Genesis 11:1-26; I Chronicles 1:24-27; Genesis 11:27-31; Genesis 12-14
Simplified Reading: Genesis 11:1-31; Genesis 12-14; I Chronicles 1:24-27
*So, Chapter Eleven kicks off with a famous incident. We’re told as the chapter starts that everyone in the earth speaks the same language. This makes sense since, at this point, everyone on the planet is still descended from one family and, at this point, they’re still pretty close to that original family.
*So, they decide to build a huge tower that will reach all the way up to heaven. The builders say that they’re doing this to “make us a name.” So, God isn’t too thrilled about this classic bit of hubris. God muses that “now nothing will be restrained from them.” So, He decides to “confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
*And so the name of the tower, which is, of course, left unfinished is called Babel. So, we have a sort of origin story for languages here, right? And, of course, Babel as a sort of symbol for language barriers and even cultural clashes has come down. One recalls the film Babel from a few years ago, which was, in many ways, a movie about cultural barriers. And then even noted atheist Douglas Adams threw in a reference to this story via the Babelfish in his Hitchhiker’s Guide series. Which in turn inspired the online language translator. Interestingly, the etymologists say they haven’t been able to find a direct linguistic link between Babel and the word “babble.” There’s probably some kind of connection there; it seems like quite a coincidence otherwise.
*Okay, so then we get a more detailed version of the genealogy in Chapter Ten. Or at least part of it. Actually, only the genealogy of Shem, since his line is the most important going forward. This one flips back to the style of our first genealogy in that it details how long each person lives until they have their first son and then tells how long he lives after that firstborn son is born.
*I should also point out that people are still regularly living over 500 years, despite the fact that the lifespan was supposed to drop to under 120 back in chapter six.
*Okay, so at the end of this brief genealogy our next main character is introduced. “Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran began Lot.” So, Abram will be our main character for a few chapters here; Lot will be a significant supporting character.
*So, Abram marries Sarai; unfortunately, she is unable to have children.
*And, if you’re reading along in an actual Bible, as opposed to using the link to the reading plan, you may be wondering about something. Yes, it’s correct that we are skipping the final verse of chapter eleven. We’ll come back to it later.
*So as chapter twelve begins, God speaks to Abram with a promise and a command. He tells him to leave his father’s house and go “unto a land that I will shew thee.” The connecting promise is that God will make of Abram “a great nation . . . and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” So, Abram takes his wife and Lot and all of his servants and such and sets off like a nomad, hoping to be led to a new home by the Lord. He is seventy-five at this point.
*So, they hit the land of Canaan and God tells Abram that this is it, so Abram settles there.
*Unfortunately, a famine immediately hits the land, so Abram takes everyone goes down to Egypt to stay there until the famine passes. This is the beginning of a very fraught relationship between the Jews and the Egyptians.
*So, Abram comes up with a totally insane idea, which is that Sarai is so hot that if they go down to Egypt the people there will kill Abram in order to steal Sarai.
*Given that Abram is seventy-five, I’m betting Sarai is at least in her sixties. I think Abram’s just trying to make brownie points with Sarai with all this “don’t you wish your girl was hot like me” stuff.
*So, Abram comes up with the best idea in the world. He and Sarai will pretend that they’re brother and sister. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?!
*I love how Abram just throws Sarai under the bus. “Yes, you’ll still be forced into a marriage you don’t want, but, hey, at least I’ll survive! Besides, you can’t have children, so jokes on them! Ha ha!” My hero.
*Sure enough, it happens. The Pharaoh gets a crush on Sarai and takes her into his house. Maybe just as a concubine and not a wife; it’s not clear. He gives Abram a crapload of animals and servants as payment. So not only does Abram get to live, he makes out like a bandit. This “sister” plan is looking better and better. Meanwhile, Sarai is being raped by the Pharaoh! It’s a win-win!
