The Orthodox Pages
TALK ON THE HOLY BIBLE
24th October 2013
At the end of last weeks talk we finished seeing the great flood and the ark. With the whole world destroyed, except for Noah and his family, humanity begins again with the hope of living a more righteous life. The end of the flood is therefore a new starting point for mankind. Having this in mind, the author of Genesis in the 10th chapter, gives us not only the family tree of Noah's descendants but also the various tribes or nations they became. Most if not all of the names of these nations have been lost or changed many times through history, but there are some places that can still be identified with their ancient biblical names. For example two of Noah's great grandchildren Elisha and Kitian are linked to Cyprus: Elisha is identified by some as an area in Greece and by others as Cyprus. Elisha became Alashiya and today it is known as Alassa. Kitian or Kittim as it is written in the KJB, is the ancient town of Kitium which today is known as Larnaca. To this day the bishop for the Larnaca area retains the title Metropolitan of Kitiou.
After giving us the various tribes, the Bible tells us that the whole earth was of one language and of one mind. This seems logical as they all descended from one family, but then something happened and every tribe formed its own language. Phaleg, a descendant of Noah' son Shem, travelled south from Armenia where the ark came to rest, along the Tigris River and turning East came to a plain called Sennaar which was in Chaldean, south of Babylon where he built a city. Here the people had an idea to build a tower that would reach to heaven. Phaleg was born 524 years after the flood and lived for 130 years so the tower of Babel was built between 524-654 years after the flood.
The bible story of the Tower of Babel is rather confusing because it doesn't give us enough details of why God found it necessary to confound their language and scatter them abroad. The people begin building a tower and when God sees the work being carried out he says: now nothing shall fail of them of all that they imagine to do. Come, and let Us go down and confound their language, that they may not understand each his neighbour’s voice." This suggests that with unity man can do many things if people put their minds to it and also suggests that maybe God doesn't want man to progress. It would seem that it was not the construction itself that offended God, but rather the thought behind the construction. The people wanted to build a tower reaching to heaven without God and without his approval. The thought behind the tower was the result of pride and a cause for man to boast of his achievements that through his own independence and greatness man could get to heaven without God's help. The tower was not to worship God, but to worship man, it was a form of idolatry.
The story of the tower wants to stress that the cause behind the various languages was man's pride and religious inclinations without God. The confusion of the tongues probably did not happen in a day, but was a natural development resulting from man being scattered to various parts of the earth and developing new ethical and religious ideas. The story of the Tower of Babel simply speeds up the process that it happened with God's intervention.
What is worth noticing in the story is that God speaks in the plural, "Come, and let Us go down and confound their language." We saw in our second talk on the Bible that Genesis gives us four occasions of God referring to himself in the plural revealing that God is not one, but three persons.
In Christian times the confusion of the languages and the scattering of the nations resulting from the Tower of Babel is rectified with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. With the gift of the tongues of fire the Holy Spirit calls all nations and languages to unity again in one faith.
After the Tower of Babel, the Bible once again gives us the genealogies of the line of redemption until it reaches Abram. From here begins the second part of Genesis. The first part dealt with the pre-history of mankind and the second part deals with the patriarchs of the Israelite people, beginning with Abram, the father of the Jewish nation, but also the father of many other nations.
From Noah until Abram mankind again fell away from God and people had become idolaters believing in and worshipping pagan gods. Abram's home place was Ur in the country of the Chaldean's which was between Babylon and the Persian Gulf. At some time Abram's father Thara, took the family and moved to a place called Charran, which was on the way to Canaan. Here God spoke to Abram and told him to get out of his new home, to leave behind his relatives and his father's house to go into a land that God will show him, promising that he will make him a great nation, "and I will bless thee and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed. And I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curse thee, and in thee shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed." Abram is singled out from among his generation because in spite of the fact that he grew up and lived in a pagan world, he personally believed that there must be only one God who was invisible. When this God spoke to him and told him that he would be the father of many nations, Abram believed him in spite of the fact that he was seventy five at the time and that his wife Sara was sixty five and barren. Abram didn't question God on how he would become a great nation, he believed God and his faith in God was accounted unto him as righteousness.
