Archive for the ‘Genesis’ Category

What does the strange story about Judah and Tamar reveal to us about God? Why is it in the bible?

January 23, 2010

Reference: Genesis 38

This is one of the stranger texts in Genesis, but it is nevertheless a very important story in broader scope of scripture.    This story has much to do with the broader redemptive history of Israel, and the world.  “How so” you ask?  Because the Savior, Jesus was a direct descendant of Tamar’s son Perez who was born out of this prostitution and deception (see Matthew 1:3).   The story of Judah and Tamar once again shows us that God uses broken people to bring about his perfect will.

Judah unwittingly solicits sex from his daughter-in-law Tamar who was pretending to be a prostitute.

In case you were wondering why Judah says that Tamar was more “righteous than I“. He does not mean that Tamar was righteous, in the sense of holy and perfect.  He means that she was more within her rights to act the way she did, than Judah was in acting the way he did.  In other words, he is acknowledging his guilt of not giving his 3rd son Shelah to her as a husband, which he had promised to do.  It was right of Judah to make that promise because he was trying to take care of her as a widow after his son had died, and because it would allow her to produce an heir.  But Judah did not make good on that promise, and Tamar knew he did not intend to, so she acted shrewdly to protect herself, even though it meant committing what we would call ‘sexual sin’ today.

Remember, this was an ancient culture with different laws and customs concerning marriage and inheritance.   It would not be appropriate for us to view this situation through the lense of our own cultural understanding.  But that should not keep us from seeing the way God moves, and the way that his redemption is ultimately brought about.

God was present in this situation because he protected Tamar in a world where widows are often left uncared for, and in doing so he allowed her to produce an heir that would ultimately lead to Jesus Christ.  This text also is a rarity in ancient literature because it exemplifies the woman, while looking poorly upon three men in the story. Judah and his two ‘wicked’ sons Er and Onan are portrayed very badly in the text.  Yet Tamar is actually mentioned in Matthew’s Genealogy (see Matthew 1:3).  Mentioning a woman in a genealogy is almost unheard of in first century genealogies.

Furthermore, dispite Judah’s sin, God still moved.  Isn’t it interesting that it is through Judah’s line that the savior would come, and not through his brother Joseph.  Joseph was a great handsome hero of Egypt, whose parallel narrative is far more captivating than Judah’s.  Yet God’s son came from Judah’s line not Joseph’s.  We should all remember this whenever we think we don’t measure up, when we think we have made too many mistakes to make a difference, or when we think others outshine us.  Judah was seemingly not special at all, yet it was Judah who convinced his brothers to spare Joseph’s life (Genesis 37:26-27), which in turn would allow Joseph to save the whole family of Israel from drought many years later (Genesis 45:4-8).  God always knows what he’s doing, and he can use anyone to accomplish his will.

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In Genesis Why did God appear in 3 men? Sign for trinity?

January 17, 2010

It is debatable as to why God appeared in 3 men to Abraham in Genesis 18.  Tradition, especially Eastern Orthodox tradition, holds that this visitation was representative of the trinity.  But there has been debate over the subject since the earliest Christian theology.  Augustine believed that God’s appearance here was representative of the trinity, siting that there is no hierarchy.  However, others note that when the visitors go to Sodom to warm Lot, only two go and they are called angels.

No matter where you come down on the issue though it doesn’t not take away from the important part of the text which is that God met with Abraham again and confirmed his promise with him.

Andrei Rublev’s (1360-1427) icon “Trinity” depicts Abraham and the three visitors in Genesis 18. It is the most famous christian icon and is considered the greatest work of Russian art.

Why did God choose circumcision as the sign for his covenant?

January 12, 2010

When I was about 15 I watched a funny satyrical twist on Robin Hood called “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” by Mel Brooks a famous Jewish writer and comedian.  As in most of his movies Mel Brooks had a cameo appearance, this time playing the roll of “Rabbi Tuckman” replacing the well-known role of Friar Tuck.  In his role Rabbi Tuck came around peddling circumcision to Robin Hood and his merry men (in tights).  The result led to another hilarious decent into Mel Brooks hilarity that you can read here.  The scene certainly would leave most wondering, “what was God thinking when he came up with the covenant sign of circumcision?”

