Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pentateuch (Notes of 2012)

Pentateuch (Notes of 2012)

TIMELINE FOR OUR COURSE in Pentateuch to Kings
(as viewed by the Bible)
From Abraham to the Persian Times

Remember that this is all “BC”
à1850? à1250? à1200? à1000? à970? à930 à850 à721 à622 à587 à538 à520 à400  àààtime of Jesus…
Notice that as we move to the time of Jesus the number grows smaller

The ??? time
~1850 ?
Abraham - or Abram - arrives in Canaan with his family ???
~1250 ?
Under the leadership of Moses, the Hebrews leave Egypt ???
What exactly is the history of the Patriarchs and the Exodus? There is no external witness, not even Egyptian and Mesopotamian. The exact dates are problematic. Dates are taken from the Bible and from convention. Of course we do not necessarily have to delete the existence of the Patriarchs nor of Moses. But the historical perspectives of the Bible do not intend to inform the reader about the exact historical flow. Rather the Biblical accounts intend to form the reader. It intends to form the faith of the people of God.
~ 1200 ?
The Hebrews organize themselves in tribes led by Judges. They install themselves in Canaan???
It is maybe in the sanctuaries and places of worship where the early Biblical texts were made. Hymns and poems may have been sang and recited. Stories of the past may have been recalled. For example…places like Beer-sheva, Hebron, where Abraham is evoked. Bethel and Sichem were holy places where Jacob is evoked.
~ 1000 ?
After Saul, David becomes king. He is sustained by a “judge” named Samuel. Samuel proclaims David as King. With the monarchy fixed, this time scribes may have started writing too…possibly about Saul and David?
- 970 ?
This is the time of the reign of Solomon. He starts the construction of the Temple.
Maybe at this time oral traditions were gathered and spread to the holy places and sanctuaries. Possibly oral traditions of origins and foundations of Hebrew society were gathered—and put to writing. Maybe also there was a re-editing of legal prescriptions. Legal texts became more official. Psalms and wisdom literature may have been expanded. Maybe a lot of Biblical texts owe their origins during the time Solomon. Maybe …
- 930 ?
A split takes place and the united kingdom of Solomon (and David) is split into two. There is the Northern Kingdom—named Israel—with Samaria as the central place; there is the Southern Kingdom—called Judah—with Jerusalem as the central place.
~ 850 ?
In Israel-Northern Kingdom, Elijah and Elisha appear. They criticize the powers of the King. Both of them leave no written texts.
Amos and Hosea, also prophets of the northern kingdom, are the other two important prophets of this time. Their actions and their oracles have been put to writing. Who wrote the texts? Maybe the disciples of the prophets wrote the texts.
During this time too—between 900-800BC—scribes write “Annals” on the Kings of both Israel and Judah. The manuscripts are lost. Maybe a revision of these texts was made. Maybe.

At this point in time there are more external evidences for history…so our “???” fade away
- 721
Samaria is attacked by the Assyrians. Finally the Northern kingdom of Israel falls.
Assyria maintains a strong hold in the region and is a threat to the Southern kingdom of Judah. Now a prophet named Isaiah awakens the people of Judah to their faith while, at the same time, denouncing their infidelity. This is sometime 730BC.
- 622
King Josiah starts a reform movement in Judah. He is supported by a prophet named Jeremiah. Now, those from the North have taken refuge in the South. After 721 scribes of the North go down to the South and stay in Jerusalem. Their manuscripts are discovered during a renovation of the Temple. These manuscripts may have been one of the main parts of Deuteronomy. The manuscripts also form “theological” basis for the reform of King Josiah. Within the spirit of this reform, scribes spend their time writing on history—they offer their view of the history of the Hebrews. Legal texts are also improved. New Psalms are made.
- 587
The Babylonians, new masters of the region, attack Judah and conquer Jerusalem. The Temple is destroyed. This is now the end of Judah. The elites and many others are exiled to Babylon.
Without Temple and far from the promised land, a tradition emerges: the synagogue. This becomes the place of worship and reading-meditation of ancient texts. This is the time of Ezekiel and perhaps a 2nd Isaiah.
While in exile, priests write about history too, and they write about origins. Together with priests are scribes—of the deuteronomic tradition—who also make their own written texts. A prophet, sometimes called “3rd Isaiah” begins to make oracles of hope.
The exile to Babylon is a big crisis for the people. Is it possible that the Lord God has cut off his covenant with the Hebrews? Is it possible, however, that God is sanctioning the people because of their infidelity to the covenant? Questions arise at this time. It is also the time to consider how the people can live now that they have no Temple and no proper land of their own. Priests and lay start reflecting and put down their ideas in writing.
- 538
The Persians now become dominant in the region. The Persian King, Cyrus, is more tolerant of other religions. The Persians take over Babylon and the King allows the Hews to return home to their land and rebuild their Temple. Many Jews indeed go home while some stay in Babylon.
- 520
Now starts the reconstruction of the Temple. Around the country of Judah, priests and lay meet and agree to make a synthesis of all the written (and oral?) traditions of the people. Written texts are then assembled. New written texts are also produced.
- 400
The scribe named Esdras, maybe, is given the task, maybe with the help of the Persian leaders, to make a standard TORAH for all the Jews. This is the time of final formation of the TORAH—the five books.
Fixing the TORAH, people see that there is no more need for new writings on ancient origins and foundations. Instead of new writings there are commentaries and translations. We might say that the TORAH is made fixed—“canonical”. The book of Chronicles is written as a re-reading and re-interpretation of the historical books.

Pentateuch: History of the Writing—a theory of Thomas Römer

  1. We might have to review history. Remember there was the split of the united kingdom into two kingdoms—the north and the south. The north was called Israel and the south was called Judah. These two nations were surrounded by other nations—Philistia, Phoenicia, Ammon, Moab, etc.
  2. Both the north and the south gave homage to YHWH.
  3. Two big events struck at the kingdoms. In around 722 Assyria took the north. In around 587 Babylon took the south. When such crises happen, people can do two things: submit themselves completely to their conquerors or reinforce their own identity.
  4. In 722 Assyrian took the northern kingdom of Israel. Refugees fled from the north and went down to Judah in the south. They refused to submit to the Assyrian domination and they refused to accept the “acculturation” of Assyria.  In the south, there was King Josiah who introduced renovation of the Temple. This was in around 640BC to 609BC. Assyria started to weaken then. During the work in the Temple, some discovered manuscripts coming from the north—hidden in the “vaults”.
  5. In the manuscripts, for example, Moses was a remarkable man. As a baby he was put in the river and taken by Egyptians. Moses was later to become a liberator. This was to prove that among the Hebrews was a great man—far greater than the Assyrian king Sargon II, the man who completed the destruction of the northern kingdom. (You might want to check the birth story of Sargon II).
  6. The manuscripts also showed that there was no covenant worthy of respect except the covenant with the Lord God. The Assyrian covenant was not worthy of respect.
  7. In 672BC, the king of Assyria was Esarhaddon. He became king by fighting against conspirators. His brother was a threat to the throne. He had to make sure that all loyalties were to him alone. He was sickly and he had many children as possible future kings. He wanted one of them, Assurbanipal, as his direct heir. So he declared that everyone should love his son. The manuscripts found in the Temple at the time of Josiah emphasized that there was only onle love given—and it was to be given to YTHWH alone (see Dt 6,4-5).
  8. And so what we see was the attempt of authors to affirm a specific identity and to refuse submission to the Assyrians. “Who are we”? as asked by the Hebrew writers. “We are a people…small in number maybe…but we are a people that have already faced an imperial power—that of Egypt…and we were freed by a man named Moses. We are a people who have YHWH alone as God, and we worship him alone”. This, we might say, was the core message of the “deuteronomists” who faced the presence of Assyria.
  9. In the rural areas, outside Jerusalem and before the Assyrian conquest, people saw things from a different angle. People were more interested in “roots”. Around the Hebron area, people saw themselves as originating from Abraham. More to the south people there saw themselves as originating from Isaac. In the north, people there saw themselves as originating from Jacob. It was more genealogical than political.
  10. After 722, however, contact was made between the central (YHWH-alone) tendencies of Josiah and his scribes and the genealogies of the rural people. And so stories began to centralize around Abraham to whom YHWN promised a land in which other people will not occupy. Everyone began to see themselves as relatives—cousins—and their relations centred on an origin in Abraham.
  11. Then came the crisis of exile to Babylon in 587. Jerusalem was destroyed and people were thrown out of Judah. All the reform of Josiah and his scribes fell apart. There was no more king, no more temple, no more land. So there had to be a way to recall the whole history of Israel and Judah since Moses to the fall of Jerusalem. The crisis with Babylon was not going to be proof of God’s weakness. Instead the crisis was a “sanction” against an unfaithful people. The people did not centralize on YHWH alone: “The LORD'S anger befell Jerusalem and Judah till he cast them out from his presence” (2 Kg 24,20). God made use of the crisis and the exile to sanction people. From now on cult and liturgy can be made at home with the help of the laws and traditions and with the hope of returning one day to the promised land.
  12. Historically, not everyone in Judah were deported. Some stayed. They were put under the leadership of a governor, Gedaliah, who was to re-organize the country. Well, Gedaliah was later assassinated.
  13. The writings of those in exile were not exactly central to the people who stayed. They were always “at home”. The notion of ancient Patriarch would take a new meaning. This time, Isaac and Jacob were to be children of Abraham to highlight the unity of all Hebrews. The “genealogical” thinking was maintained among the people who stayed behind while the “exodus” thinking became strong among those exiled to Babylon.
  14. Now we turn to the Persian times—when Persia was in control of the region.
  15. This was the time of putting together the different themes. Priests became important figures in leadership of the Jewish community. By around 520BC, the Temple reconstruction was allowed. Priests were to consider, this time, the identity of the Hebrew people among other nations and among other people. So there were the times of origins from Adam to Noah, down to the Patriarchs (Abraham and his descendants) until the revelation to Moses with God. The synthesis of the priests gave Abraham an “exodus” profile. Abraham himself left his own homeland—which was to prefigure the escape from Egypt and entering the land promised. Note then that both the genealogical and the “exodic” mentalities are put together. The priests tried to put together two identities and from one identity for all Hebrews.
  16. Now the “five books” were ready for “official use”. Priests and lay had a big role together in re-assembling different traditions. Different theological perspectives were put together—even if they seemed, at times, different from each other. This whole Torah was a sign of dialogue and tolerance.

A work of FIVE books

  1. In the Bibles that we use—like the NAB or the JB, for example—we see the title “Pentateuch”. It means “five books”. In the Jewish tradition these five cover the TORAH. “Torah” is sometimes translated as “LAW” but it is more preferable to say “Teachings”. The five books are teachings on God and the identity of the Jewish nation. Legal prescriptions mix with stories—from the Creation to the arrival of the Hebrews to the frontiers of the Promised Land.
  2. Genesis shows us the origin of the world and the ancestors of the Hebrew people. Exodus recalls the oppression of Israel under slavery of Egypt and the liberation aided by Moses. The people are led to the holy mount Sinai where a Covenant is sealed with the Lord God. Leviticus is a book of many legal prescriptions from the point of view of priests—or “Levites”—from the tribe of Levi. The book of Numbers tells us about the path in the desert and the faults of the people. The generation freed from Egypt is not given the chance to enter the promised land. Finally, Deuteronomy is also a book of legal matters organized around the testimony of Moses (who sees the Promised Land but does not enter).

The author(s)?           
3.            Jewish tradition—and accepted by Christians—would say that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch. This is what tradition says. Of course, there are questions here. One question is that of Moses writing about his death. How is that possible? It was sometime during the 17th century that a man named Richard Simon made an official questioning about authorship. Bible scholars took note of this. How is it possible, they ask, that there are two versions of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20 and Dt 5)? How is it possible to have two versions of the Creation story (Gn 1,1-2,3 and 2,4-23)? There are three versions of Abraham making his wife his sister (Gn 12 ; 20 and 26). Etc.  There are versions of the splitting of the Red Sea. One version says that the sea is split by an east wind blowing all night. Another version says that it is split by a blowing from the middle (Ex 14,21a and Ex 14,21b-22). Etc.
  1. Scholars also notice the different names given to God. At times God is YHWH (“the Lord”). At time God is Elohim. Jean Astruc, a medical doctor in 1753, believed that the Pentateuch was a combination of two memories—of which one used the name YHWH and the other used the name Elohim. This became a frame of understanding the Pentateuch all the way to the 19th century.

The “documentary” theory     
5.            This idea of Jean Astruc became more and more studied until finally, scholars felt that there might have been many traditions in the making of the Pentateuch. There were many styles and versions for the same stories and laws. This became known as the documentary theory.
  1. This theory states that in the beginning there were four separate documents. Then sometime later—around 6th or 5th century before Christ, the four documents were reassembled to form the Pentateuch.
  1. The oldest document, according to scholars, was the “J” document—the Yahwist document. Here God is always called YHWH. This recalls holy history since the creation of the human person (Gn 2,4b-25) to the death of Moses (Dt 34). Scholars think that J was written during the time of Solomon (1000 years before Jesus). The vocation of Abraham is said to be a key to the J-document. See Gn 12,1-3. The yahwist author(s) wanted to remind Israel of the promise YHWH gave to Abraham—a promise accomplished in the reign of King David. The J author may have been from the South and had given a lot of importance to the tribe of Judah—the name also given to the southern Kingdom.
  1. Then there is the “E” document—the Elohist. Here God is named Elohim. A lot of the E document got mixed with the J document, so they form a JE—with the author(s) called “Jehovist”. The actual original E have come in fragments. Most of the E fragments have big chunks in  the history of Abraham (Gn 20-22). The E texts insist on the fear of God and the behaviour that results from this fear. Scholars think that the E writer(s) may have been close to the Northern Kingdom prophets—like Amos and Hosea. The E manuscripts were recollected after the fall of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria.
  1. Then there is the “D” document or “deuteronomist” document. This may have been written during the time of the reform of Jossah in the South in 622BC. The D document is composed of Laws centralized on love of God and the covenant.
  1. Finally, there is the “P” document. This was written much later than the other documents, and it was written by priests. It starts with Gn 1, the creation of the world in seved days and it ends also with the death of Moses. It makes obligation practices like priesthood and circumcision (Gn 17) and the feats of the Passover (Ex 12). “P” must have been written during/after the Babylonian exile (or end of century 600BC). This was the time when Israel had no formal institutions like the Temple worship. So priests had to write and introduce many practices.

