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When God…

The Bible displays an elegant informality in the way in which God is introduced.

“Beresheit bara Elohim et ha-shamayim vet ha-arets”– “When God began to create the heavens and the earth”.

God is introduced as the One who is creating the heavens and the earth.

There is no attempt to prove His existence, no attempt to say what He was doing before He began to create, no attempt to explain the mechanics of his creation.

Simply “When God began to create”.

God is the One who needs no explanation as to His existence, and Moshe (who wrote/compiled Genesis) makes no attempt to probe behind God’s self-revelation in His creating of the universe. God, after all, is a personal friend of Moshe, One with whom he spoke face to face, we are told. His presence and His being are beyond question.

Now traditionally, and even still today, most versions of the Bible translate this opening phrase as “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

But Hebrew scholars today would challenge the traditional English translation of verse 1. [1]

They point out that the phrase “beresheit bara Elohim et hamashayim vet haaretz” is actually an irregular construct phrase, a type of substantival clause, that should more correctly be translated “When God began to create the heavens and the earth”.

Apart from its linguistic correctness, this translation also gives the first two verses more fluency. If we use the traditional translation, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”, then we get a logical discontinuity when we continue “Now the earth was without form and void”. Somehow we have gone from the heavens and earth having been created by God in verse one, but then reverting to a pre-creation state of formless and void in the next verse.

Now it is possible to explain away this chronology shift by reading verse one as an executive summary and calling upon Hebrew parallelism as an explanation, but it is still a clumsier way of introducing the story than the linguistically correct version.

So why have translators persisted with this version?

It seems to me that there are a couple of factors here. Firstly, nobody wants to muck about with upsetting tradition, especially on these fundamental sentences in the Bible. “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be” has a lot of ecclesiastical weight.

But secondly, it feeds our philosophical presuppositions on the nature of the universe, especially those derived from Plato and other Greek thinkers.

When we talk about “the beginning” we like to think of that period (if that makes sense), before time and the universe began, as a perfect state of nothingness; a pristine vacuum where nothing at all existed besides God, who presumably sat somewhere either beside or inside this pristine nothingness pondering His next move. This nothingness was a perfect vacuum, totally neutral in terms of morality and ethics. It was the ultimate Platonic form of nothingness, eternally immutable and out of reach of mortals.

But we run into problems here, because if God is infinite and the empty universe is infinite, then you have to explain how God can both fill the perfect nothingness and yet remain outside of it. And if He remains outside of it, then He cannot fill the nothingness. The nothingness has to be a separate entity to God.

When we talk about “the beginning”, then we are talking about a time when you effectively had two eternal entities; God and the nothingness.

And so we need to place God either outside or inside of the container of nothingness, thereby reducing Him to a God either inhabiting or co-habiting with the Platonic form of nothingness. Under this model, God must account for His every action when He begins to create, and this sets the playing field for the totally fruitless debate between creationists and evolutionists. [2] The nothingness which God is creating out of and into can now be inspected to see what God is doing. And of course if the nothingness is being transformed into something, there is no need for God. The mechanics can all be handled in the nothingness-becoming-something.

When we talk about “the beginning” we already posit the possibility that the universe can exist separate to God; that “the beginning” can evolve itself into a universe. It fits nicely with the concept of the Big Bang, that initial explosion which, they say, began the evolutionary process leading to the creation of our current universe.

When we create a concept like “the beginning”, we create a rival for God. If God is the source of both matter and time, then there can be no “beginning” that is not part of God, and if part of God, then it ceases to exist in its own right. It is no longer “the beginning” in an absolute sense, but only the beginning of something God was already doing.

And yet, by allowing this isolated concept to become entrenched in theology, we have created a competitor for God. Evolutionary theory cannot exist without a concept of a “beginning”.

God must now account for His every action when He begins to create, and this sets the playing field for the totally fruitless debate between creationists and evolutionists.

So we need to read Genesis 1:1 as “When God began to create”. There is no time before this and there is no universe before this – they don’t even come into the picture. We hear of nothing besides God who is already actively creating the universe. This is the proper place to start from. We only know the God who created the heavens and the earth, we don’t know of some God who existed in a Platonic state of ethereal nothingness. Our investigation of the world begins with the God who has revealed Himself to us – nowhere else. We do not begin with a noun, but a verb; not with a detached state of nothingness, but with a God active in His kingdom.

[1] See A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew By Jouon Paul, Muraoka Tamitsu pp442, 443

[2] It is interesting that Dr Joshua Wilson from Answers in Genesis argues strongly against this new rendering of Genesis 1:1. He admits the importance of the concept of “the beginning” in the (pointless) creation vs evolution debate. His objections are not well-substantiated, in my view.  https://answersingenesis.org/hermeneutics/have-we-misunderstood-genesis-11/

In the beginning, God created

“Beresheit bara elohim”, our story begins. When God began to create ”.

Now Genesis is not written as a complete history of the world. It is written as a backdrop for the other four books of Moses, and the focal point of these five books is the covenant which God made with Israel at Mt Sinai. So it won’t be a surprise as we go through this chapter to find images that relate directly to the people of Israel and the Exodus from Egypt. Genesis seeks to explain the beginnings of Israel as God’s chosen people – where, why and how they’ve come to be called by God as a kingdom of priests, set aside as a nation, to mediate God’s love to His world.

This has implications in how we try to read the book. We cannot read it like an exhaustive history of how the world began, because it is only a selective history. It leaves out far more than it tells us, but what it tells us, it tells us for a purpose. And that purpose is to describe how Israel came to be chosen by God to carry out His purposes in the world, and how Israel was to be God’s new creation that finally restored the broken creation to righteousness and shalom once again.

The stories we find in Genesis were stories handed down in oral form. They were told and re-told over more than a thousand years, from the time of Adam to the time of Moses. Parents would learn them and then teach them to their children, and those children would again teach their children. So by the time that these stories came to be compiled by Moses, they had been refined, distilled and linked together by generations of story-tellers along the way.

And in this way, the Holy Spirit was guiding the final story that was going to be written, so that only what God wanted to be recorded was kept, and the rest was discarded along the way. What we have in Genesis is the DNA of the bible – a collection of stories and images that are fundamental to God’s story and which are repeated again and again through the Bible in different times and contexts. It is these images that hold the bigger story of the Bible together.

Now what we notice about Genesis is that it appears to contain several creation stories, the final number depending on how we translate certain verses.
The traditional view is that we begin with what we might call the Executive Summary in 1:1.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

In v2, then, we seem to revert back to the uncreated state in order to begin again, as we are told that the earth was formless and empty.

However, many Hebrew scholars today would challenge the traditional English translation of verse 1.
They point out that the phrase “beresheit bara Elohim et hamashayim vet haaretz” is actually an irregular construct phrase that should more correctly be translated “When God began to create the heavens and the earth”. The Common English Bible uses this translation. The NABRE (New American Bible Revised Edition) settles on a compromise with “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth“, as does the NRSV Catholic Edition. Young’s Literal Translation has a similar version, “In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth“.
(See A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew By Jouon Paul, Muraoka Tamitsu pp442, 443)

Now due to the enduring and fruitless debate with evolutionary theory, changing the first and fundamental verse of the Bible has become so politically sensitive that most of the mainstream translators have steered away from making more grammatically correct changes.
However, this seems to be unwarranted, because adopting the better translation makes the story flow better.
Instead of having this executive summary type of introduction and then jumping back to reset the story, using this recommended translation actually makes the story flow better. We have one act of creation, starting with the “tohu v’vohu”, the formless and empty void, into which God spoke.

So the earth, we are told, is “tohu v’ vohu”, formless and empty.

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

Now this is one of those important images. An image of darkness and chaos that existed before God began to create anything. And so we find Jeremiah describing the invasion and exile of Israel in terms of being formless and empty.

JER 4:23 “I looked at the earth, and it was formless and empty; and at the heavens, and their light was gone.”

It was “tohu v vohu”. Throughout the Bible, sin is associated with uncreation and God’s methods of dealing with sin always involve an element of re-creation.

Then, from v3, we have the creation story again, but filled out in more detail, describing the work God did on each day of the creation week. This concludes, for some strange reason, not at the end of chapter 1, but at the end of chapter 2, verse 3 with the first Sabbath, God’s rest.

Next in 2:4 we find another creation story, similar to the first and second, but focussing on the relationships between man and creation, man and the animals, and between male and female.
This story begins in the same way as the later genealogies begin. “Elle toldot” – “These are the generations of”. In Genesis 5 we have the generations of Adam, in chapter 10 we have the generations of the sons of Noah, but here we have the generations of the heavens and the earth. So this story is about relationships and family history, not about mechanics and cosmic movement.

Finally, some say that a fourth creation story begins in chapter 3, where we read of the chaos that sin brings into the world and the re-creation of the world which God begins as a result. And this fourth story, which forms most of the Bible, we find filled with images from the first three stories.

Now this repetition is a typical Hebrew way of writing. Something is said once, then it is repeated again in a different way, and then perhaps repeated a couple more times each in different ways again. This structure is typically used in poetry, so the Psalms and the wisdom literature are full of this type of writing.

Now what’s interesting is that we find this repetition, this poetry, even in the story of creation.
Notice Day One – what does God create? Light. How does He do it? He separates the light from darkness.
Day Two? God creates the sky, and He separates the waters above from the waters beneath by creating an atmosphere.
Day Three? He creates dry land by separating the waters.

So he creates light, then sea/sky then land by separating things.

Now Day Four, and what does God do? He creates the sun, moon and stars. He populates the light he has created on Day One.
On Day 5, he populates the waters and sky he has separated on Day 2 with fish and birds.
On Day Six? God populates the land he has created on Day 3 with animals and people.

So there is a pattern here – light, sky and water, land; light, sky and water, land.So we get a picture of God here as the One who separates and populates.
He separates the light from darkness on day one, and then populates the day and night with the sun, moon and stars on day 4.
He separates the sea from the sky on day 2, and he populates the sea with fish and the sky with birds on day 5.
He separates the land from the waters on day 3, then populates the land with animals and humans on day 6.

When God begins to create, he does so by separating and populating. This is another powerful image that we find throughout the Bible where God is creating new things.

Let’s have a look at Genesis 12, the call to Abram.

GE 12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”

When God creates Israel, he says to Abram “leave your country” – separate – and “I will make you into a great nation” – populate.

Let’s go to Mt Sinai, the focal point of the Pentateuch.

Ex 19:3 “This is what you are to … tell the people of Israel: `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I … brought you to myself. … Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

God has separated the people of Israel from all the other nations, and is populating it with priests and people set aside for God. They are to be a light to the Gentiles – the beginnings of a new act of creation by God.

Now let’s go back to the beginning again and notice some other things that God is doing.

