Assorted Observations on Early Genesis

Being a youth pastor now means teaching a lot of lessons. In my Sunday school lessons lately, I’ve been working on a project to go through the story of the whole Bible. This has been pretty interesting to work on, and this post just reflects some of the observations I’ve made while making lessons for the first several chapters of Genesis. Note that many of these observations are greatly influenced by certain writers like N. T. Wright, Peter Leithart, and James Jordan.

  • Whatever happened historically, the seven day structure of Genesis 1, with its conclusion of Sabbath, points to the meaning of creation as a whole. On the one hand, what we do in normal daily life is quite important: six days are for creative labor. On the other hand, our daily doings are given their proper orientation and goal when seen in light of the one day, the day of rest and worship. Human work is not ultimate, for only worship of God can be that, but human work itself leads up to the worship of offering and thanksgiving and is the primary way to prepare for it.
  • We were made in the image of God, which primarily speaks of our ability to represent God in and to creation. The soul, the heart, and/or the (free?) will are not the image in us, but are rather faculties which we require in order to be images of God. Our representative role consists in being His regents and subcreators in the world, acting as kings and priests by the power of an ability which we and we alone share with God, namely word.
  • Gardens in the Bible and the ancient world are associated with palaces and sanctuaries. The Garden of Eden (by the way, “Eden” is the region where God planted the Garden, not a name for the Garden itself), like a temple sanctuary, had an image of its God, man, and men would worship and serve there as priests. Like a palace, it was the place where God put His regent, again man, who would rule on earth for Him who is in heaven.
  • If rivers flowed out of Eden, this implies high elevation. So does the Garden’s role as a holy place, since those are frequently associated in the Bible with mountains. James Jordan has suggested based on this point, the names of the four rivers, and the frequent biblical language about God coming from the north that Eden may have been in the area around the Black Sea, perhaps in modern Armenia.
  • Man was formed from the dust of earth. Being of earth means that man belongs on earth. God’s salvation will not involve kidnapping us for an eternity away from our home, but rather He will bring heaven to earth, so that the Groom and the Bride might share one house.
  • If man is meant to be God’s rulers on earth, then it was not good for Adam to be alone. Any feminist will tell you that a man ruling free of any womanly influence will get far too much wrong. Men need women—whether sisters or mothers or wives or daughters—to be who God wants them to be.
  • Adam’s naming of the animals serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, he had to be shown his need for a woman by his inability to find any creatures comparable to him. On the other hand, naming is often associated with authority in Scripture. Adam is not yet ready to be God’s regent, but he has begun his training. By naming the animals, Adam lays a royal claim over them.
  • Adam and Eve were made good but not perfect, at least in the sense of maturity and completion. They were much like children, having no experience, no knowledge of good and evil, no clothes, and no meat. This made them quite unready to take up the full authority for which God had created them. In the end, no man received full authority until Matthew 28.
  • The motif of knowing good and evil in the Bible is often associated with royal wisdom. It is the king who must know good and evil, and it is a good king who knows them well and can rule with justice on that basis. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents (not, by the way, in the sense that it didn’t exist) that royal responsibility for which Adam and Eve were not yet ready. But God never said that the tree was permanently off-limits. If they had held out in faith, they could have grown and eaten of both trees in time. As it happened, their premature grab at kingship meant that they yielded the power they were meant to have over to the creation itself and the demonic beings who tempted them.
  • Cain was born *after the Fall and the Curse*. This means that sin and the Fall did not bring the original blessing and commission of humanity to halt. The projects of creation and redemption, though distinct, continued to both operate, now in a symbiotic relationship. [This indicates postmillennialism.](
  • Seth was born when Adam was about 130 years old. Given a world pre-birth control and without that many distractions, this probably indicates that by the time Seth was born, there were hundreds or even thousands of people. If Seth was born shortly after Abel’s death, this implies that Cain’s rejection may well have taken place in public worship and thus involved public humiliation. This would make more sense of his murderous behavior, and why he was able to take his wife and build a city immediately afterwards.
Assorted Observations on Early Genesis

That Time a Pagan Sacrifice Worked

The other day in church the preacher was talking about 2 Kings 4, when Elisha provided a widow with a miracle of multiplied oil. That account is interesting enough in its own right, but I found myself, for at least some of the sermon, distracted by the verses which immediately preceded it. I saw the startling verses of 2 Kings 3:26-17.

