The Calling of Genesis 3

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Yesterday we began exploring Genesis 3, and looked closely at how curses factored into The Fall. Genesis 3 is such a complex text that we didn’t have a chance to get into the details of the punishments that God dealt to the man and the woman for eating from the tree.

We have used these punishments to explain a variety of concerns: from family life, to medical care, to the environment, droughts, and all sorts of highly impactful scenarios that we face in the world today. So let’s look at them a bit closer.

To the woman, God says, “I will make your pregnancy very painful; in pain you will bear children. You will desire your husband, but he will rule over you” (v. 16). Then, to the man God says, “cursed is the fertile land because of you; in pain you will eat from it every day of your life. Weeds and thistles will grow for you, even as you eat the field’s plants; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread— until you return to the fertile land, since from it you were taken; you are soil, to the soil you will return” (v. 17-19).

Essentially, God punishes the woman with painful pregnancies and subordination to her husband, and God punishes the man with strife and difficulty in cultivating the land.

Once we have the groundwork for the what the punishments entail, we can then figure out what we’re supposed to do with them. There are two main ways of reading the punishments in Genesis 3: as descriptive or as prescriptive. Is God describing to us what will happen, or prescribing what should happen?

For example, if God had described that women will feel pain during childbirth, then using medical intervention to mitigate the pain wouldn’t seem to contradict the biblical text. However, if God were prescribing that women should feel pain during childbirth, then medical pain relief would subvert the Will of God.

Similarly, if God had described that men will toil over the weedy and thistley land, then seeking more fertile land and using modern technology to cultivate it would simply seem like a solution to a problem. However, if God prescribed that men should sweat and labor to produce food, they would then contradict God’s Will if they chose to seek more fruitful land and to use modern technology to ease the burden.

For most, I think that using medical intervention in childbirth and using technological intervention in farming seem fairly unobjectionable. But then we get to the third punishment, which God placed on Eve: “Your desire (teshukah) will be for your husband, but he will rule over you.” 

If we read this descriptively, it would mean that the woman longed for the man (perhaps to the detriment of other ambitions), and that the man had power over, rather than power with, the woman. As with childbearing and land-working, if we read this text descriptively, then the woman’s prioritization of other ambitions and her claiming leadership and strength would serve to improve a broken and unbalanced system. If, however, God prescribes that the woman’s desire should be for her man, and that her man should rule over her, the woman would then contradict God’s Will by striving to restore the perfect, balanced relationship that God originally created between the man and the woman in Genesis 2.

We have a choice about whether to read Genesis 3:16-19 as a description or as a prescription. In these punishments, God takes what once was perfect and organized, and makes it broken and chaotic again. He makes the reproduction of life, which was once simple and spoken, painful and difficult; he takes the man and the woman, who were once ezer k’negdo, equal partners, and makes one rule over the other; he takes fertile and rich ground, and fills it with weeds and thistles. The question is whether God hopes or demands for creation to remain in that state.

From a macro level, God is constantly trying to reconcile us back to Him throughout the biblical text, and the trajectory of the biblical narrative ultimately brings us back to the original state of Eden. On a micro level, we see God celebrate the correction of some of these punishments. For example, God gives the land of Canaan over to Abram in Genesis 12. We learn that Canaan is vast, and in Numbers 13 the Israelite leaders describe it as “filled with milk and honey” and they show Moses some of its fruit. God doesn’t give them a land filled with thistles and weeds to work, sweat, and toil over; rather, God wants them to have what is closest to that which He originally created in Eden.

What God created in Eden was peace, balance, and rest, and in the punishments, God introduced pain, subordination, and strife. But that that was never what God craved for us, and it still isn’t what He wants for us today. So we have some work to do. Out of our love for God and His continued desire for our redemption, we are called to do our best to return the world around us to how God originally created it: filled abundantly with good, good fruit, creating new life with ease and joy, and working together as one flesh to spread the Good News of God’s love. May we commit to and follow that commission today.

Were We Ever Cursed?

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It’s not easy being human. We face challenges every day, and have to use our resiliency and tenacity to figure out how we’re going to get through them. And while we’re striving to be great partners, children, parents, workers, siblings, and citizens, it can be easy to look back and ask, “Why?” Why did that happen? Why this diagnosis? Why this unemployment? Why this sadness? Why…? Why…? Why…?

One of the common responses to these “Why…? questions involves a few complex texts that we find in Genesis 3.

