Posts

Canon, Time, and the Messiah

WFS goes on the road to sit down with Dr. Andrew Steinmann to discuss a number of topics.  How do we determine the Old Testament canon?  Why is Esther and the Song of Songs in the Bible?  Why is time important in the Bible?  What unifies the book of Genesis?  Dr. Steinmann brings his insights into all these questions and more in this special episode of WFS.

Dr. Steinmann has written many books. His work on Biblical chronology, From Abraham to Paul, may be found here. He is also the author of several Concordia Commentaries, and his newest work on Genesis for the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series may be pre-ordered here.

Host: Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Guest:  Rev. Dr. Andrew Steinmann, Distinguished Professor of Theology and Hebrew, Concordia University Chicago

Episode: 61

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic. Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly. Send us a message: [email protected] Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

The Law in Eden

After the Lord formed Adam from the dust of the ground outside of Eden, he then placed him within the Garden to work the ground and keep it. At that moment, God issued the Law to Adam: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). Though brief, this passage is instructive for understanding the Law of God.

First, the Law is not evil. Paul explicitly denies such a conclusion: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” (Romans 7:7). The Lord, after all, promulgates the Law before the fall into sin. Adam is subject to the Law also in his perfection, not only after the Fall. Even Paul’s distinction between law and grace in passages like Romans 6 and Galatians 5 is not a dichotomy between evil and good. Rather, the one who seeks to be justified according to the law seeks to be held righteous according to the very standard that proves him to be faithless. “Like Adam, they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). The sinner cannot be declared innocent by the same Law which proves that he is guilty! The character of the Law has not changed, even with the Fall. It is we who are law-breakers.

Second, the Law is revealed by God. Adam, while still in the garden before sin, received the Law through revelation. He does not implicitly understand it, as if it was a matter of common sense or something similar. Adam hears the Law from the very mouth of God. The Law is not a set of rules seperate from God which He clarifies to man. The Lord is the Law-Giver, the one who speaks. Authority is rooted in this act of speaking, shown in a different way by Adam exercising his own authority through naming both the animals and his wife.

Thus, it is a misnomer to speak of natural law as if the creation had a set of implicit laws which are self-evident. This could lead to thinking that natural law is separate from God, which makes God’s positive law a mere clarification or addition to what is already generally known. But if that were true, how could men be held accountable to God for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)? God reveals Himself to all men in such a way that all are without any excuse before the judgment seat. Ignorance is not a valid defense, because “his invisble attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). Rather, all men seek to suppress what they know because they do not want to submit to His Law. There is only one Law, the Law of the Lord of heaven and earth.

Third, the Law proceeds from God. The Lord is the one who determines what is good and what is evil, apart from any consideration of man. This is not capricious, but the nature of law. The one subject to the Law, the hearer, must listen to the Giver of the Law, the speaker. The specific command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil demonstrates this. Would you know what is good? Good is not eating of this tree. Would you know what is evil? Evil is eating of this tree. If this commandment seems arbitrary to us, it is because we are following after Adam, who refused to be subject and faithful to God and sought instead to be the arbiter of good and evil. After all, Satan, through the serpent, lied to Eve when he claimed that disobeying God would make them like Him (Genesis 3:5).

Fourth, the Law is eternal. If it was given to Adam prior to the fall into sin, it is not simply meant for this world as a corrective for sin. Sin itself is “missing the mark,” a mark set by the Law. Holiness is conformity to the Law, being set apart from the world and conform to the will of God. Therefore, the Law will not cease, just as the Law has not ceased for those who are in Christ. Rather, the curse of the Law, brought on by sin and necessary if Law is to be Law, has been taken away in Jesus. Christians are no longer a part of the old body, whose head is Adam, the body of sin and death. Christians have a new head in the New Adam, Jesus Christ, and are therefore placed back into a right standing before the Law.

