Thursday, July 21, 2005

Random Stuff from Our Genesis Study, Part 4

[Our Tuesdays with Markie look at the book of Genesis that I'm undertaking with people from Friendship Church is lurching along somewhat fitfully. We've met several times since my daughter's wedding last month. But a session last week got cut short when, unexpectedly I became discombobulated--or at least, more than usual--from what turned out to be a sinus infection. I'm feeling fine now. What follows are notes from several sessions on Genesis, chapters 7 through 12:3.]

1. The depths of Noah's faith is emphasized in Genesis 7:1-5. Until God tells him that a flood is about to take place, Noah has had no idea why he was building this large ark. (God's intentions are made known to the reader earlier, but to not to Noah.) Verse 5 tells us all that we need to know about Noah:
"And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him."
In spite of Noah's exemplary faith and obedience to God, we're going to find that he is far from perfect.

2. Genesis 7:11 contains striking specificity. It's this specificity that lends the narrative its power and accessibility. To see what I mean, consider the difference between two sentences describing something mundane: Sentence one, "The room smelled like air freshener." Sentence two, "As I approached the dark mahogany archway that marked the entry into the sitting room, the strong scent of PineSol filled my head."

Specificity also lends credibility, even to a tale we, with our post-modern sensibilities, might deem fantastic.

3. God shuts the male and female of all flesh in the ark. Obviously, God has plans for His creation to continue in some renewed form after the flood has ended.

4. The flood brings near total destruction to a creation which has been filled with the consequences of human sin. (Genesis 7:17-24)

5. The dove Noah sends out to see if the waters have subsided sufficiently for his passengers and him to leave eventually returns to the ark with an olive leaf in its beak. (Genesis 8:11) This was a sure indication that there was dry land and that plant life was springing up.

The dove's return also indicated that there was now peace between God and His creation and thereafter, the dove with the olive branch, became a symbol of peace.

6. The animals emerged from the ark by families, indicating that those pairs first shut into the ark had been busy during their nearly half-year as passengers. (Genesis 8:19)

7. Genesis 8:20-22 demonstrate that in spite of the flood and the destruction of those human beings who refused to live under God's authority, nothing had really changed about the human heart. It's a sign of God's grace and goodness that instead of wiping us out, He lovingly reaches out to us, remembers that we're imperfect, and is quick to forgive the repentant.

8. To understand Genesis 9:1-7, it's important to remember how the ancient Hebrew viewed blood. In a sense, it's not so very different from how we view it. Blood made life possible. It was so powerful that it very nearly had a life of its own. To shed another's blood was to deny them life, something only God could do.

That's why, after Cain killed his brother Abel, God tells Cain that Abel's blood cried out to Him.

That's why later, in the book of Exodus, God institutes Passover. While enslaved in Egypt, God tells His people to paint lamb's blood on their doorposts. That way, the angel of death He was sending to take the firstborn of Egypt, would pass over. The blood of lambs would appeal to and communicate with the angel, allowing life to continue for the firstborns of that household.

Later still, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (At-One-Ment), would be instituted for God's people. On that day, at the Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sacrifice the perfect, unblemished sacrificial lamb. Later, dipping a branch into the blood of the sacrificed lamb, the priest would sprinkle the amassed worshipers with it. Their sins from the previous year would now be atoned for, the lamb having borne their sins and its blood imparting new life to them.

Many centuries later, Jesus' earthly cousin, John the Baptist, would describe Jesus as "the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world." And, the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us, Jesus accomplished our "at-one-ment" with God, the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation with God, "once and for all." No longer would a priest have to make yearly sacrifices. The shed blood of Jesus had worked that miracle forever for all with faith in Him! (The tearing of the curtain which had formerly concealed the Holy of Holies at the moment of Jesus' death symbolizes the reconciliation Jesus' giving of Himself brings.)

Just before His death on the cross, Jesus also instituted Holy Communion. "This is My body," He said as He gave His disciples bread. "This is My blood," He also said as He gave them wine.

The blood that coarses through our veins is life from God; we aren't to take it from others. The blood that Jesus shed for us gives us new life.

9. Genesis 9:8-17. I remember vividly the spring day when my great-grandmother told me the story of Noah and the promise of the rainbow. A sudden rainstorm had passed over, the sun had shone forth, and she and I were walking on her front sidewalk when a rainbow could be seen to our southeast. That's why even today, some forty-five years later, the rainbow remains a symbol of hope for me, a reminder that God gives forgiveness and second-chances to me even when I mess up.

10. Genesis 9:20-29 is likely not a story you read in Sunday School as a kid. There are various interpretations of it.

Some read it quite literally and surmise that Ham simply saw his father's nakedness. This was thought inappropriate. But the virulence of Noah's reaction and his condemnation of Ham for "what he had done" seems "over the top" for what may seem in an involuntary accident.

Other interpretations I've seen deem this a more sinister act, believing that "seeing" Noah's nakedness actually euphemistically expresses the idea that this was a homosexual rape. In some ancient cultures, males would express their dominion over other males by subjecting them to such acts.

Be that as it may, Noah and the other sons clearly felt that Ham had violated his father in some way.

One of the early points I made in this study was that the Bible is interested in answering two pressing questions: Why? and Who? In this disturbing story, we find an explanation of why there was enmity between God's people, the Hebrews (or Israelites) and the Canannites.

11. Genesis 11:1-9 tells the familiar story of the Tower of Babel. As with Adam and Eve, the problem with their descendants in this ancient city was that they wanted to "be like God." God confuses their language to prevent them from being too high and mighty and to spare them the consequences of such an attitude. The simple fact is that when we "get too big for our britches," we are less open to the open arms of God. We think that we can get along on our own and therefore ignore God.

In a way, this story reiterates the story of Adam and Eve. After their rebellion against God, they were banished from the garden and access to the tree of life. Although God wants to give us everlasting life, if the first two humans had eaten of this tree, they would have this gift without the internal reconstruction and the reconciliation with God that He wants to effect within us. Sometimes, what seems like God being cruel is really God protecting us from the consequences of our rotten decisions. That's what God did for the people of Babel.

By the way, most church lectionaries (plans for Bible readings) usually link the story of Babel to the story of the first Pentecost from the book of Acts. In the latter incident, which took place fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead and ten days after His ascension, God's Holy Spirit empowered praying followers of Jesus Christ to hit the streets of Jerusalem and tell others about Jesus in the many languages of religious pilgrims there. Pentecost, in a sense, was a reversal of Babel.

12. Once again, in Genesis 12:1-2, we find some people--Abram and Sarai, residents of an area set in what is modern-day Iraq--challenged to trust God. They're told to trust God to take them to some unnamed destination, that they are going to become ancestors of a people set apart for God, and that God will protect them and bless them to be a blessing to others.

[Here are links to the first three installments of this series:

Random Notes #1

Random Notes #2

Random Notes #3

You'll find some points repeated in the posts. There are two reasons for that: (1) Not all the same people participate in every session and so I talk about some of the same things again; (2) There are recurring themes in Genesis.]

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