Dr. Thomas L. Constable
Each book of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament, called "The Pentateuch" since about A.D. 160, called "The Torah" [instruction] by the Jews), originally received its title in the Hebrew Bible from the first word or words in the book. There are three divisions in the Hebrew Bible: The Law (Torah), The Prophets, and The Writings. The Torah was originally one book, but the Septuagint divided it into the five books that we have. The Jews regarded the stories in the Torah as divine instruction for them, as well as the commandments and sermons, since they too teach theology and ethics.
The Hebrew word translated "in the beginning" is transliterated beresit. The English title "Genesis," however, has come to us from the Latin Vulgate translation of Jerome (Liber Genesis). The Latin title came from the Septuagint translation (the Greek translation of the Old Testament made about 300 years before Christ). "Genesis" is a transliteration of the Greek word geneseos, the Greek word that translates the Hebrew toledot. This Hebrew word is the key word in identifying the structure of Genesis, and the translators have usually rendered it "account" or "generations" (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2).
The events recorded date back to the creation of the world.
Many Christians believe the earth is millions of years old. They base this belief on the statements of scientists and understand Scripture in the light of these statements. Likewise, many Christians believe that the human race began hundreds of thousands of years ago for the same reason.
Many evangelicals believe that the earth is not much older than 10,000 years. They base this on the genealogies in Scripture (Gen. 5; 10; 11; et al.), which they understand to be "open" (i.e., not complete). Evangelicals usually hold to a more recent date for man's creation, also for the same reason. A smaller group of evangelicals believes that these genealogies are either "closed" (i.e., complete) or very close to complete. This leads us to date the creation of the world and man about 6,000 years ago. I shall discuss the question of how we should interpret the genealogies in the exposition of the chapters where they occur.
Many interpreters have placed the date of composition of Genesis much later than Moses' lifetime. Some of them do this because Genesis contains some names that became common designations of people and places after Moses' time (e.g., the Philistines, Dan, et al.). I shall discuss these anomalies as we come to them. See also the section below: "Writer." If one accepts Mosaic authorship, as most conservative evangelicals do, the date of composition of Genesis must be within Moses' lifetime (ca. 1525–1405 B.C.). This book was perhaps originally intended to encourage the Israelites to trust in their faithful, omnipotent God as they anticipated entrance into the Promised Land from Kadesh Barnea or from the Plains of Moab. Moses may have written it earlier to prepare them for the Exodus, but this seems less likely.
The authorship of the Pentateuch (Gr. penta, "five," and teuchos, "a case for carrying papyrus rolls" and, in later usage, the "scrolls" themselves), has been the subject of great controversy among professing Christians, since Spinoza introduced "higher criticism" of the Bible in the seventeenth century. The "documentary hypothesis," which developed from his work, is that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, as most scholars in Judaism and the church until that day believed. Instead, it was the product of several writers who lived much later than Moses. A redactor (editor) or redactors combined these several documents into the form we have now. These documents (J, E, D, P, and others) represent: a Yahwistic (Jehovistic) tradition (supposedly dating from the ninth century B.C.), an Elohistic tradition (eighth century B.C.), a Deuteronomic tradition (seventh century B.C.), a Priestly tradition (fifth century B.C.), etc. The subject of Old Testament Introduction deals with these matters. One writer summed up the present state of this controversy as follows.
The evidence that Moses wrote the Pentateuch seems conclusive if one believes that Jesus Christ spoke the truth when He attributed authorship to Moses (Matt. 19:8; Mark 7:10; Luke 16:29-31; 20:37; 24:27; John 7:19, 22; cf. Acts 15:1). The New Testament writers quoted or alluded to Genesis over 60 times in 17 books. Jesus Christ did not specifically say that Moses wrote Genesis, but in our Lord's day the Jews regarded the Pentateuch (Torah) as a whole unit. They recognized Moses as the author of all five books. Consequently they would have understood what Jesus said about any of the five books of Moses as an endorsement of the Mosaic authorship of them all.
"Just west of Abydos in southern Egypt, the Wadi el-Hol site yielded an alphabetic inscription carved on the underface of a ledge. Palaeographically it resembled a text found at Serabit al-Khadem in the Sinai Peninsula from 1600 B.C., which until 1993 was the earliest alphabet ever found. But the Wadi Hol example is at least two hundred years older, dating from the time Jacob and his sons lived in Egypt. The argument that Moses could not have written the Torah in alphabetic form that early (ca. 1400 B.C.) thus has no basis."
How did Moses receive this information? He may have done so in either of two ways. Perhaps Adam and Eve told the creation story to their descendants, and they passed it on to succeeding generations orally or in written form (i.e., tradition). Moses' mother may have told him these stories as a child. If so, God guarded the true account. The other ancient Near Eastern accounts were perversions of what really happened. Another possibility is that God revealed the creation account directly to Moses.
The events recorded in Genesis stretch historically from Creation to Joseph's death, a period of at least 2,300 years. The first part of the book (ch. 1—11) is not as easy to date precisely as the second part (ch. 12—50). The history of the patriarchs recorded in this second main division of the text covers a period of about 300 years.
The scope of the book progressively and consistently narrows. The selection of content included in Genesis points to the purpose of the divine author: to reveal the history of and basic principles involved in God's relationship with people.
Genesis provides the historical basis for the rest of the Bible and the Pentateuch, particularly the Abrahamic Covenant. Chapters 1—11 give historical background essential to understanding that covenant, and chapters 12—50 record the covenant and its initial outworking. The Abrahamic Covenant continues to be the basic arrangement by which God operates in dealing with humanity throughout the Pentateuch and the rest of the Bible.
"The real theme of the Pentateuch is the selection of Israel from the nations and its consecration to the service of God and His Laws in a divinely appointed land. The central event in the development of this theme is the divine covenant with Abraham and its . . . promise to make his offspring into the people of God and to give them the land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance."
Genesis provides an indispensable prologue to the drama that unfolds in Exodus and the rest of the Pentateuch. The first 11 chapters constitute a prologue to the prologue.
"Two opposite progressions appear in this prologue [chs. 1—11]: (a) God's orderly Creation with its climax in His blessing of man, and (b) the totally disintegrating work of sin with its two greatest curses being the Flood and the dispersion at Babel. The first progression demonstrates God's plan to bring about perfect order from the beginning in spite of what the reader may know of man's experience. The second progression demonstrates the great need of God's intervention to provide the solution for the corrupt human race."
The practical purpose of Genesis is to encourage the reader to trust and obey God. Originally, the purpose was to encourage the Israelites to trust and obey God. Moses may have composed Genesis before the Israelites left Egypt in the Exodus, but he probably did so during the wilderness wanderings. In any case, this was his obvious purpose, as is clear from what he wrote. He wanted to prepare the Israelites for the future by reminding them of the past. This is its function for us today too. As we read the text, we should continually ask ourselves, "What did this mean to the original readers?" That is what God intended it to mean to us today.
Moses' main point was that the same God who created Israel had created the universe. His word was the key instrument in creating both entities. As He had brought order, fullness, and rest to the material world, so He could do for His chosen people. He is the sovereign of the universe, its ultimate authority. Therefore mankind should trust and obey Him.
The hero of Genesis is the LORD God, and its stories deal with the origin and life of the believing community under His sovereignty.
"The subject matter of the theology in Genesis is certainly God's work in establishing Israel as the means of blessing the families of the earth. This book forms the introduction to the Pentateuch's main theme of the founding of the theocracy, that is, the rule of God over all Creation. It presents the origins behind the founding of the theocracy: the promised blessing that Abraham's descendants would be in the land.
"Exodus presents the redemption of the seed out of bondage and the granting of a covenant to them. Leviticus is the manual of ordinances enabling the holy God to dwell among His people by making them holy. Numbers records the military arrangement and census of the tribes in the wilderness, and shows how God preserves His promised blessings from internal and external threats. Deuteronomy presents the renewal of the covenant.
"In the unfolding of this grand program of God, Genesis introduces the reader to the nature of God as the sovereign Lord over the universe who will move heaven and earth to establish His will. He seeks to bless mankind, but does not tolerate disobedience and unbelief. Throughout this revelation the reader learns that 'without faith it is impossible to please God' (Heb. 11:6)."
The structure of Genesis is very clear. The phrase "the generations of" (toledot in Hebrew, from yalad meaning "to bear, to generate") occurs ten times (really eleven times since 36:9 repeats 36:1), and in each case it introduces a new section of the book. The Jews regarded "ten" as the symbolical number of completeness.
The first part of Genesis is introductory and sets the scene for what follows. An outline of Genesis based on this structure is as follows.
1. Introduction 1:1—2:3
2. The generations of heaven and earth 2:4—4:26
3. The generations of Adam 5:1—6:8
4. The generations of Noah 6:9—9:29
5. The generations of the sons of Noah 10:1—11:9
6. The generations of Shem 11:10-26
7. The generations of Terah 11:27—25:11
8. The generations of Ishmael 25:12-18
9. The generations of Isaac 25:19—35:29
10. The generations of Esau 36:1-43
11. The generations of Jacob 37:1—50:26
Moses' movement was from the general to the specific throughout the book.
Part I (chs. 1-11): at least 2,000 years
Part II (chs. 12-50): about 300 years
Total: at least 2,300 years
A full expository outline designed to highlight the relative emphases of the book follows. I shall follow this outline in these notes as I seek to unpack the message of the book.
I. Primeval events 1:1—11:26
A. The story of creation 1:1—2:3
1. An initial statement of creation 1:1
2. Conditions at the time of creation 1:2
3. The six days of creation 1:3-31
4. The seventh day 2:1-3
B. What became of the creation 2:4—4:26
1. The Garden of Eden 2:4—3:24
2. The murder of Abel 4:1-16
3. The spread of civilization and sin 4:17-26
C. What became of Adam 5:1—6:8
1. The effects of the curse on humanity ch. 5
2. God's sorrow over man's wickedness 6:1-8
D. What became of Noah 6:9—9:29
1. The Flood 6:9—8:22
2. The Noahic Covenant 9:1-17
3. The curse on Canaan 9:18-29
E. What became of Noah's sons 10:1—11:9
1. The table of nations ch. 10
2. The dispersion at Babel 11:1-9
F. What became of Shem 11:10-26
II. Patriarchal narratives 11:27—50:26
A. What became of Terah 11:27—25:11
1. Terah and Abram's obedience 11:27—12:9
2. Abram in Egypt 12:10-20
3. Abram's separation from Lot ch. 13
4. Abram's military victory ch. 14
5. The Abrahamic covenant ch. 15
6. The birth of Ishmael ch. 16
7. The sign of circumcision ch. 17
8. Yahweh's visit to Abraham 18:1-15
9. Abraham's intercession for Lot 18:16-33
10. The destruction of Sodom ch. 19
11. Abraham’s sojourn at Gerar ch. 20
12. The birth of Isaac 21:1-21
13. Abimelech's treaty with Abraham 21:22-34
14. The sacrifice of Isaac 22:1-19
15. The descendants of Nahor 22:20-24
16. The purchase of Sarah's tomb ch. 23
17. The choice of a bride for Isaac ch. 24
18. Abraham's death 25:1-11
B. What became of Ishmael 25:12-18
C. What became of Isaac 25:19—35:29
1. Isaac's twin sons 25:19-26
2. The sale of the birthright 25:27-34
3. Isaac and Abimelech 26:1-11
4. Isaac's wells 26:12-33
5. Jacob's deception for Isaac's blessing 26:34—28:9
6. Jacob's vision at Bethel 28:10-22
7. Jacob's marriages and Laban's deception 29:1-30
8. Jacob's mishandling of God's blessings 29:31—30:24
9. Jacob's new contract with Laban 30:25-43
10. Jacob's flight from Haran ch. 31
11. Jacob's attempt to appease Esau 32:1-21
12. Jacob at the Jabbok 32:22-32
13. Jacob's meeting with Esau and his return to Canaan ch. 33
14. The rape of Dinah and the revenge of Simeon and Levi ch. 34
15. Jacob's return to Bethel ch. 35
D. What became of Esau 36:1—37:1
E. What became of Jacob 37:2—50:26
1. God's choice of Joseph 37:2-11
2. The sale of Joseph into Egypt 37:12-36
3. Judah and Tamar ch. 38
4. Joseph in Potiphar's house ch. 39
5. The prisoners' dreams and Joseph's interpretations ch. 40
6. Pharaoh's dreams and Joseph's interpretation ch. 41
7. Joseph's brothers' first journey into Egypt ch. 42
8. Joseph's brothers' second journey into Egypt ch. 43
9. Joseph's last test and its results ch. 44
10. Joseph's reconciliation with his brothers 45:1-15
11. Israel's move to Egypt 45:16-46:30
12. Joseph's wise leadership 46:31—47:27
13. Jacob's worship in Egypt 47:28—48:22
14. Jacob's blessing of his sons 49:1-28
What is the Bible all about? I would state it as follows: God desires to glorify Himself by blessing humankind.
A young boy burst into the living room and announced to his father, "I know what the Bible means!" His father smiled and replied, "What do you mean, you 'know' what the Bible means?" His son replied, "I do know!" "Okay," said the father, "Tell me what the Bible means." "It's easy, Daddy. It stands for 'Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.'"
The message of the Pentateuch (Torah) is this: People can experience God's blessing by trusting Him (believing His Word) and by obeying Him (following His initiative).
I believe Genesis is in the Bible primarily to teach us the following lesson: People can enjoy a personal relationship with God, and thereby realize their own fulfillment as human beings—only through trust in God and obedience to God. This is the message statement of the book. Genesis reveals that God is faithful to His promises and powerful enough to bring them to fulfillment.
Genesis reveals that God originally intended people to have an immediate relationship with their Creator. Evidences for this are that God made man as a special creation (2:7). Second, He made man with special care (2:7). Third, He made man in His own image (1:26-27). Fourth, He regarded man as His son (1:28-30). And fifth, He consistently demonstrated concern for man's welfare (3:9).
God's immediate relationship with Adam was broken by the Fall (ch. 3). In the Fall, man did two things: First, he failed to trust God's goodness with his mind. And second, he rebelled against God's authority with his will (3:6).
God then took the initiative to re-establish the relationship with man that He had created man to enjoy. He provided atonement for man's sin until He would finally remove it. This temporary covering came through the sacrificial system. Animal sacrifices covered peoples’ sins adequately, but not completely. A final sacrifice had to be made that would remove our sins permanently. God accepted sacrifices for sin before Calvary like a merchant accepts a credit card in payment for goods or services. A final payment still had to be made, and Christ's death was that final payment.
Throughout Genesis, we see that people in general consistently failed to trust and obey God (e.g., in Noah's day, at Babel, and throughout the patriarchal period).
Genesis also records what God has done to encourage people to trust and obey Him. It is only by living by these two principles that people can enjoy a relationship with God and realize all that God created them to experience.
On the one hand, Genesis reveals much about the person and work of God. This revelation helps us to trust and obey Him. It is through His personal revelations to the main characters in Genesis that God revealed Himself initially (e.g., Adam and Eve, Noah, and the patriarchs).
On the other hand, Genesis reveals much about the nature of man. Not only did God reveal the perversity and depravity of man, but He also identified many positive examples of faith and obedience in the lives of the godly.
In Genesis we learn that faith in God is absolutely essential if we are to have fellowship with Him and realize our potential as human beings.
Faith is the law of life. If one lives by faith, he flourishes, but if he does not, he fails. The four patriarchs are primarily examples of what faith is and how it manifests itself. In each of their lives we learn something new about faith.
Abraham's faith demonstrates unquestioning obedience. When God told him to do something, he almost always did it. This is the most basic characteristic of faith. That is one reason Abraham has been called "the father of the faithful." God revealed Himself nine times to Abraham (12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17; 15; 17:1-21; 18; 21:12-13; 22:1-2; 22:15-18), and each time Abraham's response was unquestioning obedience.
Isaac's faith helps us see the quality of passive acceptance that characterizes true faith in God. This was his response to God's two revelations to him (26:2-5, 24). Sometimes Isaac was too passive.
Jacob's story is one of conflict with God until he came to realize his own limitations: then he trusted God. We can see his faith in his acknowledged dependence on God. God's seven revelations to him eventually led him to this place (28:12-15; 31:3, 11-13; 32:24-29; 35:1, 9-12; 46:2-4). Most believers today can identify with Jacob most easily, because we too struggle with wanting to live independent of God.
Joseph's life teaches us what God can do with a person who trusts Him consistently in the face of adversity. The outstanding characteristic of Joseph's life was his faithful loyalty to God. He believed God's two revelations to him in dreams (37:5-7, 9), even though God's will did not seem to be working out as he thought it would. Patient faith and its reward shine through the story of Joseph. The Lord Jesus supremely illustrates this quality of faith.
Faith, the key concept in Genesis, means trusting that what God has prescribed is indeed best for me, and demonstrating that trust by waiting for God to provide what He has promised. A "person of faith" is one who commits to acting on this basis—even though he or she may not see how God's way is best.
Chapters 1—11 provide an introduction to the Book of Genesis, the Pentateuch, and the whole Bible.
"His [Moses'] theological perspective can be summarized in two points. First, the author intends to draw a line connecting the God of the Fathers and the God of the Sinai covenant with the God who created the world. Second, the author intends to show that the call of the patriarchs and the Sinai covenant have as their ultimate goal the reestablishment of God's original purpose in Creation."
"Evidently an interest in the way in which the world and humankind came into existence and in the history of the earliest times was characteristic of the ancient civilized world. At any rate, various 'origin stories' or 'creation myths' about the activities of a variety of creator-gods are still extant in what remains of the literatures of ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. But the combination of such accounts with narratives about more recent times testifies to an additional motivation. The aim of such works was to give their readers—or to strengthen—a sense of national or ethnic identity, particularly at a time when there was for some reason a degree of uncertainty or hesitation about this. . . .
"The placing of Gen. 1—11 as a prologue to the main body of the work also afforded the opportunity to express certain distinctively Israelite articles of faith which it would have been more difficult to introduce into the later narratives, particularly with regard to the doctrine of God."
"Gen 1—11 as we read it is a commentary, often highly critical, on ideas current in the ancient world about the natural and supernatural world. Both individual stories as well as the final completed work seem to be a polemic against many of the commonly received notions about the gods and man. But the clear polemical thrust of Gen 1—11 must not obscure the fact that at certain points biblical and extrabiblical thought are in clear agreement. Indeed Genesis and the ancient Near East probably have more in common with each other than either has with modern secular thought."
God created the entire universe, and then formed and filled it, "in six days." He brought order and fullness for humankind to enjoy and to rule over. He then blessed and set apart "the seventh day" as a memorial of His creative work. The God of Israel, the deliverer of His people, is the Creator of all that exists.
"The creation account is theocentric, not creature centered. Its purpose is to glorify the Creator by magnifying him through the majesty of the created order. The passage is doxological as well as didactic, hymnic as well as history. 'God' is the grammatical subject of the first sentence (1:1) and continues as the thematic subject throughout the account."
"The prose narratives of the Old Testament are multifunctional. Most intend to impart historically accurate information while leading the reader to a deeper theological understanding of the nature of God and his relationship with his people."
There are three major views concerning the relationship of 1:1 to the rest of the creation account.
1. Verse 1 describes an original creation of the universe. Then God began fashioning the earth, and it became fully formed, as we now know it, in verse 2 or verse 3. This "double-creation" view may or may not involve a gap in time between verses 1 and 2. Some advocates of this view believe that the original creation became chaotic as a result of divine judgment. More information on this theory follows in my comments on 1:2.
3. Verse 1 describes, in very general, introductory terms, the same creation activity that God did on all six days of creation (1:2-31). It is a topic sentence that introduces the whole creation account that follows. I prefer this view.
The "beginning" is the beginning of the creation of the cosmos (physical universe), not the beginning of all things (cf. Mark 1:1; John 1:1). This appears to be clear from the context. Genesis has been called "the book of beginnings" because it records the beginning of so many things. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as "the book of foundations."
The Hebrew word translated "God" ('elohim) is a plural noun. The plurality simply adds intensification to the name El, as does the personal pronoun "us" in verse 26. Hebrew is the only ancient Semitic language that intensifies nouns and pronouns by making them plurals. The writers of Scripture used 'elohim as a title of honor. Though it is a plural in form, it is singular in meaning when referring to the true God. This name represents the Creator's transcendent relationship to His creation. Some have called this the plural of majesty. It emphasizes the fact that the God referred to is the fullness of deity, the only true God.
"The Hebrew word translated 'God' ('elohim) may be used as a plural noun and be translated 'gods.' But when this word is used of true God, then it is not a plural but is an intensified noun, exhausting the meaning of the underlying root ('alah) which means 'to be powerful.' He 'us' [is majestic and great in plurality]. When used of God, this is not really a plural (despite the common translation); it is a similar intensification of the pronoun which describes God."
The "heavens and earth" refer to the universe as we know it (i.e., the sky above with all that is in it and the earth below). There is no single word in Hebrew for "universe." This is a figure of speech (merism) for totality; God created everything. The translators often rendered the Hebrew word 'eres (earth) as "land." By translating it this way here, we can see that Moses wanted his readers to realize that God created—and therefore owned—all land (cf. 12:7 and all subsequent references to the Promised Land; Ps. 24:1).
This verse is important because it contradicts six popular philosophies:
1. Atheism || God does exist.
2. Pantheism || God is distinct from His creation.
3. Polytheism || "Created" is singular in the text. An obvious difference between the biblical account of creation and those of other ancient Near Eastern cultures is that the biblical account is monotheistic.
4. Radical materialism (matter is eternal) || Matter had a supernatural origin (emphasis on origin).
5. Naturalism (evolutionism) || Creation took place when Someone outside nature intervened (emphasis on process).
6. Fatalism || A personal God freely chose to create.
God created the universe "from nothing" (Latin ex nihilo). While the text does not state this fact per se, the reader can deduce it from the following evidence. The phrase "in the beginning" implies it, as do the Hebrew word for "create" (bara) and the expression "formless and void." New Testament passages also support this conclusion (e.g., John 1:3; Rom. 4:17; and Heb. 11:3).
Verse 2 probably describes what we now call the earth in its pre-formed—like a lump of clay—existence, before God gave it form and filled it. Here "earth" refers to the whole planet, though the same English word also refers to the earth and the heavens (when combined with "heaven," v. 1), and to dry land (v. 10).
"Deep" (tahom) describes the water-covered planet. In the Old Testament, tahom refers to the ocean(s), which the ancient world regarded as symbolic of chaos and evil that needed overcoming, and which Yahweh overcame. However, its use in the Pentateuch helps us understand the writer's intent in using this term here.
". . . he calls the global ocean (the 'deep') in 1:2 a 'desert.' This is not apparent in the English translation 'formless,' but the NASB notes it in the margin as a 'wasteland.' . . . Moses uses this term (Deut 32:10) to describe the desert wasteland where Israel wandered for forty years. Why call an ocean a desert? What better way to teach the people that the God who will lead them out of the wilderness and give them the promised land is the same God who once prepared the land for them by dividing the waters and producing the 'dry land'? The God of the Pentateuch is One who leads his people from the wasteland to the promised land."
Some scholars believe that references to "the Spirit" of God in the Old Testament indicate the power or influence of God, not the Third Person of the Trinity. Some conservative scholars believe that, even though the Spirit was actually the Third Person of the Trinity, people living during the Old Testament period did not associate the Spirit with God Himself. They supposedly thought of the Spirit as a power or influence of God. However, there are several indications in the Old Testament that informed Israelites identified "the Spirit" as God (cf. Gen. 1:2; 2 Kings 2:9; Ps. 104:30; Ezek. 3:12-14; 11:1; Zech. 4:6).
"Waters" is also capable of being interpreted the same way as "deep." It probably refers to what covered the earth, but it also suggests chaos.
Here we learn that the earth was "formless and empty" (a hendiadys meaning unorganized, unproductive, and uninhabited), before God graciously prepared it for human habitation (cf. Isa. 45:18; Jer. 4:23-27). A "hendiadys" is a figure of speech, in which the writer expresses a single complex idea by joining two substantives with "and," rather than by using an adjective and a substantive.
Moses pictured the Spirit as a wind—the words are identical in Hebrew—"moving over" the unorganized creation. As God did His work of creating by means of His Spirit, so also we believers are to do our work by His Spirit (Zech. 4:6; Rom. 8; Eph. 5:18).
Verse 2 seems to me to describe conditions that existed before God created the earth. Whereas verse 1 summarizes the entire creation of the universe, verse 2 pictures its pre-creation condition. Verses 3-31 explain the process of creation by which God formed what was formless and filled what was void.
There are two basic theories of the creation process that have grown out of interpretations of verse 2:
The gap theory
Statement: The classic statement of this theory contains the following ideas, though there have been many variations on this theory.
1. There is an indefinite time gap (hence the name of the theory) between 1:1 and 1:2.
2. Verse 1 reveals the creation of a perfect heaven and earth very different from what we see around us now.
3. A preadamic race of humans inhabited this original creation.
4. Lucifer (unfallen Satan), whose "headquarters" was in the Garden of Eden, ruled over this race of people.
5. When Lucifer rebelled—many advocates see this in Isaiah 14 and or Ezekiel 28—sin entered the world.
History: This is a very old theory that certain early Jewish writers and some church fathers held. Thomas Chalmers promoted it in 1814. Chalmers' purpose was to harmonize Scripture with Scripture, not Scripture with science. Darwin's Origin of Species first appeared in 1859, but Chalmers published his theory in 1814. Franz Delitzsch supported it in 1899. G. H. Pember's book Earth's Ancient Ages (1907) gave further impetus to this view. Many Christian geologists favored the view because they saw in it "an easy explanation for the fossil strata." Harry Rimmer supported it as did Arthur W. Pink. L. S. Chafer held it but did not emphasize it. Arthur Custance is one writer who has defended it fairly recently.
Arguments and Responses:
1. The first word in verse 2 (Heb. waw, "and") is a conjunction that indicates consecutive occurrences. (This verbal form, by the way, is the basic characteristic of narrative in the Hebrew Bible.) It introduces something that happened after what precedes. Response. The verb tense and word order in this sentence do not permit this use of this conjunction (vv. 1-2). Rather here, as is normal, the conjunction indicates a break in the consecutive order of events and introduces a circumstantial (independent) clause (v. 2) that describes something in a preceding clause (v. 1). This is a waw disjunctive, not a waw consecutive. A better translation of the waw would be "now." In short, the Hebrew grammar does not support a chronological gap between verses 1 and 2.
2. The verb (hayata, "was") can and should read "became." The translators have rendered it this way in many other places in the Old Testament. Response. This is a legitimate translation, but "became" is not always the best translation (cf. Jonah 3:3; Zech. 3:3). Here the translation should be "was."
3. The chaos (tohu wa bohu, "waste and void," perhaps another hendiadys) describes an evil condition (cf. Isa. 24:1; 45:18; Jer. 4:23). Response. This is usually the case, but not always (cf. Deut. 32:10; Job 6:18; 12:24; 26:7; Ps. 107:40). It is not so here.
4. "Darkness" is a symbol of evil in Scripture (cf. 1 John 1:5; et al.). This supports the badness of the condition that resulted from Satan's rebellion. Response. This is true in some cases, but not always (cf. Ps. 104:19-24). Furthermore, "evening" was part of the days God declared "good."
5. The two primary words for "create" (bara and asah used respectively in 1:1 and 1:25) refer to two different kinds of creativity. Bara usually refers to primary creative activity. Since Moses used bara in 1:1, this was the original creation—and not just a general description of the process that follows (in 1:3-5 or 1:3-31). If 1:1 was a general description, he would have used asah, since some of what God created in the six days He formed out of previously existing material (e.g., man and woman). Response. These two words are not so distinct. For example, Moses used bara of the creation of man out of previously existing material (1:27), and he used asah of the whole creation as the primary creative activity of God (Exod. 20:11). Furthermore, he used bara of the creation of some animals (1:21) and asah of the creation of other animals (1:25). The real difference between these two words is that Moses used bara only of divine activity, and he used asah of both divine and human activities. Thus, bara and asah are very close together in meaning. We should not distinguish them on the basis of bara describing primary creative activity and asah referring to the reforming of previously existing material.
6. Adam was to "replenish" the earth (1:28, AV), implying a previous race. Response. The Hebrew word used means "fill," not "refill." Many modern English translations so render it.
Summary: Though many evangelicals still hold the gap theory, few Hebrew scholars do because the Hebrew grammar does not favor a chronologically sequential reading of verses 1 and 2. Rather, verse 2 in some way clarifies verse 1.
The no-gap theory
The crux of the 1:2 interpretive problem lies in the identification of the chaos (tohu wa bohu, "formless and void") mentioned. There have been three primary views concerning the chaos referred to in this verse.
Explanation: 1:1 refers to God's original creation of the universe. 1:2 is a reference to the form He gave it thereafter. 1:3 refers to the beginning of the process of reforming the judged earth into the form in which we know it.
Vocabulary: We should translate the first word in the verse (waw) "and" or "then" (not preferable grammatically) and the verb (hayeta) "became" (possible but not preferable). We should interpret the chaos (tohu wa bohu) as an evil condition (not necessarily so).
Sequence: This interpretation permits, but does not require, a gap in time between 1:1 and 1:2.
Explanation: 1:1 states the creation of the universe as we know it, and it is a general statement of some kind. 1:2 describes the earth at the time of its creation. 1:3 describes God bringing order out of chaos, which continued through the six creative days.
Vocabulary: We should translate waw "now" (better) and hayeta "was" (also better). We should also take tohu wa bohu to mean either unformed or evil.
Sequence: This interpretation involves no gap in time between 1:1 and 1:2.
Explanation: We should take 1:1 the same as in view 2. 1:2 describes conditions as they existed before creation. We should also take 1:3 the same as in view 2.
Vocabulary: Advocates translate and interpret the key Hebrew words the same as in view 2.
Sequence: This interpretation involves no gap in time between 1:1 and 1:2.
The more popular theory among evangelicals now is the no-gap theory in either one of the last two forms described above. Let me restate these last two views.
"We would affirm that the first verse serves as a broad comprehensive statement of the fact of creation. Verse two describes the earth as it came from the hands of the Creator and as it existed at the time when God commanded the light to shine forth. The first recorded step in the process of fashioning the earth into the form in which it now appears was God's remarkable utterance, 'Let there be light' [verse 3]."
Answer: The whole process of creation in 1:3-31 is a movement from a more primitive to a more advanced stage of existence. I prefer this view.
Problem: Some terms in verse 2 (darkness, surface, deep, waters) imply that something existed at this time, suggesting some creative activity before verse 3.
Answers: Verse 1 may be part of the first day of creation. Moses may have used these terms to describe, in terms that we can begin to understand (i.e., figurative terms), a condition that is entirely foreign and incomprehensible to us.
Cosmic order consists of clearly demarcating the various elements of the universe. God divided light and darkness, waters and dry land, the world above from the world below. Likewise people should maintain the other divisions in the universe. In the first three "days," God made the uninhabitable earth productive, and in the last three "days," He filled the uninhabited earth with life. The process of creation, as Moses described it, typically follows this pattern for each day of creation: announcement, commandment, separation, report, naming, evaluation, and chronological framework.
One writer sought to retain six literal days of creation and to harmonize them with an old age earth model, allowing a long period of time (possibly billions of years) between Gen. 1:2 and 3. However, this explanation does violence to the Hebrew text.
1:3 The world came into being by God's word (cf. Ps. 33:9; Heb. 11:3). Each of the six creative days began with God speaking.
"The goal of divine action is to maintain and to create life; to achieve this aim Yahweh chiefly avails himself of two means which we encounter in varying intensities in all the realms of his manifestation: the Spirit [v. 2] and the Word."
God's ten pronouncements in this chapter anticipate His ten commandments at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 20:2-17). All but one of Jesus Christ's miracles occurred immediately after He spoke. The exception occurs in Mark 8:25 when He laid His hands on a blind man. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, was the Creator (John 1:3). The theme of God's word (spoken, written, or incarnate) continues throughout the Bible. His word is consistently powerful, as here. Fiat (the Latin word for "Let there be") creation means creation that came into being by God's word.
"The idea of creation by the word preserves first of all the most radical essential distinction between Creator and creature. Creation cannot be even remotely considered an emanation from God . . . but is rather a product of his personal will."
The "light" might not have been sunlight (cf. v. 14). Perhaps it came from a source fixed at a distance from the earth such as the shekinah, the light that manifests God's glory (cf. Rev. 22:5). Perhaps God created the sun on the first day, but it became visible on the fourth day. A third view is that God created the sun, moon, and stars on the first day and assigned them their specific functions on the fourth day (cf. vv. 14-18).
A principle theme of the Bible appears here. God is the One who brings light into darkness. Here He produced physical light, but later He sent His Son to be the Light of the World (John 8:12). In the future, there will be no darkness at all (Rev. 21:23).
1:4 "Darkness" was not a creation, like light, but rather the absence of light (cf. v. 2). Darkness (Heb. hosek) in Scripture often connotes evil (cf. Exod. 10:21-23; 1 Sam. 2:9; Job 3:4, 5; Ps. 35:6; Joel 2:2).
Moses presented God as knowing what was good for man (wise), and as providing those good things for him (loving). This not only reveals aspects of the Creator's character, but it also prepares the reader for the tragedy of the Fall (ch. 3).
1:5 God named things ("called" them such and such), in addition to creating them. Having a name equals having existence, in biblical thought, and the act of giving a name meant the exercise of a sovereign right (cf. 41:45; 2 Kings 24:17; Dan. 1:7). In this chapter, naming or blessing follows some act of creation—seven times. The Israelites regarded the number "seven" as connoting a complete, divine act, as will become clear later.
The terms "day," "night," "evening," and "morning" imply the beginning of the earth's rotation on the first day. The use of the Hebrew word 'ehad ("one" [first] day; cf. "second day," "third day," etc.) as an ordinal number also supports this view. The Jews reckoned the beginning of a day with the evening rather than the morning.
"A few years ago in England some Christians became excited about the Big Bang theory, thinking that it favored Christianity. But they really missed the point—either the point of Scripture or the Big Bang theory or both. The simple fact is that what is given in Genesis 1:1 has no relationship to the Big Bang theory—because from the scriptural viewpoint, the primal creation goes back beyond the basic material or energy. We have a new thing created by God out of nothing [Lat. ex nihilo] by fiat, and this is the distinction."
From the beginning God made divisions. He later divided the clean from the unclean, the holy from the profane, the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, and Israel from the nations. This shows His sovereignty (i.e., ultimate authority).
1:6 The "expanse" refers to the heavenly vault above the earth (lit. "something stretched out"; i.e., the sky, comprising the atmospher, the solar system, and the universe beyond). Moses called it the "firmament" (AV) or "sky" (NIV). God placed the sun, moon, and stars in it (vv. 16-17). The ancients grouped the stars and planets together, referring to the former as fixed stars and the latter as wandering stars (cf. Jude 13).
1:7 God "separated the waters," so that some of them remained on the earth in a liquid state, and some were above the earth as moisture in the atmosphere. Before He made this division there may have been a dense fog over the whole surface of the earth.
1:8 "Heaven" is the same as the "expanse." Moses used it here as a general term to describe everything above the earth from man's viewpoint (v. 8).
1:9 "Seas" (Heb. yammim) probably refers broadly to all bodies of water, not just oceans.
1:10 "Good" indicates beauty as well as purpose and order. It was only when the land was ready for man that God called it good. This shows God's loving concern for human beings. It was good for people. A good God provided a good land for good people.
The separation of water from the land so that man could enjoy the land prepares us for the stories of the Flood (chs. 6—9) and the Red Sea crossing (Exod. 14—15). God later used the waters as His instrument to judge those who opposed His will. The "waters" were an obstacle to man's enjoying the land, so God removed them from the land.
1:11 Since God created "plants . . . with seed[s] in them," the original creation evidently had the appearance of age. He created trees with rings and Adam an adult. Why did Moses mention only the kind of shrubs and trees that bear seeds and fruits? Perhaps he did so because these are the ones that provide food for man. He created others, of course, but Moses was stressing God's care for humans. Another possibility is that plants (grass) and trees encompass all "vegetation." The presence of "seed" also shows that God intended the vegetation to reproduce.
Some feminists have restricted the use of "man" to males, but this is not the primary meaning of the English word. Its primary meaning is "human being" or "human race," according to the standard Oxford dictionaries. Likewise "mankind" normally means "the human race" or "humanity," unless it is in contrast to "womankind." The Hebrew word adam also has a broad range of meaning, from "the human race" to "Adam." Consequently I have used these English words, trusting that the reader will interpret them in harmony with their customary meanings.
1:12 "Kind" (Heb. min) is not a biologically exact term. It indicates that God created several different families of plants as separate acts of creation (cf. vv. 21, 24-25; 6:20; 7:14; Lev. 11:14-29; Deut. 14:13-18). All plants, therefore, did not evolve from one. Creationists generally affirm microevolution (the development of different varieties of plants and animals through crossbreeding), but deny macroevolution (the development of all plants from one plant, animals from plants, and humans from animals).
"With the conclusion of the third day yet another color is added to God's cosmos. To the basic white and black of day and night has been added the blue of sky and sea. Now the canvas is adorned with green. The golden-yellow sun and the reddish human being will complete this rainbow of colors."
Note that on the first and second days, God did one creative work each day: He created light and the firmament. On the third day, He did two works: He created the land and vegetation. Similarly, on the fourth and fifth days, God did one work each day: He created the lights and their functions on the fourth day, and the birds and fish on the fifth day. Then on the sixth day, He again did two works: He created the land animals and man. On the first three days He gave form to what was formless, and on the last three days He filled what was void.
"Both vegetation and humanity, symbolizing the fertility of life, were considered pinnacles of creation in the ancient Near East. The first triad [of days] ends climactically with the creation of vegetation; the second, the creation of humanity."
The luminaries (lights, objects that shine) served four purposes.
1. They distinguished day from night.
2. They provided signs.
3. They distinguished the seasons.
4. They illuminated the earth.
"The narrative stresses their function as servants, subordinate to the interests of the earth. . . . This differs significantly from the superstitious belief within pagan religion that the earth's destiny is dictated by the course of the stars."
"The term 'signs' has been given special attention by the author elsewhere in the Pentateuch. For example, the so-called 'plagues' of Egypt are, in fact, called 'signs' by the author of the Pentateuch (e.g., Deut 29:2-3). The meaning given this term in the Exod account . . . is that the acts of God in the bringing of disorder upon the Egyptians were 'signs' that God was more powerful and majestic than the Egyptians' gods. This sense of the term 'signs' fits well in Gen 1:14. The author says that not only are the sun and moon to give light upon the land but they are to be visual reminders of the power and majesty of God. They are 'signs' of who the God of the covenant is. The [sic] are 'telling of the glory of God,' as the psalmist puts it (Ps 19:1). Not only does the term 'signs' serve as a reminder of the greatness and glory of God for the author of the Pentateuch, 'signs' are also a frequent reminder in the Pentateuch of his grace and mercy (Gen 4, 9, 17)."
Moses did not mean that they were the signs of the zodiac or astrological signs. Why did Moses use the terms "greater" and "lesser light(s)" to describe the sun and moon (v. 16)? He probably did so, not just because of their relative size, but because these Hebrew words, which are very similar in other Semitic languages, are also the names of pagan gods. He wanted the Israelites to appreciate the fact that their God had created the entities their pagan neighbors worshipped as gods.
"This, the fourth day, is the only day on which no divine word subsequent to the fulfillment is added. On days 1-3 this divine word names the created objects (vv 5, 8, 10); on days 5-6 the creatures are blessed (vv 22, 28). The omission may be just elegant stylistic variation, or it may be a deliberate attempt to avoid naming 'sun' and 'moon' with their connotations of deity."
The Hebrew word translated "seasons" appears elsewhere in the Pentateuch. It means "appointments," but the translators have also rendered it "feasts" in Leviticus.
"They [the sun and moon] were not mere lights or reminders of God's glory, they were, as well, calendars for the celebration of the covenant. The world is made for the [Mosaic] covenant. Already at creation, the land was being prepared for the covenant."
The writer's perspective throughout is geocentric (earth-oriented) rather than heliocentric (sun-oriented). He used phenomenological language (of appearance) that is very common in the Old Testament. Even modern scientific textbooks use such language without fear of being criticized as unscientific, when they refer to "sunrise," "sunset," etc. Perhaps God created light on the first day (v. 3), but then on the fourth day the sun, moon, and stars appeared distinctly for the first time.
Creationists have proposed several solutions to the problem, of how light from stars that are millions of light-years away, could get to Adam if the universe was only days old. These explanations are too involved to discuss here, but I have included some sources for further study in the following footnote. I think the best explanation is the appearance of age. As God created humans, plants, and animals fully formed, so He created the light from distant stars already visible on the earth.
"Great sea monsters" (Heb. tauninim, v. 21) were large fish, whales, squid, and all large creatures living in the water. The pagans worshipped these, but they are under God's authority. The Old Testament writers adopted pagan imagery, but not pagan theology.
Note that Moses wrote that God created both marine animals and birds on the same "day." Evolution claims that birds evolved from reptiles, and that this process took millions of years.
"The blessing of God is one of the great unifying themes of Genesis. God blesses animals (1:22), mankind (1:28), the Sabbath (2:3), Adam (5:2), Noah (9:1), and frequently the patriarchs (12:2-3; 17:16, 20, etc.). God's blessing is most obviously visible in the gift of children, as this is often coupled with 'being fruitful and multiplying.' But all aspects of life can express this blessing: crops, family, and nation (Deut 28:1-14). Where modern man talks of success, OT man talked of blessing."
Interestingly, this first mention of God's blessing—"God blessed them"—refers to fish and birds! These creatures also had the capability to reproduce themselves (cf. v. 12). Birds and fish rule their respective realms by multiplying.
1:24-25 "Creature" translates the Hebrew word nephesh, which is usually translated "soul" (e.g., 2:7). This Hebrew word and the English "soul" imply conscious life, in contrast to plants that have unconscious life. So in the sense of having conscious life, animals as well as people have souls.
"Cattle" refers to domesticated animals (that man could tame), and "beasts" are wild animals.
What happened to the dinosaurs? Conservative Bible interpreters generally believe they existed, having been created either prior to, or along with, the other animals, but that they became extinct before the Flood or after it.
"Before the Flood, dinosaurs and man lived together on our planet. Extinction of the great marine reptiles, along with the majority of all other types of sea creature, would have been caused by the violent upheavals of the Flood, many being buried and preserved as fossils."
1:26-27 "Us" is probably a plural of intensification (or majesty; see my comment on verse 1 above), though some regard it as a plural of self-deliberation (cf. 11:7; Ps. 2:3). Others believe that God was addressing His heavenly court (cf. Isa. 6:8). However, "us" does not include the angels, since God made man in His image alone—not also in the image of angels. "Us" involves "in germ" the doctrine of the Trinity. However, we should not use it as a formal proof of the Trinity, since this reference by itself does not prove that one God exists in three persons.
"First, God's deliberation shows that he has decided to create man differently from any of the other creatures—in his image and likeness. God and man share a likeness that is not shared by other creatures. This apparently means that a relationship of close fellowship can exist between God and man that is unlike the relationship of God with the rest of his creation. What more important fact about God and man would be necessary if the covenant at Sinai were, in fact, to be a real relationship? Remove this and the covenant is unthinkable.
"Secondly, in Gen 1, man, the image bearer, is the object of God's blessing. According to the account of creation in Gen 1, the chief purpose of God in creating man is to bless him. The impact of this point on the remainder of the Pentateuch and the author's view of Sinai is clear: through Abraham, Israel and the covenant this blessing is to be restored to all mankind."
People ("them") are to rule over all that God has made (fish, birds, cattle, etc.) as God would: wisely and prudently.
"Man" refers to mankind, not Adam individually (v. 27). "Them" indicates this generic significance. God created (cf. vv. 1, 2) mankind male and female; they did not evolve from a lower form of life (cf. Matt. 19:4; Mark 10:6). Adam and Eve were not "androgynous" (i.e., two individuals joined physically like Siamese twins), or each of them "a hermaphrodite" (i.e., one individual possessing both male and female sexual organs). There is no basis for these bizarre ideas in the text. God formed Eve from Adam's rib, not from half of his body or from his genitals.
"The image is found in the type of relationship that was designed to exist between male and female human beings, a relationship where the characteristics of each sex are valued and used to form a oneness in their identity and purpose. When God created human beings as male and female he formed them to exhibit a oneness in their relationship that would resemble the relationship of God and his heavenly court.
"By ruling as one, male and female fulfill the purpose of God for which they were created. United as one humanity, male and female are one with God and his heavenly court. And it is this unity between male and female, and between humanity and God, that is destroyed in the Fall described in Genesis 3."
As a husband and wife demonstrate oneness in their marriage, they reflect the unity of the Godhead. Oneness involves being in agreement with God's will and purposes. Oneness is essential for an orchestra, an athletic team, and a construction crew, as well as a family, to achieve a common purpose. Oneness in marriage is essential if husband and wife are to fulfill God's purposes for humankind. (Generally speaking, women feel a marriage is working if they talk about it, but men feel it is working if they do not talk about it.)
God created man male and female as an expression of His own plurality: "Let us make man . . ." God's plurality anticipated man's plurality. The human relationship between man and woman thus reflects God's own relationship with Himself.
"Image" and "likeness" are essentially synonymous terms. Both indicate personality, moral, and spiritual qualities that God and man share (i.e., self-consciousness, God-consciousness, freedom, responsibility, speech, moral discernment, etc.) These distinguish humans from the animals, which have no God-consciousness even though they have conscious life (cf. v. 24). Some writers have called the image of God man's "spiritual personality." In another sense man is the image of God (e.g., he rules and creates [procreates] as God does, thus reflecting God). The Fall obscured but did not obliterate the image of God in man.
"What is the image of God in man? The traditional view is that God's image is certain moral, ethical, and intellectual abilities. A more recent view, based on Hebrew grammar and the knowledge of the ancient Middle East, interprets the phrase as meaning 'Let us make man as our image' (the Hebrew preposition in this phrase can be translated as). In ancient times an emperor might command statues of himself to be placed in remote parts of his empire. These symbols would declare that these areas were under his power and reign. So God placed humankind as living symbols of Himself on earth to represent His reign. This interpretation fits well with the command that follows—to reign over all that God has made."
Does the image of God in man include man's body?
"Most theologians have recognized that that [sic] we cannot interpret it [i.e., the phrase 'the image of God'] literally—that is, that man's physical being is in the image of God. Such an interpretation should be rejected for at least four reasons. In the first place, we are told elsewhere that God is a spirit (John 4:24; Isa. 31:3) and that he is ubiquitous (1 Kgs. 8:27). In the second place, a literal interpretation would leave us with all sorts of bizarre questions. If man's physical being is in the image of God we would immediately wonder what, if any organs, God possesses. Does he have sexual organs, and if so, which? Does he have the form of a man, or of a woman, or both? The very absurdity that God is a sexual being renders this interpretation highly unlikely. Thirdly, it seems unlikely that man's dignity above the rest of the animals (Gen. 9:5 f.; Jas. 3:7-9) is due to his slight physiological differences from them. Is it credible that animals may be killed but that man may not be killed because his stature is slightly different? Finally, a literal interpretation seems not only contradictory to the rest of Scripture, and unlikely, but also inappropriate, Gardener aptly observed: 'But our anatomy and physiology is demanded by our terrestrial habitat, and quite inappropriate to the one who inhabits eternity.' For these reasons, theologians have concluded that the statement in Genesis 1:26-28 must be metaphorical of man's spiritual or immaterial nature."
Verse 27 may be the first poem in the Bible. If so, the shift to poetry may emphasize human beings as God's image bearers. There is some disagreement among Old Testament scholars regarding what distinguishes biblical poetry from biblical prose.
1:28 Note that God's blessing of man finds expression in terms of posterity that connotes the ideas of seed and life, two prominent themes as Genesis and the whole Bible unfold. God's blessing enables humanity to fulfill its twofold destiny: to procreate in spite of death and to rule in spite of enemies. "Blessing" denotes all that fosters human fertility and assists in achieving dominion.
