Saturday, September 14, 2013

The call of Abraham

27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran;
This may reflect the birth order, in which case Abraham was the firstborn. Or it may reflect their order of importance. Abraham may be in the emphatic first position because he is the central figure in the succeeding story , whereas his brothers are tertiary characters.  
and Haran fathered Lot. 28 Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred,
Because Lot is orphaned, his grandfather (Terah) looks after him. After his grandfather dies, his uncle (Abraham) looks after him. This prepares the reader for the complicated relationship between Abraham and Lot. 
 in Ur of the Chaldeans.
i) The reference is disputed. Some scholars think this refers to a famous city in southern Mesopotamia while other scholars think it refers to a city in northern Mesopotamia. For interpretive purposes, there's not a whole lot riding on the correct identification. 
ii) Some scholars regard "of the Chaldeans" as a later scribal gloss. 
 29 And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah.
The names seem to be related to lunar deities. Both Sumerian Ur and Haran were centers of the lunar cult. Abraham was born and bred in a polytheistic and idolatrous culture. His father was pagan (Josh 24:2). 
 30 Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.
That will be both an opportunity and a burden as the narrative proceeds.
31 Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there.
No explanation is given for the move. Several mundane motivations are possible. But the underlying reason is the providence of God, directing events behind the scenes.
 32 The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.
That's the age given in the Massoretic text. According to Philo, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Pentateuch Targum, he was 145 when he died. That may preserve the original reading (Schnabel 2012; Waltke 2001).
12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.
Vv4-5 raise the question of when Abraham was called. Was he called in Ur or Haran? Was his father alive or dead when he was called? 
i) It's possible that God called him when he was living in Ur. Indeed, that might be why his father moved the family. Pagan Mesopotamians were into divination and oneiromancy. Revelatory dreams (Husser 1999; Noegel 2007). If Abraham told his father that God had spoken to him or appeared to him in a dream, instructing them to go to Canaan, Terah might have taken that very seriously. 
ii) It's possible that God called him when he was living in Haran. It's unlikely that Abraham felt free to strike out on his own as long as his father was alive. But when his father died, Abraham suddenly had a decision to make. He could remain in Haran, return to Ur, or go to Canaan. 
Left to his own devices, he might have gone back to Ur or stayed in Haran. If Terah's plan was to make a new life for his family in Canaan, and he died on the way, then the incentive for the original destination would be lost. So that would be an opportune time for God to make his will known to Abram. 
 2 And I will make of you a great nation,
The seed of promise is both corporate and individual. At one level it refers to Abraham's physical posterity, through Isaac. At another level, it typifies the elect, within the biological lineage. Finally, it has a Messianic referent. This picks up from Gen 3:15, and begins to unfold in the narrative arc of Pentateuchal history (e.g. Gen 27:29; 48:8-12; Num 24:7-19). The promise is both backward looking and forward looking (Sailhamer 2008). 
 and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
The ill-fated builders of Babel sought the same thing. But they sought it through their own strength. 
 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God blesses others through Abraham. The passive voice ("shall be blessed") is probably the correct rendering (Grüneberg 2003).
4 So Abram went,
Abraham's unquestioned obedience is striking. God is commanding him to leave behind his ancestral home and his extended family. For many people, that's their psychological center. They'd feel emotionally lost without the physical and social environment they grew up with. For many people, having kids is a compensation. But Abram and Sarai are a childless couple.
 as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
If we accept the Massoretic text for 11:32, then 12:4 seems to conflict with the chronology of Acts 7:4. However, this assumes that Terah was 205 when he died, and Abraham was his eldest son. Both assumptions are questionable. And if either assumption is mistaken, then there's no conflict. See comments on 11:27 and 11:32. 
 5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. 
At this stage, Lot is the heir apparent. Later, Ishmael will be the heir apparent. Only when Isaac is born and Ishmael is banished will the promise kick in. 
When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh.  At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
Oak trees were valued as shade trees. In addition, they were often incorporated into pagan rites (cf. Deut 12:2; 1 Kgs 14:23; 2 Kgs 16:4; Jer 2:20; Hos 4:13). The oak tree or terebinth of Moreh means "teacher, diviner, or oracle giver." There may be an element of syncretism in Abraham's route. The emancipation from his heathen upbringing is gradual. 
At the same time, the fact that he built his own altar, rather than using an extant pagan altar, shows that God was weaning him from heathenism.
God "appearing" to him is stock language for a theophany. A visible manifestation of God. Based on other examples in Genesis and the Pentateuch, this is probably an angelophany or apparition of the Yahweh Angel. 
 8 From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord.
This picks up from Gen 4:26. Abraham leads corporate worship with his small, but growing household (cf. Gen 13:4). That's a counter to his heathen surroundings.
 9 And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Abraham's travels outline the borders of the promised land. As such, his journey prefigures the Conquest. 
Grüneberg, K. Abraham, Blessing and the Nations : A Philological and Exegetical Study of Genesis 12:3 in Its Narrative Context (BZAW 332; De Gruyter 2003).

Hamilton, V. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Eerdmans 1991), 362-65. 
Husser, J. Dreams and Dream-Narratives in the Biblical World (Academic Press 1999).
Kitchen, K. The Reliability of the Old Testament (Eerdmans 2003), 316-18.
Millard, A. "Where was Abraham's Ur? The Case for the Babylonian City," BAR 27:03, (May/Jun 2001), 52-7.
Noegel, S. Noctural Ciphers: The Allusive Language of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (American Oriental Society 2007). 
Sailhamer, J. Genesis (Zondervan, rev. ed., 2008), 151-55.
Schnabel, E. Acts (Zondervan 2012), 367n16.
Waltke, B. Genesis: A Commentary  (Zondervan 2001), 201.