At the opening of Genesis 3, the man and the woman have already reunited and become “one flesh,” yet the man is nowhere to be seen. A snake then approaches the woman, and lies to her about why God told them not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. She believes the snake, eats from the tree, and hands the man some of the fruit for him to eat as well. They then “see clearly,” realize they are naked, and sew fig leaves together to cover themselves (Genesis 3:1-7).

The man and the woman then hear God walking in the garden (He’s taking an afternoon stroll) and they hide, so God calls to them. They show themselves, and after some questioning, God realizes that they have eaten from the tree in the middle of the garden (v. 8-13).

What follows is a series of indictments from God directed toward the snake, the woman, the man, and the land, which are often titled, “The Curse of Adam and Eve,” or just “The Curse of Eve.” If we read closer, though, we find that God never actually curses Adam and Eve.

In verses 14 and 15 God “curses” (arar) the snake with a variety of maladies, and puts enmity between the snake and the woman. But in verse 16, when God addresses the woman, He simply “speaks” (amar) to her. Then again in verses 17 through 19, God speaks (amar) to the man, explaining that the ground is now cursed (arar) because of him, but God never curses the man.

The difference between a curse and a punishment is that a curse changes the foundational properties and qualities of the recipient — God removes the snakes legs, making it slither on its belly for the rest of its life, and God fills the previously fertile land with weeds and thistles, making it difficult to cultivate. God doesn’t change the man and the woman — he makes their lives more difficult, but their beings and their essence does not change as a result of their punishment.

For centuries, interpreters, scholars, and even some of the Church Fathers read this text, and assumed that God cursed the man and the woman. Readers call this text “The Fall.” Although Genesis 3 never mentions a “Fall,” it does mark the first time that God punishes humanity, and boots us out of a good land. We must remember, though, that while Genesis 3 may be the first time God punishes His people and exiles them from the land, it certainly isn’t the last time.

Genesis 3 gives us an archetype, a storyline, for what continues to happen over and over again throughout the biblical text and throughout our lives. And what we see each time this happens is God remaining with humanity, loving us, caring for us, cleaning up our messes, and continually working all things toward the good. We may no longer reside in Eden, but that does not mean that we are cursed. And we may have received a few punishments (we’ll get into the details of those tomorrow), but for now I want to encourage us to consider what it would mean for us to live as a free, uncursed, and beloved people, who still make mistakes.

 

We have a lot more exploring to do in Genesis 3 over the next couple of days, but for now, can we rest in the knowledge that we were never cursed? That while sin is real and active and tempting, it has never mitigated the love that God has for us? And that after the gigantic moment in the biblical text, in which God sends Adam and Eve out of the garden, we find God (only six verses later) telling them that they have the power to choose whether or not to sin (Gen. 4:7). That doesn’t sound like a cursed life to me; rather, it sounds like a life of strength, power, agency, and hope. Today, may we embrace the God who withheld the curse from us and who continues to tells us that we are beloved, that we are strong, and that nothing can separate us from His love.

The First Woman

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This is the first post in our “Biblical Women” series. I am thrilled to walk with you through the Bible, studying our Scriptural women who lived incredible lives, led their families and whole nations, and pushed the story of this world forward through their compassion and strength.

Today we start with the first woman to enter the biblical scene. Prior to her creation, God orders the world in a way that God deems, “Very good” (Genesis 1:31). However, in Genesis 2, God places “the human” (ha-adam) into the garden, and realizes that despite a perfect relationship with God in a paradisaical location, the human was still lonely. So God gathers the animals together from all of the land and the sky, and the human names each of them; yet none of them are his “perfect helper” (Genesis 2:15-20).

So God then puts the human in a deep sleep, and removes what the Hebrew calls his tsela, which God uses to create the woman.

Most of us have learned that God removes Adam’s “rib,” right? I even remember hearing a terrible Christian pick-up line in college that went, “I gave you my rib, can I have your number?” Awful, I know.

We see the word tsela all over the Old Testament. The weird thing is that Genesis 2 is the only time we translate it as “rib.” The other 31 times we find the word tsela, it actually means “side.” In fact, fifteen of the times tsela shows up, it’s used to instruct the Israelites about how to build the sides of the tabernacle

I know that it can feel uncomfortable to translate that word as anything other than “rib,” but I want to challenge us to consider what it would mean for us to translate tsela as “side,” as it is throughout the rest of the Bible.

The image that Genesis gives us is of God putting the human into a deep sleep, and removing his side, then closing it up with flesh. He turns this side into the woman, and introduces the two of them to one another. The man then responds in Genesis 2:23,

This one finally is bone from my bones
        and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman
        because from a man she was taken.”