If we look back at day one, we read that God said “let there be light”, and when God sees the light He sees that the light is good. Before God spoke this first word, there was only blackness, only chaos. Now God speaks light into existence and he calls this light good. In all the acts of creation, this is the only element that God calls “good”.

On the other 4 days, God’s statement that “it was good” does not refer to anything in particular, but rather the whole scene. Note that on day two, God doesn’t call anything good. Maybe that’s why we still have trouble coming to terms with Mondays.

So right from the fourth verse of the Bible, we find God preferring light to darkness – which is logical, I guess, because darkness is the sign of uncreation; the swirling chaos, the tohu v’ vohu darkness that existed before God began to create. And it’s no wonder we see the theme of light and darkness used constantly through the bible, because light is a sign that God is creating something good.

We get a great example of this just before Israel crossed the Red Sea.

“EX 14:19 Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.”

God is separating His people from their enemies, so that He can create something new.  God uses the light to show favour to one people, and leaves the other in the darkness of uncreation and chaos.

And you can read through the rest of the Bible and see how time and again, the entry of light is a sign of God’s favour, a sign that God is re-creating His world to be very good once again.

In John’s gospel, we find a lot of images about light. “In the beginning was the Word… In him (Jesus) was the life and that life was the light of men. The light shone in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it”. John is using creation imagery to describe Jesus and his mission.

Jesus later says “I am the light of the world”. A new act of creation is in progress. Heaven and earth are being united once again and the light of heaven is living on the earth.

Peter writes “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” God has separated His people out of darkness and into the light of a new creation.

Now we can also see the introduction of a management or governing role. On day 4, the sun and moon are given the charge to “govern the day and night, and to separate light from darkness”. We are told that they are to serve as signs that mark the seasons and days and years. So the passage of time on earth is ruled by the heavens. Humanity has no control over this.

On day 3, the last day in the first series, we see that the ground is to produce vegetation, plants and trees with seeds that will grow and reproduce. Then on day 6, the last day in the second series, there is much more development.God creates humanity in his image, and the first thing we are told about what that image means is that humanity is to rule over God’s creation. Part of what being made in the image of God entails is the mandate to rule over the whole creation.

Now what we want to notice here is that there is a distinction between heaven and earth. The sun and moon govern the heavens, but mankind rules the land, sea and sky. Two distinct realms exist, but the heavens are dominant, they govern the earth. The lights which govern the heavens also govern mankind, because they set the times and seasons which regulate man’s existence. To the people whom Moses brought out of Egypt, this had special significance. God had given them a whole calendar of feasts and celebrations by which they were to worship Him. Israel’s religious life was governed by seasons and days and years.

So this is another powerful image that recurs through the Bible, this division between heaven and earth. When Adam was created, heaven and earth were in perfect harmony, with God walking with Adam. But when sin enters the world, heaven and earth are separated and the two are set against each other. The Bible then deals with how heaven and earth are being brought back together again, until that beautiful picture in Revelation, where heaven comes down to earth and the two are united perfectly once again; where there is no longer any darkness, but only the light of God’s presence.

So at the end of day 6, we have a picture of God’s perfect creation. God has separated the light from darkness, the sky from the seas, the land from the water. He has created sun, moon and stars to govern the upper atmosphere, and created humans to rule the fish, birds and animals on the earth and in the seas.

And God looks at this creation with pride, enjoyment and satisfaction, and he calls it very good. You get the real sense that God loves this creation, and he is keen to see it grow and develop on its own. He has given it the authority to manage itself, to reproduce itself and to develop itself into something even more wonderful than its original state. It has a power and vitality all of its own, it has all the bits it needs to go somewhere on its own and reflect the loving creativity of its creator. It is a picture of absolute beauty.

God has created the world like we all know it should be. A place where people can live in love and harmony, in a deep friendship with their creator.
It really is very, very good.

But in the whole story of Genesis we have looked at so far, we have missed one important day. Genesis 1 finishes at day six, and for some reason the people who inserted the chapter breaks must have thought that was the end of creation. But it was only the beginning.

GE 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

Now isn’t this incredible. The very first job God gave to people was to rest. On day six God created male and female. The very next day, God says to them “Now just stop and rest with me. I want you to enjoy what I’ve created.” This whole world is a gift from God, and so the first thing we are to do is to rest and bless God for His goodness.

This rest that God took on the seventh day is an incredibly important image, and one that continues to be repeated throughout the Bible. When the people of Israel received the ten commandments at Mt Sinai, the fourth commandment was to remember God’s Sabbath.

Exodus 20: 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Sabbath was a powerful reminder that God was re-creating His world through Israel.

You see the world had been ruined by sin, and because of that, Israel had become a nation of slaves, oppressed by Egypt’s Pharaoh and subjected to hard labour for 400 years. But God had rescued Israel from Egypt and given them rest. So we find a picture of God re-creating the world, restoring it to how it was meant to be; and so he commands His people to rest. This is a God who rules the whole universe. His people are able to rest because God is in control. In Deut 5, we find this link strengthened when the fourth commandment is given a different ending.

“Deut 5:15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”

Again, Hebrew poetry, repeating the same thought but from a different perspective. Remember the Sabbath day, because God rested from creating the world. Remember the Sabbath day, because God has re-created you by rescuing you from Egypt. The Sabbath now becomes a picture of God’s work of re-creating the world – it shows a picture of what God intends for all of His people. A life of rest, where they can enjoy the beauty of the creation in perfect harmony with each other and with God.

But you can’t rest when you have no certainty about the future. You can’t rest when you’re insecure about your life or ability to provide food, shelter and clothing for yourself and your family. You can’t rest when there are people looking for you to harm or to kill you. You can only rest when the living God takes you into His family and tells you to rest, because he has everything under control.

If we look at our world today, we don’t find a lot of rest about. In fact the word that is far more common is “unrest”.

And it’s no wonder that there is not much rest, because what you believe about creation will influence the way you live. Where your story starts will determine where your story ends.

There are many alternate creation stories around, as there was in the days of Moses. The most common theory today is the big bang/evolution story. This story suggests that we grew out of nature by means of a colossal explosion which created the whole universe. This universe then settled down somewhat, and increasingly more complex structures and life forms evolved in a totally random and unplanned manner over billions of years until here we sit today.

Now apart from the inherent scientific contradiction (see Entropy) in this scheme of things, life as defined by this worldview is random and transitory – you live then you die. And while you live, the fittest survive the longest and the weakest die early. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where exploitation, abuse and brute force occupy the positions of power. It’s a logical outworking of a worldview based on the survival of the fittest.

And there is no rest in these stories. You have to work hard to survive. We talk about the need to get ahead in life. And who are we getting ahead of? Everybody else. We are taught to elbow and shove so that we can get ahead and live the dream. You have to claw and clamber over everyone in your path so that you get the prize before they do.

It’s really a rat race. And even if you win, you’re still a rat.

So there is no rest in this worldview, there is only constant pressure to achieve. And even if you don’t get to the top of the heap, you have to look as if you’re there. So people try to stuff whatever shiny distractions they can into their lives to give it some semblance of fulfillment, but when the chrome peels off and the newer models appear in the shops, our lives suddenly lose their meaning. And so feelings of inadequacy and failure take over. As a loser, we feel unable to participate in a society filled with winners. And so people move either to depression and despair, or violence and vengeance against all and sundry.

But it’s into this void of hopelessness and despair that Genesis 1 speaks. There is a loving God, who Himself exists in community, who has created this world in an orderly and purposeful way, so that people can enjoy it and have a loving relationship with each other and with their creator. This is what Eden, or Paradise, was all about.
It’s what we were created for.
We all know this in our bones, that we were created for love and community – but for many people it’s only a dim echo in their minds.
We need to listen to this echo carefully, to hear the voice of the one who says “It is very good – now come and rest with me; enjoy what I have created”.

We hear that voice in Jesus, when He says “I am the light of the world”. I am re-creating this world to make it good and perfect again. And He says “come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” My Sabbath has been made for you.

We don’t need to live like rats in a treadmill any more. We don’t need to copy the dog-eat-dog violence we see around us. The sort of random destruction and violence that goes under the name of entertainment, the sort of thing that fills our movie theatres, should make us sick in the guts. It’s the total opposite of what God intended for this world. And it’s the total opposite of what God is doing in His world today, re-creating it piece by piece, until that final day when He brings it all together and banishes darkness forever.

Our God reigns – He is re-creating the world, putting it back the way it should be. And he invites us to separate ourselves from the violence of trying to be the strongest and fittest and richest and smartest, and to become a citizen of His kingdom of peace and wholeness and beauty and rest. We don’t need to be frightened or lonely any more. We don’t need to fight and struggle to achieve success in life. God has given us rest. And he invites us to enter that rest.

Where we start determines where we finish. If you take sin out of the bible, you are left with four chapters – two at the beginning and two at the end. The Bible starts in a garden and ends in a city of gardens. We are stuck in the middle bit at the moment. But we know how the story ends, and God is inviting us to come and rest with Him when He finally brings heaven and earth together again.

Lot and the Garden of Eden

The relationship of Lot to Avram is an intriguing one when you look at the covenant God makes with Avram.
In Genesis 12, God speaks to Avram:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV)

Here we see that it is Avram by himself who is addressed.

  • Avram is the one who has to leave to go and possess the land; and
  • he is the one whom God will bless; and
  • he is the one by whom blessings or curses will come upon others; and
  • he is the one through whom the whole world will be blessed.

But immediately after God has spoken to Avram, we are told: So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. (Gen 12:4 ESV)

Now Lot is not a member of Avram’s immediate family, but he is Avram’s nephew, the son of Avram’s deceased brother Haran. There are three sons of Terach that we are told about – Avram, Nachor and Haran.
Now rather than attach himself to Nachor, Avram’s other brother, Lot attached himself to Avram – perhaps because Avram was the oldest sibling.
Whatever the reason, we are told that Lot went with Avram and continued to travel with him.
We read later that Lot travelled with Avram as he walked through the land of Canaan, when he went down to Egypt, and when he came back from Egypt.

We lose sight of Lot for a while in chapter 12 as the story focuses on Avram in Egypt and the rescue of Sarai from Pharaoh.
But at the beginning chapter 13, Lot appears again with Avram, coming up out of Egypt, loaded up with all sorts of goods and livestock.

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.
And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD.
And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, (Gen 13:1-6 ESV)

If we look at the relationship between Lot and Avram, what seems clear is that Lot, not being part of Avram’s immediate family is nonetheless one who blesses Avram and so is blessed by God because he blesses Avram. This seems to be how their relationship works in the light of God’s promise to Avram

But then in chapter 13, verse 8, Avram tells Lot that they should separate and go their separate ways. Their combined wealth has grown so great that disputes are occurring over who owns what. In order for Avram to remain faithful to God’s promise, he must “walk before God and be blameless”; that is, he must walk on his own and be free from strife within his own household.

