SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 8 Genesis 12-13

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis 12-13. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11

Genesis 12
New International Version (NIV)
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Call of Abram

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

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.

Genesis 13
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Abram and Lot Separate

13 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. 2 Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

3 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 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

5 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. 6 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. 7 And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

8 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. 9 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 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.

And now we shift from dealing with all of mankind, and begin to focus on the start if the Hebrew nation. Consequently, there are immediately many fewer analogies with other Near Eastern writings and religions. There is a text (the Book of Jasher) indicating a lengthy conflict between King Nimrod and Abram, which begins with Magi attending Abram’s birth, and a prophecy that Abram will cause all kings to perish from the earth, resulting in Herodlike acts from Nimrod, BUT this text dates to the first few centuries A.D. at best, and may, in fact, come from as late as the 17th Century.

The call of Abram begins with an imperative לֶךְ־לְךָ (lekh-lÿkha, “go out”) followed by three cohortatives (v. 2a) indicating purpose or consequence (“that I may” or “then I will”). If Abram leaves, then God will do these three things. The second imperative (v. 2b, literally “and be a blessing”) is subordinated to the preceding cohortatives and indicates God’s ultimate purpose in calling and blessing Abram.

The verb form הְיֵה (hÿyeh) is the Qal imperative of the verb הָיָה (hayah). The vav (ו) with the imperative after the cohortatives indicates purpose or consequence. What does it mean for Abram to “be a blessing”? Will he be a channel or source of blessing for others, or a prime example of divine blessing? A similar statement occurs in Zech 8:13, where God assures his people, “You will be a blessing,” in contrast to the past when they “were a curse.” Certainly “curse” here does not refer to Israel being a source of a curse, but rather to the fact that they became a curse-word or byword among the nations, who regarded them as the epitome of an accursed people (see 2 Kgs 22:19; Jer 42:18; 44:8, 12, 22). Therefore the statement “be a blessing” seems to refer to Israel being transformed into a prime example of a blessed people, whose name will be used in blessing formulae, rather than in curses. If the statement “be a blessing” is understood in the same way in Gen 12:2, then it means that God would so bless Abram that other nations would hear of his fame and hold him up as a paradigm of divine blessing in their blessing formulae.

The Abrahamic narrative foreshadows some of the events in the life of the nation of Israel. This sojourn in Egypt is typological of Israel’s bondage there. In both stories there is a famine that forces the family to Egypt, death is a danger to the males while the females are preserved alive, great plagues bring about their departure, there is a summons to stand before Pharaoh, and there is a return to the land of Canaan with great wealth.

Sarai really was Abram’s half-sister. A number of interpreters have considered that Abram’s plan may have been to pass himself off as her brother, because then he would be have a say in who would be allowed to court Sarai, and stave off any and all until the situation changed. If so, Pharaoh’s actions bulldozed right through that plan. Note that Pharaoh is aware of God’s backing of Abram, since he doesn’t ask for the treasures back, and assigns a guard to escort him safely away.

There’s a chiastic structure both to the list of items given to Abram in 20:16, as well as the entire story. (A chiasmus is a literary or rhetorical device in which items are shown out of their usual order for effect.) The items given to Abram would normally have been listed off with the most valuable first, but here the human servants are placed in the middle, between the various animal offerings. The story itself also offers a reversal: Abram goes to Egypt to escape famine; the Pharoah takes Sarai into his harem; the Pharaoh gives Abram treasures for Sarai; the Pharaoh suffers because he took Sarai; he returns Sarai, and expels them from the country.

The motif of the sister-wife deception is used twice more in Genesis, in 20:1-8, and in chapter 26, with Isaac and Rebekah being the principal characters.

The Negev is the southern desert region in the land of Canaan.
Ibrāhīm (Abraham) is mentioned in 35 chapters of the Quran, more often than any other biblical personage apart from Moses. He is called both a hanif (monotheist) and muslim (one who surrenders to God), and Muslims regard him as a prophet and patriarch, the archetype of the perfect Muslim, and the revered reformer of the Kaaba in Mecca.
Islamic traditions consider Ibrāhīm the first Pioneer of Islam (which is also called millat Ibrahim, the “religion of Abraham”), and that his purpose and mission throughout his life was to proclaim the Oneness of God. In Islam, he is referred to as “Ibrahim El Khalil” meaning “Abraham the Friend [of Allah]”. When Ibrahim was asked for sacrifice, he took Ishmael to sacrifice [as opposed to Isaac in Genesis].

A couple questions

So the Lord appeared to Abraham and gave Abraham’s offspring some land in Shechem. Then Abraham moved towards Bethel and Negev. Why didn’t he just stop in Shechem?

It seems like Lot is (going to ) get punished for separating from Abraham. Is that how it should be read?

The Book of Jasher is cited in Joshua 10:13, but AFAIK has been lost to history. Did you mean some other book, or are you talking about a forgery?

Abram is living a nomad’s life, moving from place to place. Shechem may not have had enough shrubs and growth to support his flocks. As a literary form, he needs to keep moving until Lot is gone and he is alone: then and only then will the Lord give him the promise of being the father of nations, etc.

I don’t see this. The herds of Abram and of Lot were both numerous, and there wasn’t enough land to support both. Lot looked around and saw that one area was more verdant than the other, and picked that. He had no way to know that way lead to disaster. There is a moral lesson here that picking what looks like the easier (or more profitable) path doesn’t always work out.

