Monday, February 20, 2012

my notes for The Story, Chapter 2 (excerpts from Genesis 12-35)

à review:
-Gen 1-2's creation with purity/purpose; Gen 3's sin/death
-Gen 4-6’s Cain, Lamech, Nephilim leads to Gen 6-9's judgment/Flood and deliverance
-Gen 8-11's import of building on the proper foundation
à God’s next plan…
-from a new world (original and the sequel) to a new man and a new nation
-from the dispersion of all peoples (at Babel) to the election of one—as God moves to Abraham and eventually, a people who would be a light to all nations
-from thousands of years with God's focus on the human race vs. four generations of one family
-from uninstructed to instructed; Kass (252): “By the time the careful reader has finished the first 11 chapters of Genesis, he is well-nigh convinced that mankind, left to its own devices, is doomed to failure, destruction, and misery…God decides to take a more direct role in the matter, beginning with Abraham.”

à The Story’s Chapter 2 as “God builds a nation”; perhaps better titled “God chooses a man”: Abraham, Isaac (vs. Ishmael), and then Jacob (vs. Esau)—who then becomes 12 sons, and from there, a nation…

à first, who is Abraham?
-aside from the genealogy, seems to come out of nowhere; Sacks (81): “Nothing has prepared us for this [him]…We have not had a description of Abraham as we had in the case of [righteous] Noah…Nor have we been given a series of glimpses into his childhood, as we will in the case of Moses. It is as if Abraham’s call is a sudden break with all that went before.”
-most important, underlines the power/importance of God’s call/election
-Borgman (38) on Abram vs. Noah: “Noah is the prologue’s odd man out—as unnatural in his goodness as the others are normal in their destructiveness. We’ll never know about Noah, about how he came to be so good. God simply finds him that way…But in Abraham, God finds an ordinary man who needs to be taught a better than normal way of going about business.”

-a watershed moment in Biblical and world history; Sacks (73)—given Abraham’s obedience and what follows: “These words are among the most consequential in the history of mankind.”
à God’s two-part speech: 1’s command, 2-3’s 7-fold promise
-1a's “leave” x 3 (from/past)
-specifies “country” (land; nationalism; emigration), “people” (lit. “birthplace”; culture), “father’s household” (non-immediate family and its influences, dependence, trust)
-see also: friends, business contacts; Abram as middle-aged, prosperous, settled and pagan (esp. difficult in the quiet and tough times)
à in a word, all that’s familiar; end most worldly attachments
à why move at all? vs. form a new nation right there in Babylon? to be a “new man”
-clean start
-set apart; holiness—feel special and different behaviors (removing bad/old influences)
-step of faith for Abram; new situations usually yield independence from X, dependence on God
à in sum, leave and go (as repentance, as old/new man; leave/cleave); exchange familiar for unfamiliar, security for insecurity, comfortable for uncomfortable
-w/ app. to our pursuing great/small calls—and God’s mercy in encouraging us through difficult trials of this sort (I Cor 10:13)
-at times, God wants larger steps to set up smaller steps (as Gideon and Abraham here); other times, small steps lead to bigger steps later (as Abraham later)
à 4a’s just one remarkably understated sentence, but Abraham as the epitome of faith/obedience and its development (Rom 4, Heb 11, Gal 3:6-9; peaks with Gen 22)
-and all this for Sarai, given indirect call through Abram? dependent on trust in his character [see: 12:10-20?!]
-2-3’s 7-fold promise (in a 3-1-3 pattern) centers on: 2b's "you will be a blessing" (Is 42:6, 49:6; Mt 5's salt/light)
-not blessed just for fun or for yourself—but to bless others (w/ application)
-bless all nations vs. Babel’s pursuit of isolation and God’s punishment of confusion
-4a’s Abram's obedience (Heb 11:8)
-for such a pivotal moment—for Abram and for world history—so understated!
à on motives, Kass (256c-258): “Does [Abram] go because he is a god-hungry man who is moved by the awe-inspiring, commanding voice? Or does he go because he is a greatly ambitious man who is enticed by the promises?...One cannot be sure.”
-Kass: the text is “absolutely and happily silent” regarding his motives
à the larger issue: he answers and obeys
-also points forward to the ultimate test—the binding of Isaac—where motives are clearly revealed as Abraham chooses between the Giver and the chief gift
-Kass notes the pedagogical use: What might lead Abram (or us) to make this sort of choice? (few if any would choose full submission on the front end, without promises!)

