Biblical Economics 48: Abraham’s Economic Life

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” –Genesis 12:1

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.* –Psalm 1:1



*A mocker is not a person who laughs at your jokes; its a person who laughs at you, because they reject you, make fun of you, ridicule your views and personality, and basically make you out to be a fool. Merriam-Webster says it is a teaser who “causes repeated emotional pain, distress, or annoyance to another.” Adam Clarke said, “He who has no religion; lives in the open breach of God’s laws, and turns revelation, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of an invisible world, into ridicule. He is at least a deist, and endeavours to dissolve, as much as he can, the bonds of moral obligation in civil society. As the sinner exceeds the ungodly, so the scornful exceeds both.” Abraham’s “household” or his family in Haran had apparently been acting this way toward him. The extra-Biblical content that I was referring to in this video was not from the Talmud, but from the Midrash: specifically Bereishit Rabbah 38-39. It says these things, which correct me in several places:

Bereishit Rabbah 38:13

“And Haran died in the presence of his father Terach.” Rabbi Hiyya said: Terach was a manufacturer of idols. He once went away somewhere and left Abraham to sell them in his place. A man came in and wished to buy one.” How old are you?” Abraham asked the man. “Fifty years old,” he said. “Woe to such a man, who is fifty years old and would worship a day old object!” Avraham said.  On another occasion a woman came in with a plateful of flour and requested him, “Take this and offer it to them.” So he took a stick and broke them, and put the stick in the hand of the largest. When his father returned he demanded, “What have you done to them?” “I cannot conceal it from you. A woman came with a plateful of fine meal and requested me to offer it to them. One claimed, ‘I must eat first,’ while another claimed, ‘I must eat first.’ Thereupon, the largest arose, took the stick and broke them.” “Why do you make sport of me? Have they any knowledge?” Terach said. “Should not your ears hear what your mouth has said?” Avraham said. Thereupon Terach seized him and delivered him to Nimrod. “Let us worship fire,” Nimrod said. “Let us rather worship water which quenches fire,” Avraham said. “Let us worship water,” Nimrod said. “Let us rather worship the clouds which bear the water,” Avraham said. “Let us then worship the clouds,” Nimros said. “Let us worship the wind which disperses the clouds,” Avraham said. “Let us worship the wind,” Nimrod said. “Let us worship human beings which can stand up to the wind,” Avraham said. “You are just bandying words, and we will worship nothing but the fire. Behold, I will cast you into it, and let your God whom you adore come and save you from it!” Nimrod said. Now Haran was standing there undecided. “If Avraham is victorious, I will say that I am of Avraham’s belief, while if Nimrod is victorious, I will say that I am on Nimrod’s side,” he thought. When Avraham descended into the fiery furnace and was saved, Nimrod asked him, “Of whose belief are you?” “Of Abraham’s,” he replied. Thereupon he seized him and cast him into the fire; his innards were scorched and he died in the presence of his father. Hence it is written, “And Haran died in the presence of his father Terach.”

Bereishit Rabbah 39:1

“G-d said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your land…’” (Genesis 12:1) Rabbi Yitzchak opened: “Listen, daughter, look, and incline your ear, and forget your people and your father’s house.” (Psalms 45:11) Rabbi Yitzchak said: this may be compared to a man who was traveling from place to place when he saw a castle aglow. He said, “Is it possible that this castle lacks a person to look after it?” The owner of the building looked at him and said to him, ‘I am the master of the castle.’” What happened with Abraham our father was similar. He said, “Is it possible that this universe lacks a person to look after it?,” the Holy Blessed One looked at him and said to him, ‘I am the Master of the Universe.’” “And let the king be aroused by your beauty since he is your master” (Psalms 45:12) And let the king be aroused for your beauty in the universe. “And bow to him” (Psalms 45:12) Hence, G-d said to Abram, [go forth…].

