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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Genesis - chapters 10-19

Lesson 5: Nations and Peoples (Genesis 10-19)

What if… faith and science agree on how we lived in ancient times?

The lists in Genesis 10 contain 70 names of nations and people (or peoples). It reads like a relational list, not complete list of peoples. And 70 may well be a symbolic number—7 for God’s plan times 10 for something countable for man. (There are lots of sevens in the Bible, and lots of tens; most significantly God resting on the seventh day, and ten commandments.)

Note, the ages of parents become more “normal” over time, possibly representing increased numeracy; possibly a change in lifestyle and health; or possibly more attention paid to the distinction between father, grandfather, tribal elder, etc., reflecting more words as the language develops.

The Tower of Babel:
What if… humanity really did spread out from the Fertile Crescent?
Read Genesis 11:1-9: Genesis 10 told of Noah’s descendants spreading throughout the known world. In chapter 11, the Tower of Babel gives another version of how nations separated. The Biblical account of buildings, cities, towers, languages and division fits the historical record. Mankind by this time would be moving outwards from the Fertile Crescent into the “whole” earth. And the name Babel comes from “balal,” meaning confused.

Ur of the Chaldeans:
What if… Abraham wasn’t the first one called by God?
Read Genesis 11:27-32. When Abram is told to leave the land of his ancestors in Genesis 12:1, that’s not actually where he’s living (unless Haran is really close to Ur.) Maybe his father Terah received the same calling first and only went half the way. Note, Haran (which means “caravan” in Akkadian) became an important trading city later, on the road from Nineveh

Ur of the Chaldeans may be used to distinguish western Ur (closer to Haran) from southern Ur. This is one of the rare places in the Bible where a name (Chaldeans) is not contemporary with the storyline, but the addition could have been made by later editors for clarity. The fact that it’s rare supports the belief that the original Bible stories are historical.

Salem:
What if… Salem is Jerusalem?
Read Genesis 14:17-20. The names, Valley of the Kings and Salem, suggest Jerusalem – a city on a hill, easily fortified, and independent, separate from the war.

What if… Bread and wine were the normal type of food?
It was normal in those days for city kings to give food and drink to passing armies to avoid being attacked – more evidence of the Bible’s cultural and historical relevance. (And when Lot offers food and lodging to the visitors in Sodom, he is also doing what his city leaders should have done.)

What if… believing in one God really wasn’t so strange?
It is not unlikely that a priest would also be a king, spiritual and earthly authority being combined. Melchizedek clearly worshipped only one God, so mono-theism was not dead, even though other gods were being worshipped round about. Abram wasn’t the only one worshipping the one true God, but he was the chosen one. Still, Melchizedek is remembered throughout the Bible, even though he’s not from the chosen line. It’s worth remembering God can choose, and use, those who don’t seem to belong. So perhaps we should be more careful defining who we think might be His friends or enemies.

Sodom and Gomorrah:
What if… archeology could tell us where Sodom and Gomorrah were?
Read Genesis 12:1-11. This suggests that the plain is at the South end of Dead Sea. Other texts besides the Bible mention the destruction there (Philo, De Abrahamo) and say the results were still visible. Early Bronze Age (3150-2200BC) remains found on the Eastern shore revealed cities and even buildings where devastating fires started on the roofs! Read Genesis 14:10. Asphalt, petroleum and natural gas deposits are found in the region, and unusual salt formations.

What if… history could tell us about the the kings of the plain?
Read Genesis 14:1-9. The political situation at the time, and the names of people and places, are all appropriate if this takes place during the Bronze Age. The routes taken by the armies are appropriate too, and the behavior of Melchisedek.

What if… God removes protection from a nation?
Read Genesis 19:9. Some Jewish traditions say the people gradually became more sinful as God removed his spiritual protection. It raises an interesting question: Did God zap the cities because of their sin, or did he let them become so sinful as a warning, only destroying them when they didn’t listen.

Perhaps if we feel society is getting more sinful, we should ask ourselves, at least once in a while, if there’s some underlying cause in our own behavior for God’s diminished protection. Maybe we’re the problem, and those we call sinners are the sign.

What if… Sodom and Gomorrah really were destroyed by fire?
Remember the tar-pits? The area south of the Dead Sea was unstable. Earthquakes and eruptions could have thrown huge smoldering rocks into the air, raining them down on the towns. Would such a “natural” cause invalidate the Bible story of God’s punishing the cities? In fact, it was precisely the miracles of nature—earth’s action at the time of God’s choosing—that drew people to see God’s hand, since they already had magicians doing everyday “magic.” Even in New Testament times, Jesus’ control over nature was what drew the most awe from his disciples.

What if… there really are pillars of salt that look like people?
Read Genesis 19:15-26. Imagine a child asking “What happened to Mummy?” and going back later to look. Maybe she turned instantly into salt, or maybe she was overrun by falling minerals and all that was left afterwards was a salt pillar.

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