Bereshit (Genesis 1:1 – 6:8)

GENESIS 1:1 – 2:3

SPOTLIGHT
This text has been read mostly for what is not here. Notably absent are answers to questions like, “what was here before the world existed?” Nor does this text answer questions science might ask about origins. It is not, in fact, a straightforward narrative of an event. It is a poetic list of facts about the world as it is, and how it is made to support life and have potential for blessing. A summary of the actual contents of Genesis 1 would be as follows. In a primordial time God created the heavens and the earth. The world was a barren waste at that time, unformed and lacking order. Yet God’s spirit was hovering over Tehom (the primordial deep ocean whose name here alludes to the mythical dragon, Tiamat, who is thereby demythologized). God spoke “light” — not the thing itself, as in photons and energy, but the time period of “light” on the earth — into being. God made order on the earth by causing a period of light and a second period of darkness to alternate. This was the first day of creation and he saw that it was good. Then God spoke into existence a separation between waters on earth and waters in the heavens, creating order again in the form of a space for life to exist (atmosphere). This was the second day and it too was good. Day 3 was separation of dry land from ocean. Day 4 was about setting objects in the sky to give light and to mark days, years, and the calendar seasons related to Israel’s festivals (in the future). On day 5, God spoke into being the creatures of water and sky, including sea monsters, swarming and creeping things, and birds and fish. God spoke a blessing over these life forms in sky and sea. On Day 6, God spoke into being the creatures on land and then made a special creature like him in ways no other creature would be. This creature, the human being, was in God’s image, bearing his likeness, and was made to rule over other creatures. God spoke a blessing over human beings, that they would become numerous on earth and rule other creatures. God gave plant life to the creatures, including the human being, as food. Then God surveyed his work and found it very good. So on the seventh day, like a Near Eastern king, God enjoyed his work by ceasing and pausing to celebrate. This prefigured another of Israel’s future celebrations, the Sabbath. What we see from this summary is that God had a purpose in making the world, ordering it in a certain way to follow regular patterns and maintain regular boundaries. The purpose was to give the blessing of life to creatures, plants, and above all to the human beings made in his image. The world, though it looks evil in many ways, is good and God’s purpose in making it was not to cause pain or to curse us. His purpose is blessing. Inasmuch as the world does not seem so “good” and our condition does not seem so “blessed,” there is an inconsistency between reality and God’s purpose. How do we explain the inconsistency? Do we deny that the world is good? Or do we assume God has a solution? By placing Genesis 2-3 after Genesis 1, the unknown editor of Torah suggests there is more to the story.

OUTLINE
Prologue to creation (1), Day One (2-5), Day Two (6-8), Day Three (9-13), Day Four (14-19), Day Five (20-23), Day Six (24-31), Day Seven (2:1-3).

