Reading Genesis 13-14
Verse 1: Notice the difference in the way the families are described in Genesis 12:5 and here. Does anything in these verses suggest a change in the family situation? If yes, of what sort?
Verse 2: The Hebrew used to describe how rich Abram was, translated "very," is the same term used to describe the famine in 12:10, there translated "grievous." What connection, if any, does that duplication of the word suggest? This is the first mention of money- rather than livestock-wealth. Is this something Abram acquired in Egypt? If so, was it perhaps compensation for the pharaoh's having taken Sarai? Is this part of a parallel between Abram's departure from Egypt and the later departure of Israel under Moses?
Verse 3: The KJV's "he went on his journeys" is translated more accurately elsewhere as "he went by stages." This is another parallel with Israel's exodus, the only other place we see the same term. (See, for example, Exodus 17:1 and Numbers 10:12.) What are we to make of that parallel? Why does Abram go back to the place where he had built an altar? (See Genesis 12:7-8).
Verses 5-7: What is happening to Abram’s family here? Had Abram presumed that Lot would be his heir? He has already been blessed that he will be a great nation (Genesis 12:2). What would Abram think about that blessing at this point? Might there be anything deeper to this strife than an argument over pasturage or wells? (See also verse 10 and compare Genesis 26:16-22.) Does Genesis 18:19 suggest something about the difference between Lot and Abram? Is there any connection between the story of Lot's choice and the blessing/cursed pronounced in Genesis 12:3? What kind of inheritance does Lot choose? How does that contrast with Abram's inheritance? Is Abram's peacemaking typological? (Compare Levitcus 19:17-18; Psalm 122, 133; Proverbs 3:17, 29-34; Hebrews 12:14; and James 3:17-18.)
Verses 10-13: Did Lot know what kind of men lived in the land he had chosen? Why did he choose that land? Why does the writer include an allusion to the Garden of Eden in verse 10? The Word Bible Commentary (1:297) says of verses 11-12:
The theological geography of Lot's decision is particularly interesting. The boundaries of the promised land of Canaan are defined in Num 34:2:12. It appears that the eastern frontier coincided with the Dead Sea and the river Jordan, i.e., what Gen 13 terms "the plain of the Jordan." So in picking this area to live in, Lot is moving to the edge of Canaan, if not beyond it: 10:19 certainly suggests that Sodom and neighboring cities mark the borders of the land. Lot is stepping out toward the territory that his descendants, the Moabites and Ammonites, would eventually occupy in Transjordan. Though offered a share of Canaan, he is here depicted turning his back on it.
The same writer points out that Adam, Eve, and Cain went east after sinning (Genesis 3:24, 4:16) as did the men of Babel before they started building their tower (Genesis 11:2). Is this a genuine parallel, and if it is, what are we to make of it? What is the point of foreshadowing Sodom's future (verse 13)?
Verses 14-16: Why did the Lord repeat his blessing to Abram? Why is the promise so much fuller in verse 15 than it was in 12:7? Why is verse 16 so much fuller than previous promises of descendants, such as 12:2 and 12:7? What is the point of the innumerability of Abram's seed (a point often repeated in scripture, e.g., Genesis 15:5, 28:14; Numbers 23:10; 1 Kings 3:8, Galatians 3:29; and Revelation 7:9).
Verse 17: Is this Abram's way to appropriate the land?
Verses 1-12: Though the names of the kings sound authentic, we know of no historical kings to whom these kings correspond, so this is perhaps not so much a report of an actual war as it is a typological reworking of an ancient story. What might this story be intended to tell us about Abram? Is it significant that verse 2 is the first mention of war in the Bible?
Verse 12: Why might King Chedorlaomer have taken Lot captive?
Verses 13-16: I believe that verse 13 is the first use of the term "Hebrew." It wasn't a term used by Israelites to describe themselves and seems originally to have referred to those on the margins of society. Why does the biblical writer use the term here?
Verses 16-17: Notice that verse 21 seems to follow naturally after these verses, but the flow of the story, from these verses to verse 21 is interrupted by the story of Melchizedek. Why?
