THE PROPER INTERPRETATIVE PERSPECTIVE FOR THE FELLOWSHIP NARRATIVE (GN 18:1-15)

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Introduction

The episode in Genesis 18:1-15 is of exceptional significance. Here the Lord appeared as three men, which is a unique event in the Old Testament (cf. Von Rad 1972:205). The text of Genesis 18:1-15 is known as the first section of a larger narrative complex that covers Genesis 18 and 19 (cf. Driver 1904:191; Westermann 1985:274; Wenham 1994:40-43; Hamilton 1995:30). As this work did research on the first section (Gn 18:1-15) of the Hebron narrative (Gn 18:1-33), this writer found that the interpretations of scholars on the passage are diverse and fragmentary. The logical flow in the systematic understanding of the narrative is mostly disconnected and confused. In other words, there are many conflicting views in interpreting each significant element of the narrative. Therefore, this writer feels a strong need to do research on these controversial issues within the first section (Gn 18:1-15) of the Hebron narrative.

Seven Antitheses

Fragmentary and inconsistent interpretations of the first section (Gn 18:1-15) of the Hebron narrative need to be evaluated and interpreted again in the light of connecting themes in the former part (Gn 17) and following part (Gn 18:16-9:33; cf. Sarna 1989:128; Mathews 1996:195; Sailhamer 1976:143; Hartley 1995:175). It means that this writer do find that there are many neglected or un-properly interpreted elements among the former interpretations on the episode (Gn 18:1-15). This writer finds that each different view or fragmented view is based on different clue words or interpretative perspectives borrowed from outside the Old Testament (cf. Gunkel 1997:192-193; Skinner 1980:302-303; Simpson 1978:616-617). This work presumes that the first narrative section (Gn 18:1-15) was written or compiled with one or another theological intent by the author. Therefore, this work assert that this narrative must be interpreted in line with the author’s own theological intent as expressed through the author’s unique literary skills (cf. Sailhamer 1976:142). Therefore, this work will attempt to find the author’s own interpretative perspective in this thesis. Each existing controversial interpretative issue needs to be re-interpreted according to the author’s own theological intent. There are various conflicting views in the understanding of the first section of the Hebron narrative. This work summarizes them into the following seven antitheses.

Motive of God’s Visit: To Test Abraham or Sharing Covenantal Fellowship?

The third issue to be addressed is the motive of the Lord’s visit in human form. The main concern here is to decide whether the Lord visits Abraham to test the righteousness of his behavior (being hospitable towards unknown visitors) or rather to share covenantal fellowship with Abraham. Scholars who hold the view of Abraham’s later recognition of the divinity of the three visitors commonly interpret that the motive for the disguised appearance of the Lord is to test Abraham’s hospitality. Many of them conduct inter-textual study with pagan parallels (cf. Gunkel 1997:193). In the Greek mythology, the motif of deities’ visit is usually to test the hospitality of a host. So gods disguise themselves therefore in plain human form. Hospitality is the only real virtue to be tested among pagan parallels (cf. Von Rad 1972:205; Roop 1987:126). So they attempt to interpret the motive of the Lord’s visit as the testing of Abraham’s hospitality in the fashion of Greek legends (cf. Gunkel 1997:193; Simpson 1978:616-617; Skinner 1980:299).

The Birth of Isaac: Gift or Reward?

The fifth issue is the main theme of the dialogue in Genesis 18:9-15. The main concern is to decide whether Sarah receives the word of annunciation as the reward for Abraham’s showing extraordinary hospitality or because of God’s faithfulness to fulfill what he promised. Scholars who praise Abraham’s hospitality as a charitable act tend to think that Abraham receives the word of reconfirmation as a reward for his acts (cf. Gunkel 1997:196; Wenham 1994:45). But Pagan kings blame Abraham’s immorality harshly for telling lies (Gn 12:11-20; 20:1-18). When it comes to the moral maturity of Sarah, she seems to fall short of the standard of being blameless (Gn 16:1-6; 21:8-21; cf. Jeansonne 1990:18-21). However, apparently Sarah was described as a receiver of the benefit of the promise of the Lord.