Finally, the Law is all encompassing. The Lord commanded Adam to not eat of the tree as an act of obedience and worship. Because the Lord speaks, Adam demonstrates his righteousness through obedience to God. Yet Adam was not therefore free to do whatever he pleased when he was away from the tree. Such a reductive view of the Law was the mistake of the Pharisees, as if God only forbade a specific act and allowed for all others. Jesus Himself corrects that notion to show the true character of the Law (Matthew 5). Rather, the command given in the garden articulated the Great Commandment of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Heart, soul, and mind are not limited to a “religious” part of our lives which have no bearing on anything else. Rather, we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), because there is only one Law-Giver, the Lord God Almighty.

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 4:1-15

Genesis 4:1-15 is part of the last section of the “generations of the heavens and the earth” beginning in Genesis 2:4.  Throughout this section, man moves from the perfection of Eden to an ever-increasing sinfulness, culminating in Lamech’s boast of killing a young man who had only struck him (Genesis 4:23-24).  Cain murdering Abel, therefore, seems to be a confirmation that the curse of Adam has begun to spread to his descendents (Romans 5:12).

Eve bears her first born son and names him Cain.  This is a cause for giving thanks to God, because sin has not ruined the Lord’s first blessing of fruitfulness (Genesis 1:28).  Even in the midst of sin, God continues to pour out His blessings to accomplish His purposes (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17).  Therefore, Eve names him Cain, which sounds similar to the verb translated here as “I have gotten.”

There are a couple of difficult points here, however.  First, the verb translated “gotten” can mean something more like “to acquire” or even “to buy.”  It is a transactional verb, especially focusing on possession.  It is related to the noun translated “livestock” in Genesis 4:20 and “possessor” or “creator” in Genesis 14:19, among others.  However, this is a strange way of speaking, and Eve’s meaning is not entirely clear.  Why would she say “I have taken possession” when speaking of a son?

Second, the word translated “with the help of” here can be taken in a few different ways.  The first, more common, is a word showing a direct object, sort of the like the “m” in the word “whom.”  If taken this way, the sentence would read “I have acquired a man, the Lord,” which Luther famously used as proof that Eve was expecting the Messiah in the birth of Cain.  Another, less common, but still well-established, is to translate it as “with,” which is how it is frequently translated here, even in the Septuagint.

Luther’s interpretation, “I have gotten a man, the Lord,” may be too clever by half.  First, it assumes that Eve names her second son Abel, which means “wind” or “vanity,” out of seeming cruelty.  Cain is the Messiah, so Luther argues, and Abel is more or less dirt.  This doesn’t jive well, however, with Eve’s grief in Genesis 4:25.  It is just as likely that Eve’s joy in the birth of Cain has turned more reflective with the birth of Abel, causing her to say with the Preacher that “all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).  There are certainly other examples of mothers naming children after their grief, such as Ichabod, that is, “where is the glory?” (1 Samuel 4:21) and Rachel wanting to name Benjamin Ben-oni, that is, “son of my sorrow” (Genesis 35:18).

Second, it assumes that Eve has a fuller knowledge of revelation than she may in fact have.  The Lord moves through history in a progressive way.  He says to Moses that “by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3).  Jesus makes this clear as well when He says to the disciples:  “I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:17).  God spoke through the prophets, but now He has spoken the fuller revelation through His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2).  This hardly means that Eve did not believe or could not believe, but rather that revelation moves in stages, the impartial giving way to the fuller.  Do we know all that can be known about the Last Day?  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

What we are told clearly enough in the Bible is that Abel had faith while Cain did not.  Abel’s blood is “righteous” (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:50-51).  “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).  “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:12).  Cain offers up a sacrifice to the Lord, but as Jesus warns:  ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

There may be something to the point that Cain offers grain while Abel offers an animal.  Grain offerings in Leviticus are offered in thanksgiving (Leviticus 2).  On the other hand, animal sacrifices offered with their blood are meant for atonement and forgiveness, for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).  Is Cain attempting to skip over atonement and go directly to thanksgiving?  However, the same word “offering” is used for both kinds of sacrifices here in Genesis, and the Bible is perfectly clear that faith is the key element.  “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).  It is an observation and cannot be made more certain than that.

