Friday, November 28, 2008

Jacob Steals a Blessing

Blessings have long history, and blessings were an important part of life. Certain blessings were thought to be crucially important, as they were thought to have great influence over destiny. One of those types of blessings was the blessing of a father on his sons.

Isaac and Rebekah had fraternal twins, Esau and Jacob. According to Genesis 25:21-28, Esau, who was born first, was very hairy and red skinned, and was a real man's man that was loved dearly by Isaac. Jacob was smooth skinned and was generally more of a mommy's boy, and was dearly loved by Rebekah.

In this study, we see how through treachery, Jacob, who is later to be renamed Israel by God and father the twelve tribes of the Israelites, steals his brother Esau's blessing.

Jacob Steals a Blessing
In Genesis 27, we find Isaac well advanced in years, blind, and close to death. He decides it is time to bestow his blessing on his sons, or at least on his favorite son, Esau. He tells Esau to hunt down some wild game, make him a stew, and then he will bless Esau.

This arrangement seems a little odd; too quid pro quo. You would think that Isaac would just go ahead and bless Esau as opposed requiring Esau to get this meal first. It proves to be a big mistake.

Isaac's wife, Rebekah, overhears Isaac's instructions to Esau, and she devises a plan for Jacob to get Esau's blessing. She tells Jacob to kill a couple young goats from his flock, she will then make a stew from the goats just like Isaac likes it, and then Jacob will bring the stew to Isaac to get Esau's blessing.

Jacob, claiming to be Esau, shows up with the stew so quickly that Isaac questions Jacob about how he found the hunted game so quickly. Jacob lies, saying that God gave him success in the hunt.

Isaac suspects that it is Jacob because he recognizes Jacob's voice. That should have been enough right there to end the blessing process for this impostor right then and there, but it doesn't.

Instead, Isaac tells “Esau” to come close enough to where Isaac can touch him to feel Esau's hairy self. Rebekah had circumvented this problem by tying goat skins to Jacob's neck and hands. Esau must have been really, really, really hairy for this to have worked; like hairier than any human that has ever been. When Isaac touched the goat skins, he thought it felt like Esau.

Somewhat satisfied by the touch, Isaac eats the stew that Jacob brought. Then, because Isaac is still not 100% convinced because he still hears Jacob's voice, he asks “Esau” to give him a kiss as a covert manner of getting a whiff of him. But fore-guessing this possibility too, Rebekah had thwarted the scent problem by having Jacob dress in Esau's clothes. Isaac happily smells Esau's scent.

Isaac is convinced enough by these two easy tricks to out way the fact that “Esau's” voice was that of Jacob, so he blesses Jacob with the blessing that he had intended to give to Esau (Genesis 27:28-29). Most significantly, the blessing is to be rich and rule over his brothers.

When Esau finally arrived, Isaac soon discovered that Esau's blessing had been stolen by Jacob. Esau begs for a blessing. So does Isaac grant his favorite son a blessing; telling him he too will be rich, or prosperous, or live in peace, or will be well contented into old age? No, not really. He gives Esau blessing, but it is basically the negative image of the blessing given to Jacob, which is not much of a blessing at all (Genesis 27:39-40). Apparently, you can only bless one person to have a good life. Doh!

There are a few things that make this yarn particularly interesting.

One point of interest is Jacob's character. Jacob is one of the great patriarchs of the Israelites. In fact, God renames him Israel, and his sons are supposedly the seeds that build the twelve tribes of Israel. Here we find Jacob to be far from honest. Not exactly a good role model or a patriarch to be proud of.

Then there is the issue of interrelation of prophesy. You see, back in Genesis 25:23, God revealed that Esau would serve Jacob. We find that Isaac had wanted to bless Esau such that his brother Jacob would serve him. So basically, Isaac wanted to go against prophesy made by God. But through lies and deception, the blessing went to Jacob and was therefore in accordance with God's prophesy. As we find when continuing through Genesis, God does honor this blessing.

This raises all sorts of interesting hypothetical and philosophical questions, such as: If Isaac had blessed Esau before the hunt, would God have honored that blessing or kept to His original prophesy? Did God know this blessing would be caught by deception, and made the prophesy accordingly, or did He “move” Rebekah to orchestrate the treachery to make the prophesy true?

