The family of Abraham is chosen by God. But despite God’s promises to them, they continually act out of greed, division, fear, deception, and lack of trust in Yahweh. How does God respond to this? What will he do to make sure his blessing comes to all nations? Join Tim, Jon, and Carissa as they continue tracing the theme of the tree of life in the second movement of Genesis.
Abraham and Sarah were willing to sacrifice the safety and well-being of Hagar and Ishmael, abusing them to get the blessings on their own terms. Here, God asks them to completely surrender the future blessing of their family over to God in the form of a sacrifice, only to receive it back by God’s grace with not just a promise of blessing but a covenant oath of blessing. It creates this pattern: because humans are so screwed up and hurt each other so much, it seems like the only way forward is when God’s chosen ones are willing to surrender everything over to God. Those are the moments when God’s Eden blessing can break out to the nations.
In part one (00:00-13:50), Tim, Jon, and Carissa continue the discussion we began in our last episode, tracing the theme of trees through the second movement of Genesis, which focuses on the life of Abraham.
In the Bible, trees represent both God’s blessing and testing of humanity, and they also become an ongoing reminder of Eden, the place where God and humanity lived in perfect unity. In Hebrew, the word for tree (etz) can mean what we think of as a tree in English, but it can also refer to bushes and wood.
In the last episode, we talked about how Abraham is portrayed as a new Adam (and a new Noah), and trees pop up all over the story of his life. Abraham is another chosen human through whom God intends to bless all nations. But sometimes Abraham acts more like the Genesis 3 serpent than God’s chosen one.
In part two (13:50-27:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa explore Genesis 21. Sarah gives birth to Isaac, the son Yahweh promised to her and Abraham, and she becomes full of contempt for Ishmael, the son born to Hagar and Abraham.
There’s a major conflict in this chapter—Ishmael is Abraham’s first-born son, but Isaac is the son chosen by Yahweh. (This continues the pattern of second-born sons being chosen by God.) Abraham’s failure to trust God’s word has created problems for everyone involved.
God tests Abraham by telling him to listen to the voice of his wife, which got them in trouble last time (Gen. 16:2). Abraham, like Adam, doesn’t resist his wife’s voice, and he exiles Hagar and Ishmael, essentially sending them to their deaths. He gives them only a skin of water as he sends them into the wilderness, and it immediately drains, putting Hagar and Ishmael in mortal danger. However, God himself provides for Hagar and Ishmael by leading them to a well near a tree and giving them the Eden blessing, which concludes with the promise of a wife for Ishmael.
This sequence maps onto both the first and last moments of the opening movement of the Eden narrative, which also begins with God’s provision of water in the wilderness (Gen. 2:4-6) and concludes with the provision of a wife (Gen. 2:24). God provides an Eden blessing for the non-chosen son.
In part three (27:45-36:30), the team discusses the second part of Genesis 21, starting in verse 22, where the Philistine king Abimelech initiates a covenant of peace with Abraham.
In the process, Abraham brings up a dispute between his and Abimelech’s servants over a well in the wilderness—the same well where Hagar found water. But once again, Abimelech shows himself favorable to Abraham as he confesses his ignorance about the well.
It would make sense for a conflict over resources between two rival families to end in violence. But in this case, the families achieve peace through just dealings that lead to a covenant of peace. Note that this is the opposite of what happened at this well just a few verses previously—two brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, divided near this well. Now God’s chosen one and the nations make a peaceful covenant at this same well. The fact that the story ends with Eden and tree imagery (Abraham meets with Yahweh under a tree that he plants) shows that matters have reached an ideal resolution.
In part four (36:30-53:45), Tim, Jon, and Carissa explore the iconic (and troubling) story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22.
It’s not only Isaac’s life that’s in jeopardy here (although that would be devastating enough), but God’s very promise to Abraham to multiply his descendants and bless the nations was supposed to come through Isaac. But this is another test (Gen. 22:1). God’s seemingly severe test here is possibly in response to Abraham and Sarah’s severity in dealing with Hagar and Ishmael.
All along, Abraham has been meeting God by trees on mountains. And here, God calls Abraham to Mount Moriah (“land of vision”), a name that sounds similar to the hill and tree in Genesis 12 where he also built an altar. This is all building anticipation—will Abraham worship God here on this mountain?
The narrator draws the reader’s focus to the tree/wood in this story—the wood of the burnt offering, taken along, placed on Isaac, and arranged on the altar. Additionally, the ram in the thicket on the mountain is an inverted image of the tree of life. In Hebrew, “ram” is spelled with the same letters as “oak.” Isaac’s life is spared, and his substitute is the “tree.”
The narrator’s comment in verse 14 draws a direct analogy between Yahweh’s provision of a substitute on Mount Moriah and a future sacrifice that will be offered on this same mountain, the temple in Jerusalem. Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac becomes an image of a future faithful descendent, who will offer a sacrifice of great cost in Jerusalem and release the blessings of Eden’s tree of life to all nations.
In part five (53:45-1:05:28), Tim, Jon, and Carissa look at the final mention of the tree of life in the second movement of Genesis. Ironically, it occurs in the account of Sarah’s death.
After Abraham’s great act of faithfulness, we’re told that his beloved wife dies near the sacred tree that Abraham had camped by all the way back in Genesis 14. The design of this story emphasizes the special importance of this location by repeating the mention of Hebron in the opening and closing of the chapter.
The narrative highlights that Abraham worshiped and met with God near trees when he was living near Hebron/Mamre. This is a clear Eden motif, as Abraham and Sarah are presented as a new Adam and Eve, living in the promised garden land and communing with God by the trees of Hebron. Sadly, the wife of the new Adam eventually dies by the sacred trees of Mamre. This is a vivid and potent image that recalls the woman eating from the tree that leads to death. But there is a shred of hope because it is also by the sacred trees of Mamre/Hebron that Sarah is buried.
This story of Sarah’s burial is a full-scale replay of the core themes at work in the garden of Eden story. Through wordplays, hyperlinks, and narrative analogies, Abraham’s loss of Sarah is compared to both the loss of eternal life in Eden and also the hope of God’s promise to restore life.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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Trees of Testing and Blessing
Series: Genesis Scroll E4
Podcast Date: January 24, 2022, 65:52
Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie, Carissa Quinn
Jon: One of the first stories in the Bible is of Adam and Eve at the tree of knowing good and bad. And God says, "Do not touch it or you will surely die." Eve is tempted by a snake to desire the fruit of this tree, and she takes it. Now keep in mind this story and those details when we read another story about Abraham meeting King Abimelech. In this story, Abraham starts telling everyone that his wife is his sister, (00:01:00) and so King Abimelech takes her.
Tim: What's interesting is God appears to this king in a dream and says, "Hey, this guy lied to you, and don't touch that woman or else you will surely die." Abraham's wife is the tree that is not to be touched or eaten from lest you die. This king becomes the Adam figure, and Abraham plays the role of the snake, the lying treacherous snake in the story.
Jon: Today on the podcast we are in the second movement of the Genesis scroll. These are the stories of Abraham. And in this movement, we're tracing the theme of trees. In Hebrew, it's the word "etz." Etz can refer to any wooded object: a tree, or a bush, or a log. And when we see etz, we sometimes find moments of temptation, but we also find moments of deliverance. Like when Hagar is wandering in the wilderness with her son, about to die, that she puts her son under an etz.
