The Beginning of the Beginning:
A Study of Four Great Events in the Book of Genesis
A Study of Four Great Events in the Book of Genesis
The Body of Christ lives in an opportunistic and crucial moment in history. My guess is that all generations say this about their given time, and probably should, but opportunistic and crucial seem to be the best way to describe the Church’s position in the early parts of the 21st century.
It is an opportunistic moment because, for the most part, people appear to be open to spiritual things. Recently I drank from a bottle of juice which was to energized my body, enlighten my mind, and uplift my soul. I think that’s asking a lot from grape juice, but it makes my point. Turn on the television, read the newspaper, or listen to conversations around the water cooler and one thing becomes clear: "spirituality" is in. My mom does Yoga. Case closed.
It is a crucial moment because the Church not only has an opportunity to respond to the spiritual awakening in the culture, it has a responsibility to direct people’s spiritual quest towards the true and living God. Or better, the Church has an obligation to bear witness to the reality of the true God amidst a culture of confusion. (We’ll let the Holy Spirit do the "directing" of one’s spiritual quest.) As I see it, the contemporary Church is at a crossroads. On the one hand, Christians should be sensitive to the needs and values of a generation of "seekers," and should welcome them to participate in worship, Bible study, and authentic community. On the other hand, however, while it is good and important to listen to and learn from voices outside of the community, followers of Jesus have a distinct take on spirituality, grounded in the God of the Bible. Christian spirituality comes complete with its own language, Scripture, songs, rituals, and values which shape its own discrete culture. Amidst a culture open to the idea of the world being more than meets the eye, the Church may run the risk of catering to cultural pressures of inclusion and lose the depth of its own spirituality. Did I mention that my mom does Yoga?
This study of four great events in Genesis hopes to provide a foundation for people both committed to and curious about the God of the Bible. The following are four reasons why I think this generation should be reading Genesis:
First, I used to live under the assumption that the majority of non-Christians that I came across daily had a basic understanding of Christianity and had rejected it. Because of this, I assumed that most people were antagonistic towards Christians and Christianity and I lived with an edge of defensiveness. You gotta problem with Jesus? You wanna piece of me? After a few years of experience in ministry, and after engaging people in conversation I’ve learned that the majority of non-Christians simply have no basic understanding of the story of the Bible. It’s hard to be antagonistic towards something that you know little about. But here’s the other interesting thing: the same has been true of most Christians I have met. They too do not have basic knowledge of Scripture. To a culture that does not read or have an understanding of the Bible, the book of Genesis provides an introduction to the essential themes, concepts, and language of Scripture including the character of God, what it means to be human, and what the Bible means by sin, covenant, and redemption.
Second, recently a student came up to me and asked, "I want to start reading the Bible, but I don’t know where to start?" I suggested he read Genesis and this Bible study had its genesis. Maybe it’s just me, but "the beginning" seems like a good place to, well, begin. What’s more, it is difficult to understand the rest of the Book if you aren’t familiar with the first chapter (see Luke 24:44 and Hebrews 1:1). The working assumption of and reason for this Bible study is this: if people learn to read Genesis well, they have a better chance of reading the rest of the Bible well.
Third, the narrative structure of Genesis speaks powerfully to a world talking about narratives, and the first four great events in Genesis are formative stories that should shape Christians into a particular kind of people. What do I mean by this? People are interested in stories and how they shape us. This includes smaller, personal stories, and larger, "meaning-giving" stories that we live under and within (meta-narratives). Some people are skeptical towards larger stories, some think they are oppressive, and still others claim meta-narratives don’t exist, but what do they all have in common? They are all saying something about narratives! I am white, grew up in Mount Joy, PA, USA and have two loving, middle class parents (one male, one female). I’m married, am a product of both public and private education, and grew up Lutheran. But that’s not all. For about twelve years of my life, I would wake up, go to school, put my hand over my heart, and pledge allegiance to the flag of America, land of the free, home of the brave. This ritual grounded me in a larger story and instilled in me values such as liberty and justice for all. The American story, for better or worse, defines much of who I am. But as we will see, the book of Genesis is the beginning of another "people-shaping-narrative" that may compete with, and possibly affirm, parts of the American story. As Christians, the Biblical story should be our primary community forming narrative, and a good reading of Genesis is essential for this task.
Fourth, and finally, I have discovered that when most people think about the book of Genesis they first think about the creation versus evolution debate. Bible people say "no" to monkeys and evolution people have no problem including apes on their wall of family portraits. But sometimes, as you will notice, we ask questions of the Bible that the Bible isn’t interested in answering. If nothing else, my hope is that this study reclaims some of the richness of these four great foundational stories and gets us beyond the conversational pitfalls that rob us from having a true encounter with God.
