January 31, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Ishmael and Isaac, plus Sodom and Gomorrah

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

Chapter 16 of Genesis tells us about the birth of Ishmael. Since Abram and Sarai had no children, Sarai gave her Egyptian maidservant Hagar to Abram as his concubine. But after Hagar became pregnant there was great friction between her and Sarai.

Sarai made life so difficult for Hagar that she ran away. But God found her and sent her back, telling her to submit to the abusive treatment.

Ishmael was born. He grew up to become the father of 12 sons, who are named in chapter 25. They became chieftains of 12 tribes, and Ishmael is considered the father of the Arab nations.

But God told Abram that, despite their old ages, he and Sarai would have a son. In chapter 17, he made a covenant with Abram, changing his name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah. He also ordered, as a sign of the covenant, that all of his male descendants should be circumcised. This, of course, also applied to Ishmael’s descendants.

One day, three men appeared near Abraham’s tent. He made them welcome and had Sarah prepare a meal for them. One of the men, whom Abraham realized was the Lord, told him that Sarah would have a child within a year. Sarah overheard the conversation and laughed since Abraham was now 100 and she was 90.

Of course, Sarah did become pregnant and bore Isaac. When he grew up and was playing with Ishmael, Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away.

That didn’t happen, though, until chapter 21 because chapters 18-20 tell us about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Genesis makes it clear that God destroyed Sodom because of homosexual sins, and our word “sodomy” resulted from that.

Abraham’s nephew Lot lived in Sodom. Two angels visited him, and he offered them hospitality. When the townspeople learned about it, they demanded that Lot “bring them out to us that we may have intimacies with them” (Gen 19:5). When the men tried to storm the house, the angels kept them from reaching the doorway.

The angels then told Lot, his wife and two daughters to escape because God had sent them to destroy the city. Don’t look back, they said. They escaped as a sulphurous fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. But Lot’s wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Genesis then tells a story to ridicule their rival nations. Lot and his daughters settled in the hill country. The daughters plotted to have children by Lot since there weren’t any other men around. For two nights, they made him drunk and took turns having sex with him without his knowledge.

The older daughter’s son was named Moab, the ancestor of the Moabites, and the younger daughter’s son was named Ammon, the ancestor of the Ammonites. It’s the Bible’s way of saying that those people came from an incestuous relationship. †

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