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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham’

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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Thanks to Chris at Zondervan for a review copy of this book.

 

In this portion of the review, I’ve opted to focus specifically on Waltke’s treatment of the Abrahamic & Davidic covenants.  I did this for two main reasons: 1) since Waltke’s book is, in part, a biblical theology, I wanted to know how he develops these two covenants and 2) I tell my students every year (ad nauseum, actually) that these two covenants are foundational for understanding the rest of the Bible (more on that as we go along).  

 

 

OT Theology by Bruce WaltkeIn chapter 12, The Gift of the Abrahamic Covenant, Waltke shows us how the story of Abraham and his sons (the patriarchs) connects with Genesis 1-11.  “The story of the Fall [Genesis 1-11] poses the challenge; the patriarchal narratives… are God’s definitive response” (p307).  Much of his treatment of Abraham and his sons is terrific.  For instance, he specializes in the structure of the patriarchal narratives (lovers of chiasms will love this chapter) and offers helpful insights into Abraham’s faith (which is not unwavering, but still commendable).

 

Unfortunately, he doesn’t show how the Abrahamic covenant is so crucial to the rest of the Bible, specifically in the prophets.  How many times do we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”?  How many times do we read prophecies (especially in Isaiah) about the nations being drawn to Israel?  These are bringing us back to the stories of Abraham.  Waltke offers an extended treatment of Romans 9-11, dealing with the relationship of Israel to the church.  I imagine this is in part due to his turn from dispensationalism to covenant theology (one I happen to laud), so he may have felt the need to include this discussion.  But, in the meantime, I felt like an opportunity to do some strong biblical theology was missed.

 

Waltke deals with the Davidic covenant (see 2 Samuel 7) in its own chapter (chapter 23).  But unlike his treatment of the development of the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke does in fact develop the idea of kingship in chapter 24, The Gift of Kingship.  He leads off by taking on the notion that kingship is actually seen in a negative light in the Old Testament.  For instance, Waltke also argues, persuasively, that Gideon is hardly a credible person in the narrative, so his complete objection to kingship (Judges 8:22-23) can hardly be seen as the narrator’s point of view (p684).  

 

I highly commend Waltke’s survey of the views of the kingship in the Pentateuch, but I want to move on to how he sees the development of kingship, specifically Davidic, in the rest of the Bible.  He even includes a helpful section on the relationship between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, noting that “the Davidic covenant fulfills, confirms, and supplements the Abrahamic covenant” (p692).  I’m not sure I totally agree with his use of “fulfill,” since while David’s dynasty does fulfill part of it, we still don’t see the nations of the earth being blessed in David or his sons (until, of course, Jesus).  

 

Regarding how the Davidic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant, Waltke states, “I AM promises unconditionally to both Abraham and David an eternal posterity: to Abraham an enduring nation; to David an enduring dynasty to rule that nation.  Indeed, David’s eternal dynasty mediates the kings who I AM promised to give from Abraham and Sarah’s own bodies” (p693).  

 

Beginning on p699, Waltke includes a brief survey of how the prophets, psalms and New Testament develop the theme of Davidic kingship.  When I say “brief,” I really mean it- only 2 ½ pages.  I would have liked more, but I’m thankful for what he included, specifically with the prophets.  He quotes Is 9:6-7, 11:2; Jer 23:5-6; and Mic 5:2-5 to point out to the reader how these recall God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7.  Again, while it would have been nice for him to develop this more (and maybe talk about passages like Ezekiel 37:24-28), he gives enough to help the reader make a connection that many of us do not make at all.  But, if we’re paying attention to what Waltke’s point is (that the prophets bring us back to God’s covenant with David) and paying attention when we’re reading the prophets, we’ll begin to see these connections for ourselves.

 

His treatment of the Davidic covenant in the Psalms and New Testament, however, are a bit more disappointing.  He gives one paragraph to the Psalms; the same goes for “Jesus Christ and the Davidic Covenant.”  And in his discussion of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, he actually gives his opinion on why it differs from Luke’s genealogy.  Matthew sets him up for a chance to make a great point for his readers, and he misses it.  Matthew starts with, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  What more could an Old Testament scholar ask for!  I was waiting for Waltke to knock this out of the park, but in the end, he opted to bunt instead.  

 

I started this review noting that I wanted to see how Waltke developed these two great covenants.  As you can tell, I came away somewhat disappointed.  What he does say is great, and there’s much to learn from it, but I can’t help but think more could have been said (yes, in a book weighing in at 1000+ pages).  

 

I’ve thought about whether it’s fair for me to judge Waltke on his discussion of topics that I’m interested in.  But I don’t think it’s simply about my interest level.  The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are recalled time and time again throughout the Bible.  Every time we read about “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and the nations being drawn in to God’s people, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to Abraham.  Every time we read in the prophets about the coming king in the line of David, or the psalmists’ prayers for blessings on the king, or the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, the biblical authors are reminding us of God’s promise to David.  So, no, I don’t think I’m simply importing my own wishes on Waltke.  Back on p125-126, Waltke states, “Later texts by charismatic figures- be they prophets (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel), prophets historians (e.g., the Deuteronomist and Chronicler), or an authorized exegete (such as Ezra)- occasionally transform the teaching of earlier texts of charismatic figures (such as Moses).”  This was a chance for Waltke to demonstrate that point; I wish he would have taken that opportunity.

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