Tuesdays kill my commitment to a chapter a day. After working for 11 hours straight, writing even a short piece is difficult. Maybe my goal should be 6 chapters a week for the time being rather than one a day…
There’s a number of interesting things that happen in this chapter, which is about a small local war among the various leaders of tribes and city-states. It’s got some interesting and even accurate details (there really are traps of quicksand and bitumen around the Dead Sea) and part of me is inclined to think this one may have happened, partly because this sort of thing happens a lot.
But as someone who isn’t reading the Bible for history, there are two more important things going on.
The first is the difference in how Abram acts when Lot is in danger versus when he let Sarai get dragged off to the Pharaoh’s harem. When his nephew is taken captive, Abram raises a small army from his large number of servants, employees, and followers. They chase Lot’s captors from Sodom to Damascus (150 miles or so) to get him and his possessions back. He risks his life and his own resources to save him, whereas his own wife he let get taken off to possible rape just to avoid the possibility of danger to himself.
This means one of two things. The first is that Abram is growing as a character. It’s been several years, maybe he’s learned his lesson. Maybe the dressing down he got from Pharaoh actually had an impact. The other possibility is that Abram somehow cares more for Lot than he does for Sarai. But the way I see it, if he genuinely didn’t love Sarai, he would’ve long ago divorced her or taken a second wife. One idea that occurred to me is that maybe Abram believed that Lot, as his nephew, might be the one that God was intending to make a nation out of.
Either way, he gets Lot back and has an encounter with one of the more mysterious figures in the Bible, Melchizedek. He’s the king of Salem (later Jerusalem) who’s also a priest of God Most High – El Elyon, in Hebrew, rendered itotakaki kami in Japanese. This is a new name for God, different from either LORD (the tetragrammaton) or Elohim. But Abram immediately assumes that this is the same God as the LORD he’s been worshiping (v 22). Same God, different names – an example of pluralism in the Old Testament. Lots of other Near Eastern cultures had a distant creator sky god, sometimes named El, and it seems that maybe the writers of this part believed that god was actually the God, their God, the creator of heaven and earth.
Abram does a good deed by the Sodomites in returning all their goods and captive people, saying he doesn’t want them saying “I have made Abram rich.” (v 23) Given that he willingly took goods from the Pharaoh and got rich from Sarai’s abduction, I think this might lend credence to my “character growth” idea.
I really needed the NRSV’s help with this one, since again it had a lot of names transliterated in katakana. Once I got past the introductions, the Japanese was actually pretty readable: zenryoudo “the whole territory” (v 7), jin “battle position,” shiku “take a position” (v 8), hence jin o shiita, “took a battle position;” idomu “to challenge” (v 9),* ubau, “to snatch away” (v 11), katawara “nearby,” doumei “alliance” (v 13), horyo “prisoner of war” (v 14), ito- “very” (v 18), yuufuku “affluent” (v 23). I know that looks like a lot, but most I could decipher by context or the characters used.
*Verse 9 is a great example of how translation can wind up in two very different sentences. The English is:
with King Chedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Shinar, and King Arioch of Ellasar, four kings against five.”
The Japanese is:
These five kings threw down the gauntlet against the four kings, King Kedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goim, King Amrafel of Shinar, and King Aryok of Ellasar.
“Against” becomes a full verb – tatakai o idonda, “challenged to a fight.” It sounds much more epic than the NRSV’s relatively prosaic translation of the passage.