BEMA 11: Here I Am
1 May 22 — Initial public release
18 Apr 22 — Transcript approved for release
Here I Am
Brent Billings: This is the BEMA Podcast with Marty Solomon. I’m his co-host Brent Billings. Today we continue to look at the kind of partner God has chosen in Avram. We’re going to be reading Genesis 18–22, covering that whole chunk today. We’re actually not going to read the whole thing, but we are going to start in Genesis 18, where we see Avram modeling hospitality.
Marty, I think you’re going to read that, right?
Marty Solomon: Yes. Maybe we could go back and we’ll recap just a little bit of where we’ve been. If you remember, we’ve been talking about the preface of Genesis. All eight different stories were — the author or authors of Genesis, God through Genesis — is trying to convince mankind to trust, to not live out of their fears and insecurities, but to trust that they’ve got the love and the value and the acceptance of God.
If they’re going to live a life dominated by fear of what they’re not and dominated by fear of what they don’t have, if they’re going to act out of insecurity, the stories are going to end in tragedy. That’s what the preface showed us. Out of the preface and into the introduction, we met this guy by the name of Avram and we’ve seen throughout his life, we’ve seen Avram do incredible things that we just hadn’t seen yet in the story. Put his life on hold, put his name — as far as he could tell — throwing his legacy away in order to give Iscah/Sarai dignity and marry a barren woman.
We’ve seen him struggle, to try to figure out what it means to trust the story. He’s not perfect. He’s just like you and me. He put his trust in Egypt, but he learned from that and he didn’t let that mistake define him. He didn’t settle. One of the themes that have been coming all throughout the story of Genesis is God doesn’t want people to settle, until they can find their way back to the Tree of Life. Avram doesn’t settle. He learns from his mistakes.
He doesn’t settle in his mistakes. He doesn’t let those bad chapters define him, and he picks up right where he left off. We see him give up Lot, not once but twice. We see him struggle, again, to struggle to figure out what it means to trust the story. God meets him there and wrestles with him in that and gives him some more promises. Then Avram continues to struggle.
He kind of screws up the story with Hagar, using his perspective and his limited insight to try to figure out what God’s doing, and that kind of falls apart and blows up in his face.
God comes to him and says, “You’re still the guy, and in fact, I’m going to give you a mark. I’m going to give you the sign of the covenant.” Instead of the story of Noah, where God says, “I’m keeping the sign of the covenant,” God says, “I like this partnership of Avram and I’m going to give you the sign of the covenant. I’m going to give it to you in a way you’re not going to lose it. I’m asking you to buy in a little bit more into the relationship. I’m expecting a little more out of you, Avram, than I did out of Noah and the people earlier in the story.”
He invites him into the covenant of circumcision and that’s where we’re going to pick up. The reason I do the review like that, is it’s really important to remember the context of the story, not just dive into the story, but always to remember the context of the story, where it lands. What it’s coming after, and what it’s heading into. It’s just really important to keep our eyes on that.
We’re picking up right after this story of circumcision and the question here is: Okay, as Avram got this sign of this new covenant, this covenant of circumcision that he’s made with God, what kind of a guy is Avram going to be in this new covenant? What are we going to see of Avram? What’s the next thing that we’re going to see come out of Avram in his walk with God? What’s going to be the defining mark of who he is as a follower of God?
That’s where we’re going to pick up. We’re going to pick up here in Genesis 18. In fact, how about you read and I’ll stop you, Brent?
Brent: All right, I’ll kick it off. Genesis 18.
The Lord appeared to Avram near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day… Which I like your context, because, if you just start right there you see, he’s just like chilling in the tent. But no, he just got circumcised.
Marty: He is taking a little break? [laughs]
Brent: Yes. Avram looked up and saw three men standing nearby when he saw them. He hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bow low to the ground. He said, “‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my Lord do not pass your servant by let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way now that you have come to your servant.’ ‘Very well,’ they answered, ‘Do as you say.’”
Marty: Okay. I’ll stop you there. One of the things that we don’t often find ourselves aware of, unless we’ve studied it or have ever been to the Middle East, the Middle East has this unbelievable cultural premium on hospitality. The reason they have this hospitality, any of them will tell you whether you’re talking to a Bedouin, a Muslim, a Palestinian, an Israeli if you’re ever over there, they’ll tell you, “We’re children of Avram.”
Like the defining mark of Avram was his hospitality. Hospitality has this unbelievable premium over there. It is one of the highest values they have culturally. I can remember when I was on one of my — in fact, it was my first Israel trip with Ray Vander Laan, and we were over in Israel. We were just outside of Tel Arad. He took us on this little hike and we started walking, and we came over this little rise. All of a sudden you could see this little Bedouin settlement, just over the hill and we’re walking straight for it.
The whole group, there’s 54 of us Americans, were like, “We’re walking right towards that Muslim village what’s going to go on.” All of a sudden, we see in the distance, we see all these little children come out to the houses and they start running towards us. We’re like, “Oh man, what’s going on here?” Because we’ve been really informed Americans over here. These children come running out to us and they greet us and they’re just full of joy.
