Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day

Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy: “We support biblical families.”

Today’s Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day: Isaac & Abimelech (Genesis 26:1-10).

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that had occurred in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar, to King Abimelech of the Philistines.

The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; settle in the land that I shall show you. Reside in this land as an alien, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and will give to your offspring all these lands; and all the nations of the earth shall gain blessing for themselves through your offspring, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister;” for he was afraid to say, “My wife,” thinking, “or else the men of the place might kill me for the sake of Rebekah, because she is attractive in appearance.”

When Isaac had been there a long time, King Abimelech of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw him fondling his wife Rebekah. So Abimelech called for Isaac, and said, “So she is your wife! Why then did you say, ‘She is my sister?’”

Isaac said to him, “Because I thought I might die because of her.”

Abimelech said, “What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.”

  • AnonaMiss

    Off-topic, which I’m putting here because it’s the newest post: I tuned into Hannity’s radio show on my evening commute yesterday for a helping of post-election schadenfreude, and he and his guest were discussing how Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson undermined the constitution and set us on the progressive path which has culminated in Barack Obama. Also that people like them, explicitly people “who believe in God,” are against this.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Two thoughts.

    Women in these stories seem to strongly resemble rubber sex dolls. No voice whatsoever.

    Isaac was ‘fondling’ her out in public? And when seen, the assumption was “Oh that must be your wife” rather than “You pervert. Messing with your sister.”?

    Ok, another thing.

    There don’t seem to be any legal or religious requirement to marry a sister before “lying with her”. God just nails you if you have sex with a wife … even if you didn’t know she was a wife. While the people who DID know get off scott free.

  • hidden_urchin

    All I’m thinking is, ” Wow, these guys were a bunch of cowards.”

  • aunursa

    From my Chumash:

    8 And it came to pass, as his days were lengthened, that Abimelech king of the Phillistines gazed down through the window and saw — behold! Isaac was jesting with his wife Rebecca. 9 Abimelech summoned Isaac and said, “But look! She is your wife! How could you say, ‘She is my sister?’”
    Isaac said to him, “Because I said that I would be killed because of her.”
    10 Abimelech said, “What is this that you have done to us?” One of the people has nearly lain with your wife and you would have brought guilt upon us!” 11 Abimelech then warned all the people saying, “Whoever molests this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”

    NOTES
    6-16. Isaac in Gerar. Because of his covenant with Abraham, Abimelech showed Isaac no malice; it was the residents who inquired about the identity of Rebecca. Knowing that they could spirit a wife away from her husband and murder him on some pretext, Isaace reverted to Abraham’s ruse, by identifying his wife as his sister (Ramban to v. 1 and 12:11)

    8As his days there lengthened. As time went by and they were not molested, Isaac stopped being careful to conceal his true relationship to Rebecca, and they behaved as man and wife in a manner that could be observed by the prying eyes of Abimelech (Rashi; Rashbam).

    10One of the people. This term also has the connotation of the most distinguished  one of the people; the king himself! Abimelech’s emotional outburst at Isaac, for his complaint was an implied admission that he himself had coveted Rebecca and was on the verge of taking her for himself…

    11Abimelech then warned. Rezlizing that no husband of a beautiful woman was safe in his land, Abimelech found it necessary to assure Isaac’s safety by issuing a royal decree on his behalf. What a vindication of Isaac’s initial apprehensions when entering this godless country!

  • Ursula L

    NOTES
    6-16. Isaac in Gerar. Because of his covenant with Abraham, Abimelech showed Isaac no malice; it was the residents who inquired about the identity of Rebecca. Knowing that they could spirit a wife away from her husband and murder him on some pretext, Isaace reverted to Abraham’s ruse, by identifying his wife as his sister (Ramban to v. 1 and 12:11)
    8 – As his days there lengthened. As time went by and they were not molested, Isaac stopped being careful to conceal his true relationship to Rebecca, and they behaved as man and wife in a manner that could be observed by the prying eyes of Abimelech (Rashi; Rashbam).
    10 – One of the people. This term also has the connotation of the most distinguished  one of the people; the king himself! Abimelech’s emotional outburst at Isaac, for his complaint was an implied admission that he himself had coveted Rebecca and was on the verge of taking her for himself…
    11 – Abimelech then warned. Realizing that no husband of a beautiful woman was safe in his land, Abimelech found it necessary to assure Isaac’s safety by issuing a royal decree on his behalf. What a vindication of Isaac’s initial apprehensions when entering this godless country!