Or, perhaps the most interesting, does God honor the words that come out of someone more than what is in their hearts? Obviously in this story, that seems to be the case. It was in Isaac's heart to give the blessing to Esau, but his words fell upon Jacob, and it was Jacob that God empowered and blessed.

Well, just in case, I guess I'll hedge my bets. I believe that I am a worthless sinner and I need God's grace, mercy, and forgiveness in my life. I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins and was resurrected by God. In Jesus' name I pray, God, have mercy on my eternal soul.

Whew! I guess if it turns out that the unbelievable is true, I am now saved by my words. I feel so... normal.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Sacrifice of Isaac

Abraham and his wife Sarah, together, had been childless, with the exception of Abraham's son, Ishmael, whom Abraham had with Hagar, Sarah's maid servant. Sarah had requested this affair because she, herself, had been barren. Good, old fashioned, Biblical family values; marriage is between one man, one woman, and her maid servant.

Anyway, God grants Abraham and Sarah a miracle child, Isaac, when they were 100 and 90 years old respectively. You can bet they were amazed at the power of God, and overjoyed with the son they had wanted all their lives.

The stage is set for one of the most perverse displays of God's true nature.

The Sacrifice of Isaac
“Some time later God tested Abraham” begins Chapter 22 of Genesis. And what a test it would prove to be! As it is written in Genesis 22:2, God's test of Abraham is as follows:
Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." NIV
There are a couple points to examine here; omniscience and methodology.

Why would God need to test Abraham, or anyone for that matter? God is omniscient, even down to knowing what is in our very hearts. The Old Testament, such as in 1 Kings 8:39, and the New Testament, such as in Acts 15:8, both claim repetitively that God knows the hearts of man. So there is no need for any test to see if Abraham, or anyone else, has the right stuff. God should just know it.

The only justification I can see for a test is to fully reveal the heart of the individual to the individual being tested, as well as to those that know the individual being tested. It is true that sometimes you don't realize what you are capable of doing until you do it. It is also true that the faith displayed by Abraham here served as, and continues to serve as, an inspiration to many. But this justification is not the case described here, as we will soon see.

God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac by the method of a burnt offering. That seems odd when you consider God finds the practice detestable according to Deuteronomy 12:31. Really odd. It's about the equivalent of God saying to Abraham “go have sex with a sheep” or “go worship another god”. Why would God command someone to do something that He doesn't want them to do, and even has great disdain for them doing? God only knows.

It gets me thinking; WWJD? What would Jesus do? Apparently, because Jesus is God, He would ask you to sacrifice your only son in a manner that He found detestable. Yet, when the “WWJD” is asked, somehow this is not one of the thoughts that runs through your mind. The image of Jesus has been cleansed and purged of all the really nasty stuff God used to do.

The scene progresses. Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac per God's instructions.

Consider the child, Isaac. We are not given the age of Isaac, but we know he is old enough to talk and old enough to know what is involved in making a burnt sacrifice to God. He asked Abraham “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” So Isaac was old enough to know what was going on, and, in turn, old enough to be mentally scarred for life by the events that would follow.

The scene progresses. Abraham bounds up Isaac, and puts him on top of the firewood. By now, Isaac must know that he is the lamb for the offering. Abraham grabs a knife to kill his only son.

At that point, the angel of God stops Abraham, saying “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Unmistakably, we see that this test was for God to know Abraham's heart, and for no other reason. Somehow, God can be omniscient, and yet not know everything. Go figure.

God, always in the mood to smell burnt flesh, provides a ram that is stuck in a nearby thicket for Abraham to sacrifice instead of Isaac. So Abraham does this, and God is happy. How happy? I'll let God's words explain it. From Genesis 22:15-18:
The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by Myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." NIV
This is very interesting when you consider that God had already promised in Genesis 15:5, 15:18-20, and 17:4-8 that Abraham would have a large number of descendants and would own the land of his enemies. It's interesting, because what if Abraham had said to God “No, I'm not going to sacrifice my son as a burnt offering!” What if Abraham had shown that he had a better set of morals about this matter than God? Would God then have gone back on His promise?