There is a slight discrepancy on when Abram left his father's home. According to Genesis, Abram's father was seventy when he had him and Abram was seventy five when he left. His father is mentioned as dieing when he was 205 years old, so according to this calculation Abram left his father 60 years before he died. Now according to the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, Abram left his father's home after his father had died, so how is this possible? The Genesis genealogy says: "And Thara lived seventy years, and begat Abram, and Nachor, and Arran." Abram is mentioned first not because he is the firstborn, but because he is the father of the Israelite people. The text mentions that Thara lived seventy years and begat Abram, and Nachor, and Arran, but as all three brothers could not have been born in the same year unless they were triplets, the genealogical tree is not an exact chronological account of the birth of the three brothers. Thus if we assume that Abram was the second or third son, he was probably born at a much later date even sixty years after the firstborn, which would make Abram seventy five when his father died at the age of 205.
So Abram took his wife, his nephew Lot, the son of his departed brother Arran, and all his servants and belongings and came into the land of Canaan. There he made his camp in the wilderness, but not long after there was a famine in the land and Abram went down to Egypt to live unto the famine was over. Here we see that Abram is capable of sinning just like the rest of us. Sara his wife was a beautiful woman. She was 65 years old, but considering that people lived more than two hundred years, she was still considered young and probably didn't have the wrinkles of a modern day 65 year old woman. Now Abram feared that if the Egyptians knew that she was his wife, they would kill him to take Sara for themselves, so he told Sara that whoever asks of their relationship, she was to say that she was his sister. When the Egyptians saw Sara they indeed found her very beautiful and delivered her unto Pharaoh and as was the custom Pharaoh gave Abram sheep, and calves, mules, menservants, maidservants, asses and camels as a form of dowry or payment for his sister. Abram preferred to give his wife up to adultery to spare his own life. That she was his sister was not a total lie as we are told in a later chapter when again Abram presented Sara as his sister to another king again to save his own life. Sara was his half sister having the same father, but not the same mother. So after Pharaoh took Sara as his own wife God sent terrible things upon Pharaoh and his household and the truth came out about Sara being Abraham's wife. Pharaoh returned her to Abraham and had them escorted out of Egypt.
Back in Canaan Abram and Lot were both wealthy with many sheep and cattle. The land where they both dwelt together couldn't provide for both and trouble arose between Abram's herdsmen and Lot's herdsmen. Abram decided it was time to peacefully part company and offered Lot to choose which land he preferred to live in: to choose all the land on the left or the right. Lot chose the best and fertile land and settled down in Sodom and Abram pitched his tent by the oak of Mambre in Hebron. This separation was by divine providence so that Abram would remain the only inheritor of the Promised Land. With Lot out of the way God renews his promise to Abram that all the land he can see north, south east and west, will be his and to his seed which will be without number as the sand of the earth.
The next chapter (14) tells us of a war between many kings of the surrounding areas including Sodom and Gomorra. Both these cities were captured and prisoners were taken among whom also was Lot and his family and belongings. When Abram was informed that Lot was taken captive, he set out with 318 of his servants and came by night and slaughtered the perpetrators, rescuing Lot and everyone else taken from Sodom. On returning the king of Sodom who had been in hiding came out to meet the triumphant Abram. Another king who was not mentioned among the other kings who were at war is also mentioned. His name is Melchizedek king of Salem. This king brought forth bread loaves and wine; and he was priest of the Most High God. Some say that Melchizedek offered the bread and wine to strengthen Abram's exhausted army, while others, meaning the fathers of the church, taking the words that he was a priest of the most high God, say that his offering of bread and wine was a sacrifice for Abram's victory. Thus the bread and wine is a pre-figuration of Christ's bloodless sacrifice of the divine Eucharist. Melchizedek then blesses Abram saying: "Blessed be Abram of the Most High God, which made the heaven and the earth, and blessed be the Most High God, which hath delivered up thine enemies under thy hands to thee. And Abram gave him the tithe of all.
So who is this Melchizedek, who ordained him a priest of the most high God, when as yet no priesthood had been established? Where did he come from, he appears out of nowhere and Abram gives him a tenth of everything he had? St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews says this of Melchizedek: “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.” (Heb. 7: 1-4) Melchizedek is therefore an image and type of Christ the true high priest. The Levitical or Jewish priesthood was given to Aaron and his descendants and is termed the order of Aaron. Christ’s priesthood is called according to the order of Melchizedek because it is a priesthood without a beginning or end. It is usual for the greater to bless the lesser so Abram must have seen in Melchizedek someone far greater than himself. Now Salem means the city of Peace. This could mean Jerusalem or even the heavenly Jerusalem. Did Abraham recognize in Melchizedek the king of heaven, the Son of God? There is indeed a similarity in the two persons and the offering of bread and wine by Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18) is a resemblance of the bread and wine of the Eucharistic offering made by Christ.