Three brief notes.  First, even though Abel does not speak at any time, his blood cries to the Lord because of His faith.  God will not forsake those who believe in Him.  As Moses says of Israel in Egypt:  “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:24-25).  Second, though we are not told how Cain killed Abel, the earth opens its mouth to receive Abel’s spilled blood.  This strongly suggests that Cain had some sort of killing object in his hand, which only intensifies his guilt and gives the avenger the undeniable right to strike him down (Numbers 35:16-21).  Third, Cain’s cry that “my punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13) is not a cry of repentance, but a cry of fear.  Job recognizes that God’s judgments are just (Job 1:21).  It is the unbelieving heart which complains that the judgment is not in proportion to the sin (Ezekiel 18:25-29).

Finally, Moses does not tell us what the “mark” placed upon Cain is.  It is, on the one hand, a sign of mercy, because it effectively protects Cain from any avenger seeking his life.  On the other hand, it is a physical sign of some kind, because it is placed “upon Cain.”  The same word is frequently used of other signs, such as the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:11).  But with regard to Cain, it must be a sign of unbelief.  God has set Cain apart from the rest of mankind, together with his descendents.  If the mark was passed from generation to generation (though we are not told if it did), this would render the guilt of the sons of God marrying the daughters of men even greater, because God would have given them a physical sign of unbelief which they ignored (Genesis 6).  Lamech certainly distorted the sign as a token of God’s favor, so that his sin became that much greater.  Even if we have no such physical mark today distinguishing believers from unbelievers, those who walk after Cain are like goats and weeds, waiting for the Last Day when all will be revealed as clearly as the physical mark set upon Cain.

Seventh Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 2:7-17

Genesis 2:7-17 is part of the first “generations” section of the book which begins in Genesis 2:4, if the preceding material is taken as a kind of introduction to the following divisions. It is a foundational section not only for Genesis, but also for all of Holy Scripture, since it includes the creation of man, the creation of woman, the fall into sin, and the murder of Abel. Moses has different purposes in mind here than he did in the introduction of Genesis, and the “generations” structure helps illustrate this. “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth” points to what comes after them. The primary focus is the generations and not the generator, which is why the “generations of Terah” in Genesis 11:27, for example, is primarily concerned with Abraham, his son. This first section, therefore, is concerned primarily with the “descendants” of God and the heavens and the earth: man, particularly Adam and his family.

This reading is also an excellent exercise in Biblical interpretation, because every passage of Scripture is important. Genesis 2:10-14 is a geography lesson which we will explore in more detail, but there is a sinful inclination to dismiss it as irrelevant. But the Holy Spirit does not speak in vain: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4; see also 1 Corinthians 10:11 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17). If the passage in question seems pointless, the problem is with us, because we do not understand.

Consider, then, the first part of this reading. God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes into him the breath of life. He also plants a garden in Eden and places every good tree in it. The Lord is our Creator and apart from Him there is no life. However, note that the garden is placed in Eden. The garden itself is not named Eden! The reference is a specific location, which Moses clarifies below, not a world-garden or anything of the sort. This is especially important because Adam is created outside of Eden and placed into it. He is not in the garden “by right,” but because of God’s almighty Providence. Everything which Adam has belongs “by right” to God, and Adam receives it because of God’s love toward him. The Lord “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). In Eden, just as now, everything we have is a gift.

The special trees also emphasize this. God does not give the tree of life as a kind of super-fruit which perpetuates physical life. He gives the tree as a constant reminder that life flows from God and is not ours “by right.” The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is also not a super-fruit which brings death or knowledge in eating it. It is a sign toward Adam of his creaturehood: what is good and what is evil is the prerogative of God and not man. What is good? To listen to His voice and not eat of this tree. What is evil? To disobey His voice and eat of this tree. God speaks and man listens. If this seems unjust or arbitrary, this speaks to our sinful nature. Adam was not content to be a hearer and desired to be the judge instead. This sinful desire against our creaturehood is the basic root of all sin.

