Clyde T. Francisco
When God finally appeared to Job in Job 38-41, he reminded him of the mysterious nature of creation. Yet in the midst of his hidden work he still spoke to his servant Job. There is much that perplexes us about the book of Genesis and the subjects it treats; yet God still speaks to us from its sacred pages with a sure and certain word.
Many people are disturbed by the apparent conflict between Genesis and science. Genesis says that the earth was created in six days while modern science claims that it is billions of years old. Genesis speaks of man as a special creation of God but many scientists contend that he has developed from lower forms of life. Yet the Bible does not say that the six days were 24 hours in length. They could have been 24 hours or millions of years, for a day is as a thousand years with God. Genesis does not really stress either the time or the manner of God's creation, but the certainty that all the universe, climaxed by man, is the creative work of God. "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves" (Ps. 101:3).
Equally shrouded in mystery is the history of the book of Genesis. The English title "The First Book of Moses Called Genesis" is an addition to the actual text of the Bible, which has no title at all, and represents the opinion of the translators. The book itself does not claim to be written by Moses, although it could have been; nor does any other passage in the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament, claim that he was the responsible author. Many scholars are convinced that the book of Genesis is composed of three basic sources which contain Hebrew tradition handed down for centuries.
Such source analysis is not accepted by many scholars. The most telling criticism of the prevalent position is made by Derek Kidner in his commentary on Genesis ("Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries"). Yet even he admits that traditional sources were used by the author of Genesis, call them what we may.
Amid all of the uncertainty concerning how the materials contained in the book of Genesis have come down to us, we need to realize that they have been used by the Spirit of God to proclaim to all men the assured word of God. We can believe in what they give witness. In the words of a perceptive writer centuries ago, "It matters not with what pen the king has written his letter as long as it be known that he writ it!"
Another problem is the relationship of the Old Testament accounts to similar ones in Babylon and Canaan, especially the Babylonian creation account (Enuma Elish) and flood story (Gilgamesh Epic). Their similarities, such as the dividing by the firmament of the waters above and below it, the serpent's robbing man of eternal life, the sending forth of the raven after the flood, can hardly be coincidental. Did the Hebrews borrow from the Babylonians? Or are the accounts derived from an older original source? The difference in personal names in the stories would indicate the latter. Abraham came from the same region where the Babylonian accounts were current. His family had preserved the old stories in the biblical form.
Further perplexity surrounds the problems of the literary form of the materials in Genesis. How much of the account is figurative and how much literal? Some would say that since the accounts are in the Bible, they are all to be interpreted literally. Yet it is apparent that the Bible does not always use literal language. When Jesus said that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he did not mean to be taken literally, but rather to be taken seriously. If the serpent in Genesis were only a serpent, then the statement in Genesis 3:15 would mean that there would be continual warfare between mankind and snakes, until all snakes were crushed! No one makes such an interpretation of the passage. The serpent symbolized the power of evil in the world, which the New Testament identifies as Satan. Adam is not symbolic man, but representative man. He was the first man, who is like us all, or rather the one whom we all resemble—our common ancestor.
The search for meaning in Genesis continues. We must make an honest attempt to recognize the true literary form of a passage. After we have interpreted it in this light, we are bound to the meaning it brings to us. Literal or figurative, it is truth to be believed. Often we may not agree upon the literal or figurative nature of a passage, but the basic meaning will still be the same. We should stress our common ground, not make a battleground of our differences, and thus obscure the truth we all possess.
The passage.—This magnificent chapter is one of the most concise and dramatic sections of the Old Testament. It indeed covers a longer period of time than all of the rest of the Bible, yet with an overview that could only come from the perspective of divine revelation. Some have called it a creation hymn, but this cannot be true, for it is in prose. It shows every evidence of being intended for liturgical use, of being recited in public worship. It was not intended to be dissected by theologians, but to be listened to and proclaimed. It is clear that the passage has one major thrust—to declare that one Creator formed the natural world according to his own will and ordained it for his purpose.
Special points.—The Hebrew does not say "in the beginning" but rather "in beginning" or "when he began." There has been no beginning for God, for he has always been. Here the writer presents the beginning of the universe, not the beginning of all reality. When the scene unfolds, the earth has neither form nor content, but the deep is already there. Obviously God had already created it, but Genesis does not deal with that matter, since it is concerned with the creation of the present world and is not a theology textbook.
The verb translated "create" literally means "to cleave" or to "split" as a carpenter employs his trade. Yet in this particular form it is never used of man. Only God can create. Creation is what God can do that is impossible for man. Man, created in God's image, may, many years later, perform similar acts. If scientists one day produce life from inorganic compounds, they will not have proved that there is no God, but rather will affirm what Genesis has claimed all this time—that man is made in the image of God!
How long did it take God to create the heaven and the earth? The term "day" is used three different ways in Genesis 1 and 2. In verse 5a it is used of light over against darkness, in 5b of the combination of evening and morning (darkness and light) and in 2:4b of the entire period of creation. It would be unwise, then, to limit the passage to six twenty-four-hour days. The sun, which determines the length of our days, was not in place until the fourth day!
Some expositors see a destruction of a previous earth and a new creation between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, thus explaining the obvious age of the earth and its life-forms in this way. This view holds that scientists observe evidence from the old earth, not the more recent one. Yet this can hardly be true, for if the first earth ceased to have form or content, there would be nothing left to examine! Besides, Revelation 21:1 says that this present earth is the first one, not the second.
What is the image of God in man? Many volumes have been written on this matter, resulting in as many opinions. Yet most of them present impossible difficulties. This image must be something common to all men, yet not shared by the animals, which are not said to possess it. This immediately eliminates the physical aspect, which a casual visit to any zoo will verify. The suggestion that it is language which distinguishes man from animals must be rejected since many animals, even fish, have ways of communicating with each other. On the other hand, we always are discovering that human lines of communication constantly are breaking down. As for intelligence, some animals may be smarter than some people. Is the difference that man has a soul and lower animals do not? The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh. In 2:7 man becomes a living nephesh. But in 2:19 the identical phrase is applied to animals ("living creature," Hebrew—"living nephesh"). The difference between man and animals is not in the fact that one is a soul (personality) and the other is not, but in the kind of soul that man is. God gives to man his own breath (2:7), but that is not said of the animals.
