Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Reading in Genesis This Week (1-11)

514zcWswk7L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Over the next two years, as I read through the Old Testament, I plan to do it with accompanied by commentaries from several different perspectives and traditions. I am starting in Genesis (I will follow the Hebrew Bible’s order) and will begin with Walter Brueggemann’s, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. I am already finding that what he is saying as he exposits Genesis is challenging me to a deeper faith and more radical allegiance to God and His promises and I hope it will do the same for you. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there.

Brueggemann's approach in this commentary is homiletical; he is concerned with how to preach and teach the text. While he will deal with critical and hermeneutical issues, he does it to bring out the message of the canonical text we have. He sees the text as Israel's theological statement. I would agree with him that the text of the early chapters of Genesis is neither bare history nor myth (though I would see a lot more history in the text than he does). It is more a theological statement about who God is and how he relates to His creation stated in terms that the people of the ancient world would understand. The focus of the first section (1.1-2.4) of Genesis is God's love and care for his wonderful creation. God creates a world, and especially people in that world, who reflect his image as creator by themselves creating. God is in charge of this world that is brimming with life.

God does not create in the sense of a manufacturer. He does not “make” so that an object is simply “there.” Rather, he creates by speaking in ways that finally will be heard. His word has the authority of suffering compassion. The creation, then, is not an object built by a carpenter. It is a vulnerable partner whose life is impacted by the voice of one who cares in tender but firm ways. Genesis 1, 18

Israel is concerned with God’s lordly intent, not his technique. Conversely, the text does not present us with what has always been and will always be: an unchanging structure of world. Rather, the text proclaims a newness which places the world in a situation which did not previously exist. Genesis 1.1-2.4, 26

The creator is “humanized” as the one who cares in costly ways for the world. The creature is seen as the one who is entrusted with power and authority to rule. The text is revolutionary. It presents an inverted view of God, not as the one who reigns by fiat and remoteness, but as the one who governs by gracious self-giving. Genesis 1:26–29, 33

The idea of the “image of God” in Gen. 1:26–29 and in Jesus of Nazareth is not an idea which lives in a cosmological vacuum. It is an explicit call to form a new kind of human community in which the members, after the manner of the gracious God, are attentive in calling each other to full being in fellowship. Genesis 1:26–29, 34–35

The second section deals mainly with how to live in a world of death and anxiety that does not measure up to God's intent of an orderly, beautiful, productive world. Human beings tend to "grasp" for knowledge and power that will allow them to dominate others instead of serve them. This way always leads to death, though it appears seductively attractive. The way to life is not through self-grasping but through trust in God and staying within the boundaries he has established for his creation. Life is found within relationship with God and with each other.

Like the people in this narrative, our concern is not finally the danger of sex, the origin of evil, the appearance of death, or the power of the fall. It is, rather, the summons of this calling God for us to be his creatures, to live in his world on his terms...Our text leaves us with the hope that the creator is at work renewing every day. The text requires us to ask about the reality of God and his resolve for life in a world on its way to death. Genesis 2.4-3.24, 44

The serpent is the first in the Bible to seem knowing and critical about God and to practice theology in the place of obedience. Genesis 2.4-3.24, 48

Our mistake is to pursue autonomous freedom. Freedom which does not discern the boundaries of human life leaves us anxious. The attempts to resolve anxiety in our culture are largely psychological, economic, cosmetic. They are bound to fail because they do not approach the causes. Our public life is largely premised on an exploitation of our common anxiety. Genesis 2.4-3.24, 54

This evil grasping for one's self works itself out into chaos and death. And yet even in the midst of that God continues to offer grace even to the murderer, Cain, and finds a way to continue offering grace and gospel to the world through men like Enoch and Noah. God provides common grace as people, even the selfish ones, create societies that provide wealth and even music.

