|photo: Howard Lifshitz @ Flickr|
In Jewish synagogues, this is the season of studying Abraham.
In Genesis, the flood is the first major division in history. Noah and his sons multiply, Babel is built and falls, and Noah’s 10 generations of descendants find themselves in a pluralistic society where polytheism flourishes. It’s not clear whether Noah’s descendants kept the faith or not.
Most traditions have Abram being born near the year 2000 BC. I made a spreadsheet interested in those ages between Noah and Abraham.
Read Genesis 11:27-32.
1) What are the important relationships here?
2) Does it sound like Terah first got the call that Abram answers later?
Canaan was Noah’s cursed grandson, Ham’s son. Lands are named after people who live there, who are often named after a first ancestor. Read Genesis 12:1-9
3) How would you react to these promises? Would you go? Would you need proof?
One Jewish teaching story (Midrash), which also is in the Koran, says that Terah was a manufacturer of idols, and Abram – as a child – beheaded them, then placed the hammer in the hand of the last one. Terah accuses Abram, but has to admit that they are only clay to do so.
Because of the fertilizing properties of the Nile, and the advanced state of agriculture, Egypt was protected against the worst of the droughts. Note that while this is often described as Abram’s lie, it is in fact true, as he reveals in 20:12 that Sarai is his half-sister. Read Genesis 12:10-20.
4) What are we to make of this story? Why include an embarrassing story like this in scripture about your patriarch?
So Abram goes back to Canaan, but now he and Lot have so many flocks and followers that the site is not big enough for both of them, and they have to divide it up. Then God makes another amazing promise to Abram. Read Genesis 13:8-18.
5) Why Abram? What might God have been looking for?
There is a very interesting meeting here, as Abram meets Melchizedek. Many scholars think the name Melchizedek means ‘Zedek is my king,’ where Zedek is a Canaanite name for the God Most High. The name God Most High in verse 18 is a translation of El Elyom, another early name for God. Salem is almost certainly ancient Jerusalem. Melchizedek is mostly of interest because of the psalms prophecy (Ps 110:4) that the Messiah will be a priest of the order of Melchizedek, in contrast to being a priest by being a descendant of Levi, which would not be possible for a descendant of David, since David wasn’t a Levite.)
Read Genesis 14:13-20.
6) What do you think is going on between Abram and Melchizedek here? What is the significance of this meeting?
Read Genesis 15.
7) What is righteousness (v. 6)? Why does Abram’s belief count as righteousness?
8) Is it okay to ask God for a sign, as Abram does in v. 8? If so, when is it okay?
It is here that God’s promise is first called a covenant. The Hebrew word here is berith, whose root means ‘to cut.’ This refers to the sign of a covenant, which was to divide an animal and walk together between the parts. This was a symbol of a covenant in the ancient world that predates Abram by many centuries. Some sources believe it symbolized the walk unto death together, others saw it as giving one the right of death should the other break the covenant.
9) What might be the meaning of the smoking firepot and the blazing torch? Why did only God walk through the covenant and not Abraham?
10) What might God’s purpose have been in not giving the land to Abram right then?
11) Anything else you notice or wonder about here?
That's about as far as we got! See Part II for more.