What then, is the image of God? The simplest explanation is to notice how God is described in the first chapter of Genesis. Man is like that. God is pictured as freely creating. The Hebrew word bara ("create") is never used of man, but the fact that God summoned man to assume supervision over creation reveals that he gave him the ability to respond freely to the challenge. Animals can only adjust to their environment; man can create his own. To combat the cold, he has built furnaces. To alleviate the heat he has devised air-conditioners. When man adjusts meekly to an uncomfortable environment, he assumes the level of lower animals. Man was made for higher things.
What is the meaning of the plural, "Let us make man" in 1:26? Some say it speaks of the Trinity, others see in it the remnants of an old polytheism, the belief in many gods. The word "God" (Elohim) is plural, but it takes a singular verb except in 1:26. Genesis 1 teaches, therefore, that God is both singular and plural. In what sense it does not say. The doctrine of the Trinity will rightly develop later from these beginnings.
The passage.—It is obvious that this passage presents creation from a different perspective from Genesis chapter 1. Yet these chapters do not contradict each other. Rather they are complementary. As in the Gospels the difference in perspective enriches our understanding of Jesus, so the diversity of the Genesis accounts strengthens their witness. Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a pictures God as transcendent, creating by speaking. Genesis 2:4b-25 describes his shaping man as a potter would shape his clay and speaks of his walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Are not both pictures necessary? God is both holy and accessible, speaking from afar yet dwelling close to man.
In Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a God moves in creation from lower to higher forms. In 2:4b-25, man makes his appearance before the animals. Again, there is no contradiction. The first account clearly presents creation in chronological order, whereas the second mentions each form of life as the need arises in the story.
In the first account the name for deity is "God" (Hebrew, Elohim), while the divine name in the second account is "the Lord God" (Hebrew, Yahweh Elohim). Elohim is the general name for deity; Yahweh is the personal and covenant name of Israel's God. Placed together the two passages say "Yahweh is Elohim. It is the God of Israel who brought the world into existence."
The thrust of Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a is comprehensive. It stresses how God brought the universe into being. This universe is the home for man who was made like God and commissioned to attain mastery over the world his Lord had created. However, Genesis 2:4b-25 is more detailed. Where the first passage speaks in generalities, the second becomes more specific. One section has a more commanding overview; the other has more intriguing insights along the way. However, they serve the same purposes of God for man. In one instance man is to serve him in a garden, in the other the whole earth. Clearly man has been created to realize the purposes of God.
Special points.— The word "Eden" means a pleasant place. The word "garden" in Hebrew is the usual word for garden. However, when the scholars who translated the Old Testament into the Greek around 200 b.c. made their choice, they selected a Persian word, Paradise. Since that time the home of Adam and Eve has been known as the "Paradise of Eden" or simply "Paradise."
Where was the Garden of Eden? Three of the four rivers mentioned are the Tigris (Hiddekel), Euphrates, and the Nile (Gihon). The fourth could be the Indus (Pishon). These rivers do not touch one another now. Some scholars would explain this by saying that the rivers have changed their courses because of the great Flood. If this is true, the Flood must have been much earlier than is commonly supposed. Certainly the location described is in the general area known as the Fertile Crescent of the Near East.
Other expositors believe that the Garden of Eden tradition preserves the memory of the original cradles of civilization in Africa, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. They are said to branch from one source because originally all men came from one place.
The tree of life represents everlasting life. It should be noted that man was not given everlasting life in creation. He is not naturally immortal, as the Greeks believed. The Hebrews believed that all men continued to exist after they died, but that this afterlife was a shadowy, meaningless existence (Job 10:21-22; Isa. 38:18-19). Meaningful everlasting life is a gift of God, given only to his children.
The tree of knowledge represents the knowledge possible to man by the use of his own reason. The phrase should be translated "the tree of knowledge, good and evil." It is both good and evil, depending upon the use made of it. God himself possesses this knowledge (3:22). In all probability, he would have one day let Adam eat of it. In Genesis 1:29, Adam was told that he could eat of every tree (no exceptions). This is the ideal: He must not eat of it now, for he was not yet ready. First of all, he must learn to trust God's word. Then, he would know what to do with the knowledge.
The problem confronting the world today is not that we have too much knowledge, for knowledge is good. Our dilemma is that we do not have the faith to give the knowledge meaning and direction. To substitute knowledge for faith is to destroy ourselves. To let faith interpret and direct our knowledge is to fulfil the will of God.
When God created Adam, he made him innocent but not virtuous. Innocence is man's condition before he knows the difference between right and wrong. He is innocent because he does not know what evil is. A person is virtuous when he comes face to face with temptation and rejects the evil in favor of the good.
What connection did the tree of knowledge have with sex? The popular view is that it was physical sex between the two. However, this could not be true, for God had commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. It would not be a sin to follow his directions. Besides, Eve committed the sin by herself and then Adam sinned. Their sin was not the first physical relationship. A relationship that was wholesome and sacred was distorted. Their new knowledge made them see evil where before there had only been good. Sex became shameful because their minds were evil. In this passage there is also a clear protest against the perverse use of sex in Canaanite religion. The Canaanites were turning good into evil. Still today distorted minds see in the sex relationship only the possibility for the realization of selfish lust or an unpleasant submission to a marriage vow. It was meant to be a natural and wholesome expression of love and of the urge to continue the creative work of God.
The passage.— The "fall" was a failure as well as a fall. Throughout the Bible, whether in the Old Testament or the New, the word "sin" means missing the mark, or failure. Man's failure to be what God intends is sin. If there is anything in one's life that should not be there, or if at any time one falls short of what God wants him to be, he has sinned. As the New Testament puts it, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). A person is a sinner whenever he fails to become the very best that God intends for him, whenever he fails to accomplish God's original purpose—to reveal his glory. Adam not only fell—he failed; he came short; he sinned.