All of this brings us to the geographical description of Eden. This section has a real point and should not be passed by for two reasons. First, it is not good to dismiss this as being the geography of the pre-Flood world which is no longer in existence. Such an approach is too easy, by which I mean that it consigns the description to being useless for us, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Second, Moses writes this with a view to his hearers. Why would he write something which would be incomprehensible even to those who first heard it? The mention of Assyria itself in Genesis 2:14 is proof of this. Moses is writing with real geography in mind to describe a place which could, in fact, be located. Nor is it sufficient to say that we no longer have rivers named Gihon or Pishon, because place-names change all the time, even in the Bible (Jerusalem was called Jebus by the Jebusites, for example in Judges 19:11).

The world has, of course, physically changed over the course of time. Rivers flow in different beds than they did in ancient days, especially in a shifting land like Mesopotamia. Nor should an attempt to locate Eden be taken as a kind of “proof” for the Bible, because men would worship such a “proof” as an idol, like they did the bronze snake which they named Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4). But even if we cannot accurately locate Eden anymore, Moses is not writing fantasy. Eden was a real place and had a real garden. The Flood may have wiped it away, but we are not told this. It is entirely possible that the Flood changed essentially nothing, geographically speaking. It was, to use an expression of George Stoeckhardt, a “wonder-judgment.” Being a miracle, we are called to believe the one who speaks with authority through His holy Scriptures. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4)!

Therefore, I think two serious possibilities exist. The first is a bit more difficult reading, but in my opinion (and only as an opinion) a more likely. If one follows Genesis 2:10 upstream by translating “became four rivers” with the more literal “became (or had) four heads,” this would place the region of Eden near what is now the Persian Gulf. The Tigris and the Euphrates empty into the Gulf. If one reads this passage from the context of the land of Israel, the Pishon and the Gihon are the “furthest away” in the east. The Tigris and the Euphrates are respectively “closer.” Therefore, the Pishon may be the modern Karun in Iran and the Gihon the modern Karkheh (also called the Ulai river in Daniel 8:2). All of these rivers join together into one before dumping into the Gulf. The difficulty is, of course, having to “read upstream,” which is more awkward.

The other possibility is placing Eden near the actual headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates in modern Armenia, which are actually quite close to each other. The Pishon and the Gihon would be rivers flowing in opposite directions, probably into the Black Sea and/or the Caspian. This has the advantage of being a more “natural” and “downstream” reading, but these rivers have never been known to actually connect. It is not impossible, since Sodom used to be “well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord” (Genesis 13:10).

Ultimately, these two possibilities are better than relegating this to myth or engaging in allegory. Identifying the Pishon and the Gihon with other, but farther away, world rivers is not helpful for this reason. Better to consider real options than engaging in sheer fancy.

Three final observations. First, the names of the rivers are instructive. The Pishon is likely derived from the word meaning “to leap, jump” used in Jeremiah 50:11, Nahum 3:18, Habakkuk 1:8, and Malachi 4:2. Pishon therefore means “Jumper” or maybe “Bubbler,” emphasizing its liveliness. The Gihon likely comes from the verb meaning “to burst forth” used in Judges 20:33, Ezekiel 32:2, Micah 4:10, Job 38:8, and Job 40:23. Gihon therefore means “Gusher” or “Charger.” Such names are fitting for rivers which are connected to the one (nameless!) river which flows through the garden of God.

Second, Moses records that the land of Havilah was filled with all kinds of “expensive” things, like gold and precious stones (Genesis 2:11-12). Bdellium itself may be a resin, an incense related to myrrh, though this is uncertain. What is certain is the general wealth of that land. However, note the location. Gold and “expensive” things are not in the garden. They are not evil, but they are also not necessary. To obtain them, Adam would have to leave Eden. In Eden is life and the words of the living God. Gold is good, but the Gospel is far better. “The rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:9-10). “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

Finally, the Lord places Adam into the garden to work it and till it. Work is not in itself evil. Toil where the fruits do not match the labor is the curse laid upon mankind (Genesis 3:17-18). Work is God-pleasing. “If anyone is not wiling to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Like the giving of the Law in Eden, work precedes the Fall and is therefore a part of God’s good creation.