They meet us about half a mile away from the village, by the time they get to us and — we can’t talk, they don’t know English, we don’t know Arabic. We’re having this kind of weird interaction, half conversations as they lead us into town. We eventually get into town and they lead us to the home of a woman there. I have her picture — her name is Khadija — hanging in my kitchen, to always remember the time I spent at her house on this trip.
We came there and she took 54 of us Americans unannounced. We had not called ahead of time. She brought us into her home. Everybody came in from what they were doing. All the men were out working in the city, but all the women came in, and we all sat down in this large sitting room of their — kind of like a porch in their house. They started making homemade bread. They emptied their cupboards. They got out these little glass cups for everyone, which I don’t even know if it were my house, I don’t even have 54 cups, to serve everyone, but they did and they got it all out and they served, they made us this homemade honey tea, and it was almost like a Turkish tea almost.
It was a Middle Eastern tea. Then they made us homemade bread and we ate bread and drank tea until they ran out of stuff to serve us. I remember Ray, our leader, just telling us the important premium they put on hospitality. How was one of the greatest honors and greatest joys? He said, “You as Americans are going to want to pay her for her service,” he says, “but don’t you dare do that because you will rob her of one of the greatest joys and honors, we could ever give them. We were guests here.”
At one point during our time there, as we sat there and relaxed, I remember we had a translator there and we were asking, one of the questions got asked of Khadija. They said, “What is it that you want in life more than anything else?” She kind of got on her knees in the middle of the circle and she looked around at us and she held her arms kind of outstretched. She said, “Salem.” Arabic for peace. She rattled some stuff. The translator said she would wish that we could sit here like this and dine like this forever.
It was just this incredible — at one point, Ray said, “If this village were to come under attack, every single one of these people here would lay down their life in order to protect you before they let anybody harm you because you are their guest.” It’s an unbelievable experience to experience Middle Eastern hospitality. They say, all these people groups say, that it’s all because we’re children of Avram.
What we see in this story here is Avram is the kind of guy who’s going to go out of his way to honor, to welcome, to generously be hospitable to three men he doesn’t even know who shows up in the middle of the day at his tent, and he’s going to hurry. Some people like to make a big deal out of running. One of the things that often gets talked about in Middle Eastern culture, which is absolutely true, is that a patriarch does not run. They don’t run.
Some people say that Avram’s running in the story. It doesn’t say in the Text that he’s running; it says that he hurries. You might have a kind of insinuation or an implication there that he might be. He’s doing something that is bordering on — it’s bordering on crazy, in his culture, but it doesn’t actually say he’s running.
I think sometimes we get so caught up in that conversation and that argument, we actually miss the thing that is happening right in front of us. These visitors stopped by his tent and you pointed it out, Brent, he’s sitting in the heat of the day. Why is he doing that?
Brent: Because he just got circumcised.
Marty: He just got so circumcised and he’s hurrying about. This guy has 318 people in his household. Send somebody else to do it, send Eliezer or your head priest or your head — not your head priest — your chief servant of your household. Send Sarah. But this is the kind of guy who’s going to get up right after that uncomfortable surgery. He’s going to hurry about, to welcome guests that he sees coming in the distance.
This is the kind of guy that God has marked with the sign of the covenant that says, “I’m willing to partner with this guy.” To go back to my [personal] story, that was a humbling experience that day because I grew up in a culture that had told me — they had told me what Muslims believed. They had told me that they were all out to kill me and they hated me. They were my enemy.
What I found out that day was something radically different, something very countercultural, something that I did not expect. Something that I don’t think I would do because I’m too worried about my own security. I find it convicting to consider if we were at home and we saw 54 Muslims come over a hill. I wonder if our first reaction would be to send our four- and our five-year-old children out to greet them half a mile away.
I wonder if we would lock our doors or if we would throw them open and invite them in and make them a feast until we ran out of groceries. I am far too worried about my own security. I’m far too worried about the things that I’m afraid about. I go back to the preface because what I see in this is God saying, “If you are going to function out of your fear and if you’re going to function out of your insecurity, we’re not going to be able to put the world back together.”
To put it in new Testament terms, the kingdom of God can’t come to that place. The kingdom of God can’t show up in a place ruled by fear, but a place ruled by trust. “I trust that God’s got this. I trust that God is for me. I trust that I can lay my life down on behalf of other people. I don’t have to be afraid. I’m not going to function out of fear. I’m going to function out of generosity, hospitality, trust, self-sacrifice.”
Avram’s narrative is a consistent narrative of self-sacrifice and this is why God has marked him with the mark of circumcision. I just find that to be really good. But go ahead and finish this story.
Brent: So Avram hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of fine flour and knead it and bake some bread.”
Marty: Okay. Stop. Three seahs of fine flour. Three seahs is about roughly 60 pounds. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever baked 60 pounds of flour. None of us have, because that doesn’t… If you can imagine going to Walmart and getting those little pound bag of flour? 60 pounds of flour is a lot of bread for three guests. Again, you don’t just see a guy who’s willing to accept people with some hospitality. You see somebody who’s hurrying, who is extravagant, who is going above and beyond the call of duty to do the things that God has asked him to do. To be the person that God has asked him to become.