New Questions
11.          The documentation theory has been widely accepted for a long time. But sometime starting mid-1970’s, new questions arose.
  1. One question was dating the J and the E. J and E look very similar to D. So, could J and E have been written centuries before D?
  1. Let us take an example. Read this: “Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine” Ex 19,5. This is possibly a JE verse. This looks like D verses: “For you are a people holy to the LORD, your God; the LORD, your God, has chosen you from all the peoples on the face of the earth to be a people specially his own” (Dt 7,6). “The LORD will establish you as a holy people, as he swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD, your God, and walk in his ways” (Dt 28,9).
  1. The stories of the vocation of Moses in Ex.3, said to be JE, look like stories of the vocations of Jeremiah and Ezekiel—written much later. So document J and document E do not look like they were written earlier that 600BC. JE may really have been written during the time when D was written. Maybe.
  1. Other scholars argue that many texts of mixed documents were actually one document written independent of the rest. The whole block of Gn 2-8, for example, may have been written separately. So too was the section Ex 1-15).
  1. For the moment, it is hard to evaluate things. Most scholars—and biblical theologians—continue to use the JED and P line—but with more care and prudence. Two things are definitely accepted: there are priestly sections and there was a general re-assembly of texts sometime in 500-600BC.

Pentateuch: Its birth
The Birth of the Pentateuch   
  1. The end of Judah and Jerusalem followed by the exile to Babylon (some time 597BC to 587BC) provoked a crisis. No more King. No more Temple. No more Promised Land. Who could be the God of Israel? At around this time until return from exile, stories and laws were written in response to the crisis.
  2. With the Torah, the Jewish people created  a kind of “portable homeland”.  In other words, the people can have a reference to something—a tradition and a written text—that allows them to live their faith even in faraway places. This was already the time of the Persian empire that took over Babylon in 538BC. The new empire respected a bit more of religious freedom.
  3. In the book of Esdras and Nehemiah we see this atmosphere. Esdras is a priest and scribe who goes to Jerusalem sent by the Persian King. Esdras reminds the people that the king of Persian respects their ways.
  4. The Torah had to become a document that can reflect the different sensibilities of the Jewish people. The Jews had to recognizer themselves in the Torah. Texts were written by intellectual priests and lay. This explains why there are two versions of the Ten Commandments. In Ex 20—a priestly text, for example, the Sabbath is founded on the “rest of God” on the 7th day of creation. In Dt 5—a deuteronomist text, the Sabbath is motivated by the reminder about slavery in Egypt. In fact certain texts were penned by people not of the priestly nor of the deuteronomist groups. The story of Joseph, for example, is one such text. It is open to a more universal Judaism (see Gn 37-50).
  5. After the process, we see the compilation of texts that has become the TORAH or the Pentateuch.
The perspective of priests
6.            The texts were written over a long time of many generations. The texts easiest to identify are the texts written by priests. The priestly texts like mentioning numbers and genealogies. They like showing lists. Most of all they like highlighting things that have to do with liturgy and cult practices. Of course the concern here is to organize the Jewish community—still affected by dispersion and also by the return to Judah. The Jews had to be organized around the clergy and the Temple in the process of reconstruction.  So rituals like the Sabbath, circumcision, diet and festivals can be done anywhere even for Jews still dispersed.
  1. For the priestly texts, the God of Israel is a universal God. He created the human being in his image and likeness and he established a covenant with all humanity through Noah. God chose Abraham to become the father of a multitude of nations. Among the descendants of Abraham, however, are the Levites whom God set apart to take care of the cult and liturgy.
The perspective of scribes
8.            The style and vocabulary of the deuteronomist go beyond the book of Dt. We find the deuteronomist style also in the Historical Books—from Joshua to Kings. Within the Exodus and Numbers, some deuteronomist texts are incorporated. So Ex 3, for example, sees Moses as the first of prophets just like in Dt 18,15. The deuteronomist likes using the expressions “the country where milk and honey flow” and “the God of the Fathers”.
  1. The book of Dt. However has, in concentrated form, the theology deuteronomist. The covenant between YHWH and Israel has a central legislative code (Dt 12-26) founded on the liberation from Egypt. The highlight is given on a unique—one and only—place of worship (Dt 12) and the uniqueness of the God of Israel. This may have been a re-echo of the reform of the King Josiah in 622 with an earlier version of Dt. Found in the Temple (see 2 Kings 22-23).
  1. The deuteronomist insists on the uniqueness of the God of Israel—YHWH alone. The deuteronomist also insists on the permanent listening to God to whom the people separated from the other nations obey. The Deuteronomy texts were written by scribes and members of the royal court starting from the time before the exile. Big parts of the book of Dt. were written and reinterpreted in the light of the exile considered as “sanction” to the people who did not always listen to God.
Legal codes in different forms?         
11.          In the centre of Dt. we read the “deuteronomic code” (Dt 12-26). It was written to review the covenant that still allowed for many places of worship in Ex 21-23. In Leviticus, we read about the “code of Holiness” (Lv 17-26) which insists on the liturgical and ethical holiness of the community. Scholars debate on when exactly this holiness code was written because it shows tension of priests and deuteronomists. Let the scholars debate.
  1. What we can say is that the writers-compliers of the final text of the whole Pentateuch did not hesitate to put the codes together. It must have been to show that the Law is not a static element of tradition. The Law is meant to be actual and must therefore be constantly re-interpreted and re-actualized.
Many narrative traditions
13.          The priestly and deuteronomist authors had references also to other traditions which were more ancient and diverse. They knew of stories (written? oral?) about the patriarchs and places. Notice that there are different highlights of importance given to places. Sometimes, in the Abraham stories, it is Hebron in the South. In the Jacob stories the highlight is given to Bethel or Sichem, in the north. The stories around the exodus from Egypt is the core of all TORAH. So maybe it is the oldest story in the Pentateuch. It is about liberation. Memory of liberation from Egypt has marked the whole Hebrew scripture.
  1. Scholars are having difficulties dating the exact time the story was put to writing. The long stay in the desert in Numbers, for example, is also found (in a more positive color) in books written before the exile—like the books of Hosea and Jeremiah.
  1. Scholars accept the difficulties. But they are certain that many of the traditional stories in the Pentateuch may have been written during the monarchy period (800-600BC). It was during the Persian period when the different texts were put together.
The significance of the Pentateuch
16.          The Pentateuch puts us in front of a community of faith. It tells us how God constituted his people and how the people are called to live in covenant with God. The people are a holy people. They are “saints”. In other words, they are consecrated to God who is their everything. Nothing exists independent of God. Supreme authority still rests in God’s word. Moses is the mediator of that word conserved in the books.
  1. The “Law” is not just juridical precepts. It is not just about rules. It is born within a history and is inserted in history. The “Law”—the Torah—is a dynamic book that lets Judaism maintain its identity.
  1. From Judaism, Christianity inherited the Law—now called Pentateuch. Christianity has a different way of reading the Law because…well, because Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ and Lord. He did not abolish the Law, but he “perfected” it (Mt 5,17).
  1. For both the Jew and the Christian, the Pentateuch tells of God’s project for the salvation of all humanity.
The Pentateuch as TORAH
  1. The end of the book of Deuteronomy mentions the word TORAH to designate all that Moses had said: “When Moses had finished writing out on a scroll the words of this law (TORAH) in their entirety….” (Dt 31,24). Then we read Moses saying: “Take to heart all the words that I am giving in witness against you today, words you should command your children, that they may observe carefully every word of this law (TORAH)” (Dt 32,46). These words of Moses conclude not only the book of Deuteronomy but the whole Pentateuch. Let us look deeper at this word TORAH.
  2. What exactly does “Torah” mean? In the Hebrew bible Torah can designate “law” in a specific sense—an isolated rule or prescription. Lev 6/2.7.8 and 7,1 can illustrate. Let us cite Lev.6/2: “This is the ritual for holocausts. The holocaust is to remain on the hearth of the altar all night until the next morning, and the fire is to be kept burning on the altar”. Look at Nb 6/13.
  3. Torah can also mean a collection of laws and other legal matters. For example: “This is the law (torah) for animals and birds and for all the creatures that move about in the water or swarm on the ground, that you may distinguish between the clean and the unclean, between creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten" Lv 11,46. Another example: “These are the precepts, decrees and laws (torah) which the LORD had Moses promulgate on Mount Sinai in the pact between himself and the Israelites” (Lev.26/46).
  4. Then, of course, torah can have a more complex meaning—more theological. In 2 Kings 22–23 we read about the discovery of a “book of the torah” (see 2 Kg 22/8.11). It was discovered in the Temple during the reign of Josiah. The book was also designated as “book of the covenant” (see 2Kg 23/2.21). So torah has a more theological meaning here. It is not just about legal matters. It is an expression of the covenant. It describes the link between God and his people.
  5. This can explain why in the first chapter of the book of Deuteronomy the torah is understood as teaching on how the Hebrew people are to live as people under a covenant with God. “Moses began to explain the law….” (Dt 1/5). Torah, in the more theological sense, designates an assembly of stories, prescriptions, laws. The stories speak of the great works of the Lord God and the different laws speak of how the people are to live within the framework of the covenant with God.
  6. What then is Pentateuch? It is Torah, and it is filled with laws and prescriptions. It is also filled with stories of God and people. The Pentateuch shows that the history of the Hebrew people is a history of liberation under the initiative of God. The Pentateuch then shows different laws and prescriptions that must be obeyed in response to the liberating gift of God. People now are committed to live for YHWH-alone.
Deuteronomical History

1.    It has become a habit to say that the historical books start with Joshua and ends with 2Kings. Christians call these the “historical books”. Jews—and Rabbis in particular—call these as “pre-prophetic books”.

The crisis of the exile
2.    There are some major themes touching both the historical books and the Book of Dt. There is, for example, the theme of the land—it is given by THE LORD GOD. To live and be happy in the given land is conditional. To be happy there, the people must be faithful to THE LORD GOD…they must obey his laws. Otherwise, life will be miserable. But, the people disobeyed—they turned away from God. So God gets furious (see Dt 28). History will then prove that misery starts with disobedience. The North will fall, and soon the South. So the historical books seem so linked with the last book of the Pentateuch—Dt.
3.    The Babylonian exile was a trauma—a deep trauma for the Jewish people. There was no more King, no more Temple, no more Jerusalem. Jewish identity was falling apart. Could it be that the god of Babylon was stronger than THE LORD GOD?  Many questions arose. It became important to answer them.
4.    A group of scribes started writing. The texts had to explain the whole history—the texts had to –re-read history once again.

5.    The main “prism” to interpret all history was the Covenant theme. In fact it was a theme for King Josiah himself. The reign of Josiah was a time when Assyria weakened. King Josiah took the opportunity to destroy the ideas spread by the Assyrians. He wanted to show that the glorious stories of the assyrians were not true. Josiah also tried to extend his control to the North. Meanwhile he reformed Jerusalem and the Temple. His reform went against Assyria.
6.    Assyria, for example, demanded that its vassals liten only to the Assyrian king. So King Josiah wanted to turn the attention in another way. “Listen Israel, the Lord is our God and is one” (Dt 6,4). So King Josiah wanted to say that people should listen to THE LORD GOD alone—and not to Assyria. A “covenant” had to made clear with THE LORD GOD.
7.    The Covenant involved the people, of course, and God. If the covenant were broken, it si the people’s responsibility. The writers—scribes—had to emphasize that only the actions of THE LORD GOD were sure and safe—nothing else. If the people fell into exile under the Babylonians, it was because they did not take seriously the Covenant with THE LORD GOD. So this had to be the reading made on history—and the exile.
8.    Re-reading all history in the past, scribes attributed the unfortunate conditions of the Jewish people to their failure to comply with the Covenant.
9.    If we look well at the historical books, we will notice three stages of history.
10.  First was the period ending the travels in the desert and beginning—preparing the entrance to the promised land. From Moses then, to Joshua.
11.  Then came the period of the Judges. Installing in the country was not easy. There were conflicts with neighbours. So God called for leaders—chiefs—who would help Israel unify and protect the nation.
12.  The third period was the period of Kings. This would be the longest period. During this time, different prophets would emerge.
13.  The period of Kings starts with a unified nation which will split into two. The North is unstable and the South is more stable. There is the importance given to the central sanctuary—notably the Temple.
14.  The place of the King is also very important in the stories. However, the Lord God is still the guarantor of safety. If people do not connect with God, no king can make them safe. In the flow of history, this is proven. People always fall. But the Lord God continues to care for the people. 

