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Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word

What is in a Name? A Story of Faith

Author: Charles Hegwood

Names are important. I like to joke that I am a man of many names. Most of course are nicknames. My real name comes from a TV character. Throughout the Bible, though, names had deep meaning. This is especially true in the book of Genesis. Jacob for example, means trickster or heel grabber. And we see that as Jacob was born, he was grabbing his brother’s heel. Following Jacob’s story throughout Genesis, you will see that he is quite the trickster and usurper. Today we want to zoom in on Jacob and his story. We want to see the rambling, twisted, valley-filled path of faith he took. Of course, we also want to look at a name; not a nickname, but a new name. God gave Jacob a new name after meeting with him in Genesis 32. We see that this new name describes Jacob, His descendants, and every one of us as well. Who is Jacob? Who are we? I hope that today you will see the winding, often stumbling path of faith with the knowledge that God strives with you.

The Background

In the context of chapter 32, we find that Jacob is fearful of meeting his brother Esau. Wait, back up. Why would he be fearful? Well, the last time he saw his brother was when he had stolen the blessing from him. Jacob sought the blessing through scheming and tricking his brother and father. Jacob’s trick resulted in him running for his life.

Many years passed and Jacob learned to be humble after finding himself tricked by his uncle. Still, God blessed Jacob, just as he promised to do. Jacob had twelve sons and many possessions, knowing that he did not deserve God’s good favor. God also met with Jacob at Bethel, promising to be with and bless him. The reader must then ask, will Jacob trust in God? Then we arrive at chapter 32 where Jacob found out that Esau wanted to meet. With God’s promise in mind, how would Jacob respond?

The Scheming

The chapter started well, as Jacob recognized that God’s presence was with him. Faith! But by verse 7 we see the old scheming Jacob come out. He was fearful, seemingly forgetting the promise that God had just made to him. Yet, when I look at this story, I get it. I see my reflection in Jacob’s fear. My faith journey and I suspect yours as well, looks like a winding road. After soaring spiritual highs, life hits and it all comes crashing into a deep valley. Can you relate? Jacob could.

He heard his brother had 400 men. That is a lot of people. So, Jacob divided the camp into two camps so if Esau attacked, at least half of his people would survive. It was a good, strategic plan, but it showed a complete lack of faith that God would fulfill his promises. Jacob also sent in front of his camp a parade of goods and gifts to help buy the favor of his brother. What was Jacob doing? He was relying on his schemes and his cleverness to get past a potentially difficult situation.

He did not go to God in prayer first. He went instead to his ability and strength. There is nothing wrong with a good strategy, but do you first go to God or your understanding and strength? Do we beseech the wisdom of God over our own? And now the Scheming Jacob finds himself alone, yet not completely alone.

The Wrestling Match

Jacob suddenly found himself in an impromptu wrestling match with a stranger. The fight went on until morning. At some point in the fight, Jacob recognized that his opponent was an angel of God. Jacob thus held on, begging for a blessing. Finally, the angel reached out and dislocated Jacob’s hip with a mere touch. What is happening here?

This wrestling match acts as a parable for how Jacob interacts with God. Jacob wrestles. He struggles. He clings. However, it was not that the Lord was unable to defeat Jacob. After all, he only had to touch his hip to break it. He could have easily destroyed Jacob, but that was not the point or purpose of the fight.

The point was that as Jacob clung and wrestled with God, God wrestled with Jacob. See the beauty and grace of God here. God wrestled with a man until daybreak. A man He could have easily destroyed. A man who was unworthy of the attention God gave him. A man like you and me. God’s grace prevailed in this fight. This would be the picture of how God would interact with Israel, formally Jacob, for the rest of his life, and with Israel, the descendants of Jacob, for the rest of their lives. God would wrestle with obstinate people. He would wrestle them back to Himself. At times, God would have to inflict a curse, like that of Jacob’s hip to bring them limping back to Him. This is a picture of how God interacts with you and me too. He wrestles with us when we sin. Praise God that He does not give up. Sometimes it can be painful, but our limp, whether spiritual or physical, reminds us that God contends with us.

The Name

God blessed Jacob there and bestowed a new name, Israel. This new name had deep meaning. “One who strives or struggles with God.” This new name was a picture of Jacob’s faith journey, his descendant’s journey, and our journey. They would fight. They would stray from the path of God. Yet, God would wrestle them back. So too it is with us. We are a people who wrestle with God. Cling to Him. Limp back to Him when you veer away. Remember He is with you.

This is why I take comfort in the story of Jacob; a man who did not always live up to the blessing of God. Just read chapter 33. He immediately fell back into his scheming ways. We often do too. And just like Jacob receiving a new name, one day we too will receive a new name from God. On that day, however, all striving and struggling will cease as we see our Savior face to face. Our new name will be a new identity and a beginning of a new life, an eternal life. This promised new name answers the question, “Who are we?” We are God’s people.