à God appears after Lot’s land “grab”
-seed and now (best) land promises have just been threatened
-Abram's show of grace and humility
-things had calmed down (disunity gone)
-he had lost his kinsman/“son” (what’s the post-Lot plan for descendants?)
-15-16 for God's promise reiterated and extended/developed—“offspring” and land
-16’s dust points back to man’s origins (and God’s intent; 2:7) and inverts symbol of man’s mortality (3:19)
-14's look—lift up your eyes—as God commanded—vs. Lot looks/sees on his own (13:10)
-W&Z's "Hardly any other chapter in the Bible describes faith (that) so marvelously...functioned in a conflict. Lot, walking by sight, chose on the basis of what appealed to him. His choice was self-seeking and self-gratifying. But such a choice became dangerous and short-lived, for all was not as it appeared to be on the surface. Abram, on the other hand, walking by faith, generously let Lot choose first. Abram was unselfish, trusting God. He had learned that it was not by his own plan that he would come into the possession or by jealously guarding what was his. He acted righteously and generously. One who believes that God is pledged to provide for him is not greedy, anxious, or covetous."

15:1’s God's Covenant with Abram
à 1b's promise to be his “shield” and his “very great reward”
-to defend and bless; protect and prosper; security/safety and sustenance
-"very great reward": at least spiritual and perhaps physical—vs. Abram's considerable physical wealth already in hand
-"shield" (Eph 6:16)—as he’d been for Lot—but based on an apparent fear (Ps 31:7)
-odd timing given recent success (parallels downtime post-high in I Kings 19)
-could be children (given what follows), but almost certainly connects to LR complications from ch. 14’s battle and his “involvement” with Sodom & Co.
-Babylon is still a threat and Sodom & Co. are indebted for now but also stronger because Abram intervened on their behalf

16:1-7’s Hagar/Sarah/Abram
-3’s “wife” * 2—a cultural tradition to extend one's line through concubines
-did either or both want to experiment on why they weren’t having kids?
-2b’s "perhaps": blaming Abram's plumbing?
-2a's Sarah connecting her barrenness to God: should have helped her in the trial (11:30) or blaming God? if so, should have gone to God (and Abram)
à the key here: they knew God's (general) promise, but not His method or his timing
-10 years to this point (12:4, 16:3); probably expected sooner rather than later
-promised a son, but not specifically through Sarah (15:4)
-why not ask God? or he did and He didn’t reply (12:8-9)?
-God neither approves, nor condones, nor interferes here
à temptation to rely on own methods to reach God's goals
-see also: God’s use of a cultural practice in ch. 15 and 17!
-in practice, the difficulty in defining "our participation"...
à temptation arises from an aggressive wife in the face of passivity from the husband
-no record of Abram wanting another wife (as was customary) or seeking another agenda until Sarai's offer
-Abram as strong at work (Gen 13), at war (Gen 14), and at church (Gen 15), but not at home (Gen 16); see also: David, righteous kings
-5a's blame-shifting revisited (Gen 3:12-13)—in Bible’s first husband/wife dialogue!
-6a's response
-no retort to her outrageous charge?!
-as with Pilate, washing his hands; the silence of Abraham
à 7ff’s God appears to a foreigner, a woman, and a slave (Gal 3:28; Jewish man’s prayer; God’s interest in—and protection of—the vulnerable), before he appears to Sarah!
-vs. God as only interested in his “chosen” person/nation; Sarna: “The God of Abraham is also the God of the Egyptian Hagar.”

