What Every Christian Should Know About Genesis 4-8

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This week we continued on our journey through Genesis. We covered a lot of material, so I want to give a brief synopsis for those of you who want to stay on track, but haven’t had the chance to read the most recent posts:

We first addressed the creation of Seth in Genesis 4:25 in a post called Grief, Loss, And The “Replacement” Of Abel. In the verse, Eve states that God gave her Seth as a replacement for Abel, prompting us to ask questions about grief and loss. We discussed how the text is descriptive of Eve’s grief, rather than prescriptive of how we should understand loss. And concluded with a plea to allow people to grieve and find meaning in the ways that are most helpful to them.

Next, we addressed the seemingly awkward text in Genesis 6 that talks about Sons of God, Daughters of Men, and Nephilim, in a post entitled, What Are Nephilim? We looked at the two texts involving Nephilim (Genesis 6 and Numbers 13), and learned that the Bible tells us they’re large and well known, and that’s about it. We debunked some of the interpretations that link the Nephilim to the devil, fallen angels, and other various creatures, and reiterated our need to focus on the information the Bible gives us.

In Sinners In The Hands Of A Heartbroken God we looked at the texts leading up to The Flood. We saw how God was heartbroken and mourned what had happened among humanity, and out of that sorrow how God chose to send The Flood. We debunked the false dichotomy of the angry God of the Old Testament vs. the peaceful Jesus of the New Testament, and discussed how God throughout the Bible craves our reconciliation with Him.

Finally, we moved through The Flood narrative and looked at the character of Noah once the waters subsided in The New Adams. We saw Noah (which means “rest”) resting with God, offering God a sacrifice, and God reflecting that God will never again wash away humanity. We discussed how the covenant that God created with Noah was a reiteration of the relationship he had desired with Adam, and we noted that God continues to use biblical characters to show us the deep and fully reconciled relationship He desires with us. We then celebrated the forgiveness and unfailing love that we get to live within because of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

This coming week we will start by discussing the link between life and blood in Genesis 9, and will move forward from there. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions!

Blessings,

Melissa


For those of you keeping up with our Hebrew grammar:

sheth — to place, also the name Seth

atsav — grieved, what God feels before The Flood

arar — to curse

ruwach nichowach reyach — sweet savor, the scent of burnt offerings

 

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Grief, Loss, And The “Replacement” Of Abel

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My mom and I love watching sad movies together, and Steel Magnolias is one of our favorites. Toward the end of the movie, Sally Fields gives one of the most heartbreaking and powerful speeches about the loss of her daughter. It brings us to heavy tears every time. As I read the text for today, I found a story about a woman processing loss. And it seemed highly important to address what her grief means for us.

We left off yesterday with a recap that led us through most of Genesis 4. In the last verses of Genesis 4, we learn that Eve births Seth. Seth means “to place,” and in this story Seth is “placed” in for Abel, meaning that in this context the word is really, “to replace.” Eve clarifies this meaning for us by stating, “God has given me another child in place of Abel, whom Cain killed” (v. 25).

We must be precise with our reading here: the text is not commanding us to think of new children as replacements to any who we have lost. It simply tells us that Eve specifically considered Seth as a compensation after she lost Abel. 

If you read my post on The Calling of Genesis 3, you’ll remember the distinction between reading the text as descriptive or as prescriptive. That principle applies here as well. We should read these verses as a description of how Eve processed the loss of her son, because if we read them as a prescription for how we should process grief, the outcomes can become pretty ugly.

For example, I have done a lot of pastoral care and grief work with people who experience perinatal loss, and one of the sayings that I have heard family and friends tell the parents is, “You’re still young enough to have another.”

I can’t say this firmly enough: that’s not helpful. If we’re ever with someone who’s facing and processing loss, we must refrain from making these appeasing statements. I know that grief can feel uncomfortable, and out of a very genuine place in our hearts we want to say something to make the others feel better. But please remember: most often silence is more helpful than words in these situations. And if we feel we must say something, we should affirm how much sadness we feel along with them.

