My interpretation was that this might refer to an arrangement similar to the one used by Abraham in Genesis 16. My New Bible Commentary, however, argues that “either Jerioth was another name of Azubah, or there is a textual corruption” (p.372). The Commentary goes on to suggest that the original wording might have had Azubah give birth to a daughter, Jerioth, who in turn had the sons who will shortly be listed. In any case, Caleb had the following sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath (later listed as Ephrathah, compare 1 Chron. 2:19 to 1 Chron. 2:24), who gave birth to Hur.

Caleb, who apparently lived up to his name (kelev means “dog”), impregnated his father’s wife, Ephrathah – though he at least waited until his father was dead. Through her, he fathered Ashhur, who fathered Tekoa. (There is no mention of either of them being put to death, which would be required by Leviticus 20:11.)

In the next generation, Hur fathered Uri, and Uri fathered Bezalel. This appears to be the same as Bezaleel, named in Exodus 31:2.

Further down (I’m putting it here for convenience), we will get another section headed: “The sons of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel” (1 Chron. 2:42). The two genealogies are different, though my New Bible Commentary insists that the names here are meant to supplement the ones above. To me, this suggests that either Caleb was a quasi-mythic figure in a few different spots, each with their own traditions that had to be amalgamated, or there were a few different Calebs that somehow became conflated.

In any case, the Caleb specifically identified as the brother of Jerahmeel fathered Mareshah, who fathered Ziph and Hebron. Hebron fathered Korah, Tappuah, Tekem, and Shema. Shema fathered Raham, who fathered Jorekeam. While Rekem fathered Shammai. Shammai fathered Maon, who fathered Bethzur.

This Caleb also had a concubine named Ephah, who bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran also fathered a Gazez, though hopefully a different one.

There is another sui genesis patriarch listed among the descendants of Caleb: Jahdai. Jahdai fathered Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph.

Caleb had yet another concubine, this one named Maacah. She bore Sheber and Tirhanah. We are told that she was also the mother of Shaaph (if the same as above, the implications are even more headache-inducing). Shaaph fathered Madmannah and Sheva. Sheva fathered Macbenah, and was the father of Gibea.

Finally, Caleb had a daughter, Achsah. It is on this basis this Caleb is identified with Caleb the Kenizzite, who appears, for example, in Joshua 14:6, and who also had a daughter by the same name (Jos. 15:17). The theory, if I understand it correctly, goes that he may have been an honorary Israelite, perhaps adopted into Hezron’s family.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that several of Caleb’s descendants are also the names of towns. So are we to understand that Caleb (and his lineage) founded those towns? Or that these individuals gave their names to the towns that they founded?

The sons of Hur: I am continuing this out of order, just to keep Hur in the same section as Caleb. Hur was the son of Ephrathah (called Ephrath in 1 Chron. 2:19), Caleb’s second wife. He fathered Shobal (who “fathered” Kiriath-jearim), Salma (who “fathered” Bethlehem), and Hareph (who “fathered” Beth-gader).

Shobal’s sons were Haroeh, and half of Manuhoth. Yeah, I’m scratching my head as well.

The families of Kiriath-jearim were the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites. From these came the Zorathites and the Esthaolites. The families of Bethlehem were the Netophathites, Atrothbethjoab, the Zorites, and half of the Manahathites. The families of the scribes who lived in Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These, we are told, were the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.

And now I think I need to go detox my brain for a while.

Genesis 26: The Apple Falls Close to the Tree

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In this chapter, Isaac basically just wanders around copying a bunch of stuff his dad did.

He starts off by going into Gerar (because of a famine – which we’re told is a different famine from the one that sent Abraham into Egypt), the land of Abimelech. He does this because God tells him not to go into Egypt (see? Different!).

God then goes into yet another speech about how blessed Abraham’s family is, and how they will have so many lands, multitudes of descendants, and the blessing of nations. Yadda yadda. God, apparently, can’t get enough of telling people this (even though he never did end up giving them that land).

Back to the story, Isaac gets to Gerar and starts telling people that Rebekah is his sister. This is, of course, the same lie Abraham told to both the Pharaoh of Egypt and, more coincidentally, to Abimelech of Gerar. This family apparently has a thing for lying to people and pretending to be siblings with their spouses. It’s kinda weird.

But Abimelech (my favourite biblical character so far) doesn’t fall for it a second time. This time, he catches Isaac fondling Rebekah and puts two and two together.

He says to Isaac: “Behold, she is your wife; how then could you say, ‘She is my sister’?” (Gen. 26:9). When Isaac gives the standard excuse of being afraid because she’s so beautiful and the Philistines are such beasts that he couldn’t trust them not to kill him for her, Abimelech continues: “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us” (Gen. 26:10).

This is why Abimelech is my favourite character – he tells it like it is. It’s too bad he’s suffering from amnesia. Then again, he’s probably rather old at this point.

In any case, he tells his people that anyone who touches Isaac or Rebekah will be put to death. Once again, he proves that he’s an upstanding guy and that Abraham and Isaac’s fears were completely misplaced and irrational.

Isaac gets rich

Abimelech spies on Isaac by Raphael, 1518-1519

Abimelech spies on Isaac by Raphael, 1518-1519

Continuing on with the accounting sub-theme of this book, we’re told that Isaac sowed the land and became very rich (even though he was the sole inheritor of his father, who was also very rich). Like his daddy, he has tons of possessions. In fact, he has so many possessions that the Philistines envy him and, I guess because of their envy, filled up all the wells Abraham had dug.

