Friday, September 16, 2005

Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil (Gen 12)

Okay, for those who read this blog, and think I'm too long-winded, here's the short version of the commentary for chapter 12: Yes, Abram essentially lied to Pharaoh, and it was wrong for him to do so. See you on Monday.

Now the long-winded version that touches on the finer points. There's a lot that I hear said about the early part of Abram's life that is far less admirable than much of the latter part of his life. Some people tend to think that Abram was this guy who, upon hearing God's word on a matter, just dropped everything and ran off to do God's will. After all, this is the guy who's often referred to by people as the "father of faith". Well, although I've already responded to the question of Abram's age at the time of his leaving Haran, there is something else that needs to be noted about Acts 7:4; the Lord told Abram to leave his family and country, but he waited until his father died to leave. Also, you'll note in Acts 7:2 that Abraham got the message from God before he lived in Haran to leave it all behind, but he went with his whole family to Haran. Then he stayed there for some time, until his father died, and Haran (although it's not real clear from the story) isn't actually in Canaan, but a bit to the north of that land. Assuming Stephen got his story straight, which I haven't heard anyone question except for in a few minor details, then Abram is really dragging his feet about following God's orders. In the end, when his father finally dies and he goes, he brings along his nephew!

Eventually, Abram makes it to Canaan, and God gives him some sort of vision. Now, this is one of those odd sticking points about Judeo-Christian theology that's hard to explain well. The SAB asks here, as in many places, whether or not God can be seen, and it's obviously a tough question to answer, since the obvious answer is "yes and no..." God, in His true form, is a spirit being, and therefore not visible in the normal sense. On the other hand, there are many verses in the Bible, starting with this one, that say that God "appeared" to someone. How does that work? Well, if this is a vision or a dream, there are things that can happen in a dream or vision that don't quite make sense in normal terms. I once met President Clinton in a dream, myself, and have had a few "visions" of Jesus Christ, although not of a prophetic sort like Abram seems to be having here. I think the thing with these sort of "appearances" is that God is not so much physically visible as that He is creating some sort of physical manifestation of Himself as a physical representative of Himself on earth. Although men cannot see God, He does make Himself known in various ways. Really, this sort of "appearance" of God, although hard for me to put into words well seems less of a difficulty to reconcile with claims of God being invisible than the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus. Jesus Himself said that, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" yet also had said, "Not that any man hath seen the Father..." Jesus is being very cryptic, no doubt about it.

So after Abram spends so much time dragging his feet getting to Canaan, he ends up leaving there shortly after he arrives, and heads down to Egypt. Apparently, Abram hasn't yet learned to trust that God will see him through the famine, nor to keep him safe in Egypt. He also may have made the mistake of assuming that the Egyptians were men with no moral scruples, and he asks his wife Sarai, well, not so much to lie as just hold back a little part of the truth. Really, though, holding back such an important part of the truth is no better than flat-out lying, and certainly when they came to take Sarai away to Pharaoh, he should have told the truth at that time, at the very least.

So "the Princes of Pharaoh" (I assume his sons) take Sarai away to Pharaoh, and he apparently thinks she's pretty hot, because it appears he's getting ready to marry her. He gives Abram a bunch of stuff (a bride-price?), gives her a place to stay in his house, and in verse 19, says that marrying her was a high likelihood. (I think this shows that Abram should have thought higher of the Egyptians than he did, but too late for that!) Of course, she's already married to Abram, and God is apparently not happy this is going on, so He sends some plagues on Egypt. Now, it may seem very unfair, and I myself think that Abram should have been punished more than simply being thrown out of the country, which seems to be what happens at the end of the chapter. However, I think in this case it's less about fairness than appropriateness. God is sending a message to Pharaoh that despite Abram's reluctance to stand up for what's right, He's not going to stand for this going forward. The nature of the plague is not specified, and I'd suppose it was just enough to get Pharaoh's attention, and it worked. Pharaoh gives Sarai back, and kicks the couple out, so they go back to Canaan where they belong.

