Thursday, January 07, 2010

Gen 16 for Jan 7

Vita brevis, life is short. As for the expectations of it, how do they combine with our belief in God? The glimpse of "family life" between Abraham and Sarai in chapter 16 is "ten years" (16:3) from their coming to Canaan. We started so dramatically, say, with God in our youth. What's going on ten years later?

Sarai says "the Lord has prevented me from bearing...." (16:2) Whereas she might have meant that to mean 'permanently,' or not, when ten years have passed from the promise of 12:2, "I will make you a great nation," how much pressure can a woman expected to bear children take? All the responsibility? Blame the husband? How about just avoiding that, and ascribing it to God? This is what Sarai does, and not necessarily in an evil way. But ten years is a lot of time to think of ways to "get things done." Hence the suggestion of 16:2. When that "works," family life goes to seed as a result, and even Abraham is passive about it (16:6).

So in these first six verses family life is described in an all-too-familiar way, comparing it to our culture. God is invoked as the reason for why things don't go as expected, and God is invoked as a witness, when we're disputing about something, that we're the one right (16:5). There is some kind of effort to get things done that we're thinking were supposed to do, but it involves a rewrite, a re-interpretation, of what we originally understood would happen: something like 'maybe God, when he said "one who shall come forth from your own body" (15:4) meant my body, using Hagar as wife....' In any case, Sarai's "I shall obtain children through her" (16:2) is a euphemism, and a reinterpretation.

And the whole thing, domestically speaking, disintegrates, with Hagar running off by herself while pregnant. God, in intervening through the angel (16:7ff.), not only gives Hagar something to do besides flee (8-9), but we as readers are doubly awed: God spoke to Hagar (16:13)! Furthermore, God has plans about the whole thing (16:12)! God is constructing a future history here! (Remember, the readers are initially the nation originally promised, and reading this, they know that they are Abraham's offspring, and indeed a "great nation" (12:2) -- but not the "great nation" that will come through through Hagar (17:20)!) Quite a momentous result as backdrop for their domestic fighting and making up fake explanations for His ways.

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