Tuesday, January 10, 2006

"Whose Side Are You On?"

Parts of Genesis make me angry. I'm angered by the vulnerability of women, of children, of slaves at the hands of the patriarchs -- old men who literally hold not only the fortunes, but the very life and death of the "least of these" in their hands. Abraham passing his wife off as his sister not once but twice to save his own skin -- Sarah presumably having to submit sexually to her temporary "master." (And the patriarch's son, according to the text, repeating this strategy in the next generation.) Hagar the concubine being "given" to Abraham, then being thrown out of the community with her son -- who is also Abraham's son -- and left to her fate in the desert. The interpersonal frictions and injustices created by the unjustness of the society, like the enmity that the patriarchal family structure creates between Sarah and Hagar -- the ways in which those oppressed by dysfunctional social systems must become complict in those very systems in order to survive -- disturb me.

But I am also impressed by the resiliancy of "the least of these" -- how they do what they have to do; their toughness and canniness, their subverting the system in which they live.

And through all these stories runs the same subtext: that God is on the side of the underdog. In a society where a woman's honor is invested entirely in her ability to produce male children, God's saving power rescues the barren. In a society where slaves and inconvenient children are expendable, God's saving power rescues a discarded slave and her child by her master. In a society where the eldest son in a family is the Golden Boy, God is on the side of the disinherited younger son. And, in the bigger picture, God is on the side of a rag-tag, rough-around-the-edges band of nomads surrounded by alien and often hostile cultures.

There's an old song that asks "Whose Side Are You On?" In Genesis, when we ask this question of God, the answer is "On the side of 'the least of these.'" And that is good news, in the midst of what reads like a lot of bad news about human nature and human behavior.


At 1/11/2006 4:24 AM, Anonymous Lorna said...

Sarah presumably having to submit sexually to her temporary "master."

I'm not sure she did have intercourse but that was the intervention of God and not Abraham's protection :( That's what gets me

It seems very common too that the maids are also given as concubines and bear sons for their mistresses' husbands. So alien to our culture.

When fundies call for a return to family and biblical values - I hope they don't actaully mean this! (grin)

At 1/11/2006 7:42 AM, Blogger LutheranChik said...

In Torah you find that pattern of repeated stories -- you never know if the writers/redactors were really, in their heads, reiterating the same story, or if they understood these as discrete but similar events. In my NRSV, the footnotes for the first account leave the impression that the king really did "have his way" with Sarah, even though as you note, the second time around the story changes somewhat and Sarah's virtue is saved. But in any case, she's being handed out like a door prize. And the sad thing is, this story happens for real all over the world in our own age.

At 1/11/2006 1:36 PM, Blogger Badoozie said...

i have to agree with you here, on the original treatments of women and children. but as in the begining, it makes sense, after all, God specifically created woman FOR man, and then man tried to make the woman take the fall for the original sin. it seems like this trend continued throughout the old testament, as you spoke of abram, and his son as well, who let the women take the blame, and pushed them out in front, to be used and abused. This is disturbing, and part of the reason why it is so important that the New Testament is attached, and focused on. That we focus on this as historical records, and we look in the New testament for the real expected treatment of women.

Fundamentalists, who push the notions of the old testament, are selfish, and self serving. they would have us believe that we are nothing but possessions, and we all know that is not true. we are equals. and God said so through Jesus Christ. Thank goodness!


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