In my Thursday morning bible study class we are going through Genesis, albeit slowly. Why? Because you miss a lot when you read it fast. You miss the nuance. You miss the way the translations move things around and hide things. You miss the euphemisms. You miss solid discussion about what Scripture meant, what it means, and what it can mean. And you miss ways to read it that may make it more interesting.
For instance, we were previewing Genesis 17 for next week. It is here we are introduced to El Shaddai, often translated as God Almighty (because of the Greek, not the Hebrew). Better, it is God All-Sufficient. I say better because there are different understandings of the Shaddai bit. My Jewish Study Bible says “God from the Mountain” (in the notes). The translation really depends upon where you think the Hebrew loan word came from.
Some suppose it is to be translated as “breasted one.” Only if we demand a gender for God do we start to wonder if God is a male or female. I do not. I think we have ways of describing God that includes mother, breasts, etc… We see this really developed with Sophia and Logos. But, I digress. This is supposed to be a funny post.
We are introduced to El Shaddai in Genesis 17, just a few verses before the covenant of circumcision was given. I don’t mean to cut you short here, but that’s dang near funny. Especially if you read it from the point of a Breasted God giving Abraham the command to take a knife to his 86 year old penis. As some in the class pointed out, I mean.
I would never laugh at such a prospect.
“It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it” – GK Chesterton.
In attempting to decide whether or not to place him and his self-inflicted death as a devotio, I examined his status before death (explained in chapter ____ below) as well as the intent. The story of Samson, I maintain, does not fit easily into our already too-gray categories. Because of that, I will place Samson first in the category of self-inflicted death and examine him as such, but will use him in a later chapter as a type of devotio. Before Samson’s life begins, it is announced via the angelical proclamation (Judges 13.2–20); however, there is nothing divine about him as a person. He does have great strength and a great mind, but this is due more to his vows than to a seminal merger of human and divine. After years of success against the Philistines, he succumbs to a trick by Delilah. Sometime later:
This is another event in Judges where a Jew dies in a contest between God and some foreign but cosmic adversary. In this case, the point is made clear when the mocking of the God of the Israelites precedes the death of Samson (Judges 16.23–24). If we compare this to the other suicides presented herein, it is the only one bearing the marks of a narrow definition of suicide. It is pre-mediated and planned. He is led out and is placed between two pillars, feigning weakness – which should lead us against the notion of a noble death. After imploring God’s help for vengeance against those who had blinded him, he says begs that his death be counted amount the Philistines:
While the blindness may be symbolic here, it should be noted the revenge motive is rather personal. He dies not to save Israel or as an action devoted to God, but as a way to kill others for the wrong that had been enacted against him. The whole of Samson’s story is rather important because it not only summarizes the history of Israel’s judges, but so too the cyclical formation of the Book of Judges. Ironically, it is God’s help allowing Samson to commit suicide, another cycle since it is God’s assistance that brings Samson into the world.
 I have to agree with Mays, et al., that “Samson’s death is not, strictly speaking, a suicide, since God grants his prayer for death, accepting him as an instrument through which to carry out the divine plan, (Harper’s Bible, 258);” however, with a broad definition of self-inflicted death is employed, then it does.
 Because of this statement, Samson’s death could be seen as a type of noble death. The Homeric Hecktor cries out just before his death, “Μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην, Ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι” (Illiad 23.304) while Arrians says of Alexander, “Μεγάλα ἔργα, καὶ τοῖς ἔπειτα πυθέσθαι ἄξια ἐργασάμενος οὐκ ἀσπουδεὶ ἀποθανεῖται” (De Exped. Alexand., 6.9).
 It should be noted that chapter 16 begins with a different situation for Samson. In previous chapters, the Spirit of God was present yet here, it is made clear that the Spirit of God had abandoned Samson, if not Israel as a whole.
This week’s reading will be Genesis 6–9, but I’m pretty sure this will take us a few weeks to get through so don’t make any giant reading efforts…because there is a flood of theology here. Sorry if the puns are so wooden, but I guess that ship has sailed.
“Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the toil of our hands.” Genesis 5.29
There is little wonder why Noah is such an enigmatic person, figuring heavily into later Jewish literature, including the New Testament. He, alone of all the human race, found favor in the eyes of God. He and his immediate family survived the great worldwide flood. Was it chance? Did he earn it?
It does not appear Noah was merited grace, but was divinely appointed to have grace, or favor in God’s eyes. If you look at what Lamech says, Noah was always meant to do what Noah did. I do not think we can look at it any other way except to say Noah was… shivers… preordained…. shivers…to do what he did.
In looking at this further, Cain’s line did not care nor really experience the curse. After all, they had time to build the industry of civilization as well as enjoy its luxury. They created poetry, music, and the cities of the antediluvian world. Seth and his descendents, however, seemed to dwell only on the land, worshiping God as evidenced by Enoch’s story.
But, then comes Lamech (son of Seth) who sees in the birth of his son the end of God’s cursing of Adam. Noah, whose name means “Rest,” flips the notion of the flood as giving rest to the gods. In Gilgamesh, the gods are tired of humans who cause all sorts of disturbances to the gods, thus they curse the humans by sending a flood. In Genesis, Noah is the Rest that undoes the curse given by God to the humans as well as the wickedness that has arisen to the ear of God.
The Mesopotamian gods sent the flood because the disturbances of the human world were preventing them from getting rest. So in that case, the flood provided rest for the gods. Here Noah is rather associated with bringing rest for people from the curse of the gods.1
We can look at the birth of Noah in several different ways. If we stick strictly to the Genesis account, we see something that doesn’t quite make it into our Western theology. The curse of Adam was upon the soil. Noah relieves that curse. (By the way, the soil is the same place from which Abel’s blood cries out.) He gives it rest (Sabbath, and if so, think of the implications of this consider the notion of Rest throughout Scripture).
If you look at Genesis 4 and 5, you will see a summarized, straight down the line, genealogy and history from Adam to Noah. But, beginning in Genesis 6, the story starts over with the history of the human race spreading over the earth. Then daughters are born. That’s when things start to mess up. The angels (sons of God) see them, fall in love, and do what angels and humans are apt to do, I guess. Before you get too far ahead, look at Numbers 13.33. The offspring of angel and humans were herculean heroes.
In the middle of this, God declares something missed in many translations.
In Genesis 6.3, the KJV and some others make it seem like God is saying He (or His Spirit) will not always be with the human race. Yet, other translations drive the point home better. (See here for different translations compared.)
In the ESV, Genesis 6.3 reads: Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”
The REB says it pretty much the same way: “My spirit will not remain in a human being for ever…” which is why the lifespan of the human is now to 120.
I think this fits well with the overall notion of God breathing into Adam and giving him a living soul. God’s breath, the divine spark, is placed into humans but cannot remain there long (thus, death).
Look again at the introduction to the story of the Flood. Genesis 6 doesn’t tell you much about when all of this is taking place. God gives humans 120 years, yet the genealogies are still extensively long. Shem lived 502 years! Genesis 6.4 says “in those days as well as later” meaning, possibly, the prologue here is not meant to be placed on a calendar, but to serve some grander purpose.
For some reason, the giants are placed in the prologue but not given as the cause of the Flood. What is the cause?
I think that once we really talk about Noah — what it means that he was to lift God’s curse of Adam’s sin, what he means that he “found favor” with God (Genesis 6.8), and how the prologue looks a whole lot different when one actually reads it, we are going to be done with our hour-ish!
There are some suggestions the Noahic flood is copied/modified/uses/borrows Babylonian flood stories. There are equal suggestions that Noah’s flood is a real event (even though some suggest while it was real it was real only for Noah’s world, i.e., an isolate geographical location).
If you examine the lineage of Cain and Seth, you will names that are either the same or phonetically similar:
For fun and I wouldn’t base a lot of theology on this, you can see this post here. It includes the name similarities and even some supposed hidden meanings in the names themselves.