OVERVIEW
No action takes place in vs. 1, which is, rather, a summary of what follows in 1:2-2:3. That is, we should not read vs. 1 as if God created a blank planet which was chaotic and then added order afterward. It should be translated, “In the primordial time, God created the heavens and the earth.” Vs. 2 begins the story and it does not begin at the origin of things. Inexplicably, vs. 2 begins the story with the earth orderless and chaotic. There is no indication how it came to be that way. This echoes Egyptian and Mesopotamian accounts in which a watery chaos existed before the earth was ordered and shaped. Furthermore, the fact that “darkness was over the face of Tehom [the deep],” is a deliberate allusion to Tiamat, the chaos dragon representing the salt waters who pre-existed earth in Mesopotamian myth (Cassuto). The Hebrew Tehom is written as an indefinite noun or a name, and it is linguistically cognate to the Akkadian name Tiamat (Cassuto). Unlike the myth, however, God does not do battle with Tehom, but is instantly master of it. His Spirit hovered over it, like a bird over its nest, ready to cause life-giving order to form on it. On the first day, God made periods of daylight and darkness. This is not the origin of photons (light itself) but the meaning of “let there be light” is clarified by vs. 5, “God called the light day” (Walton, Lost World). The second day (1:6-8) is virtually incomprehensible to modern readers because we fail to understand the ancients had primitive notions of earth science or think that the Bible would know of modern discoveries about the earth. The authors of Genesis believed the earth was a flat continent of land held up by pillars and covered above by a firmament which held up waters over the land. This “firmament” was a sheet or ceiling of unknown substance and the waters it held up over the earth were divided into chambers for rain and hail. This is evidenced in numerous references in the Bible to what John Walton calls “old world science” and Cassuto documents the use of such ideas in Biblical poems from Genesis to Job. Day Three (1:9-13) concerns bounding the chaotic waters, in which human life is impossible, and making space for humanity (Walton, Lost World). In Egyptian and Mesopotamian myth the practice of flood-plain agriculture (humans regulating the river flood cycle with irrigation ditches) is explained by origin stories about the gods regulating the waters. Likewise, God bounds the seas and other waters so vegetable life can thrive and feed humankind. The fourth day (1:14-19) is about the sun, moon, and stars as markers of the seasons, Sabbaths, and festivals of the Torah. Genesis chapter one is thought to have been written by the priests of Jerusalem (the P source in the documentary hypothesis – see Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?). They surmised that God’s revelation of the Tabernacle was based on creation (ancient temples were microcosms of the earth and heavens, see Walton, Lost World). Therefore, God’s purpose in the sun, moon, and stars was to mark festival days and agricultural seasons (months from the moon, years from the sun and constellations, festival times based on the moon cycle, etc.). Day Five (1:20-23) is about filling the heavens and waters with life. The sea creatures of vs. 21 are tanninim in Hebrew (see Isa 27:1 and Ezek 29:3, sea dragon). Cassuto says naming this particular creature, and no other is specifically named, is a deliberate rebuttal of gentile myths about the gods battling sea dragons and the counter-claim by Israel’s priests that the sea creatures are merely a species like any other under God’s kingship. The sixth day (1:24-31) is about life on the land including human life. Vs. 27 breaks out of prose and into poetry, because this is a way of highlighting it as a crux of the chapter (Cassuto). What Genesis One is really about is human existence and how God made it possible. He did so as the Father of human beings, and we, the children, are in his image like a child is in its father’s likeness. This is the priestly argument against the gentile myths and their view of humans as slaves of the gods. The blessing of fruitfulness is not a command, but a divinely ordained promise of good things for human beings, of thriving in the world as the species blessed above all others. Over each of the days God says they are good. This is to eradicate the notion that the world is bad, governed by demons, and that man is the prey of evil forces. We are, rather, the potential masters of earth’s destiny and living in a world that is essentially good. Only in the conclusion to Day Six does God say it was “very good,” indicating that with the creation of human beings the purpose of the cosmos has reached its high point. Day Seven is related to the concept of ancient kings resting after building projects and enjoying the fruits of their labors (Cassuto, Walton). Periods of seven days and multiples of seven days for building projects were considered ideal in Mesopotamia (Cassuto). The cosmos is God’s palace and he enjoys it on the seventh day, which prefigures the Sabbath day of the Torah (because the priests who wrote Genesis One assume the Tabernacle and Torah revelations are founded in creation truth).

GENESIS 2:4-19

SPOTLIGHT
Human life is cradled in pain and misery. The world we call our home has not only beauty, but also tragedy. The writers of the Hebrew Bible did not hesitate to describe life as painful and tragic. “Let the day perish on which I was born,” said Job (3:3). “Consider the work of God,” mused Kohelet (the preacher in Ecclesiastes), “who can make straight what he has made crooked?” (7:13). “I suffer your terrors wherever I turn,” complained the Psalmist (88:16). And so we find, in the second creation account, that when God made us, we were initially innocent of all the realities of mortality, competition, oppression, and natural disaster. The writer seems to contemplate the idea that God would have introduced us slowly to our destiny of pain, even shielded us from it in a garden with access to unending life by means of a tree. The very first realization of pain happened even in that garden, as the Man realized he was alone. Yet none of the animals satisfied his desire for companionship and, perhaps, his unrealized need for sexual love. The story reassures us, however, that God’s intention in making us was good. God did not make us to abandon us to pain. Furthermore, we see God’s desire to grant us unending life and to place us in a garden that is well-watered, which is mixed with his intention, apparently, to leave us in a world where pain and suffering are real. God’s way is neither complete sheltering nor complete abandonment. There is a way within a larger way, a garden within the world, a reality of joy and desire amid the reality of our mortality and doom. We find ourselves in the present with a desire for something more. We see eternity and desire it. We taste joy and want more of it. This too is from God whose tree of knowledge carried the perception of both what is bad and what is good. Therefore, the Hebrew Bible also speaks of desire fulfilled. In a fitting phrase about desire and human yearning, Proverbs 13:12 says, “Desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

OUTLINE
The generations of heaven and earth (4), before agriculture the Lord God breathed life into Man (5-7), God’s garden and the two trees (8-9), the four rivers of the garden (10-14), the man appointed to work the garden and commanded not to eat of the tree of knowledge (15-17), the man names all animals in search of a companion (18-19).

