Abram’s story begins in chapter twelve. We will be talking about him and his exploits for several posts. For previous posts on Genesis, follow the links for Adam and Eve (1-4), Noah (5-9), and the Tower of Babel (10,11). Abram’s story is quite long and to give each piece its due amount of scrutiny, we will begin with chapters twelve through fourteen.
These chapters include several stories: Abram is called to leave his hometown of Haran and he takes his whole household and his nephew with his whole household with him. They go through Egypt where he instructs his wife to lie and say that she is his sister so he won’t be killed for her. The Pharaoh gets plagued and figures out that it’s because of Sarai and makes them leave but gives a healthy parting gift. It’s actually so big that Abram and Lot can no longer travel together and they agree to separate. Lot chooses to leave to an area that is soon in the middle of a massive war and Abram goes and saves him. After Abram saves Lot, the local king is impressed and comes to Abram.
This one begins with God’s instruction for Abram to leave Haran. We have watched this society grow increasingly patriarchal as the women’s names have been shut out until this point, so there’s little reason to wonder why God is talking to Abram here. Lot is his nephew and someone he appears to be responsible for. He seems to be a father figure for Lot. It’s apparent that these households consists of quite a few people and are bigger than what we traditionally think of, especially with the inclusion of the phrase “and all the people that they had acquired in Haran”. Acquired how?
It initially reads today like they would be slaves or people in some form of servitude that the could be “taken” which doesn’t imply a lot of choice in the matter for those people. I looked at Wesley and his comments made me take a look at BibleHub.com again because they have some other commentaries that are referencable in their database. I prefer to use books, but this verse has no mentioned in the Woman’s Bible at all, which is my other main reference. This bit of research brought me to the other possibility that these are the people whose faith had been converted to believing in Abram’s one true God in lieu of the god or gods of their own upbringings. This would imply followers who insisted on following Abram and he took them out of their own insistence. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s interesting to have the two perspectives.
They start their journey and don’t seem to be very far before God promises the land to Abram’s “seed” which we can recognize as his progeny to come. Abram decides to build an altar there in honor of the promise. A famine in that land brings him to the idea to go to Egypt for a while instead. When he gets there, he gets worried about being killed.
What I love about this story, which I have heard many times, is that this is a man who has conversations with God where he was promised that his children who aren’t born yet will inherit land and yet he is concerned that he won’t live long enough to have those children. It’s one thing to be worried when all you have are prayers and not an assurance that they will be listened to or what the answer will be, but Abram has direct promises. Still, he worries. He worries that because his wife is so beautiful, the local king will want her and he will be killed because of it.
He may not trust God very much at this point, but he seems to understand men. Sarai surely is wanted by the local king and with the “this is just my brother” cover, she gets taken to the palace and Abram gets riches in her favor. Kinda crappy that he gets the riches, but it feels safe to assume she was getting relatively pampered herself. I’m sure she was also very worried about her future this way. What if she had to do something that was outside of her marriage vows to keep up the charade? There are way too many variables here to see how this was going to work out well for anyone. God intervenes though, and casts some plagues on Pharaoh. Apparently they were thinly veiled because he figures out that it was because of Sarai, though we aren’t told how he does it. When he figures it out, he gives Abram a bunch of stuff and bids him leave so that the plagues will end. Pharaoh seems understandably upset by the whole thing, but is he thinking to himself, “If I had known, I would have just killed him?”
We’ll never know. We’ll also never know if God was going to deflect such thoughts to keep his promise or had some grand thing planned that Abram thwarted with his doubt. “Doubting Thomas” is a fairly common term in the U.S., even to those unfamiliar with the Bible, but it’s a wonder that it wasn’t doubting Abram at first.
Now that they’re leaving, Abram and Lot have too much stuff to stay together, so they agree to separate. As Lot chooses his new spot and leaves, there’s an allusion to the upcoming destruction Sodom and Gomorrah. This prefaces that Lot gets closer and closer to Sodom in his travel away from Abram, and there is mention of the wickedness of the men of Sodom. I’d like to take a second and remind the reader that it is stated in chapter five that the use of “man” and “men” also denotes women, depending on whether the context of the rest of the part is dividing the sexes on any single point. So, it is possible that everyone in Sodom was wicked and it is a matter of semantics that we associate the wickedness solely with the male of the species at this point.
