Monthly Archives: April 2014

Genesis 10, 11

Not much happening in these chapters, unless you count genealogies happening. Out of all these people, who come from the son’s of Noah, is Abram, so obviously this is a very important part of the story. Abram’s father took the family and planned to settle in Canaan, but came to Haran first and settled there. Not sure of the significance of this move yet.

We also see the Tower of Babel story here, and it may be just an explanation of how there came to be different languages, or something else. Man wants to build a tower that “reaches to the heavens.” Clearly in this story we see the hubris of man, that nothing is impossible for him, that he can do whatever he wants, and God seems to agree, as he says then “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Nothing much has changed even though the human race is scattered all over the world with multitudes of languages, we still think we can do whatever we want and think nothing is impossible for us. If history teaches us anything it ought to teach us humility.

Advertisements

Genesis 8, 9

I had gotten in wrong. I thought Noah was in the ark for only 150 days, as it seems to say in 7:24. But it was over a year. It was the 17th day of the 2nd month of Noah’s 600th year when the flood started, and in chapter 8 v. 13 we learn that it was the 27th day of the 2nd month of Noah’s 601st year that the earth was completely dry and they came out of the ark. It had to be an unpleasant year, and think how they felt those first months when it continued to rain day after day after day. It doesn’t say they knew anything about how long this would last. Imagine the family dynamic in the ark! Noah was the only one God had spoken too, and he’s putting his family through this.

I wonder how Noah knew that a sacrifice would be a “pleasing aroma” to God, the first thing he does upon getting off the ark. Somehow Abel knew, most likely from God himself, so it was an established practice right from the beginning of the fall. Maybe because God had killed animals to clothe Adam and Eve he taught them and their children why sacrifice was necessary for a relationship with God, a payment for the guilt of sin. And it is interesting that God promises not to destroy the earth again even though every inclination of the human heart is evil “from childhood.” God’s wrath against sin will be satisfied another way.

Then Noah gets drunk, so drunk he passes out naked in his tent, and we have this strange story of Ham and Canaan. I found this article on “What’s up with the biblical story of drunken Noah?” Exactly. Seems a reasonable explanation because there is just not a lot of information about what all this really means. It’s not hard to imagine why Noah would get drunk, given he has just lived through an apocalyptic event.

Genesis 7

noahs-ark-border-1

NOT!!!

I am reminded reading this chapter of Hebrews 10:31, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 

Got tells Noah to go into the ark with his family because, “I have found you righteous in this generation.” Given the level of violence and wickedness of this generation, I wonder if this is more of a relative righteousness, that Noah was the best God could find. Since God had decided he was not going to wipe out the entire human race, he looked for someone who did not live according to the tenor of the times.

I know we 21st Century Americans don’t really cotton to the idea of God’s wrath; it is distasteful. People don’t have a problem with a God of love, and in fact they much prefer a one dimensional God, one that makes sense to them, that is palatable to them. Yet, in their projection of God as a kindly old man, they fail to think about their own wrath against sin. It is part of the human condition that when we see great evil we get mad, we want to see something done, justice served, vengeance meted out. Why? Simple answer, we are made in God’s image; we see in us a human version of the infinite and almighty creator of the universe.

Most people don’t think through things, don’t wonder why they believe what they believe, if it makes any sense, if it’s consistent, etc. If they did, and if they had a problem with God’s wrath against sin as displayed in the flood, they would realize it makes perfect sense. We live in a moral universe, where we see and experience right and wrong, moral delight and moral aversion every day. If we are made in God’s image then why shouldn’t God hate evil as much as we do?

Of course, our sense of the gravity of sin is much different than that of a holy and perfect God. We are, as we saw with Adam and Eve, excuse makers. And since as we saw in chapter 3 that the consequence of the fall was that we would “know good and evil,” and thus strive always to usurp God’s role, we will determine what is ultimately right and wrong, thank you very much. But God must judge sin, just as a magistrate must; he cannot excuse it because excusing it would violate his nature.