OVERVIEW
The second account of creation begins with a genealogical introduction, the first of eleven in the book of Genesis. The odd thing is that this genealogical section is about earth and heaven, as opposed to human characters. Perhaps this is a poetic way of introducing the initial absence of human beings. It may be a way of insinuating that our origins as human beings can be traced back to the ground and sky. Vs. 4 has a deliberate poetic structure involving a reversal of the order of heaven and earth: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that Adonai Elohim made earth and heaven.” The account then launches into a strange description of the nature of the earth prior to human beings populating it. Two features of this concept stand out: earth was barren prior to human beings and the ground was watered from below. We might ask how the author knows this. What is the source of this unusual bit of knowledge? How did the idea pass down to an author in the Bronze Age (or perhaps Iron Age) that once the earth was barren and watered from below? One theory is that this notion is a supposal based on theology, the theology of blessing found in the Torah. Nahum Sarna (JPS Commentary) observes that in Torah rain is a blessing from God, and since human beings were not yet on the earth, there had as yet been no rain from heaven. Perhaps this bit of theology, combined with a literary tradition from other primordial myths is how the author of Genesis came to believe that the ground was once watered from below. The stories of Mesopotamia and Egypt about the pre-human era make much ado about water, agriculture, and irrigation. As is the case with the Nile in Egypt, and the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, floodwaters and irrigation canals were crucial to the beginnings of human culture. As for God planting a garden, Umberto Cassuto documents the literary tradition of a “garden of the gods” in the Ancient Near East. “Eden” is related to a root word for moisture, and so probably means something like “a well-watered place.” When introducing the tree of life, the text uses the definite article “the.” Cassuto says, “The Torah mentions this tree with the definite article, as something well-known to the reader.” He suggests there must have been traditional stories about it already, stories now lost to us. The tree of knowledge of good and evil seems to be about broader awareness of the world, not specifically moral knowledge. Cassuto builds a case against reading moral knowledge into the phrase “good and evil” here. Before eating the fruit of this tree they were like children, innocent, and unaware of what was around them. Many texts in the Hebrew Bible suggest knowledge of “good and evil” as a sign of exiting childhood and growing to maturity. Prior to eating, the first human being and his wife were unaware of the issues of life, the pain as well as joy of living. They were sheltered and lived at ease. Mature knowledge was suddenly thrust upon them, which was difficult to handle emotionally and developmentally. Cassuto says, “The primary purpose of the Torah in these chapters is to explain how it is that in the Lord’s world, the world of the good and beneficent God, evil should exist and man should endure pain and troubles and calamities.” The Lord God took some dust from such a region and formed Man (like the Egyptian deity Khnum fashioning humankind on a potter’s wheel, as well as similar Mesopotamian and Greek myths). The word “formed” is the same used of an artisan crafting pottery. Again, though such images bother overly literal moderns, the author of Genesis did not shy away from poetic and mythic language. The Bible takes up the mythical themes believed by all people in those days and gives them a new meaning: humanity is unique, formed by the artisan Creator via his imparted breath, and placed in charge of God’s garden and over the creatures.

GENESIS 2:20 – 3:21

SPOTLIGHT
Though God had said in the first creation account that this world he made was “good” and even “very good,” a dissonant note has sounded in Genesis 2:18. “It is not good,” said God. What was not good? The aloneness of the Man. In need of an “ideal partner” (not “help meet” as per the King James Bible or “suitable helper” as per other translations), God provides for gender differences and marriage as a part of our world. The Genesis story celebrates the power of the male-female relationship as a chief happiness for the human race. Life is full of potential for joy and misery. Romantic love and marriage are one of several joys depicted in the story of the primordial Man and Woman. The desire to live forever, our thirst for knowledge, our drive to possess things that are forbidden, our tendency to rationalize — the Genesis story unravels the human psyche. Life is full of “good” and “not good.” Among the chief joys of life, Genesis highlights romantic love and marriage. Like the garden in which the Man and Woman have been placed, romantic love is a lush place of joy and desire. It has perils within it, however, such as the desire to possess and control. There is a tree of knowledge of good and evil which represents our desire to take what is not ours or is not yet ours. But there is also a tree of life, a sustaining, joyful source for us which can potentially be found in the male-female bond. To be alone is “not good.” To have love is “good.” Gardens require tending. They grow beauty. They provide rest. In the words of the JPS translation, Ecclesiastes 9:9 advises a man, “Enjoy happiness with a woman you love all the fleeting days of life that have been granted to you under the sun.” The Hebrew Bible explores the human condition and reminds us of one of its highest rewards, to love and be loved by another.