So now Avram sacrifices his pride of place in the land for the sake of family harmony. He invites Lot to pick part of the land to settle in, and Avram will settle elsewhere.

This brings us back to the underlying theme that we have seen running through all the stories in Genesis so far. The promise of God to restore the world, ha-aretz, to its original goodness and wholeness.
We are told that Lot lifts up his eyes and sees “that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, (Gen 13:10 ESV)”. So now Lot sees his chance to return to the Garden, to live in the abundance and wholeness that God intended from the beginning and was in the process of restoring. And Lot grabs this opportunity with both hands and opts for the plains and cities around Sodom. He no longer needs Avram, because he has found the way back into God’s presence, into the Garden of Eden.

But he has forgotten that “the Canaanites were in the land. (Gen 12:6 ESV)“. We are shortly told that “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD. (Gen 13:13 ESV)”

God’s plans are not ready for their final fulfillment yet, and so His people must wander as strangers in a land that they will only possess at a later time. They are to walk in faith before God, as blameless servants, ready to give up all they have to possess something which is so much greater – the “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God”, as the writer to the Hebrews puts it.

When God created the heavens and the earth, he not only created length and breadth and depth, but He also created time. And God uses all of these four dimensions to bring about His promises. The land may look like the Garden of the Lord, but if the time is not right, then it’s not the Garden of the Lord, but rather a place devoid of God, and full of violence. Again and again we see through these stories how God uses time as a key instrument in bringing about His purposes.

So what of Lot’s relationship with Avram, which was where we started from?
It would seem to me that when Lot opts for Sodom, he is in effect cursing Avram, or “holding him lightly”. Lot sees Sodom as the new creation, something he can obtain apart from Avram – so Avram is now redundant, no longer needed, discarded. He has shown contempt for the promises of God through Avram and opted for paradise through his own means. And this can not end well for Lot, as the later story shows.

It is only through the promised one, at this point in time being Avram, that true blessing can come from God. Avram is the one through whom every spiritual blessing is obtained.
When we pass on several centuries to the birth of the real Messiah, Jesus, we see the same principle brought to fullness. It is only in Jesus the Messiah, that we obtain every spiritual blessing, Paul tells us. If we refuse to come to God through Jesus, then there is no path into the presence of God that does not lead to death.
Lot found this out later in the story, and we discover the same truth today.

Genealogy of hope

When we look at Genesis 5 and we see the genealogy of Adam, we wonder why on earth should we bother reading it; what hope do we have of understanding the purpose of all these names?

In Genesis 4, and we saw the cycle of sin gaining intensity and momentum. From the disobedience of Adam and his wife, we have seen that rebellion fester into hatred and murder, then moving out further into a whole society that turned its back on God and sought independence from Him.
And at the end of that story we saw a glimmer of hope at the birth of Seth, when people once again began to call upon the name of the Lord.

Now in Genesis 5, the story takes a bit of a break, and the writer seems to stand back, catch his breath and think about what has happened so far. This genealogy marks the end of the first section of the story, and it summarises what has gone on before. In the original oral version of this story, this may well have been the end of this particular story. Kids would have to wait until the next night to get the rest of the story.

But this summary is not just a repetition of what has happened, because it adds something new into the story. It begins in a similar way to the second main creation story.
In Genesis 2:3 we read “these are the generations (Heb תּוֹלְדֹת ) of the heavens and the earth when they were created”.
Genesis 5 begins “This the book of the generations (Heb תּוֹלְדֹת ) of Adam”. So in a sense it is yet another telling of the creation story but from a different perspective.
Remember that these are not just random stories, but they are put together in this way because they are leading somewhere. We are following something very special here, and so we need to pay close attention to what is happening. If we look at the text following, you will notice how we go right back to the creation story and re-tell the whole story from a different, condensed perspective.

Gen 5:1 When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man. “
When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

Now the writer is making some definite connections here. Adam was created in the image and likeness of God, and now Seth was born in the image and likeness of Adam.

What we are seeing here is the introduction of one of the most important pictures in the whole Bible, the new creation motif, that flows through all of the rest of scripture. The old creation has been broken, it has been shattered and disfigured, and now God is beginning a new work of creation. And so throughout the whole of the rest of the Bible we see images of that new creation begin to appear, sometimes in the strangest of places.

The original creation had been spoilt through sin, and all the perfect relationships which God created have been broken. The relationship of God to humanity, the relationships between humans and even between male and female, and lastly the relationship between humanity and the physical creation. All of these relationships have been shattered, and the image of God which was so perfectly visible in the first creation has been fragmented and distorted. It is no longer what it was meant to be.

And as a result of this fracture in relationships, there has come death to a righteous man, a man whose sacrifice was acceptable to God. The righteous Abel has been killed by sin. God’s judgement on Adam’s sin was not carried out how Adam thought it would. It has caused the death of his son instead of him.
Instead of Adam dying for his sin, an innocent son of Adam has been killed.

But Abel’s death is not the final word, because God has, in a sense, resurrected Abel through the birth of Seth, and with Seth a new hope for the world is brought into being. After Seth was born, people began to call upon the name of the Lord once again.
So the image of God is being restored in this new creation, this resurrected world heralded by the birth of Seth.

Now if you know anything of the story of the bible, you will recognise these themes as having their fulfilment in Jesus the Messiah. The sacrifice which Jesus offered, of a life devoted to God, was perfectly acceptable to God. And like Abel, Jesus was put to death by the sin of not only Adam, but also his descendants (all of humanity); Jesus the Messiah, the righteous one suffering death on behalf of the unrighteous. But death wasn’t the end of Jesus, because God raised Him from the dead after three days. So the new creation which was spoken of back in Genesis is finally fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

And so it’s no wonder that Luke in his gospel traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Noah, to Seth and then Adam, the son of God. (Luke 3) What Luke is saying is that in Jesus, the image of God has been restored. He is the true Son of God who succeeded where Adam had failed. Jesus was the promised offspring of the woman, who finally crushed the head of the serpent and set about restoring the creation to the way it was meant to be.

Now we have digressed a bit from the story at hand. We have only looked at the first line of the genealogy and have a few more to get through. But this is important for our understanding of what is going on in this chapter. Genesis 5 is not an isolated fragment of text that someone has dropped in to make the story a bit longer. It is integral to the story of the bible, because in these genealogies we see the hope of God’s people being displayed.

Longing for the perfection and purpose of creation to be restored.
So on we go. We see then a list of many other names, with various numbers of years between generations and births and deaths. It’s probably good to have a look at this genealogy in a more graphical format, so we can more easily understand what is happening.

First of all, let’s have a look at the people involved here. There are 10 generations involved, from Adam to Noah. Now this is obviously not a comprehensive family tree, because there would probably be hundreds of thousands of people named if it was. It is a very selective genealogy, with only particular people mentioned. And so the people selected are selected because they trace God’s promise, the promise God made to Adam and Eve that one day a child would be born who would fix things up again, who would get rid of sin and its terrible effects upon God’s good creation.

So the point the genealogist is making by tracing the line from Seth to Noah, is that Noah is a child of the promise. He is descended from Seth, not from Cain. Resurrection and new creation come through the righteous Seth, not through Cain the murderer. In fact, the result of Cain’s sin and the sin of his descendants will be judgment and death through the flood that comes in the time of Noah. But that’s another story.

Next, let’s have a look at where these people sit on a timeline.
The top graph is not to scale, and just shows the dates when these people were born and when they died. The bottom graph is to scale, and shows how they fit together over time.

A few interesting things to note:

Immediately before Adam’s death, every one of these people, except Noah, were alive on the earth. After that we see that Methuselah died in the same year that the flood came upon the earth. We assume that he did not die in the flood because his death is described in the same way as all the others.
Noah was born 14 years after the death of Seth. There seems to be some significance in this, both because of the number 14 and also the way in which Noah’s birth and life is described.
But before we get to that, we need to look at the one glaring anomaly in this chart.

If we look through all the names, we find that almost all of them lived to about 900 years or so.But not everyone lived that long, there is one exception, Enoch.
Enoch lived on the earth for “only” 365 years, a mere child by the standards of the others.

Now to the people who first heard this story, this would indicate that Enoch must have been a bad sort of character. When these stories were written down, it was commonly accepted that God blessed the righteous with a long life, whilst the wicked were cut off early as punishment. (The book of Job probably dates from about the same period.)

But the genealogist makes sure that we know that this is not the case. Enoch, we are told, was a righteous man, because he walked with God. Now the term “walked with God” is a special phrase reserved for only very special people.
Adam walked with God in the garden, before he sinned. Noah walked with God, we are told, and Abraham walked with God. Walking with God is an indication that Enoch has found favour with God.

So there was nothing evil in Enoch that God should punish him by cutting off his life at an early age.
Enoch stands as a mystery.
Here is a righteous man who did not live out the fullness of his days.

Now there is a long-held tradition that Enoch never saw death, that he was taken into heaven by God. We are told that “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”
But the main reason to suppose that Enoch did not die is that for every other individual, we are told “and then he died”. The sin of Adam brought its consequences to everyone else on this list. They all lived for a period, and “then they died”. We are told that every other person listed here died, even Noah (over at the end of ch10), but not so with Enoch.

And the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament confirms that Enoch did not see death.

(Heb 11:5) By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

But we are still left with a bit of a mystery about Enoch. Why did God take him away so early? Why was his life cut short? Why didn’t God let him see out the fullness of his days before “taking him away”.
Again, the only conclusion we can make is when we look back in the light of what happened to Jesus the Messiah. He also was a man who truly walked with God, because he was the Father’s Son. But his life was also cut short, even though he had done no wrong.
Unlike Enoch, though, Jesus underwent death as a criminal first, before God raised him back to life and “took him away” from this earth.

So we see something funny going on regarding how goodness works in the world. Already we see that not everyone who leads a good life gets to live a long and happy life. The very order of creation has now been upset by sin, so people like Abel and Enoch have their lives cut short.

But placed side by side, we now get a blurry image of Jesus the Messiah, an innocent man put death by sinners, but raised from the dead and taken to be with God.
To turn things another way, this is the new creation taking shape in the world. Enoch is the seventh generation from Adam, and it is into the life of this perfectly numbered generation that God intervenes and rescues the righteous one from the consequences of sin.

With each new child comes the possibility that he will be the promised one.
So back to our genealogy.
Towards the end of this chapter, we read something that sums up the situation so far.

GE 5:28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.”

