Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Strangers In The Land: Ger 002

Let's continue with our second used of the word ger which again comes from the life of Abraham.

Genesis 23:1-9

Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her. 
Then Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spoke to the sons of Heth, saying, “I am a foreigner [ger] and a visitor [towshab] among you. Give me property for a burial place among you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” 
And the sons of Heth answered Abraham, saying to him, “Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you may bury your dead.” 
Then Abraham stood up and bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth. And he spoke with them, saying, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, hear me, and meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he may give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, which is at the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price, as property for a burial place among you.”

What Does It Say?

This passage gives us a preview of another word for foreigners in the Bible, towshab. It also gives us a good example of a literary technique that is frequently used in the Bible, that is, using a series of similar but slightly distinct words to describe a single thing. This device shows up frequently in the Psalms, as in Psalm 1:1
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
As you can see the ungodly, the sinners, and the scornful are all overlapping but slightly distinct groups. Sinners are ungodly and the ungodly are most definitely sinners, and yet we can see shades of difference. The listing of different yet similar words build the overall picture better than just giving one example.

Abraham uses the same technique to indicate that he is not only ger, but also towshab. So what's the difference?

While the precise distinction might be difficult, it's interesting to note that the Israelites are described as being ger while in Egypt (as in our last passage), but they are never described as being towshab in Egypt. This helps flesh out our understanding of ger. A ger is what we might now call a non-native - he's not of the same blood as the local residents. Like the Israelites in Egypt, a ger may have been born, raised, and a life-long resident in a foreign country, but he is of a different ethnicity.

A towshad on the other hand indicates a status compatible with but distinguished from ger. Abraham's usage here seems to indicate a temporary resident. The problem in this passage is that Abraham owns no land to bury his wife. He owns no land because 1). He is not a native of the country he lives in 2). He doesn't plan on settling down and becoming a permanent resident.

In fact, Abraham is very opposed to becoming a Canaanite. He goes to great trouble to make sure his son Issac does not marry a Canaanite and to maintain a cultural/religious distinction with them. This may influence his determination to buy land (that he doesn't intend to live in) instead of accepting it as a gift. 

Next: Exodus 2

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