From Joshua to Josiah
15.  These are two heroes of the stories. In fact Joshua is the first hero of history and Josiah is the last. It may be curious that the names both sound the same. Joshua is a disciple of Moses. Josiah, this time, is the King who returns to God “with all his heart, soul and strength according to the Law of Moses” (see 2 Kg 23/25; see Dt 6/4). The sons of Josiah do not follow the same path—and so unfortunate circumstances fall on the people until they are thrown to Babylon. So, this can tell us that history—as viewed by the deuteronomist authors—must be marked by turning to the Law as element of Covenant—or alliance with the Lord God.

A very general flow from Genesis to 2 Kings
Please research on your own and verify the details presented here.
Also see the general flow of the narrative. There are many details we skip.
So focus on what we present here.

The creation and the “fall”: Adam and Eve and the Serpent; Cain, Abel, Noah and the Tower of Babel. Why does the Bible see this a “fall”?
Patriarchs and family solidarity: The Hebrew people have their “fathers”—Patriarchs. Abram: from where is he? What was his journey—from where to where? What was the promise of God to him?
Abram and Lot: what is their relationship?  Who is Sarai and who is Hagar? Who is the son of Hagar? Who is the son of Sarai?
Abram sacrifices his son up the mountain. Isaac grows up to adulthood. He has two children from Rebecca. Jacob and Esau: compare them. What was the conflict between them? The conflict made Jacob run away.
Joseph story: what happened here? Why did the brothers hate Joseph? What became of Joseph? How was he able to help his family? Because of Joseph, Hebrews are able to stay in Egypt for a long time.

Spiritual solidarity: this time the Hebrew people will come to know their God. Hence there is a “spiritual” unity. But the new Pharaoh does not know the Hebrews. So he imposes work on them. He gives them a very hard time. Then comes Moses. He was drawn out of the water. Why? What was the situation at that time? Moses becomes part of the palace. But he interferes two times. What were those interferences? He was forced to leave and stay in the desert.
In the desert something happened—the “burning bush”. What did this event do to him—what did it ask him to do?
Moses goes to Egypt and confronts the Pharaoh. At the start he did not succeed. But later he succeeded. What made him succeed?
Finally the Pharaoh frees the Hebrews. But later he changes his mind. What happened here?
Moses leads the people into the desert. A covenant is sealed with God in Horeb. Idolatry took place there: describe the idolatry. The Hebrews reach the promised land. But they are forced to stay for another 40 years in the desert. Why?
Finally, Moses is so old he has to pass his leadership to Joshua.

National Solidarity: Joshua will make sure that the people are in the land. They will become a nation. This is why they have a national solidarity. The capture of Jericho and Ai: what happened here? Who are the Gibeonites? Who is Adonizedek? Why did the sun stay up the sky and not come down? Who is King Jabin?
With the leadership of Joshua all the land of Canaan, from north to south, becomes land of the Hebrews. God has told Joshua to exterminate all people in Canaan. Idolatry also had to disappear. But idolatry continued—even Hebrews took influence from the Canaanite religions.
After the death of Joshua, “judges” start leading the Hebrew people. What does “judge” mean?

Political solidarity: The Hebrews are now one nation. They need a political life—with a King. For their lives to improve, they think they need a King. The Ark of the Covenant was in danger—it was one reason also why the Hebrews want to have a King—a “full time leader”. Can you explain this? Who is Samuel? Who is his mother? Who was the first King he anointed?
What was the relationship between Saul and David? Explain. Finally David becomes King. He is a very successful leadership. But something happened—and it becomes the start of his weakening. What happened? Explain. David had a son who became troublesome. What happened?
David had another son named Solomon. Solomon became King. He built the Temple. He made the dynasty of David strong. The time of David and Solomon was a time of unity. But one day, the nation split in two. Why?

Disunity: There are now two kingdoms. Who was the first king of the North? Because Jerusalem was the center of Hebrew worship, this king started something new. What was it?
Idolatry hit the Northern Kingdom. He had sons who became King. One day, Omri became king. He started the Omri dynasty in the North. He does not please God. Why? He had a son named Ahab who became King. Ahab was married to Jezebel. Who was Jezebel? What did she do to make God angry? The prophet Elijah had to correct the situation. What happened to his battle with the Baal prophets? Jezebel reacted to this. How did her reaction affect Elijah?
Elijah went to Horeb. There he received a mission. What was the mission? Some names are important: Ben-Hadad, Aram-Damascus, Ahaziah. Ahaziah was son of Ahab. What did he do? Why did God get angry with him?
Other names are important: Hazael and Jehu. Jehu becomes King. What did he accomplish?
Hazael, king of Damascus, has a role here. What was the role?
Kings succeeded one after the other. This was the time of the Assyrian empire. What happened with Shalmanese V and King Hoseah?

Story of Judah:  Also in the south, one king succeeds another. Check out the names: Ahaz and Hezekiah. Hezekiah was an important King. What exactly did he do to please God? Hezekiah got into trouble with the Assyrians. What happened here? Who was the Assyrian King here? Who was the prophet who accompanied Hezekiah?
Then there was the son of Hezekiah. He was Manasseh. He did the inverse of what Hezekiah did. What did he do to make God angry?
One name is also very important: Josiah. Why is he important? Why is he so pleasing to the eyes of God? What exactly did he do? Try to give as many facts as you can about what Josiah did.
But he got killed after intervening in the move of the Egyptians under Pharaoh Necho. What was the intention of king Josiah in intervening?
At the end of the Assyrian rule we see the rise of the Babylonians. Check out the names: Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim (or Jehoiachim). For a time Judah, the southern Kingdom was linked with Egypt. How did the Babylonians react to this?
Another name is important: Jehoiakin (or Jehoiachin). He is another King of Judah. Then another name is important: Zedekiah. What happened to him?
Who was the Babylonian king at this time? What did he do?
It is the end of the Southern Kingdom. The Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. The Davidic family is no longer in power. It is the end of Kings. The hope for a King of the Jewish nation is lost. What year was this exile?
There is no more King—but Judah is ruled by a governor named Gedaliah. The whole story does not end with a hopeless tone. Why? (See what happens to Jehoiachin).  

A General View of Gn 1-3—two creation stories
Gn 1 : the seven-day creation story and Gn 2-3 : the garden story

  1. This is but a general view.
  2. A story about beginnings is interested also about origins. How did the world start? What about the human being? If we ask “how” we might also have, at the back of our minds, “why”.
  3. The beginning contains two stories. They are two different approaches to creation. In the story of the seven days, Gn 1/26-28, the human being is created after the creation of the animals. First, God creates the living creatures of the waters. Then God creates the creatures of the air. Finally God creates the creatures of the earth.
  4. In the garden story, the human being comes first. The human being is “man”. The animals come next. The “woman” is the last one created. She is the only one who does not come directly from the earth but from man—the side of Adam. This gives the woman a unique position in creation.
  5. What might the two stories try to tell? What questions might they try to answer? Let us try to figure them out. Briefly, we say that the garden story faces the question of freedom—or the use of freedom. The seven-day story addresses the question of the absence of God. Let us discuss these.
  6. What is freedom? This is the question faced by the garden story. The garden story of Gen.2 faces the fundamental question of human existence. There is life and there is death. There is happiness and misery. There is love. There is harmony and there is domination.
  7. The garden story faces the an enigma—the existence of the human being. Who is this creature and what exactly does this creature want? In the centre of this enigma is an intrigue: the snake. This animal invites a bad choice because contrary to what the serpent says, the human being does not really become “like God”.
  8. The garden story takes note of breaks and cracks—there is the crack between the human and the earth. It is now difficult to cultivate the earth…difficult to “make a living”. There is a crack between the human and the animals. An animal has taken over the human. Sin is now considered as a wild animal “…lurking at the door: his urge is toward you” (Gn 4/7). Then of course, there is the crack between the man and the woman. Man dominates over her. She will give birth in pain. Finally there is the crack of death.
  9. But there is hope. The cracks can be repaired. The garden story opens up to a future by describing the past. It tells us that at in the past, already there were cracks, but the cracks were not the starting point. They were there in the very early times but they were not the beginning. Therefore human life did not start with a crack.
  10. At the very start there was harmony between man and soil—adam and adamah. Life was organized for “pleasure”—with all the fruit trees to take from and eat well. At the start there was harmony between man and woman.
  11. Today—in our very own time—we can possibly still see the harmony even with the cracks. Maybe we can possibly say that there is harmony “underneath” the cracks. We can discover the harmony in the good use of freedom—when, for example, there is respect for human dignity.
  12. In Gn 3/19-20, after the judgement of God, there is suffering in the human way of living—man works and the woman gives birth with pain.
  13. The mystery of Gn 2-3 is not about the world but about the relationship of the human being with the world. We can say that the story is “anthropocentric”—it is centred on the human being. God is not the “main character” of the story. In fact, notice how the story gives God very human qualities—like taking a walk. But God is also presented as a “facilitator” or “organizer” who makes sure that there is harmony and that freedom is properly used.
  14. The story of the seven days, this time, is about the absence of God. Why is God absent?
  15. God is the main character here. There are 50 verbs used to indicate God doing something. This time, we read a “theocentric” story—God centred. The mystery here is the presence of an absent God.
  16. The persons involved in assembling the different traditions of the Pentateuch put this seven-day story before the garden story. There is probably a reason. There must have been a desire to show how to relate with God. Remember what we said at the start of our semester—that the assembly was done during the Persian times after the exile of 587BC. The Hebrew people needed to readjust themselves in the midst of the nations and in front of God. After the tragedy with the Babylonians and then during the domination of the Persians, the Hebrews had to ask about their notion of God.
  17. The seven-day story tells us that God was all alone with his freedom. God was sovereign. God did not yet have a “proper name”. (He was still Elohim and not YHWH. YHWH assumes a relationship already between God and people—a covenant has been made. Elohim would be a “generic” name.) God was still “simply God” in a general way.
  18. Gn 1 is not so interested in the human being. God—the “wholly Other—creates an Other “in his image and likeness” (Gn 1/26) after having marked the time and space (see Gn 1/3-19). Hebrew scholars would say that the word “to create” (bara) means “to make something outside”. God is creator and when he creates he established a discontinuity between him and creature. The creature is outside. The creature is in the external of God. So the creature is not God. When it comes to the human being, therefore, the human is external to God—the human is not God. “God created (bara) man in his image; in the divine image he created (bara) him; male and female he created (bara) them” (Gn 1/27). Notice that in the creation of the human, the word created-bara is insisted three times.
  19. On the seventh day, God rests. This is God’s last action. God rests? God now takes leave and goes absent? Yes. If God is absent and having his rest, it is to allow all creation to declare the glory of God. Now it is the time of all creation to make its declaration and say that they are creatures of the one majestic Creator.
  20. God is absent? Yes, and it is to allow the observance of the Sabbath. The human—God’s image and likeness—is to observe the day of rest. By doing this, the human being is also made to be aware of the distance between Creator and creature. God’s last action is his wonderful rest. God alone has terminated his work. The human being continues to work after rest—the human must begin again. All rest finally happens only in death. The human is made to live in the image and likeness of God. Therefore human activity is destined to be “creative” too. God’s rest empowers that human.
  21. Then also, the seven-day story is theocentric that makes God take a distance so that the garden story—which is anthropocentric—can be told. God takes a distance so that the human can take a central place in the entire story.
  22. Ok, so the two creation stories try to explain the absence of God and the freedom of the human being. But there is still one question. Why did God create in the first place? It is a mystery. One possible reply is that God wanted us to have a share in his life—in his joy and happiness. If we did not exist, if we were not created, what opportunity we will not have! But again, it is a mystery.
  23. We let the stories say the answers. One thing is clear—they were written and assembled as a “yes” to the fact of existence and a “yes” to the faith and knowledge we have in exploring world and life. “Yes” we have a destiny given in our existence and in our place in this world.

