Friday, March 6, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 18 & 19

Chapter 18
Summary:Abraham sat at the opening of his tent when he saw three men approaching him. He sprang to his feet to welcome them and insisted that they stop to rest while he fetched them some food and some water to soak their feet. Abraham ran back to his tent telling Sarah to make some cakes using her best flour, and then ran of to one of his shepherds telling him to slaughter the fattest calf he could find.

He brought the three men some milk, cheese, and fresh veal and sat beside them as they ate. The three men asked him, "Where is your wife, Sarah?" To which Abraham replied that she was in the tent*.

God then tells Abraham (God had taken the form of one of these three men - the other two being angels - to visit with Abraham) that he will give him and Sarah a son next year, which made Sarah who was overhearing the conversation laugh. God asked why Sarah was laughing and proclaimed that nothing was impossible for God, and repeated that Sarah and Abraham would be given a son next year. Sarah out of fear claimed that she didn't laugh, but God called her out on her lie.

The three men then rose and began heading off toward the city of Sodom, with Abraham in tow. God debates on whether he should tell Abraham his plan, and then informs Abraham that he is headed to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah - as he has heard that the people there are utterly evil - and that he wants to know if those reports are true or not. While the two angels headed towards Sodom, God hangs back for a while with Abraham.

18:23 "And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?"
Abraham asks God whether he's going to kill everyone in Sodom, good and bad alike, adding to the question with what if he finds 50 good people in the city, would he not spare the city for their sake. Abraham notes that God would be treating both the godly and the wicked alike, and adding that the judge of all the earth should be a fair one. God replies and confirms that if he does find 50 godly people in Sodom he will spare the city.

In an exchange sounding more like a Marx Brothers routine than a divinely written passage, Abraham haggles further lowering the number incrementally from 45, to 40, to 30, to 20, to 10, each time with God answering that he would spare the city if he found the said amount of godly people. God then went on his way to Sodom while Abraham returned to his tent.
Notes:1.) It's unclear whether or not by this point if (or when for that matter) Abraham recognized the three men as being God accompanied by two angels. Abraham's nonchalant manner seems to imply he may have understood by this point, but the meal offering seems bizarre in this context.
Thoughts:There's a lot of strange things going on in this chapter that are puzzling. As noted above in my footnotes, exactly when does Abraham realize that the three men he sees walking towards him are in fact God accompanied by a pair of angels? If he does recognize them from the onset, why does he choose to feed them and fetch some water for their feet? If he doesn't catch on right away does he figure it out when God asks where Sarah is? If not, why doesn't he inquire as to how this man knows his wife's name? What about Sarah's reaction considering she overheard at least part of this conversation, if not all of it? As far as has been shown in Genesis so far Sarah has never spoken to God directly, so how did she figure out who these "men" really were?

The other troubling thing is again we have another paradox with God not being omniscient and omnipresent as he is physically scoping out the city of Sodom to figure out whether the reports(?) he's heard about the wickedness of the people is true or not.

The "Marx Brothers" routine also poses a problem in the context of the flood story when we have to assume that at least one - if not many - infant and/or child existed during the time, and Abraham makes an outstanding point as to what would be the purpose (and the fairness) of treating the "godly" (or innocent) the same as the "wicked" (or the guilty)? To take things to an even more literal level, God also stated that Noah was the only righteous person alive. So did he not spare some of the wicked by sparing Noah's wife, Ham, Shem, and Japheth - thereby treating some of the wicked the same as Noah, the only godly one?
Chapter 19
Summary:The two angels arrived at the gates of Sodom that evening and Lot was sitting there while they arrived. When he saw them he stood up to welcome them and invited them to stay the night with him at his home. Although the angels declined, Lot persisted until they agreed and made a great feast for them when they arrived. When the meal was over and they were preparing to retire for the night they found that Lot's house had been surrounded by all the men of the city - young and old alike. The Sodomites shouted to Lot demanding that he bring out his two guests, as they wished to rape them (the angels).

