Monday, January 08, 2007

Who are these guys, anyway?

When the people of Israel left Egypt for the Promised Land, they encountered many hostile peoples. Some of them were distant relatives: the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites. Today's reading includes the story of the Ammonites and Moabites -- who they were and where they came from. It also offers a warning.

Abram's nephew Lot had taken the path of greed and went to live near Sodom (Genesis 13.12). Some time later, he got a house in Sodom itself (Genesis 19.2-3), and when the visitors (actually destroying angels) came to Sodom, Lot took them to that house. I do not know what went through Lot's mind during the bizarre discussion that followed with the men of the city.

But it is clear what happens next: the angels destroy the city, and Lot and his two daughters (but not his wife) barely survive. They live in a cave for some time, perhaps longer than they should, and Lot's daughters seduce him, each in turn.
So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
Genesis 19.36-38
As I understand it, the book of Genesis was written by Moses around the time of the Israelites' exodus from Egypt. So early readers of Genesis would have a pretty clear idea of who "the Moabites of today" (or the Ammonites) were: powerful enemies of Israel.

This passage seems to me a stern warning: "Be careful!" it says.

Lot didn't start off saying, "I'm going to take the path of greed and corruption, move into a wicked town, escape just as it's destroyed by God, have sex with my own daughters, and sire two tribes that will create major trouble for my cousin's descendants." He just took a step based on greed, taking the good land for himself. Then he took another step to seek comfort, moving into the wicked city of Sodom. I don't know the other steps, but by the time of Sodom's destruction it seems to me that he had gone just about completely off the rails.

Is there anything wrong with living in a nice place, or having a nice house? I hope not! But living in a wicked place, forgetting God and living without reference to him -- that's a problem.

May we be watchful (but not worried), and may the Lord help us to influence the world for good, rather than being influenced by the world for evil.

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