Fourth Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 50:15-21

The reading for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity comes from near the very end of Genesis as well as the end of the “generations of Jacob” which began in Genesis 37:2.  Joseph’s brothers continue to feel guilty about how they treated him.  When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers earlier, he emphasized that “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).  However, after they had settled in Egypt and Israel died, their guilt returns, imagining that Joseph had been biding his time out of respect for his father.  They even attempt to frame their plea as if Jacob had commanded it, which does not appear to be the case.

Their fear, however, is faithless.  Joseph had already forgiven them when he revealed himself to them, but they have forgotten.  It is not groundless, to be sure, considering their horrific conduct toward their own brother, but to return to such fear of punishment after hearing a word of forgiveness is to treat that word as false.  As John says, “Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:10).  “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).  In a similar way, Joseph’s brothers are treating him like a liar, which moves him to tears.

Joseph, nevertheless, reaffirms the word of forgiveness, because the sinful soul is often tempted with memories of past sins.  “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).  “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3).  A Christian troubled by doubts should be pointed to Christ, rather than to himself, and he will see that Jesus is indeed faithful.  Joseph’s brothers have forgotten and have returned to their fear, but they are pointed again to that mercy.

Because Joseph reiterates the same word of comfort from before, he also re-emphasizes the Providence of the Lord.  Paul’s affirmation “that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) demonstrates that God is not limited.  The temptation is to regard Providence as using primarily those things which we regard as “good” or perhaps focusing on God’s direct actions in history.  Evil, in that sense, tends to be treated as a problem to be dealt with or acted against.  The Lord, to be absolutely sure, is not the author of sin.  But God is not limited in His options.  God will accomplish what He chooses to do without fail, even if He wills to use an evil as the means to that end.  Adam fell because of his own sin and became a lawbreaker, but the Lord uses the Fall toward His purpose of sending Christ into the flesh.  “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

In Joseph’s case, the Lord uses the evil which his brothers intended against him as the means for providing for many people.  History does not just happen and the Lord somehow reacts to it.  God is the Lord of history, and all things fall under His Providence.  The reason why this can be so difficult for us is that we only have a small part of the picture and imperfect knowledge.  We are caught up in the moment and cannot see how everything is working together.  Very often, this becomes clearer in hindsight, though not always, because only God knows all things.

But this should not cause us to fear.  Joseph comforts his brothers by pointing to the Providence of God.  Yes, their action was very evil, but they recognize it as the sin that it is (1 John 1:8-9).  However, despite their wickedness, God uses it for a far greater good.  Not as an afterthought, not as a reaction, but as the means through which many lives were spared in the famine which it pleased the Lord to send.  If the Triune Lord could use even that evil as a means for good, will He not much more give you the good which He promises to give?  “So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:21).

First Sunday after Trinity: Genesis 15:1-6

Genesis 15 comes fairly early in the major section of the “generations of Terah” (Genesis 11:27-25:11).  The Lord has already sent Abram (not yet Abraham) to Canaan in chapter 12.  After a brief sojourn in Egypt, Abraham rescues Lot from being a prisoner of war in Genesis 14.  Abram is then blessed by Melchizedek.

The phrase “after these things” refers then to these previous events.  Abram has left Ur in faith, not knowing exactly where the Lord is leading him (Genesis 12:1).  The Lord has promised Canaan to his offspring, and Abram builds an altar in an act of worship (Genesis 13:14-18).  The Lord has even given him victory over kings with a relatively small band of 318 men (Genesis 14:13-16).  Abram has every reason to continue trusting the Lord who has led him this far.

Yet the Lord comes to comfort Abram in one continuing problem:  he has no son.  God has promised him numberless offspring, yet he remains without a child.  As Paul says in Romans 4:18-22 and Hebrews 11:12, humanly speaking Abram’s body was “as good as dead,” since he was well beyond the human capacity for fathering a son.  Abram then hears the Word of the Lord and believes the one who has made this promise.

