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altWhile Books Five and Seven are brief, Book Six makes up for it with volumes of material.  While Books Five and Seven contain no poetic section, Book Six  makes up for it with three poetic sections.  The title of Book Six is “Now these are the generations of Terah” (Gen 11:27), which (as is usually the case) means it is about Terah’s descendants.  In particular it is about Terah’s son Abram (renamed Abraham by God).

There are two parallel halves to the book.  In the first half, the pattern of the text is prologue (Gen 11:27b-32), poetry (Gen 12:1-3), narrative (Gen 12:4-22:14), poetry (Gen 22:15-18), and epilogue (Gen 22:19-23:20).  This half of the book is a chiasm: prologue answered by epilogue, poetry answered by poetry, and the narrative itself forming a chiasm within this.  Also the prologue is a chiasm.  As one begins to see when unpacking this text, it is quite structurally elaborate.  And the purpose of this half of the book is to focus on Abraham who is clearly superior to Noah and Adam.  Book One tells us that Adam was created perfectly righteous and that he fell.  Book Three tells us that Noah was created perfectly righteous and that he fell.  Noah was celebrated in the ANE by many peoples.  Abraham, however, passes the probationary test of sacrificing Isaac.  Abraham lived by faith.

The second half of the book focuses on Terah’s greatgranddaughter (through Nahor and Bethuel) Rebekah.  She too came in the fullness of time as the epilogue for the first half of the book tells us Nahor’s eight children and grandson Aram and then mentions that Bethuel fathered Rebekah for number ten.  The narrative of the second half of the book (Gen 24:1-59) follows what Waltke would call an alternating structure rather than a chiasm or concentric structure.  It thematically moves A, B, C, A’, B’, C’.  It is followed, as we should expect, by poetry (Gen 24:60) and an epilogue (Gen 24:61-25:11).

We can begin by looking at the three sections of poetry in Book Six, since this is the most important part in many respects.  The first poem says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation [1], and I will bless you [2] and make your name great [3], so that you will be a blessing [4].  I will bless those who bless you [5], and him who dishonors you I will curse [6], and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed [7]” (Gen 12:1-3).  This seven-fold blessing is a thoroughly complete blessing.  And it is worth observing that it is pronounced before Abram did anything solely because of God’s sovereign choice.

The second and third poems, falling at the same point in the structure of these halves, both share a similar phrase.  The second poem says, “By myself I have sworn, declares YHWH, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.  And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:16-18, emphasis added).  The third poem in the parallel position to poem two says, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” (Gen 24:60, emphasis added).  Both poems are poems of blessing.  Both stress great numbers of descendants and that the one descendant (the heir of the promise — the singular seed, the Messiah to come) will possess the gate of those who hate him.  He will have victory.  It should go without saying for the Christian that all three blessing poems come to fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the reason that in Abraham all of the families, clans, and nations of the earth will be blessed.

Next we will look at the prologue and epilogues the same way.  The prologue (Gen 11:27-32) through the selective use of vocabulary reveals a chiastic pattern.  The genealogical pattern begins in Gen 11:27 and ends in Gen 11:32, Haran (a person, son of Terah) died in Ur of the Chaldeans in Gen 11:28 and Terah left Ur of the Chaldeans for Haran (a place) in Gen 11:31b, Abram and Nahor took wives in Gen 11:29 and Terah took Abram, Lot, and Sarai in Gen 11:31a, and at the center is “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Gen 11:30).  This, of course is in tension with the blessing that follows and even when she had a son Isaac he did not yet have a wife in order to have a son of his own yet.

The epilogue for the first half then tells us about Abraham’s relocation to Beersheba and resumes the genealogical narrative by telling us about Nahor’s ten descendants by Milcah and four descendants by his concubine Reumah (for a total of fourteen descendants mentioned here, we find out for example that Rebekah had a brother named Laban so this is fourteen artificially contrived to show order and the tenth is Rebekah, which is contrived by adding that Kemuel [3] is the father of Aram [4]).  It also reports a death, this time it is Sarah.