These two verses in Genesis 4 give us a picture of Eve, who received Seth as a blessing after having endured great loss, arguably of both sons, since Cain was sent out from God’s presence to a new land as well. She is hurting and pained, and the gift of birthing Seth leads her to praise God for giving her another child in Abel’s place.

Eve came up with that on her own, and from what we can tell it brought her comfort and peace. I worked with many people who came up with incredible ways of framing their loss that made sense to them, that calmed their hearts, and that gave them hope for the future. We can’t create it for them, though. It is most often in our sitting quietly with others that they are able to find ways to grieve and to hope again.

Grief isn’t foreign to any of us — we have all experienced loss in one form or another. The greatest takeaway from how Eve processes the loss of Abel is that we have freedom to create the meaning that brings us the most peace. And in grieving and mourning, we find that perhaps there is still hope after despair, still peace after mourning, and still love after loss. And through bravery and courage, may we offer those gifts to one another in our greatest times of need.

Recap: What Every Christian Should Know About Genesis 1-4

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This week we covered a lot of material from the first four chapters of Genesis. Because these chapters are so compact, I want to do a quick summary to highlight the main points that we covered. I also included a lexicon for those who want to keep track of the Hebrew words we’ve been learning.

In our initial post, The First Woman, we looked at how women were created, and questioned whether we should translate the word tsela as “rib,” or as “side.” We discussed how the Bible never again translates tsela as “rib,” and then envisioned the creation story anew with God using the human’s side to create the woman. We found a beautiful pattern of God splitting the human in half to create the woman, and then bringing the two back together again to form “one flesh.” We closed with the challenge to recognize the perfect balance that God craved for us all along, and to claim our identity as one flesh, made in the image of God.

The next post was Were We Ever Cursed? In it, we explored the temptation narrative in Genesis 3, and then looked closely at the punishments and curses God doles out at the end of the chapter. We found that God curses the snake and the ground, causing them to physically change. We also discovered that God punished, rather than cursed, the man and the woman. That encouraged us to embrace the knowledge that The Fall in Genesis 3 did not inhibit our relationship with God.

We used the next post, The Calling of Genesis 3, to explore what we are meant to do now with the punishments God gave to the man and the woman. We learned that rather than using the punishments to prescribe what the world should look like, the text actually shows God describing what the world will look like. That distinction allows us to embrace the knowledge that God still wants us to return to the balanced, perfect system that He created in Genesis 1 and 2, and gave us a kick in the pants to begin working toward that equality and peace.

The following post introduced Why Names Matter in the Bible. We learned the meaning of “Adam” and “Eve” and set the stage for how other names will impact the way we read the Bible.

I found myself in tears while writing Finding Eve Among Cain and Abel. We read the story of Cain and Abel from the perspective of Eve, who was booted from the land of Eden, but then had the blessing to celebrate the births of her sons. Over the course of the story, we watch her lose Abel at the hands of Cain, and then lose Cain entirely as well. We discussed grief and the amount of silent heartbreak she endured.

Lastly, we discussed yesterday The Silent Stories of Genesis 4, paying attention to the unnamed women who show up all over the Bible, and the men who have names, yet whose stories are never told. We discussed how we should honor the women who continually move the biblical story forward, and we closed considering those individuals in our lives who are not especially gregarious and outgoing, but whose quiet work has changed our lives and the way we see the world.

I told you it was a lot of material! This coming week we will begin with Genesis 5 and move on from there. I will do another recap next Monday as well. For those of you who want to track the Hebrew words we’ve learned, I included a list below. Thank you for your continued love and support!


Hebrew Words That Change How We Read The Bible:

ha adam = the human, found in Gen. 2, often mistranslated “the man”

ezer k’negdo = parallel/equal partner, used by God in Gen. 2:20 before creating the woman

tsela = side, found in Gen. 2, often mistranslated “rib”

ish = man, first used instead of ha adam after the creation of the woman in Gen. 2

ishah = woman, used to describe Eve before she receives her name in Gen. 3

arar = to curse, applied to the snake and the ground in Gen. 3

amar = to speak, used to communicate punishments in Gen. 3

teshukah = desire, used to describe what the woman will feel for the main in Gen. 3

chavah = life, also the name Eve

canah = possession, also the name Cain

hevel = breath, puff of air, vanity, also the name Abel

 

 

 

Finding Eve Among Cain And Abel

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Genesis 4 could be a Lifetime movie. Often we refer to that chapter as “The Story of Cain and Abel.” But if we look at the broader narrative, we see a whole family experiencing jealousy, guilt, murder, grief, loss, and estrangement. If we read the story from the perspective of Cain (which is easy, since he’s arguably the main character), we see what appears to be a vengeful and murderous villain, with so little compassion that he’s willing to kill his own brother.