Tim: You have a woman who is about to die, and her child about to die, in the desert with no water by a bush—that's (00:02:00) the word used to describe the bushes in the Eden story. And then her eyes are open and what she sees is water. God provides water in the wilderness and gives them life and says, "I'm going to make you into a great nation."
Jon: In these chapters, we also get the climactic story where God asks Abraham to surrender everything. And he does it at the top of a mountain on an altar of etz.
Tim: Here God asks them to completely surrender the future blessing of their family over to God in the form of a sacrifice, only to receive it back, by God's grace, with not just a promise of blessing but a covenant oath of blessing.
Jon: I'm Jon Collins, and you're listening to BibleProject podcast. Today, Tim Mackey, Carissa Quinn, and I trace the theme of etz through the second half of the Abraham stories where we find temptation, deliverance, and blessing. Thanks for joining us. Here we go. (00:03:00)
All right, we're back at it. We are moving through the Bible movement by movement. And we are currently in movement two of the scroll of Genesis, which is the first scroll in the Bible. Oh, and Carissa, hi.
Jon: And Tim, hello.
Jon: Three of us are working through this, and we're looking at the theme of trees in the Abraham stories. And so, we just looked at how the theme of trees begins in the garden of Eden. Well, actually, it begins in the creation narrative in Genesis 1 where God gives fruit-bearing trees as this gift of life. It's a good thing for humans. And then in the second creation story, there's a really extra special tree, the tree of life. And it's in the center of the garden which is in the center of the land (00:04:00) which is this hotspot where Heaven and Earth are connected.
And so trees in the Bible, this theme is already really connected to this idea of being in the place where God and humans work together as one, Eden. And "tree" in Hebrew can refer to what we think of as a tree, like an oak tree, but it can also refer to what we would call a bush, or a vine, or a wooded kind of plant.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So what it means is as you go on in the biblical story, the tree imagery of Eden can be activated not just by the same word “tree” but also by the appearance of other bushes or plants or low-lying shrubs. But if they play the same role in the story as the garden of Eden tree, then you know you're in the presence of a repeated theme.
Carissa: And it can also be activated not by tree imagery, but by that same word "etz" being (00:05:00) translated in English as "wood." So we see that come up in this movement later. Genesis 22?
Tim: Yeah. The examples we're going to look at today show the creativity that later biblical stories can use to activate the garden of Eden tree imagery.
Jon: So the second time a tree shows up then is when Noah is kind of this new Adam character who walks with God. He goes through the chaos waters. God does a new creation. And he up on a mountain—
Tim: But he survives because of a boat made of etz.
Jon: Made of wood. Oh, yeah, that's right.
Tim: Made of etz.
Jon: Okay. We can talk about that.
Tim: The tree is the means by which God saves him.
Jon: The little micro Eden.
Jon: And then he goes on to a mountain and he plants a vineyard, which is a tree. And there again we have this idea of God and humans together on a high place.
Tim: Yeah. And the tree also becomes his downfall, sadly. (00:06:00)
Carissa: Just like in the garden.
Jon: Yes. In the garden, there were two trees and one became the downfall. So when we got into the Abraham narratives, Tim, you kind of showed us how Abraham, or Abram as he was first called, he is a new Adam again, a new Noah, a new opportunity. God pulling one person out of the many to give them blessing and try to restart this project of partnering with humanity to bless the world. So you showed us how there's stories of Abraham. And he's hanging out at a tree. This is random details. Like, oh, he's at the oak of Moreh.
Tim: Where he pitched a tent and built an altar and Yahweh appeared to him, you know.
Jon: Suddenly, you realize, oh, this is Eden stuff. We're in Eden territory. So we looked at a number of those. In fact, this whole block of Abraham's stories ended with him again at a tree on a mountain. And then God actually comes to visit (00:07:00) and they have a feast in a garden—
Tim: Feasting on food that’s described using the exact vocabulary of the food offerings from the book of Leviticus.
Carissa: It's like enhancing that image of approaching God and connecting with him.
Jon: So the tree that was the downfall of Adam and Eve, now Abraham's hanging out at the tree, inviting God in, and it's a success. It's like a reverse of the fall. And then this is where then God promises Abram that he's going to give him a son, which is crazy because Abram was really old and his wife is really old.
Tim: They're late 90s.
Jon: Yeah. But that's that famous story. And this is a really high moment for the life of Abram and for the whole story of the Bible so far.
Tim: Yeah, totally. So that's where we left it at the beginning of chapter 18. So what's going to come next is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and how God invites Abraham into his divine (00:08:00) council to determine the fate of the nations. And it turns out Yahweh is really eager to show mercy. He'll spare the many, many wicked if there's just a few righteous. But that's a whole story we don't have time to get into.
Carissa: No trees in that story?
Tim: No trees, but other cool stuff. More flood narrative stuff happening in that story. So after the Sodom and Gomorrah story, yeah, we move into the second part of the story of Abraham. It's mix up what we call chapters 20 through most of chapter 22. There's four narratives that are arranged here. They're really tightly organized through repeated words and images.
So the four stories go like this. Right after the Sodom and Gomorrah event, Abraham goes down to the southwestern coast of the land, which is where the Philistines will later live. And he goes there to a city and he lies about the identity of his wife in the city.
Jon: This has happened before.
Tim: A second time. (00:09:00) Yeah, totally. And that's actually part of how you know it's the beginning of a new part is in the first part of Abraham's story right after he was given the blessing, he lied about the identity of his wife and put her in jeopardy or her safety in jeopardy. That's the first thing he did.
Now Abraham just received another promise of blessing and a son. And the next narrative about him that kicks off the next part is him replaying his failure. So what's interesting is God appears to this king in a dream and says, "Hey, this guy lied to you. And don't touch that woman or else you will surely die."
Carissa: She is the tree.
Tim: Yes. Yeah. So this king becomes the Adam figure. Abraham's wife is the tree that is not to be touched or eaten from lest you die. And Abraham plays the role of the snake, the lying, treacherous (00:10:00) snake in the story. It's a really critical portrait of Abraham.
Jon: And the king passes the test.
Tim: And the king's like, "Hey, listen, man, I haven't touched her. And listen, are you the kind of God that's in the business of killing righteous people? Because ...”
Jon: "I haven't done anything wrong yet."
Tim: Yeah, "I haven’t done anything wrong." And God says, "Yeah, I know. That's why I'm telling you. I just wanted to ..." Anyway, it's a fascinating story. So it's this whole story of conflict, of lying and treachery—
Jon: Is that going to count as a tree hit even though the tree isn't explicit that she's kind of like the tree?
Tim: Oh, got it. Um, it's definitely an Eden replay but the tree doesn't appear in the story.
Carissa: It doesn't have the same connotation that these other hits have with the tree being on a high mountain and meeting God there.
Tim: So then you get a story about how Isaac is born. Finally, Abraham and Sarah's son is born. Hooray! But there's a division with his brother. There's a division among the mothers, (00:11:00) Sarah and Isaac are in tension with Hagar and Ishmael. And so there's a division among the brothers and the unchosen mother and son are exiled from the land. This is replaying the Cain and Abel tension in the exile and non-chosen from the land. It's really interesting.
And so you get a whole story of Abraham and Ishmael. Then right after that story, you have another narrative about Abraham and that king, the king that he had conflict with. And now it's a story about how that king wants to make a covenant with Abraham because he sees that "Hey, God is with you. And I noticed that, you know, even though you're kind of a chump, your God has your back and things go pretty good for you, so let's—"
Jon: "Can we be friends?"