Interpreters have generally recognized the commands to "be fruitful and multiply" as commands to Adam and Eve (and later to Noah, 9:1) as the heads of the human race, not simply as individuals. That is, God has not charged every human being with begetting children. This seems clear from the fact that God has made many men and women incapable of reproducing. Consequently one should not appeal to this command as a support for the theory that God wants all people to bear as many children as they possibly can. This verse is a "cultural mandate," not an individual mandate. It was to Adam and Eve as heads of the human race that God gave this command.
Sexual union is God's ordained method of implementing His command to multiply descendants. Consequently sex is essentially good. When God gave this command, Adam and Eve were in an unfallen condition. Therefore the descendants they would produce would have been godly. It is particularly a godly seed that God has charged the human race to raise up. Likewise He commanded Noah and his wife, who were both righteous, to be fruitful (9:1).
God did not make men or women emotionally, spiritually, or physically capable of raising children without a marriage partner. Consequently single parents struggle. As children observe both godly parents modeling a harmonious marriage, they learn to appreciate: their own sexual identity, the roles of husband and wife, and unconditional love. Unconditional love is necessary for a harmonious marriage.
"Subdue" and "rule," the second aspect of this mandate, imply a degree of sovereignty and control that God delegated to man over nature. This constitutes God's "Magna Carta" for all true scientific and material progress. God commanded Adam and Eve to acquire knowledge so they could master their material environment, to bring all its elements into the service of the human race.
"Why this need to subjugate the earth? There are at least four possibilities: (1) Sin would ruin the earth, and people would have to expend great effort to live there (see 3:17-19). (2) Satan would defy the will of God and make all good efforts difficult. (3) The earth left to itself would not remain good. Instead, God planned that people would need to manage and control it. (4) The beauty of the earth was only in the garden that God planted (see 2:8); the rest of the earth would be hostile. Whatever the case, subdue does not mean 'destroy' or 'ruin.' It does mean to 'act as managers who have the authority to run everything as God planned.' This command applies equally to male and female."
For a married couple, oneness in marriage is necessary in order to manage God's creation effectively.
"Our Christian proclamation of hope has antecedents in the theological soil of three divine programmatic expectations first heard in Genesis: (1) God will bless the human family with procreation and dominion (1:26-28); (2) he will achieve victory over mankind's enemy (3:15); and (3) he will bring about both through the offspring of Abraham (12:1-3)—namely, the one man Jesus Christ."
We have in this verse the three essential elements of a dispensation (stewardship, household management): a divine revelation of God's will for human conduct, consequent human responsibility, and a period of time during which God tests people as to their obedience to this responsibility. A "dispensation" is a period of time during which God tests man in relation to his obedience to a specific revelation of God's will. The "dispensations" constitute a progressive, connected revelation of God's dealings with humankind. God gave some of them to the whole human race, and some to a part of it (e.g., Israel). Dispensations are not separate ways of salvation; in every dispensation, man is saved by God's grace, because of the work of Jesus Christ. Before the Cross, people were saved in prospect of Christ's sacrifice, as on credit so to speak, by believing a revelation given to them by God. After the Cross, people are saved in retrospect of Christ's sacrifice, by believing the revelation that He satisfied God's just demands against sinners (1 John 2:2).
Whereas specific human responsibilities change as divine revelation unfolds, and dispensation succeeds dispensation, people have a continuing responsibility to live in the light of previous revelation. For example, even though the dispensation of the Mosaic Law has ended, Christians are nevertheless helped to discharge their responsibilities to God by being aware of what God required of the Israelites under the Law (cf. Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The purpose of each dispensation has been to place people under a specific rule of conduct, not as a condition for salvation, but to demonstrate that people always fail to live up to God's standards—and so need to accept the salvation that God extends to them as a gift. I believe that seven dispensations are distinguishable in Scripture, which are: (1) Innocence (Gen. 1:28); (2) Conscience (Gen. 3:7); (3) Human Government (Gen. 8:15); (4) Promise (Gen. 12:1); (5) Law (Exod. 19:1); (6) Church (Acts 2:1); and (7) Kingdom (Rev. 20:4).
This verse marks the first dispensation: Innocence. God created man innocent, placed him in a perfect environment, subjected him to a simple test, and warned him of the consequences of disobedience. Adam did not have to sin—but chose to do so. The serpent deceived Eve (cf. 2 Cor. 11:3), but Adam sinned deliberately (cf. 1 Tim. 2:14). This dispensation ended when God judged Adam and Eve guilty, and expelled them from the Garden of Eden (3:24).
1:29-31 God gave man authority and responsibility to regulate nature and to advance civilization. Nature was to serve man, not vice versa. This does not give man the right to abuse nature, however. Neither does it justify giving animals and plants the "rights" of human beings.
Verses 27-31 are a general account of human creation. The more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve follows in 2:4-25. These two accounts do not necessarily reflect a two-document composition (two versions that differ) of the creation story, but they illustrate the writer's purpose. In chapter 1, he wanted to emphasize the creation of humankind in the larger context of the cosmic creation. The name elohim ("God") occurs over 30 times in this chapter, emphasizing who originated all that was created. "Good" appears seven times in this chapter (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), highlighting the goodness of God in blessing His creation—especially man.
There are three major viewpoints regarding the origin of man as recorded in 1:26-31; 2:7; and 2:21-25.
1. "Evolution" (both Darwinian and neo-Darwinian) asserts that all living organisms arose from a single, simple cell through a process that took millions of years. This first cell resulted from the accumulation of chemical and protein elements that came together because of unknown change factors over a long time period. This view contradicts Scripture, and it is not scientifically demonstrable.
2. "Theistic evolution" attempts to blend Scripture and scientific theories. It holds that God ordered and directed the evolutionary process. This view fails to explain specific statements in the text of Scripture adequately; it accommodates the text to scientific theory. The major problem with this view is that it is not completely true to either science or Scripture but is inconsistent.
3. "Special creation" asserts that God produced the world and all life forms through a series of supernatural acts. Some special creationists believe He did this in a relatively brief period of time. Others, such as progressive creationists, believe the creation process took thousands of years. This view gives primacy to the text of Scripture and interprets it more literally, historically, and grammatically.
"Progressive creationism" teaches that God created the universe in several acts of creation that time periods of indefinite duration separated. The process of evolution was at work within these eras and accounts for the development of phyla, species, etc. The following quotation distinguishes theistic evolution from progressive creationism.
"I do not believe in theistic evolution. Theistic evolution means simply that God guided the evolutionary process so that it is not to be explained on a purely naturalistic basis. It assumes that all living things, including man, are biologically descended from a common ancestor. By contrast with theistic evolution, Scripture indicates that God made different basic kinds of beings and that all existing plants and animals are not descended from a common ancestor."
I do not believe that Scripture supports progressive creationism, as these notes will explain.
"2:1-3 echoes 1:1 by introducing the same phrases but in reverse order: 'he created,' 'God,' 'heavens and earth' reappear as 'heavens and earth' (2:1) 'God' (2:2), 'created' (2:3). This chiastic pattern brings the section to a neat close which is reinforced by the inclusion 'God created' linking 1:1 and 2:3."
2:1 Moses probably meant everything that existed above the earth and on the earth when he wrote "their hosts." The "host" of heaven usually refers to the stars in the Old Testament (e.g., Deut. 4:19) more than the angels (e.g., 1 Kings 22:19), so the sun, moon, and stars are probably in view here.
2:2 "Seventh" comes from a Hebrew root meaning "to be full, completed, entirely made up." "Rested" means ceased from activity (cf. Exod. 40:33). There is no implication that God felt fatigued by His creative activity and needed to rest. He simply stopped creating because He had finished His work (cf. Isa. 40:28-29).
2:3 God "blessed" the seventh day of inactivity in that He set it apart as different from the other days of creation. It was a memorial of His creative work. God was satisfied with the work that He had done. Note the unique threefold repetition of "seventh day," highlighting its special significance.
". . . according to one Babylonian tradition, the seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first, and twenty-eighth days of each month were regarded as unlucky: Genesis, however, declares the seventh day of every week to be holy, a day of rest consecrated to God (2:1-3)."
Note that God did not command Adam to abstain from work on the Sabbath; this came later with the Mosaic Law. However, Scripture does teach the importance of periodic rest (cf. Exod. 20:8-10; 23:10-12; Lev. 25:2, 4; Deut. 15:1-18; Heb. 4:1-11; et al.). Part of bearing the likeness of God involves resting as He did after completing His work.
"In the first six days space is subdued; on the seventh, time is sanctified. This day is blessed to refresh the earth. It summons humanity to imitate the pattern of labor and rest of the King and so to confess God's lordship and their consecration to him. On this day they cease to subdue the earth."
The writers of Scripture used the Sabbath to anticipate the hope of Messianic redemption throughout the Old Testament.
"In the creation account the Sabbath points forward to the time when God will bring, ". . . a perfect and complete cosmos out of chaos. . . . The weekly rest-experience of the Sabbath [under the Mosaic Law] served to epitomize the future peace and rest of the Messianic age."
The structure of 1:1—2:3 bears the marks of literary artistry, as does the structure of the rest of Genesis.
"The correspondence of the first paragraph, 1:1-2, with 2:1-3 is underlined by the number of Hebrew words in both being multiples of 7. 1:1 consists of 7 words, 1:2 of 14 (7 x 2) words, 2:1-3 of 35 (7 x 5) words. The number seven dominates this opening chapter in a strange way, not only in the number of words in a particular section but in the number of times a specific word or phrase recurs. For example, 'God' is mentioned 35 times, 'earth' 21 times, 'heaven/firmament' 21 times, while the phrases 'and it was so' and 'God saw that it was good' occur 7 times."
These characteristics of repeating important words or phrases in multiples of seven and using them to bracket sections of the narrative continue throughout Genesis, though not consistently. They help the reader of the Hebrew text to identify discrete sections of the text as such.
How long were the six days of creation? This is a problem because the inspired writers used "day" (Heb. yom) in various ways in the Old Testament.
"The simple fact is that day in Hebrew (just as in English) is used in three separate senses: to mean (1) twenty-four hours, (2) the period of light during the twenty-four hours, and (3) an indeterminate period of time. Therefore, we must leave open the exact length of time indicated by day in Genesis."
Moses used "day" these three ways in Genesis 1 and 2: (1) a 12-hour period of daylight (1:5, 14, 16, 18), (2) a 24-hour day (1:14), and (3) the entire seven-day period of creation (2:4). A few scholars have argued that the sequence of days is not chronologically ordered at all. They believe that Moses numbered the days on the basis of content rather than sequence in time. This view has not enjoyed wide acceptance. Other scholars believe there is some dischronologization in the text. There are four major views as to the length of the days of creation.
1. The literal 24-hour day theory. The normal conclusion one would most likely draw from the terminology in the text (e.g., evening, morning, day, night, etc.) is that God created the world in six 24-hour days. This view is most consistent with the principles of literal, historical, and grammatical interpretation. The fact that the number of days corresponds to the number of weekdays also favors this view. Furthermore, whenever "day" (yom) occurs with a numeral in the Old Testament, as here, it refers to a 24-hour period. Some advocates cite Exodus 20:11 as support also. The main problem with this view is that the activity of some days (e.g., the sixth) seems to some to require more than 24 hours.
2. The day-age (or geologic day) theory. This view interprets the terminology less literally. Advocates argue that the events recorded seem to require more than 24-hour days (e.g., v. 12). They also point out that solar days may not have begun until the fourth day. Some advocates of this theory are theistic evolutionists. Others are progressive creationists. Progressive creationists generally seek to correlate the geologic ages with the six days of creation. The main problem with the day-age theory is that it interprets terms figuratively that seem to have obvious literal meaning.
3. The literal days with intervening ages theory. This view regards each day as a time of completion of creative activity only. It is an attempt to take the "morning and evening" references seriously but still allow the time that seems necessary within the days (e.g., v. 12). It is a combination of the two preceding views. However, it strains the text. Also, Moses could have described this method of creation more clearly than he did if long ages interspersed the six days. Few scholars have adopted this view.
4. The revelatory day theory. The least literal interpretation holds that God revealed, rather than accomplished, creation in six days. A major problem with this view is Exodus 20:11, where Moses says that God "made," not "revealed," His creation in six days. A variation of this view understands the days as "structures of a literary framework designed to illustrate the orderly nature of God's creation and to enable the covenant people to mime the Creator."
Presuppositions are extremely important in this controversy. If one believes that scientific "facts" are true, he or she may try to make the Bible fit these. On the other hand, if one believes in an inerrant Bible, he or she will give priority to statements in the text. If one believes both are true, he or she will soon learn that both cannot be true. For example, the text says God created the trees before marine life (1:11, 20), but most evolutionists believe that trees developed after marine life. Also, the Bible implies that marine life and birds came into existence about the same time (1:20), but evolutionists hold that they evolved millions of years apart. No theory explains the conflict between biblical statements and scientific statements adequately. In the end, one really is forced to ask: "Do I put more confidence in what God says or in what scientists say?" One's presuppositions will also affect whether he or she interprets more or less literally.
Belief in the inerrancy of Scripture does not obviate the problem of the age of the earth, however. Several evangelical scholars who are competent scientists and affirm inerrancy believe the proper interpretation of Scripture results in an old earth model of creation. Other equally qualified inerrantists see a young earth model in the Bible. One writer gave biographical information about Archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656), whose chronology appeared first in the 1701 edition of the AV and later in the margin of the original Scofield Reference Bible. He also gave an explanation of how Ussher arrived at his dates and a table listing the dates of the more important events in Old Testament history contained in Ussher's chronology.
"Clearly a difference between these positions at this precise point of the relationship between science and Scripture is clear and unmistakable. The old-earth view is built on the position that an old universe and an old earth is an established factual base. Thus the Bible at the true meaning level must be interpreted to show that it is not out of harmony with this fact. The young-earth model is based on the position that the scientific data used to establish the concept of an old earth can be interpreted differently and that, strictly speaking, there is no need to defend an old earth. Thus the Bible is approached without this a priori demand for an old earth, and the differences are markedly clear, in this writer's opinion."
Evangelicals who believe in a young earth normally do so because they believe that the biblical genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 are complete or very nearly complete. That is the impression the text gives. These genealogies argue for a young earth. I favor the young earth view.
Where did the names we use for the days of the week come from? The days of the week originally received their names in honor of seven pagan gods, whom the ancients associated with the five major planets plus the sun and moon. The names of Germanic (Teutonic) gods replaced those of some Roman gods as time passed. The early church, following Jewish custom, numbered the days of the week to avoid using the names of pagan gods (e.g., Luke 24:1; Acts 20:7).
"Though historical and scientific questions may be uppermost in our minds as we approach the text, it is doubtful whether they were in the writer's mind, and we should therefore be cautious about looking for answers to questions he was not concerned with. Genesis is primarily about God's character and his purposes for sinful mankind. Let us beware of allowing our interests to divert us from the central thrust of the book so that we miss what the LORD, our creator and redeemer, is saying to us."
The main point of the story of creation (1:1—2:3) is that God turned chaos into an orderly, blessed, good creation by His word. The original Israelite readers of Genesis would have found encouragement in this revelation to trust God. They would have hoped in Him to transform their national life from chaos, in a pagan chaotic environment (Egypt)—to order and blessing, in an environment He would create for them (Canaan). God's superiority over the forces their pagan neighbors worshipped out of fear (gods of the darkness, the sun, moon, planets, and stars, the watery deep, etc.) would have strengthened their faith. Their God had also created them as a nation, so they could look forward to the future with confidence.
"This passage is significant also in the lives of Christians. Above and beyond asserting the fact of creation in much the same way it did for Israel, the passage provides an important theological lesson. The believer enters into a life of Sabbath rest from works and embarks on a life of holiness in that rest. We learn from the creation account (1) that God is a redeeming God who changes darkness to light, death to life, and chaos to blessing; (2) that God is absolutely sovereign over all life and all pagan ideas that would contend for our allegiance; and (3) that God works by His powerful Word—to create, to redeem, and to sanctify. Obedience to His powerful Word, either the written Word, or the living Word, our Savior, will transform believers into His glorious image."
Genesis 2:4—4:26 tells us what became of the creation that God described in 1:1—2:3. Genesis 2:4-25 retells the creation of man and woman as preparation for the account of the Fall in ch. 3. Moses gave us the broad outline of creation in 1:1—2:3 and then filled in details having to do with the creation of human beings in the rest of ch. 2 (cf. Ps. 104; Prov. 8). He then described what happened to the creation by recording significant events in the Garden of Eden, the murder of Abel, and the family of Cain.
"The section begins with a description of the creation of Adam and Eve and traces their sin, God's curse on sin, and the expansion of sin in their descendants. No longer at rest, mankind experienced flight and fear, making his way in the world, surviving, and developing civilization. As if in answer to the blessings of Creation, this passage supplies a threefold cursing (of Satan [3:14], of the ground because of man [3:17], and of Cain [4:11]).
This story has seven scenes that a change in actors, situations or activities identifies. Moses constructed this section of Genesis in a chiastic (palistrophic, crossing) structure to focus attention on the central scene: the Fall. The preceding scenes lead up to the Fall, and the following scenes describe its consequences.
A Scene 1 (narrative): God is the sole actor, and man is passive (2:4-17).
B Scene 2 (narrative): God is the main actor, man plays a minor role, the woman and the animals are passive (2:18-25).
C Scene 3 (dialogue): The snake and the woman converse (3:1-5).
D Scene 4 (narrative): The man and the woman are primary (3:6-8).
C' Scene 5 (dialogue): God converses with the man and the woman (3:9-13).
B' Scene 6 (narrative): God is the main actor, man plays a minor role, the woman and the serpent are passive (3:14-21).
A' Scene 7 (narrative): God is the sole actor, and man is passive (3:22-24).
The story of the Garden of Eden begins with a second, more detailed account of the creation of humankind that Moses gave as an introduction to the Fall and its consequences.
"More light is shed on the relationship between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 by a consideration of a literary structure that occurs throughout the entire book of Genesis: First, less important things are dealt with rapidly, and then the things more important to the central theme of the Bible are returned to and developed more fully."
Note the following contrasts between the accounts of man's creation.
Name of God
Elohim (Strong One)
Yahweh (Covenant-keeping One)
Facts of Creation
God's relationship with human creatures
The world generally
Moses identified "Yahweh," the God who called Abraham (12:1) and who delivered Israel from Egypt (Exod. 3:15), with "Elohim," the God who created the cosmos. The name "Jehovah" comes from combining the vowels of the Hebrew adonay ("Lord") with the consonants of the Hebrew Yahweh (i.e., YHWH).
"In Genesis 1 'elohim (God) refers to God's transcendence over the world, while in Genesis 2—3 yhwh (LORD) speaks of God's immanence with his elect. When the narrator combines the two names, he makes a bold assertion that the Creation God is the Lord of Israel's history. Just as God ordered creation, he orders history. All is under God's sovereign control, guaranteeing that Israel's history will end in triumph, not in tragedy."
The differences between 1:1—2:3 and 2:4-25 have led many literary critics of the Bible to insist that two different writers composed these sections. But the similarities between these sections argue for a common writer.
2:4 Having related the creation of the universe as we know it, God next inspired Moses to explain for his readers what became of it. Sin entered it and devastated it.
The Hebrew word toledot occurs first in 2:4 where it introduces the next section of the book. This Hebrew word often reads "generations," "histories," "descendants," or, as here (in the NASB and NIV), "account" (cf. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2). The word summarizes what follows in the section and introduces what became of something, in this case the universe, or, more often, someone. The person mentioned after toledot is not usually the central figure in the section but the person who originated what follows. The toledot statements contribute the major structural and conceptual framework for the whole Book of Genesis.
". . . the material within each tol'dot is a microcosm of the development of the Book of Genesis itself, with the motifs of blessing and cursing playing a dominant role. Within each of the first several tol'dot is a deterioration to cursing until 12:1-12, where the message moves to the promise of blessing. From this point on there is a constant striving for the place of blessing, but still with each successive narrative there is deterioration, for Isaac and Jacob did not measure up to Abraham. Consequently at the end of Genesis the family is not in the land of blessing but in Egypt."
A new name for "God" appears here. "God" is again Elohim, but "LORD" (Yahweh, Jehovah) translates the proper name of God that elsewhere highlights the Almighty's covenant relationship with His people. The "God" of chapter 1 and the "LORD God" of chapter 2 are the same Person.
2:5-6 These verses describe global conditions, before man's creation, in terms that stress God's gracious preparation of the world for him. They are a flashback to conditions before 1:26. Moses chose terms that contrast with conditions that existed after the Fall. "Shrubs" were evidently not edible, whereas "plants" were. Thus Moses distinguished two types of land: arable and non-arable.
Moses' reference to "rain" anticipates the story of the Flood (chs. 6—9). The absence of "rain" and the presence of the "mist" have led some writers to postulate a "canopy theory." According to this theory, a canopy of water vapor that watered the earth covered the earth initially. It reduced the destructive rays of the sun so that antediluvian man lived much longer, and it distributed heat more evenly over the surface of this planet. Such a water canopy covers Venus. This canopy supposedly broke up when God sent the Flood (7:11). This is another of those theories that are impossible to prove or disprove conclusively.
I believe Genesis 1:1—2:3 is the big picture of creation, and the rest of chapter 2 retells the creation of man. Chapter 2 verses 4 and 5 set the stage for what follows by explaining what agricultural land was like before man started farming. Verse 5 explains the original order of plant life, which did not yet grow as a result of rain ("no plant of the field had yet sprouted"). Initially plants grew from the mist that arose from the ground (v. 6). In other words, verses 5 and 6 apparently give the chronological sequence of mist—plants—man, and the comment about rain was added because that is how plants grow now.
2:7 "Formed" (Heb. yasar) means to shape or mold and implies that God deliberately did this with tender loving care. It describes the work of an artist (cf. Job 10:8-9).
"Dust" (Heb. haadama) reflects man's lowly origin. Even though he was in God's image, man was a creature like other creatures God had made. This rules out the view that man descended from the gods, which was popular in the ancient Near East and was foundational in Egyptian cosmology. In the Creation, God raised man out of the dust to reign. However, in the Fall, man returned to the dust by his own work (3:19).
The "breath of life" (Heb. nesama) was God's breath that gave Adam life, spiritual understanding (Job 32:8), and a functioning conscience (Prov. 20:27). It may also have imparted moral, intellectual, relational, and spiritual capacities. Adam's life-breath came from God's breath. His uniqueness consisted in his having been made in God's image. God's breath may be a synonym for His word (cf. Ps. 33:6). Man, therefore, is a combination of dust and divinity.
2:8-15 Another indication of God's love and grace is that He placed Adam in a garden that He had prepared for him. The God who was powerful enough to create the cosmos with a word (ch. 1) was also a good and loving God (v. 5).
The modern equivalent of the "Pishon" River is unknown for certain. Commentators have suggested that it was the Indus, the Ganges, a river of Arabia, or a river of Mesopotamia. The "land of Havilah" seems to have been in southwestern Arabia (cf. 25:18). The "Gihon" may be the pre-flood Nile, since Cush (the region surrounding the river) in the Old Testament usually describes modern Ethiopia (cf. 10:6-8; Num. 12:1; 2 Sam. 18:19-33; 2 Kings 19:9; 2 Chron. 14:9-15; Isa. 37:9; Jer. 13:23; 38—39). However, some interpreters believe this site was in the land of the Cassites east of Mesopotamia.
The "Tigris" and "Euphrates" are now in the area formerly called Babylonia (Iraq). "Eden" (meaning "delight," "pleasure," or perhaps "place of abundant waters") therefore appears to have been located in the general area of the Promised Land (vv. 11-14; cf. Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 36:35; Joel 2:3; Zech. 14:8; Rev. 22:1-2). The "Garden of . . . (sometimes "in") Eden" seems to have been in the eastern part of Eden. This rather extensive description sets the stage for Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden in 3:24. It probably also encouraged the Israelites to anticipate the Promised Land.
The trees in the garden were beautiful ("pleasing to the sight") and edible ("good for food"), an orchard for man to enjoy (v. 9). The "tree of life" appears to have been a means, with its fruit, whereby God sustained Adam and Eve's lives. Again, God's desire to bless man comes through. "The knowledge of good and evil" (vv. 9, 17) probably refers to man's ability to decide for himself what is best for him and what is not (i.e., wisdom). "Good" and "evil" may be a merism for all the things that protect and destroy life. It may mean total knowledge.
Similarities between the descriptions of the garden and the tabernacle are also interesting (cf. Exod. 25-27). Both places reflected the glory of God's presence in their beautiful surroundings (cf. Hag. 2:7-8; Rev. 21:18).
The Hebrew word translated "put" in verse 15 (wayyannihehu) is not the same one rendered "put" in verse 8 (wayyasem). The latter term (v. 8) is the normal one for putting something somewhere. However, the former one (v. 15) connotes rest and safety (cf. 19:16; Deut. 3:20; 12:10; 25:19), as well as dedication in God's presence (cf. Exod. 16:33-34; Lev. 16:23; Num. 17:4; Deut. 26:4, 10). God specifically put man in "the garden," where he could be safe and rest, and where he could have fellowship with God (cf. 3:8). Mankind's primary responsibility there was actually to worship and obey God, though not stated, rather than to "cultivate" and "keep" the garden, as many English versions state. Adam served—and thereby worshipped God—by tending the garden. Work is essentially a good gift from God, not a punishment for sin.
"The Garden of Eden is a temple-garden, represented later in the tabernacle. Cherubim protect its sanctity (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 26:1; 2 Chron. 3:7) so that sin and death are excluded (Gen. 3:23; Rev. 21:8)."
2:16-17 God gave Adam great freedom of choice. Note that He graciously gave him broad permission before changing this to narrow restriction. God only forbade one of all the trees. God's command also implies that He alone knows what is good and not good for man. Adam would die because of disobedience, not because of the fruit of the tree. Someone posted on their church marquee: "Forbidden fruits create many jams."
"Adam was denied the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to test his obedience and prove that he was willingly under God's command. The very name of the tree shows the sole purpose of the precept was to keep him content with his lot and to prevent him from becoming puffed up with wicked lust. But the promise by which he was bidden to hope for eternal life so long as he ate from the tree of life, and, conversely, the terrible threat of death once he tasted of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, served to prove and exercise his faith."
"That famous tree symbolizes the ability to discern good (i.e., what advances life) and evil (i.e., what hinders life). Such knowledge belongs to God alone because, as Agur inferentially argues in Prov. 30:1-6, one must know comprehensively in order to speak absolutely about what is good and bad."
"On the whole it seems probable that we should understand 'death' to mean a spiritual state, but a state aptly symbolized by physical death. When man sinned he passed into a new state, one dominated by, and at the same time symbolized by death. It is likely that spiritual death and physical death are not being thought of as separate, so that the one involves the other."
The Hebrew construction emphasizes the certainty of death, however it is defined. Why did Adam and Eve not die immediately? Because the phrase "in the day" in Hebrew is an idiom meaning "for certain" (cf. Exod. 10:28; 1 Kings 2:37, 42).
"Before Adam and Eve fell into sin, God made a proposition to them that some have regarded as a covenant, as stated in Genesis 1:26-31 and 2:16-17. God gave Adam authority over the creatures of the world, commanded him to be fruitful, and gave him permission to eat from every green plant. The only restriction was that Adam and Eve not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for if they did so they would surely die (2:16-17). Basically, the covenant was conditional, requiring obedience; but it also declared God's purpose to elevate humanity to a place of authority and prominence, ultimately fulfilled by Christ."
The covenant in 2:16-17 has been called the Edenic Covenant. A covenant is a divine pronouncement by which God establishes a relationship involving responsibility. The relationship may involve Himself and an individual (e.g., Adam in the Edenic Covenant; Gen. 2:16-17), or Himself and humankind in general (e.g., humanity in the Noahic Covenant; Gen. 9:9-17). It may involve Himself and a nation (e.g., Israel in the Mosaic Covenant; Exod. 19:3-8), or Himself and a human family (e.g., David's family in the Davidic Covenant; 2 Sam. 7:12-17). A covenant of one type, may overlap another covenant or other covenants, of a different type or different types. For example, the Noahic Covenant overlaps the Mosaic Covenant, and the Davidic Covenant overlaps the Mosaic and New Covenants.
The biblical covenants normally involved unconditional promises in which God obligated Himself to accomplish certain purposes despite human failure, though they may contain conditional elements. An exception is the Mosaic Covenant, in which the fulfillment of the promises contained in the covenant depended on Israel's obedience. The Edenic Covenant was also different, in that God promised death for failure to obey His command: to abstain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The three universal covenants, which affect the whole human race, are the Edenic, Adamic, and Noahic Covenants. All the subsequent covenants affect Israel primarily, though they all affect the rest of humanity secondarily. There are eight major biblical covenants, and they all help us understand how God is working out His purposes with humankind. These are: the Edenic (Gen. 2:16), the Adamic (Gen. 3:15), the Noahic (Gen. 9:16), the Abrahamic (Gen. 12:2), the Mosaic (Exod. 19:5), the Palestinian (Deut. 30:3), the Davidic (2 Sam. 7:16), and the New (Heb. 8:8).
The Edenic Covenant required five things from Adam. He was: (1) to propagate the human race, (2) to subdue the earth for human habitation, (3) to exercise dominion over the animal creation, (4) to care for and enjoy the Garden of Eden and its fruits, and (5) to abstain from eating from one tree in the garden.
2:18 Adam's creation was not complete because he lacked a "helper" who corresponded to him. This deficiency led God to pronounce Adam's condition "not good." This follows the pattern of the triune God's own existence in which He is surrounded by His heavenly court. Man should normally live in community, even as God does. God not only evaluated Adam's condition, He also rectified it.
God's provision of a wife for Adam is a concrete example of God's knowing what is good for man. Companionship replaced isolation. For companionship to be satisfying, however, there must be oneness in the marriage (cf. 1:26-27). Self-centered living destroys oneness and companionship.
The term "helper" does not mean a servant. Jesus Christ used the same word (the Greek equivalent) to describe the Holy Spirit, who would help believers following the Lord's ascension (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). "Helper" means one who supports us in our task of doing the will of God (cf. Deut. 33:7; Ps. 33:20; 115:9-11; 146:5; Hos. 13:9). It is not a demeaning term, since Scripture often uses it to describe God Himself (e.g., Ps. 33:20; 70:5; 115:9).
"The word help suggests that the man has governmental priority, but both sexes are mutually dependent on each other. The man is created first, with the woman to help the man, not vice versa (see also 1 Tim. 2:13); however, this does not mean ontological superiority or inferiority. The word helper, used for God sixteen of the nineteen times it appears in the Old Testament, signifies the woman's essential contribution, not inadequacy."
"Suitable to him" or "corresponding to him" means "equal and adequate." What was true of Adam (cf. v. 7) was also true of Eve. They both had the same nature. She was comparable to him, in contrast to the rest of the animal creation.
The ancient Near Eastern texts contain no account of the creation of woman. Moses, however, devoted six verses to her formation compared to only one for Adam (2:7).
2:19-20 The text does not mean that Adam named every individual animal. He apparently gave names to the different kinds God brought before him. This exercise demonstrated Adam's authority over the animals and the dissimilarity between humans and animals. As God had named things (ch. 1), now Adam demonstrated his right as God's regent to name the animals ("whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name"). He became aware of his own need for a companion as he named the animals.
"Adam" comes from the Hebrew word for "earth" (adamah). "Adam" means "one that is red," like the earth. Likewise the names of the animals probably expressed the nature of each animal. Names of humans in Old Testament times usually reflected the nature of the persons who bore them. This indicates that Adam must have had great intelligence and wisdom to be able to identify and label the various types of animals according to their natures.
Man is not like the other animals. Adam could find no ("for Adam there was found no") suitable partner who was comparable to him among them. So God graciously provided for his need by creating Eve.
2:21-22 More than once, when God initiated a new relationship for someone, He first put that person "into a deep sleep" (cf. 15:12; 28:11). He evidently did so to assure the recipient that his own works had no part in his receiving it. It was totally a gift of God's grace.
". . . the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved."
"Similarly, it was observed [by the Rabbis], that God had not formed woman out of the head, lest she should become proud; nor out of the eye, lest she should lust; nor out of the ear, lest she should be curious; nor out of the mouth, lest she should be talkative; nor out of the heart, lest she should be jealous; nor out of the hand, lest she should be covetous; nor out of the foot, lest she be a busybody; but out of the rib, which was always covered. Modesty was, therefore, a prime quality."
"Just as the rib is found at the side of the man and is attached to him, even so the good wife, the rib of her husband, stands at his side to be his helper-counterpart, and her soul is bound up with him."
God "fashioned" Eve (v. 22) to be a suitable companion for Adam. Then He presented her to him as a gift ("brought her to the man").
". . . the whole account of woman's creation has a poetic flavor: it is certainly mistaken to read it as an account of a clinical operation or as an attempt to explain some feature of man's anatomy . . . Rather, it brilliantly depicts the relation of man and wife. . . . Here the ideal of marriage as it was understood in ancient Israel is being portrayed, a relationship characterized by harmony and intimacy between the partners."
2:23 The word "woman" (Heb. ishah) sounds similar to the Hebrew word translated "man" (ish). This similarity reflects the close union between the two. Moses named Adam by his relation to the ground, but Adam named his wife in relation to himself.
When Adam discovered that God had provided him with a partner like himself, not like one of the other animals, he rejoiced greatly. He received his mate as God's good gift to him because he trusted in God's wisdom, goodness, and integrity. Adam was now "beside himself"! (Pardon the pun.)
Following Adam's example, it is essential for every husband and wife to thankfully receive the mate God has given him or her as His best provision for them. To do so we must know and trust God's goodness. Our mate's differences are good things that God "brings to us" (as part of the whole "package"), that He will use as tools to shape us into the people He wants us to be. Failure to accept one's mate as a good gift from a loving God, leads to many problems in marriage, and frustrates God's purpose and plan for marriage. It expresses rejection of God and His provision for one's life. It also demonstrates unbelief, disobedience, and displeasure with God's character. Your mate needs your unconditional acceptance.
"In Gen 2:24, 'for this cause' did not refer to God's making the first human beings 'male and female,' but to God's making Eve out of Adam's rib. The reason for a man's leaving his father and mother, cleaving to his wife, and becoming one flesh with her was not sexual, then. It had to do with Eve's origin in Adam: since woman came from man, man should unite himself with woman to recapture their original unity."
"Leaving" and "cleaving" probably means both psychological and physical separation and union under normal conditions. A newly married couple is wise to establish relative independence from both sets of parents emotionally, physically, financially, and in other ways. The couple also needs to establish commitment to one another. "Cleaving" resembles weaving two threads into one new piece of cloth. The word suggests the ideas of passion and permanence. In marriage, a man's priorities change. Before, they were primarily to his parents, but now, they are primarily to his wife. Moses was probably correcting those cultures that gave parental bonds priority over marital bonds. Marriage also involves physical consummation that unites two individuals as "one flesh" in a physical union that symbolized their total unity in their "new family." This is a strong argument for monogamy. "One flesh" is not the same as marriage (1 Cor. 6:16). For a marriage to exist, there must also be a commitment to "leave" parents and "cleave" to one's spouse from then on (cf. Matt. 19:5; et al.). The bond of marriage (spouse) also takes priority over the bond of procreation (children).
2:25 The "naked" condition of Adam and Eve does not just describe their unclothed physical appearance. It also refers to the physical and psychological oneness and transparency that existed in their relationship. Physically they were "naked"; they shared their bodies with each other openly. Psychologically they were "not ashamed"; they hid nothing from each other. They were at ease with one another, without any fear of exploitation for evil. Transparency should increase with trust, commitment, and friendship. It involves communicating what we know, think, feel, and are—with the person or persons we choose. We should not be transparent with everyone, however, but only with people who commit themselves to us. A transparent person is an open and vulnerable person.
This is a hinge (janus) verse. It looks backward into chapter 2 and forward into chapter 3. The similarity of the Hebrew words for naked ('arom) and "crafty" (3:1, 'arum) points to a wordplay. The word here for "nakedness" means unclothed, whereas the one in 3:7 ('erom), and elsewhere, describes those under God's judgment (cf. Deut. 28:48; Ezek. 16:39; 23:29).
Verses 18-25 teach us much about marriage.
1. God instituted it.
2. God intended it to be monogamous (not monotonous). One woman completed Adam (cf. Matt. 19:8).
3. God intended it to be heterosexual.
4. It involves both a physical and a spiritual union (2:24; cf. Matt. 19:4-5).
5. The husband was to be the head of the wife. God created Adam before Eve, and He created Eve for Adam (cf. 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Tim. 2:13).
6. A woman can be a complete person without bearing children. A wife's primary function in marriage is to complement her husband, not to bear children.
7. Normally, a couple, following the lead of their representatives, Adam and Eve, should "be fruitful and multiply" (1:28). God did not specify how early in the marriage and to what extent. He left this up to the couple. Couples may choose when and how many children they plan to have, though God may sovereignly overrule their plans.
The Family Ministry organization has summarized these purposes as five. Marriage should: mirror God's image, multiply a godly heritage, manage God's realm, mutually complete one another, and model Christ's relationship to the church.
The Bible writers made use of the creation account in many different ways, and we too can use it in these ways for our own personal benefit. These purposes include: glorifying the God of creation, stimulating praise and worship, and fortifying faith in God's promises. They also include: learning about God's attributes, expressing wonder at man's position in God's universe, dispelling fear, and exalting the Lord Jesus.
However, a main point of this unit (2:4-25) seems clearly to be that God made human beings "male and female," with a spiritual capacity, and mutually dependent. He did so that they might serve and obey Him, and so enjoy His creation. As with Adam and Eve, God later placed Israel in a place of blessing. The nation could enjoy His blessing by being obedient and trusting, with the assistance He had provided for them in marriage. Even today, serving and obeying God is man's greatest privilege, and we find help to do this in the marriage relationship.
The theme of descendants (seed) is also present, though perhaps not as prominent (1:28).
As in chapters 1 and 2, the word of the Lord is very important in chapter 3. Here Adam and Eve doubted God's integrity. This pericope also has something to teach about the acquisition of wisdom. Chapter 2 anticipated God's gift of the Promised Land to the original readers, and chapter 3 anticipates their exile from it.
3:1 Who was the tempter? Among evangelicals there are two major views regarding the identity of "the serpent."
1. It was a literal snake.
a. Moses called it a "beast of the field" (v. 1).
b. Though snakes normally do not speak, Satan could have spoken through a snake. He did this through demoniacs in Jesus' day. Also, a spirit being spoke through Balaam's donkey (Num. 22:21-30).
2. It was Satan himself described here as a snake.
a. God called Satan a "serpent" elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Rev. 20:2).
b. Satan can and does speak, as recorded elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Job 1).
c. What he said here is in character for Satan, who is also called the "father of lies" (John 8:44).
Probably the tempter was actually Satan, who in this event possessed and controlled a literal snake. Temptation came to Eve disguised, unexpectedly, and from a subordinate, as is still often true.
The pattern of temptation observable here is one Satan has used often and still uses (cf. the temptations of Achan, David, and Jesus Christ).
Satan's first step was to plant a seed of doubt in Eve's mind concerning God's ways and goodness of character (vv. 1-3). The key phrase is "from any" (v. 1). Satan focused Eve's attention on God's one prohibition. He suggested that God did not really want what was best for Adam and Eve, but rather was withholding something from them that was essentially good. Satan implied that God's line of protection was actually a line that He drew because He was selfish! Satan still tempts women to believe that God's role for them is primarily for His benefit rather than for their welfare.
The Hebrew word translated "crafty" ('arum) does not mean wicked as much as wise. Eve's sin was not so much an act of great wickedness as it was an act of great folly. She already had all the good she needed, but she wanted more. She wanted to glorify self, not God.
3:2-3 Eve was vulnerable to this suggestion to doubt God's goodness, because she distorted the word of God. She added to the words "or touch it" (v. 3).
"In her reply to [the serpent's] question, she perverted and misquoted three times the divine law to which she and Adam were subject: (1) She disparaged her privileges by misquoting the terms of the Divine permission as to the other trees. (2) She overstated the restrictions by misquoting the Divine prohibition. (3) She underrated her obligations by misquoting the Divine penalty."
God reveals His character through His Word—both His spoken word, and His written Word. When we do not retain His Word precisely, a distorted concept of God is often the result. This led Eve to doubt God's goodness.
The serpent's claim directly contradicted the main point of chapters 1 and 2, namely, that God would provide what is good for mankind.
"It is because 'Yahweh Elohim' expresses so strongly the basic OT convictions about God's being both creator and Israel's covenant partner that the serpent and the woman avoid the term in their discussion. The god they are talking about is malevolent, secretive, and concerned to restrict man: his character is so different from that of Yahweh Elohim that the narrative pointedly avoids the name in the dialogue of 3:1-5."
One natural tendency that we have, when we do not understand or recall God's Word precisely, is to make it more restrictive than He does. This is what Eve did. This is a form of legalism.
3:4-5 The second step in Satan's temptation was to deny God's word. In denying it, he imputed motives to God that were not consistent with God's character. God's true motive was the welfare of man, but the serpent implied it was God's welfare at man's expense.
This added suggestion seemed consistent with what the serpent had already implied about God's motives in verse 1. Having entertained a doubt concerning God's word, Eve was ready to accept a denial of His word.
What the serpent said about Eve being "as (like) God (or 'gods')" was a half-truth. Ironically, she was already "like God," having been made in His image (1:26). She did become like God, or divine beings (Heb. 'elohim), in that she obtained a greater knowledge of good and evil by eating of the tree. However, she became less like God, because she was no longer innocent of sin. Her relationship with God suffered. Though she remained like God, she could no longer enjoy unhindered fellowship with God (3:24). The consequent separation from God (broken fellowship with God) is the essence of (spiritual) death (2:17)—ultimately eternal death, and permanent separation for the unsaved.
The first doctrine Satan denied in Scripture was that sin results in death (separation from God); on the negative side, the first false doctrine was that God will not punish sin. This is still the truth that Satan tries the hardest to get people to disbelieve.
In this section, the relationship that God had established with man, which is the focus of the creation story, is broken. We can gain great insight into human nature from this story. Adam and Eve's behavior as recorded here has been repeated by every one of their descendants.
"It is hardly too much to say that this chapter is the pivot of the Bible . . . . With the exception of the fact of Creation, we have here the record of the most important and far-reaching event in the world's history—the entrance of sin."
". . . Genesis does not explain the origins of evil; rather, the biblical account, if anything, says where evil does not have its source. Evil was not inherent in man nor can it be said that sin was the consequence of divine entrapment. The tempter stands outside the human pair and stands opposed to God's word."
3:6 Having succumbed to temptation, Eve disobeyed God's will. Whereas the serpent initiated the first two steps, he let Eve's natural desires (her flesh) carry her into his trap. Instead of listening to the serpent, Eve should have spoken to it what God had said (His prohibition), as Jesus did when He was tempted (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).
All three avenues of fleshly temptation are present in verse 6:
1. She saw that the tree was "good for food" (the lust of the flesh: the desire to do something contrary to God's will, i.e., eat the tasty fruit).
2. It was a "delight to the eyes" (the lust of the eyes: the desire to have something apart from God's will, i.e., possess the beautiful fruit).
3. It was "desirable to make one wise" (the pride of life: the desire to be something apart from God's will, i.e., as wise as God, or gods). It was the illegitimate quest for forbidden wisdom that led Eve to disobey God.
Eve saw, coveted, and took the fruit (cf. Josh. 7:21; 2 Sam. 11:2-4). We perceive, then lust, then act.
"We have already noted . . . how the scenes themselves are arranged in a concentric palistrophic pattern (ABCDCBA). Within this central scene, the same device is used; the midpoint 'and he ate' employs the key verb of this tale—'eat.' On either side we have the woman's hopes of eating, 'good to eat,' 'delight to the eyes,' 'giving insight,' balanced by its effects, 'eyes opened,' 'knowing they were nude,' 'hiding in the trees.' These contrasts are deliberately drawn."
In view of Jesus' statement that a lustful look is as sinful as an overt act of sin (Matt. 5:27-28), did Eve commit the first sin when she desired the forbidden fruit? Sinful desires are sinful, but temptations are not sins until we respond by giving in to them. Eve did this when she ate the fruit. Until she did that, she was only experiencing temptation.
Ignorance or disregard of God's Word makes one very vulnerable to temptation (Ps. 119:11). These conditions produce distrust, dissatisfaction, and finally disobedience. Failure to appreciate God's goodness leads to distrust of His goodness. God's prohibitions as well as His provisions are for our good.
"The root of sin should be understood. The foundation of all sin lies in man's desire of self-assertion and his determination to be independent of God. Adam and Eve chafed under the restriction laid upon them by the command of God, and it was in opposition to this that they asserted themselves, and thereby fell. Man does not like to be dependent upon another, and subject to commands upon another, and subject to commands from without. He desires to go his own way, to be his own master; and as a consequence he sins, and becomes 'lord of himself, that heritage of woe.'"
God has always asked people to believe and trust His promise that His will for us will result in our blessing. However, Satan has always urged us to have experiences that will convince us that we can obtain even greater blessings. He says, "Try it; you'll like it!" But God says, "Trust me, and you'll live." Satan's appeal to get us to experience something, just to assure ourselves of its goodness, directly contradicts God's will for us. It is the way of sight rather than the way of faith.
Adam chose to obey his wife rather than God (cf. 3:17).
"In this integrity [i.e., in his unfallen state] man by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life. . . . Yet his choice of good and evil was free, and not that alone, but the highest rectitude was in his mind and will, and all the organic parts were rightly composed to obedience, until in destroying himself he corrupted his own blessings.
"Now we need bear only this in mind: man was far different at the first creation from his whole posterity, who, deriving their origin from him in his corrupted state, have contracted from him a hereditary taint. For, the individual parts of his soul were formed to uprightness, the soundness of his mind stood firm, and his will was free to choose the good. . . . But the reason he [God] did not sustain man by the virtue of perseverance [i.e., keep him from sinning] lies hidden in his plan . . ."
3:7-8 The separation (spiritual death) that sin produces in man's relationship with God stands out clearly in these verses. Their new knowledge, that the serpent promised would make them as God, actually taught them that they were no longer even like each other. They were ashamed of their nakedness ("eyes . . . opened . . . knew that they were naked") and "sewed fig leaves together" to hide their differences from each other (v. 7). Perhaps they chose fig leaves because "fig leaves" are large and strong.
The "cool" of the day is literally the "wind" of the day. God came to Adam and Eve in this wind. He came in a wind earlier in Creation (1:2) and later to Job (Job 38:1), Israel (Exod. 20:18-21; cf. Deut. 5:25), and Elijah (1 Kings 19:11).
"Jeffrey Niehaus has proposed a different translation of the verse, as follows: 'Then the man and his wife heard the thunder of Yahweh God as he was going back and forth in the garden in the wind of the storm and they hid from Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.'"
"Though unlikely to be adopted by published Bibles anytime soon and not seen by all scholars as proving the presence of a storm theophany in the passage, Niehaus's translation of Genesis 3:8 remains the correct one. The verse is about God's appearance in the wind of a storm, not the cool of the day."
"A more complete transformation could not be imagined. The trust of innocence is replaced by the fear of guilt. The trees that God created for man to look at (2:9) are now his hiding place to prevent God seeing him."
Verse 7 marks the beginning of the second dispensation, the dispensation of Conscience (or moral responsibility). Adam and Eve had failed in their responsibility under the dispensation of Innocence; they were now sinners. They had rebelled against a specific command of God (2:16-17), and this rebellion marked a transition from theoretical to experiential knowledge of good and evil. Their new responsibility now became to do all known good, to abstain from all known evil, and to approach God through blood sacrifice, which anticipated the sacrifice of Christ. As a period of testing for humanity, the dispensation of Conscience ended with the Flood. However, people continued to be morally responsible to God, as He added further revelation of Himself and His will, in succeeding ages (cf. Acts 14:14-16; Rom. 2:15; 2 Cor. 4:2).
