OrthoAnalytika

Today's Bible Study on Genesis 13 and 14 covers Abram and Lot moving apart, the War of the Nine Kings, and the mysterious encounter with Melchizedek.  While Fr. Anthony relies primarily on St. John Chrysostom, he also draws from Fr. Patrick Reardon, St. Ambrose (numerology!), and academic research (via the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Old Testemant).  Enjoy the show!

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Abraham II
Fr. Anthony Perkins

Chapter 13.  Abram solves a problem and keeps everyone safe; the Lord makes a promise.

From Fr. Patrick Reardon

When Abram left Egypt, he and his family were very wealthy, because of Pharaoh’s generosity to someone he was trying to gain as a brother-in-law. Now Abram and Lot find that the sheer size of their flocks requires them to live apart (vv. 1–7). The story of their separation (vv. 8–13) demonstrates Abram’s humility in giving his younger relative the choice of the land (v. 9), while he himself takes what is left. This humble action of Abram illustrates the meaning of the Lord’s saying that the meek shall inherit the earth. Abraham’s descendants, not Lot’s, will inherit all this land. In this story we discern the non-assertive quality of Abram’s faith. He is not only meek; he is also a peacemaker. Meekness and peacemaking are qualities of the man of faith.

Lot serves in this story as a kind of foil to Abram. The meek and peaceful Abram takes what is left, whereas Lot, obviously having failed to do a proper survey of the neighborhood, chooses to live in Sodom. This was to prove one of the worst real estate choices in history.

The present chapter closes with God’s solemn asseveration to Abram, promising him the land and the “seed” (vv. 14–18). Unfortunately the rich ambivalence of this latter noun (zera‘ in Hebrew, sperma in Greek, semen in Latin) is lost in more recent translations that substitute the politically correct but entirely prosaic “descendants” for “seed” (vv. 15–16).

Besides Sodom, two other important Canaanite cities are introduced in this chapter, Bethel (still called Luz at this period—cf. 28:19) and Hebron. Both of these cities will be extremely important in subsequent biblical history, and Abram is credited with making each of them a place of worship (vv. 4, 18).

Patrick Henry Reardon, Creation and the Patriarchal Histories: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Genesis (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2008), 70–71.

St. John Chrysostom on the trip from Egypt.

(5) Do you see the extent of God’s providence? Abram left to find relief from famine, and came back not simply enjoying relief from famine but invested with great wealth and untold reputation, his identity well-known to everyone: now the inhabitants of Canaan gained a more precise idea of the good man’s virtue by seeing this sudden transformation that had taken place—the stranger who had gone down into Egypt as a refugee and vagabond now flush with so much wealth. Notice how he had not become less resolute or devoted under the influence of great prosperity or the abundance of wealth, but rather he pressed on once more to that place where he had formerly been before going down into Egypt. “He went into the desert,” the text says, “to the place where his tent had formerly been, to the place of the altar which he had made there in the beginning. He called on the name of the Lord God.”

St. John Chrysostom on Abram’s gift to Lot.

(15) “Abram stayed in the land of Canaan,” the text goes on, “whereas Lot settled in the cities of the region, pitching his tent in Sodom. Now, the people of Sodom were very wicked sinners in God’s sight.” Do you observe Lot having regard only for the nature of the land and not considering the wickedness of the inhabitants? What good, after all, is fertility of land and abundance of produce when the inhabitants are evil in their ways? On the other hand, what harm could come from solitude and a simple lifestyle when the inhabitants are more restrained? …
Lest we prolong the sermon to great length, however, let us terminate it at this point and postpone the sequel to next time while giving you this exhortation, to imitate the patriarch by never aspiring after the first places but rather heeding blessed Paul’s words, “outdoing one another in respect,” especially our superiors, and being anxious to take second place in everything. This, in fact, means filling first place, as Christ himself said, “ ‘Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’ ” So what could parallel this, when by ceding pride of place to others we ourselves enjoy greater esteem, and by showing them special honor we bring ourselves into the highest honor? …
This is enough talking, however, to encourage you and to show you that by giving alms, meager though they be, we receive great rewards from the Lord. By this stage, you see, the sermon has gone to an exhortation in almsgiving because, as you recall, we told you that the patriarch ceded part of the country to Lot, letting him have the most beautiful area in the region while taking the worst land for himself, and so he was accorded such generosity from God that the promise made him by God surpassed all thought and imagination.

St. Ambrose goes deeper.

“He was very rich,” as is natural for one who was not lacking in any good thing, who did not covet the goods of others, because he lacked nothing of what he would have wished to regard as his own. For this is what it means to be rich: to have what is sufficient to satisfy one’s own desires. Frugality has a measure. Richness does not. Its measure is in the will of the seeker. He was rich in cattle, in silver and gold. What does this mean? I do not think that the intention is to praise the riches of this world but the righteousness of this man. Thus I understand cattle to be the bodily senses, because they are irrational. Silver represents the word and gold the mind. Abraham was indeed rich, because he was in control of his irrational senses. Indeed, he tamed them and made them docile, so that they might participate in rationality. His word was radiant with the brightness of faith, purified by the grace of spiritual discipline. His mind was full of prudence. And this is why the good mind is compared with gold, because just as gold is more precious than other metals, so the good mind is the best part among those that make up the human substance. So the richness of the wise man consists in these three things: in sensation, in word and in mind. Their order establishes a gradation, as we read also in the apostle: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”4 The mind too, then, is the greatest, because it is the mind that grinds the spiritual grain to purify the senses and the word. The character of the wise man is preserved at every point.