Tim: "Let's be friends. Maybe I can get some of that Eden blessing." So they make a covenant by a tree. And then after that story, you get the famous story of Abraham and the binding and near sacrifice of Isaac, Genesis 22. (00:12:00)
So it's kind of a story about Abraham and this king, Abraham and the non-chosen son, Ishmael, then a story about Abraham and that king again, and then a story about Abraham and the chosen son. And so they follow a neat symmetrical kind of pattern. And there's lots of hyperlinks and connections between the stories. Remember the whole thing is the nations are going to be blessed through you and your seed. And that's exactly what these four stories are exploring and meditating on, how the nations get in on the promise. But what if the promise is put into the hands of a guy who's a lying treacherous snake, whose family is dividing?
Jon: Which is what this is about?
Tim: Yeah. And so it only happens when instead of lying that Abraham and the nations find a way to make peace through covenant together. And then what does that mean for the future of the family? Well, it's going to mean the singling out of the non-chosen (00:13:00) and God's going to take care of them, though it's sad that there has to be a division of the brothers in the first place. And then what we're going to see is God is even going to ask for a division between father and son. Abraham is going to be asked to give up the son on whom the promise hangs, which brings the whole story to a crisis because it's like the whole thing depends on this.
So that's the arc of this section of the Abraham story. So lo and behold, trees play a role in Genesis 21, the story of Abraham and Ishmael, Genesis 21, the story of Abraham and Abimelech, and the story of Abraham and Isaac. All three have Eden tree moments that really pop with cool significance.
Jon: You say etz. Right here you've got is this Hebrew transliterated as Yitzhak.
Tim: Oh, yes.
Jon: That's Isaac?
Tim: Yeah. I'm trying to spell the names more the way they sound in Hebrew.
Tim: So Avraham.
Tim: Avraham is how you say.
Jon: Avraham, Abraham.
Tim: Yeah. (00:14:00) And Avimelech is the name of the king. So shall we just kind of dive into these stories here?
Jon: Yeah. Right.
Tim: All right.
Section break (00:14:07)
Tim: So in Genesis 21 right after Isaac is born, so Abraham and Sarah finally have that promise child, they make a big feast. They have a big party. Hurray! In Genesis 21:9, story goes, "And Sarah saw, she looked at the son of Hagar the Egyptian the one she had born for Abraham making laughter, causing laughter."
Jon: She saw the son and she laughed.
Tim: She saw the son and that son was causing laughter or making laughter.
Jon: Oh, the son was laughing.
Tim: Yeah. Most of the English translations say playing.
Carissa: Yeah, playing (00:15:00) or mocking ...
Tim: Yes, yeah.
Carissa: But just a few verses prior, right, Sarah had said, "Anyone who sees that God has blessed me like this will laugh. They'll laugh with me." And it seems like a positive thing there.
Tim: Yeah. So Isaac's name means laughter because both Abraham and Sarah laughed when they first—
Jon: Heard they were going to have a baby.
Tim: Heard they were going to have a kid. So they name him laughter. And then you're right, just sentences before this she said, "Everyone who hears of my son, that I had a son will laugh with me." So, yeah, it seems positive.
Carissa: Yeah, laugh with me.
Tim: Yeah, laugh with me. So Laughter is born. But then she sees that other son from that other wife, and he is causing laughter (metzachek). So interestingly, I think because our English translations see some sort of negative connotation here, she doesn't like what she sees.
Tim: So NIV translates it mocking. (00:16:00) ESV says laughing. NRSV full on does an interpretive move.
Jon: Oh, weird.
Tim: Playing with Isaac. It doesn't say that in the text. They're just inferring that in the story. So it's not the normal word for "laughter." It's a causative verb, like causing laughter. So it's a little unclear.
Carissa: Maybe it's like, you know, Isaac is meant to cause laughter when Sarah has him. And now she sees Ishmael causing laughter.
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Jon: He's on the turf of the seed.
Tim: For sure it's a weird play on her son's name. So she gave birth to Laughter. But then there's this other son who thinks you can laugh, you know.
Jon: You can do it.
Tim: So the narrative doesn't nail down for you what he was doing, but you can tell from her reaction that she interprets it really negatively.
Carissa: It's just like the division of Cain and Abel, the narrative doesn't say why one offering was better than the other, or if it was.
Tim: That's exactly right. (00:17:00) That's a great observation. The division of the brothers in the Cain and Abel story, there's some ambiguities and why God did what he did. And there's going to be that same ambiguity, what God is about to do here, but also in what Sarah's response is.
We know what she's feeling because what she says in verse 10 is "banish the slave and her son. He will not inherit, the son of the slave woman, along with my son, along with laughter (Yitzhak).” So she wants to separate the two sons. “Now, this matter was bad in the eyes of Abraham on account of his son.” He's bummed. Yeah, this is a real bummer for him.
Carissa: And "on account of his son," is that referring to Ishmael there?
Tim: Mm-hmm. Yeah, there's so much son language in the story. I think it's about his firstborn son.
Tim: Ishmael. He said back in chapter 17, God said, "Hey, listen, the son that came (00:18:00) from when you guys took advantage of Hagar, that's not the promised son."
Carissa: Yeah, it's just interesting paired with that line right above, Sarah saying, "He won't inherit this along with my son," and then Abraham is bummed on account of his son.
Tim: His son, yeah. Because Abraham said a couple chapters ago, like, "Hey, what about Ishmael? Make him the chosen one." So the reason Ishmael exists is because of Abraham and Sarah's lack of faith. And so it's not because Hagar and Ishmael are bad. It's that Ishmael is a son that results from their scheming and their plan. And the whole point is for God to show them that this blessing will only come as a gift by his new creation power.
Jon: And also, there is a theme of the second born being chosen over the firstborn, which is a whole nother thing.
Tim: That's right. Well, and I think that's what's being highlighted here. This was bad in the eyes of Abraham, because he says, "I already have a firstborn son. Like he's born first. That's how we do it in the east here. We raise up the firstborn." (00:19:00)
Jon: Even if it's not from your ... I don't know how this works, but your primary wife.
Tim: Your primary wife. Yeah, right.
Jon: It doesn't matter.
Jon: The firstborn is the firstborn.
Tim: Yeah. I mean, this little tension is going to be full-on developed in the story of Jacob to follow with his many wives, who's the favorite sons, and they're all jockeying for position and so on. “So Elohim says to Abraham, ‘Listen, don't let it be bad in your eyes. I've already told you that Isaac is going to be the one to inherit the blessing. So don't let it be evil about the boy and the slave woman. Listen, what Sarah says to you, listen to her voice. It is by Isaac that your seed will be called. And the son of the slave woman, I'm going to make him into a nation because he is your seed.’”
Carissa: "I'll bless those associated with you."
Tim: Yeah. "I'm going to bless those who bless you." So Ishmael is going to have the Eden blessing going on and go his way, but that doesn't mean he's the chosen one. (00:20:00) So it's interesting the chosen and the non-chosen can have God's blessing. But what the promise is going to trace is the lineage that leads to the seed of the woman crushing the head of the snake.
Jon: And the promise is looking for the human who will not fail the test, will crush evil.
Tim: Yeah. So Abraham is asked to give up his firstborn son right here. And he's going to be asked to give up his second born son in another chapter.
