I have always been fascinated by the word “eretz” [אֶרֶץ]
We first find the word in Genesis 1:1 “When God began to create the heavens and the eretz”.
Traditionally we have always translated the word as “earth”, and we have a mental picture of the world hanging in space, like an apple on a string, being watched over by a distant God.
So eretz can refer to the whole planet under the dominion of God, and it can also refer to individual dominions governed by kings, princes and officials appointed by them.
I have always been fascinated by the word “eretz” [אֶרֶץ]
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 dishonours 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 […]
Up from Egypt 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 […]
Abram goes to 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 […]
Lech lecha! 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 eleven 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 […]
Noah’s words to his sons In Parshah Noach, (Gen 9:24ff), we read the words of Noah to his three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, after Ham has ridiculed his father for lying drunk and naked in his tent. When he wakes and discovers what has happened, Noah says: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” Now this passage raises more questions than you could poke a stick at, but I really only want to deal with a couple of them now. The main question I want to focus on arises from Noah’s words to his third son. “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem”. So what question does this statement create? In the ESV translation quoted, it is quite obvious – Japheth will live in the tents of Shem. But in the Hebrew, it is not so clear. The text reads : יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם and a word by word […]
In this post, I want to look at the story of the tower of Babel, but to get the background of the story, we need to go back Genesis 10 where we read the genealogy of Noah, through the lines of Shem, Ham and Japheth. And we want to focus especially on the line of Ham – remembering that he is the one whose family was cursed by his father Noah. Building of cities And among one of the first things we see in the story of the sons of Ham is the building of cities. Ham had four sons, Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan. The oldest son was Cush. And so we are told: “Gen 10:8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.” Now before we focus on Babel, we need to note that […]
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? Why bother with all these unpronounceable names? To answer that we should have a look at where these names have come from. 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 […]
GE 3:21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. So now we have moved into the next stage of human history. We have seen the creation of the world, how God created it perfectly and took delight in it. How God blessed the seventh day as a day of rest, so that God, humanity and the rest of creation could relax and enjoy the beauty of God’s work. But then we saw the entry of sin, mankind wanting to be able to judge between good and evil, and in doing so, to […]
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 skilful 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 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. The verse begins “Elle toldot”, “these are the generations”, and it’s the same phrase that we find 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 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, […]
Arom = naked, transparent At the end of Genesis 2, we are told that the man and woman were naked and felt no shame. The root of the Hebrew word used here is “arom”, meaning naked, open to full view. This is how God created them – to have such perfect unity and love for each other that there was no reason to hide anything from one another or from God. They were totally exposed to God – nothing was hidden and there was no reason to feel ashamed. They were transparent to God’s view. The only thing God saw in them was His clear image, as the governors over creation and a loving community at peace with one another. The only thing they saw in each other was the clear image of God, their loving creator, who formed them to live in communion with Him and with each other. This is the peace, the wholeness, the shalom, that God created; where we can be fully human, fully loved and fully united with one another, with God and with His creation – perfect harmony that echoes the praise of its creator. This is how life and human relationships were meant […]
Creation – Separating and populating We have seen that there are several creation stories in Genesis, each telling the story from a different perspective. This repetition is a typical Hebrew way of writing. Something is said once, then it is repeated 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 this first 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. Moving on to Day Four, and what does God do? He creates the sun, moon and stars. In other words, He populates the light he has created on Day One. On Day 5, he populates the waters and sky he has […]
“Beresheit bara elohim”, our story begins. When God began to create ”. 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 […]
In Genesis 14, we come to the story of Abram’s visit to Egypt and the somewhat peculiar incidents that follow. I say peculiar, because they are strange events to us, even though similar events occur later in Genesis. But what seems to us a strange and quirky little story has a far greater significance for the story of God’s people than we could imagine at first glance. This story of Abram descending to and ascending from Egypt becomes prototypical, it sets a pattern, for the whole history of Israel that follows. And that’s what we want to explore in this article. We pick up the story at chapter 12, verse 7, where Abram has recently come into the land of Canaan, only to find it inhabited, strangely enough, by Canaanites. “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. […]
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 whom we all know has created 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 Moses (the author of Genesis) makes no attempt to probe behind God’s self-revelation in His creating of the universe. God is a personal friend of Moses, One with whom he spoke face to face, we are told. God’s presence and His being are plain to all. 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 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 […]
It’s Good Friday today, and in church this morning, the stage has been given an Easter theme with a depiction of Golgotha and three crosses. After looking at this for a moment, I suddenly had a weird thought (not too uncommon for me, I suppose) Why three crosses? Easter was, after all, about Jesus the Messiah who was crucified during the time of Pontius Pilate. It is Jesus’ death that brings forgiveness and healing to the world, only Jesus’ death. What place did the other two crosses have? Well it seems when you look back through the Bible, God often does things with three people, or three types of people. We see this fairly clearly with Abram. God comes to him and promises to bless him. But God does more than that. In Genesis 12 we read: 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 dishonours you […]