Lecture 3: Themes in Genesis
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: Themes in Genesis
I would like to make some comments about other themes that we find in Genesis, just for a few minutes. Now remember, I am counting on you to read the material in the Bible itself with as much time as you can give to it. I know we are all pressed for time but within whatever time frame you have got, to read the secondary literature that is assigned for you and so on. If you come to the class saying, “Gee, he didn’t say much about Genesis 40 to 50,” or something. I do not have any apologies for that at all, it was absolutely purposeful. There are some things I think you are more likely to be able to get by reading on your own and some things I would like to just be sure you hear and it will not be balanced; it is not a balanced presentation that I give at all in class. It is very selective, but it does try to touch upon big themes that we will try to tie together in various ways. So that is certainly the method that is going on.
I. Genesis 2:18
I would also like to comment on Genesis 2:18 just very quickly because we have in that statement an important truth that not everybody has been able to see easily. “The Lord God said it is not good for the man to be alone.” You could translate that “Adam to be alone;” you could also translate “the human to be alone” or “men in general to be alone.”
A. “I will make a helper suitable for him.” I do not think it means suitable. That is the NIV. Some people have been puzzled for many years by the old King James wording, “I will make an help meet for him.” This is “meet” in the old sense of the English, “appropriate.” “Meet,” right for him and “help.” So it gets mutated into a “helpmeet.” But helpmeet sounds like something you might buy at a grocery store, some brand name or something. So they translated it to helpmate, which does not make any sense; that is what it says.
B. Here is what it says as well as I can understand it and pass it on to you. Just because I say it does not prove it, but I am trying to share with you what I think is so. It says, “An Ezer,” and I know some in this class know the Hebrew so I am writing it first in the Hebrew and then kenegedo. It is from neged and keneged meaning “corresponding to.” What God says is, “I’ll make a help.” We could say helper but it really is not helper. In the Hebrew it is actually “a help” in other words “a source of help” is the fullest way to say it, “corresponding to him.” I think the emphasis on “suitable” is not right.
C. If you study carefully the meaning of that Hebrew preposition keneged. It means really the “mirror image” of something, “corresponding to.” In fact, by medieval Hebrew times it came to mean the exact opposite of something. You know the mirror image in the sense of exact opposite. So, many rabbis wrote long treatises on how women were the exact opposite of men. That is medieval Hebrew; it actually is a mutation of it. But it does tend to have this sense of the mirror image, just the same as, exactly corresponding to. You have here a very important statement about the relationship of men and women, and I will hardly surprise any of you who heard me speak on this topic before by saying that I really think many of the ideas that drive some people to think that women should not have a ministry or should not have some kinds of ministries or are unqualified to be ordain or whatever, are absolutely well-intentioned but based on misunderstandings of what the Scripture actually teaches. In this particular case it is one small part of a big picture about the question of women in ministry, but I am absolutely convinced that there is absolutely nothing anywhere in Scripture that would disqualify women from any ministry that exists. I do not think it is so. In particular this passage is not just talking about somebody who will help him that is suitable to help him because that can sound even like a ’54 Ford pickup; suitable and it will help him. No, this is much more. This is a source of help that is his mirror image—that corresponds to him. You have really a way of saying here, “I am going to pair up these human beings and I am going to put them on an equal basis with each other.” I think it is even mutual. I think you could infer that. Though it does not say it here. It does not say, “And they will help each other” but you have a help corresponding to this certainly in inference that they would help each other in various ways.
D. Then to illustrate this or emphasize it or drive the point home God creates woman from Adam himself. So Eve comes right from Adam. She gets his very essence and he says to her when he sees her after he says, “Wooo! Hey, all right!” Then he says, “This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. I am going to call her woman,” ishah Hebrew just a feminine of the Hebrew ish “because she was taken from man.” It is all correspondence, equality language. For what that is worth, I think it is worth mentioning.
II. Genesis 6:1-3
I also want to talk about Genesis 6:1-3 which is a funny little passage and I will make a couple of comments on it. Sometimes these comments I will make and I really will not prove it to you. I will just say to you here is my suggestion as to how it is to be interpreted. I may give you a couple of lines of reasoning. Therefore, obviously, you are free to disagree. I hope that what it does is at least make you aware of what I think a good interpretation is and then at least if you have never heard of that interpretation there will be some usefulness for you in being aware of it as you search the commentaries and the articles and so on to study more fully. We cannot study everything fully in a class like this, it is not the nature, but I can do some things that are like this, kind of whetting your appetite for what you could find if you look through it. In the case of the flood story it starts off with a story about the way the earth is corrupted. It says, Genesis 6:1, “When people began to increase in number on earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and they married any of them they chose.”