When God created Adam, he created him innocent but not virtuous. There is a difference. Innocence is one's condition before he knows the difference between right and wrong. He is innocent because he is not aware of evil. A person is virtuous when he comes face to face with temptation and rejects the evil in favor of the good. Adam had not yet become virtuous; he was innocent. God intended that Adam should progress to the point where he could overcome all temptations; then he would become virtuous, or righteous. However, he fell short, and we have been following his example ever since.
The scene in the third chapter of Genesis is not only something that happened to Adam and Eve thousands of years ago. It takes place in the life of every person. Individuals today have similar experiences and yield just as Adam and Eve did. Eve's threefold temptation (v. 6) was in the area of strong human drives.
John clearly describes it in 1 John 2:16: "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." This is the threefold temptation that came to Jesus, for just as the first Adam fell, the Second Adam must triumph.
Special points.— In Genesis the serpent is both literal and figurative. He is not called Satan, although the New Testament later identifies him as such (Rev. 12:9). An ancient story of why snakes crawl on their bellies is used to picture the invasion of the human realm by demonic power. Genesis 3:15 clearly describes the conflict between the human race and evil forces, not simply hostility between people and snakes! The serpent is a "creature" formed by God. Whatever trouble exists in the universe has happened within it. God's world is not challenged by rival forces outside it (as in dualistic polytheism) but from within, and subject to his control. Later Satan is always described as a fallen angel, never a rival god.
Genesis 2:23-24 says that Adam, in his delight, broke into poetry at the sight of Eve. But what did Eve think about Adam? On an occasion like this it is strange that she said nothing.
Apparently Eve was more interested in something else. The most wonderful person that Eve knew was not Adam; it was God. The serpent came to her and said, "Now if you want to be like God, you must eat of this tree." Is there anything wrong with a desire to be like God? Surely such an ambition is the highest that a man or woman can have. But there are no shortcuts to its fulfilment. To be like God, man must have righteousness as well as knowledge.
Truth for today.— Eve fell because she ignored what God said: "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." Satan said, "You shall not surely die." She preferred the word of Satan to the word of God.
This decision continues to confront us. Time and time again we come face to face with an act which the Word of God condemns. Yet we, ignoring the word of God, decide to do it. Temptation is overcome by believing and obeying the word of God. Jesus knew the Scripture well enough to apply its truth to overcome every temptation. Now he uses it as he helps us in our struggles.
The passage.— Adam and Eve probably feared that they would be struck dead by a blow from God when they ate the forbidden fruit, but his wrath, as so often it does, took an unexpected turn. They were overcome with a deep sense of guilt that made them aware of their nakedness. Man cannot sin against God without experiencing a profound sense of alienation and shame.
Yet God did not leave them alone in their fallen condition. He sought them out in the twilight of that tragic day. His clearest word to them was one of condemnation, but the encounter was not without hope, for God is love in the Old Testament as well as the New.
Eve is told that she must endure the pain of travail and submission to her husband, and Adam must toil for his living in a hostile environment. Men and women alike must struggle desperately with the serpent's seed as he pours his venom into their lives.
Yet the serpent's head will one day be crushed and evil conquered by woman's seed, born of her travail. And man amid his toil, and condemned to return to dust, will one day rise above it, for the gate to the tree of life is not locked forever, but guarded by the angelic cherubim (cf. Ezek. 1, 10), who will turn their flaming swords aside when the True man arrives before that gate. Else the gate would not be guarded, but rather the tree of life would have been uprooted, the wall torn down, and the garden destroyed, as in Isaiah 5. It is kept in its pristine condition for the benefit of another more perfect generation (Rev. 2:7; 22:1 ff.).
In spite of the fallen state of man which necessitated his removal from paradise, there is still hope for him in the grace of God. His nakedness is covered by God himself, an act which symbolizes God's forgiveness. To be forgiven by God does not spare men or their descendants the consequences of their sins upon the earth. Yet by the grace of God they may find forgiveness even while they are paying the penalty for their thoughtlessness. The use of animal skins in clothing Adam and Eve implies the death of the animals, perhaps even an animal sacrifice.
Special point.— Genesis 3:15 is known as the Protevangelium (first gospel). In its original context it speaks of the mortal conflict between mankind (seed of woman) and evil (seed of the serpent). As man "crushes" the head of the serpent, the fangs of the serpent "crush" his heel. Some expositors feel there is no certain note of victory here, for the blows shared prove fatal on both sides! However, it is certain that the serpent will die, but by a miracle man may survive. Yet it will clearly take a miracle. The victory implied in this passage is not to be found in the one verse, but in the context of hope pervading the entire story. Man deserves to die, but God will surely not allow evil to defeat his good purpose for man. A way will be found to get man back into that garden. Genesis 3:15 does not tell us how. It remains for the New Testament to declare that Jesus has fulfilled this passage. In him man has finally conquered Satan (Rev. 12:9).
The passage.— It might appear that Satan was right in saying that Adam and Eve would not die when they ate of the forbidden fruit. To be true they were forced to leave the bliss of Eden, but life still went on, as laborious as it was. Eve rejoiced in the birth of their first son, calling him Cain ("possession"). In an alien world she at last had something "all her own" by the grace of God. Then, for some mysterious reason, she named her second son Abel ("vanity"). Had stubborn Cain already been more than she could handle? However, some expositors suggest that the boys were twins, since conception is mentioned only once, and bearing a son, twice! If this was true, Abel's name reflected her dismay over the continuing travail of giving birth.
It is to be noted that the first murder occurred because of a disagreement among brothers concerning how God should be worshiped. No controversies breed more hostility than religious ones. When Adam and Eve discovered the dead body of Abel, they had their first encounter with human death. They saw the divinely declared consequences of their sin in the lives of their children before they experienced death themselves. Too late they understood the death about which God had warned them.