The “image and likeness” of God

  1. Let us look at the Old Testament, and in Genesis in particular…since this is our interest this time. In Genesis we see that the human is “image of God”. When God wants to create the human being God says “let us make the human in our image and likeness” (Gn I/26).
  2. First of all, Genesis says “the human being” (adam)…and not “man” (ish). The human being is in the image and likeness of God. It is not about a particular man, it is about the human being as male-and-female (zkr wa nqbe).
  3. First of all, in the creation of the human being, we notice a project of God. This project can be seen in the text itself. Remember the text is the first chapter of Genesis—and it is therefore about origins and beginnings. “In the beginning”, the first verse sates.
  4. It is about a search for understanding the existence of the world—and human existence in particular. What is it in the human being that “stays”…that is “sustained” even in changes of history, time and culture.
  5. The verse “In the beginning” can be understood that which is essential….that which is fundamental and basic. Let us read Gen 1/26-31.
  6. This is the 6th day of creation. God has just finished with the 5 days. Before the 6th day God has made the animals…like the animals living on earth. Then on the 6th day God says: “let us make the human in our image and likeness…” (1/26). “The human” is to be created. But notice, suddenly the phrase talks about “the human” in plural: “…let them have dominion”. So it is not about creating one person but creating all humanity. The plural is needed in order to have dominion over many other creatures—like the fish and beasts. The “human” is here “humanity” which is both individual and collective. Hence, we see singular and plural.
  7. All that is in the verse concern the individual human as concrete and group-human also as concrete. It is humanity that is in its entirety.
  8. Verse 26 tells us that God has a project, “Let us….”. Verses 27 and 28 tell us that the project is made; it is realized. If we compare the two—project and realization—we can notice some strange elements. Is it not, anyway, true that the human being is an enigma?
  9. Let us look at the verses. In 26 we read: “Let us make the human (noshe adam) in our image and likeness”. In verses 27 and 28, God created (bara) the human being. The project was “to make” and the realization was a creation. “Hey”, we might ask, “is this important?” Well, yes.
  10. To create is exclusive of God. Biblically, only God creates—using the word bara. But to say “to make” is to refer to anyone—God and anybody else. So why would the author use the two verbs in this part of the Genesis? This is an enigma.
  11. Let us look at another enigma. When God makes his project, the subject is in the plural: “Let us make the human”. Then, when we come to verses 27 and 28, suddenly the subject of the verb is in singular. “He created….” Who is “with” God when the verb is plural, “Let us make….” Ah, another enigma.
  12. Let us look at a third enigma. In verse we read “in our image and likeness”. These are two words. They are not the same. But notice afterwards, in verse 27, only the image is used and the likeness is dropped. When God created the human, God created the human as image. What happens to the “likeness”? Ah, an enigma.
  13. Still, one more enigma to look at. We are used to thinking that God, in this creation story, made man and woman. If we look at verse 27, we read “male and female”—not “man and woman”. This “male-female” partnership belongs to all animals and not just to humans. Why does the verse say this? An enigma this is.
  14. In the first chapter of Genesis we notice how God looks at his creatures and then “God said, ‘it’s good!’”. But after creating the human being God does not say this. Does this mean that, at this point of creation, the human is not good? It is only in the end, in verse 31, where we read the “good” coming back again—this is only after God has given the human being vegetables to eat.
  15. But wait. Of course the verses say that “God said, ‘it’s good!’”. But on the 2nd day of creation we do not read this. In the beginning there is chaos—there is whole mass of water and wind without any point of reference. On the first day God separates the light from the darkness. On the second day, God organizes space.
  16. God creates a dome separating two bodies of water. There is the water from above and water below. It is on the 3rd day when dray land will appear. Here we see that “God said, ‘it’s good!’”. But never did God say this on the 2nd day when he separated the waters. Why?
  17. On the second day, space has not yet been arranged. Life is not yet possible. There is still chaos. When earth appears—when the dry land appears—God puts there the plants and animals.  On the 2nd day when all that God has created is the dome separating waters, his project is not yet finished. There is still something to do. The creative action of God is still incomplete. This is a phase in his steps. So God does not yet say “it is good”. The chaos is still present. Nothing can yet allow life to emerge.
  18. So, if after the creation of the human being God does not yet say “it’s good”. Why…it is because his project is not yet completed. The human being is not yet achieved. In other words, the human being is still incomplete. The human being is not yet completely pulled out of chaos. So far, the human being is created—coming from the work of God. (If you are going to write an essay, you do not make the final text. You make first the “draft”. Only then do you work on writing the final paper. So the human being here is still a “draft”).
  19. If we see this…then we can understand the other enigmas.
  20. What does it mean: “God created”? It means that when God is doing something, he has his part, his role. Of course only God creates—this is a Biblical fact. Biblically, only God creates—using the word bara. But to say “to make” is to refer to anyone—God and anybody else. “To make” is more extensive; it is more inclusive. There is still something to do.
  21. When we read, “Let us make”, God has in front of him the human being. God tells this human his project. The human is implicated. So the verse can read as, “Let us, you and me, the human being”. God all alone cannot make the human. The human, surely created by God, remains incomplete and not yet fully achieved. The human still has the chaotic inside.
  22. The human, therefore, individual and collective, must work to realize and fulfil oneself. God has his role, right. He creates. But the remaining work—“to make”—is in the hands of the human. The human is invited to collaborate in human fulfilment.
  23. This explains why God created the human in his image. The human is created as image of God and the task of being in the lines of God belongs to the human. The image is given. The likeness is still to achieve. The human mission is to make oneself likeness to the image of God.
  24. Let us pause for a while. We can say that God has given us dignity. This is the fact that we are, indeed, “image of God”. But are we “like” God? Do we resemble God in our speech, actions, thoughts, choices and decisions? Jesus said: be as perfect as your heavenly father is perfect (see Mt.5/48). Jesus had no issue with the fact that we are “image of God”. But how do we live? How do we go on in life? How do we proceed with our “likeness” of God?
  25. What about the “male-female”? This is a way of saying that the human is still unachieved. The human is male-female, just like all the animals. But from hereon, the human must construct the self as “man” or as “woman”. The human needs to uproot from what is purely beastly and animal—uproot from what makes the human still like the other animals. The human needs to uproot from the unaccomplished and inhuman. Uproot from the “beast” and become “man” or “woman”. The human is human. The potentiality of being human must surface—uproot from the beast.
  26. So let us not be surprised if the text mentions male-female. It is on this sexuality that the animal is noted. The human is unachieved and incomplete—and God indicates the path of achievement: “God blessed them, saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.’” (1/28).
  27. So God says “Let us make the human in our image and likeness”…Then he immediately makes it clear that “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth." As soon as God creates the human, God blesses the human and opens a path to live in fertility and multiplication, in filling the earth and subduing it, in having dominion.
  28. This creature—the human—is image of God. The human fulfils oneself by mastery. The human must be “master over”. God’s project concerns all earth and specifically the animals. The human fulfils oneself by mastering over a certain mastery. Let us explain this.
  29. First of all, we need to reflect on “who is God”. The “image” we see in Genesis is that of a God who dominates over chaos. He is someone who masters over the darkness and transforms everything to an ordered world. God is “master”. He starts from nothing and creates things.
  30. But look closely at how Genesis really presents God. Notice that God does not create from nothing. God creates from chaos. What is this chaos? For example, verse 2 says: “The earth was a formless wasteland”. There was no form yet, there was nothing to refer to. There was only chaos. There was also the inhospitable water, there was darkness and there was the presence of a great wind.
  31. What then does God do with that chaos? He organizes it…slowly, gradually. He organizes it so that life becomes possible. God makes the light possible without however getting rid of the darkness. In verse 4 we read that God separated the light from the darkness. The darkness is still there. But now it is more organized. There is the alternation—morning and night. The alternation is good!
  32. Then God brings out dry land from the massive water. Now space is organized and life can arise. The chaotic water is not eliminated. But it is part of a more organized whole. Space is now structured. The sea has its place now…it does not form everything. It has its place.
  33. When God takes mastery over chaos, God does not destroy. He organizes. He even allows place for the negative elements. What about the wind that swept over the waters? Note what happens immediately after mentioning the great wind: “Then God said”. God takes mastery over breath! He does not remove it, he does not take away that wind. God uses that in such a way that God is able to articulate and say “Let there be light”.
  34. So the elements of chaos are there present: darkness, massive water and the wind. All of them are found in the creative act of God! They are, indeed, elements of chaos but they are respected, they have their proper places and they are never eliminated. God exercises mastery that does not destroy anything. Mastery is this—that God organizes chaos to allow life to surface.
  35. Then God says “it’s good”. It is ok!  This too is part of mastery. God takes a look at what he does—he takes a distance. He looks at what is transpiring and God is amazed! Yes, God is amazed at what is not god. God is amazed at what is not God himself. This is part of the creative action of God!
  36. To exist is to be looked at and regarded by someone else. If nobody has any regard for us, we do not exist. We say “I am nobody”. Why? “Because nobody has any regard for me…” When someone else takes regard over us, a space is opened for us to exist! We can start having an identity and start realizing that we have a place.
  37. God therefore takes that distance to give a regard to what he has done—to his creatures. This regard—this “looking at” opens up the possibility for creatures to exist and have a place. God takes a distance to look—but also to call. The creation of God is not just a “making”…it is also a “looking”, a “regarding”, a “letting be” of the creature to have its place and be admired: “it’s good!”
  38. So mastery is not just about force and power. It is also about taking a distance…a “letting be” of the other…and proving one’s own reverence and tenderness towards the other.
  39. Let us look at the 7th day. It is the day of rest—the Sabbath. Genesis tells us that on this day the heavens and the earth and “all their array” (2/1) are completed. God now stops. He puts a limit to his own mastery. During six days he structures space. He arranges this space and allows life to appear. Now, on the 7th day, he stops—and puts limits to what he does. He stops the deployment of force. God takes mastery over his own mastery. He shows he is stronger than his own strength. This only shows that God is not someone who destroys. His “mastered mastery” is the all-powerful power. God is so powerful because he can limit his power—God limits himself. Why does God do this?
  40. God takes a distance to allow the world—and especially the human being—enough autonomy. God takes a distance in leaving the human being place for development and autonomy. This is precisely how we can also understand Sabbath. God goes on Sabbath and limits himself so that the human finds space and place for growth and autonomy. The mastery of God is a “mastered mastery”.
  41. The human is also called to this form of mastery. This is to make the human realize how the human is, indeed, “image of God”. The human is called to a certain type of mastery.
  42. To appreciate this, let us go back to verse 28. We see here that the human receives the order to be master over the earth and, in particular, the animals. Then, the human receives alimentation—“what to eat”. There are two types of vegetation that can be eaten.  There are cereals and there are fruits.
  43. There is something enigmatic here too. It signifies that the human needs to know how to “master” the animals. If the human is to eat vegetables and not the animals it means that the human need not go all the way dominating the animal by eating the animal after killing the animal. When God proposes that the human eat vegetables, God proposes a way to live. God proposes that the human leave place for the animal to live too. That the other may also live. The respect for the other is the limit given to my own mastery.
  44. If the human is to be “image of God”, then this means mastered mastery too. It is mastery without violence and it is mastery that has place for respect and reverence for life—be it life of the human and even the animal. This is the image of a master that self-masters.
  45. This is not about being weak. It is about putting a “brake” on one’s own force to the point of limiting it so that the other can live.
  46. Verse 30 tells us that animals are also vegetarians. Of course this is symbolic; it is metaphorical. The idea of being “vegetarian” here symbolizes the limit given to power; it means the capacity to leave place for the other to live. In this way we allow for a peaceful co-existence. We can live together in the same space without eating each other. The animals do not eat each other. The human too can be such—that we do not have to “eat each other” too.  Animal vegetarianism is a symbolic way of expressing peaceful co-existence: each is respected to live. Each has its place without taking the place of others.
  47. Already in the book of the prophet Isaiah we see this. “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbours, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea” (Is 11/6-9). We do not have to eat each other and this can only happen if justice is installed.
  48. In Genesis 1, justice means that each one occupies place without invading the place of others. Each one masters over one’s own the mastery. The human is called to preside over all this. The human is called to give up totalitarian power—which is, by the way, imagination only. This means respect for the place of each creature. If the human recognizes this, the human can be “president”—can “preside over” a peaceful co-existence.
  49. God has placed order in this world—God has put order in the chaos. The human, being a creature, still has the element of chaos inside—the “male and female”. This human, therefore, who is image of God, is called to put in order the chaos within. The human—individual or social—is called to be master over this chaos.  Inside the human is the “male-female”—something of the “animal” that requires humanizing.
  50. Indeed, this is not just a Biblical reality. Everywhere, from the micro level of daily life to the big macro level of politics and international-global relationship, we cannot deny that there is the “chaotic” in the human. Genesis 1 invites the human to be master over this chaos. … Yes the invitation is to be master without killing. How can we be master without killing…without violence? Genesis 1 shows that it is possible to be master without violence. How? By Word. The chaotic and animal in us can be mastered without annihilating and deleting. How? Just like God, we too can speak—we can speak and give names. Speaking allows giving names. By giving names, we recognize the existence of others. For example, we can name the violence that continues to express itself in our behaviour and relationship.
  51. The human is invited by Genesis 1 to master over forces without breaking the forces. This mastery allows others to live—have their place in life. If the human breaks the force, the human loses dynamism.  It is interesting to note that the “power to be” coincides with the gift of food. It is indispensable to mark the limit in eating. Do not eat the other. Do not allow the other to become master with violence.
  52. Eating is, symbolically, the transformation of the non-human to human by assimilation. The humanisation of the human happens through the mastery over eating. Note that, Biblically, sin happens in eating. The command that accompanies the gift of food is also the law of the gift of life. The law tells us that the human cannot live exclusively from bread but also by living the Word.
  53. In the end, God looks at everything he had made and he says, “very good”. God has given us a “tool”—to live with one another in co-existence. Master one’s own mastery. Be reconciled with oneself, with others, with the community…. Whoever knows how to manage his/her desires knows how to use power without violating others.
  54. Maybe we can try putting in a bit of Jesus. Saint Paul tells us that “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col I/15). Jesus is the master—the man of deep reconciliation with himself and with others. He is the master who recognizes the uniqueness of others—and the their uniqueness requires respect and reverence. Jesus is the image of God and all the way till his death on the cross he shows this image.

