Verses 1-2: Are there elements in Abram’s journey to Canaan that typify Israel’s later exodus from Egypt? If there are, what would be the point of that parallel?
Verse 1: Notice the difference in the way the families are described in Genesis 12:5 and here. Does anything in these verses suggest a change in the family situation? If yes, of what sort? Journeys from Egypt to Canaan are said to be “up” and journeys from Canaan to Egypt are said to be “down.” We might use the same metaphors because of the way we have constructed the map of the world, with Canaan to the north of Egypt, but that similarity is misleading since they didn’t have maps or use the points of the compass as we do. So why would ancient people have used that language of up and down?
Verse 2: What is the point of this detail? Does the comment about their wealth in verse 6 explain it, or is it here for some other reason?
The word used for “rich” in Hebrew means “heavy.” It is used to describe Abram’s wealth and also the famine (Genesis 12:1). Any wealth that a nomad had beyond his flocks would have to be carried by camel and it would be a heavy for them, so the word makes sense. Was Abram’s wealth a burden to him in any other sense?
Verse 3-4: Why does Abram go back to the place where he had built an altar? (See Genesis 12:7).
Verses 5-7: What is happening to Abram’s family here? He has already been blessed that he will be a great nation (Genesis 12:2). What would Abram think about that blessing at this point? Might there be anything deeper to this strife than an argument over pasturage? Does Genesis 18:19 suggest something about the difference between Lot and Abram? Why is the story of Abraham’s blessings interrupted by this story of strife? Not every detail of Abraham’s life is included, so when a detail is included, we must assume that there is a reason for including it. We must also give the writer some credit for placing details where he does. So, why does Moses mention Abraham’s wealth and this strife, and why here?
Verse 6: What reason does this verse give for the land being unable to bear them? What does that mean? (What was the main way in which wealth was held?)
Verse 7: Why is it important that we know that the Canaanites and the Perizzites (a tribe usually grouped with the Canaanites) dwelt there? Why does the writer think it is important to include that editorial note?
Verses 8-13: Abram says, “Let there be no strife [i.e., quarreling], I pray thee, between me and thee.” The immediate reference is to what has just happened between their herdsmen: “Let’s not continue that.” Does this warning also point forward to anything?
The King James translation hides something interesting in the text. In Hebrew, at the end of verse 8 Abram says “for we be men and brothers.” The KJV elides that into merely “brothers,” which is a legitimate translation. However, what might the original text mean by “men and brothers.” What point is Abram making?
If Abram has been given all of the land, why is he willing to be so generous in giving it up (verse 9)? Should his generosity be a model for the behavior of his descendants? Verses 11-12 show Lot choosing to live on the edge of Canaan, if not even beyond it. (Compare Genesis 10:19.) What is the significance of his choice? Is he turning his back on the Abramic blessing? Does separation from Abram mean, for Lot, separation from Abram’s blessing? If not, how does Lot continue to be part of that blessing? In verse 13 we see a rhetorical form that the Bible uses often. It is called “hendiadys,” which means “two for one.” The people of Sodom are describe as “wicked and sinners.” That is a way of saying “wicked sinners.” Did Lot know what kind of men lived in the land he had chosen? Why did he choose that land? What was the sin of Sodom? (See Ezekiel 16:48-50 for one important explanation.) Do we see anything in chapter 14 that suggests the same explanation?
Verses 14-18: Why did the Lord repeat his blessing to Abram (verses 14-16)? Compare the wording of verse 15 with the wording of the same blessing in Genesis 12:7. Why is this wording much fuller? What do we learn from this wording that we didn’t learn earlier? Verse 19 ends the chapter as it began, with Abram settling down. Why do you think the story of this chapter is framed in this way?
Verses 1-12: Why have Amphral, Arioch, Chedorloamer, and Tidal invaded the Jordan valley?
The kings of Sodom and Gommorah have striking names, for they are made of words that, in Hebrew, mean “evil” and “wicked.” How would you explain that?
