Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stars (and Smoke) In His Eyes

OK, so now in Genesis 15 Abram is getting a bit antzy about God’s promise to give him an heir. His wife, Sarai, is still barren and he is already looking at having to will his estate to one of his servants - Eliezer of Damascus.
So God reassures him again and says he will have as many offspring as there are stars in the sky.
Then Abram wants reassurances about all the land that God keeps telling him will be his. To this, God responds by telling Abram to make a very specific animal sacrifice to him:

“Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

I can’t help but feel repelled by all these references to animal sacrifices. By today’s standards, such things are considered barbaric. It is hard to believe that God would have ever wanted such killings done in his honor.
It is amusing, too, to note that immediately after Noah got off the ark in Genesis 8, he built an alter and sacrificed “clean animals” as burnt offerings to God. Makes you wonder which animals got sacrificed. The unicorns? The do-do birds?
Then it goes on to say that God “smelled the pleasing aroma” and that is when he decided to never flood the earth again. Pleasing aroma!?! Yuck!! I love barbecue as much as anyone, but I can’t imagine for a moment that burnt animal flesh could ever be described as having a pleasing aroma.
Slavery, polygamy, burnt offerings and animal sacrifices.... None of these customs and practices which were common place back then would be tolerated today. We have cast all of them aside. And yet we continue to cling to other ancient misconceptions and beliefs which should also have been cast aside at the same time, such as the subjugation of women, the condemnation of homosexuals, capital punishment, corporal punishment “spare the rod...” etc.
But enough editorial comment for now... Back to the story!
Once Abram slaughters the animals, cuts them in half and sets them on fire - and driving away the vultures all the while - he falls into a deep sleep and then a thick and dreadful darkness comes over him. During this deep sleep, God gives Abram a glimpse of the future which won’t be all rosy for his descendants. Instead, they will be strangers in a land that is not their own and will be mistreated and enslaved for 400 years.
Woah! 400 years of enslavement!! What happened to becoming the father of a great nation and being the ruler over all the land that he sees? What’s up with that? Why is God first promising Abram all these great things and then saying, Oh, by the way, your people will be mistreated and abused for multiple generations?
But not to worry, God says, because at the end of those 400 years he will punish those who enslaved them and they will come out with great possessions.
So clearly this story is being written in hindsight by people who have already lived through 400 years of misery. It would be kind of like us telling our history by saying that God came down to Thomas Jefferson and told him he would be the father of a great nation, but that we would first have to go through a Civil War, Two World Wars and a Great Depression.

1 comment:

  1. Animal sacrifice was humility before God, an acknowldegement that He is the giver of all good things. Thus, the "first fruits", the best of the produce, both vegetable and animal, were offered back to Him first in recognition of God's blessings. (One interpretation of Cain/Abel you touched on previously is that Abel offered his firstfruits, his best to God, while Cain offered a sacrifice of his leftovers, showing that he did not place God first in his life).

    More importantly, animal sacrifice prefigured the ultimate, perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God Himself, on the cross. See Hebrews chapter 10