Through the Bible: The Three Visitors

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So, we really liked this one growing up because it was a Christophany. Or it could be anyway. It was very possibly an example of Jesus showing up, in the Old Testament, before he was actually born as Jesus. How exciting is that? And he comes to Abraham’s tent and they all eat together and have good chats and then Abraham is told that it’s finally time. He’s definitely going to have a son next year. And Sarah, who is listening from inside the tent, laughs because that’s pretty funny. And then she gets in big trouble and we all talk about how much Sarah sucks for lying because people shouldn’t lie and God was definitely angry at her for doing that.

I was definitely very bothered by the Sarah thing growing up? I mean, her laughing seemed so normal and then to be called out like that seemed so mean and of course she lied! Why wouldn’t she? That is really my strongest memory of this story. Anyway, let’s take a look.

The Three Visitors

18 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,[a] do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs[b] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

Response: Okay, so most of the reasons people feel this is a Christophany come in the next part of the story, other than that at the end it refers to the visitor as the Lord. So I’m going to focus mainly on the Sarah thing, because I still feel like it’s the most interesting part of the story.

It still seems a little weird to me that the Lord decides to use humiliating Sarah as a way to prove his power. I mean, that’s essentially what this is, right? He proves in this scene that he knows that she laughed and knows exactly what she thought and said behind that curtain. Which, incidentally, is not that powerful of a thing because her reaction is a completely logical one. It’s like a fortune teller trick, really. But a humiliating one.

Still, the other thing I can’t help but notice in this story is that the story itself does not explicitly condemn Sarah for lying. I mean, I heard her condemned all up and down in sermons. Constantly. But the story says “Sarah was afraid, so she lied…” That actually seems kind-of understanding. It could have just said she lied, after all. We would have probably figured she was afraid and ashamed about being called out like that. It’s easy to read into that situation. But instead, it makes a point of saying she was afraid, which is why she did this. I don’t know if that’s actually intended to be a more merciful take but I’m going to choose to read it that way, because heaven only knows I could use a bit more mercy in this extremely brutal story. A story which is about to get a whole lot worse.

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Through the Bible: The Covenant of Circumcision

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Sorry I’ve been a bit behind this week, folks. It’s been a challenging sort of week. But challenges or not, we press on.

So here we have the all-important covenant of circumcision. The part of the Bible where God tells his people that the way they will prove to him that they are definitely his people is by performing a painful ritual on their men’s most private parts. He also changes the names of Abram and Sarai.

I cannot say that I remember focusing terribly much on the circumcision in and of itself. It was a thing that Jews had been ordered to do but we, of course, did not have to. I believe it was often explained as something that God required for the health of his people. I never gave any thought at all to circumcision, honestly. I did not give a lot of detailed thought to the penis in general. It just didn’t seem that applicable to me.

I did give a great deal of thought to the naming thing because I loved the idea of names having specific meaning and power. I liked the idea that God would change your name based on your place in the world. The concept of power in naming (or un-naming) was one of the ideas that stuck with me on a fundamental level from Madeleine L’Engle’s second Time novel. So I was very into that. It’s not exactly unique to the Christian faith but I wasn’t aware of that, as we didn’t study other faiths.

So. God commands a sacrifice of foreskins and changes the names of some folks and makes another prophecy. Oh, and Abraham laughs at him, which is fairly understandable. So we’ve actually got kind-of a lot happening here; let’s take a look.

The Covenant of Circumcision

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty[a]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram[b]; your name will be Abraham,[c] for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”

17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

19 Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.[d] I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22 When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

23 On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him.24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, 25 and his son Ishmael was thirteen; 26 Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. 27 And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.

Response: So is this a… retelling of the same story we’ve already heard, only with more detail? Because God has already made a covenant with Abram. He already told him that he was going to increase his numbers greatly, he already told him he was going to have a son. Did he actually not tell him all of this until after Ishmael was born? Because then it would make sense why this magical promise did not appear to be in any of their minds when Sarai gave her servant to him.

Certainly there is precedent for this. Even the creation story essentially has two totally different versions side by side. That’s not strange but what is strange is that it’s never been mentioned in my memory. I suppose because part of taking the Bible literally must be that they would never tell the same story twice in this way, that that might make it sound more like a myth or a legend and less like a book of facts. But to me, this sounds like a retelling of a story, a different version. I don’t know if that’s true but that’s what it sounds like.

Also, what immediately strikes me is a completely unfair double-standard here. We haven’t gotten to it yet but in a bit Sarah and Abraham will entertain angels (one of which is maybe Jesus pre-incarnation) and Sarah will hear the prophecy that she is pregnant and she will laugh to herself because it seems pretty absurd. But those angels will call her out and she will get in trouble, for laughing, but specifically for lying about laughing because she was afraid. We’ll get to that later but what strikes me here is that Abraham laughed to himself as well but he was not called out for that. He doesn’t get in trouble like Sarah did but it’s just because he wasn’t held to the same standards she was. This makes me grumble.