So the writer brings us back to the beginning of the story, the problem of sin, and what he hopes will be a resolution of the problem. Noah is born, and the name “Noah” means “rest”, translated here as “comfort”. You can almost hear the pain and hurt in the writer’s voice here; “he will comfort us (give us rest) in the labour and painful toil of our hands”.
The curse which God has placed on the ground because of humanity’s sin has become a burden to everyday life. The “labour and painful toil” slowly grinds people down so that they look to God for relief and rest. We almost hear an early version of the cry from the Israelites in Egypt under Pharoah. In Exodus 2 we are told “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.”

Lamech seems to have named Noah with that very cry in mind. There is a groan in his voice about the painful toil of life, and he is seeking rest from God. And so he names his son “Noah”, hoping that God will provide that rest through Noah.

Now this captures a lot of things that have been going on up until now and are still going on today. Ever since Adam and his wife sinned in Eden, life has been hard. Every day we are faced with painful toil, battling against a hostile world which fights back at us, trying to free itself of the corruption and decay we have brought into it. We see this at several levels.

We see it in the natural world around us, particularly in these days where climate change and the effect of that change are so painfully visible. Cyclones, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, droughts, locust plagues – the list can go on. It seems sometimes as if the very earth itself is trying to get rid of humanity so that it can find rest again. And so it shakes and blows and burns to purify itself and get rid of the irritation that humanity has become. We see it in relationships between nations. Anger and hostility because nations are interfering with other nations. So we have wars and skirmishes and economic sanctions and no-fly zones. There is a cry for justice, but usually it is only for justice on our terms, and only for our people. We see it in relationships between people. Our society has been described as a dog-eat-dog society. Where you have to be ruthless and cunning, strong and savage. Only the fittest survive. And if you’re not born beautiful, rich or both, then you struggle every day against everyone else you meet to earn a living for yourself.

We talk about “getting ahead”, which is another way of saying “getting ahead” of everyone else. We need to compete for our place in life, we need to outrun, out-think and out-perform everyone else if we are going to survive. It’s a rat-race, but as someone once remarked, even if you win, you’re still a rat.

And all of this adds stress to our lives. And the increase in stress affects our health, which causes more stress. And this stress impacts relationships with the nearest and dearest people in our lives. And so families and marriages break up, because the stress of living with unfulfilled dreams becomes too great, and like the very creation itself, people try to shake or burn or blow away everything that irritates and disturbs the peace that people so badly long for. We become tired. Tired of the daily grind. Tired of battling to make a living. Tired of people getting in our way. Tired of those around us who are making demands on our life that we don’t have the energy to deal with.

So like Lamech, we too are looking for a Noah, one who will bring us rest from the trouble and painful toil of life. Because that was God’s intention when he created the world. The very first day Adam started work in the garden was the Sabbath, the day of rest. Before he did anything else, Adam rested and enjoyed the beauty and majesty of God’s good and perfect creation. As Jesus said, “the Sabbath was made for man”.

And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. God is calling us to rest in Him, to cast our cares and worries on Him, and trust Him to care and provide for us.

That’s what Lamech was longing for when he named his son “Noah”. And that’s what Jesus came to give us, and what we look forward to receiving in full one day soon. God has promised it, and Jesus has guaranteed it by giving us His Spirit.

And that’s what is so beautiful about genealogies.
They are an expression of hope, of faith in a God who is faithful to fulfil His promises. With every line in the family tree, with every new name that is written down comes a hope in God that maybe this one will be the promised one. Maybe this child will be the one God promised will crush the serpent’s head and restore the beauty of God’s creation again.

And so during those 1000 years or so, hope in the promises of God came to life every time new life came into the world. Maybe this child is the one. Maybe this time God is going to fix things up. Maybe the day has finally come when we can have rest from the pain and toil of life. Maybe this time. Maybe this time.

And so it went on for thousands more years after Noah, because Noah only brought temporary relief. For thousands more years, Israel faithfully kept their genealogies in order, always with the hope that this new child would be the one. Until one day an angel announced to a young unmarried teenager that her child really would be the one. This young girl named Mary was to give birth to a child for whom all of Israel had waited so long. And so the child was born to a choir of angels singing “glory to God and peace among men”. Peace and rest to mankind – finally, after all of those years.
And when this child, Jesus, grew to be a man and began to preach, His message was “come to me all of you who are weary and worn out, and I will give you rest.”

So the rest that Noah didn’t manage to bring was eventually brought by Jesus.
Jesus, a righteous man who walked with God – like Adam and Enoch and Noah and Abraham.
Jesus, one whose offering was perfectly acceptable to God – like Abel.
Jesus, one who was killed because of the sin of humanity, like Abel.
Jesus, one who was raised from the dead, like Seth.
Jesus, one whose life was cut short and taken away by God, like Enoch.
Jesus, one who brought real and lasting rest to the world.

But even though Jesus has brought us true rest, we don’t experience it fully yet. Because that rest and that wholeness Jesus is bringing is growing slowly. It’s growing like a mustard seed, slowly but surely. It’s like the yeast in the dough, working its way through the universe. And we only get glimpses and tastes of it at the moment – enough to whet our appetites and crave the full meal.

Because we know that one day we are going to experience the fullness and completeness of God’s new creation. It is going to erupt into the world in a final blast that will shake off all traces of sin and corruption, of pain and turmoil, of suffering and shame.
And so we hope like the people who wrote the genealogies.
Maybe today is the day when Jesus will return.
Maybe today God is going to restore the world.
Maybe today we will get rest from our pain.
Maybe today.
Maybe today.

Every time we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – we hope – maybe today, maybe today.

Genesis 3 Eve – Mother of all the living

In Genesis 2 we saw Adam and his wife in the garden of Eden, surrounded by an abundance of food, of beauty and the good provision of God. They were living the perfect life, living in perfect unity with God, with each other and with the creation around them. It was a picture that God had declared so good, that He announced a day of rest to enjoy it all.

But then in the first part of chapter 3, we see all of that picture change. Through the skillful subtlety of the serpent, Adam and his wife decide that they want to be equal to God, and take for themselves the knowledge of good and evil, setting themselves against God and His provision for them. And as a result of that seemingly innocuous act of eating the fruit, they come to know the evil of their own natures, and they discover the reality of their guilt and shame.

Whereas before they were naked and without shame, now they are naked and fully exposed to shame.

So from here on the picture begins to crack and crumble.

For Adam and his wife, their shame and guilt overwhelms them when they hear the sound of God walking in the garden. Now to the people who first read this story, this phrase would have some dramatic overtones. In Exodus 19, when the people of Israel were gathered at Sinai, they heard the sound of the Lord approaching in the form of a trumpet blast, and we are told that “the whole camp trembled”.
Because of their guilt and their shame, the sound of God and the imminence of his appearing was now the most frightening thing imaginable.

Adam had been told that on the day he ate the fruit from that tree, he would surely die. So now he had to face God with that thought in the very forefront of his mind.
Now the lustre of the original creation has been lost, all its peace and wholeness and beauty is gone forever. The trees of the garden which once were a thing of beauty, and a source of all kinds of delicious food, have lost that attractiveness and are now being used as camouflage to hide Adam from his creator and now his Judge.

So assuming that God already knew what Adam had done, what was going to be His response? Was there to be thunder and lightning, thick clouds of darkness and smoke and rumblings like there was at Sinai? What was God’s response going to be?

It’s a surprising response, really.

The first thing God does is to call out to Adam “Where are you?”

Now despite Adam’s attempt to hide from God, God really does know where Adam is. But here we see the first picture of grace as it comes to people caught out in sin and shame. God doesn’t rush into the bushes and drag Adam out by the scruff of the neck.
Instead He calls to Adam and invites him to drop the camouflage, to drop all the pretence, and when Adam offers the lamest of excuses, God asks Him to drop those excuses as well and be totally honest with Him. “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

When dealing with sin and guilt, God likes to get straight to the point. There is no place for excuses or camouflage, no place for hiding or trying to conceal anything. God already knows our heart, and he wants us to admit the truth and come to him for forgiveness.
God asks for an open and honest heart.
And it’s only because grace is offered that hearts can be opened.

And yet Adam still squirms. He tries to pass the blame to his wife; the woman passes the blame to the snake; and, as the saying goes, the snake hasn’t got a leg to stand on.

The man said, “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Now what we see here, if we stand back a bit, is the demolition of all the perfect relationships God that had created.

  • We see a rift between God and humanity, not just in eating the fruit, but also in trying to hide and then finally trying to shift blame. Humanity is no longer one with God, but steeped in guilt and awaiting judgment. The commandment has been broken, and the punishment awaits.
  • We see a rift between humans, not just between man and wife. Blame is apportioned to one person to try to hide the guilt of the other.
  • But there is also a rift between man and wife. There is no longer that close unity, that “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”. Now it’s “that woman you put here”.
  • Finally there is a rift between humanity and the rest of creation. The serpent is being blamed for something that humanity was responsible for. The command had been given to the man and the woman, it wasn’t given to the snake. It was their duty to obey, not the duty of the snake. We see that even though Adam and his wife had been given the command to rule over all the animals, they had allowed one of the animals to rule over them with its cunning.

So now the cracks are complete. The perfect picture of creation, God’s holy image, has been shattered in every aspect. There is now not one part of creation that remains unaffected by sin.

And so God’s response to each of the guilty parties reflects that brokenness.

So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

Now the curse on the serpent is not so much about having to crawl on its belly – there is no real evidence that the serpent ever had legs. But rather it is the serpent’s association with dust.
Dust belongs to the uncreated state of humanity – Adam was created from the dust of the earth, and it belongs to the destination of the human body after death, – Adam will return to dust when he dies. There is no life in dust. It is either uncreated or dead. It belongs to the primordial chaos that existed before God created life, and it belongs to the rotting corpses of the dead. The serpent will feed on death and decay all of the days of its life. There is no hope for the serpent.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Not only does the serpent get the death sentence, but he is sentenced to a life of being hated and finally crushed underfoot. There will be a constant enmity, a hatred with fear and loathing between the serpent with its offspring, and all the offspring of the woman. All generations of humanity will despise all generations of serpents.

But in the middle of this, one of the offspring of the woman will crush the serpent’s head, even though the serpent will crush or bruise that person’s heel. Now the word translated as “crush” and “strike” is the same Hebrew word “suph”. Its normal meaning is to strike or bruise. Now the impact of a blow to the heel as compared to a blow to the head is enormous. It brings pain to the heel of one, and death to the head of the other.

Now this is the first announcement by God that he is going to do something about getting rid of sin.
Paul picks up this thought when he writes to the Romans “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Even though no association is made in Genesis, later writers in the Bible identify the serpent with Satan, and they see this promise in Genesis 3 as being God’s promise to deal with sin and its source once and for all, by delivering a death-blow to the head of the serpent.

And so this curse upon the serpent, and the ensuing battle that it creates, is God’s way of bringing grace and restoration to His creation. Sin and deception are not going to have the final say in this world, but God is promising that the deceitfulness of sin and the destruction that it brings will come to an end.