Biblical faith is clear: Violation of the brother is a deathly act. Yet, God’s will for life is at work with the one under death sentence. By verse 11, Cain is a dead man. The protective mark of verse 15 is less than resurrection for this dead man. But it is an anticipation of resurrection. It announces that God has not lost interest in the murderer nor given up on him. Genesis 4.1-16, 63

This chapter provides links between the hopes of creation and the reality of human sin. Noah holds promise of a new beginning in which the hopes of creation are not qualified by the realities of human choice. The words of Lamech are good news, daring to hope for a break in the sequence. That break comes, by the power of God, in human form. Genesis 5, 70

The narrative must not be pressed too far because we do not understand it. But it seems to assert that in heaven and on earth, in good order and in disorder, God still is the only giver of life. He gives life to all his creatures. Only by his gift do they live. No attempted usurpation changes that. Genesis 6.1-4, 72–73

However, there comes a point where God is so grieved because the creation has veered away so far from His purpose that He must take radical action to destroy it and start over. But even here God is gracious to provide hope for the future. The narrative turns as God "remembers" Noah and provides for the human race and creation to continue. Humanity has not changed in their rebellious attitudes but God has a plan to redeem.

With amazing boldness the narrative invites the listening community to penetrate into the heart of God (vv. 6–7). What we find there is not an angry tyrant, but a troubled parent who grieves over the alienation. Genesis 6.5-17, 77

Humankind is hopeless. Creation has not changed. It is deeply set against God’s purposes. The imagination of the heart first recognized as evil in 6:5 is still imagination of the heart which is evil in 8:21. All the terror of the waters has not changed that. Hope for the future is not premised on possibility thinking or human actualization. Hope will depend on a move from God. Genesis 8, 80–81

The covenant with Noah shows that, though the flood make it appear that God does not care for human life, God places high value on it and continues his desire to serve his creation through the human beings he has made. Chapters 9-11 provide the end of the introduction to the story of Israel and place it among the nations. Brueggemann points out that Israel was not one of the ancient nations and is a special, later, creation of God through which he will accomplish his creation purpose among the nations. Israel is chosen, basically without qualifications, to show what God could do with people who trust and obey him.

God unqualifiedly aligns himself with every human person as of ultimate value to him (cf. Matt. 6:32). The heavenly father is faithful. The ultimate valuing of every human person is echoed in the statement of Jesus, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7)...God makes an irreversible commitment that the post-flood, post-chaos situation is decisively different. In extraordinary resolve, God now says, “never again” (v. 11). What has changed is not anything about humankind or creation or waters or floods. What has changed is God. God has made a decision about the grief and trouble of his own heart. Genesis 9, 83

Chaos is not the last word. The last word is retained by the One who stands outside of and presides over the flood. Genesis 6-9, 88

The “map” offers an unparalleled ecumenical vision of human reality. In a sweeping scope, the text insists that there is a network of interrelatedness among all peoples. They belong to each other. As ecumenists are fond of saying, we have to do not with a unity to be achieved, but with a unity already given among us...The ecumenical and political reality of this text affirms that all nations derive their historical existence from the lifegiving power of God and are called to be responsive to him. Genesis 10, 93

With Israel as its goal, this genealogy affirms that creation cannot be understood in the Old Testament as an act that stands unto itself. It is always an expectation, awaiting the appearance of the full, faithful creation of God (1 John 3:2). The call to and existence of Israel keeps creation from having notions of autonomy and from being understood either mythologically, naturalistically, or scientifically. Genesis 11.10-29, 95

The section ends with the nations scattered and in rebellion, but there is hope as God begins his work with the people who will become the nation of Israel. God is about to reach out to the world to fill it with his creation purpose to fill, rule and bless the world through an old man and a barren woman.

Our Genesis text ends with a scattering. There is not listening. But there is a populating of the earth, as God willed from the beginning (1:28). And then there is a waiting—a waiting for a new word, a new call which will evoke a new community. The whole creation waits to see if Abraham will listen and trust, if Sarah (cf. 11:30) will laugh, if Isaac will be born. Genesis 11, 104

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