    This commentary makes no sense.

    At first, Isaac is afraid, and so lies and calls his wife his sister.

    Then, as he’s been there a while, he realizes that he doesn’t have to be afraid, because the people there were good, and no threat, and so he is publicly affectionate with his wife in a way normal for husbands and wives.

    It’s clear that Isaac’s fears were unfounded.

    So then, why does the last comment label the people there as wicked?  

    Isaac fearing that they were wicked is not the same as their being wicked.  And their non-wicked behavior (leaving Rebecca alone, whether wife or sister, because rape isn’t nice and she wasn’t interested) had already reassured Isaac to the point that he was not worried about keeping up his ruse. 

    You can’t conclude that no husband of a beautiful woman was safe in that land, because Isaac and Rebecca had actually been safe in that land.

    The most you can conclude is that Isaac and Rebecca came from a culture other than the one of that land, and based on prior experience, they were afraid.  But the actual, decent, not-violent, not-murdering, not-raping behavior of the people there reassured them so that they put aside their ruse.  

    And the people there were upset, because it isn’t nice to be courting another man’s wife, while it is perfectly acceptable to court an unmarried woman (but not to attack her or take her away from her family without consent) and Isaac’s ruse might have led someone who generally respects the marriages of others to unknowingly and without their consent interfere with an established marriage, thinking they were courting an unmarried woman.

  • aunursa

    Then, as he’s been there a while, he realizes that he doesn’t have to be afraid, because the people there were good, and no threat, and so he is publicly affectionate with his wife in a way normal for husbands and wives.

    The rabbinic scholars interpreted it, not that Isaac concluded that he didn’t have to be afraid, but that he became careless.  I see that other rabbinic commentators agree (e.g. “… now he has become complacent.”)

  • AnonaMiss

    Whether Isaac realizes it or not, the people of that country aren’t bothering the beautiful, apparently-unmarried woman. Unlike the Abram story, in which it seemed like Pharaoh took Sarai into his harem ASAP, the men there haven’t touched her and have apparently been so unthreatening about it that Isaac has let his guard down. If they weren’t raping a beautiful unmarried woman, there’s no reason I’m aware of to believe that they would kill the husband of and rape a beautiful married woman.

    I suspect the commentators may have been unduly influenced by a long tradition of racism in the interpretation of this scripture.

  • http://jdm314.livejournal.com/ Mad Latinist

    “Fondling” might be a bit of an overtranslation. מְצַחֵק means something more like “making (her) laugh,” and from the context it’s generally assumed to be sexual (I wish I could find that entry by Christ Heard, I think, which pointed out you can give away your relationship by making someone laugh, without actually doing them in public.) The KJV “sporting” is pretty good in its way, but in modern American English I can only imagine them playing football or football or something.

  • http://jdm314.livejournal.com/ Mad Latinist

    Oops, totally forgot the point that made me want to mention this to begin with! מְצַחֵק (ancient mǝṣaḥeq, modern metsakhék) is from root ṣḥq “to laugh,” which also gives us יִצְחָק (yiṣḥåq, modern yitzkhák (though often stressed on the first syllable due to Yiddish influence)) “Isaac.” Recall Gen. 21:6 (and also Gen. 17:17, 18:12—16), where Isaac’s name derives from laughter.

    So the word was deliberately chosen as a pun!

  • aunursa

    I suspect the medieval commentators may have been influenced by a better understanding of the ancient Biblical cultures than us non-scholars, who apply our contemporary Western views to a Middle Eastern society from our perch nearly 1000 years further removed.

  • AnonaMiss

    Point taken.

  • Anton_Mates

     

    Whether Isaac realizes it or not, the people of that country aren’t bothering the beautiful, apparently-unmarried woman.

    Isaac seems to be a bit paranoid in general.  A little while later, he’s become one of the richest and most powerful people in Gerar, so the local herders start to get hostile and sabotage his wells, and Abimelech asks him to move away, probably to keep the peace.  He resettles outside Gerar, Abimelech shows up with his top officials to establish a non-aggression covenant, and Isaac’s first words are, “Why are you here?  You hate me!”