So it is that through the simple facts of Abraham’s life great doctrines are expounded and illustrated. Rich indeed is the one who enriches even the arguments of the philosophers, who would formulate their precepts on the basis of his conduct. It was his riches, then, that Scripture had brought to light.

Chapter 14.  War and a Mysterious Priest

Background.  Chederloamer controlled the area north and east of Canaan., ruling over at many kings/kingdoms.  Five rulers in the south, including the kings of both Sodom and Gomorrah went into rebellion against him.  Chederloamer won and took possessions, food, and slaves, including Lot (whom they may have targeted).  Note from the Divine Council worldview: there were giants on both sides.  Jewish commentators even put Nimrod (as a loyal king) and Og (losing side – messenger to Abraham), but this is pure speculation (but the names of the tribes are associated with the Nephalim).

Abram, now looking like a warlord, takes mean and “smote them.”  The king of Sodom comes out of hiding and asks for his stuff.  Again showing his meekness, Abram keeps very little, except some for the allies who came with him.

St. John Chrysostom, On the battles;

Consider in this case, I ask you, dearly beloved, the greatness of heart exemplified in the just man’s virtue. Trusting in the power of God, he was not cowed by the force of the enemy when he learned of the rout they had caused, first by falling upon all the tribes and prevailing against the Amalekites and all the others, and then by engaging the Sodomites, putting them to flight and seizing all their property (?). The reason, you see, why sacred Scripture described all this to us ahead of time, as well as all they achieved through their bravery, was that you might learn that the patriarch prevailed against them not by physical strength but through faith in God. [He] achieved all this under the protection of help from on high, not by wielding weapons and arrows and spears or by drawing bows or raising shields but with a few retainers of his own household.

Note that St. Ambrose shows that the number 318 is the number of Chist’s crusifiction (T IH in Greek).

Now for the REAL FUN: Melchizedek (14:18-20)

Most important: type of Christ and the Eucharist.

The Christian interpretation of the story of Melchizedek begins with Hebrews 7, where Melchizedek is interpreted with the help of Psalm 109(110):4 as a figure of Christ the true high priest.

Psalm 109:1-4.
The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send forth the rod of Thy power from Zion, and rule in the midst of Thine enemies.  With Thee is the beginning in the day of Thy power, in the brightness of Your holyones. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 7:1-3,15-17, 24-26 (quoted in Fr. Patrick Reardon).
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, … first being translated ‘king of righteousness,’ and then also king of Salem, meaning ‘king of peace,’ without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.… And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come … according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: ‘You are a priest forever / According to the order of Melchizedek.’ … But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens” (vv. 1–3, 15–17, 24–26).

Abraham’s encounter with the king of Sodom reveals God’s providence (CHRYSOSTOM). The offering of bread and wine, not mentioned by the author of Hebrews, is seen to increase the resemblance between Melchizedek and Christ (CYPRIAN). Melchizedek is also identified with Shem, the son of Noah, who had received the priesthood from his father (EPHREM). Melchizedek resembles Christ in that he had no family history (CHRYSOSTOM). With Melchi-zedek there first appeared the sacrifice now offered by Christians (AUGUSTINE). The fact that Abraham offered tithes to Melchizedek shows that he was humble even in victory (AMBROSE).

Mark Sheridan, ed., Genesis 12–50, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 25.

And from the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible;
The very special interpretation of Gen 14 and Ps 110 presented [in Hebrews] cannot be understood without taking into account contemporaneous Melchizedek interpretations in Jewish sources, viz. (a) Josephus, (b) Philo, and (c) Qumran. Together with (d) Hebrews they present a very composite picture of Melchizedek."

According to Josephus, Melchizedek was the first one to build the temple and to act as priest of God. In Ant. I 179181 the story of Gen 14:1820 is told with some minor embellishments. The name of Melchizedek is mentioned and again translated as righteous king’. Josephus adds that by common consent this was what he was and that for that reason Melchizedek was made priest of God. In both places Melchizedek is described as king and priest.

In Philo’s perspective Melchizedek as a king and priest does not cease to be an historical person but at the same time serves as the embodiment of the divine orthos logos and transcends history.

In the Melchizedek text from Qumran cave 4, Melchizedek serves as the deliverer prophesied in Isaiah and Psalm 82 and a divine being assisted by the host of heaven.

J. Reiling, “Melchizedek,” ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 561.

 

 

Direct download: 20231122-Abraham02.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 9:42am EST

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