There’s another reason we wouldn’t teach that this might be the same story told a different way, of course. Because if it was, then things get much more complicated. See, claiming God came to Abram and Sarai (and possibly it is the names being the same that makes it a different story…? I don’t know) before the birth of Ishmael then the story of Ishmael’s conception is easily painted by Christians as Abram not trusting God. That’s not true, of course. In that first story God does not tell Abram how he will give him a son – only that he will. With such a lack of specificity and a culture that was very accepting of concubines and multiple wives, Abram and Sarai’s route makes perfect sense. But from the evangelical Christian perspective now, it seems easier. However, if the promise didn’t come until after, then it isn’t a lack of trust in God’s promise at all. They can claim it is a lack of faith in God’s design for marriage, I suppose…? Although that’s fairly laughable in the context. Anyway.

The point I’m looking at here is that God agrees to bless Ishmael, only because Abraham asks, but he doesn’t seem to have much interest. It is again, sort-of a screwed up thing. Ishmael is clearly loved by Abram. God wants his children to come from a miracle, which is his call. But his indifference is, as usual, fairly cold seeming. Also he fails to mention that the great nation he’s going to make him into are going to be people he orders slaughtered repeatedly by Abraham’s descendants. Which seems awkward at best, and probably not exactly what Abraham was hoping for his child.

Finally Abraham goes and has invasive surgery performed on every single male, bought or free, in his camp. That just seems like a really terrible day. I am imagining a lot of people were maybe not thrilled about that. Surely everyone cannot have been on board? How did he present it? Did Abraham himself perform all those surgeries, because that sounds like an extremely exhausting day of a lot of dicks. Did he save himself for last, or did he go first? Also, how long exactly do you think it takes to get used to going by new names, even if they are similar to your previous ones? Does God get annoyed if you mess up?

Through the Bible: Hagar and Ishmael

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So obviously this story is really important. It’s not even just important to Christians and Jews, this one is important to the Muslim faith as well. This is one of those exciting cross-over stories. Growing up, it is definitely one we heard talked about fairly frequently and the message was simple. Abram doesn’t trust God. Sarai doesn’t trust God. If you’re from a particularly “men must lead the house” sort of tradition, it’s a good example of what happens when you let women lead. I wasn’t from that tradition but there were… undertones. It was also sometimes used as a weird lesson in why plural marriage didn’t work, two women didn’t get along with each other sort of thing.

But I will be honest and say this was not like many of the stories for me growing up. I felt really, really bad for Hagar. It didn’t seem fair. I have a feeling I will be far more grossed out by this story now but growing up I was just really troubled by it. What had she done wrong? She did everything she was supposed to and okay so she “despised her mistress” but… but why didn’t Abram step up? Why was he willing to let his child die? Why was he so weak and awful? I did not like this story as a kid.

This is supposed to be a story about God’s grace, that’s how it was taught to us. God has mercy on them. Let’s see how that comes across now, shall we?

Hagar and Ishmael

16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slavenamed Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,[a]
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
    his hand will be against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
    toward[b] all his brothers.”

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen[c] the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi[d]; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Response: Okay so… so this is still kind-of an awful story. Hagar is Sarai’s Egyptian slave, which for some reason I had never picked up on before but which I assume means that it’s very possible she acquired her after their last trip through Egypt when her husband pimped her out and they piled them up with stuff to make them go away. Stuff including people, most likely.

I’d like to note that there’s actually no evidence here that Sarai knows anything about God’s promise, which is something we were always taught. That Sarai was being impatient and trying to fulfill God’s word in her own way. But it doesn’t say that. It just says she wants a family and God is keeping her from having it so here, use this woman to give me a family. Maybe Abram was thinking of the promise and maybe he wasn’t. The promise is nowhere in this story. It was just made so you can imply it but there’s no talking about it.

So he sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant and she “begins to despise her mistress.” What does that actually mean? Does Sarai feel inferior to her? Is she taking it out on her? Is Hagar excited to have a place in the family, looking forward to legitimacy and goes too far? Who knows. But Sarai isn’t having it and she goes to Abram and says she’s done and he says yeah, whatever. I want no part of this.

And then Sarai abuses her slave until she runs from her. It says mistreats but let’s call it what it is here. She is abusive. She is so abusive that Hagar feels it is better to run pregnant into the desert and face who knows what, then stay in this camp another day. That is… well, reading between the lines, that is pretty horrific. And Abram apparently just watches and waits. He is certainly not a safe place for Hagar; she has no more safe places. She belongs to Sarai. She is not his responsibility.