OUTLINE
No companion found for Adam (20), the woman made from man (21-23), the bond of marriage established (24), nakedness and innocence (25), the serpent tempts and defeats the woman (3:1-5), the woman eats and gives to the man (6), they see their nakedness and lose innocence (7), God walks in his Garden (8), God confronts the man and woman (9-13), God’s curse on the serpent (14-15), God’s curse on the woman (16), God’s curse on the man (17-19), the woman is Eve (20), God makes them skin garments (21).

OVERVIEW
The second creation account is very much an exploration of the human condition. Our mortality and our knowledge have already been treated in this ancient tale, and the subject now turns to another of the great conditions of our existence: love and companionship. Though the Man is placed in God’s palatial garden, all is not well. Mastery over the animals is not sufficient. The male human being needs the female to be complete. In Hebrew the word for man is ish and woman is ishah, so “this one shall be called ishah for from ish she was taken.” The perspective of this story may seem odd to us, as the writer considers the difference between human relationships with the animal world and the male-female relationship. Males and females are almost viewed as if we could be separate species, but not really because we are made of the same stuff. The Woman is an ideal partner for the Man. The King James Bible translated the phrase found in both vs. 18 and 20 as “help meet.” Other translations have rendered it “fit helper” or “suitable helper.” The phrase in Hebrew is עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ (eizer kenegdō). Of course this Bible verse has long been at the center of the social issue of male-female relationships in Western culture. As our culture has changed, readers have been able to see something in the phrase that was practically invisible before: the word for “helper” does not convey the notion of subservience. This can be seen easily by the use of this term for God in a number of verses (e.g., 1 Sam 7:12; Psa 115:9). A better translation would be “ideal partner” (see John Walton, Genesis: NIV Application Commentary). The female is an ideal partner for the male, and they are “bone of bone, flesh of flesh” together. Vs. 24 is striking in that it pictures the male leaving his parents to bind with the female, whereas the usual social practice in the ancient world was for the woman to move into the home of the man and his parents. The verse is all the more striking because it cannot be taken literally about moving from one household to another. Therefore, it’s meaning can only be something deeper, about transferring affections and loyalty. The writer of Genesis observes the human condition and finds the husband-wife bond to be one of the most meaningful elements of that condition. The author depicts them at this juncture, just before they are tempted and rebel against their divine parent, as being naked and not ashamed of that condition. Most commentators have seen innocence related to sexuality here, though John Goldingay (Genesis For Everyone, Part 1) sees nakedness as a kind of poverty (they don’t even have clothes on their backs). Both interpretations are fitting. The desire to acquire things (greed) and to possess or conquer romantically (jealousy, lust, control) are part of the human condition. By depicting human beings as blissfully unaware of the possibilities of evil suggests to us that evil is not inherent to human existence. We could imagine life as people without harmful attitudes and motivations, much less evil actions, ruining our way of life. As for the story of the snake — one of God’s creatures, the craftiest as we are told — tempting the woman and the man, the author again shows us something vital to the human condition. Eve and Adam are not moral super beings, but are as easily temptable as you and I. Certain theologies of a “fall” and “original sin” lack support at this juncture, since we find no evidence of humans “before the fall” being of a different moral strength than afterward (see Goldingay’s introduction to Genesis and Exodus in the Sheffield Biblical guides series). Readers have been trained by later theologies to see many other things that do not exist in this text. There is no mention of Satan. In a brilliant story, which we need not assume the writer believed to be a historical event, we find the human psyche unraveled. We question our benefactors. We jealously lust for that which is not ours. We play word games. We latch on the partial truths as justifications for our own selfish actions, with too little regard for their effect on others. We spoil the joy we could enjoy with our acquisitive drive and desire to possess and control. Thus in the story the Man and Woman took what was forbidden, questioned God’s words to them, chose to distrust their patron and parent, engaged in rationalization and distortion of the truth, and they succeeded both in acquiring the wisdom they craved and in losing the joy that was already theirs. Readers trained to see a “fall” and “original sin” in this story go on to make the three curses into a complete “fall” of the world from paradise to meaninglessness and death. But in reality, there are four specific results of the actions of the Man and Woman according to the story: they lose access to the life sustaining tree, there will be enmity between snakes and people, there will be pain in childbirth, and men (viewed here as agricultural workers) will have to expend great energy to grow food. If we read the story for its own content, instead of importing a lot of content from later theologies into it, we find it already quite brilliant. Death is our greatest complaint as human beings. Snakes are small but greatly feared. Children, our greatest joy, come dangerously and painfully into the world. And survival occupies nearly all of our time and energy, to the point that we feel exhausted and long for rest. It could have been otherwise.