If we read the story from the perspective of Eve, though, we see a mother who God fills with hope and joy at the birth of her sons; and then we see that hope and joy violently torn away from her in two of the most heartbreaking stories.

We left off yesterday discussing the importance of names. They remain equally important in this story:

So in verse 1, Eve possesses/creates (canah) a son with the help of God. Can you hear what that Hebrew word sounds like? Eve names her son “Cain,” meaning “possession,” because she canah-ed (possessed/created) him with God. In the following verse, she gives birth to Abel (hevel), which means “breath.” This one seems a bit confusing since (spoiler alert), Cain kills Abel very soon. As I researched, though, my brilliant husband pointed out that hevel shows up again in Ecclesiastes 1, but we don’t translate it “breath.”

Ecclesiastes 1:2 states, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…” The chapter goes on to emphasize repeatedly the fleetingness of life. That word “vanity,” which the biblical translators note can mean, “mist,” “vapor,” or “mere breath,” is the word hevel, or Abel. In context, then, reading Abel’s name shouldn’t make us necessarily think about a physical breath; it’s actually foreshadowing how fleeting his life would be. Just as a vapor or mist disappears as soon as it appears, so too would Abel quickly disappear from the scene.

As the story progresses, we see Cain working the ground and bringing God an offering of fruit, and Abel tending to a flock and bringing God one of the firstborns, along with some extra fat. God looks at Abel’s gift, but snubs Cain’s, which leads to Cain becoming upset and killing his brother (Gen. 4:3-8). 

What follows is a throwback to God meeting Adam and Eve in the garden shortly after they ate of the tree. 

God meets Cain and asks him where his brother is (in Genesis 3 God calls out to inquire where Adam and Eve are). After some back and forth conversation, God realizes what has happened, stating, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth… Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Gen. 4:10-12;16).

We know that Cain’s vocation is to work the ground; God points out that he has now spilled his brother’s blood on that same ground, and states that the blood has cried out to him. Just as in Genesis 3, a series of punishments follow, but they’re so much worse than what Adam and Eve faced.

One of my posts on Genesis 3 focused on how God never cursed Adam and Eve. After Cain murders his brother, however, God curses (arar) Cain. The mark of a curse is that something about the entity’s being changes; in this case, the mark of Cain’s curse is that he no longer dwells in the presence of the Lord.

God punished Adam by filling the land with thistles and weeds and making it especially difficult to till; in the punishment, the land will still produce for Adam, and Adam remains outside of Eden but very much grounded in the presence of God. When God curses Cain, He makes the ground entirely infertile and sends him out from His presence entirely.

At this point, it’s easy to focus solely on what Cain then faced going into the wilderness, away from his family and from God. But I want to draw our attention back home. 

Over the course of this story, Eve, who experienced estrangement from Eden, but then received overwhelming joy upon birthing Cain and Abel, her “possession” and her “breath,” lost Abel at the hands of Cain, but also lost Cain himself. The amount of loss and pain that sweet mother experiences in this story is heart-wrenching.

And this is the sort of thing that happens over and over again in the biblical text and in our lives — the main characters who have the most going on, the most drama around them, get the attention, while there are quiet sufferers sitting on the sidelines. I got a call from a friend yesterday, whose family members continue to make decision after decision that cause frustration and pain for those around them. And my sweet friend watches them, listens to them, and pleads for them to do otherwise.

Those often are the overlooked heroes of the story. The ones who beg for the best out of those who often deny them their best. The ones who continue to love and to strive to provide strength and peace to their beloved family and friends. So may we recognize them today. May we not read over the Eve’s of our lives; let us honor them today, and give them the attention, the care, and love that they have always craved and always deserved.

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.