Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: Just when you think it couldn't get more depraved

As we have seen, whatever the Bible may be it is not a manual for morality. Genesis 16 takes it to 11. (But don't worry, it gets worse.)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
Credit to the NIV for calling a slave a slave. For some reason they haven't been willing to do it up until now. It's interesting that in this situation Hagar becomes Abram's "wife." Later, we will meet the institution of concubinage, in which the sex slaves don't get to be called wives.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
It's obviously hard for us to get inside the head of someone in Hagar's situation. But it does make sense that if you're a slave, and you're bearing the owner's child, you get some improved status. No doubt this was true of Sally Hemmings, though Thomas Jefferson's wife had died when Jefferson started having sex with her. In any case, Abram doesn't want Sarai to be jealous so he lets her mistreat Hagar. God evidently has a plan, however, which requires Hagar to submit to an abusive slavemaster, so tough shit. Then we get another prophecy:

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
    his hand will be against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
    toward all his brothers.”
"Ishmael" means God hears.  That seems scant consolation. God has heard of your misery, and insists that you remain in it. And here we have yet another prophecy, which, like the curse upon Cain, doesn't actually happen.

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
The name of the well could be one of those stupid Jeopardy! questions. It  means "well of the living one who sees me." Later, Abe (whose name will have been changed by then for no apparent reason, to Abraham) will have a second son, Isaac, who will thenceforth be referred to as his only son. This may be true in a sense because Abraham will  eventually kick Ishmael out of the house and disown him. I know I'm getting ahead of myself here but we're trying to keep track of what it would really mean to "live biblically." If there is one thing God does not know, it's right from wrong. 

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