GENESIS 3:22 – 4:18

SPOTLIGHT
Sphinxes (cherubim) guard the way back into the garden, a way we apparently would like to find again as a human race but will not. The Man and Woman in the origin story had what we long for: rest, beauty, peace, marital love, and access to unending life. Who wouldn’t want to find that again if the garden could somehow be rediscovered? Sphinxes in the ancient world guarded the holy. Thus, in the Torah, sphinxes (cherubim) were on the ark cover, which was God’s footstool (his invisible throne being understood to exist above the ark). Finding themselves banished from the garden, the human beings of the primordial time experienced the formative stages of human evil. In the Cain and Abel story, Genesis explores violence and its root causes as the corruptor of life on earth. “If you do well, [you will stand] upright,” says God. “If not, sin is crouching low at your door” and desires to bring you low with it. History has proven these words true. Human beings have not done well. Our situation is precarious and life is full of danger. But the text of Genesis offers us hope as individuals, even if we cannot say humanity as a whole will find this hope. “You can rule it,” said God regarding our relative position to sin. This is not about the (later) theological debate about whether we can be “sinlessly perfect,” but God in this story says we can conquer base desire and remove ourselves from the root causes of violence and envy. Every reader must ask: do I believe the perspective of this story? Can I experience this for myself? From rest in a divine garden to exile in a violent world, our home has changed. The positioning of cherubim to prevent our return to the garden seemingly foreshadows something, the very possibility that there is a future rest for us and that the way back is only through and by the power of God.

OUTLINE
God places the Garden off-bounds and sets Cherubim as guards (22-24), birth of Cain and Abel (4:1-2), Cain’s jealousy (3-7), the murder of Abel (8), God punishes Cain (9-16), Cain’s line down to Lamech (17-18).

OVERVIEW
“Like one of us.” This is the second time in the Genesis story that God has referred to an “us.” In 1:26 we find God saying, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.” Interpretations through the centuries have focused on three possible meanings: God is referring to himself and the supernatural beings (angels), to himself in the plural sense because God is in some way plural (as in the doctrine of the trinity), or this is an example of a “plural of majesty” (a figure of speech in which a singular person is referred to with the plural indicating majesty). In Hebrew, the phrase in 3:22 is about human beings becoming like any one member of a group, הָאָדָם הָיָה כְּאַחַד מִמֶּנּוּ, ha’adam hahah ke’achad mimenu, “the human has become like one from among us.” The reference has to be to a group of beings who exist separately from humankind. The logic of the verse suggests these beings must transcend human qualities in some way. The only valid options are gods or angelic beings. We find in other parts of the Hebrew Bible just such a concept, the divine council, and assembly of supernatural beings (angels) who can at times be referred to as “gods.” See Psa 82:1; 89:6-8(5-7); 29:1; Deut 32:8 (in older manuscripts, reflected for example in the ESV translation). What does the divine council have to do with the Genesis story? In acquiring knowledge rapidly, human beings have become more like God and the angelic beings who make up the divine council. God considers this rapid ascent of humans to be too much — too much perhaps for us to handle. The Man and Woman are expelled from the garden. A few story points stand out as significant. The Man is put out in order to “till the soil he was taken from.” This is a statement about human life in general: rather than resting in a garden we are destined to work hard for survival. But we, apparently, might want to find our way back into the garden, so the way is blocked by a fiery sword and beings known as cherubim (singular cherub, plural cherubim). Popular images in art have misled people into thinking that cherubim are either winged human beings (an image of angels that has become fixed into art) or — worse yet — toddlers with wings. Cherubim are sphinxes, like those of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The biblical word כְּרֻבִים keruvim (cherubim) is from the Akkadian kuribu (Sarna). And kuribu refers to the man-headed bull figures found outside of Mesopotamian temples and at city gates. They often had the body of a bull, the wings of an eagle, and the head and torso of a man. They were known as well by other names, such as lamassu and the related composite animal-human figures, the shedu. When the Man and Woman are banished, they are put out to the east. In the Torah’s descriptions of the temple, west is the direction of increasing holiness and east is away from that holiness (perhaps related to the unholy human tradition of worshipping the rising sun). In their new home in exile, the Man and Woman do not feel separated from God. He continues to be part of their life and the life of their children (a point John Goldingay emphasizes, see “Introduction” in the bibliography). Eve bears Cain and says, “I have created a man with Adonai.” Umberto Cassuto argues convincingly that she means, “Adonai and I share in common the ability to bring people into existence.” Cain, whose name means “created,” and Abel, whose name means “vanity” (reflecting perhaps his brief life), become part of a story of jealousy and violence. Readers have wondered why God preferred Abel’s offerings to those of Cain. The story does not seem to be about the reason for God’s preference, but the results of the jealousy. And Cain seems to be like those (of us) who worship God in seeming silence. “Why are you angry?” God asks. The next sentence (Genesis 4:7) has been one of the most difficult to understand in the book of Genesis and has drawn much attention. With inexorable logic, Umberto Cassuto shows the logic of the language and what must be the meaning of God’s saying: “If you do well, upright [you will be]; if you do not do well, sin will be crouching low at your door [and bringing you down with it].” Contrary to a theology of the “fall” and “original sin,” God tells Cain that he is able to master his impulse to sin (as Goldingay sharply observes). Cain’s temptation and evil crime are not like the Man and Woman in the garden eating forbidden fruit. Cain’s deed is far worse. In his banishment, Cain asks for some protection from God and, remarkably, God grants it. Cain’s line is summed up in a genealogy and we hear about him no more.