Verse 18-20: The name "Melchizedek" is composed of two words, mlk and tsdq, "ruler" and "righteousness" or "justice," so "Melchizedek" means "righteous ruler" or "my king is righteousness/justice." Melchizedek is the first priest mentioned in scripture. So what? He offers Abram bread and wine. Is he offering a covenant meal? What had the King of Sodom offered? (See also verse 24.) What is the point of that comparison? How does the story of Melchizedek fit into the typological cast that the writer seems to have given this story as a whole?
Verse 21: According to ancient custom, the victor had full rights to the spoils of war. What does this verse show us about the king of Sodom? What has the writer suggested by portraying the king's demand so curtly?
Verse 22: The most high God is said to be the qna of heaven and earth. The KJV translates that as the possessor of heaven and earth. Other translations take it to mean that he is the maker of heaven and earth. The word means "to acquire" or "to create" and it is also the word translated "conceive" in Genesis 4:1. Some scribes later changed qna to asa ("to make") in order to avoid the possible sexual connotations of the former. What might those connotations have originally suggested?
Verse 22-24: How does Abram’s behavior here contrast with his behavior toward Melchizedek? What is the difference?
Adam (a.k.a. "Mini-Lacan") has suggested three questions that are immediately relevant to us:
1. If Abraham is the paradigm of fidelity to God, then what are the essential elements of this faithful relationship?
2. What can Abraham's relationship with God tell us about the nature and possibility of theology?
3. How do our family relationships shape our fidelity to God and, potentially, the kind of theology we pursue?
I defer his fourth question, "In light of the above, what is unique about a Mormon understanding of Abraham?" until later, toward the end of our discussion of Abram/Abraham's story.
As to the first question: do these chapters add anything to our thinking about the essential elements of fidelity to God? In them, Abram is portrayed typologically in at least two ways: (1) as the first to make the move from Egypt to Canaan, as Israel will later, and as must every sinner; (2) as the first peacemaker (after Cain, after the Flood, after Babel).
1. The faithful must flee the world for the Promised Land, but on arrival they will not find the Garden of Eden. Instead, they will continue to encounter the world, but they will have power to overcome it. At the heart of overcoming the world, however, is divine covenant, the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek, the covenant with God mediated by priesthood.
2. Though the relationship of the faithful to the world may unavoidably be one of war, the relation to the family ("Lot") is one of peacemaking. One question that follows, of course, is "Who is of the family?" Lot, after all, is a nephew who has turned his back on Canaan. And Abram himself is explicitly someone on the margins of society as a whole. The question of inner and outer seems unavoidable. Is the work of peacemaking the work against the inner and the outer, or is it something else?
My first thought is that peacemaking means the work against the inner and the outer, the work to bring everyone into the family, though it seems from the beginning to have been a work done at the margins rather than at the center. Abram is at the margins, indeed, cast out. Israel has hardly been the center of the world, though medieval cartographers placed Jerusalem at the center. The Restoration remains at the margins of today's world, a tiny minority with the mission to change the world. I'm not sure how to understand the work of peace as a work that occurs at the margins, much less what it means to intend to bring all human beings into one family.
As to the second question: In other conversations, some of us have talked about the parallel between theology and psychoanalysis: theology as an interruptive practice that questions us, requiring us to be remade in new terms. Abram's story is one of being questioned, being brought up short by God's demand and being remade in response. God doesn't ask him questions, but he gives him commands that remake his life, and the story of that relationship raises questions for those who read it. Abram does theology, understands and explains his relationship to God, by living a godly life. Presumably the questions that Abram's story raises for believers are not historical and philological questions, but questions that demand a response like Abram's, a godly life. Like Abram, however, we cannot know in advance what it means to live a godly life, except to know that we will find it in covenant.
As to the third question, "How do our family relationships shape our fidelity to God and, potentially, the kind of theology we pursue?"
This is for me the most difficult of these three questions. It is obvious that Abram's relation to Lot is central. I believe that his almost unspoken relation to Sarai is also central, though I cannot yet say why because we need more text for that. In both cases, however, his relationships to his family members are hardly what we understand as good family relations. Does Abram demonstrate his fidelity to God by making peace with Lot and then by saving him from kidnapping? It seems like that is the direction to go, but I don't see how to get there. I'm interested in how others understand these things.