The mark that was put on Cain was not placed there as punishment, but in order to protect him. It was not a curse but a blessing. The curse was that the farmer would be forced from his land, to become a wanderer on the face of the earth. His descendants, seeking to compensate for their restlessness, were the founders of civilization, domesticating animals, and pioneering in music and industry. Lamech, boasting in his pride of achievement, exclaimed that he did not need God to protect him, as did Cain, but could defend himself with the sword made by his skilled son Tubal-Cain. Only the line of Seth, Adam's third son, turned to God. Enosh ("weakness") felt his need of God's strength.
Special points.— What was the sin of Cain? Some suggest that he was rejected for not bringing an animal sacrifice. However, since he was a farmer, what was more natural than for him to bring his produce? Of course, the blood offering was the principal offering in the Old Testament; this passage accentuates that. However, in the later Mosaic system produce was quite acceptable to God as a thank offering, which this probably was. The "meat" offering of Leviticus 2:1 ff. was a cereal or produce offering. At the time of the King James Version "meat" meant food of any sort, not just flesh.
Cain and his offering were rejected because he did not bring his best produce. Abel brought his firstlings, his best sheep. Cain did not bring his firstfruits, his best, but only some of his crop. His gift expressed his gratitude to God for helping him have a good crop. God had served him well. Abel's gift expressed his total dependence upon God. Symbolically his life was poured out before God. It is not the purpose of religion to get God to help man become successful, to do man's will (as in Canaanite religion), but to help man discover and carry out the will of God for him.
Where did Cain get his wife? Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters (Gen. 5:4). He probably married (in later years) a sister or a more distant relative. Yet the passage seems to assume the existence of other people besides his family. Cain is afraid of being killed by other people. His marriage is mentioned so matter-of-factly that the writer seems to see no problem in it.
It is possible that other men were created after Adam and Eve, and the Bible does not mention it except here. If such men were created, their posterity were destroyed in the flood. All men living today are descendants of Adam through Noah, because only Noah and his family survived the flood.
The passage.— This chapter presents the descendants of Adam until the great flood. The average life was nine hundred years. Methuselah, who lived the longest, died in the year of the flood. The pathetic refrain, "he lived... he begat... he died" is unbroken except in the case of Enoch, who "was not, for God took him." This statement is all the more remarkable because it occurs in this context. One man from this long list did not share the fate common to all men since the fall of Adam. Death as we know it did not come to him. There was no "corpus delecti," for he was taken directly to be with God. Why was this possible? Because he walked with God. Later writers came to the conclusion that if this could happen to Enoch, they too had hope for the afterlife if they walked with God (cf. Ps. 73:24).
Special point.— How can the long life of these patriarchs be explained? Did they have a different way of keeping time then? Their method was not that different. A year in any culture has transpired when the seasons return. Does the writer simply make them live longer in order to teach that sin has shortened the life span? Old Testament writers do not deal that carelessly with history.
It is obvious that the ages of the patriarchs listed here were the ages attributed to them in Hebrew tradition. It is significant to note that the ages given in the Greek Septuagint and the Samaritan Pentateuch differ from these and from one another. When traditions are handed down, changes sometimes occur which are similar to those that happen when texts are copied.
Did these patriarchs actually live this long, or did the inspired writer simply use the expanded traditions as they came to him? There is no way to prove either position, but biblical statements stand until disproved. The burden of proof rests with those who question the historicity of the tradition.
Truth for today.— The refrain that pervades this chapter, "He lived... he begat... he died," is not simply a resume of life before the flood. It also sums up the average life today. The usual obituary will give only the date of birth, the names of the children, and the date of death. The person is simply a link between the generations; the world is no better and no worse for his having been here. Surely more is intended for man than that. We are placed here to make the world a better place in which to live. It should be a little more pleasant because our lives have touched others. The travail of the universe should be somewhat eased by the birth of God's children.
The passage.— Many scholars find two sources in this section. The earlier, more popular one says that two of every kind of unclean animal was taken on the ark, but seven pairs of every clean animal were taken. The later account, the priestly one, has only two of every kind whether clean or unclean, for this source does not mention sacrifice until the time of Moses, when God ordained the Hebrew sacrificial system. In the earlier source the flood lasted only a little over two months. In the later one it prevailed for more than a year.
This view necessitates the slicing of verses into fragments and independent segments. There is a growing tendency today to distrust such arbitrary "scissors and paste" methods. If two sources exist, they only show occasional traces of their independence, and rather than contradicting one another, reinforce the validity of the original event to which they give independent witness.
In the view of the biblical writer the flood was necessary because man had become so evil that there was no hope for civilization. The situation was so bad that God "repented" that he had made man. This does not mean that God was taken by surprise. The literal meaning of the verb "repent" is "to sigh." The verb expresses his heartache over the sad state of man, not his failure to anticipate it.
One reason why man had become so wretched was the strange behavior of the "sons of God." Traditional expositors identify them with the sons of Seth ("godly sons") who married the daughters of Cain, thus completely corrupting the human race. Yet the idiom "sons of God" occurs elsewhere only three times, in the book of Job (1:6; 2:1; 38:7). There they plainly are angels. Thus, according to another view, the Genesis passage seems to be saying that angels married women. The Old Testament view would permit this interpretation. Angels always looked like men. In fact, the men of Sodom tried to sin with them; from this comes our word "sodomy." Jesus said that in the afterlife we would be like the angels in heaven, but what about the angels in hell for their misdeeds in Genesis 6?
Other scholars suggest that the writer of Genesis took an old story that told how giants sprang from the union of angels and women, and used it to explain the invasion of the human realm by the demonic. God revealed to the writer that if it had not been for the presence of the demonic in society, man's condition would have been less hopeless. He used a story at hand to illustrate this sobering truth.