The words “man” and “woman” are meant to sound very similar, because the Hebrew words sound very similar: “ish and “ishah.” He claims her as his own, as a part of him. He recognizes that God used a number of his bones and part of his flesh to create her, rather than one measly rib.

We then read, “This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh” (v.24). So we start with God putting the human into a sleep, taking off his side, and creating his exact counterpart. And by the end of the chapter we have God introducing the two humans, who are now called “man” (ish) and “woman” (ishah), so that they can return to being “one flesh.”

This is the beautiful order that God craves and that the text continues to show us over and over again. Splitting one into two, and then making the two one again. And the meaning gets even deeper when we consider what we learn in Genesis 1:27:

“God created humanity in God’s own image,
        in the divine image God created them,
            male and female God created them.”

God created humanity in God’s very image. Then, in the following chapter, we see in detail how God went about creating the first human, splitting that human in half, and using the bones and flesh of his side to create the perfect counterpart.

In the creation of humanity, God ties manhood and womanhood to God’s own self, and depicts exactly why we are meant to be together. Our first mother meets her counterpart face to face, and they recognize that they are already a part of one another. God has woven the fabric of our lives in a way that demands order out of chaos, that springs forth life out of loneliness, and that in its essence bears the very image of God. So may we claim our place in God’s creation today, and celebrate the first woman, who bore God’s image and claimed her role as the perfect partner to her companion in the garden.

Announcement: New Series

 

Over past forty days we have traveled on an incredible journey through the gospels, from the birth of Christ through his death and resurrection. In these few weeks, over a thousand people have visited the site and read about the deep insights and love that Christ came to show the world.

I am overjoyed to announce that tomorrow we will begin a new journey, entitled “Women of the Bible.” Each day I will post a short devotion about one of the incredible women we find in the Bible. We then hope to adapt this series to a small group study format with a video component in the coming months. 

While these materials will certainly foster great discussion and growth for women’s groups, these materials are also informative for men. I know a number of faithful and informed men, who simply haven’t had the resources or opportunities to learn about their biblical counterparts. To anyone who has ever wondered about biblical leadership, households, families, and manhood/womanhood, I welcome you here.

Thank you for continuing with me on this journey. I have felt greatly encouraged and edified by the feedback I have received so far, and look forward to our continued growth together. Please feel free to follow or subscribe to Femegesis to receive the posts directly to your feeds and devices. 

We’ll start the new series tomorrow with the biblical First Lady, who we meet in Genesis 2. I look forward to exploring our deepest human roots with you in the coming weeks.

Sending you joy and love today,

Melissa

Mary, Let Go Of Me

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When was the last time you mourned? Some of us have only a few distant moments we can remember, while for others, mourning seems all too familiar. Mourning is an honest and raw expression of grief, sadness, and loss. It can hit us square in the chest, in the most unexpected moments, and from those periods of mourning onward, our worlds never quite feel the same again.

That’s where we find Mary on Easter morning in John 20:11-17. Weeping, she bends to look into Jesus’ tomb, and cannot find his body. She meets two angels sitting in the tomb, and explains to them that she doesn’t know where they’ve put him. Turning around, she meets Jesus face-to-face, and believes he is a gardener. He speaks her name, and immediately she realizes that it’s Jesus.

Overwhelmed with emotion, we can presume that Mary embraced Jesus, because he then responds, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Moments before, Mary was mourning the loss of Jesus. She believed not only that he was dead, but also that someone had stolen his body. So it makes sense that she felt overwhelmed with emotion and clung to him. In some ways it sounds harsh for Jesus to tell Mary to let him go — until we understand the true meaning of those words.

“I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus wasn’t just being wordy — he was trying to point us to another text that Mary would have known very well.

The widow Naomi directs her two widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their childhood homes. In Ruth 1:14-18 Orpah turns back, but Ruth instead proclaims, Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” 

“Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” — Ruth 1:16

“I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” — John 20:17

Jesus tells Mary to release him, not because he doesn’t love and care for her deeply, because her clinging is inappropriate, or because she is self-sufficient enough on her own. He tells her not to cling to him because he needs to ascend to God. And in ascending to God, he offers Mary the same promise that Ruth made to Naomi.

Wherever Mary goes, Jesus will go; wherever Mary stays, Jesus will stay. Her people are his people, and her God is his God. And now that he has resurrected, even the power of death will never separate them again.

That’s the hope that Jesus offers us on Easter: not that we will never mourn and grieve, not that life becomes perfect and infallible, but that He remains with us through every trial, sigh, and tear. His resurrection breaks the final barrier of death.

