Some Laughter and Some Death [Genesis 17-19]

Hello, Scroll Eaters! Welcome to the second Wednesday of our read-through. So Abram becomes Abraham – “Exalted Father” becomes “Father of Many.” God still hasn’t given Abram his promised son, and Abram’s 99, but the promise is reiterated for the third time. Before God gives him the son of promise, he lets him know his part of the covenant. All males are to be circumcised. If God is going about the business of entering humanity as a human, which in the New Testament we’ll see is the case, he’s by default got to be of some race, right? It’s called the “Scandal of Particularity” – “why the Jews?” and the answer is, of course, “Why not the Jews?” God doesn’t choose a people for himself as much as he creates his own people (Deuteronomy 4:34). So, if God has created an ethnic group through which he will relate to the world, what will be distinctive about them? How will he set them apart? By the very curious practice of circumcision. While it’s common medical practice in Western societies now, it was not at that time. Before a male of the Abrahamic line committed the sin of venturing outside God’s people for a mate, he had, if you will, a last-second reminder, a last-second chance to stay with God’s people. Anyone not of this ethnic group may join it, but they must believe in the God of Abraham and must be circumcised (if male).

Sarai becomes Sarah and both she and Abraham, though trusting God, still have their doubts. A 99 and 90 year-old couple having a child? They laugh about it, and so God tells them that in a year they are to name the boy Isaac – “He Laughs.”

In Chapter 18, we meet three men who suddenly show up at Abraham’s tent one day, and Abraham and Sarah serve them a meal. It’s quickly revealed that one of them is the Lord, veiled as a human. The chapter reads as God testing Abraham, first in hospitality, and then in justice and mercy. The Lord “has heard” that Sodom and Gomorrah are extremely evil, and he’s come to see if this is so, and sends the other two men to check it out. This, of course, leaves the Lord with Abraham – my guess is to see what Abraham’s reaction is. The Lord never said he was going to destroy the cities, but it is implied, and Abraham begins to bargain with God. After God says he’ll relent for ten righteous people, he departs. I wonder which ten Abraham was so concerned about?

Orthodox tradition maintains that these three men are the Trinity themselves: Yahweh, Emmanuel, and Haruach – The Father, The Son, and The Spirit. It’s quite possible, but the Scripture is not that plain. At any rate, the two angels went to Sodom, ran into Lot, and Lot invited them to his home for the evening. They declined, but Lot was insistent. Even if you’ve never read the story before, you get the impression that something’s not right here. The Lord said it was an evil city, he sends scouts, and a man we know to be righteous really doesn’t want them staying in the city square. Before long, the men of Sodom want Lot to bring them out so they can have sex with them, willingly or not (thus, we get our word sodomy). Lot offers his daughters to them*, but they refuse. I hate to be crass, but there’s something wrong with men who refuse free women because they prefer the men. Lot still refuses, and so they try to attack and rape Lot instead. You can almost here the two angels say, “Alright, enough of this!” They blind the men, tell Lot to get anyone he cares about and get out. God will obliterate this place very, very soon. Some believe that verse 24 is evidence a volcano took out the valley. Perhaps this is the scientific and geological tool God used; regardless, God rained fire and sulfur on Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, with only the little village of Zoar spared.

Fifty years ago, the morality underlying this passage would have been agreed with. Today, only a minority of us do, and we are fast approaching a stage where we’re considering criminal for believing so. If I’m soon a criminal, so be it, but God’s creation was good, and our perversions of it are bad. Like, Abraham, may we all seek God’s holiness, even if we’re one of the only ten left in a city.

As for Lot’s daughters’ actions, what can be said? Is it a crafty, prudently wise solution to a problem? Is it a sinful act? The Bible doesn’t say outright, though twice more in Scripture we’ll see similar shrewdness praised by God. Regardless, two of Israel’s greatest enemies come from the sons produced here – the Moabites and the Ammorites.

*I’m sure many will have a problem with verse 8, where Lot offers his daughters to the men of Sodom. Many suggestions have been given. We know ancient Near-Eastern hospitality is paramount, but so paramount one would offer his daughters in exchange for his guests? Another idea is that Lot on some level knew that the men were messengers of the Lord, and so he felt overly obliged to protect them, and wouldn’t have made that offer for ordinary men. Maybe Lot knew the men of Sodom would refuse, and so the offer was to buy time. Maybe the sin of homosexuality was seen as one of the worst possible degradations of creation, so much so that it would have been considered a greater evil to give men over to rape than women over to rape, even if it were his daughters. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that God was in control of that situation all along, homosexuality is a perversion of the created order, and is used by Paul as proof of sinfulness. Paul never argued it was a sin; to him homosexuality was evidence of an already-depraved mind. But our society disagrees with this. To find homosexuality objectionable, or sinful, one must first accept that there is a created order to pervert, and a Creator to obey. If you deny those two concepts, and hold that man is the highest evolved being, then homosexuality becomes no more than a life choice, and logically so.

For tomorrow, we read [Genesis 20-23].

Until then, the Lord bless you and keep you.

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