EXCURSUS ON THE CHERUBIM
The cherubim are described in Ezekiel 1:6-11 and 10:14. Cherubim were depicted in golden statues on the cover of the Ark (Exod 25:18-22), they were depicted in the tapestry curtains of the sanctuary (Exod 26:31; 36:8, 35; 37:7-9), were used in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kgs 6:23-35; 7:36; 8:6-7), and in Ezekiel’s vision of another temple (Ezek 41:18-20, 25). The idea that God is enthroned above the cherubim is repeated throughout the prophets and Psalms (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2; 2 Kgs 19:15; Isa 37:16; Psa 80:2; 99:1). Milgrom (Leviticus: Anchor Bible) shows that the Ark is God’s footstool and it is understood the throne is invisible and that the Presence will appear above the footstool. That the cherubim block the way back to the Garden is fitting, since they are the guardians of the holiness of God’s Presence.

GENESIS 4:19-22

SPOTLIGHT
Religious communities have a love-hate relationship with culture. Some Jewish and Christian communities form their own alternative culture. We might think of ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing the same clothing style as their founders in 18th century Poland, as if refusing to change with the times can actually preserve the past. Or we could look at evangelical Christianity in recent history seeking to form its own sub-culture with replacements for media, music, literature, and more. Are people committed to God to be a part of human culture or not? Are we to replace the larger culture with our own alternative one? Are we to assimilate to the surrounding culture where we find our fit and express our devotion to God within the broader culture? Or are we to be part of culture and be a force to improve and transform culture by wisdom and the power of love? The Genesis story considers the origins of human culture, and unlike the beliefs of some other nations in the Ancient Near East, the Torah claims the power to invent cultural conventions has always rested with people and not gods. The blessing of God and imparting to us his nature has vested us with the power to invent and teach and pass down a legacy of culture. The author of Genesis observes what should be obvious to us: culture is a mixed blessing, bringing forth the good and the bad, the graceful and the violent, the beneficial and the monstrously oppressive. If anything, Genesis depicts human culture as the place from which people call on God and potentially live for God. As the Torah develops, we see in it a kind of wisdom that transforms culture from within rather than avoiding it.

OUTLINE
Cain’s line from Lamech to Tubal-Cain.