It’s also cited in 2 Samuel 1.18 and 2 Timothy 3.8. Yes, it’s lost to history; the one I referred to is a much later forgery, which is why I didn’t relate the story in greater detail.

It is very common in pastoralist societies for the herds to outgrow the ability of the land to support them - forcing either war, or migration (sometimes both).

Here, wev are being told that the two groups chose consentual migration, specifically to avoid possible war.

In context, this is more laudable than the alternative. It was not possible for the groups led by Lot and Abraham to remain together.

There are three stories where a patriarch pretends his wife as his sister to protect her: Abraham does it twice (here and also in Gen 20:1-18) and Isaac does it in Gen 26:6-11. These three repetitions of the same story are important to the documentary hypothesis (muliple authors); the first and third probably being the J-author; the middle story being the E-author. Of course, those who think there was only one Author think of these three stories as variations on a theme.

At a literary level (analogy?), we can think of the wife as the people Israel, taken by a foreign king until he discovers that she has another “husband” (namely, God.) Thus pre-figuring the Exodus story. The imagery of Israel as bride and God as bridegroom will occur a lot, later.

Important to this version is that Abraham must learn that his wife is not just a biological procreator, but a spiritual partner in birthing and raising the next generation, and passing the covenant (the blessing) on. We’ll watch the development of Abraham’s realization and Sarah being viewed as a full partner.

The quarrel with Lot is about peaceful resolution of conflict. One of Abraham’s tasks, if he is to found the people Israel, is to pursue justice. Abraham will be tested several times. Here, he succeeds because he does NOT invoke seniority or priority (God gave the land to him), but peacefully and generously lets Lot choose first. In 13:14-17, God rewards Abram for resolving the conflict peacefully, and for still having faith in God’s promise of the land.

Note in 13:4 is mentioned the “site of the altar which he had built there are first” (back in Gen 12:8.) At this place he invokes God by NAME (the tetragrammaton.) The text here establishes the notion that a place can be holy, a place where God’s name is evoked. The concept of a sacred place (Heb: M-K-V-M) paired with God’s name happens fairly often.

One last thought: Prof P notes the command Lech L’cha in 12:1, usually translated as “Go out” or “Go forth.” But the literal translation is “walk yourself,” it’s a reflexive verb. At a philosophical level, the message here (and elsewhere in the Pentateuch) is “walk with God” rather than simply to “believe in God.” There is very little in the text about belief; the focus is on action: what you do is far more important than what you believe. (This is, I think, a critical difference between Judaism and Christianity.)

Also, presumably walking about the land is a legal ritual to lay claim.

No, Lot is not punished. The comment in 13:13 is a foreshadowing of what’s to come: the people of Sodom are wicked. The fact that Lot chose to head thataway is not punishment.

And so here we have The First Time Abram Pimps His Wife to a Foreign King By Pretending She’s His Sister.

Yes, Pharoah gets punished, and rightly so; he had no business taking a wife when he already had a harem full of them. His complaint to Abram after the fact also smacks a bit of blaming the victim. Plus Abram had every logical reason to fear Pharoah, a tyrant who believes himself a god, to make a widow out of Sarai.

But Abram isn’t 100% innocent in all of this, either. He’s the one who lies and the one who doesn’t stand up to defend his wife, thus demonstrating that his faith in God isn’t all that strong yet (here’s hoping he at least fasted and prayed). If it weren’t for God intervening on Abram’s behalf, that would’ve been the end of Abram’s story right there.

The separation isn’t the sin, methinks, but the covetousness. Lot’s whole attitude is pretty much “I want what’s mine”, and that leads him to Sodom, the doomed city.

Yes and no. I happen to think that Christianity is about “believe, and then obey” (Abram believed, and so he went). Faith without works is, as James says in the New Testament, dead. But works without faith is just as dead (Lot busies himself with life for all the wrong reasons, and ends up pretty much losing everything).

Yes, sorry, I only meant to insert as an aside that the Pentateuch text really does not discuss “belief.” Faith and trust, yes, but not belief. And I certainly did not mean to imply (and I apologize if I worded it clumsily) that one religion was exclusively about works while another was exclusively about faith. It’s a matter of emphasis, not of exclusivity. But this is a discussion outside the text, so belongs in GD if someone wants to start it there. My apologies, I did not intend to hijack in a way that counters the premise of this discussion as a literary discussion.

Nothing to add except the usual - thank you all for your insights.


So if Lot has so many servants and herds and flocks, how come the next time we see him he’s living in a house in town, apparently with just his wife and daughters and future sons in law, and no indication that he owns a single sheep?

Heh, that really belongs in future weeks’ threads. :wink:

Suffice it to say that it appears that Lot suffers a series of catastropies that seperate him from his following.

In the very next chapter, he gets caught up in a raid/war between the city-states, and Abraham has to rescue him from captivity. Following that, Lot evidently moved inside the city walls of Sodom - perhaps for fear of being caught again. There is no indication he lacks any herders or sheep, indeed the previously-mentioned verse says that Abraham manages to get back his goods and people.

After the events in Sodom, Lot’s following is pared down to his two daughters living with him in a cave, who choose the good old “drunken incest” route to social security, exactly because there are no other men around … :wink: Presumably, the daughters stayed with him when his men - including supposed future in-laws - ran further away.

It’s also a demonstration of faith. Telling Lot to basically take what you want, I don’t need to stress over it becasue God has promised me so much more.

New thread for the week: Genesis 14-15