Excursus on “fraternity”
  1. The human is called to be master of the created world. The human is to “dominate” and have “power over”. In modern times this is an issue—a problem. We know the problem, for example, of environment and ecology. We know the problem of consumerism. Human domination has become harmful. So what is Genesis telling us? As we just saw, the mastery is first of all “mastery of mastery”. We must be able to take hold of our mastery. We must be masters to ourselves first. We are asked to set limits to our powers.
  2. This is, to use modern language, an invitation to “non-violence”. The “beast” inside of us must be tamed. (In case you have heard of Hobbes—a name we have mentioned in class before….he is one philosopher who described the “beast” in us.) For the Bible, the human is admittedly having the “beast” inside. This must be tamed—it must be “humanized”. (In the perspective of the New Testament, it must be “evangelized”.)
  3. To “tame” and to “humanize” the “beast” inside, we need to regulate ourselves according to the conduct of God. The human achieves humanity by “being like God”—in the likeness of God.
  4. Be careful. It does not mean that we identify ourselves to a “all-powerful divinity”. The image of God is someone to be like God…and God himself showed the taming of his own power! God was taking a pause during each day of creation and on the 7th day he rested. Achievement ends with rest. This rest is necessary in achievement itself. There is no achievement without this rest—without this pause. The pause is the time to look back also—and it is the time to stop all powers to continue without brake. God himself put a brake to his own power.
  5. The God of Sabbath is the God of rest. He goes into silence. This time, he enters into silence because he is in front of someone who speaks! After speaking to the human, God “shuts up” to allow the human to speak—to act, to live. God gives space to the human. God now lets the other do the talking.
  6. This opens up the possibility of “an-Other”. (Just look at ourselves, sometimes we get caught in looking too much at ourselves—our needs and problems and issues—we forget that there are other people around us. It is all about myself….) By taking his own distance, God allows space and words for the Other.
  7. The human is therefore called to be like God. The human is called to put a brake on the power to dominate…put a brake on the tendency to be “too full of myself”. If this does not happen, what is the consequence? We find the history of Cain and Abel, for example.
  8. Look at the Cain story. God invites Cain to look at the “beast” inside of him (see Gn 4/7). Cain does not listen. He turns against Abel. What exactly will Cain say to Abel? The translations in our Bibles make us think that Cain says something. It is possible, however, that Cain actually says nothing. Let us try this option.
  9. Option 1: The interlinear Bible shows that there is nothing said: “…and he is saying, Cain to Abel, brother of him, and he is becoming in to become of them in the field” (Gen.8/4). A literal translation in good English would then put it this way: “And Cain said to his brother Abel, and it came to pass that they were in the field….”
  10. Notice that, indeed, “Cain said to his brother”…but nothing is really said. Immediately after we see that they are in the field. It is a “lacuna”. A blank is put. It allows for a “theology of the blank”. In other words: “Cain said to his brother blank”. The “lacuna”—the blank—is a lack of saying anything. It is as if Cain is suddenly cut short of language—and this is proper to beasts! Cain allows the beast inside of him to dominate. The dialogue is impossible. Cain opens the mouth to say nothing! He opens his mouth to devour his brother (4/8). At this point, Cain is not able to engage in dialogue—he is too full of himself.
  11. Option 2: Of course, we do not discount the possibility that the translations are appropriate too—especially since we are not experts here. Let us see the option of the New American Bible: “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out in the field’”. If we accept this option, then we allow Cain to speak. He is able to say something. The New American Bible, however, gives its own comment: “Let us go out in the field: to avoid detection”. The Cain we see here is someone who is still beastly! His speech is not for dialogue, it is not for “fraternal correction”. It is to prepare for his murderous act. He does not want to be seen doing it. He uses his human skill to promote his beastly desire.
  12. The history of “fraternity” is terminated by Cain. Cain stops the possibility of fraternal life—or “community life”, if we might want to say. From now on, we need to work for a fraternity. The Bible—Chapt.4 of Genesis in particular—insists on the fact that Abel is brother of Cain—and not vice versa. The work has to be achieved. Now Cain has to learn that he is brother of Abel. Here is where we are now.
    Fraternal life—or community life—is a task, it is a responsibility. We need to be creative in it. Creativity presupposes a “self-mastery” of the “beastly” in us…. It is a “self-mastery” of our own powers.
  13. It is tough to live in fraternity or in community. There are many strategies we make to avoid it—like being busy with something else or being indifferent to it. We do not have the words put into the fraternity—we do not dialogue. We might be going to the field to avoid detection.
  14. Fraternal community life can be the highest form of friendship. This means that my brother—or my sister—becomes brother/sister when I address him/her. When I address myself to someone who also has something to say.

Meditation on Genesis 1
  1. I grew up with an idea of how God created the universe. To "create", as I understood it, meant to make something out of nothing. God alone could do it. Later on I was to discover that this was a notion of Thomas Aquinas who said that when God created the universe, he caused the existence of everything. So first there was non-existence and God alone existed. Then there was emergence of the existence of the universe thanks to the creative work of God. God did not need pre-existing elements to create. God is the uncreated creator so there cannot be another uncreated stuff before creation.
  2. My grade school teacher used to insist on this by saying that in the beginning “God was all alone”. Then my teacher would stick a finger in his nose and make the expression of boredom as if to say that God was so bored he had to do something about it. This image stays in my head until today.
  3. Well, reading the book of Genesis, I see a different story. God was not all alone in the beginning. Already there was the formless wasteland, already there was darkness and already there was a mighty wind blowing over the waters. In short, there was chaos. God started arranging this chaos not by deleting it but by putting it in order. God did not combat against the chaos nor did he reject its existence and threw it to oblivion.
  4. God started with using chaos and from that he arranged space so that life can emerge. One important living creature was, as we know, the human being. The human being was male-female (and not “man”-“woman”).
  5. God was in the habit of saying “it’s is good” after terminating each act. He did not say this immediately after he created the human being. He only said this after he looked at everything he made. In a way this provoked worry inside of me. “Hey”, I said to myself, “did God hesitate about human goodness?”
  6. Actually, on the second day when God put that dome separating the waters, God did not mention anything good. Why? Because he still had work to do—his second day task was just a phase for another task. On the third day when the dry land appeared, God saw how good it was. That was the end of another task.
  7. So when God finished creating the human, it did not mean that the task was already finished. It was just a phase. God still had to give a command—be fruitful and multiply. God also had to give food first. Although God created the human as his image, God had to make sure that the human would have the resources to be his likeness.  Only then was goodness mentioned again.
  8. What might God have meant by “likeness”. On the last day, God pulled out and took his grand siesta. The chaos has been organized, space has emerged for life to happen, and the human being is there. God was master over all…but he showed that he also could master his mastery. He took a distance, a Sabbath distance, to allow everything else to play its role. The human being is invited to do the same. Be master over and have dominion over…but to recognize the space of others too. The "male"-"female"--which was a common element with the animals--had to transform to "man"-"woman", which is uniquely human. This is how it is to be like God.
  9. Centuries after, Jesus would say the same thing. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. When did Jesus say this? He said it at the time when chaos—enemies—was a reality. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you…be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
  10. Chaos is not obliterated. The enemy is to be loved.  
  11. And so I return to the idea of creating out of nothing. It is nice—very philosophical, in fact. But it can have its dangers. It provokes the risk of idolatry. I can become god without need of any pre-existing stuff to start my project or my plans. Chaos, if there is any, serves as an obstacle. It cannot form part of pre-existing stuff. I can therefore obliterate the enemy—to the point of denying his or her human rights. But this is going political…which is not exactly the interest of my reflections here.
  12. One thing that strikes me, however, is that when we try to create out of nothing, we try to be gods. But from a Biblical point of view God created out of chaos. God was so humble enough to "empty himself" and respect the reality right in front of him. The personality behind the Incarnation was already operating in the beginning. God was already one of us in the beginning.

Traps the Make us Unhappy and Die

1.    Let us try looking at human failure. It is a fact. It happens. In fact, do we not notice that in the very early pages of the Bible, human failure is already mentioned? The Bible authors could be very realistic.
2.    To be successful in life is not easy…this might be the intuition of the authors that “success” is hard to achieve. There are “traps” here and there. If we want to be “happy”, the road seems long. There seems to be no quick way on “how to succeed”. The road is long. There even seems to be no “one road for all”. Each one has his/her steps to make.
3.    So in Genesis, we are invited to review our paths with open eyes in view of possible traps. We keep our eyes open because there are risks…and failures.
4.    The Adam and Eve story can help us. The story can help us think about us. We saw the creation story of the seven days. According to the story God was preparing a place for the human being. God organized space to allow life and to allow the emergence of the human person.
5.    With the second creation story—in the garden—we see something about the human. The human is given a responsibility: to work and to keep the garden. It is a responsibility “for” nature. In today’s theology we would read about “stewardship”.
6.    The human is in relationship with God, with nature and with oneself. The human being is made as “open to relationship” and is therefore given a law….a command: Gen.2/16-17. Enjoy the garden. Have fun with the creation of the Lord God.
7.    The first part of the command awakens desire. It is a desire that interests all that God has given. Yet, God puts a limit. The human can eat all, but not from a specific tree. So yes, we can eat all…but not all. Accept that there is a lack. Accept that there is a limit. What is being emphasized here? Say no to the unlimited quality of desire! If the human does not do this, if the human cannot say no to the unlimited tendency of desire, the human will die!
8.    Death? Well, for the culture of that region, death would mean more than just physical death. For us we might think of physical death. The heart stops beating. Lungs stop inhaling and exhaling. Our ecg goes flat. Dead! Dead! Dead! It is quite biological. But for the region—semitic region—death signifies the relational aspect of the human person.
9.    The human being is woven for relationship. From birth to death we are filled with relationships. Even before we were born, relationships were taking place. (Well, what did mama and papa do?) Death is really more of the end of relationships. Finished, no more others in life. Starting with this, anything that threatens relationships is “murderous”. The threat does not allow us to live! So let us look at the command of God. We may eat of all…but there is a limit. Just think: not limits to my desire. This spells death!
10.  Now we can appreciate why God has given the command a limitation. The second part of the command, “but…” is to prohibit us from coveting—it prohibits us from taking the road of death.
11.  Well, we grew up in a mentality that might wonder about this command of God. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil has always been a source of difficulties. Why did God order not to eat from it? God gives that prohibition in view of relationships. It is important to accept that there are limits to what we know. In terms of knowledge, there is a level of ignorance.
12.  Who really knows 100% what is good or bad? It is not often too easy, right? Do we not do things that we think are good…only for us to realize they are harmful and bad? Sometimes we avoid doing things we think are bad, only to later realize they are good.
13.  One big difficulty in our relationships is the belief that we always know what is good for others. We always know what is bad for others. Just imagine community life…or marriage and family life. Think of how many individuals look at others and say, “I know what is good for you, so do it” or “I know what is bad for you so do not do it”.
14.  Starting with myself I know what is good or bad for you. There is a risk, right? I imprison you.
15.  In relationships this can happen. We imprison each other. So God has given the order. It is better to accept that we do not know all. To think I know all that is best/worst is not healthy in relationships. Why is “ignorance” here important? When we admit: “I do not know” I also admit that I must have confidence in you. Ignorance leads to confidence in the other.
16.  Confidence? What is this? Just think. I say, “I do not need to be confident in you because I already know”. Because I know, I do not need you. Or at least I do not need to place confidence in you. (The etymology of “confidence”: from com-, a prefix and fidere "to trust". It means to have mutual trust).
17.  Let me now say, “I do not know”. This means that I face a challenge, and I need to opt for confidence in the other person. What can he/she say? I need to know too. So confidence prepares the path to get to know each other more! Of course, I get to know myself too, in the process. In relations of confidence we learn to know ourselves. We open up to know more.
18.  Let us go back to the command of God. God does not prohibit knowledge. Instead God prohibits “short cuts”. God prohibits that I know all, that I know the other person so much, there is no need to grow with him/her. This is unhealthy. I think I know all, but what I really know is what I have here in my head. I have not opened up to the other…I fail to know. Confidence is not prohibited. What is prohibited is to refuse confidence. What is prohibited is to refuse to know more, refuse to open up, refuse that I have no control over everything.
19.  God’s command teaches us to “abandon ourselves” in confidence to each other. Why? Because confidence presupposes this abandon, this putting ourselves in the hands of the other. We both discover—we “adventure” gradually one another as we move on and live in this world. Life, in relationship, becomes a life of “adventure”. So do we want to “bloom”? If we want, we need to accept a “lack”, a “limitation”. We cannot live according to the rule of coveting. We do not know all, we do not control all. We need to accept an “unknown”. We need to trust each other in confidence. We adventure together.
20.  Let us tie this up with the human identity given by the first creation story. The human is truly image of God. But the human has to work for being “like” God—in the “likeness” of God. This means that, just like God going to Sabbath, the human needs to go to Sabbath too…take distance and allow the world around to express itself. In terms of relationships, it means reverence for the truth and freedom belonging to others. The human takes mastery over mastery—takes hold of one’s self power to give space to others and let others breathe and live too.
21.  If we go back to the question of “traps” in life that forbid us from living “successfully” and happy, we can appreciate what the authors of Genesis say. Be careful of the trap of crossing the line…the trap of losing hold of one’s own power and becoming a beast crushing others and the world.