Whether man had brought himself into such a hopeless condition or whether the presence of the demonic explains it, there was no recourse but to destroy society. The flood is variously identified today. Some find evidence for it in the silt left by Mesopotamian rivers. Others are suggesting that it was a devastating typhoon roaring in from the Indian Ocean. However, it is more likely that the deluge came in primeval times, and extensive traces of its presence have been erased by subsequent sands of time.
Special points.— Was the great flood universal? There is no question but that the traditions used by the writer of Genesis contains such a view. The world known to the Hebrews was covered by water. There is also the possibility that the flood covered all the earth where human and animal life existed, all the earth known to the family of Noah. The essentials of the biblical story do not demand that the water cover every inch of the earth's surface but that it destroy all life where man was then living.
Some scholars believe that archaeology has proven a universal flood. To be sure it has not disproved it. What it has done is to show that there is evidence that every part of the earth was at one time covered with water. The evidence is not clear that it happened at the same time in one flood. The flood may have covered all the earth, but it can not be proven by archaeology, nor does science have to prove it for us to believe it.
What bearing do the flood stories of other peoples have upon an understanding of the biblical accounts? Every nation has a flood story, a fact which reinforces the biblical claim of a flood experienced by the ancestors of us all. The accounts most similar to the Hebrew are from Babylonia, particularly the Gilgamesh Epic. Here the correspondences are verbal and hardly coincidental. Descriptive details are often identical. It is in the picture of the kind of God who sends the flood that the stories are so different. It would appear then that the God of Israel led an inspired writer to speak of his wrath and grace toward sinful man. The story of the flood, preserved faithfully by the Hebrew forefathers, was used to illustrate this timeless reality.
The passage.— As soon as Noah was once again on dry land, God proceeded to correct any misconceptions he or later generations might have imagined because of the deluge. Since God had so quickly destroyed the human race, some might have concluded that human life was cheap. Therefore God warned Noah that this was not the case. Any man who took another's life must pay with his own. It was also likely, every time a heavy rain began to fall, that men would fear another flood. Noah was assured that the regular cycles of nature would occur as long as the earth stood. God's mercy would triumph over his wrath even if man still deserved to die (8:20-22).
The command to Adam to multiply was repeated to Noah, but the order to have dominion was changed to an assurance of dominion (9:1-2). Man, for the first time, was given the right to eat flesh, since the animals owed their very existence to Noah's care of them during the flood.
Never did a man have a better chance to build a brave new world. All evil men and power structures were destroyed. At long last the kind of society God had first intended was possible. But what happened? Noah was found drunk in his tent. Would that men strove in times of peace with the same heroism they exhibit in days of peril!
Special points.— It is not said in Genesis 9:13 that this was the first time a rainbow had appeared, any more than the silence of Genesis teaches that it did not rain until the flood. Surely life would have had more trouble surviving in those times of draught than during the flood. Every schoolchild knows what causes a rainbow. Surely such atmospheric conditions had prevailed before the deluge. The meaning is that what was formerly only a phenomenon of nature had taken on a new significance every time it appeared. Its beauty would henceforth remind both God and man of his promises.
What was the sin of Ham? Some expositors suggest that it was a homosexual act, for carnal knowledge is sometimes referred to in the Old Testament as "uncovering the nakedness" of someone (cf. Lev. 18:6-18; 20:17). In this passage, however, Ham does not uncover his father but finds him in that condition. If his had been a sexual act, he probably would not have told his brothers; had he told them, they probably would have stoned him! This passage reflects the Hebrew view that nakedness was related to shame (cf. Gen. 3:7), a concept the Greeks did not share.
Neither was Ham blamed for stumbling upon his drunken father. What he is censored for is his failure to cover up his father's shame, and his gossip to his brothers. If, after seeing his father, he had covered Noah's nakedness and kept the matter to himself, he would have been totally exonerated.
The greatest problem in the passage, however, is the fact that a curse is not pronounced upon Ham, but rather upon Canaan, his son. Why would Canaan be cursed because of the sin of his father? Some scholars support a corrupt text here and suggest either that it was originally Ham who was cursed, or that it was Canaan who actually committed the sin. It is more likely, however, that Noah was making a prediction than that he was pronouncing a curse on an innocent man. There is no verb "to be" in 9:25. Literally it reads, "Cursed Canaan." With a father like Ham, Canaan's future is dark indeed!
Truth for today.— Noah's sin is taken seriously. Genesis 6:9 says that Noah "walked with God" even as Enoch. One would suppose that God would "take" him also to be with him, for he is no respecter of persons. But afterward Noah sinned, and it is simply said that "he died." Yet the sin of Ham is viewed even more seriously here. Drunkenness is morally inexcusable, but idle gossip about such an error is even worse.
The opinion that "A Negro is all right in his own place" (second to the white man) is derived from this passage. Canaan is to be the slave of the Indo-Europeans (Japheth). However, Negroes are not descendants of Canaan, who was white, but are descended from Ham. The curse was not predicted upon all of Ham's descendants, but only upon the Canaanites. This passage was written to explain the Hebrews' right to enslave the Canaanites. It has nothing to do with the white-black issue.
The passage.— This chapter arranges all the people known to the biblical writers among the descendants of the three sons of Noah. The offspring of Ham settled primarily in Africa and Arabia, the descendants of Japheth in Asia Minor and Europe, and the Semites (Shemites) in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. The arrangement here is more geographical than racial, however. If a people dwelt in the territory commonly ascribed to Ham, they were considered Hamite, for they became adopted sons of that culture.
Special points.— Many of the names in the chapter cannot be identified with certainty. For instance, Cushites can be either Arabians or Ethiopians (10:7), and Tarshish may be either Crete, Italy, or Spain. Other names have modern derivatives such as Gomer and Germany, Meshech and Moscow, Tiras and Tyre. Javan is Greece; Kittim is Cyprus; Aram is Syria; Mizraim is Egypt.