Abimelech tells Isaac to leave, “for you are much mightier than we” (Gen. 26:16).

I think it’s important to keep in mind, at this point, that Isaac is the stand-in for the Israelites and that this is a book written by Israelites. It makes me think of that weird kid in every High School who keeps writing in his journal that the reason no one likes him is that he’s just so awesome and cool that they’re all jealous.

So yeah, after both Abraham and Isaac lie to Abimelech, the former causing Abimelech’s household to be cursed and the latter nearly so, I’m totally sure that the reason Abimelech tells Isaac to scram is because he’s just so mighty.

Isaac starts re-digging all the wells his dad dug, but the locals keep telling him that they own that water and send him packing. He finally finds an uncontested well, but moves on anyway. At some point, God comes to him and reminds him, again, that he’s blessed and will have many descendants, so Isaac builds an altar.

Another covenant with Abimelech

Mirroring Chapter 21, Isaac gets a visit from Abimelech and his commander, Phicol. This time, he’s also brought Ahuzzath, his adviser. They ask Isaac to form a covenant not to harm them (and, just like when he formed a covenant with Abraham, he reminds Isaac that he hasn’t harmed him).

They swear the oath to each other and, that same day, Isaac finishes digging a well. Since the well was finished on the same day as the pact was made, he calls it Beersheba (even though it was already named Beersheba under the same circumstances by Abraham).

Esau’s genealogy

At 40 years old, Esau marries Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite. He also marries Bashemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite.

Bit of a weird ending to this chapter. We’re told that this (Esau’s marriages) make life “bitter” for Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:35). We aren’t told why, but I hope we find out!

Genesis 25: Jacob takes his brother by the heel

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The first bit of this chapter is just another genealogy. Sorry.

Abraham takes another wife, named Keturah, and has a bunch of kids with her.

  • Keturah’s kids: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.
  • Jokshan’s kids: Sheba and Dedan.
  • Dedan’s sons: Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim.
  • Midian’s sons: Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abidah, and Eldaah.

Abraham gives all his possessions to Isaac (remember, it’s very important that we keep track of those possessions! Reading the Old Testament makes me feel like an accountant…). But don’t worry, he isn’t completely abandoning all those other kids he’s fathered! He’s making it up to them by giving them gifts! Yay!

By the way, it says “but to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts” (Gen. 25:6). Concubines? Plural? Does Keturah count? If not, it would seem that her kids get nothing. So I’ll assume that she’s just being counted as a concubine. But that’s still only one. Does Hagar count?

Anyways, so he gives these sons some gifts, which is good. But then he “sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country” (Gen. 25:6). Abraham has a habit of abandoning his kids. I’m just hoping that his “gifts” were a little more than some bread and a skin of water this time…

Abraham lives 175 years before kicking the metaphorical bucket (poor bucket – gets kicked by absolutely everyone!). His sons, Isaac and Ishmael bury him in the cave of Machpelah, which Abraham purchased in Chapter 23, so that he can be next to Sarah. Aaaw.

It’s a bit sad that Ishmael would come back to bury his father after the way he’d been treated. There’s also no mention of an awkward reunion with Isaac, which you’d think would be inevitable considering… One also has to wonder where Abraham’s other kids are. Ishmael came back, why didn’t they?

Anyhoos, Isaac lives by a well called Lahairoi. And that’s enough of that. Now we get to hear about Ishmael’s genealogy!

  • Ishmael’s sons (by birth order): Nebajoth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

These guys each father their own tribe, so that the Ishmaelites (who are the proto-Arabs, by the way) get twelve tribes just like the Israelites will be getting later on.

Ishmael lives 137 years. Then he, too, kicks that poor abused bucket.

Jacob and Esau

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin's fate against the arguments of astrology by Francois Maitre, c.1475-1480

Birth of Esau and Jacob as an example of twin’s fate against the arguments of astrology by Francois Maitre, c.1475-1480

So back when Isaac was a young buck of 40 years, he married Rebekah. But she, like his mom, turned out to be barren (only women can be barren, apparently). Isaac prays and, after twenty years, God answers him because this is going to be a pretty short book if Isaac doesn’t have any kids. And, as is the pattern so far, whenever God causes a barren woman to conceive, the kids are male. Why bother with the effort of a miracle if we’re just going to be making girl babies?

But now, Rebekah is not only pregnant, but she’s pregnant with twins! As commonly occurs for barren women who either pursue in-vitro or are characters in myths.

All is not well with Rebekah’s womb, however. Her twins hate each other so much that they’ve already started to fight. So Rebekah goes to God and asks him why this is happening. God tells her that she has two nations in her womb (yikes!) and that “one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23). Wuh? How is that possible? Inheritance laws would never allow such a thing!

Well, Rebekah finally gives birth and the first baby is red and hairy and they name him Esau (he stands in for the Edomites). The second baby comes out with his hand grabbing Esau’s heel, so they name him Jacob. Taking by the heel apparently means supplanting someone, so it’s all very forshadowy when they name him Jacob, which can mean “he takes by the heel” or “he supplants.” Cue dramatic music.

Esau turns out to be a great hunter, while Jacob is quiet and likes to stay closer to home (this apparently symbolises the epic struggle between hunters and shepherds).

Isaac, ever the pragmatic one, likes Esau better because he brings home the bacon. Rebekah, on the other hand, likes Jacob better – presumably because he hangs out close to home and is a bit of a momma’s boy.