Thus the flood is a gruesome judgment against sin. Most of the images of Noah’s ark are childish and ridiculous; this is an extremely dark chapter in redemptive history. Imagine how Noah and his family felt knowing God was going to kill everything that lived on the land, everything. As v.23 says, “Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out.” Verse 16 might give us a glimpse into the ugliness to come. It says in v 16 that when Noah, family and all the creatures were in the ark, “Then the Lord shut him in.” It says prior that they “entered the ark,” but God had to shut it up, like they couldn’t bring themselves to actually believe everything and everyone they’d known (Noah was 500!) all their lives would be gone, destroyed. God had to literally save them.

And imagine being in a boat with all those animals for a year! This was no vacation cruise, so it makes perfect sense that God had to make the final move to continue the human race, and all the other species included. Salvation is of the Lord!

Genesis 5&6

Noah and the flood have been much in American media of late, thanks to Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.” Although I haven’t seen it I’ve read that God decides to destroy mankind because mankind has despoiled the earth. The Bible’s take is much different. In verse 5 we read:

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts his heart was only evil all the time. 

I have those three words circled in my Bible. This may be biblical hyperbole; certainly there must have been good somewhere, but we’re not told so. We learn further what this evil consists of in verse 11: the earth was “full of violence.” It’s stated again in v.13. The word corrupt is used three times. I get the image of a prison without guards and locks on the cell doors, where conflict, survival of the fittest and the will to power is all there is. Certainly a hellish place.

I know for modern people the story is difficult to believe, that it is literally true, that God would create man, then destroy him, that he’d pick one of those men to build a big boat and have two of every creature on earth go into it, and then flood the entire earth. It’s hard for me to believe too. Yet I’m not at all sure how ancient readers would have understood all and full and such, whether in universal terms, or that they were necessarily meant that way. I don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus refers to Noah several times, and that is good enough historical validation for me. Whether we understand all the details is irrelevant.

The story, however, is a powerful one in terms of redemptive history. We see God again saving, but also God’s wrath against sin, a most unpopular concept to 21st Century Schizoid Man. Yet sin must be punished, just like when we break the laws of man a penalty must be paid, whether is stealing, speeding, murder, perjury, etc. The situations are perfectly analogous,

Of all the men on the earth, Noah “found favor in the eyes of God.” He was a “righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” And when God revealed his plans to Noah, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” We get some context in Hebrews 11:7:

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

In this context, faith is trust in a person, that being the person of God. For some reason when God spoke to Noah, however that happened, he trusted him, believed him, acted on what he said. Maybe it’s because Noah “walked with God,” and whatever that means, at least it implies relationship and intentionality. It is impossible to imagine what Noah must have felt through this whole process; talk about going against the grain. But God doesn’t call us to do what is popular, but to be faithful, to trust him, because He is faithful.

Genesis 4

Why does evil exist? Why is human nature what it is, both for good and bad? Is there any other religion or philosophy not of “the Book” that has a better explanation? I think not. The worst of the explanations is the “for no reason at all” of the materialist, who says we are simply matter plus chance and whatever is, is. These things demand explanation, why Cain slays Abel, why Cain is jealous of his brother’s offering, why death and suffering. The Fall.

Cain’s response to how God looked on his offering is instructive and goes back again to the gospel and our need for it. We are not told if Cain should have known, like his brother, what kind of offering would be pleasing to God. Maybe we see the character of Cain when it says that he “brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.” Notice it is “some of the fruits” and not the first fruits, the best of his crops. Maybe Cain should have inherently known that God deserves the best of what we have, and not just the leftovers. I’m afraid I’m as guilty as Cain in this regard.

And then notice what Abel brought: “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” No wonder God was pleased with this offering, it was the best Abel had. This chapter is all about the response of Cain, and by extension us, to our inability to please God, to bring to him what he requires. Cain was “very angry, and his face was downcast.” Classic! We get mad at God for our sin, and then we feel sorry for ourselves and wallow in pity.

God again condescends to come down to man’s level and give us the answer. As he tells Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Of course the problem is that we can’t do what is right, and even when we do our pride wants credit for it: See look how awesome I am. And by extension we think really don’t need God after all, do we. So by nature we do not do what is right, and God here tells us the very essence of sin: it is “crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Ugh! Who does not know this? Who has not experienced it? Even the most committed atheist cannot live up to his own standards.