Bereishit Rabbah 39:2

“G-d said to Abram…” (Genesis 12:1) Rabbi Berekhyah opened: “Your perfumes have good fragrance, your name is poured-out oil” (Song of Songs 1:3) Rabbi Berekhyah said: to what was Abraham our father similar? to a flask of balsam-tree juice close with a tight lid, placed in a corner and its fragrance was not emitted. When it was moved, its fragrance was emitted. Thus the Holy Blessed One said to Abraham our Father, move yourself from place to place and your name will become great in the world…

Bereishit Rabbah 39:6

Rabbi Azariah in the name of Rabbi Acha opened: “You love justice and hate evil, therefore God, your God has anointed you with oil of joy over your peers” (Pslams 45:8). Rabbi Azariah solved this verse [as being in reference to] Abraham: at the time that Abraham our father stood to request mercy for the Sodomites, what is written there? “Far be it from you to do this thing – to kill the righteous with the evildoer so that [the righteous is like the evildoer] – should not the judge of all the earth do justly?” (Genesis 18:25) Rabbi Acha said: you swore and said that you would not bring a flood ever again – why have you violated your vow?! It is strange! A flood of water you won’t bring, but a flood of fire you will bring?! If so, you have not fulfilled your vow. “Does not the judge of all the earth do justice” If you want a world, you can’t have strict justice; if you want strict justice, you can’t have a world. How can you hold a world with two heads? You want a world and strict justice – Choose one of them! If you cannot give up a little, the world cannot exist. The Holy Blessed One said to him: Abraham, “you love justice and hate evil… over your peers” Who is your peer? From Noah to you, [there were] 10 generations, and from all of them I have not spoken with one of them other than you.

Bereishit Rabbah 39:7

YHVH said to Abram, “Go forth from your land…” (Genesis 12:1) What was written prior to this matter? “…and Teraḥ died in Ḥaran.” (Genesis 11:32) Rabbi Yitzḥak said: if the matter is the math, then up to now [where Avram leaves, for Teraḥ to be dead,] it would need another 65 years, but initially, you can interpret that evildoers are called “dead” during their lives. It is because Abraham our father was afraid and said, “If I go out, they will profane the Heavenly Name through me and say that he left his father and went during his [father’s] old age. The Holy One Blessed Be He said to him, I exempt you from honoring father and mother, but I do not exempt [any] other from honoring father and mother. And not only that, but I moved forward his death to before your going out: first, “And Teraḥ died in Ḥaran.”, and afterwards “And YHVH said to Avram.”



JOSEPHUS, ANTIQUITIES OF THE JEWS

Chapter 7.

How Abram our fore-father went out of the land of the Chaldeans, and lived in the land then called Canaan, but now Judea.

1. Now Abram having no son of his own, adopted Lot, his brother Haran’s son, and his wife Sarai’s brother; and he left the land of Chaldea, when he was seventy five years old: and at the command of God went into Canaan, and therein he dwelt himself, and left it to his posterity. He was a person of great sagacity, both for understanding all things, and persuading his hearers, and not mistaken in his opinions. For which reason he began to have higher notions of virtue than others had; and he determined to renew and to change the opinion all men happened then to have concerning God. For he was the first that ventured to publish this notion, that there was but One God, the Creator of the Universe: and that as to other [Gods], if they contributed any thing to the happiness of men, that each of them afforded it only according to his appointment, and not by their own power. This his opinion was derived from the irregular phenomena that were visible both at land and sea; as well as those that happen to the sun, and moon, and all the heavenly bodies, thus: “If [said he] these bodies had power of their own, they would certainly take care of their own regular motions: but since they do not preserve such regularity, they make it plain that in so far as they co-operate to our advantage, they do it not of their own abilities, but as they are subservient to him that commands them: to whom alone we ought justly to offer our honour and thanksgiving.” For which doctrines when the Chaldeans and other people of Mesopotamia raised a tumult against him, he thought fit to leave that country; and at the command, and by the assistance of God, he came and lived in the land of Canaan. And when he was there settled, he built an altar, and performed a sacrifice to God.

2. Berosus mentions our father Abram without naming him, when he says thus; “In the tenth generation after the flood, there was among the Chaldeans a man, righteous, and great, and skilful in the celestial science.” But Hecatæus does more than barely mention him; for he composed, and left behind him, a Book concerning him. And Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth Book of his History says thus: “Abram reigned at Damascus; being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans. But after a long time he got him up, and removed from that country also, with his people, and went into the land then called the land of Canaan, but now the land of Judea: and this when his posterity were become a multitude; as to which posterity of his we relate their history in another work. Now the name of Abram is even still famous in the country of Damascus; and there is shewed a village named from him, The Habitation of Abram.”

Chapter 8.

That when there was a famine in CanaanAbram went thence into Egypt; and after he had continued there a while, he returned back again.