*So, anyway, God sends plagues onto Pharaoh’s household. The Bible isn’t specific about what kind of plagues. But it’s interesting that the Israelites’ first interaction with Egypt ends with a series of plagues, much like their more famous later interaction will.
*Pharaoh finds out that Sarai is Abram’s wife and, quite rightly, gives Abram a nice reaming out and tells him to get out. “Now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.” Chapter twelve ends with Abram beating it out of Egypt.
*No word on whether Abram returned that big dowry. Given Pharoah’s attitude, I’m betting yes.
*So, Abram and Lot continue to travel together, but they both continue to grow more prosperous. Ultimately, “the land was not able to bear them,” when they’re together. You know, not enough grazing land for both herds, not enough water, etc.
*So, Abram tells Lot they’re going to have to split up. Abram tells Lot to take a pick for where he wants to go and Abram will go the other way. Lot decides on heading towards the plain of Jordan, specifically to a couple of cities that you may have heard of: Sodom & Gomorrah. “Lot . . . pitched his tent toward Sodom. But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.” This will not end well; if that’s not a spoiler.
*So, to end chapter thirteen, God speaks to Abram and gives him a truly epic promise. He tells Abram that he will give him all the land that he can see in all directions and that he will make Abram’s descendants “as the dust of the earth” in number.
*So, in chapter fourteen, some political problems start arising. It seems that war breaks out between the kings (or mayors) of various cities in the area. Sodom is involved in this war and gets basically looted and a lot of people get captured as prisoners of war. Lot and his family get dragged off with the other POWs.
*One guy from Sodom manages to escape and finds Abram and tells him of the misfortune that has befallen Lot. Abram arms all of his servants, of which there are a little over three hundred, and sets out to rescue Lot.
*This whole story is one of the less famous stories in Genesis, it strikes me. I could be wrong about that. Maybe everybody knows it, but it strikes me that this isn’t generally included in the life story of Abraham as taught in most churches.
*So, Abram tracks the army that has the POWs and, since he sneaks up on them and attacks them by night, he’s able to send them fleeing away and rescue all the prisoners and reclaim all the spoils.
*So, meanwhile, the armies of Sodom and their allies have managed to turn the tide and defeat the other side, which is kind of lucky for Abram, since he ends up on the winning side and not the losing one.
*So, then we come to a really short, apparently very insignificant passage. It actually establishes some really significant things. The passage is that Abram returns in victory to a city called Salem. The king of Salem, Melchizedek, comes out and greets him. We’re told that Melchizedek is both the king of Salem and “the priest of the most high God.” Abram pays Melchizedek “tithes of all” his possessions.
*So, a few things. Number one: about this city called Salem. This city will, as we move on through the Bible, come to be known as Jerusalem! Yup, that’s right, the most significant city in the Bible (and, frankly, still one of the most significant cities in the world) just got introduced.
*Number two, we have the introduction of Melchizedek. Now, Melchizedek does not appear again in the Old Testament, but once we get into the New Testament, he becomes a very important symbolic character. The author of Hebrews describes Christ Himself as being “after the order of Melchizedek.”
*No, I’m sorry, but I just can’t even explain all this. We haven’t talked about a lot of things that you kind of need to know about before I can explain why there is this significant link between Melchizedek and Christ. We haven’t talked about the Mosaic Law, the Levitical Priesthood, the relationship of early Christians to the Jewish traditions, etc. So, we’ll address this later, I guess.
*Number three, we find here that Melchizedek is a “priest of the most high God.” Given the way in which Abram and Melchizedek meet on good terms and, in fact, Abram treats Melchizedek as a spiritual authority (by paying him tithes), it’s obvious that Abram and Melchizedek believe in the same God. What this reveals is that, while God has apparently chosen Abram as an important person in carrying out his plan on earth, God is also dealing with other people on the earth, in his own way. Melchizedek may not be what would, at the time, have been considered a Jew. Later we’ll get into Job, who comes from this same time period; he is definitely not a Jew, but he has a personal relationship with the God who Abram also worships. I find this pretty compelling actually. Many refer to the God of the Old Testament as the Jewish God; but even this early in the Bible, we’re getting hints that this God that Abram worships is also worshipped by other individuals of different races. We’ve seen how God revealed himself to Abram by speaking to him; what we don’t see is that God is also revealing himself to others. But we know that He is.