A seed of the woman – an offspring, a descendant – will one day be born into the world, and that person will remove the cause and the effects of all forms of brokenness and evil, so that the world can once again be good and perfect as God intended it to be. The image that was shattered by sin will one day be put back together again by a descendant of the woman.

But with that promise of a special descendant comes a special type of suffering for the woman.

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Now when the woman was created out of Adam’s side, she was announced as Adam’s helper, flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. The woman and her husband had a perfect relationship of trust and companionship. Together they were to have children and populate the earth with a people who would love and serve God in beauty and in truth.
But now that blessing has become a curse. The act of childbirth will now become an incredibly painful event. And some would say that even the pain of delivering the child is not as great as the pain of raising the child, albeit a different type of pain. The very event that was meant to give joy to the woman will now become incredibly painful and even dangerous.

And she will find little support from her husband.
Now there is going to be tension in the relationship between man and woman. The woman has led her husband into sin. Their relationship had been so close and so intimate that he had trusted her as fully as he trusted himself, but that trust was betrayed.

And because that trust has been destroyed, life together now becomes a battle for domination of one over the other. The text says “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” So there is a desire on the part of the woman for her husband, but it is met only with harshness and domination.
But even this desire by the woman is not a wholesome desire. This desire can also be seen as a controlling desire. A desire for her husband to meet all her demands, while the husband is determined to rule over his wife and make her submit to his will.

It’s interesting that the two words that are used here for “desire” (shuwq) and “rule” (mashal), in “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” are the same words that God uses when speaking to Cain about his anger towards his brother. In Genesis 4, God says to Cain “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” So sin desires to have Cain, but he must master it. The woman will desire her husband, but he will master her. The same two words are used in the Hebrew for these expressions.

So we see a picture, not of a weak little woman at the mercy of her big strong husband, but of two incredibly manipulative people, each trying to dominate the other by perhaps different means.

Finally God turns His attention to Adam.

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, `You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Adam had been given the job of managing the Garden of Eden, of helping it grow and flourish under the full favour of God. It was to be a job in which he could find a deep-seated satisfaction and fulfilment, using his gifts and abilities to their fullest.
But now that he has rebelled against God, that work becomes a curse, and instead of him working with the plants in the garden, he now finds the plants and even the very soil in the ground working against him. Instead of flourishing trees full of fruit, Adam has to battle choking weeds, with thorns and thistles tearing at his flesh as he tries to grow food to eat. Instead of work being a fulfilling activity, it now becomes a fatiguing activity, that draws out his sweat and leaves him exhausted at the end of the day.

And the death sentence God warned about has now become his destiny. From the uncreatedness of dust Adam was made, and to the uncreatedness of dust he will return. The wages of sin are death, and now that reality faces Adam as he fights for survival each day against the forces of a creation which has been thrown back into chaos. The goodness of God’s original creation has been shattered, and now Adam has to pick his way between the pieces on his way to a certain death.

So when you get to this part of the story, it all looks pretty depressing. There doesn’t seem to be much hope left for anyone. In the beginning, Adam and his wife had it made – they were living in Paradise with God as their best friend. They had everything they could ever need, but they blew it by being too greedy. They wanted too much. They weren’t content to live as God’s creatures, they wanted to live like God Himself.
And now they felt the full extent of what the knowledge of evil brought – brokenness, pain, struggle and death. All was lost.

But then in the next verse we are told something really extraordinary.

“Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.”

Now surely this is the weirdest thing in the world to say, at this point in the story.

For a man who has just received the death sentence, this doesn’t make sense. “mother of all the living”? How can that be, when both Adam and the woman are condemned to death?

This can only make sense when we look at the curse God placed on the serpent. God promised that one of the woman’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head. That child would destroy the serpent and all the effects of sin. So even though death is certain, that death is deferred, to allow new life to begin. And the woman would be saved through the children she gave birth to, or more specifically, by one of those children. Before Adam and Eve die, they will give birth to children who will carry on the promise of the child who will crush the serpent’s head, and reverse the penalty of death. So there is hope and life even in death.

Here we see again God’s first announcement of the gospel. There is one coming who will break the curse of sin and deal a death blow to the serpent, to the evil one, to sin and evil and everything that is working against God’s purposes. God will restore His creation and make it magnificent and completely good again one day.

And Adam takes hold of that promise, and names his wife, Eve – the mother of all the living. This is the very first sermon ever preached in response to the gospel, an incredibly powerful statement.
God is bringing life into the world, a life that will destroy the death caused by sin. And Eve has a major role in that.

Now it’s interesting also to see how the relationship between this first couple has changed.

When Eve was first created, Adam called her “woman”, because she was taken out of man. So the two were essentially one, one flesh. And this is reflected in their names and how they related to God and to each other. There was no hint that either of them was submissive to the other, let alone subservient. And neither was there any mention of separate roles. The Bible simply says that Adam was alone and needed a helper, a close companion.

When the serpent came to the woman, she didn’t run to Adam to see what she should do. She didn’t need permission from the “head of the house” to answer the serpent. She was confident enough in herself to speak to the serpent on behalf of both of them, and Adam, who we are told was “with her” when the snake came, didn’t interrupt or over-rule his wife – he simply accepted the fruit she gave him as from an equal.

In a sense we are only dealing with one person, at this stage, an “Adamic unity” we might say, one person who is both male and female – just as God is one and yet three persons. The woman is really a part of Adam, their unity is so complete. What Adam does, the woman also does, and what the woman does, Adam also does.

But now when this unity is broken, Eve gets a name of her own, apart from Adam’s identity. Now Eve has a task and mission in life that is separate from Adam. She is no longer defined as “taken out of man”, but is to be the mother of all the living.

And to accomplish that task, she will have to battle for control with Adam, who will want to dominate her in return. Her identity is no longer taken from Adam, but from her role as the one who will give birth to the Promised One, later called the Messiah, or the Christ. No longer is the husband-wife relationship the dominant one, but now they both stand as individuals in need of a Saviour, someone who will destroy the effects of sin.

So now let’s move the clock forward several centuries, to the birth of Jesus. Luke tells us that Jesus was both born of God – as was Adam – and born of a woman like Eve. So here is the promised one, the Messiah. The one who God promised would come into the world to deal with sin once and for all.

And because he is God’s son, he is also the new Adam. Paul refers to Jesus several times in this way. But unlike Adam, Jesus does not give in to temptation. On the cross, Jesus defeats all the powers of sin and pays the penalty for our sin, so the head of the serpent is crushed forever.
And when Jesus rises from the dead on the first day of the week, Mary mistakes him for the gardener – the new Adam, tending the restored garden in paradise.

As in Adam all die, Paul tells us, so in Christ all will be made alive – the curse of death has been removed. Jesus is re-creating the world so that it can be the way God intended it to be. And when the new heavens and the new earth are shown to the apostle John, there is the tree of life again, growing beside the river. The garden has been restored, and there is no mention of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There is no possibility of sin entering here again.

Now we can also ask the question, if Jesus is the new Adam, then who is the new Eve? Why didn’t Jesus have a partner?

The answer comes throughout the Bible, that God’s people as a whole are the new Eve. As mother of all the living, all of the living are married to the new Adam.
In the Tanach, God talks about Himself being a husband to Israel, His people. And in the apostolic Scriptures we read that the church is the bride of Christ. So the new couple in the recreated heavens and earth are the new Adam, Jesus Christ, and the new Eve – His people, the church.

And the new creation mandate is the same as the old – fill the earth and subdue it, or in New Testament language, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. As the new Mother of all the living, the church has the task of bringing new generations into the kingdom by the new birth brought about by the Spirit.

Genesis 2 – Back to the future

The second main creation story, starting at Gen 2:4, starts in an unusual way. It begins

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were created on the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”

Now that’s probably not quite what your NIV text says, but it’s what the Hebrew says. And it’s a similar way of speaking as in Genesis 5 and 10 where it reads “These are the generations of Adam”, or “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth”.

So in a sense what we have here is a different sort of account to Genesis 1. This is a story about relationships, about genealogies. It tells us why things came to be what they are today and traces the roots of people and places
Now we’ll come back to this later, but first we want to note another difference in this story.

In the first creation account, God is referred to as Elohim, the mighty creator. But in this second account, God is referred to as Yahweh Elohim. God is not only the might creator, but he has a name, Yahweh.
Now to describe God in this way means that we have to travel forward a couple of thousand years to the time of Moses. It is only in the book of Exodus, where Moses sees the burning bush in the wilderness that God reveals His name.
In Exodus 3:13 we read:

EX 3:13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, `What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’ “

Now this name, signified by the Hebrew letters yod heh vav heh is unpronounceable. Once upon a time someone knew how to pronounce it but we have lost this knowledge over the centuries. It is translated usually as Jehovah, or Yahweh or in the NIV “THE LORD”. And it has its origin in God’s revelation of Himself to Moses.
So this name, Yahweh, Jehovah, or however you want to pronounce it, is inextricably linked to God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Israel. When God uses this name, He is reminding Moses of His promises and His faithfulness in keeping those promises by rescuing Israel from Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land.

So what does that have to do with Genesis 2, and why does the writer suddenly start referring to God in this way?

Well, as we noted last time, Genesis is the first of the five books of Moses. These stories were written down several thousand years after they happened. Much of their meaning is derived from where the people of Israel are at the moment, in the desert and about to enter into the Promised Land.
And so it’s like going back to look at an old house you used to live in. What you notice most is not so much what it looks like now, nor even what it used to look like before, but rather you tend to focus on the changes. The green door used to be pink, and there used to be a shed around the side. The new owners have chopped out the mango tree with the swing and replaced it with a camellia tree.

So what used to be there has become mixed in with what is there now, and the stories refer both backward and forward in time to try to explain why things are what they are, and how our memories of former times fit in with today’s changed reality.
And so it is with Genesis 2. It deals mainly with the things that have changed since the beginning, so that we can get a better picture of where we came from, where God might be leading us in future, and why things at the moment are not like either of these. Remember that it is a genealogy and so it shows us our ancestors and the way things have changed.

And it’s in this context that the name of God as Yahweh becomes incredibly important to the people who wrote these stories down. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who defeated the Egyptians, freed them from slavery and is bringing them into a land flowing with milk and honey is the very same God who created the heavens and the earth.

Yahweh is also Elohim. The faithful covenant God of Israel is also the mighty creator of the universe. And the reason why Israel are travelling to the Promised Land is because that is how God intended them to live when He created humanity in the first place.

So what we see in Genesis 2 is like a “before” picture of the world, with Genesis 3 being the “after” picture. In Genesis 3 we see the entry of sin into the world, and how it affected the key relationships which God had established. Genesis 2 deals almost exactly with only those relationships which changed and describes what they were like before sin ruined things.