Chapter 16 tells us of how Abram came to have a son by his wife's maid servant Agar. Abram was childless and Sara his wife barren. In spite of this God had promised Abram an heir and Sara seeing that the years were passing without a sign of the promised son, became inpatient and wanting to give her husband an heir decided to take things into her own hands. The Hammurabi code, the Babylonian law of the land they originally came from allowed a sterile wife to give her servant to her husband to bear a child. He was not to take her on his own but was to be given him by the wife. The child born from this union was considered the mistress's child because the maid was her property. This was an ancient form of surrogate motherhood and during the birth the maid would lay on her mistress's lap simulating that the mistress was giving birth and not the maid.
So Sara gives her servant Agar to Abram to bear a child with her. Agar conceived and bore a son who was named Ishmael. This son Abram thought would be his heir, because when God told him that he would be a father of many nations, he did not specify that Sara would be the mother of many nations. God had plans for Sara to conceive and bear a son, but this would not happen until a few more years yet. Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born and Sara 76. Abram would have to wait another thirteen years before Sara would conceive and bear the son who would be the line of redemption.
So now Abram is ninety nine years old and the Lord appears to him and tells him that his name will no longer be Abram, but Abraham. Abram is singular and means a lofty father, but Abraham is plural meaning a father of many nations. God then re-establishes his covenant with Abraham telling him that he will be a father of many nations and from him would precede kings. As a sign of this covenant God commanded that every male should be circumcised: "And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin" every "man child of eight days shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, and he that is born in the house, and he that is bought with money of every son of a stranger, which is not of thy seed."
God then tells Abraham, that Sara would from now on be called Sarra, that he will bless her, and give him a son of her; and he will become nations; and kings of nations shall be of him.At this Abraham laughed and said in his heart: "Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarra, that is ninety years old, bear?" Abraham didn't laugh because of disbelief, but rather because he was overjoyed at the news and that God could make this happen. But having a legitimate son from his wife Sarra, who would be the heir of the promise, Abraham was worried of what would become of his firstborn Ishmael and prayed to God on his behalf. God reassures him that he has blessed Ishmael and that he will also increase and multiply and bring forth twelve nations. Ishmael is considered the father of the Arab nations. So at the age of 99, Abraham was circumcised and his entire household.
Not long after God again appears to Abraham by the tree of Mambre. It says in Genesis: "And God appeared unto him by the oak of Mambre, as he sat by the door of his tent at noon. And he lift up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood over him; and seeing them, and ran to meet them from his tent door, and did obeisance down to the ground. And he said, O Lord, if indeed I have found grace in Thy sight, pass not by Thy servant. Let water now be fetched, and let them wash Your feet, and be Ye cooled under the tree. And I will fetch bread, and Ye shall eat... (Gen. 18: 1-5) The story continues with Abraham preparing food for his visitors and the Lord telling him again that his wife Sarra would conceive in her old age and bear him a son.
It is clear in this event that Abraham recognized the Lord, but did he recognize all three angels as representing the Holy Trinity or only the central figure as the Lord, or more specifically, the Second Person of’ the Holy Trinity, the pre-incarnate Son of God? Throughout the history of the Church, the Church fathers have often been divided in their interpretation of this event. Some say that all three angels were a representation of the Three Persons of the Godhead, while others accept the general understanding that it was only the appearance of the Word of God, accompanied by two angels. You all must have seen Icons of this event. The Icon is called the Hospitality of Abraham and shows the three angels around the table with Abraham and Sarah serving them with the food they have prepared. In the background, there is a mountain, the oak tree of Mambre and Abraham’s house. The central figure of the Son of God is usually represented wearing the colours ascribed to Him after His incarnation. In the 15th century, a Russian monk named Andrew Rublev gave this Icon a new form and meaning. He reduced the historical elements of the event, by omitting Abraham and Sarah, so that the main significance of the Icon was not in the historical biblical event, but in the dogmatic teaching of the Three consubstantial Persons of the Holy Trinity. The table was no longer the instrument to hold the food of hospitality, but became the altar for the chalice with the sacrificial lamb: symbolizing the voluntary sacrifice of the Son of God and indicating by the gestures of the three angels, the unity of their predetermined will and the divine economy. Although the Icon was the same event of the hospitality of Abraham, it now placed the historical event as a secondary factor to the symbolic representation of the Triune God and subsequently renamed The Holy Trinity.
