God created the Heavens and the Earth. Then what happened?
Daily Bible Study Tips —
Genesis 6:11-22, 7:24, 8:14
Genesis 11:27-12:20, Introduction to Abram and Sarai.
Genesis 16, Sarai gets impatient.
Genesis 17, God changes Sarai’s name and promises her a child.
Genesis 18:1-15, Sarah laughs; 20:1-18, Sarah is protected.
Genesis 21:1-21, Sarah laughs again.
Genesis 23:1-20, Death of Sarah.
Genesis 22:1-14, The Sacrifice of Isaac
Random Walk in a Religious Art Gallery, Step 12: Genesis 22:4-10, The Test of Abraham's Faith
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
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Have you ever had the misfortune to get involved in an
interminable series of novels? You know — first book comes out, and you
read it. Hmm. No ending. So you read the second book. Still
no ending, but hey — it's probably a trilogy, right? Third book — no
ending. My husband got disgusted and quit one of these series after eight
books, and several more installments have come out since then! Somebody
should tell these writers that novels are supposed to have a beginning, a
middle, and an end.
Our Bible is actually 66 books, put together over the
centuries into the "Christian canon," that is, the accepted books of
holy scripture of the Church. Even though it's not a novel, the
canon as a whole has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. In the
beginning, God created everything, and it was good. In the middle, our
sin messed everything up. In the end, God will restore creation to the
goodness it had in the beginning. Excellent plot! If you haven't
read the book, start today.
One of the all-time favorite children's stories, both
inside and outside the Church, is the story of Noah's Ark. Usually the
stories start with the building of the ark, or with the animals coming to Noah,
two by two. The real story for grownups starts a few chapters earlier,
with the human sinfulness and violence that drove God to such a drastic
Today and for the next two days, we are reading about one of
the great themes of the Bible: Abraham is blessed to be a blessing.
Abraham is chosen to be an instrument of God's plan of salvation for the
world. First, Abraham and Sarah must go with God into a foreign land,
where they will grow into a great nation. They will be so blessed
that they will be a blessing, and through them all the families of the earth
will be blessed. This nation of Abraham and Sarah's physical and
spiritual descendants, God's people, is where we have our own
Genesis 12:1-3 has been called "the topic sentence of
the Bible." God does not bless us because we deserve blessing, or
even because we are the most deserving of an undeserving bunch. God
blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others. Thanks be to God, who
lets us participate in his plan for salvation of the world!
God reiterates his earlier promise that Abraham and Sarah
will become a great nation and makes a covenant with them; part of
the covenant is that this very elderly, childless couple will be so fruitful
that their descendants can't even be counted. Abraham's faith that God
will fulfill this promise is counted as righteousness. As Paul points
out, this applies to us, too. We have no righteousness of our own, but
our faith in Jesus Christ is counted as the righteousness we need to be saved.
The covenant that God makes with Abraham is a suzerainty
covenant, that is, a contract between unequal parties. The pieces of
the animals were a standard part of similar covenants between kings and lesser
figures. The vision that Abraham sees of the fire pot and torch passing
between the pieces of the animals also reflects the procedure for
the earthly covenant. God uses this physical and visual process to
assure Abraham that he will be faithful to his promise.
After Abraham has spent many years in God's presence, God
changes his name. "Abram" becomes "Abraham."
This is a play on words, because "Abraham" sounds similar to
"father of multitudes" in Hebrew. Sarah's name is changed from
"Sarai" to "Sarah," which means "princess."
Abraham and Sarah are two of a small handful of people whose names are changed
by God. God is saying to these people, "I have a special job for
you. Your new role will be so different that your old name doesn't fit
any more." Paul comments on this passage in Genesis in his
letter to the Romans. See Romans 4:1-5.
We have a new baby in our family. Her middle name is
Siobhan, which is Gaelic and is pronounced Sho-vahn. She is named after
her mom, Shoshanna, and her grandma, Yvonne. Many, many of the
babies in the Bible have names honoring some significant event connected with
their birth. Abraham and Sarah named
their baby "Isaac," which means "laughter," and
you will see in today's reading why he was called that.
We need another law lesson. What's up with Sarah, that
she throws Hagar and Ishmael out of the house? This seems pretty harsh,
especially after she got a son of her own. Well, here's the thing.
Hagar was Sarah's slave, and Sarah (getting along in years and doubtful of the
LORD's promise that she and Abraham would have descendents) had given Hagar to
Abraham as a concubine in order that she, Sarah, could have a child by
adoption. Then Isaac turned up, past all hope and expectation. But
the law was that the child of a slave woman and her owner must either be freed
or must inherit equally with the legitimate children. Sarah wanted no
part of splitting up God's promise of blessings, a mighty nation, and a
land. She wanted that for Isaac. Therefore Hagar and Ishmael had to
be freed. The psalm seems like the sort of thing that Hagar and Ishmael
may have prayed in the wilderness.
Do you remember the Bob Dylan song, "Highway 61
Revisited"? Partial lyrics:
Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run"
[At this point there is a brief guitar riff while Abe thinks it over.]
Well Abe says, "Where do you want
this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."
