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Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

Signs of Hope in Genesis 3-11

While many of us are familiar with the stories contained in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, many of us may miss that a main goal of these chapters, particularly 3-11, is to show the spread of sin and its consequences from the Garden of Eden to the nations of the world.  So while we can often retell the stories of Adam & Eve’s sin, Cain murdering Abel, Noah and the ark and the Tower of Babel, we might not know how they all fit together into a cohesive unit, setting the stage for what follows.

Sin and evil spread.  It spreads quickly, with the acceptance, and even the celebration, of evil happening soon after the Garden of Eden (see here on Genesis 4).  Adam’s legacy of death is recorded in chapter 5, while the story of the flood (6-9) is not a cute bedtime tale for children but an account of punishment as a result of the unrelenting evil in the hearts of people.  After that, while we see the spread of Noah’s descendants into the nations (Gen 10), we see it’s also partially a result of their sin in trying to ‘make a name for themselves’ (Gen 11).

There is a dark cloud that hovers over the first 11 chapters.  The call to be fruitful and multiply is partially fulfilled by the end of chapter 11, but evil, sin and death have multiplied with it.  Given the severity of God’s response to Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

But there are signs of hope sprinkled throughout these chapters, and I want to call attention to them.  I’ll organize these in reference to Noah (Pre-Noah, Noah, Post-Noah), mainly because the Noah narrative takes up the largest amount of space in these chapters and has quite a few promises of God’s salvation despite the harsh judgment depicted.

Pre-Noah

The biggest promise in these chapters is, of course, regarding the seed/offspring of the woman.  If we keep this in mind while we read the following chapters, indeed the rest of the Bible, we’ll be looking for this ‘seed.’

  • “And I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (3:15)

Even in chapter 4, immediately following the fall in the garden and the expulsion from Eden, we see that God still honors offerings given to him.

  • “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.” (4:4b)

Instead of God wiping Cain from the face of the earth after his horrific crime, God still protects the murderer, showing undeserved grace toward him.

  • “But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’  Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (4:15)

And even after the reference to the murder-celebrating Lamech, the Bible still notes,

  • “At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.” (4:26)

In chapter 5 we find the genealogy, which not only gives us a record of Adam’s descendants all the way to Noah, but shows us the reality of death in a world designed to know nothing of it.  But in the middle of it, there’s this guy:

  • “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” (5:24)

And at the end of the genealogy, there’s a quick break that links us to the subsequent story and back to chapter 3:

  • “He [Lamech, not the same from chapter 4] named him Noah and said, ‘He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.'” (5:29)

Noah

Noah’s appearance- and expression of hope at his birth- bridges us to the flood story, along with the salvation of Noah and his family.  Noah is a bright light of hope in the midst of an evil world that rejects God.

  • “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (6:8)
  • “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (6:9b)

Noah’s obedience is specifically highlighted as God commanded him to build an ark.

  • “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (6:22; see also 7:5)

And in the middle of the flood narrative is this little gem, highlighting God’s grace in the midst of judgment.

  • “But God remembered Noah…” (8:1)

After Noah makes an offering to the Lord, God promises:

  • “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans… and never again will I destroy all living creatures.” (8:21)

The narrative also highlights God establishing a covenant once again (as promised before the flood in 6:18), as God says,

  • “I now establish my covenant with you, and your descendants after you.” (9:8)
  • And he set the “rainbow in the clouds… whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth…” (9:12-17).

So in the midst of the spread of sin, and the judgment of the flood, Noah and his family (even despite their own flaws, see chapter 9) stand as a ray of hope for mankind.

Post-Noah

In chapters 10-11, the only obviously positive statement is a somewhat off-handed remark about Nimrod:

  • “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord…” (10:9)

But, the end of chapter 11 leads us up to Abram.  While there’s not necessarily any sign of this being a positive turn of events up to this juncture, chapter 12 clearly functions as a turning point in the narrative: While the descendants of Noah have spread throughout the nations, and brought their evil inclinations with them, God has a plan to bless them all.  After all, Abram is the one to whom God ‘announced the gospel beforehand’ (Galatians 3:8).  But even before Abraham, there were rays of hope in the midst of darkness, teaching us that even though he kicked them out of Eden, God did not abandon his people in their sin and self-destruction.

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The Rapid Decline of Genesis 4

In a few verses the writer is able to convey a sense of the catastrophic descent of the human race from covering up killing to boasting in bloodletting.  Cain’s nonchalant words and his great-great grandson’s boast frame this genealogy and mark its spirit and its descent into a moral and spiritual abyss.  The irresponsible ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ attempts to deny murder (Gen. 4:9); ‘I have killed a man for wounding me’ glories in it (Gen. 4:23).  This is certainly not the dominion intended for humanity in Genesis 1-2.

Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, pages 70-71

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I read the following quote in Jim Hamilton’s book God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (a book I’m reviewing and have enjoyed thoroughly) during his discussion on the sentence of death in Genesis 3 (p78), and it got me thinking.

Adam, at the moment of his sin, brings death into the world.  Death is alienation from the life of God.  Death truly removes the couple from the freedom and innocence and lack of shame and fear that is found only in perfect obedience.  The moment they sin, Adam and Eve are removed from that realm of life, and in the opening of their eyes (3:7), they find themselves in the realm of death.  This spiritual reality is made a physical reality when they are banished from the garden of Eden (3:23-24).  But even here there is mercy: they will not have access to the tree of life, whereby they might live forever in a fallen state.  God gives the gift of physical death (3:22; 5:5).