Categories
All Christian History Digging Deeper into the Word

Genesis 1: Genesis and Creation

Author: Jon Slenker

Genesis Chapter One

Genesis chapter one. Those words are profound in themselves. So much is wrapped up in those three words. Opportunity, beginnings, hope, life, love, the galaxies, volcanoes, pigs and plants, seascapes and mountain vistas, smells, colors, texture. Creation is truly marvelous! Evil will come and distort God’s good creation, but for now, we sit back in awe and wonder at God speaking earth into existence and his plan for it.

Creation and the Nature of God

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:1

God exists outside of time and space. He is Spirit who creates as part of his nature (John 4:24). The creation account tells us much about God’s nature. God values order, prescribes value, and mandates his creation fulfill their identity and purpose. He is creative and orderly. He is intentional and desires to relate to and care for his creation. God spoke and it came to be. Out of nothing, God created.

The doctrine of the Trinity finds solid evidence for a Triune God in the creation account. In verse 26 God says, “let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”

Order, Harmony and Intentionality

The author of Genesis records the events of God’s creation as one of order, harmony and intentionality. Most creative people lack the ability to be orderly. In fact, sometimes following the rules impedes the creative process. God, however, is perfectly creative and orderly. We can see beyond having an orderly, harmonious and intentional plan that he values action. But to what end? What is his plan of action? That all creation would fulfill its purpose and therefore propagate a more vibrant and full life. His mandate is that we would worship and obey through being fruitful and multiplying. Healthy things are fruitful and fruitful things multiply.

As God brought order from disorder and did it in a timely fashion, he also built it into nature that plants, sea and land creatures and man would reproduce, each of their own kind (Gen. 1:11-12, 21-22, 24-25, 28). Each thing in creation  is unique and in a constant state of changing.  A law in Physics states there is a set number of molecules in existence. None can be added or destroyed, they merely change states. One concept within Thermodynamics is entropy, which states that left to its own creation will naturally fall into decay and disorder, the effect of sin marring God’s good creation.

Day 1 – God created light (1:3-5)
Day 2 – God separated the water and created the heavens (skies) (1:6-8)
Day 3 – God separated the waters from land (1:9-10) and created vegetation (1:11-13)
Day 4 – God created the stars and the moon and sun (1:14-19)
Day 5 – God created living creatures in the sea (1:20-23)
Day 6 – God created living creatures on land and man (1:24-31)

There is harmony in creation, an interdependent relationship among all created things and beings. Each aspect of creation is dependent on the other in some way. How glorious is our God that we would all excel in certain abilities and require the assistance from others in areas we don’t. God built community into nature and His intentions are that creation would exist in perfect harmony with itself and Himself.

Identity, Value and Purpose

God is relentless for his creation. He proves it by giving identity, value and purpose. There was a purpose behind creation. God did not want to create and then leave it to itself, it was too valuable to him. He wants to be intimately involved with his handiwork as the author, shepherd, high priest, king, judge and redeemer. He is ever present in the creation event with his Spirit hovering over the face of the waters, and reviewing his work and calling it good (Gen. 1:2). God is ascribing worth and value to his creation by calling it “good” or “very good” six times (1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25; 1:31). This tells us that God cares for his creation and that it brings him joy.

God displays order and harmony within identity through the unique individuality of each thing according to its kind. Everything plays its part and has a role in God’s creation order. The heavens, land, sea, vegetation, birds, animals, fish and humans all play a vital role in different life cycles that regenerates and reproduces life and the atmosphere for it.  Life is important to God. You are important to God and have an incredible purpose.

Imago Dei

One theologian writes that “Genesis 1 and 2 provides the backdrop for God’s relationship with humanity and with the rest of creation.”[1] Five times God calls his creation “good”, but on the sixth, he said “behold, it was very good” (1:31). ““Good” does not exist abstractly apart from God. Rather, God’s pronouncement that His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus His work was “good” conveys that creation was rightly related to Himself and thus existing as a display of His glory.”[2] Man was made in the image of God, or “imago dei” in the Greek, as his special creation whom he wanted to be after his own image and heart. This emphasizes that we are more like God than like other creatures.[3] We were made to reflect God’s image on earth as his vice regents, children, stewards and ambassadors. We are to be like him. To conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of our calling and nature (Phil. 1:27).