A few specific notes are in order.  First, “the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.”  The word vision here is derived from a word meaning “to see,” and also occurs in Numbers 24:4 and 24:16, where it refers to Balaam, and Ezekiel 13:7, where it refers to the “false visions” of the false prophets.  Abram therefore receives the revelation visually in some way.  Inspiration, generally speaking, does not occur always in the same way.  Other prophets also received direct visual revelations, such as Samuel (1 Samuel 3), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:11-12), Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-7), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1), and so on.  Abram himself will fall into a “deep sleep” later in Genesis 15, which in itself indicates some sort of prophetic fit (especially since the corresponding darkness is described as “dreadful and great”).

Second, the Lord directs Abram to look at the stars as a way of showing to him that He is faithful in His promise of a son.  The created stars serve as a sign and a confirmation of the promise.  If Abram were to be able to number them, he could also number the offspring of this promise.   As mentioned earlier, Paul cites this expression directly in Romans 4:18, but it is alluded to throughout the Old Testament in Genesis 22:17; 26:4; Exodus 32:13; Deuteronomy 1:10; 10:22; and 1 Chronicles 27:23.  This also explains David’s sin in 2 Samuel 24 when he takes the census, because attempting to count Israel (apart from an express command to do so) is tantamount to wondering whether the Lord will keep His promises.

Finally, “Abram believed the Lord, and He counted to him as righteousness.”  Paul uses this verse to prove in Romans 4 that Abraham was not justified by his works, but by his faith.  Therefore, the Gentiles also, who are not the sons of Abraham according to the flesh, are still sons according to the promise.  Paul makes the same point in Galatians 3:5-6:  we are not justified by the works of the Law.  These passages also clarify any ambiguity with the pronouns which might seem to exist in Genesis 15:6.

James also makes reference to this verse in James 2:14-26.  His overarching point is that faith cannot exist without good works.  It is not enough to say “I am a Christian,” if one then turns and acts in an unchristian way.  Abraham therefore demonstrates his living faith through his willingness even to offer up his own son Isaac, the son of the promise upon the altar.  In this way, Genesis 15:6 is fulfilled, because the faith which believes the promise of God is the same faith which then expresses itself in an unshakable trust that “God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19).

Pentecost: Genesis 11:1-9

Genesis 11:1-9 is admittedly an odd choice for Pentecost.  The assumption behind the choice seems to be that Pentecost has “reversed” Babel, so to speak.  Where God had confused the languages of the people and scattered them, He brings them back together with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  However, Pentecost is not a reversal of the confusion.  The Jews gathered in Acts 2 note that the apostles were “telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11).  The Holy Spirit, through the miracle of Pentecost, addresses man in his natural diversity.  The apostles do not speak one language which is understood by all, but in the various languages as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Nevertheless, there are aspects of the passage which contribute to a fuller understanding of the miracle of Pentecost, and these will be the focus for this study.

Genesis 10-11 form one of the smallest subdivisions of the whole book.  Genesis 10 is important for noting how the descendants of Noah and his sons spread abroad throughout the earth after the flood.  It is difficult to date exactly when the judgment at Babel occurred because of this.  Did it occur early on after the flood, so that the spreading abroad in the earth is a result?  Did it occur later on, so that it involved only a certain part of the sons of Noah?  Even if only a portion of the total global population was involved at Babel, the judgment affected the whole.

The land of Shinar immediately refers back to Nimrod in the previous chapter, where it notes that “the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Genesis 10:10).  Shinar is also mentioned in passing as one of the kingdoms involved in the war which would make Lot a prisoner of war (Genesis 14:1, 9).  Achan covets a cloak from Shinar (Joshua 7:21).  The woman Wickedness in the vision of Zechariah is taken to the land of Shinar (Zechariah 5:11).  But these passages do not clarify the location of this land very much.  Two passages are more helpful in this regard.  The first is Isaiah 11:11, where Shinar is distinguished from Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Hamath, and the coastlands.  In Daniel 1:2, Nebuchadnezzar takes the vessels of the temple to the land of Shinar, “to the house of his god.”  Coupled with the Isaiah passage, therefore, it would seem that Shinar is another name for Babylon or Mesopotamia.