Jon: In the parallel story.
Tim: Yeah. So these are both stories about God promising ... The whole story up to now has been “I'm going to give you a great family.” And then now Abraham finally his two sons and God is saying, "You have to give them both back or give them away."
Jon: Give one away and bless the other.
Tim: And give me back the other. It's a real crisis in the narrative here. So Abraham rose early in the morning, he took bread and essentially like a Nalgene water bottle. So he gets (00:21:00) a loaf of bread and a water bottle and he gives this to Hagar placing upon her shoulder, and also the child and he sends her away. And they're in the desert. They're in the southern deserts.
Jon: That's rough.
Tim: So here she is. She wanders into the wilderness of Beersheba. The name "Beersheba" means "well of seven." Like spring or well of seven. And all of a sudden, the water was finished from the water bottle. And what can she do? She is in a land with no water and so she puts her child under a bush, and she goes away, sitting a distance away. You know, about as far as you can shoot a bow. And she said, "I can't see the death of this child." And so she sat a distance away, lifted up her voice and wept.
Tim: That's powerful statement. So just real quick here. She's in a desert where there's no water. (00:22:00) Genesis 1:2, “the land was wild and waste.” Remember how the garden of Eden narrative began with "there were no bushes in the land." Ooh, actually, this is a good one. This word for "bush" here—
Jon: In Genesis 2?
Tim: Genesis 21 ...
Jon: Oh, 21.
Tim: ... verse 15.
Jon: This is the bush that she puts Ishmael under?
Tim: Yeah, she puts him under, yeah. The only two times that that unique word "bush" is used is right here and at the very beginning of the garden of Eden story. When it says, "There were no—even no bushes in the land.” But God caused a stream to rise up out of the ground to water the surface and he makes life out of nonlife here. So now we have a woman who's just run out of water in the wilderness and she puts her child under a bush. But we know that the name of this place is called—
Jon: The well of seven.
Tim: The well of seven. (00:23:00) “Elohim heard the voice of the boy and the messenger of Elohim called to Hagar from the skies and said, ‘What are you concerned about, Hagar? Don't be afraid; Elohim’s heard the voice of the boy. Get up! Take him with your hand, I'm going to make him a great nation.’ And Elohim opened her eyes and she saw a seven well (the well of seven).”
Carissa: That “she saw” is like Moreh, the tree of Moreh.
Tim: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Thanks.
Carissa: The same verb.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. And also, actually, this opening of the eyes, do you remember when Adam and Eve are at the tree, and the snake says, "Oh, you're not going to die. The day you eat of the tree your eyes will be opened."
Carissa: "And you'll know good and evil and be like God."
Tim: Exactly. Here you have a woman who's about to die, and her child’s about to die in the desert with no water by a bush. That's the word used to describe the bushes in the Eden story. And then her eyes are opened and what she sees is ...
Jon: The well. (00:24:00)
Tim: ... water. God provides water in the wilderness and gives them life and says, "I'm going to make you into a great nation, blessing and they—"
Carissa: That's almost verbatim the covenant promise given to Abraham and Isaac.
Tim: So the reason why we're tying this into the tree of life is because of this word "bush." And then all of the image of the desert, no water, but then God provides water and gives blessing of future seed.
Jon: And that's not the word "etz."
Tim: Nope. It's the word "bush."
Jon: It's a different word for bush.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: But it's the same word in Genesis 2 that's connecting this whole thing?
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Because when it said there were no bushes in the land, then the response is then "but God planted the garden and made trees to sprout there."
Jon: Yeah. And the other big hit here is water, right?
Tim: That's right.
Jon: Because in the garden story, you know, God ... You showed us it was translated mist but you call it a ...
Jon: ... spring.
Jon: Stream comes up. Is that the one that turns into the four rivers? (00:25:00)
Tim: Yeah. The mist comes up and waters the ground, making mud. So that's when God forms the human, plants the garden, and then there's a river flowing out of Eden.
Jon: There's a river flowing. The river of blessing. And so here you've got a land with no water and they're going to die from a lack of water. And then God provides water.
Jon: But there is a little detail here of the bush you want to point out.
Tim: Yeah, totally. So this is how biblical authors work. They'll use unique vocabulary often and be like, "Why are we using that word? Why not just use another word for bush, a more normal word?" But it echoes something important from earlier.
Carissa: I think when you're reading along and you read, "She cast the child under one of the bushes," it kind of makes you think, "Okay, where have I read ‘bush’ before? That's not a very common word. I haven't seen that come up a lot." And then you have to search for it.
Jon: That's true in English, though?
Carissa: Yeah. (00:26:00)
Jon: Or is it only true in Hebrew?
Carissa: Yeah, so far. I think so far in an English translation I don't think you would come across "bush" yet, except for Genesis 2:5.
Carissa: Because it would just be—
Tim: And there, even then I don't think it's translated “bush.” It's translated “shrub.”
Carissa: Shrub of the ground or shrub of the field.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah.
Jon: That would actually make it stand out more to me if it was called a shrub.
Tim: Under the shrub. Yeah, totally.
Carissa: Yeah. Though it's translated the same in English.
Jon: Shrub is a very Genesis 2 word.
Tim: Yeah. So tuck all these little details away because the story of Abraham and Isaac is going to be employing a lot of this vocabulary here. Ooh, like the Hebrew word for "under" is the same Hebrew word for "in the place of." It's the Hebrew word “tachath.” And that's going to be ... to be in the place of the bush is going to be important in Abraham and Isaac's story.
Carissa: Yeah. So this story also is important because this is an Eden blessing with the bush and the water in the desert (00:27:00) for the non-chosen seed.
Tim: The non-chosen. Exactly.
Carissa: Kind of like with the kings who are with Abraham.
Tim: In this way, Ishmael is different than Cain and Abel. Even though Cain was not chosen for blessing, but then God said, "Hey, listen, you have a choice. How else it would go? If you do good, there will be exaltation for you, too." But he didn't do good. He chose murder.
Here you have the non-chosen brother. And they don't do evil, instead, they're banished. And so what they get is the promise of blessing.
Carissa: Yeah. He's exiled. And in that place of exile there's a mini Eden and a blessing for him.
Tim: That's right.
Carissa: That's pretty cool.
Tim: It's a little Eden out here in the desert for Hagar and Ishmael. Okay, there's that story, Genesis 21. Let's move on to the next appearance of trees, which is in the very next story that takes place in the same place at the well of seven.
Section break (00:27:59)
Tim: So we're moving on to this next story here. Avimelech, the king who he deceived back here in chapter 20 now comes up to him, Abram. And here's the story. "It came about at that time that Avimelech said ... well, also Phicol the captain of his army was there. And he also said to Abraham ...” So you have a king and an army captain. You're like, "Okay, that's intimidating."
Jon: Phicol is kind of an unfortunate name.
Tim: Phicol yeah. Phicol. "Phi" is the word "mouth" and "col" is the word "everything."
Jon: Is the everything out?
Carissa: It's kind of a scary name for an army captain, right?
Tim: Yeah. The mouth of everything.
Jon: The mouth of everything.
Carissa: Oh, I was thinking like "I eat everything." (00:29:00)
Tim: Oh, yeah, everything of the mouth. Phicol.
Carissa: Anyway, I'm sure it was a great name back then.