Also, as we discussed last week, there are several possible reasons why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice but accepted Abel’s. One of them may have to do with Abel as the second son, a common theme in Scripture. Or, it could have something to do with the animal is always the sacrifice. But, I think we should look at the similarities in the Adam/Evan and Cain/Abel story. Both sin. Both are exiled. Of course, Cain is moved further away from Eden than Adam and Eve where. But, look at the similarities between the first clothing Adam chose — the fig leaf. God then took animal skins. Cain offered fruits and vegetables (figs?) but Abel offered after the pattern of God.
Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 5:32. ↩
I want to do something a little different with our reading of Genesis. As I have said from the beginning, if we read Scripture as Christians we should do so at some point in that cycle (the ‘T’ in CTP) canonically. Because of this, I want to read Genesis 3.8–24 next to later understandings of the text from within Scripture.
If you have just the books in the Protestant canon, you will miss the development of Adam and the Fall. Let’s define the Fall just a bit. This is the usual notion that Adam’s eating of the fruit brought death and despair to all people who are also his descendents. Only in Christ is the remedy found. But, this almost requires a particular view of how hold the earth is and where we all came from, i.e, Adam about 6000 years ago.
There are other alternatives that rely on Reason, and Tradition to interpret Scripture. For one, Adam could be Israel, or representative of Israel (perhaps even an ancient tribal king). Since the Old Testament doesn’t mention Adam any more, nor afford any cause of the condition of humanity to him, it is likely Adam is simply a progenitor of Israel. Remember, Israel is the only one with covenants with God and is a product of a covenant. It is better to see Adam as the first human in covenant with God. Another thing to think about — there is no sin outside of the covenant (just as there is not rewards from God outside the covenant). So, Adam could still bring sin to the world (i.e., the knowledge of what it means to be without God) because he finally knew what it meant to be with God.
A side note, and you don’t have to agree with me. I see Adam as the first person God covenanted with. This is not the first of humans, although he is the first of God’s creation, with creation remaining not the physical but the method of God and humans. Adam is the first of living beings, so Eve is the mother of living beings, with living being defined in Genesis 2 as “living soul.” When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they took with them the knowledge of God and in doing so, the covenant and hope of God which culminates in Christ. Is Adam historical? Maybe. Could be. But not as the first human, but as the first human in God’s plan.
Wisdom 2.23–24 and Wisdom 10.1–2. I think these are very important, especially when exploring how wisdom became Wisdom, the female attribute of God and how she saved Adam because of his sin. (Compare this to 1 Co. 1.24.)
Sirach 15:14; 17:1-4; 25:24; 40:1; 49:16. Sirach 25.24 is particularly important given how many see Eve as the root cause of the sin.
I favor a date of 50BCE for Wisdom, placing it among the Hellenized Jews (perhaps in Alexandria. Hellenized means those Jews who used Greco-Roman philosophy to interpret Judaism). Sirach shows some Hellenization, but is dated much earlier. Both are used by the writers of the NT, which I also afford a certain measurement of Hellenization.
St. Paul, then, is the first of those we could call Christian to use Adam as a means to understand Christ.
In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul uses Adam as a way to exalt Christ and the benefits of the Resurrection. He does this only by comparison, with Wisdom’s view of Adam’s death in mind. See:
1 Corinthians 15.22 and 1 Corinthians 15.45–47.
However, in Romans 5.12–21, St. Paul gives us something more. He gives us a new reaction to the Genesis story. Adam is no longer just a comparison between the temporal and the eternal, but now provides a problem Jesus resolves. Focus specifically on Romans 5.15, but look at different translations (especially the Revised English Bible’s translation of this).1
For those following along elsewhere, last week I asked for songs that make use of the Adam and Eve story. This time, I am thinking of songs that remind us of God’s grace or perhaps, better, what we want to think of God’s grace.
Back to Genesis 3.8–24. Look at God’s reaction to Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Look especially at God’s fear in 3.22–24.
Admittedly, I’m more interested in St. Paul’s reaction than I am God’s, but…
“But God’s act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam’s wrongdoing. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many, its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many by the grace of that one man, Jesus Christ.” ↩