Thursday, January 30, 2014
In Genesis 16-17 we continue the Abraham story. It picks up where yesterday left off. Abram's second "wife" (Hagar) gives birth to a son (Ishmael: God hears). What has God heard? Abram is the one who names he boy, perhaps he thinks God has heard Abram/Sarai's cry for a child. God will hear Hagar pray (in a later story, perhaps another version of this one, she calls out as she is dying of thirst). God has heard the noise of the earth and its inhabitants. God will hear Israel, so He tells Moses. The core of the naming is the God who hears, even when we feel/think that we are screaming into the darkness. [note the same root is present in Samu-el which is also a play on God hears, in that case a weeping, barren mother] Of course the atheist mocks such a thing, there is no God and if there is He does not hear. It is weird, he says, to pray, it is little more than talking to yourself. Yet here is the testimony: God hears!
What follows then is a repetitive declaration by God that he will make Abraham (the name change happens here) a father of many nations. The word covenant occurs ten times, twice with the addition of everlasting. The covenant is between God and Abraham, and by extension, God and Abraham's descendents. There is a demand "walk with Me" and "be spotless" to initiate the covenant.
The Hebrew tamem literally means complete, whole. entire, sound, innocent. It is frequently translated as without blemish. It occurs some 90 times in the Bible (almost half in Leviticus and Numbers where it modifies the sacrifice of lamb or ox). It is first used of Noah, then here of Abraham. Often translated as perfect, if we keep in mind the idea of complete and entire, we are less likely to overemphasize the idea of moral perfection. The idea that what is given to God in sacrifice is "perfect" finds its parallel in our own "perfection." The sacrificial life is given to God, wholly (and holy!).
[you can see more at this site: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H8549&t=KJV ]
The covenant is sealed with circumcision. I can see where this is also weird to some folks. Why cut off the foreskin? In fact West Semitic people and Egyptian priests also followed this practice. Perhaps it is associated with fertility? Certainly it is an intimate act and something which one carries in his own flesh. The ritual cutting of animals may be in the background here as well. Obviously, the Jewish practice of circumcision is a co-opting of a previous pagan ritual. [something for those who denigrate the church doing it to keep in mind] God promises, again and again, to be the God of this people. Concluding with a clever pun that those who are not circumcised will be cut off from the people. The Hebrew Bible delights in such turn of phrase!
The concreteness of religious practice reflects the concreteness of life. Some find it strange that we do whatever we do. The critique "it is weird" seems at first blush to be fair. But in reality, what isn't weird? What cannot be mocked? What cannot be described semi-accurately in a way to make it sound silly?
For Abraham these words of God were trustworthy. He did, in fact, father many nations. And to this day his descendents populate the earth and name themselves as his children (Muslim and Christian as well as Jews). We can learn from his example and from his failures. He was not perfect, but he seems to have been a complete man of God. In the end, that is our call as well!