Introduction to Genesis 1-3 Study:
The ultimate goal in our handling of Genesis 1-3 is to try and determine what Moses intended to convey to the reader – his big picture, his forest, Moses’ message.
- We will work our way there a little bit at a time over the coming weeks.
- Today’s longer handling is the exception.
Somewhat atypically, we will study Genesis by looking at the trees first and not the forest.
- And by trees I mean the words – the text itself.
As we embark on this journey through the trees…
- We will see that the text doesn’t say things we thought it did.
- Or that it says things we weren’t aware of.
Along the way we will contend with scholarly approaches to Genesis 1-3.
- How Genesis relates to science.
- The historicity of Genesis.
- Etc., etc., etc.
Admittedly, we will focus mainly on John Sailhamer and John Walton’s approaches.
- We will certainly cite others as well – Bruce Waltke, John Currid, Hugh Ross, et al.
Importantly, we will go to the deep well of Scripture itself.
- We need to see how other Biblical writers saw Genesis 1-3.
- These inspired writers need to be heard.
- What they say and don’t say about Genesis 1-3 will take us a long way.
Many interpretations of Genesis 1-3 are rife with controversy.
- Sometimes, with good reason and with bad, dividing lines are arbitrarily drawn.
“The first chapter of Genesis lies at the heart of our understanding of what the Bible communicates about God as Creator. Though simple in the majesty of its expression and the power of its scope, the chapter is anything but transparent. It is regrettable that an account of such beauty has become such a bloodied battleground, but that is indeed the case” – John Walton.
“Even among those who take Genesis 1 as God’s Word and as a true statement of the facts, there remain significant differences of opinion about what the text actually says. We must never forget that good and godly people can find themselves on opposite sides of basic questions about these chapters” – John Sailhamer.
Taking these statements under advisement we can forge ahead into the trees.
- I would like to say with no baggage, but that is pretty much impossible.
- I want us to be aware of something quite significant.
- The creation story does not stand alone.
- Moses wrote it as part of a larger story contained in the Pentateuch.
- Though it may tell us scientific relatable facts, his approach was certainly informed, for the most part, by Israel’s story – God, God’s people, and God’s future as N.T. Wright would say – not modern scientific concerns.
It is important to point this out so that we don’t lose sight of Moses’ message.
- A message that was certainly not centered on the scientific concerns of Biologos or Ken Ham or Hugh Ross or Peter Enns or us.
To further drive this point home, we need to look at some possible examples of Moses’ message in the creation story.
- Certainly some speculation will be involved, but the point will be made.
Moses’ Message Intro:
When Moses wrote the Pentateuch (including Genesis) he presumably already knew the creation story, the flood story, the call of Abraham, the story of Joseph, etc.
- As we said, the story of God, God’s people and God’s future.
- If so, he was looking at God’s creation through the lens of what God had already done on behalf of Israel.
- How could he not?
- And as with the Apostle Paul, for example, part of this “lens” was the nature and context of his call by God.
Thinking this way begs the question about Moses’ “beginning”.
- Moses’ story, like the universe’s story and Israel’s story had a beginning.
- Exodus 3:2–6 (ESV) — 2 And the angel of the Lord [Yahweh] appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord [Yahweh] saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God [Elohim] of your father, the God [Elohim] of Abraham, the God [Elohim] of Isaac, and the God [Elohim} of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God [Elohim].
I suggest a connection can be made between creation as Moses’ tells it, and the context of his call by God.
- Without Moses’ “beginning” we presumably would not have the Pentateuch – including Genesis.
- And this connection might reveal a few of Moses’ messages.
1) Moses’ Message (and context) – A Theodicy?
How does this connection suggest a theodicy?
The God that created (bara) the heavens and earth is the God that revealed Himself to Moses in the midst of Israel’s captivity and slavery in Exodus 3.
- An Israel who was seeking deliverance from slavery and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant with the giving of the Promised Land.
- An Israel waiting for the serpents head to be crushed.
- An Israel anticipating fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
Now how strange is that?
- Moses, a slave, in the captivity of a pagan power, is extolling the power of God as Creator and the goodness of His creation.
- In the midst of these circumstances (including 40 years of wandering) He identifies “Elohim” as Creator in Gen. 1:1 – not the competing Egyptian or Mesopotamian gods of creation.
So, what kind of God allows His people to end up in slavery serving other “gods” or sets them free only to wander in the desert?
- An answer is found in the creation story.
It may look bleak now, but the Creator God is a God of action in history.
- God is always “hovering” and moving purposely in history.
- He is always calling people out for His purposes.