Immediately after the Hospitality of Abraham two of the men departed and went to Sodom, but the one remaining who was the Son of God, told Abraham that he would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities had reached such immoral levels of sexual depravation that God decided that they should be destroyed. Abraham “bargained” with the Lord not to destroy them. He began pleading with the Lord that if fifty righteous men were found in these cities would he destroy them together with the unrighteous, and the Lord agreed that if fifty righteous men were found he would spare the cities for their sake. Abraham continues to bargain saying what if only forty five righteous men are found and again the Lord said he would spare the cities if only forty five were found. Abraham continues to bargain until he asks what if only ten men are found and again the Lord agreed that he would spare the cities if only ten righteous men were found. At this the Lord departed and the next chapter (19) takes us to Sodom where Lot, Abraham's nephew lived.
The two angels that accompanied the Lord at Abraham's house are now at the gates of Sodom. Sitting by the gate was Lot who seeing the strangers invites them to stay at his house. Just before retiring for the night the men of Sodom came around the house and demanded of Lot to bring out the two men they saw enter his house so that they could become as family to them. By family they didn't mean to become friendly as brothers, but rather that they would become sexually close to them by raping them. This is the first mention of homosexuality in the Bible and the city of Sodom gave its name to the homosexual act which is referred to in many places in the Bible as Sodomy and the homosexual person as a Sodomite.
Lot understood what they wanted and went out to them and shut the door behind him. He pleaded with them not to harm the men as they were his guests and offered to give them instead his two virgin daughters to do with them as they would. As they went to attack him the angels pulled him back into the house and struck all those who were outside the house with blindness.
They then revealed to Lot who they were and that he should gather all his family together to get them out of Sodom because they were to destroy the city. Lot had other daughters in Sodom who were married, but when he told them of how the Lord was to destroy the place his son in laws simply laughed in his face, so only four righteous people were found in Sodom. In the morning the angels told them to hurry and leave and by no means to look back. Then when they had reached safety, the Lord sent sulpher and fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah and I’m sure you all know the story, Lot’s wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt.
From where Abraham lived he could see the smoke from the burning cities. The exact location of Sodom and Gomorrah is not known, but depending on which side of the Dead Sea they were, the distance from Hebron could be anything between 20 and 50 miles.
Sodom and Gomorrah were not the only cities to be destroyed. The text says that God destroyed all the cities in the region round about and in the Book of Deuteronomy it mentioned the other cities as Adama and Seboeim. Another city in the area called Segor was saved because of Lot. Originally the angels told him to flee to the mountains, but Lot feared he would not make it and asked if he could go to Segor thinking that because it was the smallest of the five towns in the area, it would not have been as corrupt as the other larger town. So Lot was allowed to go to Segor and the town was saved. But Lot didn't stay in Segor for too long; probably the people there were unwelcoming and corrupt like the Sodomites and fearing that a new destruction would take place, he left and went into the mountain and dwelt in a cave with his two daughters.
Alone in the mountains far from civilization, the daughters were concerned of what would happen to them. The main purpose of life for a woman was to marry and have a family, but no one was going to suddenly pass their way and marry them. They would be deprived of the joys of motherhood. Thus the elder daughter said to the younger to get their father drunk with wine and to sleep with him to get pregnant. So after getting Lot drunk until he was plastered the elder daughter slept with her father. The next night again they got Lot drunk and the younger daughter also slept with her father. Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father. From the two sons born to them came the Moabite and the Ammanite nations, both hated by the Israelites.
Chapter 20 returns us to Abraham and Sarra just before she was to conceive. Abraham moves his camp south and comes to live in Gerara. Fearing again that the men there would kill him for Sarra, he made it known that she was his sister. Sarra is now ninety years old, but apparently still looks fairly young and attractive and desirable that Abimelech the king of Gerara sent and took her. God appeared to Abimelech in a dream telling him that he would die if he so much as touched Sarra. He defended himself before God saying that he was ignorant of the fact that she was Abraham's wife because she said he was her brother. The king asked Abraham why he had done this and Abraham explained that he feared he would be killed if it was known that Sarra was his wife, but also that he did not lie because she is indeed his sister from his father, but not from his mother.