Circumcision may or may not have had religious or hygiene significance before the time of the Covenant with Abraham, but neither past religions significance or hygiene are the significance here.

Circumcision has to do with a uniting of the spiritual and the physical.  In other words, what is said must also be done.  Circumcision was dramatic, but it created a radical sense of belonging.  “Circumcision announces that Israelites belong only to this community and only to this God.”  Circumcision is weighty, it represents a radical committed faith.  Furthermore, it speaks to something deeper.  Throughout scripture, and culminating in Romans 2:29, we see that Circumcision is more than just the outward, it deals with the inward.  The phrase ‘circumcision of the heart’ speaks to a deeper connection then just a physical sign.  It represents a “yielding [of] affections and will to [God].”

Quotes from Walter Bruggemann’s Interpretation commentary on Genesis, page 155.

Every other year it seems that medical professionals offer different recommendations about circumcision, but God's intent was deeper than hygiene.

Jacob, Esau, and the short comings of biblical parents.

January 12, 2010

Question:

Isaac favored Esau.  Rebekah favored Jacob.  Isaac and Rebekah didn’t love both of their sons equally?  Rebekah told Jacob to put on Esau’s clothes so that he can receive Esau’s blessings from his father.  Why didn’t God stop Jacob?

Answer:

It is fairly obvious that Isaac and Rebekah did not love their sons equally.  This is nothing new though, Noah clearly showed favor to Japheth and Shem over Ham, Abraham showed favor to Isaac over Ishmael, and Jacob infamously showed favor to Joseph over all his other brothers.  Remember that these men and women were not perfect people, they were sinful humans who had wills of their own.

Isaac Blessing Jacob Gioachino Assereto, 1640

Rebekah even stooped so low as to deceive her husband so to advance her own will and see that Jacob would get the blessing from Isaac.  God did not stop Jacob for a couple reasons.  First of all, we are not puppets and God is not a puppet master, God allows us to make decisions that are deceitful and evil, but he also allows us to make decisions that are righteous and ultimately glorifying to him (learn more about God’s will and our will here).  Secondly, God can accomplish his will despite our deception and evil.  Esau may have deserved the blessing by birth right, but he was also an impulsive glutton who had already traded away his birth right to Jacob for some soup (see Genesis 25:29-34).  God had his reasons for allowing this deceit to take place, and ultimately God’s will would be done even in the midst of it.  As you continue to read the story, you see the way that God establishes his people through the line of Jacob.  And as Jacob’s son Joseph says to his brothers at the end of Genesis, “what you meant for evil God meant for good,” this is also the case with Jacob and many others in scripture.

In Genesis 1 why is it called “heavens” and not just one “heaven”? Are there different heavens?

January 7, 2010

The passage in Genesis 1:1 is not referring to heaven in the sense of the dwelling place of God or the resting place of immortal souls.  The hebrew word here is shamayim and it is more clearly defined as “firmament” which means ‘the vault or arch of the sky’. It refers to what we can see in the sky i.e. the dwelling place of the sun, the stars, the moon, the blue sky, etc.  It’s for this reason that we often imagine heaven as a place that we go to up in the clouds, which is cute for cartoons but biblically unfounded when referring to life after death.

All that to say, the verse is not talking about multiple heavens, it is referring to the separation between the earth and what’s above the earth, i.e. everything.

How can there be a day when the sun wasn’t created until third day?

January 5, 2010

According to Genesis the first days were sunless.

There are three ways that we can understand the idea of a day…

The first is a 24 hour day.  Technically, the sun has nothing to do with a 24 hour day.  The 24 hour day has everything to do with how long it takes for the earth to rotate once.  Right now at the North Pole they won’t see the sun for another month or so, but it still takes the globe 24 hours to spin all the way around.  Many people believe that the earth was created in six 24 hour days.   And this view can easily be understood if for no other reason then the author 6 times says “there was evening and there was morning”.  This however may simply be a way of expressing the transition from one stage of creation to another.