Acknowledgments
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Seven Antitheses
1.2.1 Abraham’s Hospitality: Doing Meritorious Work or Worshiping the Lord?
1.2.2 Abraham’s Recognition of the Deity: The First Moment or Later Moment?
1.2.3 Motive of God’s Visit: To Test Abraham or Sharing Covenantal Fellowship?
1.2.4 Concept of Food: Is it Ordinary Food or Cultic Offering?
1.2.5 The Birth of Isaac: Gift or Reward?
The Great Delay of the Fulfillment: Is It because of Sarah’s Moral Unrighteousness
or of her lacking of Faith?
1.2.7 Does the Lord require Righteousness by Faith or That of Obeying the Way of the
Lord in the Hebron Narrative?
1.2 Methodology of thesis
CHAPTER TWO: THE PROPER INTERPRETATIVE PERSPECTIVE FOR THE FELLOWSHIP NARRATIVE (GN 18:1-15)
2.1 Genre of Genesis 18:1-15
2.2 Narrative Style
2.3 Structural Analysis and its Interpretation
2.3.1 Problem by the Traditional Structural Interpretation
2.3.2 Sandwiched Structure in the Larger Context (Gn 18:1 – 21:7)
2.3.2.1 The Author’s Theological Intent by Using a Sandwiched Plot Structure
2.3.3 Summary: The Structural Interpretation on the Fellowship Narrative (Gn 18:1-15)
2.4 Linking Structure between Genesis 18 with Genesis 17
2.4.1 Similar Linking Structure in Genesis 15:1
2.4.2 Theological Nuance of “the Lord appeared to” in the Larger Context
2.4.3 Inter-textual Study on Different Deity Titles
2.4.4 The Test Motive View based on Greek Mythology
2.4.5 The Interpretative Perspective by the Word of Hebrews 13:2
2.4.6 Inter-textual Study on the Sequential Plots between the Hebron narrative (Gn 17:7-
18:33) and the Covenant narrative in Exodus 24:1-18
2.4.7 Inter-Textual Study between Genesis 18 and Joshua 5 Concerning Circumcision and Theophany
2.4.8 Summary
CHAPTER THREE: NARRATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE FIRST SCENE AND ITS THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCES (GN 18:1-8)
3.1 Structure of the first Scene and it significance (Gn 18:1-8)
3.1.1 Unique Sequence of the First Scene as Shown by Inter-textual Study
3.1.1.1 Theological Perspective of the Sequence by Inter-textual Study
3.2 Settings of the First Scene (Gn 18:1-8)
3.2.1 Geographical Setting of Mamre at Hebron and its Theological Significance
3.2.2 Setting of “the great trees” and its Theological Significance (Gn 18:1a)
3.2.3 Setting of a Nomadic Tent Life and Noon Time
3.2.4 Summary
3.3 Characterization of Abraham as the Forerunner of the Great Prophets
3.3.1 Abraham as Prophet in Larger Context
3.3.2 Abraham’s Hurried Actions Indicating Suitable Response to Theophany
3.3.2.1 Cultic Nuance of Abraham’s Bow Down to the Ground
3.3.2.2 Abraham’s Bowing down to the Ground in the Larger Context
3.3.3 Is Abraham Characterized as Someone Recognizing the Divinity of his Visitors by
Using the Courteous Words of Invitation He Used?
3.3.3.1 The Succinct Answer toward Abraham’s Courteous and Long Address of Invitation
3.3.3.2 “My Lord” versus “My lord”
3.3.4 Abraham’s Standing at the Table Meal Characterizes His Attitude Towards God
3.3.5 Summary
3.4 The Motif of Abraham’s Preparation of an Extraordinary Meal (Gn 18:6-8)
3.4.1 Different Motives for Preparing Meals as Indicated by Inter-textual Study
