The Books by Moses
To begin with (which is the meaning of Genesis: beginning), this first book is epic in the depth of what it reveals on the qualities of God and Man. By epic, I mean it in the slang sense of the word being beyond perfect in presenting a prologue to the rest of the Bible, not however in the definition as in poetic epics of mythical stories used to explain life origins. This book begins to show the raison d’etre of God. It lays the foundation for reading the rest of the shared testaments (Old or First Testament and the New) of the Bible.
The biblical books, what in current writings are thought of as chapters or letters, are broken down into segments known as chapters within each book of the Bible. Each is numbered followed by their sentences being numbered for clarity and reference sake. I initially had trouble with the chronology of the Bible; it’s not presented sequentially. It is divided up in according to genres of instruction (the Torah or Pentateuch) history, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, biographies, and letters. Genesis is the beginning of the history of the world as well as the basic foundation for theology that exists today. Forty percent of the First Testament is history.
It is held that Moses wrote this book and the four following. He is the most prominent Hebrew leader and prophet in Judaism and is part of the Christian heritage. Obviously, he wasn’t there at the beginning of creation or during the initial, subsequent time of man’s degeneration. It was revealed to him to write this by God’s inspiration. He penned the books while living in the desert after the Hebrews were freed from Egyptian enslavement, recorded in the following four books. Remember he had the benefits also of the best education the times could provide while living in the courts of Pharaoh. Rumor has it the priest and scribe Ezra had his editorial hand organizing the narratives, but that’s getting ahead of myself.
The theme of Genesis is creation and God calling out a particular group to be His people. Whenever reading scripture, the first rule of thumb to interpreting and understanding it is to consider it from the original intent of the author to the initial recipients.
God’s sovereignty, his nature, his redeeming character is depicted in these 2.5 thousand years that span from Genesis into Exodus. Ten generations are listed in this book alone of the chosen people. That’s a lot to take in. There is also the disparity of characters pitted against each other as a lesson in learning between Cain and Abel (the first martyr), Abraham and Lot, Isaac and Ishmael (who became the leader of the Arab nation), Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers.
A well-known nursery rhythm is Humpty Dumpty. He sat on a wall, had a great fall and all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men (soldiers) couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. Notice in that ditty that there is never a mention of an egg? It does teach a spiritual truth whose origins are found in Genesis. When Man committed the first sin of disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of a specific tree, things for humanity have never been the same. The nursery rhythm is not talking about an egg; it is talking about man’s fall. All the king’s horses and men couldn’t put man back together again after the loss of fellowship with God when he fell.
From the biblical account of the first (Adam and Eve) couple’s fall, it’s discernible that evil is in the world. Where did that come from when God explained everything was very good? To be discussed later, the basic answer is evil comes from the angels that were cast out of heaven with their leader Satan, the instigator. His character also starts to reveal himself in Genesis initiated with his favorite trait: lying.
From man’s fall, it shows humans have free will as a moral agent to make choices outside the will of God. Why did God allow that? In His wisdom, He wanted a relationship that is based on love and longing, not programmable robots.
To borrow from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, man’s fall (a stumble, by the way, that will be redeemed) is followed by worldly consequences, both good and bad. Milton calls this a fortunate fall. It means when good comes out of evil, it’s God’s mercy and grace that leaves us in a better place. There is the opportunity of a greater good that would have been impossible without the fall. God knows of evil, but he does not do evil. Prior to Milton’s poetic explanation, St. Augustine explains evil as a privation on good, not a substance in and of itself but rather something attaching itself to good, like a parasite. Good does not attach itself to evil. God takes evil and works good back into dominance, turning it into a greater good (like Jesus’s sacrificial atoning death).