Eve did not die at once physically, but she did die at once spiritually. She experienced alienation in her relationship with God. "Death" means separation in the Bible, never annihilation. Sin always results in alienation: theologically (between God and man), sociologically (between man and man), psychologically (between man and himself), and ecologically (between man and nature). We might also add, sexually (between men and women) and maritally (between husbands and wives).
Three kinds of death appear in Scripture: physical—separation of the body and soul (the material and immaterial parts of the person), spiritual—separation of the person and God, and eternal—permanent separation of the person and God.
The Apostle Paul wrote that Eve was "deceived" (1 Tim. 2:14). This does not mean that women are by nature more easily subject to deception than men.
"The tempter addresses himself to the woman, probably not because she is more open to temptation and prone to sin, for that is hardly the conception of the Old Testament elsewhere. The reason may have lain in this, that the woman had not personally received the prohibition from God, as Adam had."
She may have received God's command through Adam. Perhaps Satan appealed to Eve because she was not only under God's authority—but also under her husband's authority—and, therefore, more inclined to think God was withholding something from her.
"It is interesting to observe that when this sin is referred to throughout Scripture, it is not referred to as the sin of Eve—but rather as the sin of Adam! The phrase in verse 6, 'with her,' seems to suggest that Adam was at Eve's side when she was tempted by Satan. As God's theocratic administrator, and as the appointed head of the family, it was Adam's responsibility to safeguard Eve and to assure that she remained in submission to the command of God. But Adam failed in his God-given responsibility and permitted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit."
Adam, however, "was not . . . deceived" (1 Tim. 2:14). He sinned with his eyes wide open (v. 6b). Eve's was a sin of initiative, whereas Adam's was one of acquiescence. Too much aggressiveness in a woman, and too much passivity in a man, still are tendencies of the respective sexes. Death "passed unto all men" (Rom. 5:12) when Adam sinned—because Adam, not Eve, was the head of the human race under God's administration (cf. 3:18-23).
Some commentators have interpreted eating the forbidden fruit as a euphemism for having sexual intercourse. They say that the original sin was a sexual sin. However, the text makes such an interpretation impossible. Eve sinned first (v. 6), she sinned alone (v. 6), and besides, God had previously approved sex (1:28).
"Adam and Eve's nakedness (2:25) does not idealize nudity but shows why human beings must wear clothes. With the Fall came a tragic loss of innocence (together with resulting shame). When people's minds are enlightened by the gospel, they understand their moral frailty and practice customs of dress that shield them against sexual temptation."
The timeless lesson of these verses is, that victory over the temptation to violate God's good will, depends on a thorough knowledge of God's Word and an unwavering confidence in God's goodness. As Israel faced temptations to depart from God's revealed will, from the pagans she encountered, this record of the Fall would have provided a resource for remaining faithful, as it does for us today. Often these temptations attract because they promise superior blessing and fulfillment, even divinity. Therefore, knowing God's Word is extremely important (cf. Deut. 6:5-9, 13-25; Ps. 119:9-16). Satan tempted Jesus similarly to the way he tempted Eve. However, Jesus overcame victoriously by accurately using the Word of God to remain faithful to the will of God. True wisdom comes by obeying, not disobeying, God's Word.
This section begins to relate the effects of the Fall. We now see the God, who was Creator and Benefactor in chapters 1 and 2, as Judge (cf. 1:3-4). He first interrogated the offenders to obtain a confession, then announced new conditions for life, and finally provided for the sinners graciously (God's grace = His divine favor, forgiveness, and righteousness freely granted). The sinners' responsibility was to confess their sins and to accept and trust in God's provision for them (cf. 1 John 1:9). They did not confess their sins but blamed others for them.
Note that God took the initiative in seeking out the sinners to re-establish a relationship with them. Evidence of God's love is His unwillingness to abandon those He loved, even when they failed to do His will. His approach was tender as well as gracious (vv. 9, 11, 13).
The text records several effects of the Fall on Adam and Eve.
1. They felt guilt and shame (v. 7)
2. They tried to change these conditions by their own efforts (v. 7).
3. They fled from God's presence out of fear of Him (vv. 8, 10).
4. They tried to blame their sin on another rather than confessing personal responsibility (vv. 12, 13).
The fact that Adam viewed God's good gift to him—Eve—as the source of his trouble, shows how far he fell (v. 12). He virtually accused God of causing him to fall, by God having given him—what he now regarded to be—a bad gift! Contrast David's proper response in 2 Samuel 12:13.
As the result of man's disobedience to God, the creation suffered a curse and began to deteriorate. Evolution teaches that man is improving his condition through self-effort. The Bible teaches that man is destroying his condition through sin. Having been thrice blessed by God (1:22, 28; 2:3), the creation now experienced a triple curse (3:14, 17; 4:11).
Nevertheless, God also began re-creation, with the promise of: the seed, the land, the dominion, and the rest for trusting in His powerful Word.
Verses 14-19 reveal the terms of the second major biblical covenant, the Adamic Covenant. Here God specified the conditions under which fallen man was to live (until God lifts His curse on creation in the messianic kingdom; Rom. 8:21). The elements of this covenant can be summarized as follows: God cursed the serpent (v. 14), but promised a Redeemer (v. 15). He changed the status of the woman in three respects: she would experience multiplied conception, sorrow and pain in motherhood, and continuing headship by the man (v. 16). God also changed Adam and Eve's light workload, in Eden, to burdensome labor and inevitable sorrow, resulting from His curse on the earth (vv. 17-19). Finally, He promised certain physical death for Adam and all his descendents (v. 19).
"Curses are uttered against the serpent and the ground, but not against the man and woman, implying that the blessing has not been utterly lost. It is not until human murder, a transgression against the imago Dei, that a person (Cain) receives the divine curse . . ."
1. The snake had been "crafty" (Heb. 'arum), but now it was "cursed" (Heb. 'arur). It had to move on its belly (v. 14). Some commentators take this literally and conclude that the snake had legs before God cursed it. Others take it figuratively as a reference to the resultant despised condition of the snake. Josephus wrote that God also deprived the serpent of speech at this time, but there is no biblical support for this conclusion.
2. It would "eat dust" (v. 14). Since snakes do not literally feed on dust, many interpreters take this statement figuratively. Eating dust is an expression used in other ancient Near Eastern writings to describe the lowest of all forms of life. In the Bible, it also describes humiliation and total defeat (cf. Ps. 44:25; 72:9; Isa. 25:12; 49:23; 65:25; Mic. 7:17). Another explanation is that this is the language of appearance: snakes appear to eat dust now, since they glide along on their bellies.
God revealed later through Isaiah that serpents will "eat dust" during the Millennium (Isa. 65:25). Presently snakes eat plants and animals. Perhaps God will yet fulfill this part of what He predicted here in Genesis, concerning snakes, in the millennial kingdom. This is a literal interpretation. If this is correct, then perhaps we should also take the former part of the curse literally, namely, that snakes did not travel on their bellies before the Fall. Alternatively, Isaiah may have meant that serpents will be harmless (defeated; no longer a threat), after God lifts the curse on creation in the Millennium.
3. There would be antagonism ("enmity") between the serpent and human beings (v. 15a). This obviously exists between snakes and people, but God's intention in this verse seems to include the person behind the snake (Satan) as well as, and even more than, the snake itself.
". . . the seed of the serpent refers to natural humanity whom he has led into rebellion against God. Humanity is now divided into two communities: the elect, who love God, and the reprobate, who love self (John 8:31-32, 44; 1 John 3:8). Each of the characters of Genesis will be either of the seed of the woman that reproduces her spiritual propensity, or of the seed of the Serpent that reproduces his unbelief."
4. Mankind (through Christ) would eventually destroy the serpent, though the serpent would wound mankind (and Christ; v. 15b). This is a prophecy of the victory of the ultimate "Seed" of the woman (Messiah) over Satan (cf. Rev. 19:1-5; Gal. 3:16, 19; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). Most interpreters have recognized this verse as the first biblical promise of the provision of salvation (the protoevangelium or "first gospel"). The rest of the book, in fact the whole Old Testament, proceeds to point ahead to that Seed.
"The snake, for the author, is representative of someone or something else. The snake is represented by his 'seed.' When that 'seed' is crushed, the head of the snake is crushed. Consequently more is at stake in this brief passage than the reader is at first aware of. A program is set forth. A plot is established that will take the author far beyond this or that snake and his 'seed.' It is what the snake and His [sic his] seed' represent that lies at the center of the author's focus. With that 'one' lies the 'enmity' that must be crushed."
"The text in context provides an outline that is correct and clear in pattern but not complete in all details. Numerous questions are left unanswered. When Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, the details of the climax were filled in and specified, but the text does not demand to be reinterpreted. Nor does it demand interpretation in a way not suggested in context."
"The patriarchs, and the ancient world in general, were perfectly acquainted with the grand primeval promise of Eden, and they knew right well that the bruising of the heel of the promised seed implied his death, and that the curse could be removed from the world only by the death of the grand Deliverer. . . . There is hardly a people or kindred on earth in whose mythology it is not shadowed forth."
God cursed all animals and the whole creation because of the Fall (Rom. 8:20), but He made the snake the most despicable of all the animals for its part in the Fall.
1. Eve would experience increased "pain" in bearing children. There evidently would have been some pain in the process of bearing children even before the Fall, but Eve and her daughters would experience increased pain ("I will greatly multiply your pain"; emphasis added). The text does not say that God promised more conception as well as more pain. "Pain and childbirth" is probably another hendiadys in the Hebrew text meaning "pregnancy pain" or "sorrowful conception" (cf. 1:2; 4:12; 9:2; Ps. 9:2). Women's joy in conceiving and bearing children would be turned to sorrow by the pain involved in it.
2. Women's desire would be for their husbands. There have been several different interpretations of what the woman's "desire" would be.
a. The phrase "your desire will be for your husband" means that a woman's desire would be subject to her husband's desire.
b. The woman will have a great longing, yearning, and psychological dependence on her husband.
"This yearning is morbid. It is not merely sexual yearning. It includes the attraction that woman experiences for man which she cannot root from her nature. Independent feminists may seek to banish it, but it persists in cropping out."
c. The woman will desire to dominate the relationship with her husband. This view rests on the parallel Hebrew construction in 4:7. This view seems best to me.
"The 'curse' here describes the beginning of the battle of the sexes. After the Fall, the husband no longer rules easily; he must fight for his headship. The woman's desire is to control her husband (to usurp his divinely appointed headship), and he must master her, if he can. Sin had corrupted both the willing submission of the wife and the loving headship of the husband. And so the rule of love founded in paradise is replaced by struggle, tyranny, domination, and manipulation."
d. The woman would continue to desire to have sexual relations with her husband even though after the Fall she experienced increased pain in childbearing.
". . . the woman's desire for the man and his rule over her are not the punishment but the conditions in which the woman will suffer punishment. . . . It may be concluded that, in spite of the Fall, the woman will have a longing for intimacy with man involving more than sexual intimacy. . . .
This view takes this statement of God as a blessing rather than a curse.
1. Adam would have to "toil" hard to obtain a living from "the ground" (vv. 17-18). Adam already had received the privilege of enjoying the garden (2:15), but this had not required strenuous toil.
"As for the man, his punishment consists in the hardship and skimpiness of his livelihood, which he now must seek for himself. The woman's punishment struck at the deepest root of her being as wife and mother, the man's strikes at the innermost nerve of his life: his work, his activity, and provision for sustenance."
"These punishments represent retaliatory justice. Adam and Eve sinned by eating; they would suffer in order to eat. She manipulated her husband; she would be mastered by her husband. The serpent destroyed the human race; he will be destroyed."
"In drawing a contrast between the condition of the land before and after the Fall, the author shows that the present condition of the land was not the way it was intended to be. Rather, the state of the land was the result of human rebellion. In so doing, the author has paved the way for a central motif in the structure of biblical eschatology, the hope of a 'new heaven and a new earth' (cf. Isa 65:17: [sic] Ro 8:22-24; Rev 21:1)."
2. He would "return . . . to dust" when he died (v. 19). Rather than living forever, experiencing physical immortality, people would now die physically and experience physical mortality (cf. Rom. 5:12-14).
"Genesis 3:19 does not attribute the cause of death to the original composition of the human body, so that man would ultimately have died anyway, but states merely one of the consequences of death: Since the human body was formed from the dust of the earth, it shall, upon death, be resolved to earth again."
Verse 18 shows the reversal of the land's condition before and after the Fall. Verse 19 shows the same for man's condition.
"Adam and Eve failed . . . to observe the restrictions of the Edenic covenant [1:26-31; 2:16-17]. Innocence was lost and conscience was born. . . .
"Having failed under the Edenic covenant, human beings were then faced with the provisions of the Adamic covenant [3:14-19]. That covenant was unconditional in the sense that Adam and Eve's descendants would be unable by human effort to escape the consequences of sin. . . .
"A ray of light is provided, however, in the Adamic covenant because God promised that a redeemer would come [3:15]. . . . This is the introduction of the great theme of grace and redemption found in the Scriptures. . . .
Adam and Eve accepted their judgment from God and did not rebel against it. We see this in Adam naming his wife "Eve": "The Mother of All the Living," a personal name that defines her destiny (v. 20). He believed life would continue in spite of God's curse. This was an act of faith and an expression of hope. He believed God's promise that she would bear children (v. 16). His wife's first name, "Woman" (2:23), looked back on her origin, whereas her second name, "Eve," anticipated her destiny. "Eve" is related to the Hebrew verb that means "to live."
1. Note that before God sent Adam and Eve out into a new environment, He provided them with clothing ("garments of skin") that was adequate for their needs (cf. Rom. 3:21-26). Their own provision (v. 7) was not adequate. He did for them what they could not do for themselves.
2. Furthermore, God prevented Adam and Eve from living perpetually in their fallen state (vv. 22-24).
Verse 22 shows that man's happiness (good) does not consist in his being like God as much as it depends on his being with God (cf. Ps. 16:11). "Like one of us" probably means like heavenly beings (God and the angels; cf. 1:26).
"Cherubim" in the Old Testament surround and symbolize God's presence. They are equivalent to God's "bodyguards," "standing guards," or "sentries." Ancient oriental iconography pictured them as human-headed winged lions guarding holy places. Moses pictured them here blocking access to the tree of life with a "flaming sword." Evidently eating of "the tree of life" would have caused Adam and Eve to stop aging (cf. Rev. 22:2). Cherubim guarded the ark of the covenant later, just as they earlier guarded the tree of life in the garden (v. 24). The laws contained in the ark were a source of life for the Israelites. The golden lampstand in the tabernacle represented a tree of life and the presence of God.
As people moved east from the Garden, they settled in Shinar and built Babel (Gr. Babylon, 11:2). When Lot departed from Abraham he moved east to Sodom (13:11). When Abraham returned in victory from the battle against the eastern kings (led by Chedolaomer), he came back to the Promised Land, and the city of Salem ("Peace," 14:17-20). Thus God's presence continued to reside in the Garden (Promised Land?) in a localized sense, and movement to the east, from there, typically involved departing from Him.
Rebellion against God results in suffering and death, but confession secures His gracious providence. This section explains why human beings toil and agonize all their lives and finally die. Sin is responsible, and only the removal of sin will end this condition. God is a Savior as well as a Judge in this pericope. Moses introduced God's required way for covering sin, namely, the death of an innocent substitute. Consequently there is hope in the midst of tragedy.
"The chapter simply does not support the concept that one finds fulfillment and bliss in liberating oneself from subordination to God's word, his permissions and his denials. Man is not suddenly metamorphosed from a puppet to a free and independent thinker. In fact, he never was an automaton. If man had lacked the ability to choose, the prohibition from God not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil would have been superfluous. One is not told to abstain from something unless he has the capacity not to abstain [or to abstain]."
Why did God permit the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve? Before their temptation, Adam and Eve were innocent: they had not known sin or temptation. But they were not righteous: their innocence had not been maintained in the presence of temptation to sin. God's will for Adam and Eve was that they be righteous, not just innocent.
Chapter 4 shows the spread of sin from Adam's family to the larger society that his descendants produced. Chapter 3 records the root of sin, and chapter 4 the fruit of sin. Not only did sin affect everyone, but people became increasingly more wicked as time passed. Human self-assertion leads to violence. Verses 1-16 show that the Fall affected Adam and Eve's children as well as themselves. Verses 17-26 trace what became of Cain and Seth and their descendants. Note that the chapter begins and ends with the subject of worship.
God had warned Adam and Eve about sin. Even so, Cain murdered his brother, the beginning of sibling rivalry, because God accepted Abel's offering but not his own. Sibling rivalry plagued each of the godly families in Genesis. Cain denied responsibility for his sin and objected to the severity of God's punishment. God graciously provided protection for Cain in response to his complaint. Chapter 3 gives the cause and chapter 4 the effect.
A Scene 1 (narrative): Cain and Abel are active, Yahweh passive (vv. 2b-5).
B Scene 2 (dialogue): Yahweh questions Cain (vv. 6-7).
C Scene 3 (dialogue and narrative): Cain and Abel are alone (v. 8).
B' Scene 4 (dialogue): Yahweh confronts Cain (vv. 9-14).
A' Scene 5 (narrative): Yahweh is active, Cain passive (vv. 15-16).
Both stories conclude with the sinners leaving God's presence and going to live east of Eden (3:24; 4:16).
". . . though the writer of Genesis wants to highlight the parallels between the two stories, he does not regard the murder of Abel simply as a rerun of the fall. There is development: sin is more firmly entrenched and humanity is further alienated from God."
4:1-8 Was Eve thanking God for helping her "bear a son" ("Cain"), or was she boasting that she had "created a man" ("Cain") as God had created a man (Adam, v. 1)? The former alternative seems preferable (cf. v. 25). The name "Cain" sounds like the Hebrew word translated "I have acquired" and means "possession" or "acquisition," a portent of his own primary proclivity. His name is related to a Hebrew word meaning "craftsman" or "metalworker." Abel, from the Hebrew hebel, means "breath," "vapor," "exhalation," or "what ascends."As things turned out, his life was short, like a vapor. Perhaps his parents gave him this name after his death, in view of the comparative shortness of his life. "Abel" also means "meadow" elsewhere.
Why did God "have regard" for Abel's offering and not Cain's (v. 4)? It was because Abel had "faith" (Heb. 11:4). What did Abel believe that Cain did not? The Bible does not say specifically. The answer may lie in one or more of the following explanations.
2. Others say Abel's faith is evident in his bringing the "best ('fat portions') . . . of his flock" (v. 4), whereas Moses did not so describe Cain's offering (v. 3).
"He [the writer] characterizes Abel's offerings from the flocks as 'from the firstborn' and 'from their fat.' By offering the firstborn Abel signified that he recognized God as the Author and Owner of Life. In common with the rest of the ancient Near East, the Hebrews believed that the deity, or lord of the manor, was entitled to the first share of all produce. The firstfruits of plants and the firstborn of animals and man were his. . . .
"Abel's offering conformed with this theology; Cain's did not. In such a laconic story the interpreter may not ignore that whereas Abel's gift is qualified by 'firstborn,' the parallel 'firstfruits' does not modify Cain's. . . .
"Abel also offered the 'fat' which in the so-called 'P' [Priestly] material belonged to the Lord and was burned symbolically by the priests. This tastiest and best burning part of the offering represented the best. Abel's sacrifice, the interlocutor aims to say, passed the test with flying colors. Cain's sacrifice, however, lacks a parallel to 'fat.'"
Possibly Cain's bad attitude ("became very angry and his countenance fell") resulted in his not offering the best to God. In other words, both options 1 and 2 could be correct.
"We think the absence of 'firstfruits' for Cain in juxtaposition with Seth's [sic Abel's] 'firstborn' would not have been lost on the Mosaic audience.
3. Many believe that Abel realized the need for the death of a living substitute to atone for his sins, but Cain did not. If Abel understood this, he may have learned it by divine revelation that Scripture did not record explicitly. Perhaps Cain and Abel learned that an animal sacrifice satisfied God, whereas a vegetable sacrifice did not, from the fact that the fig leaves that Adam and Eve used to cover their nakedness were not satisfactory, but an animal skin was (3:7, 21). They provided the fig leaves, but God provided the animal skins. Thus the contrast in the case of Cain and Abel may also be between what man provides (works) and what God provides (grace).
God graciously questioned Cain, as He had Adam and Eve (v. 6; cf. 3:9, 11), to elicit Cain's admission of sin with a view toward repentance, not simply to scold him. Had Cain corrected his attitude, he would not have proceeded to kill his brother. God gave him the opportunity and the encouragement to "do well." Adam reluctantly admitted his guilt, but Cain tried to cover it up by lying. Cain was "much more hardened than the first human pair." "Sin is crouching at the door" (v.7) probably means that the power and tragic consequences of sin could master the person who opens the door to it (cf. 3:16).
"The consequences of his reaction to God's correction are more far-reaching than the initial sin itself, for if he pursues sin's anger, it will result in sin's mastery over him. This is his decision. It is possible for Cain to recover from sin quickly if he chooses the right thing."
The Apostle John revealed the reason Cain killed Abel in 1 John 3:12: ". . . his own works were evil and his brother's righteous." Abel's attitude of faith in God resulted in righteous works that produced guilt in Cain. The seriousness of Cain's sin is clear from God's repeated references to Abel as Cain's "brother" (vv. 9, 10, 11). Jesus spoke of Cain's murder of Abel as a historical fact (Matt. 23:35).
Later, under the Mosaic Law, the fact that a killing took place in a field, out of the range of help, was proof of premeditation (cf. Deut. 22:25-27).
Violence (by Cain) followed disobedience (by Adam and Eve). Violence in a culture often reflects and results from rebellion against God and self-assertion.
4:9-16 As in chapter 3, God came investigating the crime with questions (vv. 9-10). There the result was God cursing the ground and people generally, but here the result is His cursing Cain, another evidence that wickedness was worsening.
Cain's punishment consisted of his being banished from God's presence ("from Your face I will be hidden"), unable to enjoy his family's company and the fruitfulness of a settled agrarian life ("cursed from the gound . . . will no longer yield its strength"; vv. 11-12, 14). He would have to wander from place to place ("a wanderer"), seeking food ("a vagrant"), rather than living a sedentary life. This punishment was appropriate and just, since he had alienated himself from his brother and God by his horrible crime.
"Cain is not being condemned to a Bedouin-like existence; the terminology is too extreme to describe such a life-style. Rather it seems likely that the curse on Cain reflects the expulsion from the family that was the fate in tribal societies of those who murdered close relatives. . . . 'To be driven away from the land' (cf. v. 14) is to have all relationships, particularly with the family, broken. Moreover, it is to have one's relationship with the LORD broken . . ."
"Nomadism according to the Sumerian flood story is a plight from which the gods rescued man; according to the Bible a nomadic existence was a judgment imposed on the first murderer. This contrast fits in with the overall optimism of Mesopotamia which believes in human progress over against the biblical picture of the inexorable advance of sin . . . It would seem likely that the other human achievements listed here—farming, metalwork, and music—are also seen by Genesis as somehow under the shadow of Cain's sin."
Cain's response was self-pity because of his punishment, rather than repentance for his crime and an expression of remorse over the extent of his iniquity. No one would be his "keeper" (cf. "Am I my brother's keeper?" v. 9).
Cain's sin resulted in his being "driven" out (v. 14; cf. 3:23). Note again that sin results in broken relationships and alienation, and alienation from God leads to fear of other people ("whoever finds me will kill me"; cf. Job 15:20-25). God in grace allowed Cain and his family to continue to live under His care, but apparently without salvation. Note also that human immorality again impacted earth's ecology (cf. 3:17).
The commentators have interpreted Cain's "sign" or "mark" (v. 15) in a variety of ways. One view is that it was partial paralysis, based on the meaning of the word used to translate "sign" in the Septuatint. An old Jewish interpretation understood it to be the word "Yahweh," and another viewed it as a long horn growing out of the middle of Cain's forehead. Some medieval paintings represent Cain with a horn on his head following this view.
Other ideas suggest that it was some other identifying mark on Cain, in view of parallels with other marks that identify and protect their bearers in Scripture (cf. Ezek. 9:4; Rev. 7:3; 13:16-18; 14:1).
Still other interpreters believe that the mark was a verification of God's promise to Cain. This last view rests on the usual meaning of "sign" in the Old Testament (cf. Judg. 6:36-40; 2 Kings 2:9-12; et al.), which the Hebrew construction supports here.
The text does not identify the sign, but it was some immediate indication that God gave Cain to assure him that he would not die (cf. 21:13, 18; 27:37; 45:7, 9; 46:3 with 21:14; 44:21). Whatever it was, Cain's mark served to protect him, as well as to remind him and others of his banishment.
"Nod" (v. 16) is a wordplay on the Hebrew term for "vagabond" or "wandering," so the very name of the place, where he "settled" and "lived," also reminded Cain of his sentence (v. 12).
"The ungodly here are portrayed as living on in the world (with a protective mark of grace . . .) without being saved. Their sense of guilt was eased by their cultural development and their geographical expansion."
Cain was a man who did not care to please God. Because he did not, God did not bless ("had no regard for") Cain, as He did ("had regard for") Abel, who was righteous, a man of faith. Cain's anger and jealousy over Abel's blessing brought disaster on himself. God has preserved his example to help us avoid it. Those who worship God must have as their goal to please Him, rather than letting envy and hatred ruin their lives (cf. Col. 1:10).
Cain prospered even though he rebelled against God. This is another indication of God's grace. Cain's descendants took the lead in building cities, developing music, advancing agriculture, creating weapons, and spreading civilization. However, the descendants of "Seth" made an even more important advance: the worship of God.
Cain's "wife" (v. 17) was evidently one of his sisters or nieces (cf. 5:4). God did not prohibit marrying siblings and close relatives until the Mosaic Law.
"Because harmful mutations so greatly outnumber any supposed helpful ones, it's considered unwise nowadays (and illegal in many states) to marry someone too closely related to you. Why? Because you greatly increase the odds that bad genes will show up. By the way, you also increase the odds of bringing out really excellent trait combinations. But did you ever hear anybody say, 'Don't marry your first cousin or you'll have a genius for a child?' They don't usually say that, because the odds of something bad happening are far, far, far, far, far greater.
"That would not have been a problem, by the way, shortly after creation (no problem for Cain and his wife, for example). Until mutations had a chance to accumulate in the human population, no such risk of bad combinations existed."
The "city" that Cain built (v. 17) must not have been very large, though reference to it suggests that the population at this time was increasing rapidly. "Lamech" (v. 19) was the first bigamist. He deliberately subverted God's will that marriage should consist of only one man and one woman (2:24). "Bigamy" (being married to two spouses at the same time) was common in the ancient Near East, but it was never God's desire (cf. Matt. 19:4-5). God permitted it, however, as He did many other customs of which He disapproved (e.g., divorce, marrying concubines, polygamy, etc.). That is, He allowed people who practiced them to continue to live.
"To be sure, no rebuke from God is directed at Lamech for his violation of the marital arrangement. It is simply recorded. But that is the case with most OT illustrations of polygamy. Abraham is not condemned for cohabiting with Sarah and Hagar, nor is Jacob for marrying simultaneously Leah and Rachel. In fact, however, nearly every polygamous househould [sic] in the OT suffers most unpleasant and shattering experiences precisely because of this ad hoc relationship. The domestic struggles that ensue are devastating."
God shows the destructive consequences of sin (cf. 2:24) more often than He states them in the Old Testament. Polygamy is one form of sin.
Polygamy is ". . . the symptom of an unbalanced view of marriage, which regards it as an institution in which the wife's ultimate raison d'etre [reason for being] is the production of children. Where God had created the woman first and foremost for partnership, society made her in effect a means to an end, even if a noble end, and wrote its view into its marriage contracts."
This is the first occurrence of "polygamy" (having more than one wife at the same time) in Genesis. We shall find several cases of it throughout the Old Testament. People practiced it widely in the ancient Near East, but it was contrary to the will of God (2:24). Besides indulging the flesh, polygamy was an attempt to ensure the survival of the family by providing male successors. The presence of polygamy in Lamech's generation shows how sin escalated in the marriage relationship following the Fall.
The reference to forging (lit. "sharpening"; also forming, shaping) "iron" implements (v. 22) appears anachronistic since, as far as we know, the smelting of iron was not common until the Iron Age, in the second millennium B.C. Perhaps this is a reference to the cold forging of meteoric iron, which was common earlier. Later workers with iron could look back on Lamech as the father of metallurgy.
We could paraphrase the vengeance or retaliation idea in Lamech's mind, as expressed in verses 23-24, more clearly as follows: "If I am threatened again, I will retaliate again, much more forcefully than God retaliated for Cain." God threatened His retaliation and vengeance against anyone who retaliated against Cain for being a murderer: ". . . whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold" (v. 15). Lamech may have been claiming that he had killed in self-defense. Nevertheless he was boasting, and shows himself thereby to be more vengeful in his self-defensive threat than even God Himself (cf. "Vengeance is Mine, . . . I will repay"; Deut. 32:35; Exod. 21:25)! The seven generations from Adam through Cain and Seth, ungodly Lamech (vv. 19-24) and godly Enoch (5:24), stand in sharp contrast to each other. The former man (Lamech) inflicts death, and the latter (Enoch) does not die. Some scholars have called Lamech's poem the "Song of the Sword." Lamech thought himself invincible with his newly acquired weapons.
Verse 25 recalls verse 1 of this chapter, and signals the conclusion of this section of narrative. Seth's name, from the Hebrew verb translated "granted," and meaning "to set" or "to place," expresses Eve's faith that God would continue to provide seed despite death.
Many commentators regarded verse 26 as the first reference to prayer as we know it in the Bible. Prayer is basic to man's relationship with God, which is a major theme in Genesis. However, the phrase "call on the name of the Lord," in the Pentateuch, usually refers to proclamation (preaching) rather than prayer. Here it probably refers to the beginning of public worship of Yahweh.
"Gen 4 concludes the story of mankind that was cut off in the flood, a tale that opened with Gen 2:4, 'This is the history. . . .' With the aid of a genealogy from Adam to Lamek, the seventh generation, it traces the development of technology and arts on the one hand and the growth of violence on the other. Only in the last two verses introducing the descendants of Seth do we have glimmers of hope, for from him, as chap. 5 will describe, descended Noah, the survivor of the flood, and it was in Enosh's day that the public worship of God was reintroduced."
Chapter 4 also teaches that it is important, for the righteous, to preserve the knowledge of God when they live in an ungodly society. The Israelites needed this encouragement as they anticipated entering the Promised Land, as we do today. Jesus taught His disciples the same lesson (Matt. 5:14-15).
The story of creation is an introduction to Genesis. The first toledot section explains what became of the creation. In this second toledot section, we learn what happened to Adam. The primary purpose of this section appears to be to link the generations of Adam and Noah. The cursed human race continued to multiply, and human beings continued to die. Yet the record of Enoch gives hope.
"Genealogies in this book of genealogies . . . serve several purposes, depending in part on the nature of the genealogy. Broad genealogies present only the first generation of descendants (e.g., "the sons of Leah . . . the sons of Rachel . . . " in Gen. 35:23-26; cf. 6:9-10; 25:13-15). Deep genealogies list sequential descendants, in this book usually numbering from two to ten. (There are ten generations from Adam through Seth to Noah. In the eleventh generation the genealogy becomes segmented.) Linear genealogies display only depth (e.g., "Cain . . . gave birth to Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad . . ." 4:17-18; cf. 5:1-31; 11:10-26; 36:31-39, 40). Segmented genealogies display both depth and breadth (e.g., "This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth. . . . The sons of Japheth: Gomer . . . The sons of Gomer . . ." 10:1-29; cf. 11:27-29; 19:36-38; 25:19-26; 36:1-5, 10-30; 46:8-25). The distinctions of broad, deep, linear, and segmented genealogies help explain the various functions of genealogies."
"Genesis begins the process of identifying the seed that will rule the earth (Gen. 1:26-28) and crush the Serpent (3:15). Book 2 [5:1—6:8] traces that lineage from Adam to Noah, even as the matching ten-generation genealogy of Book 5 [11:10-26] traces it from Shem to Abraham. Book 2 concludes with the progressive and rapid hardening of sin and the inability of the godly seed of the woman on its own to reverse it. Sin, like the Serpent, is too strong for them. Clearly, both God's judgment and deliverance are needed."
There are at least three purposes for the inclusion of this genealogy, which contains 10 paragraphs (vv. 1-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, 18-20, 21-24, 25-27, 28-31, and 32) and covers over 1,500 years of human history.
1. It shows the development of the human race from Adam to Noah, and bridges the gap in time between these two major individuals. One writer argued that the ages of these patriarchs were inflated to glorify them. I think not, as this would seemingly undermine the trustworthiness of Scripture.
2. This genealogy also demonstrates the veracity of God's (spoken) word when He said that people would die as a result of sin (cf. 2:17). Note the recurrence of the phrase "and he died" (vv. 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, and 31).
3. The genealogy contrasts the progress of the godly line of Seth culminating in "Enoch" (lit. "Dedicated One"), who walked with God and experienced "translation" (i.e., instant transformation and transport into heaven, without dying; 5:6-24; cf. 3:8; 6:8), with the development of the ungodly line of Cain. Cain's branch of the human race culminated in Lamech, who was a brutal bigamist (4:16-24).
"The author's return to the theme of God's 'blessing' man (cf. v. 2) is also a part of his overall scheme to cast God's purposes for man in terms that will recall a father's care for his children. Throughout the remainder of the Book of Genesis, a recurring theme is that of the father's blessing his children (9:26-27; 27:27; 48:15; 49:1-28). In keeping with such a theme, the author shows at each crucial turning point in the narrative that God himself renewed his blessing to the next generation of sons (1:28; 5:2; 9:1; 12:3; 24:11). Seen as a whole, the picture that emerges is that of a loving father insuring the future well-being of his children through the provision of an inherited blessing. In this way the author has laid a theological foundation for the rest of Scripture. God's original plan of blessing for all humanity, though thwarted by human folly, will nevertheless be restored through the seed of the woman (3:15), the seed of Abraham (12:3), and the 'Lion of the tribe of Judah' (49:8-12; cf. Rev 5:5-13). It is on this same foundation that the apostle Paul built his view of Jesus as the one through whom God has 'blessed us' (Eph 1:3) and 'adopted us as his sons' (v. 5) so that 'we have obtained an inheritance' (v. 11, KJV) from the one we may call 'Abba, Father' (Rom 8:15)."
Enoch's "walk[ing] with God" must have stimulated this sign that appeared on a church marquee: "Exercise daily. Walk with God."
2. The fact that Lamech, the sixth name in Cain's list (4:16-24), corresponds to Enoch, the sixth name in Seth's list (5:6-24), is suggestive: It indicates that God wanted to point out the contrast between the generations of these two sons of Adam. One was ungodly and the other godly. This purpose seems to some writers to be more dominant, than that God wanted simply to preserve a complete record of all the generations between Adam and Noah. Lamech and Enoch were each the seventh generation, as recorded in this list, from Adam (cf. Jude 14). Matthew 1:1-17 contains a similar genealogy, in which 14 men from each of three historical periods appear, and it is not complete.
3. The writer did not list Noah's sons in the order of their birth (cf. 5:32 and 9:24).
But the careful recording of the age of each man, when he fathered the next man in the list, strongly suggests that this list is complete. Furthermore, the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1:1-4 and Luke 3:36-38 are identical to the one in Genesis 5. There are probably no missing generations in chapter 5's genealogy.
"The genealogy of Seth in Genesis 5 is thus intended to take up [continue] the creation story which had reached its first climax in the creation, as we would now read it, of Adam. The elemental orderliness of the genealogy continues the order begun at creation; indeed, it reaffirms that order after the threatened slide back into chaos narrated in the intervening chapters. But the genealogy does more; it imparts movement to creation. The Genesis 1 creation story is essentially static. When God rests on the seventh day, all phyla of creation are in their proper order and the earth is at rest. There is little suggestion of movement or further development, no story to be traced. The sole dynamic elements lie in God's command to newly created humanity to 'be fruitful and multiply' and 'subdue the earth.' The genealogies document the fruitfulness of humanity and thus become the expression of the fulfillment of God's mandate, providing movement away from the steady state of creation but at the same time preserving its orderliness. Creation's order advanced through the genealogy.
"Connection of the genealogy to creation also exerts a reciprocal influence on our understanding of this and subsequent genealogies. The genealogies represent the continuation of creation's fundamental order through time. As a result, they assume theological significance. The organic and orderly succession of generations is not an expression of thematically empty biological necessity but of God's initial creative activity. Birth awakens not neutral destiny but enrollment in the continuing order of creation ordained by God. The genealogies become bearers of the creation theme and, by their elemental, organic nature, its fit expression."
Even though the death motif is strong in this chapter, there is even more emphasis on God's grace. We see this in the references to life, fertility (sons and daughters), Enoch's translation, and other blessings. The enjoyment of God's blessings depends on walking with God. "Walk" is a biblical figure for fellowship and obedience that results in divine blessing (cf. 1 Sam. 15:25; Eph. 4:1).
"Enoch is pictured as one who did not suffer the fate of Adam ('you shall surely die') because, unlike the others, he 'walked with God.'
"The sense of the author is clear. Enoch is an example of one who found life amid the curse of death. In Enoch the author is able to show that the pronouncement of death is not the last word that need be said about a person's life. One can find life if one 'walks with God.'"
"'Walked with God' is metaphorical and indicates that Enoch had a lifestyle characterized by his devotion to God. The sense of 'walk' (halak) in its verbal stem indicates a communion or intimacy with God."
Repetition usually reinforces and emphasizes in Scripture. The central lesson of the section appears to be that the godly can experience victory over the effects of the curse by walking with God. God will snatch some away (cf. 1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thess. 4:17), like Enoch, but most have to endure physical death, though not necessarily spiritual death.
"The finality of death caused by sin, and so powerfully demonstrated in the genealogy of Genesis, is in fact not so final. Man was not born to die; he was born to live, and that life comes by walking with God. . . . Walking with God is the key to the chains of the curse."
As the story of Cain and Abel (4:3-24) interrupted the genealogy of Adam in 4:1-2 and 25-26, so the story of the Flood (6:1—9:27) interrupts the genealogy of Noah in 5:32 and 9:28-29.
As wickedness increased on the earth, God determined to destroy the human race—with the exception of those few people to whom He extended grace.
"Stories of a great flood sent in primeval times by gods to destroy mankind followed by some form of new creation are so common to so many peoples in different parts of the world, between whom no kind of historical contact seems possible, that the notion seems almost to be a universal feature of the human imagination."
There were two major reasons for the flood: the sins of the sons of God (vv. 1-4), and the sins of humankind generally (vv. 5-8).
6:1-2 There are three major views about the identity of "the sons of God":
a. The term "sons of God," as it occurs here in the Hebrew, refers only to angels in the Old Testament (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; et al.). Response: Angels do not reproduce (Matt. 22:30). Also, "sons of God" is a strange title for evil angels.
b. 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude 6-7 appear to identify angels with this incident. Response: There are no other references to angels in the context here in Genesis. These New Testament passages probably refer to the fall of Satan.
c. If God could impregnate Mary, spirit beings may be able to do the same thing to human women. Response: Spirit beings cannot do everything that God can do.
2. They were godly Sethites who married ungodly women. I prefer this view. Arguments in favor of this view follow, with responses:
a. The Old Testament often refers to the godly as "God's sons" (e.g., Exod. 4:22). Response: This would have to be an exception to the technical use of "sons of God" as a reference to "angels" in the Old Testament.
b. Moses had already established the concept of a godly line in Genesis (4:26).
c. Sonship based on election is common in the Old Testament.
d. Warnings against marriages between believers and unbelievers are common in the Pentateuch.
a. Ancient Near Eastern literature often called kings "sons of gods."
b. The Old Testament refers to administrators (e.g., judges) as "gods." Response: Scripture never regards them as "descendants" or "sons" of deities, as pagan ancient Near Eastern literature does.
c. This story is similar to Babylonian antediluvian stories.
Scholars have debated this passage heatedly, but there is not yet decisive evidence that enables us to make a dogmatic decision as to the correct interpretation. One writer expressed his frustration as follows:
Context is very important in any interpretive problem, and I believe it argues for view 2 in this case. If so, the purpose of this segment appears to be to document the degradation of even the godly, thus justifying the flood.
Some people who believe that the angelic conflict is a major theme of Scripture have emphasized this passage. I do not believe that the angelic conflict is a major theme of Scripture. I believe the angels are important primarily because of their function as God's messengers sent forth to minister to (help) people (Heb. 1:14).
"The judgment is that God will not endlessly and forever permit his life-giving spirit to enliven those who disorder his world. The breath of life (Gen. 2:7; Ps. 104:29-30) remains his to give and to recall."
6:4 The "Nephilim" were on the earth both before and after the marriages of the "sons of God" with the "daughters of men." They were literally "fallen ones" or "tyrants." They were described as "mighty . . . men of renown." That is, they were powerful individuals, probably military leaders. Moses later described the giants in Canaan as "Nephilim" (Num. 13:33).
The second reason for the flood was the sinfulness of humanity generally.
6:5 Men's and women's actions were very wicked, and their thoughts and affections ("every intent of the thoughts of his heart"; their mind-set, attitudes, and motives) were completely ("continually") "evil" by this time (cf. vv. 11-12; Rom. 1:18-32).
"Near the turn of the 19th century F. W. Farrar wrote a book entitled Seekers After God. The book was a popular seller and was in considerable demand. A certain western bookseller had a number of requests for the volume but had no copies available. He sent a telegram to the dealers in New York requesting them to ship him a number of the books. After awhile a telegram came back which read, 'No seekers after God in New York. Try Philadelphia.'"
6:6-7 God was "sorry" that He had "made" humankind, because people generally did not want a relationship with God. They insisted on living life independent of God, and consequently were destroying themselves in sin. He was sorry over what His special creation had become. This is an anthropopathism: Moses was describing the Lord as having human emotions (cf. 9:15, 16).
"God is no robot. We know him as a personal, living God, not a static principle, who while having transcendent purposes to be sure also engages intimately with his creation. Our God is incomparably affected by, even pained by, the sinner's rebellion. Acknowledging the passibility (emotions) of God does not diminish the immutability of his promissory purposes. Rather, his feelings and actions toward men, such as judgment or forgiveness, are always inherently consistent with his essential person and just and gracious resolve (Jas 1:17)."
6:8 Noah was the one exception to universal godlessness. "Noah" may mean "grieved" (the Hebrew niphal form) or "comfort" (the piel form). "Favor" equals "grace." This is the first mention of this word in the Old Testament, though we have seen many examples of God's grace thus far. There is a wordplay in the Hebrew text (an anagram). The same consonants of Noah's name (nh) in the reverse order mean "grace" (hn).
All of God's people can identify with "Noah": they have all been recipients of God's grace. It is only by God's "grace" that we can escape His judgment on the wicked.
This section—together with the next—shows that pagan idolatry and immorality pain God and incur His judgment, and that man can only escape by His provision of salvation.
The Lord destroyed the corrupt, violent human race, and deluged its world—but He used righteous Noah to preserve life, and to establish a new world after the Flood.
"Noah's experience presents decisively the author's assertion that the Lord judges human sin but provides a means for perpetuating the creation blessing (1:26-28) and the salvation hope for an elect seed (3:15). The recurring theme of blessing, threatened by sin but preserved by divine mercy, is found in the two narratives that make up the Noah toledot: the flood story (6:9—9:17) and the account of the patriarch's drunkenness (9:20-27). The former is worldwide in scope, and the latter is its microcosm. A genealogical note binds the two (9:18-19), and another concludes it (9:28-29). . . .
"Also Noah's toledot contributes to the broader concerns of early Genesis by preparing the reader for the postdiluvian world. This 'new world' is the setting for understanding the perpetuation of the 'blessing' by the patriarchs (11:27—50:26), which is the main deliberation of Genesis."
The "chiastic" (palistrophic, crossing) structure of this section shows that Moses intended to emphasize God's grace to Noah, which occupies the central part of the story.
"One mark of the coherence of the flood narrative is to be found in its literary structure. The tale is cast in the form of an extended palistrophe, that is a structure that turns back on itself. In a palistrophe the first item matches the final item, the second item matches the penultimate item, and so on. The second half of the story is thus a mirror image of the first. This kind of literary structure has been discovered in other parts of Genesis, but nowhere else is it developed on such a large scale. This may be partly due to the fact that a flood narrative is peculiarly suited to this literary form. . . .
"Particularly striking are the references to days (lines H, I, L, O). (Only the references to days form part of the palistrophe; the 40 days and nights [vii 4, 12] and the dates do not.) The periods of time form a symmetrical pattern, 7, 7, 40, 150, 150, 40, 7, 7. The turning point of the narrative is found in viii:1 'God remembered Noah.'
"What then is the function of the palistrophe? Firstly, it gives literary expression to the character of the flood event. The rise and fall of the waters is mirrored in the rise and fall of the key words in its description. Secondly, it draws attention to the real turning point in the saga: viii 1, 'And God remembered Noah.' From that moment the waters start to decline and the earth to dry out. It was God's intervention that was decisive in saving Noah, and the literary structure highlights this fact."
The following diagram illustrates this palistrophe (chiasm) more simply:
"Introduction: Noah's righteousness and Noah's sons (6:9-10).
A God resolves to destroy the corrupt race (6:11-13).
B Noah builds an ark according to God's instructions (6:14-22).
C The Lord commands the remnant to enter the ark (7:1-9).
D The flood begins (7:10-16).
E The flood prevails 150 days and the water covers the mountains (7:17-24).
F God remembers Noah (8:1a).
E' The flood recedes 150 days, and the mountains are visible (8:1b-5).
D' The earth dries (8:6-14).
C' God commands the remnant to leave the ark (8:15-19).
B' Noah builds an altar (8:20).
6:9-12 This is the first time the important words "righteous" and "blameless" appear in the Bible.
"The same explanation for Enoch's rescue from death ('he walked with God') is made the basis for Noah's rescue from death in the Flood: 'he walked with God' (6:9). Thus in the story of Noah and the Flood, the author is able to repeat the lesson of Enoch: life comes through 'walking with God.'"
"Noah is depicted as Adam redivivus (revived). He is the sole survivor and successor to Adam; both 'walk' with God; both are the recipients of the promissory blessing; both are caretakers of the lower creatures; both father three sons; both are workers of the soil; both sin through the fruit of a tree; and both father a wicked son who is under a curse."
"The two words, 'corrupt' and 'violence,' give us respectively the character and expression of the sin, the cause and the effect [v. 11]. The corruption has led to violence, for badness always leads to cruelty in one form or another. A life that is wrong with God necessarily becomes wrong with its fellows."
6:13-16 Notice again that "the earth" (atmosphere, planet surface, oceans, vegetation, ecology) and nature (virtually all plant and animal life on earth; ecological balance; climate and weather patterns; volcanoes; earthquakes) had to suffer because of human sin (cf. 3:17-19; 4:12; Rom. 8:20-21).
Noah received detailed instructions that he was to follow in building the "ark." Much later, Moses received detailed instructions that he was to follow in building the tabernacle. Both men followed their respective instructions and received praise (v. 22; Exod. 39:42-43; Lev. 8:36; Num. 27:22; Deut. 34:9). Both men inaugurated a new epoch. In this respect Moses was another Noah.
The ark was about 450 feet long (1 1/2 American football fields), 75 feet wide (7 standard parking spaces), and 45 feet high (a typical four-story building). It had three decks, and over 100,000 square feet of deck space. There were over 1 million cubic feet of space in it. This is a volume capacity of approximately 860 railroad boxcars. It had a floating capacity (its buoyancy; the total weight it could float) of almost 14,000 gross tons.