These genealogical lists are occasionally broken by interesting personal notations. One of the most significant is the reference to Nimrod (9:8-10). Even God regarded him as a great hunter ("the mighty hunter before the Lord"). This description does not mark him as a godly man, but rather accentuates his strength. Not only was Nimrod the founder of the sport of hunting, but he also became the symbol of the anti-God forces of the world. His association with Babel, and the later experiences of Israel with Babylon, place him at the heart of the anti-Messiah ideology.
The other person of particular interest is Eber ("Heber," 10:21-25; 11:14-17). Some scholars believe that it was he who gave his name to the people of God (Hebrews, "descendants of Heber"). The importance of his name in chapters 10 and 11 would give credence to this (the life-span suddenly shortened after he died, Gen. 11:16-18), although others would derive the name "Hebrew" from the verb "to pass over," "those who passed over the Euphrates" and migrated to Palestine.
Truth for today.— In spite of the many difficulties of identification in Genesis 10, there is one fact that is evident: all races of men are descended from the three sons of Noah (v. 32). Therefore, we all belong to one family. If this is true, we should be able to live together in peace. The problem is how to move from where we are to where we ought to be. If we could see that our present hostile stances are unrealistic and irrational, then we would find a way to correct them. Genesis 10 must not be ignored by the Christian.
The passage.— According to the biblical tradition, the first migrations after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden were eastward. Genesis 11:2 says that after the flood the migration was westward. Finding an ideal spot, men began to build a tall tower or ziggurat ("high-rise temple") that would win them universal acclaim. God heard of their efforts and "came down" to see what they were doing. This type of language illustrates the dilemma of biblical writers. How do you speak of God, who is utterly unlike us, so that men can understand? One uses words that must not be taken too literally. In order to emphasize the diminutive nature of man's undertaking, it was said that God "came down." They were building a tower "unto heaven" but it was so far short of that objective that God had to come down before he could see it!
As small as the beginnings were, however, God observed that if left alone, men would reach their objective. This is the highest compliment ever paid the ingenuity of man; and it still applies. Left alone, brilliant men will achieve the objectives they set for themselves. But the question is, will God leave them alone? The answer here is, "Only if they are working in the context of his will."
Special points.— What was so wrong about the effort to build the tower of Babel? Some say they were trying to work their way into heaven, but the expression "unto heaven" is surely an idiom meaning "a tall tower." A "skyscraper" does not scrape the sky, nor did their tower reach unto heaven. From the ground it would look as if it reached the sky.
Others say that it was an attempt to build above the possible level of another flood, but they could not have hoped to build it higher than Mount Ararat. The most likely fault of their purpose was that they were building a tall, conspicuous tower that could be seen for miles around (making a name for themselves) so that men would migrate to the city and not scatter to regions beyond. We have seen nothing wrong in this because most of our cities and churches have been doing similar things. Yet this is obviously contrary to God's purpose. We are to live to the glory of his name, not our own, and our concern should be for the whole world. "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it" (Gen. 1:28).
Anyone who has been working in a cause contrary to the will of God will understand how the "confusion of tongues" came about. Selfish, ambitious men soon lost all means of communication with one another. No parent who has suddenly discovered that he and his thirteen-year-old can no longer speak the same language will find this passage difficult to understand. God brings about the alienation both by letting matters take their natural course and by giving an occasional extra push of his own.
Truth for today.— The builders at Babel clearly stated that they were making their mighty effort in order to avoid being scattered abroad (11:6). Then it is twice stated that God scattered them abroad anyway (11:8-9). If we are absorbed only with our little circle of concern, he will force us to become aware of world needs. Either we will go into all the world voluntarily or against our will. Go we must! How many more "world wars" must be fought before we truly pursue world peace?
The passage.— This section is obviously placed here to prepare for the call of Abram in chapter 12. We learn that he was a direct descendant of Shem and Eber, that his father was Terah, and that Sarai his wife was barren. The family lived in Ur of the Chaldees, one of the most progressive cities of the ancient world, but where idolatry was a way of life. The family had left Ur after the death of Haran, which might have influenced their departure. Their intention was to go to Canaan, but they settled short of their objective, in Haran, where Terah died.
Special points.— When the genealogies in this passage are compared with those in Genesis 5, there are many similarities, but the differences are even more noteworthy. Shem lives less than half as long as the antediluvian patriarchs (ca. 500 years), and the life-span quickly drops to about four hundred for the next three patriarchs. After Eber it is cut in half, continuing in the two hundreds until and including Terah. Abraham lives even fewer years, but more than the 120 years of Genesis 6:3 which clearly apply to the years of grace before the flood. Had sin been shortening the length of life? Scientific evidence indicates that the life-span of early man was less than today, but obviously they have not exhumed every man's body.
Another difference in the genealogies is an omission in the formula of chapter 5, "He lived... he begat... he died." In chapter 11 "he died" is omitted until Haran's decease (which is not in a formula), but returns in the usual pattern at the death of Terah (11:32). The two occurrences of the verb are obviously emphatic in this chapter. The death of Haran influenced the family's exodus from Ur. Were they a godly family who had become too absorbed in Ur's exciting pagan culture? And did the death of Haran shock them back to reality?
The death of Terah obviously did not occasion Abraham's determination to go on to Canaan, for he did not die until long after Abraham had left Haran. Since Abraham was 75 when he left (Gen. 12:4), his father was about 145 at the time (Gen. 11:26). Terah lived to be 205 (11:32). Apparently the death of Terah in Haran is mentioned in order to show that he did not go with Abraham. Abraham had to leave his father behind when he followed God's call. When they left Ur, Terah took Abraham (11:31). Now Abraham was on his own.