Copyright © 1965, Bob Dylan
It pretty much boggles our minds that Abraham would even
consider this proposition; however, child sacrifice was actually very common in
that time and place. God put an official stop to it for his people,
as recorded in today's passage. The practice continued for another
1000 years or so in Palestine, both among the non-Jewish peoples of the
area and among a few really
Random Walk in a Religious Art Gallery, Step 12: Genesis 22:4-10, The Test of Abraham’s Faith (3/17/15)
24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Just out of curiosity, I searched on the web for images of the sacrifice of Isaac. The vast majority of them show the dramatic intervention of God when the angel stops Abraham from harming his son. There’s nothing wrong with that – it certainly is the climax of the story. Gustave Doré, however, has given us the much more poignant image of Isaac carrying the wood for his own sacrifice, and I actually prefer it to the others. How difficult it must have been for Abraham to leave his servants and take his child up the mountain! His path is thorny, but his eyes aren’t watching the path, they’re turned toward the boy. This illustration is labeled, “The Trial of the Faith of Abraham,” and I think that’s right. The real trial took place as he took his beloved child to the place of sacrifice, believing that God would intervene.
Previous Step. Next Step.
"The Trial of the Faith of Abraham" by Gustave Doré, from the Gartin family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina L. Hunter.
We are largely a nation of immigrants. With very few
exceptions, first-generation immigrants speak the old language and keep
the old ways. Second-generation Americans understand the old language but
don't speak it, and they keep the old ways only when they are around the old
people. Third-generation Americans don't know either the old language or
the old ways. Abraham and Sarah wandered for many years in the land that
God promised would someday belong to their descendants. They were
immigrants. One of the conditions of God's blessing was that they be
separate from the other Canaanite peoples. These peoples worshipped a lot
of very unattractive, immoral, unethical, nasty gods, and God knew that if
Abraham and Sarah's descendents intermarried with the people, they would soon
come to worship those gods. In his very old age, Abraham sent his foreman
back to the old country to get a bride for Isaac. Notice
that Rebecca’s family asked her if she was willing to go, and she got
the lion's share of the bride price. That was the law.
We normally think about today's reading from the point of
view of Jacob. No question--Jacob was a conniving sort of fellow who
bought the birthright and stole the blessing that belonged to Esau. But
let's look at this from the point of view of Esau. Here is a healthy
young man, a little tired and frustrated from an unsuccessful hunt, no doubt
hungry, who is willing to sell his birthright of God's promise of land, nation,
— and not just sell it, but sell it cheap. What a
short-sighted, self-centered fool! Jacob valued that same blessing enough
to cheat and lie. The Psalmist valued it enough to say, "I never
forget your teachings, although my life is always in danger. ... They
will always be my most prized possession and my source of joy."
See also Psalm 119:105-112.
Remember sneaky Jacob? After trading lunch for Esau's
birthright, he and Rebecca plot to steal (sorry, there's no other word for it)
Esau's blessing as well. This didn't go over very well with Esau, so
Jacob has to leave town in a hurry. Rebecca suggests to Isaac that Jacob
should go back to the old country to find a nice girl, not like the two local
girls whom Esau married and who are driving her crazy. So today we see
Jacob on the lam. Something unexpected happens to him: the
blessing that God promised to Abraham and Isaac is now promised to Jacob.
A number of Old Testament patriarchs and religious and
political leaders had multiple wives and concubines. This was accepted
practice, although the OT writers raised their eyebrows slightly over Solomon's
700 wives and 300 concubines. Eventually the rabbis forbade multiple marriages,
not on the grounds that it was forbidden by scripture, but on the grounds that
a man could not be fair to multiple wives. Jacob, whose two wives and two
concubines built the house of Israel, loved Rachel more than Leah.
Today we have some more of those names that seem totally
mysterious until you know what they sound like or mean.
"Isra-el" sounds like "he strives with - God."
"Peni-el" means "face of - God." In our culture, we have
a saying, "What's in a name?", and the implication is, "Not
much." In many other cultures, names are important
because they have
. In our own state, for example, the true name of a Navajo person is
only known to a tiny number of people. In today's reading, Jacob's name
is changed. Only a few people in the Bible have their names changed or
determined in advance by God, and in every case, it is either a symbol of
a significant, life-changing event or a prediction of the role that that person
will play in history. In the case of Jacob, both of those reasons
are important. In our reading today, Jacob's name is changed after he
literally comes to grip with God, and his new name characterizes the
relationship between the children of Israel and God for more than a thousand
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
We are accustomed to the idea that the New Testament
presents the facts of Jesus' ministry many times in several styles: four
gospels, one history of the early church, numerous letters, and a
vision. Most of us are less aware that the same thing happens in
the Old Testament. For example, 1 and 2 Chronicles repeats 1 and 2 Kings,
but with much more emphasis on the Temple and its liturgy. Today we
read twice about Joseph. The Genesis account is a report of what
happened; the excerpt from Psalms 105 is a poetic commentary on
why it happened. See also Psalm
105:1, 5-6, 16-23.
Remember that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah and his two
concubines. Rachel had no children at first, and then later she had
Joseph and Benjamin — dying in childbirth with her second son. Naturally,
Jacob doted on the two babies, and Joseph in particular was spoiled and bratty,
as we have seen. But after being sold into slavery and transported
into Egypt, he shaped up and eventually turned out well, as spoiled and bratty
children often do in spite of their parents. Anyway, Joseph became very
powerful in Egypt, and he increased the power of Pharaoh during a terrible
famine that struck the entire Middle East. Jacob sent some of his sons
down to Egypt to buy some food, and there Joseph and his brothers were
reunited. In our reading, Joseph sends his brothers home to get Jacob and
the rest of the family. The entire clan, 66 people not counting Joseph
wife and kids, moves to Egypt to wait out the famine. The story
of Joseph and his brothers is the origin of the saying that God can use evil
for good. (Please note that God would rather use good for good.)
By the way, "Pharaoh" means almost exactly
"White House," as in "Today the White House
announced...." It started out as the name of a building, and ended
up as the title of the ruler.
2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.
Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the
author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the
Bible-study participants. Thanks to the
Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers
for their support and enthusiasm. All
errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.
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