- He is always moving His story forward.
- In spite of God’s people being enslaved, there is purpose in the midst of it, and hope for its end.
- Since creation, God has been purposely moving the story of His people and their future forward.
- So Moses and Israel can trust that God has a purpose for their slavery and he will act to deliver Israel.
- After all, look how far Israel has come since creation and the fall.
- And from Moses’ perspective, look what God did with him.
2) Moses’ Message (and context) – Purposeful Relationship?
How does the connection to Moses’ “beginning” suggest purposeful relationship?
We need to notice something so obvious in verse 1 we tend to pass right over it.
- Who created the “heavens and the earth”?
- The obvious answer is God.
- But was it God “Yahweh” or God “Elohim”?
Interestingly, it is “Elohim” instead of “Yahweh” in Genesis 1:1.
- This is the very name God used for himself when He called Moses.
- “I am the God [Elohim] of your father, the God [Elohim] of Abraham, the God [Elohim] of Isaac, and the God [Elohim} of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God [Elohim].”
God’s use of this name for Himself in His call of Moses has a special flavor.
- In Moses’ call, it is used in context of relationship, call, and covenant with the fathers of Israel.
- It is relational.
So it might be that implicit in the use of “Elohim” in Genesis 1:1 is Moses’ first hand understanding that God is a relationship God.
- This is how God revealed Himself to Moses – the “Elohim” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- Moses connects the God who created with the God who calls and covenants.
- “Elohim” creates – “Elohim” calls and relates
- They are the very same God.
- For Moses, the God who creates is the God who relates to His people.
- Moses knows this first hand.
- The “Elohim” of Genesis 1:1 is also the “Elohim” of Abraham and Moses.
- He is the purposeful relationship God.
BTW – God’s relational action in history is part of the larger Gospel message.
There is one more potential candidate for a Moses message unrelated to his call.
3) Moses’ Message – A Polemic?
Given the ANE relationship between primordial waters, chaos and creation, one can’t help but think Moses has something to say about competing claims of creation.
- Specifically the creation stories of Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Some, of course, argue that the Genesis story is an untrue myth dependent upon these other stories.
- John Currid (and really everybody) readily acknowledges the parallels between the Hebrew creation story and it neighbors.
- He asks, “What are we to surmise regarding the relationship between Genesis 1– 2 and mythic ancient Near Eastern cosmogonic tales?” – John Currid.
- He argues that, “the differences are monumental and are so striking that they cannot be explained by a simple Hebrew cleansing of [ANE] myth” – John Currid.
Currid suggests that given the following:
“In regard to the very nature of the creator, all societies of the ancient Near East, save the Hebrews, were polytheists. The gods themselves were immanent, that is, personified in various powers and elements of the universe. These gods were not omnipotent but were restricted in power to the capacity of the natural elements they personified” – John Currid.
That Moses, by way of a polemic, is drawing our attention to a massive contrast:
“To the contrary, the God of the Hebrews is presented as transcendent, that is, set apart from the cosmos. He works within the universe, but he is not part of it. The universe is God’s creation, but it is not God. The God of Israel, moreover, does not act humanly by reflecting the flaws of human nature. Mankind is created in his image and not the other way around. He is pure, just, righteous, and true. Yahweh is holy and wholly other – John Currid.
Moses’ purposeful relational “Elohim” created and fully controlled the “waters” and everything else.
- The waters weren’t an eternal chaos or a god from which creation had to be wrestled.
- “The water at creation (1:2) is certainly no deity, and it is not God’s foe that needs to be vanquished. It is mere putty in the hands of the Creator. There is no war between Yahweh and the gods of chaos in order to bring about creation. Yahweh is sovereign, and all the elements of creation are at his beck and call” – John Currid.
- The purposeful relational “Elohim” who calls out His people, and is sovereign over their circumstances is also the one true God who made everything.
- The ONE God that delivered Israel and parted the Red Sea is the ONE God who created the waters and controls them as He sees fit.
- He has no equal.
After all, look at these two examples of God’s revelation to, and action on behalf of, Israel and Moses.
- Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) — 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
- Exodus 14:21–22 (ESV) — 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
It seems rather unlikely that, as Moses wrote the creation story, his experiences of God’s purposeful work in history, and God’s revelation to Moses about His nature were not integrally part of the fabric of the Genesis creation account.
- They surely helped provide the grid on which Moses could make sense of such a Creator God.
- A God so unlike the gods of his oppressors.
*I am aware of the various authorship theories concerning the Pentateuch. I take the view of John Sailhamer as outlined in his book The Meaning of the Pentateuch.