The first epilogue (Gen 22:19-23:20) follows the following thematic pattern: they arose and went (to Beersheba), genealogy (of Nahor) featuring the number ten, report of a death and burial (Sarah).  Interestingly the second epilogue (Gen 24:61-25:11) follows the same thematic pattern: for they arose and went it says, “Then Rebekah and her young women arose and rode on the camels and followed the man.  Thus the servant took Rebekah and went his way” (it also reports that this comforted Isaac given his mother’s death further tying this text to the other epilogue), there is a genealogy featuring the number ten (Abraham’s descendants through his concubine Keturah, with five children or grandchildren of Jokshan and five children of Midian…Keturah had six children rather than four or seven), report of a death and burial (this time Abraham himself).  After the burial the epilogue reports that God blessed Isaac and Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.  Isaac is the heir of the promise, he is the seed/offspring of the woman.  This book from beginning to end is about Terah’s descendants but Abraham in particular.

altWhile the prologue, poetry, narrative, poetry, epilogue of the first half of the book forms a chiasm with the narrative at the center, the narrative also continues this chiasmic pattern.  It begins by telling us about Abram building altars at the oak of Moreh at Shechem and at Bethel (Gen 12:4-9).  And the narrative section ends with Abraham building an altar to sacrifice Isaac upon (Gen 21:1-22:14, in particular see Gen 22:9).  The first section deals with the promise of land and the last with the promise of the seed.

The second story and the second-to-last story have to do with Sarai/Sarah the sister/wife of Abram/Abraham and the same six things happen in order (Gen 12:10-20 and 20:1-18).  1. There is a famine, so Abram/Abraham sojourned elsewhere (Egypt and Gerar) 2. Abram/Abraham says Sarai/Sarah is his sister.  3. The Pharaoh/king took Sarai/Sarah.  4. YHWH confronts the Pharaoh/king 5. Pharoah/king confronts Abram/Abraham.  And the sixth thing is the conclusion of the episode.  The second time this happens Abraham tells us that Sarai/Sarah is indeed his sister as they share Terah as their father but have different mothers (Gen 20:12).  This book is truly about the descendants of Terah.

The third story and the third-to-last story are about Abram/Abraham rescuing his nephew Lot (Gen 13:1-18 and 19:1-38).  The first time this happens Lot settles in Sodom and separates himself from the righteous Abraham.  The second time this happens lot is fleeing from Sodom for Zoar because the two angels found him to be a righteous man but the story also relates his fall (like Adam and Noah before him).  The first time is a chiasmic pattern beginning with Abram going to the place where he had built an altar “at the first” and ending with Abram settling by the oaks of Mamre at Hebron and building an altar.  The second thing in this chiasm is Abram telling Lot, “Is not the whole land before you?” (Gen 13:9) and YHWH telling Abram that the whole land that he can see will be the possession of Abram and his seed/offspring.  And the center of the chiasm is Lot separating from Abraham and settling at Sodom.  The text tells us, “Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against YHWH” (Gen 13:13).  This is a fall for Lot.  The second time Lot shows hospitality to the two angels and protects them from the men of Sodom.  Abraham’s prayer of intercession is remembered (Gen 19:29) and the angels spare the righteous man Lot (but not the city because ten righteous men are not found).  But Lot experiences another fall.  The second time his two daughters got him drunk (like Noah was drunk) and slept with him producing the Moabites and Ammonites.  Thus Noah and Lot are unfavorably compared to Abraham in Genesis but while Noah is the heir of the promise the Moabites and Ammonites will not inherit the promise.

The fourth and the fourth-to-last stories concern Abraham fulfilling his kingly and prophetic offices (Gen 14:1-24 and 18:16-33).  In both stories Abram/Abraham intercedes for Sodom and Lot.  The first time like a king Abram intercedes militarily to free Lot who has been taken captive.  Abraham gives a tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek (“king of righteousness”), king of Salem and priest of God Most High.  Abraham’s victory was a victory on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The second time Abraham interceded as a prophet for Sodom and Lot and asked God to spare the city of Sodom if it meant sweeping away the righteous with the wicked.  At the end, YHWH promises to spare them if ten righteous persons are found.  Prayer of intercession is the role of the prophet.  And Abram knows that Lot lives at Sodom and is interceding on his behalf.

At the center of this chiasmic or concentric pattern is the covenant with Abram/Abraham (Gen 15:1-16:16 and 17:1-18:15).  Since this is the center/focus of the chiasm we will need to slow down here and be more observant.

