Archive for December, 2013

Genesis 15: Abram’s Belief & God’s Covenant/Oath Concerning the land

Posted in Uncategorized on December 23, 2013 by ancienthopes

The Abrahamic Covenant rests upon the four pillars of Chapters 12, 15, 17 and 22. In the last post we touched upon chapter 12 where God called Abram to a land and his response. We now go to chapter 15 where God encounters Abram with a declaration and ceremony to formalize His oath of covenant with an emphasis on land.

God tells Abram not to be afraid. This is because He will be Abraham’s shield. The following phrase can be understood as an appositive, and translated “… your very great reward” (i.e. God will be your very great reward), or as a noun sentence “… your reward will be very great.” The fact that it can be read both ways in Hebrew suggests that either can be legitimately read. Abram’s response would indicate that the first possibility passes over Abram’s head, and that he took it as the noun sentence, the promise of great reward. He was rich and had all he could ever want except a son! God Promises that his adopted heir Eliezer would not inherit the land, but his own son would. Taking Abram out into the night Sky, God promises that his heirs will be like the stars in number. Staring up at the stars, Abram responds in faith. This critical moment of subjective response demonstrates Abram’s interior attitude, an attitude that God values in humanity since the fall. We may call it “original” attitude, the attitude that God designed humanity to have, the very opposite of Adam and Eve’s attitude in autonomous rebellion. God is pleased, and this is what is meant here by “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (v. 6).

This moment sets up the main event of the covenant; the promise of land and the oath ceremony (vv. 7ff.). Abram’s request “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it” does not contradict his faith. Rather, his subjective attitude (faith) demands an objective action formalized materially for it to be complete. He is both spiritual and material; he must receive and experience covenant both spiritually and materially, with his whole being. Every covenant is a wedding of heaven and earth, the invisible and the physical. To the Hebrew, faith without ritual, without act, was absurd and without meaning.

Abram brings forward a 3 year heifer, she-goat, ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon, and according to treaty format common to the day, he cut them in two except the birds. Solemn oaths were made passing between the pieces with the understanding that should one of the parties fail in their promise, their fate would be like the severed animals. Carrion birds here symbolize demons intent on profaning and preventing the covenant; Abram instinctively drives them off. God causes a deep sleep (tardēmâ; cf. 2:21) to fall upon Abram, drawing a parallel with Adam at the creation of Eve, the original “first man.” This was not a pleasant dream; it is charged with all the numinous terror of the mysterium tremendum at the very edges of mortal contact with Transcendence. It comes in the form of a burning furnace and the flaming torch passing through the pieces alone. God is swearing by himself that He will fulfill His word, and since He cannot lie and cannot die, the oath is as good as fulfilled. The covenant is established.

The journey to the land in Genesis 12 comes to its climax in the land covenant here in chapter 15. The covenant is acted out on the land itself binding the land to divine promise. Spirituality without land was incomprehensible to the Hebrews, just as subjective faith without objective ritual/action was incomprehensible. The land was spiritual. This seems odd only to those of us in our contemporary culture that is deeply influenced by Platonism and Gnosticism.

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Genesis 12: Abram, His Call to Land and Motivating Promises

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17, 2013 by ancienthopes

Genesis 1-11 is the foundation upon which all the rest of Scripture is built upon. All the motifs that are developed later throughout the Bible begin here in embryonic form. Likewise, the calling of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 cannot be understood apart from the Primeval History. Let’s take a look at these verses and observe the motifs and the structure. The call begins with a command for Abram to leave the land of his fathers and go to the land which God will show him. This is followed by a series of promises:

God will make him a great nation and bless him
God will make his name great
MIDPOINT —> Be a blessing (imperative of consequence)
All men will receive blessing or curse depending on their relation to Abram
All nations will be blessed, or “bless themselves,” in his name

The call concludes with verses 4-9 where Abram obeys the command to go to the land, comes to Shechem, and there God appears to him and promises this land to his descendents.

The whole idea of land brackets this initial call. In the context of the Primeval History, to be called out of Babylonia (of which Ur was considered a part) and its false tower that counterfeits Eden to a land of God’s provision must be understood theologically; God was calling a man back to Eden. The promises support this fact. That Abraham is to become a nation not only is to seen in contrast to the table of nations in Gen. 10, but that he is the fountainhead, and as such, is a “first man” like Adam and Noah. God will bless him as He blessed creation, but specifically like Adam and Noah who were to multiply throughout the earth. God will make Abram’s name great. This means that he will gain by God’s gift and promise what the Nephilim in Gen. 6:4 and the Babylonians in Gen 11:4 sought by their own might. As the new “first man” and fountainhead of a new humanity, those nations who are receptive to Abram and his God will be blessed, and those who are not will be cursed. We see in the final promise that all nations will one day be blessed through Abram. This promise must be understood in context of the cultural mandate given to both Adam and Noah to fill the earth, and in contrast to Babel’s fear of being “scattered” (Gen. 11:4).

The promise text has two parts to it with a midpoint. The first part has to do with personal promises given to Abram as an individual. God motivates Abram by making promises tailor-made for him in his historical and cultural context. Then there is a phrase often translated “… and you will be a blessing,” but is perhaps better to be understood as an imperative of consequence” (“be a blessing!”). This fits well with the second set of promises that have to do with the world-wide blessing. On the basis of personal promises, Abram is to live out this blessing so that he becomes a channel of blessing to the nations. God summons Abram out of the chaos of fallen humanity armed with a charter of blessing (so W. Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation, p. 64), the blueprint for the new Holy of Holies in the promised land from which blessing is to spread to the whole world.

