Wednesday, May 07, 2014

8. Genesis 15-17 (Hagar and Ishmael)

Today we catch up with Genesis 15-17.

Genesis 15: Promise of Descendants
  • It was apparently customary at that time for a person like Eliezer to inherit a person like Abram's property if Abram did not have a son.
  • Yahweh again promises that he will make Abram's descendants to be very numerous. See Romans 4:18.
  • Genesis 15:6 is a little ambiguous in Hebrew. Paul and James went with the Greek interpretation of the verse, which suggests that God reckoned Abraham as "righteous" on the basis of his faith or faithfulness. This verse, along with Habakkuk 2:4 which may allude to Genesis 15:6, is thus a foundational Protestant verse. Interestingly, the Hebrew can also be translated to say, "And he trusted in YHWH, and [Abram] considered it to him [YHWH] as righteousness." In other words, Abram would have trusted God to keep his promise. 
  • God makes a covenant with Abram in what was no doubt a familiar sacrificial ritual at the time, although it is somewhat bizarre to us today.
  • Prophecy of the time in Egypt. A key verse is the idea that the sin of the Amorites was not yet full. It's a picture of God waiting until a people has accumulated so much sin that it is time for judgment.
Genesis 16: Hagar and Ishmael
  • It was also not unusual at that time, apparently, for a barren wife like Sarai to offer one of her handmaids to her husband to fulfill her childbearing duties. Our sermons criticizing Abram or Sarai at this point often judge them by a New Testament or even modern sense of marriage rather than the Old Testament allowances of the time, which fully allowed for polygamy, concubines, and children by them. 
  • We meet the "angel of Yahweh" or "the messenger of the LORD." After Hagar runs away, the messenger sends her back. A repeated feature of Genesis and Exodus is that when you see Yahweh's messenger/angel, you have seen God.
  • We have to be careful about anachronism. I personally consider it doubtful that Hagar had black skin, although there were some black Egyptians throughout Egypt's history. Even if Hagar had had black skin, race was not conceptualized in terms of color at this time but in terms of people groups. Basically, it would be anachronistic to accuse Abram or Sarai of racism of a color sort.
  • It would be similarly anachronistic to read the current conflicts between Jews and Arabs into this text. That is part of the current landscape in how these groups interpret this story, but Genesis was only expressing the conflict between Ishmaelites and Israelites at that time.
Genesis 17: Covenant of Circumcision
  • This chapter curiously shifts to calling God "Elohim" instead of Yahweh. God does not tell Abram that his name is Yahweh. He reveals himself to Abram as "El Shaddai" (אֵל שַׁדַּי), "God Almighty." Exodus 6:3 suggests that it is by this name that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew him.
  • God gives Abram the name Abraham and Sarai gets the name Sarah.
  • Circumcision becomes the sign of the covenant between God and the children of Abraham. Abraham at 99, Ishmael at 13, and all the other males in the household are circumcised. Sarah will be 90 when Isaac is born.
  • Paul makes an argument in Romans 4 that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised. In that sense, Abraham is both the father of those Gentiles who are justified by faith and the father of those circumcised who also have faith.
  • Abraham laughs at the thought of a child at 99.
Previous notes:
1. Genesis 1:1-2:3 (Creation)
2. Genesis 2:4-3:24 (The Fall)
3. Genesis 4-5 (Cain and Abel)
4. Genesis 6-9 (The Flood)
5. Genesis 10-11 (The Tower of Babel)
6. Genesis 12 (The Call of Abram)
7. Genesis 13-14 (Melchizedek)

Next post Friday on to Genesis 18 and 19.

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