Genesis: Where It All Begins (6)
What have we seen thus far in this study?
- Lesson One: Genesis 1 is an ancient liturgical text, contrasting the good Creator God with the false gods of Babylon, and assuring the Hebrew people that the Creator brings order out of chaos.
- Lesson Two: The early chapters of Genesis introduce us to an ancient book that tells the story of Israel, designed to help the exiled Jewish people understand why the Exile happened and what they should hope for in the future.
- Lesson Three: Genesis 1 teaches us that the creation God made is good. Despite the sins of human beings that corrupt the world, the creation remains good and able to provide what the world’s creatures need to flourish.
- Lesson Four: God’s original mandate for humans was not for us to secure our place in a perfect world, but that we should be God’s priests and live within his blessing so that we might overcome the evil already present in the world.
- Lesson Five: The story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) is just that — a story. Many Christians have been led ever since St. Augustine to read the story in a certain way, but that may not be the best way to read it. It is certainly not the only way.
As we prepare to set forth our next point, keep in mind something I wrote earlier:
The story that begins in Genesis 1 is told as the first installment of the Story of Israel in the pages of what Christians call the Old Testament. A careful reading of Genesis 1-11 shows a distinct Babylonian flavor in the material as well as many emphases that would have been instructive to that community of exiles.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is, before anything else, a story about Israel. Specifically, it is a story about Israel in the light of the Babylonian Captivity. See if this sounds familiar:
- God creates a people and places them in a good land.
- God gives them commandments to follow.
- Through the commandments, God provides a way for them that leads to life.
- God warns them that failing to keep the commandments will lead to death.
- They listen to the inhabitants of the land instead of God and transgress God’s commandments.
- In judgment, God exiles them from the good land to the east of that land.
- Even in their exile, God provided for them to cover their nakedness and shame.
The Adam and Eve story (which actually includes ch. 4 about Cain and Abel as well) is a microcosm of the narrative of the entire Hebrew Bible, the story of Israel from Exodus to Exile. Adam and Eve failed to live up to the vocation God had given them and forfeited life in the good land. Their children, who also failed to heed God’s warnings, migrated to lands east of Eden and became city dwellers.
The early chapters of Genesis form the introduction to the first portion of the Bible as well as to the whole Bible. The Torah — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy — is a “book” within the larger book. Many have noted that the Torah ends with a call to Israel that mirrors the story of Adam and Eve.
When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land that your ancestors possessed, and you will possess it; he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors.
…See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
• from Deuteronomy 30
It’s all here. The good land. The exile. The path to life. The way of death. Choosing good and evil. Obedience or disobedience. The blessing: “You shall live and multiply.” The curse: “Today you will surely die (perish).” This text literally spells out the moral of the story of Adam and Eve for Israel. What Genesis 2-4 tells in narrative form is recapitulated here in sermonic instruction, promise and warning, witnessed by “the heavens and the earth.”
The story of Israel.