But for all of Esau’s strength, Jacob gets the brains of his family. So one day, as he’s sitting around at home making dinner, Esau comes in starving and asks for some food. Jacob, ever the sly one, says that he can have dinner, but only if he sells his birthright in exchange. Esau agrees and BAM! God’s prediction about the elder serving the younger comes to pass.

Genesis 24: Finding a wife for Isaac

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In this chapter, Abraham sends his servant back to Mesopotamia – where most of Abraham’s family still lives – to find a wife for Isaac, because he doesn’t want one of those dirty Canaanite girls with their alternative deities and all that.

So he calls to his servant and asks him to grab his testicles. Seriously. He says to his servant: “put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord” (Gen. 24:2-3). Boy, if I had a nickel for every time a guy’s said that to me!

I’d still be woefully nickel-less. But Abraham’s servant would clearly have at least one!

Aaanyways, the point of all this testes-fisting is apparently an old form of oath taking. One would think that spitting into one’s hands and shaking them was sufficiently disgusting, but these guys like to go all out. In any case, the servant vows to go to Mesopotamia and never ever ever ever to allow Isaac to marry a local.

But the servant is concerned – what if he goes all the way to Mesopotamia, finds a girl, and she isn’t willing to come back with him? Not to worry, says Abraham. If that happens, he’ll be freed from the oath. So the servant sticks his hand under Abraham’s thigh and swears.

Meeting at the well

Rebekah at the well by Valerio Castello, c.1645

Rebekah at the well by Valerio Castello, c.1645

When the servant gets to Nahor, he sets up shop beside the well (which, apparently, is where all the lovely ladies like to congregate). Now, the servant wanted to make sure that he got the right lady for Isaac, so he prayed to God that, when he goes up to a lady and asks her if he could drink from her jar, the right lady will respond by saying: “Drink, and I will water your camels” (Gen. 24:14). Gotta make sure his master’s new lady comes ready-domestic!

So he’s barely done talking when Rebekah comes waltzing up to the well. Rebekah, if you remember, is Abraham’s grand-niece. What we haven’t been told is that Adam and Eve were created with only three fingers on each hand. The five we have today is from all the incest.

Anyways, the servant (poor guy doesn’t even gets a name) goes up to Rebekah and goes through his spiel of asking her for a drink of water. She answers him: “Drink, my lord” and lets him have her jar. At this point, ancient readers (before TV took entertainment to the next level) were probably on the edge of their seats. Will she say it? OMG, will she?

She did! Sort of… What she actually says is “I will draw for your camels also, until they have done drinking” (Gen. 24:19). Right, well not exactly what she was supposed to say for the magics to work, and it’s pretty much what anyone would say in that situation, but the servant seems to be okay with a bit of fudging. She got the gist of it right, at least.

So the servant gives Rebekah a gold ring and two gold bracelets, and asks whose daughter she is and whether there’s room for him in her father’s house. Rebekah tells him her lineage – which pleases the servant because she is suitably closely related to Abraham &son to satisfy God’s penchant for incest – and says that there is room in her father’s house.

Meeting the Family

Rebekah runs home to let her family know that the servant is coming. Her brother, Laban, sees her new bling and gets rather excited. So he goes out to meet the servant and invites him in very warmly. Yes, it says that he “saw the ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms” (Gen. 24:29) and that’s when he goes out to meet the servant. The implication is rather clear.

But before the servant will have dinner, he wants to re-cap the entire chapter for Rebekah’s family. The reader is therefore treated to the entire story we’ve covered so far for a second time, and it isn’t all that shorter this time around. He does, blessedly, leave out the part about grabbing testicles.

Of course, he does dwell on how much stuff Abraham has. “The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and fold, menservants and maidservants, camels and asses” (Gen. 24:35). It’s important, I find, when introducing someone to list all of their possessions. Make sure to mention that they have slaves (both male and female!). Is he a drunk? Is he violent? Does he have a history of trying to sacrifice his kids or sending them off into the wilderness? Perhaps a history of raping members of his household?

See, if I were considering whether or not to send my daughter off to live in some guy’s household, these are the kinds of things I’d like to know. I’m not frankly all that concerned about how many flocks and herds he has.Although the slave ownership bit might be some indication of what this poor girl is getting into.

The servant even tells Rebekah’s parents about Rebekah telling them who her parents are. He lists her genealogy right there, in front of her genealogy. I’m sure they were riveted and oh-so-very glad that he’s made everyone wait before eating dinner to hear this.

Ancient Hebrews: big on being good hosts, not so much on being good guests.

By the way, that ring he gave Rebekah? It’s totally a nose ring. Rebekah is hard core. Also, the servant is the one who stuck it in her nose (Gen. 24:47). I find that hilarious.

On the delaying of having dinner, Matthews explains that the servant “demonstrates his own shrewdness by refusing to accept the hospitality of Laban’s house before beginning the negotiations. He does not wish to be unfavorably obligated to Laban, and thus it is only after the bargain is struck that he willingly enters the house and eats a meal” (Manners & Customs, p.37). It all comes down to the laws of hospitality – the obligations of host to guest and guest to host. Something Lord Walder Frey really ought to learn something about.

She said yes!

The servant finishes off by asking if he can take Rebekah back to Canaan for Isaac, and her father and brother answer: “Behold, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son” (Gen. 24:51). Don’t bother asking her or anything. Heck, even for an arranged marriage, this is pretty crappy background checking. All he did was give her a nose ring and a couple bangles, that doesn’t mean that anything he’s said is true! Are they not even going to go meet Abraham? Check out the household? Make sure he’s really as wealthy as he claims (assuming that this is their primary concern, rather than, say, his history of trying to off his own kids)?

