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Posts Tagged ‘genesis’

We are told the human story begins in a garden. We are told there were trees pleasing to the eye and they were good for food. We are told there was gold and aromatic resin and onyx. I imagine it to be a place where the wind blew the scent of lilac and lavender and honeysuckle. A place where fish and frogs and turtles splashed in its waters. I imagine laurel and ferns and other ground cover where canines and felines and bovines made paths as they made their way through.

I imagine it to be a place where these trees reached upward, deciduous and conifer, boasting seasonal bloom and color. Trees that became home to owls and woodpeckers and cardinals. I imagine the garden to be full of amphibians and birds and insects that joined as a great choir. I imagine sunny skies by day and shimmering night lights. I imagine brilliant colors on the horizon both evening and morning visible from strategic places in the garden. I imagine a dazzling creation display. While my imaginings are tainted by my local eco sphere, there is something we are told for certain. This is a place where God dwelt with his people.

When humans entered Genesis, we entered as stewards of creation. We also entered as representatives of God. Genesis not only tells us who we are, but what we are made for. We bear the image of God. This is not only a statement about identity, but also about mission. The primary task of an image bearer is to represent the one whose image you bear. Image bearers are to reflect the Creator’s wisdom into the world.

As image bearing representatives, we are designed to work with God toward His purposes. We are designed to use our gifts to follow God’s plan. Yet, we often use our abilities to generate other gods. We abort God’s plan and work toward our own glory. We literally sabotage the very thing we have been made for. The biblical storyline essentially says that by worshipping other gods we give ourselves to wilderness wanderings and exile. If we expect the world to take us seriously, we need to become more serious about our role as God’s representatives.

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Genesis wants us to know that Isaac survived and he had children. One of them is Jacob. My friend Mike has helped me with a picture of Jacob. This grandchild of Abraham was a conniving, deceitful, momma’s boy. He was a secular, self-made man who believed God helps those who help themselves. Jacob believes in God but is not convinced that God has anything to do with his life.

He goes through the motions as if he has some control. He pretends he is writing his own story. But then one night he falls to sleep and God shows up. Jacob awakes literally and theologically and observes “God is in this place.” He calls this place Bethel. Jacob is no returning prodigal yet God comes to meet him. God is not a distant force; God is involved in this world.

It is worth noting that Jacob has this dream in the middle of nowhere with his head lying on a rock. Later, Moses finds a burning bush. The psalmist will sing “where can I go from his presence?” Disciples will encounter the unexpected presence of God on the road to Emmaus. Saul is met with the presence of the Lord on the road to Damascus. There is no such place as nowhere, it’s all Bethel. The place you least expect will be the place God will show. Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush a fire with God.

Jacob should have been on time out, instead he finds himself in the presence of God. No one is in the presence of God because we deserve it. Jacob is not a candidate for an important role. He has torn his family apart. Yet he is invited to rejoin the family and find his place in a larger story. God is doing something in the world and for the world and wants Jacob to be part of it. Jacob becomes part of God’s plan to bless the world.

Frederick Buechner gives an interesting first person account of blessing in his novel about Jacob, Son of Laughter. “My mother had more than once told me about the day when Abraham gave the blessing to Laughter. She said the camels had all made water at once. Flying birds had hung motionless in the air. Laughter’s face had given off light.” In response to his own blessing he deceitfully received from Isaac, Jacob says, “It was not I who ran off with my father’s blessing. It was my father’s blessing that ran off with me… The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own.”

Before the Genesis story ends we find Jacob in Egypt.  He is here to ask Pharaoh for bread. He hopes Pharaoh will be generous. And yet he is there blessing the Pharaoh. Pharaoh was the world power. He held the control. He made decisions that influenced the world. He has need of nothing. Jacob, on the other hand, has nothing. He certainly has nothing Pharaoh needs. Still he blesses Pharaoh.

The fact is, Jacob knows some things Pharaoh does not. He woke one morning after sleeping on a rock and things were never the same for him again. Jacob has been pulled into a narrative that is world changing. He has become part of a story Pharaoh is not aware of. Jacob knows that God is doing something in the world and for the world.

Ever since the days of his grandma and grandpa, Jacob knows God has been seeking ways to bless the nations. His grandfather, Abraham, once had the opportunity to bless Egypt. Instead, Abraham took the promise into his own hands. Jacob has no such designs, he has nothing. Nothing but this promise of blessing. This blessing, both beautiful and appalling, has taken Jacob to Egypt. And he blesses Pharaoh. Claus Westermann says it like this, “The shepherd from the steppe… performs the gesture of blessing on the powerful and divine one.” This is good news. Even Pharaohs and world powers are in need of this blessing.

Westermann reminds us blessing has been given to the patriarchs and is passed from fathers to the children. As Isaac received blessing from Abraham and Jacob received blessing from Isaac, so Jacob blesses his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. But Genesis wants to be sure we know blessing is not only for family succession. This is not only a clan religion. This blessing is for all people.

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Abraham and Sarah eventually have a son and name him Isaac. It is the impossible work of a miraculous God. This reminds us that as much as we might like to, we cannot overlook that part of the Abraham story is on a mountain called Moriah. We cannot overlook this part of the story where God seems to put the promise in jeopardy. As much as I love to read about a climb up a mountain, I wish this climb belonged to someone else’s story. It would be easier to ignore this story and pretend it isn’t there. Another option might be to focus on Abraham’s obedience or God’s grace.

Or we can head up the mountain with Abraham and Isaac and admit this is an emotional story and not try to explain it away. We will still not enjoy the story – but the story will do something to us.

Since we struggle with violence and negative emotion and we love children we want this story to go differently. If we were writing the story, we would write it differently. But this story is the one we are given. We can argue and debate and wrestle it. And when we are finished we may not be able to sleep at night. We may not be able to approach God the same way ever again. But we will not be the same people we were before the story. This journey into the mountain country will change us.

Already, at this early stage in the bible, we are made aware that our text, these words are a dangerous sanctuary. The words that provide direction direct us into dangerous places. We find ourselves in places we cannot survive on our own. We find ourselves in places only God can rescue us. We know that a canonical adventure will be full of both danger and grace.

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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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