    One imagines that fictional-Mesopotamians told a lot of Hebrew jokes.  “Why did the Hebrew start building a twelve-foot barbed-wire fence in the middle of the night?  Because he suddenly remembered that he’d only introduced his wife as his half-sister!!1!” sort of thing.

  • Anton_Mates

    I’m not sure that medieval European commentators were substantially less removed than we are from Near Eastern Biblical authors of the 1st millennium BCE–let alone from the still older figures that those authors were writing about.  They certainly had access to some texts and other information sources that we don’t, but the opposite is also true.

    In this particular case, do the commentators cite any reasons for thinking that Isaac’s fear was legitimate?  (Within the story, I mean, not with respect to the “historical” Philistines of Gerar, whoever they were.)  I can’t personally think of any cases in the Tanakh where a murder actually was committed in order to steal the victim’s wife…except for David having Uriah killed, and David was a Hebrew!

  • Trixie_Belden

     I can’t personally think of any cases in the Tanakh where a murder actually was committed in order to steal the victim’s wife…except for David having Uriah killed, and David was a Hebrew!

    I’m beginning to think it was all projection on the Hebrews’ part.  In both the Abraham and the Issac story the response was, “well, why didn’t you tell us she’s your wife?”. But if the “no man with a beautiful wife is safe around these people” thing were true, wouldn’t the response have been, “She’s your WIFE?  AHA!!  PREPARE TO MEET MY KNIFE!!”, or something like that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    What, you thought projection was a 20th-21st century invention of the GOP?  I think it’s been around rather longer than that.

  • Ursula L

    Isaac seems to be a bit paranoid in general. 

    Of course Isaac is paranoid.   His own father tried to murder him, because of delusions that this was what god wanted.  

    The sane and self-protective responses of a child raised in such an environment will seem paranoid to anyone who was raised in non-abusive circumstances.  

    That moment when Isaac was tied up, with his father holding a knife above him, only to be distracted at the last moment, had to be a profound moment in Isacc’s life, and not a good one.  Isaac knows he can’t trust anyone.  Not his father, who held the knife, not his mother, who let his father take him away, not anyone else in his community, who did nothing to protect him.  

    The truly remarkable thing is that Abraham claimed that this event was god testing him, and the distraction was proof that god was good.  If I was Isaac, I wouldn’t trust that claim – stray livestock are a normal thing, a father holding a knife above your heart isn’t, and a god who  takes that kind of risk to test someone is dangerous and irresponsible.   This part of Genesis is fairly clearly polytheistic, and telling a story of why a particular family chose to focus their worship on a particular god.  

    But it makes a better case for rejecting all the gods as dangerous and irresponsible, rather than choosing this particular god because this particular god is especially loving and good.  Or, as in this story, it suggests that other gods lead their worshipers to more moral behavior (don’t rape Rebecca, and don’t murder her husband and/or brother) than the god that this story is trying to promote.  

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I always imagine that the Egyptians et al were totally planning to off Abram and Issac to take their wives, but when the respective patriarch came clean to them, they were ashamed of being called on it — whatever mental justification they had used to justify the murder to themselves failed and they were forced to fall back on righteous indignation. Y’know, like when you accuse a republican of being racist.

    Basically, I imagine it going a bit like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so-vHyYjgZk&t=41m30s

  • Trixie_Belden

    Thanks for the link – I hadn’t seen that one.

  • Ursula L

    The rabbinic scholars interpreted it, not that Isaac concluded that he didn’t have to be afraid, but that he became careless.  I see that other rabbinic commentators agree (e.g. “… now he has become complacent.”)

    Maybe he became careless in how he carried out his response to his paranoid fears about what the locals would do to him and Rebecca.

    But the fact of the story, as told, is that his carelessness had no negative consequences.  

    It only had the positive consequence of the locals realizing that Isaac and Rebecca were married and committed to each other, and treating them as such.  And also the reasonable annoyance by the locals that they were lied to.

    Along  with the local authorities seeing the situation, and rather than punishing Isaac for his lie, issuing a proclamation that clarifies the situation for the community.  (Wife, not sister, so continue your ongoing decent behavior of not murdering men, whether husbands and brothers, and not raping women, whether wives or sisters.)

    The proclamation also seems to be intended to help Isaac get over his paranoia.  

    No proclamation is actually needed to keep Isaac from being murdered or Rebecca from being raped.  Neither rape nor murder occur either before or after the proclamation, in the story.  