The Creation Mandate

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.”
Genesis 1:28-30

The creation mandate is the foundation of the great commission. Jesus echoes his creation mandate in Matthew 28:18-20 to his disciples and thus to the Church and to you and I. We see the creation mandate restated multiple times throughout history in the scriptures. First to Adam and Eve, then to the animals, Noah, Abraham, Jacob that we should be fruitful and multiply.  One Teacher writes that “few understand that the mission “to make disciples of all nations” is actually grounded in God’s original “Creation Order.”” This first command carries with it the implication to “worship and obey.” The Teacher adds, “the means by which dominion would be exercised would be through the intentional multiplication and dispersion of image-bearers throughout the earth.” God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve carries the same thrust and importance as Christ’s commission to us. He promises that he will be with us even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). This is an incredible promise and blessing![4]

God has entrusted his creation to man and woman. We are to be his stewards, ruling over ourselves and his creation as he would. We are therefore covenanted image bearers of God. What a blessing! As his image bearers we are to be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth with other image bearers. Healthy things grow and growing things multiply. How are you stewarding, or managing what God has entrusted to you? Are you caring gently for God’s creation? Different cultures value and honor and mistreat different things,  creatures or people. To the best of your ability, small or large, are you treating God’s people and his/our creation as He would?

Conclusion

How are you fulfilling the creation mandate by worshiping and obeying as God’s vice regent and ambassador? What does caring for his creation and making disciples look like for you right now? What is your favorite way that you ‘image’ God? What areas of life are you orderly or messy? When are you most creative? What drains your creativity? How are you intentional or accidental? What does it look like? Like a mirror we are to reflect God’s image to the earth, creative, intentional, What a privilege to be welcomed into God’s work and entrusted with his creation.


[1] Robinson, George, article, published in www.GlobalMissiology.org October 2015  “Grounding Disciple-Making in God’s Creation Order: Filling the Earth with the Image of God”
[2] Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[3]  Robinson, George, article, October 2015
[4] Robinson, George, article, October 2015

Categories
All Can You Trust the Bible? Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

The Purpose of the Bible

Author: Jon Slenker

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

That God would reveal himself to mankind is no mystery! The very act is representative of who he is. His nature, character, personality, virtues and values, mission and vision, is all made known to mankind through the bible. God is a relational God who desires to know and be known. The express purpose of the bible is that we may know God, what he has done for us and how we should live in light of his revelation.

Three Kinds of Revelation

  1. General Revelation: Things that were made by God, like the galaxies, sun, sky, trees, and living things, are all ways that God has revealed himself and his handiwork. No one is without this evidence or knowledge of God. Refer to Psalm 19:1-6, Romans 1:18-25 for further study.
  2. Special Revelation: God interacting in special ways with his creation, include speaking audibly to man, revealing himself and his power through the Flood, a burning bush, a pillar of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea, handwriting on stone tablets and palace walls, his written word the Bible, Jesus, his Spirit, miracles, dreams, and visions. Refer to Exodus 32:16, Psalm 19:7-13, Hebrews 1:1-3, Luke 1, John 1:1-14, Acts 2:1-4, Romans 1:16-17, 10:9-10.
  3. Progressive Revelation: The teaching that God has continually revealed more and more of his character, will and mission over time. Refer to Psalm 78:1-4, John 16:12-14 and Galatians 1:11-12. 

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 3:12

How to Know God

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Isaiah 46:9b–10

There is only one God (Deut 32:39; Isa 45:5-7; 46:9) and “the most fundamental need of humanity is to know God, and to know Him with ever-increasing clarity and intensity.[1]’” More than anything, the bible reveals God’s character, purposes and principles. It has been said “when you open the word of God, you are opening the mouth of God.” God uses the bible to speak to you and me so that we may know him, trust him and live out our identity and calling as faithful worshipers.

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
Ps. 100:5

Identity, Character and Attributes of God

The bible reveals God’s character by how he relates with and rules sovereignly over his creation. In the bible, God self-identifies as and is called: Creator, the I AM, Abba Father, the Ancient of Days, the Living God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Lord of Hosts, Alpha and Omega, the God of Knowledge, God Most High, Mighty God, the Anointed One, the Word, the Lord Who Provides, the Lord Who Saves, Our Dwelling Place and more!

As we read the Scriptures observing how God interacts with his creation, we find that God’s character is upright and just. He does not lie, he does not change, does not do evil, is relentless for his people, is all powerful, all knowing, full of grace, truth, mercy and love. He is the light of men, holy, hallowed, a helper, and unique. He is the one true God.

“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Psalm 90:2

To Know God’s Will and Mission

One of God’s purposes in giving us his Holy Scriptures is to follow his will, not simply discover it. We read in 1 Timothy 2:2-3 to pray for all people, kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. Paul continues, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

God has already revealed his will to us through the bible. If there is any discovering for us to do surrounding his will, it is to know God’s character, attributes and personality with greater wisdom and affection than before. God’s will is clear, to be a righteous ruler, on mission to seek and save that which is lost and marred by evil, sin and death. Since creation, God’s will has been to establish a people for himself and to reign as a benevolent and just Father, Counselor, and King. We do not need to seek out God’s will for our lives, it is not hidden from us or kept in secret to be found out later to see. God’s will was established from the beginning and he has already revealed it to us in his word!

