When Patriarchs Weren’t Very Patriarichal

My wife and I made it one of our 2012 resolutions to read through the Bible cover to cover.  We are using different reading plans though so we aren’t always on the same passages.  The path I am taking launched me ahead of her in Genesis.  Last night she asked me what I thought of Abraham and his nephew Lot.  The rote answer to this is that these were great men.  Abraham, now venerated by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike is the man who is the first recorded human being to follow God by faith (which Paul in Romans uplifts as the central concept of Christianity) Lot was also such a good man that God dispatched angels to rescue him and his family before destroying Sodom and Gamorrah.

But I knew why she was asking because days before I had read the same passages she was now reading.  These two men also have stories about them that aren’t so inspirational.

Abraham (or Abram early in the story) twice tried to pass off his wife as his sister because she is so beautiful.  Apparently this was even a half truth because Sarah was Abraham’s half sister (something I had forgotten before reading it again).  Nevertheless, presenting her as his sister was a big coverup because Sarah was, more importantly, Abraham’s wife on both occasions.  By presenting her as his sister, on each occasion, Abraham was opening the door to his wife marrying powerful men (and presumably staying with them after they consummated the new marriages).  In both cases Abraham said this out of fear and it showed a fairly shocking lack of faith (in both God and his marriage).  Even worse, Lot, when trying to protect two men that are visitors (who were actually the angels sent to save him) offered up his daughters to a mob of men who want to have sex with the angels.  The angels prevent this from happening but Lot seems like a shockingly terrible father.  No matter what he was doing to protect his guests, what kind of man would even think of such a thing?  Who are these men who we are supposed to venerate?

But maybe that in itself is the problem.  Maybe Abraham and Lot stories aren’t passed on to us for them to be upflited as moral paragons.  Maybe it is something else entirely that we need to focus upon.

The goal of the Bible is introduce us to God, not to people. God, as Jesus himself later noted, is the one who is good – not us.  It is God who gives us the power to be more and to rally other human beings to achieve moral and ethical heights we would never achieve on our own.   In the end, we will probably end up disappointed if we study the lives of individuals too closely. But if we look at the arc of what God is doing in this world, we can see what people are capable of when inspired by God.

It is hard though.  We want to think that if someone gets in sync with God and inspires their communities that they would not trip up like we do.  We especially don’t want to see them trip up worse than we do.  But our perpetual challenge is not uplifting human beings but instead our God who created them, and who created us.

If God inspired these men with their prescientific understandings of the world and surely biased views against women to achieve great things in their world, don’t we think he can do the same and maybe even more with us?  I hope so.

What has surprised you reading the Bible lately?

Until next time,

Tom

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