In those moments when we feel completely alone and abandoned, when we wonder where God is, and how we will ever get through the trials and difficulties that we face, Jesus offers us this promise, and we remember it on Easter Sunday:  Wherever we go, Jesus goes; wherever we stay, Jesus stays. Our people are his people, and our God is His God. And now even death cannot separate us from the his true and unending love.

“It Is Finished…” But What About The Resurrection?

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A few months ago I attended the filming of Adam Hamilton’s study of John. I sat in the audience, smiling and holding a coffee mug, while a camera crew filmed a series of six devotional presentations. After each devotional, Adam opened the floor for questions from the audience members.

Toward the end of the day I raised my hand to ask, “Why would Jesus say ‘It is finished’ if he hadn’t yet resurrected?” 

Adam responded well, but I still wanted more of an answer. So I researched and read quite a bit, and came to the realization that in order to understand the “It is finished” verse, we need to know a bit more about the full scope of the Gospel of John.

Of the four gospel accounts, John portrays Jesus as the most confident and determined. Jesus performs a lot of miracles, talks of himself in “I am” terms (which cues back to God’s description of Himself in Exodus 3:14), and predicts his death over and over again. One of the greatest examples of John heightening Jesus’ sense of mission is how he depicts Jesus praying before his arrest. I wrote about Luke’s account of Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives earlier this week and entitled it, “When Jesus Also Doubted.”

In contrast to Jesus sweating blood and praying for another way out in Luke, John claims that Jesus began his prayer, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you. You gave him authority over everyone so that he could give eternal life to everyone you gave him. This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created.” (John 17:1-5).

It’s almost as if Jesus had a to-do list while he was on the earth. In his prayer before his arrest, Jesus acknowledged to God that he had checked off most of the boxes, and now he needed to subject himself to arrest and death in order to complete the list.

So Jesus proceeds through his persecution and crucifixion, and in the moment just before he died, he proclaimed, “It is finished.” In his death, he had completed all of the tasks that God had commissioned him to do while he was on the earth.

The resurrection, the moment of in-breaking hope, happened three days later. But that wasn’t on Jesus’ to-do list; it was on God’s. In the moments before Jesus dies in Luke, Jesus states, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life” (Luke 23:46). Jesus placed his hope, trust, and life in God, knowing that God would resurrect him.

Jesus completed so much while he was on the earth, and in his final breaths he finished the last task on the list. And that’s what we mourn and what we celebrate today. That Jesus had to endure such violence, persecution, and death, while knowing that God always held him, and would never leave him nor forsake him. Jesus knew that in dying, his trials on earth were over, and that God would physically resurrect him three days later. And upon his resurrection he would no longer suffer — he would instead spread hope, joy, and celebration.

What Jesus Said About The Afterlife

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As a chaplain and a pastor I get a lot of questions about the afterlife. People want to know what happens in the moments after we die.

I have heard a variety of answers from other pastors about this weighty and pertinent topic. Some of them use what I call Chutes & Ladders imagery, claiming that the faithful among us begin climbing a ladder to the heavenly gates, while the others find themselves whooshing down a hellacious slide shortly after death. Others give an answer that sounds something like teleportation — upon breathing our last, our souls get zapped into heaven or into hell. And still others merely shrug their shoulders and state that we simply can’t know.

I struggle with these answers, mostly because we can’t find them in the Bible. And what we do have in the Bible holds a lot more meaning than Chutes and Ladders, teleportation or, worst of all, the absence of existence.

In Luke 23:39-43, Jesus is hanging on the cross with two robbers who are also hung on crosses on either side of him. Then this happens: “One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, ‘Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.’” 

Jesus doesn’t say that we need to climb or slide or teleport to a new location. We’re simply with God after we die. And if we’ve been trusting God throughout our lives to faithfully walk with us, doesn’t it make sense that we wouldn’t be on our own after death? 

When Jesus claims in Matthew 28:20 that “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” we need not think that God’s presence somehow disappears upon our passing from this life. It seems to me that in many ways, our journey with God simply continues.

Without proof-texting, and without eschewing the Bible, we can read the story of Jesus on the cross and know that as he died, he firmly believed that his spirit would live on with God. While he didn’t talk about heaven, hell, clouds, or fire, he did speak about paradise. And not just paradise for himself, but also paradise with us.

So may we hold tight to the hope of paradise today. May we prayerfully reflect on the meanings of Maunday Thursday and Good Friday. And in the midst of the fear, doubt, and ambiguity that all of us face at some point or another, may we rest in the knowledge of our future place in paradise.