The ark probably looked more like a rectangular box than a ship. After all, its purpose was to stay afloat, not travel in style or at speed from one destination to another. This design used space very efficiently. The ark would have been very stable in the water. Modern ocean-going tankers and aircraft carriers have a similar scale of dimensions. The type of wood ("gopher") out of which Noah made the ark is unknown. The Hebrew word occurs only here in the Old Testament, and is transliterated "gopher" in English.
6:17-21 This is the first occurrence of the important word "covenant" (Heb. berith) in the Old Testament (v. 18). Details of this covenant follow in 9:9. There were two basic kinds of covenants in the ancient Near East.
1. The parity covenant was one that equals (between peers) made. Examples: Abraham and Abimelech (21:22-32), Isaac and Abimelech (26:26-33), and Jacob and Laban (31:44-54).
2. The suzerainty covenant was one that a superior (e.g., a king) made with an inferior (e.g., a vassal). Examples: the Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9:1-17), the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15:18-21), the Mosaic Covenant (Exod. 19—Num. 10), et al.
"The Noahic covenant is closer to the royal grant known from the ancient Near East where a deity bestows a benefit or gift upon a king. It has its closest parallels to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants (Gen 15; 17; 2 Sam 7), which are promissory charters made by God with the individuals and their offspring, characteristically forever. Unlike the Mosaic covenant, in the royal grant form of covenant God alone is under compulsion by oath to uphold his promise to the favored party."
6:22 We can see Noah's faith (Heb. 11:7) in his complete obedience to God ("Noah did . . . according to all that God had commanded him"; cf. 7:5, 9, 16; 8:16-18)—even though he faced many obstacles. In this, he was similar to Abraham (cf. 12:4; 22:3).
"The author's purpose in drawing out the list of specifications for the ark in chapter 6, as with the details of the building of the tabernacle, is not that readers might be able to see what the ark or the tabernacle looked like, but rather that readers might appreciate the meticulous care with which these godly and exemplary individuals went about their tasks of obedience to God's will. They obeyed God with 'all their hearts.'"
"What a splendid figure this man makes, a picture of solitary goodness! He was the one saint of that day. It is possible, therefore, to be good even though we have to stand alone. It is possible to be right with God even amidst surrounding iniquity. God is the same today as He was to Noah, and if only we are willing to fulfill the conditions we too shall walk with God and please Him."
7:1-10 God, in His grace, invited Noah to enter the ark with his family (v. 1; cf. 8:15). God took the initiative, as He later did in calling Abram (cf. 12:1). This is the first occurrence of the offer "Come" in the Bible (v. 1, NET). This invitation continues throughout Scripture, the last offer being in Revelation 22:17. God extends the invitation to people, He urges them to take advantage of the perfect provision He has made for their preservation, and He offers it in a time of impending judgment and gloom.
God did not reveal the basis for His distinction between "clean" and "unclean" animals here (v. 2). Israel's pagan neighbors also observed clean and unclean distinctions between animals, though these distinctions varied from country to country. In the Mosaic Law, God further distinguished between foods. Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul taught that now, since the Church Age, these distinctions no longer need affect people as far as our relationship to God goes (Mark 7:15, 18-19; cf. Acts 10:15; 11:9; Rom. 14:14).
There are two views among evangelicals as to the extent of the Flood:
1. The flood was universal, in that it covered the entire earth. Here is a summary of the evidence that supports this view.
a. The purpose of the Flood (6:5-7, 11-13).
b. The need for an ark (6:14).
c. The size of the ark (6:15-16).
d. The universal terms used in the story (6:17-21; 7:19, 21-23). Context must determine whether universal terms are truly universal or limited (cf. Luke 2:1; Matt. 28:19-20).
e. The amount of water involved (7:11, 20; 8:2).
f. The duration of the Flood: 371 days (7:11; 8:14).
g. The testimony of Peter (2 Pet. 3:3-7).
h. The faithfulness of God (8:21).
This view has been the most popular with conservative interpreters throughout history.
"By and large, the tradition of the Christian church is that the context requires a universal flood, and many Christian scholars have maintained this position knowing well the geological difficulties it raises."
a. The main arguments rest on modern geology, and the improbability of a universal flood in view of the consequential global changes.
b. Advocates take the universal statements in the text as limited to the area where Moses said the Flood took place.
This view has gained wide acceptance, ever since the modern science of geology has called into question the credibility of the text.
"Since the distorted concept of special creation used by the originator of the geologic column was never truly Creationistic, and organic evolution has long since become the conceptual basis for time-equivalence of index fossils, modern Creationists can justifiably point out that organic evolution is the basis for the geological column."
Basically, this controversy, like that involving the Creation account, involves presuppositions about the credibility of Scripture or science, and the possibility of supernatural occurrences. The scientific community seems to be more open to catastrophism of some kind than it used to be.
Some interpreters have understood the opening of the "floodgates of the sky" (v. 11) as a breaking up of a water vapor canopy that, some say, covered the earth before the Flood. Advocates of this "canopy theory" believe that it may account for longevity before the Flood.
"The water for Noah's Flood came from the release of great underground sources of water (the fountains of the great deep which continued pouring forth for 150 days), and from the collapse of the waters above (presumably a vast water vapor blanket or canopy above the atmosphere), giving the 40 days and nights of rain. Psalm 104 indicates that after the Flood, the mountains were upthrust to their present positions, with associated deepening of the ocean basins, which now hold the waters of the Flood.
"These waters would not have been enough to cover today's highest mountains. Genesis indicates no rain or rainbows before the Flood, which is consistent with the absence of high mountains that are important to the triggering of rainfall. Also, the absence of large temperature differences between poles and equator under such a greenhouse blanket of water vapor would mean an absence of the vast winds which are also necessary (now, but not before the Flood) for the rainfall cycle. Genesis describes how the earth before the Flood was watered by mists and/or springs and geysers."
"We have shown earlier that the flood narrative points ahead to Moses and the escape of the Hebrews through the Red Sea. This is evidenced again by the term 'dry land' (haraba) in our passage (v. 22) rather than the customary 'dry ground' (yabasa). This infrequent term occurs eight times, only once more in the Pentateuch at Exod 14:21, where it describes the transformation of the sea into 'dry land' by a 'strong east wind.' This exodus parallel is confirmed by 8:1b, which speaks of God's sending a 'wind' upon the waters. Later Israel identified itself with Noah and the tiny group of survivors who escaped the wicked by the awesome deeds of God."
A diagonal strip of marine limestone, which is the remains of the ancient Tethys Sea, that climbers refer to as the Yellow Band, is located beneath Mt. Everest's 29,035-foot summit, between about 25,000 and 27,000 feet. This is evidence that water did indeed cover "all the high mountains everywhere" (v. 19).
The Lord Jesus affirmed the historicity of the "days of Noah" when He likened them to the end days (Matt. 24:37; Luke 17:26, 27). Peter also used the story of Noah as an illustration of what will happen in the end days (1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5; 3:5, 6).
My wife and I took a tour of the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center near Glen Rose, Texas. We discovered early in our tour that our guide was a Christian, and she discovered that we were Christians. At one point in the tour, she explained that the geological formations nearby were the result of millions of years of evolution. She then, surprisingly, turned off the motor of the jeep in which we were riding, and confessed that she didn't really believe what she had just told us. She asked us what we believed. I told her that I believe that the fossil record, and geological stratification, harmonize with the facts if one believes two things: (1) that God created things with the appearance of age, and (2) that God sent a universal flood that covered the whole earth.
8:1-5 When Moses wrote that "God remembered" someone (v. 1), in this case "Noah," he meant that God extended mercy to him or her by delivering that person from death or destruction (here; cf. 19:29) or from barrenness (30:22). God's rescue of Noah foreshadows His deliverance of Israel in the Exodus (cf. 8:13-14 and Exod. 2:24; 14:21).
"'Ararat,' known as ancient Urartu in Assyrian records, was an extensive territory and bordered the northern Mesopotamian region. It reached its political zenith in the ninth to sixth centuries B.C. Urartu surrounded Lake Van with boundaries taking in southeast Turkey, southern Russia, and northwest Iran. Among the mountains of modern Armenia is the impressive peak known today as Mount Ararat, some seventeen thousand feet in elevation, which the Turks call Byk Ari Da. 'Mount Ararat' as a geographical designation comes from later tradition. During the eleventh to twelfth centuries A.D., it became the traditional site known as the place of Noah's landing. Verse 4, however, does not specify a peak and refers generally to its location as the 'mountains of Ararat.' . . . The search for the ark's artifacts has been both a medieval and a modern occupation; but to the skeptic such evidence is not convincing, and to the believer, while not irrelevant, it is not necessary to faith."
Doves (v. 8), which are light-colored, clean animals (Lev. 1:14; 12:6; et al.), in contrast to dark-colored, unclean animals (Lev. 11:15; Deut. 14:14), return to their home when they find no place to land.
8:15-19 There are many interesting thematic parallels, between God calling Noah out of the ark, and God later calling Abraham out of Ur (cf. 8:15 and 12:1; 8:16 and 12:1; 8:18 and 12:4; 8:20 and 12:7; 9:1 and 12:2; 9:9 and 12:7).
Verse 15 introduces the third dispensation, the dispensation of Human Government. When Noah and his family stepped out of the ark to begin life on earth anew, God laid down new rules for humanity, including a new test. Previously, no one had the right to take another human life (cf. 4:10-11, 14-15, 23-24). Now, though man's direct moral responsibility to God continued, God delegated to man certain areas of His authority, such as capital punishment. Man was now to express his obedience to God, not only by obeying God directly, but also by obeying the human authorities God would set over him, namely, human governors (cf. Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:1-2).
The highest function of human government is the protection of human life. God now specified that human beings were not to presently avenge murder—individually—but to do so as a corporate group, and practice "capital punishment," in order to safeguard the sanctity of human life. Human life is a gift from God that people should not dispose of except as God permits. Restraint on man in the preceding dispensation was internal (6:3), God's Spirit working through moral responsibility. But now a new external restraint was added: the influence and power of civil government.
Unfortunately, mankind failed to rule his fellow man righteously. Civil leaders have abused their function as God's vice-regents, by ruling for themselves rather than for God. Examples are the failures at Babel (11:9), in Israel's theocracy (2 Chron. 36:15-21), and in "the times of the Gentiles" (Dan. 2:31-45). The glorious reign of Jesus Christ over the earth will supersede man's rule, eventually. The dispensation of Human Government ended, as a specific test of human obedience, when God called Abraham to be His instrument of blessing to the whole world (12:2). Nevertheless mankind's responsibility for government did not end then, but will continue until Christ sets up His kingdom on the earth.
Verses 18 and 19 may seem like needless repetition to the modern reader, but they underline Noah's obedience to God's words, which Moses stressed in the entire Flood narrative.
8:20-22 Noah's "altar" is the first altar mentioned in the Bible. His "burnt offerings" were for worship. Some of the burnt offerings in the Mosaic cultus (system of worship) were for the same purpose. Specifically, a burnt offering made atonement and expressed the offerer's complete personal devotion to God (cf. Lev. 1; Rom. 12:1-2). As the head of the new humanity, Noah, with his sacrifice, represented all humankind.
"To sacrifice seems as 'natural' to man as to pray; the one indicates what he feels about himself, the other what he feels about God. The one means a felt need of propitiation; the other a felt sense of dependence."
God will again judge the wicked catastrophically, and begin a new era of existence with faithful believers: at the Second Coming and the Millennium.
The non-biblical stories of the Flood are undoubtedly perversions of the true account that God preserved in Scripture. God may have revealed the true account directly to Moses, or He may have preserved a true oral or written account that Moses used as his source of this information. Moses may have written the Genesis account, under divine inspiration, to correct the Mesopotamian versions (the maximalist view), or both the biblical and Mesopotamian accounts may go back to a common tradition (the minimalist view).
"Biblical religion explained that the seasonal cycle was the consequence of Yahweh's pronouncement and, moreover, evidence of a divine dominion that transcends the elements of the earth. There is no place for Mother-earth in biblical ideology. Earth owes its powers (not her powers!) to the divine command."
Following the Flood, God established human life anew on the earth, showing His high regard for it. He promised to bless humanity with faithfulness, and He prohibited murder. He also promised—with a sign (the rainbow)—that He would not destroy His creation again "with a flood."
"The Noahic covenant's common allusions to 1:1—2:3 show that Noah is the second Adam who heads the new family of humanity, indicating that the blessing continues through the progeny of the Sethite line. Also 8:20—9:17 possesses lexical and thematic connections with the ratification of the Sinai covenant by Moses and the elders (Exod 24:4-18)."
9:1-7 At this new beginning of the human family, God again commanded Noah and his sons to "fill the earth" with their descendants (v. 1; cf. 1:28; 9:7). As with Adam, He also gave them dominion over the animals, and permission to eat any animal or "moving thing" for food, with only one prohibition, the animal's blood (cf. 1:26, 28-29; 2:16-17).
"The fear of you" and "the terror of you" express the same idea (v. 2). Evidently at this point animals began to have a greater fear of human beings than they had previously (cf. 1:28).
God gave Noah permission to eat animals (v. 3). Until now, evidently people had eaten only plants (cf. 1:29). Now humanity received the power of life and death over the animal kingdom ("into your hand they are given").
"God did not expressly prohibit the eating of meat in the initial stipulation at creation, but by inference 9:3's provision for flesh is used as a dividing mark between the antediluvian and postdiluvian periods. Whether or not early man could eat meat by permission from the beginning, now it is stated formally in the Noahic covenant."
God did, however, prohibit the eating of animal "blood" in order to instill respect for the sacredness of life, since blood is a symbol of life (cf. Lev. 3:17; 7:2-27; 19:26; Deut. 12:1-24; 1 Sam. 14:32-34).
Until the Mosaic Law, God made no distinction between clean and unclean animals with regard to human consumption. Under the Mosaic Law, the Israelites could not eat certain foods. Under the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2), we may again eat any foods (Rom. 14:14; 1 Tim. 4:3). These changes illustrate the fact that God has changed some of the rules, for human conduct, at various strategic times in history. These changes are significant features that help us identify the various dispensations (economies) by which God has ruled historically.
God not only reasserted the cultural mandate to reproduce, and modified the food law, but He also reasserted the sanctity of human life (cf. ch. 4). The reason for capital punishment (v. 6) is that God made man in His own image. This is one reason, therefore, that murder is so serious. A person extinguishes a revelation of God—which God takes very personally (cf. Abel's blood "crying out to [God] from the ground")—when he or she murders someone. Years later, the writing prophets announced that God would judge certain foreign nations because they shed human blood without divine authorization (e.g., Amos 1:3, 11, 13; 2:1). God has never countermanded this command, so it is still in force. Before the Flood, the lack of capital punishment led to bloody vendettas (cf. ch. 4).
"The human government and the governors that existed previously—as in the city which Cain established (4:17), or in the case of the mighty men (6:4)—existed solely on human authority. Now, however, divine authority was conferred on human government to exercise oversight over those who lived under its jurisdiction."
"I sometimes feel that often the hue and cry against capital punishment today does not so much rest upon humanitarian interest or even an interest in justice, but rather in a failure to understand that man is unique. The simple fact is that Genesis 9:6 is a sociological statement: The reason that the punishment for murder can be so severe is that man, being created in the image of God, has a particular value—not just a theoretical value at some time before the Fall, but such a value yet today."
Often, today, people who believe in capital punishment argue for it on the basis of passages that commanded the Israelites to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, etc. (Exod. 21:23-25; Lev. 24:19-20; Deut. 19:21; cf. Num. 35:33). However, that was Mosaic legislation, and Christ ended the Law when He died on the cross (cf. Rom. 10:4; et al.). A better basis for capital punishment is this Noahic legislation.
Sometimes those who argue against capital punishment, today, appeal to Jesus' statement in the Sermon on the Mount: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil . . ." (Matt. 5:38-39). Jesus was not cancelling God's command to execute murderers when He said this, but was teaching self-restaint and non-retaliation in interpersonal conflicts, as is clear from the context.
Others sometimes appeal to Jesus' words to the woman taken in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you; go your way; from now on sin no more" (John 8:11). They believe that Jesus was refusing to recommend the death penalty for a person who had committed a capital offense under Israel's law, because He disapproved of capital punishment. Besides the fact that the inspiration of this passage is highly disputed, Jesus, as the Judge of all mankind, had every right to waive or postpone this woman's judgment.
Jesus, on the other hand, also said, in the Sermon on the Mount, "For in the way you judge [deal with people], you will be judged [dealt with], and by your standard of measure, it shall be measured to you" (Matt. 7:2). And, "All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matt. 26:52).
The Apostle Paul also taught Christians to submit to the government: that "bear[s] the sword" and is "an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil" (Rom. 13:4). These statements affirm judgment "in kind" for offenders.
9:8-17 The Noahic Covenant was a suzerainty treaty that God made with humankind through Noah. In it, He promised to "never again . . . destroy all flesh" with a "flood [of] water" (v. 11). The sign God appointed to remind people of this promise, and to guarantee its veracity, was the rainbow ("bow"; v. 12-15; cf. 6:12). There may have been rainbows before this pronouncement, but now God attached significance to the rainbow.
In later years, God gave other signs in connection with other covenants: physical circumcision with the Abrahamic Covenant, Sabbath observance with the Mosaic Covenant, and the Lord's Supper with the New Covenant.
"Shining upon a dark ground, . . . it represents the victory of the light of love over the fiery darkness of wrath. Originating from the effect of the sun upon a dark cloud, it typifies the willingness of the heavenly to penetrate the earthly. Stretched between heaven and earth, it is as a bond of peace between both, and, spanning the horizon, it points to the all-embracing universality of the Divine mercy."
"The rainbow arcs like a battle bow hung against the clouds. (The Hebrew word for rainbow, qeset, is also the word for a battle bow.) . . .
This covenant would remain for "all successive generations" (v. 12). People have no responsibility to guarantee the perpetuity of this covenant; God will do all that He promised (v. 9). Observe the recurrence of "I," "Myself," and "My" in these verses: God was making His promise—to all living creatures for all time going forward—very personal. Finally, this covenant is unconditional (v. 9), universal (v. 11), and everlasting (v. 12).
"What distinguishes the Noahic [Covenant] from the patriarchal one and for that matter all others recounted in the Old Testament is its truly universal perspective. It is God's commitment to the whole of humanity and all terrestrial creation—including the surviving animal population."
"The covenant with Noah [6:18; 9:9-16] is entirely unconditional rather than a conditional covenant, as in the Edenic situation. The certainty of the fulfillment of the covenant with Noah rested entirely with God and not with Noah. As this point is somewhat obscured in current discussion on the covenants of Scripture, it is important to distinguish covenants that are conditional from those that are unconditional. Conditional covenants depend on the recipients meeting the conditions imposed by God. Unconditional covenants declare that God's purpose will be fulfilled regardless of an individual's response. The fact that the covenant is one-sided—from God to humankind—does not mean that there is no response on the part of humankind. But the point is that the response is anticipated and does not leave the fulfillment of the covenant in doubt."
The elements of the Noahic Covenant are the following: (1) God held man responsible for protecting the sanctity of human life by orderly governmental rule, even specifying the use of capital punishment (9:5-6; cf. Rom. 13:1-7). (2) God promised not to judge humanity again with a universal flood (8:21; 9:11-16), and He confirmed the established order of nature (8:22; 9:2). (3) God now permitted people to eat animal flesh, evidently for the first time (9:3-4). (4) God announced that Canaan's descendants would be servants to their brethren (9:25-26), Shem's descendants would enjoy a special relationship to the Lord (9:26-27), and Japheth's descendants would become enlarged races (9:27).
". . . the author is intentionally drawing out the similarities between God's covenant with Noah and the covenant at Sinai. Why? The answer that best fits with the author's purposes is that he wants to show that God's covenant at Sinai is not a new act of God. The covenant is rather a return to God's original promises. Once again at Sinai, as he had done in the past, God is at work restoring his fellowship with man and bringing man back to himself. The covenant with Noah plays an important role in the author's development of God's restoration of blessing. It lies midway between God's original blessing of all mankind (1:28) and God's promise to bless 'all peoples on the earth' through Abraham (12:1-3)."
This pericope presents the characteristics of the three branches of the human family that grew out of Noah. Moses stressed the themes of blessing and cursing. God "cursed" Canaan with slavery ("let Canaan be his [Shem's and Japheth's] servant"), because Ham (Canaan's father) showed disrespect toward Noah, whereas the Lord blessed Shem and Japheth, because they showed regard for their father's vulnerable condition ("covered their father's nakedness").
"The world seems all set for a new start. The slate has been wiped clean, and we hope that the mistakes of the antediluvians will not be repeated. But no sooner is the blessing pronounced and the eternal covenant confirmed than man lapses again."
9:18-24 Evidently Noah became so "drunk" that he took off all his clothes, and then passed out naked ("uncovered") in his tent. There is no explicit indication that Ham disrobed his father or committed some homosexual act. However, because the expression "to see one's nakedness" is sometimes used of sexual intercourse, it is possible that some form of sexual immorality was involved. One writer argued that Ham's sin was that he failed to cover his father's nakedness. I think that probably some sexual sin was committed.
Noah's shame was not that he drank some wine, but that he drank to excess and thereby lost self-control, which resulted in immodesty (cf. Eph. 5:18). Certainly this incident should warn the reader of the potential harm of drunkenness, both for the drinker and for his or her family. The stumblingblock for Adam and Eve had also been "the fruit of the vine," only in their case, to be precise, it was "a fruit from a tree."
"Whatever the actual nature of his [Noah's] conduct might have been [in becoming drunk and uncovering himself in his tent] . . . , the author presents his deed as one of disgrace and shame ('nakedness,' as in Ge 3), and he seems intent on depicting the scene in such a way as to establish parallels between Noah's disgrace (he took of the fruit of his orchard and became naked) and that of Adam and Eve (who took of the fruit of the Garden and saw that they were naked)."
Ham's gazing on Noah's nakedness represents an early step in the abandonment of the moral code after the Flood. Ham dishonored Noah, not by seeing him naked, but by his disrespectful, inappropriate, carnal and outspoken delight in his father's condition (cf. Gen. 19:26; Exod. 33:20; Judg. 13:22; 1 Sam. 6:19).
"It is difficult for someone living in the modern world to understand the modesty and discretion of privacy called for in ancient morality. Nakedness in the OT was from the beginning a thing of shame for fallen man [3:7] . . . the state of nakedness was both undignified and vulnerable. . . . To see someone uncovered was to bring dishonor and to gain advantage for potential exploitation."
"The sons of Noah are here shown to belong to two groups of humankind, those who like Adam and Eve hide the shame of their nakedness and those who like Ham, or rather the Canaanites, have no sense of their shame before God. The one group, the line of Shem, will be blessed (9:26); but the other, the Canaanites (not the Hamites), can only be cursed (9:25)."
"Shem, the father of Abraham, is the paradigm of later Israel; and Ham of their archenemies, Egypt and Canaan (10:6). Lying behind this is the ancient concept of corporate personality. Because of this unity of father-son, the character of the father is anticipated in the deeds of the sons. Hebrew theology recognized that due to parental influence future generations usually committed the same acts as their fathers whether for ill or good. In this case the curse is directed at Ham's son as Ham's just deserts for the disrespect he had toward his own father, Noah."
Ham's action may have also involved an attempt to take the leadership of the family from Noah. Shem and Japheth's act of "cover[ing]" their father's "nakedness," however, imitated God—who covered Adam and Eve's nakedness in the garden (3:21).
9:25-27 This oracle, the first time Moses recorded a human uttering a curse, is a prophecy announcing divine judgment on Canaan's descendants for their sin—that had its seed in Ham's act. Noah, as a prophet, announced the future of this particular grandson's descendants (cf. Gen. 49; Deut. 33; et al.).
The Canaanites became known for their shameless depravity in sexual matters. When Joshua invaded their land, he proved to be God's instrument of punishment for the Canaanites. Moses' mention of Noah's curse on Canaan would have encouraged his original Israelite readers, by reminding them that the people who occupied the land that they were about to enter were cursed. Likewise, his mention of Noah's blessing of Shem, the ancestor of Abram and the Isrealites, would have encouraged them (v. 26).
There is no basis for the popular notion that this oracle doomed the Hamites, who were mainly Africans, to a position of inferiority or slavery among the other peoples of the world. "Canaan," and only his branch of the family, are the subject of this prophecy, not Ham and all his descendants. The curse on Canaan was a prophecy of what God would do to Canaan's branch of the human family, because the sinful attitude and act of Ham would eventually come to "full flower" in his son Canaan. Noah, as a prophet, looked down the corridors of time, with God's help, and saw what would happen. The Canaanites are now extinct.
"There are no grounds in our passage for an ethnic reading of the 'curse' as some have done, supposing that some peoples are inferior to others. Here Genesis looks only to the social and religious life of Israel's ancient rival Canaan, whose immorality defiled their land and threatened Israel's religious fidelity (cf. Lev 18:28; Josh 23). It was not an issue of ethnicity but of the wicked practices that characterized Canaanite culture."
The general lesson of the passage is that God blesses those who behave righteously, but curses those who abandon moral restraint. In view of what studies on the effects of viewing pornography have taught us, it should be no surprise that the root of the depraved Canaanite culture was looking at someone's nakedness. We need to be very careful about viewing nudity. It can lead to an addiction that results in complete corruption, and finally ends in divine judgment.
"Instructively, the first three heroes of faith listed in Hebrews are from Genesis 4—6: Abel, Enoch, and Noah. All believed God, but their destinies were significantly different. Abel believed God and died. Enoch believed God and did not die. Noah believed God, and everyone else died in the Flood; eventually he died a natural death at the good old age of 950 years. We cannot dictate where faith will lead. The human tendency is to see only Enoch as the example of faith, but Abel is also given as our example. What all three have in common is that they walked by faith and pleased God. That faith is an example to us."
The husband of a former student told me that his ancestors many generations back were mainly believers. Several generations ago, 11 of 12 children became Christians. The head of his branch of the family was the twelfth child, the only unbeliever in that generation of the family. As the years passed, those 11 believing children produced many other Christian descendants who became preachers, teachers, pastors, doctors, missionaries, and other godly people who became a blessing to multitudes of people. His unbelieving ancestor produced several alcoholics, criminals, and blights on society. My student's husband was the first person in five generations to become a Christian from that branch of his family. The family tree of Jonathan Edwards, like the "godly branch" of the family just described, also produced much good fruit.
The First Beginning:
The Second Beginning:
God created Adam and Eve from the dust (2:7).
God saved Noah and his family from destruction (7:23).
God planted the Garden and gave Adam and Eve plants to eat (1:29-31; 2:8).
God saved animal species along with Noah and gave Noah and his family animals for food (6:17-22).
Be fruitful and multiply; have dominion over all living things (1:28).
Be fruitful and multiply; all living things will be filled with fear and dread of you (9:1, 2).
[You have great freedom, but if you disobey Me you will die (2:17).]
Never again will God destroy the earth with a flood; He will always provide the annual seasons (8:21, 22; 9:11).
Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16).
Do not shed the blood of any person [without divine authorization] (9:5, 6).
Those who eat of it will die (2:17).
Of those who shed blood God will demand a reckoning (9:5).
It is very good (1:31).
Humanity's heart is evil (8:21).
This section gives in some detail the distribution of Noah's descendants over the earth after the Flood (cf. 9:18-19). Part of God's plan to bring blessing to humankind involved dividing the human race by languages, territories, and nations.
This fourth toledot section (10:1—11:9) brings the inspired record of primeval events to a climax and provides a transition to the patriarchal narratives. All the nations of the world, in their various lands, with their different languages, descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Of special interest to the original Israelite readers were the Canaanites and the other ancient Near Eastern powers.
"From this section we learn that the 'blessing' is for all peoples because all nations have their source in the one man, Noah, whom God favored. Moreover, the disunity among Noah's offspring that resulted from the tower event [11:1-9] did not prevent the blessing God had envisioned for humanity."
"The Tower of Babel incident (11:1-9), though following the table in the present literary arrangement, actually precedes chronologically the dispersal of the nations. This interspersal of narrative (11:1-9) separates the two genealogies of Shem (10:21-31; 11:10-26), paving the way for the particular linkage between the Terah (Abraham) clan and the Shemite lineage (11:27). The story of the tower also looks ahead by anticipating the role that Abram (12:1-3) will play in restoring the blessing to the dispersed nations."
This table shows that Yahweh created all peoples (cf. Deut. 32:8; Amos 9:7; Acts 17:26). Like the genealogy in chapter 5, this one traces 10 main individuals, and the last one named had three sons.
This chapter contains one of the oldest, if not the oldest, ethnological table in the literature of the ancient world. It reveals a remarkable understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation following the Flood. Almost all the names in this chapter have been found in archaeological discoveries in the last century and a half. Many of them appear in subsequent books of the Old Testament.
". . . the names in chapter 10 are presented in a dissimilar manner: the context may be that of an individual (e.g., Nimrod), a city (e.g., Asshur), a people (e.g., Jebusites) or a nation (e.g., Elam).
"A failure to appreciate this mixed arrangement of Genesis 10 has led, we believe, to numerous unwarranted conclusions. For example, it should not be assumed that all the descendants of any one of Noah's sons lived in the same locality, spoke the same language, or even belonged to a particular race."
"The table of nations is a 'horizontal' genealogy rather than a 'vertical' one (those in chaps. 5 and 11 are vertical). Its purpose is not primarily to trace ancestry; instead it shows political, geographical, and ethnic affiliations among tribes for various reasons, most notable being holy war. Tribes shown to be 'kin' would be in league together. Thus this table aligns the predominant tribes in and around the land promised to Israel. These names include founders of tribes, clans, cities, and territories."
In contrast to the genealogy in chapter 5, this one lists no ages. It contains place and group names, which are spoken of as the "ancestors" of other places or groups, as well as the names of individuals. God built nations from families. Thus it is quite clearly a selective list, not comprehensive. The writer's choice of material shows that he had particular interest in presenting Israel's neighbors. Israel would deal with, displace, or subjugate many of these peoples, as well as the Canaanites (ch. 9). They all had a common origin. Evidently 70 nations descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth: 26 from Shem, 30 from Ham, and 14 from Japheth (cf. Deut. 32:8). Seventy became a traditional round number for a large group of descendants. Jacob's family also comprised 70 people (46:27), which may indicate that Moses viewed Israel as a microcosm of humanity, as he presented it here. God set the "microcosm" (Israel) apart to bless the "macrocosm" (all of humanity).
Japheth's descendants (vv. 2-5) settled north, east, and west of Ararat. Their distance from Israel probably explains the brief treatment that they received in this list, compared with that of the Hamites and Shemites. The "coastlands" (v. 5) are the inland areas and the northern Mediterranean coastlands on the now European shore from Turkey to Spain. The dispersion of the nations "according to . . . language" (v. 5) took place after Babel (ch. 11), all along these coasts, as well as elsewhere.
"The Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian dialects constitute the older East Semitic branch of this family, while Hebrew, Aramaic, Phoenician, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic are included in the West Semitic."
Ham's family (vv. 6-20) moved east, south, and southwest into Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Africa. Canaan's descendants (vv. 15-21) did not migrate as far south, but settled in Palestine. ("Palestine" [land of the "Philistines," who settled in "Philistia"] is a later name for Canaan.) The length of these Hamite Canaanite lists indicates the importance of these people and places in Israel's later history. Note the absence of the common sevens in the structuring in Canaan's genealogy, suggesting chaos.
It is possible that Sargon of Agade, whom many secular historians regard as the first ruler of Babylon, may be the "Nimrod" (meaning "We Shall Rebel") of verses 8-10. Many people in ancient times had more than one name. Reference to him probably foreshadows 11:1-9. The Greeks connected the constellation Orion with Nimrod.
"The influx of the Amorites in Canaan is disputed. It does not necessarily follow that the original Amorites, attributed to Hamite descent in Genesis 10, were a Semitic people since the term 'Amorite' in ancient Near Eastern documents does not serve as a definitive source for designating ethnicity. Moreover, linguistic evidence does not always assure true ethnic derivation."
Shem's posterity (vv. 21-31) settled mainly to the northeast and southeast of the Canaanites. This branch of the human family is also important in the Genesis record of Israel's history.
"According to Gen. x. 22, Shem had five sons, Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram, whose descendants peopled and gave name to the following countries:—The descendants of Elam occupied the country called Elymais, between the Lower Tigris and the mountains of Iran; of Asshur, Assyria, lying to the north—the hilly country between the Tigris and the mountain range of Iran; of Arphaxad, the country of Arrapachitis on the Upper Tigris, on the eastern banks of that river, where the highlands of Armenia begin to descend. Lud, the father of the Lydians, is the representative of the Semites who went westward to Asia Minor; and Aram of the Semites who spread along the middle course of the Euphrates to the Tigris in the east, and to Syria in the west."
"When the two lines of Shem are compared (10:21-31; 11:10-26), there is a striking divergence at the point of Eber's descendants, Peleg and Joktan [v. 25]. In chap. 10 Peleg is dropped altogether after his mention, while the nonelect line of Joktan is detailed. It is left to the second lineage in chap. 11 to trace out Peleg's role as ancestral father of Abraham . . ."
"This Table of Nations, then, traces affiliation of tribes to show relationships, based on some original physical connections.
This section reveals that it was God's plan to bless the human race by dividing the family of man by languages, locations, and leaders. God formerly blessed the earth by dividing the light from the darkness, the earth from the heavens, and the land from the seas (ch. 1). Some creationists believe that the division of the earth in Peleg's day (v. 25) refers to continental drift, but many creationists do not hold this view.
"By correlating the number of nations [in ch. 10, i.e., 70] with the number of the seed of Abraham [in 46:27], he [the writer] holds Abraham's 'seed' before the reader as a new humanity and Abraham himself as a kind of second Adam, the 'father of many nations' (Ge 17:5)."
"The table's figure of 'seventy' for the world's nations is alluded to by Jesus in the sending forth of the seventy disciples, as recounted by Luke (10:1-16). Here the evangelist emphasizes the mission of the church in its worldwide evangelistic endeavors."
This pericope is a flashback that explains the division of the earth in Peleg's time ("in his days the earth was divided"; 10:25). The main emphasis in this section is not the building of the tower of Babel but the dispersion of the peoples. We can see this in the literary structure of the passage.
A All the earth had one language (v. 1)
B there (v. 2)
C one to another (v. 3)
D Come, let's make bricks (v. 3)
E Let's make for ourselves (v. 4)
F a city and a tower
G And the Lord came down to see (v. 5; cf. 8:1)
F' the city and the tower (v. 5)
E' that the humans built (v. 5)
D' Come, let's confuse (v. 7)
C' everyone the language of his neighbor (v. 7)
B' from there (v. 8)
A' (confused) the language of the whole earth (v. 9)
When the people of the world, united by a common ("the same") "language," attempted to preserve their unity, and to "make . . . a name" for themselves by building "a tower" that would reach "into heaven," hoping to achieve God-like power and authority, Yahweh frustrated their plan and scattered everyone "over the face of the whole earth"—by "confusing (their) language" that bound them together.
"The tower of Babel story is the last great judgment that befell mankind in primeval times. Its place and function in Gen 1—11 may be compared to the fall in Gen 3 and the sons of God episode in Gen 6:1-4, both of which triggered divine judgments of great and enduring consequence."
This story explains to God's people how God scattered the nations and why. Sending judgment upon them for trying to establish a world state in opposition to divine rule (human government run amuck), God struck the thing that bound people together, namely, a common language. Chronologically, the Babel incident preceded the dispersal that Moses described with genealogies in chapter 10.
"The ziggurat which stood at Babylon in the days of Hammurabi and was known as Etemenanki, 'the House of the Terrace-platform of Heaven and Earth,' became more famous [than the ziggurat at Ur] and was remembered in biblical tradition as the Tower of Babel, but the zuiggurat [sic ziggurat] at Ur is today the best preserved of all monuments of this type and therefore the best fitted to give a vivid impression of their character (Fig. 19)."
"By placing the Tower of Babel incident just prior to the patriarchal stories, the biblical writer is suggesting, in the first place, that post-Flood humanity is as iniquitous as pre-Flood humanity. Rather than sending something as devastating as a flood to annihilate mankind, however, God now places his hope in a covenant with Abraham as a powerful solution to humanity's sinfulness. Thus problem (ch. 11) and solution (ch. 12) are brought into immediate juxtaposition, and the forcefulness of this structural move would have been lost had ch. 10 intervened between the two."
"As it is presently situated in the text, the account of the founding of Babylon falls at the end of the list of fourteen names from the line of Joktan (10:26-29). At the end of the list of the ten names of Peleg's line, however, is the account of the call of Abraham (11:27—12:10). So two great lines of the descendants of Shem divide in the two sons of Eber (10:25). One ends in Babylon, the other in the Promised Land."
11:1-2 Some of the Hamites migrated "east" (specifically southeast) to the plain of Shinar (cf. 10:10). This was in the Mesopotamian basin (modern Iraq).
"In light of such intentional uses of the notion of 'eastward' within the Genesis narratives, we can see that here too the author intentionally draws the story of the founding of Babylon into the larger scheme at work throughout the book. It is a scheme that contrasts God's way of blessing (e.g., Eden and the Promised Land) with man's own attempt to find the 'good.' In the Genesis narratives, when man goes 'east,' he leaves the land of blessing (Eden and the Promised Land) and goes to a land where the greatest of his hopes will turn to ruin (Babylon and Sodom).
"Following the Ararat departure, the people migrated southeast to the lower Euphrates valley. Genesis 1—11 then has come full circle from 'Eden' to 'Babel,' both remembered for the expulsion of their residents."
11:3-4 The motivation for building "a city" with its "tower" was to make the builders "a name" (i.e., establish world domination, authority, and power in God's place; cf. Ps. 14:1). Later God would "make a name" for Abram (12:2-3). The object of this endeavor was evidently to establish a center by which they might maintain their unity, achieve God-like authority, and gain world domination, with a one-world government.
God desired unity for humankind, but one that He created, not one founded on a social state. They wanted to "empower" themselves. Both motive and object were ungodly. God had instructed man to fill the earth (1:28), to spread over the whole planet.
The builders of the "tower" seem to have intended that it serve as a memorial or landmark, among other things. It was probably a ziggurat used for religious purposes.
"Mesopotamian religion claimed that their cities were of divine parentage. A symbol of this obsession with divinity among the Mesopotamians was the ziggurat (Akk. ziqqurratu) that was erected as early as the third millennium B.C. The ziggurat was a step-ladder edifice, made up of mud bricks, whose bottom was square or rectangular. The precise meaning of the structure is unknown, though it is widely agreed that it formed a stairway between the gods and earth (cf. Gen 28:12). At the foot of the ziggurat as well as the pinnacle was a temple area serving as a habitation for the god. Ziggurats may have been considered an earthly imitation of the heavenly residence of the gods."
"A small pavement of rough limestone blocks at Uruk [also known as Erech and Warka, on the Euphrates River about midway between Babylon and the Persian Gulf] is the oldest stone construction in Mesopotamia, and here, too, is found the first ziggurat. The Assyrian-Babylonian word ziqquratu comes from the verb zaqaru meaning 'to be high, or raised up,' and hence signifies the top of a mountain, or a staged tower. Such a tower provided a sort of artificial mountain in the flat Mesopotamian plain as a high place for a god whose shrine stood on its summit. From its first appearance here at Uruk, it was ever afterward the most characteristic feature of temple architecture in Mesopotamia, and the locations of more than two dozen such structures are known today."
11:5-6 The builders undoubtedly expected to ascend to heaven to meet God. Instead, God descended to earth to meet them ("The LORD came down to see the city and the tower"), another anthropomorphism here referring to God's omniscience. If God had allowed this project to continue, the results would have been even worse—and more serious—than they were at this time. The sin of the builders was their refusal to obey God-given directives.
"Depraved humanity are united in their spiritual endeavor to find, through technology, existential meaning apart from God and the means to transgress its boundaries. Unless God intervenes and divides them by confounding their speech, nothing can stop human beings in their overweening pride and their desire for autonomy."
The construction of cities by itself was not sinful. God chose Jerusalem for His people, and He will create the New Jerusalem for believers to inhabit. It is the pride and security that people place in their cities—and their arrogant independence from Himself, the Most High God—that God disapproves.
The movement of humanity in our day is again, or still, to unite and so achieve security and independence apart from God. This will culminate, the Book of Revelation reveals, in a one-world government under the leadership of Antichrist. The present breaking down of racial, linguistic, and geo-political distinctions is evidence of this movement. From the human viewpoint, this unity is good. From the divine perspective, it is further evidence of rebellion against God. He will judge it one day, when Jesus Christ returns to the earth to terminate Antichrist and to rule for 1,000 years (Rev. 19:11—20:6).
11:7 God's soliloquy ("Come, let Us go down . . .") in this verse mimics the language of the tower builders in verses 3 and 4 ("Come let us build . . ."; cf. 1:26). The tower was so puny that He had to come "down" to see it (cf. Isa. 40:22). The confusion of language probably involved more than just the introduction of new words, since the original single language dispersed, and over time further divided into a myriad of new languages and dialects—the thousands that we have today..
"If language is the audible expression of emotions, conceptions, and thoughts of the mind, the cause of the confusion or division of the one human language into different national dialects might be sought in an effect produced upon the human mind, by which the original unity of emotion, conception, thought, and will was broken up. This inward unity had no doubt been already disturbed by sin, but the disturbance had not yet amounted to a perfect breach."
11:8 The resultant confusion led to a scattering of the people over the "whole earth" (cf. v. 9). God did not allow human rebellion to reach the level that it did before the Flood. God forced people to do what they refused to do voluntarily, namely, scatter over the face of the earth. This is the third great judgment on sinful humanity in this first major section of Genesis (chs. 1—11), the first two being Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden, and the second being the Flood.
Some interpreters take the confusion of languages to have been a local phenomenon only. One writer believed that lightning struck the tower of Babel, and the confusion of speech that followed resulted from a scrambling of the electrical circuits in the brains of those struck. This is an interesting idea but impossible to prove. Most interpreters, however, regard this event as the source of the major language groups in the world today.
11:9 "Babel" sounds like the Hebrew word for "confuse" (balal), and it means "the gate of gods" in Akkadian.
". . . Gen 11:1-9, the tower of Babel story, is a satire on the claims of Babylon to be the center of civilization and its temple tower the gate of heaven (E[numa]E[lish] 6:50-80): Babel does not mean gate of God, but 'confusion' and 'folly.' Far from its temple's top reaching up to heaven, it is so low that God has to descend from heaven just to see it! (11:4-9)."
This was the original "Babylon" (the Greek form of "Babel"), that forever afterward was the city most characterized by rebellion against God's authority, and the desire to earn salvation by works, idolatry, and self-assertion. It stands as a symbol of organized rebellion against God elsewhere in Scripture, and God will eventually destroy it (Rev. 17 and 18). The spirit of Babel is strong throughout the world today.
The story of Babel is important for several reasons:
1. It explains the beginning of, and reason for, the various languages of mankind.
2. It probably explains the origin of the "races" within humankind.
"The separate language groups no longer could inter-marry freely with the rest of mankind. As in-breeding and lack of access to the larger pool of genes occurred, ethnic characteristics developed. Furthermore, each local environment tended to favor selection of certain traits, and eliminate the others. Ethnic characteristics, such as skin color, arose from loss of genetic variability, not from origin of new genes through mutation as suggested by evolution.
"The concept of race is an evolutionary idea . . . (Acts 17:26). All humans possess the same color, just different amounts of it. We all descended from Noah and Adam."
"The Bible doesn't tell us what skin color our first parents had, but, from a design point of view, the 'middle [color]' makes a great beginning. Starting with medium-skinned parents (AaBb), it would take only one generation to produce all the variation we see in human skin color today. In fact, this is the normal situation in India today. Some Indians are as dark as the darkest Africans, and some—perhaps a brother or sister in the same family—as light as the lightest Europeans. I once knew a family from India that included members with every major skin color you could see anywhere in the world.
"But now notice what happens if human groups were isolated after creation. If those with very dark skins (AABB) migrate into the same areas and/or marry only those with very dark skins, then all their children will have very dark skins. (AABB is the only possible combination of AB egg and sperm cells, which are the only types that can be produced by AABB parents.) Similarly, parents with very light skins (aabb) can have only very light-skinned children, since they don't have any A or B genes to pass on. Even certain medium-skinned parents (AAbb or aaBB) can get 'locked-in' to having only medium-skinned children, like the Orientals, Polynesians, and some of my ancestors, the Native Americans.
"Where people with different skin colors get together again (as they do in the West Indies, for example), you find the full range of variation again—nothing less, but nothing more either, than what we started with. Clearly, all this is variation within kind. . . .
"What happened as the descendants of medium-skinned parents produced a variety of descendants? Evolution? Not at all. Except for albinism (the mutational loss of skin color), the human gene pool is no bigger and no different now than the gene pool present at creation. As people multiplied, the genetic variability built right into the first created human beings came to visible expression. The darkest Nigerian and the lightest Norwegian, the tallest Watusi and the shortest Pygmy, the highest soprano and the lowest bass could have been present right from the beginning in two quite average-looking people. Great variation in size, color, form, function, etc., would also be present in the two created ancestors of all the other kinds (plants and animals) as well.
"Evolutionists assume that all life started from one or a few chemically evolved life forms with an extremely small gene pool. For evolutionists, enlargement of the gene pool by selection of random mutations is a slow, tedious process that burdens each type with a 'genetic load' of harmful mutations and evolutionary leftovers. Creationists assume each created kind began with a large gene pool, designed to multiply and fill the earth with all its tremendous ecologic and geographic variety. (See Genesis, chapter 1.)"
3. The Babel story demonstrates the inclination of fallen man to rebel against God, and to try to provide for his needs, in his own way—rather than by trusting and obeying God.
4. It illustrates that rebellion against God results in: (a) broken fellowship between God and man, and (b) failure to realize God's intention for man in His creation, namely, that he rule the earth effectively.
5. It provides the historical background for what follows in Genesis, since Abraham, the great patriarch and father of the Hebrews, came from this area.
"Irony is seen in the beginning and the ending of this passage. The group at Babel began as the whole earth (11:1), but now they were spread over the whole earth (11:9). By this time the lesson is clarified: God's purpose will be accomplished in spite of the arrogance and defiance of man's own purposes. He brings down the proud, but exalts the faithful.
"The significance of this little story is great. It explains to God's people how the nations were scattered abroad. Yet the import goes much deeper. The fact that it was Babylon, the beginning of kingdoms under Nimrod from Cush, adds a rather ominous warning: Great nations cannot defy God and long survive. The new nation of Israel need only survey the many nations around her to perceive that God disperses and curses the rebellious, bringing utter confusion and antagonism among them. If Israel would obey and submit to God's will, then she would be the source of blessing to the world.
"The Babel account (11:1-9) is not the end of early Genesis. If it were, the story would conclude on the sad note of human failure. But as with earlier events in Genesis 1—11, God's grace once again supersedes human sin, insuring the continued possibilities of the promissory blessings (1:28; 9:1). . . . The scaffolding of human pride would be dismantled by the erection of the Shemite line that culminates in obedient Abraham, who likewise is found in the region of Shinar. Abraham would prove to be the nations' deliverance."
In contrast to the genealogy in chapter 5, this one emphasizes life and expansion rather than death, even though longevity was declining. This genealogy starts with Noah's son Shem, whom God blessed, and it concludes with Abram, whom God purposed to bless. This is the line of Israel's ancestors. It is a "vertical" list, of the type used in the ancient Near East to document legitimate claims to thrones or inheritances. This genealogy, as the one in chapter 5, appears to be complete. Note that the pattern Moses followed in this list is: "X lived so many years and begat Y, and X lived ___ more years and begat other children." This is the same pattern we find in chapter 5, except that there, the final notation is: "X lived a total of ___ years and died." The purpose of this genealogy in chapter 11 is to connect Abram to Noah, and to give background information essential for understanding the story of Abram that follows.