Three seahs, the Jews called this a miracle. The Jews connected this kind of miracle to radical hospitality. If you offer yourselves to others in radical hospitality, God will work miracles in the way that you offer your life. But okay, go ahead. Keep going.
Brent: I don’t suppose you know how many loaves of bread you get out of a pound of flour?
Marty: Oh, my goodness. I don’t, I can’t imagine, but more than one. I do know that much. I see Brent on Google right now.
Brent: We got to find out.
Marty: You’ve got to find out because I don’t think about the weight of flour.
Marty: It’s that we don’t do that.
Brent: Yes. We don’t make our own bread anymore. We just buy the loaves.
Marty: I imagine he’s feeding guys for like a month’s worth of bread on their way.
Brent: It’s about 80 loaves of bread. That’s a lot of bread. That’s a lot of bread.
Marty: They all walk out of there with 25, almost 26 loaves apiece.
Brent: Those three visitors. She didn’t go to the store to buy 80 loaves, which would be crazy.
Brent: She made 80 loaves by hand.
Marty: Right. I know that our Western logical mind says, “Of course, she had all those servants. They all helped her.” Which is, I mean, logically very probable, not just possible, but probable. The Jews and the rabbis and the sages teach that this was what the Text tells us, that Sarah did it, and it’s this indication of this miracle. But anyway, good stuff.
Brent: All right, continuing on, verse seven.
Then he ran… there’s your running right there. Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree. “Where is your wife Sarah?” They asked him. “There, in the tent,” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Avraham and Sarah were already old and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So, Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Marty: All right. There’s a couple interesting things going on there. We saw the same reaction from Avram in the last chapter, when he was told he was going to have a son and he’s like, “Are you serious?” He laughed, but the rabbis teach there must have been something different about Avraham laughter and Sarah’s laughter. You are about to read more about that.
What she says here is actually interesting in the Hebrew. Seems to imply a sense of not just the logical, “Am I going to bear a child.” But the actual intimacy required to bear the child. May I have this pleasure in the Hebrew seems to refer to a sexual pleasure in the Hebrew, but it is interesting. It’s not like this, like, “Oh, I’m going to have this,” but, “Oh, yes, really? We’re going to be able to do the deed that’s required in order to have children? That will be rich.” That kind of seems to be her comment, but go ahead and finish that.
Brent: Then the Lord said to Avram, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, `Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
Marty: You did a funny little ditty there at the end.
Brent: Yes, and I don’t know why I remember that. I feel like I should point out though in that last paragraph where it says “the Lord said to Avram, and then is there anything too hard Lord?” It switches. It’s actually the all-caps version as in the name of God. As opposed to all the previous instances of Lord in the story, were not.
Marty: Correct. Which is an interesting conversation. It almost gives the — you wonder how much Avram knew. Did Avraham know that this was God visiting or did Avram just see these men as visitors? The story really seems to imply that because of the usage of Lord here and the way that they’re talking, he doesn’t necessarily see him as God that has come. He sees him purely as this man that he’s honoring by calling him Lord and giving him that time.
Brent: Yes, I guess I actually slightly misspoke at the very beginning of the chapter where it says the Lord appeared to Avram, that is the name of God. But then when Avram first speaks to them, he says, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord,’ and that is lowercase “lord.”
Marty: Correct. We’re going to kind of bounce to the next few chapters here. This chapter continues, chapter 18 and you see God reveal his plan about Sodom to Avraham. What’s interesting, God shows up and God says — we’re going to talk about this more later — but God says, “The cry, the tsa’aqah of Sodom has reached my ears. I’m here to see if it’s as bad as it sounds.”
Avraham enters into this, like, negotiating/bargain conversation. He’s bartering for the salvation of Sodom with God, which is this really interesting story. But one of the most common things you’ll see throughout the teachings of Judaism is the patriarchs were people who had what was called “chutzpah”. C-H-U-T-Z-P-A-H, chutzpah. It’s guts. It’s a little fire in your belly. It’s passion. It’s in another language — it’s cojones.
It is the stuff you need in order to get the job done. This Abraham is willing to go toe-to-toe. At this point in the story, he realizes who he’s talking to and he says, “This isn’t who you are. This isn’t your character. This isn’t what you do. You don’t come to wheel and deal destruction. What if I can find 40? What if I can find 30? What about 20? What about 10?” He continues to barter and to bargain God down to this — it’s such an interesting interchange that he has enough reverence and respect for who God is. And yet he has the chutzpah that’s needed to go toe to toe and say, “Wait a minute this isn’t who you are” and we’re going to call this later in the story, a priestly role. Abraham is going to intercede on behalf of other people and it’s really interesting to watch that conversation go down.
Brent: I definitely encourage you to jump out of the podcast for a minute and read that story because it’s a lot of fun.
