Common Thoughts (A Genesis Review 4)

I’m going to look briefly at the journey of Abraham just to show how this works. It begins in Genesis 12:1-3: “The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you .“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”

This man named Abram lived in Ur of Chaldees in the heart of the Mesopotamian/Sumerian Empire known as Babylon, the area today called Iraq. Babylonians worshiped at least 10 different gods, the head God of Heaven named An or Anu. Some believe the Garden of Eden was located here which would make this area, and the larger area we now call the Middle East, is where the long list of people mentioned from Adam to Noah to Abraham also lived. This puts them inside the Mesopotamian and Sumerian Empires that had developed wild mythologies about religion. And yet these men, and Abram, kept to one God, the God of Adam and Eve. The temptation to adopt those mythologies was resisted as they stayed true to Yahweh. It’s interesting that while we know so much about those gods around them we know so little about Yahweh these generations after Adam and Eve followed. This God was speaking and these men were listening, so much so that God could come to Abram and say what he did to him. Abram trusted this God so much that he gathered his family and servants and allowed God to lead him to places unknown to him. And for the first time we learn something of God’s plan for mankind: a great nation that will lead to “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

 

The land God will take Abram to is known as Canaan whose ancestors many generations later will call Israel. You would think that God would lead Abram straight to Canaan and he would live there in happiness and generations later his now very large family would say, “Okay, now it’s time to form our nation and under this nation all mankind will be saved,” as promised by our ancestor Abraham. Well, it would actually take some 700 years for his ancestors to form the nation of Israel. And during that time came many troubles including some 200 years being slaves in Egypt. Not the way I, if I were God, would do it. In the midst of being a slave in Egypt I’d be questioning God; “I thought you promised us a land of milk and honey? What happened? Aren’t you God?”

First stop is Haran, in today’s modern Turkey, where this traveling family stayed until Abram’s father, Terah, died, and where Abram amassed many possessions and followers. He was 75 when he moved on ending at Shechem, finally in the land of Canaan. Here God comes to Abram and states: “To your offspring I will give this land.” He then moves southward to Bethel where he builds an altar to God. From here Abram travels on to Negev in the southern part of Canaan, a semiarid land (desert). “Various peoples have lived in the Negev since the dawn of history: nomads, Canaanites, Philistines, Edomites, Byzantines, Nabateans, Ottomans and of course Israelis. Their economy was based mainly on sheep herding and agriculture, and later also on trade.”

I’m sure Abram said, “Thank you God, I’ve arrived in the land you promised.” End of story. No, not the end. “Why here?” he might say. This because a famine hit this semiarid land and to feed himself and those with him Abram had to travel to Egypt where there was plenty to eat. There must have been stories going around about how much Egyptians were sexual predators so he told his wife, Sarai, to cover up to hide her beauty and call herself his sister so they wouldn’t be tempted to kill Abram and steal her. Evidently they took wives, not sisters. Plan didn’t work all that well as they saw Sarai’s beauty and the Pharaoh of Egypt invited her into his palace making her his wife and did lavish her and Abram with goodies.

Is God sleeping while life goes on? We learn in Genesis 12 that he isn’t, in fact he is very involved personally in Abram’s life:

 ”But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.” (Genesis 12:17-29 NIV.)

“My bad,” perhaps Abram said. Life isn’t really all that bad for Abram, and as in Haran he increased his capital and in Egypt he further increases his capital. While we see God working in Abram’s life we still are not given any specifics about worship of God. Yet Abram and his family know what that entails. They are living it and not writing a theological essay about it. They didn’t need a Bible, they lived it.

Now Abram, his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all his family and servants and herds went back to Negev, then traveled back to a place they stopped in earlier, Bethel, and settled there. It seems Abram had his flocks, Lot his, but the land wasn’t sufficient to support two large herds and tension grew between the (not between Abraham and Lot) local herders so they parted ways. Lot chooses the fertile, well-watered Jordan Valley and pitches his tents near Sodom. Abram stays in the land of Canaan and settles in the Judaean hill country near Bethel. The grazing here is poorer, but Abram stays within the land where God’s blessing was promised. (Genesis 13:10-12.)