Sarah who becomes a woman: A story of “traps”—self-centeredness and
the result of not consulting God
  1. There was a famine in Canaan when Abram and his family arrived. So he was obliged to go to Egypt where there was better chance to live. There was a problem, however. Abram was afraid that the Egyptians Pharaoh might abuse his wife in particular—she was very beautiful. Well, actually Abram was afraid that if the Egyptians find out that Sarai was his wife, they might kill him to get her. So as Abram and Sarai entered Egypt, Abram told his wife to pretend being his sister. See Gen.12/10-13.
  2. Sarai was actually the wife of Abram: “…the name of Abram's wife was Sarai…Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Ge 11/29-30).
  3. The sterility of Sarai could not make her give birth—she was not in the position to beget humans. The whole genealogy to Abram was filled with women who could give birth. When it was Sarai’s time, the movement of child-bearing stopped. The genealogy was threatened. Not being able to be a mother, Sarai was a particular case. Many years after—and some chapters after chapter 12 of Genesis—Sarai who will be later called Sarah will have given birth to a son. She will receive from God and from Abraham. That would be about twenty years—yes twenty years—later. Right now, while in Egypt, Sarai was still sterile.
  4. We know the story. Abram was called to leave his homeland to go to Canaan. A famine in Canaan forced Abram to go to Egypt. The fear of being killed because of Sarai dominated the mind of Abram. The strategy of Abram was to tell a lie.
  5. We see how Abram put himself in the centre of his concern. He was afraid for his own life. He did not know the Egyptians yet—but already he has a prejudgement that they were dangerous rivals.
  6. Fear and craving spoke in the heart of Abraham. What would happen if the Egyptians kill him to get his wife?
  7. Sarai accepted the strategy of Abram. Sarai was also led by the fear of Abraham. She too was absorbed by the well-being of her husband. She was willing to give all—yes, “all for him”. She was willing to sacrifice. What was the consequence?
  8. The Egyptians saw her beauty and she ended in an Egyptian harem. It was a royal harem—the harem of the Pharaoh. Meanwhile, Abram stayed alive and received a lot of wealth.
  9. We know the story. The Pharaoh was stuck by plague. He found out who really was Sarai. Abram, who earlier was given the promise to be a blessing for all humanity had become a curse for the Pharaoh.
  10. We know the story, finally Sarai was freed and given back to Abram. They again went back to Canaan.
  11. Let us move a bit further. Sarai, wife of Abram, could not give him a child. But she had a “domestic helper” named Hagar, an Egyptian woman. Sarai told Abram to “sleep” with Hagar and have a child through her. Abram obeyed Sarai. (see Gen 16/1-3). Abram seemed to be taking his wife lightly. But Sarai herself was not exactly a serious woman either. She knew that Abram was given the promise of descendants—but up until now she was sterile. She even concluded that God was the cause of her sterility: “…The LORD has kept me from bearing children” (Gen. 16/2). She did not ask God to find a solution, Instead, she took it upon herself to find a solution by giving Hagar to Abram. Sarai can then adopt the child and make him her own. This strategy was to make Sarai a mother. She was to make herself a mother.
  12. Abram took all this with approval without saying a word. He did not resist the will of his wife. He was willing to give in to the “short time” desire of his wife.
  13. The situation would, however, turn sour. Sarai just could not tolerate the presence of Hagar. Ever since Hagar was pregnant, she looked at Sarai with disdain (see Gen.16/4-5). Sarai felt humiliated—and she took the humiliation against Abram. It became the fault of Abram: “Sarai said to Abram: "You are responsible for this outrage against me” (Gen.16/5).
  14. Well, maybe Sarai was also correct in her accusation. Abram never resisted her lame strategy. He never dared oppose her.
  15. Sarai wanted to make herself wife and mother—a woman—by making use of her husband, her, domestic and the coming child. Sarai was to satisfy her desires through this strategy. It was all pure “impulsive”.
  16. Do we really help someone by simply giving in to her impulses? Do we really help her or do we only harm her all the more? At this point, God had to come in the picture.
  17. Abram, at this time, was 99 years of age. God appeared to him and said: “"I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and be blameless…and this is my covenant with you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between you and me…. Between you and me I will establish my covenant, and I will multiply you exceedingly." (Gen 17/1-2 and 10-11). As if he was addressing Sarai, he was talking to Abram. God proposed a covenant—a pact—marked by circumcision.
  18. What is a circumcision? It is a mark—a loss of skin. It is a symbolic gesture of loss. It is a mark on that specific organ of the male where the male might think he lacks nothing—he’s “got it all in there”. Once that skin is taken away, it’s gone. A permanent mark is there. The lost skin cannot be replaced. The exposed part can only be covered by another flesh---that of the flesh of a woman in an act that is designed with fertility and multiplication.   
  19. To be circumcised is to say “yes” to a loss on that part of the body—that part where the man is in his “utmost best”, so to speak. Accept the circumcision is, for Abram, is to enter into another unique relationship.
  20. Saying “yes” to the covenant with God, Abram became Abraham. It was a name of a new type of fertility: “Father of the nations”. Sarai was to become Sarah—“princess”—and Abraham was to adjust his relationship with her. How was this adjustment?
  21. Because Abraham accepted the circumcision—the loss of skin—his relationship was to grow and be fruitful. Sarah was going to have a child! This was to be Isaac.
  22. The birth of Isaac was to crown the development of a relationship that was badly started. The sterility of Sarai in the past was a cause of problems. It was seen as a curse. But now it was transformed to opportunity—and it was to become fruitful for Abraham and Sarah.
  23. Is this the end of a happy story? No.
  24. Isaac grew up. Abraham was feasting over the fact that now he had a son—from his own seed. Sarah could see the child of Hagar. That child was from Abraham too. Sarah notice that Isaac and the child of Hagar were playing. What did Sarah do, how did she respond? “She demanded of Abraham: ‘Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!” (Gen 21/10).
  25. Jealousy filled the heart of Sarah. She saw Ismael having fun with Isaac! The name of Isaac had something to do with fun too—it was about laughing. How can the child of this slave share the identity and inheritance of Isaac, my son?
  26. It was against the will of Abraham that Sarah wanted Hagar and child to leave. Sarah spoke with jealousy—she was a tough woman. Yet…this would be her last words. We will not hear from her again.
  27. Sarah was a woman who struggled against obscurity to enter into a relationship of fruitfulness. This was her greatness…although not without ruin too. But who can hold it against her?

Faith has its terror: a (different) reading of Gn.22
and http://www.gatherthepeople.org/Downloads/BINDING_ISAAC.pdf

1.    Chapter 21 of Genesis really marks the life of Abraham because the promise that God gave him before his departure from his father’s land has been accomplished. Here is the son Isaac—a nation will now emerge. Even from Ismael will a great nation emerge. In fact the King Abimelech, a Philistine, himself admits that Abraham is blessed by God. Then Abraham settles in Ber-sheva, assured that he is in the land that God had promised from the start.
2.    But then a new stage in the story happens. God sets a trial for Abraham. We—readers know—but Abraham does not. There is a literary style going on here of the author. Who puts Abraham to the test? The author indicates that it is “God”—see Gen.22/1. No, it is not “the Lord” (or YHWH), it is simply “God”. This is “God” who is distant, unlike “the Lord” who is intimate. “God” calls Abraham. Abraham is quick to answer: “Here I am”. This is the very happy man who now has a son of his own. Then “God” speaks: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah” (22/2). Why will Abraham bring him there? It is to “…offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you”.
3.    Notice that “God” emphasizes that Isaac is “your son”. Wait a minute. Right now, Abraham has two sons. Both are “only sons” by different mothers. But the son that Abraham loves—the son preferred by Abraham—is Isaac, the son by Sarah. “God” makes it clear who it is and even names him: Isaac. Remember that Isaac is born from Sarah after so many years of waiting.
4.    “God” continues. Go to Moriah. That mountain is where Abraham is to see and to learn—from the Lord YHWH.
5.    Next “God” says that Abraham is to “offer him up as a burnt offering”. Bring Isaac up there….take him there. “God” is to make precise the exact location “on one of the heights that I will point out to you”. “God” will point it out. There is a command from “God”. Isaac will be put on sacrifice “as a burnt offering”. Sacrifice to God a victim that will be consumed by fire.  There are a lot of debates regarding this. What does it mean? Does it mean that Abraham will kill Isaac and “cook” him?
6.    Let us try following this line: Part of Abraham’s struggle is to find out what exactly God is commanding. “God” might simply want Abraham to educate his son on rituals and sacrifices—and not use Isaac as victim of holocaust. We are not absolutely sure, nor is Abraham so sure.
7.    What might be running in his mind? Let us try some possible lines of questioning: Might he be worried that perhaps—yes, perhaps—“God” simply wants Isaac an education from the father? Would this not be preferable for Abraham rather than kill and cook his son? Is it maybe to see whether Abraham can discriminate between dedicating Isaac to the Lord and actually immolating him. Taking his life is a pagan sacrifice, it is abhorrent. Was Abraham to believe the thought that maybe his God would desire actual human sacrifice? Is he to believe that his evil inclination is God’s own truth? Could it be that the sacrifice of his son Isaac was in line with the will of the Lord God? Part of Abraham’s choice is to define the command of God! If we opt for this interpretation, then we see that the story is more complex than we have been familiar with before.
8.    Traditionally we conclude at once that God wants Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. But what if the story takes a different turn—and that Abraham has to decide not just to sacrifice his son but also to determine the command of God. This has a more complex theological colour—and surely it can help us appreciate our own moments of confusion in our relationship with God.
9.    Anyway, one thing is sure: the author seems very skilled in delivering the story.
10.  Look at the way the story goes. “Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac, and after cutting the wood for the burnt offering, set out for the place of which God had told him” (22/3). The story seems to go slow here. No, we do not see Abraham and Isaac already up the mountain. The author seems to be setting the scene—Abraham preparing the trip and doing this and that—and it gives us the impression of allowing Abraham to think more…to struggle more. There is time…a stretch of time during which Abraham must be burning inside of him. Notice that the trip takes three days! What might be happening inside of Abraham? These are three days of torment and agony and confusion! On the third day Abraham raises his eyes to see the place where he is to go—to Moriah. Notice the meaning of Moriah. 
11.  “One of the root words is pronounced raw-aw…’to see’…’to appear’, or ‘to understand’, as when someone says ‘I see’ when they come to understand something. The other root word is pronounced yaw…an abbreviated form of the Sacred Name of the LORD…” (http://www.keyway.ca/htm2010/20101004.htm). What would Moriah mean, therefore? The author must have had his choice of names. That mountain is where Abraham is to see and to learn—from the Lord YHWH.
12.  Moriah is where Abraham “will see and understand God”.  What is now in the mind and heart of Abraham? The author is a good writer…he gives suspense.
13.  Abraham decides to separate the two aides accompanying them. What does he tell the two servants? “Stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over there. We will worship and then come back to you” (22/5). The two servants stay behind. Why would Abraham leave them behind? Could it be that he does not want them to interfere in what he might do? We are not sure. The author gives Abraham his own thoughts.
14.  Does Abraham talk of holocaust to the servants? No. In fact he adds that he and Isaac will return. Abraham has just told the servants that he and his son will return. What will he and Isaac do? “We will worship”. This is the information Abraham gives to the servants. What information is in the mind of Abraham? What information is given to the reader? What is going on inside of Abraham? Is Abraham keeping secrets that none of the servants—nor Isaac—know? Maybe, it is possible that Abraham is expecting something from God—an intervention! Maybe. The author lets Abraham work in himself…and we too can try entering into the story.
15.  “So Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two walked on together” (22/6). Now that there is wood, there is fire and there is a knife, the servants and Isaac may have an idea that to “worship” will make use of these objects. The objects—fire, wood and knife—are clearly objects for holocaust. It will be a worship in the form of holocaust. We would not yet think that Isaac is worried. It may even be an honour to carry the wood. But let us admit it—the reader (we) are experiencing a certain unease. Is this really going to be the time to sacrifice Isaac? We can opt to say that in his heart he still hoped that the Lord God would not be asking it from him.
16.  Look at verses 6 (the end of the verse) 7 and 8. There is a sandwich: verses are between “the two walked on together”. There is just the two of them. The father and the son are together. What an intense moment. Isaac seems to break the ice: “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (22/7) Isaac does not give us the impression of worry. But the reader is already put in a situation of tension. The reader has an idea of what will next happen. Isaac is still calm. Abraham must be in anguish.
17.  He answers Isaac: “My son, God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering” (22/8). God will provide. God knows what will be next. What exactly will happen? Is Abraham hoping that there really will be a sheep for sacrifice? Or will it still be Isaac? Could it be that at this particular moment Abraham himself is hoping that God is listening and so God will still give an animal for sacrifice?
18.  We do not know. One thing for sure…the dialogue is cut. The story simply continues with both of them walking. They both arrive in the place. Suddenly, the story again slows down. Notice what happens. Abraham builds an altar—an act that takes a long time. Then he arranges the wood. No he just does not throw them and lump them together—he arranges them. Then he ties Isaac and puts him on top of the wood arranged on top of the altar. The movements seem so methodical…so well-patterned.
19.  The author seems to be maximizing the tension—the suspense. The story goes so slow and everything is focused on what Abraham is doing.
20.  Finally, after the “methodical” movements of Abraham, what happens? “Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son” (22/10). We can conclude that Abraham decides that this is what “God” really tells him to do. He is asked to sacrifice Isaac. But, because of the “slowing down” of the story, Abraham might also be “hoping against all hope”—that God will still intervene at some point. But the method of “slowing down” the story, the author may be giving the impression that Abraham is spending so much time in the expectation that “God” will intervene.
21.  At the precise moment when Abraham raises the knife, the messenger—an angel—comes to stop him. “Abraham, Abraham”! Notice that we are no longer dealing with “God”. Now it is “the Lord”. The Lord acts in urgency. Abraham is even called twice. Now, this messenger has appeared many times in the entire Abraham story. He comes when someone is in danger. The pregnant Hagar runs away and goes to the desert and “The LORD’s angel found her by a spring in the wilderness” (16/7). Lot was threatened in Sodom. The angels of the Lord came to save him (see 19/1 and 15). At another point, Hagar was with her son in the desert. She was so worried that the child will die. An angel again comes and opens the eyes of Hagar to see a well of water.
22.  Now, we see the Angel again. What does the angel tell Abraham? “’Do not lay your hand on the boy,’ said the angel. ‘Do not do the least thing to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you did not withhold from me your son, your only one’” (22/12).
23.  Let us take a possible view about this. Earlier Abraham received a promise of many descendants. But now is the Lord God withdrawing this promise? Is God changing his mind? (No. Why? See Ps. 89:35). God tells Abraham, through the angel, that his command was not to slaughter Isaac, but only to "bring him up" as offering—and not as immolation. Now Abraham can "take him down."
24.  Abraham raises his eyes and sees a ram caught in a thicket. Abraham takes the ram for holocaust. The eyes of Abraham makes him see that there is a ram whose horns are stuck. This seems to be the same case that happened with Hagar. Through the angel, Hagar’s eyes were opened to see the presence of the well of water.
25.  Abraham now calls the place “…Yahweh-yireh; hence people today say, ‘On the mountain the LORD will provide’” (22/14). Abraham already foresaw this as he and Isaac climbed the mountain. God will provide, he said. In verse 8, however, God will provide “the sheep”. Here is verse 14, the Lord “will provide”. There is no specified object.
26.  What could it mean? Could it mean that the Lord always sees whoever seeks him? Why would the author suddenly pull out the reader from the time of Abraham and put the reader on a kind of “now”: “Hence people today say….”?
27.  (Actually, in the more accurate translation, verse 8 will say: “…the Lord shall see (to it) that there is a sheep”. In verse 14 it is more appropriate to translate: “…in the mountain of YHWH he shall be seen”. In other words, the Lord will make himself present…he will be seen.)
28.  This “view” on the story of Abraham’s “sacrifice” of Isaac—tying him up for immolation—can make us understand that faith is never without questions. Abraham must have asked questions. He must have been so confused. But he did not use his questions to give up on the Lord God. He had the confidence that there will be answers to his questions. In the end, the Lord God will be seen…all will be clear.  