If you want to know the will of God, devote yourself to his word and discern the times. Author, J. Grant Howard, Jr. writes that “God doesn’t want confused, bewildered, frustrated Christians wandering around anxiously searching for His will. He wants people who are walking confidently and peacefully in His will.”

Our God, the God of the universe, is a missionary God. Since Genesis 3 and the Fall he has relentlessly pursued to the point of sacrifice for the salvation of his children from every tribe, tongue and nation (Rev. 7:9-10). Jesus entered humanity, put on flesh, forgave sin, granted new life, gave confidence to the broken-hearted and destitute, humbled the proud and corrected poor theology and practice. He laid the foundation for the establishment, the Church, and sits as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-21). He began and ended his three year ministry with a focus on character as we live out, preach and disciple others on the good news that Christ has come and revealed himself and his salvation to mankind!

To Know Ourselves and Our Purpose

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–”
John 1:12

Identity and Calling

Another overarching purpose of the bible is to know our own identity and calling in relation to God. We were made to worship and obey. We were created for a spectacular purpose. Therefore, we must know who God is in order to truly know ourselves. We find our meaning, hope and peace in our identity in Christ. The bible is God’s way of telling us who we are and how to live out our days as “Children of God” (1 John 3:1), “ambassadors” of his Kingdom (2 Cor. 5:20), a “holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), and “pilgrims”, in a world that is not our home (Hebrews 13:14-16).

The bible reveals our purpose, tells us how to live, grounds us in our physical and spiritual lineage and heritage, and gives us historical context for our lives and the times we now live. It teaches us about the past, present and future.

Every believer can be sure of their identity as adopted children of God, called to worship, obey, love others and make disciples. God gave us his word, so that we might know how to act  and behave in ways that honor him and others as we join him on his mission (Matthew 5; John 13:35). The author of Hebrews tells us an incredible purpose of the bible in chapter 4, verse 12 stating, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It seems at times when we read the bible, it is moreover reading us.

The Great Commission passages in Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:14–18, Luke 24:44–49, John 20:19-23, and Acts 1:4–8 lay out our calling and responsibility as God’s ambassadors and Church. We are to preach the gospel, baptize, teach to obey, gather in community for the breaking of bread, worship, pray, make disciples and give of our time, talent, treasure and table as others have need (Acts 2:32-36).

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Ephesians 5:1-2


[1] Merida,  Faithful Preaching, 2009

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All Studying the Bible

What is the Bible?

Author: Jon Slenker

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Psalm 119:103

Communication is one way that sets humanity apart from other living things. The bible is one of God’s primary ways of communicating to mankind. The bible is a compilation of stories that tells one grand story. It is divided into two overarching testaments (Old and New Testaments), also known as covenants or promises by God to his people. So what is the bible and what is the bible about? In one word, the bible is God’s story. It is God’s identity, word, will and ways. This is that we may know God, know ourselves, know the world we exist in and what or who we find our meaning in.

The bible is a compilation of 66 books or letters that chronicles history, kingdoms, prophecy and God’s relationship with his creation. It was written by 36 inspired authors in three different languages, spanning three continents and a few thousand years. And yet, it tells one great story with a scarlet thread. While the bible answers many of life’s questions, it is not ultimately a story about us as the main characters. All the Old Testament points to Christ, while all the New Testament presents Christ. It is helpful to answer the question, “what is the bible?” if we understand the overarching narrative of the Bible by observing it as one book in four parts, Creation, Fall, Rescue and Restoration.

It is within the pages of the bible that we are introduced to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Angels, the Evil one Satan, demons and man and every living creature and thing. It speaks of the galaxies, birds of the air, fish of the sea, great beasts, pools in the desert, mountains and miracles. As a Creator God, he has written for us about science, art, relationship, love, identity, meaning and everything in between.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Psalm 34:8

Creation

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 1:1

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the creation account starts the story with “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). God was and is, has always been and always will be. He is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8). “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) He is a creator God who spoke everything that exists, including man, into being. He makes them in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:27), breathes life into his creation (Gen. 2:7-8) and gives Adam and Eve their first command known as the “creation mandate”. He tells them to be “fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). This does not simply mean to make warm bodies, but to make worshipers as his “vice-regents” governing the earth. God entrusted his creation to us to care for and manage.

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
Hebrews 11:3

Fall

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Genesis 3:15

The Fall of man is recorded in Genesis 3 when Adam stood passively by and Eve entertained the Serpent questioning God’s word, “Did God really say…?” (Gen. 3:1).  The curse of sin is passed down through man. Sin twisted the creation mandate and instead of worshiping God, man now worshiped self and multiplied twisted worshippers (Rom 5:12). Eventually, man only did evil in the sight of the Lord (Gen. 6:5-22). The consequence of disobedience and sin is a broken relationship with God, decay and death that is physical and spiritual. We are in grave need of a savior to restore us to the right relationship with God and grant us new life.