Tim: So here you have the nations, both kings and warriors coming and saying, "Elohim is with you in everything that you're doing. So how about we swear an oath together? Swear an oath to me by Elohim. Look, if you deal falsely with me or with my descendants, according to the loyal love I've done to you so you will deal with me and with the land that you're migrating within."
So when he says basically, "Don't deal falsely with me like you did last week. And what did I do to you? I showed you loyalty. You came to my city, you lied to me, put my whole city in danger but I did right by you. So you do the same to me." So Elohim is with you. Do you remember the dream? He has a dream and so on. So Avraham said, "Yeah, all right. Deal. Let's be buddies. (00:30:00) Let's go in on this contract together." So they make a contract together.
Now, what's interesting is Abram just happened to remember something at that moment, that he had a dispute with now his covenant partner on account of a well of water. Because the servants of Avimelech had stolen a well from him. So it's sort of like, "Okay, we're covenant partners now—"
Jon: "What about this well that your guys took from me?”
Tim: What this really is, is like a conflict of interest between two business partners. And it's like, how are we going to get along, especially when we're not blood relatives? All that's binding us together is this contract. Remember the other Canaanites who were in a covenant with Abram up chillin' by the trees?
Tim: And that was rad. You know, they go into battle together. But now we're exploring the opposite portrait. What if there's a conflict between the chosen one and the nations? How are they going to sort this out? Well, Avimelech said, "I don't know who did this. And besides, you waited till now to bring this up? (00:31:00) You didn't report it me in the past. I haven't heard of this until right now today.” “So Abraham took sheep and oxen, he gave them to Avimelech and they cut a covenant. Abraham set up seven lambs."
Jon: What is that kind of covenant? What's these sheep and oxen?
Tim: Oh, got it. Well, to cut a covenant it's the most common term to use it about the making of a covenant together.
Tim: So sometimes it would mean a sacrificial ritual of the animals like what happened earlier in the Abraham story when God makes a covenant with Abraham and he cuts the animals in half. Here, they're going to cut a covenant, but then what—
Jon: We're about to learn what's going to happen.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So Abram gets seven lambs, and Avimelech said, "What's up with these seven lambs?" And Abraham said, "Well, you're going to take these seven lambs from my hand, and these seven lambs will be a witness on my behalf that I dug this well." Basically, he's paying for the well. Even though it's not Avimelech's well—it's Abraham's well; he dug it—but (00:32:00) he's going to pay for it anyway. Sounds like a super generous move. He's like, “What do you—"
Jon: And shrewd.
Tim: But also shrewd.
Carissa: It's generous if he really did dig it, right?
Tim: Yeah, that's true. All we know ... Actually, did he say that he dug it? Oh, no. He says, "I dug this well," in verse 30. Yeah, that's right. So for this reason, this is why people call it the well of seven ...
Tim: ... because the two of them swore a shbe'u there and they—a covenant at the well of sheba. So there are many word plays crashing together. So "sheba" is the Hebrew word for the number seven. But it's spelled with the same letters as the Hebrew word "shbe'u," which means oath, which is a synonym for covenant.
So also, at the well of seven ... think of the previous story. This is exactly where Hagar found water that provided life for her. So these two stories are next to each other about the way (00:33:00) God provided life out of death at the well of seven in the desert. And then here at the well of seven, instead of brothers dividing, you have the families of the nations coming together in peace. But it requires Abraham to give this costly act of generosity.
And so the nations make peace, they make a covenant with God's chosen line. The story says Avimelech got up and Phicol captain of his army, they returned. And so you know what Abraham did? He planted a tree, a tamarisk tree, at the well of seven, and he called on the name of Yahweh who is the eternal God.
So what's great is the whole story builds up the Eden imagery, or rather it waits till the end to place all of this whole scene at the well of seven by a tree where he's going to meet with and worship and call on the name of Yahweh. So when the nations make peace with the chosen one, (00:34:00) when the chosen one will sacrifice and give seven to enter into a covenant, then there's peace in the land at a Eden tree. I think that's how the images work here.
Jon: Yeah. Because the idea is if the nations are going to be blessed through Abraham, what does that practically look like? Because life is messy.
Jon: People steal stuff, even unintentionally. Like, this is a story of a guy not even realized he had done something wrong by Abraham. So you're saying this story, Abraham giving seven lambs is the symbol of like going above and beyond to make this relationship right. And so we get this cool picture of that. And then at the very end of the story we're told that or we're shown that this is like an Eden picture as Abraham plants a tree there.
Tim: Yeah. Peace among the nations so that God's chosen ones can really be that blessing to the nations. (00:35:00) But it's costly. It requires sacrifice, it requires generosity, and the binding together of people at odds in the making of a covenant. And then the last little note is, by the way, you know, this is an Eden-like place, because of what happened here. So it's another reversal of Eden. But it's almost reversing both the failure of Adam and Eve, but it's reversing the division of the brothers. The story that just happened was about the division of two wives and two brothers.
Carissa: At the same place.
Tim: At the same place.
Jon: Which is really the division of two nations.
Tim: Which is the division of the nations. Right next to it is a story about the reunion of the nations at the same place, Beersheba. So when there's jealousy and strife, like when Sarah drives out the nations through Ishmael, so to speak. So that's kind of a sad portrait, but God brings life. Here, there's division among the nations but Abraham gives a costly gift, and they make a covenant, and then you have peace among the brothers. So there's two (00:36:00) contrasting portraits that are riffing off the ideas of the Cain and Abel story about the division of the brothers. It's interesting.
Carissa: Yeah. So Eden is defined as peace between nations. And the tree is signifying that or drawing attention to that—
Jon: Marking it.
Carissa: Yeah, marking it.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, that's right. So there you go. We had two mothers and two brothers at odds that result in division. Now we had two tribal chieftains at odds, and they make peace together. We're going to revisit now the next story, the climactic story about how God is going to cause a division between father and son, paradoxically, in order to redeem both.
Section break (00:36:44)
Tim: Genesis 22, the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac. This is a troubling story in the Bible.
Jon: That God even asks for a sacrifice.
Tim: Yeah, that God would ask somebody to sacrifice their child.
Jon: And that the right thing to do would be to say, "Okay, I'll go do it."
Tim: Yeah, yeah. It's a surprising story. When you get to like Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, or the later prophets, you know, in those books God speaks through those prophets about child sacrifice as something ... God says in Jeremiah, "It's something that never even entered my mind. It's so distant from anything I would ever ask from somebody." And so you just have to sit and go, "But wait, what about this story?"
Jon: Yeah, because you kind of did ask for it.
Tim: Because you did ask for it once. So the story begins by telling you, "It came about after all these things Elohim tested Abraham." So that does put into the reader's mind already like whatever is about to happen it is a test. But that could mean multiple things. (00:38:00) You don't know quite what it's going to mean.
Jon: What kind of test?
Tim: Because it could be a test of your loyalty to me by giving up your son by actually sacrificing him. That could be what it means. But it could also mean that it's a test, meaning I'm going to tell you to sacrifice him but I really have another plan of how this is going to work out. The narrative doesn't close down either possibility. You just have to keep reading.
Jon: And it's also maybe important to keep in mind that not only is this a sacrifice of a human, your child, which I mean, yeah, nuts, but this is also a sacrifice of the whole game for Abraham, like the whole blessing that God had promised becoming a great family, inheriting this land, being the one that restores the Eden blessing to the whole world.
Jon: That's all in the balance.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: And that doesn't have the same angst for me, the reader, but it actually has a ton of gravity (00:39:00) in the narrative.
