Monday, March 11, 2013

Reboot the Pentateuch: The Eighth Saga - The Generations of Ishmael (Gen 25:12-18)

This is Part 10 of 20 in a series about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In it we will explore the context of the book, specifically its relationship to the Egyptian culture of its day.

Click here to read the entire series.


At this point, Moses has recorded seven different Sagas of ancient history, under the guidance of the Spirit. Each Saga reveals Moses' perspective as a Hebrew being freed from Egypt's oppresive rule, and would have been read as such by its first readers. We have learned through Genesis how the true creation history differs from that taught by the Egyptian priests; we have learned how man spread throughout the world; we have learned why God sent the major ancient Flood; and we have learned how Abram was able to mediate a covenant with God which promised the Hebrews right to the Canaanite lands.

After that massive tome of Abraham's life last week, we enter a relatively short and painless study today: the generations of Ishmael.

Recall that Ishmael was the bastard son of Abraham, having been born when Abraham and Sarah tried to "force" God's prophesy to come true. Ishmael is half-Egyptian (on his mother Hagar's side) and half Mesopotamian (on Abraham's side).

We saw Ishmael and his mother expelled from the family of Abraham last week, in no small part due to Sarah's desire to ensure that the inheritance of Abraham's vast wealth did not go to Ishmael instead. Ishmael then married an Egyptian woman, and gave birth to twelve children.

These twelve children would go on to father the tribes of Arabia, and spread out from Assyria to Egypt. Jewish sources are split: some believe that Ishmael is the father of all Arab tribes in the Middle East, while others believe that Abraham's second wife, Keturah, was the mother of most Arabic tribes. Muslims almost universally claim Ishmael as their ancestor, and the Mohammad was quite clear on this as well.

Further confusing the issue is that some ancient rabbis stated that Hagar was the daughter of the Pharaoh, while others say that after Sarah's death Hagar changed her name to Keturah and married Abraham. The Muslims see Ishmael as the true heir of Abraham, while the Jews do not.

Paul uses the incident in the book of Galatians as an analogy: he compares Hagar to the Jewish tradition and Mosaic Law, while comparing Isaac to the covenant of grace with Jesus. In doing so he argues that Isaac was the "son of the promise" of God, while Ishmael was the son of slavery (since his mother was a servant). Using this analogy, he compares this to the slavery of the Law as opposed to the promised freedom of grace.

Nothing else much to say here: thus ends the eighth Saga of Genesis.