FIVE SERB LEADERS FOUND GUILTY AT HAGUE OF MASS KILLINGS IN BOSNIA
This blog is meditating on the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark. The series which began on 1st January 2015 can be accessed from my archives.
1 And it happened in the days of Amraphel the king of Shinar, Arioch the king of El-lasar, Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and Tidal the king of nations,
2 that they made war with Bera the king of Sodom, and with Birsha the king of Gomorrah, Shinab the king of Admah, and Shemeber the king of Zeboim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar.
3 All these were joined in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.
4 Twelve years had they served Chedorlaomer; and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.
5 And in the fourteenth year came Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, and crushed the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, and the Zuzim in Ham, and the Emim in Shaveh-Kirjathaim,
6 and the Horites on their mount Seir, to El-Paran, which is by the wilderness.
7 And they returned, and came to En-mishpat, which is Kadesh, and crushed all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites that dwelt at Hazazon-Tamar.
8 And the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar, went out, and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim,
9 with Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and Tidal the king of nations, and Amraphel the king of Shinar, and Arioch the king of Ellasar—four kings against the five.
10 And the vale of Siddim was full of pits of asphalt. And the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there: and they that remained fled to the mountain.
11 And they took all the property of Sedom and Amorrah, and all their stores, and departed.
12 And they took Lot and his property, Abram’s brother’s son, and departed. For he dwelt in Sodom.
13 And one who had escaped came and told Avram the Hebrew. And he dwelt by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, the brother of Eshcol, and the brother of Aner. And these were Avram’s allies.
14 And Avram heard that his brother was taken captive; and he led out his trained [servants], born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them as far as Dan.
15 And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and crushed them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is to the left of Damascus.
16 And he brought back all the property, and brought again his brother Lot and his property, and the women also, and the people.
17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after he had returned from crushing Chedorlaomer, and the kings that were with him, into the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s valley.
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. And he was priest of the Most High God.
19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Avram of the Most High God, possessor of heavens and earth.
20 And blessed be the Most High God, who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him the tenth of all.
21 And the king of Sodom said to Avram, Give me the souls, and take the property for yourself.
22 And Avram said to the king of Sedom, I have lifted up my hand to JHWH, the Most High God, possessor of heavens and earth,
23 if from a thread even to a sandal-thong, yes, if of all that is yours, I take anything…; that you may not say, I have made Avram rich;
24 save only that which the young men have eaten, and a portion for the men that went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them take their portion.
This is a strange old piece of tradition, which is intended to show Avram as a brave and skilled commander, albeit warfare is not his usual mode of life.The batles of the kings are detailed in good storytelling fashion with the old place names glossed by the names used in the author’s time. This gives the story both a sense of the past, and of factual correctness, although it is of course a legend. There is a again a hint in the story that Lot has chosen badly in his preference for the cities of the plain; while Avram is shown as loyal to his nephew nevertheless.
The appearance of the priest-king Melchizedek, whom Avram honours with a priestly portion of a tenth, lets the author show God’s blessing on Avram recognised by a foreign holy man. Avram’s generosity towards the King of Sedom means that he is in no way beholden to those whom YHWH is about to destroy, and that he did not act on their behalf, but for his own kin. The author wants his audience to note the wisdom and moderation of what Avram does, even in warfare.
Again we see in this episode the author’s theology of God’s blessing: God does not intervene, nor does Avram spend a lot of time in prayer, but rather, with confidence in God’s blessing, Avram chooses well, and the results are good. The relationship of Avram with God is one of mutual trust, yet God has plans which go beyond his mortal partner. We see however, that God cannot, as it were, stand to the side of this relationship, but has to give himself seriously to the concerns of his partner. The demands of such a relationship are made clear with shocking clarity, in chapter 22 of Genesis.
45 And immediately Jesus compelled his disciples to go on board ship, and to go on before to the other side to Bethsaida, while he sends the crowd away.
46 And, having dismissed them, he departed into the mountain to pray.
47 And when evening was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and Jesus alone upon the land.
48 And seeing them labouring in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the fourth watch of the night he comes to them walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.
49 But they, seeing him walking on the sea, thought that it was an apparition, and cried out.
50 For all saw him and were troubled. And immediately he spoke with them, and says to them, Be of good courage: it is I; be not afraid.
51 And he went up to them into the ship, and the wind fell. And they were exceedingly beyond measure astonished in themselves and wondered;
52 for they did not understand through the loaves: for their heart was hardened.
Mark’s picture of Jesus is always clear: he is the presence of God’s goodness but he has no supernatural powers; he, like other human beings, seeks God in prayer. The “walking on water” episode is intended by the author as a dream- sequence or spirit-journey which reveals to the reader something that is not evident to the characters. The ship of faith is having a hard time on the water, which is a symbol of chaos and evil. This is a permanent ruth about the ship of faith, when its crew are “on their own”. Jesus notices and comes towards them, walking on the water, as God is said to have done in Job 9:8. But he is not coming to help them, at least not initially, for he has business of his own. They are terrified, not by the wind and the waves, but by his presence, which they think is a ghost. Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord who walks the waves of death but they find difficulty in perceiving his identity. They have not fully understood the feeding of the 5000. When Jesus joins them in the boat, the wind falls and they make headway.
This little drama, like many of Mark’s creation, puts his own Christian readers on the lake with the original disciples and challenges them to see who Jesus is, and to trust him. Does “being on their own” indicate a lack of faith on the part of the disciples? No. There are always situations in which people of faith are indeed on their own, where Jesus seems to have other business. In the turmoil of life, it is hard to hear the One in whom God says, “It is I.” In sober truth it’s sometimes next to impossible even for fortunate believers like me-how must it be for people who are really up against it? If we go with Mark on this spirit-journey we come up against the limits of our own faith.There will be times when the Lord seems to be with us in the boat and times when he doesn’t. Mark says that’s because our hearts are hardened. Maybe so, but who sent us out on this boat in the first place?