Marty: Yes, it is. We’re going to leave [chapter] 19 until later. When we get to Exodus we’re going to come back and catch the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but we don’t want to get lost and off-track here. When we get to Exodus, we’re going to take a look at the three stories in Torah. The three dominant stories in Torah where we see God’s wrath. What I want to point out as we go past is a couple things.
Number one this story is an oddity. We have not seen a wrathful God. This is what Avraham says. Avraham says, “What are you doing? This isn’t who you are.” We get this picture that the God of the Old Testament is this harsh punishment wielding and dealing God and it’s just not the case. We have seen a God of grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, grace, and all of a sudden, we run into the story where God’s going to rain down fire and brimstone on Sodom.
There must be something going on there. As we’re going to see in Exodus. Exodus is going to be a weird story. This is not the character and the nature of who God is and Torah.
When we get to Exodus, we’re going to actually see that in the Text itself, in the literature, these stories are connected and there’s a reason they’re there. I think it’s going to be pretty illuminating. We’re going to come back. I’m going to put the pause button on Genesis 19 and just mention one more thing in passing. One of the things we see about Lot, if you remember, Lot is where, Brent?
Brent: He’s in Sodom.
Marty: Right, and he’s sitting in the city gate. What’s actually interesting is Lot went there as kind of a foreigner. He settles in Sodom and by the time we get to him later in the story here he is now a city official. That’s who sits in the city gates. If he’s in the city gates, he’s somebody of significance and importance in Sodom. Lot’s really had — he’s really risen in his prominence and his leadership in Sodom.
It’s interesting that Midrash talks about the three characters of Genesis. It talks about Lot the assimilator, Noah the insulator — they call him the man in the fur coat. Noah was this guy that didn’t seem to care about anybody else. He was just like, “Sweet, I need to build a boat, take care of my family, awesome, I’m in.” He just cared about himself and his own.
Lot was an assimilator. He assimilated into culture and actually lost his ability to impact and Avram, Avraham is an engager. He’s the guy that’s going to engage culture and remain distinct from it and be able to impact it.
Lot is this guy that we find in the city gates at Sodom but even Lot is made of the same stuff, the same stock as his family. When you see the visitors come to Sodom it’s Lot that comes out to protect them. It’s Lot that puts his family on the line. I know that when you and I read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, we are bothered by the fact that Lot would offer his daughter.
Rightfully so, we’re appalled at this. Like, “I can’t believe Lot would do that. What an incredibly…” But what we don’t understand is the premium that the biblical culture places on hospitality. Lot is even willing to offer his own family. We are like, “Why doesn’t he offer himself?” Because he’s the guy that’s got to protect everybody and if he offers himself everybody else goes down with the ship. This is somebody who’s going to be willing to put his own family on the line if it means saving the foreigner, the refugee, these people in need in his house. It’s just a cultural difference we just don’t understand.
We’re going to move on. We’re going to see in Genesis 20. We’re going to kind of skip that too but you’re going to Avraham is not perfect. We are going to consistently see Avraham do incredible things. He just displayed incredible hospitality unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the story and something that will remain distinct all throughout the story of the scriptures. Avraham’s incredible hospitality followed by more struggle.
This time he’s going to repeat his mistake with a guy by the name of Abimelech and he’s going to say that Sarah is his sister just like he did before. I thought he had learned from his past mistake? In fact, Avraham is just like you and me. Avraham commits the same mistakes and sometimes even worse. He’s with less excuses this time than he was the first time. The first time he was wrestling with the famine and stewardship and responsibility and what he should do but this time he knows better and he does it anyway.
I’m not sure there’s anybody listening to this podcast that can’t relate to that, that can’t relate to knowing exactly what it’s like to know something is out of bounds. To know how destructive something is. To know that you failed in some way and to repeat that same mistake. Again, the question is going to remain, is this where Avraham is going to settle? Is Avraham going to settle here in his mistake? Is he going to let chapter 20 define who he is and what his story is going to become? The answer is going to be, no. Avraham is going to keep moving. Avraham is not going to be defined by that.
I want to spend the rest of our podcast time in chapters 21 and 22. We got two stories here.
Brent: Before you get started, I just want to say we do have a presentation for this portion of the podcast.
Marty: Yes, we do.
Brent: This is a great time to scroll down in your podcast app and open that up or if you’re sitting at your computer click on that link.
Marty: Absolutely, yes. Right. So I’m gonna jump in Genesis 21— and you’ll see this in your presentation which I’m actually going to pull up myself while we speak. Here we go.
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said. The Lord did for Sarah what He had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Avraham in his old age. At the very time, God had promised him, Avraham gave him the name Itsac to the son Sarah bore him. When his son Itsac was eight days old Avraham circumcised him as God commanded him. Avraham was 100 years old when his son Itsac was born to him. Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ She added, ‘Who would have said to Avraham that Sarah would nurse children, yet I have born him a son in his old age.’
The child grew and was weaned. On the day that Itsac was weaned Avraham had a great feast. Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar, the Egyptian had boar to Avraham was mocking and she said to Avraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son. For that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance of my son Itsac.’ The matter distressed Avraham greatly because it concerned his son, but God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of a slave into a nation also because he has your offspring.’