Shortly after sin infected man, God promised to send a rescuer (Gen. 3:15). He called this Rescuer the “Messiah” in Hebrew, translated into Greek as “Christ”, meaning “anointed one.” This anointed one would be God incarnate, his own Son, a prophet who would come and offer a perfect atonement as a sinless sacrifice. He was sinless because he was born of the Holy Spirit, not from a sin-corrupted man.

From Genesis 3 to Malachi, we get a front row seat as to how God interacts with, relates to and rules over his creation; prophesying over 300 times that the Christ shall come and rescue the Lord’s people from sin and death.

“He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.”
Isaiah 53:11

Rescue

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”
John 1:1-4

Jesus the Christ would do more than be a sacrifice, he would be the supreme example for life and godliness as a worshiper, family member and friend. We are still living under the curse and consequence of the Fall, but God did send the promised rescuer, modeled the very life of God and how one should live. He embodied all of God’s character, chemistry, credibility and competence.

The Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, as well as the letters, are accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, tendencies and relationships. It is fascinating that we get the chance to read from eyewitnesses about their first-hand accounts as to how he nurtured, challenged, dealt with conflict and stood up for the oppressed. These writings also detail the times when he spoke up and the times he remained silent or spoke in confusing parables.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14

“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
Matthew 13:16-17

Restoration

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God…On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Revelation 19:11-16

Christ has come, and will come again! This time, to bind Satan and restore God’s own people and creation back to himself once and for all. There will be eternal peace, joy, community with God, the angels, people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping God, and enjoying him forever.

Conclusion

By God’s word he spoke creation into existence. By questioning his word mankind’s hearts and eyes were open to good and evil and broke the right relationship with God. By God’s word he promised a savior and the Word became flesh and dwelt among men (John 1:14). By God’s word he spread the good news, the gospel, and by the telling of it many have been and still are being saved through faith. By God’s word he promises to come again and restore all that was broken and marred by evil, sin and death. By God’s word he promises to bind Satan and redeem that which was lost. God’s word is holy, trustworthy, authoritative, inspired, powerful, relevant, unchanging, and much much more. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
Psalm 119:103

 

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All Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Creation Story

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., writer for Foundations by ICM

 

Rider on the Storm

Genesis 3 introduces us to a recurring image associated with divine judgment in Scripture—Storm Theophany.1 Unfortunately, the confrontation of Adam and Eve is typically presented in terms that undermine the seriousness and violence of the scene.

In Genesis 3:1-7, the first humans have rebelled against their maker because the Serpent has convinced them that God’s rules have the express purpose of robbing them of a profound blessing—equality with God.

 

Genesis 3 Out of Context

After they sin, we typically read something like: 

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself

The original language of this passage—especially when reading in its Ancient Near Eastern and biblical context—lends itself to the description of an explosive and terrifying conflict between Holy Yahweh, rebellious humans, and what Revelation 20:2 calls, “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.” Even so, common translations like the one above from the ESV tend to underplay the drama and misrepresent the nature of the event. 

According to a typical rendition, God shows up unawares to finish out His day with His usual stroll, sharing the cool breezes of the evening with His newly minted favs—the first couple. When He arrives, however, He can’t find them. What could have happened to them? Like any panicked parent, He rushes about calling out for them. But alas, when He finds them, something is amiss. They have tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves, and are hiding from Him. He confronts them; they confess; He judges them, bringing the whole world under a curse. 

 

What’s Missing?

This is one of the most significant judgment scenes in the Bible, second, perhaps, only to the final judgment in Revelation 20. Even so, the usual telling leaves one a bit flat compared to dozens of such scenes elsewhere. Where is divine wrath? Where is the energy of doom? It comes off so dispassionate and hum drum. “Well that’s unfortunate… now the whole world is cursed… what’s for dinner?” It feels more “Disappointed Papa” than “Offended Holy Creator.” 

What we are missing is the true nature of God’s arrival in Genesis 3:8 as depicted in the Hebrew text, and properly honed expectations from the story’s ancient Near Eastern and biblical context. God is manifesting His presence… that is theophany… a god-appearing. God is not ignorant of what Adam and Eve have done at the bidding of the Serpent. He comes manifesting Himself for Judgment. In context, one should expect a terrifying revelation in the storm that strikes terror in the heart of rebellious humanity. 

 

The Many Appearances of Storm Theophany

For honing our expectations, let’s consider just a few of the many manifestations of the divine in storm. 

One popular storm theophany appears if you’ll pardon the pun, in Exodus 19:16-25, where God comes with “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud,” and “a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.” The mountain “was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire,” and “the mountain trembled greatly.” A few chapters later in Exodus 24:17, we read that in addition to heavy cloud, “the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain...” 

The call of Ezekiel begins in chapter 1, saying, “As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal.”  