So she runs. And as she runs, the Lord finds her and tells her to go back to her abuser. He tells her to return to the woman abusing her and to submit to her. And he once again makes a prophecy, this time over Hagar’s descendants. Once again, it is weirdly less than comforting. Don’t worry. You will have limitless descendants. And your son will be born and he will be wild and he will be in conflict with absolutely everyone he ever meets. Isn’t that awesome?

And Hagar… I find this a little heartbreaking, to be honest. Hagar is so happy. She is so happy because someone has seen her. Because she has been called by name and she has been acknowledged and seen as a person. Now, of course, it would be very easy to argue that’s a bit tenuous. Actually she was just seen as the mother of her son, not so much as a person herself. But all I can think in reading this is that the woman who just left this hellish situation feels so blessed to have been called out by God himself, probably feels that she hadn’t been seen in a kind way in months or maybe years. And God uses that to send her back to the woman who will abuse her and the man who will let it happen. Maybe something worse would have happened if she had kept going. Maybe there was a plan. I don’t know. But this feels like using someone. It doesn’t feel like compassion to me.

Through the Bible: The Lord’s Covenant with Abram

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Well, this one is a big deal. Major deal. I mean, not that you got taught it in Sunday school a lot, because not that much happened, but in later years it definitely comes up. Because first God called Abram and said come and follow me, go to this new country, see what happens. But Christians believe that this was like a whole different thing. God comes down and makes a covenant with Abram. He personally enters into relationship with Abram. That’s how it’s always presented anyway.

God tells him that he’s going to have descendants, basically a million of them. And Abram is a little skeptical because God hasn’t even given him one kid yet so it seems implausible but he gets taken for a little walk on the beach and told “you know all this sand? This is how many descendants you will have.” And then God does a very complicated ritual to prove he’s telling the truth.

So let’s see.

The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

15 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,[a]
    your very great reward.[b]

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought 

you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torchappeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi[e] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites,Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

Response: So here’s the funny thing to me. There’s nothing all that personal about this really. I mean, you know. It’s personal in the sense that it is to a person. But Christians really try to turn this into something else, into God developing a relationship with a human and this… doesn’t read like that to me. This doesn’t actually read so terribly different from most human encounters with gods. I mean, you know. It’s nice that he made this promise and all but it’s not like God and Abram are super close, is it? Abram doesn’t even seem fully convinced that this is really a thing God can do (which is legit).

I know that lack of faith in God is always painted as a bad thing but I mean… come on. So far God has led him out into another country and has helped make him rich (by dubious means) but that doesn’t exactly mean he can perform miracles. I know God made a huge deal about wanting to make sure that it was clear that all Abram’s wealth came from God and God alone but that’s not really clear, is it? It’s not like his wealth was a miraculous rain of sheep and gold from the heavens. And getting rich and rising in station is a pretty far cry from having a baby when you’re 100 (and God hasn’t even gotten to the specifics of all that yet). Frankly, even if you magically have one baby, that doesn’t really guarantee you endless descendants, right? My whole life I was raised to believe that you shouldn’t question God or whatever but this is sensible. As far as I can tell, God hasn’t proven anything.

 I’m not really sure that his magic show proved anything either. He can put Abram to sleep? Bring darkness over the land? It was all just a vision. I know those can be taken very seriously but it’s not exactly proof. More something to take into consideration. What it is definitely not is the beginnings of a friendship or an intimate relationship. It’s just another assertion of power and a dubious human doing what any sane human should – going along with this mysterious being because honestly… who knows what he’ll do?

And, as David pointed out, I have really left out the best part, and an excellent reason why you might go along with this insane being who is telling you this. He not only just told you that you were going to have endless descendants, but he also just told you that they were going to be horribly abused and mistreated and enslaved for 400 years but that was totally going to be okay because God would avenge them and they would end up coming out of it rich. Which would be super comforting the the first 350 years of slaves, I’m certain. But you know, this isn’t something that should concern you Abram, because you are going to die peacefully right here so you should be super happy about all the children you’re going to have and all their children but not worry much about how they’ll be horribly tortured for hundreds of years because I will definitely handle all of that and you know, I’m God and hundreds of years is nothing at all to me.

After all, God has a super big plan, including punishing the Amorites when their sin reaches it’s “full measure.” Your kids get to be part of that! You get to be part of that. So you tell me. If an endlessly powerful being comes to you and tells you all this… I mean, you smile and nod, right? What else can you do?

Through the Bible: Abram Rescues Lot

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This was not really one of the big ones growing up. Definitely it was one that got taught periodically but not huge. I also probably did not maintain it very well because a great deal of it is listing kings and stuff and it has always been difficult for me not to shut my brain off when I start hearing those sorts of lists.

