Gen 11:27-20:18

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Home > The Old Testament > Genesis > Chapters 11c-25a > Chapters 11c-20 / Verses 11:27-20:18
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This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →

  • Gen 11:1: ...a land.. "The land" may be a more appropriate translation here than "a land." (See David J reference below.) Compare the similar wording of Boaz's description of Ruth in Ruth 2:11.
  • Gen 11:3: Families. The Hebrew word mishpachah is variously taken to mean clan, family, tribe, people, nation, guild, species, or kind. It occurs frequently in Gen 10 when the generations of Noah are given, as well as in Ex 6 when the genealogy of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi is given.
  • Gen 11:5: And Lot and all their substance. Compare this phrase with Gen 13:1, 5-6 where the order is reversed, "...and all that he had, and Lot with him". The change in order suggests that Lot fell out of favor with Abraham after departing Haran. (See Leibowitz reference below.)
  • Gen 13:1: And all that he had, and Lot with him. Compare this phrase with Gen 12:5 where the order is reversed, "...and Lot his bother's son and all their substance". The change in order suggests that Lot fell out of favor with Abraham sometime after departing Haran and before his return from Egypt to the Holy Land. (See Leibowitz reference below.)
  • Gen 13:5-6: Why did Lot and Abram separate? Ramban suggests that the phrase "the land was not able to bear them" (v. 6) in conjunction with the reference to flocks and herds (v. 5) implies that there was a quarrel over limited fields for grazing. The Midrash Rabbah and the Pesikta Rabbati claim the quarrel here is about deeper moral principles, such as those described in Gen 18:19. (See Liebowitz reference below for quotes; see also Gen 13:11-12.)
  • Gen 13:11-12: And Lot journeyed east. Rashi suggests that the phrase "journeyed east" (naca' and qedem) is a play on words, also meaning "departed the first" implying a departure from God. According to the Midrash, Lot did not like the moral prohibition against stealing that Abraham believed in, so Lot "pitched his tent toward Sodom", heading toward Sodom both literally and morally, knowing that it was a wicked place. (See Leibowitz reference below; see also Gen 13:5-6.)
  • Gen 13:17: Walk through the land. According to the Word Biblical Commentary (see Comments for v. 17), this phrase "probably represents a symbolic appropriation of the land. By so doing Abram would legally take possession of it" (an additional reference is given).
  • Gen 14: Melchizedek in the JST. This would be a good place for viewing and adding commentary/questions to the JST in the back of the Bible.
  • Gen 15:10: Divided. This is probably not referring to animal sacrifice, but refers to a symbolic act that seals a treaty. The symbolism is such that the contracting parties accept the covenant obligations and will accept the fate of the animals if the obligations are not fulfilled. The Lord spells out this symbolism more graphically in Jer 34:17-20. See verse 17 for the symbolism of passing between the pieces. (For more discussion, see the Nahum Sarna reference below.)
  • Gen 15:13: This verse probably refers to the children of Israel going to Egypt (Gen 46:6) and then essentially becoming slaves there (Ex 1:11).
  • Gen 15:14: That nation will I judge. This probably refers, at least in part, to the ten plagues inflicted upon Egypt (Ex 7-11).
  • Gen 15:17: Smoking furnace and burning lamp. The smoking furnace and burning lamp are likely symbolic of God (cf. Ex 3:2, 13:23, 14:24, 19:18, 24:16ff, 40:33 and 38; Num 10:34, 14:14). According to Nahum Sarna (see reference below), "It is generally believed that when the contracting parties passed between the severed pieces they thereby accepted the covenant obligations and invoked upon themselves the fate of the animals if the terms of the pact were violated" (p. 126). It is interesting here that only God (symbolically) passes between the animals. As Sarna explain, "[T]he covenant complketely lacks . . . mutuality. It is a unilateral obligation assumed by Godwithout any reciprocal responsibilities being imposed upon Abraham. The use of established legal forms of treaty-making to express such a situation is a dramatic way of conveying the ummutable nature of the divine promise" (p. 127). See also Gen 15:10 and Jer 34:17-20.
  • Gen 17:1: Almighty God. The title translated as Almighty God here is the Hebrew El Shaddai--Shaddai being used most frequently as a name for God in the book of Job (31 references).
  • Gen 17:1: Perfect. The Hebrew term "tamiym" is translated here as "perfect", but is translated as "without blemish" almost 40 times in Numbers and Leviticus. Some modern scholars translate the word as "blameless."
  • Gen 17:1: Elohim. The word translated as God in verse 3 is the Hebrew Elohim.
