Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch As Narrative. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
Chapter 1, “Genesis” pp. 81-240.
Part 2 “Account of Abraham (11:27-25:10) pp. 137-184. Section D “Abraham and Lot (13:5-19:38)” pp. 143-174.
This fairly lengthy portion of the chapter contains rather a lot of subheadings, as we saw in the outline survey earlier. Again, Sailhamer focuses on the theme of separation and struggle. In Genesis 13 Abraham cedes the land of Lot’s choosing to him. Lot takes the portion which looks good to him. Abraham is given a promise of the land, while Lot becomes the father of the Ammonites and Moabites, two nations which were an obstacle in the time of Moses. The critical element in Sailhamer’s estimation is that God’s promise will be fulfilled in God’s timing.
Genesis 14, with discussion beginning on p. 145, seems a slightly related interruption. However, Sailhamer views this passage as a means of presenting Abraham, the faithful bearer of the covenant, as the one to whom God delivers earthly kings but who wishes to have none of their power or goods. Lot, on the other hand, dwelling in Sodom, becomes a prisoner of war, impelling Abraham to go to his rescue. After the rescue, we see that Abraham responds favorably to the king of Salem and not to the king of Sodom. “Abraham’s response to the king of Salem, then, is an appropriate recognition of the validity of Melchizedek’s offer as well as of his priesthood” (Sailhamer 1992, 147). Melchizedek had acknowledged deliverance coming from God while the king of Sodom had not.
In chapter 15 of Genesis, the author begins to portray Abraham as a prophet. Sailhamer sees a good deal of symbolism in the chapter (Sailhamer 1992, 149). Despite God’s promises the people will suffer hardship and delay. The promise is not made void. It is simply deferred. Abraham has been anticipating the child of promise. He is old and childless. In chapter 15 God repeats his promise (Sailhamer 1992, 150). Sailhamer reminds us again of the intergenerational nature of the Pentateuch. “The importance of the vision [Gen. 15] lies not so much in the assurances it may have given Abraham in his own day, but rather in the assurances it was to give the reader” (Sailhamer 1992, 151). Abraham’s descendants are to be many and to inherit the land.
In Genesis 15:6-17 we begin the restatement of the covenant. Sailhamer makes several highlights on p. 152. “The covenant did not make him [Abraham] righteous; rather it was by his faith that he was reckoned righteous” The covenant is based in the former act of God calling Abraham from Ur. It also foreshadows God’s rescue of Israel from Egypt.
Sailhamer observes about Genesis 16 that Hagar is an Egyptian and a maid. She may be referred to in this way as an example of bondage and an illustration of the prohibition against foreign wives. Sailhamer sees deliberate prophetic parallels between the fall narrative and Sarah’s giving of Hagar to Abraham, both human attempts to achieve God’s plan through human means (Sailhamer 1992, 153). He continues to draw parallels, including the angel’s seeking out of Hagar in the wilderness (Sailhamer 1992, 155).
The visit of God to Abraham in Genesis 17 is put in context with the statement of Abraham’s age. His being 99 years old clarifies the age of Ishmael. It also makes it plain that he is of a very advanced age and should not be expected to have children. God’s covenant, as Sailhamer points out on p.157, is a promise of descendants and faithfulness. Sailhamer goes on to note numerous details and extrapolations from the discourse in Genesis 17. God extends his covenant with Abraham to include Isaac, the child of promise, excluding Ishmael (Sailhamer 1992, 158).
“Chapter 18 is an extensively developed narrative showing clear signs of theological reflection at several key points” (Sailhamer 1992, 160). Both the birth of Isaac and “the fate of the righteous amid divine judgment” (Sailhamer 1992, 160) come up repeatedly. Sailhamer considers Genesis 18 as an attempt to deal with those issues in a theological way. In this chapter Abraham’s location is re-established. He receives three visitors who are somehow related to the appearance of God (Sailhamer 1992, 161). The relationship is left a little bit unclear. Sailhamer engages a number of the singular/plural difficulties in the passage.
After the discussion of the birth of Isaac, the child of promise, in which it is very clear that God will do the impossible, the “three men” prepare to leave. In Genesis 18:16 the author begins to foreshadow the events to come by having the men look down upon Sodom (Sailhamer 1992, 167). The Lord and Abraham discuss the rescue of the righteous from Sodom. Sailhamer again observes the oddly close relation among the “three men” on p. 168 when the Lord will see for himself what is happening in Sodom, then the “two men” go.
Sailhamer turns his attention to Genesis 19 on p. 170. The two messengers from chapter 18 are cast as “men” who come to visit Lot. Lot’s character is not the same as Abraham’s. “Unlike Abraham, who immediately recognized God’s presence in the visit of the men (18:2), Lot appears quite insensitive to God’s presence with the messengers - he addresses them only as ‘sirs’ (19:2). Though he was just as hospitable as Abraham and can certainly not be put in the same class as the men of Sodom, Lot’s suggestion that the men of the city take his own daughters and do with them as they please can hardly be taken, within the present narrative at least, to be a sign of his good character” (Sailhamer 1992, 171).
In the escape from Sodom “the narrative does not dwell on the destruction of the cities. It rather centers our attention on the response of two individuals, Lot’s wife and Abraham, both of whom ‘looked’ at the destruction of the cities but with very different consequences” (Sailhamer 1992, 173).