That's pretty much the facts of the story, but there's an interesting hidden agenda that's more in the area of speculation, and worth noting. There's an interesting overarching theme that runs through the Old Testament in a subtle fashion, and we see a facet of it in the life of Sarai and Abram. In chapter 16, we have the odd incident of Sarai giving her maid Hagar as a concubine to her husband, but God rejects Hagar's son Ishmael as the rightful heir. Later on, after being renamed Abraham, and his wife dies, Abram has more children, but he sends all of them (including Ishmael) away from Canaan, knowing that eventually it will belong to the descendants of his true heir born of Sarai, Isaac. God is manipulating the events of the lives of the patriarchs so that the right heirs will be born at the right times in the right places; He's got a plan, and His plan involves some timing. For whatever reason, it was meant to be that Sarai's one and only child would be Isaac, and that Isaac would be born when Abraham was 100 years old. Why? All of this sets up for the maneuvering of the nation of Israel to be carried away into Egypt for a time to grow strong, until God could judge Egypt at the right time, and send the nation of Israel back to judge the Canaanites at the right time. Also, in the midst of all this, God is setting up a proper lineage specially selected for the future king of Israel, David, and his eventual descendant, Jesus Himself. This, as far as I can see, is the reason for the Bible setting up strange stories like not only this one, but the story of Judah and Tamar, and the story of Ruth and Boaz.

13 comments:

rockstar_wanna_be said...

bla bla bla

Brucker said...

yada yada

Steve Wells said...

“And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues....” – Gen.12:17

Was it wrong for God to send “great plagues” on Pharaoh’s household?

(I am not asking if you think it sort of seems unfair, or if it was more or less appropriate, or if it turned out okay in the end. I’m asking if it was wrong)

Andrew said...

I just want to congratulate you (and the others like you) that have decided to take an intellectual and open-minded approach to reading through the bible, instead of just following blind faith like so many do.

I myself was raised in a seventh day adventist church that ended up becoming a cult-like instituion and had many child molestors and other unsavoury people in it, which I became a victim of as a young boy. The whole experience of being made to grow up in such an environment guaranteed to put me off being a part of organised religeons again for life, which it has.

There will never be another day when I align myself to a religeous faith, not to say that I am not spiritual because I am, I just choose not to be a part of such a organisation, something many christians I have come across do not accept and still try to "save my soul" which further makes me not wish to associate with them.

These days I live off the idea that I am responsible for my own actions and no one elses, and that I should treat others how I would like to be treated myself, which seems to keep me as a generally helpful and respectful member of society.

Even though I have chosen not to have religeous influences in my own life I still like to learn about all the different cultures around the world with an open mind, and it has always irked me that so many of the christian faith that I was once a part of did not do the same when it came to other peoples opinions and beliefs.

That is why I think what you are doing as a christian is a great thing, holding onto your own beliefs but looking through your beliefs and opinions of others with an intelligent and open-minded approach, I wish more people around the world would do the same but I guess most people do not have the mental ability to do so.

Keep up the good work

Brucker said...

"Was it wrong for God to send 'great plagues' on Pharaoh’s household?

"(I am not asking if you think it sort of seems unfair, or if it was more or less appropriate, or if it turned out okay in the end. I’m asking if it was wrong)"

Okay. No, it wasn't wrong. I'm not sure where you're going with this.

Brucker said...

"Keep up the good work"

Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment. I think faith should be a thinking faith, and one should take time to examine the basis of faith, whatever it may be. As I said back in my earliest posts, I think in a way, sites like the SAB may actually do a service to people of faith, to keep them aware of negative perspectives on the Bible and the faiths that are based on it. While Christians do follow tradition to a greater or lesser extent depending on our denomination, it's good to be aware of non-traditional views.

As for your onw spiritual identity, I think it's fine that you don't align yourself with oganized religion; it's just not for some people. I do hope you have a chance to fellowship with others who share your beliefs at times, however, even if it's in a less-than-formal setting. I think a healthy spiritual walk is a balance between spending time with like-minded people and people with differing views, and if you only get one or the other, well I just don't think it serves spiritual growth. JMO, YMMV.

Steve Wells said...

"No, it wasn't wrong."

So you think it was good, fair, just, and right for God to send "great plagues" on Pharaoh's household?

Can you explain that to me, Brucker. Do you think it is fair to punish people who had nothing to do with the crime? And just what was the crime, anyway?

Brucker said...

"So you think it was good, fair, just, and right"

Good? No. Fair? I don't know. Just? I think so. Right? Yes. It wasn't good, because the problem should have never occurred. It was right for the simple reason that God always does right. If all you want is my opinion, that's it. I'f you'd like to discuss further, I need you to be more specific.

"Do you think it is fair to punish people who had nothing to do with the crime? And just what was the crime, anyway?"

Adultery (in a sense) was the crime and Pharaoh was involved, to an extent. If a man married a woman who was already married to someone else, the marriage would have to be annulled, despite the fact that he was clueless when he did the ceremony.

Steve Wells said...

“Good? No.”
So God did something that was not good, which means that the bible-God is not good. Right?