But it’s cool, cause the servant then gives “jewelry of silver and of gold, and raiment” to Rebekah and some “costly ornaments” to her brother and mother (Gen. 24:53).

In the morning, the servant announces that he’ll be taking Rebekah back to Abraham now, and her family asks if she can at least stay ten days. But the servant insists. Bit rude for someone they only the day before, I say…

But finally, someone thinks to ask Rebekah for her opinion, so they ask her if she wants to go right away or wait a bit. In what I can only imagine is an air of resignation, Rebekah agrees to go post haste. Thus, Rebekah and her maids get on a bunch of camels and ride back to Canaan with Abraham’s servant.

Meeting Isaac

So Isaac’s hanging out in the Negeb and goes outside to meditate. When he opens his eyes and looks out, he sees camels coming. Rebekah happens to look up at precisely the same moment and they see each other.

She asks the servant who the man is and he confirms that it’s Isaac. So she covers herself up with her veil. Her future husband shouldn’t see her, but it’s fine for everyone else, apparently. Modesty rules are weird…

The servant meets Isaac and tells him everything we’ve covered so far in the chapter (thankfully, it isn’t all spelled out this time). Isaac then “brought her into the tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife” (Gen. 24:67). Wait… He “took” her and then she became his wife? That’s not the order my Sunday School told us to do things…

Despite what my Sunday School had to say about such relationships, Isaac does love Rebekah. In fact, getting with his new lady-friend totally comforts him after his mom’s death. So yay!

Genesis 23: Sarah’s Death

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Abraham’s wife, Sarah, dies at the ripe old age of 127. We get to see Abraham displaying some humanity again as he mourns for her.

Abraham weigheth four hundred shekels of silver for the cave by Gerard Hoet 1728

Abraham weigheth four hundred shekels of silver for the cave by Gerard Hoet 1728

He then sets about finding a place to bury her. He goes to the Hittites and asks them to give him some property to use as a burial place for his family. The Hittites tell him that he’s “a mighty prince among us” (Gen. 23:6) and can have any piece of land he likes. So he asks for a place called Machpelah, currently owned by Ephron, the son of Zohar.

Ephron happens to be there, so he comes forward and tells Abraham that he can have it for free, but Abraham says: “No no no, I couldn’t possibly!” and insists that he wants to pay. Finally, Ephron agrees to let him have it for 400 shekels, which Abraham pays.

Abraham now owns a field in Machpelah, with a cave at the end in which he can bury his dead. He buries Sarah in the cave.

This was a pretty short chapter and it really felt like the authors were trying to drag it out with all this “here, take my field!” “No, I couldn’t!” “Please, I insist!” “No, no, I couldn’t possibly!” It would almost qualify as comedy if it we’re a burial place for Abraham’s wife they were arguing over…

Genesis 22: The Attempted Murder of Isaac

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After telling Abraham to abandon his first-born son and Hagar in the wilderness, God now turns his sights on Abraham’s other son. He tells Abraham to take Isaac into the land of Moriah and “offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (Gen. 22:2).

This time, Abraham doesn’t protest. Either he’s learned his lesson from Chapter 21, or he just doesn’t like Isaac as much. Either way, he wakes up early and gets things ready to murder his son.

This is a really creepy chapter because there’s absolutely no indication that Abraham has any reaction to God’s command. All we get is a narration of him packing up his knife and kindling. No tears are shed, he never complains or begs God to spare his son. It’s all very cold and methodical, it’s almost psychopathic. Just to make the whole scene seem even more cruel, he makes Isaac carry the wood on which he intends to burn him.

Isaac is still fairly human at first, asking his dad where the sacrificial lamb is (normally a fair question when one is carrying a bunch of pyre wood up a mountain, but rather chilling in this particular situation). Abraham lies and tells him that God will be bringing that himself. But then we’re told that Abraham “bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood” (Gen. 22:9). At no point does Isaac say “Hey, dad, why are you binding me up?” or “okay, pa, I can overlook the whole binding me part, but putting me on the sacrificial pyre? What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

There’s no reaction from Isaac, no emotion from Abraham. And remember, this isn’t Isaac being stoic – Abraham lied to him and he has no idea that he is the lamb God will be providing. Yet he doesn’t seem at all concerned.

In the nick of time

The Sacrifice of Abraham by Andrea del Sarto

The Sacrifice of Abraham by Andrea del Sarto

As Abraham raises his knife to kill Isaac, the angel of the Lord calls down to him, saying “Woah, dude! I was just kidding! I didn’t think you’d actually go through with it!”

Interestingly, his exact words are: “For now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen. 22:12). There are two problems with this.

The first is the implication that God has to test Abraham to know whether he fears God or not. In other words, God not only cannot predict the future, he also cannot even read our minds.

The second problem is that God refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son.” Does Ishmael suddenly not exist? He’s been cast out, sure, but he’s being made into a nation because he is Abraham’s son even after having been abandoned. Unless part of the abandonment was a total disowning. If this is the case, it might explain the literal issue, but it only raises a moral one.

I do think it’s important to note that, while God does stop Abraham from killing his son, it’s “without ever suggesting that the act of slaughtering one’s own child is immoral” (Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p.97). Once again, God prevents a crime because it serves his own purposes, not because the crime itself is wrong. Furthermore, it’s insane to think of this as having really happened. Imagine if someone today claimed that they heard the voice of God telling them to kill their child! That person would be locked up, but paraded as a paragon of faith!