OVERVIEW
Cain’s great fear after he murdered Abel was blood-revenge. God did not withhold mercy from Cain, but put a mark of protection on him. The very ground itself would reject Cain, so that he had nowhere to escape the curse. As a fugitive and wanderer “east of Eden,” Cain built a city and had children. One of the themes of the text is exactly how violent human beings can make a living in the world that curses violence. Building cities, political power, and economies is the human way of wringing a living from the ground. Another theme through this section is vengeance, blood-revenge, a custom of the ancient world still a cultural norm in the period covered by the Torah. To some degree blood-vengeance was allowed in Torah, which is a parallel case to other things God permitted while at the same time he established their cessation. Slavery, for example, was permitted in Torah, but also undermined by the higher ways of Torah so that it would not always be permitted. The case with blood revenge is the same. Torah assumes the culture of vengeance, providing protections (refuge cities) and legal reforms (only intentional murder punishable by death via the court). As the reader comes to 4:19-22, the story is confusing because the narrator does not comment with approval or disapproval concerning the various actions and accomplishments of human beings. That is precisely the purpose of this section of the story. Human civilization, as the author of Genesis presents it, is a cased of mixed results. Lamech took two wives. Though no comment is offered, the author of Genesis has already presented the ideal of one man and one woman. Various human beings form arts and occupations in the world (animal husbandry, music, metal smithing). Cassuto notes that in the surrounding cultures of the Ancient Near East, the gods were general credited with inventing occupations and arts. Genesis attributes them to human beings. Goldingay observes that this is surely related to God’s blessing on humankind, that we subdue creation and rule over it, making culture by the power divinely bestowed upon us. Human culture is both good and bad, graceful and violent, beneficial and at the same time cruelly based on the power of the few over the many. The inventive generation is the offspring of the seventh in the line of humankind (Lamech is the seventh starting with Adam). Walton notes that Cain’s line is not cursed and there is no dichotomy between a cursed Kenite (Cainite) race and a blessed Sethite race as some have supposed. The blessings of fertility and dominion extend to Cain’s line as to all humanity. Famously the line of Cain and Seth have doublets, sometimes identical in spelling and other times similar. The line of Cain: Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, Lamech, Jabal/Jubal/Tubal-Cain. The line of Seth: Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah.

GENESIS 4:23 – 5:24

SPOTLIGHT
Genesis artfully contrasts the seventh generations of two lines of human beings. Lamech is the pinnacle of a movement in one direction and Enoch the other. Seven generations of Cain bring us to Lamech who says, in effect, “He slapped me and I killed him.” The fruit of that direction of humanity is violence and that will lead to the destruction of human beings in a flood. By contrast the other line begins to call on the name of God and in the seventh generation we find Enoch, who walked with God in this life and the one beyond. It is not difficult to interpret the meaning of Genesis at this point. There are two ways. One concerns itself with power, greed, vengeance. The other concerns itself with calling on God and walking with him.

OUTLINE
Lamech’s song of violence (23-24), Seth’s line and humanity calling on God (25-26), prelude to Adam’s genealogy (5:1-2), Adam’s line to Enoch (3-24).

OVERVIEW
The motif of Lamech’s song is blood-vengeance and, more generally, violence. These are the very reasons God will destroy humanity with a flood in the next section. God has already rejected blood-vengeance in the unfolding story. In mercy, God marked Cain with protection, vowing to avenge Cain seven-fold (see 4:15) if anyone chose to disregard the ban by killing him. The logic of the story seems convoluted: God will take vengeance on human beings if they take vengeance on Cain. But the underlying premise is that vengeance belongs to God, whose judgment is perfect, and not to human beings. In the later regulations of the Torah, punishment for killing can include execution, but only by the judgment of a competent and unbiased court. Lamech, however, takes God’s saying about seven-fold vengeance as license to increase violence. In his song he refers to a specific incident, an incident Torah does not convey, in which he killed a man for a mere blow. The idea is, “He slapped me and I killed him” (Cassuto). He multiplies blood-vengeance to a higher level. This is the kind of violence that is permeating the earth to which Genesis will return in 6:11. The depressing line of Cain now yields to the slightly more hopeful line of Seth (4:25-26). People begin calling on the name of God, which is to say they recognize his kingship and hold him in reverent awe. It is characteristic of Genesis to end a section on a happy note (see 6:8, “Noah found favor”). Also, the parallels in the lines of Cain and Seth (including some similar and some identical names) come to their high point in the seventh generation (the number seven being a favorite of the author of Genesis). Instead of Lamech (Cain’s line), the seventh in Seth’s line is Enoch, and of him we read that he walked with God. About Enoch’s walking with God we can say a few things. First, the expression is used twice, once of his lifetime and once of his passing from this world. In his lifetime, walking with God meant the same thing as in 6:9 where we read that Noah walked with God (lived a righteous life, at least in comparison with his violent generation). In Enoch’s passing from the world, the expression more than hints at a different kind of walking, as in journeying to the realm above. The literary artistry of the passage is compelling: to walk with God in this world is to walk with him in the world to come.