Carissa: Yeah. And God has already said that that blessing would come through Isaac. So Abraham's heard that promise from God.
Tim: Exactly. Yeah, no, this is super important. I think it's a challenging and intense narrative but we have to read it ... This is a culmination of the story so far. So you have to read it in light of that. God has made very clear promises of things that he's going to do that this request contradicts. God said he's going to bless the nations through your son. But what? So the narrative is highlighting this contradiction. God seems to be going against God's own will.
Tim: It's almost like God is testing God. In terms of on the narrative surface it seems like God's going back. So what's going to happen? And there's nothing for it. You just have to let the tension drive you. One other piece too is, you know, the whole story has been about a promise of a son. They got their first son by abusing a slave and then by further (00:40:00) abusing the slave by banishing that slave out into the desert. So Abraham and Sarah have hurt two people really badly in their quest for a son.
Carissa: Yeah, they've both tried to make it come about through Hagar and Ishmael.
Carissa: But then also, even when they had Isaac, they tried to make that promise come about through Isaac by banishing Hagar and Ishmael. It's like they're trying with both sons to do it their own way.
Tim: That's right. And so it seems to me that is an important part of the reason why God is dealing severely here is because they've been very severe.
Jon: So Abraham might be thinking at this point, like, "Okay, I blew it. I deserve this,” kind of thing.
Tim: I don't know if that's what he's thinking, but you the reader know that they've been so terrible to these Egyptians, that you can begin to understand why God would deal severely with his chosen one for their evil. So we're just at the first sentence, (00:41:00) you know, but those are some factors that are important here.
So I'll just kind of summarize. God tells Abraham to take your son, your only one ... which is kind of odd because ...
Jon: He has two.
Tim: ... he has two sons. But it's the only son through Sarah. “The son that you love, Yitzhak, and get yourself going to the land of Moriah.” That's interesting. Do you remember where Abraham visited when he first went into the land?
Carissa: He met with God there.
Jon: The tree of Moriah.
Tim: The land of Moreh.
Jon: Oh, Moreh.
Tim: Moreh. So it's one letter different, but both Moreh and this land Moriah are both built off of the Hebrew verb "to see."
Tim: "And make him go up there as a going up offering on one of the mountains that I will say to you."
Jon: What's a going up offering?
Tim: Oh, it's usually translated “burnt offering.” But it's called olah, and it literally means the offering that goes up.
Jon: Oh, because of the smoke going up?
Tim: The smoke going up.
Carissa: It's like the whole offering (00:42:00) not just a part of it.
Tim: Yeah. So he is to go to the mountains in the land of Moriah just like he went into the mountains by the tree of Moreh at the beginning. It's as if we're wrapping the whole story up here. We're coming to a climax here. So there's no narrative of the internal dialogue. He's just—we see “Abraham rose early in the morning, bound his donkey, took two young men and Yitzhak, and he split the wood.” And that word "wood" there is word "etz." It's the tree. “He split the tree for the going up offering and he arose and went to this place.”
So I think maybe in the video about the tree of life we talked at length about the story. This is Abraham's tree of testing. The wood represents the choice that he's making.
Jon: Yeah. Because at trees are moments of testing. Not only to trees kind of mark this is an Eden place, but it also is a place to mark that there's an opportunity, (00:43:00) yeah, a choice to be made. And you can make a good choice and you can make a bad choice.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. And he is making the choice to obey even though it seems to go against—
Jon: He's going to sacrifice the whole game.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Because God's asking me to, which sounds like a contradiction. But there you go.
Jon: If at any point you'd be like, "I think I don't want to follow this God anymore," this would probably be the place. You know what’s interesting? We also know that Abraham is not afraid to stand up and speak his mind to God.
Jon: Oh, yeah.
Tim: When God said, "I'm going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah," he's like, "Wait a minute. There's righteous people there." And he doesn't do that here.
Jon: "Wait a minute. You're not the kind of God who asks for the life of kids."
Tim: This narrative is so puzzling in so many ways.
Tim: So they go traveling and on the third day ... this is the first time that that little formula appears (00:44:00) in the Hebrew Bible. On the third day. And it's associated with a testing—
Jon: Passing a test?
Tim: A testing narrative that it's all going to be about what happens on this wood, on the etz. “Abraham lifted his eyes, he saw the place from a distance and he tells the young man, ‘Hey, stay here, me and the young boy, we will go there, we will worship, we will return.’”
Jon: Yeah, interesting.
Tim: And it could be just giving them the slip, like—
Jon: "Don't worry, nothing weird is going to happen."
Tim: "We will return to you."
Jon: Or maybe he believes that ...
Jon: ... there's no way God's actually going to make him do this.
Tim: I wonder which one will prove to be true. “So Abram took the wood.” That phrase right there, "taking from the tree," it’s the same word. “Taking the etz, he put it on Yitzhak his son, then he took in his hand the fire—” Oh yeah, this is good—"and the maachelet.” It's the word “food” or “eating.” (00:45:00) And it's a very odd way to describe a knife.
Jon: The eater.
Tim: In Hebrew, if you describe a sword with two edges as a two-mouth sword because it eats flesh.
Carissa: Two ways. Yeah.
Tim: So you could call a knife a eater, but also he takes from the tree, the word, and he takes the eating. In Hebrew, it's activating the vocabulary of the tree.
Jon: What's the word in Hebrew?
Tim: It's from the root “eat.” “And when the woman sees that the tree is good for eating and she took from the tree,” that's the vocabulary being activated right here.
Carissa: So do we know yet if we're supposed to be seeing this as a negative Eden moment? If he's taking and eating—
Tim: Oh, I see. Well—
Carissa: Because sometimes it's inverted. So maybe we don't.
Tim: That's right. I mean, he's doing what God said that he should do. So God said to Adam and Eve, "Don't take from the tree and don't eat from it." Here he told him, "Take your son (00:46:00) and offer him as a sacrifice." So he takes from the tree wood and he takes the eater knife. So he's obeying the word of God. And the two of them went together as one. The two are one.
Carissa: It's interesting.
Jon: That's a very Eden moment.
Tim: Yeah, Adam and Eve. “Yitzhak said to Abraham, ‘Hey, Dad.’ ‘Oh, yeah, son, I'm right here.’ ‘Hey, look, you know, here's the fire, here's the tree wood. Where is the sheep for the offering?’ ‘Elohim will see to it.’” There's that word "see" again. That's the same root letters that appear in the word "Moriah," the mountains Moriah. "Elohim will see to it," that is the sheep for the going up offering and the two went as one. So they went to the place. Abraham built an altar. Do you remember what he did when he first went into the land? He built lots of altars. He arranged the wood, he bound up Yitzhak his son. In Jewish tradition, this story is called the akedah.
Jon: The binding.
Tim: That's the noun that comes from this Hebrew verb "to bind." Actually, I think it's (00:47:00) better than the sacrifice of Isaac. Because Isaac isn't sacrificed, but he is bound. “He bound up Yitzhak his son, he placed him on the wood, he sent out his hand, he took the eater,” that is the knife, “to slay his son.” Notice how the narrative is really slowing down, showing you each step here.
Carissa: Yeah. Also, I'm noticing since we're reading through Leviticus on our own, Leviticus goes to these great lengths to say there's the altar and then put the wood on the altar, and then put the sacrifice on the wood on the altar.
