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Posts Tagged ‘genesis’

John Bright offers a helpful picture of what life might have been like for Abraham. In A History of Israel, he portrays the patriarchs as wanderers who journeyed with flocks through Palestine and surrounding borders in search of seasonal pasture. Sometimes they may have ventured as far as Egypt. They were not Bedouin. They did not roam the desert except into places where known water supply was available. They may have frequently camped near towns and enjoyed peaceful relationships with townspeople. Occasionally, they may have settled long enough to farm (Genesis 26.12) but primarily were breeders of livestock who wandered near lands where suitable pasture could be found. This background is supported by the early tradition recorded in Deuteronomy 26.5 “My father was a wandering Aramean.”

Their ancestors were undoubtedly pagan worshippers of the moon cult and other gods. Yet, the patriarchs renounced the cults of their fathers and listened to the voice of the God who called them to a strange land. God undoubtedly got their attention with land and heirs, but there is no doubt this relationship was based on divine promise and the trust of the worshipper. Bright considers the patriarchal migration “an act of faith.”

This was not a migration of lone individuals but of clans. Bright makes a good case that these clans were headed by real individuals like Abraham. Later, Isaac and Jacob would have become similar clan chiefs. While on the surface it may appear Abraham set out with wife, nephew, and a few servants (Genesis 12.5); behind the narrative lie great clan migrations. Soon (13.1-13) we discover both Abraham and Lot are heads of large clans. The fact Abraham was able to put 318 trained fighting men into the field (14.14) suggests his clan was significant.

Each patriarch claimed the God who spoke as his personal God and as patron of his clan. The Genesis picture of relationship between individual and God is expressed by a close personal connection between clan father and God, “The God of Abraham”, “The Fear of Isaac”, “The Mighty One of Jacob.” This suggests that God’s promise had immediate personal effects. It also strongly implies corporate effects. For example, multiple members of Abraham’s clan would have been influenced along with Abraham. This suggests patriarchal religion was a clan religion. The clan literally became the family of the patron God and God literally acted on behalf of the clan.

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Chapter One

Once upon a time a world was carved from chaos. The Maker loved this world and talked of how good it was. The world was full of life. Light shined on it. It was textured with deep valleys and tall mountains. Color fell on it and formed beautiful patterns. Life splashed against its shores and blew across its horizon. Life grew along its surface and up into its air. Living creatures flew through its skies and swam in its waters. Others crawled and climbed all over it. And some of these living creatures were special representatives of the Maker. The Maker loved them and talked of how very good they were. These creatures enjoyed the Maker and this world and all that was in it.

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In Genesis 12.1 God tells Abram to “Go” so we may not be surprised to read later in verse 4 “So Abram went.” Suddenly we find ourselves in a travel adventure “And they set out for the land of Canaan.” When we arrive at verse 6 we find that “Abram traveled through the land.” And at verse 8 “From there he went toward the hills east of Bethel.” In verse 9 “Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.” By the time we arrive in verse 10 “Abram went down to Egypt.”

These travels have meaning for us because we are told that wherever Abram goes in chapter 12 he goes as the recipient of a promise. This promise is given as a plan devised by God that involves a partnership between God and His chosen people that will be a blessing to all the people of the earth. After getting directions to his location in Canaan “as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh” (such directions may cause us to want to stop and ask Miss Belle for some of her sweet tea). With the promise in mind it is worth noting that in Canaan Abram “built an altar there to the Lord.” It would not be a stretch to say that he practiced the promise among the Canaanites. Then again, in the hills east of Bethel “He built an altar to the Lord.” And again, we might say he practiced the promise while there.

Yet something entirely different takes place in Egypt. Perhaps Genesis wants us to know there is something opposite to the promise. There are plans not devised by God that are intended for self-survival and personal blessing without concern for others. Here Abram makes a plan to maximize his chances for personal blessing and survival. While he does survive and is treated well, Abram has no concern for others and the Egyptians are not blessed. In fact, they are afflicted with serious disease instead of blessing. Genesis wants us to know from the start that the Lord is serious about this promise. God is serious about this plan and the partnership with His people.

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A New Hope

Genesis suggests that humans were created to be representatives of God. Humans are God’s image bearers. However, we do not get very far before we bump into disappointment. First, there was that incident in Eden. Then Cain murdered Abel. Then there was the corruption in the days of Noah. This was followed by the arrogance in Babel. Humans seem to disappoint at every turn. Certainly there is not a shortage of disappointment. Humanity was in need of a new hope.