Very soon after, Sarra conceives and gives birth to Isaac. As the child grew Sarra saw Abraham's firstborn Ishmael playing with her son, and fearing that he would inherit part of Abraham's wealth she demanded that Abraham cast out from the camp Ishmael and his mother. According to the Hammurabi code which was the legal law at the time she was allowed to do this because Agar was her servant and could get rid of her whenever she wanted. Abraham thought this was very hard of Sarra because Ishmael was his son, but God told Abraham to listen to his wife because from Isaac was the promise of redemption to be fulfilled.
The last event that we shall look at in Abraham’s life is possibly his greatest temptation. God decided to test his faith and obedience and told him to take his son Isaac and offer him in sacrifice as a burnt offering upon a certain mountain. Abraham takes the boy, a couple of young men to help and the wood for the burnt offering and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham saw the place afar off and told the young men to stay while he and Isaac went there to worship. So off they went Abraham Isaac the wood and the fire and the knife. Isaac questioned his father that they had everything except the lamb for the burnt offering. He couldn’t tell Isaac that he was to be the sacrifice and just replied that God will provide. When they came to the place Abraham built an altar and laid the wood in order, he then tied up Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. Abraham then took the knife and lifted his hand to slay Isaac. At that very moment, the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Gen. 22: 11-13)
This is seen as a pre-figuration of the Eucharistic offering and also a pre-figuration of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac because he saw that Abraham’s faith was such that without questioning he was obedient to God’s word, nothing was more important than God, not even his son. It is a kind of faith that we rarely see among Christians today. Who among us, even though we believe that there is life after death, would sacrifice their children if God asked it of us? This is a test of faith that separates the true believers from the millions who call themselves Christians yet in times of persecutions would probably bow down to idols to save there own skin. Christ said: “He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me. He that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matth. 10: 37) This is the type of faith the martyrs had who willingly endured everything and also encouraged their children to suffer for Christ and the promise of eternal life. God would not ask us to do something he himself was not willing to do; did he not allow the sacrifice of his only begotten Son?
After the event of Abraham's would be sacrifice of his son, the story jumps a few years to Sarra's death. She died at the age of 127 so Isaac would have been 37 at the time. Sara is the only woman in the Bible whose age is mentioned and this because she is the mother of the chosen people of God. Sarra is buried in a cave Abraham bought from one of the inhabitants of the place.
Next we are told how Abraham sends his servant to his homeland to find a wife for his son Isaac from his tribe. By divine intervention he comes across Rebecca, the granddaughter of Abraham's brother Nachor. After explaining how he was led by God to find Rebecca her family allow her to leave with him to become the wife of Isaac.
So with Isaac married, Abraham now over 140 years old takes a second wife whose name was Hetourah. From her Abraham had another six sons, Zombran and Jezan and Madal and Madiam and Jesboc and Soke. But all these sons did not inherit Abraham's great wealth. Everything he had he gave to Isaac. To these other sons he gave gifts and sent them away to live in the east distant from Isaac.
Abraham died at the age of 175 and was buried in the cave where he buried Sarra by his sons Isaac and Ishmael. The mention of Ishmael at the funeral shows that he did not sever his relationship with his father, but kept in touch all those years and probably more so after Sarra had died. The bible says Abraham died in a good old age full of days. From Adam to Noah we saw that the average human lifespan was over 900 years. Then before the flood God punished men by reducing their lifespan to about 120 years. The flood is a new beginning and the punishment is no more valid and Noah himself, lived 630 and then we see a gradual reduction from 600, to 500 to 400, 300 and 200 years. If Abraham's 175 years is a good old age then the average must now be about 150 years. In about 500 years when we get to Moses time this drops further. Joseph lived 110 years and Moses 120 years; then in about another 500 years King David tells us in Psalm 88 that "The days of our years are 70 and if we happen to be strong then we might reach 80 years" This has been the average lifespan for man since then until the present day.
After Abraham's burial the Bible continues with Ishmael telling us the names of his twelve sons whom God had also blessed to become nations. Some were nomads moving around from place to place living in tents while others had permanent dwellings. Their lands were to the east of Palestine, going south to the east of Egypt all the way to the Persian Gulf and north up to Assyria. Ishmael died at the age of 137 and it says he was added unto his family, meaning that in the after life he was with his ancestors and especially with his father Abraham.