“Fair? I don't know.”
Well think about it. You’ve already admitted that the bible-God is not good (or at least he sometimes behaves badly). Now use this episode from Genesis 12 to determine whether he is fair.

“Just? I think so.”

How is it just to punish people for something they didn’t do? Could you explain your thinking here?

“Right? Yes.”

“It was right for the simple reason that God always does right. If all you want is my opinion, that's it. I'f you'd like to discuss further, I need you to be more specific.”

So if it was right, then it would be right for me to behave likewise. Right?

Let’s say my wife and I were traveling and I was worried that some powerful guy might take a liking to her. So I figured it might be safer for me to have her say she’s my sister and let him have her to do whatever he might like to do with her and to her. If after my wife lied to him, he took her and did whatever he liked, then it would be right to give his family and associates anthrax (or some other dreadful disease) and kill them all off (or at least make them very ill). Is that what you’re saying? That’s some kind of ethics you’ve got going there, Brucker.

Brucker said...

"So God did something that was not good, which means that the bible-God is not good. Right?"

Wrong, Abram did something that was not good, and God had to fix it. The fact that someone who is in the Bible does something bad is not something that has to refelect on God's character in itself.

"Well think about it. You’ve already admitted that the bible-God is not good (or at least he sometimes behaves badly). Now use this episode from Genesis 12 to determine whether he is fair."

Well since I haven't admitted that, it's hard to respond to this. I will grant that in this case, as in many, God had to do something that we would consider unsavory in order to deal with a bad situation. Being unpleasant doesn't necessarily imply unfair, but I suppose I should say that "fair" is not a necessary attribute of God in any theological system I'm aware of, unless you consider it to mean the exact same thing as "just", in which case this is an unnecessary question, since you also addressed that.

"How is it just to punish people for something they didn’t do? Could you explain your thinking here?"

As I said, Pharaoh did do something, and if Egypt is hit with plagues, then Pharaoh is being punished. Now there are certainly some sort of plagues that I would consider unjust in response to something like this, but as I said, the nature of these plagues is not made evident.

And yes, Pharaoh didn't know he was doing something wrong, and that clouds the matter, no doubt, but as is often said, ignorance of the law is no excuse for its violation. I might assume that this was the best way for God to get Pharaoh's attention.

"So if it was right, then it would be right for me to behave likewise. Right?"

Maybe, maybe not. I do believe that there are some things that God is allowed to morally do that we are not. For instance, cops shoot people, and they have a right to do so in certain situations that we do not. Furthermore, it may be neccessary to understand the situation fully.

"Let’s say my wife and I were traveling and I was worried that some powerful guy might take a liking to her. So I figured it might be safer for me to have her say she’s my sister and let him have her to do whatever he might like to do with her and to her. If after my wife lied to him, he took her and did whatever he liked, then it would be right to give his family and associates anthrax (or some other dreadful disease) and kill them all off (or at least make them very ill). Is that what you’re saying?"

No, I'm not prepared to say anything paralleling this story beyond this: Take all of the above before you bring up the anthrax, and let's say you're in this town, your wife's with this guy, and your father-in-law comes along and sees them making out. He's got a right to flip out and say, "What the Hell are you doing with my daughter?!" Sometimes God talks to people directly; sometimes He sends signs like plagues. In the end, He'll do the right thing, though.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that everyone agrees that Abram sinned by lying to Pharaoh concerning his relationship to Sarai. And this sin caused everyone around him to suffer; Sarai risked being violated by Pharaoh, Pharaoh unwittingly was at risk of committing adultery; and Pharaoh and his house suffered great plagues.

But isn't this true today, when a person chooses to sin he causes those around him to suffer. Take an alcoholic who chooses to drink himself into a stupor every waking moment. Doesn't his family suffer as they watch their loved one's suicidal pursuit? And what if this alcoholic chooses to drive in an inebriated state causing an accident that kills an innocent bystander. Doesn't the murdered person's family suffer as a result of the sin of another?

The truth of the Bible rings true today - God has given man the freedom to choose between obedience or sin; because man frequently chooses to sin, innocents are effected.

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

Is there anything in that eternally long gust of hot wind that would provide an explanation why it was okay for Abram to be married to his half-sister, when it's condemned elsewhere in the Wholly Babble?

Brucker said...

Don't you know what that can do to your health, Mr. X-Files? (You know, sometimes I wonder if I'm the only guy in the western hemisphere who's never watched a single episode of X-Files? Not that I have anything against it, I just haven't.)

I did address this issue, I simply waited until chapter 17 to address it like the SAB did. Essentially, incest is not forbidden until after the Exodus.