But God does stop Abraham from killing Isaac and, because Abraham was totally willing to go through with it, God will reward him with a blessing. “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:17-18). For those of you counting at home, this is the fourth time God is promising these things to Abraham.

Abraham goes back down the mountain with Isaac and they all go home.

Is a lie still a lie if it turns out to be true?

Abraham makes a couple statements that seem out of place given what he’s supposed to know:

  • When he gets to the mountain, he says to his servants: “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Gen. 22:5);
  • When Isaac asks where is the lamb for the offering, Abraham answers: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8).

In both cases, Abraham is lying to avoid suspicion. But in both cases, the lie turns out to be the truth. Is this the authors’ idea of humour?

Prophecy

By the way, this chapter is a favourite of Christians who claim that Jesus is prophesied throughout the Old Testament. There are two passages cited:

When asked about the sacrifice, Abraham says: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). This, clearly, is not supposed to answer the question he has just been asked (even though it fits perfectly in this context). Rather, it’s letting the reader know that God will be sending a lamb (*wink wink nudge nudge*) to be sacrificed for our sins.

When God tells Abraham for the fourth time that he’ll have oodles of descendants, he adds: “By your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves” (Gen.22:18). If you turn your head to the side, squint, ignore the context of the passage, and pretend that “descendants” is actually in the singular, this is totally letting us know that the future messiah (Jesus!) will be descended from Abraham.

More Genealogy

After all that excitement, the authors decide to bring us back down with another genealogy. This time, we’re jumping over to Abraham’s brother, Nahor.

From his wife, Milcah (who, if we remember, is also his niece), he has eight sons: Uz (or Huz), Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel. Kemuel fathers Aram and Bethuel fathers Rebekah.

Not content with just a wife and her eight sons, Nahor also takes a concubine, named Reumah, and has four kids: Tebah, Gaham, Thahash, and Maachah.

Genesis 21: Sarah Goes Bonkers on Hagar…Again

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As promised, God visits Sarah and she has a son they name Isaac. The author(s) of this chapter go to great pains to emphasise just how old Abraham and Sarah are and haha, isn’t it hilarious?

“God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me” (Gen. 21:6).

We’re also told that Abraham circumcises Isaac, because the Bible’s idea of character development is letting us know the status of the various characters’ penises.

So little circumcised Isaac is hanging out one day, playing with little circumcised Ishmael, when Sarah catches the two of them. She goes to Abraham and demands that he cast out Hagar and Ishmael because she doesn’t want Isaac’s inheritance split with other sons. Just a reminder, Abraham abandoned his nephew because of possessions, and his wife is now asking that he dump his own son for the same reason. Are these the Biblical Family Values the religious right keeps touting?

Abraham, having at least a little humanity, isn’t sure about this. We’re told that it was “very displeasing” to him “on account of his son” (Gen. 21:11). But God comes down and tells him to chill, because it’s through Isaac that “your descendants be named” (Gen. 21:12). And since he likes Abraham so darn much, he’ll make Ishmael a nation too – “because he is your offspring” (Gen. 21:13) and Abraham totally gets God off-sprung.

So Abraham gets some bread and water for Hagar and sends her on her way.

Into the wilderness

Hagar in the desert by Pompeo Batoni

Hagar in the desert by Pompeo Batoni

After having been raped (come on, let’s be honest and call it what it was – Sarah “gave” her to Abraham and she’s a slave. At best, it was coercive) by her master and having a son as a result, poor Hagar is then cast out into the wilderness because Sarah isn’t happy with the fact that Hagar had the son Sarah wanted her to have. What the eff? No wonder the Victorians produced special, heavily edited Bibles for women and children to read…

So Hagar is wondering in the wilderness and she runs out of water. She puts her child under a bush and walks away, saying: “Let me not look upon the death of the child” (Gen. 21:16). This is actually a really poignant scene, and I think it serves to clearly illustrate Sarah’s cruelty. We can forgive Abraham in this one because God did tell him that Ishmael would become a nation, which implies that he gets to grow out of diapers. But Sarah had no such message – she just wanted Hagar and Ishmael gone and, for all she knew, she’d condemned them to death.

Ishmael starts to cry, and the angel of God calls to Hagar, assuring her that he’s heard Ishmael’s cries. He tells her to go back to him and pick him up, “for I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 21:18). Then God opens her eyes (she couldn’t do this herself, apparently) and she sees a well of water.

Ishmael grows up in the wilderness, and he “became and expert with the bow” (Gen. 21:21). At some point, Hagar procures for him an Egyptian for a wife.

How old is Ishmael?

We’re told in Chapter 16 that Abraham was “eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish’mael” (Gen. 16:16), and in this chapter, we hear that Abraham “was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him” (Gen. 21:5). With a little counting on my fingers, I quickly worked out that Ishmael is at least around 14 (if not older, since he’s playing with Isaac in v.9 and newborns don’t really play).

So imagine my confusion when I read the following:

  • Abraham puts the bread and skin of water on Hagar’s shoulder, “along with the child” (Gen. 21:14);
  • When the water runs out, Hagar “cast the child under one of the bushes” (Gen. 21:15), and then Ishmael “lifted up his voice and wept” (Gen. 21:16);
  • God hears Ishmael’s cries and tells Hagar to “arise, life up the lad, and hold him fast with your hand” (Gen. 21:18).