In Isaiah 30:27ff, we read, “Burning is His anger and dense is His smoke; His lips are filled with indignation And His tongue is like a consuming fire; His breath is like an overflowing torrent, Which reaches to the neck, To shake the nations back and forth in a sieve…” Its picks up later saying, “And the Lord will cause His voice of authority to be heard, And the descending of His arm to be seen in fierce anger, And in the flame of a consuming fire In cloudburst, downpour and hailstones. For at the voice of the Lord Assyria will be terrified.” 

In Habakkuk 3:3-6, Yahweh comes in judgment and, “His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from his hand; and there he veiled his power. Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.” The prophet is paralyzed with fear, writing in verses 15-16, “You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters. I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.

The New Testament is certainly not devoid of this imagery. To name only two, we find John saying in Revelation 11:19, “There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.” Revelation 16:18 describes God’s judgment as, “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.” 

 

Genesis 3 In Context

So… what happened to Genesis 3? 

The answer… Nothing happened to Genesis 3. It has all the components an Ancient Near Eastern person might expect. BUT… translators struggled during the early stages of the gentile church to fully grasp the text and the import of the eastern imagery. 

The traditional translation runs into trouble in four places when it says, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day

First, the word translated “sound” (Hebrew QOL) is a common term in judgment scenes representing the thunder of Yahweh, His earth-shaking voice blasting trumpet-like as He comes on. 

Second, the word translated “walking” is a special verb form that intends here agitated or violent movement—Thrashing about. 

Third, there is no “in the cool of the day” in the Hebrew text. Rather it says, “in the RUACH of the YOM.” RUACH can mean among other things, wind, breath, or spirit. 

Fourth, this wind/breath/or spirit is associated with the YOM, which has two meanings. YOM can mean either day or storm.

So, given the standing Hebrew text and the biblical context of judgment scenes, what we have in Genesis 3 is the first of many storm theophanies, as God comes in terrifying glory to judge our first parents for their rebellion against Him. 

And they heard the thunder of the LORD God thrashing through the garden in the wind of the storm, and the man and his wife hid themselves.”  

It is a bad news/good news situation, however. For there is hope. In the midst of judgment, Yahweh declares His plan for redemption through the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent, and reverse the curse over creation.

1The term “theophany” will be explained below in further detail…a simple working definition, for now, is the appearance of God.

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All Digging Deeper into the Word

Digging Deeper: The Story of Adam and Eve

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., writer for Foundations by ICM

 

The Sense in the Serpent

I am quite interested in the work of those who investigate the details of the Genesis creation stories along scientific lines. I wholly support any honest study of the possibilities of things like a global flood1, genetic analysis to see if man really does trace its origins back to a single pair,2 or even questioning whether or not there is some evidence that serpents used to have legs. I do not believe, however, that these studies hold the keys to understanding Genesis.

 

How to Read Genesis

If you want to understand the theological messaging of Genesis, you have to read it like a pagan. That is to say that Genesis was written within a context of the global dominance of pagan worldview and was intended as a help for those struggling to understand and embrace biblical worldview under the great pressure of that pagan dominance. Stories of creation that sustained the pagan perception of god, man, and reality populated the imaginations of every society, and Genesis is constructed to preach the truth about God, man, and reality in intentional opposition to those stories. Genesis is about the true origin and nature of Divine order. It reveals how the world was made to function so that man could learn how to function best within it.

Let me illustrate by talking about the context for reading about the serpent in Genesis 3.

Only a child imagines that Genesis 3 is some etiological tale about why women don’t like snakes or why snakes have no legs. Given the role of the serpent dragons in so many Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts one would be foolish not to believe that there is a connection between it and them. Indeed, many Scriptures show a keen awareness of these ancient serpent dragon stories. Authors cast enemies in their image,3 and link the serpent figure with Satan Himself.4

 

The World through Pagan Eyes

My doctoral dissertation demanded extensive contrasts and comparisons between pagan and biblical creation stories and flood stories. We learn much about the pagan view of gods, man, and reality from reading their myths, and discover just how radical the biblical worldview was to them when they encountered it. So, if I were a pagan reading Genesis, let me tell you how it would strike me, and what I would intuit most from the story of the fall of man and the serpent.

In Genesis, the entire nature of Yahweh is radically different from pagan conceptions of God. Rather than being an untrustworthy, powerful but highly limited, self-absorbed, fickle, super-being bound to the created order that was established by someone else wholly unknown and unknowable… i.e. a pagan deity… Yahweh is the One Holy Creator of all. He is omnipotent, omniscient, all-wise, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, transcendent but immanent.5  Yahweh is positively disposed to his creation as a loving and good Creator, can be trusted and personally known, and is the very source of all morals and ethics. All creatures spiritual and material are heading for a trial before the judgment seat of Yahweh to answer for their actions in Yahweh’s world toward Yahweh and Yahweh’s creations.