That subheading is a mouthful, I know. But there are a few things you should know before you get started on your journey through the first four great events of Genesis.
The first thing you will notice about this study is that the introductions and summaries of each section are not my own. They are taken from other books and commentaries. This is intentional for two reasons: (1) the authors say things much better than I can and (2) to illustrate that the engagement with Scripture is not something read in a vacuum, alone at a desk, but is an entering into a conversation with the community of faith. Follow up on the quotes, read the entire list of books in the bibliography, and put the author’s words into your own words. As you do this, the text will come alive and you will begin to develop important disciplines for reading the rest of the Bible.
Secondly, the study begins with a section on "Bible basics." This is meant to be a brief overview answering questions most of us have, such as: What is the Bible? Why is the Bible important? And, how should I read the Bible? For some readers, this may be a review, but I assume that most readers will be learning these basics for the first time. If you are looking for good introductions on how to read the Bible, I recommend the following: The Bible Makes Sense, Walter Brueggemann; How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart; Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind, Tremper Longman III; and How to Read the Bible to Hear God Speak, Calvin Seerveld.
The third thing you should know is that I have concentrated many of my efforts on communicating the importance of understanding the Bible as story. I previously mentioned the role that narratives are playing in our culture, and the value of recognizing how stories shape our lives. One of the dangers in talking about stories in this way is that we often think of stories as being fiction. Stories are fairy tales, or myths. This is unfortunate. Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright, has noted, "A story is the best way of talking about the way the world actually is." To eliminate any confusion at the outset let me say this: I believe that the Bible is the True story of the world, and that the following four great events are True events and crucial to understanding the True story. Pilate’s question seems appropriate here, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) May the following study lead you to an encounter with the source of all Truth.
Before we get into the book of Genesis, it is important to say a few words about the Bible itself.
The Bible is an ancient collection of 66 writings that are the foundation of the Jewish and Christian religions.
Ancient: written between 1400B.C. and 95 A.D.
Collection: 66 books or writings by 40 authors collected into two parts:
Old Testament and New Testament.
The Old Testament is composed of three sections according to ancient Jewish understanding: Law, Prophets, and Writings. (See Luke 24:44,45)
Law (of Moses) – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Prophets – All historical and prophetic books
Writings – Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
The New Testament is composed of:
History – Gospels and Acts (Matthew, Mark, Luke-Acts, John)
Epistles and Letters – (1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude)
Prophecy – Revelation
Even though there is great diversity of authorship and style in the Bible, there is also a profound unity established throughout. There are several main threads running through the Bible displaying its unity: Creation/fall/redemption; Sin/repentance/forgiveness; people of God; promise of Messiah; the kingdom of God; Jesus the Christ.
The Bible is important because it is divinely inspired. It is God’s word to us. Because it is divinely inspired Christians believe:
That these writings were written by men who were “moved by the Holy Spirit” to write God’s Word down for others to read it. (2 Peter 1:12-21)
The Bible is God’s Word in human words. (i.e. incarnation; see 1 Timothy 3:16)
God created, called, prepared and moved men to speak His Word, so that what they said is what He wanted said.
All Scripture is “God-breathed,” i.e. it comes from God through men to us.
(2 Timothy 3:10-17)
The Scriptures are true and authoritative in all that they teach. Because the Bible is God’s Word, it has the final say on everything it says. It is the measure for all human belief and behavior.
Further reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16; Ephesians 2:19-3:6; Galatians 1:6-11
How did people determine which books were divinely inspired?
The books of the Bible are:
(Example see 1 Chronicles 29:29)
The New Testament list of books is identical for Roman Catholics and Protestants. The books included in the Protestant Old Testament are those written in Hebrew (rather than Greek), written before the fourth century B.C., and accepted by all early Christian fathers and all the churches. Books in the Apocrypha were written in Greek later than the fourth century, are never quoted in the New Testament, and were not accepted by all the fathers and churches.
Not particularly. Eugene Peterson, in the introduction of his Bible translation, The Message, suggests, "Reading is the first thing, just reading the Bible. As we read we enter a new world of words and find ourselves in on a conversation in which God has the first and last words. We soon realize that we are included in the conversation. We didn’t expect this. But this is precisely what generation after generation of Bible readers do find: The Bible is not only written about us but to us. In these pages we become insiders to a conversation in which God uses words to form and bless us, to teach and guide us, to forgive and save us… And so just reading the Bible… and listening to what we read, is the first thing."