Now, there’s only one explanation for why a fourteen-year-old would be treated this way that I can think of, and that’s that he has a severe handicap that prevents him from walking and that’s why Hagar must carry him. The poor boy clearly suffers from some form of mental disability as well, since I don’t know many 14-year-olds who would just sit under a bush and cry without first trying to express themselves through some other means. Too bad wheelchairs hadn’t been invented yet. I can’t imagine that Hagar is having much fun carrying a 14-year-old everywhere.

A more likely explanation is that we have yet another contradiction in the inspired word of God.

Final note on the casting out of Hagar

In A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Collins explains that “the story seems to champion ethnocentrism by suggesting that those who do not belong to the chosen people can be sent away” (p.49). He adds that “we shall meet a chilling application of the same principe much later in the book of Ezra,” so we have something to look forward to.

I didn’t quite make the connection on my own, but I can certainly see Collins’ point. Nowhere are Sarah and Abraham condemned for throwing out Hagar. It all works out okay because God has plans for Ishmael, but it could just as easily resulted in the deaths of the woman and her child. God never says “it’s okay to throw Hagar out because I’ll take care of her, but make sure you don’t cast out any other slaves you decide to diddle with.”

Hagar and Ishmael are saved because God has plans for them (and because he lurvs Abraham), but the implication is that they would otherwise have been perfectly expendable. So far, I’m not seeing much evidence that God values humans (or human life) for their own sake. Rather, it seems that those who serve his purposes don’t have much to worry about, but anyone else might as well just die in a flood.

A covenant with Abimelech

Completely unconcerned over the fate of his son and the mother of his child, Abraham meets with Abimelech (and Phicol, the commander of Abimelech’s army). Why Abimelech would want anything at all to do with Abraham after his last experience is beyond me, but there you have it.

In any case, Abimelech says to Abraham: “God is with you in all that you do; now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealth loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned” (Gen. 21:22-23). Oooh, that’s quite a burn! I love how Abimelech (possibly my favourite character so far) goes out of his way to point out that he’s always dealt “loyally” with Abraham.

Well, Abraham swears to this, and then complains that Abimelech’s servants have seized a well of water. Abimelech assures Abraham that he didn’t know about this, so they cool.

I’d just like to point out quickly here that Abraham doesn’t own the land he’s on, and therefore has no real claim to any well of water. He’s staying on Abimelech’s land (as we saw in Genesis 20:15). So if anything, Abimelech’s servants were just making use of their own well. Abraham doesn’t seem to care much.

But he does give sheep and oxen to Abimelech, so that’s nice of him. In exchange, Abimelech has to agree to witness for Abraham (to whom?) that he dug the well. I don’t know if it’s the same well or a second well, though. Abimelech agrees. They call the well Beersheba and then Abimelech and Phicol head home. Abraham gets his horticulture on and plants a tamarisk tree.

There are two mentions of “the land of the Philistines” (v.32, 34) in this chapter. However, according to Matthews, “the appearance of the Philistines in Canaan is traced to a period some eight hundred years after Abraham’s time” (Manners & Customs, p.24) which, was after 1200 BCE. This anachronism tells us that either this story takes place much later than claimed (and the storyteller is inserting details from her/his own world), or that it was edited much later.

Genesis 20: Abraham Lies Again

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Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham by Caspar Luiken 1712

Abimelech returns Sarah to Abraham by Caspar Luiken 1712

Some people just never learn their lesson. After getting into some trouble by prostituting his wife to the Pharaoh of Egypt while pretending that she was his sister, Abraham then does it again to Abimelech, king of Gerar.

Once again, God is on the right side of the moral question. He comes to Abimelech in a dream and says: “Behold, you are a dead man, because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a man’s wife” (Gen. 20:3). Like Pharaoh, Abimelech is rather taken aback since he was deliberately lied to. But unlike Pharaoh, he has the gumption to say something about it.

“Lord, wilt thou slay an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this” (Gen. 20:4-5). Right on, Abimelech. Right on.

God backtracks like mad and totally tries to play it cool. “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her” (Gen. 20:6). So God, by his own admission, knew that Abimelech is a victim and that Abraham is a liar who is once again selling his wife into prostitution, and yet he threatens to kill Abimelech and “all that are yours” (Gen. 20:7)… Abraham, as usual, doesn’t get so much as a “hey, maybe you, like, shouldn’t do that any more, eh?”

Well, Abimelech wakes up and tells his servants about his dream. He then calls to Abraham and says: “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done” (Gen. 20:9). I’m really liking this guy. He’s a true voice of moral reason in a book that is thus far sorely lacking in that department.

So Abraham responds: “I did it because I thought, There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Gen. 20:11). I see no evidence of this. All I see is a perfectly nice guy nearly getting killed because a douche lied to him and tricked him into offending the big sky-bully.

As Richard Dawkins puts it, Abimelech “expressed his indignation, in almost identical terms to Pharaoh’s, and one can’t help sympathizing with both of them” (The God Delusion, p. 242).

Oh, but Abraham totally wasn’t really lying, though, ’cause Sarah “is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife” (Gen. 20:12). So the lesson I draw from this episode is that it’s a-OK to lie about your marital status so long as you’re also committing incest. Why was I never taught this in Sunday School?

As punishment for lying to him, Abimelech decides to be really wrathful and give Abraham a bunch of sheep, oxen, slaves, and a thousand pieces of silver and invites Abraham to hang out in his country. Yup, Abraham is rewarded once again for prostituting his wife and lying to people. Abimelech’s gifts, by the way, are to buy back Sarah’s honour (Gen. 20:16), which she lost by marrying her douche brother.