Sin is an ontological power; it desires. What a strange quality to have for something we think is impersonal. It wants to “have” us; to own us. God says to Cain, and anyone who experiences sin, i.e. everyone, that we “must master it.” We can’t! I’ve tried! We’ve all tried, yet we all still fall short. From this realistic perspective, how can one not be grateful for the Gospel; we cannot master sin, but Jesus did, and God credits us with his righteousness. I think an indication of salvation in the human soul is simply the desire to fight sin, to not let it have us, to own us, even if we continually fail. It’s frustrating to be sure, and after 53 years just plain annoying. But where does it bring us back to? God, his provision, our need for him, the salvation he provides and freely gives. Praise the Lord!

One more thing about this strange world of early Genesis. Where did Cain’s wife come from? If at this time, only Adam and Eve existed then we must infer that Cain married his sister. But this goes back to what Genesis is not: an exhaustive historical account of everything that happened during this time. For most of my Christian life I was a captive to fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists who insist the early Genesis creation account is an exhaustive historical account of how the world was created. Right, in three or four chapters.

A couple years ago I read The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton that changed my paradigm about what exactly was happening in this text; what the author’s intent was, and what the ancient reader’s would have taken as its meaning. The mistake most people make is reading our modern assumptions into the text as if it was written to us; we demand that it be some kind of scientific text that tells us how things came to be. But as Walton asserts in the book, “This creation account did not concern the material shape of the cosmos, but rather its functions.” The purpose of these early chapters of Genesis is not to tell us everything that happened, but what is important, what moves the story forward and what we need to know.

Genesis 3

What’s to say about Genesis 3, the fall of man? The reason for all of the misery in human life, the reason for death is told to us in such a simple straight forward way.

(I figured this would happen. It’s now Friday, I got distracted, went out of town for a few days and am just getting back to Genesis 3. No wonder it took me a couple years last time through.)

I’ve always thought the serpent calling God a liar is the foundation of all unbelief, and that foundation is a lack of trust in the character of God. “Did God really say?” And notice how he twist’s God’s word into his own lie by saying that God said, “You must not eat from any tree in the Garden?” This is a great reason to always pay especially close attention to God’s words so Satan cannot distort their meaning. Here’s exactly what God said in the previous chapter:

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

How fascinating to see what Satan did with God’s words; he completely inverted them. God tells Adam and Eve that they are free to eat from any tree. Satan then questions what God has said, but not what he as actually said. He adds the word “not.” He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Well, as a matter of fact, Satan, he didn’t say that at all. In fact he said just the opposite, so get outta here!. Alas, Satan’s attack is right at the character of God, and it works.

This is the fault line through every human heart in all of history: Do we trust in the goodness and righteousness and justice and love of God, or not. God is Triune, a relational being, we exist in relationship to him, or not, we trust him or we don’t. The prism of trust, or the lack thereof, will determine how we interpret all of life and life’s events.

Eve responds with God’s actual words; his distortion was too dramatic and obviously wrong, but when Satan boldly calls God a liar, Eve buys it. “You will surely not die.” If she had responded to the second lie, like the first, by just repeating what God had said, things would have turned out quite differently, but she didn’t. Instead she looked at the tree, not at God’s word, and the tree which promised impending death, seemed to her “good for food and pleasing tot he eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom.” Wisdom! According to who? The Devil!

So history turned, and when they ate a very strange phrase is used to tell us what the result is: “Then the eyes of both were opened.” They realized all of a sudden they were naked. I couldn’t help thinking that prior to this as they were working the fields and going about their business that they were stark naked, an interesting image. But what an fascinating contrast is their response and God’s. They sewed fig leaves to try to cover themselves, an obviously ineffective solution and one that points toward the need for a gospel of God’s saving grace and the ineffectual nature of our works. The fig leaves term has come to mean: “the covering up of an act or an object that is embarrassing or distasteful with something of innocuous appearance.” And the implication is it doesn’t work very well.

Now instead of communion with God, Adam and Eve hide from him, as we all do because of the shame of our sin. And you just have to love Adam’s response to God’s question, did you do what I told you not to do? Instead of a simple yes, we got excuses, more of human nature as it became on display. Adam blames Eve; Eve blames the serpent, and of course if God asked the serpent, he would blame God! It amazes me that despite this God starts his plan of redemption, of overcoming the death introduced into the world right here; Eve’s offspring will “crush” the serpent’s head.