However, essentially what I remember is that Lot gets into a scrape, Abram goes running off to save him, which is nice, and then he does that somehow and Lot offers to give him stuff in gratitude for what he’s done for him and Abram gives a speech about how he can’t take anything because God wants it to be clear that no one gave him anything except God and so he can’t take anything or it’ll take glory away from God. Which was usually the point of the story as we were taught it, that God always wants to make sure that it’s clear that he is the one who made something possible and I think this was more evidence of Abram as being faithful to that.

So, let’s take a look.

Abram Rescues Lot

At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar,[a] Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim, these kings went to war against Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboyim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these latter kings joined forces in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Dead Sea Valley). For twelve years they had been subject to Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

In the fourteenth year, Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him went out and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, the Emites in Shaveh Kiriathaim and the Horites in the hill country of Seir, as far as El Paran near the desert. Then they turned back and went to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and they conquered the whole territory of the Amalekites, as well as the Amorites who were living in Hazezon Tamar.

Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboyim and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) marched out and drew up their battle lines in the Valley of Siddim against Kedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goyim, Amraphel king of Shinar and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of tar pits, and when the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some of the men fell into them and the rest fled to the hills. 11 The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food; then they went away. 12 They also carried off Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom.

13 A man who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother[b] of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And praise be to God Most High,
    who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.”

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”

Response: Oh yeah, I can’t believe I forgot about the Melchizedek guy. He also definitely came up a lot because no one seemed to know what the fuck was up with him and there were a whole lot of theories. But I don’t remember any of them because apparently this story didn’t interest me much.

So, basically the overwhelming feeling I get when I read this story is how distant I am from it. Like I feel like there is so much culturally happening that I do not understand at all (including Melchizedek but certainly not limited to) and I feel like however we were interpreting this when I was a kid, I don’t feel like we were doing a good job.

Also, look at that, I totally remembered the story wrong. Lot doesn’t have much of a place in this story weirdly. It’s actually the King of Sodom who wants to give Abram stuff. Now this is… okay, this is weird to me. Because the idea that God wanted to prove that Abram got rich on his own is clearly provably absurd. We just saw a few chapters ago that a huge portion of Abram’s wealth comes from that time he pimped out his wife as his sister.  And it’s not like God is super cool with Egypt. Frankly God doesn’t seem to be particularly awesome with anyone most of the time. Except maybe this King of Salem and how did he become a high priest of God anyway because the priesthood hasn’t even been established yet and how did he even know about God? Is there like a set of stories we just never got to see?

I mean, anyone who knows anything about the Bible knows that God is probably particularly not cool with Sodom as he’s totally going to destroy their faces in not too long. So maybe he just doesn’t want Abram taking their money? But in that case, it’s not really about God receiving glory alone, it’s just about making sure Sodom doesn’t. Which, once they’re a smoldering ruin of what used to be a city, seems like it’ll be less important. Which God definitely knows they’re going to be, right? That’s part of the all seeing, all knowing God deal? Is this one of those things where all their goods and livestock have to be destroyed with them or it’ll all creep up again?

I don’t know. And I don’t know because it doesn’t really say. Personally I feel like Abram’s speech is a little offensive. “I will not take so much as a THONG OF A SANDAL FROM YOU PEOPLE!” But then again, his people skills are clearly not the greatest. I’m not sure why God picked Abram but maybe it wasn’t for his people skills. Maybe it was his fighting skills. Apparently he can lead groups of armed men now. Was that a thing he could do before? Was that something people could just generally do? I feel like I was always thrown by this story as a kid because my idea of “Kings” of places involved really big armies and he goes out with a couple hundred guys and whips them. But the truth is this was all probably very tribal, a bunch of small groups fighting among themselves.

It would seem that my reaction to this now is “I don’t understand the point of this story.” Also I think it’s a little funny that Lot essentially plays the damsel in distress with no voice in it.

Bible Stories: Abram and Lot Separate

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Lot gets known primarily for his sort-of weird role in Sodom and Gomorrah (coming soon, kids!) but he totally showed up before that. He was definitely a thing before all of that and this is one of the first times you see him. I know I’ve heard this story talked about but it did not make a tremendous amount of impression. I guess the point was that Abram was willing to take any land rather than risk conflict? He was happy to compromise? He was a good guy? I mean, you know. It’s important he be a good guy and after the last story it could be argued that we don’t have the most compelling case for that. Also we have God promising in nice, poetic language that he’s going to have a bazillion descendants. I mean, you know. Everyone will, really but Abram’s are going to be God’s people, so they’re special.

Abram and Lot Separate

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring[a] forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

So. I mean, you know. I love that the story just says that Abram had become super wealthy, when we know from like three verses before that at least a huge chunk of that wealth came from that time he lied to the Egyptians and they ended up paying him off with a huge amount of stuff to just please make him go away before his God killed them. But YOU KNOW. Semantics.