Carissa: And it's almost exact.
Tim: That's right. You know, what you're saying is this vocabulary is drawing—or the same vocabulary that you find in the sacrificial descriptions in Leviticus.
Carissa: Which gives it maybe just yet another lens to view this as a—
Jon: Priestly moment.
Carissa: Yeah, a priestly moment and a sacrifice of something.
Tim: It truly is a sacrifice. “And at the moment he's holding the eater.” His hand is holding the food. Again, the word "knife" here is spelled (00:48:00) with the same letters as the word "food" from the tree in Genesis 3. That's exactly the moment the messenger of Yahweh called from the sky saying, "Avraham, Avraham, look, it's me. Don't send out your hand. Don't do anything. Now I know that you fear Elohim." Remember what Adam and Eve—
Jon: They feared Elohim.
Tim: Yeah, but too late. Or they didn't fear Elohim ...
Jon: At the right time.
Tim: ... at the right time.
Jon: Yeah, at the test, the moment of the test, they didn't fear Elohim. They desired to be Elohim. And here Abraham is fearing Elohim.
Carissa: Do you think this "now I know," the word "know," here is also a play on the tree of knowledge that the humans were trying to gain?
Carissa: And now it's God that ...
Tim: It's God that has the knowledge.
Carissa: ... is saying he's gaining knowledge.
Tim: Yeah. The humans gain knowledge by eating from the tree. But now the focus is on God's knowledge of Abraham's character because he took the tree and the food, that is the knife. “And how do I know you fear Elohim? (00:49:00) You didn't withhold your son, your only son.” So this is what's interesting. “Abram lifted his eyes and he said, ‘God will see to it that there's a sheep for the offering.’” That's what he said. “Abram lifted his eyes and he saw and look, a ram caught in a bramble, a bramble bush ...”
Carissa: Haven't seen those for a while.
Tim: “... by its horns. And so he went and took the ram and made it go up as a going up offering in the place of his son.” Do you remember in the story with Hagar and Ishmael, she puts her son tachath.
Jon: At the bush.
Tim: The bush.
Jon: Under the bush.
Tim: And then his life is saved by the water. Here, Abraham looks and he sees an animal caught in a bush, and he takes the ram and puts it tachath—in the place of his son. “And so Abram called the name of that place ‘Yahweh will see to it.’ So this is the mountain of Moriah, (00:50:00) the mountain of seeing where Yahweh saw to it and Yahweh will see. And hey, dear reader, you know, still in Jerusalem today we say, ‘On the mountain of Yahweh, it will be seen, or it will be seen to.’”
So this whole story is being told from the perspective of an Israelite way later in their history as a foreshadowing—
Jon: Israelite who lives at a time where the tabernacle or the temple is on the mountain of Yahweh, which is Jerusalem.
Tim: Mountain of Yahweh means Jerusalem. So, yeah, man—
Carissa: Why is this often translated as "provided" in English translations?
Tim: Well, that's what it means.
Carissa: Oh, “it will be seen to”?
Carissa: It will be taken care of, provided.
Tim: When Isaac asks, "Where's the sheep for the offering?" Abraham says, "Elohim will see."
Carissa: He'll see to it.
Tim: It's the Hebrew idiom that ... we have an idiom in English. “I'll see to it.” That's why I use the "see to it."
Jon: Oh, okay.
Tim: It's literally “he will see.”
Carissa: Yeah. (00:51:00)
Jon: Oh, interesting.
Carissa: Which is really interesting. There are so many parallels here to Hagar. Like Hagar naming God "the God who sees" and Hagar lifting her eyes and seeing just like Abraham lifted his eyes and saw.
Jon: Yeah, it's all over these narratives.
Carissa: In the bush, the bramble.
Tim: So you remember what happened after God spared the life of Ishmael, when he was tachath in the place of the bush, he provided water and then said, "I'm going to make him a great nation—blessing." So here, God provides a substitute for the chosen son in the bush. And then that unlocks the blessing again.
“The messenger of Yahweh called to Abram a second time saying, ‘I swear an oath.’” Remember how you and Avimelech just swore an oath to each other? Now Yahweh says, “I swear an oath because you did this thing, you didn't withhold your son, I will bless you. I'll multiply your seed like the stars of the skies, (00:52:00) like the sand on the sea. Your seed will inherit the gates of their enemies, and all the nations of the land will find blessing in your seed.” So here, the chosen son receives the blessing again, but it was all hinging on Abraham's obedience at the tree, at the bush, at the—
Jon: The tree this time was the altar.
Tim: Totally. Yeah, the tree imagery is going all kinds of directions now. And so they get up, they leave, and they go back to the well of seven.
Tim: So the main point here is Abraham ... this is the full inversion of the Eden failure. All the language of the tree of testing here gets reversed. And when you have someone who will be willing to give up the life of their future family or their own life ... I mean, it's his own future, his own life that's at stake here.
Carissa: You're saying give up clinging to making the promise happen on your own?
Tim: Yeah, yeah.
Carissa: Because giving up the life of your family, that could sound (00:53:00) really scary.
Tim: Oh, I understand.
Carissa: But letting go of controlling the blessing on your own.
Tim: That's good. Abraham and Sarah were willing to sacrifice the safety and wellbeing of Hagar and Ishmael, abusing them to get the blessing on their own terms. Here God asks them to completely surrender the future blessing of their family over to God in the form of a sacrifice, only to receive it back by God's grace with not just a promise of blessing but a covenant oath of blessing.
And so it creates this pattern at work that because humans are so screwed up and they hurt each other so much, it seems like the only way forward now is when God's chosen ones are willing to surrender everything over to God. And that those are the moments when God's Eden blessing can break out over to the nations. It's a powerful story.
Section break (00:53:59)
Tim: The last time the tree of life imagery appears is actually in a story about death. The last part of Abraham's story is a really interesting little section. There's a short narrative about the birth of Abraham's niece back in the land that he left a long time ago. Then there's contrast to the story of his niece's birth is the story of his wife's death.
Carissa: Yeah, that's Rebecca and then Sarah.
Tim: That's right. Rebecca is born but then Sarah dies in the next chapter. And so he buys a cave in a field with all kinds of trees. We'll talk about that. But after that story, we go back to Rebecca and she makes a journey just like Abraham did. She leaves (00:55:00) her family and her land to go to the land of Canaan, and she receives blessing. Ooh, her name sounds like the word “blessing.” And so there's that whole story.
And then the next story is Abram marries again, and then he dies, and he's buried in the same cave. So this is all about birth and death, the passing of one generation, the birth and marrying of the next generation. So definitely death is both signaled here in this double death of Sarah then Abraham. But then also the new life and blessing is signaled by the birth and marrying of Rebecca and Isaac that opens up the door to the next generation.
So that's kind of this last section here. But this cave, dude this cave, the cave in Machpelah ... Okay, this is a long story. We don't have time to go through the whole story. But you're given a short notice of Sarah's death. And then there is a long story about Abraham—
Jon: Negotiating the rights of his cave, right?
Tim: Yeah. This is long back and forth. (00:56:00) Like, "Mmm, how about 400?" "No, no, just take it." No, please." "Please my lord, listen to me." "No, no, listen to me." It's like listening to hagglers at a market or something.
Jon: And we're not going to go there.
Tim: We're not going to go there. But the whole thing is Abraham legitimately ... the nations want to give this.
Jon: Yeah, he wants to buy it.