Verses 11-12: Why is verse 11 important to what we will later learn about Sodom and Gomorrah? Why did the kings take Lot captive?
This is the first occurrence of the word “Hebrew” in the Bible. One reasonable assumption of the meaning of “Hebrew” is that it means “someone from the other side.” (See the discussion of Genesis 12:1 in the materials for lesson 7.) Another is that it refers to the Habiru, a general term for outsiders (foreign slaves, mercenaries, and especially marauders). What might these meanings for that word tell us about how Abraham was perceived in Canaan?
“They were confederate with Abram” might better be translated “They had made a covenant with Abram.”
What kind of covenant would Abram and the Amorites have entered into (verse 13)? What does verse 14 mean when it refers to trained servants? What was the point of this story for those hearing it in ancient Israel? What might its point be for us?
Verses 17-21: Is there any irony in Abram being greeted by the king of Sodom, on the one hand, and the king of Salem, Melchizedek, on the other (verses 17-18) ? How might we find a spiritual meaning in that irony? These verses seem to be rhetorically structured as a chiasm:
A The king of Sodom meets Abram
B The king of Salem meets Abram (offering bread and wine)
B’ The king of Salem offers Abram a blessing
A’ The king of Sodom offers Abram a deal
Is that structure anything more than a good story telling technique? Notice that the structure is followed by Abram’s reply: he refuses to take his share of the booty. What do you make of the fact that the story presents this as one episode: the king of Sodom and the king of Salem come to meet Abraham at the same time? Is the writer suggesting a comparison of the two? If so, what are we to make of that comparison?
The name “Melchizedek” is composed of two words, melek and tsaddiq. The second of these means “righteous.” (See the notes for lesson 6 for more about tsaddiq.) The first of these words is a general term for a ruler, from the king on down. So the name Melchizedek probably means “my king is righteous.” (The names “Adonizedek” in Joshua 10:1 and “Zadok,” David’s high priest (e.g., 2 Samuel 15:24-29) are related names).
Genesis is filled with genealogies showing the connections of the prophets. Why is there nothing in those genealogies about Melchizedek? (In the Bible, he appears only here, in Psalms 110:4, and in Hebrews.) Compare the additional material given in Joseph Smith’s revision of Genesis 14:17-40, Hebrews 7:1-3, as well as what we find in Alma 13:14-19, and D&C 84:14 and 107:1-4.) Assuming that at this point Joseph’s inspired revision gives us information that was originally in the Bible (rather than material he was inspired to give us to help us understand), why might someone have removed this information? Melchizedek offers Abram bread and wine. Is this symbolic, or is it merely an offering of a meal to a hungry returning army? What had the King of Sodom offered? So what?
In verse 19, many translators translate Abram’s blessing as “maker of heaven and earth” rather than “possessor of heaven and earth,” as the King James version has it. What might that alternate translation suggest? How could Abraham reasonably be called a maker of heaven and earth?
Verses 21-24: According to ancient custom, the victor had full rights to the spoils of war. Why would Abram have pledged to take nothing, in other words, none of the spoils of war? After all, Abram was the commander-in-chief of the winning army. What does verse 21 show us about the king of Sodom? How does Abram’s behavior toward the king of Sodom contrast with his behavior toward Melchizedek? What is the difference and why does he behave differently? How does Abram’s attitude contrast with that of the king of Sodom? What does that difference portend?
In verse 22, the phrase “I have lift up mine hand” means “I have solemnly sworn.” The Hebrew word translated “made rich” in verse 23 has a root that is almost identical to that of the word translated “tithed” in verse 20. What does that connection do in this story?
Chapter 15 isn’t part of the assignment, but it is used by Paul as an important linchpin in his argument in the early part of Romans, and many Protestants today use it when they talk about their understanding of salvation by grace. So, because Genesis 15:6 is a verse that Latter-day Saints are likely to be asked to think or talk about, I’m including some notes and questions about it.