God is all-knowing (omniscient), and He is just. The consequences of man’s sin were the resulting hardening of the toiling the land, pain in childbirth for the woman and the ultimate destruction of the serpent (depicted by Satan). The fall affected all of creation, like the wild and ferocious animals we experience and the hard ground to plant with its suffocating weeds and vegetation overgrowth to subdue. A Rabbi, who accepts Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) as Messiah, says when he reads the first five books of the Bible he wants to put a yellow crime scene tape around it because sin was now in the world. Humans must endure the outcome of turning toward evil and its consequences, but evil will not have the last word.
Meanwhile, Man now lives within the tension of absurdity or contradictions only to find the human condition wrapped up in paradoxes. A paradox uses self-conflicting situations that are actually in unity. Where it gets confusing is if it’s an antinomy (a real apparent incompatibility of two natural or human laws) masquerading as a paradox. The Asian philosophy of the yin and yang symbol was designed as a reminder of the tension of this duality (a situation that has two states that are both complementary and opposed to each other). We seem to live in the best of times and the worst of times concurrently.
To the mention of learning lessons, the Bible tells how to live life throughout the ongoing circumstances of its Holy narrative. We have a paradoxical faith (“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matt. 10:39). Paradoxes are not limited to the Bible though. View living life from an existential, Taoist or secular worldview, paradoxes abound just as well. Things like being impatient to grow up only to desire to be a child again or losing your health to make money only to lose your money to restore your health are a couple of illustrations. There is some truth found in “less is more” or “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Use of a paradox is one way to show truth can exist in tension. In living a spiritual life, the path to choose to be a part of an Indivisible Whole; it’s what India’s preeminent leader of independence Mahatma Gandhi defined as all activities running into each other. Author Sue Monk Kidd contributes to this topic by asking what if knowing who I am now is incomplete without knowing who I was?
I never really had a struggle reading the Bible narratives, not its the language references of ancient times or their cultural or geography of that historical era. My challenge was its chronology which dealt with time or its timing. Yet there is history in the biblical narrative to eras, places and even specific times no matter what the dissatisfaction for the modern-day historicity and scientists.
In a similar vein of not being in chronological order, the sequence of personal applications and commentary to be found in each book aren’t in a sequential order of my life. If this book is read to completion, those stories come together just as the Bible’s message does. I liken it to traveling on a möbius strip, looping the journey back to the beginning. There is an argument about quoting the Bible to prove the Bible; it assumes the Bible is true. This type of defense is circular reasoning when something proves itself by quoting itself. The physical evidence, numerous manuscripts, archeological finds, surrounding confirmations of the history of eras, the consistency of theological message written by forty different authors from diverse backgrounds (formally and informally educated0 in 1600 years from regions like Africa, the Middle East, and Europe makes it too compelling for the Bible not to be true.
As I see it, Bible is written circularly and so goes my thought patterns. An example of one biblical circular motif is found in God who began a relationship with the man in a garden. Fittingly, at the site of the resurrected Jesus empty tomb, Mary sees someone she thinks is the gardener and states “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him?” (Jn. 20:14). Not recognizing the landscaper to be Jesus, the master gardener who appears on site as he did in Genesis, responded to her “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” The garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) is what the God’s Kingdom was to look like before the disobedience. Jesus, on this side of Eden, is the first steps to the Kingdom come.
Another motif I look up is biblical names and their meanings which gives clues to the person’s character and points prophetically to what’s in store. This genealogy (spanning about 1100 years) of who, begot whom (Gen. 5) from the aspect of their name meaning is as follows:
Adam = man
Seth = appointed
Enosh = mortal
Kenan = sorrow
Mahalalel = blessed God
Jared = teaching
Enoch = dedicated
Mathusia – his death shall bring
Lamech = despair
Noah = grace and comfort
Put the meanings together in a paragraph and it reads: Mortal man appointed to sorrow, but the blessed God shall come down teaching the dedicated. His death shall be despairing grace and comfort. This meaning points to the coming Messiah: Jesus. To me that is a foretelling of the rescue from our human dilemma, God designs and has redemptive plans to rescue us from ourselves.