The way the Scripture reads in Genesis 22:15-18 certainly suggests that if Abraham had failed the test, God would not have blessed Abraham and fulfilled these promises. So we see that God can add conditions to His promises at His will. What good, then, is the Word of God, if it is not necessarily eternally stable and true?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Get in Line with Jesus

From what I have discerned in the Old Testament, family lineage was extremely important. Who your father was determined what lot you had in life; everything from where you owned land to who you were allowed to marry. In the case of the Jewish tribe of the Levites, it even determined what your job was.

There are several chapters in the Old Testament which consist of little more than lineage information, most of which concentrate almost exclusively on male offspring, with only occasional mention of specific women, and of the women mentioned, usually only a reference of the mothers. This is consistent with the primarily patriarchal culture of the Biblical times.

The anticipated Messiah was expected to be of the lineage of the great king David based on prophesies within the Scriptures. Thus, when Jesus arrived on the scene, it would have been important to know to which family lineage Jesus belonged.

Get in Line with Jesus
In 2 Samuel 7:8-16, God gives Nathan the prophet a message to tell king David which culminated with the line that "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." There were no ifs, ands, or buts. There were no conditions. This was God's promise. (Note: David's son Solomon later records that there were actually conditions to this promise in 1 Kings 8:25, but for some reason this passage is largely ignored.)

Of course, the kingdom of David has long since passed away. This leads believing-scholars of the Scripture with the task of redefining the word “forever”. It has evolved, away from meaning continuously lasting, to meaning lasting for eternity from some undefined starting point. The much-sought-after Jewish Messiah was supposed to herald the start of this forever-kingdom. So if Jesus was the Messiah, it meant that many Jews would have expected him to have ties to the Davidic line.

Well, lucky for us, both Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) present lineages tying Jesus to David! Unlucky for them, they don't match. Not even loosely. Below are the lineages with all the extraneous text removed.

According to Matthew According to Luke
  1. David
  2. Solomon
  3. Rehoboam
  4. Abijah
  5. Asa
  6. Jehoshaphat
  7. Jehoram
  8. Uzziah
  9. Jotham
  10. Ahaz
  11. Hezekiah
  12. Manasseh
  13. Amon
  14. Josiah
  15. Jeconiah
  16. Shealtiel
  17. Zerubbabel
  18. Abiud
  19. Eliakim
  20. Azor
  21. Zadok
  22. Akim
  23. Eliud
  24. Eleazar
  25. Matthan
  26. Jacob
  27. Joseph
  28. Jesus
  1. David
  2. Nathan
  3. Mattatha
  4. Menna
  5. Melea
  6. Eliakim
  7. Jonam
  8. Joseph
  9. Judah
  10. Simeon
  11. Levi
  12. Matthat
  13. Jorim
  14. Eliezer
  15. Joshua
  16. Er
  17. Elmadam
  18. Cosam
  19. Addi
  20. Melki
  21. Neri
  22. Shealtiel
  23. Zerubbabel
  24. Rhesa
  25. Joanan
  26. Joda
  27. Josech
  28. Semein
  29. Mattathias
  30. Maath
  31. Naggai
  32. Esli
  33. Nahum
  34. Amos
  35. Mattathias
  36. Joseph
  37. Jannai
  38. Melki
  39. Levi
  40. Matthat
  41. Heli
  42. Joseph
  43. Jesus
Besides David, Joseph, and Jesus, they don't really match at all. The lists share Shealtiel and Zerubbabel roughly in the middle, but there is no guarantee that these are supposed to be the same people because Shealtiel is listed with different fathers between the lists. So just like there is more than one John in the world, this may just be a coincidence.

At the end of Matthew's lineage, he notes how neatly that there were three sets of 14 generations in the lineage; 14 from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the time of exile in Babylon, and 14 from the exile to Jesus. In Luke's lineage, there are 42 generations between David and Jesus. Quite a staggering difference that blows to pieces Matthew's sense of symmetry.