Early the next morning Avraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and set her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water of the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the brushes and she went off and sat down about a bowshot away.” Interesting detail by the way. “About a bowshot away. For she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die,’ and she sat there. As she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, which I find interesting. “God hears the boy crying.” Doesn’t hear Hagar crying, because God is a God who hears the tsa’aqah. We’ll talk about the tsa’aqah later. Tsa’aqah is a cry of people that have been unjustly treated. The cry of the oppressed. It doesn’t say He hears Hagar’s cry; it says he hears the boy’s cry. See right there.
The Angel of God called the Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid. God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand for I will make him into a great nation.’ God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.
I’ve always found those details to be correct, interesting, and connected.
“She sets him down and goes about a bowshot away and then he grows up to be an archer.” I’ve wondered if it’s not the author’s way of saying these things that we do have a way of impacting who we become?
This experience that Ishmael has when he’s a child, when he’s an adolescent ends up impacting him greatly when he becomes an adult. Nevertheless, did you have any problems as we read this? We haven’t asked that question a lot because we’ve changed genres of literature. We’re not in the same genre that we found in the preface Genesis one through 11. We’ve entered into a more historical narrative genre. So that question isn’t nearly as prominent but it’s always one that we want to be aware of. Did you happen to have any problems with the story, Brent?
Brent: Well, initially, we see Sarah, she saw Ishmael and Hagar and she goes to Avraham and says, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. For that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” But it was her idea in the first place to use Hagar to fulfill God’s promise, right?
Brent: I don’t know, that just seems like a weird, dramatic shift.
Marty: Right and there and a few midrash that talk about that and give some more color to the story. A little bit about whose idea it was. Was it theirs together? Was it hers, was it his? Those kinds of things. I think a lot of us could relate to that in our human experience. Like the very ideas that we had. The really bad ideas. We didn’t know it at the time but they end up being things we regret later.
This is 13 years later and she's learned to hate the thing that she thought was a good idea earlier in the story. We’ve been there, right? But there could be more to it than that but yes.
Brent: It seems like she would have some level of compassion for her slave and Ishmael.
Brent: Even though yes, she knows that God said, “It’s going to be through Sarah and that line of offspring that I will make you a great nation.” She knew that, she didn’t really know how that was going to work, so she tried the one thing and that wasn’t right. But now it feels like this vile hatred kind of thing.
Marty: Right. Yes, absolutely.
Brent: It doesn’t seem like it’s in line with the character of what these people are supposed to be about.
Marty: Yes, they’re human just like the rest of us. I have always taken a lot of solace in that. Any other problems?
Brent: Then on the back of that God turns around and says, “Yes, just do whatever Sarah says.” What?
Marty: Right, and then later in Torah is going to make a law that essentially undoes — this is going to happen again in the patriarch’s story with Jacob and Esau and those kind of things. God’s going to make these laws in Torah that say, “We don’t want to go back there. We’re not going to do that again. So, if you have a son through another woman, whether it’s your favorite wife, not your favorite wife or whatever, that son has to have those firstborn rights.”
In this story God says we can’t get — it appears that God seems to say, “Listen, I’ve got them. I’m going to take care of them but we cannot get the story that we’re trying to tell all jumbled up. This was not how I wanted the story to go. This is why I didn’t want to tell you the answer in Genesis 15. This is why I wanted to remain silent but now we have to deal with this other thing that we’ve got on our hands and it’s problematic,” but yes.
Brent: Then we see Avraham get some food and a skin of water and sent Hagar off with the boy. When the water in the skin was gone, which I feel like would only take about an hour and a half. She puts him under the bush and what?
Brent: She puts her son under a bush and just like…?
Marty: One of the biggest things that bothers us about this story is that mom just leaves her kid-- She just leaves her child under a bush to die. It’s not that necessarily doesn’t make any sense or it says unbelievable but it’s definitely something that grabs our attention. Like, “Wait a minute I’m not sure I can do that to my kids. I do something else but that’s a hard story to stomach.”
Brent: Why does she even feel like she has to let him die?
Brent: God told Avraham, “Yes, do whatever Sarah says. It’s through Isaac but I’ll make him a nation also because he’s your offspring. We’ll do that.” I guess he didn’t pass that on to Hagar because she’s not doing that.
Marty: Right, yes, very interesting story. Is there anything else about this story that seems to be out of place?
Brent: Where we were, we introduced Ishmael? It’s a little while ago.
Marty: Right. Like all the way back in chapter 16.
Brent: All kinds of stuff has happened.
Marty: Right. Also, he makes an appearance again. The story is kind of weird because when you hear the story of Hagar and Ishmael and she lays the boy under a bush. Like what is a certain knee-jerk initial — what do you picture in your head?
Brent: What kind of bush?
Marty: What kind of boy?
Brent: Like a small child.
Marty: Right, she’s laying a small child — like an infant, a baby, maybe a small kid but do you picture a —
Brent: He’s young enough that he’s not going to get up and wander off, I guess.
