Category Archives: Friday Bible Study Notes

Abraham & Sarah, Genesis 18

I’ve jumped passed it. This chapter is attributed to the Priestly source. It is written in a very ponderous, disciplined way and once again finds Abraham doubting (and laughing at) the promise. However it is also the moment when  Abram & Sarai become  Abraham and Sarah – and that is how they are known from now onwards; introduces a covenant relationship and a mark of belonging to this distinctive community through circumcision. 

Genesis 18 comes from the source known as the Yahwahist. It has a far more fluent storytelling style that is ‘“an accomplished work of epic art”: it expects  of the reader a willingness to be told a story. i.e the open-mindedness which can share in the most incidental details and understand latent subtleties and intimations.” Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, 1961.

18:1 YHWH or Angels?  singular Lord, plural three men, singular “My Lord,…” (v3)

a Revelatory encounter. 

18:2-8 The perils of welcome created an intricate ritual. Greeting – offer of shelter – acceptance – offer of food – acceptance – more food available than suggested – acceptance – served by host – creates debt – and ensure no threat to safety. 

urgency of the narrative – saw- ran – bow – brought – wash – rest – refresh – hastened – make ready – knead – make – ran – took – gave – hastened – prepare  took – set it before – stood – ate.

18:9-15 “Where is your wife, Sarah?” impolite!

“your wife Sarah shall have a son” unlike Hagar, the messenger does not speak directly to her.

Sarah laughs (cf 17:7) 

“this radical gospel requires shattering and discontinuity. Abrahm and Sarah have by this time becomes accustomed to their barrenness. they are resigned to their closed future. They have accepted their hopelessness as “normal”. the gospel promise does not meet them in receptive hopefulness but in resistant hopelessness.” Brueggemann

The call of God is nonsensical!

The Lord said to Abraham. “Why did Sarah laugh? … Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

“I did not laugh”

“Oh yes, you did laugh”

“The laughter of disbelief seems to refute the invitation implicit in the question. Abraham and sarah’s world of possibility has been assaulted. But they have beaten off the attack. the story leaves them thinking their presumed world is still intact”

But not everything depends on their answer. The resolve of God to open a future by a new heir does not depend on the readiness of Abraham and Sarah to accept it” Bruggemann p 160. 

cf Elizabeth, Mary, 

Mk 10:27 “With humans it is impossible, but not with God for all things are possible with God.” 

Matthew 17:20 Nothing will be impossible for you. 

18:16 to set them on their way …

Hagar: genesis 16

16:1 Sarai as First Wife: “The inability bear children was a grave hardship for any woman in a patriarchal society, since the survival of the clan or tribe depended on the expansion of individual families. It was a particular affliction  or the wife of the patriarch , for it was her responsibility to provide the next leader of the group. Thus, Sarai’s barrenness was both a personal affliction and a condition that jeopardised the entire group. Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

Sarai blames YHWH & looks to fix the situation  – surrogacy

16:1 Hagar: – alien – slave

“Female slaves were often given as marriage gifts by the family of the bride. Such slaves belonged to the wives and could not automatically be taken as concubines by the husbands.”

“As a slave, she has no power to make decisions about her own life. Without being asked she is given to the patriarch in order to produce a child that will not even be considered hers. the child will be adopted without her consent. She is raised in status from slave to concubine not because of any merit on her part, but because of the child whose she will bear.” Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

16:3 This language promotes tension between Hagar as maid and Hagar as wife and between Sarai as wide and Hagar as second wife. The vocabulary also recalls the story of the garden. The primal woman “took” the forbidden fruit, ate it, and “gave” it to her man (Gen 3:6) Hagar becomes in effect the forbidden fruit. Like the primal man. Abram eats what is offered without question or objection.”  Phyliss Trible, “Hagar, Sarah & Their Children”

16:5 The pressures of polygamy

16:6 Hagar’s return to slavery – and then acts for herself. 