Also at contrast, Matthew's list seems to be a who's who of Bible figures. Solomon, the son of the woman David had an affair with, killed her husband, and then married, the rest of the succession of the kings of Judah, etc. Matthew seems to have followed the royal bloodline of David. Luke's list beyond David is made up of many people that you can't trace in the Bible. There are some famous names, but they are obviously not connected with the same famous people, like Eliezer and Shealtiel. Some names appear in the Bible only in Luke's list, like Jorim and Matthat.

Biblical scholars explain this discrepancy between the two lists by saying that Matthew presents the lineage of Joseph, while Luke presents the lineage of Mary. This explanation is only semi-plausible due to several issues.

First, we see that the texts appear to be describing the lineage of sons and fathers. In Matthew we see “...Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” In Luke we see “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, ...” It would have been very easy for Luke to have said “this is the lineage of Mary” if that was what he was recording, but he didn't.

There is one school of thought that Joseph was Heli's “son” just as Ruth was called a daughter of Naomi when she married Naomi's son in Ruth 1:11. However, I am less inclined to believe this approach based on the fact that Ruth was a woman, and the Old Testament tended to treat women as though they were owned by the husband and fell under the husband's lineage upon marriage.

Second, the culture was primarily patriarchal. The lineage of a woman would not have meant much as far as bloodline inheritance. Under the Law given by God, all inheritance was according to the male's lineage with the exception of the case where a father dies without any sons. Only in that case could the inheritance be given to a daughter (Numbers 27:1-9). So for Luke to record Mary's lineage from David doesn't make sense according to the culture and legal understanding of the time. This is just circumstantial evidence, but it is worth considering.

Third, there are many lineages recorded in the Bible. These lineages seem to represent the most important bloodlines to God. Matthew's lineage is built largely on previously written lineages in accordance with this trend. Luke's lineage from David is a lineage which is not traced anywhere else. Again, this is just circumstantial evidence, but it is worth considering.

Fourth, there is still the big discrepancy between the number of generations that passed from David to Jesus in the two lists. Although this is rather weak, as people do have kids at different ages.

Fifth, and probably foremost, according to God's Law, Biblical bloodline inheritance comes from the father. (See Deuteronomy 25:5-6 for an exception of a surrogate father for a widow.) God was Jesus' Father. It would not have mattered what Joseph's lineage was (Matthew), because Joseph was not the father. It would not have mattered what Mary's lineage was (supposedly Luke), because Mary was not the father.

Because God was not born downstream of David, you can't call Jesus of the Davidic lineage. This makes both of these contradicting lineages pointless. Even Jesus agrees with me on this one! In Mark 12:35-36, Matthew 22:41-46, and Luke 20:41-43, Jesus mocks the idea that He is of the Davidic lineage.

So, in summary, what can we say about these lineages? They appear to contradict each other. They are totally pointless to have in the Bible. And ultimately, they were probably fictitious creations used to help persuade prospect converts that Jesus was the Messiah.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Silliness in Sodom

In the previous post, I discussed the the prelude the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah where Abraham questions God about what it will take to spare the cities. God eventually replies that if there are as few as ten righteous among the city populous, the city will be spared. Well, there were fewer ten, so the time has come for the wrath of God to rain down from Heaven. This is part two of the story.

WARNING: This story is not for the immature. Do not read further if you do not feel comfortable with a discussion about this Bible story that involves homosexuality and rape.

Silliness in Sodom
In Genesis 19, we see the story of God's destruction of the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the preservation of Lot from destruction due to his righteousness. To me, the story really boggles the imagination of how the Sodom as portrayed here could have existed.

The story opens with the two man-angels walking into town. (As you may recall in Genesis 18, there were three man-angels walking towards the town originally, one of which was God incarnate. Apparently God, who wanted to go down personally to the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah, opted not to show up at Sodom. Maybe He realized He was omniscient, so He didn't need to go, or maybe He just went to Gomorrah instead. For some undisclosed reason, God is not there when the man-angels make it to Sodom.)

Lot happens to be at the gate when the man-angels make it to town and he insists that they stay at his house. It doesn't say it explicitly, but it appears that Lot recognizes these man-angels as being holy, as he greets them by bowing with his face to the ground and he calls them lords. They go back to Lot's house, where Lot bakes them bread without yeast. (I'm not sure what significance yeast has, but God seems to have something against it.)