The word translated “believed” translates the Hebrew word aman, “to be firm or certain,” “to be stable,” “to trust,” “to believe.”(It is the origin of our word, “amen.”) The word “counted” translates a Hebrew word that means “reckoned” (see Psalms 106:31 and Numbers 18:27, 30). The word “righteousness” translates the Hebrew word tsedaqa, a varation of tsaddiq: righteousnesss, lawfulness, justice. (See the notes for Genesis 14:17-21 and for lesson 6 for more about tsaddiq.)
We can understand this verse to say “Abraham believed / trusted the Lord [or ‘believed / trusted in the Lord,’ as in the KJV], and the Lord credited that belief / trust to Abraham as if Abraham were a righteous person, i.e., one who obeys the law.” Given the context, what is the best way to understand what “believed” means here? In thinking about this verse, much depends on whether we understand the verb phrase to mean “believed the Lord” or “believed in the Lord” and there’s nothing in the Hebrew to dictate either over the other—though if we substitute “trusted” for “believed” there is little difference in meaning. Looking at the verse in context—and trying to set aside your personal theological convictions for the moment—which do you think makes the most sense and why? Is it relevant that the writer is either Moses or a later writer writing from a Mosaic perspective? What difference might that make to how we understand the “righteous” in this verse? What is your best explanation of this verse? Once you have thought about that, read Romans 3:10-4:22. If you have difficulty with the language, try reading it in a more contemporary translation, perhaps the New American Bible. How does Paul understand the verse? Is Paul using the verse out of context to make his point (“proof-texting”), or is he true to what we read in Genesis? Finally, what kind of theological answer might you give to someone who says that this teaches something that Mormons don’t believe, namely salvation by grace alone? Can you give a satisfactory answer that also takes careful account of the Genesis text?
Note: There is perhaps no better illustration than the story of this chapter of what narrative and other genres of scripture can do that theological reflection cannot. If we read the story of this chapter theologically—by stepping back from it and asking quasi-philosophical questions about it, by focusing exclusively on the principles that we assume it teaches and thinking about how those relate to each other—then we will almost certainly miss a great deal of what the story offers and, presumably, what Moses intended to give us by telling this in the way that he does. As you read this story pay particular attention to it as a story about Abraham and Sarah and the Lord. Trying to understand it as a story before trying to theologize about it will provide rewards.
Verses 1-2: The story begins in the third-person plural (verse 2). Then it shifts to the third-person singular (verse 9) before it moves the first person (verse 13). Why do you think the writer does that? Though verse 1 tells us who is visiting Abraham, he appears not to know that these are divine beings until verse 14, when the Lord identifies himself. How does that suspension of identification affect our reading of the story? Some have pointed out that this begins without explicitly naming Abraham: “he sat in his tent” rather than “Abraham sat in his tent.” They suggest that this shows that what follows is part of a series of stories (including the immediately previous chapter) that are to be understood together. So what? Why does the writer tell us where Abraham was sitting and what time of day it was? Why would Abraham have gone to his tent during the heat of the day? Why does Abraham jump up and run to greet these visitors? Does he know what kind of visitors they are? It isn’t uncommon for people to run to greet others or to bow down to those in power. (See Genesis 29:13 and Genesis 42:6.) However, these visitors are not yet known to Abraham to be either, so why does he bow down in this way?
Verses 3-5: As does Abraham’s initial greeting, what he says to the visitors can be understood on two levels, that of a greeting to three human visitors and that of a greeting to the Lord. Why does he use the singular when he addresses his visitors, rather than the plural? Notice that Abraham underplays the thirst of his visitors: “I won’t fetch a lot of water, just a little, just enough to slake your thirst,” as it were. He also underplays the feast he is going to prepare: “a morsel of bread” [probably like a piece of pita bread]. Why does he do that?
Verses 6-8: Is it significant that Abraham runs to fetch the calf rather than having a servant do it? “Three seahs of meal” seems to be about 8 liters. Why so much bread for three guests?
