Abraham Sarah Hagar
image credit: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Genesis 15-17
(2081-2067 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

O. (15:5): I would love to be a fly on the wall at this conversation.  I can’t imagine the Lord telling me that I am the father of all of a great nation.  How incredible that must have felt to be handed that kind of gift.  If we all trust in God, we can feel that way too.

Q. (15:9): You talked about sacrifices in Day 4’s readings, but I still don’t get it.  Killing animals seems so violent.  I just don’t understand why such violence would be pleasing.  Maybe it’s something for me not to understand?  Also, I see the three’s in this passage — a goat, a ram and a heifer, all 3 years old.

A. I’m afraid there’s not much I can do to help you address the violent aspects of the usage of animal sacrifices; this was simply the world that they lived in, and, frankly, our entire world lived in until a couple of generations ago.  Today, we are mostly spared from the sight of animal slaughter, but it is a reality in our continued survival, vegetarian and vegan company excluded.  Let’s stick to this passage for the moment, and I will address the reasons for the sacrifice system when that comes up in Leviticus.  There are particular circumstances going on in Genesis 15 that I want to make sure we understand.

This ceremony that takes place between Abram and God in this passage is unique as it comes to sacrifices.  The animals are not sacrificed to cover sin, but rather to confirm a covenant.  As I understand it, in the ancient Middle East, a king would hold a covenant ceremony with a servant or vassal who agreed to serve the king (God of course is the King, and Abram the vassal).  The king and servant would conduct a ceremony in which animals were sawed in half (violent, I know, but it was the ritual) and the participating parties would walk between the two halves (as God does in verse 17 with the movement of the torch) to symbolize the establishment of the covenant relationship.  The sawed animals represented the punishment is either party broke the covenant, though not in a literal way.  The parties basically said, “may I be sawed in half like these animals if I violate this sacred relationship.”

God is using this ceremony to formalize the relationship between Himself and Abram in a way that Abram (and the subsequent readers) would clearly understand.  Though it seems foreign and violent to us, it would have been an especially significant experience to Abram and the ancient Jews who read these words.

I will try to keep addressing the sacrifice system as it comes up, but frankly, the Bible does not shy away from the violence (of many sorts) that takes place on its pages.

O. (15:13-16): The Lord tells of the Israelites saga.  There’s so much back-and-forth references in the Bible that it’s foolproof.  I am surprised that people still try to dispute it!

Q. (16:12): If the Lord or anyone told me that I was going to have a child wilder than a donkey, I would be a little upset.  And, God tells Hagar to go back to live with Sarai who was treating her poorly.  Hagar does not seem to be troubled with any of this.  God said that he had heard her cries, so maybe she was a believer and trusted God?

A. While it seems harsh (a common theme so far I guess), the story of Hagar is actually one of my favorites from the OT.  God made His promises to Abraham and Sarah, and a slave like Hagar could be excused for thinking that her actions (and her child) did not matter to God.  But she is wrong!  God sees her, as she points out, and cares greatly for her needs, as well as the needs of her son.  We will see more of this story in a few chapters, because it happens again.

Q. (17:12-14): Circumcision is something I totally don’t understand.  It is such a violent act for a newborn boy.  And, if it’s the mark of the everlasting covenant, no one can visibly see it unless they are naked.  So, what is the purpose?  Is this still one of God’s requirements today?

A. Regarding the current requirement of circumcision: yes, pious Jews will tell you that circumcising a male child on the eighth day is one of their most sacred duties as a new parent: the circumcision is the ritual for a child becoming “part of the family”.  And just FYI, it is part of pious Muslim ritual as well, and called “Khitan”.  Some Christians choose to participate, but there is disagreement about the requirement.  Christians who argue that we are no longer under the Law because of Jesus may still choose to do so in order to honor God.

Circumcision was (and frankly still is) a unique way of marking a person as a follower of God — and it would have been completely unique in the ancient world.  This gets at a larger theme of the first five books of the OT: that God is requiring that His chosen people act in various ways to show that they are set apart from the world (and other tribes) around them.  I won’t try to defend the violence of the act (like a broken record, I guess that would be the title for our Day 5 discussion), but there are Jews, Muslims, and Christians who to this day see circumcision as bringing their children into covenant relationship with God — something that can literally have eternal consequences.

For further study: 
— More on God’s covenant with Abram/Abraham: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-covenant-of-abraham, https://www.thenivbible.com/blog/abrahamic-covenant-with-god/
— Lessons from the account of Hagar: https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/4-powerful-lessons-from-the-life-of-hagar.html

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Tomorrow’s reading: Genesis 18:1-21:7