  • Gen 17:1: Textual criticism. Many biblical scholars consider this story to be part of the E (for Elohim) tradition of Northern Israel, where God is consistently referred to as Elohim. Later, when the J (for Jehovah) traditions are brought together with these stories, the writers tried to equate Elohim with Jehovah (see Ex 6:3).
Almighty God. The title El Shaddai (Almighty God) appears only in writings that are thought to predate the Deuteronomistic reforms starting in the time of King Josiah (see list here). It is a curious term, as shad is Hebrew for women's breasts, and may be related to the Hebrew shuwd (destruction). The use of this name for Elohim is usually either used in a context of either fertility or destruction (see especially its former connotation in connection with breasts in Gen 49:25).
The title Almighty also occurs 11 times in the Book of Mormon--which was written by the descendents of Lehi, who left Jerusalem before the Bible was fully re-edited by the Deuteronomist reformers. In the Doctrine and Covenants, the title is used 10 times, see especially D&C 20:21 where the title refers to God the Father, and D&C 20:24 where Christ is given Heavenly Father's "almighty" power.
  • Gen 17:7: Everlasting. The Hebrew word `owlam ("everlasting") seems to come from the word `alam which means "hidden." The connection seems to be that which is everlasting extends beyond one's site into the past and/or the future.
  • Gen 17:3-7: JST. The Joseph Smith Translation of Gen 17:3-7 adds a whole new dimension to God's conversation with Abraham. In the JST, God discusses the wickedness of the people and how they have turned away from the gospel ordinances--including "mine anointing" and baptism. God expressly equates baptism to a ceremonial burial here, reaffirming the symbolic nature of baptism and its relationship to the resurrection of the dead. God also states that the people had started to worship Abel as a Christ figure.
  • Gen 18:18-19:25: Why Sodom was ripe for destruction. For a discussion of when the Lord destroys the wicked, and how the destruction of Sodom illustrates and is consistent with that principle, see the discusssion at Hel 13:14.
  • Gen 19:8-10. Verses 8-10 are substantially reinterpreted in the Joseph Smith Translation: "And they said unto him, Stand back. And they were angry with him. And they said among themselves, This one man came in to sojourn among us, and he will needs now make himself to be a judge; now we will deal worse with him than with them. Wherefore they said unto the man, We will have the men, and thy daughters also; and we will do with them as seemeth us good. Now this was after the wickedness of Sodom. And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes; For God will not justify his servant in this thing; wherefore, let me plead with my brethren, this once only, that unto these men ye do nothing, that they may have peace in my house; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. And they were angry with Lot and came near to break the door, but the angels of God, which were holy men, put forth their hand and pulled Lot into the house unto them, and shut the door."
  • Gen 20:2: Abimelech. The name Abimelech seems to mean "my father is mlk." The Hebrew letters mlk can mean either be vocalized as melek or malak to mean "king," there is also an ancient deity known as Molech (or Moloch, Malik, Malku, Malki) who is strongly associated with child sacrifice, esp. of firstborns (the Anchor Bible Dictionary has a good entry on this). Given the explicit discussion of human sacrifice in Abr 1, this way of thinking about Abimilech's name suggests rich possibilities for a Mormon interpretation of Abraham's relationship with Abimelech, as well as for thinking about the possible significance of Christ as both the Firstborn sacrificed and King/Annointed One.
What I find also very thought-provoking is the whole tradition of kings in Hebrew and Nephite culture. That is, although Abimelech in Judges and Samuel in 1 Sam seem to suggest that kings come from negative, outside influences, later it seems that kings are generally a good thing--except the intriguing discussions in the Book of Mormon about the danger of unrighteous kings and subsequent motivation for . . . well, democracy.
I was thinking about this recently because Remi Brague briefly discusses in The Law of God the Hebrew separation between kings and priests. Brague talks in terms of there being a sort of tension in Hebrew tradition between "nostalgia for an earlier period, either that of nomadic life in the desert or that of "liberty" under the Judges" (p. 32), and a "messianic dream" that is "held within a tension between "the pre-political and the meta-political, if not laminated between the two" (p. 32). I worry that this view underplays the role that a yearning for the golden period under King David had in Hebrew thought (I'm thinking maybe Brueggemann discusses this a bit in chapter 2 of his Theology of the Old Testament which I'm also currently reading...).
Anyway, this relationship between kings and blood-sacrifice is a very new idea to me, but it seems interesting, if not promising.