3.4.2 Cultic Implication of the Three Seahs of Fine Flour (Gn 18:6)
3.4.3 Abraham’s Motif for his Selection of a Choice Calf (Gn 18:7)
3.4.4 Underlying Theological Motive for Abraham’s Meal having no Grape Products
3.4.5 Diverse Theological Implications of the Lord’s Eating of the meals
CHAPTER FOUR: NARRATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE SECOND SCENE AND THEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE (GN 18:9-15)
4.1 Plot Structure of the Second Scene (Gn 18:9-15)
4.2 Characterization of Abraham (Gn 18:9)
4.2.1 Abraham through Inter-textual Comparison (Gn 18:9; Jdg 13:1-25)
4.2.2 Characterization of Abraham by Indication of his Silent Attitude (Gn 18:9-15)
4.3 Characterization of Sarah (Gn 18:9-15)
4.3.1 Characterization of Sarah within the Larger Context
4.3.2 The Theological Significance of Sarah’s Skeptical Laughter
4.3.3 Theological Significance of the Lord’s Return (bWv shuv)
4.3.3.1 Should Isaac’s Birth be Understood as Getting a Reward?
4.3.4 Summary
4.4 Underlying Motif of the Great Delay of Fulfillment of the Promised Son (Gn 18:9-15)
4.4.1 The Motif of Giving a New Name
4.4.2 Reason for a Great Delay by Inter-textual Study of Parallels; Gn 25:19-26; 30:1-24;Jdg 13)
4.4.3 Other Reasons for the Great Delay in the Fulfillment of the Promised Son
4.4.3.1 Sin of Doubt is the Underlying Motive of Great Delay
4.4.3.2 Sin of Doubt in the Larger Context
4.4.3.3 Great Delay was Necessary?
4.4.4 How Matriarchs were freed from Barrenness
4.4.5 Theological Motif of Emphasizing Miraculous Births
4.4.6 Summary
CHAPTER FIVE: DEPICTION OF THE LORD AND HIS REQUIREMENTS IN FELLOWSHIP NARRATIVE (GN 18:1-15)
5.1 Anthropomorphic Characterization of the Lord (Gn 18:1-15)
5.1.1 God’s Intimate Relationship Depicted through Anthropomorphisms
5.1.2 Animated God through Anthropomorphism (Gn 18:1-15)
5.1.3 Summary
5.2 The Narrator’s Characterization of God’s Faithfulness (tm,a/ or hn »Wma) in the First Question (Gn 18:9a)
5.2.1 Characterization of God’s Faithfulness by Giving Reconfirmation of the Promise (Gn 18:10-15)
5.2.2 Characterization of God’s Faithfulness in the Larger Context of the Abraham Narrative
5.2.2.1 Characterization of God’s Faithfulness by Using the Same Plot Sequence (Gn 15:1b-6 and18:9-15)
5.2.2.2 Characterization of God’s Faithfulness by Means of a Sandwich Structure (Gn 18-21)
5.2.3 Summary
5.3 Characterization of God’s Righteousness in the Fellowship Narrative (Gn 18:1-15)
5.3.1 The Lord Demands Sarah (Gn 18:9-15) to be Righteous by Faith (Gn 15:6)
5.3.2 God’s Demand to do Righteousness in the Larger Context
5.3.2.1 Demand of Righteousness (Gn 17:1d-2) and the Fellowship Narrative
5.3.2.2 Theological Nuance of “Walk before me”
5.3.3 Reason of Abraham’s Willing Obedience
5.3.3.1 Theological Significance of Getting Circumcision for Interpreting the Fellowship Narrative (Gn 18:1-15)
5.3.4 Summary
CHAPTER SIX: Summarily Conclusion of the Thesis Bibliography

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A STUDY OF GOD’S ENCOUNTER WITH ABRAHAM IN GENESIS 18:1-15 AGAINST THE BACKGROUND OF THE ABRAHAM NARRATIVE

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