Genesis 17:  The Centrality of Circumcision

à God’s appearance here, 13 years after Ch. 16's lack of faith (16:16, 17:1)
-13 years w/ Ishmael (vs. true son of promise) and since a (recorded) word from God
-16’s “son by her”; 17’s laughter—finally revealed explicitly; 4th promise of a child, following their three failed attempts (Lot, Eliezer, Hagar/Ishmael)
-finally makes clear that Abraham will not be the father of many peoples unless Sarah is the mother of those peoples; emphasizing their marriage and her dignity
-Ishmael Exits Stage Right in ch. 21 after Isaac arrives—the God-given son thru God's agenda/methods in God-given timing (Heb 11:11-12, II Pet 1:4, Eph 3:20, Josh 23:14)
à why now?
-probably responding to Abram’s (unstated) reaction to Ishmael turning 13—looking for some initiation of Ishmael into manhood, likely thru some local/cultural rite of passage
à to inform its style/substance and to transform/redeem its meaning

à why circumcision??
-required shedding of blood
-health reasons, esp. back in the day
-connected to sexuality (restricted/controlled) and intimacy with God (adultery/idolatry)
-here, clearly a sign of obedience and belonging to God's people—putting on the team uniform (as with baptism)
-Motyer (19): “he was literally, a ‘marked man’, the man to whom the Lord had made his covenanted promises and who carried the sign and proof of it on his own body.”
-as a symbol of "circumcision of the heart" (Dt 10:16, 30:6's prophecy, Jer 4:3-4a, 9:25-26; Rom 2:25-29a, 4:11-12)
-vs. pagan use of the same rite at the time of puberty (as here, only for Ishmael and his peers—and that, incidentally) as a male rite of passage into society
-vs. Kass (313): For Israel, it had “a new and nearly opposite meaning: An initiation rite of passage of young males into adult masculinity is transformed into a paternal duty regarding the male newborn. Israel’s covenant with God begins by transforming the meaning of male sexuality and manliness altogether…It celebrates not sexual potency but procreation and (especially) perpetuation.”
-and more broadly, to the role of parents, esp. fathers—Kass (313): “Though it is the child who bears the mark, the obligation falls rather on the parents; it is a perfect symbol of the relation between the generations, for the deeds of the parents are always inscribed…into the lives of their children. The obligation of circumcision calls fathers to the paternal task (from the beginning)…”
-reminded them that bearing the child was easier than the more important task of raising the child well (starting with circumcision)
-ratifies their own circumcision; underlines generations and importance of transmission
-both individual and communal; both temporal and historical (all the way back to Abraham—who was called and who sought to walk before God wholeheartedly!)

