Chris Juby

Every chapter of the Bible in 140 characters or less.

I summarised the Bible on Twitter between Aug 2010 and Nov 2013 - one tweet per chapter, one chapter per day.

The @biblesummary account peaked at over 30,000 followers, and was featured in the news all over the world.

Find out about the project here, or feel free to get in contact.

Mysterious Encounters

Genesis has a series of rather mysterious meetings between key characters and... well, that's exactly the question.

Genesis 18 and 19

We start with the most complicated: Genesis 18 and 19 and Abraham's 'three visitors'. Stay with me here, and particularly notice the words used to describe who is speaking and acting...

The chapter is introduced with "the Lord appeared to Abraham". Abraham then "saw three men standing near him" and addresses the men as "my lord". They ask where Sarah is, then "one [of the men]" says that Sarah will have a son when he returns in a year's time. The Lord asks Abraham why Sarah laughed and then says, using exactly the same words as the man, "I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah will have a son."

The "men" set out for Sodom with Abraham. The Lord tells Abraham what he is thinking about Sodom. Next, "the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord" and Abraham pleads with the Lord for the city. At the end of the chapter "the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place."

Chapter 19 begins with "the two angels" arriving in Sodom, who the men of Sodom descirbe as "men". The angels tell him that "we are about to destroy this place", then Lot tells his relatives that "the Lord is about to destroy the city". The angels are descibed as "men" when they lead Lot's family out of Sodom and finally "the Lord" destroys the cities.

Mysterious, don't you agree? The implication seems to be that Abraham's three visitors are themselves the Lord and the two angels. It's fascinating to try to follow the agency in the descriptions.

Genesis 22

Next comes Genesis 22, where God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. The text uses the word "God" all the way up to the point when Abraham is holding the knife, then "the angel of the Lord" stops him. "The angel of the Lord" says to him "I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me", and then blesses him, beginning "By myself I have sworn, says the Lord".

This is certainly not as mysterious as Genesis 18 and 19 but it's still interesting to note how at first God speaks directly to Abraham but later it's the angel of Lord speaking for him.

Genesis 32

Finally there's Genesis 32, where Jacob wrestles the person who first renames him 'Israel'. The text introduces this person as a 'man', but Jacob afterwards says that he has 'seen God face-to-face'. The plot thickens further in Hosea, who says that Jacob 'struggled with an angel' (Hosea 12).

I'm not trying to make a point here, other than to notice the ambiguity in the language used and to wonder aloud what's going on. It made it hard to condense these chapters to tweet-length as I had to decide whether to preserve the different voices, or interpret them as the same character. I wonder if there's anything interesting going on in the Hebrew here. I shall have to talk about it with persons more learned than myself...

Tags: themes

Comments

biblesummary

And I didn't even mention Melchizedek!

Philippe Lestang

Hi!
Thanks for your "Bible summaries".
It seems to me that, in the First Testament, "The angel of God" and "God" is the same thing: God appears through an angel.
But I agree that the Mamre episode is specially tricky.

Post a comment

or use the form below...