I’ve italicized the sentences that give me the most trouble theologically.  This is not the first time I’ve encountered this viewpoint, but I’ve never been able to understand how one squares this with the biblical teaching on death.  Even within his own paragraph, Hamilton is holding two views that seem to me to be contradictory: death is both a judgment and a gift.  How can that be?

There are strong arguments against this view, besides the context of Genesis 3 and following.  Look at Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15.  There he refers to death as an enemy, in fact, the last enemy to be defeated when Chris himself returns (vv20-26).  Or how about these verses from Romans 5, where “gift” appears:

But the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: the judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Here, there is a true gift- grace, righteousness, life- that overthrows the sentence of death brought about by sin.  It seems odd to me that God would give a gift to overthrow a previously given gift.  If that’s the case, was the first “gift” really a gift at all?

Now, I understand the logic behind what Hamilton is saying.  The problem with it, however, is that he doesn’t (can’t?) back it up scripturally.  Death is never referred to as a gift, at least not that I’m aware of. It is an enemy that has been defeated in Jesus’ resurrection (see 1 Cor 15, previously quoted).  Death did, for a time, have reign, but that reign has been cast aside by the reign of life in Christ (Rom 5).  And its end is pictured so powerfully in Revelation 20:14, when death itself is thrown into the lake of fire.

So what do you think?  Is Hamilton drawing a valid inference from Gen 3:22?  Can death be a gift from God, as Hamilton asserts, and an enemy of God (as I’m sure he also believes)?

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There’s been quite a bit of buzz as of late regarding creation again (how we should reconcile science and the Bible- if at all, creation vs evolution or some combination of both, etc).  I don’t really want to get in on all of that, but I want to jump in to talk about one idea: the “natural reading” of the text and the “day” of Genesis 1.

There are various ways to view the days of creation in Genesis 1: literal 24 hour days, longer and undefined periods of time, a literary device, etc.  Each of these views has their own merits and problems, which I won’t go into here.  But I do notice that many of those who argue for a literal 24 hour day do so, in part, on the appeal to the “natural reading” of the text.  That is, they claim that if you just take the text for what it appears to be saying, you’d have to see them as 24 hour days.

I suppose, in one sense, that’s true.  Most of us would probably see the “day” as 24 hour periods of time.  That doesn’t prove, in my opinion, that it’s the natural reading, and certainly not that it’s the correct reading.  My point is that the “natural reading” is often times a fantasy, rather than a fact.

Before anyone accuses me of dipping my toes in the murky waters of postmodernity, let me affirm that I do think there is a correct understanding of the word “day” in Genesis 1 (namely, mine).  I’m not arguing that there are multiple correct views, that we can each pick our own view and everyone gets to win.  I do think some readings are more “natural” than others, but I’d argue that this isn’t always the case.

The problem is that none of us come to a text as a blank slate.  I try quite often.  I fail quite often.  What sounds like a natural reading to me may not be all that natural; it simply may fit my grid more easily than other readings.

Let’s go back to the days of Genesis 1.  Many have claimed that the refrain “there was evening, and there was morning- the __ day” is a clear indication of a literal 24 hour day.  It’s the most natural way to understand the text.

But, how natural is it when you consider that the sun, moon and stars don’t show up until Day 4?  I could be wrong, but I’m not sure there’s ever been a civilization who kept track of days without the use of the sun.  Yet, we’re supposed to believe that the natural way to understand “day” is as a 24 hour period of time, even though the only means of measuring an “hour” is the sun, which didn’t exist until Day 4.  See the problem?  It doesn’t sound all that natural to me.  Side note: I know that there are other views that argue the sun, moon and stars were already created, but weren’t given their function until Day 4 (whatever that means).  I’m not convinced because this is not the natural reading.  =)

Interestingly, in my 5 years or so of teaching Genesis 1 at church, I have not had a single student point this out.  Not one.  Mind you, these are intelligent people.  I live and minister in Boston, and it’s a proven fact that people in Boston are smarter than people everywhere else (and by “proven fact” I mean “arrogant and unfounded assumption”- and don’t get mad, I’m just trying to keep you interested).  I’m not entirely sure why no one has caught this, but I’ll hazard two guesses:

  1. We’re generally bad readers, whose powers of observation desperately need a work out.
  2. We seek the familiar.

The second point is the one I want to make.  A reading may seem “natural” because it already sounds familiar.  We understand the concept of “evening and morning.”  When we read those words we fit it into an existent category, because it feels natural.  And we pass over the fact there was no sun or moon.  But we also need to look for features in a text that seem “unnatural.”  Noticing the unexpected can often reveal more than you bargained for (see the broken chain of death with Enoch in Genesis 5, or the unexpected list of tribes in Revelation 7 discussed in this post, and so on).

There are probably a million directions to go with this, but I titled this post “Somewhat Random…” to get me off the hook of drawing out the implications of what I’m saying.  My main point is that there needs to be a little humility when we shoot down an opposing view because our reading is “natural.”  What may be natural to us may betray our own inability to process everything containted within the text, and show that we’re really just fitting everything in to a comfortable category.  It does, after all, feel natural.

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