When Abram had resettled, God again came to him and said: “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17.) After the problems he endured with the famine and having to move to Egypt, then now once back in Canaan there is a dispute over where to shepherd his sheep, Abram may be doubting that God really spoke to him and God affirms he is still active in the flow of history and in particular Abram’s history.

So God reaffirms Abram is exactly where God wants him when new trouble comes his way. There is no nation called Canaan, it is a land mass of many cities and diverse people, some loosely called Canaanites. Four kings of the north went south to attack and defeat the five kings of the south in the Valley of Siddim. Two cities in that valley are Sodom and Gomorrah, both thriving commercial cities. And near Sodom Lot has settled with his flocks and is captured by the four kings from the north. Abram, who at Bethel is somewhere half-way between the north and south was incensed that his family was captured and gathered some 318 men (interesting we are given the actual number) and attacks the men holding Lot and defeats them.

With his return two interesting men come out to greet Abram; the King of Sodom and a priest of the Most High God, Melchizedek, King of Salem (a city later renamed Jerusalem). God is obviously a big tease. He speaks to Adam and Eve in the Garden; he speaks to Cain after he murdered his brother; he speaks to Noah and gives us a glimpse into his thinking over mankind; he takes a personal hand in breaking up the Tower of Babel; and He drops on us this mysterious character Melchizedek in three verses:

“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand. Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:18-20.)

Who was/is Melchizedek? “Melchizedek is presented as a type of Christ. This theme is repeated in the book of Hebrews, where both Melchizedek and Christ are considered kings of righteousness and peace. By citing Melchizedek and his unique priesthood as a type, the writer shows that Christ’s new priesthood is superior to the old Levitical order and the priesthood of Aaron (Hebrews 7:1–10).

“Some propose that Melchizedek was actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, or a Christophany. This is a possible theory, given that Abraham had received such a visit before. Consider Genesis 17 where Abraham saw and spoke with the Lord (El Shaddai) in the form of a man” (From Got Questions, “Who Was Melchizedek”, which you can read in full HERE.).

Melchizedek was not a phantom that only Abram saw, the King of Sodom was there as were the men who had fought and the men that were rescued. God didn’t see fit to give us more, but it’s there in history: there is a God, he isn’t abstract. We see in their meeting two religious acts: 1) God blesses Abram, and 2) Abram offers a tithe. Later, there is a kind of quasi rules of religious practice given to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 14:22-26, “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. . .”

Let’s turn now to the other person to come out and greet Abram, the King of Sodom. But before the story gets there Abram and God get into a discussion about the covenant, and again Abram questions God because how can his generations inherent this land when he is childless and too old?

With all his encounters with God, Abram still doubts. We know the story of his handmaiden, Hagar, whom he impregnated and gave him a son he called Ishmael because he didn’t really trust that God would do as he promised. As you would expect Sarai didn’t take kindly to Hagar and sent her away but God intervenes. Hagar is an Egyptian, not a member of Abram’s family, but we read this:

“Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” (Genesis 16: 9-10.) Interesting that this is the same thing said to the “legitimate” son of Abram; his descendants “will be too numerous to count.”

In verse 12 the angel of the Lord says about Ishmael: “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone  and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” We can take from this a couple of things. Hagar is not a member of Abram’s family, she is an Egyptian yet God speaks to her signaling that God is part of all history, not just “Jewish” history. And God knows the future without causing the future.

Turning again to the website, Got Questions, we read this:

“As Ishmael grew to adulthood, there was dissention between him and Isaac, so Hagar took her son and left the camp of Abraham. The Angel of God met them once again and predicted for the third time that Ishmael would father a great nation (Genesis 21:18). Later in Israel’s history, the Ishmaelites were also called Midianites (although not all Midianites were descendants of Ishmael), and they engaged in the buying and selling of slaves (Genesis 37:28;39:1). Judges 8:24 tells us that the Ishmaelites were fond of gold, and gold earrings were part of their plunder.

“During the reign of King David, the Ishmaelites joined a confederacy against God and against His people, Israel (Psalm 83:5–6). Their goal was to “destroy them as a nation, so that Israel’s name is remembered no more” (verse 4). Considering the current turmoil in the Middle East and the hatred often directed against Israel by her neighbors, the prophecies concerning the descendants of Ishmael continue to prove true.”