The Ten Commandments as Path of Happiness

  1. The texts of the Ten Commandments are very complex texts. Let us try to “feel” them—see what sense they can give for us about ourselves, our happiness and about God. Let us ask: how can the Ten Commandments show us about who is God and what is the happiness given to us? In a way, it is a meditation for us and our faith. But it can also help us understand what “Law” means.
  2. Well, “Law” means—in general—“teaching”. It is a teaching about who is God and how, in following God we are “happy”—and “saved”.
  3. If we look at the texts of the Ten Commandments—and there are two, in Ex.20/1-17 and Dt. 5. Notice how each of them starts. See Ex.20/2 and Dt. 5/6-21. Both of them mention Egypt and both mention God as liberating. The Ten Commandments tell us how Israel is not to return to Egypt. The Israelites have been brought out of slavery and have been given a new life. To get out of slavery means, of course, to be free from oppression. But it also means birth—or a new life. [Just notice how the Hebrew people were in a very limited place—Egypt—then passed through a wet path (the Red Sea) and brought out into open space (desert)]. To get out of Egypt is to receive life and freedom and joy and happiness.
  4. We might notice that observing the Ten Commandments could mean “fear of the Lord”. “Fear of the Lord” looks like “observe the commandments”. They are so linked. (see for example Dt 5/29; 6/2; 8/6). But fear is not the central motive for observing the Law. Instead, it is life and happiness. Observe the Law in order to be happy. See for example Dt 6/24: “The LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes in fear of the LORD, our God, that we may always have as good a life as we have today”. To observe the Law is to have “fear of the Lord” and be happy!
  5. God gave life and freedom—a liberation from slavery. Then God gave a path of liberty towards happiness. Look at Dt.5/14, to take an example: “…so that your male and female slave may rest as you do”. On the Sabbath day, there is rest…liberty to spend time on one’s own without pressure. Look at the command to honour father and mother: “that you may have a long life and that you may prosper in the land the LORD your God is giving you (Dt.5/16). Do the commandment…so you will have prosperity and long life. The commandment addresses the happiness of the obedient.
  6. Well, maybe today, as modernity tells us, the idea of “should”—you should honour your parents—may look like a way of clipping our wings. So as we read the Ten Commandments, we might think that the commandments put us in chains. Notice, however, that God does not oblige obedience to the commandments. There is still space for “do what you want to do”. But the question is: if God has given life after slavery, how can one live properly? … How do we exercise the life and freedom we have received?
  7. If interpreted this way, a command from God then looks like an “instruction”---a “Torah”. It is a “line of conduct” that leads to well-being.  “See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the LORD, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess” (Dt 30/15-16).
  8. There is a theme that the Ten Commandments touch. It is the theme of Covenant. Both Ten Commandment passages, Ex. And Dt., show the context of Covenant. A covenant is tied between God and people. “So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them. Then God spoke all these words” (Ex.19/25-20/1). We are not in the position to explain why the sentences run this way—experts think it is a result of editing the text. But what we can say is that two persons speak to the people: Moses and God. In Dt. 5, we see Moses explaining that God was speaking to the people and Moses stood between God and people (see Dt.  5/4-5). What could these mean—that there is Moses and there is God? It can have a theological meaning. Theologically we might say that the Ten Commandments come from an encounter—a Covenant—that is agreed on in front of the people (see if Ex 19/9 and 19 can explain this). In view of a Covenant between God and the Israelites, a Covenant has been made between God and Moses. God has indeed already proposed a covenant with the people (see Ex. 19/4-6 and 8). In Dt., the Covenant is made not just for the time in Horeb but for all times (see Dt.5/1).
  9. Covenant means mutual agreement: God is the God of the people, and the Israelites are the people of God. God and people are close and intimate to each other.
Idolatry: Part 1

1.    As we see, this is a big issue in the Bible. We read: Aaron “...received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf. Then they cried out, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt’” (Ex32/4). Aaron, not THE LORD GOD, is leading. Take note of the condition of the people at this point. Moses is up the mountain. The people do not see Moses nor anything about THE LORD GOD. This might tell us why Aaron proposes a golden calf. So we read: “The time the Israelites had stayed in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years” (Ex.12/40). Look at that length of time. In Ezekiel we read a record of how the Hebrew people behaved even in the time of Ezekiel himself: “…they rebelled and refused to listen to me; none of them threw away the detestable things that held their eyes, nor did they abandon the idols of Egypt” (Ez. 20/8). In Ezekiel we read about the Hebrews long after the Exodus event, yet they continue something. If this is the case long after the Exodus, how much stronger would the cultural pattern be at the time of the Exodus! So, just imagine being in the desert. It is not easy to live in the desert—it is harsh living. Then living with many influences of other religions…this too has an effect on the Hebrews.
2.    Calf—well, it is said to be a Baal symbol. Archaeologists would note that in Baalism, there is a strong use of the figure of calf. It gives an idea of fertility and milk, sustenance. Look also at the fact that the figure is a calf—a young bull. It must a strong and still full of power. Let us not worry too much about this now. We will discuss this more later in Idolatry Part 2. Just now, let us ask: why make an idol, a figure now in this moment of staying in the desert and being at the foot of the mountain?
3.    Aaron replied, ‘Take off the golden earrings that your wives, your sons, and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me’. So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf” (Ex.32/2). Notice how the calf is made. Notice that the people up of something. What people give up are not just ordinary objects. So the “sacrifice” must also have deep meaning. To make the metal-gold calf also means a lot for the people. But is it acceptable to THE LORD GOD?
4.    Let us pursue the reason why people make their idol: “…the LORD, your God, is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Dt.4/24). What is the characteristic of the Lord God here? Because of this characteristic, people have to mask God. People have to make some form to “hide” God’s face. What do you think this is happening?
5.    But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Ex.33/20). Notice that God has become so overwhelming, it has become necessary even for God to keep that overwhelming feature. Why? The reason may be is that the human being is capable of doing something—and so God would like to withdraw in distance. What could the human be possibly doing at this point? (See if Jer.18 can help: the potter and the pot. Who is potter and who is pot?) With the human, a reversal might happen. So God avoids the reversal. This explains the “hiding” of God.
6.    After making the golden calf, an altar is built. Altar symbolizes mediation—the “in between”. It is between “up” and “down”, between the “sacred” and the “profane”, between the “worldly” and the “divine”. “On seeing this, Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and proclaimed, ‘Tomorrow is a feast of the LORD’. Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices. Then they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel” (Ex.32/5-6). Something is happening; now God gets angry. What does God have against altar-mediation related to the golden calf?
7.    Idolatry can be about believing in other gods. Other gods cannot do what THE LORD GOD can do. See 1Kg18/18-40. See Is48/5   Is45/20….See Is45/21. What can you see in these? Why is it futile to seek for other gods?
8.    But idolatry can even apply to THE LORD GOD himself! See Ex.32/4-8. This golden calf is not about another god. It is also about THE LORD GOD. It is wrong too. It is as futile as having others gods and images of other gods. Why? (Hint: idolatry is linked with justice-injustice). THE LORD GOD does not like idolatry also because it promotes injustice. See Jer.22/16 and Jer.9/23.

Idolatry 2

1.    “…tame the beasts, all the wild beasts…Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth….” (Gn 1,26 and 28)
2.    This text of Genesis does not mean “have power” over the beasts and control and deatroy them. God gave the human “mastery” over the earth—a “stewardship”. This mastery is done to the beasts too—have mastery over the beasts. “Tame” them. Notice that God puts this human mastery in the context of a blessing: “God blessed them” (v.28).
3.    Blessing, biblically in verse 28, has two aspects. It is, first, associated with life. Develop life, let life be fulfilled. Blessing is a call to be “fruitful”. Blessing also means “plenty”—to have things in abundance. It means “multiply” and “fill space”. Mastry over the earth—and over the beasts—means therefore life. Mastery has something to do with life.
4.    The mastery given to the human is extended—the human has mastery over the beasts. It is a vocation! Strange? Well, let us look at it.
5.    Looking at verses 29-30, we read: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant on all the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the wild beasts, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the earth, I give all the green plants for food”. After giving the human the mastery over the naimals God tells the human to eat creals and fruits! Narratively, it means that the human is to have mastery over the beasts without killing them. Hold back your mastery—be master of your mastery by not killing the beasts. Respect the beasts. Be moderate in your eating and in your domination.
6.    Hey, is God limiting human liberty? Look at it this way. The beasts do not have full mastery over the space they occupy. Their growth and multiplication depend on the way humans exercise the mastery one them. The beasts of the land are blessed not directly but through the human. Their fruitfulness and multiplication and their use of space is linked with the presence of the human. The beasts participate in human blessing. If this does not happen, they become victims. This explains why beasts must be respected too: “…on the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey or any work beast….” Dt 5,14. Even the beasts have Sabbath rest.
7.    Now, the food given to the beasts is green. The greens are “less” noble compared to cereals and fruits. They “prolong” or “extend” the food given to humans. Narratively this means that humans and beasts do not fight for the same food. Humans have their food to eat, beasts have their food to eat. But wait a minute. Don’t we want a nice pork and beef meal during lunch? Is God making us vegetarians of grans and fruits only? Of course we view this narratively—it has a symbolic sense. The human is master—and true master—over the beasts. The world of the beasts is to be cared for with kindness and gentleness. From a narrative ans symbolic understanding, the human presides in the world  with peace and harmony.
8.    Noah is presented as pastor of beasts. Noah places beasts in the Ark to escape from the damage of the floods. This is very much a reflection of Adam too—or rather the partnership of the human and the beats. Remember the story of Adam? God placed before him the beasts and God allowed Adam to name each. In fact, the first words of the human are names of the beasts. This is the first act of mastery—word spoke! Each beast, receiving its name, is then recognized by the human as integrated in companionship! The human is now between the beasts and God—the human assumes a place with a great difference, however: the human speaks!
9.    So we are given an idea of human vocation as mastery—a restrained mastery—over the beasts. But remember that the human, before created as person, was first “male and female” (see Gen.1/27). The human, at the start, was still in the process of becoming “man-woman”. So the “beast” in the human was still there. Narratively this means that the “beastly” in the human is not outside the human but in the human too. The beastly is intergral to our humanity!
10.  The brute is to be humanized. The human is full of “wild forces” too. The human has the vocation to master over the forces—to develop the person. If the brute inside of us is not mastered…well, we know what happens. It degenerates into craving and aggression and violence.
11.  So we can appreciate the author of the Genesis when the author lets the human obey a beast—the serpent, symbolic figure of sly desire and envy.  The human has renounced mastery over mastery and has submitted to the beastly.
12.  Again we see this—as we studied it before—in Cain. The beastly in Cain was “at the door” and God told Cain to master over it. But Cain obeyed the beastly. He killed his brother Abel.
13.  Shall we go social? The brute in us is not just within each of us personally. It is also collective. Look at how the Bible depicted the different tribes in the region of Israel: like beats. Judah is like a Lion. Issachar is a strong but lazy ass. Dan is a serpent on the road. Nephtali is a wild deer. Joseph is a bull. Benjamin is a wolf that devours, etc (see Gn 49,9-27). Is this not a symbolic way of describing how nations are to each other—beasts that can eat each other up! So, eat cereals and fruits—be peaceful.
14.  Now, just a note on the word “domination”. It is not “to force submission” like in war. Rather the word used by the author of Genesis is “radah” which is applicable to the King who is in charge of the nation. A king can be violent. Yes. This is why God lets the human eat only cereals a fruits! A King who rules with power can crush others and destroy them. No, the King is to rule with “radah”.
15.  To be human is to learn to master mastery. It is to tame the beastly. To be steward over creation without violent domination but kindness.
16.  Actually, it is an adventure. It has risks. From the brute to the person—is this not a work of adventure? But if the human obeys the brute completely, the human becomes beastly—and not loner living up to being in the image of God. The human is now conforming more to the beastly than to the human.