Since it mixes meat and dairy (verse 8), this is not a kosher meal. Abraham does not live under the Mosaic Law. According to Word Biblical Commentary (2:47), the phrase translated “fine meal” appears elsewhere in the Five Books of Moses only in reference to temple offerings of various kinds. Do you think that this is a conscious choice on the writer’s part? If so, what is the point he is making by that choice?
Verses 9-15 : Why does the visitor ask “Where is Sarah thy wife?” Any visitor would have known who was in charge of preparing the meal and what that implied about where she was. And certainly the Lord would know where she was. So why ask? (Compare the Lord’s questions in Genesis 3:9 and 4:9—Moses 4:15 and 5:34.) Why is it important for us to know that the tent door was behind the speaker? Who makes the promise of verse 10? How do you know? Did Abraham? Compare and contrast this version of the promise to that in Genesis 17:15-21. What do you learn from that comparison? How many different explanations can you give for Sarah’s laughter? Which do you think most reasonable? Why? How does Sarah’s laughter here compare to Abraham’s in Genesis 17:17? Are they doing the same thing or something different? In verses 14-15, is the Lord speaking to Abraham or to Sarah? In verse 15, what is Sarah afraid of? Compare the Lord’s reproof of Sarah, here, with his reproof of Abraham in Genesis 17:19-22. How are they alike? How different? What might explain any differences?
Note: The chapter begins with only Abraham. However, after the Lord asks “Where is Sarah they wife?” she begins to figure more prominently in the story. Skipping over the Sodom and Gomorrah story of chapter 19, Sarah becomes an integral part of the story in chapters 20-21. What does that suggest?
Verses 16-22: Now we learn to where the three visitors were traveling when Abraham stopped them. We will continue to see him trying to stop them in this part of the story, as two of them continue on their journey but Abraham stands “yet before the Lord” (Genesis 18:22). To whom is the question of verses 17-18 addressed? Can you put those verses in your own words? What point is the Lord making? What does the Lord mean when he says that he knows Abraham?
The word translated “know” here is the same word translated “know” in Genesis 4:1. (It is also the same word used in verses like Amos 3:2, Exodus 33:17, Deuteronomy 34:10, and 2 Samuel 7:20.) Does that tell us anything about what the Lord is saying? Does it suggest anything about how we should understand God’s knowledge?
How does the description of Abraham’s blessing in verse 18 differ from previous descriptions? So what? How does verse 19 explain why the Lord is going to explain to Abraham what he will do? In other words, how is the fact that he will teach his children to be righteous relevant to the Lord’s decision not to hide from Abraham what is going to happen to Sodom and Gomorrah? Some Christians today teach that the Lord’s promise of blessing is unconditional, but it appears that we see exactly the opposite throughout the Old Testament. In verse 19, for example, we see that the Abraham will teach his children to obey so that the Lord will give Abraham that which he has promised. Is this a difference between the Old and New Testament understandings of our relation to God? Or is there a better explanation?
This question, a question about grace, is not one in which those on the side we usually associate with other Christians say “We don’t have to keep the commandments” and we say, “Yes, you do.” All who receive the promise must keep the commandments, and few Christians believe otherwise. The question is about the connection between the promise and obedience: do we receive the blessing because we obey or do we obey because we have received the blessing (and we refuse the blessing if we disobey)? That is what is at issue in many discussions of grace and works.
What does it mean to “keep the way [i.e., the path] of the Lord”? Some have identified this with knowing the Lord. What does it mean to know the Lord? What does Mosiah 4 teach about what it means to know the Lord? Does what we see in verse 19 perhaps explain what the Lord says about revealing his will to the prophets in Amos 3:7? What does it mean to say that the children of Abraham “will do justice and judgment”? Why does the Lord describe that as “keeping the way of the Lord”? How do we do justice and judgment? Compare “I will go down” in verse 21 with Genesis 11:7. What does that verbal connection suggest? Does verse 21 suggest anything about the Lord’s desires for Sodom and Gomorrah?