Twilight of the Gods: The Call Out of Ur

Posted in Uncategorized on December 10, 2013 by ancienthopes

Terah the father of Abraham, was a Semite (of the line of Shem), an Aramean originally of north Mesopotamia in modern day Syria. Scholars tell us that Arameans migrated south into the ancient city states of Sumer and Akkad toward the end of the 3rd millennium B.C. When Ur III fell in 2000, it may have been that in the turbulence of the times Terah decided to move his family from this famous city Ur to Canaan (Gen. 5:31). Why he choose Canaan, and why he never got there, but settled in the Haran, an ancestral Aramean city, the text does not explicitly say. What we do know is that the Sumerian city of Ur is associated with Ham and his progeny Nimrod, founder of Babel, Erech (Uruk), and Akkad in the land of Shinar (10:10), the whole of which eventually became known as Babylon. The Semite Terah is therefore contrasted with Hamitic Babel, its city and tower. The text therefore assumes a spiritual reason for Terah’s move from Ur, and that he failed to complete his journey to Canaan. It may be that he was used to a relatively sophisticated urban life in the high culture of Ur, and rather than go to the cultural backwater of Canaan, he remained in the comfort of his ancestral Aramean city of Haran, an important caravan center in northern Mesopotamia.

Of Terah’s religion we do not know. His name is derived from the word yareaḥ which means “moon.” It is known that the moon was particularly worshipped in Haran. Moreover, his Aramean kin were associated with idols (31:19). As for his son Abram, however, we know two things. First, he was monotheistic, probably not in the well developed Mosaic sense, or in the even grander sense of Isaiah, but in the sense that he worshipped El (God) the Creator, revealed historically as YHWH in Israel, in contrast to Babel, its magical cosmic mountain with its pantheon of nature deities. Second, his God was a relational God, one that cannot be manipulated by magic as we find in pagan cultic rites. This relational God encounters humanity in history and enters into covenant with them.

The great primeval era ends with the story of Babel; evil crescendos to this false, man-made temple mountain that is an imitation of the Garden in Eden. Humanity will do all it can to get back to lost origins, but on its own terms, by its own rules. He creates gods in his own image. Babel is the story of the gods’ seeming cultural victory and its fall. In the aftermath is the call of Abram, one of those who, like Melchizedek of Jerusalem, priest of the most High God (14:18), worshiped God Almighty. (There always were those who worshiped El, the transcendent Father-God and Creator. For the identification of El with YHWH in contrast to the gods of the cosmic pantheon and territorial spirits, see F.M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic.) It is with Abram that God will give what fallen humanity strives for in his own power, a land that is reminiscent of the lost Garden, a step towards the ultimate fulfillment of God’s creation plan to spread the Garden throughout the whole world. This is the beginning of the end of pantheism, animism, the occult and the snake in the garden, and what will inaugurate the twilight of these pagan gods.

The Abrahamic Covenant

Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2013 by ancienthopes

The backbone of Holy Scripture and the unifying principle that binds Genesis to Revelation is the idea of covenant. We introduced this idea of covenant briefly in the Nov. 4th post, showing how the Noachian covenant organically grew out of the Edenic Covenant. Now we will show how the Abrahamic organically grew out of the Edenic and the Noachian.

The Abrahamic covenant is presented in a very sophisticated and complex series of tightly related stories. The following analysis is the work of my good friend Byron Wheaton, Focus and Structure in the Abrahamic Narratives in Trinj 27NS (2006) 143-162. It centers around two motifs, land and seed, and the structure reflects this. The covenant is divided into two great sections: the first beginning with 11:27 and ending in Chapter 15 largely dealing with land, and the second comprising chapters 16-22 largely dealing with seed. When we look closely at these sections we can see that each acts as a literary “panel” whose individual parts mirror each other. Wheaton organizes the structure in the following way: (I cannot get the chart to work well on this blog … sorry)

Panel A

a. The introduction of the problems of land and seed Gen 11:27-32
and a human solution to land attempted
b. The call to a land and motivating promises Gen 12:1-9                                                                        A
c. Doubts about the sufficiency of land Gen 12:10-20
d. Abraham’s graciousness: sharing of the land Gen 13:1-18
e. The defense of the land for others Gen 14:1-20
f. The rejection of exploiting the land for selfish gain and choice to bless others Gen.14:18-24
g. Abraham’s belief & God’s covenant/oath re: the land
Gen 15                                                                        B

Panel B

a´. Abraham’s human solution to the problem of barrenness Gen 16
b´. The call to obedience and motivating promises Gen 17                                                                    B´
c´. Doubt’s about the ability of God to give seed Gen 18:1-16
d´. Abraham’s graciousness: prayer for others Gen 18:17-19:38
e´. The prayer for restored fruitfulness of others Gen 20
f´. The rejection of the humanly begotten heir and choice to bless others Gen 21
g´. Abraham’s obedience and God’s covenant/oath re: seed
Gen 22                                                                        A´

As we work our way through the covenant, we will follow this outline and refer to it from time to time. Here it is important to note that chapters 12 and 22 are closely parallel as are chapters 15 and 17, forming the four pillars of the covenant. However, there are deep parallels between all four of these chapters, displaying the literary art and theological profundity that this structure conveys to the careful reader.