19:8 "Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof."
Lot stepped outside to talk with the townsfolk and shut the door behind him. Lot tells the men to leave his two guests alone, and that he will offer up his two virgin daughters for the townsfolk for them to do what they wish to, but begs for the Sodomites to leave his guest alone as they are under his protection.

The Sodomites refused to be swayed and threatened to do worse to Lot than with the two house guests. As they lunged at Lot and started to break down the door, the angels pulled him into the house, bolted the door behind him, and blinded the Sodomites to prevent them from finding the door. The angels instructed Lot to get his family out of the city as they explained to Lot their intentions to destroy the city as commanded by God. Lot rushed out to warn his daughter's fiancees, but the young men didn't believe him.

At dawn the angels became urgent towards Lot to take his family and flee, and when he hesitated they grabbed the hands of Lot, his wife, and his daughters and rushed them to safety telling them to flee for their lives. The angels told them to flee to the mountains and to not look back towards the city. Lot protested fearing disaster in the mountains and pointed to a small village off in the distance, begging for the angels to let him go there instead. The angels agreed to let Lot and his family escape to the village, which from that point on was named Zoar, meaning "Little City").

God then rained down fire and flaming tar upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, utterly destroying them along with other cities in the plains, eliminating all life - people, plants, and animals alike. Lot's wife was apparently unable to resist the temptation of looking back towards the city and in retaliation, God turned her into a pillar of salt.

Abraham awoke early in the morning and rushed out towards the place where he had spoken to God previously and looking across the plains, witnessed columns of smoke and fumes where the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah once stood. Afterwards Lot left Zoar fearing the inhabitants there and fled to live in a cave with his two daughters.

Lot's oldest daughter complained to her sister that there wasn't a man anywhere in the area that their father would let them marry, while adding that their father would also be too old for having children soon, and hatched a plan to get their father drunk and rape him so that (hopefully) their blood line would continue. So they proceeded to get their father drunk enough to have sex with the older daughter and not remember the experience, while the younger girl did the same the following night.

Both girls became pregnant and gave birth to their father's sons - Moab, the son of the eldest daughter became the ancestor of the Moabites, while Benammi, the son of the younger daughter became the ancestor of the Ammonites.
Thoughts:There's no question that there is quite a lot to digest here in this chapter. On perhaps suggestion from and the relation to Abraham, we are lead to believe that Lot is the only true virtuous man in the entire city of Sodom. He invites and insists that our angelic travelers stay the night with him and prepares an enormous feast for them in celebration. However, while it is the author's intention to make Lot look honorable and godly by protecting his angelic company, the ball gets dropped completely when we read that he's willing to offer up his own virgin daughters to the sex crazed mob outside. His own daughters. Who are unmarried. Virgins. To every man in Sodom. To do what ever they want to them.

Now I can just hear the religious apologists chiming in here, with "You have to understand that things were very different back in biblical times, and that things like beating pregnant women, men being misogynist pigs, women being considered property, and having (as well as beating) slaves was perfectly acceptable 3,000 years ago." Quite frankly, despite the fact that I find all of the above mentioned pretty sick, I think any rational person has to draw the line at a father offering his two virgin daughters to a pack of sex-crazy rapists. Perhaps you can theorize that maybe Lot offered his daughters up for a free-for-all as perhaps he knew that the townsfolk outside were only interested in raping men, but still - God turns Lot's wife into a pillar of salt for simply looking back at the destruction of the cities, and completely disregards Lot's deplorable solicitation of the virginities of both of his daughters to a pack of rapists?

Back to Lot's wife, I find it awfully strange that neither Lot or his daughters turned back after noticing that mom was no longer running beside them and possibly become turned into pillars of salt themselves.

Finally the chapter winds down with a bit of rape, incest, and drunkenness on behalf of Lot's daughters who somehow manage the near impossible task of getting a man drunk enough to sustain an erection, be able to ejaculate, and not remember anything in the morning - two nights in a row!

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