A. If you will take any concordance, go to any computer concordance, book concordance and just look up that expression “Sons of God” you will find that it normally means “angels.” It is a standard term for angels, both in Hebrew and Aramaic. In Hebrew bene-elohim “sons of God” or bene-el used all the times in the Psalms for that. I think this is saying angels saw human women and married any of them that they chose. How could this be? Well, you have in effect, what is it where an angel can function like a human? It is what we call demon possession in our day or in the New Testament. You have that going on back then and the earth gets corrupted by it and God does not like it so he says, “Look, this represents a problem and so my Spirit will not remain in man forever.” Some translations say “contend with” but it can be translated “remain in,” and “I am going to limit his time on the earth.” Then it says, “The Nephilim,” the Nephilim are a race of unusual people, “on the earth in those days when the sons of God went into the daughters of men and had children by them. They were heroes of old, men of renown.” And then it says, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness had become.”
B. I would say to you, suggest to you that Genesis 6:1-3 is just a little instance, a little short vignette to give you a feel for the way that Satan’s influence was manifest in all kinds of ways. It is just a sample. It actually skewed things in various ways that caused God to say, “I’ve got to do something about this wickedness.”
C. Then general statements about wickedness are also given and that precedes and leads up to the flood story, which is a story both of judgment and of deliverance. The New Testament makes much of the flood story because the flood story really is a kind of a model for the way God works in general. God will not tolerate evil forever and so eventually God is going to eliminate all evil and preserve the good. That is what we look for in a final judgment. The flood story is an early sampling of the ultimate plan of final judgment so that God’s ultimate plan is to have a universe that is free from sin and free from any wickedness or harm or sadness, etc. But, in the meantime, before that comes he shows from time-to-time in stories like this that he will not tolerate, ignore endlessly the kind of wickedness that this world represents especially as people end up doing the bidding of Satan. That is my purpose in giving that quickie overview.
III. Genesis 9:24
In 9:24 there is also just a little detail that most of you would not ever worry about.
A. Some of you have heard of the expression the “Curse of Ham.” Some years ago I was in seminary and I was teaching in downtown New Haven. They had a system there where public school kids could actually get out of school early and take religious classes. So I was teaching a class. Most of the kids were African-American kids, great kids and I enjoyed them very much in teaching them. But one girl said to me after a class, this was an African-American girl, she said, “Do you know that black people are under a curse?” I said, “Black people are not under a curse. Where did you get that?” She said, “I got it from my grandfather; he is a minister.” I said, “That is terrible, you shouldn’t be believing that. There is no curse.” “Oh yes,” she said, “it’s in the Bible.” “It is not so,” I said. “Yes,” she said. “My grandfather said it is the curse of Ham and God said, ‘Your face will be black and your nose will be flat.’” I said, “Where did you get this nonsense?” If it was alive and well in downtown New Haven some years ago, I just know that maybe some of you have heard it or maybe some of you will encounter people who have actually heard that nonsense. It is a terrible, awful, wild, weird, and discriminatory teaching and it makes no sense. It does not have any support in Scripture.
B. What you have in the curse that Noah gives is a curse for what Ham did to him because he “uncovered his nakedness” or “saw his father’s nakedness.” The tricky thing about that is how best to understand the translation. If you will look elsewhere, say in the book of Leviticus, in Leviticus 18, about what is prohibited to Israelites. It says, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother.” It means, “have sex with.” So there is real possibility that Ham actually did something incestuous to his father Noah. If not, he almost did it or came close to it or gave the appearance of it. It is just tricky to understand exactly what he did but it was very offensive to Noah, it should not have been done.
C. So Noah does not curse Ham at all but gives a curse on Ham’s son, Canaan. It is a vehicle by which God talks about the future in a relationship of the Israelites and the Canaanites, so he says, “May Canaan be the slave of Shem,” verse 26 of Genesis 9. “And may God extend the territory of Japheth and may Japheth live in the tents of Shem and make Canaan be his slave as well.” You have a denigration of the Canaanites as a people and the Canaanites are not Africans at all. They are brachycephalic armenoids if you want to know what they are anthropologically, in terms of physical anthropology. So, in case you ever encounter that, as terrible as it is, as I did and was so shocked by it, be sure you understand that that is not what is going on.
IV. Structure of Genesis
May I say one other thing about the structure of Genesis before jumping over to the Exodus and that is this:
A. All of the history of our world is told to us in Genesis 1-11 up to about 2000 B.C. If you look at the very end of chapter 11, the story of Abraham begins there and with Terah and the description of his son Abram and so on and how they left Ur to go to Canaan but on the way settled in Haran partway there. All of this is all human history, all world history, all everything right on that grid. Chapters 1 to 11 bring you from the very beginning, from absolute ground zero to 2000 B.C.