Marty: Exactly, right and he’s apparently in not as good a shape as she is. She’s an old woman but her son, he’s 13 years old, we were just told at the end of chapter 17. We do not picture a 13-year-old boy who should be in much better health and be able to sustain life a lot longer than mom in this desert heat. This story seems to be oddly out of place because we’re going to meet Isaac at the beginning of it but then the very next time, we meet Isaac in the next chapter he’s going to be old enough to carry wood.
Now we jumped 13 years from Ishmael’s birth to Isaac’s birth. We’re going to jump 13 years in the very next story from Isaac’s birth to the binding of Isaac called “the Akeda.” What in the world? These two stories have been moved to sit right next to one another. We may want to keep that in mind as we read the next story.
I’m going to jump over to Genesis 22.
Sometime later God tested Avraham and he said to him, ‘Avraham.’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. God said, ‘Take your son, your only son whom you love Isaac and go to the region of Moriah, sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on the mountain I will show you.’ Earlier the next morning Avraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had enough food for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God told him about.
On the third day, Avraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we’ll come back to you.’ Avraham took the wood for the burnt offering and then placed it on his son Isaac and he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two of them went on together Isaac spoke up and said to his father, ‘Father.’ Said to Avram. His father Avraham. ‘Father.’ ‘Yes, my son’. Avraham replied. ‘The fire and the wood are here.’ Isaac said. ‘But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Avraham answered, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burn offering my son.’ The two of them went on together and when they reached the place God told them about Avraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it and he bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.
Then he reached out his hand and he took the knife to slay his son but the angel the Lord called them from heaven. ‘Avraham, Avraham.’ ‘Here I am.’ He replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy.’ He said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Avraham looked up and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by his horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrifice as a burn offering instead of his son. Avraham called that place The Lord Will Provide or in the Hebrew The Lord Who Sees. To this day it said on the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.
This is one of the stories that I think those of us that have grown up in the church are far too used to. This whole teaching, by the way, that I’ve gotten on these two stories, I learned from David Fohrman. He has incredible teachings, much better than the one I’m giving you now online at Aleph Beta. Just some incredible stuff. He calls this “the lullaby effect” when you hear a story so much that you just are too used to it because here’s the story of a guy God says, “Hey, I need to go kill your son.” Avraham is just like, “Okay.” We all sit in church and we think, “Man what great faith. This incredible faith of Avram.”
Brent: The father of faith, right?
Marty: The father of faith. It’s like no, this is so screwed up. He’s just willing to sacrifice his son? And so it should raise some questions. A little cultural context will help us. Every single religion that Avraham has ever been used to. Every religion of his fathers, every religion of the land that he’s in. Every God system that Avraham has ever seen demands child sacrifice. It’s a part of the system. The fact that God would come and say, ‘I need your firstborn son is not a surprise to him.’ It’d be like, “Okay.’”
One of the things that’s interesting about this is it takes him three days to go to Mount Moriah or from Beersheba to Mount Moriah. That is at the most a half-a-day walk. In fact, I know one teacher, I cannot remember who it was, but I remember hearing from one teacher, they thought that Avraham actually went the long way around the Dead Sea to get to Mount Moriah. Almost as a protest to say, “God, I’m going to do what you told me, but I’m going to give you every single chance to change your mind.”
It’s interesting to see the angst that’s going on there, but we have all kinds of problems in the story. Some of them are solved by context, but we already said that these two stories were put next to one another. If you look at your presentation, you’ll notice the next slide there has all the parallels that we find. There are five different parallels. I think you could even find six but I have the five major parallels that I picked up from Fohrman in these two stories.
First of all, there’s the phrase “early the next morning, Avraham.” That exact Hebrew phrase and its usage is only used these two times in Torah. Right here in these two stories in Genesis 21:14 and 22:3. That’s where we find those. In Story A, the Hagar story, Avraham set supplies on Hagar’s shoulders. In the Isaac story in chapter 22 Avraham sets supplies on Isaac’s shoulders. In Chapter 21, Hagar puts the boy under a brush, then in 22:9, Abraham puts the boy on or over, in the Hebrew, brush. In chapter 21, Hagar looks up to see a well, in chapter 22, Abraham looks up to see a ram. In chapter 21, the Hagar story is going to end with a covenant at Be’er Sheva. In chapter 22, it’s going to end with a story of the covenant between Abvaham and God.
You have all these parallels obviously in order directly linking these stories, the author wants you to know these two stories are connected. If I were to go back to the Avraham story, I would be looking for clues, I would be looking for hints, I would be looking for treasure maps.
Do you think there is anything that we might look for Brent?
Brent: Well, we can always look for a chiasm.
Marty: Oh, it’d be such a good idea to look for a chiasm. Of course, if you’re trying to save time like we are right now, you could just say go to the next slide, because “Marty’s done the chiasm for us. Oh, yay!”
Brent: Thank you, Marty, we really appreciate that.