It is also important to note the difficulty in reading any text without being affected by preconceived notions. Family history, church history, educational background, race, and life experiences all come with us when we sit down to read something. Sociologists call this our “baggage.” What is more, we may run the risk of thinking we already know what the Bible says, or we look to the Bible to confirm something we already think. This is dangerous, and can lead to an inaccurate understanding of God’s word. Perhaps the best way to read the Bible is to come to the text (the best you can, this is very difficult!) with a clean slate. Try to let the Bible speak for itself. While we will never be a complete "neutral" observer when reading, we should still be looking for how our own worldviews affect the way we read and "hear" the text. We must be willing to do the hard work of identifying our deeply held presuppositions about God, the world and humanity.
What questions do you still have about the Bible itself (asking good questions is the beginning of learning!)? Where might you begin to look for answers to these questions?
Read Psalm 1 and Psalm 19. What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about God’s word?
NIV Study Bible (2-3)
The book of Genesis is foundational to the understanding of the rest of the Bible. Its message is rich and complex, and listing its main elements gives a succinct outline of the Biblical message as a whole. It is supremely a book of relationships, highlighting those between God and nature, God and man, and man and man. It is thoroughly monotheistic, taking for granted that there is only one God worthy of the name and opposing ideas that there are many gods (polytheism), that there is no got at all (atheism) or that everything is divine (pantheism). It clearly teaches that the one true God is sovereign over all that exists (i.e. his entire creation), and that by divine election he often exercises his unlimited freedom to overturn human customs, traditions and plans. It introduces us to the way in which God initiates and makes covenants with his chosen people, pledging his love and faithfulness to them and calling them to promise theirs to him. It establishes sacrifice as the substitution of life for life (ch. 22). It gives us the first hint of God’s provision for redemption from the forces of evil (compare 3:15 with Romans 16:17-20) and contains the oldest and most profound definition of faith (15:6).
The narrative frequently concentrates on the life of a later son in preference to the firstborn: Seth over Cain, Shem over Japheth, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Judah and Joseph over their brothers, and Ephraim over Manasseh. Such emphasis on divinely chosen men and their families is perhaps the most obvious literary and theological characteristic of the book of Genesis as a whole. It strikingly underscores the fact that the people of God are not the product of natural human developments, but are the result of God’s sovereign and gracious intrusion into human history. He brings out of the fallen human race a new humanity consecrated to himself, called and destined to be the people of his kingdom and the channel of his blessing to the whole earth. It is no coincidence that many of the subjects and themes of the first three chapters of Genesis are reflected in the last three chapters of Revelation.
Introduction to the Books of Moses, The Message, Eugene Peterson (15)
Genesis is Conception. After establishing the basic elements by which God will do his work of creation and salvation and judgment in the midst of human sin and rebellion (chapters 1-11), God conceives a People to whom he will reveal himself as a God of salvation and through them, over time, to everyone on earth. God begins small, with one man: Abraham. The embryonic People of God grow in the womb. Gradually details and then more details become evident as the embryo takes shape: Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Rachel, Joseph and his brothers. The pregnancy develops. Life is obviously developing in the womb but there is also much that is not clear and visible. The background history is vague, the surrounding nations and customs veiled in a kind of mist. But the presence of life, God-conceived life, is kicking and robust.
When you think of the book of Genesis, what normally comes to mind? Why?
Try to create an outline of Genesis? What is the basic plotline? Who are the main characters? What are some of the main events? Important places? (Try this first without looking!)
A Walk Through the Bible, Lesslie Newbigin (4-5)
Many years ago a Hindu friend of mine, a very learned man, said to me something I have never forgotten: "I can’t understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion - and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don’t need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole of creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as a responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it." He was right. And when he said the Bible is not a book of religion, what he meant was that it is not a book which encourages us to turn away from the down-to-earth business of ordinary life, from our responsibilities as actors in history. It does not encourage us to turn away from the world of our daily newspapers to a so-called spiritual world beyond. It is rather an interpretation of the whole of history from the creation to its end, and of the human story within that creation.
Epic, John Eldredge (14-15)
Christianity… tells us that there is an Author and that he is good, the essence of all that is good and beautiful and true, for he is the source of all these things. It tells us that he has set our hearts’ longings within us, for he has made us to live in an Epic. It warns that the truth is always in danger of being twisted and corrupted and stolen from us because there is a Villain in the Story who hates our hearts and wants to destroy us. It calls us up into a Story that is truer and deeper than any other, and assures us that there we will find the meaning of our lives. What if? What if all the great stories that have ever moved you, brought you joy or tears - what if they are telling you something about the true Story into which you were born, the Epic into which you have been cast? We won’t begin to understand our lives, or what this so-called gospel is that Christianity speaks of, until we understand the Story in which we have found ourselves. For when you were born, you were born into an Epic that has already been under way for quite some time. It is a Story of beauty and intimacy and adventure, a Story of danger and loss and heroism and betrayal.