Tim: And he says, "No, I'm not going to take it. I'm going to buy it fair and square." This is the first and only piece of land in Canaan that Abraham ever owns.
Tim: Yeah, purchases.
Carissa: It's so bittersweet because it's for death.
Tim: It's a place of death. Exactly. But it's that paradox that it's where he and Sarah die and are buried, but it's the first down payment of the promise that the nations will find blessing when your seed is in this land.
Carissa: Yeah. And they'll be buried there forever is the feel.
Tim: Yeah, totally. You can go to the city of Hebron today in the West Bank, and there's a mosque that commemorates this spot. (00:57:00) And then there are some centuries-old buildings and tombs that mark the traditional spot for the burial. So you can go there and it's really, really cool.
But what I just want to focus on is the paragraph at the end of chapter 23. What's interesting is that it talks about ... Okay, so first of all, the cave of Machpelah. The word "cave" it’s the Hebrew word me'arat that comes from the Hebrew word “exposure” or “nakedness.”
Jon: Oh, really?
Carissa: Like arum.
Tim: It's both a wordplay on arum. It's spelled with the same letters. But it is actually spelled with the root letters of the word expose. Even though a cave is the opposite of exposure—
Jon: It's an enclosure.
Tim: It's an enclosure. But the words in Hebrew sound like the word “exposure” or “nakedness.” The word “Machpelah” means “doubling” or “pair.” So it's the nakedness, the exposure of the pair is the name of this place.
Carissa: Naked pair.
Tim: The naked pair. Come on. (00:58:00)
Jon: What is this about? What do you mean?
Tim: Can I think of another pair in the book Genesis where ...
Jon: Adam and Eve.
Tim: ... their nakedness was exposed?
Tim: It's the cave of nakedness. And remember, their nakedness was a sign of their disobedience that led to death. This is a burial cave named the nakedness of the pair.
Jon: Oh, wow.
Tim: Come on. This is so good, man. It just doesn't get any better. So Abraham bought this. This is verse 17. “It was transferred, this field that belonged to Ephron the Canaanite. The field that was in pair, which was facing Mamre ...” Ooh, remember that's where the tree was. The trees of Mamre. Yeah, the field and the cave that's in it and all the trees, so many trees around the nakedness of the pair that are on the surrounding border, “it was all transferred to Abraham as a possession in the eyes of the sons of Heth along with those entering the gate of the city.”
“After this, Abraham (00:59:00) buried his wife in the nakedness of the field of the pair which was facing Mamre, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan. And so it was transferred, the field and the cave that was in it, to Abraham as a burial plot possession from the sons of Heth.”
Carissa: You know, Hebron also ... the root of Hebron is "united" or "to unite."
Tim: Yeah, unity. Yeah, totally. So there's this whole paragraph that's designed in this really unnecessarily wordy way.
Tim: That's my point. And usually when that happens it's because there's a literary design feature that's trying to draw your attention to something. And clearly the emphasis by repetition is associating the nakedness of the pair—
Jon: The cave?
Tim: That’s what the phrase "cave of Machpelah" means ... Associating it with a field full of trees. And it's right next to Mamre. Well, what do I know about Mamre in the whole story? Oh, man.
Jon: That's the Eden place.
Tim: That's the Eden spot. (01:00:00) So essentially Abraham is now owning, not just putting up his tent in, but now owns and possesses a little Eden. But it's a place of death.
Jon: Yeah. He's burying his wife there. Eden is where there's supposed to be eternal life.
Tim: Exactly. But it's a possession.
Jon: Mm-hmm. It's like a down payment.
Tim: Yeah. And the possession is the down payment of and the way God wants to restore the blessing.
Jon: What an optimistic place to bury the loved one?
Jon: In the place where eternal life is supposed to take root.
Tim: It's sort of like ... think of somebody who buys a plot of land, cultivates it, gives it over to all of his grandchildren, and then is buried there. But precisely so that it can be where the next generation is going to flourish. So it's a place of death, but also a place for life and promise. And that's the image here.
Jon: Especially if it's a plot of land associated with the promise of life. (01:01:00)
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: Which is what this story has been about. So you're saying that the cave being next to the field with the trees and all this repetition of that.
Tim: And next to Mamre.
Jon: And next to Mamre, which is the place where early Abraham met with God ...
Tim: Yeah, under the tree.
Jon: ... under the tree, had the feast, this mega high point of Eden moment, it's all bringing that together. Not only that but the nation's coming to an agreement and a moment of Abraham actually inheriting the land in a very tangible way.
Tim: Yeah, he didn't steal it, he didn't fight for it. It was like a peaceful negotiation. This is how the Abraham story ends.
Jon: That's a high moment.
Tim: Oh, excuse me—
Jon: Even though it's death ... Oh, Abraham still dies.
Tim: Yeah, he dies a couple chapters later, but it ends with him buried in this cave. That's the last sentences of the Abraham story is him dying and then him being buried in this spot.
Tim: In all the same language.
Tim: Yeah. So even his (01:02:00) death has all these little hints of the promise of Eden life through whatever God's going to do in the next generations. Man, these stories are so amazing.
Jon: Yeah. Well, if you've got a couple of Hebrew scholars tagging along with you. I mean, I've read these stories before and it can become mind-numbing. All these random people in random places and then repetition of random details. And you just go, "Yeah, I'm lost, I'm a little bored, and I'm confused. And I know this is supposed to make sense. It's supposed to make sense, it's supposed to be God's word to me. I'm supposed to have this devotional moment." But yeah, reading Bible in community.
Tim: That's right.
Carissa: And community over and over. And that's why we're on this journey together podcasting.
Tim: That's what we're doing. It's why we started the BibleProject.
Jon: Now, did you want to do one more hit then?
Tim: That's it.
Jon: That's it.
Tim: That's it. Yeah. Abraham's dead. Abraham and Sarah, they're gone. They're buried (01:03:00) in the cave of the naked pair. So that wraps up movement two of the Genesis scroll.
Carissa: Trees in the story of Abraham.
Jon: So we'll move to movement three of Genesis, which is a story of Isaac and Jacob, mostly about Jacob. And we're going to be tracing a new theme through that movement. And we'll introduce that theme and that movement—
Tim: When we get there.
Jon: All right. Thanks for listening to this episode of BibleProject podcast. Next week we begin the third movement of the Genesis scroll. In this section, we follow the complicated journey of Jacob, and we trace the theme of blessing and curse.
Tim: And then as we're going to see there's three moments in page one of Genesis where God blesses. God blesses three times. And in each time, it is an effective blessing, or it brings into reality the thing that God is saying. And so it's (01:04:00) performative speech. And there's traces of that when we say "bless you" after you sneeze. At least there's a hope that my word will bring about the health instead of the cold. The biblical meaning of blessing is performative speech. And when God speaks it, he brings it about. And then when we speak it, what we are meaning is that we pray that God will bring a blessing to you.
Jon: Today's show was produced by Cooper Peltz, edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. The show notes are by Lindsey Ponder. BibleProject is a crowdfunded nonprofit. We exist to experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus.
The Bible is beautifully designed literary art, and we're learning to read it through its own structure and to see its own themes. You can develop these skills in our new BibleProject app. It's free on iOS and Android. In fact, everything we make is free: this podcast, our videos, the app. And it's all free (01:05:00) because of the generous support of thousands of people just like you all over the world. Thank you for being a part of this with us.