Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Genesis 28:10-17

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 4.  It also occurs in the RCL as part of Genesis 28:10-19a.
Summary:  Even in Sunday School we pick up on the irony (or simply unfairness) that God picks Jacob.  A careful reading reminds us that of another irony:  Jacob doesn't really pick up on God's global aims.  The whole vision and promise of God speaks to much grander things than Jacob has in mind.  While we might be tempted to slam Jacob's narrowness or immaturity (especially his absurd response in vs. 20-21), I think he speaks to the faith situation of a lot of people:  Some sense of God's providence to others in the past, but little sense of God's provision for that particular individual and scarely any sense that God intends to bless others through that individual.

סלם  ("sullam"; "ladder"; 28:12)  This word could also mean "stairway" or "ramp."  The NET Bible notes:  There appears to be an Akkadian cognate simmiltu which has a specialized meaning of "stairway, ramp"; TWOT notes:  "...Jacob's ladder, raised from earth to heaven (Gen 28:12). Some would suggest the translation "stairway" and liken the structure to a ziggurat, which is possible. However, there are other words for stairway, and ladders were used at a very early time."

I am not sure how much is at stake with this translation.  Perhaps some don't like the idea of ladder theology (we need to climb to God through our deeds), but stairway theology doesn't seem an improvement.

Side bar:  It is fascinating to think of angels going up and down a ladder, even a very big one.  I either think of monkey-like creatures leaping everywhere; or human like creatures having to move very carefully up and down the ladder. 

םלאך  ("malak"; "messenger" or "angel", 28:12)  Up until this point in the story, angels have only interacted with members of Abraham's family.  This vision of numerous angels reminds the reader that God is very busy at work, not just with Jacob (or even his family).

הנה ("hennah", "behold"; 28:12 (2x), 13, 15)  The writer continues to invite us to envision the sequence of events.

ברך ("baruch", "bless"; 28:14)  The form of this word is interesting here.  
A grammar review:  If you recall from Hebrew, verbs can come in a variety of forms, such as "qal" or "niphal."  While the rules are not entirely regular, these various forms suggest something about how that verb is being employed.  The "niphal" form means the verb is passive (I was hit, for example) or reflexive (I hit myself), with the passive meaning the more common. 

If the verb is translated in the passive, then this passage reads, "All the families of the earth shall be blessed through you and your offspring."

If this verb is translated in the reflexive form, then this passage reads, "All the families of the earth shall bless themselves through you and your offspring."

It is probably most natural here to use the passive translation; however, elsewhere in Genesis (26:4 see) God clearly uses another form that is reflexive with the blessing language.

The question is not whether God will use Jacob's seed to bless all the earth; the question is to what extent will Jacob's seed have in sharing this blessing with the rest of the earth.  That seems like a very rich and if not haunting question about the abundance of God's blessing and our role in sharing this blessing.  Interestingly, Jacob's response suggests that the blessing of the world is not significant to him.

σπερματι ("spermati"; "seed" or "offspring"; Septuagint, 28:14), Paul will pick up on the fact that in both the Hebrew and Greek, the word for "seed" is singular.  Paul takes this to mean "an offspring" instead of "offspring" which he claims is Christ.  While I have no problem with Paul's intrepretation, especially the thought that through Christ the whole world is blessed, it is worth noting that "offspring" rarely ever appears in the plural in Hebrew.

דבר ("debar"; "speak"; 28:15)  The Bible does not say God "promises" here; rather, whatever God says will happen is a promise because God is faithful and always fulfills his word.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Genesis 22

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 4, most recently Sept 15, 2013.
Summary:  This story is obviously challenging and the Hebrew offers no easy way out.  The Hebrew (and Greek translation) does have some fascinating connections to other stories in the Bible.  One helpful point for this story is that God does provide; yet Abraham cannot fully "see" this provision, but has his eyes lifted by the Word of God.  In the one case, the Word of God immediately changes his course of action (vs 11); in the other case, Abraham needs time to see God's plans unfold (vs 4).  While none of us are asked to sacrifice our sons, we are called to go where we do not want to.  God provides a means for us, but we don't always see it.

Key words:

הנני ("henney", "behold", 22:1):  Typical response of a willing servant in the Bible. 

ולך-לך ("lake-lakah", "get up and go"; 22:2):  Two theological points.  In Hebrew, sections of the "scrolls" were not divided by numbers but instead by key words that summarized or set-up a story-line (or series of stories, what we would call chapters).  This section of the Bible is called
"לך-לך" named after this story.  Furthermore, this is not the first time Abraham has been given this command; God told Abraham to get up and go in verse 12:2 to a new land.

Note on Hebrew:  This is a repeated verb:  "Go - go"; because Hebrew uses a small vocab, the first verb in series of verbs is an adverb.  So in this case, "Go in a going way" or "Hurry up!"

עלם:  ("olim", whole sacrifice, 22:2)  A whole sacrifice meant that everything was burned; nothing was given to the priests.  All that remained were ashes.

αγαπητος ("agapetos", "beloved", 22:2)  The Hebrew (and English) do a dramatic build up:  son, only son, Isaac, your beloved.  This phrase "beloved" is used rarely in the Old Testament, but will be picked up in the New Testament to refer to God's view of Jesus:  Jesus Baptism, his transfiguration and finally Mark 12 and a vineyard parable.

נער ("na'ar", "young boy, or servant", 22:3)  Fascinatingly, the two young men could be simply young boys, and not young male servants.  This makes for a number of scary thoughts...

ראה ("ra-ah", "see", 22:4).  It is on the third day that Abraham finally sees where God called him to go.  Sometimes we cannot see where God wants us to be until we get there...I find this curious that it takes until the third day to see the mountain of sacrifice.

אמר ("omer", "say", 22:2 and 3). The NRSV mistranslates:  God never shows Abraham where to go; he simply speaks to him.  In short, Abraham is living on God's word and that is all he has!!

"We will return" (22:5); the English is correct -- Abraham says they will return.

נשא  ("nassah", "looked up", 22:4, 13)  Abraham had to raise his eyes to see what God would provide.  In one case, it took time to see what God's Word meant; in the other case it took the Word of God calling him by name to change his path.