I feel like in reading this that this story was supposed to say something about Lot’s character. He looked and he saw that part of the country was better than the other and he said all right, you’re saying take any part, I’ll take that part. And so he does and he ends up where all the terrible people are, selfish like him I guess. But like… what would you do? Lot doesn’t have a magic covenant with a strangely powerful and capricious god-thing. He has a family and stuff and he’s trying to protect it. And it makes the most sense to take the better looking land. I mean, it’s kind-of the worst thing to ask. I feel like I would feel guilty for taking the good land and annoyed and possibly bitter for taking the bad. I guess it depends on their relationship. ANYWAY. My point is that I am not at all convinced this story says anything about Lot’s character. Although a few later stories certainly do.

So God waits till Lot is gone and can’t hear him anymore (does this sound like a junior high idea somehow? “Look, I didn’t want him to know but now that he’s gone, I can tell you…) and tells Abram that it was totally nice of him to give that land to Lot (just kidding! I assume it’s implied) but he’s actually going to give him all the land he can see, everything he can see, gonna be all his and his kids. Just walk up and down, the whoooooooole thing, cause it’s yours. All yours.

So Abram goes and pitches tents (is that like going all over the land, because it sounds different, but whatever. Maybe God meant metaphorically walking all over the land) and makes an alter to God and thanks him for how he’s totally going to have a bazillion babies someday.

Bible Stories: Abram in Egypt

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I was going to write about the calling of Abram next because it seems like that should be the next story but the truth is that I don’t have anything to say about that. We almost never got taught about that, except in passing. We were taught that Abram was called, that God came down and picked Abram for… some reason. Or no reason. Abram was no better than anyone else, God just picked him. So then there was that.

What we did talk about was Abram in Egypt. I remember always being at least a little bothered by this story, in part because we spent so much time explaining it. Abram lets his wife be put in the harem of the king, he protects himself by putting his wife up as a sacrifice. This isn’t defended exactly but it was put in a weird light. Like many of the other… unpleasant things that the patriarchs did, the spin put on it was “look what God can do with imperfect people.” I cannot say I was ever 100% comfortable with this but it was supposed to be a good thing, we were supposed to take comfort that God could make beauty out of such a mess.

Abram in Egypt

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

Response: So Abram is just… the worst. I remember spending time growing up wondering what Sarai said to this plan. And of course I would wonder, because we have no idea. Sarai has no voice in this story. She is nothing but a pawn, being used to keep men alive.

As for Abram, what about this man of God? Or maybe what about this God of men? God once again comes off not so great in this story, afflicting Pharaoh and his people for something he literally could not have known. God, who values honesty, who will someday include “do not lie” as one of his top 10 rules for life, will not only not punish Abram for his lies, he will reward him. In fact only Pharaoh will be punished for the lies of Abram. Again, it seems like God is still working out the details of his world, that the hard truths which will someday be claimed to have always existed are a little shaky right now. You have to assume that, as the Egyptians first encounter with this great being, they’re not impressed. He comes across not as just or fair, but as tribal and vengeful. This great God who supposedly wants to bring the whole world back to him someday certainly shows no interest in that here.

It’s a small story, there’s a limited amount to say but I can’t help but notice how unkind and inconsistent it all is. It doesn’t match anything I was ever told. You have to really twist to make it say what you need. That’s true of a lot more than I thought.

Bible Stories: The Tower of Babel

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Note: I am not going through genealogies. This is a series of me going through Bible stories and genealogies don’t really fit that trend. There may be other areas that I bend that rule a bit but I’m going to be honest, reading through those lists of names put me to sleep even when I felt very differently about this book so I’m not gonna do it now. I know there’s a lot to extrapolate from all that and people do and so you can totally go find those people. But WE are going to skip to Genesis 11. 😛

I spend a decent amount of time every week before I do these thinking about my next one, trying to remember what I learned about it growing up. I have to say that I do not remember a lot about this story from my growing up years. It was obviously one we talked about, because I certainly knew about it. So I feel like it must have been one they taught in Sunday School? When you grow up going to church your whole life, there are definitely some stories you get taught extremely young that just become part of the background and don’t get talked about a whole lot once you grow up.

Now of course occasionally you get a really dedicated pastor person determined to preach on everything or through whole books or whatever. I know I must have heard a sermon or two on this (Genesis is a super popular book for preaching). What I mostly remember was that this was a story about pride. Once again, humans had taken it on themselves to know better than God. God told us to spread out and fill the earth and instead people were like screw that! Let’s clump together and build and huge tower! That will be awesome! And God gets angry and makes us all speak different languages because that’ll show us and ever since then we speak different languages and can’t communicate. Also I think those were kind-of supposed to be two separate things in some ways. Like yes our languages were confused but also he made it so that we had a harder time communicating with each other. Which sucks. So. Honestly that is about all I remember about it.

So let’s take a look!