16:7 Hagar is named, recognised, spoken to directly

16:8 status is recognised – instructions given – a promise received

“Hagar is not frightened but enters immediately into a very candid conversation with this mysterious visitor. Previously, when God confronted Adamwith the question , “Where are you?” (3:9) and cain with the question “What have you done?” (4:10) both men tried to avoid a direct answer. when hagar is asked . “Where have you come from and where are you going?” she provided straightforward answers.” Dianne Bergant “Genesis: From the Beginning”

16:13 [Hagar] names the Lord who sees. “The narrator introduces her words with a striking expression that accords her a power attributed to no one else in the Bible. Hagar ‘calls the name of the Lord who spoke to her” She does not invoke the Lord, she names the Lord. She calls the name, she does not call upon the name. “You are El-roi” [God of seeing] she says. …. Hagar the theologian sees God and lives. Uniting the God who sees and the God who is seen. Hagar’s insights move from life under affliction to life after theophany. Finally they conclude the divine-human encounter in the wilderness.  Phyliss Trible, “Hagar, Sarah & Their Children”

From the beginning, Hagar is powerless because God supports Sarah. Kept in her place, the slave woman is the innocent victim of use, abuse and rejection. As a symbol of the oppressed, Hagar becomes many things to many people. Most especially, all sorts of rejected women find their stories in her. She is the faithful maid exploited, the black woman used by the male and abused by the female of the ruling class, the surrogate mother, the resident alien without legal recourse, the other woman, the runaway youth, the religious fleeing from affliction, the pregnant young woman alone, the expelled wife, the divorced mother with child, the shopping bag lady carrying bread and water, the homeless woman, the indigent relying upon handouts from the power structures, the welfare mother, and the self-effacing female whose own identity shrinks in service to other. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p. 28

Hagar is a pivotal figure in biblical theology. She is the first person in scripture whom a divine messenger visits and the only person who dares to name the deity. Within the historical memories of Israel, she is the first woman to bear a child. This conception and birth make her an extraordinary figure in the story of faith: the first woman to hear an annunciation, the only one to receive a divine promise of descendants, and the first to weep for her dying child. Truly, Hagar the Egyptian is the prototype of not only special but all mothers in Israel. Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. p. 28

Abram & Promise: Genesis 15

Once again YHWH needs to encourage Abram to trust in the promise. But there is another crucial question underlying this narrative. Can Abram trust YHWH?

15:1 “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” This reminder not to fear will become a common greeting through each God-human encounter. But perhaps Abram has good cause, we have jumped over Chapter 14, but it is worth a read as Abram becomes a war leader, but is now trying to carry on his herding life in peace. Is he in fact looking over shoulder at enemies  circling? 

“reward” = ṥkr = can be rendered wage but this usage implies gift and not quid pro quo. Here the reward is not a a prize that is earned but a special recognition given to a faithful servant of the King who has performed a bold or risky service. Abraham and Sarah are called to live their lives against barrenness. The “reward” calls them to live as creatures of hope” (Brueggemann)

cf Matt 5:4615:2-5 “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless,

What is it to be fearful, anxious? How do we respond in such situations.

Revelation, vision, disclosure – faith in the face of uncertainty 

15:6: “He believed!” cf Matt 16:15-17 Romans 4, Galatians 2-4

“the future of God’s goodness is open to those who trust themselves to that future, seeking neither to hold on to the present nor to conjure an alternative future of their own.” 

“The childless Abram will have not only an heir for his estate, but also offspring to numerous to count. Time when we lack what we desire can be discouraging, but only if we have a lost sight of the potential of the Lord to provide” Asshoto/Ngewa Africa Bible Commentary

7-21 Is this an older text? It seems to describe an ancient ritual. Two parties walk between the animals and through the blood. If one breaks the agreement then more blood will be shed.

Binding the commitment – covenant

– the promise will be kept

– the promise will be delayed

– do not fear , it holds from generation to generation

Using fire – it is only God who signs this covenant, gives the land unconditionally

The text of Genesis 15, taken as a unit asks whether Abraham can, in fact, trust. And it asks if Yahweh, can in fact, be trusted. It is faith which permits Abraham to trust and God to be trusted. It is unsure faith that wonders about delay. The issues are set here. The remainder of the Abrahamic narrative explores the question.” (Brueggemann)

Abram & Lot – Genesis 13

Genesis 13:1-5

This is a transitional text, moving the story from one location to another. But it is also transitional in Abram’s relationship with God, if he appeared to lose faith in God’s ability to care for him whilst in Egypt, now he re-discovering his spiritual relationship and returns to former places of worship to reconnect with God.