When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. And there came great wrath against Israel. And they withdrew from him and returned to their own land.

A bit shocking, isn’t it? I went back in the chapter for context and the whole story. King Ahab of Israel died, and as his son Jehoram took his place, the king of Moab, who had been subject to Ahab, took advantage of the moment to rebel. So Jehoram allied with Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom to stop the Moabite rebellion. When their armies ran out of water in the wilderness, they consulted the prophet Elisha. Elisha was no fan of apostate Jehoram, but for the righteous Jehoshaphat’s sake, he brought them miraculous water and a message of victory from God. So they fought the Moabites, overthrew several cities, destroyed loads of land, stopped up springs, felled the healthy trees, and generally wrought havoc on Moab. The battle eventually came down on the city of Kir-hareseth, where it went very badly for the Moabites. It was at this point that the king of Moab took the drastic step in the verses cited above and drove the Israelites out.

This little adventure, good enough for prime time TV, raises an obvious question. How did it work? The king of Moab sacrifices his firstborn son as a burnt offering, and it leads to wrath on the Israelites, who then retreat. His offering seems to have been successful. To further complicate matters, Elisha had foretold victory for Israel. But the battle ended in retreat. So what happened?

There seem to be a couple of possibilities, and these are largely tied to a grammatical question. It is not clear in the text from whom the “great wrath” which broke out against Israel came. The two basic options are that this wrath is either human or divine. If human, the only real possible sources are the Moabite soldiers or, as some commentators have suggested, the Edomites, who may have turned on Israel. I would be inclined to reject this last possibility altogether, as it is the least obvious from the text. The wrath of the Moabites makes a little more sense, but I’m skeptical, given the more obvious options. The more obvious options take the wrath as divine. After all, any change which results immediately from a burnt offering in a book where the supernatural is taken for granted makes most sense as a divine response. If so, the great wrath could refer to either that of Yahweh God or, perhaps, that of Chemosh, the god of the Moabites.

This latter possibility may strike you as odd, but the former makes even less sense. Why would God’s wrath break out against the Israelites because the king of Moab sacrificed his son? Some commentators have imagined that, perhaps in response to the sacrifice, the Israelites lost their faith and thus incurred God’s wrath, but this goes far beyond anything which would be clear from the text. Nor is it the most natural way to view the cause-and-effect which follows a sacrifice. The point of sacrifice, after all, is to encourage divine action, not to scare humans.

This leaves the option that it is the wrath of Chemosh, the Moabite god, which came upon the Israelites. “But that’s impossible! Chemosh doesn’t exist!” I hear some of you saying. That would be a good objection, but it’s just totally off-base. It relies on the well-intentioned but misguided idea that the Bible teaches the non-existence of pagan gods. This, however, is a conclusion that cannot be reached except by eisegesis. In the Bible, pagan gods do exist, but they are inferior beings, not at all comparable to Yahweh, who themselves are His creations. In modern lingo, heavily influenced by the New Testament, we would call them “demons.” I mentioned this in my review of Michael Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm. As Paul himself said, those who think they are sacrificing to Artemis or Zeus are in fact sacrificing to malevolent spiritual beings which are not at all really gods but very really real (1 Cor. 10:20).

But, of course, if we accept that the demon behind Chemosh unleashed his wrath on the Israelites in response to the king of Moab’s sacrifice, we seem to be left with another problem. Elisha seems to have prophesied victory from God, but the Israelites are forced to retreat. So what gives? Did Chemosh overpower Yahweh? This seems unthinkable given everything else the Bible teaches about Yahweh’s superiority.

I think the key here is to realize that God did give the Moabites over into Israel’s hands, given the scale of the victories that even brought them to Kir-hareseth, and everything that Elisha said would happen in 2 Kings 3:19 did happen. The only difference was that, at the end, Israel gave up. Notice that the Israelites were not said to have been defeated, nor was it said that the Moabites overpowered them, nor anything else of the sort. Rather, it simply says that Israel withdrew. Given this, I actually think it is most likely that Israel, in the face of Chemosh’s wrath, simply did not follow through, but ran for the hills. Of course, I’m open to alternatives, but this seems about right to me.

Interesting stuff, to be sure. The more you read your Bible, the more surprises you find.

That Time a Pagan Sacrifice Worked