1. Now after this, when a famine had invaded the land of Canaan, and Abram had discovered that the Egyptians were in a flourishing condition, he was disposed to go down to them: both to partake of the plenty they enjoyed, and to become an auditor of their Priests, and to know what they said concerning the Gods: designing either to follow them, if they had better notions than he; or to convert them into a better way, if his own notions proved the truest. Now seeing he was to take Sarai with him, and was afraid of the madness of the Egyptians with regard to women, lest the King should kill him on occasion of his wife’s great beauty, he contrived this device: He pretended to be her brother; and directed her in a dissembling way to pretend the same: for he said, it would be for their benefit. [About An. 1960] Now as soon as they came into Egypt, it happened to Abram as he supposed it would. For the fame of his wife’s beauty was greatly talked of: for which reason Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, would not be satisfied with what was reported of her, but would needs see her himself; and was preparing to enjoy her. But God put a stop to his unjust inclinations, by sending upon him a distemper, and a sedition against his government. And when he enquired of the Priests, how he might be freed from these calamities, they told him, that his miserable condition was derived from the wrath of God, upon account of his inclinations to abuse the stranger’s wife. He then, out of fear, asked Sarai who she was? and who it was that she brought along with her? And when he had found out the truth, he excused himself to Abram, that supposing the woman to be his sister, and not his wife, he set his affections on her, as desiring an affinity with him by marrying her; but not as incited by lust to abuse her. He also made him a large present in money; and gave him leave to enter into conversation with the most learned among the Egyptians. From which conversation, his virtue and his reputation became more conspicuous than they had been before.

2. For whereas the Egyptians were formerly addicted to different customs, and despised one anothers sacred and accustomed rites, and were very angry one with another on that account; Abram conferred with each of them, and confuting the reasonings they made use of, every one for their own practices, he demonstrated that such reasonings were vain, and void of truth. Whereupon he was admired by them, in those conferences, as a very wise man, and one of great sagacity, when he discoursed on any subject he undertook; and this not only in understanding it, but in persuading other men also to assent to him. He communicated to them Arithmetick; and delivered to them the science of Astronomy. (28) For before Abram came into Egypt they were unacquainted with those parts of learning: for that science came from the Chaldeans into Egypt; and from thence to the Greeks also.

3. As soon as Abram was come back into Canaan, he parted the land between him and Lot, upon account of the tumultuous behaviour of their shepherds, concerning the pastures wherein they should feed their flocks. However, he gave Lot his option, or leave to chuse which lands he would take; and he took, himself, what the other left; which were the lower grounds at the foot of the mountains: and he himself dwelt in Hebron; which is a city seven years ancienter than Tanis of Egypt. But Lot possessed the land of the plain, and the river Jordan, not far from the city of Sodom: which was then a fine city, but is now destroyed, by the will and wrath of God: the cause of which I shall shew in its proper place hereafter.

Chapter 9.

The destruction of the Sodomites by the Assyrian War.

1. At this time, when the Assyrians had the dominion over Asia, the people of Sodom were in a flourishing condition; both as to riches, and the number of their youth. There were five Kings that managed the affairs of this country: BallasBarsasSenabar, and Sumobor, with the King of Bela; and each King led on his own troops. And the Assyrians made war upon them, and dividing their army into four parts, fought against them. Now every part of the army had its own commander: and when the battle was joined, the Assyrians were conquerors, and imposed a tribute upon the Kings of the Sodomites, who submitted to this slavery twelve years; and so long they continued to pay their tribute: but on the thirteenth year they rebelled; and then the army of the Assyrians came upon them, under their commanders, AmraphelAriochChodorlaomor, and Tidal. These Kings had laid waste all Syria, and overthrown the offspring of the Giants. And when they were come over against Sodom, they pitched their camp at the vale called the Slimepits: for at that time there were pits in that place: but now, upon the destruction of the city of Sodom, that vale became the Lake Asphaltites, as it is called: however, concerning this Lake, we shall speak more presently. Now when the Sodomites joined battel with the Assyrians, and the fight was very obstinate, many of them were killed; and the rest were carried captive: among which captives was Lot, who had come to assist the Sodomites.

Chapter 10.

How Abram fought with the Assyrians, and overcame them, and saved the Sodomite prisoners, and took from the Assyrians the prey they had gotten.