Something else stands out as a result of the fall. God says “cursed is the ground because of you.” Life had now become a burden, characterized by struggle, the weight of existence would now be heavy, and who has not felt that. At funerals when the deceased is said to have “entered their rest,” I always envision this crushing weight of existence finally being laid aside, because even when life is good and things are going great, life still wears on a person, as it must; we live in a fallen world alienated from God.

Then God replaces the ineffective fig leaves and clothes them with “garments of skin.” God “clothed them,” as he clothes us in garments of righteousness. The gospel is God’s doing when we don’t even ask for it and don’t even really know we need it, just as Adam and Even thought their fig leaves would do the job and didn’t know then needed clothing from God, that their attempt to cover their shame simply wasn’t sufficient; it would take an act of God to cover that up. How heavy! Right from the very beginning God tells us, he is our salvation!

Genesis 2

Easter morning! He is risen indeed! Having studied the resurrection a bit of late, I’m amazed at how much historical evidence there is for Jesus having been raised from the dead. Even non-believing critical scholars believe the historical evidence is solid that Jesus’ followers believed he rose, but they have to explain it away by theories that have very little explanatory power.

There is so much happening in Genesis 2. The chapter covers the creation of Adam and Eve in more detail. One thing that especially stood out is that the Lord God made Adam and all the animals and birds out of “the dust of the ground.” I wonder how Moses, or whoever wrote Genesis, knew that we are made of the same stuff as the dirt; I’m sure it was a good guess. It’s beautiful to read that once man was formed God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he became a living being.” Reminds me of Acts 17:25:

And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

This is Paul before Greek citizens and philosophers on Mars Hill, telling them something they could not know, that our every breath is dependent on God, the animating force of the universe. No wonder in my previous read through the Bible how often the theme of God as creator was affirmed; it is the fundamental fact of existence without which nothing makes sense.

I love the way it says that “the Lord God had planted a garden in the east” and that he “made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” I feel sorry for people who can look at trees and not see anything but trees; I look and see the handiwork of a preposterously creative God who built a world with much “useless” beauty, and a world science is finding in increasing measure that is ridiculously fine-tuned for life for us. Yep, it’s all about us.

Interesting wording that, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Even before the fall we were to work and take care of God’s good, very good, creation, and God let Adam have access to everything except that one tree, the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Like most rational human beings I have a problem with, as it’s called, the problem of evil. Could not this all powerful supposedly good God create a world without such suffering and pain? Well first of all, he did. But without free will, without the ability to obey or not, there could be no love. As we know from elsewhere in Scripture, God is love, and God is Triune, thus God is relational, a person, and only a person can love.

Whenever God decided to create the human race, because of his nature he could not create robots, or beings with a software package that precluded the ability to disobey. I’ve often wondered why the penalty for that disobedience is death, but it makes sense that if God is life itself, the essence and animating principle of existence, then severing ourselves from that existence would cause the lack of life, or death. And it’s interesting that the tree they are not to eat of is the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” You have to wonder what Adam is thinking as God is telling him this: what is evil? The good is pretty obvious; everything that God created. Curiosity obviously got the best of him. I also think that the “knowing” isn’t so much an intellectual knowledge of what good and evil consist of, but the will to determine what is good and evil apart from God, the very essence of every sinful heart apart from humble acceptance of God as our ultimate authority. In fact, authority is one of the most fundamental basic facts of existence; all human beings live under some kind of authority, whether it’s a mom or dad, or a boss or the state, no one is autonomous, but sinful man thinks he can be and thus lives in death.

Lastly, we find the creation of Eve, for it was “not good for the man to be alone” he needed a “suitable helper.” I wonder why God “caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while was sleeping” took a part of man to make woman. Did he have to do this? Or was it done for some kind of symbolic reason? I don’t know, but it’s a curious fact of the story. It almost sounds like surgery; why not abra cadabra? Poof! Here’s woman! God obviously wanted man and woman to be connected in the most intimate ways. And this is where we learn about the foundation of marriage; the two become one flesh because woman literally came out of man. I have to laugh when people think that gender is optional to marriage, as if any old sex will do; the very nature of the thing is man and woman.