"If the message of Genesis is essentially one of redemption, Gen 3—11 explains why man needs salvation and what he needs to be saved from. Chaps. 1—2, in describing the original state of the world, also describe the goal of redemption, to which ultimately the world and humanity will return when the patriarchal promises are completely fulfilled."
"An extensive statistical analysis of the life-spans of the patriarchs, as given in Genesis Chapter 5 and 11, shows that statistically the life-span can be considered constant before the Flood, while after the Flood the data can be fitted by an asymptotic exponential decay curve. Also, it is concluded that as for the life-spans reported in Genesis Chapter 11, the data in the Masoretic text are the authentic ones; those in the Septuagint have been tampered with. Moreover, it is statistically unlikely that there are gaps in the genealogies in Genesis Chapter 11."
The genealogies in Genesis 11:10-26 and 1 Chronicles 1:17-27 are identical, but the one in Luke 3:34-36 inserts the name "Cainan" between Arpachshad and Shelah. The inclusion of "Cainan" may indicate that Luke used the Septuagint to compose his genealogy, since this name appears in this Greek translation, but not in the Hebrew Bible genealogies. Cainan appears elsewhere in Luke's list as Adam's great-grandson (Luke 3:37-38), so this may be a scribal error.
Most scholars regard "Eber" (v. 14) as the individual from whom the Jews received the name "Hebrew." Adam, Noah, and Abram all fathered three named sons, linking them as "saviors" of humanity. In Abram's case, these sons (descendants) were Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
The genealogy of Shem (11:10-26) in this pericope prefaces the story of Abram (11:27—25:11). This structure serves as a prototype for the narrative that follows in Genesis. Similarly, the genealogy of Ishmael (25:12-18) introduces the story of Jacob and Esau (25:19—35:29), and the genealogy of Esau (36:1-43) introduces the story of Joseph (37:2—50:26).
"With 11:26 the scene has finally been set for the patriarchal history to unfold. The opening chapters of Genesis have provided us the fundamental insights for interpreting these chapters properly. Gen 1 revealed the character of God and the nature of the world man finds himself in. Gen 2 and 3 portrayed the relationship between man and woman, and the effects man's disobedience has had on man-woman and divine-human relations. Chap. 5 sketched the long years that passed before the crisis of the great flood (chaps. 6—9), which almost destroyed all humanity for its sinfulness. The table of the nations (chap. 10) started the process of Israel's geographical and political self-definition with respect to the other nations in the world, but Gen 11:1-9 reminded us that the nations were in confusion and that mankind's proudest achievements were but folly in God's sight and under his judgment.
"However, according to 11:10-26, just five generations after Peleg, whose lifetime according to 10:25 saw the confusion of languages at Babel, Abram arrives. As 12:3 will declare, it is through him that all the families of the earth will be blessed. Man is not without hope. The brevity of this genealogy is a reminder that God's grace constantly exceeds his wrath. He may punish to the third or fourth generation but he shows mercy to thousands (Deut 5:9; 7:9)."
"Four key concepts presented in Genesis 1 through 11 are crucial for comprehending the rest of the Bible. First, the God who entered the lives of Abram and Sarai is the same God who created the entire universe. He is the only true and living God—Yahweh, the Creator and the Savior of the world. Second, all people have rebelled against God, their benevolent Creator, and His good will for them. Humanity has inherited a state of sinfulness from Adam and Eve's rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Third, God judges and will judge the actions of all people. God, by sending the Flood, made it clear to Noah and to everyone that human wickedness is entirely unacceptable. God cannot let evil reign free in His creation. Fourth, sin continues to plague all of humanity—even after the Flood. Although the Flood did not wash away sin, God, as the second half of Genesis (chs. 12—50) reveals, has a plan to save humanity from its own evil deeds."
The chronological framework for the patriarchal stories (Abraham through Joseph) rests on two important texts:
1. 1 Kings 6:1 states that the Exodus took place 480 years before the fourth year of Solomon's reign (i.e., 967 B.C.). This makes the date of the Exodus close to 1446 B.C.
2. Exodus 12:40 records that "the sons of Israel lived in Egypt" 430 years before the Exodus, or from about 1876 B.C. This is the probable date when Jacob's family moved to Egypt (ch. 46).
The historicity of the patriarchs continues to be a matter of scholarly debate. The problem is the lack of explicit reference to the patriarchs in nonbiblical literature and in archaeology ("the scientific study of the material remains of the past"). Scholars who reject the biblical testimony as unauthentic have been labeled "minimalists," and those who believe that the Hebrew Bible credibly supplements nonbiblical material are known as "maximalists." I am one of the latter, believing that the biblical records reliably testify to historical individuals and events recorded in this section of Genesis.
"It is . . . not because scholars of to-day begin with more conservative presuppositions than their predecessors that they have a much greater respect for the patriarchal stories than was formerly common, but because the evidence warrants it."
"It is beyond question that traditional and conservative views of biblical history, especially of the patriarchal period, will continue to be favored by whatever results accrue from ongoing Ebla research."
Birth of Terah
Birth of Abram
Abram’s departure from Haran
Abram’s marriage to Hagar
Birth of Ishmael
Reaffirmation of covenant
Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
Birth of Isaac
Gen. 21:2-3; cf. 21:5
Death of Sarah
Marriage of Isaac
Birth of Jacob and Esau
Death of Abram
Marriage of Esau
Death of Ishmael
Jacob’s journey to Haran
Gen. 29:23, 28; 30:4, 9
Birth of Judah
End of Jacob’s 14 year labor for his wives
Birth of Joseph
End of Jacob’s stay with Laban
Jacob’s arrival at Shechem
Rape of Dinah
Marriage of Judah
Selling of Joseph
Gen. 37:2, 28
Gen. 39:20; cf. 41:1
Gen. 41:1, 46
Death of Isaac
Beginning of famine
Brothers’ first visit to Egypt
Judah’s incest with Tamar
Brothers’ second visit to Egypt
Gen. 43:1, 15; 45:6, 11
Jacob’s descent to Egypt
Gen. 46:6; cf. 47:9
Death of Jacob
Death of Joseph
One of the significant changes in the emphasis that occurs at this point in Genesis, is from cursing, in the primeval record, to blessing, in the patriarchal narratives. The Abrahamic Covenant is most important in this respect. How Abram's family gained and provided these blessings unfolds. Israel could, and we can, identify with their experiences.
"Chapters 1—11 are set in Babylonia; chs. 12—36 are set in Palestine; chs. 37—50 are set in Egypt. (The same kind of tripartite geographical focus emerges from Exodus:  1:1—12:36, in Egypt;  12:37—18:27, to Sinai;  19:1—40:38, at Sinai.) In other words, each part of the Mediterranean world is highlighted in some part of Genesis. The crucial center section of Genesis (chs. 12—36) is bracketed geographically by two sections of the Near Eastern world with whose history that of Israel would be constantly interlocked. . . .
"In chs. 1—11 we read of individuals who had land, but are either losing it or being expelled from it. In chs. 12—50 the emphasis is on individuals who do not have land, but are on the way toward it. One group is losing; another group is expecting.
Chapters 1—11 present a structural pattern that carries over into the rest of the Pentateuch.
"The importance of Genesis 1—11 for the rest of the Pentateuch can be seen in the fact that its narrative structure provides a pattern by which the author often shapes subsequent pentateuchal narratives. Thus the order and arrangement of the Creation accounts in Genesis 1—2 exhibit the same pattern as the description of the building of the tabernacle (Ex 25—31); the tabernacle is portrayed as a return to the Garden of Eden. The instructions given to Noah for building the ark foreshadow those given to Moses for building the tabernacle. Furthermore, one can demonstrate that whole sections of laws in the Pentateuch have been grouped and arranged in patterns that parallel the narrative structure of Genesis 1—11."
"The ancient oriental background to Gen 1—11 shows it to be concerned with rather different issues from those that tend to preoccupy modern readers. It is affirming the unity of God in the face of polytheism, his justice rather than his caprice, his power as opposed to his impotence, his concern for mankind rather than his exploitation. And whereas Mesopotamia clung to the wisdom of primeval man, Genesis records his sinful disobedience. Because as Christians we tend to assume these points in our theology, we often fail to recognize the striking originality of the message of Gen 1—11 and concentrate on subsidiary points that may well be of less moment."
Some notable changes take place in the second part of Genesis, though both parts begin with a creation initiated by the spoken word of God (1:1; 12:1). Instead of the genealogies being prominent and the stories secondary, as in chapters 1—11, the reverse becomes true now. God retreats further into the background of the events recorded, than was the case earlier, and there is corresponding emphasis on the personalities of the patriarchs. The promises to the patriarchs form the central theme of this section, especially those concerning descendants, land, and divine blessing. There also seems to be increasing depth in the moral awareness of the patriarchs as generation follows generation from Abram to Joseph.
This is the sixth and central (most important) of the 11 toledot sections in Genesis.
A major theme of the Pentateuch is the partial fulfillment of the promises to the patriarchs. The promises in Genesis 12:1-3 and 7 are the fountainhead from which the rest of the Pentateuch flows. Walter Kaiser labeled the three things promised Abram as "an heir, a heritage, and an inheritance." David Clines called them "posterity, relationship with God, and land." J. Dwight Pentecost and Robert L. Saucy referred to them as "seed, blessing, and land."
God progressively revealed more information about each of these promises. He gave more information about the land promise in 13:15, 17; 15:7-8, 18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3-4 (plural "lands"); 28:4, 13; 35:12; 48:4; and 50:24. Repetition of the seed promise occurs in 13:15-16; 15:5; 17:2, 5-10, 13, 16, 19-20; 18:18; 21:12; 22:17-18; 26:3-4, 24; 28:13-14; 32:12; 35:11-12; 46:3; and 48:4 and 16.
"A line of successive representative sons of the patriarchs who were regarded as one with the whole group they represented matched the seminal idea already advocated in Genesis 3:15. Furthermore, in the concept of 'seed' were the two aspects of the seed as a future benefit and the seed as the present beneficiaries of God's temporal and spiritual gifts. Consequently, 'seed' was always a collective singular noun; never did it appear as a plural noun (e.g., as in 'sons'). Thereby the 'seed' was marked as a unit, yet with a flexibility of reference: now to the one person, now to the many descendants of that family. This interchange of reference with its implied corporate solidarity was more than a cultural phenomena [sic phenomenon] or an accident of careless editing; it was part and parcel of its doctrinal intention."
The promise of universal blessing recurs in 18:18; 22:18 (to Abraham); 26:4 (to Isaac); and 28:14 (to Jacob). God reiterated His purpose with additional detail to Abraham in 13:14-17; 17:1-21; and 22:15-18; to Isaac in 26:3-5, 24; and to Jacob in 28:13-15; and 35:9-12 (cf. 46:1-4).
"While this promissory triad of blessing, seed, and land is the thematic cord binding the Book of Genesis, we find that the counterthemes of fratricide, violence, uncreation, and expulsion are the literary-theological foil for the promissory blessing."
Genesis 12—50 focuses on the promise of posterity (an heir, seed), though the other promises receive much attention. Exodus and Leviticus deal more with the promise of worldwide influence (relationship with God, heritage, blessing), and Numbers and Deuteronomy emphasize the promise of real estate (land, inheritance, and rest).
To provide these blessings, God had to overcome many obstacles. Each obstacle provided an opportunity for Abram to grow stronger in faith, and each one tested his faith. Each episode in the Abraham narrative reveals something important about God's power and faithfulness. It should also teach the reader something about responding to God's promises in the midst of various difficulties. This is the plot of the Abraham narrative.
In Genesis 12—25, the problems of possessing the land and obtaining an heir dominate the story of Abram's life. How will Abram obtain the Promised Land? Who will be Abram's promised heir? These are the great questions that the thoughtful reader continually asks as he reads the story of Abram. At least one of these questions is central in every incident in Abram's life that God has chosen to record in Genesis. These questions form the unifying theme of the Abram narrative.
One writer called the form in which Moses revealed Abram's story an "obstacle story."
"Few literary techniques have enjoyed so universal and perennial a vogue as the obstacle story. It is found in ancient and modern literature from the Gilgamesh epic and the Odyssey to the Perils of Pauline and the latest novel. Its character is episodal in that it is not self-contained but finds its raison d'etre in its relation to the larger story or narrative of which it is a part. Its purpose is to arouse suspense and sustain interest by recounting episodes which threaten or retard the fulfillment of what the reader either suspects or hopes or knows to be the ending of the story."
Twelve crises arise as the story of Abram's life unfolds. Each of these must be overcome—and IS overcome by God—who eventually does provide Abram's descendants. Each of these problems constituted a challenge to Abram's faith. Is God faithful and powerful enough to provide what He promised? In the end we can see that He is.
Each problem Abram encountered is typical of problems that every believer has to deal with in seeking to live by faith. Consequently each episode in Abram's life teaches us something about God's power and faithfulness—and should enable us to live by faith more consistently. Moses originally recorded these lessons for Israel's benefit, so that the Israelites would emulate Abram's faith. Abram was not without his flaws, and his failings prove as instructive as his successes, as is true of all biblical characters.
The following were the 12 obstacles that Abraham encountered in his faith journey:
1. Sarai was barren and incapable of producing an heir (11:30).
2. Abram had to leave the Promised Land, which God had told him he would inherit (12:10).
3. Abram's life was in danger in Egypt (12:11-20).
4. Abram's nephew (heir?) Lot (Lot's servants) quarreled with him (Abram's servants) over the land (ch. 13).
5. Abram entered a war and could have died (14:1-16).
6. Abram's life was in danger from retaliation in the Promised Land (15:1).
7. God ruled Eliezer out as Abram's heir (15:2-3).
8. Hagar, pregnant with Abram's son (heir?), departed (16:6).
9. Abimelech threatened Sarai's reputation and child (heir?) in Gerar (ch. 20).
10. Abram had two heirs (21:8-11).
11. God commanded Abram to slay his heir (ch. 22).
12. Abram could not find a proper wife for his heir (24:5).
". . . the narrator has skillfully woven this material together in such a way as to involve the reader/listener in a drama of increasing tension between, on the one hand, the promise of Yahweh that Abram would have an heir and, indeed, would become the father of many nations, and, on the other, the threat to the fulfillment of this promise by a series of crises."
All that Moses wrote in this pericope (11:27—12:9) deals with Abram and his future in the Promised Land. Abram obeyed the Lord's command to relocate to a land that God would give to him and his descedants with the promise that he would become a blessing to the rest of the world. Abram's example of obedience is a model for all believers to forsake all else to obtain the promised blessings of God and to serve Him by becoming a blessing to others.
"The function of this genealogy is not so much to connect Abraham with the preceding events, as the previous genealogies have done, but to provide the reader with the necessary background for understanding the events in the life of Abraham. The list includes eight names. All the individuals named are relevant for understanding the events of the following narrative except 'Iscah' (v. 29). The inclusion of this otherwise insignificant name in the list suggests that the author is seeking to achieve a specific number of names. Thus far in the Book of Genesis, the author has followed a pattern of listing ten names between important individuals in the narrative. In this short list only eight names are given, hence if we are expecting ten names, the number of individuals in this list appears to be short by two names. By listing only eight names, the author leaves the reader uncertain who the ninth and, more importantly, the tenth name will be. It is only as the narrative unfolds that the ninth and tenth names are shown to be the two sons of Abraham, 'Ishmael' (16:15) and 'Isaac' (21:3)."
Abram evidently grew up in the city of "Ur [of the Chaldeans]." A few scholars believe that the "Ur" in view was located just east of Haran, near the top of the Fertile Crescent (cf. 24:4, 7, 10). However, most hold that it was the Ur in southern Mesopotamia. Since the Chaldeans later lived in southern Mesopotamia, this seems to be the correct site.
"Ur is well known as an important center in the land of Sumer; it reached its zenith under the kings of the third dynasty of Ur, who around 2060–1950 B.C. [Abram was born ca. 2166 B.C.] revived for the last time the ancient cultural traditions of the Sumerians. The names of several of Abram's relatives are also the names of known cities: . . . Terah . . . Nahor . . . Serug . . . Haran . . . and Laban the Aramean, Jacob's father-in-law, was from the city Haran in Paddan-aram. All these are places around the river Balih in northern Mesopotamia. Haran and Nahor are often mentioned in the Mari documents of the eighteenth century B.C., and cities named Tell-terah and Serug are known from later Assyrian sources."
"In the ruins of Ur at about this time [2070–2060 B.C.] there are some twenty houses per acre. Assuming six to ten persons per house, there were 120 to 200 people per acre, the average figure of 160 being exactly the same as the population density of modern Damascus [in 1959]. Ur covered 150 acres, and it may therefore be estimated that the population was approximately 24,000 inhabitants."
"If Abraham did come from Mesopotamia sometime in the early second millennium B.C., it is necessary to revise the picture sometimes painted of him as a primitive nomad accustomed only to open spaces of the desert, and to recognize that at least to some extent he must have been the heir of a complex and age-old civilization."
"There was no serious language barrier anywhere in the Fertile Crescent [in the time of the patriarchs], since West Semitic was understood everywhere and the related Accadian of Babylonia was the lingua franca, the tongue of diplomacy and business. Moreover, political and cultural ties between Egypt and Palestine continued to be close, and Egyptian was understood in all important Palestinian centres, while West Semitic was spoken in many parts of northern Egypt."
God first "called" Abram to leave his home when the patriarch still lived in Ur (12:1-3; cf. 15:7; Neh. 9:7; Acts 7:2). Abram left a cultured community in Ur, not to better his life, but to obey God. Canaan at this time was what could be called "uncivilized."
"Election is one of the central realities of the Old Testament; even though it is less frequently mentioned than the covenant it is however the initial act by which Yahweh comes into relation with his people and the permanent reality which assures the constancy of that bond. Every intervention by God in history is an election: either when he chooses a place in which to make more especial manifestation of his presence, or when he chooses a people to carry out his intention, or when he chooses a man to be his representative or his messenger, the Old Testament God is the one who has universal sovereignty at his disposal, and shows it by the free use that he makes of it."
Abram's family members were polytheists (Josh. 24:2).
Abram married his half-sister, "Sarai," which was not contrary to God's will at this early date in history (cf. Lev. 18:9; 20:17; Deut. 27:22). "Endogamy" is the practice of marrying within a family group. God's call was pure grace; there is no evidence in the text that God chose Abram because he merited favor. God was beginning to form a family of faithful followers for Himself. He called them to leave this urban center in trust and obedience. Abram's exodus from his homeland, and Israel's Exodus from Egypt, were two key events in the formation of national Israel.
"It appears that Terah, for his own reasons, decided to move from Ur to Canaan. He began the journey with several members of his family. However, they went to Haran, where Terah died. This was the first step of the journey of Abram and Sarai to the land of promise."
Abram's family stayed in Haran for some time (vv. 31-32).
When the patriarch Terah died, Abram continued his trek toward Canaan in obedience to God's call.
"Like Nuzi, Haran was also part of the Hurrian Mitanni Empire whilst the Hurrians were at the height of their power, so that the tablets discovered at Nuzi would also reflect the way of life in Haran. In this manner, scholars have ascertained from a careful study of the Nuzi tablets that they are very helpful in explaining many of the Biblical episodes relating to the Patriarchs, which had hitherto been somewhat puzzling.
"Although the Bible indicates that Abram eventually left Haran (Genesis 12:4), the Patriarchs nevertheless kept in close contact with that city. Abram sent his servant back to Aram-naharaim, the region in which Haran was situated, in order to find a wife for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:2-10). Isaac later told his younger son Jacob to flee to his uncle Laban in Haran, in order to escape the wrath of his brother Esau, whom he had tricked out of his birthright blessing (Genesis 27:43). Jacob indeed fled to Haran, subsequently marrying there his cousins Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:1-30).
"The influence of Hurrian society on the Patriarchs was undoubtedly very strong, not only because of the origins of Abram in Mesopotamia, but also because all the Patriarchs maintained contact with the area. This is borne out by the fact that many of the incidents in the Biblical narratives relating to the Patriarchs in reality reflect Hurrian social and legal customs, and prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Patriarchal way of life had its roots in Hurrian society."
Archaeologists have dated the Nuzi tablets four or five hundred years after the patriarchs, but they reflect customs that had been prevalent for centuries. We should be careful not to overemphasize the influence of Hurrian civilization, however.
"In the period (the first part of the Middle Bronze Age [ca. 2000–1750 B.C.]) Palestine was receiving an infusion of population as semi-nomadic groups infiltrated the land. . . .
"That these newcomers were 'Amorites,' of the same Northwest-Semitic stock as those whom we have met in Mesopotamia, can scarcely be doubted. Their names, so far as these are known, point unanimously in that direction. Their mode of life is splendidly illustrated by the Tale of Sinuhe, but especially by the stories of Genesis—for it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the migration of Israel's ancestors was a part of this very movement. These people brought to Palestine no fundamental ethnic change, for they were of the same general Northwest-Semitic stock as were the Canaanites."
Major Historical Periods of the Promised Land
Stone (Neolithic) Age
to ca. 4000 BC (?)
Copper (Calcolithic) Age
ca. 4000–3150 BC (?)
Early Bronze Age I
Early Bronze Age II
Early Bronze Age III
Early Bronze Age IV
Middle Bronze Age I
Middle Bronze Age IIA
Middle Bronze Age IIB
Middle Bronze Age IIC
Late Bronze Age I
Late Bronze Age IIA
Late Bronze Age IIB
Iron Age I
Iron Age II
Hellenistic Period I (Ptolemaic and Seleucid)
Hellenistic Period II (Hasmonean)
Roman Period I (Herodian)
37 BC-AD 70
Roman Period II
Roman Period III
Byzantine Period (Christian)
Arab Period (Moslem)
Crusader Period (Christian)
Mameluk Period (Moslem)
Turkish Period (Moslem)
British Mandate Period (Christian)
State of Israel Period (Jewish)
1948 ‑ today
"These verses are of fundamental importance for the theology of Genesis, for they serve to bind together the primeval history and the later patriarchal history and look beyond it to the subsequent history of the nation."
God's revelation to Abram in these verses explains why his family left Ur (11:31).
"The primeval history thus explains the significance of the patriarchal story: though apparently of little consequence in the world of their day, the patriarchs are in fact men through whom the world will be redeemed. The God who revealed himself to them was no mere tribal deity but the creator of the whole universe."
"The progressive revelation of God to Abraham (Revised Version best): (a) As the LORD (Jehovah, His name as in covenant with His people), 12:1, 8; 13:4, 18. (b) God Most High (El Elyon, Creator—God Over and Owning All), 14:18-22. (c) Shield and Exceeding Great Reward, 15:1. (d) The Almighty God (El Shaddai), 17:1. (e) The Righteous Judge, 18:25. (f) The Everlasting God, 21:33. (g) The God of Prividence (Jehovah Jireh), 22:14."
The fourth dispensation, the dispensation of Promise, extended from Abram's call to the giving of the Mosaic Law at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19—24). Man's stewardship rested on God's promises to Abram, which appear first in 12:1-3, but receive confirmation and enlargement in: 13:14-17; 15:1-7; 17:1-8, 15-19; 22:16-18; 26:2-5, 24; 28:13-15; 31:13; and 35:9-12. Individual blessing depended on individual obedience (12:1; 22:18; 26:5). God unconditionally promised blessing through Abram's descendants to the nation of Israel (12:2; 15:18-21; 17:7-8), to the church through Christ (Gal. 3:16, 28-29), and to the Gentile nations (12:3). Individuals (e.g., Pharaoh, 12:17; Abimelech, 20:3, 17) and nations (e.g., Egypt, chs. 47—50; Exod. 1—15) that proved favorable toward Abram's seed would experience divine blessing, but those that proved hostile would experience divine cursing (12:3; cf. Matt. 25:31-46).
Christians are called upon to trust God as Abram did, and so enter into the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant—which covenant inaugurated the dispensation of Promise (Rom. 4:11, 16, 23-25; Gal. 3:6-9). God's promises to Abram and his descendants did not end with the giving of the Mosaic Law (Gal. 3:17; cf. Exod. 32:13; 33:1-3; Lev. 23:10; 25:2; 26:6; Deut. 6:1-23; 8:1-18; Josh. 1:2, 11; 24:13; Acts 7:17; Rom. 9:4). However, as a test of Israel's stewardship of divine truth, the dispensation of promise was superseded, not annulled, by the dispensation of Law (Exod. 19:3-8).
12:1 This section begins with a waw disjunctive in the Hebrew text translated "Now" in the NASB. It introduces an independent circumstantial clause (cf. 1:2). Probably the revelation in view happened in Ur. The NIV and NKJV capture this with the translation "The Lord had said to Abram." So the beginning of chapter 12 flashes back to something that happened in Ur, even though chapter 11 ends with Abram in Haran. Stephen's statement in Acts 7:2 supports this interpretation. Stephen quoted the Septuagint translation of this verse in Acts 7:3.
"The LORD" called Abram to leave his homeland, and to proceed to a different country.
"The name Yahweh, translated as LORD, is not explained until Ex. 3:14, 15. But the readers of Genesis needed to know that the one who spoke to Abram is the same Yahweh who later would form the nation of Israel and who had created all things (2:4) [and had called them out of Egypt to a new land]."
That Abram's family chose to accompany him does not imply an act of disobedience on Abram's part. God did not forbid others from accompanying Abram. Lot chose to accompany Abram; Abram did not choose to take Lot with him.
The focus of God's command was that Abram should uproot himself, and follow His leading. God called him to leave three things, which were progressively more difficult: his "country," his family ("relatives"), and his "father's house." His country was his home region, his family was his clan, and his father's house was his branch of his clan. In Abram's world such a move was unheard of.
"One detail we do need to note here is the conditional element in the covenant program with Abram. It was not until after the death of his father (Gen. 11:32) that Abram began to realize anything of the promise God had given to him, for only after his father's death did God take him into the land (12:4) and there reaffirm the original promise to him (12:7).
"It is important, therefore, to observe the relationship of obedience to this covenant program. Whether or not God would institute a covenant program with Abram depended on Abram's act of obedience in leaving the land. Once this act was accomplished, however, and Abram did obey God, God instituted an irrevocable, unconditional program."
". . . in what sense is the Abrahamic covenant [ch. 15] unconditional? The point here, which has often been misunderstood, is that while the fulfillment of any particular generation of Israel depended on obedience to God, the ultimate possession of the land is promised unconditionally to Israel even though she does not deserve it. Scripture prophesies that a godly remnant of Israel will be the ultimate possessors of the land at the second coming (Ezek. 20:33-38)."
12:2-3 Abram had only a promise from God. We see his faith in his willingness to obey God—based solely in the confidence that what God had promised He would perform (Heb. 11:8). This divine promise was the "seed" from which the Abrahamic Covenant grew (ch. 15). The promise at this point included few details; it was only a general promise of descendants (v. 2) and influence (vv. 2-3). The Hebrew text says, "be a blessing" (v. 2), not "you shall be a blessing." This was a command, rather than a prediction. However, as Abram blessed others, he would become "a blessing" (i.e., "enriched," as in enriched uranium or plutonium). God would make his life more rich and powerful, and he would enrich the lives of others.
There are seven elements in this promise—seven—suggesting fullness and completeness (cf. 2:2-3): (1) God promised to create "a great nation" through Abram. (2) God promised to "bless" Abram. (3) Abram's "name" would live on after his lifetime ("I will make your name great"). (4) Abram was (commanded) to "be a blessing" to others. (5) God would "bless those who bless[ed]" Abram. (6) And God would "curse those who curs[ed]" Abram. (7) "All the families of the earth [would] be blessed" through Abram and his descendants.
"The promises that this glorious God gave to Abram fall into three categories (Gen. 12:2-3). First there were personal promises given to Abram. God said, 'I will bless you; I will make your name great.' Then there were national promises given to this childless man. 'I will make you into a great nation.' And finally there were universal promises that were to come through Abram. 'You will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'"
"Five times in vv 2-3 Abraham is said to be 'blessed' or a 'blessing' to others. This harks back to the first great blessing of mankind at creation (1:28) and its renewal after the flood (9:1). Moreover, Abraham is to become 'a great nation,' comparable presumably to the seventy nations listed in Gen 10. His name will also be 'great,' whereas the men of Babel who tried to make themselves 'a name' were frustrated (11:4-9)."
Three nuances of blessing include: prosperity (13:2, 5; 14:22-23; 24:35; 26:12-13; 30:43; 32:3-21), potency or fertility (1:28; 13:16; 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; 28:3, 14; 35:11) and victory (1:22; cf. 22:17).
The Hebrew words translated "curse" in verse 3 are significant. The word qll in "the one who curses you" really means "disdains," but the word 'rr in "I will curse" means "curse." Even just disdain for Abraham would provoke God's judgment.
God's ultimate purpose was to bless "all the peoples of the earth" through Abram and his seed. Abram's call and obedient response form a foundation for all that follows concerning him, his immediate descendants, and his later descendants. When God called Abram, He took a new approach to blessing the human race. These verses constitute a programmatic statement, a statement that lays out God's program concerning the future.
The amillennial interpretation of this promise is that it "does not pertain today to unbelieving, ethnic 'Israel' (see Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 3:15) but to Jesus Christ and his church (see 12:7; 13:16 and notes; Gal. 3:16, 26-29; 6:16)." This interpretation applies the promise to the spiritual seed of Abraham (Christians), but not to the physical seed (Jews). However, there is no reason for accepting this more obscure explanation. Abraham understood the promise as applying to his physical descendants, and later revelation encourages us to understand it this way too.
Revelations to the Patriarchs
12:4 Since "Lot" voluntarily chose to accompany Abram, he probably believed the promises as well (cf. Ruth). Abram's call had been to separate from his pagan relatives, so he was not disobedient by allowing Lot to accompany him. Not only Lot, but Sarai and "the persons they had acquired in Haran" went with Abram (v. 5).
Probably Abram viewed Lot as his heir (cf. 11:27-32; 12:4-5; 13:1-2).
Abram lived 75 years with his father, then 25 years without his father or his son, and then 75 more years with his son, Isaac.
Shechem became sacred to the Israelites, because it was here that God revealed Himself to Abram—for the first time—in the Promised Land. This was God's second major revelation to Abram. At Shechem, Jacob later: bought land, set up his home, and buried his idols in rededication to Yahweh—after returning from his sojourn in Paddan-aram (33:18-20; 35:4). Here, too, the Israelites assembled twice when they had taken possession of Canaan under Joshua's leadership, to commemorate God's faithfulness in giving them the land He had promised their forefathers (Josh. 8; 24). Shechem was near the geographic center of Canaan (cf. Josh. 20:7). It lay in the heart of the land God now promised Abram. "Moreh" means "teacher," so "the tree (oak) of Moreh" may have been a pagan site for oracles.
The reference to the Canaanites' presence in the land prepares the narrative for incidents of conflict, with these native inhabitants, that followed in Israel's history (cf. 10:15-19). It also denotes a barrier to the fulfillment, of God's promise, to give Abram and his heirs the land (v. 7). Abram could not take possession of the Promised Land immediately, because the Canaanites occupied it.
12:7 In response to God's promise to give Abram the land where he stood ("this land"), the patriarch "built an altar" and worshipped Yahweh. This was Abram's characteristic response to God's grace. Abram's altars were more permanent structures than his tents. He continued living as a pilgrim and stranger in a land that he did not yet possess (Heb. 11:9-10).
"They [the Jews] have never really occupied the land God gave to them. At the zenith of their power, they occupied 30,000 square miles, but that is not all that God gave them. Actually, He gave them 300,000 square miles. They have a long way to go, but they will have to get it on God's terms and in God's appointed time."
Critics of the historicity of the patriarchal narratives ("minimalists") have tried to prove that the religion of the patriarchs differed greatly from Mosaic orthodoxy and even Christian norms. While there was some difference, there is no solid evidence that the patriarchs worshipped a different God than subsequent Israelites worshipped.
12:8 Abram proceeded south, and encamped ("pitched his tent") between "Bethel" and "Ai" (lit. "Ruin," probably "et Tell"), just north of Salem (Jerusalem). Again he "built an altar" to worship Yahweh, and "called on [His] name" in worship.
12:9 He next continued south "toward the Negev" (lit. "dry," a transliteration of the Hebrew word for "south"), perhaps because of a shortage of food for his grazing animals (v. 10).
Many years later the nation of Israel, in Moses' day, shared the same call that God had extended to Abram. She was to leave her place of residence, Egypt, and go to a Promised Land—to worship and serve God there with the promise of blessing. This required faith. We have a similar calling. Believers who walk by faith will forsake much to become part of God's program to bless the world.
The second crisis Abram faced arose because of a famine in Canaan. Abram chose to "sojourn" (reside temporarily) in the Nile Valley until it ended. In this incident, Abram misrepresented Sarai because he feared for his life ("they will kill me," v. 12). By doing so, he jeopardized his blessing, for he lost his wife temporarily to Pharaoh ("the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house"). However, Yahweh intervened to deliver Abram and Sarai from Egypt.
"The account of Abraham's 'sojourn' in Egypt bears the stamp of having been intentionally shaped to parallel the later account of God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt (Gen 41—Exod 12). Both passages have a similar message as well. Thus, here, at the beginning of the narratives dealing with Abraham and his seed, we find an anticipation of the events that will occur at the end. . . . Behind the pattern stands a faithful, loving God. What he has done with Abraham, he will do for his people today and tomorrow."
Though Bible students debate the point, I believe Abram rushed ahead of God—by going to Egypt without a divine revelation that he should do so. God blessed Abram in Egypt, ironically mainly through Sarai, in spite of Abram's lack of faith, and then returned him to the Promised Land. Another severe famine (v. 10) later encouraged Jacob and his family to sojourn in Egypt (47:4), but God gave Jacob permission to go (46:2-4). It was evidently fear rather than faith that made Abram leave the Promised Land.
"Throughout Gen. 12—50 Egypt is a symbol of safety and provision for the patriarchs and their families. If anything, Egypt is the oppressed in Genesis. Note that it is Sarai who 'dealt harshly' with her Egyptian maidservant, forcing her 'to flee' (16:6). Later she urges her husband to 'cast out' this Egyptian."
Some commentators have concluded that in dealing with Sarai as he did, Abram was relying on a custom of the land from which he had come (Babylonia) to protect him. They suggest that this custom was evidently unknown in Egypt. Because he failed to perceive this, Abram got into trouble.
"The thrice repeated story [involving Abraham in 12:10-20 and 20:1-18, and Isaac in 26:6-12] has been the subject of much discussion by commentators through the ages, but only with the discoveries at Nuzi has it become clear that Abraham and Isaac were not involved in any trickery, but were endeavoring to protect their respective wives from molestation by invoking the Hurrian custom or law of wife-sistership. According to the Nuzi tablets a woman having the status of wife-sister rather than that of just an ordinary wife, enjoyed superior privileges and was better protected. The status was a purely legal one, a wife-sister being quite distinct from the physical relationship usually understood by the word 'sister.' In order to create the status of wife-sistership two documents were prepared—one for marriage and the other for sistership. Thus, we find a Nuzi tablet, according to which a person by the name of Akkuleni, son of Akiya, contracted with one Hurazzi, son of Eggaya, to give to Hurazzi in marriage his sister Beltakkadummi. Another tablet records that the same Akkuleni sold his sister Beltakkadummi as sister to the same Hurazzi. If such a marriage was violated, the punishment was much more severe than in the case of a straightforward ordinary marriage. It would appear that the actions of Abraham and Isaac reflect this custom."
In the Hurrian culture from which Abram, came people evidently viewed the husband/wife-sister relationship as even more sacred than the husband/wife relationship. According to this view, when Abram went to Egypt, he assumed that the Egyptians also regarded the husband/wife-sister relationship as more sacred than the husband/wife relationship. Therefore he presented Sarai as his "wife-sister," and expected that the Egyptians would not interfere with his relationship with Sarai. However, proponents of this view assume the "husband/wife-sister" relationship was foreign to Pharaoh, who "took" Sarai because he believed that she was just Abram's physical sister. When Pharaoh discovered that Sarai was also Abram's "wife," he returned Sarai to Abram, because Pharaoh regarded the "husband/wife" relationship as sacred. He was angry with Abram, because in Pharaoh's eyes, Abram had misrepresented his relationship with Sarai.
Those who hold this view see this incident as an example of failure to adjust to a foreign culture and failure to trust God. They usually understand Abram's motivation as having been confidence in a cultural custom from his past, rather than faith in God.
Most interpreters have concluded that Abram, on the other hand, was being rather dishonest about his relationship with Sarai, and was telling a half-truth to save his own life (cf. 20:12). Evidently it was possible for brothers to fend off suitors of their sisters with promises of marriage—without really giving them away (cf. 24:55; 34:13-17). How would God fulfill His promises if Abram died now? His fears were understandable; Pharaoh did take Sarai into his harem. Nevertheless, God intervened supernaturally to reunite Abram with Sarai, and to return them to the Promised Land (by deportation).
Abram's fear for his physical safety in a strange land (v. 2) led him to take an initiative that was not God's will. He should have told the truth and continued trusting God. Yet even in his disobedience and lack of faith, God blessed Abram (v. 16) and preserved him (v. 20), because of His promises (12:1-3).
"One cannot miss the deliberate parallelism between this sojourn of Abram in Egypt and the later event in the life of the nation in bondage in Egypt. The motifs are remarkably similar: the famine in the land (12:10; 47:13), the descent to Egypt to sojourn (12:10; 47:27), the attempt to kill the males but save the females (12:12; Ex. 1:22), the plagues on Egypt (Gen. 12:17; Ex. 7:14—11:10), the spoiling of Egypt (Gen. 12:16; Ex. 12:35-36), the deliverance (Gen. 12:19; Ex. 15), and the ascent to the Negev (Gen. 13:1; Num. 13:17, 22). The great deliverance out of bondage that Israel experienced was thus already accomplished in her ancestor, and probably was a source of comfort and encouragement to them."
We sometimes feel tempted to fear for our welfare, especially in a foreign environment. This fear sometimes leads us to seize the initiative and disobey God. But we can count on God to fulfill His promises to us, in spite of threatening circumstances. We should therefore remain faithful and honest.
The "Pharaoh" (lit. "Great House") Abram dealt with in Egypt was probably Inyotef II (2117–2069 B.C.), a ruler of the eleventh dynasty, Middle Kingdom period. His capital was in Memphis, very near modern Cairo.
Synoptic Chronology of the Ancient Near East
Ancient Near East
Early Bronze Age
Old Kingdom (pyramid builders).
Mesopotamia: Sumer and Akkad.
No written records until the Ebla tablets.
Excavations show rich and powerful city-states.
Middle Bronze Age
Amorites (Hyksos) control Egypt and Canaan.
Amorites and Hebrew patriarchs in Canaan and Egypt
Late Bronze Age
Egypt expels the Amorites and controls Canaan.
Egyptians, Canaanites (El Amarna Age).
Conquest by Joshua.
Early Judges, Philis-tines, Midianites, Ammonites, Moabites, etc.
Iron Age I (Israelite I)
Egyptian influence weakening. Syrian and Assyrian influence not yet developed.
Later Judges, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon.
Iron Age II (Israelite II)
Egypt weak, but Shishak attacks Canaan after Solomon’s death. Syria (Aram) develops into serious rival for Israel.
In Old Testament studies, some writers describe the "before Christ" (B.C.) period as "B.C.E." This stands for "before the common era." These writers also refer to the A.D. (Lat. ano domini, "year of our Lord") period as "C.E.," the "common era."
The first reference to "camels" in Scripture occurs in verse 16. For many years, scholars believed that the ancients did not domesticate camels until much later than the patriarchal period. They believed that references to camels in Genesis indicated historical inaccuracies. However, the archaeological evidence for the early domestication of camels has proven these critics wrong. The Hebrew word does not distinguish whether these were one- or two-humped camels.
God will protect His plan, even when His people complicate it with deception. Consequently, believers should not try to deliver themselves from threatening situations by deceptive schemes, but should continue to trust and obey God.
"Here Abram's failure in the face of hostility, like Israel's sinfulness in the wilderness, is surely recorded as a warning for later generations (cf. 1 Cor 10:11) and as an illustration of the invincibility of the divine promises (cf. Rom 11:29)."
This is the first fulfillment of God's promise to bless those who blessed Abram, and to curse those who cursed him (12:3).
This chapter records how Abram, though challenged by a major conflict with Lot due to "strife" (v. 4) between their herdsmen, magnanimously gave his nephew a choice of whichever land he wanted. Lot took an area that was very fertile, though inhabited by wicked people. In return, God blessed Abram with a reaffirmation of His promise. This was the fourth crisis Abram faced.
13:1-4 Abram returned from Egypt through the Negev, and settled down near his former location between Bethel and Ai.
"Of special interest is that in Genesis 12:10—13:4 Lot occupies the same position as that of the 'mixed multitude' (Ex 12:38) in the narrative of Genesis 41—Exodus 12. In other words the author apparently wants to draw the reader's attention to the identification of Lot with the 'mixed multitude.' It is as if Lot is seen in these narratives as the prefiguration of the 'mixed multitude' that comes out of Egypt with the Israelites."
Note also Lot's similarity to Esau.
13:5-7 When it became clear that there was not enough pasture to sustain all the flocks of both Abram and Lot ("the land could not sustain them . . . their possessions were so great"), Abram suggested that Lot separate from him. He gave his nephew the choice of where he wanted to settle. This was a magnanimous gesture on Abram's part. If he was older than Lot, which seems probable, it shows even greater graciousness.
Lot would have been the most likely candidate for the role of Abram's heir, since Sarai was barren. He was a part of Abram's household and a blood relative (nephew). Abram probably regarded Lot, at that time, as the heir through whom God would fulfill His promises.
13:8-10 In offering Lot either the "left" or the "right" (v. 9), Abram was evidently suggesting that he and Lot partition the Promised Land in two "halves"; he would take one half and his nephew the other (cf. 22:3-10). Important to our appreciation of Abram's offer is knowledge of the fact that the Hebrews, as well as other ancient peoples, were eastern-oriented (as contrasted with northern-oriented, as we are). Abram and Lot were probably looking east when Abram made his suggestion (v. 9). Thus "Lot lifted up his eyes and saw the valley of the Jordan" (v. 10), which was to the east of where they stood (perhaps on Mt. Asor, the highest point in that part of Canaan, and only a short walk from both Bethel and Ai). So when Abram offered Lot what was on his left, he was referring to northern Canaan, including the area around Shechem (cf. 12:6; 33:18—34:31; 37:12-17), going as far south as Bethel and Ai. The other choice was what was on their right: southern Canaan including Hebron and the Negev (cf. 13:6, 9; 13:1, 18; 20:1; et al.). Both men had previously lived in both regions.
Moses' description of the Jordan Valley as being similar to Egypt ("like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt"; v. 10) should have warned the Israelite readers of Genesis against desiring to return to Egypt (cf. Exod. 16:3; Num. 11:5; 14:2-3).
13:11-13 Lot, however, chose neither of the options Abram offered: north ("left") or south ("right"). Instead, he decided to move "east" into the Jordan Valley (v. 11). Earlier we read that Adam, Eve, and Cain traveled east after they sinned (3:24; 4:16), and that the people of Babel went east and rebelled against God (11:2). Thus Lot's move east makes us a bit uneasy (cf. 12:3). At that time, the Jordan River was the eastern border of Canaan, and it continued going south from the southeastern end of the Salt (Dead) Sea and southwest toward Kadesh (lit. "cultic shrine") Barnea (10:19). It then proceeded to the Great (Mediterranean) Sea along the "Wadi el Arish" ("Brook of Egypt"; cf. Num. 34:1-12; Josh. 15:1-12). The text contrasts "the land of Canaan" with "the cities of the Valley" (v. 12). The place Lot chose to settle was on the eastern frontier, along the edges of the border of the Promised Land (v. 11).
The location of Sodom is still uncertain. There are three primary possibilities: northeast of the Dead Sea, southeast of the Dead Sea, or under the southern basin of the Dead Sea. The second option seems most probable.
Lot's choice erected another hurdle for Abram's faith in the promises of God, and precipitated another crisis in the "obstacle story" of how God would fulfill His promises to Abram. Lot chose the Jordan Valley.
"Due to the combination of water (emerging from underground springs fed by the limestone hills farther west [of Jericho]), soil (deposited on the plain from the same hills) and climate (warm and sunny during most of the year), the region is known for all types of agricultural products, especially dates and balsam (used in ancient ointments). . . . It is not surprising that Lot, who with Abraham had lived for a short time in the lush Nile Valley of Egypt [chose as he did] . . . His choice appears to have been made from the mountains northeast of Bethel, with a view of the Jericho oasis or the Plains of Moab."
Lot's choice seems to have been influenced, to some extent, by a desire to ally himself with the native inhabitants (cf. 13:7, 12; 19:1-26), as well as by the natural fruitfulness of the Jordan Valley (v. 10).
"The close parallels between the two [cities, i.e., Babylon and Sodom] which are created in the narrative of chapter 13 suggest that the author intends both cities to tell the same story. As in the case of parallels and repetitions throughout the book, the double account of God's destruction of the 'city in the east' is intended to drive home the point that God's judgment of the wicked is certain and imminent (cf. 41:32)."
13:14-17 Abram was now without an heir. However, Yahweh appeared to him at this crucial time (v. 14), and reconfirmed the promise of land that, He said, He would give to Abram's offspring (v. 15).
Abram "lifted up his eyes" too (v. 14), but he saw the whole land—as far as he could see in every direction ("northward and southward and eastward and westward"). God repeated His promise to give him and his descendants all the land he saw. This promise was more specific than God's previous promises regarding the seed and the land (12:2, 7). This was God's third revelation to Abram. It contained three specifics:
1. Abram's heir would be his own seed (offspring; vv. 15-16).
2. God would give the land to Abram and his descendants forever (v. 15).
3. Abram's descendants would be innumerable (v. 16).
The figure of "dust" suggests physical seed, and is hyperbole (v. 16; cf. 2:7). The "stars" figure given later (15:5) suggests heavenly or spiritual seed, in addition to physical seed, and is also hyperbole.
God's encouragement to walk through the land (v. 17) implied that Abram should claim the promise by treading the land under his feet. In the ancient Near East, victorious armies claimed defeated territory by marching through it.
"The divine promise of land and other blessings (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18-21; 17:1-8) is in the form of a covenant known technically in ancient Near Eastern studies as a 'covenant of grant.' It was made at the initiative of the granter and often with no preconditions or qualifications."
13:18 Abram later relocated near "Hebron," where he built another altar and worshipped again (v. 18). Hebron is the highest town in the Promised Land, with an elevation of about 3,050 feet. Its site is strategic, lying midway between Jerusalem and Beersheba.
Many of the commentators have seen two types of believers in Abram and Lot. One commits himself completely to trusting and obeying God, though not without occasional failures in his faith. The other wants both what God and what the world can give him. These correspond to a spiritual and a carnal believer, or a single-minded and a double-minded believer (James 1:8; 4:8). When Abram gave Lot the choice of where he wanted to live, Abram was giving up any claim to temporal advantages, and was trusting God to bless him as God had promised He would. This step of faith led to greater blessing by God (vv. 14-17). Abram's response to this fresh revelation, again, was worship ("he built an altar to the LORD").
People who truly believe God's promises of provision can be generous with their possessions.
Sometime later, a powerful coalition of kings from Mesopotamia invaded Canaan and, in the process, took Lot captive. Abram retaliated with a surprise attack at night, and recovered Lot and the possessions those kings had taken. Upon his return to his home, Abram received a blessing from "Melchizedek," king of Salem, and he received an offer of reward by the king of Sodom, "Bera" (v. 2). Abram declined to accept the reward, because he did not want to tarnish God's promised blessing on him. Abram's realization that victory and possessions come from God alone, enabled him to avoid the danger of accepting gifts from the wicked, and to wait for God to provide what He had promised. In this chapter, we see a much different Abram from the coward who endangered his wife in Egypt (ch. 12).