 

The World through God’s Eyes

In Genesis, the entire nature of man is radically different from pagan conceptions of man. Rather than being created as a barely tolerable slave of the gods, kept in check by suffering to keep him from proliferating and adding to his general annoyance of the pagan gods… rather than being on his own to work out his destiny for himself by manipulating pagan gods through ritual to achieve his own ends without any dependable moral or ethical guidance from the gods… in Genesis Man is Yahweh’s highest creation. Man was made to be filled with Yahweh’s Holy Spirit as His ruling and reigning image in the world. Man is given a mission and a blessing and declared with all the rest of Yahweh’s beloved creation, to be very good.

In Genesis, the entire nature of reality is different from pagan conceptions of it. Rather than being a random compilation of conflicting pagan gods who are the cosmic forces of the world cycling endlessly and purposely… the world of Yahweh had an intentional beginning and is driving toward an intentional end. In Genesis, nature is a body of material forces wholly subjected to the order of Yahweh and without personal volition. The wisdom of Yahweh is woven into the fabric of reality as a system of natural reward and punishment.

 

The Serpent’s Role in the Story

As the pagan’s mind reels in the face of such declarations, the role of the serpent appearing late in the creation tale blows his mind. The images of sea and serpent dragon are, in the pagan stories of creation, the very visage of chaos, the amoral destroyer of worlds, the enemy of an active and thriving cosmos. This ruinous force predates the populating cosmos, is at enmity with it, and must be conquered for it to progress. In defeat, the serpent dragon becomes instrumental in the natural world’s establishment as a necessary but ever-threatening part of its foundations.  If something could be said to be “wrong” with the world as the pagans conceived it, it would be the idea that chaos is part of the world’s primary wiring and only man is truly looking out for the interests of man in the cosmic battle against it.

Not so, in Genesis. There, the world is very good. Other portions of Scripture will work the poetic imagery of the sea as a barely controlled enemy, but in the Genesis creation, the sea is just one more purely material force among many. The waters of the deep divide at command, above from below, seas from land, just as the darkness flees the light, and the waters and land team when God demands that they do so.

World trouble is born in Genesis 3, not Genesis 1 or 2. The serpent comes as an enemy to entice the man and woman into rebellion against God. As regents over God’s world, the creation is cursed by their sin and not by the presence of the serpent, malicious as he is. The source of world evil, of world chaos, is found not in the sea, serpent, or Satan, but in the rebellious heart of man himself. Satan may tempt and lure, seduce and deceive, but it is man’s own selfish heart that spawns evil in the world. The fault of man is not his failure to create the right kinds of systems, cultures, laws, or institutions, but the fact that none of these are immune to the influence of his corrupt heart. Satan may seek our ruin, but man’s greatest enemy is himself.

You can debate the literalness of the snake and look for scientific evidence of his curse in his namesakes, but I want to understand his role in the creation story, the meaning and influence of his words, and the impact that he had on bringing human evil into God’s good world, and how we, the children of Adam and Eve can find stability, restoration, and redemption in the world that we, and not he, ruined.

 

1A global flood is not necessary in the Hebrew reading of Genesis 6-8. In fact, evidence, as I’ve seen it, points more strongly toward a massive regional flood in the Black Sea area, though some have brought forth some interesting data in support of the other.
2Some wonderful claims of this have come forth of late by those looking at DNA records, as well as genetic evidence for a spontaneous explosion of species around the same time mere tens of thousands of years ago.
3These serpents are usually the visual double of the primordial sea, the great enemy of creation. Leviathan shows up in Job 41, Psalms 74 and 104, and Isaiah 27. Rahab shows up in Job 9, Psalm 87, and Isaiah 30. Labu appears without name in Ezekiel 29.  We have great adversaries rising as beasts from the sea in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13. There are more.
4Revelation 12 and 20.
5i.e. standing outside the created order, but wholly present in its operation, flow, and purpose, making Himself known to His creatures. 

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All Digging Deeper into the Word Studying the Bible

What Kind of Book is Genesis? The Book of Creation as Ancestor Epic

Author: Andrew Sargent Ph.D., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM

 

What Kind of Document is Genesis?

The way you answer that question will dramatically impact how you read Genesis. 

When reading fiction, you expect to be entertained. When reading a law book, you expect to learn the rules of society. If you try to read Genesis the same way you read the Psalms or Revelation, you will quickly run into problems. 

So, to return to our question, What kind of document is Genesis? 

Is Genesis a myth? Is Genesis akin to works like the Canaanite Baal epic where Baal earns his kingship by defeating the sea dragon, Yamm, or perhaps like the Babylonian creation story about Marduk’s defeat of the sea goddess Tiamat, called the Enuma Elish?   

Well, one thing we can say with confidence is that Genesis does not bear the marks of any of the myths that were common in the days of Abraham, nor in all the years of the Israelites. 

Another thing we can say with confidence is that Genesis, being largely stories about historical figures, presents itself as a historical document. Knowing this certainly does not mean, however, that we easily understand the nature of ancient history writing, the skill of woven story, or the purpose of telling these particular stories as they are told.