The passage.— The call of Abraham and his response to it form one of the most momentous events in history. In this account the tension between divine promise and fulfilment is especially evident. At the time of the call Abram was living in a land where heathen gods were worshiped and might have participated in the worship himself before his experience with the true God. Immediately upon his call he set out for the Land of Promise although he did not know what it would be. All he had was the right sense of direction. He knew enough to head toward the West. Not until he was actually in Canaan was he told that this was the land of which God had spoken. No sooner had he arrived than a famine struck the land. A famine in the Land of Promise? Abram was no better prepared for that than we are today. With his faith in complete disarray he "went down" into Egypt and acted as if he had never known God, even jeopardizing the promise of a glorious seed by giving Sarah to Pharaoh as his wife. This was the lowest moment in Abraham's life, and the Bible does not spare him, for it clearly illustrates that man's only hope, even for Abraham, is in the grace of God.
Special point.— Where did Abraham's call take place, in Ur or Haran? The Old Testament accounts seem to place it in Haran (cf. 11:31 with 12:1). However, Stephen in Acts 7:1 ff. clearly asserts that it came in Ur. Although it should not appear strange that a good deacon was confused about the Old Testament, the most likely explanation is that God first appeared to Abram in Ur, and that he influenced his father to leave for Canaan (11:316); when he saw that Terah had no desire to go farther, he went on without him.
The tendency of the Jews in later times was to think that God had called Abraham simply because he wanted to lavish his favors upon him and his descendants. The promise to Abraham clearly involves God's concern for the entire world. The purpose of Abraham's call was that he might be a blessing to all men, even as God has chosen us to be a help to others.
The passage.— From 12:1 it appears that Abraham was to separate himself from all of his kindred and that it was a mistake for him to take Lot with him at all. Apparently he was unable to make a clean break when he first left Haran.
Pic: Excavation at Ai
This inevitably spelled trouble for both men, for Lot did not share Abraham's sense of mission. As they both became more prosperous (based upon the tainted dowry given Abraham when he deceived Pharaoh!), Lot's servants began to clash with those of Abraham, who soon saw that he and Lot could no longer live together in harmony. He considerately suggested that they go their separate ways, Lot having first choice of a place to settle. When Lot chose the plain of Sodom, his decision might not have been entirely selfish, for though the land was desirable, it was not what Abraham most wanted. He had shown interest only in the pasturage of the highlands. Abraham's unselfish offer to Lot, and his clear decision to separate from him, which must have been reached with considerable reluctance, was rewarded by God with a new assurance that the land of Canaan was surely to be his, even toward the East where Lot now sojourned. Even what he had given away would come back to him (cf. 13:11 with 13:14).
Truth for today.—Abraham's words to Lot, "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee... for we are brethren," are most perceptive. Nothing is to be gained by family quarrels either domestically or religiously. The more privileged party (Abraham) makes the necessary concession to the less privileged (Lot). The more devout moves aside for the more ambitious. The great man refuses to fight with the lesser. The God-called man is too involved in his mission to spend his energies in minor skirmishes. What he relinquishes he does not really lose. What men like Lot gain is not really theirs.
The passage.— This is one of the most unusual passages in Genesis. It cannot be assigned to any of the tradition groups commonly recognized by scholars. It stands alone, presenting Abraham in a light unseen elsewhere, as a fierce warrior. Where his own interests were at stake, as it was with Lot's servants, Abraham was conciliatory, a peacemaker; but where the welfare of another was involved, he was a fierce antagonist, defeating by the use of surprise strategy an army vastly superior in numbers to his own. Upon his triumphant return he was met by both the king of Sodom and the priest-king of Salem (probably Jerusalem), Melchizedek, whose name means "king of righteousness." Abraham treated the king of Sodom with disdain, refusing to accept any favors from him, "Lest thou shouldst say, 'I have made Abram rich.'" Toward Melchizedek his behavior was quite the opposite. Abraham partook of a meal with him, and gave him a tithe of all his booty. The most significant statement of all is his identification of the God of Melchizedek with his own God. Melchizedek called his God "the most high God" (Hebrew, El Elyon), and Abraham knew God as "the Lord" (JAHWEH). In 14:22 he asserts that "the Lord" and "the most high God" are the same God. In other words, Melchizedek and Abraham call God by different names, but they worship the same God.
Special points.— The two most important questions that arise with this chapter concern the identity of the King of Shinar, Amraphel (14:1) and the mysterious Melchizedek. At one time it was thought that Amraphel was the famous Hammurabi of the eighteen century b.c., but there is no scholarly concensus on this. Abraham must have lived about this time, for the conditions described in the patriarchal stories best agree with this period. Although the basic historicity of the traditions concerning the patriarchs is confirmed by the findings of archaeology, the evidence concerning an actual contact between Hammurabi and Abraham is negligible.
At face value Melchizedek appears simply to be a priest-king of the Jerusalem region whom Abraham respected as serving the same God he worshiped under another name, and through whom he offered tithes because he was a priest. However, the description of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:3 ff. presents other possibilities: "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually."
Some expositors equate him with Shem, who by biblical chronology could still have been living, but Shem had a mother and father. Others suggest that it was the Son of God himself, preincarnate, for he alone had no beginning or end of life. Yet Hebrews clearly says that he was 'like unto" the Son of God, not the Son of God himself. The most likely explanation is that the writer of Hebrews is using a literary analogy rather than a genealogical one. Just as in the book of Genesis Melchizedek had no mother and father, beginning or end, just so Jesus actually is eternal. In the book of Genesis Melchizedek suddenly appears without antecedents, and with no account of his death. In that record he is always a priest, for we are not told of his successor. His historical uniqueness is that he served as priest both of Gentiles and of Hebrews. Thus Jesus was "after his order" as a priest of all mankind.
The passage.— In this chapter God assures Abraham that the promise of a seed will be fulfilled through his actual son. Abraham accepted this word and was thereby found acceptable by God. Yet Abraham deserved to have more than a promise. In response to his request God instructed him to provide sacrificial animals in preparation for a covenant ceremony, in which each animal was cut asunder. Usually in such a covenant scene the men involved walked between the halves (cf. Jer. 34:18-19), but here Abraham was not called upon to do so; rather, God caused a burning oven, such as Sarah used for cooking, to pass between the parts. Thus God himself guaranteed "to keep Israel's home fires burning" through the centuries. Although here God gave Abraham visible assurance of his purpose, yet in the last analysis the future of Abraham's family was still rooted in the determination of God to keep his promise. This continued to be Abraham's only basis of hope, even as it is for the Christian.