Stories shape our lives - individually and communally. What particular stories shape your life? Who are the key actors? What are the major events? Does in contain surprises? Does it include embarrassments? Does it empower you or immobilize you?
Attempt to create a timeline of the story of America. What are some important dates? Who are the main characters? What is the basic plotline? From what point of view are you telling the story (Native Americans, Europeans)? Does it make a difference? How does the story of America shape Americans? What do Americans value? Why? (Is it because of the stories they tell?)
What does the film say about the tension between reality and imagination?
Can we go too far with our storytelling and lose touch with the truth?
How can we say things through stories that we couldn’t otherwise communicate?.
The Bible Makes Sense, Walter Brueggeman (9, 22)
I suggest that the Bible is precious to us because it offers us a way of understanding the world in a fresh perspective, a perspective that leads to life, joy, and wholeness. It offers us a model, a pattern, through which we may think about, perceive, and live life differently. Each of us has adopted one or more models for living, even though we didn’t do it consciously. We learned a certain perspective by living in certain contexts and listening to certain voices… The Bible offers to us a way of perceiving reality that is very different from our usual forms of thought and speech. It requires of us a serious revamping of the way we think, speak, see, and live. It draws us into another history that is at odds with the public history commonly embraced by us.
Read Genesis 1 - 2:1-3. If this were all we knew about God, people and the world what would we know? What does this tell us about God, people and the world?
Read Genesis 1 and 2. Describe the following relationships:
God and people
People and people
People and creation
Biblically speaking, the above relationships in harmony with each other, is known as shalom. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. describes shalom in this way: "The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight… We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight - a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed." (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 10)
Read Psalm 8. Answer the following questions by referring to Psalm 8, Genesis 1-2, and the quote by Al Wolters below (use your imagination!): What does it mean to be human? What is "man" that God is mindful of him? (And woman, of course!) What would the world be like if we would have developed it the way God intended?
"The given reality of the created order is such that it is possible to have schools and industry, printing and rocketry, needlepoint and chess. The creational law is crying out to be positivized in new and amazing ways. The whole vast range of human civilization is neither the spectacle of the arbitrary aberrations of an evolutionary freak nor the inspiring panorama of the creative achievements of the autonomous Self; it is rather a display of the marvelous wisdom of God in creation and the profound meaningfulness of our task in the world. We are called to participate in the ongoing creational work of God, to be God’s helper in executing to the end the blueprint for his masterpiece."
(Wolters, Creation Regained, 38)
Genesis 1 and 2 are not the only creation accounts in the Bible. Read Proverbs 8:22-36. Who is speaking in this passage? We have already seen that God creates by word, now we see that God also creates by wisdom. What does this teach us about God, and about the creation?
"So wisdom is not merely God’s plan for creation in the abstract; it is the wise way he actually designed and ordered the world. The picture is of the Creator crafting and structuring the creation with skill, measuring out the ocean, setting bounds, marking the horizon, fixing the heavens and clouds in their places. In all this, wisdom is God’s ‘craftsman.’ To the ancient Hebrew mind, terms like wisdom, understanding and knowledge are almost synonymous. They refer to the same basic reality, the wise way God has designed and structured creation."
(Middleton & Walsh, The Transforming Vision, 47)
Read Job 38-39, Psalm 24:1, Psalm 104, and Psalm 119:89-91. What do these passages teach us about God’s relationship to creation? They seem to suggest that God is in covenantal relationship with the creation. What is a covenant? Where else to we find covenants in the Bible? How is God’s relationship to creation similar to the other covenants?
Read John 1-3, 14. Who is "the Word?" What does this teach us about God and the creation? As we read Genesis it is important to keep in mind that the same God who created the world is the savior of the world! (See also Colossians 1:15-20.)
To review, look over Genesis 1 and 2 again. What do you think life would have been like in the Garden of Eden? Use your imagination. Try to picture a day in the life of Adam and Eve! (Keep in mind, "work," see Genesis 2:15, was in paradise. How is this different from our culture’s understanding of work?)
New Way to Be Human, Charlie Peacock (32)
In the beginning, man and woman were in right relationship with God, living with him, under his good rule, and in his good place. Man and woman functioned in harmony with holiness, goodness, and rightness. Through God’s creative Word, the way of life was provided. Man and woman were created to live under God’s rule and agenda, his way of ordering life (see Genesis 2:16-17). He conferred well-being and prosperity on them (see Genesis 1:28). He gave man and woman his benediction and blessing. Death was mentioned not as a norm, but as a consequence of disobedience, of choosing contrary to God’s way of ordering life. Anything contrary to God’s ways would be anti-life and pro-death. The Story supports the reality of antithesis.
Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (44)
To sum up, the first act in the world’s drama is God’s act of creating and sustaining "all
things visible and invisible," out of a generous desire to enlarge the realm of being, to bestow life and goodness on others, and to assist others to flourish in the realm created for them
Review Genesis 2:16-17. What penalty is promised if people disobey God? This particular command has often been called the "test of obedience." In other words, would people obey God no matter what, or would they choose to do their own thing? Why do you think utter obedience is so crucial?
Read Genesis 3:1-19. Besides Adam and Eve, who else is involved in this episode? What did the serpent say about God’s command? What deceptive notion was behind the serpent’s remarks?
Read the following quote by Charlie Peacock, and try to answer the questions that he raises:
"The serpent revealed his agenda - to be like God and entice others to want the same. The sad thing is, man and woman were already like God! The woman’s answer should have been, ‘We are already like God in that we alone bear his image, his likeness for his glory. As for the knowledge of good and evil, that is for God alone to know. He has not made this mystery our business, and to make it our concern is to disobey the only prohibition he’s given us… It’s possible the in the moment of testing, she (Eve) previewed a concept of God that many have today: God is so good he would never allow death to be the consequence of disobedience. He values life too much. And that’s exactly it. But how we interpret value depends on how we define life. Is it existence by our own standards, our own word? Or is it a quality that can only be known in right relationship with the Creator and his Word?" (New Way to Be Human, 38-39)
Read Genesis 3. Describe the following relationships (what happened?):
God and people
People and people
People and creation (see also Romans 8:19-23)
Sin is sometimes a confusing concept in our culture. Reflect on Genesis 3 and the following quotes by Plantinga and N.T. Wright. How would you describe sin? Do you think our culture misunderstands what the Bible means by sin and evil? (One thing people seemed to forget is that God called his creation, "good." What difference does this make, especially when thinking about sin?)
"The real human predicament, as Scripture reveals, is that inexplicably, irrationally, we all keep living our lives against what’s good for us… We might define evil as any spoiling of shalom, any deviation from the way God wants things to be." (Plantinga, Engaging God’s World)
"A serious Christian will realize that sin comes not in the thing itself, but in its wrong use; not in a part of God’s good creation, but in the attempt to use that good creation as though it were our toy, or our trash." (N.T. Wright, Following Jesus)
Read Romans 5:12, 18-19. The passage indicates that Adam was a representative for all of mankind and therefore his act of sinful disobedience “infected” all of us with sin. How do we, as descendents of Adam, behave in the same way? (Another way to think about this: We are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.)
Genesis 1-3 presents to us a story of God’s good creation and humanity’s act of disobedience. By disobeying God, by the spoiling of shalom, God’s good intentions were distorted. As the crowning touch of His creation, we were to be the image bearers of God, reflecting his Glory and love as we engaged in the task of "being fruitful, increasing in number and subduing the earth." But, we fell, and "the fall" had both individual and cosmic consequences. What do you think are some of the cosmic effects of the fall? Review Genesis 1-3, keep in mind the four-fold harmony of shalom, think about the world in which we find ourselves, and reflect on the following quote by Wolters:
"The effects of sin touch all of creation; no created thing is in principle untouched by the corrosive effects of the fall. Whether we look at societal structures such as the state or family, or cultural pursuits such as art or technology, or bodily functions such as sexuality or eating, or anything at all within the wide scope of creation, we discover that the good handiwork of God has been drawn into the sphere of human mutiny against God."
(Wolters, Creation Regained, 44)
Read Genesis 3:8-9. What do we learn from this passage about God’s response to our disobedience? What do you think was the tone of God’s voice when he asked Adam, "Where are you?" (Give reasons for your answer.)
Read Genesis 3:15. Who is speaking in the passage? Who is this directed to? How is this verse a source of hope to Adam and Eve?
Read Genesis 3:21. What does this tell us about God? What is the significance of God making the garment from skin?
God establishes a pattern that can be seen throughout the Biblical story. First, God pursues his people and creation (3:8-9). Second, God makes a promise to his people (3:15). Third, God provides for his people (3:21). Can you think of any other parts of the Biblical story where "pursuit, promise, and provision" can be seen? What other stories come to mind?
Listen to Mother Father by The Dave Matthews Band (Everyday, RCA Records, 2001). What is Dave trying to say? Is there anything significant about asking a mother or father for answers? Based on your reading of Genesis 1-3, how would you respond to this song (talk to Dave!)?