*Lastly, we see the practice of the tithe established here. Later in Scripture, we’re told that the tithe is ten percent of a person’s income. This is essentially owed to God. The tithe, in case any of you don’t know it, survives to this day. Every month, I pay a tenth of my income (before taxes!) to a local church. It’s a step of faith, in a lot of ways; trusting that God will enable me to live better on nine-tenths of my income than I could on all of it. In Malachi, God promises rich blessings, both spiritual and physical, to those who pay their tithe.
*One of my favorite scriptures is way later, but I have to bring it up now. We’re told that in giving, that here, on earth, men that fail receive it, but that in heaven God receives it. I just love that image. We pay tithes to men that are imperfect; but in a real and powerful way, God Himself is receiving it.
*Okay, enough about all this. Let’s keep moving. We’re almost done today.
*I do have to bring up a Christian novelty song (and, yes, we have Christian novelty songs; they’re generally as terrible as secular novelty songs) called “If Ten Percent Is Good Enough For God (It’s Good Enough for Uncle Sam).” I swear that’s a real thing.
*I told you they were bad.
*Of course, you may recall not long ago there was that story about a pastor who scratched out an 18 percent tip on a receipt and wrote in that God gets ten percent so a waitress shouldn’t get 18. So, yeah, there’s that . . . Religious people: finding ways to twist the most innocuous principles into anti-social behavior for thousands of years.
*Okay, so the last thing that happens in our Genesis reading today is a brief interlude in which the king of Sodom tells Abram that he can keep whatever he wants of the spoils that he recovered. Abram tells the king that “I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet.”
*Okay, so, briefly, the reading from from I Chronicles for today is just four verses from the first chapter. Verses 24 – 27 start at Shem and trace the genealogy down to Abram.
*There is a brief note in verse 27 that I’ll mention. The verse reads, “Abram; the same is Abraham.”
*Of course, in our reading in Genesis we haven’t yet gotten to Abram’s name change, so we’re getting a brief look ahead in I Chronicles.
*Also, this helps in case you happen to be wondering why everybody talks about Abraham when his name was actually Abram. Right, we get a name change here shortly.
*Hmm, let’s see, what is my pick for a further experience for today’s reading . . . I may have painted myself in a corner already.
*Okay, I guess I’m gonna go ahead and do the most obvious pick. I’m not generally a fan of Bible movies; they’re usually just stupid and dull. They usually reveal that the filmmakers really don’t understand the Bible at all and they’re often either obnoxiously reverent (leading to the dullness) or obnoxiously revisionist (leading to the stupid).
*But there was a great series of television movies made in the nineties for TNT. Toward the end of the series, they get dull and stupid, but for a while, they were actually really great. So, let me recommend the first movie in that series, Abraham. Came out in 1993, directed by Joseph Sargent, runs just a bit under three hours. It’s available on DVD and is actually very good.
*It has an above average script for these kinds of movies, but, to be honest, the main reason it’s as good as it is has to do with the casting. Richard Harris has the lead as Abraham and he’s really quite perfect. He has a wonderful vulnerability and he takes a role that could be nothing more than a bloodless icon and really makes you feel his humanity and the struggle with faith in God that he has.
*Well, now I have no idea what I’m going to do with the rest of these posts about Abraham. We’ll figure something out, I guess.
that’s it for today. Next time, we’ll
take a look at the next three chapters in Genesis. Nothing more from I Chronicles for a couple
of posts, so we’ll just keep making time in Genesis.