Genesis 22:1-19-- The Binding (Akedah) and Almost-Sacrifice of Isaac
-the climactic event of Abraham’s life
à to love/follow God more than his past (ch. 12)—and now, his son (ch. 22)
-ch. 12’s break with the past vs. ch. 22’s prospective/actual break with the future
à both are amazing!
-1b's "tested"
-to illustrate A’s character/faith; not “tempted”—goal as showing good behavior vs. world/devil’s trying to get bad behavior out of us (Jas 1:13-14, Job-like)
-in any case, both as choices/opportunities to glorify God
à for Abraham, the test can't be too easy—or it won’t show or esp. grow his faith
-underlines strength of Abraham’s faith—that he can handle this (I Cor 10:13)!
à the only given cause for the event at this point (see also: 12b’s ending), but enough for us to conclude that it is not that God is capricious, angry, etc.
-Cahill (86): “The narrator, knowing that poor human readers could never bear the suspense, tells us that this will be a ‘test’.”
à we’re told (to ease our unease!), but Abraham is not!
-bringing in the reader also implies our continued effort to live vicariously through Abraham: what would I do if God asked me to do this (or something very large)?
-1c’s God calls Abraham
-from out of the blue (vs. connected to another episode)
-the only time God calls him by name!
-“Father of Multitudes” (ironic given what follows!)
-1d's response from Abraham: "here I am" (as 22:11b!)
-the response of a servant (see: Is 6:8, Ex 3:4, I Sam 3:4,6,8); the simple, succinct, submissive reply of one who is ready, able, willing and available for service
-2's “take…sacrifice”—asked to give Isaac back to God
-a big point for wiggle room: the Hebrew word “na” is left out of the NIV and most translations—and means “please”, as if flavoring the command with a request!
-see: free will and degrees of command
à from pure command to strong request, especially within the context of God’s relationship with Abraham (more later)
-2b’s Moriah = Jerusalem (II Chron 3:1) after 4’s three-day journey: where Christ was sacrificed and the length of time until His resurrection
-3’s “burnt offering”
-instructive of the type/extent of dedication God wants/requires for Holiness
-kill and burn…an even more difficult task—and more difficult to rationalize how God will fix this!
à what’s missing?
-no reassurance from God, given his fears (as 15:1’s shield post-battle)
-no explanation from God, given his questions
-no promise of reward from God, as every other time in the past
-from Abraham, no argument (vs. questioning God as w/ Sodom and its "righteous" in Gen 18) or rationalization (given God’s promises thru Isaac [21:12]); God’s name/reputation (as Moses later); God’s character (Gen 18’s “right and just”); Isaac’s humanity (Gen 9:5-6)
à that said, Abraham must be perplexed at how
à Borgman: “maybe Abraham has come so fully on board with God as to be able to put God to the test, just as God is putting Abraham to the test. God will come through: this might be Abraham’s confidence—just as God might be thinking [knowing!], Abraham will come through.”
-8a's general answer: “God himself will provide” (13's ram)
-although no reassurance from God—other than His character and their relationship!
-Abraham probably imagines that the lamb has already been provided and is walking next to him—but to have said "you" (Isaac) would have been presumptuous!
à reason + faith = conclusions
-ironically, we’re called to both greater reason and faith
-Kass (343): “In response [to Isaac’s question], Abraham gives authoritative, fatherly, and pious reassurance. Indeed, as an answer to a perplexed and anxious son, Abraham’s speech, spoken out of parental solicitude, is simply perfect. Abraham uses Isaac’s trust in his father to encourage his son’s trust in God’s providence. Yes, I am your father; but as your father, I inform you that it is God who will provide what is needed…Isaac hears from the man he most trusts that God Himself will see to it that the missing lamb will be provided…Isaac, whose thoughts began with things visible (fire and wood) and who then wondered about visible absence (lamb), is moved straightaway to reorient his mind and heart and to put his trust in the invisible but seeing-and-providing God.”
à Sarna’s lessons:
1.)   “Biblical faith is not a posture of passivity.”—as with God, our character and faith manifest themselves in our actions (Dt 32:4, Ps 33:4, Heb 11:1,6)
2.)   Pointing to 12’s conclusion—“for now I know that you fear God”: “The value of an act may lie as much in the inward intention of the do-er as in the final execution.”

25:27-34’s Jacob/Esau I (summarized)

27:1-28:5’s Jacob vs. Esau II (summarized)

Genesis 32: Jacob Prepares for Esau and Wrestles with God
-9a’s “Then Jacob prayed…”
-first recorded from Jacob (had vowed to God in 28:20-22) and first recorded words of prayer in the Bible (20:17, 25:21)
à no response from God to Jacob’s prayer; Kass (453): “Never one to rely on God alone, perhaps believing that God helps him who helps himself, Jacob next tries to purchase Esau’s goodwill with gifts. Flattery alone has failed; perhaps propitiation—not to say—bribery will work.”
à schemes vs. appropriate planning (two views)
-W&Z's "Jacob had to learn later that God would have delivered him without such gifts. So too the nation would need to learn that deliverance comes by faith in God, and not by giving tribute to the enemy." 
-vs. MH's "Jacob having piously made God his friend by a prayer, is here prudently endeavoring to make Esau his friend by a present...When we have prayed to God for any mercy, we must second our prayers with our endeavors; else instead of trusting God, we tempt him; we must so depend upon God's providence as to make use of our own prudence."
-27’s not yet ready to bless; asks Jacob’s name; Jacob answers: an implicit (and important) confession, given what his name means (and how it has aligned with his character)
à apparently, Jacob had to admit his name ("cheater") before he can be blessed

Genesis 35: Three Deaths, Two Conversations with God, and a Birth
-19's death of favorite wife giving birth to his last son (note 30:1's cry for children, 31:32's idol-stealing vow from Jacob)
-22's ouch: arrogant and premature claim on his inheritance as firstborn
-to Jacob, prob. not so much the act itself, but what it signified
-for Reuben, embraces a pagan custom/practice and too soon
--> tactful text; nothing mentioned explicitly until 49:3-4, but Reuben ultimately lost legal status of firstborn’s birthright (see: ch. 34’s loss for Simeon and Levi, setting up 4th son of Leah, Judah)


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