Abraham prays to God, so God heals Abimelech and ‘re-opens’ the wombs of the women in his household (which he had ‘closed’ as punishment for having the audacity of being lied to).

And so we come to the close of Chapter 20. See you on Friday!

Genesis 19: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

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Lot offers his daughters to the crowd, Lot leaves the city, the destruction of Sodom by Francois Maitre c.1475-1480

Lot offers his daughters to the crowd, Lot leaves the city, the destruction of Sodom by Francois Maitre c.1475-1480

In Chapter 18, we were told of three men who spoke in unison and were called “Lord.” These three men were heading towards Sodom to see if it was worthy of destruction. We’re now told that “the two angels came to Sodom” (Gen. 19:1). So God(s) has turned into angels, and three have become two. No word on what happened.

So these two angels get to Sodom and find Lot hanging out by the gates of the city. No word on why he would just be sitting at the city gates. He’s just there because it’s important that he be the one to meet the angels first. Plot critical, and all that.

Like Abraham, Lot plays the good host and invites the angels to spend the night with him. They resist, saying that they would prefer to spend the night in the street, but Lot manages to convince him that his house is a bit better than the street.

What’s for dinner? Rape.

Once the angels are in Lot’s house, every man (young and old) comes to Lot’s house and asks him to produce his two guests so that they can have sex with them. This passage is traditionally interpreted to be about rape, but I think the citizens of Sodom are just really friendly.

In any case, Lot takes his duties as a host a little too seriously and offers his virgin daughters for the crowd to rape. That’s right, his daughters. Not himself – the only person he has any real authority to give to someone for sex. No, his daughters. I’m sure they’re real happy to have a dad like that.

Luckily for the girls, the crowd wants none of this. They’ve already decided to have some angel-butt and no substitutes will suffice.

Lot is spared

The crowd presses in on Lot, but the angels grab him and pull him back into the house. Once in safety, they explain to him that they are here to destroy the city (but first, they blind all the men outside – not to worry, though. They won’t have to spend much time blind).

Lot tells his sons-in-law – not yet wed, they “were to marry his daughters” (Gen. 19:14) – to flee the city, but they assume he’s just pulling a prank and ignore him. So the angels tell Lot to just grab his wife and two daughters and forget the rest of the family. Lot “lingers” (Gen. 19:16), so the angels grab him and his family and pull them out of the city.

We aren’t told why Lot would linger once told that the entire city is about to be destroyed, but I would hope it has something to do with the family he’s leaving behind.

Pillar of salt

The angels warn Lot not to look back or stop anywhere in the valley. “Flee to the hills, lest you be consumed” (Gen. 19:17). I’ve found a couple sources saying that this story may be a “Just So” interpretation of a natural disaster. For example, my study bible says that this story is “a memory of a catastrophe in remote times when seismic activity and the explosion of subterranean gases changed the face of the area.” Another source explains it as earthquakes interacting with the bitumen in the area to produce the effect of “fire and brimstone,” tying the pillar of salt to a salt floe thrown up from the nearby Dead Sea.

Lot refuses to go into the hills “lest the disaster overtake me, and I die” (Gen. 19:19). Oh ye of little faith. Honestly, if the angels of God come to you and tell you that they are saving you, but you must run for the hills, you run for the hills. That’s just what you do. These are angels, for cripes’ sake! I think they would know if you’re likely to make it to the hills or not…

But this doesn’t occur to anyone, and the angels agree to spare Lot even though he’s running to the nearby city, Zoar, instead.

“Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomor’rah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Gen. 19:24-25). Lot’s wife looks behind her and is turned into a pillar of salt.

Why spare Lot?

We’re given God’s reason for sparing Lot. “So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt” (Gen. 19:29).

Despite being awkwardly phrased, it’s fairly clear what’s going on here. When Abraham asked “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) he didn’t reach God. Rather, this is just an extension of God’s special treatment of Abraham, as we saw in Chapter 18, where he decides to tell Abraham what he’s going to do to Sodom “seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation” (Gen. 18:18). Lot was not saved for being a good man, but for being a relative and friend of Abraham.

Why destroy Sodom and Gomorrah?

Three obvious possibilities present themselves from the text:

  1. Because of the homosexuality exhibited by the male residents of Sodom (and, certainly, this is the interpretation that’s gotten the most traction).
  2. Because of the attempted rape.
  3. Because the residents of Sodom are ignoring the rules of hospitality.

Ebonmuse, over at Daylight Atheism, has another suggestion. He’s found a passage that occurs later in the Old Testament that provides an explanation for Sodom’s destruction:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.
–Ezekiel 16:49

He makes the (rather amusing) point that the term “sodomy” should not, then, be applicable to homosexual acts (or non-vaginal intercourse). Rather, all those televangelist and mega-church pastors are the real sodomites!

In any case, there’s a legitimate moral objection to this story. God has promised that if he found 10 people in Sodom who were not sinners, he would spare the city. He then went on his way to check the city out and assess the moral worth of its residents. But then, he destroyed the city having encountered only the male residents!

Were all the women also sinners? What about the children? What about the fetuses? This is a city we’re talking about. There’s a fairly good chance that at least ten women were pregnant at the time. Are we to understand that those fetuses were immoral? Or is the implication that fetuses are not persons? Neither explanation should provide the Christian with much comfort…

Dan Barker has this to say about the episode: “God did change his mind about the minimum number of good people required to prevent the slaughter, but he went ahead and murdered all the inhabitants of Sodom anyway, including all of the “unrighteous” children, babies and foetuses. It appears that Abraham was more moral than his god…” (Godless, p. 162).