Listen to Gaia by James Taylor. (Hourglass, Columbia Records, 1997). What parts of this song do you think the Biblical story affirms and challenges? (Note: "The Gaia Hypothesis" proposes that our planet functions as a single organism that maintains conditions necessary for its survival.)
Watch Gordon Gecko’s (Michael Douglas) speech to Teldar Paper in the movie Wall Street (Twentieth Century Fox, 1987). This is Gecko’s infamous "Greed is Good," diatribe. According to Gecko, what "spirit" drives humanity? What is Gecko’s "story" of origins? How would Gecko tell the story of creation? How does a distorted view of origins lead to drastic perversions of all areas of life? How does the following quote by Walsh and Middleton speak to Gecko’s understanding of reality?
"Human beings are inherently religious creatures. We cannot live without a god, even if it is one of our own making. We need a center, an ultimate focus, a point of orientation for our lives. We have in fact two alternatives. Either we serve the Lord and obey his will, or we practice idolatry in disobedience. These are the spiritual antitheses, the either/or of life which the Bible repeatedly addresses." (Walsh & Middleton, The Transforming Vision, 61)
Heaven Is Not My Home, Paul Marshall, (32-33)
What was true then remains true now: God still cares for the creation and for human life, and humanity still disobeys him.
Sin is not the story; it is the blight on the story. Sin distorts everything, perverts everything, corrupts everything. It is not sin that makes us bear children, but it is sin that makes childbearing painful. It is not sin that attracts men and women, but it is sin that fills our relations with control and suspicion. It is not sin that makes music, but it is sin that fills our songs with vanity and lust. It is not sin that makes us construct cities and towers, but it is sin that makes those towers symbols of pride and power. It is not sin that calls human beings to live and love, to make music and art, to work and create, to plant and harvest, to play and dance. But it is sin that undercuts and perverts them all.
Sin does not create things. It has no originality, no creativity, no being in itself. Sin lives off that which is good. It is a parasite, feeding greedily on the goodness of what God has made. No relation is of itself sinful, but sin corrupts every relation. No area of life is in itself out of the will of God, but we defy God’s will in every area of life.
It is not sin that gives us freedom of choice. But it is sin that makes us take the wrong path. Hence, what we need is not to be rescued from the world, not to cease being human, not to stop caring for the world, not to stop shaping human culture. What we need is the power to do these things according to the will of God. We, as well as the rest of creation, need to be redeemed.
A Walk Through the Bible, Lesslie Newbigin (13)
We have come to the point where Adam and Eve decided that they could not trust God but must find out for themselves what is good and what is evil. That act of mistrust brought to an end the innocent relationship with God, with one another and with the natural world. Because now we have to depend upon ourselves to decide what is good and what is wrong, and because we know we are not capable of this, we are anxious, and because we are anxious, we become aggressive. Our neighbor becomes our rival, the natural world is no longer our home but a hostile environment to be tamed. There is a descent into violence. And the story is told with terrible clarity in the following chapters of Genesis. The first two brothers, Cain and Abel, become respectively murderer and victim. Murder, jealousy, strife, become the order of the day, and the whole human world degenerates into chaos in a spiral of violence.
The Drama of Scripture, Bartholomew and Goheen (47)
When the gates of Eden close behind Adam and Eve, they do not cease to be what God has created. The effect of the fall on all of us is not that we stop being human - we remain in the image of God (Genesis 5:1; 9:6). But our rebellion has deeply affected how we are human. Thus, Adam and Eve remained married even after sin, and Eve gives birth to two healthy sons. These four are a family, as God has planned before the fall. But after the fall, as soon as we move into the story told in Genesis 4, the terrible change becomes apparent.
Read Genesis 4. What does Eve say after giving birth to Cain? Why do you think she says this?
Cain and Abel both bring offerings to God. Based on the Biblical story so far (Genesis 1-4), why is bringing offerings to God an understandable thing to do? What was the difference between Cain’s offering and Abel’s offering?
"The great difference was this, that Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not. There was a difference in the principle on which they went. Abel offered with an eye to God’s will as his rule, and God’s glory as his end, but Cain did what he did only for company’s sake, or to save his credit, not in faith, and so it turned into sin to him. Abel was repentant; Cain was unhumbled; his confidence was within himself."
(Matthew Henry, The NIV Mathew Henry Commentary, 13)
In Genesis 3:9 God asked Adam, "Where are you?" In Genesis 4:9 God asks Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" What do we learn here about God’s character? Based on Adam’s and Cain’s response, what do we learn about the human condition? Do you think, by and large, our culture cares for brothers and sisters the way God intended? How is this a "spoiling of shalom?"
