Eretz and the Kingdom of God

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.

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 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 […]

Lot leaves Abram – Abram leaves the 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’s ascension from Egypt

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! Get out!

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 […]

Living in the tents of Shem.

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 […]

Creation Stories (part 1)

“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 […]

When God began to create

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 […]

The power of three

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 […]

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