There is a glimpse of Jesus, his character, his nature seen in Genesis. It is the parallel life of Jesus and Joseph, both beloved sons. Joseph, like Jesus, was also betrayed for silver coins, falsely accused, eventually exalted, and was unrecognizable to his brothers (as compared to the resurrected Jesus at the tomb and then for the Jews as the longed-for Messiah). Joseph (foreshadowing Jesus) saved the people of that era from a major famine. Ultimately an example of God’s redemptive will (“What you meant evil…God meant it for good.” Gen. 50:20). The stories of Noah, Abraham, and Isaac (Joseph’s father) are also a sign of God’s redemption.
Joseph’s narrative teaches how to view perceived past hurts of a birth family. Fast forward through twenty-two years after the betrayal of his brothers; One experience of the hand of God in Joseph’s life is by His revealing the future severe famine of Egypt. After being betrayed and sold into slavery, Joseph forgave his brothers who came begging for provisions of food so that they could survive. Joseph wept over them and the brokenness of his past. As an adult, with decades-old wounds that still hurt him, he experienced God’s healing. What man meant for harm or evil, God meant for good saving many lives (50:20), a key verse in Genesis.
I came to a level of peace with my childhood hurts by re-nurturing myself through my children. Joseph extends to his brothers a grace they have never extended to him. He sidesteps any notion of revenge. My family hurts, lingering into adulthood, are still in the process of redemption. Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard suggests how to handle any unhappy thoughts concerning the past. It’s to think of them as a memory and as a part of a hope to be out of it which keeps you in the present.
One of my first big steps of faith in reading the Bible is about time.. I initially came to my faith when I was a young girl, but when starting college, I intellectually struggled with the concept of only seven days in the creation narrative. To believe that I thought would mean intellectual suicide. It doesn’t. My faith progressively grows from experiences that God gives granting me comprehension. God is a God of knowledge, not chaos. He is orderly in His ways but first by showing this in the order of creation. He is not a God of chaos. Little did I know my ongoing fascination for the rest of my life with the concept of time.
My intellectual bent is not toward math or science; my head hurts when I abide too much to left brain thinking. So of course, I barely can grasp the concept of infinity. I approach it more from the notion (from the right side of the brain) and start by trying to understand the concept of no beginning and no end, of God. He is a constant being. One of the key things negating the fact that the Bible is not a myth (folklore or fairy tale) is because God is transient (otherworldly) and immanent (in addition to being imminent as well) in all time. He’s everywhere for all time, outside of the cosmos conditions. Myths aren’t. Particularly seen in characteristics of mythical gods, who usually lived in the cosmos and prey on their subjects, moving them around on a game board, while remaining separated from them and uncommunicative with them.
As my children were growing up, I seem always to be saying no to their requests to do or ask for something (because it wasn’t convenient at the time, or it was just one of many times I refused them the unhealthy snacks). I would try to use other words: “maybe,” “let’s wait and see,” “next time” or “perhaps tomorrow” hoping to redirect them from their spontaneous request of the moment. After a while, they figured out I was saying no. Early one morning, my toddler, with bedhead, waddled up to my side of the bed waking me with the question: “Is today yesterday’s tomorrow?” anticipating today just might be the day I give in to her request. Thinking back on it, I see a parallel with Elizabeth Browning’s quote “Light tomorrow with today.” Was that at the core of my daughter’s innocent hope?
There are other instances of the concept of time that made its way into my life and have stuck with me. A guest, a bachelor gave a plaque as a wedding gift (that I still have) with a poem, by Henry Van Dyke, printed on it. It read:
“Time is too slow for those that wait;
Too swift for those who fear;
Too long for those who grieve;
Too short for those who rejoice; But for those you love, time is not.”
Once, in a romantic note, I received the inscription “You and I, together, like time, are eternal.” I discovered, humanly speaking, that that eternal love declaration proves only to be from God. The ancients saw time as a wheel, repeating in cycles. In Confucianism the passage of time is like flow of a river’s stream. For some, time is an illusion and for others a rigid scaffolding erected by God.