    Paranoid Isaac (1)  thought he had to choose between “I’m murdered, and my wife is raped” and “I’m left alone, healthy and whole, but my wife is raped, because everyone thinks it is okay to rape an unmarried woman, and that a brother wouldn’t care if his sister is raped, and I don’t care if my wife is raped, as long as they are considering her my sister, and leaving me alone.”  

    No proclamation was needed to keep Rebecca from being raped.  She wasn’t raped when she was considered Isaac’s sister.  She wasn’t raped when they knew she was Isaac’s wife.

    This is anextraordinary situation of a man being so paranoid that he assumes his wife will be raped, no matter what, so he tells lies to suggest that the locals could rape his “sister” because his “sister” couldn’t expect him to risk himself or fight them to protect her, so they could safely leave him alone if they decided to rape her.  

    And the locals were so extraordinarily forgiving. They ignored the insult of Isaac believing that they were rapists and murderers.   

    Instead, they made a point of making an official announcement that Rebecca was not to be raped, and Isaac was not to be murdered.  

    Even though no one is shown to actually try to rape Rebecca or murder Isaac.  

    They just made it clear that Isaac and Rebecca (like everyone else) could expect to be treated decently in their community, as they actually have been all along, and their leader  reaffirmed  that they will not rape, even foreign women living in their community, nor murder, even foreign men living in their community who is lying to them and insulting them. 

    ***

    Rabbinic scholars are stupid if they look at a situation where Rebecca isn’t raped and Isaac isn’t murdered, and conclude that the point of the story is that the people who neither raped Rebecca nor murdered Isaac, and who are not shown to actually rape or murder anyone, are actually wicked, evil and sinful rapists and murderers.  

    The Rabbinic scholars are not close enough to the time in which the story is set to give them better insight than us as to what is actually happening.  There are many centuries between the setting of these stories and the scholars interpreting these stories.  The scholars don’t live in the time and place and culture were Rebecca wasn’t raped and Isaac wasn’t murdered. 

    If anything, we have a better chance of understanding the story than Rabbinical scholars.  Because we have the benefit of archaeology, and the Rosetta stone and other tools for reading ancient documents, and many other ways of learning about the past.  

    The rabbinical scholars only use one set of secondary source texts.  And they start with the assumption that certain characters in those texts are by-definition-good, and everyone else is by-definition-bad.  

    So they take stories where certain characters are clearly awful  (such as calling their wife their sister in order to distance themselves from the obligation of protecting another person from rape) and try to twist abandoning someone to (potential) rapists as good behavior.  

    The Rabbinical scholars have one set of secondary source texts.  Not texts created by the people who were experiencing the events and recording things as they happened.  But rather the secondary source of historians/theologians/story-tellers writing down what they have heard from others.  

    We have those same secondary source texts, plus a variety of primary and secondary sources from the same time and place.  Plus the benefit of all the scholarly thought that has happened in  between now and the Rabbinical scholars, including things like the understanding that documents need to be read knowing that they show the subjective perspective of the writer of the documents rather than an objective truth. 

    So we can know that “Isaac is afraid that he will murder him so that the locals so that they can rape his wife” is in no way the same as ” Isaac believes that the locals will murder him so that they can rape his wife, but will leave them both alone if they think Isaac and Rebecca are brother and sister.”  

    It isn’t even the same as “the locals will rape Rebecca no matter what, but Isaac can protect himself by acting like a brother who doesn’t care if his sister is raped, but who thinks that the locals believe he will step in to step in to defined his honor if anyone wants to have sex with the woman he negotiated with her father to marry, and therefor his if he tries to help her protect herself from rapists he might get hurt trying to keep her safe.” 

    ****************************************

    (1) And Isaac is understandably concerned about being murdered, given that his own father tried to murder him, until distracted by stray livestock.  Even though the attempted murder by his father doesn’t logically lead to believing everyone is out to murder you, it does have the reasonable logical and psychological  result of making someone see everyone as a potential murderer, even if not an immediate threat.  

  • Ben English

    Notice that Abimelech doesn’t even bring up the possibility of violence or coercion, even. “One of the people might easily have lain with your wife!”

    Maybe Issac should have been less concerned about his neighbors’ supposed savagery and more concerned that his paranoia had given his wife his wife an excuse to flirt with adultery. After all, shoot down apparently-non-rapist suitors too much and you’re bound to blow your cover.


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