But for Sarai, there is very little transition. She is again referred to as wife and then disappears from the text whilst Abram and Lot determine the future.

13:5-7

The problems of wealth!

Growing tensions over land and water supply

13:8-13

Claiming the land – what of Canaanites and Perizzites?

Dividing the land. There is some wisdom and courage in Abram solution, the family is stripping the land bare and they need to divide their wealth if they are still to prosper. In doing so he trusts the promise and he trusts God’s abundance.

To trust God’s abundance is to stand in contrast to the ideology of scarcity that is dominant in our times – whether from a Capitalist or Marxist perspective. It is the language of those who fear foreigners, it is the language of those who create scarcity to profit from demand, it is the language of fearfulness – it is not the language of God. cf Luke 12:13-21

Abram’s generosity/Lot’s selfishness

“Lot chose the plains without hesitation and apparently without asking Abram’s advice. In using the beauty and fertility of the plain rather than his relationship with the Lord as his criterion for choosing the location of home. Lot left the land of Canaan and moved to live among the wicked in Sodom. Lot chose the plain because of its potential to multiply his wealth with our regard to the morality of the people he would live among. His choice would prove disastrous in the long term.

Lot’s attitude is common one on our continent. Many believers close their eyes to ethical considerations when they make business deals, seek promotion, or take other actions to advance their prosperity. It is important to take issues of right and wrong into account even as we strive for wealth. A little with the Lord is better than plenty he has not blessed (Prov 15:16; 16:8).”

Assohoto & Ngewa, Genesis, African Bible Commentary

14:14-17

Contrast with lack of faith in Chapter 12

“The two together (and neither alone) present faith the way it really is. Like Abraham, we are strange mixtures of prudence and trust. But in both, the gospel is at work. In both narratives the promise-making, blessing-giving God is at work. The trust of Abraham matters in these narratives. But it does not matter finally. What matters finally is the faithfulness of Yahweh to this family. “

Brueggemann, Genesis

Abram & Sarai- Genesis 12

History, Story or Theology?

History – We can not date Abram & Sarai. Various attempts have tripped over too many inconsistencies. The date of text is anywhere from c750 (Josiah) to c500 (Exile) 

The sources at least 3 different texts that have been combined – each text has own style & emphasis. The text we have is aweaving of earlier text, with editorial control/comment.

Story – uses a storytelling form to create an ancestral history – distinct from the primeval history of Genesis 1-11. These are family stories, to answer the question of “Where do we come from?” But don’t be concerned with use of the word story – these are narratives packed with truth – for people are people.

Theology storytellers and editors want to say something about God’s relationship with humanity through the eyes of a specific people. Commentators reflect their own context and experiences and how these ancient tales impact on their understanding of God

We come at it as 21st Century, western people who have found our way into this church community. What do we learn about God from these texts? What do we learn about ourselves, our relationships with one another and our relationship with God? What do these texts have to say to our context?

Barrenness & Promise

We are immediately told that Sarai is barren, the family line is coming to an end. But hopelessness is the arena for God’s life-giving action

Time for adventure – 12:1-2  – God calls the hopeless ones into a community of promise … calls the fixed ones into pilgrimage 

“with closed eyes … until having renounced thy country, thou shalt have given thyself wholly to me.” (Calvin)

12:4 So Abram went …  setting out in faith –  how does that feel?

Residing as Alien

12:10 residing as an alien – fearful, uncertain, 

Confronting Empire

In Egypt Abram lies about his relationship with Sarai and passes her off as his sister. When God intervenes, Pharaoh is furious and throws them out. At the same time Sarai loses her name, she becomes an object subject to the intrigues of the men and is referred to as “wife”. Yet, “Everything hinges on Sarai, Her condition threatens to negate the future, the continuation of genealogy, even while Yhwh calls Abram to relinquish his past and present. Let there be no misunderstanding Sarai the barren wife is the human pivot in this patriarchal narrative. She counts. (Phyllis Trible in Hagar, Sarah and their Children)