Drunkenness and Incest

After Lot argued with the angels that he was too afraid to go into the hills and would prefer to go to Zoar instead, we get this: “Now Lot went up out of Zo’ar, and dwelt in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to dwell in Zo’ar” (Gen. 19:30). This book is really ridiculous sometimes…

Once Lot is settled in a cave with his daughters, his daughters decide to have sex with him. Really.

They want to have sex with Lot because “there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth” (Gen. 19:31) and they want to “preserve offspring” (Gen. 19:32). We’re not told why no man would want them. I can only assume that it’s because they had fiancés, but it seems rather cruel that two women would never be allowed/able to marry just because they were once promised to someone who has since died.

I’ve often heard this story as an example of sin, a condemnation of incest. But I wonder what was going on with those two women to make them desperate enough to sleep with their father. Now that they’ve been rendered unmarriageable by their culture’s ridiculous customs, with the pressure still on them to be the “bearers” of their family line, they must have felt like they were backed into a corner. After all, we’re told that Lot is old (Gen. 19:31), and probably won’t be around too much longer. At least if they have sons now, those sons might grow up and be able to support them once their father dies.

This is all speculation based on my very superficial understanding of the culture in that time and place, of course. Maybe they were just randy.

Either way, they get their father so drunk that, for two nights in a row, he “did not know when she lay down or when she arose” (Gen. 19:33). That’s very drunk. And I have to say that people don’t get that drunk through trickery. At some point, generally well before you pass out, you realize that something isn’t right. I can only assume, therefore, that Lot is a dirty old drunk just like Noah.

The eldest daughter has a son named Moab, who is the ancestor of the Moabites, and the younger daughter has a son named Ben-ammi, who is the ancestor of the Ammonites.

Genesis 18: Abraham argues with God

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Abraham and the three angels by Gustave Doré 1865

Abraham and the three angels by Gustave Doré 1865

Abraham is having his midday siesta when he sees three men approaching. He jumps up to greet them and asks them to stay while he fetches them some food and water. They accept his invitation.

These three men, of course, are God.

I’m not joking. All three of them are God. They speak all at once, so we get lines like: “So they said, ‘Do as you have said'” (Gen. 18:5). It’s like that throughout the whole exchange.

I didn’t see this in my reading, but my study bible says that, at the beginning of the encounter, Abraham doesn’t know that these three guys are God. So when he serves them, he’s not just being a sycophant, but rather he’s modelling proper hospitality. I really don’t know where this reading comes from, though, since Abraham has no “ah ha!” moment. He just gets God(s) some food and then they have a chat in which it is very clear that Abraham knows whom he’s talking to.

In any case God(s) tell him that they will visit again in the spring and Sarah will have had a son. Sarah laughs because it’s oh-so-funny that she’s really old and even post-menopausal – or, as the Bible puts it, “it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women” (Gen. 18:11). No one seems to realize that pregnancy and labour are extremely hard on even a young body in the peak of health and that Sarah, if she survives the experience at all, is in for a world of pain. No, the appropriate response is not laughter.

Oh yes, and she calls having a child at her age the “pleasure” (Gen. 18:12). I think I might have guessed that this woman was childless even if we hadn’t already been bludgeoned with that little biographical detail.

Then we get a little throwaway comment about God(s) getting offended that Sarah laughs because he interprets it to mean that she doesn’t think he’s powerful enough to make it happen, and Sarah denies having laughed “for she was afraid” (Gen. 18:15). There’s a guest who doesn’t deserve a second invitation!

Down to business

God(s) wonder if they should hide from Abraham what they are about to do, but then decide that they should tell him because he “shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him” (Gen. 18:18). Good a reason as any, I suppose.

They tell him that there’s been a big outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah, so they’re going to see if the things they’ve been told are true. Seriously. “I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know” (Gen. 18:21). So much for omniscience.

Then things get interesting. Abraham challenges God(s), asking him again and again if he would spare the city if a smaller and smaller number of righteous people were found there. We start with 50 and end up with 10, and each time God(s) agree that he would spare the city if that number of cool people were there.

This is rather interesting because it’s a reversal of communal responsibility. We saw this in the garden of Eden, where the sin of two specific individuals leads God to curse all men and women. But here, we have the opposite – Abraham is arguing that the righteousness of the few might save the community. We’re eighteen chapters in to the Good Book and this is the first thing that might possibly deserve the label.

Before we move on, I want to quote Abraham’s central argument. He says to God: “Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:26).

One of the main criticisms I’ve seen levelled against Richard Dawkins in his God Delusion is that he has no right to judge God because God is the judge. So when Dawkins lists the atrocities of the Bible, revulsion is the wrong reaction. He should, instead, be edified by God’s amazing power, or some such nonsense. And yet here, right here, Abraham is able to so perfectly capture what Dawkins is getting at. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

As Dan Barker writes in Godless: “If the basis for morality rests with a single entity, then what makes that entity accountable? What makes God moral?” (p. 162).

Aside from that, some have questioned why Abraham presumes to argue with God, and why God bothers to listen to a mortal dude. This, according to Victor Matthews, comes back to the rules of hospitality that I mentioned earlier. Since the visitors have accepted Abraham’s offer of a meal, they are bound by a host/guest contract, which “put[s] the patriarch on a more equal footing with God. Men who eat together in peace and enjoy each other’s hospitality can thus be said to be equals” (Manners & Customs, p.42). This becomes an important piece of contextualization once we get into a discussion of what, exactly, is the sin that Sodom and Gomorrah have committed.

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