Of course, Lot isn’t great at taking politics and faith into consideration when choosing his lands, only fertility and ends up in the middle of a war. I’ve never heard of the story of this war before. Some kings “made war” with some other kings and were beaten. They served nicely for twelve years before revolting. A year went by before the original winners went back to subdue them again. This time the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah flee battle so the victors “took all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way.” So what was left in those cities? Just the people that have already been mentioned as wicked? Or were the people taken out of the cities too? Let’s remember this because I hope it gets straightened out later.
Despite the weird way that it is conveyed, it’s notable because this is the first record of war since creation and it comes just after we had read about God messing up people’s languages and dispersing them. Why is it better for nations to fight than join forces for an awesome creation of their own? It doesn’t sound consistent with the loving character of God in previous chapters to mess people up for trying to do something good for themselves and to allow them to kill each other without it’s own punishments. Then again, none of the other stories have God intervening on the behalf of those who the stories are not specifically about. Was He only worried about the one line? It’s more likely that there was little point to mention those whose line is not history for the writers of these books.
Moving along, we come to someone telling Abram that Lot and his whole household were taken when Sodom was and he decides to rescue his nephew. He takes 318 “trained men” with him to go get Lot back. There’s no mention of what these guys are trained in, but it seems safe to assume that they were trained in combat. The number of men at his disposal to go retrieve his nephew starts to give us an idea of just how big a household he was running. That’s just people to spare to take into battle, it doesn’t include the people that stayed back to keep everything running until their return. And return they do, having triumphed and retrieved Lot’s entire household along with their possessions. There’s also mention of some neighboring allies who support him and go into battle with him.
When he gets back, he’s greeted by Melchizedek, who is a priest and king. This is the first mention of a priest and it’s given as a sidenote, in parentheses even. He blesses Abram for his victory and God for delivering the victory. Abram gives him 10% which is an interesting number and attributed to being a tithe, which would make this the first mention of such a thing. Then Melchizedek says something confusing. “Give me the persons but take the goods for yourself.”
Is he refusing part of the tithe? It doesn’t appear so because Abram turns around and refuses those goods by saying that he’s concerned with anyone saying Melchizedek made him rich. If it was his own stuff, why would he be worried about it? Then he insists that he will only take what the men have eaten and the share of men that went with him. It’s odd to me because it reads like they are dividing the spoils of a war that Melchizedek wasn’t part of, but there’s no mention of Abram taking anything other than Lot’s household back with him. Is he splitting Lot’s household too? That doesn’t sound very in character for Abram. It must have been the spoils of war that just didn’t bare mention because it was such a common practice. Maybe. It’s my best guess. Abram also mentions allowing his allies to get their share before Melchizedek is given the rest. Melchizedek is referred to once as the king of Salem and then several times following that as the king of Sodom. This implies that he has now taken over Sodom from the prior king. Did he restore the wicked people to their homeland? Is he attempting to convert them? Does he live among them? There’s only one more mention of him in the Old Testament, and it’s in Psalms:
You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.
There are also several interesting mentions in the New Testament of this “order” and that associate Jesus with it that make me wonder why we don’t know more about him. There are a few books that I look forward to reading one day that might answer that question, find them here.
Again, not much in the feminist way except a whole lot of exclusion from the story. The last post finally had a woman mentioned, two actually, and one of them was again a part of this story. There’s more to Sarai and women’s issues to come, but it’s simply not a part of this story. It is good to note though, that Abram took care to bring back everyone from Lot’s household, there is even a specific mention of the women, probably to ensure that we know that everyone was accounted for and not just Lot. Sarai’s worth so far is only mentioned in conjunction with her appearance, something women are still quite familiar with today. We will see a lot more of her as we continue through Genesis.
So there are my feelings and impressions on the Chs 12-14 of Genesis. Have you read them? What do you think?
*amended for formatting purposes