It has been argued that the first of these two stories can be divided into three parts.  The first two have an alternating structure and the third part has a chiastic structure.  The first part (Gen 15:1-21) uses vocabulary and themes for the alternating structure stressing the promise of a seed (15:1-6) and then the promise of the land (Gen 15:7-21).  YHWH says, “I am your shield” to Abram (Gen 15:1) and then He says to Abram, “I am YHWH who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give to you this land to possess” (Gen 15:7).  Then Abram replies using “O Lord YHWH” (Gen 15:2-3 and 15:8).  And thirdly, YHWH gives Abraham a sign — first the stars for the number of seed/offspring (Gen 15:4-6) and then “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” of the sacrifice for the land (Gen 15:9-21).  The most developed is the third third with this smoking fire pot and flaming torch representing YHWH.  He was swearing an oath that Abram’s seed would inherit the land or God would be torn apart like these animals (a picture of what would happen with the death of Jesus Christ on the cross).  Normally during covenant making the vassal and not the sovereign would walk through the pieces to indicate what would come if they failed to keep covenant.  One of the most fascinating comments of this text prophesying the sojourn of Israel in Egypt is “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation [about four hundred years according to verse 13], for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen 15:16).  God allows sin to reach a climax before judgment comes (counting even the sins of previous generations that have gone on) to the Canaanites just as he did with the flood (Book Two describes sin reaching climax and mentions that it will be 120 years before the flood).  Another pattern to notice is the number of nations mentioned in verses 19-21 is ten.  The land will fully be for Abraham’s seed.

The second part of the first story also follows an alternating structure (Gen 16:1-6).  It begins with Sarai telling Abram to obtain children by her Egyptian servant Hagar (16:1-2) and then Sarai is speaking quite differently in the parallel position when she tells Abram “may the wrong done to me be on you!” (Gen 16:5).  The second position has to do with Abram obeying Sarai: “And Abram listened to the voice of [an idiom meaning obeyed] Sarai” (Gen 16:2c) and “Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please” (Gen 16:6).  The third and fourth positions have to do with Sarai giving Hagar to Abram as a wife (Gen 16:3) and Hagar conceiving and looking with contempt on Sarai (Gen 16:4) and Sarai dealing harshly with Hagar (Gen 16:6b) and Hagar fleeing (Gen 16:6c).  We know that things are going to go wrong as soon as Abram takes a second wife and this mistake will be a thorn in the side of Israel.

The third part of the first story follows a chiasmic structure (Gen 16:7-16) with the angel of YHWH’s blessings of Hagar at the center.  The first blessing is one of multiplication of offspring: “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Gen 16:10) and the second blessing is of one seed in particular — her son Ishmael: “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son.  You shall call his name Ishmael, because YHWH has listened to your affliction.  He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen 16:11-12).  Indeed, he will be a thorn in the side of Israel.  The third part of the first story begins and ends mentioning water — a “spring of water” (Gen 16:7) and a well (Gen 16:14-16).  In the second position is Hagar’s interaction with the angel of YHWH.  YHWH questions her and rebukes her (Gen 16:8-9), like we have seen repeatedly in Genesis, and she acknowledges that YHWH looks after her (Gen 16:13).

In the parallel position to Gen 15:1-16:16 at the center of the largest chiasm is Gen 17:1-18:15.  The usual strategy for explaining Genesis (usually with the objective of casting doubt on the text’s truth) is to explain recapitulation in the text as having arisen from different sources, different titles for God reflect different sources, two stories about Abraham telling kings that his wife is his sister as reflecting different sources, etc.  The solution has always been — this just reflects different sources.  The approach of this commentary I have been doing has been to see how regardless of the sources this work is a well crafted and intentional whole as we now have it.  If you were reading this part of Genesis and came upon this account of establishing the covenant your first thought might be — does this arise from a different source because I remember something similar already took place.  So instead of this approach, I want you to see that the establishment of the covenant is at the center of this narrative and indeed this half of the book.  We saw this especially with the first part of Genesis 15:1-21 (with Gen 16:1-16) and now we will see this with especially the first part of Genesis 17 (with Gen 18:1-15).

On Genesis 17: YHWH appears to the 99 year old Abram, tells him to “walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1, calling to mind the description of Enoch and Noah) and renames him Abraham: “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17:5).  And the blessing is that God will make him into nations and that kings will come from him (Gen 17:6).  This is an alternating structure with Gen 17:1-8 paralleling Gen 17:15-22.  In the parallel portion God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name” (Gen 17:15) and it is also said that “she shall become nations [and] kings of peoples shall come from her” (Gen 17:16).  Both texts talk about an everlasting covenant God is making with Abraham.  Thus from Genesis 17:1ff, Abram is now Abraham and Sarai is now Sarah which is why in comparing every portion of the chiasm we have been saying Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah because the first half of this half of the book goes by the old name and the second half of this half of the book goes by the new name.  And both Genesis 15-16 and 17 deal with the place of Ishmael.  Here God reveals to Abraham that Ishmael will father twelve princes and is blessed and will multiply greatly (Gen 17:20).  But the covenant will be with Isaac.