The people decide to build a city and a tower in the land of Shinar.  The tower does not need to be understood as an ancient skyscraper.  Moses records in Deuteronomy 1:28 that Israel refused to enter Canaan with its cities “fortified up to heaven.  The height of this tower is not even the main problem, but rather its aim.  By building this city and this tower, the people desired to make “a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).  They were deliberately sinning against God’s command to fill the whole earth, choosing instead to stay in one place (Genesis 9:7, for example).

The Lord confuses their language, therefore, as a judgment which forces them to do what He had originally commanded them to do.  If they would not scatter abroad, the Lord Himself would “disperse them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).  The continual flexibility of language even today, to say nothing of language drift, is therefore the result of both the judgment and the command.  The Lord commands us to fill the earth.  The judgment of Babel ensures that we will do so.

Genesis 11 can be set into parallel with Acts 2, then, in a couple of ways.  In Genesis, men strive to make a name for themselves contrary to the command of God.  In Acts, the apostles wait in patient faith according to the command of God.  At Babel, God comes down to bring judgment so that His will is carried out on earth.  At Jerusalem, God comes down to bring salvation so that His will is carried out on earth.  The two passages center, therefore, in God’s action and His sovereignty:  man cannot hinder what the Lord desires to do.

Second Sunday in Lent: Genesis 32

The Old Testament reading for the Second Sunday in Lent falls within the section of Genesis beginning with “the generations of Isaac” in Genesis 25:19. Moses then briefly turns to Esau in 36:1 before finally focusing for a long time on Joseph. This section is mostly concerned with Jacob, even though it is named after Isaac. Even though Jacob will not die until the end of the book of Genesis, he recedes into the background after this point and is no longer the focus.

Further, because his section is nearing its end, this is a high point for the story of Jacob. Throughout his whole section, he has struggled with men. It began in the womb with his brother Esau (Genesis 25:22-23). He struggled with Esau for his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) and his blessing (Genesis 27). He struggled with Laban for his wives (Genesis 29:21-30), for his wages (Genesis 30:25-43), and finally for his family (Genesis 31:17-55). All of this has led up to this point.

Jacob fled southward from Paddam-Aram in what is modern NE Syria, likely along the major trade road which passed through Damascus. After making peace with Laban in Gilead, Jacob goes to the river Jabbok, which moved counterclockwise before rushing down toward the Jordan. He left the road and followed the river, hoping to reach Canaan in the west.

However, even though he has made peace with Laban, Jacob has to face the whole reason he fled northward in the first place: Esau. For all he knows, Esau is still seeking to kill him for stealing both his birthright and his blessing. Jacob does everything that he can to make amends and hopefully avoid the wrath of his brother. He sends everything he has, including his family, across the Jabbok at the best place to cross in the middle of the night. It was likely the early morning by the time it was done and Jacob was alone.

Now, however, in the early hours of the morning, Jacob gets into a wrestling match with an unknown man. The verb translated “to wrestle” here (and this is the only place it occurs) draws a colorful picture: it is likely closely related to the noun for “dust.” Jacob is kicking up the dust in his fight with this man.

Jacob knows who his opponent is, however, because he demands a blessing from Him. Further, When it was all over, Jacob names the place Peniel (or Penuel, which means the same), literally the “face of God.” “I have seen God face to face, and yet my soul has been delivered.” It is true that he demands to know His name, but it pleased the Lord not to reveal everything to Jacob at that time. Just like when he appears to Manoah to announce the birth of Samson (Judges 13:17-18), He does not reveal His name. As He would tell Moses many years later, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ I did not make myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3). The point is not to look for an answer to every question. The Lord does as it pleases Him.

God gives Jacob a new name: Israel. Jacob, which means “Grabber,” has contended with men his whole life and now with God. Therefore, the Lord names him Israel, which means “he contends with God.” It is a fitting name for Jacob and also for his faithful sons, who would also contend with men and with God. Given a new name and blessed by God, Jacob now goes and reconciles with his brother Esau.

Even though the custom Moses mentions in Genesis 32:32 finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the lesson is the same for spiritual Israel. Physical Israel used it to remind themselves of what God had done for Jacob by delivering his life and giving him his new name. Spiritual Israel has similar things to call to mind God’s actions. Like the sinews of the hip, the Word proclaims what God has done.