In response, Genesis gives us a family tree. This is not so we can know who lived the longest or to determine how many years have passed. The family tree sets our story in history, but mostly it is taking us somewhere. It is taking us to Abram (11.26). To make sure we understand this, we get a more detailed version of the immediate family of Abram at 11.27-32.

Still, this comes with more disappointment. After so many generations, the family that had survived the flood is coming to an end. Abram is old. Abram’s wife Sarai is old. They are childless. She is barren. We are surrounded by disappointment.

But Genesis is not finished. In the midst of all this disappointment, God speaks. When humanity needs a new hope, God speaks. In fact, God does more than speak, God has a plan. And God is seriously invested in this plan. Just how vested is evident by His words to Abram. “I will make you into a great nation… I will bless you… I will make your name great… I will bless those who bless you… whoever curses you I will curse… all peoples on earth will be blessed through you…” What becomes evident is that God is a significant part of this plan. God is partnering with Abram to bless all people.

In the middle of a very disappointing story, God proposes a counter story. Skeptics may point out the unlikeliness or even impossibility of this taking place. After all, we cannot forget the age of Abram and the barrenness of his wife. Yet, from the stories we have been told – God seems to like those odds.

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The early chapters of Genesis are clear about a world gone wrong. It becomes clear that humans have not done well as God’s representatives in God’s world. God’s plan for this world is nothing less than redemption. Everything that follows in the biblical story tells of the Creator’s plan to counter evil and to restore the world.

The closer we look at Genesis 12, the clearer it becomes that God’s plan is to change the world through a people. Genesis 12 sets this plan in motion. What God desires for the world, He desires to accomplish through this people. About the only thing I can say in response is wow.

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I sometimes wonder about the days when the sons of God, Satan among them, presented themselves before the Lord. I wonder if on one of those days the Lord asked Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan would reply “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.”

And then Satan would continue, “I know that you desire humans be your image bearers, your representatives on earth. But the human experiment has been a disaster. They disappoint at every turn. Do you remember what happened in Eden? Have you forgotten the corruption of the days of Noah? Must I remind you what they were doing at Babel? Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that humans will never become the representatives you had hoped for.”

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered the human Abraham? I have selected him to leave his home. His descendants will be many and his reputation will bring me glory. The whole earth will be influenced by this plan.”

Then Satan answered the Lord, “Have you considered his age? Have you considered he is childless and his wife is barren?” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, watch this plan change the world.”

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The trouble with approaching a familiar narrative is that we have convinced ourselves that we know the story.  That its lessons and implications are known.  That we have already gleaned its treasure.  This is a risk that some of us take when we read the Noah narrative.

It is easy to think that this is a text about an ark or a flood.  Yet, the text is telling us something more.  The more time we spend here the more we realize that this text is about the relationship between God and creation.  This relationship is in crisis.  The text says that God is grieved.  The wickedness that is in creation has an impact on the Creator.  And so, He enters the pain and fracture of this world.

We can fool ourselves into thinking that God stands outside the story sending His wrath, but this is a story about the pain God feels for a wayward creation.  In this context, we find Noah.  Noah is introduced as son of Lamech, one who will bring comfort.  In the midst of wickedness and evil human intentions, Noah is righteous, blameless, and walks with God.  The narrative announces with confidence that faithfulness is possible even in a wicked world.

After forty days of rain and one hundred fifty days of water covering the earth there is possibility of feeling forgotten.  But, “God remembered Noah…”  This is an issue that cannot be overlooked.  Each one of us knows what it is like to be forgotten.  In this narrative, all of creation may feel forgotten.  But “God remembered Noah.”  Walter Brueggemann implies that this is Gospel.  The flood appears to destroy everything except the commitment of the Creator to His covenant partner.  Brueggemann goes so far as to suggest that God is preoccupied with His creation.

Following the flood, we still find that “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  And we still find that humans are created in the image of God.  Yet, not everything remains the same.  Genesis wants us to know that this relationship between God and creation has changed.  Namely, we receive a promise and a sign that God will never destroy the earth like this again.

Creation has not changed.  You could say we are all in the same boat. Hopelessness remains.  Humans rebel against the purpose of God.  Any chance of hope depends on God.  Genesis brings good news!  God keeps His covenant with creation.  Human rebellion does not ruin His plan.  A grieving God will have unlimited patience with a rebellious world.  This is Good News because we are not capable of saving ourselves.

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