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • Gen 15:6: Counted it to him for righteousness? What does Abraham do that is counted as righteousness? believing the Lord? if so why is this believing explicitly "counted to him for righteousness"? (See similar wording in Jacob 4:5 and Ps 106:31; also compare Paul's discussion of this passage in Rom 4)
  • Gen 15:8: Sign-seeking? Although in verse 6 we are told that Abraham "believed in the Lord," and that this was counted unto Abraham "for righteousness," here it seems Abraham is asking for some sort of sign or further evidence to support his belief regarding the inheritance of the land. Is this verse evidence that Abraham's faith is somewhat ambivalent—that is, strong regarding the promise to have seed but not strong regarding inheritance in the land? What is going on here? Cf. Isa 7:12 where it seems Ahaz may be rationalizing not asking for a sign when he should be asking for a sign as Hezekiah does in Isa 38:22, which seems to be a commendable action in that case. Nevertheless, sign-seeking seems a problem in Luke 1 where Zechariah is struck dumb, and in Alma 32 where Alma contrasts sign-seeking with faith. (See also discussion here regarding potential positive aspects to sign-seeking in the Gospels.)
  • Gen 17:1: Almighty God. Who is the Almighty God speaking to Abraham here?
  • Gen 17:1: Perfect. How does the command to be "perfect" in the Abrahamic tradition compare to the concept of perfection (being without spot) in the Mosaic tradition? Are they different? Can we see the Lord repeating this command during his earthly ministry as a restoration of a lost principle?


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  • Gen 11:27-32: Noah and Abram parallels. Cassuto notes that here we are given a genealogy similar to that found in chapter 5: "And just as in chapter v the genealogy in the tenth generation reaches Noah, the father of the new, post-diluvian humanity, so here the pedigree in the tenth generation gives us Abram-Abraham, the founder of the Israelite microcosm, which parallels the macrocosm of all mankind." (Commentary on Genesis II by Umberto Cassuto, p. 250). The description of Abraham being "chosen before [he was] born" in Abr 3:23 suggests his being born in the tenth generation like Noah may not be just coincidence.
  • Gen 15:9. Pastor Ray Stedman proposes that the heifer symbolizes patience and strength, the she-goat symbolizes nourishment or refreshment of soul, the ram symbolizes power or might in warfare, that the birds symbolize gentleness and grace, and that the age of the animals being three years old is significant because the public ministry of Jesus Christ was three years.
  • Gen 15:9. Kurt Neumiller says that, according to traditions of the time, animals that were three years old were considered fit for work. "Thus," he continues, "the symbolism is if one failed to be fit for the task laid before them they would be cut up even as the animals were. Compare this with the likening of Israel to draft animals in 1 Kgs 7:25 and Hosea 8:9."
  • Gen 15:9. Matthew Henry suggests that the animals were three years old "because then they were at their full growth and strength: God must be served with the best we have, for he is the best."
  • Gen 15:9. John Gill provides a very complete discussion of this verse. He suggests that the number three here (three years old and three animals, not including the birds) may represent the three complete centuries that Abraham's posterity will have to suffer. Gill also reports that Jewish writers have suggested the animals represent different monarchies, for example: the heifer, the Babylonian monarchy; the goat, Media (or Persia) or Crecia; and the ram, Grecia. Gill also suggests that the animals represent the following good and bad qualities of Abraham's posterity: the heifer, hard-working, long-suffering, and stubborn (cf. Hosea 4:16); the goat, vicious and lustful; the ram, strong and courageous; and the birds, innocent and harmless.
  • Gen 17:3: JST and pre-Christian baptism. The JST of these verses suggests that God makes a covenant with Abraham because others have not observed the ordinance of baptism correctly. Michael Ash has posted a discussion of B.C.E. baptisms here.


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