The Word of God, the Bible, is the first of a framework written from the aspect of Chronos and Kairos time. More importantly only He can cross over into either time. There are two kinds of time: Chronos (clock or human time) and Kairos (God’s eternal, transcendent time). God exists before time as we know it, in the cosmos. There are hints, seen clearly from this side of the cross, of a triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) by the references to “we” and “us” all being present (Gen. 1:26). One of the names of God, Elohim, is plural for deity and is a further clue to the preexistence of Jesus in God’s eternity. The Israelites see the second plural pronoun as the divine council made up of angels (even Satan) and the seraphim. In their perspective from their side of the cross, there is no concept, belief or idea of a triune God much less a Holy Spirit.
I will note more of my idiosyncratic “sightings” in the First Testament in future chapters but keep in mind the primary meaning of the scriptural text, inspired by God, in this case to Moses to tell and write to this original audience is in keeping the main thing the main thing. Scripture should first always be read literally unless its context (like the genre or style) dictates otherwise.
God is not bound by the moments in time we associate with throughout earth’s seasons from the movement of the sun, moon, and earth. Measuring the lapses of time through weather seasons is Chronos time because the concept of time began and occurred in a garden. The creation narrative reveals when God created Chronos time. It was on the first day; He created light and darkness (the sun wasn’t created until verse 14, a light that creates heat). This was when God created time as humanity knows it. A cycle of day and night was created. To the first recipients of this book, the text literally reads a 24 hour day. On day one, God created the heavens and a formless the earth. On day two, He sets up the basics for weather (separating the waters from waters with the above expanse over it). This was in preparation for the third day when dry land was developed, and vegetation was brought forth from this water source, soil, etc. for the provision of food. Some speculate the expanse created a hothouse effect providing an even temperature and filtering out ultraviolet rays to extend the growths life cycle.
Now with Internet technology, the idea of time further can be challenging to grasp as we experience global events in “real time.” My kids live in the direction of the four winds that blow away from me and the place they grew up. For a while I had four clocks hung on the wall with their time (sometimes international) zone they lived. I keep a desktop icon weather application of their regions on my computer screen. All this helps me keep in sync with what they might be doing at that moment day (or night). With them in their four directions, I went to the remaining three directions left: I re-familiarized with the me, myself and I at my center, went above for spiritual direction yet tried to stay engaged below which is on this earth, the here and now. They are scary, challenging, enriching and fulfilling places.
In Chronos time, the church calendar follows a liturgical year. It begins with Advent season (a season about anticipation), to Christmas then on to the Day of Epiphany, followed by a period that is called ordinary time, then the Lenten season and Easter through to Pentecost, another period of ordinary time then back to Advent. Regular periods of time have its fair share of secular holidays (Valentines’ Day, St Patrick’s Day, All Saints Day or Halloween), many originally based on church leaders or events. People enjoy annual holidays but underestimate the importance of ordinary, how common time shows ways of the daily living with a model presented by Jesus for us on how to be Christ-like in our actions. Each year, the liturgical calendar cycle is celebrated over again beginning with the annual (and appropriate) Thanksgiving holiday which is about giving thanks and not a mark on the wall for consumerism. And yet not celebrated over again the same way as I find I react to events slightly different being a slightly different person from the previous year. German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “It is only because He became like us that we can become like Him.”
Sister Joan Chittister says in her book, The Liturgical Year, the Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, remembrance of the past and recognition of its ongoing presence in our lives, reminds us once again that death is not the end. Rebirth of the spirit is always possible if willing to go back again one more time into the life of Jesus.
In the late Father Edward Hays words from his passion play, Pilate’s Prisoner on life after death reminds me of the lingering love for someone who has died. He wrote “The source of my belief that there is life after death is that love is stronger than death. The more you love someone, the more you never desire ever to be separated from her or him, even by death. While there are many things I doubt, I do not doubt that God is love.”
