January 24, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Abram migrates to Canaan

John F. Fink(Third in a series of columns)

Unlike chapters 1-11 of Genesis, chapters 12-50 are set in identifiable historical times. They are set in Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt. The persons engage in actions typical of 1900 to 1500 B.C. The stories are similar to oral lore of tribal groups. And the purpose of the stories is to trace the direct tribal and clan ancestors of Israel.

We meet the great patriarch Abraham (or Abram until his name is changed), who is claimed as their father in faith by the Jews as well as by Muslims and Christians. In obedience to God’s command and his promise to make him a great nation, he, his wife, Sarai, and his nephew, Lot, migrated from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan.

Abram and Lot were rich in livestock, silver and gold. They were nomads who pitched their tents in several places in Canaan, beginning with Schechem (modern Nablus). When a famine struck the land, they continued down to Egypt.

As they were entering Egypt, Abram told Sarai to pass herself off as his sister. If the Egyptians knew that she was his wife, he reasoned, they might kill him so they could have her. However, when the Egyptians saw how beautiful Sarai was, they praised her to the Pharaoh, who took her into is palace.

When Pharaoh learned that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife, he gave her back to him and ordered him to leave. They returned to Canaan. Then, realizing that he and Lot had too many livestock for the land to support, Abram suggested that they separate. Lot chose to live in Sodom at the bottom of the Dead Sea plain, and Abram settled in Hebron, west of the Dead Sea.

Chapter 14 reports a war involving four kings, during which Lot was taken prisoner. When Abram learned of it, he organized a rescue party that defeated the kings and recovered Lot and all of his possessions.

When he returned, he was met by Melchizedek, identified as king of Salem and also a priest. He blessed Abram, and Abram, in turn, gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything he owned.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Melchizedek is a type of Christ. Since the Bible doesn’t say anything about Melchizedek’s ancestry or his death, the letter concluded that he resembled the Son of God and remains a priest forever. Jesus was, the letter says, a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek rather than according to the Jewish order of Aaron.

God then appeared to Abram in a vision and promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and that they would populate the land from Egypt to the Euphrates River, then occupied by people from 10 tribes.

God also told Abram that his descendants would be aliens and enslaved and oppressed for 400 years, thus alerting us to the events of the Book of Exodus.

There was, though, an obvious problem here. Abram and Sarai were in their 80s, and they had no children. †

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