Marty: I know, right? If you turn to the next one, you have some handwritten notes there. Sorry, they could be cleaner and nicer. I started by circling the book ends. There is a Hebrew conjugation, it is not actually a word. If you try to look this up in Blue Letter Bible, it will not have an entry because there is no actual word or phrase here. It’s like a passing conjugation. It’s the way you translate the words around it. The phrase “here I am”, or as it’s been explained to me if you wanted to talk about it in the Hebrew, hineni. Hineni, here I am, he replied. Then at the end of the story-- at the beginning of the story, God calls to him, Avraham? Avraham says, “Hineni.” At the end of the story, the angel calls to him, Avraham, hineni. That’s what he says.
If we go the next layer in, we might pull out the idea that Avraham took the wood for the burnt offering, placed it on his son, Isaac. We might compare that to the backside of the chiasm, where he bound up his son Isaac, laid him on the wood. You might notice the phrase they went on together on the front end of the chiasm, the back end of the chiasm there in the green.
Then in the purple color there, I have underlined the center of the chiasm here, which is somewhat misleading, we’ll get to that in just a moment. Let me ask you a question though Brent. I know you don’t have kids at this point. Let’s imagine you did, you’re a dad walking up the mountain, right? You’ve been given orders to kill your son. You know what you’re there to do; you know what is supposed to happen at the top of this mountain. What is your demeanor as you walk up this mountain, do you suppose?
Brent: Well, I’m not happy.
Marty: Right. You’re not happy, right? A lot of people ask this question. They’re like, “I’m weeping.”
Marty: I’m defeated, I’m crying, I’m visibly upset. When Fohrman teaches about this, he says, “There is no way, if you’re a dad, that you’re visibly distraught as you start up this mountain, because if you’re weeping or crying, or visibly shaken, what is your son going to do at the bottom of the mountain?”
Brent: He’s not coming with?
Marty: Well, he’s at least going to be asking on the way up…?
Brent: Or yes, ask questions like, well, “what’s the big deal?”
Marty: “What’s the matter, dad?” Do you want to have the conversation about what’s the matter, Dad at the bottom of the mountain? No, you do not, right? You have this problem here. You’re talking about anything other than being visibly distraught. You’re talking about the weather, you’re talking about the election, you’re talking about the game last night, you’re talking about the World Series and the Cubs. You’re talking about anything other than…
Brent: Well, the Dead Sea sure looks full today, doesn’t it?
Marty: Yes! “Boy, look at the Dead Sea, what a pretty sunset!” You’re doing. “Look at those clouds on the horizon, I think that’s a storm coming.” The one thing you’re not dealing with — what’s interesting about that is when you look at verse, let’s see here, when you look at verse 7, it says, “Isaac spoke up and said to his father, Avraham.” In the Hebrew that word ‘spoke up’, usually implies an interruption. Avraham is talking, he’s going about his business. He’s distracting and his son Isaac stops him with the very word he’s trying to distract himself with, the word ‘daddy’. Because his one role, what’s the most primal, carnal, primitive role we have as fathers do suppose, Brent?
Brent: To protect our family.
Marty: To protect our family, to protect our kids. This is the thing that Avraham is wrestling with. “God has told me to sacrifice my son.” Isaac unintentionally confronts him with the very thing. Avraham finds himself in this critical moment of fight or flight — is he going to run? Is he going to bail? What is it that he’s going to do? What he says is stunning, it says in the NIV, “Yes, my son.”
If you translate it in the Hebrew, I believe the ESV gets this correct, it actually has the exact same phrase at the front and the back of the chiasm. It’s hineni. “Here I am.” In his moment of most critical need, in Isaac’s moment of critical need, Avram says, “I know that we’re going through a horrible desert. I don’t know how this is going to work, the one thing I’m not going to do is I’m not going to leave your side.” Which is interesting, because what did we say the problem with the Hagar story was?
Brent: She abandoned him.
Marty: She just abandoned her son. These two stories are placed side by side, we will juxtapose them. The difference between Hagar and Avraham is Avraham is the guy that says, “I don’t know how this is going to work out. I’ll tell you the one thing that I do know I’m going to be with you to the very end. Hineni. Here I am, I’m not going anywhere,” which is going to be interesting because I think it’s this story and the center of this chiasm that God is going to continue to call his people back to. When Moses — later in the story — when Moses is talking to God at the burning bush. God says, “Moses, I need you to go down and rescue my people.” Moses has a few things to say about that. One of the things that Moses says is, “Okay, I’m just supposed to show up after 400 years and say God sent me. When they asked me what your name is, what in the world should I tell them?”
One of the things that God says is he says, “Tell them my name is — “ It’s slightly different in the Hebrew because it’s the unconjugated conjugation, which is why we have a hard time translating that I am, we say, “I Am that I Am”, or “I was, I Am, and I always will be.” It is an unconjugated conjugation. Here I am, here I was, here I will be — here I am.