The second part of the alternating structure of Gen 17 deals with the cutting of circumcision (Gen 17:9-14 and 17:23-27).  The sign of the covenant (Gen 17:11) is circumcision and the instructions concerning it are in Gen 17:9-14) and the fulfillment of those instructions for Abraham’s household are described in Gen 17:23-27.  Abraham and Ishmael and the male servants and any other males in the household were circumcised.

Gen 18 is somewhat parallel in content to Gen 17.  Abraham laughs in Gen 17 and Sarah in Gen 18.  The birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah is prophesied by YHWH in both.  And Abraham showed great hospitality to YHWH and the two angels who met him at the altar Abraham made at the oaks of Mamre (cf. Gen 13:18 and 18:1).

Before we leave this half of the book I want to observe one more difference (besides the names Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah) between everything on the upward swing of the chiasm (Gen 11:27b-16:16) and everything on the downward swing of the chiasm (Gen 17:1-23:20).  The first half is unconditional.  And the second half was conditional.  The sevenfold poetic blessing of Abram (Gen 12:1-3) was unconditional and 100% the work of God.  The second poetic blessing of Abraham (Gen 22:16-18) was based on Abraham’s work (his 100%) passing the probationary test “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son” (Gen 22:16) and “because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:18).  This is also very pronounced in the central sections of the chiasm on the covenant.  In Gen 15 the covenant is unconditional and received by faith (justification by faith): “And [Abram] believed YHWH, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).  Moreover, the sign of the covenant in Gen 15 is the stars and the smoking fire & flaming torch that passed through the pieces of the sacrifices.  This is the 100% God.  In Gen 17 the covenant is conditional (on keeping covenant, cf. Gen 17:14) Abram is told to “walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1) and the sign of the covenant is circumcision.  This is the 100% Abraham.  Then we need to take this to Jesus.  The unconditional covenant with Abraham continues (100% God).  Jesus passed the test and satisfied the terms of the conditional new covenant and established it (100% Jesus).  We then continue to keep the terms of the new covenant (He kept perfectly for us) with the sign of baptism (100% the Spirit leading us to walk in the steps God prepared beforehand).

All that is left to examine then is the narrative for the second half of Book Six (Gen 24:1-59) which follows an alternating pattern.  An alternating pattern should almost be expected simply because the servant has to repeat the story for Abraham’s kinsmen of Nahor.  In the first position it is said that Abraham has been blessed by YHWH and the servant asks what should he do if the woman he is seeking for Isaac’s wife is not willing to come back with him (Gen 24:1-10).  In the parallel place, the servant tells Laban and Bethuel that YHWH has blessed Abraham and that he asked Abraham what to do if the woman was not willing to return with him.  The only difference is that the servant wisely did not relate that Abraham forbid him to take Isaac back there to get his bride.  Most important here is that Isaac’s bride cannot be a Canaanite under the curse.

In the second position we see the servant’s prayer spoken and fulfilled (Gen 24:11-27) and then retold (Gen 24:42-49).  The only substantive thing not repeated the second time is the comment: “The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known” (Gen 24:16).  He prayed that God would reveal to Him the ideal wife for Isaac and God did.  This is in stark contrast with Jacob who later went for Rachel because she “was beautiful in form and appearance” (Gen 29:17) but without a test of her hospitality.  And we will see from the third position that Laban never changed — he liked money and riches — Abraham was wise not to allow Isaac to go to his kinsmen.

In the third position we see expensive gifts shown to Laban and that the servant is in a hurry and not to be delayed (Gen 24:28-33 and 24:50-59).  The expensive gifts Laban sees the first time are the gold ring weighing half a shekel and the two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels (Gen 24:22 and 30).  And the servant was in a hurry to speak before sitting down to eat (Gen 24:33).  The expensive gifts Laban sees the second time are, “The servant brought out jewelry of silver and gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah.  He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments” (Gen 24:53).  And the servant was in a hurry to leave with Rebekah to return to Abraham but her brother Laban and mother wanted to delay for at least ten days (Gen 24:55-58).

At the center of this alternating pattern was God showing Rebekah to be the one for Isaac.

This has been the longest book thus far in Genesis but hopefully this will seeing connections you never noticed before and lead you to appreciate it even more.  Like the books before it, this is history told artistically and we need to see the beauty of the art in order to better interpret and understand the history of salvation.

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