At that point, all the men from every part of Sodom, young and old, congregate outside of Lot's house and demand that Lot bring out the traveling men so that they can have sex with these men. How in the world is it possible that such a scene would occur? Several issues challenge the veracity of this story.

First, you've got to figure that not all the the men of the town even saw what these man-angels looked like, because it's not like the whole town was at the gate just waiting for fresh foreign flesh. But for the moment, let's assume that rumor spread quickly and completely about some attractive man-angels being in the town.

Second, how is it possible that all the men of the town were given to homosexual behavior? Regardless of if you think homosexuality is natural or not, I think you'd have to agree that the odds of 100% of the male populous in any given city would indulge in this act have got to be pretty small. But for the moment, let's assume that the culture of Sodom practically made homosexuality a required act for all except Lot.

Third, even if the entire town loved homosexuality, how is it possible that all the men of the town had the to the desire to rape these strangers? Rape is in a whole other category of behavior than mere homosexuality. For the entire town to come out to rape these two man-angels leads one to believe that rape had to be a very common thing in that town. If that was the case, it would seem that the entire town would tend towards a chaos of survival of the strongest or best organized, which, I would think, would drive people out of the city until only a small, indefensible township remained.

Fourth, even if the entire town had homosexual tendencies, why in the world would every male in the city want to get in line to have sex with these man-angels? I mean, surely people would understand that they were not all going to be the first, or the second, or probably even in the first one hundred, to have their way with these strangers. As generally unattractive as the idea of the physical act of homosexual sex is to me, it's downright sickening to think of that same act when being number 524 in a long line of townsfolk all trying to do the same thing to the same person. Even if it was instead a woman-angel of unparalleled beauty, you would still never find me in that long line just to be next.

Fifth, if all the males of Sodom were homosexual, weren't any of them too busy having sex with each other to concern themselves with standing outside Lot's house for a chance to be Mr. 475 or Mr. 713?

Sixth, we're told that the young and the old were there outside Lot's house. I could maybe believe that the young were there with a craving for some new thing. But it doesn't make sense that the old, with the serendipity of their life-long experience combined with their general lack of youthful vigor, would be begging for a piece of strange meat, so to speak.

Finally, the issue that boggles the minds of Christians and critics alike, if Lot was righteous, what in the world was he doing living in such a completely wicked town? This was long, long before times when the Bible would take on a theistic conversion theme, so it's not like Lot was acting as a missionary of God.

All of these issues collectively make it difficult to believe that such a situation actually existed in Sodom. But if this story is a true report, I can't say that I fault God for its destruction.

Getting back to the story, Lot pleads with the gang outside his house to rape his two virgin daughters instead of the man-angels. I guess you could say that this shows how devoted Lot was to God's Holy men, that he would try to placate the crowd with anything he possessed instead, namely his daughters.

On the other hand, you would think that a righteous man would not offer up anything that would encourage sin, such as by turning over his virgin daughters to be raped. Instead, you might have expected Lot to simply refuse to give over the man-angels.

The man-angels tell Lot to get himself and his loved ones out of Sodom and into the mountains because God is going to destroy Sodom. Lot goes out to tell about this impending doom to his daughters' fiancées, who presumably were also among the menfolk just waiting to get their hands on the foreigners, but they disregard him.

The man-angels practically pull Lot, his wife, and his daughters out of town, and then the destruction begins. Lot's wife looks back at Sodom, after being told not to do so by the man-angels, and gets turned into a pillar of salt.

Why would looking back earn you an instant, salty death? I mean, yes, I understand that they were commanded not to look, but why were they commanded not to look? It's not like God was keeping this annihilation of Sodom a secret, right? Instead, I suspect this tidbit was manually woven into the story to give a reason or significance behind some random pillar of salt that was on the landscape to serve as inherent “proof” of the story.

In brief, in the thrilling conclusion, Lot and his daughters finally retreat to the mountains as the man-angels had originally requested that he do. His daughters get him drunk to have sex with him in order to preserve their family lineage. The babies that are born from this end up spawning the Moabites and the Ammonites, both of which later prove to be thorns in the side of the Israelites. Funny how I never heard this story in Sunday School...