So let’s have a look at this chapter more closely.

“No shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but mists came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground”

Now let’s have a look at what is being described here. We are told that :

  • No shrub or vegetation had yet appeared
  • God had not yet sent rain upon the earth
  • There was no man to work the ground

Now all of these three elements deal with the effects of sin.
In Genesis 3, after sin had entered the world, we are told that Adam will eat the “plants of the field” – no more luscious fruit-bearing trees in easy reach.
As well, Adam was told “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.”
But here we are told that there was no man to work the ground. There was no curse on the ground that required the sweat of a man’s brow to work the ground and make it produce food.
We are also told that God had not sent rain on the earth – rain was only mentioned when it became necessary to wipe out the sinfulness of humanity at the time of Noah. So we are being given a picture of what the world looked like before sin took its effect.

Next we read that

“the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Again we see the contrast between this image and the situation after the fall. When Adam is cursed, he is told that he will return to dust “for dust you are and to dust you will return”. The breath of God will leave Adam and he will return to dust.
But that is not how it was meant to be. When God created the world, he took the dust of the earth and created humanity, breathing into each person His very breath to give them life that was never meant to end. Death is not natural, and it’s not the way God intended the world to work – God created people for life.

In verse 8 we read that God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man He had formed. So you get this image of God taking Adam from the dustbowl or whatever where he was created, and placing him in this garden as a deliberate act. God moved him from where he was and deliberately put him in the garden.

So humanity was not meant to live as nomads wandering about in the desert, like the Israelites had been doing for the last 40 years, but our purpose was to live in the place where God had provided all of our needs – a place of abundance, flowing with milk and honey. And so Moses is leading the Israelites to the place where God wants to put them – in a luscious garden, flowing with milk and honey.

Verse 9 “the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

God is taking His people to a special place that He has prepared for them where they will live under His blessing. So this garden is filled with beautiful trees bearing delicious fruit. In Deut 6 we read:

DT 6:10 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you–a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant”

It’s God who has planted a new garden, and he is putting His people back where they belong. He has separated them out of Egypt, and he is populating His new garden with them. Just as he separated and populated His creation in chapter 1.
But of course in the middle of the garden were two special trees: the tree of Life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But we’ll come back to those another time.

The story then goes on to talk about the river that flowed through Eden.

GE 2:10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Now we want to notice a couple of things about these rivers.
Firstly, the location of these rivers remain a mystery, but there is plenty of educated conjecture to suggest that they ran from somewhere around Canaan in all directions. Certainly the Tigris and Euphrates still have their source not far from Israel today. Whether or not they are the original rivers is debatable and not the subject of the present discussion.
But what the text seems to suggest is that Eden was somewhere near the land which was promised to Abraham and his descendants, and there is a sense in which God is now placing Israel back in the garden through a new creation of the world. God is now putting the world to rights once again, reversing the effects of sin, putting humanity back into the garden to live under His blessing once again.

Secondly, we see that there was one river that flowed out from Eden and then formed four other rivers which flowed into all different lands.
So we see that the blessing of refreshment and life originated in Eden and from there blessed the whole world (as it was then known, anyway). I don’t think it’s pure coincidence that this mirrors Abraham’s blessing which also was to flow from Abraham out to the whole world. We see this same idea picked up later in scripture when it talks about the day when God restores all things and removes sin from His creation. In Ezekiel 47, we see a river flowing out from the temple (the place where God lives) and blessing the whole world. In Revelation 22 we see the same picture, complete with the trees of life. The presence of God in the world was a place that blessed the entire world.

Now in verse 15, the text takes an interesting turn. GE 2:15

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” – or “serve it and guard it”.

Now this seems to be a repeat of verse 8, “God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he put the man He had formed” but in true Hebrew style, it is stated differently, to add another layer of meaning. The Hebrew word translated as “put” in verse 8 is different from the Hebrew word translated as “put” in verse 15. In verse 8, “sem” has the meaning of a deliberate act of re-location. In verse 15, however, the word “nuch” has a meaning of “moved to safety”, or “put aside to rest”. It’s like the difference between when I put the sugar-bowl on the table, or when I put Nana’s special sugar-bowl up on the shelf out of the way of the kids.
So there are distinct connotations of the Sabbath rest here. Adam is “put” into the garden to rest securely in God’s provision, to rest on the Sabbath with God as they enjoy the peace and beauty of creation together.

So now that Adam is safely in the garden, God gives him a single command. “Don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because if you do that, you will surely die”. God alone knows what is good for Adam, and Adam is not to try to usurp God’s grace and provision. If Adam should try to become like God, then certain death would be the result.
And to demonstrate that God understands what is good for Adam, God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone. He needs a helper. So God creates all of the animals and brings them to Adam, but none of them are suitable. God then takes a rib from Adam’s side and creates a woman for Adam.
Adam is delighted and we get the first serenade ever written: “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman (ishah) because she was taken out of man (ish).” Then we are told:

GE 2:24 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

Man and woman are meant to complement each other and live in perfect unity as one person, and this is once again the before picture, to be contrasted with the bitter division and power struggle between the sexes that occurred after the fall.
It’s interesting to note that whilst there is ish and ishah, man and woman, there is not yet Adam and Eve, but only Adam. When they are referred to, they are called Adam and the woman, or Adam and his wife, meaning two individuals, but there is only one proper name – only one separate identity, in a sense. It’s as if God is saying that Adam consists of ish and ishah, man and woman.
Eve is only named, she only gets a separate identity, after sin enters the world.

Lastly we are told that the man and his wife were naked and felt no shame. Their unity with each other and with God was perfect. There was nothing hidden or deceitful in any part of their relationship. They were one flesh. But sin was to change all of that shortly afterwards.

Let’s think about all this now.
We get these recurring themes in Genesis 2. This is what the world should look like, and what we see today is not what it was meant to be. God created a world of beauty, justice, peace and love. But what we see today is a broken world that sometimes bears little resemblance to that pristine world. And so we ask, well what’s to be done about it. How do we get back to where we should be?

Well there is good news, firstly for the people of Israel who tramped through the desert with Moses and also for us today.

For the Israelites, they could see that God was going to fix the world up again. And He was doing this by taking them out of Egypt and bringing them into the renewed Garden of Eden. But like Adam in the Garden, they also had been given a command by God, in fact lots of them, but they could be summed up in two commands. They were to love God with all their hearts, minds and souls and love their neighbours as themselves. If they obeyed these commands, they would live in peace, security and abundance in the Promised Land. But if they disobeyed, then all the curses of the covenant listed in Deuteronomy would come upon them.

Now unfortunately, Israel went the same way as Adam, and disobeyed the commandments. But God in his grace eventually provided a new Adam, his son Jesus Christ. This new Adam kept the commandments perfectly and did not give in to the devil’s temptations. And the new Adam took all the punishment that was due to the old Adam and all of his descendants, including us today, and nailed it to the cross, so that a new creation could begin on that first Easter morning, or as John describes it, on the first day of the week when a man appears in the garden. Paul puts it this way when he writes to the Colossian church:

“COL 1:15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. … For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

So the good news for us today is that God has begun re-creating the world through Jesus. He is fixing it up again and restoring the beauty, justice, peace and love that sin destroyed. The story that began amongst the trees in a garden also ends the same way.

REV 22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

The picture that we see in Genesis 2 is re-drawn in Revelation 22, where God has re-created the fallen world. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is gone and only the tree of life remains, bearing its fruit all year round. There is no longer any place in this new creation for sin. Jesus has chosen life for us and our story ends with life being the final destination.
So, like the people whom Moses led through the desert, we too are on a journey to a place that God has prepared for us. A place that will arrive when heaven finally crashes into earth and the earth is restored to how it was meant to be; when death is swallowed up in life and the dead are raised to life again; when pain and suffering, heartache and tragedy no longer have any place in our lives, and when we are restored to full and intimate fellowship with the God who created us and saved us.
It’s hard to believe that sometimes, when we look around us. We feel the pain of broken relationships, the hurt and the anger when people let us down. We see the violence and the bloodshed of people and nations fighting against other people and nations. We see the horrific effects of pollution in our world, and the damage caused to plants and wildlife by the greed of people running massive global empires. The world looks such an awful mess at times, and the future looks hopeless.

Yet something inside of us keeps telling us that things aren’t meant to be like this. We have these distant echoes in our subconscious of a world where beauty and truth, peace and justice are the norm. Something keeps telling us that the world was meant to be an incredibly beautiful place and people were meant to live in loving community with each other and the world.

It’s as if we all have a picture of Eden locked away in the back of our minds that keeps telling us “The world shouldn’t look like it does”. The world should look different.

And if that voice is there, then rest assure that it is God’s voice – telling us that this world can be different. It can once again be what it was intended to be. And more than that, God has set about making sure that it will be. He has sent His son Jesus, his creative Word in the flesh, to undo the effects of sin and restore it to how it ought to be.

Elohim is also Yahweh. Our Creator is also the one who promises to bless us and lead us back into a world restored to its original beauty and peace.

God wants us to return to Him. To give up our rebellion and return to Him so that we also can be re-made into the people He has created us to be. People designed to rest in His good creation. People who no longer have to fight against creation to make a living, but who can live peacefully in the care of their Creator, Re-Creator and Friend. God’s invitation is still open.

Making a name – Babel and beyond

As you read through Genesis, the story of Babel seems to be a bit of a side-track that the Torah takes.
Having come through the story of the flood and the list of the seventy nations, we somehow seem to end up in Babel, en route to Abram in Ur. Most often we regard the Babel story as simply an explanation of why there are so many different languages in the world, and its theological significance is treated as a reverse image of Pentecost.However, as Rabbi Ari Kahn points out, there is a far deeper thing going on in Babel than most of us realise.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.
And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. (Gen 11:1-2 ESV)

Now back in chapter 10, we are told that on the plains of Shinar, the grandson of Ham, Nimrod, had built several great cities. Nimrod, the “mighty hunter before the Lord”, had not only built Babylon and several other cities in Shinar, but he also built Ninevah and other cities further to the west. So the name of Nimrod, the descendant of Ham, is associated with two of the most evil and destructive societies in Bible history.

Just as Cain built cities when he was put under God’s curse in Genesis 4, so Nimrod builds cities in response to God’s curse on his family in this story. His grandfather, Ham, had sinned against Noah, and Nimrod’s uncle, Canaan, had been specifically cursed by Noah. So it seems the whole family of Ham became rebellious in one way or another. The building of these cities by Nimrod wasn’t something done to celebrate the community and care of God for His people, but it was done as an act of rebellion against God.

