genesis 16-17 - slave abuse + penises

In Chapter 12, you might have felt sympathy for poor Sarai, Abram’s wife. Abram basically prostituted her out to Pharaoh in exchange for wealth.

In Chapter 16, prepare to lose all that sympathy. The story goes like this:

Sarai, as previously mentioned, is barren. She wants a child, though, and convinces Abram to impregnate Hagar, her “maid” (i.e., slave girl). Abram does this, after which Hagar starts to “despise” her mistress (Wouldn’t you? It’s not like Hagar had a choice in the matter). Sarai asks Abram to punish her, but Abram says, basically, “She’s your slave. You punish her.” Sarai does so harshly, and Hagar flees into the desert.

Once again, we have an example of a victim being punished for being victimized.

An angel (avatar) of God appears to her and provides water. The angel commands Sarai to return to her owner, promising that her “seed” will be numerous.

So, one again, we have God approving of the victim being punished.

Hagar bears a son, whom Abram names Ishmael – just as the angel prophesied! I bet you didn’t see that coming.

Chapter 17 is about penises. (Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t write it!)

First, though, God once again repeats his promise to Abram. That’s the one in which he will give Abram’s lineage all the lands of Israel (described many times as much larger than the modern-day state). Also, that Abram’s “seed” shall be greater in number than all the sands on the beach, or all the stars in the sky. Needless to say, neither of these things ever happened.

Abram is here renamed Abraham. Sarai is renamed Sarah later in the chapter.

Now we get to the penises.

In order to commemorate this promise (which, again, God never fulfills), he commands that Abraham and all his male offspring circumcise themselves. Also, their male slaves must be circumcised. God goes into quite a lot of detail here. Infants are to be circumcised eight days after birth. Everyone else has to be circumcised immediately: Abraham himself at age 90, and Ishmael at 13. Anyone who is not circumcised will be cast out and made a pariah.

Ten of the 27 verses in this chapter are about circumcision.

One has to wonder what cutting off the foreskin of the penis has to do with God (not) giving the land of Israel to the Hebrews. Considering how it all turned out, you can’t help but wonder if this was not all part of some elaborate divine practical joke.

God also promises that Sarah will now conceive a child of her own. Furthermore, this child, Isaac, will be Abraham’s heir, despite being his second son. Ishmael won’t make out too badly in the long run (relatively, anyway), but you have to wonder if that whole Hagar thing in the preceding chapter was really necessary if God was just going to circumvent it anyway.

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