A major significance of this literary unit is that it describes two more challenges to God's faithfulness and Abram's faith. So far Abram had to contend with several barriers to God fulfilling His promises to him. His wife was barren, he had to leave the land, his life was in danger, and his anticipated heir showed no interest in the Promised Land. Now he became involved in a war and consequently became the target of retaliation by four powerful kings.
14:1-12 The four kings (v. 1) resided in the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent. They sought to dominate the land of Canaan by subjugating five kings (v. 2) who lived there. They probably wanted to keep the trade routes between Mesopotamia and Egypt open and under their control. It is interesting that people living around Babylon initiated this first war mentioned in the Bible (v. 2).
Scholars have debated the identity of the "Rephaim" (vv. 5; cf. 15:20; literally "ghosts" or "spirits of the dead"). Some believe they were gods, others that they were the deified dead, and still others the promoters of fertility. Most likely they were one of the early tribal groups that inhabited Canaan when Abram entered the land. They appear to have been very powerful, and apparently some of their neighbors regarded them as super-human, before and or after their heyday.
The scene of the battle of the nine kings was the Valley of Siddim (vv. 3, 8). This valley probably lay in the southern "bay" of the modern Dead Sea, south of the Lissan Peninsula. The Old Testament calls this body of water the "Salt Sea," because its average 32 percent saline content is about ten times more than the oceans' 3 percent average. Josephus referred to it as Lake Asphaltitis.
14:13-16 Abram could have lost his possessions and his life by getting involved in war with the Mesopotamian kings. He also set himself up as a target for retaliation. Almost everyone in the ancient Near East practiced retaliation, and it is still a major factor in the continuing political turmoil that characterizes the Middle East to this day. The "ancient Near East" is a term that applies to the whole eastern Mediterranean world in ancient times. The "Middle East" is a term that refers to the area at the confluence of Africa, Europe, and Asia in modern times. People did not forgive and forget; they harbored resentment for acts committed against their ancestors or themselves—for generations—and took revenge when they thought they could succeed.
Why was Abram willing to take such risks? He probably thought he could win. His love for Lot may have been the primary factor. His attitude was not: "He's made his own bed; let him lie in it." Perhaps Abram hoped that Lot had learned his lesson, living like a stranger in Sodom, and that he would return to him. Unfortunately, Lot had not learned his lesson, but returned to Sodom soon after his release as a prisoner of war. Undoubtedly, Abram also went to war because he had confidence in God's promises to him (12:2-3, 7).
"We have here a prelude of the future assault of the worldly power upon the kingdom of God established in Canaan; and the importance of this event to sacred history consists in the fact, that the kings of the valley of Jordan and the surrounding country submitted to the worldly power, whilst Abram, on the contrary, with his home-born servants, smote the conquerors and rescued their booty,—a prophetic sign that in the conflict with the power of the world the seed of Abram would not only not be subdued, but would be able to rescue from destruction those who appealed to it for aid."
Some scholars have suggested that Abram's designation as "the Hebrew" (v. 13) marked him as a resident alien, rather than a semi-nomad. As such he would have taken steps to take possession of the land God had promised him. He could have been both. Albright argued that he was a "donkeyman, donkey driver, caravaneer."
However, most conservative interpreters have concluded that he was a semi-nomadic shepherd. The term "Hebrew," occurring here for the first time in the Bible, is primarily an ethnic designation in the Old Testament. Usually people other than Hebrews used it to describe this ethnic group. It comes from the name "Eber" (cf. 10:21), and is related to a verb meaning "cross over" or "pass through." Abram "crossed over" or "passed through" from another place in order to obey the Lord's command.
The situation that Abraham faced, taking his 318 men and going into battle against an alliance of four armies, was similar to the one Gideon faced in leading 300 men against 135,000 Midianites (Judg. 7:6; 8:10). The lesson of both passages is the same: God is able to give a trusting and obedient minority victory over ungodly forces that are overwhelmingly superior in numbers.
This section records an important decision Abram had to make after he returned victoriously from his battle with the Mesopotamian kings.
14:17 The "valley of Shaveh" was near the city that later became Jerusalem (the "Salem" of verse 18). It may have been the Kidron (or "Black") Valley, immediately east of the city, or some other valley not far away.
14:18 "Melchizedek" was probably a title rather than a proper name. It means "King of Righteousness" or "My King is Righteous." Compare Adonizedek ("Lord of Righteousness") in Josh. 10:1, 3. However, theophoric names were common in the ancient Near East, so his name may have meant "My King is Sedeq" or "Milku is Righteous," Sedeq and Milku presumably being the names of gods. The names of both the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 2) are compounds of a Hebrew word translated "evil" (cf. 13:13).
"The Rabbis have a curious conceit about the origin of the name Jerusalem, which is commonly taken to mean, 'the foundation,' 'the abode,' or 'the inheritance of peace.' They make it a compound of Jireh and Shalem, and say that Abraham called it 'Jehovah-Jireh,' while Shem had named it Shalem, but that God combined the two into Jireh-Shalem, Jerushalaim, or Jerusalem. (Ber[akot]. R[abbah].)"
"Bread" and "wine" were the royal food and drink of the day. Many writers have commented on their typical significance, though there is no basis for connecting them directly with the elements used in the Lord's Supper. Many ancient Near Easterners used bread and wine in making covenants. Melchizedek, the first "priest" mentioned in the Bible, evidently gave a royal banquet in Abram's honor. In view of their characters and geographical proximity, Abram and Melchizedek may have been friends before this meeting. Melchizedek may have been Abram's king to whom the patriarch was paying an expected obligation.
14:19 Melchizedek "blessed" Abram, and so set himself up for God's blessing (cf. 12:3). The "God" whom Melchizedek worshipped as a priest was the true God, known to him as "El Elyon," meaning "Most High God, Possessor of Heaven and Earth" (i.e., the Creator) This title reveals the sovereign power of God over the nations. Both Melchizedek and Abram regarded Abram's recent victory in battle as due to the blessing of El Elyon (cf. v. 22). This shows that both of them worshipped the true, living God.
14:20 People commonly practiced tithing as an act of worship in the ancient Near East at this time (cf. 28:22). It was also a common tax. This is still true in some modern countries. For example, in England part of every person's taxes goes to maintain the Church of England. Some residents regard this part of their tax as their contribution to the church or their tithe. However, since Melchizedek gave Abram a priestly blessing, it is likely that Abram reciprocated by giving Melchizedek a gift with priestly connotations. In some cases, people gave tithes to those whom they regarded as superiors, as a sign of their respect. "All" probably refers to all that he took in the battle rather than all that was in Abram's possession (cf. vv. 23-24; Heb. 7:4).
14:21-24 Abram identified El Elyon with Yahweh (v. 22). His willingness to take no spoil from the battle for himself demonstrates Abram's desire that God would receive all the glory for his prosperous victory. He also appears not to have wanted to be indebted to the wicked "king of Sodom." This man may have, by his command to Abram, been setting him up for demands later (cf. 23:15).
This event is significant because it demonstrates Abram's trust in God to provide what He had promised, which God soon rewarded with another revelation and promise (15:1).
"Even without the explicit warning that 'he who disdains you I shall curse,' the narrative suggests that it is dangerous to despise those through whom God works.
"It is the demonstration of divine support for Abram that is the clearest thrust of this story. . . .
"Within Genesis, however, Melchizedek is primarily an example of a non-Jew who recognizes God's hand at work in Israel . . . They are those who have discovered that in Abram all the families of the earth find blessing."
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews expounded the typical significance of Melchizedek, and the events of this incident, in Hebrews 7 (cf. Ps. 110:4). A "type" is a divinely intended pre-illustration of something else that follows: the antitype.
The confidence that God will preserve and provide for His own, just as He promised, should encourage believers to decline worldly benefits and wait for God's blessings.
"We see in chapter 14 who has the real power, Lot the man who compromised with the world, or Abraham the man who lived in separation from it. You know they tell us, 'If you want to have power and influence with the world, you must live according to it, and, in a sense, be of it. If you want to win card players, you must learn to play cards,' etc."
Abram, in so many words, asked God to strengthen his faith. In response, Yahweh promised to give the patriarch innumerable descendants. This led Abram to request some further assurance that God would indeed do what He promised: "What will you give me . . . since I am childless?" God graciously obliged him by formalizing the promises, and making a covenant. In the giving of the covenant, God symbolically let Abram know that enslavement would precede the fulfillment of the promise.
From chapters 12 through 14, issues involving God's promise to Abram concerning land have predominated. However, from chapter 15 on, tensions arising from the promise of descendants become central in the narrative.
Abram was legitimately concerned about God's provision of the Promised Land, as well as his need for an heir. He had declined the gifts of the king of Sodom, and had placed himself in danger of retaliation from four powerful Mesopotamian kings. God had proven Himself to be Abram's "shield" (defender) in the battle just passed. Now He promised to be the same in the future, and to give Abram a "great . . . reward." This was God's fourth revelation to Abram.
"Gen 15 not only stands at the center of the external structure of the Abraham narratives, but also is regarded in the history of exegesis right down to the present as the very heart of the Abraham story."
"Scene 5 [ch. 15] consists of two divine encounters (15:1-6 and 7-21) involving dialogue between the Lord and Abraham and powerful images symbolizing God's presence and promises. The first occurs at night (15:5) as a vision (15:1) and pertains to the promised seed. The second occurs at sundown (15:12), partially in a deep sleep (15:12), and pertains to the promised land."
Moses' declaration that "Abram believed the LORD . . ." (v. 6) links the two sections.
15:1 "'The word of the LORD came.' This is a phrase typically introducing revelation to a prophet, e.g., 1 Sam 15:10; Hos 1:1; but in Genesis it is found only here and in v 4 of this chapter. Abraham is actually called a prophet in 20:7. It prepares the way for the prophecy of the Egyptian bondage in vv 13-16."
Only in 15:1, 22:1, and 22:11 did God address Abram directly. Visions were one of the three primary methods of divine revelation in the Old Testament, along with dreams and direct communications (cf. Num. 12:6-8).
"By his bold intervention and rescue of Lot, Abram exposes himself to the endemic plague of that region—wars of retaliation. This fear of retaliation is the primary reason for the divine oracle of 15.1 which could be translated: 'Stop being afraid, Abram. I am a shield for you, your very great reward.' Yahweh's providential care for Abram is to be seen as preventing the Mesopotamian coalition from returning and settling the score."
The promise of "reward" (Heb. shakar), coming just after Abram's battle with the kings, resembles a royal grant to an officer for faithful military service. God would compensate Abram for conducting this military campaign, even though he had passed up a reward from the king of Sodom. The compensation in view consisted of land and descendants (cf. Ps. 127:3).
15:2-3 Abram used a new title for God, calling Him "Master (Adonai) Yahweh" (translated "Lord God"; i.e., meaning "Sovereign LORD"). Abram had willingly placed himself under the sovereign leadership of God.
"A childless couple adopts a son, sometimes a slave, to serve them in their lifetime and bury and mourn them when they die. In return for this service they designate the adopted son as the heir presumptive. Should a natural son be born to the couple after such action, this son becomes the chief heir, demoting the adopted son to the penultimate position."
The wordplay between the Hebrew words mesheq ("heir") and dammesek ("Damascus") highlights the incongruity that Abram's presumed heir (Eliezer) would apparently be an alien (cf. Jer. 49:1).
15:4 Abram assumed that since he was old and childless, and since Lot had not returned to him, the heir God had promised him would be his chief servant, Eliezer (v. 2; cf. Prov. 17:2).
". . . under Hurrian law a man's heir would be either his natural-born son—a direct heir—or, in the absence of any natural-born son, an indirect heir, who was an outsider adopted for the purpose. In the latter case, the adopted heir was required to attend to the physical needs of his 'parents' during their lifetime."
God assured Abram that the descendants He had promised would come through a "natural-born son," not an adopted heir ("one . . . from your own body"; cf. 12:7; 13:15-16).
15:5 To the promise of "descendants as innumerable as the dust" (physical descendants from the land? cf. 13:16), God added another promise: that Abram's seed would be as countless as "the stars." This is perhaps a promise of Abram's spiritual "children" (all believers after Abram), those who would have faith in God as he did. Abram may not have caught this distinction, since he would have more naturally taken the promise as a reference to physical children.
15:6-7 Moses did not reveal exactly what Abram "believed" (confidently trusted, relied upon), for which God "reckoned (it to) him righteous (as righteousness). In Hebrew the preformative conjunction waw, with the imperfect tense verb following, indicates consecutive action, and best translates as "Then." When waw occurs with the perfect tense verb following, as we have here with a hiphil perfect, it indicates disjunctive action, and could read, "Now Abram had believed . . ." (cf. 1:2). God justified Abram (i.e., declared him righteous) because of his faith. Abram's normal response to God's words to him was to believe them. Abram had trusted the Person of God previously (cf. Heb. 11:8), but he evidently had not realized that God would give him an heir "from [his] own body" (v. 4). Now he accepted this promise of God also (cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). One writer suggested that Abram believed the "counting" promises of 13:16 and 15:4-5, regarding numerous descendants, and the result was that the Lord "counted" his faith as righteousness.
"In the middle of this chapter occurs what is perhaps the most important verse in the entire Bible: Genesis 15:6. In it, the doctrine of justification by faith is set forth for the first time. This is the first verse in the Bible explicitly to speak of (1) 'faith,' (2) 'righteousness,' and (3) 'justification.'"
"Trust" in God's promise is what results in "justification"—in any era. The promises of God (content of faith) vary, but the object of faith does not. It is always God. Technically, Abram trusted in a Person and hoped in a promise. To "justify" someone means to declare that person righteous, not to make him or her righteous (cf. Deut. 25:1). "Justification" expresses a legal verdict.
Covenant theologians believe that the object of saving faith in both Testaments is the same: Jesus Christ. However, there does not seem to be enough specific revelation about Jesus Christ early in the Old Testament to justify such a conclusion.
Moses probably recorded Abram's faith, here, because it was foundational for making the Abrahamic Covenant. God made this covenant with a man who believed Him.
James 2:21 suggests that Abram was justified when he offered Isaac (ch. 22). James meant that Abram's work of willingly offering Isaac justified him (i.e., declared him righteous). His work manifested his righteous condition. In Genesis 15, God declared Abram righteous (in standing before God), but in Genesis 22, Abram's works declared (testified; declared to others) that he was righteous.
"In the sacrifice of Isaac was shown the full meaning of the word (Gen. 15:6) spoken 30 . . . years before in commendation of Abraham's belief in the promise of a child. . . . It was the willing surrender of the child of promise, 'accounting that God was able to raise him up from the dead,' which fully proved his faith."
15:8 Abram requested a sign, a supernatural verification that God would indeed fulfill the distant promise ("How may I know that I will possess it?"). His request shows that he was taking God seriously.
God responded by making a covenant with Abram (vv. 9-12, 17).
"Four rites are mentioned [in the Old Testament] as parts of the covenant making event. They are the setting of a stone or a group of stones, the taking of an oath, the sacrifice of animals, and/or a communal meal."
This rite (the sacrifice of animals) normally involved two parties: dividing an animal into two equal parts, joining hands, and passing between the two parts (cf. Jer. 34:18-19). On this occasion, however, God alone passed between the parts, indicating that Abram had no obligations to fulfill in order to receive the covenant promises (v. 17).
15:9-10 The animals used were standard types of sacrificial animals, and may have represented the nation of Israel, "a kingdom of priests" (Exod. 19:6).
"We suggest that the animal cutting in Gen. 15:9-10, 17 is designated a 'covenant ratification sacrifice' . . . The killing and sectioning of the animals by Abram is the sacrificial preparatio for the subsequent divine ratificatio of the covenant by Yahweh who in passing between the pieces irrevocably pledges the fulfillment of his covenant promise to the patriarch. The initiative of Yahweh remains in the foreground both in the instruction for the 'covenant ratification sacrifice' (Gen. 15:9-10) and in the act of berit [covenant] ratification itself (v. 17). . . .
"Gen. 15:7-21 contains covenant-making in which Yahweh binds himself in promise to Abram in the passing through the animals in the act of covenant ratification. Abram had prepared the animals for this ratification act through the 'covenant ratification sacrifice' which involved both killing and sectioning of the victims. Certain basic features of this covenant ratification rite are most closely paralleled only in aspects of the function of animal rites of the extant early second millennium treaty texts."
To "ratify" means to give formal consent to (a treaty, contract, or agreement), making it officially valid.
15:11 "The birds of prey are unclean (Lev. 11:13-19; Deut. 14:12-18) and represent foreign nations (Ezek. 17:3, 7; Zech. 5:9), most probably Egypt. . . . Thus Abram driving off the birds of prey from the dismembered pieces portrays him defending his descendants from the attacks of foreign nations. Genesis itself tells of a number of attacks by foreigners against the children of Abraham (e.g. chs. 26, 34) and it already looks forward to the sojourn in Egypt (chs. 37—50 [cf. Exod. 1:11-12]). But in what sense can Abraham's actions be said to protect his offspring? Genesis 22:16-18; 26:5 suggest it was Abraham's faithful obedience to the covenant that guaranteed the blessing of his descendants. . . . Exodus 2:24 and Deuteronomy 9:5 also ground the exodus in the divine promises made to the patriarchs. The bird scene therefore portrays the security of Israel as the consequence of Abraham's piety."
15:12 Abram fell into the same type of "deep sleep" that God brought on Adam when He took Adam's rib to make Eve (cf. 2:21). Abram's "terror" reflects his reaction to the flame that passed between the parts, and to the revelation of the character and holy presence of God that the flame represented (cf. v. 17).
15:13-14 Moses gave more detail regarding the history of the seed here than he had revealed previously (cf. vv. 14, 16). The "400 years" of enslavement were evidently from 1845 B.C. to 1446 B.C., the date of the Exodus. This promise, read by the first readers of Genesis after the Exodus, would have encouraged them greatly (cf. Exod. 12:40-42). They experienced the fulfillment of this promise. That generation did indeed come out from Egypt with "many possessions," also promised here, having "spoiled" the Egyptians (cf. Exod. 12:31-36).
15:15 The ancients conceived of death as a time when they would rejoin their departed ancestors ("you shall go to your fathers"; cf. 2 Sam. 12:23). There was evidently little understanding of what lay beyond the grave at that time in history.
15:16 The Hebrew word translated "generation" generally refers to an average person's lifetime, which at that time in history was about 100 years. This seems a better explanation than that four literal generations are in view. The writer mentioned four literal generations in Exodus 6:16-20 and Numbers 26:58-59, but there were quite evidently gaps in those genealogies. "The Amorite" serves as a synecdoche for the ten Canaanite nations listed in verses 19 and 20. A "synecdoche" is a figure of speech in which one part of a whole represents the whole, as here, or the whole represents a part.
15:17 The "smoking oven" and "flaming torch" were one entity. This was an intensely bright, hot flame symbolizing God in His holiness. The bright, hot, burning flame is a good symbol of God in that: it is pure, purges in judgment, and provides light and warmth.
"This act is . . . a promise that God will be with Abraham's descendants (e.g. 26:3, 24; 28:15; 31:3; 46:4, etc.). Indeed the description of the theophany as a furnace of smoke and 'a torch of fire' invites comparison with the pillar of cloud and fire that was a feature of the wilderness wanderings, and especially with the smoke, fire and torches (Exod. 19:18; 20:18) that marked the law‑giving at Sinai. These were visible tokens of God's presence with his people, that he was walking among them and that they were his people (Lev. 26:12).
"In this episode then Abram's experience in a sense foreshadows that of his descendants. He sees them under attack from foreign powers but protected and enjoying the immediate presence of God. Elsewhere in the Abraham cycle, his life prefigures episodes in the history of Israel. Famine drove him to settle in Egypt (12:10; cf. chs. 42—46). He escaped after God had plagued Pharaoh (12:17; cf. Exod. 7—12), enriched by his stay in Egypt (13:2; cf. Exod. 12:35-38) and journeyed by stages (13:3; cf. Exod. 17:1; etc.) back to Canaan. In Genesis 22 Abraham goes on a three-day journey to a mountain, offers a sacrifice in place of his only son, God appears to him and reaffirms his promises. Sinai is of course a three-day journey from Egypt (Exod. 8:27), where Israel's first-born sons had been passed over (Exod. 12). There too sacrifice was offered, God appeared and reaffirmed his promises (Exod. 19—24).
"Finally, it may be observed, the interpretation of Gen. 15:9-11, 17, that I am proposing on the basis of other ritual texts in the Pentateuch is congruent with verses 13-16, which explain that Abraham's descendants would be oppressed for 400 years in Egypt before they come out with great possessions. Whether these verses are a later addition to the narrative as is generally held, or integral to it as van Seters asserts . . ., they do confirm that at a very early stage in the history of the tradition this rite was interpreted as a dramatic representation of the divine promises to Abraham. It is not a dramatized curse that would come into play should the covenant be broken, but a solemn and visual reaffirmation of the covenant that is essentially a promise. . . ."
Another writer argued that this verse does not picture a covenant-making ritual for a unilateral, wholly unconditional covenant (cf. 17:1-2, 9-14; 18:18-19; 22:16, 18; 26:5). He believed the covenant is unconditional, but it did not become unconditional until chapter 22.
15:18 This was the formal "cutting" of the Abrahamic Covenant. God now formalized His earlier promises (12:1-3, 7) into a suzerainty treaty, similar to a royal land grant, since Abram now understood and believed what God had promised. God as King bound Himself to do something for His servant Abram. The fulfillment of the covenant did not depend on Abram's obedience. It rested entirely on God's faithfulness.
"Note that the conditional promise of Gen. 12:1-3 becomes an unconditional covenant in Gen. 15:18. God declared His unconditional covenant with Abraham after declaring him righteous because of his belief (15:6)."
". . . it is fitting that in many respects the account should foreshadow the making of the covenant at Sinai. The opening statement in 15:7: 'I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Ur of the Chaldeans,' is virtually identical to the opening statement of the Sinai covenant in Exodus 20:2: 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.' The expression 'Ur of the Chaldeans' refers back to Genesis 11:28, 31 and grounds the present covenant in a past act of divine salvation from 'Babylon,' just as Exodus 20:2 grounds the Sinai covenant in an act of divine salvation from Egypt. The coming of God's presence in the awesome fire and darkness of Mount Sinai (Ex 19:18; 20:18; Dt 4:11) appears to be intentionally reflected in Abraham's pyrotechnic vision (Ge 15:12, 17). In the Lord's words to Abraham (15:13-16) the connection between Abraham's covenant and the Sinai covenant is explicitly made by means of the reference to the four hundred years of bondage of Abraham's seed and their subsequent 'exodus' ('and after this they will go out,' v. 14). Such considerations lead to the conclusion that the author intends to draw the reader's attention to the events at Sinai in his depiction of the covenant with Abraham.
"If we ask why the author has sought to bring the picture of Sinai here, the answer lies in the purpose of the book. It is part of the overall strategy of the book to show that what God did at Sinai was part of a larger plan which had already been put into action with the patriarchs. Thus, the exodus and the Sinai covenant serve as reminders not only of God's power and grace but also of God's faithfulness. What he sets out to accomplish with his people, he will carry through to the end."
Moses revealed the general geographical borders of the Promised Land, here for the first time. Some scholars interpret the "river of Egypt" as the Nile River.
"The argument is usually based on the fact that the Hebrew word nahar is consistently restricted to large rivers. However, the Hebrew is more frequently nahal (= Arabic wady) instead of the nahar of Genesis 15:18 which may have been influenced by the second nahar in the text. In the Akkadian texts of Sargon II (716 B.C.) it appears as nahal musar."
God later specified the Wadi El 'Arish, "the geographical boundary between Canaan and Egypt," as the exact border (Num. 34:5; Josh. 15:4, 47). That seems to be the "river" in view here too. The "Euphrates" River has never yet been Israel's border. These borders appear to coincide with those of the Garden of Eden (cf. 2:10-14). Thus the Garden of Eden may have occupied the same general area as the Promised Land.
Some amillennialists take these boundaries as an ideal expressing great blessing, and they believe God never intended that Abram's seed should extend this far geographically. However, such a conclusion is subjective, and finds no support in the text.
15:19-21 Here Moses named ten of the native tribes then inhabiting the Promised Land. The longest of the 27 lists of pre-Israelite nations that inhabited the Promised Land name 12 entities (10:15-18a; 1 Chron. 1:13-18). Sometimes as few as two receive mention, and most of these lists identify six.
The "Kenites" (lit. "smiths," v. 19) were copper-workers, who lived among the Midianites, southeast of the Gulf of Aqabah. The "Kenizzites" (v. 19) lived in the extreme south of the Promised Land. The "Kadmonites" (v. 19) evidently lived near the headwaters of the Jordan River, under Mount Hermon. These "Hittites" (v. 20) lived near Hebron (23:10); they are probably not the same Hittites that lived in Anatolia (Asia Minor, modern western Turkey; cf. 10:15). The "Perizzites" (v. 20) apparently lived in villages (Heb. peraza) scattered among the other Canaanites. The "Rephaim" (v. 20) were people of a legendary stature that lived among the other Canaanites and were also known by other names, such as "Emim" (Deut. 2:11) and "Zamzummim" (Deut. 2:20-21). The "Amorites" (v. 21) lived mainly in the hill country, on both sides of the Jordan River. "Canaanites" (v. 21) is both a general name for all these tribes (a synecdoche) and, as used here, the name of one of them. Little is known of the "Girgashites" (v. 21), though they were descendants of the patriarch Canaan (Gen. 10:16; 1 Chron. 1:14) and were a part of the mixed population of the Promised Land. The "Jebusites" (v. 21) lived mainly in the hills around Jerusalem (Num. 13:29; Josh. 11:3; 15:8; 18:16).
Again, the first readers of Genesis would have been greatly encouraged to read this promise (cf. vv. 13-14). God repeated the promises of this covenant frequently in Genesis (17:1-22; 18:1-15; 22:15-18; 26:23-24; 35:9-15; cf. 12:1-3, 7; 13:14-17).
The Abrahamic Covenant is basic to the premillennial system of theology.
This covenant has not yet been fulfilled as God promised it would be. Since God is faithful to His Word, we believe He will fulfill these promises in the future. Consequently there must be a future for Israel as a nation (cf. Rom. 11). Amillennialists interpret this covenant in a less literal way. The crucial issue is interpretation. If God fulfilled the seed and blessings promises literally—and He did—should we not expect that He will also fulfill the land promises literally as well?
The Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants are outgrowths of the Abrahamic Covenant. Each of these expands one major promise of the Abrahamic Covenant: the land, seed, and blessing promises respectively.
Now that God had given Abram the covenant, the writer proceeded to show how He would fulfill the promises. This is the reason for the selection of material that follows. So far in the story of Abram, Moses stressed the plans and purposes of God, culminating in the cutting of the covenant. Now we learn how Abram and his seed would realize these plans and purposes. This involves a revelation of God's ways and man's responsibilities.
Sarai and Abram schemed to obtain the heir God had promised to give them, by resorting to an albeit culturally acceptable custom of their day, but which involved a failure to trust God. This fleshly act created serious complications for Abram and his household, that included Hagar fleeing into the wilderness. Nevertheless God proved faithful to His promises and responded to Hagar's cries for help. He provided for her needs, and promised her many descendants—through Ishmael, since he was Abram's son.
"The account of Sarah's plan to have a son has not only been connected with the list of nations in chapter 15, but also appears to have been intentionally shaped with reference to the account of the Fall in Genesis 3. Each of the main verbs (wayyiqtol forms) and key expressions in 16:2-3 finds a parallel in Genesis 3."
Alluding to the Fall, which the above quotation points out, implies the writer's disapproval of what Sarai did (cf. 3:17). He continued to focus increasing attention on the problem of an heir. Sarai had borne Abram no children (v. 1). She therefore concocted a plan to obtain an heir from "[his] own body" (15:4). It looked as if everything would work out well until a conflict developed between Sarai and Hagar (v. 4). This conflict grew into a major crisis when Hagar fled the family encampment pregnant with Abram's unborn child (v. 6). Yahweh intervened again to resolve the crisis (v. 7). He instructed Hagar to return to Sarai (v. 9). Thus Hagar bore Ishmael in Abram's house, but later God revealed that he would not be the heir.
Using a woman other than one's wife (v. 2) was a method—apart from adoption—of providing an heir in the case of a childless marriage. Hagar was Sarai's personal servant ("maid"), not a slave girl. Abram also had at least one personal servant (24:2).
"It was a serious matter for a man to be childless in the ancient world, for it left him without an heir. But it was even more calamitous for a woman: to have a great brood of children was the mark of success as a wife; to have none was ignominious failure. So throughout the ancient East polygamy was resorted to as a means of obviating childlessness. But wealthier wives preferred the practice of surrogate motherhood, whereby they allowed their husbands to 'go in to' . . . their maids, a euphemism for sexual intercourse (cf. 6:4; 30:3; 38:8, 9; 39:14). The mistress could then feel that her maid's child was her own and exert some control over it in a way that she could not if her husband simply took a second wife."
". . . one Nuzi tablet reads: 'Kelim-ninu has been given in marriage to Shennima. . . . If Kelim-ninu does not bear children, Kelim-ninu shall acquire a woman of the land of Lulu (i.e., a slave girl) as wife for Shennima.'"
This custom helps explain why Abram was so willing to be a part of Sarai's plan, that seems very unusual to us in the West. Abram agreed to his wife's faithless suggestion, just as Adam had followed Eve's lead. Abram's passivity contrasts with his earlier valiant action to save Lot from his captors (ch. 14). Like Eve, Sarai also blamed someone else for the results of her act, namely, Abram ("May the wrong done me be upon you. . . . May the Lord judge between you and me"; v. 5).
Did Sarai mean that she would obtain children through Hagar by adopting them as her own, or by becoming fertile herself as a result of Hagar's childbearing (v. 2)? Most interpreters have taken the first position, but some have preferred the second. The basis of the second view is the not-infrequent phenomenon of a woman, who has had trouble conceiving, becoming pregnant after she has adopted a child.
Though using a woman other than one's wife to bear one's children was a custom of the day, it was never God's desire (2:24; Matt. 19:4-5). Abram and Sarai here repeated the failure of Adam and Eve, namely, doubting God's word. This episode ended in total disaster for everyone involved. Hagar lost her home, Sarai her maid, and Abram his wife's servant and his child by Hagar.
Sarai tried to control the will of God by seizing the initiative from God (cf. 3:17). She and Abram chose fleshly means of obtaining the promised heir, rather than waiting for God in faith (cf. 25:21). They let their culture guide them rather than God.
This is the first of 48 references to "the angel of the LORD" in the Old Testament. Sometimes, as here, "The Angel of the LORD" is deity, and in other places, he appears to be an angelic messenger from the Lord.
"The prophetic description of Ishmael as a 'wild ass of a man' [v. 12] (RSV) is rather intriguing. The animal referred to is the wild and untamable onager, which roams the desert at will. This figure of speech depicts very accurately the freedom-loving Bedouin moving across vast stretches of land."
This prophecy was not an insult or a curse. Ishmael would enjoy the freedom that his mother sought. The Lord named "Ishmael" (v. 11), whose name means "God Hears," and Hagar "named" the LORD (v. 13): "The One Who Sees." These two names constitute a major revelation of God: He hears and He sees. This may be the only instance in Scripture of a human being conferring a name on God.
Abram and Sarai's presumptuous and manipulative "solution" proved to be a source of much difficulty for everyone involved (cf. Abram's error in going to Egypt, 12:11-13). God, however, took care of and blessed Ishmael even though he was the fruit of Abram's presumption. This was another occasion when Abram did not trust God as he should have (cf. 12:10-20).
Paul wrote that this story contains (not is) an allegory (Gal. 4:24). An "allegory" today means a story without factual basis. Paul did not deny the factuality of Genesis 16, but he used this story as the basis for a comparison. "Illustration" or "comparison" would be better words to use to describe an analogy. Hagar represents the Mosaic Covenant, and Ishmael is its fruit (slaves). Sarai is the Abrahamic Covenant, and Isaac is its fruit (free sons). Children of the flesh persecute children of the promise (Gal. 4:29).
There is much irony in this story: Barren Sarai lived in a fertile land, whereas fertile Hagar ended up living in a barren land. Furthermore the Egyptians, to whom the persecuted Hagar fled for freedom, later enslaved the persecutor, represented by Sarai's descendants.
Resorting to fleshly means, rather than waiting for God to provide what He has promised, always creates problems. This story also shows that human failure, ultimately, does not frustrate God's plans.
When in great or in any kind of distress, people should always pray, because God is aware of their needs—and will fulfill His promises to them.
When Ishmael was finally born, Abram named him as God had directed (v. 11). Ishmael was born 12 years after God had first promised that Abram would have descendants (12:2, 7); at that time Abram was "86 years old." Now it appeared that Ishmael would be the promised "heir," but God had someone else in mind for Abram.
The Lord confirmed His covenant with Abram, 13 years after Ishmael's birth, by reiterating the promises of descendants and land—and by commanding Abram to circumcise all the males in his household. Circumcision thereby became the physical demonstration (sign) of the obedient faith of Abram and his descendants. There are three types of signs in the Old Testament. Some signs were proofs that convinced observers of something (e.g., the Egyptian plagues). Others were certain acts that resembled an announced situation (e.g., acted prophecies). Still others were reminders of something (e.g., the rainbow, circumcision). God further encouraged the patriarch's faith by changing Abram's name to "Abraham," and Sarai's to "Sarah." This was an added confirmation that God would indeed give them innumerable seed (descendants) as He had promised.
"This chapter is a watershed in the Abraham story. The promises to him have been unfolded bit by bit, gradually building up and becoming more detailed and precise, until here they are repeated and filled out in a glorious crescendo in a long and elaborate divine speech. From this point in Genesis, divine speeches become rarer and little new content is added to the promises, but the fulfillment of these promises becomes more visible."
There are in fact five divine speeches: vv. 1b-2, 4-8, 9-14, 15-16, and 19-21. The third speech comprises the center of the chiastic structure of this chapter, which may also be read as two parallel panels, namely, 1-14 and 15-27.
Abram undoubtedly assumed that Ishmael would be the promised heir—until God told him that Sarai would bear his heir "herself" ("a son by her," emphasis added; v. 16). That revelation is the most important feature of this chapter. God gave the name changes and circumcision, both to confirm the covenant promise of an heir and to strengthen Abram's faith.
17:1-8 Thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael (16:16), God spoke to Abram again (the fifth revelation; v. 1). God called Himself by a new name: "El Shaddai" (the "Almighty God"). This was appropriate, in view of the thing God proceeded to reveal to Abram that He would do. It would require supernatural power.
The references to the "covenant" in this chapter have caused some confusion. The Abrahamic Covenant (ch. 15) is in view (vv. 4, 7, 11, 19, 21), but also the outward sign of that covenant, which was the Covenant of Circumcision (vv. 2, 9, 10, 13, 14; cf. Acts 7:8). Thus Moses used the word "covenant" with two different references here, though throughout, the Abrahamic Covenant is in view. Perhaps visualizing the Covenant of Circumcision as a smaller circle, within the larger circle of the Abrahamic Covenant, will help. Whereas the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional, the Covenant of Circumcision depended on Abram's obedience (vv. 1-2). God would bless Abram: as Abram obeyed God by circumcising his household. This blessing would be in the form of multiplying Abram's descendants "exceedingly," even more than God had already promised. The rite of circumcision was to be a continuing sign of the Abrahamic Covenant to all of Abram's descendants.
God also gave Abram and Sarai the added assurance, that they would have a multitude of descendants, by changing their names. He changed the name "Abram" ("High" or "Exalted Father") to "Abraham" ("Father of a Multitude"), and he changed the name "Sarai" ("My Princess" [perhaps a reference to her noble descent]) to "Sarah" ("Royal Princess" [from whom kings would come, v. 16]). Abraham's name emphasized the number or vastness of his seed. Sarah's evidently stressed the royal nature of their line (vv. 6, 16, 20; cf. 12:2).
"The choice of the word be fruitful in verse 6 and multiply in verse 2 seems intended to recall the blessing of all humankind in 1:29: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land,' and its reiteration in 9:1: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land.' Thus the covenant with Abraham was the means through which God's original blessing would again be channeled to all humankind."
Circumcision was "an everlasting covenant" (v. 7) because it marked the eternal salvation of the person who believed God as Abraham did, not because God wanted people to practice it for all of human history. God, for instance, has not commanded circumcision of the flesh for Christians.
Some Christians in the reformed traditions of Protestantism regard "baptism" as what God requires of us, today, in lieu of circumcision. They practice "infant baptism," believing that this rite brings the infant into the "covenant community" (i.e., the church), and under God's care in a special sense. Some believe baptism saves the infant. Others believe it only makes the infant a recipient of special grace.
The Bible is quite clear, however, that baptism is a rite that believers should practice—after they trust Christ as their Savior—as a testimony to their faith. Undoubtedly there are parallels between circumcision and baptism, nevertheless God did not intend baptism to replace circumcision. God did command circumcision of the Israelites in the Mosaic Law, but He has not commanded it of Christians. We do not live under the Mosaic Law (Rom. 4:10-13; 6:14-15; 7:1-4; 10:4).
17:9-14 God wanted Abraham to circumcise his male servants ("every male . . . who is born in your house or is bought with your money"), not just his children ("of your [seed]") and his grandchildren. The reason for this was that the Abrahamic Covenant would affect all who had a relationship with Abraham. Consequently they needed to bear the sign of that covenant. The person who refused circumcision was "cut off" (excommunicated or worse) from his people (v. 14), because by refusing it he was repudiating God's promises to Abraham.
There are two main views as to the meaning of being "cut off" from Israel. Some scholars hold that it means excommunication from the covenant community and its benefits. However, there is also evidence that points to execution, sometimes by the Israelites, but usually by God, in the form of premature death. The threat of being "cut off" hung over the Israelite offender, just like the threat of getting a terminal disease, that might end one's life at any time, does today.
The person who refused to participate in circumcision demonstrated his lack of faith in God by his refusal. Thus he broke the Covenant of Circumcision (v. 14).
Only males underwent circumcision; females did not. In the patriarchal society of the ancient Near East, people considered that a girl or woman shared the circumcised condition of her father if she was single, or her husband if she was married.
Circumcision was a fitting symbol for several reasons:
1. It would have been a frequent reminder to every circumcised male of God's promises involving seed.
2. It involved the cutting off of flesh. The circumcised male was one who repudiated "the flesh" (i.e., the simply physical and natural aspects of life) in favor of trust in Yahweh and His spiritual promises.
3. It resulted in greater cleanliness of life and freedom from the effects of sin (i.e., disease and death).
Circumcision was not a brand new rite. The priests in Egypt practiced it, as did most of the Canaanites, the Arabs, and the Hurrians (Horites), but in Mesopotamia it was not customary. Later the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites practiced it, but the Philistines did not. By commanding it of Abraham and his household, God was giving further evidence that He would bless the patriarch. Circumcision has hygienic value. One evidence of this is that cancer of the penis has a much higher incidence in uncircumcised males. Circumcision was a rite of passage to adulthood in these cultures. Normally it had been practiced on young adults only (cf. ch. 34). Circumcising infants was something new.
"Research indicates that other Middle Eastern cultures practiced circumcision . . . However, the Hebrews were unique in that they practiced infant circumcision, which, though medically risky if not properly performed, is less physically and psychologically traumatic than circumcisions performed at an older age."
"Designating the eighth day after birth as the day of circumcision is one of the most amazing specifications in the Bible, from a medical standpoint. Why the eighth day?
"At birth, a baby has nutrients, antibodies, and other substances from his mother's blood, including her blood-clotting factors, one of them being prothrombin. Prothrombin is dependent on vitamin K for its production. Vitamin K is produced by intestinal bacteria, which are not present in a newborn baby. After birth prothrombin decreases so that by the third day it is only 30 percent of normal. Circumcision on the third day could result in a devastating hemorrhage.
"The intestinal bacteria finally start their task of manufacturing vitamin K, and the prothrombin subsequently begins to climb. On day eight, it actually overshoots to 110 percent of normal, leveling off to 100 percent on day nine and remaining there for the rest of a person's healthy life. Therefore the eighth day was the safest of all days for circumcision to be performed. On that one day, a person's clotting factor is at 110 percent, the highest ever, and that is the day God prescribed for the surgical process of circumcision.
"Today vitamin K (Aqua Mephyton) is routinely administered to newborns shortly after their delivery, and this eliminates the clotting problem. However, before the days of vitamin K injections, a 1953 pediatrics textbook recommended that the best day to circumcise a newborn was the eighth day of life.
17:15-21 Abraham's "laugh" (v. 17) may have expressed his incredulity, but it could just as easily have been a joyful response to God's promise. Sarah's laugh (18:15) seems to have arisen from a spirit of unbelief. God did not criticize Abraham for laughing in wonder, but He did rebuke Sarah when she laughed in doubt.
17:22-27 The writer's use of the phrase "the very same day" (v. 26) points to a momentous day, one of the most important days in human history (cf. Noah's entry into the ark, 7:13; and the Exodus, Exod. 12:17, 41, 51).
This fifth revelation from God advanced God's promises in six particulars:
1. Part of God's blessing would depend on Abraham's maintaining the Covenant of Circumcision, though the Abrahamic Covenant as a whole did not depend on this (vv. 1-2).
2. Many nations would come from Abraham (vv. 4-6).
3. The Abrahamic Covenant would be "everlasting" (vv. 7-8).
4. God would be the God of Abraham's descendants in a special relationship (vv. 7-8).
5. Sarah herself would give birth to the promised heir (v. 16).
6. This is also the first time God identified the Promised Land as "Canaan" by name (v. 8).
"Thus Abraham and Noah are presented as examples of those who have lived in obedience to the covenant and are thus 'blameless' before God, because both obeyed God 'as he commanded them' (17:23; cf. 6:22; 7:5, 9, 16)."
"Blameless" does not mean sinless, but "with integrity," or "wholeness of relationship" (with God; cf. 6:9). God requires a sanctified life of those who anticipate His promised blessings.
Chapters 18 and 19 constitute one integrated story, but we shall consider this episode in the Abraham narrative section by section. Like the Flood story, it has a chiastic structure, this time focusing on the announcement of the destruction of Sodom (19:12-13). Again there is a mass destruction, with only one man and his family escaping. Both stories end with the father's intoxication, and shameful treatment of the father by his children, that have consequences for future generations.
We can perceive the Lord's gracious initiative, that He extended toward Abraham, in His visit to eat and commune with the patriarch "under the tree" outside his tent. This was a sign of intimate fellowship in Abraham's culture. On the basis of that close relationship, God guaranteed the soon arrival of the promised heir. In response to Sarah's "laugh" of unbelief, the Lord declared that nothing would be "too difficult" for Him.
This chapter and the next may seem at first reading to be extraneous to the purpose of the Abraham narrative, which is to demonstrate God's faithfulness to His promises to the patriarch, but they are not. Chapter 18 contributes the following:
1. It records another "promised heir" revelation (the sixth), this one in which God identified, for the first time, exactly when the heir would appear (vv. 10, 14). With this revelation God strengthened Abraham's, and especially Sarah's, faith.
2. It fortifies Moses' emphasis on God's supernatural power at work to fulfill His divine promises—in spite of apparently impossible circumstances (vv. 9-15).
3. As a literary device, it provides an interlude in the story line, and heightens suspense by prolonging the climax. We anticipate the arrival of the heir with mounting interest.
4. It presents Abraham as an intercessor, one of the roles of "the prophets"—of whom Abraham was one of the first (cf. 20:7).
5. It records God's announcement of judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 16-33), which follows in chapter 19.
"The noon encounter in this chapter and the night scene at Sodom in the next are in every sense a contrast of light and darkness. The former, quietly intimate and full of promise, is crowned by the intercession in which Abraham's faith and love show a new breadth of concern. The second scene is all confusion and ruin, moral and physical, ending in a loveless squalor which is even uglier than the great overthrow of the cities."
18:1 Abraham was living near Hebron at this time ("the oaks of Mamre"; cf. 13:18).
18:2 The "three men" were "the LORD" (the Angel of Yahweh, vv. 13, 17, 20, 33) plus "two angels" (19:1; 18:22); the two angels later visited Lot. If Abraham had previously met the Angel of the Lord it seems likely that he would have recognized Him at once (cf. 17:1, 22). If he had not, Abraham definitely became aware of who this Angel was during this interview (cf. v. 25).
18:3-11 Abraham's hospitality reflects oriental custom as practiced in his day and, in some respects, even today in the Middle East. He was behaving more wisely than he realized, since he did not yet know that his guests were divine visitors (v. 8). "Where is Sarah?" (v. 9) recalls God's earlier questions about Adam (3:9) and Abel (4:9).
18:12 Sarah's laugh "to herself," which the LORD nevertheless heard, sprang from a spirit of unbelief, due to long disappointment, as is clear from the Lord's response to it ("Is anything too difficult for the LORD?"; v. 14). Abraham's laugh (17:17) did not draw such a response.
18:13 The fact that the Lord knew Sarah had laughed, and knew her thoughts, demonstrated His omniscience to Abraham and Sarah. This would have strengthened their faith in what He told them.
18:14 The Lord's rhetorical question, one of the great statements of Scripture, reminded the elderly couple of His supernatural power, and fortified their faith further (cf. Jer. 32:17, 27).
18:15 Sarah evidently "denied" that she had laughed, either from fear of the Lord's power or from fear of offending Him. Again, God built confidence in His word. If the Lord could read Sarah's thoughts, could He not also open her womb?
Believers should never doubt God's promises, because nothing is impossible for Him.
After God reviewed the reasons for sharing His plans for the destruction of Sodom with Abraham, He told the patriarch that He was about to investigate the wicked condition of that city. This news moved Abraham to ask God to be just in His dealings ("deal justly," fairly, v. 25) with "the righteous" there.
"A rhetorical question in each section—'Is anything too demanding for Yahweh?' [v. 14]; 'Shall not he who judges all the earth give right judgment?" [v. 25]—sounds the major motif of each unit [vv. 1-15 and vv. 16-33]. . . . In both units it is some kind of noise that provokes Yahweh—Sarah's laugh and Sodom's groans."
18:16-21 God chose to reveal His intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham. He did so because of His plans for Abraham. He wanted to challenge Abraham to act wisely and nobly for justice. "Righteousness and justice" (v. 19) may be a hendiadys meaning "genuine righteousness" (cf. Mic. 3:1; 4:8). "I will go down" (v. 21) is another anthropomorphism, this one emphasizing God's omniscience (cf. Ps. 113:4-6).
"In this section [vv. 1-21] we have an illustration of fellowship with God and some of its essential features. Fellowship is the crowning purpose of God's revelation (1 John 1:3). There is nothing higher than this, for man's life finds its complete fulfillment in union and communion with God. Notice the following elements:
"1. Sacred Intimacy. . . .
"2. Genuine Humility. . . .
"3. Special Revelation. — Fellowship with God is always associated with the knowledge of His will. Servants do not know their master's purposes, but friends and intimates do. . . .
God always thoroughly investigates a situation before passing judgment and sending calamity (v. 21).
"The Lord would not arbitrarily destroy them [the people of Sodom and Gomorah]. As a fair and just judge, He would examine the evidence and then reward their deeds appropriately. The anthropomorphic language veils the ontological reality of God's omniscience, but the Lord seems to have been more concerned in this context with revealing Himself as a fair judge, emphasizing the importance of human responsibility and inviting Abraham to assume the role of an intercessor."
18:22-33 This is the first time in Scripture that a man initiated a conversation with God. Abraham "prayed" (interceded directly to God) for the people of Sodom, not just Lot! Abraham's intercession raises several questions in the minds of thoughtful Bible students. Did Abraham succeed in his intercession. since, in the end, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Some interpreters believe he did not, because he quit too soon:
This conclusion assumes that Abraham's primary purpose was to get God to demonstrate mercy and to spare the cities for the sake of their few righteous inhabitants (v. 24). While this idea was obviously in Abraham's mind, his primary purpose seems rather to have been to secure justice (i.e., deliverance) for the righteous minority in their wicked cities (vv. 23, 24). Secondarily, he wanted God to spare the cities. This interpretation finds support in Abraham's appeal to the "justice" of God rather than to His mercy (v. 25). This appeal was the basis of his intercession. Abraham was jealous for the reputation of Yahweh among his neighbors. If this was indeed his primary purpose, Abraham succeeded in obtaining justice for the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah.