The second definition of day has to do with the time when there is light outside.   Likewise, the time when it is dark outside is called night even though night is a part of the same 24 hour day.  The first order of God’s creation was to make light and separate it from the darkness.  God distinctly calls the light “day” even though there is no mention of sun for another couple ‘days.’  So in one verse God the author of Genesis used two definitions of the word day: the definition of day that associates with light, and the definition of day that associates with time.  But when it comes to time, 24 hours is not the only time-related definition of day.

The third kind of day is also related to time, not lightness.  It is a long period of time, an age of time, or longer.  For example our grandparents may have said of their youth, “back in my day” in which case “day” may represent several years of their lives.  Sometimes we might say the day (or age) of the dinosaurs is over.  In those cases a day is not a specific length of time, but a very long time with imprecise boundaries.  It is very likely that this might be the proper understanding of day in Genesis 1, as God may have taken years or epochs to create things.  (see the post on evolutionism vs. creationism).

In short, the sun is only a small part of the meanings concerning the word day.  Thus, there could have been days before the third ‘day’ of creation.

Why do you think the serpent didn’t suggest Eve to also take fruit from the tree of life?

January 5, 2010

The serpent was the enemy of God.  He came to deceive Adam and Eve and ultimately to destroy what God cherished so much.  He lied to Eve so that they would disobey God, and that was the one thing that God told them not to do.

The tree of life is inconsequential to their wills and obedience, and that was what was at stake.

Were there really giants in the Old Testament?

January 5, 2010

Was Lawrence Taylor an example of a biblical Giant or just a New York football Giant?

Question:

In Genesis 6 who are the sons of God, the daughters of men, and the Nephilites (Giants)?

Answer:

This is one of the weirder text in Genesis?  And with it come some equally strange ideas for interpretation.  Among these are the idea that the sons of God were Angels who married human women and bore giants as offspring.  Another theory is that the sons of God were the decedents of Seth, and the daughters of men were the descendants of Cain.  But this does little to explain the bizarre offspring that they have.

The most likely explanation is that the sons of God refers to the socially powerful men who had gained wealth and influence in the world to that point.  With such power they were able to exploit the “daughters of men” or women of lesser means.  In other words, they could ‘take what they wanted’ (verse 2).  The reference to the idea of Giants in the land who were the offspring of these men and women most likely refers not to their stature, but to their power.  They would have been like ancient princes, or aristocrats.  God’s anger came with the behavior of people doing their own wills, taking what they want, and doing evil to one another.

The later explanation can actually be explained within the limits of hebrew language and can make sense in the context of Genesis.  The other two explanations require wild speculation and imagination that is inconsistent with any other biblical material.

Who is “us” in the first few chapters of Genesis?

January 5, 2010

Question:

Who else is God referring to when he mentions ‘us’?  Gen 1:26 ‘ let us make human beings’.  Gen 3:22 ‘look humans have become like us’?

Answer:

There is no doubt in my mind that these are the first references to the fact that our creator God exists in a community called the Trinity.  This is a foundational doctrine of the Christian faith, it is not the belief in 3 gods, or the belief that God takes on 3 different shapes or ‘modes’ (a heresy called modalism).  Rather, this is the simple yet ineffable idea that God is One AND God is 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In the Gospel of John Chapter 1, we see that Jesus (described as logos or ‘the Word’) was there at creation:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Thus, God can have a conversation with himself, because he dwells eternally in the community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In Genesis 1:22 and Genesis 3:22 we get a glimpse of what that conversation looked like.

There is nothing mentioned in Genesis about any females being born from Eve. Where did the woman come from who married Cain.

January 5, 2010

In Genesis 5:4 it actually does say that “Adam had other sons and daughters”. However, none of the daughters are ever mentioned by name.

For human race to have grown there would definitely have been marriages between brothers and sisters.  While this type of incestuous relationship may seem like a perversion, it was common even among our Bible hero’s.  For example, Abraham married his half-sister Sarah.  It was only later in human history, and biblical accounts that incestuous relationships were identified as something that was wrong.