 

Genesis is History

So, if Genesis is History, what kind of history is it? Is Genesis cold, academic inquiry, or does the author hope to impact the thoughts and actions of the reader through it? Is he preaching?

Well, we might be interested to know that the ancient Israelites regarded their sacred history texts as prophetic literature. Through the prophets, God inspired a proclamation and interpretation of the past that was designed to preach. Therefore, these stories are theology, however, rooted they may be in actual historical events.

Now an important point when reading biblical history is that you must know where to look to find the message God has for you in it. Some think that the telling of the story points you to an event that you are expected to recreate in your imagination and then respond to in your heart. They think that the inspired message is then found in your heart’s response to events as the text helps you imagine them. 

We see the flaw in this perspective most keenly when reading the Gospels. Each gospel tells the story of Jesus exactly the way each inspired author wished to tell it. When most of us read them, however, rather than studying the details of each gospel exactly as it is written, we treat each telling of an event as a resource for details that we can use to imagine the story. Matthew tells us part, Mark tells us part, Luke throws in some new points, and, in a few instances, John may even give us an extra tidbit to chew on. We gather all these facts, iron out seeming contradictions, and then we spin a whole new version of the story replete with all the tidbits from all the Gospel writers. Then we meditate upon the event as we imagine it, and listen for God’s word to us. 

This is not how the gospel writers wanted us to do it. Each author crafted the stories in their histories using the necessary terms, grammar, literary relationships, and structures needed to deliver their message. Because the author used common communication symbols and literature processes of his day, the intended audience could be reasonably expected to use all of them to discern the message. Each story preaches into a context in such a way that those living there at that time could grasp what was being said to them. 

Wow! That sounds complicated, it can be but have no fear. I’ll give you the skinny on exactly what kind of history Genesis is, exactly what lens will prove most beneficial to you when reading it. 

 

Genesis is an Ancestor Epic

So, here it is! Genesis is an Ancestor Epic.

Ancestor Epics are collections of stories that ancient tribes told themselves about how they became a people… indeed, about how they almost failed to become a people. Circumstances arose that once threatened their future existence as a people but their God saved them. For had Sarah been kept by Pharaoh they would not exist. If Rebekah had remained barren, they would not exist. Had Esau killed Jacob they would not exist. But they have become a people, because Yahweh had a plan for them and overcame those situations on their behalf, and dozens more, in order to bring about His plan in and through them.

There are two main divisions in the Genesis Ancestor Epic. We find their Primordial History in Genesis 1-11 and their Patriarchal History in Genesis 12-50.

 

The Patriarchal History

The Patriarchal History looks at the circumstances that (save for the grace & mercy of Yahweh who loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives) would have overtaken Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the 12 tribal fathers. These include barrenness, wars, famines, captured wives, political struggles over land and water and intermarriage, divine judgments, competing heirs, dead childless heirs, pre-tribal jealousies, and betrayed heirs.

 

The Primordial History

The Primordial History looks at issues of threat more broadly, considering the threats to yet older ancestors, the ancestors of all men. Had the world remained a barren, anti-creational, dark, and landless waste, they would not exist. Had God not made a plan of redemption when Adam and Eve fell, they would not exist. Had God not acted to check human evil with the flood, they would not exist. Had God not spared Noah and his family, they would not exist. Had Abraham not been a man of faith, waking up to the One Holy Creator of all, they would not be a people. 

God’s plans, God’s purposes, remain unthwarted whatever men may do. What remains for those preserving the stories is to live well in the world which YHWH has created. They are called to fulfill His purposes in it. This is why he continually saves them from manifold threats, and the greatest of these threats is their own corrupt hearts and their own wanton stupidity. 

 

Genesis Shares Foundational Theology

Through Genesis, the nation of Israel spends a millennium sitting around the metaphorical campfire with their ancestors. There, they hear the stories of how they almost failed to become a people. They tell how the One Holy Creator of all saved them and continues to save them because He chose them from among all the peoples of the earth to fulfill a corporate mission. He chose them because of the great faith of their father Abraham, who showed them how to continue in the good favor of Yahweh. God is at work in the world; the Israelites are His chosen tool; He preserved and continues to preserve them from extinction so that they might be the People of God, instruments of his Glory in the world. 

Genesis, therefore, preaches some pretty foundational theology about the nature of reality. As an ancestor epic, it establishes their worldview, telling them where they came from, who they are, and what their reason for being is. It tells them what’s wrong with the world and the part they play as instruments of God in making it right. 

Use this as a lens for reading Genesis. Ask yourself: If I were an Israelite, struggling with the tension between what the prophets are telling me about God, man, and reality and what the pagans all around me are telling me about them, what would Genesis be preaching to me? What would I learn about God, man, and reality from reading it?

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