Genesis 21-25

21: Birth of Isaac and rescue of Ishmael. Both the laughter that Sarah talks about and the laughter of Hagar can mean mocking. When I was taught the story, the laughter of Sarah was unquestionably delight and the laughter of Hagar was unquestionably mocking, as some kind of weakass justification of Sarah and Abraham being willing to drive his teenage son into the desert with one skin of water. Abraham seems to be the only person in this story, not excluding God, who has a sense of morality. God tells him to not let it seem evil in his eyes on account of the lad and on account of his slavegirl. Ah, I think that the Bible has a verse about this, right… woe to those who call good evil and evil good… God could have told Abraham that it was a bad thing to drive out his own son, but that it was necessary to fulfill a large plan. But he says that Abraham shouldn’t consider it evil.

It’s a little odd that Hagar would fling Ishmael under one of the bushes, since Ishmael at this time is probably about sixteen (he was thirteen when he was circumcised). He grows up in the wilderness, becomes a bowman, and marries an Egyptian. Some people have put together a site including what they believe happened to Ishmael’s tribes, and while I can’t vouch for the scholarship, it seems interesting:

Next, there’s a continuation from the previous chapter of Abimelech. He had just offered to let Abraham settle on his land before being interrupted by the Ishmael story, and he and Abraham make a pact, dig a well, and settle a land dispute. However, although the land is described as Philistine, this appears to be an anachronism since the Philistines did not live in this area for another four hundred years.

22: The near-sacrifice of Isaac. God now calls Isaac Abraham’s only son. The commentary gives a Midrash that I find extremely sad. “Your son. He said to Him, ‘I have two sons.’ He said to him, ‘Your only one.’ He said, ‘This one is an only one to his mother and this one is an only one to his mother.’ He said to him, ‘Whom you love.’ He said to him, ‘I love both of them.’ He said to him, ‘Isaac.'”

God says he will bless and multiply Abraham because he has not held back his son, but he had already made those promises to Abraham, so the conditional makes limited sense. If Abraham had failed the test, could God have rescinded his previous promises?

Remember Abraham’s brother Nahor? His granddaughter Rebekah is Isaac’s future wife.

23: Death of Sarah. The Hittites offer Abraham a grave in which to bury Sarah, and then agree to sell him one. While the seller seems to have over-charged Abraham – the commentary says that 400 silver shekels is a huge sum compared to other land purchases in the Bible, the Canaanites do not seem hostile or wicked toward him. They acknowledge him as a prince of God, measure the payment in public, and complete the agreement in full view. Abraham appears to be back in Mamre at this point.

24: Abraham’s servant meets Rebekah. Abraham sends his servant to his birthplace in Mesopotamia to find a wife for Isaac. It’s not clear why this is – because the Canaanites are wicked and ungodly as they’re later portrayed, because Abraham simply favors his own family and homeland, or because the people there are more civilized than the Canaanites. Historically, it seems that the people of Ur had more going for them. It also appears that a woman there has freedoms of refusal. The servant asks what he should do if the woman does not want to come back with him, and later Rebekah is asked whether she wants to go immediately and her family abides by her decision.

Alter says in the commentary that the camels are anachronistic and would not have been used for carrying burdens at this time, so are probably a plot device added by the later era writer because they illustrate the difficulty of drawing water, as each would have drank many gallons.

Rebekah lives with her mother and brother Laban. Laban, while conniving and materialistic, is hospitable. Rebekah is assertive and seems to have some say in her own life, compared to Isaac, who has yet to do anything of note except for almost being sacrificed by someone else. How did the servant get the ring into Rebekah’s nose? Did she have a piercing, or did it just stick in there somehow?

25: Esau sells his birthright to Jacob. This seemed like the oddest thing that I’d read so far, although it was a rather mundane sidenote. Abraham remarries and has six more children, but gives everything to Isaac. He has sons by concubines, which may have referred to his second wife, and sends them all away to the East. Although he lives to be 175, people didn’t seem to have the incredibly long lives and fertility of his predecessors since it was considered amazing that he could have a child at 90. And it remains distasteful that he would send away more sons. The commentary suggests that this may be an attribution to allow Abraham to be the forefather of almost every group that lives in the near east, excepting the Canaanites. Also odd is the mention that Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him, suggesting that Ishmael had peaceful contact with Abraham and Isaac later in his life.

Rebekah is also barren, but becomes pregnant when Isaac prays for her and has Esau and Jacob. When Esau begs Jacob for food, there’s a rare use of the vernacular in his speech – he asks for some of this “red red stuff”. Alter talks in the introduction about the limited and somewhat formal vocabulary in the Torah, and it’s well worth reading. Using common speech for Esau probably indicates his coarseness. Esau is stupid and short-sighted, but Jacob is greedy and manipulative. I couldn’t tell from the passage how old Esau and Jacob were meant to be at this time.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

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    Dec 21, 2010 @ 13:55:28

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