The Tower of Babel

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a]they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Response –

So, first thought, off the top of my head… why look, another origin story! I mean, you know. It’s just a tiny, short little explanation for why people talk in different languages. In many ways it sounds like every other religion. That may surprise no one but you have to understand that I grew up my whole life with people telling me that this God was different from all those other gods. But you know what? He sounds about the same here. Intimidated by the might and strength of the people, he finds a way to cut them down to size, to use his power to make sure they don’t get out of hand.

The strongest impression I have of God throughout these first few chapters of Genesis is honestly kind-of as a bully. He has power and he created everything that was going on here and he is angry and upset that things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. This is not what he planned, this is not what he had in mind. He lashes out, he throws tantrums. Sometimes he explains why, sometimes he doesn’t. What I have not seen is this loving, nurturing, longing for relationship being that I was told about my whole life. I haven’t seen that at all.

Again, what I remember being told about this is that the people disobeyed God’s order. God ordered them to spread out and they didn’t and so he did this to them. But that’s not really what it says, is it? I mean, it’s true that it seems like pride enters the mix. They want to make a name for themselves, they want to stay together and be awesome. But what it actually says is not that God is upset about them disobeying him, God says instead that if they continue on this path that “nothing they plan will be impossible for them.” Perhaps he means no evil they plan will be impossible for them. After all, we have just wiped out the earth because he feels people suck so much. But it doesn’t say that. It could mean anything. It could mean God would prefer humans stay in the place he has designated them and he’s unhappy about this stepping out of bounds.

But here’s the thing. One of the things about being a loving parent, as we are always told God is? You are thrilled when your child is smart and capable and strong. You want to help them and nurture them and encourage them. If there happen to be concerns about the direction that is heading maybe you need to have a talk with them, see if there are ways to help refocus them. God is not proud of his children. He comes down on them and he separates them. He presumably breaks up friends, maybe even families (although I assume not immediate families as that would sort-of take away from his whole “procreation” plan). He creates division and mistrust. And as far as we can tell, he explains nothing. Imagine waking up one day and realizing you can’t understand half the people you know and love. Imagine realizing you’d been cursed by this deity to not be able to communicate with people you cared about (because surely you would see it as a curse), having to leave behind loved ones and not even really being able to say goodbye. What would you feel about that god? How would you feel about the world?

I’m just saying, as far as parenting strategies go, it seems like a really, really bad one.

Bible Stories: Noah and His Sons

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So after the trauma of the flood, there is a weird postscript to Noah’s story. Well, technically there are two. One of them is definitely considered Very Important. It is God making a covenant with Noah.

If you did not grow up in the evangelical church, it is possible that you did not hear the word covenant thrown around constantly. There is a covenant denomination, in fact. I went to it for a long time. For Christians, the idea of God making covenant with us is critical.

The Oxford Dictionary has three different definitions for covenant. Two of them have to do with law, either a contract drawn up by deed or a clause in a contract. And one is about theology. “An agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people.” Covenants are central. You see, this is what I was taught my entire life. God, the supreme being, the creator of everything, stepped down from heaven and created a personal covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with  a number of other Old Testament and eventually New Testament figures. We pointed to this as proof that our God was a personal God, that unlike the other pagan gods of the age, our God sought out personal relationship with us, fought to make it happen. So this is God’s first covenant with mankind and it’s supposed to be the beginning of a pattern, a pattern that proves that God wants to have an intimate relationship with mankind.

The second postscript is weird. I have heard occasional sermons on it and, to be honest, no one seemed to be able to make much heads or tails of it. Noah goes off the ark, plants a vineyard, gets drunk off his own wine and ends up embarrassingly naked in his dwelling. One son sees him and tells his brothers of their father’s shame, the other two walk in backwards so as not to witness it, cover him up and wait till he wakes. When he wakes, he curses his son and blesses the other two, presumably because his son mocked him. And then there’s a line of descendants. So. Let’s take a look at all that.

God’s Covenant With Noah

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
    by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
    has God made mankind.

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenantbetween God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

The Sons of Noah

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded[a] to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!
    The lowest of slaves
    will he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
    May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
    may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
    and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.

Response –
Okay, as is my habit, I would like to start out just by taking notice of something I’ve never noticed before. Does it not seem a little irresponsible of God to tell Noah and his family to feel free to eat all the animals just now? Look, I don’t know how long re-population would take; I’m sure it would depend a lot on which species and such. And there’s not a lot of their family, only eight people right now. But you could literally obliterate an entire species if it happened to be your favorite food. Would it not perhaps have made more sense to be like “So, give it a few years and then you can totally eat all of the meat you want but right now you should probably hang back and start working on a garden?” Given his skill with a vineyard, we know Noah knows how to garden. I’m just saying. This never crossed my mind before.

