Friday, March 6, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 16 & 17

Chapter 16
Summary:Sarai and Abram were still having trouble conceiving a child*, so Sarai took her maid - an Egyptian girl named Hagar - and gave her to Abram as a second wife. Sarai explains that since God has not given her any children, Abram may sleep with Hagar and Sarai will take the resulting children as her own. Abrahm (not-surprisingly) agrees*. Abram sleeps with Hagar and when she realized she was pregnant, she became arrogant towards Sarai.

16:2 "And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai."
Sarai complains to Abram that Hagar's arrogance is his fault* and curses Abram hoping that God will judge him for this. Abram tells Sarai that she can punish Hagar as she sees fit, so she gives Hagar a good beating, and as a result Hagar runs away. An angel of God finds her besides a desert spring along the road to Shur and demands that she return to Sarai and to act as she should. The angel tells her that the child she is carrying will be a son and that Hagar is to name him Ishmael (meaning "God hears", explaining that God hears her woes). The angel further explains that Ishmael will be rebellious and will be against everyone, just as everyone will be against him, yet he will live near the rest of his kin.

Thereafter Hagar spoke directly to God and was astonished to have seen God and live to tell it. Later the well was named "The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me" (it lies between Kadesh and Bered).

So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was 86 years old at the time.
Notes:1.) Moreover, a male child - as girls are not considered true heirs.
2.) The bible notes that this takes place 10 years after Abram first arrived in Canaan.
3.) Despite the fact that this was Sarai's idea in the first place.
Thoughts:It's difficult not to look at this chapter as disturbing for a number of reasons: we have Abram having sex with his wife's maid (probably a slave), we have Abram's wife beating the tar out of a pregnant woman - carrying her husband's child, and we have an angel condemning Hagar for running off even though she just got beaten by her mistress (regardless of whether her arrogance justified punishment, it's hard to justify beating a pregnant woman).

It's also a bit unclear as to why God tells Hagar directly to name the child Ishmael, yet it states that Abram give the child that name. Do we assume God told Abram also to name the child Ishmael, or did Abram take Hagar's word that she spoke to God and that's the name God chose?
Chapter 17
Summary:When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to him and told him to obey him and live as he should, and also that he had prepared a contract between them guaranteeing to make Abram's descendants into a mighty nation - and not just one nation, but a multitude of nations. Abram fell face downward to the ground as God talked with him. He continues on to tell Abram that he is also changing his name from Abram (meaning 'Exalted Father') to Abraham (meaning 'Father of Nations'). He continues to tell Abram/Abraham that he will continue this agreement forever amongst Abram's/Abraham's descendants.

17:11 "And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you."
Abram's/Abraham's part of the contract is to obey God's will, and have every male amongst him circumcised on the eighth day after being born, and that this will be proof that Abram/Abraham and his people accept the covenant. God clarifies that this also applies to every foreign born slave as well as anyone born in Abram's/Abraham's household, and that anyone who refuses will be cut off from his people. God also renames Sarai to Sarah (meaning 'Princess') and proclaims that he will bless her to provide Abram/Abraham with many children*.

Abraham throws himself down in worship, but was having doubts in his thoughts thinking about how ludicrous it sounded for him to become a father at age 100* and for Sarai/Sarah to give birth at 90, so he instead says to God, "Yes, do bless Ishmael!"

God corrects Abraham and clarifies that Sarah will provide him with a son, and that son is to be named Isaac (meaning 'Laughter'), but decides that he will bless Ishmael also - adding that Ishmael will become a great nation and that 12 princes will be among his posterity - before stressing that God's contract is with Isaac and not Ishmael.

Abraham then went home and proceeded to circumcise every male in his household - including himself and every male slave.
Notes:1.) Which didn't seem so ridiculous when his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Shem had a child at the age of 100(?)
2.) Although chapter 11 states that Sarai was barren and therefore did not provide Abram any children, we can still consider that chapter correct when taking into account that God changed both Sarai and Abram's names at this point to Sarah and Abraham respectively. In that sense, Sarai and Abram didn't have any children, whereas Sarah and Abraham did.
Thoughts:It's unclear what circumcision has to do with upholding a contract with God, and why he wants men to be circumcised in the first place. It's pretty nonsensical and seems very awkward that God is concerned with the way his people's penises look. What is to stop other tribes from circumcising their male population as well? Wouldn't the covenant be meaningless at that point? Would God strike men dead outside of Abraham's tribe for circumcising themselves?

Also strange is Abraham's amusement at becoming a father at the age of 100, when the average age of the people of his time is still mentioned to be roughly around 200(!) if which taken into context with the average modern human living to be about 85, doesn't seem so strange for a man of 43 to have a child.

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