Instead of relying on God for their safety, they built cities to defend themselves. Instead of finding their self-esteem in being made in the image of God, they found their self-esteem by building impressive idols of self-sufficiency and power over the forces of nature and surrounding peoples. They used science and technology to build stronger bricks, stones not made by God, but formed with the intellect and cunning of humanity. So the whole culture of the city is turned against God and is an exultation of human achievement and independence.

And it is this sort of spirit that leads them to build a tower “that will reach the heavens” in one of these cities. Now that they have this incredible technology, they believe that they can build a monument that will reach to the heavens and perhaps rival God in its magnificence. But more than that, they also intend to “make a name” for themselves by building this tower. And of course, in Hebrew the word for “name” is “shem”. So this division we have spoken about is verbalised now.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen 11:4 ESV)

The descendants of Ham have rejected the “Shem”, the “name” provided by God, and they want to make their own “shem’, their own “name”. They have rejected the promises and purposes of God in preserving a name for himself through Shem, and they want to substitute that name with their own name. The spirit of rebellion and independence is clear to see.

To cap all of this off, we find them deliberately working against the plans of God for the world. When Noah and his family came out of the ark, God told them to increase in number and fill the earth. But these people did not want to fill the earth, because that meant being scattered over the earth and losing the security in numbers and the ability to band together for political and economic power. They would have to trust in God to provide for them and to protect them, instead of developing their own independence.

So the tower became a symbol of a people’s rejection of God and His plan for the world, and the substitution of their own purposes and plans.
This is further highlighted by what Rabbi Ari Kahn brings out in his podcast entitled “The terrible secret of the tower” (Dated 14 Oct 12).
He raises the question raised by the rabbis as to why the people chose to build the tower in Shinar.
If, as it has been suggested, there intention was to reach up into the heavens, then why build it on the very low terrain of the plain between the two major rivers? Wouldn’t you build it on the top of a mountain, or at least on a plateau somewhere? The plains of the Shinar are the very lowest part of the whole region.
No, the rabbis insisted, the people weren’t stupid enough to think they could get to heaven by climbing the tower – the tower was never intended to enable them to approach God, it was simply to be an extremely tall tower, as the text says, “with its head in the heavens”.
So why build the tower here?
The ancient legend was that, since the plains of the Shinar were the lowest point of all the surrounding countryside, when the waters of the great flood subsided, all the dead bodies of the people killed in the flood ended up strewn across these plains. Over time those bodies decayed and their bones turned to dust which became mixed with the soil there. There was a saying that if you ate the produce of the earth from Shinar, then you were eating the bodies of those killed in the flood.
So the crumbled remains of these people have become one with the dirt of Shinar, the dirt which was taken by the tower-builders and “baked thoroughly” to make a strong brick.
This then means that the mighty tower will become a memorial to the victims of the flood. These people will live on through this building, as a permanent indictment against the God who sent the flood.

So now we see the full fury of hatred towards God embodied in this tower. They had rejected Noah’s son Shem, through whom God had promised to bless the world, and had created their own Shem, their own “name” out of the remains of the people killed by the flood, a people so violent and evil that God could no longer bear them. The tower was to make a name for themselves, and that name was a name that thumbed its nose at God, and set itself up in opposition to God.

Now we also note that whilst this tower was built in Nimrod’s city, there is nothing to suggest that only Ham’s descendents were involved in it. It is very likely that they were attracting descendents of Shem and Japheth as well. This meant that God’s ultimate purpose of bringing the Messiah to birth could be jeopardised by this tower.

And so they begin to build the tower, higher and higher every day.

And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built.
And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. (Gen 11:5-8 ESV)

Now at this point, the writer injects a little humour into the story. The tower-builders imagined that their tower was going to reach into the heavens, but the story teller informs us that God came ‘down” to see this tower. In God’s eyes, it had no standing at all, because he had to come down out of heaven to see this thing that was supposed to reach into the heavens.

So then we find God deciding to end this tower-building project, because it had the potential to totally disrupt, if not even destroy, the plan God had to renew the creation through His Messiah. If this spirit of rebellion and independence were to become widespread amongst all the three divisions in the nations, then His name would no longer be carried, and instead only the name created by humanity would exist. The name that takes as its basis the evil and violent people whom God brought into judgement by means of the flood. And that would ultimately spell disaster for all.

But this time, God does not send a flood, nor fire, nor any sort of plague or destructive agent. But God acts in grace and forbearance. There is no angry response, no lightning bolts of judgement; He merely changes their languages, so there is no longer any unity amongst the tower-builders. Without unity and co-operation, they cannot build anything substantial. And so the whole project grinds to a halt and people disperse to all corners of the globe, as God had intended.

Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Gen 11:9 ESV)

These people had set out to create a name for themselves, but the only name that these people end up creating is “Babel”, or “confusion”. Their name is not strength or wisdom or power, but only confusion.
And this really is the point of the story. There was a unity between people speaking the same language that was being used to turn people against God. So God destroyed that unity to enable His own plan for renewing the world to take effect. In spite of all the attempts to work against God, His purposes always prevail. God’s plans and purposes will not be over-ruled by humanity, no matter how ingenious, skilful or well-organised people may be.

So at the end of this story, we have been through yet another cycle of new creation, act of rebellion, spread of sin and God’s judgement upon sin. The stage is now set for something new. The spotlight is now thrown back on God to see what He will do next.
Remember that God has divided the world into three parts: the family He has selected to bring about His new creation (Shem); the family who lives in co-operation with Shem’s family (Japheth) and is blessed by Shem’s family; and  the family that lives in rebellion against Shem (Ham) and is under a curse because of it. But how will God bring them back together again? And Babel has made the division wider, because now those three parts speak a whole host of different languages.

Well the story continues by focussing once again on God preserving His name through the line of Shem.  We go back to where we left off before the tower-building episode.

After the story of Babel, we are given the genealogy of Shem through a series of generations leading up to the birth of Abraham.
So this is God’s new beginning again. This is the next part of God’s plan to bring the world back together again, free of sin and restored to its original beauty and perfection.
And in Abraham, we will see a repeat of what God started before. We see the world divided into three camps again. But this time it is not all of the descendants of Shem who carry God’s name and special purposes, but only Abraham and his descendants.
And the other two camps are not defined by their relationships to Japheth or Ham, but by their relationship to Abraham.
We see this in God’s promise to Abraham.

GE 12:2 “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

So here we see:

  • God’s blessing upon Abram, to make his name great and be a blessing. Abram and his descendants will have a priestly role which will set them apart from the rest of the world, and in this role they will be a blessing to the whole world.
  • God will bless those who bless Abram. Those who are not part of Abram’s family will share in this blessing if they bless Abram, that is, if they recognise the God-given role that Abram and his family have in the world and help them in their task.
  • God will curse those who curse Abram. Those who work against the purposes of God as they are displayed in the life of Abram and his family will be cursed by God. These people will show themselves as enemies of God because they have not recognised the work that God is doing in the world, or they have actively rebelled against it. These people are left with the curse that comes with sin against God.

Lastly, we see that through Abram, all peoples on earth will be blessed; or in other words, God is going to restore the world to its original state of perfection and blessing.

Abram’s ascension from Egypt

As the story of Abram progresses in Genesis 13, we are struck with a strange feeling of dejavu. We seem to be going through a repeat of what has happened to Abram when he first entered Canaan from Haran.
Back in chapter 12, we are told that Abram travelled from Haran with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and people they had acquired in Haran. Abram travelled through the land, and, we were told, the Canaanites were living in the land.

Now, after his little diversion in Egypt, Abram returns to Canaan and we are told:

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.
Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarrelling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.
So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarrelling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”
Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.

So in chapter 13 we again see Abram on the move, travelling with all his relatives, servants and possessions. He travels through the land and we are told that the Canaanites AND the Perizzites were living in the land.
When a story in the Torah is important, it is often repeated in a slightly different way. The very first story in the Torah, the story of creation is told in at least three different ways – the executive summary in the first verse, God creating the physical world and its boundaries by separating and populating in chapter one, and then re-telling a third time to explore the relationships between God and His people in chapter two.
But this is a bit different in its repetition. The story has moved on, but it remains the same. And this seems to be the pattern for many of the stories throughout Tanach. They are the same story, but they have moved on from the previous ones. There is a different dimension added, one that gives more light perhaps on where the story is ultimately heading.
So this story has developed further than the first story of Abram.

For a start, Abram is now “very heavy in livestock and silver and gold”. The NIV translates “kaved” as wealthy, and the ESV translates it as “rich”, but both of these words miss the wordplay going on in the Hebrew. Abram is “kaved meod”, he is “very heavy”. Now the next shade of intensity from “kaved meod” is “kavowdah”, or “glorious”. There is a strong connection in Tanach between heaviness and glory. Heaviness does not so much refer to the number of kilograms as to the amount of respect and seriousness of a person or thing. The writer seems to be trying hard to say “kavod” without actually saying it. God has not only defeated Pharoah who tried to kill the Promise by enslaving Sarai, but Abram has risen from defeat covered in “kavod”, covered in glory. Abram’s descent into Egypt led to defacto slavery and the apparent death of God’s promise, but his ascension from Egypt was glorious. Let the reader draw their own inferences to the resurrection of Yeshua.

So having come out of Egypt, Abram now returns to his mission in the land. But God has a further work of creating to do. God now separates Abram from Lot, so that Abram can flourish in the land God has given to him. And this occurs through the practicalities of living in the land. Not only are the Canaanites in the land, but also the Perizzites and Lot’s herdsmen as well. And we are told that a dispute arose between the herdsmen of Lot and those of Abram. In a situation where the surrounding people were probably none too friendly, the last thing Abram would want is a division in his own camp. And so, in a gesture of both generosity towards Lot and faith in the promises of God, Abram offers Lot first choice of the available land. Lot will now look after himself and make his own way in the land. But the blessing still belongs to Abram.

There is almost a sense that God’s promise to Abram is being played out in a very low-key manner here. God has promised that those who bless Abram will be blessed, but those who treat Abram lightly will be cursed. Now “lightly” in this sense is opposite to “heavy” as discussed before. Lightly means to treat without honour, without due respect. And Lot, or at least his servants, have gone very close to this; and in later chapters we will see what this means for Lot. We are given a small hint at this point in the story which notes that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tent near Sodom”, adding that “the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord”.

But now we see Abram standing on his own before God.
The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Abram has come through the trial and testing given by God and has maintained his faith in the promise throughout. So God comes to him and renews His promise to Abram. Abram has asked Lot to lift up his eyes, view the land and pick where he wants to live. But now God comes to Abram and tells him that everything he can see, north, south, east and west will be given to him and his descendants. So Lot’s occupation in te land will be short-lived compared to Abram’s. Abram has given up the choice part of the land but has been given back not only what he gave up, but all the land that he was able to see as well.