What are some other parallels between Genesis 3 and Genesis 4?
Genesis 4:17-24 reveals that our God given task to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (to cultivate the earth) did not end with "the fall." (Notice that our task is directly connected to our being created in God’s image. We are still God’s image bearers called to reflect that image to the rest of creation.) Even though Cain is "banished" he still gets married and has children. What other culture forming activities do Cain’s children partake in?
While the structure of creation is still "good," because of the fall, the direction our cultural activity takes has changed. Lamech is a good example. Bartholomew and Goheen point out, "Cultural activity is a fundamental way in which we may serve and glorify God. In the context of Genesis 4, however, we are reminded that sinful humans misdirect such good, cultural activities… Lamech is the first poet in the Bible. But in his poem, God’s wonderful gift has already been distorted, twisted into an instrument to threaten with revenge and violence (Genesis 4:23-24)… Again, a good gift (poetry) is used, but in a way that ignores or denies God’s rule for the creation and his role as the Giver" (The Drama of Scripture, 48-49).
The following is adapted from Al Wolters (Creation Regained, 49):
Structure: Refers to the order of creation. It is anchored in the law of creation, the creational decree of God that constitutes the nature of different kinds of creatures. It designates a reality that the philosophical tradition of the West has often referred to by such words as substance, essence, and nature.
Direction: Involves two tendencies moving either for or against God. Anything in creation can be directed either toward or away from God - that is, directed either in obedience or disobedience to his law. Direction also designates the order of sin and redemption. It refers to the distortion or perversion of creation through the fall on the one hand and the redemption and restoration of creation (in Christ) on the other.
Explain the difference between structure and direction using your own words. How is the distinction between structure and direction a helpful way to better understand God, God’s world (creation) and the human condition?
Although the narrative, to this point, has not mentioned Christ, it has shown signs of redemption. Based on Genesis 1-4, how has God begun to bring redemption and restoration to His creation?
The basic plotline of the Bible could be understood as: (1) the creation of shalom, (2) the spoiling of shalom, and (3) the restoring of shalom. How does Genesis 4 affirm this idea? What are some examples of the spoiling of shalom and the restoring of shalom?
Read Genesis 5. Why do you think this passage opens with a retelling of Genesis 1:26-27? How is this and example of "new creation?" Verse 3, explains that Adam’s son Seth was "a son in his own likeness, in his own image. How does this help us to better understand what it means to be created in the image of God?
Why do you think it is important to read the genealogies of the Bible? What do you find interesting about the genealogy in Genesis 5? Lamech was the seventh from Adam in the genealogy of Cain, and Enoch was the seventh from Adam in the genealogy Seth. Why do you think the number seven is significant? What is the difference between Lamech (Genesis 4:19-24) and Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24)?
What is different about Enoch in the genealogy in Genesis 5? Read Hebrews 11:5-6. What does this teach us about Enoch?
Why is the phrase "and then he died" repeated so often in Genesis 5? How is this phrase a stark reminder of God’s judgment on sin resulting from Adam’s fall?
Some Biblical scholars suggest that the entire Bible is simply commentary to Genesis 3:15. How does Genesis 4-5 illustrate this point?
Everyday for one week pray the following prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:
For the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Based on your reading of Genesis 1-5, why do you think this is an appropriate prayer to pray? How is this prayer asking you to change? How does this prayer give us a good picture of God’s heart and desire for His world?
Promise and Deliverance, S.G. De Graaf (Volume I, 55)
The faith of Adam and Eve was severely tested by the death of Abel and the spiritual downfall of Cain. But the Lord did not forget His promise. Eve was still to give birth to the genuine, living seed. The Lord fulfilled the promise by giving Adam and Eve another son. Eve recognized that her new son was a substitute for Abel and hoped he would seek the Lord as Abel had done. Therefore she named him Seth. In Seth their hopes were not disappointed, for he and his line did fear the Lord. In time Seth had a son of his own, whom he named Enoch.
There is not denying that the faith of Adam and Eve was sorely tried when they lost both Cain and Abel, but in Seth they were given new hope. True life seemed to have been lost for good, but it was now resurrected in Seth.
