Thursday, March 7, 2013

Genesis 22:1-24:67


Michael Douglas is a talented actor. He performed in a series of movies that, while technically well-made, I disliked intensely. Movies like Wall Street, Basic Instinct, and Falling Down. I found them unpleasant, manipulative, and cynical. Too cynical even for me. Then there was The Game.

The Game was the story of a Nicolas Van Orton, a bored, wealthy man whose brother enrolls him in a live-action game that he promises "will change your life." What begins as an entertainment becomes more and more real. Van Orton finds himself put in situations of escalating danger. He is unable to trust anyone. Spolier alert. (Skip to the next paragraph if you don't want the end of the movie spoiled). Van Orton winds up shooting his brother and leaping out of a window in a desperate, remorseful suicide attempt. Instead of dying on impact, he crashes through a glass ceiling and lands, unhurt, on an air bag. He finds himself at a party, surrounded by his friends. His brother is unharmed.  They were all, it was all, a part of the game. Van Orton has new and invigorated view of his life. As the credits rolled I thought, this guy really needs a new group of friends. The relief does not excuse the abuse. I would not continue in a relationship to people who treated me that way.

Michael Douglas redeemed himself for me with his self-parodying turn in One Night at McCool's.

Genesis 21 tells the story that the Jews call the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. This is a key chapter in the Bible. It is a key event in the saga of the Patriarchs. And I find it distasteful in the same way that I found The Game distasteful.

I know that the story can be spun in positive ways. Abraham can be held up as a paragon of obedient faithfulness. (Frankly, I wish that he'd argued with God the way he did back in chapter 18). It can be read as a definitive statement that God does not, after all, desire human sacrifice. (This point will become important later, in the period of the Kings). Christians can spin the story as a prefiguring of Jesus' crucifixion. (God himself does what he does not, in the end, ask of Abraham).

I don't care.

No matter how this story gets spun, an honest reading reveals that this is a tale of horror. God is capricious and cruel. It doesn't matter that God stops the whole thing at the last moment. The relief does not excuse the abuse. Abraham really needs to find another God.

But then, Abraham doesn't come off very well either. He is a liar and a child abuser. Someone should have called the authorities on him.

Let me be clear, if this were the only story I knew about God, I would have nothing to do with God. I would neither worship, love, nor obey a God like this. Such a God is unworthy of human veneration. I would go to hell first.

What about you? What do you make of this story?

Fortunately, this is not the only story that we have of God. It is not God's decisive portrait. That, for me, is Jesus. Jesus is kind of like God's One Night at McCool's.

But it will take us a while to get there.

The story of the Akedah ends with an odd note. Abraham goes to Beer-sheba. In other words, he does not go home to Sarah. Maybe he was afraid to face her after what he had done.

There is another genealogical note at the end of Chapter 22. These occur at points of transition in the story. This one introduces us to the name of Rebekah who will become important soon.

Chapter 23 tells of the death of Sarah. Abraham returns to Hebron to bury her. There is a delightful bit of haggling between Abraham and Ephron. Notice how delicately Ephron names the price of the burial plot.

In chapter 24 Abraham sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. The servant swears an oath on Abraham's thigh. My study Bibles seem unanimous in the opinion that this is a euphemism for the "reproductive organs" (which is itself a euphemism). I seem to recall reading about an etymological connection between the words "testify" and "testicles."

     There is a trope in biblical literature that goes like this:

     The hero leaves home to find a bride.

     He meets a woman by a well.

     Water is drawn.

     A marriage contract is made.

This trope plays out in several Bible stories. Variations on the trope tell us something about the hero. Here the variation it is not Isaac, but a servant, who goes looking for a bride.

Among the Patriarchs, Isaac is the one who doesn't really go anywhere or do much of anything.

At any rate, the woman at the well is the previously mentioned Rebekah. She has a brother named Laban who will become important in the life of Jacob.

Rebekah's family sends her off with their blessings. She and Isaac are wed.

Next: Genesis 25-26

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