I think it’s God’s call back to this fundamental story of their father Avram and says, “Do you remember the story of your great father Avram, of who he was? I chose him because he’s what I’m like.” Avram is what God is like, Avram has a bit of the stuff that God is made out of. God is a God that’s never going to leave our side. That’s who Avram was, that’s exactly why God chooses him. God says, “That’s who I am.” Which is an incredibly poignant lesson in Exodus, because what he’s telling Moses is, he says, “You go back and tell those slaves who have been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, that I’ve never left their side. I’ve been there with them the whole time. I’ve never left them in their moment of greatest need. You go tell them that that is my name. They think I disappeared. I never left for one moment.”
I think, of course, we could play into the New Testament, we could talk about Jesus. “Who are you looking for?” The soldier says, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He responds in Hebrew because I believe it’s the Jewish temple guard. If they’re talking in Hebrew, Jesus would say, “Hineni,” and they all fall down. Then Jesus’s moment of greatest need, fight or flight. Is Jesus going to head to the cross, or is Jesus going to fight and run?
Jesus says, “I’m not going anywhere. In your moment of greatest need. Here I am. I’m going to be the goat caught in the thorns.” You could even talk about a few conversations in Revelation where there’s a reference to I AM. I feel it’s tricky, whether or not that’s the same use of I AM, but there’s a few references there as well.
Revelation will be a great place to use that too, a persecuted church wanting to know if they should stick with it. John trying to tell them to overcome, to hang in there, and Jesus saying, “In your moment of greatest need, I have not left your side.”
This is a story of Avram. Of course, we still have this problem of how could God set Avraham up like this? To do this sacrifice, it still seems a little primitive, a little barbaric. If you remember, if God is Eastern and not Western, if God is Western, he’s just going to stand on a chair and tell Avram, “I’m not like the other gods. I’ll never demand child sacrifice. Point 1: This isn’t who I am. Point 2: God isn’t like that.” If God is interacting with an Eastern culture, God is going to try to set up a rabbinical moment of discovery, a moment that Avraham will never forget, so that he will truly learn the lesson. He won’t just know the information. He will learn it in the most intimate way possible so that he can pass it on generations and generations to come.
God takes this demand that is so normal in Avraham’s world, where God says ‘‘I need your son’’ and you just are supposed to say “okay” and God sets up this moment because he knows who Avram is. At the moment where the knife is in his hand, God says, ‘‘Alright, Avram, stop. Because I want you to know something. I’m not like those other gods. I will provide the sacrifice. Look over there, there’s a ram in the thicket. That’s who I am. That’s who I’ll always be. I’ve chosen you because you’re the kind of guy that’s going to be radically hospitable. That’s going to be radically present and committed to being there for people that need it.’’
Brent: We continue to learn about Avram. That’s a good place to stop before we get to Isaac. Now, is there any significance to the ram because Isaac says, ‘‘Where’s the lamb?’’ And Avram says, ‘‘God will provide the lamb,’’ but then it ends up being a ram?
Marty: That’s a good question, I would have to look at the Hebrew words there because there are two different words for lambs, rams, goats, a general word for all of them together and it may be playing off of that. The one thing that is happening there is that Hebrew does not contain punctuation. When Isaac asks ‘‘Where’s the lamb for the burnt offering?’’ Avram responds, ‘‘The Lord God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Hebrew doesn’t have the punctuation. We’re punctuating that as translators. Rabbi Fohrman pointed out, as well as many other Jewish teachers, that it can easily read, ‘‘God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, which is my son. My son is the burnt offering.’’
There’s an interesting conversation going on there. I don’t know if there’s any connection to the differences between lamb or ram. If there are differences in the original language and how those are playing out, that’s a really good question. It is a fun — not a fun, but it’s an interesting — dialogue there to examine what Avram knows? What does Avram believe? What does he not believe?
Hebrews tells us, he thinks he’s going to get his son back. That’s kind of cheating using the New Testament to interpret the Old here, but we can do that. What does he know? He tells the servant he’s going to come back. Is he just telling the servant that because he doesn’t want to deal with the explanation or does, he actually believes that? There’s so many interesting details here about what Avram actually believes and what he’s going off to do.
Brent: It’s quite a story either way.
Marty: Either way, and a great one to come to the end of Avram’s life. This defines who Avram is. A guy who is not going to leave, a man of faithfulness, a guy of hospitality, a guy of self-sacrifice, self-sacrifice, self-sacrifice, self-sacrifice. Avram is not in this for him. Avram is in this for other people. He’s going to make a bunch of selfish mistakes. He’s not going to let those mistakes define him. He’s going to keep moving, and he’s going to keep laying down his life and self-sacrifice for other people.
Brent: Sounds great. I like it. If you live on the Palouse, we hope you join us for discussion groups in Moscow on Tuesday or in Pullman on Wednesday. If you want to get a hold of Marty, you can find him on Twitter at @martysolomon. You can find me on Twitter at @eibcb. And you can find more details about the show at bemadiscipleship.com.
Thanks for joining us on the Bema Podcast and we’ll talk to you again soon.
Marty: How many cups of flour are in a pound?
Siri: Let me think about that. Here’s what I found on the web for how many cups of flour are in a pound.