Verses 23-33: What does verse 23 tell us when it begins with “Abraham drew near”? Compare these verses:
Prayer Response 23-25 26 27-28a 28b 29a 29b 30a 30b 31a 31b 32a 32b
What is the point of this series? Why is Abraham bargaining with the Lord? Why talk him down from one number to another and then to still another? Why does the Lord permit him to do this? What does this say about the Lord? About our relation to him? About prayer? Does doing justice and judgment have anything to do with what we see here? Compare Abraham’s initial question, “Wilt thou destroy the righteous with the wicked?” (verse 23) with his final question, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there” (verse 32). How do you account for what seems like a difference in Abraham’s confidence? In the first part of Abraham’s prayer (verse 23) he asked that God not destroy the righteous along with the wicked. In the second part (verse 24), he asks that the Lord spare everyone, not just the righteous. Then he goes back to asking that the righteous be spared when the wicked are killed (verse 25). How would you explain these differences?
Verses 1-3: Compare the beginning of the chapter with the beginning of the last. What does that comparison show? If hospitality demanded that one offer a stranger a place to sleep, it also demanded that the stranger accept the offer extended. What do you make of the angels’ initial refusal to stay with Lot? Was it just a polite refusal (“No thanks, no more chocolate cake for me. I’m full.”) that could then be followed by acceptance, or was there something deeper to their refusal?
Verses 4-11: Why is it important that we know that “the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round about, both old and young, all the people from every quarter” (verse 4)? What does Lot’s offer in verse 8 tell us about the ethics of the time? In spite of that, how do verses 6-9 portray Lot? Those who try to break into Lot’s home refer to him as one who “came in to sojourn,” in other words, as a stranger living among them (verse 9). What is the point of that remark from the point of view of the Sodomites? What does it say about them from the writer’s point of view? (Notice the note of slap stick comedy at the end of verse 11: everyone is stumbling around trying to find the door.)
Verses 12-14: In particular, what evil have the Sodomites revealed in the previous verses that now calls for the retribution of these verses? In other words, did the sin of verses 4-11 exemplify the cry that the Lord referred to in Genesis 18:21? Why do the sons-in-law think that Lot is joking (verse 14)?
Verses 15-23: Why is the Lord willing to save Lot and his family? Is it because of Lot’s righteousness? If not, what has this story to do with the bargain that Abraham struck with the Lord in the previous chapter? What do we learn about Lot in verses 17-22? How does that compare to his bravery in verses 6-9? What kind of a person does Lot emerge as in this story? Compare Lot’s pleading for Zoar with Abraham’s pleading for Sodom and Gomorrah. What’s the difference? Compare and contrast this story with the Noah story. How are their messages the same? How different? In fact, compare and contrast several stories of what might be called rescue (though in Lot’s case, they thought they were beginning a new world but were not): Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Abraham leaving Ur, Abraham and Isaac, and this one. What do you learn from those comparisons?
Verses 24-26: There are many possible naturalistic explanations of this story, including for example an explanation of human-like rock formations near the Dead Sea), but what does the writer intend by this story? What does he want us to know above and beyond whatever happened to Lot’s wife?
Verses 27-29: Compare verses 27-28 to Genesis 18:16. The beginning and the end are marked by the use of similar scenes. The story ended in verses 27-28. Now we have, in verse 29, an “and thus we see” passage. What is it that we are most supposed to remember about this story? How does that contrast with our usual discussions of the story? What might that tell us about our relation to scripture?
Verses 30-38: Obviously we find the story in these verses distasteful, though it is hard not to compare this story to that of Moses and Ham. How are the stories the same? How different? Why is this story included in scripture? What are we to learn from it? Given the names that the daughters gave their sons, were they ashamed of what they had done? Why not? Is it legitimate to compare this story to that of Tamar, who was forced to conceive a child by her father-in-law Judah because he would not fulfill the Levirate law and provide her a husband from among his sons? Does their (mistaken) understanding of the situation make us think differently about this event than we would otherwise? What does that mistake tell us?
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