GENESIS 5:25 – 6:8

SPOTLIGHT
God has feelings. His emotions about us, the children he made in his image, range from utter regret to joyful favor. Noah’s time and place was dark, one of the worst chapters in human history. Looking down on that time and place God “saw that every inclination of the thought’s of humanity’s heart was only evil all the time.” So God regretted. It is hard for us to imagine the All-Knowing experiencing an emotion like regret. We might wonder, “Can God make a mistake?” The words in Genesis depict God as experiencing something for the first time: the pain of seeing his children acting terribly. If this was all God felt, we might despair completely. If our Maker thinks of us only with disappointment, what hope is there? But the section ends on a high note: “But Noah found favor.” God’s regret is not absolute. Humanity’s dark side is not the end of the story. There is also a bright side. Genesis up to this point has contrasted two ways: violence and the will to power are one direction human beings go whereas calling on God and holding him in reverent awe is our other human direction. We have a choice, at least as individuals, which direction we want to belong to. We can be like Noah, finding favor instead of making our heavenly parent regret having made us. The way to obtain favor is not too difficult for us. Noah was no moral giant. Acknowledging God and holding him in reverent awe are the beginning of the better way.

OUTLINE
Methuselah to Noah (25-32), Sons of God and Nephilim (6:1-4), God’s decision to destroy but show favor to Noah (5-8).

OVERVIEW
One of the purposes of Genesis is to offer an alternative, Israelite view on popular subjects from the literature of the time. Origin myths in the nations surrounding Israel often involved the origin stories of the gods followed by accounts of wars between them resulting in the current condition of the world. By contrast, God speaks words from heaven and the world is given order that supports life. In some myths from other nations, human beings are an afterthought or even slaves here to provide food for and do work for the gods. Genesis shows human beings as the God-like creatures placed at the top of the order of the world. Stories from surrounding cultures included legendary lists of antediluvian (pre-flood) kings, whereas Genesis has it’s genealogies of Cain and Seth. In place of technologies given to man by the gods, Genesis shows the line of Cain developing civilization. And now, in this section, in place of the Titans and demi-gods of myth, Genesis has the Nephilim. They are the offspring of human women and the Sons of God. Cassuto argues that it is not as simple as saying the sons of God equal angels. “Angel” is simply the Greek word for messenger (malach in Hebrew), and refers to supernatural beings chosen by God to be messengers and servants carrying out his work in the world. We might assume that only some supernatural beings are designated by God as “angels.” Some supernatural beings are referred to as “evil spirits.” This brings us to the unusual term “nephilim”. We might compare it to two other terms used in the Bible for supernatural beings: cherubim (sphinxes) and seraphim (the six-winged attendants of God’s throne). The root word behind “nephilim” is the verb meaning “to fall.” Cassuto says this is not from the idea of “fallen angels,” as in supernatural beings who fell from heaven, but refers rather to the fact that nephilim ceased to exist on the earth. They “fell” to the sword. Unlike the Titans of myth they were not descended from deity but from created beings called the sons of God. God did not desire that any sons of the daughters of men should be immortal, so he purposed to end the Nephilim and keep man’s upper limit to a hundred and twenty years. The Nephilim did not disappear in the flood and neither did unions between sons of God and daughters of men cease. Vs. 4 indicates they were on earth both “then” and “later.” The flood was about humanity’s violence (as in the previous stories about blood-vengeance) and not due to the Nephilim. In spite of God’s decision to obliterate humanity and slow the spread of evil and violence, Noah found favor. The word for favor is the same word often rendered grace. Later theologies of “grace” are often imposed on the Hebrew Bible. Thus, for example, those holding to a theology of “imputed righteousness” assume that the only righteousness that “counts with God” is the kind God “imputes” to us through Jesus. Noah is a problem for such a theology and has to be explained. We should let the Hebrew Bible speak for itself and we see the simple assumption of the story that some people follow one way (calling on God) while others follow a different way (like Lamech, based on violence). Noah was favored (“shown grace”) because he was righteous. As for the state of the world in Noah’s time, it was a particularly dark period. Some people want to make the language about Noah’s time a description fitting humanity in any period (supporting a theology of “total depravity”). Indeed, Genesis says about Noah’s time “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Rather than taking this as a generic description of what human beings are like, Goldingay suggests it is a comment on those specific times. It would be like a historian writing about any of the darkest places and times in history. Goldingay uses the specific examples of the Armenian genocide, the Nazi era, the Rwandan massacre, and the terrible events at Darfur. Noah lived in a time and place like that. This created a strong emotion in God, even the emotion of regret, which is difficult for us to imagine God feeling since he knows all things in advance and surely knew this terrible era of human history would happen. The author of Genesis manages the tension artfully, contrasting God’s regret in making human beings with his favor toward Noah. Human beings are not a mistake. It is simply painful to God watching the process, the process in which free creatures can disappoint the heavenly parent. But this divine parental pain is redeemed in the joy God feels when human beings live according to his higher purpose for us.