Common Thoughts (A Genesis Review 5)

The prevailing mythology of Samaria and Mesopotamia and their answer to God in the world can be found in The Epic of Gilgamesh, and from Spark Notes I offer this:

The epic begins with Enkidu. He lives with the animals, suckling at their breasts, grazing in the meadows, and drinking at their watering places. A hunter discovers him and sends a temple prostitute into the wilderness to tame him. In that time, people considered women and sex calming forces that could domesticate wild men like Enkidu and bring them into the civilized world. When Enkidu sleeps with the woman, the animals reject him since he is no longer one of them. Now, he is part of the human world. Then the harlot teaches him everything he needs to know to be a man. Enkidu is outraged by what he hears about Gilgamesh’s excesses, so he travels to Uruk to challenge him. When he arrives, Gilgamesh is about to force his way into a bride’s wedding chamber. Enkidu steps into the doorway and blocks his passage. The two men wrestle fiercely for a long time, and Gilgamesh finally prevails. After that, they become friends and set about looking for an adventure to share. 

Gilgamesh and Enkidu decide to steal trees from a distant cedar forest forbidden to mortals. A terrifying demon named Humbaba, the devoted servant of Enlil, the god of earth, wind, and air, guards it. The two heroes make the perilous journey to the forest, and, standing side by side, fight with the monster. With assistance from Shamash the sun god, they kill him. Then they cut down the forbidden trees, fashion the tallest into an enormous gate, make the rest into a raft, and float on it back to Uruk. Upon their return, Ishtar, the goddess of love, is overcome with lust for Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh spurns her. Enraged, the goddess asks her father, Anu, the god of the sky, to send the Bull of Heaven to punish him. The bull comes down from the sky, bringing with him seven years of famine. Gilgamesh and Enkidu wrestle with the bull and kill it. The gods meet in council and agree that one of the two friends must be punished for their transgression, and they decide Enkidu is going to die. He takes ill, suffers immensely, and shares his visions of the underworld with Gilgamesh. When he finally dies, Gilgamesh is heartbroken.

The God of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham, whose story is unfolding in our history, is more believable in that it is nothing like the mythologies of the world. We find God active in our history but not as an actor, more as a fortuneteller. It’s His world but our history. He inspires us, he doesn’t drag us by our noses. We certainly see this with Abraham. It is up to Him to fulfill the promise and we watch how that unfolds, both the good and the bad. It’s us acting, not the gods.

Continuing in Genesis 17 two things happen: Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, from the “father is exalted” to the “father of many”. From Adam to Abram/Abraham we didn’t see a plan of God for how he would be presented throughout, we just have a list of names of those who while not defining how they know God or worshiped Him did so . Now, with the calling of Abraham we see God has a plan for how he will be presented to the world, through Abraham’s seed (the nation of Israel). Sarai’s name will also be changed to Sarah, the “mother of many nations” even though she is 90 years old.

When God made a covenant with Noah, that he wouldn’t again kill everyone with a flood (note that he didn’t say he wouldn’t do so by any other means) He gave as a sign of this promise, the rainbow. With Abraham, the sign of God’s covenant would be circumcision. Curious choice, isn’t it. This wasn’t the first instance of circumcision as some cultures did it as a rite of puberty. However it was the first time babies were to be circumcised. Having read a number of “whys” for circumcision I’m still mystified. It is one of those things that has a basis in actual events and used in a metaphorical/symbolic meaning. We will find that God uses both historical events in both ways.

After this, in chapter 18, we return to the subject of Sodom along with Gomorrah. In this story we clearly find two truths; they are expected to be righteous, which means they must have known something about God, and what He expected of them (the universal nature of God); and Abraham pleads with God in his desire to destroy the two cities, pleading for those who are righteous. Would God save the city—and here Abraham goes through a series of numbers down to 10 and God says yes, but there mustn’t have been even that number because the city is destroyed. This is shades of Noah without the water.

Next we have an interlude story about Lot and his two daughters. It’s a curious story, and I can’t imagine why it’s in the Bible except it does establish two races of people, the Moabites and Ammonites who at times would war against the Israelites.

Abraham moves to Gerar where he pulls the trick on Abimelek he pulled on the Egyptian Pharaoh and passes his wife off as his sister. He, too, takes Sarah as a wife, but one night he has a dream from who else, God:

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.” (Genesis 20:4-7.)

What’s important here? Abimelek, who was king of Gerar, had to have known, or at least known about God, the God of Adam and Abraham, telling us again that God is universal, not limited. Abraham confesses to Abimelek that Sarah is really his half-sister, but I’m not going there for now. When God in that first dream said of Abimelek that he and his were dead, God dried up the wombs of the women and in the end Abraham prayed for them and God relented. Also, in the end Abraham was lavished with goodies so his “bad” kept bringing him good. The Bible story is replete with God using imperfect man.

Finally in Genesis 21 Isaac is born, the son through whom the promise would be fulfilled. In Genesis 22 Abraham is tested to see if he truly believes God, which he passes, and then we go into chapter 23 where we are told at the age of 127 Sarah dies. For the first time we come across the powerful kingdom of the Hittites, with whom Israel would have run-ins many times. They were the descendants of Heth, son of Canaan, who was the son of Ham, born of Noah (Genesis 10: 1-6). He made a deal with the Hittites for a plot of land to bury Sarah.