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Week 26 - Genesis 14-17
Our study group continues our study through Genesis. This week we studied Gen 14-17. It is difficult because the context and the many place/personal names. The summary is that Abram and his family, including his nephew Lot were living in the Canaan (eventually present day Israel/Jordan). Lot was taken captive by warring parties. Abram took 318 men and attacked, freeing Lot.
Upon Abram's return, the kings of the region (king of Sodom and the king of Salem, came to pay Abram tribute). Salem is the eventual present day Jerusalem and it's priest-king was Melchizedek. The Bible introduces Melchizedek as the "priest of God Most High".
THE MOST HIGH GOD - El Elyon
This is the first time God is called by this title. Perhaps at first reading we might wonder how it is this Melchizedek, who is apparently not from Ur as Abram had been when his God first spoke to him, how it is that Melchizedek's "most high God" is the same God as Abram's? What we might conclude from this more detailed title is that Melchizedek is introducing to Abram, a God who is the highest or perhaps even the only God -- true monotheism. Is it possible that Abram, up to this point considered his God, one of many? This is a theory put forward by the 18th century German biblical scholar, Julius Wellhausen who also is an advocate of the Documentary hypothesis, which claims the books of Moses come from 4 independent sources. (ref).
At any rate, our group read about Melchizedek in Heb 5:1-6 where Jesus' priesthood is associated not with the Aaronic Priesthood, but through Melchizedek -- as a priest forever. Further, in Heb 7:2-4 we read:
This appears as a Christophony - an appearance of Christ before He comes in the form of Jesus. If this is true, it makes the quote from Jesus of "before Abraham I AM" even more interesting. (John 8:57-58)
Our group also noted how Abram gave a "tithe" or tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, more or less instituting the "tithe" system we have today, where Christians often give over 10% of their income to the Church (rightly or wrongly).
In Genesis 15 God makes a covenant with Abram that Abram will be blessed and have a large number of descendants -- something very important in Abram's culture. But what is interesting is the way God makes this "contract" with Abram. In Gen 15:17-18 God in the form of a pillar of flame and smoke passed through the bloody cut up pieces of an offering Abram had offered, and with this God sealed the covenant/contract. This is important to note because in the region, a contract was ratified when two parties cut up an animal between them; signifying that if either broke the contract, let them also be cut up like the sacrifice. (ref1, ref2) As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word b'rit which is typically translated as contract, has nontheological meaning of "break" or "cut", thus causing confusing how a contract is a "break" or a "cut". But once we understand that people "cut contracts" between themselves, the word b'rit makes more sense.
Our group also noted that Abram didn't actually pass through the cut pieces with God, since this contract is a one way contract. Abram could not really enter into this contract with God as an equal; so while Abram slept, God alone passed through the pieces, signifying His contract with Abram. Our group cross-referenced Heb 6:13 as applicable:
We were curious as to whether this was practiced in any cultures before Abraham's. Further, we discussed how in many Western countries, circumcision is practiced without any relation to its religious origins. Some people claim it has medical benefits due to the decrease of folds where bacteria and smegma can remain. (see World Health Org/CDC ref).
This concludes our study through Gen 14-17.
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