1. [About An. 1955] When Abram heard of their calamity, he was at once afraid for Lot, his kinsman; and pitied the Sodomites, his friends and neighbours; and thinking it proper to afford them assistance, he did not delay it, but marched hastily; and the fifth night fell upon the Assyrians, near Dan; for that is the name of the other spring of Jordan: and before they could arm themselves he slew some as they were in their beds, before they could suspect any harm; and others, who were not yet gone to sleep, but were so drunk they could not fight, ran away. Abram pursued after them till, on the second day, he drove them in a body unto Hoba, a place belonging to Damascus: and thereby demonstrated that victory does not depend on multitude, and the number of hands; but the alacrity and courage of soldiers overcome the most numerous bodies of men: while he got the victory over so great an army with no more than three hundred and eighteen of his servants, and three of his friends. But all those that fled returned home ingloriously.

2. So Abram, when he had saved the captive Sodomites, who had been taken by the Assyrians, and Lot also, his kinsman, returned home in peace. Now the King of Sodom met him at a certain place, which they called The King’s dale, where Melchisedeck, King of the city Salem, received him. That name signifies, The righteous King: and such he was without dispute; insomuch that, on this account, he was made the Priest of God. However, they afterward called Salem Jerusalem. Now this Melchisedec supplied Abram’s army in an hospitable manner, and gave them provisions in abundance: and as they were feasting, he began to praise him, and to bless God for subduing his enemies under him. And when Abram gave him the tenth part of his prey, he accepted of the gift. But the King of Sodom desired Abram to take the prey; but intreated that he might have those men restored to him whom Abram had saved from the Assyrians, because they belonged to him. But Abram would not do so; nor would make any other advantage of that prey, than what his servants had eaten: but still insisted that he should afford a part to his friends that had assisted him in the battel. The first of them was called Eschol, and then Enner, and Mambre.

3. And God commended his virtue, and said, Thou shalt not however lose the rewards thou hast deserved to receive by such thy glorious actions. He answered, And what advantage will it be to me to have such rewards, when I have none to enjoy them after me? for he was hitherto childless. And God promised, that he should have a son, and that his posterity should be very numerous; insomuch, that their number should be like the stars. When he heard that, he offered a sacrifice to God, as he commanded him. The manner of the sacrifice was this: He took an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram in like manner of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a pigeon: and, as he was enjoined, he divided the three former, but the birds he did not divide. After which, before he built his altar, where the birds of prey flew about as desirous of blood, a divine voice came to him, declaring that their neighbours would be grievous to his posterity, when they should be in Egypt, for four hundred years: during which time they should be afflicted: but afterwards should overcome their enemies, should conquer the Canaanites in war, and possess themselves of their land, and of their cities.

4. Now Abram dwelt near the oak called Ogyges: the place belongs to Canaan, not far from the city of Hebron. But being uneasy at his wife’s barrenness, he intreated God to grant that he might have male issue: and God required of him to be of good courage, and said, that he would add to all the rest of the benefits that he had bestowed upon him, ever since he led him out of Mesopotamia, the gift of children. [About An. 1950] Accordingly Sarai, at God’s command, brought to his bed one of her hand-maidens, a woman of Egyptian descent, in order to obtain children by her: and when this handmaid was with child, she triumphed, and ventured to affront Sarai; as if the dominion were to come to a son to be born of her. But when Abram resigned her into the hands of Sarai, to punish her, she contrived to fly away; as not able to bear the instances of Sarai’s severity to her; and she intreated God to have compassion on her. Now a divine Angel met her, as she was going forward in the wilderness; and bid her return to her master and mistress; for if she would submit to that wise advice, she should live better hereafter: for that the reason of her being in such a miserable case was this, that she had been ungrateful and arrogant towards her mistress. He also told her, that if she disobeyed God, and went on still in her way, she should perish; but if she would return back, she should become the mother of a son, who should reign over that country. These admonitions she obeyed, and returned to her master and mistress, and obtained forgiveness. A little while afterwards, she bare Ismael; which may be interpreted Heard of God: because God had heard his mother’s prayer.

