Epistles of Thomas

January 6, 2009

Genesis 16-18

Filed under: Old Testament — Thomas @ 23:33
Tags: , , , , ,

Genesis 16 records the rather bizarre case of the birth of Ishmael to Abram and Hagar. Abram and Sarai had been living in Canaan for ten years and she has not conceived. She decides that the best thing to do is to ask her husband to sleep with her Egyptian servant, Hagar, and get her pregnant instead. This works fine until the servant gets pregnant and begins to consider herself better than Sarai. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me” (16:5). You can’t make this stuff up! Sarai drove Hagar away and she fled to the desert where she met the angel of the Lord. The angel of the Lord commanded Hagar to return and submit to Sarai. He also promises “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count” (16:10). Hagar must have believed him because she returned and gave birth to Ishmael.

In the next chapter, God again appears to Abram and says “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations” (17:4-5). Given the context, the TNIV adds a humorous footnote: “Abraham probably means father of many.” God states that this is to be an everlasting covenant between Abraham and his descendants and that he is giving them the land of Canaan. Abraham is then given the sign of this covenant: circumcision. “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (17:14). Sarai was renamed Sarah and God indicated that the covenant would be established through the descendants of a son born to her named Isaac. Abraham immediately circumcised himself and all the males of his household as required. I had a roommate at college who was circumcised at age fifteen due to an infection and he said it was not pleasant. If you are going to get circumcised do it on the eighth day!

Paul contrasts the son born to the free woman with that of the slave woman in Galatians 4. In the Genesis account Ishmael is given honour and a promise but because the covenant was given to Isaac and his descendants there is always the reality that Isaac is superior in the Old Testament story. Paul’s point is that his origin is superior. Ishmael was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise but Isaac was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. Paul does not name the two sons because his point supersedes them but the background is important in understanding his point.

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