Okay, moving on. Again, I’d like to look at this from the perspective of how human beings might potentially feel if this kind of trauma had just happened to them. I am well aware that I cannot possibly imagine what it would be like to be in this culture in this time (in an imaginary story that definitely did not happen but let’s ignore that part, we’re playing along) so this is pure conjecture and wondering. There was a lot of focus when I was growing up on how they were saved but let’s look at that for a minute. So these eight people were saved. But they must have had family. The wives of their children must have had parents, brothers and sisters, maybe nieces and nephews. Noah and his wife himself probably would have had family, given that they were all apparently living like 1000 years for whatever reason. That’s not even touching on friends or people you just knew in passing. Every single one of those people has died a horrible death. They heard them screaming. Maybe the door was shut on them, we don’t know. However, in imagining a story like this, we can safely imagine it to be very traumatic.

There is a difference for these survivors however. Unlike in most world or even localized catastrophes where the survivors might be left wondering both why such a thing would happen and why they survived when so many people they loved perished, Noah and his family don’t have to wonder. They know. They know that this immense and powerful being decided he was done. That he decided that “every inclination of man’s heart was wicked” and so this creation he had made deserved to be destroyed.And they know that somehow, although we’re not told how so maybe they knew and maybe they didn’t, his family had incurred favor in the eyes of this being. That’s both terrifying and heartbreaking. And, as he perhaps feels that they’ve had enough, something important happens. God has a change of heart. The unchangeable, unmovable, always the same forever before and forever into eternity creator has a change of heart. He changes his mind. Before he wanted to destroy them and now he’s decided he doesn’t.

Well, this is a little confusing. I was sort-of always told that God can’t change his mind. God couldn’t possibly change his mind because God has always been the same and the essence of who God is is perfection and to change would imply that he was less perfect before or was more perfect now. Look, there are a lot of explanations for this. I was certainly not taught that he changed his mind. But if you look at the text, isn’t that what’s there? He felt this way but now, looking at the world all wiped clean of all the people he was so angry at, with nothing but these trembling and terrified eight before him, he feels benevolent. He’s decided maybe it’s worth trying this experiment again. And so he makes his first covenant with Noah, a promise that he will never lose his temper like this again. It’s a new day for God.

Noah, meanwhile, is sad and depressed. Or maybe he’s happy they’ve survived. Or eaten up with survivor’s guilt. Or struggling with his wife. Maybe he is actually an alcoholic. We don’t know anything about Noah so it’s a little hard to say for sure. What we know is that he was very dedicated to getting some wine. And he makes it and gets drunk and… like I said before I was told a lot of reasons why he cursed his son. And it seems like we make them up because nothing is there. It doesn’t say Canaan mocked his father to his brothers. It doesn’t say anything. It just says he told them. Should he have covered him up? Was he upset because he didn’t take care of him? Was he embarrassed that his son saw him that way? Is there a cultural context that is just thousands of years beyond us now? It seems pretty tough to say. It’s a strange story, which is probably why we just skipped it most of the time when I was growing up. After all, it is way more fun to tell your kids about animals going into the ark and people dying en masse than a naked, drunk old man.

Bible Stories: Noah’s Ark

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Well, this is another one of the big ones. Man, it’s hard to even boil down all the things I heard about this story growing up. This is one of the ones they start teaching you when you’re tiny because it’s fun to play with pairs of animals. You can teach children counting with a story of genocide. It’s a weird thing, religion.

Look, I heard a lot of things about this story. Noah was a righteous man. Apparently he was the only one God liked or the only one God chose for whatever reason. Again, this was a story about mercy. This was a story about God reaching down and trying to give us a chance but goshdarnit, those crazy humans. You know, we just don’t listen. God gave them like a hundred years of listening to Noah preach to them to change and they didn’t listen so eventually he had to murder them all. Shrug. Things happen.

You should probably not get too caught up on the size of the Ark vs the number of animals. See, a lot of animals might have… come from other animals? But not in a Big E Evolution kind-of way. More like how dalmations came from wolves eventually. Also the dinosaurs probably died out in the flood, of course. There are really awesome theories about that.

You see, some people believe that before the flood humanity was super technologically advanced (I feel like maybe they should have been able to build a more complex sounding boat in that case but whatever), like to the point of cell phones or even way beyond what we have now and God wiped all that out. I discovered from David that there are some Adventists who believe that dinosaurs were actually genetically engineered by humans and that’s why they didn’t get on the Ark. How great a story is that? Sadly I didn’t get anything that cool growing up. It was all kind of vague. Probably they died in the flood. Maybe some of them went on the boat. Maybe… well… who knows.

Also yes, all of humanity once again came from Noah and his family. Apparently the genes were still good enough way back when that it was okay to inbreed.