A Passion for God’s Story, Philip Greenslade (54-55)
Suddenly, Noah starts to become a significant figure, and because of God’s grace there is hope. Noah finds favor from God and with it the human race finds a future. But what a strange grace it is! It is a strange grace that makes you the sole survivor of a universal catastrophe. To receive this grace is to be lifted into the drama of God; it is learning to look at the world through God’s eyes and to see what he sees; it is to be made conscious of God’s deep feelings and, although the text does not explicitly say Noah was aware of them, to begin to feel what God feels. To receive this grace is to be made party to God’s awesome secrets. It is to be burdened with the daring dreams of God and be drawn into his redemptive activity. This is what grace does to you. Noah found grace to walk with God in paths of righteousness through the maze of unrighteousness and corruption. This same grace empowers him to obey God and to embrace the scary challenge of being a hinge of a very big door. Grace is about to launch Noah and his family as fully paid-up crewmembers of the "Faith-ship Enterprise" so that they can redemptively and boldly go where no man has been before! This is a crucial turning point.
Read Genesis 6. Walter Brueggemann suggests, "Biblically, God is changeless, incapable of being controlled by external pressures and unwavering in his sovereignty. However, the Bible also teaches that God is not distant, aloof, remote and unfeeling; he is sharply impacted by the pain, suffering and rebellion of his world." How does Genesis 6 affirm Brueggemann’s commentary?
What reason did God give for wanting to destroy the earth? What does this tell us about the human condition? Based on our reading of Genesis and its depiction of God’s character, why do you think God doesn’t completely destroy the earth?
Read Genesis 7. In verses 13-14 the phrase "according to its kind" is repeated several times. Where was that phrase written before? Why do you think it is repeated here?
Notice that in verse 16 "God commanded Noah" but the "LORD shut him in." Why is this significant? (LORD in the NIV is the translation for "Yahweh" which is the personal and covenant name of God emphasizing his role as Israel’s Redeemer and covenant Lord.)
Read Genesis 8-9. The first two chapters of the flood narrative (6-7) focus on judgment. The rest of the story (chapters 8-9) focuses on redemption. What does the word redemption mean and how is the flood narrative a story of redemption? The following quote from Al Wolters should help (How is redemption a good example?):
"Redemption means restoration - that is, the return to the goodness of an originally unscathed creation and not merely the addition of something supracreational… It is quite striking that virtually all of the basic words describing salvation in the Bible imply a return to an originally good state or situation. Redemption is a good example." (Wolters, Creation Regained, 57)
In Genesis 8:1, the same Hebrew word translated as "wind" was translated as "Spirit" in Genesis 1:2. This introduces a series of parallels between Genesis 8-9 and Genesis 1. What are the parallels? (Compare 8:2 with 1:7; 8:5 with 1:9; 8:7 with 1:20; 8:17 with 1:25; 9:1 with 1:28a; 9:2 with 1:28b; 9:3 with 1:30.) If Genesis 1 describes the original beginning, how does Genesis 8-9 describe a "new beginning"? How is Noah depicted as a "second Adam"? Why is it significant that God reissues the creational mandate after rescuing Noah (Genesis 9:1)?
God establishes a covenant with Noah and his family in Genesis 9. What is a covenant? Why is covenant the primary way to describe the relationship between God and humanity and God and creation?
Philip Greenslade suggests, "The text (Genesis 6-9) is probably a direct contradiction of Mesopotamian flood stories where the gods grow irritated with humans for being too numerous and too noisy! The gods act to cull the human race and set up permanent measures to endorse infanticide and childlessness. By way of contrast, the one creator God apparently loves making people too much to abort his creative experiment forever… In the face of continuing human rebellion, God intensifies his commitment to his creation" (A Passion for God’s Story, 59-60). What does this quote combined with your reading of the story teach us about God and his relationship to his creation?
Listen to Beautiful Day by U2 (Interscope Records, 2000). How does this song connect to Genesis 6-9? What do you think is the significance of the line "See the bird with the leaf in her mouth/After the flood all the colors came out"?
New Way to Be Human, Charlie Peacock (48-49)
The story of Noah and his family challenge the common misconception that the redemption Story is about God’s saving individuals out of the world. That idea reduces salvation to personal escape from the evil physical world to a blissful spiritual heaven. In reality, redemption history is about an ongoing story and process where people are saved in the world. The way they are saved out of the world is by God’s choosing them for himself, removing them out of the world’s ways, giving them his ways, and then leaving them in the world to continue the work he has assigned them.
Walking in the Ways of the Lord, Christopher J.H. Wright (187)
Christian thinking about the earth far too readily jumps on the bandwagon of gloom and doom, as if the fate of the entire cosmos depended on which deodorant spray to use. That is to ignore the tremendous significance of the covenant with Noah. We live not only in a cursed earth, but also in a covenanted earth, and we have to cope with the tension. It is tragic that the rainbow has been hijacked as the New Age symbol when it could and should be the symbol of positive, hope-filled Christian affirmation about our world.
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