And through His love, God is relentlessly Holy, righteous and just.
Truth: God’s presence does not mean He is not there when I don’t sense him. When peace and contentment come over me while gazing at a view, hearing a song, an unexpected outcome or listening in my solitude, I attribute it to His omnipresence. He is also there when I am wrapped up in my misery, sadness, hurried or in the grips of sorrow and pain if only I would acknowledge him. His presence isn’t synonymous with my ability to detect it.
The commitment of daily regeneration for the better in the present, the reframing the past, alters the future. There is a hint, a biblical warning, about looking back at the past. It’s when Lot’s wife looked back when fleeing and turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:15-26). To note the geographical position of the image of Lot’s wife, standing watch, which overlooks the Dead Sea area, is interesting. The Dead Sea is a body of water where no life can exist. She looks back (analogous to the past?) meanwhile had been warned not to look or turn back. I get stuck when I mentally think about the past too much. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, both in the same region, are fed by the River Jordan. One cannot sustain life, yet the other is plentiful with both feed by the same source. The difference is that the Sea of Galilee has an outlet that gives out water while the other (the Dead Sea) has no outlet and just stays within its the boundaries of the shores. Living in the past, looking to the past is analogous to the Dead Sea not sustaining life for humans as well.
Kierkegaard said that life could only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward. When trying to control time, it isn’t about the quantity of time, but it is more about the highest quality of time. The quality time I experience depends on what I am doing with my time; it’s usually when the clock slows down. Allowing the quiet to enter into life seems to change the flow of the movement of time and make it larger. I am entering a slower pace now versus the craziness of before (which I wouldn’t have changed) of before by juggling multiple family schedules, activities, and obligations. I was lucky to “get’er done” when it came down to it, frustrated by not always being able to put the finishing or special touches on personal things as time wouldn’t allow me (or there would be sleepless nights). Now that craziness is when I overcommit myself on my own projects.
A way to relook annual celebratory events is to consider the holidays as Holy-days. The perspective keeps the holiday frenzy at bay. Rabbi Sidney Greenberg wrote “On holidays we run away from duties. On Holy-days, we face them. On holidays, we let ourselves go, on Holy-Days we try to bring ourselves under control. On Holidays, we try to empty our mind. On Holy-days, we attempt to replenish our spirits. On holidays, we reach out for the things we want. On Holy-days, we reach up for things we need. Holidays bring a change of scene. Holy-days a changed heart.”
It was years after my initial struggle with the world created in seven days (a young world creation) when God showed me through a Bible Study Fellowship program of studying Genesis for a year and how science came along to agree in part. It was the sequence of the science behind the seven days. In the first three days, God created the realms (note light and dark came before the Sun, the moon, and stars which stand to reason). The last four days, He filled the realm with inhabitants. Kierkegaard defines the creator well: “God creates out of nothing.”
The Bible’s theme isn’t written to explain things scientifically, but instead, it is focused the message of a relationship with God. Scientists say faith is not built on knowledge, yet I find it interesting that as time marches on science comes alongside revelations found in the Bible to try and illuminate it further. Science is great for explaining how but no so much when it comes to why. Science is good at saying what is, but it can never tell what ought to be. I believe God can reveal his works through science when we are ready to absorb and understand it. I don’t need science to convince me though it’s nice when the scientific community comes alongside the spiritual.
I explore the meaning of Hebrew words, the original text of the First Testament. Hebrew is known as a language of the heart whereas Greek is of the mind. In Asia, there is one word for both mind and heart. It is “xin” (pronounced sheen). I appreciate how the two words are intrinsically woven. It allows me to conjecture that answers don’t just come from one or the other. I want my heart and mind to be xin, collaborating in making life decisions. I do not want a divided 12” chasm within me between mindfulness thinking and heart empathy or sensitive understanding.
To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, a man who lends intellectual credibility of his Christian faith on how to view the world, “I believe in God like I believe in the sun not because I see it, but because by it all things are seen.”