So I’m going to be doing this a little differently this time because it’s a really long story and I don’t think you want to read that long of a block of text. I’ll be putting in the story and I’m going to comment as we go. Let me know if this is preferable, if I should go back to the old way, whatever. I’ll do the weird postscript next week because this is already super long. 😛

 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them,the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with[a] humans forever, for they are mortal[b]; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

Interjection: I just wanted to include this because it’s weird and there. This is not a part we talked about very much. It inspired a lot of imagination. Madeleine L’Engle did a bit on the Nephilim that was cool, although maybe heretical or something. Mostly though, this really sounds like a myth, right? Like oh… well…. we don’t actually live 900 years anymore. God must have gotten sick of us!

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

I can’t help but note that it really doesn’t say how Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Like in many other stories so far, God’s favoritism and will seems confusing and not for us to fully understand. That seems kind-of scary given how prone to violence he clearly is.

Also, what would this even look like? There was a lot of talk about this when I was growing up, man at his (always man at his, never women) absolute worst, sin has taken over, whatever. But it’s so vague, what does it even mean? I mean, God didn’t make us that long ago, maybe his tolerance is really low right now. 

This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress[c] wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.[d] 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit[e] high all around.[f] Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

I’d like to take a moment to note an important thing that God did not command him. God did not command him to preach to the people. God did not command him to warn the people. In fact, there is no indication whatsoever in this story that there was ever a chance for anyone but Noah to be saved. Or in fact that God ever cared or was interested in anyone else being saved. Obviously Noah did everything God commanded him, wouldn’t you? But did Noah tell anyone? Would it have mattered? Who’s to say? But I was told my whole life he preached for a hundred years (I’d like to note my brother does not remember this so it’s not necessarily universal) and that makes sense. It makes sense we want to think that because the idea that God would unilaterally decide to murder thousands? Millions? of people and call it a day, start a clean slate, we rebel against that. We are horrified by that. Assuming we take the time to actually think about it. But most of us don’t, so instead we come up with stories to try and make it better. “Well, he warned them. God tried so hard to warn them and they just wouldn’t listen. He wanted to save them.” Did he? 

The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

David remembers being told an Angel shut the door of the Ark, in an example of more mythology. I don’t really remember that. I do feel like looking at this… here’s the thing with teaching children genocide and murder before they’re old enough to even comprehend those concepts – I think it’s dangerous. I think it strips something. Because I could hear this story and I was an adult before I started looking back and imagining this story. Noah got a lot of play in the last few years because of Darren Aronofsky’s movie. The movie had some flaws (mainly that it should have been 20 minutes shorter) but it got many things right and one thing was this. Because see? Right here? It’s just a sentence. The Lord shut him in. As what? As people were drowning and dying and screaming outside? Men, women, children, babies? The Lord who was so disgusted by the violence on the earth was murdering people and there were Noah and his family in a boat, listening to the screams until it finally went quiet. A clean slate covered in corpses. He is God, he could have blinked and made them vanish, had them drop dead in a moment. But instead he chose to drown them. It wouldn’t be quick, not for many of them. And, as we know, he didn’t see any reason to even tell them why. This is mercy.

People get hung up on the specifics. No, I don’t think it’s possible, not physically possible. I don’t believe it happened. But there are people who still do and I am troubled that they don’t now and I didn’t then get hung up on the cruelty, on the hardness of the story. If you are going to have this as one of your scriptures, you should at least face what it is.

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down,and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though[a] every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

 Hooray? In spite of the fact that every single inclination of our hearts from our childhoods is evil God will never do this again. It must have been a good cut of meat. Look, this is one of my most despised teachings of Christianity. In talking with Julie she referred to it as “spiritual gaslighting” and I think she was really on point. Everything you do, every desire of your heart is wicked, is wrong. If it goes against the Bible, it’s wrong. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, it doesn’t matter what you see in your reality that seems provable and correct, you are wrong. This is right and you are wrong. You cannot trust yourself, you must not trust yourself because that is pride and that is wrong. You are evil, you are naturally evil and only God can save you. Your only hope is to trust this and ignore your instincts, what you see and feel. I honestly cannot express how damaging I think this teaching has been in my life. 

Here’s the thing, I don’t believe we’re evil. And as insane as it makes me to see some of the clear places where we have just made things up and taught them as fact, I think that actually goes to my point. Because we desperately need to mitigate this idea. Because the idea of murdering so many people is morally incomprehensible to us, so we skirt it. The idea of doing it without even giving them a chance to change their ways, a chance to save themselves, this is unthinkable to us. The God we believe in could not do that. Because that would be unjust. That would be unloving. That would be unmerciful. And you know what? We know what those things are. We know those things in our very marrow. And so we try to save God from himself. We try to explain how what he did was actually kind, was actually merciful, was actually loving. Because we desperately need a God who manifests the characteristics we have at least as much as we have them. That is a good minimum requirement for a God. The problem is that it’s just not in the text.