17.  To listen to the beast rather than to the human person—this is another form of idolatry! Look at how the Bible shows idolatry. It is always in the form of the beats! (see 1 KG 12/28 ; 2 KG18/4 ; Ps 106/19 ; Ws 12/24 ; in the New testament see Rm 1/23).
18.  Now we can better appreciate why God forbids using figures “in the heavens and on the earth” (see Ex 20/4 ; Dt 5/8).
19.  Go back to Genesis and notice that the human is to have mastery over beats (Gn 1/8-10/20-21 and 24-25). Remember the Exodus story of the “golden calf”? The Israelites even proclaimed the calf as God! Aaron proclaimed: “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Ex 32/4).
20.  Now think about it. Aaron says “liberation”—out of Egypt. Why?
21.  The beast represents force, power! As a calf it is young—still full of power. But it is also a force that can kill—the calf, which is a bull, can go wild and aggressive. It can be uncontrolled. It can kill with its horns.
22.  Think again. When God liberated the people from Egypt, the people of Israel saw what happened. They saw the power and force of God. This force allowed life to the people while the Egyptians on chariots pursued to destroy them. God did not impose. He liberated…but the Egyptians refused it. Notice that right after crossing the sea, God told the people to turn back and camp beside the sea. God was gentle even during that time.
23.  With the golden calf, the Israelites kept memory of the power of God that crushed the Egyptians—a power that gave life to one and killed the other. It reduced the power of God to pure force.
24.  By bowing before the golden calf, Israel turns back to Egypt! One bows to the power of the Pharaoh who wants to kill the Hebrews. The Lord God is like the Pharaoh—a Pharaoh in reverse. This time it is a Pharaoh in favour of Israel and enemy of Egypt. This is the big problem You are free, liberated—do not return to the beastly condition of crushing others too, just like your former oppressors. Avoid the perversion of idolatry.
25.  Idolatry is a way of making God a beast—making God connect with our own brute elements. It is making God in the image of the  beast in us.
26.  Notice that before making the golden calf, the Israelites were lost in the desert. Then, Moses went up and also “got lost” in the mountain of Sinai. Israel thus hoped for a renewal of power that can re-assure them. They wanted to avoid the risk of a mysterious God. They wanted security that can kill and overpower.
27.  The human, by bowing before the idol-beast, thinks that the adoration is to God…but actually to one’s own beast inside. The human gives God an image from the human, made by human imagination…from the beast within. What characterizes the beast is what is in the human—the traits proper to the human—with the risk of choosing the traits that destroy and kill. It is not the revealed traits of God.
28.  The golden calf has horns. It is a speciality found in the human too—we have horns. We can have mastery quickly with precision and with technique—like having horns. We need to “master” this mastery. Why not? But make sure we do not bow to it. If we invest our forces on our horns, what damage we can do!

29.  The human is image of God. We too are in the likeness of God. We are in the process of living up to this. We are “male-female” but also “man-woman”—persons. The adoration of the golden calf is really a self-adoration. We must cross the trial of the beastly in us. So we see the connection between Adam, Creation story, and idolatry? The encounter with the beast allows us to discover how close we are with that creature. But we have speech, we speak, we have language. We are also persons. Master over the beastly—kindly, gently—and do not obey totally the beastly. To fall for the beast is to fall for idolatry.

Jephthah’s Daughter (See Judges 11)
1.    Jephthah was an “illegitimate” son. His mother had other sons and they did not see Jephthah as their brother. So he was thrown out of the family—the clan. Get out, they said, “…you are the son of another woman” (Jg. 11/2). So Jephthah was not considered part of the family. So Jephthah ran away and lived somewhere else. There he became leader of gangs: “worthless men”.
2.    One day, the clan was in deep trouble against another nation. The leaders asked Jephthah to lead them in battle against the Ammonites: “Come and be our leader, that we may fight with the Ammonites" (11/6).  Jepthah tried to be “hard-to-get”. He did not immediately accept the invitation. He reminded the others that he was thrown out of them. “Did you not hate me, and drive me out of my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” Yet the elders recognized the skills of Jephthah—they knew he was a good warrior and leader. In fact they were willing to make him their main leader! “Be our head” (11/8).
3.    Jephthah agreed, but with a condition. He wanted to be back home—accepted back into the family, into the fold. Furthermore, if he wins, he will be leader. The elders agreed.
4.    Before going to battle against the Ammonites, Jephthah made a vow to the Lord God, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious… shall be the LORD's, and I will offer that up for a burnt offering" (11/30).
5.    Jephthah won the fight. Then Jephthah came to his home and his daughter came out to meet him singing and dancing! She was his only child.
6.    But Jephthah made a vow. “…I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow” (11/35). Jephthah had to do to her his vow. Did this mean that Jephthah had to offer his daughter as sacrifice—like immolate her? No.
7.    In the Old Testament, human sacrifice is unacceptable (see Dt.12/31). (Remember what we saw in the sacrifice of Abraham—God really did not want it to happen and Abraham himself was so confused about it).  So Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a bloody sacrifice. Read his vow: “…I will offer that up for a burnt offering”. It means that the person “…shall be consecrated to God”. So the daughter was made to stay virgin all her life.

On Golden Ornaments and earrings
A quick study
This is not a central part of our class study…so you are not obliged to even read this. But in case you are in the mood to add some reflections on what we have been saying in the theme of idolatry…then this might help.

1.    In Exodus we read: “’Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you in the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.’  Then the people …mourned; and nobody put on ornaments. For the LORD had said to Moses, ‘Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what to do with you.’  Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward” (Ex.33/3-6).
2.    So the Lord God threatened the people of his distance—he will not stay intimate with them. He will not go up with them to the promised land. The people repented—they cried. So what did God propose? He proposed that they remove their ornaments.
3.    There must be something very important with “ornaments”. Remember what happened in the “golden calf” story. The people took off their golden earrings…their ornaments on their ears. “And Aaron said to them, ‘Take off the rings of gold which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me’. So all the people took off the rings of gold which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron.  And he received the gold at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made a molten calf; and they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ (Ex.32/2-4).
4.    Let us visit a little the Book of Genesis and in particular the story of Jacob’s return home from Laban. See Gen 34-35. Here we see the sons of Jacob having killed the men of Sechem because the men raped their sister Dinah. Then the sons of Jacob took the wealth of the city. “And the sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled; they took their flocks and their herds, their asses, and whatever was in the city and in the field; all their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey” (Gen. 34/27-29).
5.    After this event God told Jacob to go to Bethel and build an altar. Jacob said to the men: “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; then let us arise and go up to Bethel, that I may make there an altar to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone’. So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem” (Gen.35/2-4).
6.    Among the things that were taken from Sichem were foreign gods. There may have been marked on earrings images of those gods.
7.    Let us take another example. This time we read it in the book of Judges. We read about the judge-leader Gideon. He was a good man of God. But he slid into idolatry. “And Gideon said to them, ‘Let me make a request of you; give me every man of you the earrings of his spoil’. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ish'maelites.) And they answered, "We will willingly give them." And they spread a garment, and every man cast in it the earrings of his spoil. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold; besides the crescents and the pendants and the purple garments worn by the kings of Mid'ian, and besides the collars that were about the necks of their camels. And Gideon made an altar of it and put it in his city, in Ophrah; and all Israel played the harlot after it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family” (Jg. 8/24-27).
8.    Maybe we can add a text from the prophet Ezekiel. The Lord God was very angry: “They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing; their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the LORD; they cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity. Their beautiful ornament they used for vainglory, and they made their abominable images and their detestable things of it; therefore I will make it an unclean thing to them” (Ez.7/19-20).
9.    Hosea also had something to say: “And I will punish her for the feast days of the Ba'als when she burned incense to them and decked herself with her ring and jewellery, and went after her lovers, and forgot me, says the LORD” (Hos.2/15).
10.  What is common in these is the forgetfulness of the Lord God. The ornaments are linked to this forgetfulness. In Exodus, let us not forget, the ornaments of the Israelites were obtained from Egypt: “…but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her who sojourns in her house, jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; thus you shall despoil the Egyptians” (Ex 3/22). “Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, jewelry of silver and of gold” (Ex.11/2). “The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked of the Egyptians jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they despoiled the Egyptians” (Ex.12/35-36).
11.  So when the Lord God asked the Israelites to remove their ornaments, we see that the ornaments were memories of Egypt—the times they were in Egypt and the wealth Egypt had. The ornaments contributed to forgetting the Lord God and even in the making of the “golden calf”.
12.  To remove the ornaments meant repentance.
13.  There is one curious passage in Deuteronomy that is worth noting. In there we read about setting slaves free. Now it can happen that a slave prefers to remain with the master. What must the master do? If the slaves say “…’I will not go out from you…then you shall take an awl, and thrust it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your bondman for ever” (Dt. 15/16-17). The earring was a sign to mark slaves. The hole is made on an ear so that an earring can be put.
14.  In summary: ornaments can mean
·         Forgetting the Lord God
·         Being enamoured by wealth and worldly life
·         Getting stuck with the “Egypt” of our lives…we look back to the times when we were in Egypt and being proud that what we have is a result of living in Egypt
·         Mark of slavery
15.  So we can appreciate the seriousness of putting together earrings (symbol of wealth and slavery) and transforming them to a “golden calf”. We give up our gold in order to make a “new ornament” supposedly representing God—but which is still made of the same gold. We snap from “earrings” to “golden calf”.

David’s Sin

1.    In 1Sam8/19 we read the refusal of the Israel people to listen to Samuel. Samuel warned them about having a king. The people replied: “No, there must be a King to lead us”. So let there be a king. One king was David. Was he not the leader…as he always was? Let us check him out. Read 2Sam11.
2.    Look at 2Sam.11/1. What do you notice that David is doing? What is happening to Israel and where is David? See verse 2 and notice how “nice” his condition is...while the army is doing what?
3.    What do we read? Bathsheba is bathing at the time “towards evening” (v.2). What kind of bathing is that? See Lev15/19 and 28. So what exactly is she doing?
4.    David by chance sees Bathsheba. What is he suppose to do? See if Gen.24/64-65 can help. Read Job 31/1. Imagine David up there and Bathsheba down below. Had Bathsheba known that someone--a man--is staring at her, what must she do? What about David, what must he do?
5.    Bathsheba--the name means “daughter of the oath”. Sometimes it can mean “daughter of wealth”. What kind of a woman is she? She is the daughter of Eliam, one of David’s “30 men” who are in-charge of the army. Eliam, her father, is son of one of David’s most trusted advisers named Ahithopel. Who is this Ahithopel? He is from a city of Judah... So? From Judah would mean from the same line of David! Bathsheba was from the same tribe of David and the granddaughter of one of his most trusted friends. In case you want to check: 2Sam.23/34; Jos.15/51 and 2Sam.15/12. (This explains also why her residence is not far from that of David).
6.    Who is the husband of Bathsheba? His name is Uriah and he is a foreigner--a Hittite--resident in Israel and fighting for the army of David. At the time of David there were foreigners who accepted the faith in the Lord God--Uriah must have been one of them. Uriah, in fact is a name that means “the Lord God is my light”. Uriah is one of the “best” of warriors, one of the “30”. See 2Sam23/39. (See 2Sam.15/12).
7.    David asks about Bathsheba. Notice the reply given to him, indicating exactly her status with a reputation. Now “lust” awakens in David. King David, the great military man, will now be “military” again but in a different way--since he is not at war.
8.    Notice the verbs attached to David: He saw...he inquired...he sent...he took her. The story seems to go very fast, very very fast, like in a rush. Is this not what “lust” can do to someone?
9.    Now, what does Bathsheba do? We read that “she came to him” (v.4). What does this tell you? Maybe 2Sam. 11/7 can help. Uriah also “came” to him. So the “she came” and “Uriah cam” have something in common. What do you think?
10.  As we shall see later, Uriah “came” but he does not follow David—he is in war, and while in war he has to be “strong”! He should not let his knees bend during fights. This disobedience of Uriah, however, would cost him his life.
11.  Let us go back to David and Bathsheba. What does David do to her? See v.4. (Notice we are still in the same verses…the story is fast). The verb “took” (laqua) is strong. It implies that the one taking has a responsibility in doing it. Of course the messengers bring Bathsheba to David. This is an act of power. He sends people. But face-to-face with David, Bathsheba is all alone. David “lays with her”. In the New American Bible there is a descriptive account. The verb “lay” is also strong. See Dt. 22/25-27. Remember that Bathsheba had just purified herself--she just had her ritual bath. So this act of David involves a violation.
12.  David—who is he? A man for the little ones. A man in the heart of God, his compassion is very much like God’s compassion. What is he doing now to this woman?
13.  What does Bathsheba do after the “act”? Does she stay in the palace? She stays at home. She returns to her house!
14.  Notice now she does the same thing David just did! David sent for her--called her in. Now she sends him a message. David had done an act of power--getting her, having her taken to him. Now, she is not returning the same gesture. She acts on her own style. What does this tell you? What does it say about Bathsheba at this point of the story? What is her message? “I am pregnant”. How would this strike David?
15.  David, is he ok? How does he respond? Who does he think of next? Notice the verb: to send. He sends for whom? It is the same action he has done earlier with Bathsheba. So, clearly David is somehow “numb” to his situation.
16.  Let us note Bathsheba after she hears of her husband’s death. See verses 26-27. She “mourned”. The verb is sapad. The mourning of Bathsheba is hysterical! It is not just a crying. Bathsheba is experiencing a very heavy loss. Notice she mourns (sapad).
17.  What does David do after? He stays numb!
18.  Nathan’s story tells us about the victim. Who is the victim? Why would this person be victim? What kind of a victim is the person that would make YHWH angry? What exactly did David do?

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