You may read an introduction to Genesis and find an outline, here.
A prayer to use before reading from Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) a prominent theologian of the medieval period.
II. The Story of Abraham 12:1-25:18
A. 12:1-20 Abraham’s call and his response
B. 13:1-14:24 Abraham, Lot, and Melchizedek:
13:1-18: Abram and Lot: notice how Abram’s story roughly resembles Israel’s story- leaving Egypt, traveling in stages into the land and the promises of land and posterity. Historically, nomadic people quarreled over pasture and water and it was not uncommon for families to separate. What does the method of separation say about Abram and about Lot? Lot chose the land that was “well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt”. But this choice has it’s problems as the reader knows. Lot settles near Sodom, Abram builds an alter to the Lord. Did separation from Abram separate Lot from the blessing? Or did Lot by his choices cause the separation from the blessing? Or can we know?
14:1-24 Abram rescues Lot; Abram and Melchizedek: We don’t know who all these people were and where all these places were. This chapter seems to have come from several sources, uses unique or rare words and has been difficult for scholars to locate historically. The presentation of Abram as a military leader/hero doesn’t fit well with the rest of the stories about Abram/Abraham that we have. But here, as earlier, the life of Abram mirrors the early history of Israel, in the conquest of land. Melchizedek gives a theological interpretation to Abram’s actions. Melchizedek is mentioned in Ps 110:4 and Hebrews 5-7 and here. The name “Zadock” comes from Melchizedek and was the name of a priestly line which was linked with David’s dynasty. Some think that Abrams meeting with Melchizedek serve to legitimize the Zadokite priesthood. Notice that Melchizedek acts as an intermediary, God is the one who blesses Abram. Blessing was thought to increase power and renown, here, both of Abram and of God. The tithe is an act of worship ( not a military payment) and serves to legitimize Melchizedek’s priesthood as serving the same God as Abram, even though Melchizedek is not part of Abram’s people. In verse 21 and following, the goods in question were mostly what had been Lot’s. Abram does not take what had been Lot’s and enrich himself in the process. This echoes Abram’s actions in chapter 13.
C. 15:1-17:27 The Covenant with Abraham and the Birth of Ishmael
15:1-21 The Covenant with Abraham: Notice how vv 1-6 and 7-21 work as two parts with a similar structure, self-identification by God, Abram’s response, God ‘s restatement of the promise of heirs or land. In verses 13-16 the time in Egypt and the Exodus are spoken of. The ritual described was a “royal grant” type of covenant where a king rewards a faithful servant for past loyalty. The obligations of the covenant are not on the “lesser” party but are assumed by the king, in this case God. In verses 17, symbols of God- a smoking firepot and a blazing torch- pass through the cut in half animals of verses 9-10. Participants in this ceremony invoke the animals fate upon themselves if they break the terms of the covenant. This ceremony was an ancient way of making covenants. In Hebrew the phrase we translate as “make a covenant” is “cut a covenant”. What does this mean that God binds God’s self to Abram in such a way? Again notice how Abram’s life prefigures Israel’s history, this covenant and the covenant with David. The language of “bringing out” is used here as it will be used to describe God’s actions in bringing Israel out of Egypt. Verse 6, along with this chapter is important for Paul (Rom 4; Gal 3) Does reading this story affect your understanding of what Paul is talking about?
16:1-16 The Birth of Ishmael. This sort of practice was evidently customary for the time. This story does raise interesting questions about when people ought to act and when people ought to wait. The word translated as “despise” or “contempt” in verse 5 is the same word used in 12:3 when those who curse Abraham will be cursed. Abraham, as the husband, in this society presumably would be responsible for the situation. Notice how Abraham does not handle this well. Actually no one has handled the situation well. Family conflict is a persistent theme in Genesis. Interestingly, Hagar is the recipient of a heavenly messenger. Notice that Hagar, even though she and her family are not part of the promise to Abram, is not abandoned by God and provision is made for her family. What does the name Hagar gives God in verse 13 suggest about her relationship with God. Is it surprising- within the culture of the time- that Hagar had a relationship with God? Hagar is the first person in Genesis to encounter a messenger of God, and the first woman to be given promises by God and the only person in the Old Testament to name God!
Read More About It.
The following are several good general reference works to aid your reading of the Torah.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, “Understanding the Old Testament” Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Keck, Leander E., ed. “The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.
Mays, James L. ed. “HarperCollins Bible Commentary” (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds. “The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books” (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.
Plaut, W. Gunther, ed. “The Torah: A Modern Commentary” (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) 1981.