Special point.— The question is often asked, "How were people saved during Old Testament times?" Some interpreters suggest that they were saved by believing that the Messiah would die for their sins. There is in Genesis no indication that Abraham knew that much. When Jesus said that Abraham saw his day and was glad (John 8:56), he based his statement upon what his Scriptures said: That Abraham believed that God would one day bless the whole world through his descendants. Now that promise was being fulfilled by Jesus in a way beyond anything Abraham could have seen. Abraham would recognize its legitimacy, and if the Pharisees had possessed his kind of faith, they too would have seen Jesus as the fulfilment of the promise.
Abraham was received by God because he "believed in him" (Hebrew, "leaned upon him," "trusted him"). Because of his trust God gave him credit for being righteous, for such assent to God's will would produce righteousness since God could work through him. We know more about God's plan of salvation today, but Abraham's faith remains the unchallenged standard for us all (cf. Rom. 4:1 ff.). How was Abraham saved, and Moses, and Jeremiah? By faith in God, even as we. We have received more revelation and are responsible to it, but the faith required is still the same. In Old Testament times God received men by faith in light of the future sacrifice of Christ. He knew what must be done, although they did not. What was expected of them was that they assent to what God revealed to them at the time. Like us, they were not saved by knowledge, but by faith.
It should be noted that it is said in this chapter that God did not give Abram full possession of the land during his day, because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full (15:16). God would not arbitrarily dispossess one people for another, even to fulfil his purpose. Later, when the Canaanites were conquered, it was because they had lost the right to the land by their own sinfulness. Later the Jews were expelled for the same reason. God's laws have never changed. The earth is still his to give to whomever he desires. No government based upon injustice and characterized by unethical practices can long endure.
The passage.— Since Hagar was an Egyptian, she probably was given to Sarah by Pharaoh in his dowry. Sarah's suggestion that Abraham go to Hagar for a child was an acceptable custom of the day, for a slave woman could provide an heir for a man if his wife was barren. The child, then, would be regarded as the legal son of the mistress as well. As soon as the slave conceived, she made life difficult for Sarah, who placed the blame on Abraham for an arrangement that she had suggested. Discreetly he stayed out of the argument and let the women settle it. It is not to Sarah's credit that she made Hagar's life so intolerable that she preferred the possibility of death in the wilderness.
Mistreated by Sarah and unprotected by Abraham, Hagar was not forgotten by God. The questions put to her by the angel are still primary ones for every life today: (1) Where have you come from? (2) Where are you going? The Latin for the second question is the familiar Quo Vadis. Also the angel reminds Hagar that she is Sarah's slave (16:8a) and somehow must perform her role, regardless of its difficulty. If she will hold on, God will reward her with a son, Ishmael, who as a fierce warrior will be able, unlike her, to maintain his independence in the clan of Abraham (16:12).
Hagar described God as "the God who sees." She had thought that no one cared what happened to her, but now she knew that God was concerned.
Truth for today.— When in disgrace Abraham left Egypt, perhaps he found some satisfaction in that he still possessed the wealth that Pharaoh had bestowed upon him. Yet among the presents was Hagar, who was to occasion such grief for his later years. Even until today the hostility between Ishmael and Isaac persists in the Israeli-Arab tensions. Frequently the consequences of sin extend beyond the third and fourth generations.
The passage.— In chapter 15 God acted to seal his side of the covenant. In chapter 17 Abraham is told what he must do on his part. He must inaugurate and perpetuate the rite of circumcision for every male in every Hebrew household. The penalty for noncompliance would be excommunication (17:14).
It was made evident, however, that circumcision itself was not sufficient. Abraham (and his descendants) must walk perfectly (maturely) before God at all times (17:1). The rite of circumcision was essential as the ritualistic confirmation of a determination to walk maturely before God (17:11). It was no substitute for it.
God further assured Abraham that he would have an actual son of his own to circumcise, although the patriarch was willing to settle upon Ishmael, whom as his son he had come to love, and who was now thirteen years old. In light of this God changed Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's to Sarah, to mark the new era.
With characteristic obedience Abraham immediately proceeded to circumcise his household, performing the rite upon every male that same day. Thus began the historic Hebrew custom. Why was circumcision used as the token of covenant? It emphasized the perpetual nature of the covenant for it was passed from father to son to be renewed with each generation.
Special point.— The fact that the covenant was to be perpetual through all their generations occasioned a great deal of tension among early Jewish Christians. How could a Gentile convert become a true believer in Israel's God unless he was circumcised? Circumcision was necessary for both Hebrews and Gentiles in the Hebrew community of worship. Apparently the position of Paul in Colossians 2:11-12 is that baptism has taken the place of circumcision as the initiation rite among the people of God. It is the fulfilment of the old custom, but is administered when a person is born into the kingdom rather than when he is physically born.
The passage.— Some expositors, especially the early Christian fathers, believed that this chapter speaks of the Trinity. Verse 1 says that the Lord visited Abraham, and yet in verse 2 he appeared as three men. However, Abraham addressed one of them as the obvious leader (18:3) and continued to talk with the Lord after the two angels departed (18:16; 18:22; 19:1). It is more likely therefore that one of the three was the angel of the Lord (God manifesting himself), and the other two were the angels who had come to assist in the investigation of Sodom.
Did Abraham know whom he was entertaining? His eager preparations suggest it, but this might have been the usual hospitality of his home. Sarah certainly did not recognize them, or she would not have laughed. When her thoughts were read, however, she knew then who it was.
The response of God to Sarah, "Is there anything too hard for the Lord?" (18:14), is a reminder to all of us. To deny God the miraculous is to deny his existence. If he is God, he can do as he wills, even in performing acts unknown to the experience of man. The chapter ends with the lonely prayer of Abraham before God as he desperately ple