5. The forementioned son was born to Abram when he was eighty six years old. But when he was ninety nine, God appeared to him, and promised him, that he should have a son by Sarai; and commanded that his name should be Isaac: and shewed him that from this son should spring great nations and Kings; and that they should obtain all the land of Canaan by war, from Sidon to Egypt. But he charged him, in order to keep his posterity unmixt with others, that they should be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin; and that this should be done on the eighth day after they were born. The reason of which circumcision I will explain in another place. And Abram enquiring also concerning Ismael, whether he should live or not; God signified to him, that he should live to be very old, and should be the father of great nations. Abram therefore gave thanks to God for these blessings; and then he, and all his family, and his son Ismael were circumcised immediately; the son being that day thirteen years of age, and he ninety nine. [An. 1938]

Chapter 11.

How God overthrew the nation of the Sodomites, out of his wrath against them for their sins.

1. About this time the Sodomites grew proud, on account of their riches and great wealth: they became unjust towards men, and impious towards God: insomuch that they did not call to mind the advantages they received from him: they hated strangers, and abused themselves with Sodomitical practices. God was therefore much displeased at them; and determined to punish them for their pride, and to overthrow their city, and to lay waste their country, till there should neither plant nor fruit grow out of it.

2. When God had thus resolved concerning the Sodomites, Abraham, as he sat by the Oak of Mambre, at the door of his tent, saw three Angels; and thinking them to be strangers, he rose up, and saluted them, and desired they would accept of an entertainment, and abide with him: to which, when they agreed, he ordered cakes of meal to be made presently: and when he had slain a calf, he roasted it, and brought it to them, as they sat under the oak. Now they made a shew of eating; and besides they asked him about his wife Sarah, where she was? and when he said, she was within, they said they should come again hereafter, and find her become a mother. Upon which the woman laughed, and said that it was impossible she should bear children: since she was ninety years of age, and her husband was an hundred. Then they concealed themselves no longer; but declared that they were Angels of God; and that one of them was sent to inform them about the child; and two for the overthrow of Sodom.

3. When Abraham heard this, he was grieved for the Sodomites; and he rose up, and besought God for them, and intreated him that he would not destroy the righteous with the wicked. And when God had replied, that there was no good man among the Sodomites: for if there were but ten such man among them, he would not punish any of them for their sins, Abraham held his peace. [About An. 1940] And the Angels came to the city of the Sodomites, and Lot intreated them to accept of a lodging with him: for he was a very generous and hospitable man; and one that had learned to imitate the goodness of Abraham. Now when the Sodomites saw the young men to be of beautiful countenances, and this to an extraordinary degree, and that they took up their lodgings with Lot, they resolved themselves to enjoy these beautiful boys by force and violence: and when Lot exhorted them to sobriety, and not to offer any thing immodest to the strangers, but to have regard to their lodging in his house; and promised, that if their inclinations could not be governed, he would expose his daughters to their lust, instead of these strangers: neither thus were they made ashamed.

4. But God was much displeased at their impudent behaviour: so that he both smote those men with blindness, and condemned the Sodomites to universal destruction. But Lot, upon God’s informing him of the future destruction of the Sodomites, went away; taking with him his wife, and daughters; who were two, and still virgins: for those that were betrothed to them were above the thoughts of going; and deemed that Lot’s words were trifling. God then cast a thunderbolt upon the city, and set it on fire, with its inhabitants; and laid waste the country with the like burning: as I formerly said when I wrote the Jewish War. But Lot’s wife continually turning back to view the city, as she went from it; and being too nicely inquisitive what would become of it, although God had forbidden her so to do; was changed into a pillar of salt. For I have seen it, and it remains at this day. Now he and his daughters fled to a certain small place, encompassed with the fire, and settled in it. It is to this day called Zoar; for that is the word which the Hebrews use for a small thing. There it was that he lived a miserable life, on account of his having no company, and his want of provisions.

5. But his daughters thinking that all mankind were destroyed, approached to their father: though taking care not to be perceived. This they did, that human kind might not utterly fail. And they bare sons: the son of the elder was named Moab: which denotes one derived from his father. The younger bare Ammon: which name denotes one derived from a kinsman. The former of whom was the father of the Moabites; which is even still a great nation. The latter was the father of the Ammonites: and both of them are inhabitants of Cele-Syria. And such was the departure of Lot from among the Sodomites.



The Legends of the Jews (2 vols) by Louis Ginzberg, has more of the paranormal folklore and oral traditions of the Jewish people, which act as commentaries on the Old Testament.

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