A second question arises from Abraham's method of interceding. Is his "haggling" with God an example we should follow? Evidently Abraham was not trying to wear God down by pressuring Him. Instead, he was seeking clarification from God as to the extent of His mercy. He wanted to find out just how merciful God would be in judging these cities.
Why did Abraham stop with "10 . . . righteous" people (v. 32)? Perhaps he had learned that the Lord would be merciful regardless of the number. Perhaps he thought there would be at least "10 righteous" in those two cities. If so, he underestimated the wickedness of the Sodomites, and, perhaps, he overestimated "righteous" Lot's influence over his neighbors.
Will God spare a city or nation today because of the Christians in it? This passage is helpful in answering this question, because in it we can see that a godly minority does play a role in influencing God's judgment. A godly minority can delay judgment by promoting godliness. However, a godly minority may not prevent God's judgment if "sin is exceedingly grave" (v. 20). God does not always choose to remove the righteous from the wicked before He judges the wicked, as He did in Lot's case. Nevertheless, "the Judge of all the earth" does "deal justly." We can see this when we take the long view. People alive now have yet to receive their final judgment from the divine Judge (cf. Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:9, 15).
Abraham's shameless, bold persistence with God illustrates what Jesus had in mind when he taught the importance of these qualities in prayer (e.g., Luke 11:5-10; 18:1-8). Threefold repetition is common in Scripture, but Abraham's doubling of it—sixfold—gives his request even more solemnity and weight.
This chapter illustrates a progression in Abraham's relationship with God, which is normal for those who have a relationship with Him.
1. God revealed Himself to Abraham (v. 1).
2. Abraham welcomed God's revelation (vv. 2-3).
3. Fellowship resulted (vv. 4-8). They ate together.
4. This fellowship led to further revelation and greater understanding of God's will (vv. 9-22).
5. Having learned of God's purpose to judge the sinners, Abraham's response was to intercede for those under God's judgment (vv. 23-33).
Chapters 18 and 19 "paint a vivid contrast between the respective patriarchal ancestors, Abraham and Lot, with an obvious moralistic intent (i.e., a demonstration that human initiatives—Lot's choice—always lead to catastrophe)."
"In the development of the story two of the themes in counterpoint with Abraham and the Promise—the theme of Lot, the righteous man without the pilgrim spirit, and of Sodom, the standing example of worldly promise, insecurity (chapter 14) and decay—are now heard out to their conclusion. By a master-stroke of narrative, Abraham, who will outlive all such time-servers, is shown standing at his place of intercession (27), a silent witness of the catastrophe he has striven to avert. It is a superb study of the two aspects of judgment: the cataclysmic, as the cities disappear in brimstone and fire, and the gradual, as Lot and his family reach the last stages of disintegration, breaking up in the very hands of their rescuers."
19:1-11 The men of Sodom wanted to have homosexual relations with Lot's visitors (v. 5). The Mosaic Law later regarded all homosexual behavior as a capital offense (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; cf. Rom. 1:26-27). Their lack of hospitality contrasts with Abraham's hospitality (18:1-8), and reflects their respective moral states.
Hospitality was more sacred than sexual morality to Lot (v. 8; cf. Judg. 19:23-25). Compromise distorts values. Lot considered his duty to his guests (hospitality) of greater importance than his duty to his children (fatherhood, protecting his children).
The moral blindness of the Sodomites led to their spiritual blindness, and even to physical "blindness" (v. 11; cf. 2 Kings 6:18).
19:12-22 "In order to show that the rescue of Lot was in response to the prayer of Abraham, the narrative reads so that the words of the messengers ["swept away," vv. 15, 17] recall explicitly the words of Abraham's prayer in behalf of the righteous in the previous chapter ["sweep away," 18:23]."
The rescue of Lot and his family was due ultimately to the Lord's mercy ("compassion"; v. 16).
"This is the whole point of the story. God could have destroyed the city of Sodom with no word to Lot or Abraham (18:17). But because of God's mercy, His angels grabbed Lot and his family and brought them forcefully to safety."
"Zoar" (v. 22) means "insignificant (in size)" (cf. v. 20).
19:23-26 Joesphus wrote that God sent a thunderbolt to set the city on fire (v. 24). Probably the burning sodium sulfate ("brimstone and fire") that was raining down was what covered Lot's wife while she was lingering behind, and which turned her into a "pillar of salt" (v. 26).
"The heaven's rain cannot be explained solely as a natural phenomenon, such as earthquake; it was exceptional, never again repeated, providing the parade illustration of the fiery eschatological judgment against the wicked (e.g., 2 Pet 2:6-9). The twin calamities of Noah and Lot illustrate Jesus' teaching on the suddenness of the coming of the Son of Man (Luke 17:26-30)."
All that Lot had gained by living in Sodom burned up like wood, hay, and stubble (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15). The Apostle Peter cited Lot as an example of the Lord's deliverance of the godly from the very trials that He uses to punish the ungodly (2 Pet. 2:6-10). John called believers to not love the world, or the things in the world—because they will "pass away" (1 John 2:15-17).
19:27-29 As in the Flood story, the writer focused the reader's attention on the response of individuals to the judgment, rather than on the destruction itself. Here those individuals are Lot's wife and Abraham. Later they will be Lot and his daughters. The picture of Abraham, in verses 27-28, standing on the mountain, interceding "before the LORD," and "looking down," is similar to that of Moses, interceding for Israel in the battle with the Amalekites (Exod. 17:11-12). Lot's "prayer" request of the two angels, concerning "Zoar" (vv. 18-20), contrasts greatly with Abraham's prayer for Sodom (18:23-32).
"The substitution of Abraham for Lot in this sentence ["God remembered Abraham," v. 29; cf. 8:1] makes an important theological point. Lot was not saved on his own merits but through Abraham's intercession."
Abraham rescued Lot twice: from the Mesopotamian kings (ch. 14) and from Sodom.
19:30-38 Moses evidently included the account of Lot's incest for at least two reasons:
1. This story explains the origin of the Moabite and Ammonite nations—that played major roles in the later history of Israel as inveterate enemies. "Moab" sounds like the words translated "from the father," and "Ammon" means "son of my kin."
"His legacy, Moab and Ammon (37f.), was destined to provide the worst carnal seduction in the history of Israel (that of Baal-Peor, Nu. 25) and the cruelest religious perversion (that of Molech, Lv. 18:21)."
2. This story also illuminates the degrading effect that living in Sodom had on Lot's daughters. The writer censured Lot's daughters by not naming them (cf. Ruth 4:1). Lot's older daughter was so desperate to marry, that she exaggerated the effects of the recent catastrophe (v. 31), in order to, at least according to her way of thinking, "preserve the family [line] through [their] father."
"Throughout the ancient Near East, incest between father and daughter was regarded as wrong, and OT law punishes more remote forms of incest with death (Lev 20:12). . . . The fact that his daughters had to make him drunk shows that they were consciously flouting normal conventions. Because of his readers' moral assumptions, the narrator did not feel it necessary to excoriate Lot's daughters' behavior. The facts spoke for themselves."
"The story of Lot and his family should provide a sobering reminder that all of our decisions are significant, even that of where we live. Our moral environment significantly influences our lives. For this and many other reasons the New Testament constantly implores the believer to fellowship with those of like precious faith."
"There are lives recorded in the Bible which have well been called beacons. There are men like Balaam, Saul, and Solomon, who started well, with every possible advantage, and then closed their careers in failure and disaster. Such a life was that of Lot. . . . There is scarcely a life recorded in Scripture which is fuller of serious and solemn instructions for every believer."
"The impact of the unit focuses more directly on a characterization of the father. The one who offered his daughters for the sexual gratification of his wicked neighbors now becomes the object of his daughters' incestuous relationship . . . . To be seduced by one's own daughters into an incestuous relationship with pregnancy following is bad enough. Not to know that the seduction had occurred is worse. To fall prey to the whole plot a second time is worse than ever."
"In tragic irony, a drunk Lot carried out the very act which he himself had suggested to the men of Sodom (19:8)—he lay with his own daughters.
"The account is remarkably similar to the story of the last days of Noah after his rescue from the Flood (9:20-27). There, as here, the patriarch became drunk with wine and uncovered himself in the presence of his children. In both narratives, the act had grave consequences. Thus at the close of the two great narratives of divine judgment, the Flood and the destruction of Sodom, those who were saved from God's wrath subsequently fell into a form of sin reminiscent of those who died in the judgment. This is a common theme in the prophetic literature (e.g., Isa 56—66; Mal 1)."
From 2 Peter 2:6-9, we know that Lot was a "righteous" man, though from the record of him in Genesis, we might doubt that. He chose to live as, what the New Testament calls, a "carnal" believer (1 Cor. 3:3). First, he lifted up his eyes and saw Sodom (13:10). Then, he chose for himself (13:11). Then, he moved his tent as far as Sodom (13:12). Then, he sat in the gate of Sodom as one of its judges (19:1, 9). Then, he hesitated—as Sodom's destruction loomed (19:16). Finally, he ended up committing incest with his daughters in a cave (19:30-38). How far it is possible for a believer to depart from God's will when we keep making carnal decisions!
A major revelation of this chapter is that it is foolish for a believer to become attached to the things of this world. They will corrupt him, and God will destroy them swiftly and suddenly.
"The stories about the jeopardy of the ancestress in pagan kings' harems form an inner frame around the Abraham cycle before the transition to the next cycle in 22:20—25:11. After Abraham's initial call to the Promised Land to become a great nation, he immediately jeopardizes Sarah in Pharaoh's harem. Now, immediately before the birth of the promised seed, he jeopardizes the matriarch in Abimelech's harem."
The writer composed chapter 20 as another chiasm, with the focal point being Abimelech warning his servants (v. 8). Two dialogues constitute the main parts of the story: the one between God and Abimelech (vv. 3-7) and the one between Abimelech and Abraham (vv. 9-13).
"The focus of the narrative of chapters 20 and 21 is on the relationship between Abraham and the nations. Abraham's role is that of a prophetic intercessor, as in the promise 'all peoples on earth will be blessed through you' (12:3). He prayed for the Philistines (20:7), and God healed them (v. 17). In the narrative Abimelech plays the role of a 'righteous Gentile' with whom Abraham could live in peace and blessing. There is, then, an implied contrast in the narratives between chapters 19 (Lot, the one who pictures the mixed multitude) and 20 (Abimelech, the righteous sojourner)."
Abraham again misrepresented his relationship with Sarah, calling her his "sister" (cf. ch. 12). Abimelech took her into his harem as a consequence of the patriarch's deception. Nevertheless God intervened to preserve Sarah's purity. He warned Abimelech "in a dream" about who Sarah was, and instructed him: to "restore" Sarah to her husband, to make restitution to Abraham, and to ask Abraham the "prophet" to intercede with God ("pray") for him.
This chapter records another crisis in the story of God's providing an heir for Abraham.
"Apparently, shortly after the announcement of a birth one year hence, Sarah is again taken into another man's harem. The reader is to infer that if there is an heir, he is in danger of being reckoned as Abimelech's not Abraham's. But Yahweh intervenes once again and preserves Sarah (20.6b) and restores her to Abraham."
". . . the episode is chiefly one of suspense: on the brink of Isaac's birth-story here is the very Promise put in jeopardy, traded away for personal safety. If it is ever to be fulfilled, it will owe very little to man. Morally as well as physically, it will clearly have to be achieved by the grace of God."
Abraham, naturally, moved frequently since he had to find pasture for his flocks and herds (v. 1). He lived a semi-nomadic life.
"Abimelech" was a title rather than a proper name (cf. 26:1; Judg. 8:31; 2 Sam. 11:21; Ps. 34 title). It meant "royal father" or "the king [Milku, a Canaanite deity mentioned in the Amarna letters] is my father."
Dreams were one of the primary means by which God revealed Himself to individuals in the Old Testament, along with visions and personal encounters (cf. 15:1; Num. 12:6-8). Adultery commonly drew the death penalty in the ancient Near East, which the Mosaic Code later specified (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22). Abimelech claimed to head a "blameless . . . nation" (v. 4), so we expect God to be gracious, since Abraham had prayed that the Lord would not destroy the righteous with the wicked (18:23-32). God was gracious with Abimelech and his people (v. 6; cf. v. 17). In contrast to the Sodomites, this community responded to God's warnings.
Moses identified Abraham here (v. 7) as a "prophet." This is the first explicit reference to a prophet in the Old Testament. Prophets received direct revelations from God, spoke to others for God, and praised God (1 Chron. 25:1). Here the role of the prophet includes that of intercessor, as it does elsewhere in Scripture.
"In king Abimelech we meet with a totally different character from that of Pharaoh [ch. 12]. We see in him a heathen imbued with a moral consciousness of right, and open to receive divine revelation, of which there is not the slightest trace in the king of Egypt."
"Like the sailors and the king of Nineveh in the book of Jonah (1:16; 3:6-9), the Philistines responded quickly and decisively to God's warning. Like Jonah, however, Abraham in this narrative was a reluctant prophet."
Fear for his safety evidently led Abraham to act as he did this second time, even though his previous deception in Egypt had been unsuccessful. Even the repeated promises of God did not drive out the fear of potential danger from Abraham's heart. God used a pagan king to rebuke the righteous prophet—who had just recently boldly pleaded for Sodom—when Abraham's faith failed.
This incident shows and contrasts God's faithfulness to Abraham as compared to Abraham's unfaithfulness to God (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13). God's chosen ones cannot destroy His ultimate plans for them by failing. Abraham learned that Yahweh will maintain His covenant and fulfill His promises, in spite of the opposition and interference of influential and powerful individuals.
God requires His people to maintain purity in marriage, and to look to Him to provide what He has promised.
God proved faithful to His promise by providing Isaac. Abraham and Sarah responded with obedience and praise. Ishmael, however, became a threat to Abraham's heir, Isaac, and consequently Abraham sent Ishmael away, into the wilderness, where God continued to provide for him and his mother.
The emphasis in this brief section is on God's faithfulness and power, both in keeping His promise, and in miraculously providing an heir through Sarah ("So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham . . . at the appointed time . . . God had spoken (predicted) to him"; 17:16; 18:14). Note the threefold repetition: "as He had said," "as He had promised," and "of which God had spoken" (vv. 1-2). The tension of anticipation finally subsides, but only temporarily.
God "visited" Sarah (v. 1, NIV), a common metaphor that describes God's intervention in nature and human afffairs. The Hebrew word translated "visited" (paqad) also appears when God intervened to save the Israelites from Egyptian bondage (50:24-25; Exod. 4:31), and when He ended a famine (Ruth 1:6). It also occurs when He caused Hannah to conceive (1 Sam. 2:21), and when He brought the Jewish exiles home from the Babylonian Captivity (Jer. 29:10). Thus this word's presence here highlights the major significance of Isaac's birth.
Abraham's obedience, in naming his son "Isaac" (17:19) and circumcising him on the eighth day (17:12), was an expression of worship.
Isaac's name ("Laughter") was appropriate for two reasons:
1. Isaac would be a source of joy to his parents as the fulfillment of God's promised seed.
All was not well in Abraham's household, even though God had provided the heir. Ishmael was a potential rival to Isaac's inheritance. This section records another crisis in the story of Abraham's heir. Waltke pointed out six parallels between Hagar and Ishmael's trek, and Abraham and Isaac's (ch. 22).
Normally in ancient Near Eastern culture, the son of a concubine became the heir of his mother but not of his father (cf. Judg. 9:1-3). Now that Abraham had a son by his wife, Sarah did not want Ishmael to share Isaac's inheritance. Weaning would normally have occurred at age two or three (cf. 1 Sam. 1:22-24; Hos. 1:8). The Hebrew word translated "mocking" (v. 9) comes from the same root as Isaac's name, and means "laughing." However, this participle is in the intensive form in Hebrew, indicating that Ishmael was not simply "laughing," but cruelly ridiculing Isaac (cf. Gal. 4:29). Ishmael disdained Isaac, like Hagar had "despised" Sarai (16:4). Abraham, understandably, felt distressed by this situation, since he loved both Ishmael and Isaac (cf. 17:18).
"But even in that culture it was reprehensible to send Ishmael away. When a surrogate wife had borne a son to one's husband, that mother and child could not be dismissed even if the first wife subsequently gave birth to a son. This partly explains Abraham's reluctance to do what Sarah demanded (v. 11)."
God appeared to Abraham again (the seventh revelation), to assure him that Sarah's desire was in harmony with His will (cf. 17:19-21). He encouraged Abraham to divorce Hagar.
For other instances where God apparently commanded divorce, see Deuteronomy 21:10-14 and Ezra 9—10. Since God makes the rules, He can also alter them according to His sovereign will.
"The key to Sarah's demand lies in a clause in the laws of Lipit-Ishtar where it is stipulated that the father may grant freedom to the slave woman and the children she has borne him, in which case they forfeit their share of the paternal property."
The "laws of Lipit-Ishtar" were laws that governed life in Mesopotamia that antedated the Mosaic Law.
The focus of this revelation is a clarification of God's purposes for each of the two sons. God would bless Abraham through Ishmael as well as through Isaac.
The concluding description of Ishmael's experiences (vv. 14-21) provides essential information to understanding and appreciating later references to him and his descendants in the text: "I will make a great nations of him . . . and he lived in the wilderness of Paran." Ishmael became the father of 12 sons (25:13-16), as also Jacob did. From Ishmael's sons came the Arab nations, that have ever since been the chief antagonists of the Israelites. The term "Arab" (someone from Arabia) came into use for the first time in the ninth century B.C. Hagar chose "a wife" for her son from her homeland, "Egypt."
God not only makes promises but also provision. His provision of what He has promised results in great joy, and should lead to separation from whatever might hinder His program of blessing. See Paul's use of this account in Galatians 4:21-31.
"This scene occurs at the same time as the events of Scene 6 [21:1-21] but focuses on different characters and tensions. This second conflict with Abimelech creates a bracket around the Isaac birth narrative. Whereas the first conflict, Scene 5 (20:1-18), concerned jeopardy of the seed, the second conflict, Scene 7 (21:22-34), concerns jeopardy of the land (i.e., well rights)."
God's blessing of Abraham resulted in his material prosperity. In response to Abimelech's initiative, Abraham agreed to make "a covenant" of peaceful coexistence (a treaty) with him. This treaty enabled Abraham to live, serve, and worship God freely, without worry or threat from his neighbors, in the Promised Land.
The writer may have included this incident in the text, partially because it records the testimony of a Gentile king to God's faithfulness (v. 22), but also to record Abraham's strong testimony to God's faithfulness (vv. 32-33). Furthermore it sets the stage for Isaac's dealings with Abimelech (ch. 26).
Since Abraham had become a powerful individual in the land, by God's blessing, King Abimelech initiated a bilateral treaty with him for his own protection. This was evidently the same King "Abimelech" that Abraham had dealt with previously (ch. 20). They made a "parity" covenant (i.e., between "equals," vv. 31-32). This is the first of several parity covenants in Genesis (cf. 26:28; 31:43-45). This covenant treaty was a remarkable admission of Abraham's standing and blessing by God, and an expression of Abimelech's confidence in the future existence of the patriarch's family.
The birth of Isaac seems to have produced a much stronger faith in Abraham (cf. v. 14). Note Abraham's immediate response, from then on, to God's instructions to him (cf. 22:3).
"Beersheba," one of the more important sites throughout Old Testament times, meaning "Oath of Seven" or "Oath-Well," became Abraham's possession with the payment of "seven ewe lambs" (v. 28; cf. 26:33).
Critics of the historicity of the patriarchal narratives have pointed out that references of "the Philistines" in Genesis (vv. 32, 34; 26:1) show evidence that the Bible contains errors. It is common knowledge that "the Philistines" did not invade Palestine until about 1200 B.C., whereas Abraham evidently lived about 800 years earlier. One explanation is that since the Philistines of Genesis were peaceful, and those of Judges and later were warlike, perhaps the same name describes an earlier but entirely different race of people. They may have resembled the later thirteenth-century Philistines, who also emigrated from the Aegean area into Palestine. Or, to consider another possibility, perhaps the Philistines of 2000 B.C. were Minoan and thus peaceful, whereas those of 1200 were Mycenean and thus warlike.
By planting a tree, Abraham indicated his determination to stay in that region. "Tamarisk" trees (v. 33) were long-lived and evergreen. This tree was an appropriate symbol of the enduring grace of the faithful God, whom Abraham now recognized as "the Everlasting God" (El Olam). Abraham now owned the first, small part—like a first installment—of the land God had promised him.
"By granting Abraham rights to a well, Abimelek had made it possible for Abraham to live there permanently and had acknowledged his legal right at least to water. In other words, after so many delays the promises of land and descendants at last seem on their way to fulfillment."
In contrast to Abraham's earlier fear of Abimelech (ch. 20), we now see him boldly standing up to this powerful king. His changed attitude evidently resulted from God's grace in blessing the patriarch as He had promised.
"The reader is forced to ask why the author constantly draws attention to the fact that Abraham was dwelling with the Philistines during this time [cf. v. 34]. The purpose of such reminders may be to portray Abraham as one who had yet to experience the complete fulfillment of God's promises."
Peaceful interpersonal relationships with those who acknowledge God enable the believer to proclaim his or her faith freely (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-4).
In obedience to God's command, Abraham took his promised heir to "the land of Moriah" to sacrifice him to the Lord. Because Abraham was willing to slay his "only begotten son," God graciously restrained him from killing Isaac, and promised to bless him further for his obedience. Abraham memorialized the place by calling it: "The LORD Will Provide."
God called on Abraham to make five great sacrifices: his native country, his extended family, his nephew Lot, his son Ishmael, and his son Isaac. Each sacrifice involved something naturally dear to Abraham, but each resulted in greater blessings from God.
This story also demonstrates the strong confidence that Abraham had in God at this time. He believed that "God [was] able to raise [Isaac] even from the dead" (Heb. 11:19). This is why he was willing to slay him. Jewish tradition refers to this chapter as the Akedah, from the Hebrew word wayya'aqod, translated "bound," in verse 9.
"The seventh crisis [I believe it is the eleventh] comes at a point in the narrative when we least expect it and is without question the greatest crisis of all. After all obstacles have seemingly been surmounted and all potential rivals eliminated, God now asks for Abraham's only son whom he loves. The gracious intervention of God and the reaffirmation of the basic promise of 12.1-3 in 22.15-18 would seem to conclude the Abraham cycle at the moment when faith triumphs over the greatest obstacle of all, death."
22:1-8 This incident took place some time after the events recorded in the chapters immediately preceding this one, evidently several years later.
God's revelation to Abraham (His eighth recorded in Scripture) came to test Abraham's faith (i.e., to prove its character and strength; cf. James 2:21-23).
The Hebrew text says that "the God" tested Abraham (v. 1). The presence of the definite article before "God" underlines the fact that it was the true God, Genuine Deity, who made this request, not a false god or a demon (cf. 41:32). The true God was testing Abraham's love for Himself, and not simply his faith (v. 2). Such testing (Heb. nsh) shows what someone is really like, and it usually involves difficulty or hardship (cf. Exod. 15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Deut. 8:2, 16; 13:3; Judg. 2:22; 3:1, 4; 1 Kings 10:1; Dan. 1:12, 14).
The "land of Moriah" (lit. "Where the LORD Provides" or "Where the LORD Appears") was the mountainous country around Jerusalem. This area was located about 45 miles north of Beersheba. "Moriah" was probably the name the Israelites gave this area after this event. On these mountains, God's angel later appeared to David, who built an altar to the Lord (2 Sam. 24:16-25). Here also, Solomon built his temple (2 Chron. 3:1), and Jesus Christ died. A mountain was a suitable place for Abraham to meet God (cf. v. 14).
Verses 1 and 2 relate a second time God called Abraham, that parallels the the first call in 12:1-3, in which He told Abraham to leave his home to go to another place.
"The repetition of these motifs forms an inclusio in the narrative structure of the Abrahamic narrative, pointing out the complete cycle in the patriarch's experience. The allusion to the former call would also have prompted obedience to the present one, in many ways a more difficult journey in God's direction."
The Lord was not asking Abraham to make any greater sacrifices to Him, the true God, than his pagan neighbors were willing to make to their false gods. Canaanite religion involved child sacrifice, but we do not know for sure that the Canaanites practiced it as early as Abraham's time.
"The demand [to sacrifice Isaac] was indeed only made to prove that Abraham was not behind the heathen in the self-denying surrender of his dearest to his God, and that when the demand had been complied with in spirit, the external fulfillment might be rejected."
Abraham probably told his servants to "stay" behind (v. 5)—so they would not try to restrain him from killing Isaac. The three verbs that Abraham used (v. 5) are all intensive in Hebrew (cf. 12:2): "We are determined to go," "We are determined to worship," and "We are determined to return." The words used to describe Isaac in this chapter, as well as what Moses said of him, indicate that he was probably a young man at this time (v. 6). Josephus said he was 25 years old.
"There are indications to suggest that the meaning of Abba in Mark 14:36 is to be found in the light of its whole context and Genesis 22. Jesus' final trial in Gethsemane appears to be modelled on the supreme trial of Abraham and Isaac. Despite his horror and anguish before the prospect of an imminent sacrificial death, Isaac calls to Abraham his Abba and, as a faithful son, obeys the voice of God speaking through his father. Parallel to this, Jesus says Abba to God in the same way that Isaac does to Abraham. In this context, Abba has the meaning of 'father' in the sense of a relationship to a devoted and obedient son. In Jesus' supreme hour of trial, it is his trust and obedience to God as Abba that carries him through, even to the cross. This meaning of Abba may prompt further study of the significance of son in other NT texts to discover whether the obediential aspect may be more prominent than has been suspected. The father-son relationship in Genesis 22 may be a far-reaching New Testament model of that between Jesus and God."
Abraham referred to the sacrifice he would offer, supposedly Isaac, but in reality God's substitute for Isaac, as "the lamb." This statement (v. 8), of course, proved prophetic of Jesus Christ as well (John 1:29). Abraham spoke better than he knew.
22:9-19 Isaac demonstrated his own faith clearly in this incident. He must have known what his father intended to do to him, yet he submitted willingly (v. 9). Josephus recorded a conversation between Abraham and Isaac at this point, in which Abraham explained to his son what he was about to do and why, and in which Isaac verbalized his willingness to die.
"If Abraham displays faith that obeys, then Isaac displays faith that cooperates. If Isaac was strong and big enough to carry wood for a sacrifice, maybe he was strong and big enough to resist or subdue his father."
The possibility of Isaac resisting may have been the reason why Abraham "bound" him on the altar.
God had previously told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice (v. 2), but now He told him not to sacrifice him ("Do not stretch out your hand"; v. 12). Sometimes, even today, we may proceed on a course of action believing that God has called us to it. Yet afterward, we may become equally convinced that He wants us to do the very opposite. We should not necessarily conclude that we were wrong in the first case. God may be testing our faith, as He did Abraham's.
As a result of this incident, Abraham gained a greater appreciation of God as the One who will provide or "look out for" him (Yahweh-jireh, lit. "The LORD Sees") as a result of this incident (v. 14). Also, the Lord confirmed His knowledge of Abraham (v. 12; cf. 18:21; Job 1:1, 8; 2:3).
"The story reaches its climax when Abraham demonstrated his loyalty (22:12, 15-18) by obeying God's command (cf. 26:5). God then elevated the patriarch to the status of a favored vassal who now possessed a ratified promise, comparable to the royal grants attested in the ancient Near East. God contextalized His self-revelation to Abraham (and to the readers of the narrative) within the relational, metaphorical framework of a covenant lord. Thus one should not be surprised to hear Him speak in ways that reflect the relational role He assumed within this metaphorical framework."
Abraham's sacrifice of the "ram" (v. 13), like Noah's sacrifice after he left the ark (8:18—9:17), expressed thanks and devotion to God—and anticipated His benevolence toward future generations. This is the first explicit mention in the Bible of the substitutionary sacrifice of one life for another. The LORD appeared again ("The angel of the Lord called . . . a second time") to Abraham (the ninth revelation) at the end of his test (v. 15). God "swore" by Himself to confirm His promises to Abraham (v. 16). God so swore ("By Myself I have sworn") only this one time in His dealings with the patriarchs. Moses referred to this oath later in Israel's history (24:7; 26:3; 50:24; Exod. 13:5, 11; 33:1; et al.; cf. Heb. 6:13-14).
One writer suggested that 22:15-18 really ". . . describes the establishment of the covenant of circumcision first mentioned in Genesis 17." However, the lack of reference to "circumcision" in the immediate context makes this interpretation tenuous.
For the first and last time in Genesis, the Lord swore an oath in His own name guaranteeing His promise (v. 16; cf. Heb. 6:13-14). God thus reinforced, reemphasized, and extended the promise that He had given formerly (12:1-3) because Abraham trusted and obeyed Him (vv. 17-18). "Greatly bless" and "greatly multiply" (v. 17) translate a Hebrew idiom in which the verb is doubled to stress the certainty of the action.
"Here again God promised Abraham that he would become the recipient of the covenant blessings. The covenant was not based on obedience, nor was the perpetuity of the covenant based on obedience—but rather the reception of covenant blessings was conditioned on obedience. Remember, an unconditional covenant may have conditional blessings."
Abraham's "seed" (v. 18) refers not only to Isaac but also to Messiah (cf. Gal. 3:16).
The Four Seeds of Abraham in Scripture
Abraham then "returned" to the well he had purchased at "Beersheba," and "lived" there (v. 19).
Moses probably preserved the details of this story because this test involved the future of God's promised seed, Isaac, and, therefore, the faithfulness of God. He probably did so also because this incident illustrates God's feelings in giving His Son as the Lamb of God (cf. John 1:29; 3:16). Other themes in this chapter include testing and obedience, the relationship between God and man, and the relationship between father and son.
Every time Abraham made a sacrifice for God the Lord responded by giving Abraham more:
1. Abraham left his homeland; God gave him a new one.
2. Abraham left his extended family; God gave him a much larger family.
3. Abraham offered the best of the land to Lot; God gave him more land.
4. Abraham gave up the King of Sodom's reward; God gave Abraham more wealth.
5. Abraham gave up Ishmael; God made Ishmael the father of a multitude of Abraham's posterity.
6. Abraham was willing to give up Isaac; God allowed Isaac to live, and through him gave Abraham numerous seed.
In each case, God gave Abraham a deeper relationship with Himself, as well as more material prosperity. Note the closeness of this fellowship in Abraham's response to God's revelations: "Here I am" (vv. 1, 11).
God has not promised Christians great physical blessings (cf. 2 Tim. 3:2), but whenever we make a sacrifice for Him, He at least gives us a deeper relationship with Himself (cf. John 15:14). For this reason we should not fear making personal sacrifices for God.
Note, too, that what God called Abraham to give back to Him, each time, was something that He had provided or would provide for Abraham supernaturally, in faithfulness to His promise. Sometimes God tests our faith by asking us to give back to Him what He has supernaturally and faithfully provided, not just what He has provided through regular channels.
This test of Abraham's faith is the climax of his personal history. It is the last major incident in the record of his life.
The faithful believer will surrender to God whatever He may ask, all the while trusting in God's promise of provision and blessing.
The testing of Abraham's faith was complete with the sacrifice of Isaac. The Author therefore brought the history of his life to a close, and began to set the scene for related events in Isaac's life.
This section signals a change in the direction of the narrative. It moves from Abraham to the next generation, and its genealogical connections with the East. The record of Nahor's 12 sons prepares the way for the story of Isaac's marriage. It also shows that "Rebekah" ("Heifer," "Soft," or "Supple") was the daughter of Bethuel's wife (v. 23), not the daughter of Bethuel's concubine (v. 24). Isaac's marriage was very important because Isaac was the heir of the promises (ch. 24).
Only a few of the individuals named as descendants of Abraham's brother Nahor appear elsewhere in Scripture. The most important individuals were "Rebekah" and her father "Bethuel." This is a "segmented" genealogy, designed to establish family relationships—not a "linear" genealogy, which identifies the final descendant as the legitimate successor of the first (cf. Ruth 4:18-22).
Abraham's purchase of a burial site in the Promised Land demonstrated his intention to remain in Canaan, rather than go back to his native homeland. Since he was a "sojourner" (temporary resident) in Canaan, his friends and relatives probably expected him to bury Sarah back in their home area, namely, Mesopotamia.
The two major events contained in this chapter continue Moses' emphasis on God's faithfulness. They do so by recording the death of Abraham's wife, the mother of his heir, and by showing the beginning of the fulfillment of the land promise that God had given Abraham.
23:1-2 Sarah is the only woman whose age at death ("127 years" old) the Scriptures record (v. 1). She is also the only woman whose name God changed (17:15). This notation of her age illustrates her importance. Isaac was 37 years old when his mother died. Abraham died at the age of 175 (25:8), 38 years after Sarah.
Abraham and Sarah had moved back near Hebron after having lived at Beersheba for some time (v. 2; cf. 22:19). "Kiriath-arba" means "Village of Four" (cf. Josh. 14:15).
"It should be stressed here that the world of the patriarchs was that of a developed and organized society and not what is usually regarded as a simple pastoral-bedouin existence. Throughout Genesis 12-50 there are connections to Mesopotamia and to Egypt as well as negotiations with local political centers (Shechem, Salem and Hebron) as well as Gerar in the Western Negev on a branch of the Coastal Highway.
"Much of the theological relevance of the patriarchs is based upon the fact that there were other more attractive lifestyles available to these early Biblical figures. The option they chose gave them few of the advantages they could have enjoyed elsewhere, especially in Mesopotamia where their family was established. In light of this fact and the great promises made to Abraham during his lifetime, his remark to the leaders of Hebron after the death of his wife, Sarah, takes on new meaning."
23:3-16 Typically, ancient Near Easterners buried family members in their native land. Abraham's desire to bury Sarah in the Promised Land shows that he had turned his back on Mesopotamia forever (v. 4). Canaan was his adopted homeland.
"Their warm and generous reply apparently gave Abraham all he wanted, but permission to bury Sarah was only part of what he had requested. He had asked for a burial plot, not simply for the use of one of their graves. Despite the warmth of their reply, the Hittites, by omitting any mention of this point, probably indicate their reluctance to transfer land to Abraham, for then he would no longer be a landless sojourner."
These "Hittites" ("sons of Heth" or "Hethites") were residents of Canaan, not members of the mighty Hittite Empire, that later flourished north of the Promised Land, in modern Turkey and Syria, ancient Anatolia.
Why did "Ephron" want to sell Abraham the entire plot of ground ("field") in which the cave lay, rather than just the "cave" as Abraham requested (vv. 8-11)?
Hittite law specified that when a landowner sold only part of his property to someone else, the original owner had to continue to pay all taxes on the land. However, if he sold the entire tract, the new owner was responsible to pay the taxes (cf. 1 Chron. 21:24). Consequently, Ephron held out for the entire tract, knowing that Abraham needed to make his purchase quickly so he could bury Sarah.
Abraham's willingness to pay, what appears to have been an unusually large price for the land, further demonstrates his faith (vv. 15-16). An average field cost four shekels per acre, and garden land cost 40 shekels per acre. Abraham was willing to pay "400 shekels"! Of course, the text does not give the exact area of the property, but it appears to have been relatively small.
"The piece of property was no bargain for Abraham; 400 shekels would be more than a hundred pounds of silver. David paid only one-eighth that amount—50 shekels of silver—for the purchase of the temple site from Araunah (2 Sam. 24:24)."
Coins were not minted until the seventh century B.C., so Abraham would have paid for his land by weighed pieces of silver. Ephron's responses to Abraham's requests sound very generous, but he was really making it difficult for Abraham to pay less than his asking price. Ephron's objective may have been to get a present (favor; gratuity; exchange gift) from Abraham, for having given him the field and cave, that would compensate for the value of the land. Such a gift was customary. On the other hand, he may have wanted to preclude Abraham's offering to pay him less than his asking price (v. 15).
"Did the patriarchs who forsook everything for the sake of the promises go unrewarded? No, answers our narrative. In death they were heirs and no longer 'strangers.' A very small part of the Promised Land—the grave—belonged to them; therefore they did not have to rest in 'Hittite earth' or in the grave of a Hittite (cf. v. 6), which Israel would have considered a hardship difficult to bear."
"At a time when the children of Israel were on their way to take possession of the land, Moses did well to remind them how in faith their forefathers had secured at least 'a grave which was his own property,' and thus to arouse in them the desire to finish the work of taking into full possession what had so long ago been promised to them."
23:17-18 Abraham's purchase of the "cave of Machpelah" (lit. "double cave," or "split cave") indicates his continuing faith in God's promise to give the land of Canaan to him and his descendants. Similarly, Jeremiah purchased property in the Promised Land, on the eve of the Babylonian Captivity, in order to express his belief that God would eventually bring the Israelites back there (cf. Jer. 32:6-15). One does not usually bury his family in a place unless he considers it his home and plans to be there a long time.
23:19-20 The writer noted twice that "Hebron" was within the "land of Canaan" (vv. 2, 19) and stressed repeatedly that the negotiations for the land were official (vv. 10, 13, 16, 18). There was no doubt that this part of the land now justly belonged to Abraham and his heirs.
"This verse [v. 20] is a conclusion to vv. 2-19. It seems strange appearing after v. 19—which would have been a reasonable note on which to conclude. Its placement here points out that the crucial element in this chapter is not Sarah's death, but Abraham's acquisition of land from outsiders. As such, it is a harbinger of things to come."
"The very fact that Abraham buried Sarah in the land of Canaan is proof of his unwavering faith. Knowing that his descendants would have to endure four hundred years of bitter bondage in a foreign country (15:13), he looked beyond that to the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises."
Isaac and Jacob, as well as Abraham, used this burial site. Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah were all buried here. Rachel's Tomb, on the other hand, was near Bethlehem (lit. "House of Bread," i.e., "Granary").
The time of death should be the time when the godly proclaim their faith most loudly, in view of their hope in God's promises.
Abraham's servant, who was evidently Eliezer, returned to Paddan-aram, charged with the duty of finding a suitable bride for Isaac. He faithfully and resolutely fulfilled his task, relying on God's faithfulness to prosper his journey, and God's providence to guide him. God directed him to Rebekah.
The length of this story, and the amount of detail included, suggest that this incident played an important part in the fulfillment of the Author's purpose. This is the longest chapter in Genesis. The details show how God provided a wife and seed-bearer for Isaac, and thereby remained faithful to His promises to Abraham. God's working providentially through the natural course of events to accomplish His purposes clarifies His ways with humankind.
The structure of the four sections (1-9, 10-28, 29-61, 62-67) is again palistrophic (chiastic). The first and fourth sections take place in Abraham's household in Canaan, and the second and third record events in Rebekah's household in Aram.
"By putting his hand under Abraham's thigh, the servant was touching his genitals and thus giving the oath a special solemnity. In the ancient Orient, solemn oaths could be taken holding some sacred object in one's hand, as it is still customary to take an oath on the Bible before giving evidence in court. Since the OT particularly associates God with life (see the symbolism of the sacrificial law) and Abraham had been circumcised as a mark of the covenant, placing his hand under Abraham's thigh made an intimate association with some fundamental religious ideas. An oath by the seat of procreation is particularly apt in this instance, when it concerns the finding of a wife for Isaac."
Abraham's insistence on a non-Canaanite wife for Isaac (v. 3) was not racial preference, but theological. The Canaanites worshipped Baal and Asherah (cf. 15:16; Deut. 7:3), but Abraham's extended family evidently worshipped the true God (cf. v. 31; 11:27—12:4; Josh. 24:2).
"Isaac was not regarded as a merely pious candidate for matrimony, but as the heir of the promise, who must therefore be kept from any alliance with the race whose possessions were to come to his descendants, and which was ripening for the judgment to be executed by those descendants."
"He will send His angel before you" (v. 7) means that God would prepare the way for Abraham's servant's arrival.
It is interesting that the name of Abraham's servant never appears in this story. Some expositors have noted the parallel between this fact and the fact that the Holy Spirit, who does the same thing for Jesus Christ that Abraham's servant did for Abraham, does not have an individual name as well. He is simply referred to throughout Scripture as God's Spirit.
24:10-28 "Camels" were relatively rare in this era, so the fact that Abraham owned "10" of them reflects his great wealth (v. 10; cf. Job 1:3). "Mesopotamia" means "Aram of the Two Rivers," and refers to the region between and surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
"In the East, where wells are scarce, and water indispensable, the existence of a well or fountain determines the site of the village. The people build near it, but prefer to have it outside the 'city,' to avoid the noise, dust, and confusion always occurring at it, and especially if the place is on the public highway. . . . About great cities men often carry water, both on donkeys and on their own backs, but in the country, among the unsophisticated natives, women only go to the well or the fountain; and often, when traveling, have I seen long files of them going and returning with their pitchers, 'at the time when women go out to draw water.'"
Verse 12 is the first recorded instance of prayer for specific guidance in Scripture. Since camels could drink 25 gallons, the servant's sign was sagacious (v. 14). It tested Rebekah's kindness, hospitality, industry, and willingness to help a stranger.
"Although the Lord elects both Abraham and Rebekah, his mode of revelation to them is strikingly different. To Abraham he speaks (12:7) in visions and auditions, to Rebekah he communicates through answered prayer and providential acts (24:27, 48, 50)."
Rebekah's name means "Ensnaring Beauty," and Moses commented on her beauty (v. 16). It might seem strange that he wrote, apparently redundantly, that she was "a virgin, and no man had had relations with her." But the Hebrew word translated "virgin" generally means "young woman," and is therefore not a precise term; it needed some clarification.
24:29-61 "Another striking feature of this story is that after introducing the new characters of Laban and his household, the writer allows the servant again to retell the narrative (vv. 34-39). But as with most repetitions in biblical narrative, the retelling is not a mere repeating. It is rather a reassertion of the central points of the first narrative. . . . As we overhear the servant recount more details, we see that the miracle of God's provision was even more grand than that suggested in the narrative itself."
Repeating an event confirmed its truthfulness in Scripture (cf. 41:32). W. M. Thomson described marriage negotiation customs as they existed for millennia in this part of the world:
It must have been customary in Hurrian society, however, to consult the bride before completing the marriage plans (vv. 58-60), or perhaps this family was exceptional. Also the brother took the lead in giving his sister in marriage. Note that Laban, Rebekah's brother, was the principal negotiator who represented the family—rather than Bethuel, her father, or her mother (vv. 53, 55; cf. 34:11-17; 42:1-3), though Bethuel was involved (v. 50). Perhaps Bethuel was simply too old, infirm, or was under his wife's control, as Rebekah later "organized" Isaac.
The description of the family farewell also reflects Laban's leadership (vv. 59-60). Rebekah demonstrated her faith in Abraham's God, in her decisively choosing to leave her family in order to marry Isaac (cf. the similar choices of Abraham and Ruth; Ruth 1:16).
24:62-67 "Beer-lahai-roi," the place where Isaac lived and meditated (v. 62), was a place where God had previously answered prayer (cf. 16:14). This suggests that Isaac may have been praying for God's will to be done in the choice of his wife.
Rebekah dismounted out of respect for her intended husband (cf. Josh. 15:18; 1 Sam. 25:23). Her self-veiling ("she took a veil and covered herself") hinted at her soon becoming his bride, since it was customary to veil the bride in a marriage ceremony. Normally Israelite women did not wear veils (cf. 12:14; 38:14).
"The final remarks (v. 67) again show that God's guidance in the mundane areas of life is good for those who put their trust in him. When Isaac took Rebekah as his wife, he loved her and was comforted with her after the death of his mother. In other words, Rebekah had taken the place of Sarah in the line of the descendants of Abraham."
The significance of this long story in the larger context of special revelation is fourfold at least.
1. Primarily it demonstrates God's faithfulness to His promise to provide descendants for Abraham and, therefore, His trustworthiness. Along with this is the assurance that, even though Abraham was soon to die, God would fulfill His promises in the future.
2. It reveals that God guides people who are seeking His will so that they will discover it.
3. It illustrates God's later selection of a Bride, that He chose out of the world for His Son, through the Holy Spirit's agency, as revealed and taught in the New Testament.
4. It provides a good model, in the servant, of one who responded properly to the work of God. Abraham's servant prayed before he acted, praised when God answered his prayers, and lived believing that God controls all the affairs of life.
"There are two themes, one more central, one more auxiliary, which are highlighted by the example story [in Genesis 24]: the faithful, prudent and selfless steward acting on behalf of his master as messenger, and the good wife as a gift from the LORD, the theme underlying much of the steward's action."
Before Abraham died, he made sure that God's covenantal blessing would be Isaac's by sending his other sons away. After he died, God confirmed his decision by blessing Isaac.
"It is only said of Isaac among Abraham's children that "God ['elohim] blessed" him (v. 11; cf. 24:1, 35); this language is used rarely in Scripture, appearing in creation narratives (1:22, 28; 2:3; 9:1)."
"Keturah" (lit. "Enveloped in Fragrant Smoke") may have been a concubine like Hagar (v. 6; 1 Chron. 1:32). Jewish tradition identified Keturah as Hagar. It is not possible to prove that Abraham married Keturah, and that she bore him six sons after Sarah's death, though this was probably the case. He may have married her earlier in his life while Sarah was alive.
The information revealed in these verses may appear, at this point in the narrative, simply to introduce the Midianites, who come into prominence later in Genesis. They were a group of tribes that inhabited the deserts surrounding Israel. Probably Moses also included this data, because this passage confirms God's faithfulness in giving Abraham many descendants, though Isaac and his branch of the family would be the recipients of God's special blessings.
"It is related of this Ophren [translated "Epher," v. 4], that he made war against Libya, and took it; and that his grandchildren, when they inhabited it, called it (from his name) Africa; and indeed Alexander Polyhistor gives his attestation to what I here say . . ."
"The land of the East" (v. 6), to which Abraham sent his "other" sons (than Isaac), was evidently Arabia. It lay to the east and south of Canaan. God's promise that "through Isaac your descendants shall be named" (21:12) led Abraham to act as he did, as Moses recorded here.
In this section and the following two (vv. 7-11 and 12-18), those characters who play minor parts in the drama take their curtain calls, making way for the chief actors who follow.
"It is one thing to live a long life. It is another thing to live a long life that is also a happy life. This obituary notice about Abraham draws attention to the fact that Abraham died not only at an elderly age but in a frame of mind filled with inner shalom and satisfaction. That is the thrust of the phrase full of days or 'contented.'"
The phrase "gathered to his people" (v. 8) implies reunion in Sheol, the place of departed spirits, with ancestors who had died previously. It presupposes continued personal existence after physical death (cf. 15:15; Heb. 11:13). Abraham was "buried in the [C]ave of Machpelah" near Mamre, the old site that later became a part of Hebron (v. 9).
God's dealings now focus on Isaac, who then lived near Hagar's well at "Beer-lahai-roi" (lit. "The Well of the One Who Lives and Who Sees Me"; v. 11; cf. 16:14; 24:62). Archaelolgists have yet to find this site. It was evidently somewhere south of Beersheba in the Negev.
God's servants should do all in their power to ensure the continuation of God's program to bless from one generation to the next.
This section records God's faithfulness to His promises to make Ishmael a great nation, and to give him many descendants (16:10; 21:18). This is another of the 10 family histories that Genesis records (see the outline in the introduction to these notes). There is probably an intentional parallel with the 10 nations mentioned in the Table of Nations (ch. 10), suggesting that God would bless all the families of the earth through other special families.
These verses show that God fulfilled His promises regarding Ishmael (16:10-12; 17:20). Ishmael, like Nahor and Jacob, fathered 12 sons. Moses drew Ishmael's personal history to a conclusion, before he moved on to concentrate on his brother Isaac.
