Saturday, March 7, 2009

GENESIS: Chapters 20 & 21

Chapter 20
Summary:Abraham moved south to Negeb and settled between Kadesh and Shur. One day while visiting the city of Gerar he remarked that Sarah was his sister, and again once the king (King Ambimelech, in this case) caught word of this and of her beauty, he had Sarah brought to his palace*.

God visited the king in his dream and told him that he was doomed to die, as Sarah was a married woman. Ambimelech pointed out to God that he had yet to sleep with Sarah, and questioned whether God would slay an innocent man. He added that both Abraham and Sarah had told him that they were siblings and not husband and wife, and that he had no intentions of wrong doing.

20:12 "And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife."
God replied that he already knew that, and explained that it was why he prevented the king from sinning; why he prevented the king from touching Sarah. God demands that Ambimelech release Sarah to her husband at once, and states that Abraham will pray for the king in return - threatening the king with death - to not only himself but his household as well - if he does not comply.

The king woke up early the next morning and summoned Abraham. He asks Abraham why he has perpetuated this deception which could have made his kingdom guilty of a terrible sin. Abraham explains that he figured the kingdom to be a godless place* which would leave himself for dead in order to get to his wife. He adds that technically Sarah is his sister - his half sister - and that when God sends him traveling far from home, he has instructed Sarah to tell others that she is his sister.

The king then gave Abraham some sheep, oxen, and slaves upon returning Sarah to Abraham along with 1,000 pieces of silver as restitution for any embarrassment he may have caused them. He tops it off with offering Abraham his choice of any land in the kingdom to live in. Abraham prayed to God to remove the curse that God had placed amongst the kingdom, as he had made the women of the kingdom barren to punish them for taking Abraham's wife.
Notes:1.) Much like Abraham (then Abrahm) had done during his stay in Egypt.
2.) Unlike what is implied, theism and morality are wholly separate concepts.
Thoughts:This is mostly a rehash of chapter 12 with a different spin placed upon it. We can now surmise that God may have visited the Egyptian Pharaoh in a similar manner to King Ambimelech, yet where as the Pharaoh simply threw Abraham (then named Abram) out of Egypt with some bribe offerings, King Ambimelech seems more remorseful and even tries to persuade Abraham to live amongst him in his kingdom.

The other point of contention I have with this chapter is the need to link morality with theism. It's one of the most perpetuated myths that one's belief in gods is linked with morality. There are many immoral people who profess religious belief or affiliation, just the same as there are similar numbers of atheists that have high moral ethics without the need for god beliefs. The belief in gods and being morally ethical are two separate concepts.
Chapter 21
Summary:At the age of 100, Abraham became the father of Isaac, just as God had promised. Eight days later Abraham circumcised Isaac as God had commanded.

Time went by and Isaac grew and was weaned, and Abraham threw a party to celebrate the occasion. But when Sarah noticed Ishmael teasing Isaac, she turned to Abraham and demanded that he get rid of Hagar and her son, stating that she refused to let Ishmael share Abraham's property with her son Isaac. This upset Abraham, as Ishmael was his son as well.

But God sided with Sarah telling Abraham not to be upset over Ishmael nor his slave-girl wife Hagar, and reaffirming that it is Isaac is the child whom God will fulfill his promise through. So Abraham packed some food and a canteen for Ishmael and Hagar and sent them both away.

21:14 "And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba."
Hagar journeyed into the wilderness of Beersheba wandering aimlessly, and when her canteen ran dry she left her son underneath a bush and sat down off in the distance, not wanting to see him die, and began to sob.

God called to Hagar from the sky to comfort her and remind her that Ishmael is still blessed to become a great nation. God then leads her to a well to fill her canteen for her self and the boy, and blessed Ishmael. Ishmael would grow up in the wilderness of Paran to become an expert archer, and later Hagar would arrange his marriage to an Egyptian girl.

Around this time King Ambimelech came to Abraham admitting that he is aware that God is on Abraham's side and asks for peace between the people of Abraham and his kingdom. Abraham agrees, but also complains about a well that was taken violently away from his people by the king's servants. The King claims he was unaware of this incident until this moment, while Abraham gave sheep and oxen to the king as a sacrifice.

Abraham put aside seven ewe and proclaimed them as a gift to the king serving as a public confirmation that the disputed well now belonged to the people of Abraham. From that point on, the well was known as Beer-sheba (meaning 'Well of the Oath'). As King Ambimelech returned home, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree beside the well and prayed to God. Abraham continued to live in the Philistine country for a long time.
Thoughts:It's really tough to remain sympathetic towards Abraham, like I'm guessing the authors want the reader to be. God never condemned Abraham (then Abram) for sleeping with Hagar and seemed to be all for it initially, forcing a beaten pregnant Hagar to return to her "rightful place" serving her mistress (despite the fact that she dealt out the beating), and even naming Ishmael. However, now that Sarah has a jealousy complex and can't tolerate Ishmael - a child - teasing Isaac, she casts both Ishmael and Hagar out into the street and God tells a torn Abraham that Sarah is in the right(?) and that he shouldn't feel any sympathy for Ishmael (or Hagar) because Isaac is "better than him". It's even harder to empathize with Sarah, as it was her idea in the first place for Abraham to father a child with Hagar. So Hagar is left to die out in the wilderness until God lends a hand to refill her canteen and her hopes for Ishmael's future.

The chapter leads out with our good pal King Ambimelech "seeing the light" that Abraham's god is powerful and with him - on his side - and that it's probably best to make sure that he himself, as well as his kingdom, aren't pissing off Abraham's god in any way. He gives away one of his wells (that Abraham claims was forcefully taken from him) and Abraham gives him some sheep so that he isn't to be looked at as a thief or and extortionist himself. Basically it's meant to show a stark contrast with how the Egyptian Pharaoh handled the same wife/sister situation. Although it is a bit strange how even at age 90 (and implied that she's probably at the expected age of menopause - even with the supposed advanced ages of the day) that Sarah still manages to be picked up by kings that want her in their harems.

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