B. Then the story of Abraham alone, just one guy, starts basically in chapter 12 and goes all the way to chapter 24. In other words covers more space in the Biblical text and it is one man's life for 160 years. That tells you something about the way Moses has put the stuff together. If in 11 chapters you tell all history up to one point and then you use more space to describe the next 160 years, you obviously have slowed down. So it is like a real quick pan of the camera and then you stop on Abraham and you focus on Abraham. It is very rapid and you will expect, therefore, with that level of rapidity that much coverage of all of what we would call history, of all that existed in just eleven chapters, you are not going to get much detail and you do not. You are going to get a few key details that will give you a feel for where human beings came from, what they are like, what God’s relation to humans is, how sin entered the world, etc. The fact that there is this interplay of human and Satan; that is a big issue. The fact that the flood story takes up a big part of it, that God is a judging God and will not fool around with people; he does not tolerate sin forever. He tolerates it temporarily because he is patient and long-suffering and all of that but certainly not forever. You have all those themes that are very important principial themes but Moses gets those out of the way quickly. It is not because he has to get them out of the way because he does not like them but because the story that God has inspired Moses to tell is especially the story of God’s people. It is very useful for us to know that there was a flood and all that but what is especially important for us to know is where we fit in to the picture of God’s plan of redemption. Increasingly, the Bible story becomes a story of a people, a people that God is creating. He starts that people with one individual Abraham. We do not know why he picked Abraham. It is not said that Abraham had the following eighty-two characteristics and God said, “That’s it, perfect for me.” It just says that there was this guy Abraham and God called him and said leave your country and your people and so on and then this great promise in chapter 12 that has parallels and gets reviewed and renewed with people like Isaac and Jacob and so on. “I will make you into a great nation,” 12:2. “I will bless you, I will make your name great, you will be a blessing, I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse and all the peoples on earth are going to be blessed through you.” So there is some plan for the whole world and it is a good plan. When God blesses, he blesses. He knows how to do it. This is positive stuff. People who oppose the plan, try to wreck it, try to fight it, try to hurt it, are going to be in big trouble with God. “I am going to curse those people, but I am going to bless, through you, the whole world.” So this is some plan for the whole world. Here is Abraham saying, “Well, I’m in on the whole human history somehow. I’m a figure in this. How is it going to work?” He learns in part how it works and he learns that his people will one day come back in and occupy the land of Canaan.
IV. Genesis 15
So the last thing I want to look at in Genesis is actually in chapter 15. Many of the other stories I leave for you to read and to study, and I am not worried about the way that they are presented in the literature that you read so I am comfortable with that, but I want to be sure you get this. In Genesis 15 God appears to Abram, who is still called Abram by the way, his name has not been changed yet, and he says, “I am your shield, your very great reward,” which I think ought to be translated as the NIV notes have it, “I’m your boss or sovereign.” It actually could be translated, “I’m your high salary. Abraham, I pay your salary, I’m your boss,” it virtually says that; it is that kind of an idea. “Abraham, you’re working for me,” in other words. Abraham has some conversation with God and God promises he is going to have offspring and so on and so on.
A. Then he says in verse 16 after the beginning of a deep sleep that comes over Abraham. He says, “In the fourth generation your descendents will come back here because the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” What is that? The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. Who are the Amorites and how come they were sinning and how come it has not reached its full measure and if it did what would that mean? Let me give you a feel for how this works as well as I am able. See that word there Amoru. That is the old word in various Semitic languages really but essentially in old Babylonian that refers to this land that we might call northern Canaan. This land Amoru, northern Canaan, came to be used also as the terminology for Canaan.
B. What you have then in the Bible is two parallel terms that are each employed the same way. You can say, if you are in Europe, I am from America or I am from the U.S. or something like that. In this case Canaan and Amorite are used essentially interchangeable. Amorite is really the older word, Canaan a newer word that gained currency, Amorite is a very old word. What God is saying to Abraham is, “Eventually I will bring your descendents into this very land that we are standing here talking in.” Now, God is not standing there quite in the same way but that is what he is saying to him. “But I can’t do it yet because the people of this land are a sinful people and their sin is serious, but it hasn’t built up to the level where I, a righteous judge, am content to then destroy them using your people as my agents of justice.” But this is an important prediction. Later when the Israelites launched the conquest of the promised land they understand themselves to be an army and you will see when you read, if you will look carefully at the book of Exodus, that there are a number of places in the book of Exodus where it describes that the Israelites marched by divisions meaning military units and how they were organized as a “tsava” army or host and how they must conquer the promised land and drive out the Canaanites and so on. What God did was to use the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham as they grew and multiplied and became quite a big people, as his agents of justice to punish the Canaanites/Amorites, this is the same thing, for their iniquity as a culture. Now as we go along in the course we will talk about some of the things that characterize Canaanite culture; how evil it was, how oppressive it was, how idolatrous it was and so on. How people were misused and abused for personal profit and power. How people did not count. There are a lot of things that any of us would be outraged by today if we have any sense of justice that were common and standard. But God says to Abraham, “It has not gone as far as it is going to and I am going to let it run its course but the time will come when your people will have grown and meanwhile, I know what is happening in this world, and I know how the Amorite wickedness will increase and increase and increase and I am going to use your people to punish Amorite wickedness.”
C. It is a picture of God as a punisher of evil. It is important to appreciate that because I think we live in a world in which lots of people are saying, “You can do anything you want, God doesn’t do anything. Prove to me there is a God. I’ll insult him and if he strikes me with lightening we will both know.” People use those kinds of arguments. In fact, the Scripture is saying in many ways that God regularly reminds his people that he will not tolerate sin and to be aware of that and not to miss it in these kinds of places where it sort of peeps up and says, “Don’t forget me, don’t forget this concept. I am a punisher of sins,” says the Lord. I think it is useful to be aware of that.