Last week, the Old Testament reading was from Genesis 18:1-10a, with the option of the reading going until verse 14. This week, it is interesting that the Old Testament reading essentially follows last week's reading.
There is the option of verses 17-19, but the main text is Genesis 18:20-3.
It often happens that the Gospel texts follow one another, and this also often happens with the Epistle texts, but, when it comes to the Old Testament, this is extremely rare.
I would also like this week to look at a slightly bigger picture of the book of Genesis.
There will still be other chances to look at a particular text. But it is often nice to see
the bigger perspective.
The structure of Genesis is NOT a structure of chapter and verse. That structure was
imposed upon it at a later time. The main structural format within Genesis is a
concentric structure, in other words, ABCBA (although there are usually a lot more
letters involved). We are basically used to ABC. And I think we are also used to ABCA
when, for example, the preacher brings up the same point that he made at the
beginning of the sermon. It helps to 'go back to the beginning' in a way. And the
important things should be emphasized repeatedly. But, in this case, the middle thing
is even more important.
The writer of this book, traditionally Moses, did a good job making sure the structure fit together well. A literary work can fit together well historically, and it can fit together theologically, but it does not always have to fit together in a literary way. This work happens to do that though.
This concentric structure can be seen in the Flood account. It is also in the story of
Abraham, and it also comes up later with Jacob and Rachel (and it is also present in a
slightly different way in the story of Joseph). I like to look at the 'opposite' text, the
text that is a negative one that goes along with another text on the opposite, positive
side of the structure. The negative text happens to be the text for this Sunday.
With a concentric structure, the outline turns around in the middle and switches from a negative theme to a positive one. Some think that the turning point in this part of
Genesis is the birth of Isaac or circumcision. But I think the turning point here is the
same that is seen in the Flood account, and it is the same one that is seen later with
Jacob and Rachel. It is this: 'And God remembered....' That is a very nice and important
In Genesis 8:1, God remembered Noah, and things started to get better. In Genesis 30:22, 'God remembered Rachel', and she started having children. And, in the part of
Genesis that we are looking at, there is hidden away, in Genesis 19:29, 'So it was that,
when God destroyed the cities of the valley [Sodom and Gomorrah], God
remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when
he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.'
So, in Genesis 18, we are looking at Abraham 'interceding' for Sodom. This is the
'negative' interceding. Abraham starts by saying that, if fifty righteous people lived in
the city, it would not be fair to kill them as well. He then 'works' the Lord down a
ways; he goes from fifty, to forty-five, to forty, to thirty, to twenty, and then,
finally, to ten. Obviously, there were not ten good people there.
After the turning point of 19:29, things get much better. And I see the opposite of the
above text in Abraham 'interceding' for Abimelech. This guy had just taken Sarah for his
wife, and God came to him in a dream and literally said that he was a dead man (20:3).
Abimelech makes the case that he did not know that Abraham and Sarah were married. And God accepts that. He also says this: 'Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a
prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live (verse 7).'
This happens to be the first use of the word 'prophet' in the Old Testament. Now I
thought THAT intercession went much better ... and faster. And God turns out to be
very gracious--not a big surprise.