09 January 2010

Jan 9

Reference links:
Old Testament

Remember the trick that Sarah and Abraham tried to pull on Pharaoh?  The one where Abraham tries to pass Sarah off as his sister and Pharaoh takes her as his wife.  Well, they try the same trick again with Abimelech in Gerar.  Once again, the Lord intervenes and Abraham gets his wife back along with a lot of goods.  This basic story appears three times in Genesis (yes, it will happen again), so it seems likely that three different versions of the same oral tradition are being reported as three different stories.

This version has some interesting details.  Sarah and Abraham really are siblings.  They "have the same father, but different mothers".  So, yay for not lying?  This version also has some temporal inconsistencies, or at least if not inconsistencies, temporal weirdnesses.   Abimelech took Sarah as his wife.  That night God revealed to Abimelech that Sarah was Abraham's wife.  The next day Sarah was returned.  After Sarah was returned
Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants, so they could have children.  For the Lord had caused all the women to be infertile because of what happened with Abraham's wife, Sarah.
This feels inconsistent given the timeline given earlier in the story.  A significant amount of time would have had to pass for women to notice they had been made infertile.  Did Abraham delay in praying after Sarah was returned to him?  Did Abimelech actually keep Sarah longer than was implied (i.e.,., there is a time gap between verses 20:11-13 and 20:14)?  Very confusing.

In any case, we know that all of this must have happened within 3 months of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because after this, Sarah gives birth to Isaac and we know that God said just before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah that Sarah would have a son within a year.  (Maybe about 6 months if we assume that this might have been going on before Sarah was visibly pregnant.)

Once Sarah has Isaac, her hatred toward Hagar and Ishmael increases. She asks Abraham to send them away.  To give some credit to Abraham, he is reluctant to do so, but God tells him it will be okay, so he sends them off with some food and water.  The sadness of Hagar's banishment is summed up in this sentence "Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba."  In a world where a woman and a child would be perceived as nothing but a burden by any group that could take them in, such banishment is essentially a death sentence.  Sarah must have known that.

We also read today of God's test of Abraham's faith.  God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Abraham prepares to do so, and at the last minute God sends an angel to tell Abraham to stop.  I know that many people who believe in the Bible see this as a great testament to Abraham's faithfulness and as a great demonstration of how God will spare us from sacrifices we cannot handle.  However, to those of us not looking at this story through the lens of faith, it is horrifying.  Abraham thought God was serious.  Imagine worshiping a God who you believed would seriously demand you to sacrifice your child.  To my modern eyes, that is brutal and disgusting.

New Testament

I just finished The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow.  In addition to being a good introduction to the must knows of probability and statistics, it also has a good discussion of how much success and failure is due to chance.  Given two people with the same inherent skill level, just by chance one may become a superstar and the other an abject failure.  In any case, that and experience causes me to be cautious when Jesus claims
A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit. ... Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
Now, given enough observations, this is likely true.  If you can observe the enough actions of a person, you can probably form a reasonable opinion of their nature.  However, chance is active in our lives, and a small number of observations can very easily give a misleading opinion of  person's nature.

Psalms and Proverbs

Nothing of note today.