Then Abram responds to God’s promise by taking up residence at Hebron, and the first thing he does is to build an altar and worship the God who has given him so much.

So if we look back at Abram’s life so far, we see some other patterns emerging. Abram gives up everything he has or is given, but then God gives all of that and incredibly much more into the bargain. Abram left Ur and Haran where he seemed to have been living quite well, to go to a land that God hadn’t yet shown him. And God gives the whole land to him and his descendants forever. Famine comes to Canaan, so Abram gives up his claim on Canaan and travels to Egypt for survival. But there in Egypt he gives up Sarai as well, so he has given up the land, his wife and all hope of descendants. He has given up all the means he had of inheriting the blessing God had promised. But God intervened, gave him back his wife, sent him back to the land and loaded him up with cattle and silver and gold as well. And God renewed his promise to Abram into the bargain.

Again with Lot, Abram gives up his family connections, the best part of the land of Canaan, but inherits the renewed promises of God to him and his children. Almost everything Abram ever received, he gave up one way or another, but only to get it back with so much more. So once again we are reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians where Yeshua did not count equality with God something to be grasped at, but emptied himself and gave his life on the cross, only to be raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of the Father.

The stories are the same, but they move on, and become richer and deeper and more complete.

Abram in Egypt

The story of Abram going down to Egypt is quite a weird one, regardless of how you look at it. It is difficult to understand why it is included in Beresheit, let alone to understand what it means in the larger story in which it sits. But when you look more closely at it, certain familiar images appear which give it an authenticity and value not seen before.

Continuing on from my last post, we find that when Abram finally arrives at the land God has promised him, he finds it inhabited by the Canaanites. There is little, if any, room for Abram.
To make matters worse, we read next that there is a famine in the land, driving Abram and his family down to Egypt.

Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

Now if we know what comes next, as would the original hearers of this story, we would see the similarities between Abram and Jacob’s (Israel’s) family. They also went down to Egypt when the famine was too severe in the land of Canaan. And like Israel, Abram also gets trapped by Pharaoh in Egypt, although perhaps for very different reasons.

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, `This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that she was a very beautiful woman. And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace.

This seems a really strange thing for Abram to do. A cynic might say that Abram had an undying love for Sarai – he wasn’t going to die because of her. But Abram knew more about the culture of the place than we do, so we need to give him credit for being shrewd in the way he approached this somewhat delicate situation.
Now unlike Israel, Abram was treated very well by Pharaoh; but Pharaoh and the Egyptians didn’t fare so well because of God’s purposes for Abram. God’s promise that Abram’s descendants should own the land of Canaan could not come about if he had no wife. Sarai needed to be returned to him if God’s covenant was going to be fulfilled, the whole future of God’s plans depended upon it. So God intervened to plague the Egyptians until Abram’s deception was shown up and he was evicted from the land, carrying with him all the gifts and booty given to him on account of Sarai.

He (Pharaoh) treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and maidservants, and camels.
But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

So we see the story of Israel’s time in Egypt pre-figured in Abram.
Famine drives them to Egypt, and once in Egypt they find favour with Pharaoh, Abram because of Sarai, and Israel because of Joseph. But that favour doesn’t last, because God wants them in eretz-Israel, not eretz Mitzraim. God is taking them to the land He has prepared for them. Life may have seemed good in Egypt, but whilst in Egypt they could never be the people God intended them to be. Egypt needed to realise that Abram and Sarai, Israel, needed to be in the promised land, the new eretz being created by God. And so God stepped in to convince Pharaoh to let His people go. The “plunder” that Abram brought back with him as a result of his ruse, could be seen as the tribute paid by the nations to the priestly nation of God. It’s interesting to note that the Israelites also “plundered” the Egyptians when they came out of Egypt. (Exodus 12:35)

This little escapade highlights a common theme that runs through the Tanach, and even the Apostolic writings. Time and again we see these themes of exile and return. Exile occurs usually through the sin of God’s people, and He allows them to return to Him once their sin is acknowledged and a saviour figure arrives. The sin of Adam and his wife originally exiled them from the land. Cain was exiled to a greater degree when he murdered his brother. Then after Seth, when men began to call upon the name of the Lord, He sent Noah to bring judgment on sin and restore the land to its former state. Return to the land often brings a re-creation in some sense.
After Noah, though, the cycle of sin continued, and instead of wiping out sin, God sent Abram to live amongst it and bring a different sort of judgement, a dividing of people. But sin and the curse upon the land drove Abram into exile in Egypt, not because of his own sin, but because of the sin of the eretz, the land, in which he lived. Eretz-Canaan needed to be re-created, so Abram was sent to Egypt where he effectively became captured by Pharaoh, his wife being stolen from him.
So now we see God Himself step in as the saviour of Abram, inflicting the Egyptians with disease until they realised that they needed to release Sarai and let Abram go. So Abram returns to eretz-Canaan, having defeated the power of Pharaoh and taken much wealth from him in the process.

So this little incident in Egypt bundles together a lot of images that give meaning to later events in Israel’s history. We also see traces of these in the story of Jesus the Messiah. He came into a land that was suffering under the curse of sin, and he was forced by means of death on a cross to descend into the depths of Sheol, the place of the dead. If he had remained there, then none of God’s promises could have been fulfilled. So God raised him from the dead, plundering the power of death from the evil one who held the world hostage by it. A truly incredible image that shines through such a weird little story.

Lech lecha! – but where, and why?

The way in which the story of Abraham is introduced has always fascinated me. Or rather, I should say, the way in which I have most often heard the story of Abraham introduced has always fascinated me. Abraham seems to appear, like Melchizadek, out of nowhere. Now admittedly, I have mainly only heard the story from Reformed Church preachers or Jewish rabbis. The former preach on Abraham as part of their understanding of the covenant, and the latter do so as the father of their nation, even if he runs a long second behind Moses as a founding father. And even when you read through Beresheit from the creation story, there still seems to be a hiatus between Babel and Ur.
So what is the connection between Abraham and the 11 chapters that have gone before him? Is there continuity or a gap.
Before I look at that, I want to look at something else in the story that also seems odd.

Gen 12. The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” (NIV)

Now this has always been an impressive passage, almost as majestic as “In the beginning God”. In Hebrew, לֶךְ-לְךָ (Lech lecha!) is a powerful command – “Get out!” “Leave!” “Go to the land I am going to show you”. There is an urgency and an authority behind this command, and it really signals the fact that God is beginning to do something new again. Abram is being told to go to a land which God will show him, because God is going to bless him greatly.
Now for me, this is where the strange bit begins. Abram is told to go the land of Canaan. This is where he is going to flourish and be blessed so greatly that he will also be a blessing to the whole world.
But no sooner does he arrive there than we are told that “the Canaanites were in the land”.
To my mind, this must have seen totally inconvenient, if not downright depressing. God is sending Abram to this land to inherit an incredible blessing – but he can’t actually find anywhere to settle because it is over-run by Canaanites (who happen to live, strangely enough, in Canaan). So what’s going on here? Why is Abram being sent on what must be seen as a fool’s errand?
I think the answer lies in understanding God’s promise to him, and how it relates to the previous eleven chapters.

First thing to understand is what God means by “land”. When God says “go to the land”, the word in Hebrew for “the land”  is הָאָרֶץ (ha-aretz). This is the same word that is used in Genesis 1 where it says God created the heavens and ha-aretz, the earth. This is contrasted with the use of another word, adamah, in the later part of the promise: “and all peoples (families) on earth (adamah) will be blessed through you. “Adamah” seems to relate to the physical substance that you stand on, whilst “eretz” seems to relate to a relationship of some sort, like kingdom or dominion. Throughout the Tanach these two words are used fairly interchangeably and it would be a great study (for a doctoral thesis or something) to fully understand how these concepts are related. Lacking that, I am going to persist with my gut-level reading of the difference.
What we can say, however, is that the use of this word is not an accident, and it signals the beginning of another work of re-creation by God. We have seen this re-creation theme right through the first eleven chapters, and Abram’s story is the beginning of another one.
So God is re-creating the world, restoring it to its original perfection and he is using Abram and his descenants in a special way.
This brings us to why the Canaanites were in the land.
In the original creation story, we are told that before God began to create, the earth (ha-aretz) was tovu vavohu (formless and void). It was subject to chaos and darkness, there was no life in it. In the same way, the land to which Abram was called was also lacking in hope or life. It was populated by the Canaanites. Remember that in chapter nine, Noah had pronounced a curse on Canaan and his descendants: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” So the land was under a curse because of the inhabitants.

And just as God spoke into the darkness and separated the light from the darkness, now He speaks Abram into the land and creates hope and light once more. Blessing has now come into a world through a special work of God.
The land was never intended to be just a playground for Abram and his family. Abram was put there to do some serious work. He was to bring blessing to the land, so that his blessedness could be shared with the inhabitants of the land. But again there was a dividing of light and darkness here. Those who blessed Abram would be blessed, but those who cursed Abram would be (remain) cursed.
So we see the same work of creation here. Dividing the darkness into those who blessed Abram and those who cursed him, and then populating the land with Abram and those who blessed him.

Now this is fundamental to how we understand not only Abram and the covenant, but also the whole purpose of Israel and gentile believers. So much of what has been spoken or written about Abram, Israel and God’s covenant has focussed on the blessing that come to those inside the family or covenant, but has largely ignored the wider purpose of bringing God’s kingdom into this world; to helping in God’s work of re-creating the earth (ha-aretz). So much time and effort has been spent on trying to work out who is included in this covenant that we have forgotten the purpose of the covenant.
Abram’s task was to walk before God and be blameless, and in this way to bring blessing to the land and divide out those who rebelled against this blessing. Abram and Israel failed to do this successfully, and so God began a new work of re-creation through his son, Jesus.

Isaiah 59: The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.

When Jesus came into the world, John tells us that he came to his own, but his own did not receive him. So Like Abram, Jesus came into the land, but it was full of Canaanites, full of people under a curse who had turned their backs on God. And so Jesus goes about dividing and populating.

Luke 12:”Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.”

Those who bless Jesus will be blessed, whilst those who curse him will be (remain) cursed and remain in the darkness.

John 3:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

God sent his son into ha-aretz (the world) to save ha-aretz (the world), not to condemn it. God is restoring ha-aretz (the world) to how it was meant to be. Whoever believes is not condemned (blessed) but whoever does not believe stands condemned already. The same formula used in the covenant with Abram.
So the story of Abram is a continuation of the previous eleven chapters in that it further develops God’s intention to restore the world to how it was meant to be. The flood put an end to the excess wickedness of humanity, and now instead of destroying people God begins his work of changing people’s hearts and minds. He enters into covenant with his people and teaches them how to live in the land. Ths is not without difficulty, though, and hopefully I will get to that in future posts.