"The mention of 'twelve tribal rulers' . . . recalls the word of the Lord regarding the future of the line of Ishmael from 17:20, where it was promised that he too would be blessed and that 'twelve rulers' . . . would be born to him and become a great nation."
The Ishmaelites lived in Arabia. Arabia lay to the southeast of Canaan, and extended from the Euphrates River to the Red Sea. Probably the Ishmaelites were once a confederation of tribes like the Israelites.
Ishmael died at 137 years of age, having lived 48 years after Abraham's death. The writer probably included the fact, that Ishmael lived "in defiance of all his relations" (v. 18), in order to show the fulfillment of God's prediction to Hagar (cf. 16:12). The bedouin-like Ishmaelites later had many conflicts with their more settled Israelite relatives.
God is faithful to His promises to bless whom He has promised to bless.
Moses set up the whole Jacob narrative in a chiastic structure that emphasizes the fulfillment of the promise of the seed and the seed's prosperity.
"A Oracle sought; Rebekah struggles in childbirth; bekorah birthright; birth; themes of strife, deception, fertility (25:19-34).
B Interlude: strife; deception; berakah blessing; covenant with foreigner (26).
C Deception; berakah stolen; fear of Esau; flight from land (27:1-28:9).
D Encounter (<paga') with the divine at sacred site near border; berakah (28:10-22).
E Internal cycle opens: arrival; Laban at border; deception; wages; Rachel barren; Leah fertile (29:1-30:21).
F Rachel fertile; Jacob increases the herds (30:22-43).
E' Internal cycle closes: departure; Laban at border; deception; wages (31).
D' Encounters (<paga') with divine beings at sacred sites near border; berakah (32).
C' Deception planned; fear of Esau; berakah gift returned; return to land (33).
B' Interlude: strife; deception; covenant with foreigner (34).
The Flood story also has a palistrophic structure, and both stories have a similar statement at the middle (turning point): "God remembered Noah" (8:1) and "God remembered Rachel" (30:22). This emphasizes that God controls events and saves His people.
". . . the author of Genesis has deliberately split the Jacob-Joseph story into two parts by putting the family history of Esau 36:1—37:1 in the middle. This allows him to alternate the genealogies of the non-elect lines of Ishmael (25:12-18) and Esau (36:1—37:1) with the fuller family histories of the chosen lines of Terah (Abraham) (11:27—25:11), Isaac (Jacob) (25:19—35:29), and Jacob (Joseph) (37:2—50:26) to produce a total of five patriarchal family histories. This matches the five family histories of pre-patriarchal times . . ."
Verses 19-34 introduce the whole Jacob and Esau saga.
In the first pericope (25:19-26), we have the record of God answering Isaac's prayers by making Rebekah fertile (blessing). He gave her two sons, Esau and Jacob, and foretold that, from them, two nations would come, with the elder serving the younger.
The emphasis of this section is on the divine oracle (v. 23), as is clear from the chiastic structure of the narrative:
"A Isaac was forty years old when he took to wife Rebekah (20).
B Rebekah was barren; prayer for children was answered (21a).
C His wife Rebekah conceived (21b). The children struggled together within her (22a).
D Rebekah asks for an oracle (22b)
D' Yahweh grants her an oracle (23)
C' Her days to be delivered were fulfilled (24a). And behold, there were twins in her womb (24b).
B' Jacob and Esau are contrasted in birth and appearance (25-26a).
The question of an heir continues to be primary in this section: "Who will be Isaac's heir through whom God will fulfill His promises?" Rebekah, like Sarah, was barren (v. 21). After 20 years of waiting and praying (vv. 21-22), God gave her children. Which of these two sons would be the blessed "heir"? God intervened to announce His foreordained choice (v. 23). Jacob's reactions to his election over Esau were quite different from Isaac's reactions to God's choice of him as Abraham's heir, as this section begins to illustrate.
Scripture does not give the reason God chose Jacob over Esau. What we do know, is that His choice did not rest on the superior merit of Jacob, but on the sovereign prerogative of Yahweh (Rom. 9:10-13). In ancient Near Eastern culture, the firstborn normally became his father's heir. So in designating Jacob as Isaac's heir, God sovereignly overruled natural custom by supernatural revelation. The response of the members of Isaac's family to this revelation demonstrates their faith, or lack of it. However, the main point of the narrative is to trace God's faithfulness and power in bringing to pass what He had promised.
"The revelation of the Divine will concerning the two brothers (ver. 23) was evidently no secret. It is clear that both Esau and Jacob knew of it. This fact is in some respects the key to the true interpretation of this incident [i.e., vv. 29-34]."
25:19-20 "Paddan-aram" means "The Flat (Land) of Aram." Aram was the area near Haran. People from this region became known as Arameans, and later the Greeks called them Syrians. Bethuel was a semi-nomadic herdsman, and he probably lived in the open fields at least part of the year.
25:21 Rebekah "was barren" for 20 years after she married Isaac (vv. 20, 26). God closed her womb for that time, so that the chosen family would recognize her children as the fruit of His grace, rather than simply the fruit of nature. Isaac was apparently the only monogamous patriarch among the first three: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
25:22-23 Rebekah's pregnancy was so painful ("the children struggled together within her"), that she wondered if there was any point to going on living ("Why am I [alive]?"). She expressed the same thought when her sons had grown up (27:46). God's choice of the younger over the elder "was contrary to ancient Near Eastern custom, but the elective purposes of God transcend custom." The divine oracle summarizes the careers of Jacob and Esau, and is similar to 12:1-3 in that both statements are programmatic. All of Jacob's subsequent scheming to obtain the birthright and the blessing was unnecessary, because God had already promised that he would become the dominant nation.
25:24-26 "Reddish" (Heb. 'admoni) is a wordplay with "Edomites," Esau's descendants. "Esau" means "Hairy One" (Heb. sa'ar, similar to "Seir," later the name of the Edomites' [probably] wooded homeland). "Jacob" means "El Will Protect." Hairiness seems to have been a mark of incivility in the ancient world, indicative of an animal-like nature. The Hebrew ya'aqob ("Jacob") is similar to 'aqeb ("heel"). From Jacob's grasping Esau's heel at birth came the nickname "heel-holder" (i.e., one who outwits by trickery) "just as in wrestling an attempt may be made to throw the opponent by grasping the heel."
The lesson to be learned, is that those who owe their existence to God's creation and election can acknowledge His hand at work in the affairs of their lives.
25:27-28 Abraham died when the twins were 15 years old (25:7), so they grew up knowing their grandfather, and undoubtedly hearing his stories of God's promises to their family. Esau became a nomadic, "skillful hunter," but Jacob remained "in [his] tents." The name "Esau" sounds like the Hebrew word that means "hairy." And "Jacob" sounds like the Hebrew word that means "heel." These twins could not have been more different from each other.
". . . they became the personification of the two different ways of life which would have been typical for Palestine at this period of history: that of hunter and nomad (Esau) and that of shepherd and semi-nomad (Jacob) . . . Esau is described as a 'skilled hunter,' 'a man of the outdoors;' Jacob, on the other hand, is portrayed as 'a simple man,' one 'remaining in his tents,' that is, a man of stable life in contrast to the rootless life of the nomad."
"This fellow Esau was a cunning hunter, the outdoor boy, the athletic type. He is the one we would call the all-American boy today. He went in for sports. He went in for everything that was physical, but he had no understanding or capacity or desire for spiritual things. He was only interested in that which was physical. He represents the flesh.
"Jacob was a plain man. I think that you can make of that anything you want to. He lived indoors. He was a mama's boy and was tied to her apron strings. You will notice that he did what she told him to do. Jacob is really a mama's boy."
The Hebrew word tam, translated "plain," probably means civilized and domesticated, a "homebody." Translators have rendered it "perfect" and "blameless" elsewhere (Job 1:1, 8; 8:20; Ps. 37:37; Prov. 29:10). It may imply a quiet, self-contained, detached person, complete in himself. The NET Bible translators translated it "even-tempered."
Adam failed in eating, Noah in drinking, and Isaac in tasting. Isaac became a "gourmand," one who loves certain types of food.
25:29-30 The Hebrew word translated "stew" literally means "lentils." Esau wanted to "gulp it down" (Heb. la'at), and he called the stew "red stuff."
25:31-34 The way Jacob stated his demand suggests that he had long premeditated his act, and ruthlessly exploited his brother's weakness. His insistence that Esau "swear" to him strengthens this impression. Jacob's lack of compassion and hospitality contrasts with that of Abraham (18:1-8) and Lot (19:1-8). It was right that Jacob valued the "birthright," but it was wrong that he obtained it the way he did. Because Esau despised his birthright, Jacob obtained it—and became what God had promised he would become: the "stronger" son who would lead (be served; v. 23). Explicit moral commentary is rare in the Bible, so the writer's inclusion of it here marks something about Esau that he did not want the reader to miss.
The writer showed that the natures of the two sons were very different: they were not "identical" twins, obviously. Esau cared only for physical and material things, whereas Jacob valued the spiritual. Esau gave priority to the immediate satisfaction of his sensual desires, but Jacob was willing to wait for something better that God had promised for the future (cf. Heb. 12:16).
"From one human perspective, Esau, who functions as a foil to Jacob, is much more likeable than Jacob. From the divine viewpoint, however, he is rejected because he rejects his right to inherit the divinely given vision of his fathers."
The "birthright" was the privilege of being chief of the tribe and head of the family (27:29). In Isaac's family, it entitled the bearer to the blessing of Yahweh's promise (27:4, 27-29), which included the possession of Canaan and covenant fellowship with God (28:4). It also included a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17), and the privilege of being the priest (spiritual leader) of the family.
Judah, Joseph, and Levi later received the privileges of the birthright. Judah obtained leadership among the tribes (possession of Canaan and covenant fellowship), eventually through David and Messiah. Joseph received the double portion through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Levi became the priestly tribe. In the New Testament, we learn that Christ is the Firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15, 18; Heb. 12:23). He is the great Birthright-Bearer.
"It is quite apparent from the Nuzi tablets that instances of the transference of birthright, such as occurred in the Patriarchal narratives, were not uncommon in Hurrian society. One example concerns a certain Zirteshup, whose father disowned him but later restored his status. . . . Another instance of the transference of birthright from the Nuzi tablets is the exchange by one Kurpazah of his birthright in consideration for three sheep given to him by Tupkitilla, his brother. In the light of this example, Esau's willingness to exchange his birthright for Jacob's mess of pottage (Gen. 25:29-34) is perhaps more understandable."
Even though Esau was a cunning (skillful) hunter, he placed little value on his privilege as the firstborn son. He was willing to trade it to his crafty brother for a meal of "red stuff," a fitting description of his own nature.
The structure of the narrative again identifies the writer's emphasis, this time Esau's disdain for his birthright (v. 32):
"A Jacob was boiling pottage (29a).
B Esau came in from the field; he was tired (29b).
C wayyo'mer 'esaw: Let me eat some of that red pottage . . ., I am so tired! (30)
D wayyo'mer ya'aqob: First sell me your bkrh (31).
E wayyo'mer 'esaw: I depart; I die! Of what use is a bkrh to me? (32).
D' wayyo'mer ya'aqob: Swear to me first. So he swore to him and sold his bkrh to Jacob (33).
C' Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; he ate and he drank (34aa).
B' He rose and went his way (34ab).
There are two important instances of firstborn sons relinquishing the rights of primogeniture in Genesis: Esau and Reuben. Esau considered his birthright of so little value, that he sold all his rights as firstborn to Jacob, just to realize an immediate physical gratification. Reuben forfeited his birthright through sexual promiscuity (Gen. 35:22; 49:3-4). In Esau's case, his entire birthright went to Jacob. In Reuben's case, his birthright went to three of his brothers: Judah obtained the regal right, Levi eventually received the priestly right, and the blessing of the double portion went to Joseph—who realized it through his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
In reading this pericope, many have concluded that God chose Jacob over Esau because He foresaw that Jacob would value the promises and the birthright, whereas Esau would not. This is not correct. Jacob valued the spiritual because God gave him the grace to do so. In the previous generation, Isaac was the recipient of God's grace, while Lot and Ishmael were not. Abraham was a recipient, too, whereas his brothers were not.
In this incident, Jacob manifested spiritual perception. Some writers have suggested that he was impatient, and took fleshly initiative like his grandfather (cf. 12:10-20; 16; 20). Note, however, that Moses blamed Esau, not Jacob, in this event (v. 34).
"At the beginning he [Jacob] really did rather well as far as the world would measure him. But there came a day when God sent this man off to college, and Uncle Laban was the president of the college. It was known as the college of hard knocks, and Jacob was going to learn a few things in the college of hard knocks. But here he is still operating on the principle that he is clever enough to get what is coming to him."
"How often do we put the question to ourselves, 'What is my mess of pottage?' It is important to verbalize the question. We are in constant danger of being tempted to give up something very precious in order to indulge a sudden strong desire. The desire may involve greedy eating and drinking, lusting after money or material things, letting loose our anger in abandonment of reason, succumbing to depression without check, cursing God in despair or disappointment without even thinking of the trap Satan set for Job and is setting for us, giving in to a sweeping sexual desire without waiting for the right framework. The mess of pottage that is dangerous to you and to me is any temptation to gratify the 'feelings' of the immediate moment in a way that shows we 'despise' the promises of the living God for our future."
God has given Christians special promises as well (e.g., His presence, strength, provisions, fruitfulness, glorification, rewards). How might we "despise" these? By living primarily for the present rather than for the future.
This section is a warning: that profane (secular) people, who live to satisfy their fleshly appetites, will lose the more valuable things of lasting spiritual worth. Christians who live for the present will not lose their eternal salvation, but they will lose some of their eternal reward (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10-15).
God prevented Isaac from leaving the Promised Land (which included "Gerar," where "the Philistines" lived), and at this time renewed the covenant with him. Soon afterward, the LORD had to protect Rebekah when Isaac lied to "Abimelech" about his relationship with her ("She is my sister," v. 7).
"In the short span of one chapter, the writer shows how the whole of the life of Isaac was a rehearsal of that which happened to Abraham. Thus the lesson that is conveyed is that God's faithfulness in the past can be counted on in the present and the future. What he has done for the fathers, he will also do for the sons."
Whereas the events of Isaac's life repeated those of Abraham's on several occasions, God dealt with Isaac differently, and in harmony with his individual character. The many parallels between this chapter and the story of Abraham (esp. chs. 12—14 versus 20—21) show that the writer wanted the reader to compare and contrast the two men.
"The figure of even a great man may be dwarfed by comparison with that of a distinguished father or of a famous son. Thus the character of Isaac is overshadowed by the majesty of Abraham and the dramatic interest of Jacob. There was a third factor which diminished the importance of Isaac; he was the husband of a clever and masterful wife. No matter how exciting the scene in which he may appear, he is always assigned to a minor part. At least, by contrast with these other actors, his role in life was prosaic, uneventful, obscure."
26:1-6 Isaac was evidently considering going "to Egypt" to escape the "famine." He was in "Gerar," living close to "Abimelech king of the Philistines" (vv. 8-9), when God spoke to him. This was God's first recorded revelation to Isaac ("the LORD appeared to him and said . . ."; cf. 25:23). Therefore, it appears that Isaac may have previously moved north from Beer-lahai-roi. Of course, constant relocating was common for the nomadic patriarchs, and these places were not far from one another.
The first major migration of "the Philistines" into Canaan took place hundreds of years later, in the twelveth century B.C. However, there were some "Philistines" (perhaps an unrelated ethnic group) already in Canaan in Abraham's and Isaac's time, as is clear from this reference and others in Genesis (see the notes in the section 21:22-34).
The "famine in the land" (of Canaan) created a crisis for Isaac. God's will for Isaac to remain in the land was definite, and He communicated it clearly to the patriarch. Perhaps God wanted Isaac to stay in the land so he would learn that God would "be with [him] and bless [him]" (v. 3). God reiterated His promise given earlier to Abraham—now to Isaac—in order to give Isaac a promise to believe in and the encouragement to obey Him. Promises of protection are also prominent in the Jacob story (cf. 26:24; 28:15, 20; 31:3, 5, 42; 32:10).
The promise, specifically, was that God would protect ("be with") and "bless" Isaac, "multiply" his "descendants," and "give" them "all these lands" (emphasis added; v. 4; i.e., the lands held by the various Canaanite tribes). One reason for God's blessing of Isaac was Abraham's obedience to God (v. 5; cf. 22:18). (This verse was the basis upon which the Jews of Jesus' day believed that Abraham kept the whole Law of Moses before it was given.) Isaac became the spiritual beneficiary of a godly parent, but he had the opportunity to increase God's blessing on him, through his own obedience to God (cf. John 15:14).
"The Abrahamic blessing will pass to Isaac. Everything included in that blessing will now belong to the son, and in turn will be passed on to his sons. But there is a contingency involved: if they are to enjoy the full blessings, they will have to obey the word of the LORD. And so obedience is enjoined here, with the example of how well Abraham obeyed."
Verse 5 reads as though Abraham kept the actual "commandments," "statutes," and "laws" of the Mosaic Covenant—before they were even in existence! It also seems to contradict 15:6, that says God justified Abraham because of his faith.
"Ultimately, we should attempt to find the meaning of this verse in the larger strategy and purpose of the Pentateuch. Did the author of the Pentateuch intend to depict Abraham as a model of faith or as a model of obedience to the law? Curiously enough, the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars have read this passage as if the verse intended to show Abraham's life as an example of obedience to the law (Gesetzesgehorsam).
"It appears reasonable to conclude . . . that the importance of Gen 26:5 lies in what it tells us about the meaning of the deuteronomic terms it uses. It is as if the author of the Pentateuch has seized on the Abrahamic narratives as a way to explain his concept of 'keeping the law.' The author uses the life of Abraham, not Moses, to illustrate that one can fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. In choosing Abraham and not Moses, the author shows that 'keeping the law' means 'believing in God,' just as Abraham believed God and was counted righteous (Gen 15:6). In effect the author of the Pentateuch says, 'Be like Abraham. Live a life of faith and it can be said that you are keeping the law.'"
26:7-11 For an explanation of this strange incident, see the notes on chapter 20. When endangered, Isaac, like Abraham, resorted to a "situation ethic" in which the end "justifies" the means (i.e., he told a partial truth, because Rebekah was his "sister" in a sense, being his cousin, although this was a worse lie than Abraham's, since Sarai actually was his sister, or at least his "half-sister"). "Like father, like son." Isaac and Rebekah must have been childless at this time, because otherwise, any children with them would have exposed their "cover story."
A period of between 70 and 97 years had elapsed between Abraham's sojourn in Gerar and Isaac's. Abimelech could have been the same man in both cases, since lifespans of 150 years were not uncommon at that time. Certainly in both cases, the "Abimelech" demonstrated pious conduct. In the first case, however, the Abimelech took Sarah into his harem, but in the second, the Abimelech wanted to protect Rebekah from his people. "Abimelech" is a title rather than a personal name, and means "royal father." In view of these facts, this may have been another ruler than the one Abraham dealt with.
26:12-17 This section of verses shows God's faithfulness in blessing Isaac as He had promised (cf. v. 3; 24:1; 25:11). Isaac enjoyed a bountiful harvest ("the man became rich, and continued to grow richer until he became very wealthy"; vv. 12-13). Even Abimelech testified to Isaac's power ("you are too powerful for us"; v. 16), which was another testimony to God's faithfulness.
26:18-22 Isaac reopened ("dug again") the wells that Abraham had dug, which the native inhabitants had later filled "with earth."
This "wells" incident shows God's blessing of Isaac, too. Water in the wilderness is a strong symbol of God's supernatural blessing in spite of nature.
The incident furthermore reveals the peaceful character of this patriarch, who did not battle his neighbors for the wells, even though he was stronger than they (v. 16). His actions expressed his trust in Yahweh.
Isaac's decision to sojourn in the town of Gerar, "the valley of Gerar," and the general territory of the Philistines (vv. 1-22), seems to have been unwise, but was not sinful. Though he sinned in misrepresenting his relationship to Rebekah out of fear (v. 7), his choice to live in Gerar was not sinful. It did, however, open him to temptation and trials that he probably would have avoided if he had stayed away from Gerar.
26:23-25 Isaac returned to "Beersheba," where Abraham had lived occasionally. The very night he arrived, God "appeared" to him there (his second revelation), calming his fears and reviewing the promises that He had given previously (vv. 2-5). Isaac's response was to build an altar, worship Yahweh, and settle down ("pitched his tent") there.
Settlers could only continue to live in an area where there was a working, water-yielding well. Wells were vital to the life of nomadic herdsmen. While there was probably at least one well at Beersheba already, Isaac dug another for his own use, or perhaps because he needed more water for his "great . . . flocks and herds" and "household" (family and servants). His ability to dig wells indicates both his wealth and his intention to establish permanent residence in the land.
These verses seem to confirm the fact that Isaac's decision to move out of Philistine territory pleased God.
26:26-33 Abimelech again testified to God's blessing of Isaac and gave God glory (vv. 28-29).
Isaac and Abimelech then made a parity covenant (treaty) of mutual non-aggression. They sealed it by eating a meal together, "a feast" that Isaac made for his new friends. Eating together was often a sacred rite in the ancient Near East (cf. 27:3; 4; 31:46, 54). This covenant renewed the older one made between Abimelech and Abraham (21:31). The exchange of "oaths," and Isaac's official renaming of the town "Beersheba" (they also dug a new well they named "Shibah," after their new town "Beersheba," v. 33; cf. 21:31) also strengthened this agreement.
". . . this account of Isaac's dealings with the Philistines portrays Isaac as very much walking in his father's footsteps. He receives similar promises, faces similar tests, fails similarly, but eventually triumphs in like fashion. Indeed, in certain respects he is given more in the promises and achieves more. He is promised 'all these lands [v. 4],' and by the end of the story he is securely settled in Beersheba and has a treaty with the Philistines in which they acknowledge his superiority."
God's people must maintain confident trust in God's promise of His presence and provision, in spite of the envy and hostility of unbelievers that His blessing sometimes provokes.
Reacting to Isaac's disobedient plan to bless Esau, Jacob and Rebekah stole the blessing by deception. Esau became so angry with Jacob over his trickery, that Jacob had to flee for his life.
Two reports of Esau's marriages (26:34-35 and 28:6-9) frame the major account (27:1—28:5), providing a prologue and epilogue. Esau's marriages are significant, because Rebekah used them productively, as the incentive to persuade Isaac to send Jacob away to get a wife (27:4b), and because they were the reason Isaac did so (28:1).
The main account centers on Isaac giving the blessing.
"A Isaac and the son of the brkh/bkrh (=Esau) (27:1-5).
B Rebekah sends Jacob on the stage (27:6-17).
C Jacob appears before Isaac and receives blessing (27:18-29).
C' Esau appears before Isaac and receives antiblessing (27:30-40).
B' Rebekah sends Jacob from the stage (27:41-45).
We can identify three purposes for this brief section:
1. Moses explained and justified the reason for Jacob's later departure for Paddan-aram (27:46—28:2).
2. Moses identified the ancestors of the "Edomites," who later played a major role in Israel's history.
3. Moses revealed Esau's carnal character again.
Esau showed no interest in the special calling of his family, but instead sought to establish himself as a great man in the world by marrying Canaanite women (cf. 11:4). These were evidently the "daughter[s]" of Canaanite lords. The Canaanites were, of course, under God's curse (9:25-27). Contrast Esau's method of securing wives with Abraham's plan to identify God's choice of a wife for Isaac.
Here we have the third round of Jacob's battle with Esau. The first was at birth (25:21-28) and the second was over the birthright (25:29-34). In all three incidents, Jacob manipulated his brother—unnecessarily, in view of God's promise (25:23).
"This chapter  offers one of the most singular instances of God's overruling providence controlling the affairs of sinful men and so disposing of them that the interests of God's kingdom are safeguarded. Usually the guilt of Jacob is overemphasized, and Esau is regarded as relatively or entirely the innocent party in the transaction. This traditional view requires modification and correction."
"This chapter portrays an entire family attempting to carry out their responsibilities by their physical senses, without faith. . . .
"All the natural senses play a conspicuous part—especially the sense of taste in which Isaac prided himself, but which gave him the wrong answer. Reliance on one's senses for spiritual discernment not only proves fallible, but often fouls up life unduly.
An oral blessing was as legally binding as a written will in the ancient Near East. It finalized, and perhaps altered, the terms of the birthright. In the case of Abraham's family, it was a prophecy regarding through whom and how God would bless. When Jacob blessed his sons (49:1-28), each son got part of his blessing.
"As in modern society, inheritance under Nuzi law was effected by testamentary disposition, although the [Nuzi] tablets indicate that such a testament was often made orally. One of the tablets tells of a lawsuit between brothers concerning the possession of their late father's slave girl, Sululi-Ishtar. The youngest of three brothers, Tarmiya, was defending his elder brothers' claim to Sululi-Ishtar and the tablet sets out his testimony:
'My father, Huya, was sick and lay on a couch; then my father seized my hand and spoke thus to me. "My other sons, being older, have acquired a wife; so I give herewith Sululi-Ishtar as your wife."'
"In the end result the Court found in favour of Tarmiya, upholding his father's oral testamentary disposition.
"It also appears from another Nuzi tablet that even an oral testament commenced with an opening introductory statement such as: 'Now that I am grown old . . . .' which was the legal phraseology to indicate that what was to follow constituted a testamentary disposition. In similar manner, Isaac indicated to his elder son Esau that he wished to bestow upon him his testamentary blessing: 'Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death' (Genesis 27:2)."
"In this the infirmity of his [Isaac's] flesh is evident. At the same time, it was not merely because of his partiality for Esau, but unquestionably on account of the natural rights of the firstborn, that he wished to impart the blessing to him, just as the desire to do this before his death arose from the consciousness of his patriarchal call."
27:5-17 It seems consistent with the character of Rebekah, as presented elsewhere in Genesis, to interpret her actions here as predictable, if not commendable. A sincere desire to make sure that Isaac's blessing went to the divinely chosen, more responsible of her sons—apparently is what motivated her (cf. 25:23). While her motive seems to have been good, her method evidenced lack of faith in God. In this she reminds us of Sarai, who tried to obtain what God had promised illegitimately, namely: an heir through Hagar (16:1-3). Rebekah tried to "pull the wool" over Isaac's eyes.
27:18-29 The explanation of Isaac's blessing occurring in verse 23 is that it is proleptic; it refers to the blessing in verses 27-29, not some other blessing that preceded that one.
Jacob's kiss recalls another deceptive show of affection, namely, Judas' kiss of Jesus (Matt. 26:48-49).
Isaac uttered his blessing (vv. 27-29) in poetic language, and God's Spirit doubtless inspired it, since it proved to be prophetic (cf. 49:1-27; Deut. 33; et al.). It was an oracle.
The writer mentioned two of the elements in the Abrahamic promises specifically here: "possession of the land," and "numerous descendants." He generalized the third element, the "blessing of the nations," in verse 29c.
"Since the intention to give the blessing to Esau the firstborn did not spring from proper feelings toward Jehovah and His promises, the blessing itself, as the use of the word Elohim instead of Jehovah or El Shaddai (cf. xxviii. 3) clearly shows, could not rise to the full height of the divine blessings of salvation, but referred chiefly to the relation in which the two brothers and their descendants would stand to one another, the theme with which Isaac's soul was entirely filled. It was only the painful discovery that, in blessing against his will, he had been compelled to follow the saving counsel of God, which awakened in him the consciousness of his patriarchal vocation, and gave him the spiritual power to impart the 'blessing of Abraham' to the son whom he had kept back, but whom Jehovah had chosen, when he was about to send him away to Haran (xxviii. 3, 4)."
27:30-45 Isaac evidently knew that he had been resisting God's will and finally accepted defeat submissively ("Yes, and he shall be blessed," emphasis added; v. 33). Besides, in that culture, a paternal blessing, much more a divine oracle, such as the one Isaac had uttered, was irrevocable.
Perhaps Isaac did not withdraw the blessing he had given Jacob, because he realized that God had overruled his carnal preference for Esau (vv. 39-40).
Isaac's prophecy to Esau was no true "blessing"; in fact, it resembled more of a "curse." At best, he introduced a disturbing element into the blessing he had given Jacob, because Jacob had used deception to obtain it.
The "mountains of Edom" (Esau's "dwelling") are some of the most desolate and barren of any on earth today. They stand to the southeast of the Dead Sea. Esau's descendants would subsist by hunting people, just as Esau had subsisted by hunting game.
The Edomites served, revolted from, and were conquered by the Israelites repeatedly during their history. Saul defeated them after they enjoyed a long period of independence (1 Sam. 14:47). Then David made them his "vassals" (2 Sam. 8:14). They tried to revolt under Solomon but were unsuccessful (1 Kings 9:14 ff.). The Edomites were subject to Judah until King Joram's reign when they rebelled successfully. In Amaziah's reign, Judah again subjugated them (2 Kings 14:7). They finally achieved permanent freedom from Judah during Ahaz's reign (2 Kings 16:6).
Hundreds of years later, John Hyrcanus conquered Edom about 129 B.C., forced the Edomites to submit to circumcision, and incorporated them into the Jewish nation. Later, through Antipater and Herod, the Edomites established the Idumean dynasty over Judah, that lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The writing prophets sometimes used "the Edomites" as the epitome of Israel's enemies.
Rebekah feared the loss of "both" of her sons as a result of her plot (v. 45). Esau might have killed Jacob, and Esau then might have fled, or the avenger of blood might have slain him (cf. 9:6).
27:46–28:5 Rebekah used her dislike for Esau's wives as an excuse to gain Isaac's permission for Jacob to go to Paddan-aram. "Paddan-aram" was the area around Haran. Evidently Rebekah had kept Esau's hatred for Jacob from his aged father, because she believed Isaac was near death (v. 41). Rebekah's deceit secured the blessing for Jacob, but it resulted in his having to flee from his home. As far as Genesis records, Rebekah never saw him again.
". . . her broaching the subject of Jacob's marriage was a masterstroke: it played equally on Isaac's self-interest and his principles. The prospect of a third Hittite daughter-in-law and a distracted wife would have unmanned even an Abraham."
"Rebekah's manipulative language to spare Jacob again displays the poverty of Isaac and Rebekah's relationship. As demonstrated by the previous deception, Isaac and Rebekah do not seem able to communicate honestly with one another on important spiritual matters."
This account is another remarkable demonstration of God's ability to use the sins of men and women to accomplish His purposes, and, at the same time, punish the sinners for their sins.
Many years later, the aged Jacob blessed Joseph's younger son "Ephraim" instead of his older brother "Manasseh" (48:14-19). He certainly must have remembered how he had deceived his father Isaac to get his blessing. Joseph's approach to Jacob on that occasion was honorable by contrast, and his life was free of the consequences of deceit. This was not true of Jacob's life.
Esau sought to obtain his parents' approval by marrying one of Abraham's descendants (a granddaughter, who was Ishmael's daughter "Mahalath"). The patriarch's wives were key to promises concerning descendants. "Mahalath" ("Dance," v. 9) is evidently another name for, and the same woman as, "Basemath," Ishmael's daughter (36:2).
However, "he failed to consider that Ishmael had been separated from the house of Abraham and family of promise by the appointment of God; so that it only furnished another proof that he had no thought of the religious interests of the chosen family and was unfit to be the recipient of divine revelation."
This great story teaches that when God's people know His will, they should not resort to deceptive, manipulative schemes to attain spiritual success, but must pursue God's will righteously. Every member of Isaac's family behaved in a self-centered and unprincipled manner, yet God graciously overcame their sins. This reminds us that His mercy is the ultimate ground of salvation.
Yahweh appeared at the top of an angel-filled stairway, restating the promise made to Abraham, and adding more promises of blessing and protection for Jacob. Upon waking, Jacob acknowledged God's presence, memorialized the place with a monument "stone" and a "name" ("Bethel"), and vowed to worship the Lord there if He did bless and protect him: "If God will be with me and will keep me . . . and will give me food . . . and garments . . . and I return . . . in safety . . . then the LORD will be my God . . . This stone . . . will be God's house . . . and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth . . ."
"The two most significant events in the life of Jacob were nocturnal theophanies. The first was this dream at Bethel when he was fleeing from the land of Canaan, which ironically was his by virtue of the blessing. The other was his fight at Peniel when he was attempting to return to the land. Each divine encounter was a life-changing event."
Bethel receives more mention in the Old Testament than any other city but Jerusalem. This indicates its importance in biblical history.
28:10-17 The "ladder" (v. 12, Heb. sullam) evidently resembled a stairway or ramp. Some interpreters take it as an allusion to a "ziggurat," while others believe it refers to the slope or ascent of the mountain of Bethel.
"The ladder was a visible symbol of the real and uninterrupted fellowship between God in heaven and His people upon earth. The angels upon it carry up the wants of men to God, and bring down the assistance and protection of God to men. The ladder stood there upon the earth, just where Jacob was lying in solitude, poor, helpless, and forsaken by men. Above in heaven stood Jehovah, and explained in words the symbol which he saw. Proclaiming Himself to Jacob as the God of his fathers, He not only confirmed to him all the promises of the fathers in their fullest extent, but promised him protection on his journey and a safe return to his home (vers. 13-15). But as the fulfillment of this promise to Jacob was still far off, God added the firm assurance, 'I will not leave thee till I have done (carried out) what I have told thee.'"
Other visions of God's heavenly throne-room appear in 1 Kings 22:19-22; Job 1:6-8; 2:1-3; Isa. 6; Ezek. 1; Zech. 1:10; 6:5; Rev. 4—5; et al. This was God's first revelation to Jacob, and it came in a dream (cf. John 1:51). Other passages contain promises of the land (12:7; 13:14-16; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7), but this one (vv. 13-14) is closest in terminology to the one in chapter 13, which also features a Bethel setting.
Jacob was the second person in the Bible to hear the assurance "I am with you" (v. 15). Isaac was the first (cf. 26:3, 24). This was a promise that God later repeated to Moses (Exod. 3:12), Joshua (Josh. 1:5), Gideon (Judg. 6:16), regarding Immanuel (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23), and to all Christians (Matt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5).
Perhaps God's revelation surprised Jacob because he was preparing to leave the Promised Land (vv. 16-17). Jacob may have felt that God would abandon him, since he was leaving the land that God had promised his forefathers.
The "house of God" (v. 17, "Bethel") means "the place where God dwells." The "gate of heaven" was the place where Jacob entered heaven (in his dream).
28:18-22 Jacob "set [the stone] up as a pillar" (a memorial) to this revelation and God's promise (v. 18). Pouring "oil" on it constituted an act of consecration (cf. Lev. 8:10-12). Jacob did not build an altar in response to God's revelation, as his forefathers had done.
Jacob vowed to convert his pillar into an altar ("This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house," v. 22) if God would fulfill His promise (v. 15). This is the only recorded time that a patriarch proposed a vow with God (cf. 31:13). He swore that Yahweh would "be [his] God" if God proved faithful to him. Jacob's vow (vv. 20-21; cf. 31:13; 35:1-3, 7) can be translated "Since . . . " rather than "If . . . " This was probably not as crass a bargain as it appears to have been, though the record of Jacob's life shows that he typically was keen on negotiating deals. Jacob was apparently a believer in Yahweh already, but his commitment to God at this time appears to have been somewhat selfish and conditional. He had not yet fully surrendered and dedicated himself to God.
"The assurance of God's presence should bring about in every believer the same response of worship and confidence it prompted in Jacob. This is the message from the beginning: God by grace visits His people and promises them protection and provision so that they might be a blessing to others. They in turn were to respond in faith, fearing Him, worshiping Him, offering to Him, vowing to Him, and making memorials for future worshipers at such places."
Jacob's relationship with Yahweh was quite different from what Abraham's or Isaac's relationship had been. God tested Abraham, but Jacob tested God. God told Abraham to leave his country before he entered into blessing, but Jacob imposed conditions on God before he vowed to bless God. Jacob was willing to accept God's promises, but he did not commit himself to God until God proved Himself faithful to him personally. God blessed Jacob because of His election of him, and because of Abraham's and Isaac's faith, more than because of Jacob's faith, at this time.
Many believers bargain with God as Jacob did here. They agree to worship Him on their terms, rather than because God has proven Himself faithful in the past. God often accommodates such weak faith, but the fact that He does so does not commend the practice of bargaining with God.
The personal revelation of God's presence and promised blessings inspires genuine worship. This worship is the appropriate response to such revelation.
The long account of Jacob's relationship with Laban (chs. 29—31) is the centerpiece of the Jacob story (chs. 25—35). It is a story within a story, and it too has a chiastic structure. At its center is the account of the birth of Jacob's sons, who became the forefathers of the tribes of Israel (29:31-35).
Jacob met "Rachel" at a community well, and watered her (Laban's) flock of sheep, in spite of opposition against doing so. Jacob's "love" for Rachel (i.e., in the sense that he strongly preferred and desired her for marriage) led him to serve Laban for "seven years" to obtain her as his wife. But Laban deceived Jacob into marrying "Leah," the "firstborn," so Jacob had to work an extra "seven years" for Rachel.
"Jacob is now in the greatest of all schools, that of experience, and there are many lessons to learn. These three chapters (xxix-xxxi.) cover forty years [sic, probably twenty years] of his life, and are the record of a large part of his training."
Jacob had traveled about 450 miles from Beersheba to Haran (v. 4). Notice the absence of prayer for divine guidance to the woman of God's choosing, which dominates the story of Abraham's servant's (Eliezer's) visit to the same area for the same purpose (ch. 22). Also, Jacob traveled alone and on foot, whereas Abraham's servant came with a well-laden camel train.
"True to his character, Jacob proceeds arrogantly, questioning the shepherds' carefree behavior (v. 7). For all the criticism one might level at Jacob's conduct, he was no slacker in his labor ethic (31:6, 38-41)."
"Nahor" was actually the grandfather of Laban, not his father (v. 5; cf. 22:20-23). The well was probably a cistern that had a mouth with a large circumference (v. 8). A very large stone that required several men to remove it evidently covered it. After they moved the stone, the flocks would gather around the edge of the well to drink. The well from which Rebekah drew water for Eliezer (24:16) may have been a different kind.
Jacob "wept" for joy and relief (v. 11), but he did not praise God. He had ended his journey, was now in the right place, and had met the right person, he thought. This is one of the few places in Scripture that we read of a man kissing a woman. Jacob apparently acted solely on the basis of Rachel's physical attractiveness. Her name means "Ewe Lamb."
29:13-20 "Weak" eyes were dull and lacking in luster rather than bright (v. 17). Fiery eyes were, and still are, considered the height of beauty among Near Eastern people. However, the Hebrew word translated "weak" can also mean "delicate," so Leah may have had lovely eyes. The New Revised Standard Version has "Leah's eyes were lovely." Her name means "Wild Cow."
"Regarding marriage generally, the Nuzi tablets provided that if a man worked over a period of time for the father of a girl whom he wished to marry, then he would have the right to take the girl as his wife."
Casual laborers received between one-half and one shekel a month in old Babylonia, which, because Jacob forfeited seven years of wages at that rate, was a large marriage gift he "paid" in exchange for Rachel's hand.
The chiastic structure of verses 20-30 focuses attention on the complication caused by deception:
"A Jacob's payment for his wife (20)
B Consummation of the marriage to Leah by deception (21-24)
C Jacob's accusation against Laban (25)
C' Laban's defense (26)
B' Consummation of the marriage to Rachel by negotiation (27-30a)
Jacob had pretended to be his older brother, and now Leah pretended to be her younger sister. Laban and Leah deceived Jacob, as Jacob and Rebekah had deceived Isaac. Perhaps Jacob's eating and drinking at the feast had clouded his mind (v. 22). The darkness of his tent at night, additionally, may have made it hard for him to see. Furthermore, in that culture a bride customarily entered her husband's presence "veiled." Von Rad wrote "heavily veiled," and Aalders "completely veiled."
One year an Indian student of mine told me that his father did not see his mother's face for three days after their wedding. It is still customary among some Indians for the bride to remain veiled even after the consummation of the marriage.
It was customary for the bride's father to give her a large present when she got married: a dowry. In the ancient world, the gift normally consisted of clothing, furniture, and money, and it served as a nest egg for the wife in case her husband died or divorced her. Some dowries were exceptionally valuable, such as slave-girls (24:61; 29:29) or a city (1 Kings 9:16). Laban was being generous, giving away two of his servants.
As Jacob had deceived Isaac by taking advantage of his inability to see due to poor eyesight (27:36), so Laban deceived Jacob by taking advantage of his inability to see in the dark tent (29:25). Earlier Jacob had deceptively pretended to be the older brother (ch. 27), and now Laban tricked him by replacing the younger with the older sister. Laban was just as deceitful as Jacob (v. 26)!
He should have told Jacob of this custom beforehand, if indeed it was a custom, which seems questionable.
The "bridal week" was the week of feasting that followed a marriage (v. 27; cf. Judg. 14:12, 17). Jacob received Rachel seven days after he had consummated his marriage to Leah ("Complete the week of this one," i.e., Leah's bridal week); cf. vv. 28, 30). (Josephus wrote that after the second seven years, Jacob took Rachel as his wife.) The Hebrew name "Rachel" means "Ewe," and "Leah" means "Cow." Ironically, Laban treated his own daughters like cattle and sheep, and used them for bargaining and trading. "Zilpah" means "Small Nose," and "Bilhah" means "Carefree." Jacob married two women in eight days.
Notice that Jacob was behaving like his parents, who each favored one son above the other, by favoring one of his wives above the other. In both cases, serious family problems followed. The Mosaic Law later prohibited marrying two sisters at the same time (Lev. 18:18). Bigamy and polygamy were never God's will, however (2:24).
Verses 29 and 30 help us to understand the "love/hate" language in the Bible. These terms often refer to someone's choice to "bless" or "not bless" another person (cf. Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13). In verse 29, we read: "Jacob . . . loved Rachel more than Leah," but in verse 30 we read: "Leah was hated [literal translation]." Jacob did not really "hate" Leah; he loved Rachel more than Leah. The statement that Jacob "hated" Leah describes his comparative affection for her, and his purpose to bestow less blessing on Leah than he would give to Rachel.
Evidence will follow that Leah was the more "spiritual" of the two sisters.
God remains faithful to His promises to bless His people, but in the process He may discipline them for their previous unresolved sins, and often does so "in kind" (i.e., with talionic judgment; cf. Prov. 3:12; Gal. 6:7; Heb. 12:5-6).
"Jacob was getting what he deserved. In this light the seven extra years that Jacob had to serve Laban appear as a repayment for his treatment of Esau. By calling such situations to the attention of the reader, the writer begins to draw an important lesson from these narratives. Jacob's deceptive schemes for obtaining the blessing did not meet with divine approval. Through Jacob's plans God's will had been accomplished; but the writer is intent on pointing out, as well, that the schemes and tricks were not of God's design."
God formed Jacob's family, the ancestors of the tribes of Israel, as He had promised Jacob at Bethel. Unfortunately, Jacob and his wives lived in envy and friction over how God chose to bless them. The real issue of the two sisters' conflicts, in this pericope, is the same as that of the brothers', Esau's and Jacob's, struggle: "Who will take the lead and be first, and who will have to serve?"
"Jacob had planned to take Rachel as his wife, but God intended him to have Leah. Thus in two major reversals in Jacob's life, we can begin to see the writer's theme taking shape. Jacob sought to marry Rachel, but Laban tricked him. Then Jacob sought to build a family through Rachel, but she was barren; and God opened Leah's womb."
This record of Jacob's children, the center of the Jacob story—structurally—is important for at least three reasons:
1. It shows God's faithfulness in providing descendants as He had promised.
2. It gives the origins and circumstances surrounding the births of the tribal heads of Israel.
3. It explains much of the tribal rivalry that follows in Israel's history.
The section culminates with the birth of "Joseph" (30:24), which proved to be the cue for Jacob to return home (30:25).
29:31-35 Moses recorded the births of Leah's first four sons: "Reuben," "Simeon," "Levi," and "Judah." When the clause "the LORD saw" occurs (v. 31), His acting decisively, often for the weak and oppressed, follows soon (cf. 6:5; 7:1; 18:21; 31:12; Exod. 2:25; 4:31).
30:1-8 Rachel's reaction to her barrenness (anger and despair), and Jacob's response (anger and defensiveness), contrast with how Rebekah (deception, manipulation, and trickery) and Isaac (prayed), and Sarah and Abraham (laughter and disbelief), had behaved in similar circumstances. Sarah resorted to a custom acceptable in her culture, though contrary to God's will, to secure an heir for Abraham (cf. 16:1-2). Isaac had prayed that God would open Rebekah's womb, and had waited (25:21). Rachel and Jacob followed the example of Sarah and Abraham, however, to "correct" the problem.
The conflict between Rachel and Leah focuses on love and motherhood. Rachel had Jacob's love, but she could not become a mother. Conversely, Leah was the mother of Jacob's children, but she could not win his love.
The account of the birth of Bilhah's sons, "Dan" and "Naphtali," follows (vv. 5-8).
30:9-13 Zilpah, Leah's maid, bore Jacob two sons: "Gad" and "Asher."
"The terms wife and concubine are used more loosely in the patriarchal period. Three women in the patriarchal period are called both wife and concubine: Hagar (Gen. 16:3; 25:6 indirectly), Keturah (25:1; cf. 25:6; 1 Chron. 1:32), and Bilhah (Gen. 30:4; 35:22). Each of these concubines is an auxiliary wife to the patriarch, not a slave, but subordinate to the wife who is her mistress. After the patriarchal period, the term wife is never used as a synonym for concubine. Zilpah, though never called a concubine (cf. 30:9), has the same social position as Bilhah (cf. 37:2)."
30:14-21 The "mandrake," a member of the potato and tomato family, is a plant that bears bluish flowers in winter and yellowish plum-size fruit in summer. The fruit has a strong, pleasant fragrance, and was thought to help barren women conceive. Some Arabs still use it as an aphrodisiac, and call it "devil's apple" (cf. Song of Sol. 7:13).
"'Sleep' (skb), as a euphemism for sex, is never used for loving marital intercourse in this book, only for illicit or forced sex: Lot's daughters with Lot (19:32-35); the Philistines with Rebekah (26:10); Shechem with Dinah (34:2, 7); Reuben with Bilhah (35:22); Potiphar's wife with Joseph (39:7, 10, 12, 14)."
Leah received her other children, "Issachar," "Zebulun," and "Dinah," only because "God gave heed to Leah" (v. 17), not because of some magic supposedly connected with the mandrakes.
Jacob may have had other daughters besides Dinah (cf. 37:35 and 46:7). However, she may be the only one mentioned by name, simply because she is the only one whose experience Moses recorded later in Genesis (ch. 34). Her name is related to the Hebrew word that means "judgment."
30:22-24 God eventually granted Rachel a son, "Joseph." He was born at the end of Jacob's fourteenth year in Laban's service.
The jealousy, bickering, superstition, and weak faith, demonstrated by Jacob and his wives, stand out in this section. God's gift of children was gracious; He gave them in spite of, rather than because of, the behavior of the parents. Rachel acknowledged this finally (vv. 23-24), as did Jacob. The use of the names "Elohim" and "Yahweh," in each story, reflects the attitudes toward God of the various characters, and shows their relationships with Him.
"On the human plane the story demonstrates the craving of human beings for love and recognition, and the price of thwarting it; on the divine level it shows once again the grace of God choosing difficult and unpromising material."
Believers should not envy and strive, which leads to bitter conflicts, but should obey God—trusting Him to dispense His blessings wisely, justly, and compassionately.
The actions of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah in this chapter, and those of Abraham and Sarah in chapter 16, raise questions about surrogate parenting.
Today, husbands and wives who cannot have children naturally, sometimes choose to secure the services of a third person, who can provide a needed reproductive function, and thereby enable them to have children.
For example, if the wife cannot carry a baby in her womb for a full term pregnancy, some doctors recommend that the couple use the services of another w